Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2015 week one

July 1st, 2015

Featuring Scott Snyder & Jock; Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre; Kathryn Immonen & Stuart Immonen; Jason Little; Alex Grecian & Riley Rossmo; John Arcudi & James Harren; Peter David & George Perez, Dale Keown; Nick Spencer & Ramon Rosanas; Lee Bermejo & Rob Haynes, Jorge Corona.

News underneath!

Russian Olive To Red King h/c (£18-99, Adhouse Books) by Kathryn Immonen & Stuart Immonen.

“Just let me know when you’re coming home.”
“I will. I will always come home.”
“I’m counting on it.”

He’s a tough, muscular guy with a square jaw, chiselled features and cropped white hair. But Red really is counting on it.

He likes being left behind far less that he’s letting on.

Why will only become clear during the substantial coda which Red writes for Olive in prose illustrated by photographs of windows smashed in by stones.

And it all seems to start so idyllically, early on the morning before Olive leaves. Light streams into the bedroom in lemon yellow as Olive’s Border Collie, Pasha, pads in and considers carefully before bounding onto the bed anyway. What dog could resist?

 

Jet-haired Olive is the first to surface from underneath the sheets, tentatively at first. It’s a quiet, tender scene, beautifully choreographed with body language that says so much, Red reaching out to here with his hand: he really, really doesn’t want her to go. He won’t say as much, of course, but he’s frowning slightly even after Olive’s reassuring smiles and enveloping touch.

He promises to walk Olive’s dog, but is far from keen.

He’s really not as stoical as he seems.

 

If you were in any doubt after the opening remarks that Olive isn’t coming home, there’s her flippant reply to this, quoting Chekov.

“Why do you always wear black?”
“Because I’m mourning my life. Duh.”
”Okay, Masha. But I don’t think Chekov wrote “Duh”.”

After that you’re just waiting, and as Red walks Pasha down the tranquil, tree-lined, Brownstone avenue, Olive flies away through a cloudless azure sky in a rust-red seaplane piloted by an old man with heartburn.

“Sixty is miles away from fifty-nine, I tell ya.”

The scenes are intercut and played out against each other beautifully, two commercial jets streaking the sea-green sky up above Red and Pasha while opposite the silent seaplane banks at a disastrously steep angle. Extraordinarily it is still all so quiet. But then Red remarks, “The light’s changing”.

 

Boy, Stuart can control colour and light, and ever so abruptly in places. In places it works on an audible level. The skies are absolutely majestic. He’s so versatile, too, adapting his entire style for each project. This really couldn’t be much further from SECRET IDENTITY or – at another end of the spectrum – NEXTWAVE. There’s a huge sense of heaviness in what follows. Inertia too, as the darkness closes in.

Kathryn completely eschews the obvious far before the stark and startling coda. There’s no melodrama. Instead it’s all very elliptical, especially the phone conversations.

I’ll be interested to hear what you make of the final page of chapter six.

But yes, I think it’s safe to say that Red has abandonment issues.

“It’s hard to tell when you’re blinded by despair.”

SLH

Buy Russian Olive To Red King h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Oliver And The Seawigs (£6-99, Oxford) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre.

Hold on to your hats, your toupees, your seawigs, this is going to prove… exploratory!

Oliver Crisp may be only ten years old but he’s already seen so much because his parents are Famous Explorers. They even met on top of Mount Everest!

Since Oliver was born they’ve taken him right round the world. They’ve pushed his pram across rope bridges dangling precariously above alligator-infested rivers; they’ve balanced him in their backpacks as polar bears roared so loudly that ice cliffs have cracked; they took him into a musty old tomb where his mum met a mummy. (Oliver didn’t scream “Mummy!” Probably.)

Now that they believe they’ve peered into every nook and cranny and discovered all there is to discover the family’s going home to Deepwater Bay, to the house they’ve barely set foot in. Believe it or not, Oliver’s delighted to lay down some roots for a change. But when they get there they discover that there is more to discover: the bay is full of steep, craggy, grass-tufted islands that weren’t there before. The Crisps of course love exploring mysterious islands, but now they’re going to encounter mysterious islands which love to explore! These are the Rambling Isles whose dark caves are mouths and they’re about to set off for The Hallowed Shallows for the Night Of The Seawigs contest – taking Oliver’s mum and dad with them!

This illustrated prose for Young Readers is such deliriously great fun that I bought a copy myself! Both creators constantly surprise.

At their first sight of Deepwater Bay Oliver goes “Wow!” and his parents go “Wow!” and I defy you not to go “Wow!” as well. The headland they’re driving down from curves up in a cliff of line-free grey tone leaving room for its black nesting birds to stand out a mile; the gabled house below is all curves too, reflecting the Crisps’ quirky nature – it’s quite wonky-woo! – while the sea blooms below it, more curved lines reflecting the white-on-black stems of the bushes up above.

On page after page Philip Reeve lobs out such loopy ideas so often that I swore even Sarah McIntyre – comics’ own exuberant human hat-stand of JAMPIRES and VERN AND LETTUCE fame – couldn’t possibly illustrate them, yet she does. In fact she illuminates them, matching Reeve’s zeal with her own wild imagination to create gibbering, chittering, chattering sea monkeys which grin with gormless glee no matter what chaos is coming up behind them! There are googly eyes everywhere – blinking within shipwrecks, lurking in the murk of tunnels or poking up from behind flapping fern fronds – while Colin the crab pops up all over the place.

But, oh my days, you wait until you see all the Seawigs!

What is a seawig, you ask? They’re wigs worn by the Rambling Isles fashioned from all sorts of found things. Everyone loves a little bounce to their bonce, so imagine you’re an island with a lighthouse on top of you. That’s flashy all right! But what if you were a sentient isle that could dip down underwater then come up for air (they don’t really need air) with a narwhal on your noggin, a train in your tresses or even a radio telescope? Somehow one does. Ridiculous!

They’re all so elaborate they almost match McIntyre’s own crazed and colourful headpieces, and they’ll have to if they want to win the Seawig competition.

That might be Neil Gaiman on the right of Sarah, yes!

 

Now let’s catch up with Oliver in pursuit of his parents on top of another Rambling Isle called Cliff. He’s also made friends with a short-sighted mermaid called Iris (of course she’s called Iris!) and Mr. Culpeper, a grumpy old Albatross. When Oliver leaves Iris a handwritten note she has to squint hard to read it.

“What does it say?” she wondered.
“How would I know?” said Mr. Culpeper. “I’m an albatross.”

Quite.

I love the way Reeve tweaks one single word to create hours of caustic commentary thus:

“We must be in the Sargasso Sea!” [Oliver] said excitedly. “Sailors fear it because their ships get becalmed here, and the weed tangles round them and traps them.”
“No, this is a completely different place,” said Iris. “It’s called the Sarcastic Sea, and sailors fear it because the weed keeps making horrid, hurtful comments about them.”

Oooh, dangerous!

Once more McIntyre delivers on the eye front, the seaweed bladders we all love to pop peering with withering disdain.

Eventually they will find the Rambling Isle that ran off with Oliver’s mum and dad. It’s called the Thurlstone and it’s not very nice at all.

“Octopuses writhed their tentacles among its eyebrows, and a shark fell out of its nose like a fierce bogey.”

It has a most elaborate seawig already including a stone temple, knotted trees, a rusty battleship and a mean-spirited bully called Stacey de Lacey in command of the pesky sea monkeys. He overcompensates appalling for having a girl’s name. The language here is delicious.

“He was older than Oliver: a tall teenager, balancing precariously on beansprout legs and about to tumble clumsily into adulthood.”

Sometimes the text is integrated within the illustrations. When Oliver crawls through the cave which is the Thurlstone’s craggy throat, so does the writing. When the sea monkeys grow so boisterous at play that they threaten to smother Oliver out at sea, Sarah comes up with a double-page spread which is as close as you can imagine to the suffocating sensation of drowning, the monkeys’ faces looming over him, wide-eyed and grinning, squeezing the text between them and the air out of Oliver.

Stacey de Lacey and the Thurlstone are going to give Oliver, Iris, Cliff and that Culpeper a terrible time. So are the sea monkeys.

You, on the other time, are going to have a riot. Err… so are the sea monkeys. “Eep!”

SLH

Buy Oliver And The Seawigs and read the Page 45 review here

Wytches vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Scott Snyder & Jock…

“Pledged is pledged.”
“… Yes, it is.”

Brrrr… this is one of the creepiest, nay horrifying, comics I have read in some considerable time.

The Rook family – Dad, Mom and daughter Sailor – have moved to the sleepy town of Litchfield to begin again after a life-shattering event. What they find hiding beneath the friendly veneer of this sleepy backwater is beyond even their worst nightmares. For lurking in the woods around the town are dark forces that have a taste for human flesh… preferably young human flesh. And they are old, very old. But perhaps even worse is the fact that these Wytches couldn’t operate unseen without the assistance of their mortal acolytes…

 

The unease that builds throughout this volume before exploding in spectacularly violent fashion had me squirming in my seat. There was a grindhouse film classic from 1975 starring Peter Fonda and Loretta Swift called Race With The Devil (check out the official trailer HERE) that I was vividly reminded of after reading this. Basically in the film the four main protagonists who are travelling around relatively rural America in a camper van stumble across a midnight black mass and then are relentlessly pursued by the coven.

There is growing paranoia then full-blown hysteria as our heroes gradually realise to their ever-increasing horror that the coven is far larger and more influential than they could possibly have feared, and they are being watched at absolutely every turn, before the pursuit truly begins. There is no escape, no happy end either. The film concludes with them being burned alive in their camper van, surrounded by chanting, cowled figures. It certainly made a powerful impact on me, watching as a child of far too tender years, shocked that the heroes hadn’t once again triumphed despite overwhelming odds…

I’m not entirely convinced there is going to be a happy ending for the Rooks either. Some of them, possibly. All of them…?  I very much doubt it, as the forces of darkness begin their inexorable circling in towards their intended prey. Their pledged prey… Of course, it does take someone to pledge you to them…

So if you are in the mood for some grisly chills, look no further, albeit through half-closed eyes from behind the settee. Brutally captivating art from Jock (who did one of the finest Batman covers ever in my humble opinion, during Scott Snyder and his’ BLACK MIRROR arc – The Joker’s face nearly entirely composed of bats – see it HERE), he really nails the practicably unbearable tension in some of the pursuit sequences.

The Wytches, when we finally see them are so horrifically gruesome, contorted perversions of a barely human shape, practically faceless aside from chittering, exposed teeth, you can really understand the stark terror experienced by the Rooks. I’m reluctant to give too much more away in terms of the plot, specifically because there are a number of shock reveals and twists that serve to increase reader discomfort even further up to those full-on seat-squirming levels, but suffice to say this is already up right there with OUTCAST and RACHEL RISING for me in terms of horror rating!

JR

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

Borb (£14-99, Uncivilised Books) by Jason Little.

“Beggar
Bum
Derelict
Drifter…
Tramp
Transient
Vagrant
Wino”

This is true horror.

It will have you wincing or even retching depending on your tolerance threshold. Unlike some critics the one thing it never did was made me laugh, even grimly. It’s painful.

Obviously it’s not as painful to watch as it is painful for Borb to endure: a catalogue of extractions, infections, infestations and more than one compound fracture leaving bearded Borb with his tibia or fibula split in two and jutting out of his lower leg. The fracture is further compounded even after medical assistance by inflammation then a transmogrification worthy of FRANK’s Jim Woodring. Alas, there is nothing fantastical about it or what follows, which is worse.

Glimmers of hope turn out to be temporary or even illusory. Even on a vaguely upward curve, always he goes back to the spirits, and every time he does so it destroys the scant help given to him. But guess what? Borb passed the point of alcoholic a lifetime ago. It’s a chronic addiction. A new set of dentures doesn’t come with a concurrent cure for addiction.

Nevertheless Dean Haspiel speaks true when he writes:

“Jason Little’s empathy-challenging BORB is the antidote to Frank Capra’s It’s Wonderful Life. You will beg for Borb to bite the dust while stuffing your face with chocolate and watching hours of puppy and cat videos to wash away the elegant horror that is Borb’s trains-wreck on a life.”

“Empathy-challenging” is right and intentionally so. Jason Little has in no way romanticised the plight of the terminally transient which is, as I say, true horror. What appears on the page is revolting. Again, intentionally so, and I did beg for Borb to bite the dust, so help me God.

This hasn’t been written or drawn to tug at your heartstrings, though he may do during and post-illusion: if Borb was a Horseman Of The Apocalypse he would be Pestilence.

It’s delivered in the form and style of an unrelenting series of newspaper strips “[paying] homage to the Depression-era imagery of Harold Gray (LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE) and Frank King (GASOLINE ALLEY), and the long tradition of the comic strip slapstick vagabond archetype” which it surgically undercuts. You’ll see what the publisher means during the pratfalls and split seams and their ramifications.

“Oops.”

Oops of all things.

SLH

Buy Borb and read the Page 45 review here

Rumble vol 1: What Colour Of Darkness s/c (£7-50, Image) by John Arcudi & James Harren.

Next time you wish for more excitement in your life, think twice.

“If your life were a movie it would be over in an hour and a half.”

So says Cogan, an old man propping up the bar. And he should know: he’s even older than he looks and not really a man at all.

He’s talking to Bobby the barman, who is exactly who he seems. Already unlucky in love, he’ll be lucky if his life lasts longer than a minor movie’s credits!

He wasn’t expecting closing time to be called by a sword-wielding scarecrow slashing his way through the door and Cogan’s right arm. What on earth is their beef? Why has it lasted for thousands of years? Why is there no blood and no Cogan when the cops are called? Just a whole mess of straw and that ancient blade Bobby decided to hold onto.

He might want to rethink that: there’s a whole menagerie of monsters on their way to lay claim to it.

Labelled an “urban fantasy / horror” on the back, I’d call this more of a caper.

Bobby’s mate Dell declares, “Be-Bop, c’mon! You always do this! Stop overthinkin’ it! Let’s just have fun!”

A perfect description. It’s a vast variety of creepy critters slicing and dicing each other to bite-size pieces, a short-tempered fire god who’s not so hot when he’s been put out (funny visual gag, that) and a quest to get the scarecrow chap his ancient body back (real name: Rathraq), all interspersed by an old lady’s kittycat Mr. Bildad making a mess while gorging himself into something increasingly gargantuan.

Those were my favourite bits – James Harren nails cute-gone-wrong. There’s also a great deal of gurning going on for this is very much an up-and-at-‘em action comic – with icky stuff.

SLH

Buy Rumble vol 1: What Colour Of Darkness s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rasputin vol 1: The Road To The Winter Palace s/c (£10-99, Image) by Alex Grecian & Riley Rossmo…

To people of a certain age, mention one Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, and they will almost certainly think of this… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBXRJgSd-aU . However long before Boney M re-popularised the exploits of Russia’s greatest love machine, he was widely lionised and lambasted in equal measure, depending on your politics, by the chattering classes of turn-of-the-twentieth century Europe.

What is undoubtedly true about Rasputin is that he had an enormous impact and influence upon Russian political and regal life, by dint of sheer force of personality, to such a degree that eventually, certain people decide he needed to be done away with… Though achieving that wasn’t quite so straightforward. Rasputin managed to surviving multiple assassination attempts, a fact which only added to his considerable mystique with the public.

Rather than being a straight biographical work, though, this is most definitely a fantasy yarn, appropriating the mad monk as its central character and building a heavily fictionalised story about and around him. It’s very entertaining, actually, with the transformation of Rasputin from a callow youth with a reputation for healing powers into a full-blown beardy magician, courtesy of the spirits ruling the snowy plains of Siberia.

So, in this first volume we see his early years, his initial development as a mage, and the burgeoning cost to his soul of using even his healing powers. Simultaneously Rasputin himself narrates the story of his demise, the final successful assassination attempt, perpetrated this time by his friends and travelling companions. He knows it is coming, foreknowledge of his own life, and consequently his death, being another of his acquired magical powers, yet gives no warning to his friends that he is aware of their impending treachery.

Why he seems happy to go along with his own murder I have no idea, but I suspect we will find out in volume two, presumably along with the answer to a most puzzling and not entirely unrelated mystery that transpires in the final pages of this volume resulting in an intriguing temporal cliffhanger.

I think people who enjoyed the likes of UMBRAL and PORCELAIN may well enjoy this. It’s basically a dark fantasy revolving around a character that you really shouldn’t be rooting for, but much like the Romanovs, you may well find yourself charmed and lured in by his charismatic ways.

Art is supplied by Riley Rossmo who I was not previously familiar with, but he does a mean angular face with piercing eyes, a touch Sean Murphy-esque, plus it’s always nice these days to see someone break out the coarse dot-stippling effect in the background, very retro. He throws in the occasional dramatically splendid full page too, usually when Rasputin is filling the air with eldritch cracklings, or when the spirits of the plains are making their considerable supernatural presence felt.

JR

Buy Rasputin vol 1: The Road To The Winter Palace s/c and read the Page 45 review here

We Are Robin #1 (£2-99, DC) by Lee Bermejo & Rob Haynes, Jorge Corona.

What a contemporary cover – all very inclusive and le parkour!

It’s drawn by the writer, Lee Bermejo, artistic collaborator of Brian Azzarello on that nasty little number THE JOKER, and I mean that in a good way – brrr…

The interior art is by Jorge Corona over Rob Haynes’ breakdowns and it’s as lithe as you like as our principal protagonist for the moment, Duke Thomas, fends off attacks – by which I mean beatings with baseball bats – at school. He does so very successfully. Too successfully for his adoptive family and social worker who now needs him to move on to another.

It’s a lose / lose situation and you feel for his plight. Duke has no stability, no castle that he can call his own and that’s what you need from a home: stability and safety. He doesn’t even know if his parents are dead or alive. They were victims of THE JOKER: DEATH OF THE FAMILY but they’ve never been found. They may be dead or left to wander the sewers of Gotham with amnesia, and that makes Duke restless: if there is a chance at all that they’re there, he must do his best to find them.

Obviously given the title and cover there is something much bigger brewing about taking back the streets but on top of the acrobatics there’s easily enough here in this first instalment to make you care and that’s what counts. Corona has no powers, just hours and hours of wondering where his life is heading without structure, a safety net or – let’s cut to the quick – love.

“Who here does not  belong?” snarls an underground rabble-rouser once Duke’s been detected.

I believe that’s very much on Duke’s mind.

SLH

Buy We Are Robin #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Hulk: Future Imperfect s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Peter David & George Perez, Dale Keown.

Back in time for its SECRET WARS satellite sequel FUTURE IMPERFECT #1 which is on our shelves now!

Future stories of your favourite Marvel characters have met with varying degrees of acclaim and indifference. Quite how the 2099 line lasted as long as it did 18 years or so ago is beyond me.

On the other hand Byrne and Claremont’s X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST which capped their collaboration – and in which most mutants have finally fallen victim to man’s love affair with genocide and concentration camps – is single-handedly responsible for so many homages and follow-ups that it’s easy to forget what a neat little self-contained number it originally was. We’ve seen the Punisher take on (and out) the Marvel Universe, we’ve seen the final days of the Avengers. There are so many variations that nothing is definitive – indeed they’ll only have aged another year or so by 2099 anyway, so putting a date on them seems somewhat foolish.

SPIDER-MAN: REIGN was a belter with more than a whiff to it of DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (a book so ancient that at the time of typing we don’t even have a review of it) but by far my favourite – which took us all by surprise at Page 45 – was Mark Millar’s WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN. In it we discover that something so atrocious has befallen the crested Canadian that he’s sworn to the cause of pacifism no matter the provocation. And it’s quite provoking having the inbred, redneck offspring of the Incredible Hulk as your landlords. Actually they’re just collecting the rent because Daddy dearest is very much alive and well and so many people have evidently made him so very angry over the years that nobody likes him at all anymore.

Which brings us to Peter David’s future of the Hulk as seen in this collection of FUTURE IMPERFECT from 1992 drawn by George Perez and THE END as envisaged by Dale Keown in 2002 where we discover that the Hulk has finally got what he said he always wanted – to be left alone. By necessity, then, that’s a somewhat bleak and ruminative affair which has its origins in a short prose story called The Last Titan.

But back in FUTURE IMPERFECT there were still plenty of people to give the jade giant grief because he hasn’t aged well. He’s outlived almost everyone whom he could ever have considered his friend and, in their absence, succumbed to his own worst aspects. As the Maestro he’s ruler of all he surveys. There’s only one relic from his past remaining who sits in a trophy room of broken helmets, shredded capes, abandoned armour, fractured shields… and a poster of the Phoenix saying “Dead… Again!” He’s lived far too long – it’s over ninety years since we last saw him – but he’s determined to be reunited with the Hulk he once knew, even if it means bringing him forward through time so that Banner can look himself in the eye and see what he’s become.

Originally written with a specific but unidentified European artist in mind, you could not have found a more apposite replacement back then than George Perez, an American master of ligne claire, so distinctly European-looking it remains. That trophy room (“Needs a giant penny. Pretty complete otherwise”) is full of tiny details – even at the back of a bookcase you can make out the Serpent Crown – some of which may prove useful or even fatal later on.

SLH

Buy Hulk: Future Imperfect s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ant-Man vol 1: Second-Chance Man s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Ramon Rosanas.

“That thing earlier was just the setup. There was no way to beat it.”
“You mean like the Kobayashi Maru?”
“The what?”
“From Star Trek.”
“Oh, you’re of those.”

Stark’s arched eyebrow there by Ramon Rosanas is priceless. I think he’s a John Byrne fan which is no bad place to start especially since Scott Lang’s first appearance as Ant-Man was drawn by Byrne and now reprinted in ANT-MAN: SCOTT LANG along with his subsequent team-ups with Iron Man against the Hulk and Hawkeye, Spider-Man and The Avengers en masse against the Taskmaster, all of which will be revisited in this much more modern incarnation.

So yes, this is the Scott Lang Ant-Man who will feature in the forthcoming film, not the original Hank ‘Who Even Am I Today?’ Pym, he of the multiple identities, mental breakdowns and size issues whose early exploits in TALES TO ASTONISH made me chuckle heartily.

This too made me chortle but I expected no less from the writer of THIEF OF THIEVES VOL 1, EXISTENCE 2.0 / 3.0, FORGETLESS and MORNING GLORIES. He’s gone for the HAWKEYE model of self-deprecation on the protagonist’s front for Scott is a clot and always has been, even in FF: FANTASTIC FAUX (highly recommended).

He’s a failed thief so ex-convict and ex-husband, but his redeeming feature right from the start has always been as a doting dad. Spencer wisely focuses in on this – his relationship with his daughter and understandably less than enthusiastic ex-wife – so that there are as many “Awww” moments as there are in Grant Morrison and Chas Truog’s family-centric ANIMAL MAN which itself comes highly commended and in three volumes. See also G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona’s current run on MS MARVEL.

Scott’s also an ex-corpse, and explaining that gap in your CV is never easy.

Nevertheless – in spite of all the above – he does get an interview with Tony Stark for the job of Stark Industries’ Head Of Security. Stark turns him down immediately. Nevertheless does get the chance to hack Stark’s security alongside the likes of Prodigy. He fails that too. Nevertheless he decides to do what he does best which is steal the password instead by breaking into Stark’s private apartment at night. He gets caught.

“Tony, I, uh… I don’t know what to say.”
“Hey, if I saw what you just saw for the first time in there, I’d be speechless too.”

Oh my god, that really is a knob gag!

Don’t worry, it’ll all go over the heads of your young ones, but if any doubt at all we’ve the MARVEL UNIVERSE ANT-MAN DIGEST for your youngest.

What follows is a move to Miami to maintain contact with Scott’s daughter Cassie and a decidedly dippy attempt to start up a small business by selling his skills as a thief on a giant billboard:

“Ant-Man Security Solutions: Who knows how to not get your stuff stolen better than the guy who used to steal your stuff?”

Inset is a thumbs-up portrait of Iron Man, declaring: “I’d hire him”.

“And no, for the record,” Scott says, “I don’t think Iron Man will mind. Regardless of what happened, us superheroes gotta stick together!”

Iron Man’s alter ego Tony Stark sits still, fingers pressed together, in front of a laptop snapshot of the billboard held aloft by his lawyer: “Sue.”

SLH

Buy Ant-Man vol 1: Second-Chance Man s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Noughts & Crosses: The Graphic Novel (£12-99, Doubleday) by Malorie Blackman, Ian Edginton & John Aggs

Supreme: Blue Rose s/c (£10-99, Image) by Warren Ellis & Tula Lotay

The Wicked + The Divine vol 2: Fandemonium s/c (£10-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Criminal vol 6: The Last Of The Innocent s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Devlin Waugh: Red Tide (£18-99, Rebellion) by John Smith & Colin MacNeil, John Burns, Peter Doherty, Sean Phillips

Gun Machine s/c new edition (£7-99, Mulholland Books) by Warren Ellis

Hound vol 1: Protector h/c (£20-00, Cuchulainn Entertainment) by Barry Devlin & Paul Bolger

Magic Trixie vol 1 (£6-99, Harper Collins) by Jill Thompson

Nimona s/c (£9-99, Harper Collins) by Noelle Stevenson

Pain Is Really Strange (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Steve Haines & Sophie Standing

The Autumnlands vol 1: Tooth & Claw s/c (£7-50, Image) by Kurt Busiek & Ben Dewey

Bob’s Burgers vol 1 (£13-50, Dynamite) by various

The Classic Comic Colouring Book (£9-99, Michael O’Mara Books) by various

Star Wars: Jedi Academy vol 3: The Phantom Bully h/c (£9-99, Scholastic) by Jeffrey Brown

Batman: Arkham Origins s/c (£10-99, DC) by various

Runaways: Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Terry Moore, various & Phil Noto, Emma Rios, Sara Pichelli, Humberto Ramos, various

S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 1: Perfect Bullets s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Mark Waid & various

Assassination Classroom vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Blue Exorcist vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 25-27 (£9-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 9 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

News!

ITEM! Out this week: 8HOUSE #1 by MULTIPLE WARHEAD’S Brandon Graham & BEAST’s Marian Churchland Have an illustrated 8HOUSE interview with Marian Churchland!

ITEM! Adorable flick-animation effect going on at Richard Swan’s panel-per-day UNTITLED COMIC.

ITEM! From the creator of comicbook creepiness THROUGH THE WOODS, Emily Carroll illustrates Neko Case’s ‘Wild Creatures’ for Songs Illustrated.

ITEM! Check out Tom Gauld’s ‘Endless Journey’ a “myriorama” for the Laurence Sterne-based Shandy Hall Museum! “Twelve picture-cards which can be arranged to form 479,001,600 different landscapes.” Ha!

 - Stephen

Page 45 Reviews written by Stephen & Jonathan then edited by a clapped out cockatoo with cataracts

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2015 week four

June 24th, 2015

Joe Decie’s THERE’S NO BATH IN THIS BATHROOM, two Young Readers’ graphic novels, TOKYO GHOUL manga, Malik Sajad’s MUNNU and more!

Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir h/c (£16-99, 4th Estate) by Malik Sajad.

“A young boy fell in the street like a loose overcoat from a hanger.”

He’s just caught a stray bullet.

Occupied Kashmir during the 1990s and Sajad dubbed Munnu (“the youngest”) is seven years old. Echoing Malik Sajad’s own childhood, this is a dense, intense and arresting read that will tear your heart apart and have you sweating with vicarious fear.

Those who already relished Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS, Belle Yang’s FORGET SORROW or  Kunwu & Otie’s A CHINESE LIFE are going to love this. I’m thinking particularly PERSEPOLIS, for this too centres on the strength, resilience and resourcefulness of a family in the wake of oppression.

That’s one heck of a cover with its title in gold relief, but immediately striking inside is the way the images resemble prints made from woodcuts, in keeping with the artisan trade of Munnu’s Papa. On the very first page there’s a topographical map of the city, each landmark raised on contoured hills in a medieval manner.

This effect’s emphasised further in the white lines, as if scooped out, between the angular forms of the Kashmiri people represented by a black, stylised version of their national animal, the Hangul deer, with whose beautiful, white, diamond-shaped eye-markings Sajad succeeds in imbuing an enormous range and depth of emotion using surprisingly subtle, simple strokes.

National symbolism aside, it’s also an astute choice of animal, deer (ideally) being free-roaming herbivores associated with nobility, strength and grace. Under Indian occupation, of course, the Kashmiris’ days of free-roaming have here been substantially curtailed with a bludgeoningly repetitive and brutal enforcement but they certainly maintain their grace on the page.

There’s something far more affecting to me about seeing the face of a faun nuzzling the neck of a maternally protective deer than there would have been had it been a drawing of a human mother and child. Perhaps it’s the residual effect of having bawled my eyes out during Bambi at the pictures aged four or five. Indeed when humans do rear their ugly heads as soldiers, there are grotesque scenes of them molesting a sister visiting her brother in prison under the excuse of frisking her for weapons as those detained watch helplessly in the dark from behind iron bars.

It’s juxtaposed on either side by a peaceful gathering of prayer and song in a former cricket ground now given over to the gravestones of martyrs as far as the eye can see. There the Kashmiri people / deer raise their hands towards the heavens, their arms like the bifurcating branches of the trees up above them.

Another early scene shows them swarming round a sacred mulberry tree in grief as two bodies in “snow-white shrouds” are returned after being shot by soldiers during one of the all-too regular crackdowns when houses are wrecked as they’re searched for all men over a certain height who are then paraded in front of an informant to be identified as militants. The rolling mass, rippling with those white demarcation lines between so many individuals, looks like a swollen river engorged with grief. It is beautiful yet terrible to behold.

Another wise decision to win over readers is making the heart of this book Munnu’s family. His beloved, touchingly affectionate older brother Bilal boasts the antlers of a healthy young buck implying he’s in his late teens, whereas Munnu and his two other brothers have small budding stubs: Munnu is seven, his other male siblings no more than a couple of years older than him. His sister Shahnaz is closer in age to Bilal. His father sports a pair of geometrically elaborate glasses which come over like a Perspex visor and that made me smile. His perpetually worried mother in her shawl and headdress looks a little like she’s an example of origami.

The tight-knit family is everything, and they’re keenly aware that theirs is lucky to be intact: so many of Bilal’s teenage contemporaries have snuck across the border to the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir to received armed training before returning and to become some of those all-too-young martyrs in that repurposed cricket ground. Also, there are those crackdowns I mentioned and each time the tension is taut as the mother waits in agony at home for her husband and Bilal’s safe return, tearfully praying within each of the three segments of a slowly ticking clock between the second, minute and hour hands.

Growing up under these intrusive conditions which have had a severely deleterious effect upon Papa’s trade (once thriving tourism is now all but extinct) is no ideal childhood and Munnu’s nightmares after a family friend is shot during an identification parade are prolonged and horrific. Sure, there are regular childhood games to be played – like fantasy cricket using the page numbers of an Urdu / English dictionary to score – but it’s hardly normal for a seven-year-old when practising his art to be copying disfigured bodies and AK-47s from newspaper photos. When we carved ink-stamps from erasers (and we did) we made the shapes of horned devil heads not machine guns. There’s something far more sinister about a machine gun ink-stamp mass-reproduced on children’s exercise books than individual drawings – or indeed horned devil heads.

Religion plays a large part inside and outside his regularly disrupted schooling as principals are arrested when linked to militants and some teachers are more kindly than others. One respected elder perceptively remarks, “The heat of the pulpit can either make one divine or a devil”. But however brutal you rate the punishments at school (and I rather think you will), it’s as nothing compared to dragging bodies through a street behind a military van until all the skin on their faces is scraped off to instil fear in the population. Now that is medieval.

Together we follow Munnu through his first published political cartoon aged 13 – then regular employment as a daily visual satirist at the Greater Kashmir newspaper during his early teens – to his first introduction to comics in the form of Joe Sacco graphic novels of extended reportage. Whence this graphic novel. After everything he witnesses he’s not short of passion in denouncing the Indian army’s occupation – chronicled here is atrocity after casual and callous atrocity; the army will even vandalise the ambulance due to take Munnu’s mother to hospital later on – but is candid about his lack of historical knowledge to keep his cartoons fresh, partly because of the jumble of languages the population is forced to speak, read and write in, emphatically excluding Kashmiri.

So the reader is not made to feel relatively ignorant. It’s only halfway through MUNNU that we’re given a history lesson ourselves and – wouldn’t you know it? – good old empire-building Britain plays its woefully traditional, substantial part in fucking things up for Kashmir, catalysing bloodbath after bloodbath before the current conflict kicks off during October 1947 and Kashmir is carved up by the United Nations between the two nuclear powers of India and Pakistan without any consultation whatsoever about what the Kashmiri people want.

It’s a recurring response – of lack thereof. The fervent desire of the Kashmiri population for independence is completely ignored.

Whenever Munnu (increasingly referred to as Sajad as his reputation as an artist expands) is received by outsiders during a Kathmandu summit or when visited by E.U delegates he is patronised to death by well meaning westerners as being ignorant and simplistic in spite of the fact that he’s lived the life that they only hear of from afar.

“I might not know where the bullet came from but I could tell her who the bullet hit.”

But if you think that Malik white-washes the Kashmiri factions’ own roles in massacres (the statistics of which lie in the eyes of the various different statisticians), you’re very much mistaken because if the Indian Army’s atrocities weren’t bad enough, organised religion is used by some Muslim Kashmiri to decry the minority Pandit Kashmiri whose homes are mob-attacked with stones in order to drive them out. Hands up who’s even remotely surprised?

“Infidels, infidels, get out of Kashmir but leave your women here!”

The Pandit population does get out, en masse, but wisely take their women with them. But then there’s an internal free-for-all just to settle personal or religious scores on every side and there’s lovely, isn’t it?

The last fifty-plus pages are terrifying on so many levels. If this had been a mere history lesson it wouldn’t have been half so effective or affecting. But no, this is a highly personal account cleverly constructed so that you care.

At any given point any one member of the family could succumb to a bullet or an illness whose cure could have been readily available were there not an occupying army sabotaging access to treatments or even decent nutrition. I lost count of the times that Munnu or one of his family were detained, restrained, searched and beaten until they could prove they were who claimed to be.

So when a young American woman whom Sajad falls for loses his mobile phone while visiting a highly restricted area… well, she simply doesn’t understand the consequences of it being discovered there with his SIM card intact by the Indian Army.

There’s so much about life in Kashmir which I didn’t understand. Since the terrifying nuclear brinksmanship in 1999 which I remember so well, it’s rather fallen from our news cycles, hasn’t it?

This great graphic novel, I am convinced, will bring it back to the forefront of our attention. To those of us who read great graphic novels, at least. Good luck in waiting for the oh-so-trusted mass media to report.

SLH

Buy Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir h/c and read the Page 45 review here

There’s No Bath In This Bathroom (Sketched In) (£5-00) by Joe Decie.

How To Sell Comics: a textbook example.

Look at that cover! Such gorgeous greens!

Laugh at that title! How daft is our language?

It’s so full of contradictions and hilariously vestigial nomenclature once history’s moved on.

When America imported its language from England to receive a right royal twatting it was just waiting for a comic like this. North Americans call toilets “bathrooms”. Long have their bathrooms been without baths. But then, so have ours: I have two bathrooms at home and one of them has but a shower.

As ever with Joe Decie (I BLAME GRANDMA, THE LISTENING AGENT etc) this is slyly suspect autobiography with a mischievous punchline delivered deadpan.

In this case it concerns a night on the town during Canada’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival with fellow comicbook creators like Dan Berry, spent in an open-all-hours cheap pizza establishment rumoured to be run by gangsters. It would have been a much more relaxed meal for Joe if he hadn’t needed the loo. Or at least if the loo had been a little more sanitary. You will not believe what’s in there. Or who.

There’s usually something magical about a Joe Decie tale whether it’s tall or not. For I don’t mean magical / fantastical (though that’s not out of bounds), I mean odd encounters or flights of thought, and this is no exception. How Joe reacts to them is always worth a smile.

I BLAME GRANDMA was created within 24 hours so the drawings were necessarily less embellished than the positively lush washes here. It verges on photorealistic. He’s a magnificent portrait artist too. Unlike many autobiographical cartoonists you can recognise Joe Decie immediately from his art – though he’s about half a foot shorter than I imagined – and his Dan Berry’s so lifelike, it’s eerie!

There are some fabulous gesticulations and comical expressions, my favourite being the bluff as Decie nods earnestly in agreement to something he couldn’t even comprehend.

Love the background winks to fellow creators Joe List, Liz Lunney and John Porcellino.

SLH

Buy There’s No Bath In This Bathroom (Sketched In) and read the Page 45 review here

Monkey Nuts vol 1: The Diamond Egg Of Wonders (£9-99, DFB Library) by the Etherington Brothers.

“And so LordMonkey Nuts Terra sent his terrible signal pulsing upwards through the earth. He really is very naughty.”

Oh, he’s so very naughty indeed!

From the creators of LONG GONE DON, BAGGAGE and the ingenious action-adventure puzzle book VON DOOGAN comes even more cracking comicbook chaos for Young Readers.

They will thrill, chill – and maybe dribble a little bit – at the sheer spectacle of it all! Is there anyone working in children’s comics today who can pack more colour and fine-lined detail into each and every page? I don’t think so! There are always extra background jokes in the form of signage but I positively wet myself during the cacophonous climax when the landscapes took on a life of their own! And upon Isla De Monstrea they’re as exotic as early Tombraider’s only with 25 gazillion times sharper definition!

Aarrgh! What is happening?! In order to distract all other contenders in his hunt for the Diamond Egg Of Wonders, Lord Terra has sent out a sonic signal which makes monsters drawn to the island like moths to his flame.

In their rampaging way stand but three idiotic individuals just like The Magnificent Seven, only fewer and far less magnificent:

Sid the tap-dancing monkey is addicted to lunching, munching and brunching on bananas! Rivet, the walking, talking, robotic, hot-beverage dispenser, is bananas! Police Chief Tuft is not bananas but he is as crazy as a coconut! Umm. Largely because he is one.

Are these three fully prepped for policing? Do they have take-down, truss-‘em-up tactics and tricks up their sleeves? Do they have their combined wits about them in order to conquer the chaos that erupts upon their delinquent doorsteps? They do not

They are about as witless as the most nit-witted numbskulls you can possibly imagine! I guess they’ll just have to wing it then.

Duck and cover!

Wave after wave of monsters hit Monster Island from tentacled terrors and petulant, primate-hating pyramids to a colossal, fire-headed fury in a very foul mood because he’s managed to get an alarm clock lodged up his bottom. Lodged up his bottom!

I once got an alarm clock lodged up my bottom and, let me tell you, when the alarm went off it was most discombobulating!

SLH

Buy Monkey Nuts vol 1: The Diamond Egg Of Wonders and read the Page 45 review here

Tales Of Fayt: The Mystery Of The Crooked Imp (£7-99, DFB) by Conrad Mason & David Wyatt.

Welcome to Port Fayt, so-called jewel of The Middle Islands which lie on The Ebony Ocean!

I say “so-called” because hook-handed buccaneer Crafty Crocklewick takes the time and trouble to deliver dire warnings about what lies ashore in the form of an annotated map upon which you will discover The Rusty Anchor and The Pickled Dragon amongst several insalubrious saloons!

The Rusty Anchor is described as “the safest lodging house in town, so long as you sleep with one eye open” while of The Pickled Dragon it’s suggested, “Try their gutspiller grog for a night you’ll never remember”. Given that the target audience probably averages around ten years old, they probably won’t remember that by the time they come to risk not remembering, but still. I love good map, me!

Bursting out from the pages of THE PHOENIX weekly story comic for kids, I can only compare the level of eye-popping detail to LONG GONE DON, BAGGAGE, MONKEY NUTS and the ingenious action-adventure puzzle book VON DOOGAN by stablemates The Etherington Brothers. The colouring style is softer and more painterly but behind that lie lines quite as crisp and just as much action.

Wyatt draws a mean, mist-shrouded pirate ship that’s run aground on the rocks beneath a silvery full moon and the Rattigan’s family mansion is rich with intricately carved woodwork even if, on closer inspection, you can spot some wallpaper peeling off its walls. I rather think the family has seen wealthier days.

Far worse, the Rattigans have learned that last night their horse-and-coach driver Whelk was set upon and their baby son Clarence abducted from the carriage so they have summoned The Demon’s Watch, a band of thinkers and fighters far more effective than Fayt’s official Dockside Militia, the Blackcoats.

Led by Captain Newton, a human-ogre hybrid, they are: ancient elf, Old Jon; green-skinned troll twins, The Bootle Brothers; wand-waving magician Hal; and young tomboy Tabitha with bright blue hair, determined to make her mark and so her membership official.

Immediately something seems off about the case but it’ll grow even more tangled before the day is done and the battle’s been won. Oh yeah, you can expect plennnnnnnnty of action involving fairies, a mysterious, red cowled mastermind, that pirate ship, an old-school Elizabethan theatre and its grandstanding lead Actor who is quite the troll, green beneath his grease paint.

He really is a complete and utter ham, and unfortunately writes his own lines. I guess for him it’s a theatrical release.

SLH

Buy Tales Of Fayt: The Mystery Of The Crooked Imp and read the Page 45 review here

Tokyo Ghoul vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida…

“Boy eats girl… da da da, dara da da, da da da dara da da…”

With sincere apologies to Haircut 100.

So… we finally got in the manga title seemingly everyone’s been desperate for and I thought I better give it a read. Set in a modern-day Tokyo haunted by ‘ghouls’ with a taste for human flesh, it’s a horror with comedic undertones for reasons I will elaborate on shortly.

No one has ever caught a ghoul, but people suspect that they are walking amongst the population hiding in human form. Then, occasionally, the half eaten remains of some poor unfortunate will be found on the pavement in the morning. These attacks aren’t frequent enough to cause mass panic, or indeed apparently to stop people walking the streets alone at night, but obviously people are concerned.

When our shy central protagonist, bookworm Ken Kaneki, is invited out for a dinner date by the glamorous Rize, it all seems too good to be true. It is, obviously, as she is a ghoul who’s decided Ken is going to be her Special Of The Day. Fortunately for him whilst she is in the middle of pouncing on him and his kidneys (after he’s chivalrously offered to walk her home) some scaffolding collapses, killing her instantly. Unfortunately for Ken, after her late-night snack, he’s in need of an organ donor. Now where you suppose they might find somebody, without any bothersome next of kin to say no to such a worthy request?

You got it, poor old Ken ends up as the recipient of various ghoulish innards – instead of ending up as the contents of them – and that’s where his problems really start. Unable to turn to anyone human including best friend Hike for help, in case he decides to turn them into a sandwich, he’s forced to seek succour from his new-found half-brothers and half-sisters. And their social skills leave a lot to be desired…

Hmm. I can’t honestly say I was as instantly gripped this as I was by say, ATTACK ON TITAN. It’s an interesting enough premise, but I think it is going to be far too much battle manga-esque for me. Which is a surprise given it is on Viz’ signature Ikki imprint. But then again so was MARCH STORY and I thought exactly the same about that. So: upmarket battle manga with a decent premise, then.

JR

Buy Tokyo Ghoul vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Gotham Academy vol 1: Welcome To Gotham Academy s/c (£10-99, DC) by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher & Karl Kerschl…

Can I get away with describing this as a BATMAN / COURTNEY CRUMRIN-esque mash-up? I think I possibly can, just about… Along with BATGIRL OF BURNSIDE s/c and a slew of titles DC are just releasing such as BLACK CANARY #1 (both written by Brendan Fletcher) this definitely represents a welcome partial shift in their traditional ‘superhero’ output.

So… our hero Olive is attending the prestigious Gotham Academy. She’s a little bit of a social malcontent right now, having split up with her boyfriend and managing to alienate most of her friends over the summer. She also had a run in with Batman… which had quite an impact on her.

Initially struggling to settle in, including being bullied because her mum is in Arkham Asylum, she decides to turn teen sleuth when some masked figures are spotted on campus. Like any good, ridiculously posh American school, they are of course merely members of a secret society, but they are definitely up to some serious no good, that’s for sure. Can Olive uncover their dastardly scheme whilst avoiding demerits and detentions?

 

This is great fun with a slightly spooky edge, which I suspect might be both Brendan Fletcher and Becky Cloonan’s respective contributions neatly balancing out. Much like BATGIRL OF BURNSIDE s/c , the art, this time from Karl Kerschl, is relatively cartoonish but excellent nonetheless, and totally in keeping stylistically with the content and tone of the story. And whilst it is obviously intended to be relatively lightweight fare (DETECTIVE COMICS this is not, though arguably there is considerably more sleuthery going on here), it does handle the darker side of schooling, the bullying and social pecking order skulduggery that goes on everywhere, rather well.

I’ve seen enough of Brendan Fletcher’s work recently to realise he is actually a pretty good writer, certainly in terms of current DC output. I’d quite like to see him tackle completely non-caped contemporary fiction at some point.

JR

Buy Gotham Academy vol 1: Welcome To Gotham Academy s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Black Canary #1 (£2-25, DC) by Brenden Fletcher & Annie Wu.

“From the moment the lights went up, the Wizard’s Wand show in Detroit was a performance to remember. Paloma Terrific debuted her new custom gear in the rig. D.D. was finally playing to the crowd. Lord Byron sat perfectly in the pocket playing to the crowd. And silent wunderkind Ditto pulled sounds out of her semi-acoustic so otherworldly that Leon Theremin would’ve been dumbstruck.”

- From some music magazine or other.

Artist Annie Wu a great many of you will already know from the deliciously drawn HAWKEYE VOL 3, given which you will be far from surprised that this is not your average superhero comic.

It’s not even your average superheroine comic because although Black Canary still sports fishnet stockings, this isn’t about the long legs, thigh shots and deep, forward-thrusting cleavage otherwise known as “tits’n’ass” comics which are a total disgrace to the medium.

Here the fishnets are torn in punk and post-punk fashion and that’s a studded leather jacket on top of the bodice which reveals nothing at all except a new wave fashion sense as our trouble magnet, now lead singer of the rock band Black Canary, lets it rip into the mic.

Wu’s lines are all whoosh-whoosh on the page, hair flying everywhere or lolloping over the forehead when the cast is feeling more sedate. It keeps the story sweeping along beautifully and the story right now seems to centre on Black Canary’s mute guitarist Ditto, for although it looked as though D.D. was attracting all the violence spilling onto their set so cutting the gigs short and ruining their reputation, she was merely defending their territory.

Really they were after the silent and secretive Ditto – she of the ethereal strings – and their assailants were merely the vanguard. What’s coming next (and I do mean what, not who) I can only compare to the Umbral in UMBRAL. Lee Loughbridge’s colours do something clever there: they take over everything on the page – all the linework and shadow which would ordinarily be black – except for the creatures themselves.

The effect is to render the inky ones alien, otherworldly and the centre of your eyes’ attention. They’ve got the bands too. Thank goodness D.D. used to be in the Justice League. For five seconds.

So what’s her story, then?

SLH

Buy Black Canary #1 and read the Page 45 review here

 

Thors #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Sprouse.

“Names, Throg. I need an I.D. on the victims. So far Ray and I have nothing to go on.”
“What can I tell ya? They’re not in the database.”
“None of them? How is that possible.”
“You’re talking to a frog that carries a hammer, pal. Any damn thing is possible.”

It is now!

In SECRET WARS #1 the regular Marvel Universe and its Ultimate counterpart collided, obliterating both. Now all that’s left is Battleworld, consisting of concurrent cross-overs and major events from Marvel’s past playing themselves out further than they did before or in different ways. Each takes place in a different domain between which travelling is strictly forbidden by decree of Battleworld’s deity Doctor Victor Von Doom. He is the law; order is maintained by the Thors.

This, therefore, is now a police-procedure crime comic, and it’s cracking!

For a start the art is by TOM STRONG’s Chris Sprouse so it’s big and it’s bold with smooth and attractive figure work without being over-busy or brutal.

Its stars every Thor throughout history – well, Marvel’s history – and there have been many: Stormborn (the X-Men’s Ororo), Thorlief (the Ultimate Universe’s Thor) Beta Ray Bill (he has the head of a skinned horse!) and Throg (he’s a frog). There are in fact hundreds of the hammer-hefting hearties.

The primaries on this investigation are Thorlief and Beta Ray Bill and the pressure is on for it’s just been designated an “Allthing” by Odin. This means all hands on deck because the case needs to be closed quickly before Doom himself gets wind of it and demotes the two primaries which would involve losing a great deal more than their police pensions.

So what’s got them all baffled? Five dead bodies have appeared in five different domains but what isn’t different is their identities: they’re all the same woman. Five versions of the same woman have been murdered. Who is the woman? Clue: she’s ever so slightly central to the Marvel THOR mythos.

What I love about the best of these SECRET WARS satellite series (and there are hundreds of those too; amongst those reviewed so far and still / back in stock, OLD MAN LOGAN #1 and PLANET HULK #1) is that they each contain a different piece of the jig-saw puzzle which is Battleworld and the secrets that lie behind it. Beta Ray’s informant, living on the street out of a cardboard box, knows stuff:

“I can tell you what I’ve learned in the shadows, Stormbreaker. I can tell you why people are dying. Your good friend Loki can tell you about the greatest lie of all. But I don’t believe you’re gonna want to hear it.”

A lie that’s bigger than Loki’s? Blimmin’ ‘eck!

SLH

Buy Thors #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Wytches vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Scott Snyder & Jock

Rumble vol 1: What Colour Of Darkness s/c (£7-50, Image) by John Arcudi & James Harren

Russian Olive To Red King h/c (£18-99, Adhouse Books) by Kathryn Immonen & Stuart Immonen

Borb (£14-99, Uncivilised Books) by Jason Little

Invincible vol 21: Modern Family (£12-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley

Massive vol 5: Ragnarok s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown

Oliver And The Seawigs (£6-99, Oxford) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre

Cakes In Space (£6-99, Oxford) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre

Rasputin vol 1: The Road To The Winter Palace s/c (£10-99, Image) by Alex Grecian & Riley Rossmo

Strangers In Paradise vol 5 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Strangers In Paradise vol 6 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Adventure Time Sugary Shorts vol 2 h/c (£16-99, Titan) by various inc. Roger Langridge, Noelle Stevenson, Frazer Irving

Batman And Robin vol 5: The Big Burn s/c (£12-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, various

Batman And Robin vol 6: The Hunt For Robin h/c (£18-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Andy Kubert, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, various

Supergirl vol 1: Last Daughter Of Krypton s/c (£10-99, DC) by Michael Green, Mike Johnson & Mahmud Asrar

Supergirl vol 2: Girl In The World s/c (£10-99, DC) by Michael Green, Mike Johnson & Mahmud Asrar, George Perez

Supergirl vol 3: Sanctuary s/c (£12-99, DC) by Mike Johnson & Mahmud Asrar

Supergirl vol 4: Out Of The Past s/c (£10-99, DC) by Michael Alan Nelson, Scott Lobdell, Justin Jordan & various

Supergirl vol 5: Red Daughter Of Krypton s/c (£13-50, DC) by Tony Bedard & various

Ant-Man vol 1: Second-Chance Man s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Ramon Rosanas

Hulk: Future Imperfect s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Peter David & George Perez, Dale Keown

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol 14 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Eiji Otsuka & Housui Yamazaki

Mobile Suit Gundam Origin vol 10: Solomon (£22-50, Random House / Vertical) by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

News!

ITEM! Artist Daren Bader interviewed about TRIBES OF KAI graphic novel which looks ferociously fine – and feline!

ITEM! Interview with Kate Beaton about her next comic collection, STEP ASIDE, POPS! Kate Beaton’s HARK, A VAGRANT! always in stock at Page 45!

ITEM! Craig Thompson’s new graphic novel – for Young Adults – is on the horizon! Pre-order Craigh Thompson’s SPACE DUMPLINS from Page 45! There’s so many Craig Thompson SPACE DUMPLINS process pieces online on his blog! Duck under the bridge and scroll down!

- Stephen

Page 45 Reviews written by Stephen & Jonathan then edited by an Aye-Aye with no eye for errors.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2015 week three

June 17th, 2015

Bodies s/c (£12-99, Vertigo) by Si Spencer & Dean Ormston, Phil Winslade, Meghan Hetrick, Tula Lotay.

“Know you are loved.”

This is going to surprise you.

Longharvest Lane, London: 1890, 1940, 2014 and 2050.

Four different artists for four distinct time periods. In each of them a naked male corpse is discovered in the same position, in the same location, with the same vicious mutilations and the same stark symbol slashed upon its wrists.

This brand begins to crop up everywhere and every when: on the finger prints of the corpse itself; on a Spiritualist & Pharmacist shop front window and door; at the Whitechapel Masonic Lodge, on the parachute of a doll in a dream; within the Pulsewave Generator’s holographic schematics in the future; as a mark left in place of one of the corpses which goes AWOL; and on the ancient painting titled “So Begins The Long Harvest”.

Whole thoughts and phrases echo throughout time, like “Who are you and what do you remember?” and “This is brutality”.

So this brutality begins during four eras which saw or will see extreme hatred and violence.

2014 sees D.S. Shahara Hasan, a Muslim East-Ender, in police riot gear leading the charge against an aggressively racist anti-Muslim demonstration rallied by England’s Glory. She is philosophical about the thugs and amused by her subordinate’s sense of humour:

“Tell me again why I’m the one in the armour and you’re swanning about in Hugo Boss?”

“Because your people are on a ruthless Jihad to set up an Islamofascist annex of Mecca on the Mile End Road?”

“And don’t you forget it. Your head’ll be first to roll as soon as my scimitar arrives from Taliban Central.”

She’s about to have that smile wiped off her face.

In 1890, during Jack The Ripper’s murderous rampage, Inspector Edmond Hillinghead strays on a top-hatted toff receiving oral relief down a dark alley from a woman with stubble before he trips in flight over a hacked and slashed corpse.

“Someone really didn’t like him.”
“Or really liked doing this to him.”

Dutiful and diligent, Hillinghead will do his best for the victim using fledging forensics in spite of his superior’s less than enlightened attitudes towards homosexuality. These too are dark times.

In 2050. armed with a bow and arrow, Maplewood discovers her own incarnation of the body in the scantily populated, broken capitol, along with a brightly coloured ball and a conspicuously coherent girl called Bounce. For like someone with Alzheimer’s and everyone else around her, Maplewood struggles with labels, scrabbles for the right words and barely remembers her own name. The Pulsewave saw to that many moons ago. But who saw to the Pulsewave?

During an air raid in 1940’s East End – while across The Channel The Holocaust is occurring – we find one Inspector Weissman hiding his Jewish heritage with an anglicised name which no one will use. He has unorthodox methods of policing his turf, using the long rain of Blitz bombs to harvest a fortune in theft.

“The blackouts and the raids mask a multitude of crimes. Most of them mine.”

But not all of them, apparently, are his.

All four artists – Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay and Phil Winslade – bring distinct atmospheres to their eras: smooth and clean, suppressed grotesque, elusive and ethereal, and a Butch Guice brand of photorealism, respectively.

Dean Ormston’s lines are a tightly controlled cross between SPIRITS OF THE DEAD‘s Richard Corben and HELLBOY’s Mike Mignola when it comes to the shadows and period feel. Lee Loughbridge adjusts his colour palette for each era and with Ormston restricts himself largely to black, white and a glowing spot-red for spectacles, sigils and blood. When complementing Tula Lotay’s dreamlike sequences he’s far softer, far brighter and in places quite close to Paul Pope’s HEAVY LIQUID. Those sequences are almost like a mirage.

The eight chapters are split into six pages for each time period, which is a discipline in itself, but their order rotates as required. You’re encouraged – nay, compelled – to cross-reference densely packed clues. These range from the more obvious iterations of Longharvest Lane (by 2050 the cracked and dilapidated street sign is missing several letters) and Longharvest Arms, Green and indeed Infirmary. And, deliciously, the time periods will bleed into each other with both cause and effect.

But I promised you surprises, didn’t I? The biggest is this: it’s no mere whodunit. Like Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s comicbook masterpiece FROM HELL, this is a whydunit, and the self-sacrificial “Why?” is infinitely more important.

For, at its great big heart, this is a wake-up call, combating wave after wave of human prejudice and its sick and sorry attendant violence.

It’s precisely the sort of thing Will Eisner spoke of so wisely in DROPSIE AVENUE, THE NAME OF THE GAME and TO THE HEART OF THE STORM etc. The clue’s on the very first page.

SLH

Buy Bodies s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Blubber #1 (£2-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez.

Holy Hellfire from the Heavens upon High!

Thank fuck that this comes with a crazed-critter cover so lurid that even the natural world’s most voracious, omnivorous and top-of-the-food-chain predators would recognise that it is as venomously lethal to their guts as it will prove to the spiritual well-being of any human foolish enough to lap up the body fluids within.

We’re all about consumers at Page 45 for we are unashamedly capitalist bastards, but what is being consumed within may make you gag.

From LOVE & ROCKETS’ much beloved Beto, Sunday evening David Attenborough this is not!

In last week’s review of the magnificent and monumental 750-page DRAWN & QUARTERLY: 25 YEARS OF CONTEMPORARY CARTOONING, COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS anthology (a title designed to garner as many Google points as it possibly can – hey, we play those games too!), I quoted publisher Fantagraphics as being designated “transgressive” and no new comic could possibly underscore the accuracy of that epithet more emphatically than this. I am a firm advocator for transgression which is why I love Fantagraphics as dearly as I do Drawn & Quarterly.

But you have been warned: LOVE & ROCKETS is as literary as you could like but Gilbert is taking a holiday here to revel with delirious abandon in detailing the reproductive life cycles and carnal pleasures of various beasties you would least like to encounter on safari.

If I can find even a single page of interior art online I probably won’t reproduce it here. If I have republished it here, it is the one least likely to land me in jail.

Sorry..? Of course it made me laugh!

SLH

Buy Blubber #1 and read the Page 45 review here

East Of West vol 4: Who Wants War (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta.

“Hope?
“I think hope will be the death of us.”

I loved the lie.

The lie right at the end of the last book, discerned only if you interpret the visuals.

That’s what comics at its brightest does best, and EAST OF WEST is amongst the brightest and the best of Image’s creator-owned series, shot through with Jonathan Hickman’s impeccable design sense.

Lo and behold, this volume kicks off with another Hickman flourish to remind you where we are, what’s happening and what has gone before in the form of a beautiful, colour-coded timeline which could not be clearer taking you up to 2064AD when The Horsemen were reborn and the Apocalypse began.

The current status of each of the Seven Nations making up the divided States of America is detailed in a summary and stats from its government, language, population and GDP to its military might, economic strength, political stability and long term viability, all accompanied by a map. If that sounds dry, you haven’t seen Hickman’s design work!

And if you think a comic involving the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse has to look bleak, dark and dreary, then you haven’t seen Nick Dragotta’s lush line work glowing with Frank Martin’s colours. Very much in the tradition of John Buscema and Lee Weeks in its smooth and solid forms, Dragotta’s figure work is impeccable, his eyes are piercing and his own designs for the likes of the Endless Nation and the “blind” boy Babylon in his survival suit are sensational.

Here’s my own summary:

America which has been divided between Seven Nations, representatives of whom sit on a secret council and conspire against each other, vying for power, even though their goal is the same: to bring about Armageddon. It is their sworn duty, for they are The Chosen who follow The Message, a sacred text heralding the end of the world.

Fighting the same nihilistic corner are the Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, resurrected in EAST OF WEST VOL 1 as children. Well, three of them were: War, Famine and Conquest. Death was conspicuously absent.

Why? Death, had stayed behind as a white-skinned, white-haired, white-clothed, gun-slinging adult because he’d fallen in love with Xiaolian Mao, now leader of the Mandarin-speaking People’s Republic Of America on its West Coast, a woman who, he discovered, had born him a child and the hunt is now on for that son dubbed The Great Beast, Babylon.

The Child Horsemen want to kill Death’s progeny; Death wants to save him.

Death wants to save the whole world.

It’s that sort of a book, riddled with ironies, like the Endless Nation of Native Americans once so myth-based now being the technological champions of the modern world and, militarily, its mightiest: they have just conquered The United States of Texas. They export their technology to every trading nation which devours it hungrily, but there’s a rumour that the Endless Nation is holding back.

Whereas relationship was once strained, the scenes between Mao and Death are so very tender that you’ll feel hit by a brick at the punchline undercutting them. Yes, I know – Death, a romantic! He’s has so far failed to locate their son and so fulfil his promise.

His son is the one currently being subjected to that lie.

Nurtured in isolation and secret deep underground by the greatest schemers of them all, perhaps, the boy has been raised to help bring about the Apocalypse. He is now roaming above ground for the first time, both led and misled by the sentient receptacle of knowledge he is still umbilically linked to, a silver sphere which hovers above him and to which he is beholden for all that he sees. That which he’s shown is being filtered.

The sphere, for example, looks to the lad like a balloon with a reassuringly smiley face. There is much more for Babylon to be taught while he’s still malleable because the boy who is supposed to bring about the Apocalypse is in danger of becoming a vegan.

SLH

Buy East Of West vol 4: Who Wants War and read the Page 45 review here

The Boss h/c (£9-99, DFC Library) by John Aggs & Patrice Aggs.

“I hate field trips!”

I’m  with you, Nazim!

Ours were usually to some desolate agricultural or industrial museum. Educational away-days…? Bor-ring! Although we did once go to a zoo where we should probably have been locked up.

Nazim isn’t the titular Boss, by the way. The Boss is the level-headed, quick-thinking young man of purpose who’s striding into fully prepped action on the cover and tossing his cell phone behind him for Freddie to catch. Freddie will prove cracking on comms.

It’s just as well because Bella, Nazim, Lucy, Freddie, Alex, Joseph, Patrick, Anne, Robbie, Hannah and The Boss are all going to have to stay both in touch and on their toes if today’s field trip isn’t going to land them in detention forever or, far worse, on a mortuary slab.

I’m going to come clean and confess that in spite of DFC’s sterling reputation for kids’ quality comedy and adventure comics (they publish THE PHOENIX weekly and all its subsequent collected editions), I opened this somewhat gingerly. School-age super-sleuths…? Do me one! But this could not have been better thought through, using almost every element of its given environment – a town-bound castle packed full of sightseers, busy-body locals and eagle-eyed teachers – to create both opportunities and seeming insurmountable hurdles as our various young women and men in their give-away school uniforms desperately attempt to keep track of two thieves whilst staying as incognito as possible. The consequent tension was tremendous.

Think about it: they can’t go into pubs and they’re caught outside the castle grounds then it’s pretty much game over.

All they know is that a priceless illuminated manuscript – the Rackhamstone Psalter – is going to be stolen from its alarmed glass case at the top of one of the castle towers and if they’re going to stand a chance of obstructing the theft or catching them in the act they’re going to have to think ahead and work out how they’d do it first.

I liked that. Led by The Boss – and with distraction / interference being run by a thoroughly adept Alex – they’re not just reactive but pro-active and my adrenaline kicked in long before the action kicked off.

John Aggs you may already know as the artist on THE RECRUIT (another Young Adults graphic novel but for early- to mid-teens whereas this is emphatically all ages) but it’s Patrice Aggs on art duties here and where she excels is on individuality, the liveliest of expressions and expert body language.

There’s an early scene set on the school bus where The Boss sits at the back between Bella and Nazim, their forward-leaning, frantic anxiety neatly juxtaposed by The Boss’ cross-legged calm. He’s pretty dapper in his shirt sleeves and tie and ditching his school blazer lends him an immediate air of authority.

That’s not to say he’ll stay unflappable forever. The sense of movement accelerates on the page dramatically as parties are split, cell phone batteries are depleted and Nazim spots something alarming holstered under a jacket.

“Observe, record, fetch the police. Those are the rules.”

In an ideal world, at least.

SLH

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

Baggage (£9-99, DFC Library) by the Etherington Brothers.

Yowsa!

If the secret of a great graphic novel for Young Readers is to make their eyes light up like shiny marbles at the sheer sweet-shop spectacle of it all, then this is the golden gobstopper!

Also, this does contain a sweet shop full of Tripple Brittle Ripples, Choco Dip Nanas and Woofs! Woofs are made of white chocolate with cheddar and garlic. Err…. woof! There grumpy Granny Bee is moulding liquorice into the shape of bare bottoms.

Eh, it’s a hobby.

From the creators of LONG GONE DON and the ingenious action-adventure puzzle book VON DOOGAN, this is as colourful as a bird of paradise and as busy as a humming bird – relentless mayhem and a surprisingly dense read. And we mean that in the detailed not stoopid way, though there’s plenty of stoopid to boot!

Set in a city with exotic elements from Florence to San Francisco with the only trams in existence that could possible plunge the wrong way, it’s action-packed with non-stop escapades as Randall the disaster-prone lost property officer is set a seemingly impossible task by his cantankerous boss to avoid getting the sack. All he has to do is return the oldest item in the warehouse, a battered old suitcase splattered with stickers, to its rightful owner before the end of the day. Should be simple, right, if he puts his mind to it?

What mind would that be?!

This is the idiot whose “system” for filing things involves categories like “Things That Stack Nicely”, “Things That Are Really Quite Dangerous”, “Things That Smell Funny” and “Things That Might Not Actually Be Lost”. One of those things is wriggling and calling for help!

Cue slapstick shenanigans as Randall’s treasure hunt following clue after clue on the suitcase takes him all over the city before ending up… well, you won’t see that coming.

Before then there’s an interactive subterranean maze set in a sewer to the negotiate (which is probably the longest shortcut in history), and a grand stadium where they’re playing out the finals of… I have no idea what that sport could be!

“What part of TACKLE do you not understand, Steely? You’ve heard me use the word in training, yes?”
“Yeah, erm, it’s when we try to stop the other guys from scoring any points! Usually by kicking them hard in the WHATNOTS!”
“Textbook definition, son!”

SLH & JR

Buy Baggage and read the Page 45 review here

Life On Another Planet (£13-50, W.W. Norton) by Will Eisner.

Back on our shelves! Review originally written half a dozen years or so ago…

And now, as they say, for something completely different.

Also, a confessionette (it’s like a maisonette, only smaller, secret and guilt-ridden): I hadn’t until this afternoon actually read this book. 30 years I’ve had, so with an Eisner reprint every month at the moment, now seemed about bloody time. You can tell it’s 30 years old: it’s only 120 pages long yet it took me hours to devour. It’s like LUTHER ARKWRIGHT: dense and intense because way back then every page counted. No extravagantly silent or two-panel pages here! Instead there are lots of highly inventive layouts for which Eisner was famous in his SPIRIT pieces, with panels like windows under torrential rain or bordered by the sprawling, leafy drive of a mafia boss.

It’s an insane caper of international proportions aspiring to the sky, catalysed by two Astronomers in New Mexico picking up a signal from space in the form of a stream of prime numbers. Within moments a Soviet mole gets wind of the discovery, then the CIA’s brought in, Nadia makes her first appearance and quickly the whole thing sprawls out of control as countries, corporations, cults and even dictator President Ami of Sidiami become embroiled in a race to respond or prevent a response to the alien message. For Sidiami, read Uganda (Idi Amin was in charge when this came out); and for U.S. Presidential candidate Milgate, read Nixon, I’d have thought. Heavily in debt to many world nations, Ami seeks to reverse his country’s fortunes by having his country secede from planet Earth then selling it to the highest bidder as a launch site for a probe into space whose single occupant will be a plant mutated from the cells of a mafia member fleeing family retribution after killing his wife.

Sorry…? Yes, it really is that insane – not your normal Will Eisner affair at all – with multiple alliances and reversals of loyalty as each individual connives to get what they want whether it’s a man, a woman, a seat on the board or a President in their pocket. As such it’s as well observed as his Jewish autobiography. It just couldn’t be further from DROPSIE AVENUE geographically or in scope.

SLH

Buy Life On Another Planet and read the Page 45 review here

The Wake s/c (£13-50, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy.

Dive deep, swim fast!

“Now the creature, the noise it’s making, it sounds a lot like a section of the whale’s song that’s urgent, a section that comes right before a response.”
“What kind of response?”
“A massive response. Because the creature isn’t talking to us. It’s talking to them.”

At which point Sean Murphy will send the mother of all shivers up your spine…

Sub-aquatic, ice-cold horror from the writer of AMERICAN VAMPIRE, SEVERED, BATMAN: BLACK MIRROR, and the glorious, gawp-worthy writer/artist of PUNK ROCK JESUS, JOE THE BARBARIAN and HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS.

200 years in the future: a wet-suited woman glides over the narrow waterways between what were once dry-land skyscrapers, one of which is leaning precariously. A dolphin harnessed with sonic and survey equipment surfaces from the water lapping gently against a brownstone’s roof. And then there’s another tidal wave!

Now: marine biologist Lee Archer – sacked from NOAA and on the Department of Homeland Security’s shit-list for her marine biology conservation – is contacted by Agent Cruz and coerced into flying to Alaska’s South Slope to analyze an eerie, underwater call they cannot explain. Base camp is thousands of feet below sea level:

“Jesus, what is that?”
“It’s called a Ghost Rig. It’s a prototype. Yes, it’s a secret. No, it’s not legal. But it has the potential to extract nearly two hundred barrels a day, so there it is.”

Lee discovers she is not alone. There’s Dr. Marin, successfully published professor of folklore and mythology summoned to study an ‘artefact’, and the enigmatic yet supremely capable Leonard Meeks – an infamous poacher of very rare species – to study tissue samples. He looks like a vulture. And where do you think these sounds and tissue samples are coming from? Oh dear, that’s never a good idea…

On one level this is classic Doctor Who: illegal and environmentally disastrous strip-mining of Earth’s natural resources while invading the home territory of an ancient and previously undiscovered species. Exacerbate situation by capturing a creature and then belatedly bring in the experts before all hell breaks loose in a half-lit and confined environment, in this case flooded with water. It won’t help that the Merman sprays hallucinogenic toxins from glands in its eye sacks.

But wait! That’s just the first half. In part two we swoop to the future 200 years later which has borne the brunt – the repercussions – of the first half’s actions, and the world has surely changed in so many ways. Rarely have I encountered a future so thoroughly thought-through by its writer with some genuine shockers in store. This graphic novel is so much bigger and so much more brilliant than it appears on the sea’s choppy surface.

For a start, it is all about eyes: what we perceive and what we persuade others to perceive. And it’s all about ears: what we hear and that which we desperately hope will be listened to.

It stretches back thousands, nay millions of years. There is a key sequence involving the hunting of a giant white shark (maybe a Megalodon) by hundreds with spears just like we used to hunt mammoths; and they actually use a downed mammoth as bait.

 

On the surface this is a beyond-worrying horror story, yes: it will make you go “Brrrrrrr!” But it will also make you think.

Now, what is a Raindrop?

“It means the real-life referent that inspires a system of folklore. The raindrop hits the water, and concentric rings of lore spread from the point of impact. Like the Asiatic Bear in Tibet, its habit of walking on its hind legs. Now that inspired legends of Yetis.
“There’s no telling how many legends this creature inspired. From the Mermaids of Assyria, to the Sirens of Greece, with that call it’s making.”

The call that goes out to millions.

SLH

Buy The Wake s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batgirl vol 1: Batgirl Of Burnside (£10-99 s/c, DC) by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher & Babs Tarr, Irene Koh…

Why so serious? No, seriously?

This seems to have been the question someone – possibly Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher – asked the head honchos at DC. Either that or one of the head honchos at DC saw the success of Gillen and McKelvie’s highly relevant, demographically diverse and most importantly fun YOUNG AVENGERS run and thought, “We’ll have a bit of that! Which B-list Bat-character can we risk trying it out on?”

And it seems to have worked because this is joyful, crackpot nonsense. I am also quite sure the positive buzz this reworking has engendered, along with the similarly off-beat GOTHAM ACADEMY, is partly responsible for the slew of cartoonishly illustrated comedy titles and mini-series such as BIZARRO and BAT-MITE that DC is suddenly launching post- (speaking of crackpot nonsense, although of the utterly shite kind) CONVERGENCE.

So, Babs Gordon is off to Burnside college, presumably feeling the need to get some qualifications just in case superheroing doesn’t work out, career-wise. I mean, how could that choice of jobs possibly turn out badly…? She’s still fighting crime in her spare time – well, what little there is left of it after partying hard with her new roommates and locking lips with random hunky strangers. And guess what? Chasing down goons with a pounding hangover isn’t much fun at all!

It’s well written, utterly preposterous stuff featuring pop-up social media commentary (à la YOUNG AVENGERS…) and villains who are seemingly more interested in grabbing the spotlight than actual criminal endeavours. Of course, it’s the ‘Batgirl of Burnside’ who starts trending before rapidly going viral, which probably isn’t ideal if you have a secret identity to protect. In that sense this did remind me a little bit of very early SPIDER-MAN where puny Peter Parker was forever fretting about someone working out he was Spidey, all the whilst fantasising about knocking Flash Thompson’s teeth down his throat.

Black Canary pops up, loosely keeping the BIRDS OF PREY connection going, and I note with mild interest the forthcoming BLACK CANARY title is also going to be written by Brenden Fletcher where “martial arts, super spies and rock and roll combine” and “she’s quickly learning she’d die to protect the gang of misfits she’s fallen into”, which all sounds a bit Matt Fraction’s HAWKEYE to me. Art will be from Annie Wu, who… errr… did the Clint Barton portions of HAWKEYE VOL 3

Anyway, the art here from Babs Tarr very strongly minded me of the colour versions of SCOTT PILGRIM in places, which is probably appropriate as it is does have that similar daft sense of fun. This ought to succeed in enticing some new younger, possibly even female, readers into superhero comics, so in that sense I applaud DC’s motives in commissioning this material. As a 43-year-old male, I rather enjoyed it also, despite me probably not entirely being the demographic this title is aimed at. A strong start, let’s see if they can keep it up.

JR

Buy Batgirl vol 1 s/c: Batgirl Of Burnside and read the Page 45 review here

Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man vol 2 – Revelations s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez.

“Miles Morales is one of the top ongoing series in comics right now.”

That’s what Marvel chooses to quote on the cover.

Well, it was. It really was, and every episode written with warmth, wit and humanity by Brian Michael Bendis!

But ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN has ceased to be. It is that proverbial parrot which is pushing up its claws, Python-stylee.

And, oh, it had so much more life left in it! This seemed not rushed but effectively truncated, cauterised by a great big planet in the sky leading straight into SECRET WARS #1, and ULTIMATE END #1 by Bendis & Bagley.

What will emerge on the other side? Well, Miles will in one fictional universe or the other – as written by Bendis he’s far too much fun to lose – we simply don’t know in what form yet.

SLH

Buy Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man vol 2 – Revelations s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

There’s No Bath In This Bathroom (Sketched In) (£5-00) by Joe Decie

Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir h/c (£16-99, 4th Estate) by Malik Sajad

Child Of The Storm h/c (£23-99, Humanoids) by Manuel Bichebois & Didier Poli, Guilio Zeloni

Colder vol 2: Bad Seed (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Paul Tobin & Juan Ferreyra

My Little Pony: Fiendship Is Magic s/c (£14-99, IDW) by various

Syllabus: Notes From An Accidental Professor (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lynda Barry

Usagi Yojimbo vol 29: Two Hundred Jizo (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

Deathstroke vol 1: Gods Of War s/c (£10-99, DC) by Tony S. Daniel

Flash vol 6: Out Of Time h/c (£18-99, DC) by Robert Vendetti, Van Jensen & Brett Booth

Gotham Academy vol 1: Welcome To Gotham Academy s/c (£10-99, DC) by Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher & Karl Kerschl

Red Hood And The Outlaws vol 6: Lost And Found s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Lobdell & R. B. Silva, various

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 4 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Mike Mayhew, Kev Walker, Mike Deodato Jr.

Spider-Woman vol 1 Spider-Verse s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Dennis Hopeless & Greg Land

Battle Royale: Angels’ Border (£8-99, Viz) by Koushun Takami & Mioko Ohnishi, Youhei Oguma

Fairy Tail vol 47 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Naruto vol 70 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

New Lone Wolf And Cub vol 5 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Hideki Mori

Tokyo Ghoul vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

News!

ITEM! Dr Mary Talbot is back from the Munich Comics Festival with a big blog full of photos of herself, Bryan Talbot, Eddie Campbell, Audrey Niffenegger, Paul Gravett & co.

ITEM! From the creators of one of our all-time favourite graphic novels, DAYTRIPPER, have a preview of Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba’s TWO BROTHERS graphic novel. You can pre-order the TWO BROTHERS graphic novel from Page 45 right now – we don’t take your money until books arrive and we ship worldwide!

ITEM! From the creator of PLEASE GOD FIND ME A HUSBAND plus  FLUFFY and the exclusive PAGE 45 FLUFFY POSTCARD (order that to be sent to you by mail and watch the ironies fly) here’s Simone Lia’s Guardian comic on being a second-generation immigrant to England.

ITEM! Great Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro New Statesman discussion on genres. “I think that there’s a huge difference between, for example, a novel with spies in it and a spy novel.” This is the truth! (Illo by Tim McDonagh)

ITEM! Have you been relishing THE REALIST by Asaf Hanukah? Good news, then! Interview and swoonaway preview of THE DIVINE graphic novel drawn by Tomer Hanukah and Asaf Hanukah. You can pre-order THE DIVINE due in July from Page 45 here.

- Stephen

Page 45 Reviews written by Stephen & Jonathan then edited by a mild-mannered marmoset. In serious need of some spectacles.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2015 week two

June 10th, 2015

Comicbook crime, science fiction, dinosaurs, foreign exchange students, isolation and the illusion of autobiography! Plus two great big anthologies including this and 24 BY 7 starring Dan Berry, Sarah McIntyre, Joe Decie, Fumio Obata, Kristyna Baczynski, Jack Teagle, Warwick Johnson Cadwell.

Drawn & Quarterly: 25 Years Of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics & Graphic Novels h/c (£37-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Everyone! Ever!

“Comics
“Comics?
“Comics!”

This may be the first comic’s spine that is actually a comic!

Here are 750 pages of comics, comics criticism and comicbook creators providing keen insight into each other’s work whilst singing the praises of one of the greatest comicbook publishers in history, and I’ve been enthralled for days.

It’s true that some of the comics are readily accessible reprints but the overwhelming majority are either completely new (Tom Gauld) or so rare that you’ll never have seen them unless you are actually on the receiving end of Chester Brown’s Christmas cards.

Normally I would skip all the prose in favour of the comics themselves – at least to begin with – but Sean Rogers’ 45-page account of Drawn & Quarterly’s 25-year history with captain Chris Oliveros at its helm is so exceptionally eloquent that I barely even glanced at the photos. With additional research by Jeet Heer and interspersed with first-hand accounts by the likes of Oliveros’ cohorts Peggy Burns and Tom Devlin, it was exhilarating, infectious and refreshing, articulating everything I adore about Drawn & Quarterly’s honourable ethos, aesthetics and priorities which can be distilled succinctly thus: the comics and their creators come first.

 

While the publisher Fantagraphics is described as more “transgressive”, and RAW magazine under Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly as “formally inventive” and “avant-garde”, I would wholeheartedly agree that what distinguishes D&Q’s comics and graphic novels is that they are distinctly, overwhelmingly “literary”, as well as beautiful art objects. Speaking of beautiful art objects, BUILDING STORIES’s Chris Ware has this to say about its former flagship anthology:

“Conspicuously Canadian for its gentle editorial tone, the magazine seemed to point toward a new disposition from which to cartoon, offering a kind and congenial challenge to the sometimes sneery adolescence of American alternative comics of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Chester Brown, Maurice Vellecoop, and Seth (and yes, even you, Joe Matt) all seemed to be getting at something generous, uncertain and awkwardly human in their work…”

Hilariously human is how Lisa Hanawalt depicts life at the D&Q offices in a sprightly coloured double-page spread which sees them all out in a park, high-kicking in clogs while answering the telephone, languishing on a chaise longue or typing away in a hot tub while “Panels the pig selects promising submissions” from his really quite tidy pig pen. Their shipping and delivery service is handled by wolves, naturally.

As to the future, as well as the spine, Tom Gauld supplies the cover and endpapers wherein a cross-section of an asteroid shows beautiful books piled high – and low – everywhere! They’re racked on shelves, stacked on cupboards and some are even secreted under the floor boards while one has been left lying after being flicked through in its spacecraft hangar.

The message is emphatic and clear: IN THE FUTURE, THERE WILL BE BOOKS!

You really wouldn’t want to read this digitally, would you?

There is no way on God’s good Earth than I can cover all the comics here from David Mazzucchelli, Kate Beaton, Chris Ware, Anders Nilsen, Chester Brown, Dan Clowes, Michael DeForge, Tom Gauld, Miriam Katin, Rutu Modan, James Sturm, Jillian Tamaki, Joe Matt, John Porcellino, Louis Trondheim, Gabrielle Bell, Brian Ralph, Ron Rege Jr, Marc Bell, Pascal Girard, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Shigeru Mizuki, Guy Delisle, Lynda Barry, Mimi Pond, Julie Doucet, Art Spiegelman, Kevin Huizenga, Adrian Tomine and so very many more, nor the enlightening essays by Margaret Atwood (yes, Margaret Atwood!), Lemony Snicket, Sheila Heti, Jonathan Lethem, Deb Olin Unferth, Heather O’Neill, Fiona Duncan and many more still!

However, I loved how Margaret Atwood described HARK, A VAGRANT!’s Kate Beaton’s approach in her appreciation of Beaton and the broader tradition of bubble bursting:

“There’s a burping in church aspect to Beaton’s approach. It doesn’t demolish the church, but it does add another dimension.”

While discussing Anders Nilsen, Fiona Duncan writes…

“To separate fiction from non-fiction is a false divide, I’ve come to believe. All communication is storytelling.”

And she does have a point. Even autobiography is subjective and there’s an awful lot of illusion involved, regardless of whether the wool-pulling’s intentional. Kevin Huizenga issues just such a slight of hand in ‘My Career In Comics’ – to begin with anyway. You start to suspect that he’s having a laugh when he details his distraction, nay, obsession with drawing and redrawing and Photoshopping hair.

Funnier still, BIG QUESTIONS’ Anders Nilsen can’t help himself when analysing The Past (Cosmic, Not To Scale) and The Present (More Or Less) before foraging in The Future during ‘Me And The Universe’ originally published in the New York Times on September 24th 2014 – and that’s what I mean about most of these comics being rare. Of the time period 0 to 38,000 years after the Big Bang he writes: “Clouds of particles too hot / agitated to connect in any meaningful way. (Similar to 3 year period in your late adolescence.)” You might spot the USS Enterprise among the planets.

From Chris Ware’s personal sketchbook comes ‘My New Pal Tramadol’ and a more recreational drug strip which ends in a queasy blur-burst of colour. It’s followed by a fully formed two-page ‘Joanne Cole’ comic I believe is brand-new and informed by an earlier sketch and the autobiography / far-flung life cycle of a copper coin which has only ever appeared in an abridged form in the New York Times Magazine on April 10th 2014.

There’s a new, blue Mimi Pond memoir about being invisible, man-spoken to and meeting Tom Waits.

And unless you read RAW you won’t have stumbled upon ‘Sneaking Out’ by WHAT IT IS’ Lynda Barry and you’ll never have seen her hand-painted script for ‘Cruddy’. It’s awful to think that Barry’s career was once almost over and resurrected only thanks to D&Q, which gives you some indication of why the publisher is indispensible.

But then it’s equally sobering to be reminded that D&Q was once so close to foundering that Oliveros “in all good consciousness” attempted to actively dissuade marketing genius Peggy Burns from coming to work with him. Of the Drawn & Quarterly retail outlet she writes – I forget where – that every publisher should spend time working in a book shop and every retailer should publish at least one book.

I’m definitely down with the first but staring at this D&Q doorstop the second enterprise petrifies me!

SLH

Buy Drawn & Quarterly: 25 Years Of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics & Graphic Novels h/c and read the Page 45 review here

24 by 7 h/c (£14-99, Fanfare Presents) by Dan Berry, Sarah McIntyre, Joe Decie, Fumio Obata, Kristyna Baczynski, Jack Teagle, Warwick Johnson Cadwell.

“Seven comics as diverse as they are witty as they are beautiful to behold, each created within the same 24 hours. An extraordinary accomplishment.”

- Stephen L. Holland, Page 45

Whoever the hell he is.

What a stellar line-up! What fertile imaginations! What a variety of styles!

What a bunch of cheats.

Or at least that’s what contributor, editor and all-round director Dan Berry would have you believe in his introduction. He’s so funny! All seven comics were indeed created within the same 24 hours then printed within another to go straight on sale in Page 45’s Georgian Room in Kendal’s Clock Tower at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014. Magnificent! Ridiculous! Miraculous!

So they had a little prep time! I made notes for this review.

I don’t do favourites so it’s mere coincidence (*snorts*) that I commence with Sarah McIntyre’s ‘Scribble’ in which only the scribble is scribbled and even that scribble is accomplished. It really is! It’s a dab hand at mimicry, posing as a grass stain on one day, a smashed fly on another, a bogey, a spider, then What Will Happen To My Sister If She Doesn’t Give Back My Book. That particular scribble is awfully succinct. I’m not sure which day it attempted to represent Chaos as a two-dimensional piece of graphite gurning but that was pretty existential. Almost certainly a Saturday, don’t you think?

Anyway, Jamie (the scribble’s name is Jamie) began life on a young girl’s napkin, got thrown in the bin then escaped and let out a roar: instant teeth. It began to cry – for which you need eyes. Then Jamie ran around, ever-so-excited and found itself with legs. Legs! Suddenly it’s darting about like a mad-eyed monster from Michael Bentine’s Potty Time. Next stop: social media frenzy and huge artistic acclaim!

The cartooning is so exquisite that I will forgive its two pages of mid-70s’ wallpaper because that’s what inevitably happens when you begin to wield orange. Sarah McIntyre has all the best scribbles and if you think Jamie’s a dude then wait until you bump into his best boyf, Bob. Bob is besotted and has flap-flap wings and a wide-eyed innocence and adoration which are beyond adorable.

Here be wit, here be glee. It’s not easy trying to represent philosophy, France or a full English breakfast in scribbles.

Fumio Obata’s ‘Anywhere Road’ couldn’t be more different in style, in tone, in genre, in subject matter. Fumio created the graphic novel JUST SO HAPPENS in gentle watercolours. Here he brings his familiarly soft and gentle line to a tale of truancy as a woman walking her dog on the beach discovers a young boy in a sleeping bag.

She takes him to a seaside cafe to buy him breakfast but the lad is reluctant to open up or own up to having run away from home. At first he tries to run away from his good Samaritan as well but there’s something about the woman that intrigues him and it’s not just her kindness or persistence. Obata had me holding my breath for the entire duration.

Jack Teagle’s terracotta ‘Witch Cat’ finds a crowd-shy country cat forced to fly into town after running out of ingredients for a potion. Her worst fears are realised when she runs afoul of some particularly bad apples. No really, they’re very bad apples – one has a worm wriggling its way out of his head! Fortunately our anxious feline is befriended by Bananasaurus, a fruit magician and – yeah, crazy indeed and one to read with your young ‘uns at bed time!

You may already be familiar with Dan Berry’s NICHOLAS & EDITH and Joe Decie’s I BLAME GRANDMA which we have on sale separately.

I love everything about Joe: his mischief, his timing, his otherwise mundane household objects… even his handwriting. Yes, his handwriting! It’s one of the most attractive in comics: capital letters, far from rigid, that dance up and down while remaining as crystal clear as the layout here.

He tells how his gran invented the paper clip, fashioning it from fuse wire while working as a clerk in Sir Gerald Patten’s War Office around 1940. So that’s several household objects on the very first page. Our Joe draws a perfect pair of pliers, you know.

Joe’s grandma felt the need to file faster and keep what she filed better organised. The paperclip quickly catches on and before you know it she’s given her own office in the reappropriated Malvern Road Tube Station. She even had access to the station down below where she said she used to eat her sandwiches in the dark.

Fast-forward to the present day and there are repercussions for Decie himself. Well, you have to think of the patent and all that implies. You couldn’t make this up.

I will just add that his gran was given a St Hubbins Cross medal and – typically – kept it in an empty tin of boot polish. Joe draws a mean tin of boot polish too.

In lovely, loose, full-colour washes project director Dan Berry delivers a haunting tale of love, longing and lament.

In a small village by a vast lake Nicholas and Edith are in love. Their parents disapprove of their relationship for no better reason than a petty family feud. To be together they must therefore find sanctuary away from the spying eyes and tattling tongues of the idle-minded villagers. And there is an island, you see, an island on the lake.

It is an object of local superstition involving some so-called spectre of doom but you know what close-knit communities are like. You know how local legends endure. You know how parents keep their children in check: with a little elaboration and fear. But when you’re in love you can see right through these things, so one evening when the waters are calm Nicholas rows Edith to the island.

They find a clearing in the trees overshone by the serene, silver light of the moon.

“I love you.
“I want you.
“I need you.”

I will say little more except think Becky Cloonan – THE MIRE in particular. When you’ve read this through once you will want to start again from the beginning immediately. Entreaties are reprised word-for-word like echoes. Reproachful echoes, you could argue.

Visually, interesting things are done with Edith’s hair. Oh, how how I wish I could say what they were!

We’re all at sea with Warwick Johnson Cadwell’s ‘Tom Hand’ too. Like any good sailor’s yarn it’s set in a tavern where all the tallest of tales are told. There three sea dogs take it turns to show off their tattoos, each dedicated to the old Tom Hand and his watery demise. Each differs in what finally did him in, but the barmaid’s tale trumps them all. She has a tattoo too, you see, but it’s not necessarily where you’d expect to find it.

The forms are big, bold and as burly as the barflies’, the monsters are terrifying and the deep blues are rendered as energetically as the stormy seas themselves. You’ll almost certainly end up soaking wet.

Finally, VANTAGE’s Kristyna Baczynski tells a wordless, anthropomorphic, semi-cyclical tale spanning millions of years which made me smile with enormous satisfaction throughout. Her leaf and timber textures – as well as the bone and stone – are perfectly balanced, never once bogging the page down or cluttering it up but letting the light shine through, while the brightest of sage greens prove to be perfectly placed tones.

‘Hand Me Down’ begins slightly upsettingly when a three-eyed prehistoric lovely hatches from an egg, grows up, falls for a female, curls up in cave with his beloved then before you know it Junior is hatched. All very idyllic but before you know it (once again), he ages, is exhausted and dies.

Eons pass before the creature’s bones are discovered, his horn is detached and that’s when the repurposing begins as the horn is handed down through history as one ornament then another, whittled away each time through wear and tear and outright vandalism. Where and when it ends up I will not say but there’s a Tom Gauld moment towards the end that had me roaring with laughter.

If you stop to consider for a moment that these 170-odd pages of comicbook magic were all created in the same room within the same 24 hours, I defy you not to shake your head slightly and smile.

This creativity was captured in a collection of colour photographs published at the back of the book which give you a very real sense of the energy involved and the exhaustion staved off by espresso coffees and galvanising visits by Jeff Smith, Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot and the original instigator of the 24 Hour Comic challenge, THE SCULPTOR’s Scott McCloud himself.

There the creators all stand round their printed pamphlets on sale in the Kendal Clock Tower’s Georgian Room on October 19th 2014, beaming with pride and accomplishment and quite right too. Bravo!

SLH

Buy 24 x 7 and read the Page 45 review here

Between The Billboards & The Authoring Of Architecture (£18-99, Avery Hill) by Owen D Pomery…

“The billboards changed every month.
“Ebner wondered what he advertised on the outside.
“But pretended not to care.
“However far he leaned out…
“… it was impossible to see the complete picture.”

I knew of Owen only from his hilariously ribald THE MEGATHERIUM CLUB so I was intrigued to see how he was going to tackle a rather less (mis-)anthropological story. Although, although, you could very well argue this is very much anthropology, being a study of one man’s personal disaffection with the rest of society, viewed from his peculiar remove. For James Ebner does indeed live between two huge billboards, atop a high-rise building, in a single room, albeit quite plushly equipped and decorated.

Ebner descends down to the mean streets upon occasion, primarily for provisions including his essentials of gin and cigarettes, paramount to maintaining his solitary existence. However, the interactions with proprietors of shops and bars are onerous at best, often prickly affairs that only serve to reinforce Ebner’s ennui, despite their repetitive nature meaning these people have acquired a status of Ebner’s acquaintance, rather than simply being complete strangers. There is the occasional episode of socialising, prompted by much chivvying from his best, and now only friend, Israel, but these excursions become fewer and fewer as Ebner becomes ever more hermit-like.

We learn a little of his life before he withdrew from society and began living between the billboards, and we gain some sense that he is preparing for something. But what? As Israel remarks,

“You’ve taken so many steps back for your run up… that you’ve forgotten why you are jumping.”

Ebner disagrees, of course, but what we can see which he cannot, even from his lofty perch without a view atop the city is that he has sequestered himself away by design, entirely of his own volition. Perhaps he never intended to become so cut-off, but now it has happened he’s trapped in a mental prison of his own making. Could he escape now even if he wanted to?

Owen works as an architectural illustrator which I can clearly see informs much of his page and panel design. There are some great single pages, the larger picture composed of nine, three by three grid panels, taken from very specific viewpoints: face-on, plan and isometric. My favourite being a view of the underside of Ebner’s dwelling, the access ladder rising up to the entry trapdoor in the floor, other taller, surrounding buildings rising away higher all around to a unseen vanishing point miles above his abode. It’s a most striking page and I found myself returning to it a few times admiring the composition. Then, other sequences are very much about the passage of time within the exact same space, often viewed from Ebner’s personal viewpoint with narration as we attempt to understand the life our protagonist has chosen, is continuing to choose, from without and within.

They’re not precise comparisons, but partly due to Owen’s architectural background and partly the story of a man losing his place in the world, his very sense of identity, I was strongly minded of ASTERIOS POLYP, and also Paul Auster’s CITY OF GLASS. This is clearly not anywhere near as complex a work as either, but there is a sense of… orderly deconstruction… occurring here which is present in both of those works. Clearly David Mazzucchelli who drew both is a very different sort of artist to Owen, but there are strong elements of design underpinning and eloquently informing the narrative of all three. Additionally I was minded of a personal favourite of mine, again, no doubt because of the architectural connection, in CITIZENS OF NO PLACE, which is composed of a number of short stories revolving around design conceits.

In addition, after the main ‘Between The Billboards’ story, there are eight shorts which form ‘The Authoring Of Architecture’ part of this book, including a brief essay by Owen explaining his approach to comics. Additionally each short is prefaced by a paragraph of explanation from Owen revealing his thoughts about the work.

They’re a great selection of vignettes actually, comprising of some auto-bio bits, some entirely design-led conceits with visual punchlines, plus a particularly powerful one-page comic about an illegal card game which I thought was brilliant. It’s composed of one large panel which your eyes naturally, immediately take in first, which in fact turns out to be the conclusion, the disturbing story itself being told by a series of much smaller overlaid panels around the edge, explaining the chain of actions and consequences which leads us to this final panel.

I think Owen is definitely one to watch, there’s clearly far more to him than I suspected in terms of his story-telling abilities, both in word and image, than just the jester that wrought the ridiculous THE MEGATHERIUM CLUB, which I thought was comedy gold and I can’t wait for more of. I will make the one proviso which I made there once again though; his art style will not be for everyone. I love its sparseness and draughtsman-like approach, but it will challenge some sensibilities. Let yourself be challenged I say, because this is worth it. Also, whilst they last, Owen very kindly provided us with signed bookplates!

JR

Buy Between The Billboards & The Authoring Of Architecture and read the Page 45 review here

Criminal vol 5: The Sinners s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

Fifth self-contained nightmare of noir, but for those keeping track Tracy Lawless is back.

From the creators of FATALE and THE FADE OUT:

A year has passed since CRIMINAL VOL 2: LAWLESS and Lawless is still on the run for going A.W.O.L. from the U.S. military. He’s agreed to pay off his dead brother’s debts to Mr. Hyde by working out who’s been capping some major players who have little in common except that they should be ‘untouchable’. They don’t even work for Hyde – it just worries Hyde that it’s happening in his back yard.

Tracy diligently follows every legitimate lead and it’s almost comical watching him watch everyone except those he should be watching out for. You can’t blame him: his logic is impeccable. You can’t really blame the Triads either, for the same reason. Either way, it’s all very bad news for Lawless. As is Hyde’s daughter. And wife.

There’s no avoiding it: Sean Phillips is the most accomplished crime artist that international comics has ever witnessed. His faces are craggy and lived in, with minds racing behind every one of them. Introspection, intimidation, desperation and disdain; of course he can convey startled horror too – fear which will have you sweating vicariously – but it’s the more subtle nuances in a half-closed eye or a barely stifled snarl which make the man peerless.

Luckily for us he appears to relish working with the best crime writer since STRAY BULLETS’ David Lapham. It’s quite the library they’ve built together now. See also the two volumes each of SLEEPER and INCOGNITO for metahuman misdemeanours.

SLH

Buy Criminal vol 5: The Sinners s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Fuse vol 2: Gridlock s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood.

“I do not understand. Her real phone?”
“So handsome. So naive.”
“He’s like a puppy. I just want to squish him.”
“Every girl has two phones. One of them, you let your parents find so they think they’re reading your secret diary. Your actual secret diary is on a whole other phone you bought yourself.”

That’s teenage girls for you: infinitely smarter than adulterous male rats who honestly believe their wives won’t think to look at their mobile phones. I personally have known two errant husbands get caught like that once suspicions were raised.

Welcome back to the second instalment of cracking crime-precinct-procedure, homicide division. The big difference is that this particular precinct lies within an underfunded, patched-up, makeshift steel city on an energy platform orbiting 22,000 miles above terra firma.

In THE FUSE VOL 1: THE RUSSIA SHIFT young, highly promising German homicide detective Ralph Dietrich arrived on the space station to find himself partnered up with fractious, silver-haired veteran Klem Ristovych. If you’ve read volume one you’ll know that it ended with one hell of an ellipsis involving our Ralph and his own extra-curricular investigation. Here Johnston delivers a second last-minute whammy without warning and I like that. Detectives aren’t stupid, you know.

On the other hand this particular homicide won’t be solved without a great deal of legwork, a lot of dead ends, much ducking and diving, followed by split-second ninety degree turns. The thing is, you don’t know that you’ve reached a dead-end until you’ve navigated all the main roads and back alleys which lead there and, even then, you may well have missed a previously hidden passage or two.

Lesser writers set far more linear courses leaving the reader little to do but wait and watch from the proverbial passenger seat, but Johnston’s multidirectional approach means you’re constantly evaluating the detectives’ own evaluations and rating the red-herring level of each new clue. It is entirely possible that you’ll get there first if you keep your eyes open and listen carefully.

Better still, although Johnston knows his forensic science suspiciously well he also understands psychology and therein lie more leads if you look hard enough. It’s not just a question of how, when and with what, but why.

Reviewing THE FUSE VOL 1: THE RUSSIA SHIFT I also emphasised how much I appreciated Johnston and Greenwood’s resistance towards science-fiction-ication when far from necessary. Just because you’re in space or the future it doesn’t mean that everything’s changed beyond recognition. E-cigarettes still exist for a start because morons like me will still take up smoking but more impressively even in space we might want to recreate what we’re most familiar with like high streets with shops and pavements, and even gauche, nouveau-riche mini-mansions with driveways and grass lawns even though you’re living inside a big bucket of metal with a roof rather than the sky up above.

There’s also something about Greenwood’s loose, fluid line that drives the reader ever onwards and, lest colour artist Shari Chankhamma feels left out, can I just flag up the yellow, green and blue sheens on the space suit visors during the first chapter as well as the genuinely eerie atmosphere captured beneath The Fuse’s exterior solar panels. It’s a vast, open space beneath the cylindrical Fuse’s external shell which is still zero-gravity with a hot, red and yellow ceiling (the underside of the solar panels from which the energy generated is being siphoned) juxtaposed against a cool green emptiness with no floor in sight.

It’s hereabouts that this volume’s crime is committed or at least first discovered, on the external solar array. The latest Gridlock race is being broadcast on FUSE-Tube to very high viewing figures even though the sport is illegal. That’s another great extrapolation: I’m not kidding when I tell you that Nottingham’s Broadmarsh bus-station island was at one point the hub for equally illegal, informal racing around amongst all the regular traffic. Here that traffic is non-existent: no one except for technicians should be outside The Fuse. Yet Gridlock is the most popular sport in space: souped-up scooters magnetically bonded to the glass-smooth hull hurtling at full throttle across it.

Its lead League Spokesperson is Cathy Kuang, the young, glamorous daughter of one of The Fuse’s oldest, richest families. In a pre-filmed sound-bite introducing the show Cathy Kuang denies that the broadcast rights are about to be sold to for a great deal of money at FBN and instead deflects attention to today’s main event. It’s the League’s premier racers going one-on-one: Starlight versus Lockdown! No one knows who these fierce competitors actually are until the substitute race is abandoned almost before it’s begun.

It’s a substitute race because Starlight cannot be found. It’s abandoned because Starlight is discovered right in its path, one boot magnetically sealed to the solar array, ankle broken – E VA suit torn open by a recent meteoroid burst – frozen solid and quite, quite dead.

It transpires that Starlight is Cathy Kuang. Tethered to her wrist is a vacseal box containing a great big brick of distribution-ready drugs. But Cathy Kuang is straight edge: she cannot abide drugs, legal or otherwise. Also, as a seasoned Gridlock superstar, Cathy would know far better than to venture outside during a meteoroid burst forecast so far in advance.

Drugs, politics, corporate financing, underground sports, revolutionary ideology and family affairs. Not much to go on? They have too much to go on.

This is my autopsy. Proceed.

SLH

Buy The Fuse vol 2: Gridlock s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Airboy #1 of 4 (£2-25, Image) by James Robinson & Greg Hinkle.

Writer James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle are groggily stumbling round a strange woman’s apartment, naked, after waking up in after an orgy of alcohol, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and extra-marital sex.

“Relax,” says James Robinson. “People have done a lot worse.”
“Who. Hunter S. Thompson?”

At a single stroke – in a single comic after years of critical acclaim – James Robinson has effectively ruined his squeaky-clean reputation… whilst elevating it to “legendary”.

So how do you think that happened?

As the series opens James is sitting on his toilet – yes, bare-bottomed once more – on the phone to Image publisher Eric Stephenson, bemoaning his faltering career, and so self-confidence, at DC comics where he’s been type-cast as the go-to guy for Golden Age revivals: resurrecting old superheroes from a more innocent age. He’s doing that because Eric Stephenson is type-casting him too, offering him the opportunity to take on AIRBOY, now in the public domain, the ultimate in wide-eyed innocence from a bygone age.

At which point – having invited his hand-picked artist over to San Francisco in the hope of kick-starting ideas – Robinson by deliberate contrast show us precisely how bygone that age is. For what is actually catalysed is an evening of all-out, alcohol-fuelled and drug-induced depravity.

It is no coincidence that the pale green and tan colouring on the delightfully restful and spacious panels is immediately invaded and supplanted by the red-alert warning signs of wound-hued rusty-red and poisonous purple on increasingly cramped and claustrophobic panels lurching on the page before a moment of unedifying and potentially marriage-wrecking climax. Yes, both the creators are or were married.

I warn you right now that James Robinson figuratively and quite literally bares all, while artist Greg Hinkle “only” bears his enormous anaconda which is most assuredly a euphemism, yes. He tried to show his soul but Robinson is such a self-confessed egomaniac that he keeps interrupting Hinkle before he gets started.

At which point I should emphasise the illusion of autobiography!

This is all so immersive, so skilfully done that in spite of your better judgement you may well lapse repeatedly into believing that some if not all of this actually happened.

Whether or not this singularly sobering tale drives you to join the ranks of the Straight Edge brigade, this charade is performed for one reason and one reason only: to maximise the punch in the punchline, thereby setting the scene for all that will follow.

I love, love, love the cover to next issue’s inevitably culture clash as bygone-era Airboy is introduced to woebegone-era dissolution.

SLH

Buy Airboy #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 of 4 (£2-99, Dark Horse) by Ricardo Delgado.

Aaargh!

Just when you thought it was safe to creep back into the Cretaceous shallows that lurk down the bottom of your cul de sac if only you had the courage to leap over your neighbour’s fence and jump into their garden pond… *

AGE OF REPTILES is back!

That impeccably choreographed omnibus of do-or-die dinosaur survivalism is a best-seller here. Who on earth doesn’t love dinosaurs?

These are all silent series for the dinosaurs are resolutely not anthropomorphised as they are in many recent family-friendly animations, but are ferocious and vicious and if not malicious then at least more than capable of defending their territory whether they be predators or not.

Size matters. Size splatters. And there is much to be said for safety in numbers.

All of which you will witness in this new mini-series starring a land-roaming but equally subaquatic Spinosaurus Aegyptiacus. Imagine a crocodile but with longer legs and, consequently, greater agility and a much more considered, time-biding approach to getting what it wants most – food – while avoiding what it wants least: a crippling injury followed by death.

Our snaggle-toothed protagonist bears many scars suggesting that these are lessons learned through painful experience, but learned they most assuredly are.

Much of this first instalment is conveyed in slow and stealthy horizontal panels which are given a quick flick of movement in triangular fashion, whilst most of the epic this time comes in the form of the mighty weight of the vast herbivores rising up in numbers to bear down on our lone-roaming ronin.

Ronin…?

Yes. Far from a pack hunter, this is a sole survivor.

Please see Delgado’s impassioned essay at the back in which he talks enlighteningly not about archaeology but about controversially coloured Westerns and the far from black and white films of Akira Kurosawa which inspired them.

* Your neighbour’s pond is indeed a trans-temporal gateway. You may claim that your neighbour has no pond – and so may they – but they do!

SLH

Buy Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Eric h/c (£5-99, Templar Publishing) by Shaun Tan.

Another joy that dropped off our system a few cycles ago. It’s back!

You know, I rather suspect that Shaun Tan has a bottle-top collection. Maybe not quite as weird as the one in THE LOST THING but they do tend to pop up in his books. Or maybe the foreign student who once came to live with his family began one. And I’m fairly confident a foreign student did once come to live with them: this is far too astutely observed for it to be otherwise.

“Secretly I had been looking forward to having a foreign visitor – I had so many things to show him. For once I could be a local expert, a fountain of interesting facts and opinions. Fortunately, Eric was very curious and always had plenty of questions. However, they weren’t the kind of questions I had been expecting. Most of the time I could only say, “I’m not really sure,” or, “That’s just how it is.” I didn’t feel helpful at all.”

The guest amasses a seemingly odd collection of things – mundane bits and pieces we take for granted and would ordinarily trash, but which to him are cultural novelties. Ah, but Eric isn’t simply collecting objects for their innate curiosity value, for Eric is full of surprises…

All of which brings me to the salient observation that although this looks like illustrated prose, it is essentially comics; because apart from when Eric takes up residence in the kitchen pantry, perhaps, if you stripped away the images it is a very different read indeed.

Once you see Eric himself, especially in his environment, his interest in plugholes, bottle-tops and sweet wrappers (“small things he discovered on the ground”) becomes a lot less strange for they’re all at eye level but, conversely, the story becomes infinitely more fantastical and, crucially, the punchline is purely visual.

Lastly, it’s only just occurred to me that Eric’s singular method of “leaving” might well be a visual pun.

Anyway, a family takes in a strange and wonderful visitor who prefers residence in their kitchen pantry, and it proves quite the revelation. Short story taken from the TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA.

SLH

Buy Eric h/cand read the Page 45 review here

Midnighter #1 (£2-25, DC) by Steve Orlando & Aco.

“Currently: single
Looking for: dates, friends, sparring
Interests: violence (inventive)
Chronically new in town.
Computer in brain.
Superhumanly flexible.
Looking for other uses.
Have headbutted an alien.
Whatever you’re thinking, the answer is likely yes.
But with punching.”

It’s an unusual online dating profile, filed only under “M” but the masked mug shot might give it away.

Wait wait. Midnighter? It doesn’t stand for, like, Mitch? All this stuff here is, in fact, not a joke?”

It’s a bit late now: you’re having dinner.

I’d type “from the pages of Warren Ellis and Mark Millar’s STORMWATCH and THE AUTHORITY…” except, of course, this isn’t precisely that same psychopath for although Apollo appears to have escaped The Midnighter, The Midnighter hasn’t escaped the relaunch rewrite which was DC’s New 52. I’ve no idea what’s happened since but The Midnighter is now single, on his first date with Jason who seems to be taking it all in his stride. But let’s see what happens when the high-tech terrorists teleport into town and put paid to their pudding.

It’s very attractively drawn with multiple, miniature inset panels revealing concurrent action – moves and counter-moves – or, when The Midnighter gets into his pugilistic stride, precisely what the local Accident & Emergency will be dealing with in the form of x-ray snapshots of breaking bones. Aco’s art also comes with a fine line which makes The Midnighter look positively dapper in his waistcoat and tie. Oh yes, he’s in civvies. You never used to see that much, did you? You’re going to be seeing a lot more of it. And him.

So if the sight of a man unbuttoning another man’s jeans is the sort of thing that will make you feel so uncomfortable that you’ll need to walk into a public bar and order a double bourbon in order to feel fully masculine again, I probably wouldn’t buy this comic – because hard liquor is bad for you.

Much was made of Mark Millar’s JUPITER’S CIRCLE #1 (still on sale) and its unapologetic post-coital cigarette but this is even less flinching with hands all over the place. Hurrah!

You could argue (and, oh, so many will have online!) that there’s nothing to distinguish this from any other DC superhero title (whereas you know what you’re in for with Millar) and your delicate nine-year-olds shouldn’t be subjected to sexuality. And I would agree so long as you would agree that a woman unbuttoning a man’s flies or vice-versa was equally below the belt. On the other hand it has long been established that superheroes have ceased to be the province of nine-year-olds but of college students instead and the fifty-year-olds who used to read superhero series as nine-year-olds and simply never stopped.

Plus, look at that cover! If you’re perfectly content to buy your children a comic with that level of overt violence, then you have already abandoned your parental role as a right-minded moral guardian and have no right to complain about a little consensual fumbling, same-sex or otherwise.

So here’s a suggestion: how about you stop buying your susceptible ones corporate superhero soap operas stuffed full of advertising and designed to addict them to their brand for life? Why not treat them to Page 45’s Young Adult and Young Reader graphic novels catering to every conceivable early teens and pre-teen tastes instead!

Meanwhile, someone has stolen The Midnighter’s secret origin from some old biddy called The Gardner and they’re going to get their lights punched out.

SLH

Buy Midnighter #1 and read the Page 45 review here

STRANGERS IN PARADISE OMNIBUS is almost depleted – 76 copies sold here @ £75-00 each! – so we’re reintroducing more of its component parts:

Strangers In Paradise vol 2 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

There are very few comics on this planet with the power to move me like STRANGERS IN PARADISE. I could choose to quote from so many of these 350 pages. So much happens, so much is said. So much of it should never happen to anyone and so much of it should never have been said. That’s life.

“Hello… Katina? I hope this is still your number. This is Marie Peters. I know it’s been a long time… but remember you gave me your number when you moved to Hawaii and then Santa Fe, and asked me to call you if anything ever happened to Francine…? Well… I guess I’m making that call. I’m in Houston, I’m calling from Francine and Brad’s house…”
“Luisa! Book me on a flight back to Houston!”
“But you just came from…”
“NOW, please.”
“Things aren’t right here, Katina. I’ve never seen Francine this way and I’m worried about her. She’s so sad all the time, she drinks and cries herself to sleep every night. She won’t talk to me about it, but tonight she said she wants to go home. I think she means you, Katina. Listen, I know it’s none of my business but I just can’t sit by and watch my daughter die like this. Please come back, Katina. Whatever happened between you two, let it go. Whatever I said about you and your relationship with Francine, I’m sorry. Please… come back.”

I remember my shock when Francine wakes from the dream at the beginning of this book and we see that she has aged a decade. Or is that the wear and tear of being a mother, married to a man who avoids her? After lunch at a restaurant for which Brad never shows up, she ventures onto the terrace with its garden gazebo and stares into the distance, the autumn wind tugging at her thick, dark hair. And she has a vision of a woman with long blonde hair, sitting with her back to her.

Sandwiched between those opening pages and the answer machine message above are events in the past far worse than the first volume, for Darcy Parker is back and this time she means business. She has every intention of getting one of her Parker girls into the White House and she will use Katchoo to do so. Also, something so monumental, so very final, happens which I had forgotten occurring so early.

But half the joy of this series is that Terry juxtaposes the tragic with the comedic and Francine’s stint as a model at a photoshoot is glorious.

“I want you to look into the camera and don’t say a word, don’t move a muscle… Just give me the look!”
“The look?”
“The look.”
“Give the camera a look.”
“Not a look… the look! You know, the one you women have that says, “I’m sexy but selective, demanding but worth it, aggressive… yet feminine! Seductive in my Anne Klein suit, irresistible in my Camry. Provocative as I make my own bread while closing a big contract on my mobilnet cell phone between reps on my Thigh-Master!”
“Oh yeah, that look. We have so many.”

But there was one particular new element that took some of Moore’s readers completely by surprise, as David makes another of his many attempts to connect with Katchoo only to have it backfire on him. Again.

“You can’t hide for the rest of your life, Katchoo.”
“I’m not hiding! I just… don’t know what else to do.”
“I know the feeling. You live like there’s no tomorrow, and one day you’re right… And it scares the hell out of you. Believe me, I’ve been there.”
“So… what did you do? How’d you get through it?”
“Jesus Christ.”

Brilliant.

Katchoo reacts with fury. Not because David is a Christian but because he kept it from her.

Yet a great many STRANGERS IN PARADISE fans reacted with fury exactly because David had come out as Christian swiftly followed by Terry himself. “How dare a man writing with love about same-sex relationships be Christian?” they appeared to demand. With confused animosity.

And I don’t know about you, but that just makes no sense to me at all. Here was someone who, unlike so many in the history of organised religion, actually followed Christ’s teachings to spread love and understanding wherever he went and was brave enough to do so in print when it occasionally put him at odds with friends and family. And he was being chastised for that.

Now, I cannot recall whether Terry had come all the way over from America to sign at Page 45 just before or just after that but when he asked me to write the introduction to STRANGERS IN PARADISE: LOVE ME TENDER, the original fourth book in the series that contained this very material, after faltering once I knew exactly what I wanted to write and I chose my words carefully as a subtle rebuttal.

This is what Terry printed. Err, minus the typo and a couple of grammatical errors on my part!

Strangers No More

Dear Terry,

Thank you so much for producing such a beautiful book. In addition to a personal bi-monthly joy Strangers In Paradise, like so much of the material emerging these days, makes our jobs as retailers so much easier. Without creators like yourself, brave and talented enough to produce a book which appeals to so many different people, we’d never be able to begin marketing comics to the general public. Believe me, there are retailers out there who leap with joy every time a new, quality title emerges which we can not only enjoy ourselves, but promote and sell to the rest of the world who’ve yet to find a comic they might enjoy…

Stephen L. Holland
Page 45, March 7th 1995.

So began a very lucrative, mutually-beneficial business partnership and a wonderful friendship now almost three years old between ourselves at Page 45 (Mark, Dominique and myself), and Terry and Robyn Moore, which I could characterise, succinctly, as a transatlantic, telephonic tennis rally, consisting from both sides almost exclusively of the phrase “thank you”.

Well, that’s not strictly true.

The lucrative, mutually-beneficial business partnership began the day we received our first issue of Terry’s life-breathing comic, and it was cemented but moments later when we sold the first of what have since turned into thousands of copies, to an audience at least 50% female and almost wholly new to comics.

Once we knew what we had in our hands it was relatively easy for us. We didn’t have to create the fiction, we just bought it in, promoted it, took the money, said “thank you very much”, and watched the broad, broad smiles of those returning for the very next issue, the next collection, or a further suggestion to add to their comicbook reading list.

It will come as no surprise to you, therefore, that this fine work of fiction, about two highly individual girls from Houston, has, for some time now, been our biggest single selling title. Particularly in this format, the collections.

Early in 1997 Page 45 had the pleasure of playing host to Terry and Robyn for a Strangers In Paradise signing and Terry, four hours in (jet-lag no doubt playing havoc with his brain), had a hand so cramped from continuous sketching that… that he just continued to sign and sketch for another full hour. No moans, no protestations, just pure glee and excitement that he was here, with those who cared about his stories as much as he did. Robyn and I caught him shaking that wrist beneath the counter to liven it up, and on he went.

The very last couple in line were a mother and daughter whose names, I regret, elude me during this, a very tight deadline. Neither had read a copy of Strangers previously, but had heard about Terry’s presence and the book, and were intrigued. The mother bought a copy of Jon J. Muth’s beautiful, watercolour re-interpretation of Dracula; the daughter, well under 16 and armed with some of her own spectacularly promising sketches, bought the first episode of the book you hold in your hands.

Do you know what they said, the very next week, was their favourite segment? The piece about the transsexual marriage. Oh, Terry Moore, the love you spread…

In a society bombarded with messages of hate, from the tabloid newspapers and self-serving politicians to the more vocal members of organised religions, it is so heart-warming to come across a book whose priorities lie firmly in what was always, to me, the key Christian doctrine: Love Thy Neighbour. I don’t remember any post-script, qualification or specific exceptions being made; seems a fairly clear and concise Commandment to me.

So, here we go again, Terry: “Thank you”.

Thank you for Francine, for David and Katchoo. Thank you for Darcy Parker, Louis and Phoebe, Freddie, Chuck, Rachel, Tambi and all the others. Thank you for such beautiful brush strokes, such moving poetry, and all the joie de vivre you pack into your work.

Stephen L. Holland
Page 45
Nottingham, England, 1997

SLH

Buy Strangers In Paradise vol 2 Pocket Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Strangers In Paradise vol 3 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

“We’re not going to make it to Nashville, David. Even if we did, we couldn’t land it.”
“What are you talking about? How do you know?”
“Planes can’t fly without a rudder, David.”

The third volume of six begins once again in the present with Francine trapped in a debilitatingly unhappy marriage, and it becomes gradually clear that not everyone has survived the intervening years. For if you thought that the venomous presence of Darcy Parker in the lives of Francine, Katchoo and David was gone, think again. She’s left a legacy behind and a vacuum in her wake with there’s a power struggle which is about to ignite and suck the poor girls in again.

“144 people died because they got on a plane with you. Are you at peace with that? …If you really do care about the girl and her family, you need to get them away from you – as soon as possible. Before they’re taken away. Permanently.”

And that’s the most horrific sequence in an already turbulent relationship where harsh words are said: after the plane crash when one of the cast jettisons the other in the most hurtful way imaginable in order to try to save her life. The dramatic irony is excruciatingly. Francine isn’t just pushed into the arms of her future husband who will cause her such pain, she is positively, literally punched there.

Unfortunately it’s not enough. Do you remember Darcy’s cousin, Veronica? Because Veronica certainly remembers Francine, and you’re in for a very brutal encounter.

It is this, of course, which makes the funny bits all the funnier back when they were safe and happy, and as well as snow and gales he evokes so well with our loved ones staring into the distance, Terry draws a glorious summer countryside where David and Francine once shared some lazy afternoons at Francine’s mother’s.

“You’re not sitting on a bughouse or anything, are you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Bugs? You down there?”
“No answer. Must be safe.”
“That’s what they want you to think. That’s how they trick you!”
“Francine… I think it’s safe.”
“I’m all about a bug-free bottom.”
“It’s a wonderful thing.”

Three hundred and fifty more pages in which we see Katchoo’s first break in the art world, its unexpected effect on Francine, David’s secret finally revealed, and Francine struggling with her feelings for Katchoo as their trajectories diverge and all that is left are the lonesome lights flashing in the evening sky.

“See that star… the one shining brighter than all the others? I know the girl who hung it there.”

SLH

Buy Strangers In Paradise vol 3 Pocket Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Bodies s/c (£12-99, Vertigo) by Si Spencer & Dean Ormston, Phil Winslade, Meghan Hetrick, Tula Lotay

The Wake s/c (£13-50, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy

Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 4 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Serizawa

Strangers In Paradise vol 4 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Uber vol 4 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Daniel Gete, Canaan White, Daniel Gete, Gabriel Andrade

Alien Vs. Predator: Fire & Stone s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Christopher Sebela & Ariel Olivetti

East Of West vol 4: Who Wants War (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta

ODY-C vol 1: Off To Far Ithicca s/c (£7-50, Image) by Matt Fraction & Christian Ward

Batgirl vol 1: The Batgirl Of Burnside h/c (£18-99, DC) by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher & Babs Tarr

Batman: Cataclysm s/c (£22-50, DC) by various

Ant-Man: Scott Lang s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by various

Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man vol 2 – Revelations s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez

Ms. Marvel vol 3: Crushed s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by C. Willow Wilson, Mark Waid & Takeshi Miyagawa, Humberto Ramos

Silver Surfer vol 2: Worlds Apart s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Mike Allred

Fairy Tail vol 48 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

News!

… is I’m knackered! More next week!

- Stephen

Page 45 reviews written by Page 45’s Stephen and Jonathan then edited by a manatee on malmsey.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2015 week one

June 3rd, 2015

Featuring Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows, Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart, Garth Ennis & Gary Erskine, Brian Michael Bendis & Andrea Sorrentino, Ales Kot & Will Tempest, Brian Buccellato & Toni Infante, Sally Jane Thompson, Jason Brubaker, Nate Simpson, Nick Sousanis, Ethan Wiltshire.

News underneath as usual!

Nonplayer #1 (£2-25, 3rd print, Image) by Nate Simpson.

Beautiful, absolutely beautiful!

The lines, the dappled shadows and the lambent colouring, so rich and warm, evoke a fantasy land you really wouldn’t want to leave. There’s a giant cat whose chin nuzzles over the side of a horizontal tree trunk; and gigantic, armour-plated dinosaurs along with their woollier, mammalian successors carry the local aristocracy in a caravan whose warriors our heroine and her compadre are about to ambush for maximum XP points.

Yup, it’s all just a Massive Multiplayer Online Game you plug yourself into: an elaborate virtual reality which Dana’s so addicted to that she’s constantly late for work.

Even in real life she prefers simulation-stimulation so when she sets out on her scooter through the grotty, concrete urban jungle she adjusts her proverbial set to make that journey more pleasant. I can’t say I blame her, but it does raise a few questions about escaping your environment or acknowledging, absorbing and even enjoying it. It put me immediately in mind of Woodrow Phoenix’s salient sentiments in RUMBLE STRIP about getting lost in your own little world while driving.

 

 

Virtual reality addiction is subject which Devin Grayson explored some time ago in the three-issue USER – and very successfully too (reprint, please!) – while Cory Doctorow gave me much pause for thought in his FUTURISTIC TALES OF THE HERE AND NOW.

Here, however, lies what I take to be the crux of the matter in NONPLAYER:

Massive Multiplayer Online Games like Warcraft allow you to combine forces with friends or even strangers from all over the world on quests for virtual loot and lolly against other avatars behind which lurk real human beings or the NPCs of the title: computer-driven Non-Playable Characters. These can and will interact with you in complex, context-specific ways which make them far from predictable. How you respond to them – verbally or physically – will dictate how they respond to you.

But when you’re nowhere near NPCs, surely they doesn’t exist? They’re certainly not playing out their own emotionally charged, personal conflicts in real time with other NPCs, are they? That would be quite the glitch.

A little over four years ago while our J-Lo was away on paternity leave I wrote about how much I relished this first issue while worrying about its schedule:

“Unfortunately I fear we may have discovered the new Joshua Middleton both in terms of talent and schedule for this single issue took a whole year to create, he’s being courted by the comicbook corp[oration]s, and ten years on we have yet to see the follow-up to SKY BETWEEN BRANCHES #0. Fingers crossed, though.”

Haha! Whatever was I worried about?

Fortunately NONPLAYER #2 is finally out today, this 3rd June, and I am rather excited!

SLH

Buy Nonplayer #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Fight Club 2 #1 (£2-99, Dark Horse) by Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart.

“Throughout childhood people tell you to be less sensitive.
“Adulthood begins the moment someone tells you, “You need to be more sensitive”.”

I swear on my psychotherapy couch that you do not need to have read the original prose novel to relish this original comic actually written – not suggested – by Chuck Palahnuik himself. I read the book many moons ago but can barely remember a word.

I seem to recall it was at least partially about smashing the system: rising in up in rebellion against corporate conditioning, financial finagling, governmental authoritarianism and the pervasive mediocrity we can obliviously settle for during our everyday, oh-so-short lives. About waking up from the ubiquitous mass hypnotism of messed-up humanity… whilst enthusiastically submitting to someone else’s indoctrination. If it wasn’t, it should have been.

It’s why Jonathan Hickman’s scathing NIGHTLY NEWS rang such a bell with me. The first paragraph of my NIGHTLY NEWS review reads:

“Terrorism. Communication. Authorative anti-authoritarianism. One man’s enlightenment is the same man’s indoctrination. Stop being a sheep, and be part of my flock instead!”

The cult of personality, eh? Unless it’s mine, I’m always suspicious.

As I said, however, Fight Club could have been about something else entirely, like hitting people. I imagine that’s why many went to see the film.

Fight Club 2 begins with a similarly iconoclastic personal survey in which you can discover, “Are You Space Monkey Material?” It poses 12 questions with mirth-inducing optional answers. Let’s try a couple.

“MY GREATEST REGRET IS…
A. The adverse effect my carbon footprint has on the intricate web of sensate life forms.
B. My past insensitivity to others whose cultural milieu and genetic makeup vary from my own.
C. My unexamined participation in the context of an entrenched capitalistic power hierarchy.
D. Nothing. Sir.”

We’ll leave aside “DO YOU GET OUT OF THE SHOWER TO TAKE A LEAK?” – it is funny, though – and skip straight past the increasingly angry activism of no-nonsense D to question number 12:

“THE GREATEST THREAT FACING OUR CURRENT GOVERNMENT IS…
A. Failure to recognise and reign in the scourge of white privilege.
B. The impending collapse of world oil reserves.
C. Dwindling honeybee populations.
D. Me.”

Okay, so the comic itself kicks off with the narrator addressing the audience directly.

“Look at him. He calls himself Sebastian these days. Ten years ago he was destined to be another Alexander the Great. A new Genghis Khan. But Sebastian… he calls himself happy.”

Well, with the aid of some tranks, anyway.

Back home his son is being nannied by a woman wielding a carving knife. But then his young son is having a time-out after being caught synthesising explosive compounds from local debris like dog poo.

His wife is unsatisfying and so dissatisfied, calling for a certain, so-far off-stage Tyler to “deliver me from this bland, boring life”. (First-time readers: you’ll see, you’ll see.) “Please, rescue me from my loving husband…”

By the end of the first issue Tyler may just have done that, but in the meantime she’s begun to take evasive manoeuvres of her own and Sebastian is swallowing them whole. Chic and suited, she’s quite the self-obsessed piece of work, invading a counselling session for those with Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome (such rapid aging that 10-year-olds appear to be 60) while complaining about her wrinkles – “They’re all on the inside!”

Chain-smoking throughout, she’s drawn by Cameron Stewart with a superb sense of insouciance that puts me in mind of Mrs Quinn, the rich bitch in Nabiel Kanan’s THE DROWNERS, though there’s more than a touch of Sean Murphy in her angular face.

My favourite pages are those on which pills or petals – rendered to striking contrast with three-dimensional modelling complete with shadows which fall over the panels beneath them – are imposed over what is being said by the narrator or the narrative’s participants. Whereas the dog’s barking merely drowns thoughts out like ASTERIOS POLYP talking over his girlfriend, the effect here is different because you can discern what lies below – with the romantic rose petals at least – suggesting that the bunch of flowers Sebastian has bought his missus is merely a smoke screen hiding the lie of their messed-up marriage.

“Happy Annive –“
“I lo – you –“
“Take your pill.”

There’s no hiding that last line.

Sebastian, meanwhile, is the epitome not so much of exhausted but sedated. Everyone’s more got more life in them than he has. Even his neighbour.

“Studies conducted by the United States Military prove that what women fear most is physical pain… What men fear most is being humiliated, losing social status, public ridicule.”

Sebastian used to be a fighter once, but he’s fallen asleep. Now it’s time to wake up.

I think I can hear alarm bells ringing.

SLH

Buy Fight Club 2 #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Providence #1 of 12 (£2-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows…

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

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

It’s set in Providence, Rhode Island, which itself has interesting origins, founded in 1636 by a man called Roger Williams, recently exiled from Massachusetts, to provide a refuge for religious minorities. The year is 1919 and the world, emerging from the carnage of WW1, has undoubtedly changed, yet also much has not. There are people still living double lives due to their sexuality, of which of our main character Robert Black is one. Now, apparently there is an irony here, as I have read Alan has commented he liked the idea of having a gay character in a period Lovecraftian yarn given H.P. Lovecraft was apparently immensely homophobic.

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

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

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

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

I’m intrigued to see how Robert picks up the pieces emotionally after this issue and precisely what is wrong with the mysterious professor. The best sort of opening issue, one that engages you completely, connects you emotionally with the characters, piques your curiosity and leaves you wanting more. I am quite sure the horror factor is going to be ramped up gradually until readers’ states of mental wellbeing are in tatters too. I’m still mentally wincing from the ‘where’s my contact lens’ scene in NEONOMICON

JR

Buy Providence #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Unflattening (£16-99, Harvard) by Nick Sousanis…

In our modern world, it often seems that the word in the king of communication, holding sway over images. We comics lovers know better, of course, but what if images really do inform our understanding of pretty much anything just as much as words? It’s kind of obvious when you think about it. I mean, IKEA have even taken it to a new level with entirely picture-based instructions for assembling their furniture, thus doing away with the need for multiple language versions of the same text. I’m pretty sure that’s not the example Nick Sousanis had in mind when he embarked upon this epic undertaking, but it actually sums up his philosophy quite nicely.

Nick started submitting his university work for one particular class in the form of comics, which went down so well that he started doing it for other classes too, gradually persuading more and more lecturers and professors to let him do so. In the end he decided this was something he could do a PhD about, the use of image as an equal partner to the mighty word. In the form of a comic, obviously.

So began his investigation of the process of ‘seeing’ from the perspective of science, art, literature, philosophy and even mythology to examine its specific role in the psychological process of interpretation that goes on in our brains. It’s a process he calls unflattening as he shows how images can be used not just to illustrate text, but in all manner of ways of communicating information. Text is by its very nature linear but imagery however is pure connectivity. The word ‘subtext’ springs to mind.

What follows is an extremely clever, engrossing and well constructed treatise… with pictures! He’s preaching to the converted with respect to us comic readers, of course, but it’s another vital piece of work in helping ferment wider discussion about the validity of our beloved medium. That’s not his primary aim with this work, but it’s certainly a useful adjunct.

 

Nick would like to see us “challenge text” and I think he has some very interesting points to make about the use of imagery, or lack of it, in academic learning, particularly for children. You only have to look at EVOLUTION: THE STORY OF LIFE ON EARTH or THE STUFF OF LIFE: A GRAPHIC GUIDE TO GENETICS AND DNA to see how fun comics can make pretty dry subject matter. FEYNMAN contains a lot of pretty high-end physics explained incredibly eloquently in comic form which I found far more digestible than in my excruciatingly boring quantum theory lectures at Uni. Equally, I would argue CRECY taught me more about that battle than reading about it in history at school ever did.

Ultimately, this is an impressive, powerful, and absolutely convincing display of just how much understanding can be achieved through the additional use of imagery. And comics. Now we just need a generation of comic creators to work on producing nothing but text books!

JR

Buy Unflattening and read the Page 45 review here

Material #1 (£2-75, Image) by Ales Kot & Will Tempest.

A tired and disillusioned professor questions the merits of modern life – how we’re spending so much time with machines that we’re becoming like them. A student objects and his daughter – via Skype – tells him she’s pregnant. At which point his computer begins to engage with him too.

A visionary director reaches out to a washed up, self-sedated actress for his next, largely improvised film. The studio seeks more commercially viable and quantifiable slants than ten sheets of blank script but the director is determined that the film will be both about and by the actress. Surprisingly it turns out she does have a mind of her own.

A fifteen-year-old boy standing passively at a protest march carrying the hand-written placard declaring “I cannot breath” is arrested, detained and questioned. On release, while babysitting, he discovers a pamphlet about The New Black Panther Party.

Seven months after being liberated from Guantanamo detention centre an innocent man finds he can no longer relate to his family or even touch his doting dog whom he played with as a puppy. They used dogs on him in the prison camp. Waterboarding too.  He never hurt anyone, nor planned to hurt anyone. But the only thing which arouses him now is being held down and hurt.

As with Kot’s ZERO, CHANGE, WILD CHILDREN and THE SURFACE, this is so unapologetically intelligent that it takes more than a single read to take in, and I’m still not entirely sure how these four scenarios except that lives are being changed. Rebellion seems to be on the cards.

Each is given two colour-coded pages at a time on a nine-panel grid, lending it a clarity I’m enormously grateful for. The art is direct, thin-lined and brittle. That bit about the dog really got me.

A synopsis is not a review, it’s true, so consider this a story about a story or a sales pitch. I bought it.

SLH

Buy Material #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Sithrah Book 1 h/c (£14-99, Coffee Table Comics) by Jason Brubaker.

Beautiful, spacious and unpredictable non-stop thrill-athon with the emphasis on the images so it’s perfect for a younger age range too.

I raced through this so fast whilst loving every second.

Seven-year-old Nirvana Page has been on a holiday expedition with her Dad. Insatiably inquisitive, Nirvana and her cat Sam have explored both flora and fauna and things so strange that they might well be both! I think she may have gotten a little too close to one of them. A sort of crustaceous lamprey, its teeth didn’t half look sharp and it managed to wrap a suckered tongue round her index finger. It’s feeling a bit sore but she doesn’t tell Dad – she hides it behind her back.

Her Dad, however, is hiding something too. For when Nirvana expresses a wish to visit Light City and to see her Mum again, well, there’s obviously something so wrong with Light City that Dad wants to avoid it at all costs – as well as all talk of Mum. He just won’t tell her why.

I think it’s the landscapes I love best: big, bold, tree-topped mountains, silhouetted in front of and behind all that mist as their seaplane takes off.

Although I did feel first-hand the alarm, desperation and blind panic as something from above destroys one of their engines then shatters the cockpit window before wrenching a helpless Nirvana right out of the plane altogether. She barely manages to grab a parachute and only just rescues her toy fluffy bunny from the spare seat which it was carefully buckled into. Heaven knows what’s happened to the cat. Heaven knows what’s happened to Dad, for that matter.

She wakes beneath the canvas of her parachute as it’s pattered by the first drops of rain heralding a storm. Peering out from under its heavy, saggy folds, Nirvana is caught under the last sunbeams of dying day in a vast, verdant countryside, so very beautiful to be sure, but so very empty.

Once more, I give you the landscapes and the rolling, roiling clouds above as the deluge descends. Superb, stark lettering as Nirvana calls out to her Dad. There’s no reply. She is completely and utterly alone.

SITHRA boasts a completely different aesthetic to Luke Pearson’s all-ages HILDA but Nirvana is just as resourceful and resolute and her faith in her father’s wisdom and love is very touching indeed. “What’s the smart thing to do?” she asks herself. “That’s something her father would ask her in a situation like this.” She is determined to make him proud but she has a very long night ahead of her.

Parents, I promise you this first instalment won’t leave you in the unenviable position of having to reassure your young ones for its morning brings magic.

It appears in the form of the glossy-eyed, lightning-fast, bi-pedal Sithrah, a bright-white, seal-like creature with hope in its heart and a message:

“No one is ever alone, Nirvana… Not completely.”

Their adventure has only begun.

SLH

Buy Sithrah Book 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scars (£2-50) by Sally Jane Thompson.

There’s nothing like exploring the countryside, especially with your girlfriend or boyf.

The two of you alone yet together, undistracted by the intrusive, prosaic practicalities of modern living.

The sense of shared discovery and Mother Nature’s eye-candy as far as the eye can see! It’s absolute, unadulterated bliss.

“Um, listen…
“I, uh… I think we should break up.”

Whoa, get mister casual! I suppose at least he had the decency not to do it in a public bar.

I had a friend who was ditched by her pop-star boyfriend just after midnight on New Year’s Day… by text!

He wasn’t really a pop star. You could tell because he was constantly calling himself one.

The young woman here is caught completely off-guard and, cruelly, in the middle of the thrill of finding the jagged lower jaw of some beastie. So she has her back turned at the time and she does not turn round. She can barely straighten up so heavy do her shoulders now feel.

“Three years. That’s all three years is worth?” she thinks.

“Babe! Come on! What are you doing?”

It’s so well observed: “Babe”. It’s a bit late for affection, don’t you think? There’ll be a “Sweetie!” later on when he drops her off at home and she slams the car door in his face without a word. He’s reaching out with affection just to make himself feel better about having cut her heart in two. You’ve got what you wanted, tosser, so just shut up and drive away.

I was once ditched by a boyfriend. Immediately afterwards he tried to kiss me.

Sally Jane Thompson has many styles, some as lush as you like: http://www.sallyjanethompson.co.uk/gallery.php This is pared down completely to the most fragile pencils imaginable and rarely have a seen a tear well up so tenderly.

For such a tiny little comic it has a vast sense of space even when we return to suburbia with its tall flats, lower houses and back gardens big enough for trees.  I was particularly struck by the cover, along the bottom centimetre along of which in the distance rise conifer tree tops above which hangs a vast and empty sky.

The jawbone will play a considerable part in the healing process, by the way, whereas once it probably opened quite the considerable wound.

SLH

Buy Scars and read the Page 45 review here

Elders #1 (£4-00) by Ethan Wiltshire…

“Hello?”
“Ah, Mrs. Gibson I presume?”
“Oh no, there isn’t one…”
“Oh I’m sorry, we must have the wrong house.”
“No, it’s Stanley you’re looking for isn’t it?”
“We’re partners but we’re not married.”
“You’re NOT married… but you LIVE together?”
“Uhm yes?”
“INDEED.”

Ha. I do love the almost demonic, Kiss-like make up shading round Elder Cohen’s eye during that last exhortation. I should probably here point out that Elder Cohen and his door-knocking cohort Elder Christensen are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints better known to you and I as Mormons. Mr. Gibson, or Brother Stanley, upon whom they have called to pay a visit, is also a Mormon, though I think we can say his faith is… wavering slightly. Perhaps a concerned visit from the Elders complete with a few choice stinging rebukes… and the threat of eternal damnation… is just what he needs to scrabble back up atop the moral high ground. Or not. Indeed, given the Lord does move in the most mysterious of ways, perhaps what we perceive before our eyes in this very comic is not all to be believed…

Right, that’s as much plot and near spoiler collision avoidage as you are going to get from me! Suffice to say this is a comedy of manners in the classic British sense that pokes fun at the Mormon church and some of its tenets, with a lovely little twist that turns everything neatly on its head at the end. Tone-wise it actually reminded me a little of Dan Berry’s THE SUITCASE, itself a classic piece of British farce, being so gently over the top that even those on the receiving end could probably enjoy the joke. Though, I have to say, those of the door-knocking persuasion, of all religious flavours, are not usually known for their sense of humour.

I remember once, when having been door-stepped by a couple of Jehoviah’s Witnesses (I was expecting the wheelie bin cleaners so opened the door without looking first) and in my surprise foolishly uttering I was a Buddhist thus hoping they’d leave me alone. Instead, my heart started sinking rapidly as I immediately saw that in fact this was a full-speed-ahead we-are-go-for-conversion signal for them.

So I decided to change tactics and upon being asked why I practiced Buddhism rather than seeing the Glory of the Lord and indeed the error of my ways, I told them years of meditation now meant I could levitate… Seeing their shock and sensing their sudden uncertainty I ploughed ahead, claiming also telepathy, mind control of small animals, and if I had a full seven days of continuous, uninterrupted meditation in a completely dark underneath the house… pyrokinesis. Politely making their excuses, they backed away from the door in search of someone less mentally deranged. It’s a tactic worth remembering if you find yourself in just such a situation.

Anyway, Ethan’s done a sterling job here with his second publication, the first being the excellent JONATHAN STARLIGHT which we sold out of. It was originally intended as the first chapter of a longer form story, a teaser if you will, following the exploits of Elders Cohen and Christensen (not forgetting Brother Gibson!) and the trials and tribulations of the door-knocking adventures. I hope it’s something he’ll pursue in some manner or other as I think the concept has legs.

Art-wise, he’s come on considerably since JONATHAN STARLIGHT, and there’s a couple of lovely artistic devices here, plus a brave extended use of black panels for a particularly amusing sequence. Yes, you can see this is an artist who is still working on his style and panel layouts in places, but undoubtedly he has excellent illustrative ability.

I should add Ethan recently commented to me that he felt very unsure about even publishing this material after finishing it, whether it was sufficiently good enough, that he could see everything that was wrong with it. I am quite sure that’s an extremely common thing amongst artists of all ages and indeed experience levels. But one needs to keep moving forward, always, even if at times you just feel like you’re scrabbling around in the dark. Dare I even say, just publish and be damned?! It’s just so important to getting keeping your material out there.

For whilst you can’t choose the faith you were born into – or indoctrinated by – as a child, you can put your faith in yourself, and then commitment and hard work will surely get you there. Maybe not being able to levitate perhaps, but to become a great comic creator, certainly!

JR

Buy Elders #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Dan Dare Omnibus (£14-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Gary Erskine.

No idea how this dropped off our system, so sorry!

The complete edition of Erskine’s finest work to date: the perfectly poised, beautifully restrained yet totally trenchant take on the classic British space pilot, hauled out of retirement by a Prime Minister he despises in charge of a country he’s no longer in love with. Ennis’ restrained handling of Dare’s eloquently voiced disappointment keeps the man dignified but direct, a formidable figure as he sizes up the politician in front of him and delivers a considered but withering indictment of all that’s been lost through lack of leadership.

So it is when Dare has been joined by faithful old Digby and a battalion of soldiers who’ve just staved off a furious attack by a hoard of ferocious green monsters on a colony populated by both humans and the Treen (the Mekon’s people) who until recently were getting along splendidly. But the Mekon’s back, so suspicions are raised and tempers are high.

Oh yes, and there’s a thousand more nasties on their way:

“Mister Dare, I’d like a word with you please…”
“A very brief one, Captain.”
“Are you really giving civilians priority for evacuation? Over military personnel?”
“I take it you disagree?”
“Look here, sir, Fitzgerald and Kent and I are officers. If there is going to be some sort of final battle with the Mekon, chaps like us will be at a premium. And our tours of duty are almost done, and — well, frankly, we don’t feel like getting killed for a lot of prospectors and green wogs…”
“Well, if that’s the way you feel, you should board the shuttle as soon as you can.”
“Really?”
“You’ll leave your uniforms behind, of course.”
“Our — ?”
“You’re no longer British officers, you can’t possibly wear the uniform.”

Classic British reserve, but with a bite. Unashamedly patriotic and unwaveringly brave, Dare really is the quintessential old-school man of honour, but also a leader prepared to put himself on the frontline alongside his men and lead.

With art like this – as rich and British as Chris Weston’s or Bryan Talbot’s – one can’t help but regret that Erskine seems to spend so much time making others’ pencils look good with his inks rather than giving us the joy of his own layouts. It couldn’t be more apposite for the task at hand, particularly when we first meet the national legend so far into his future that he’s fully retired. He’s spending his days walking the dogs through a traditional English village past cricket pitches, oak-beamed pubs, all surrounded by rolling green fields, dry stone walls, and a brazen fox. They stop to take each others’ measure. If that sounds like an idyll that’s perfect, then surely it’s no more than the space pilot deserves after his long record of service to his beloved country.

But times, they have a habit of changing, and illusions can be shattered. It’s a very different world now, as viewed from the space station: America is an arid patchwork of craters as big as the moon’s, for America and China have finally finished each other off, the UN has failed and international cooperation is a thing of the past. Jocelyn from the old crew has at least risen to the position of Home Secretary, which will prove vital if everyone’s going to survive what happens next. Unfortunately, they don’t.

SLH

Buy Dan Dare Omnibus and read the Page 45 review here

Sons Of The Devil #1 (£2-25, Image) by Brian Buccellato & Toni Infante.

“Come on, Riggs… I’m gonna be late. Will you go already?”

Travis’ Border Collie looks up at him from the pavement, tongue lolling expectantly.

“You’re really gonna make me do it, aren’t you?”

He really is. Travis is going to have to pick Riggs up and carry him. That’s one way of taking your dog for a walk.

Thank goodness for that one moment of smile-inducing comedy because the rest is pretty horrific.

Vitally artist Toni Infante is far from sensationalist. His art is grounded in faultless figure work and suffused with a brooding intensity. Meek and innocent eyes are wide and hopeful, while others glare up from beneath baseball caps with resentment and barely suppressed rage. That Border Collie could not come with a coat that’s sleeker or a better-natured, loyal adoration.

Other faces are full of smug, self-satisfied mendacity and if there’s one thing Infante excels at – with his angular noses and tight-lipped, taut-lined faces – it’s confrontation.

Before we even begin the book has been primed with hair-trigger tensions, some of which have been building for weeks, others for thirty-plus years. Now they burst open on every conceivable front and if I were to sum this first issue up it’s with that perennial downer I refuse to endorse that no good deed goes unpunished.

Travis spies a young boy sitting on the pavement, lost and alone. There is an immediate empathy: Travis is determined to reunite the waif with his parents for he’s in search of the same thing himself. It costs him dearly.

A private investigator, the son of one of Travis’ old foster parents, believes he can do the same for Travis – to make up for an old mistake with far-reaching consequences they both have had cause for regret. This Mister Landon has found an old photograph, you see, of another man with eyes so distinctive and similar to Travis’. But that costs him more dearly still.

Flash back on the very first page to 1989 and cots are being raided two at a time, their babies stolen. There is an appalling act of violence which baby Travis witnesses far too young with his blue and blood-red eyes. It’s no wonder that Travis now needs anger management. But beware whom you’re referred to…

How’s that for oblique?

This is a book about cults. Cults have connections, don’t they? Just look at the Masonic Lodge. Unfortunately for Travis and everyone around him this particular cult has been waiting for precisely this moment.

Recommended for fans of Robert Kirkman books like OUTCAST.

SLH

Buy Sons Of The Devil and read the Page 45 review here

Old Man Logan #1 (£3-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Andrea Sorrentino.

Of all the SECRET WARS satellite series, this is the one I’ve been looking forward to most.

It does not disappoint!

The sound effects for a start are an integral part of the art, fusing sound and vision into a single sensory experience worthy of Dave Sim himself in CEREBUS.

Its visuals come steeped in the shadow of Jae Lee on Paul Jenkins’ INHUMANS, though it’s closer in colour and texture to his more neo-Gothic outing in Grant Morrison’s FANTASTIC FOUR 1234. Both come highly recommended as singularly eloquent, self-contained graphic novels.

Moreover, some of the sequences are presented with Jim Steranko flourishes like Logan’s assault on the gambling den of child-thieves, the lights going on / off in swift, staccato succession as if there were a strobe in the room. The figures fighting are lit up in stark black and white against a blood-orange background then each narrow window is brush-flecked in blood.

Blood. There is an awful lot of blood, but then this is a Wolverine comic so, you know…

It’s a sequel of sorts to the finest Wolverine series of all time: Mark Millar & Steve McNiven’s OLD MAN LOGAN (reviewed). It was set in a future where the heroes had lost, the villains had carved up America and something so awful had happened to Logan that he’d become a pacifist, refusing to pop his claws for anyone or anything. When you learn what that was you will understand why.

Half the fun was wondering – then discovering – what had become of those you once loved and so it is here, even if it’s only their legacy that’s left.

“Ya wear this uniform?! Do ya even know who this was?”
“What? It’s j-just a look. It’s just – It’s just cool.”
“Ya don’t even know.”

This is Bendis: whose uniform do you think they’ve so ignorantly co-opted? Love the spectacles!

Yes, I can promise Bendis fans in particular some guest appearances from those who will be close to your heart but grown rather a lot older or up now. Also, what is it with Bendis and severed Ultron heads? These disembodied silver skulls of the Avengers’ psychopathic A.I. foe are littered throughout Bendis’ books and Logan’s just found another, fallen from the sky, and it troubles him.

It is suggested to Logan that it’s come from over The Wall, the climbing of which is verboten. I think you can imagine what Logan does next.

It’s rather a long way to the top, so I’ll see you next month.

SLH

Buy Old Man Logan #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Criminal vol 5: The Sinners s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Fuse vol 2: Gridlock s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood

D&Q: 25 Years Of Comtemporary Cartooning, Comics & Graphic Novels (£37-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Various

Between The Billboards & The Authoring Of Architecture (£11-99, Avery Hill) by Owen D Pomery

Thanos Infinity Relativity h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin & Andy Smith, Frank D’Armata

Venom By Remender Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Tony Moor, Tom Fowler, Various

Marvel Universe Ant -Man Digest s/c (£7-50, Marvel) by Various & Various

Swamp Thing vol 6: The Sureen s/c (£12-99, DC) by Charles Soule & Javier Pina, Jesus Saiz, Matthew Wilson

Dragons Beware! (£10-99, First Second) by Rafael Rosado & Jorge Aguirre

Regular Show vol 3 s/c (£10-99, Kaboom) by K C Green & Allison Strejlau

Avengers World vol 3: Next World s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer, Frank Barbiere & Marco Checchetto, Raffaele Ineco

Usagi Yojimbo Saga vol 3 s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo vol 2: Samurai (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

News!

ITEM! Hurrah! At last! From the creators of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, a preview of Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERAIL GIRL

Please pop it on your Standing Order as soon as possible or bash these buttons to pre-order PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #1 online! We ship worldwide!

Both previous collections on our shelves now! Reviews: PHONOGRAM: RUE BRITANNIA and PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB.

Pre-ordering as early as possible is vital. Retailers order comics two months in advance. If you order in advance your copies are guaranteed! If you don’t, they aren’t and everybody cries. Nobody likes to see a comic lover crying on the shop floor. For a start, your tears may fall on our comics and that’s WATER DAMAGE!

ITEM! I haven’t finished yet. Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is picked up for television. Page 45’s review of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE.

ITEM! Free! But you must, MUST book in advance! THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Kieron Gillen and his historical consultant, Professor Stephen Hodkinson, discuss the creation of the comicbook THREE at Nottingham University, Saturday 13th June. Public most welcome and it’s a beautiful campus to stroll around on a summer’s day! I know – I got absolutely slaughtered there most afternoons for three who years. Page 45’s review of THREE by Kieron Gillen & Ryan Kelly.

ITEM! Less free (£4/£8) but later that same day for Age 12+: Kieron Gillen & Chrissy Williams host a create-your-own-Classics-comic in which they use the comic THREE as a springboard to help you craft your own short sequences. Nottingham University. No skillz required – so I may pop along myself!

ITEM! Are you relishing THE REALIST by Asaf Hanukah, May’s Page 45 Comic Book Of The Month? In July Asaf Hanukah is joined by Tomer Hanukah for the art on THE DIVINE which you can pre-order right now – then collect in-store so saving yourself postage if that’s what you prefer!

If you need a nudge, here’s a huge preview of THE DIVINE beneath an extensive interview with Tomer and Asaf Hanukah!

ITEM! Tickets are now on sale for events at October’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015. What a line up of talks, interviews, film presentations and workshops!

Remember: most of the festival is COMPLETELY FREE, including entry into the main exhibit hall, Kendal’s Clock Tower where creators will be signing all weekend long and Page 45 will once again be taking over the entire Georgian Room with our very own special guests!

October 16th – 18th. Hope to see you there!

- Stephen

 

Page 45 reviews written by Page 45’s Stephen and Jonathan then edited by a boss-eyed baboon.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2015 week four

May 27th, 2015

Ed Brubaker! Steve Epting! Adrian Tomine! David Lapham! Sam Humphries! Marc Laming! James Stokoe! Antonio Altarriba! Victor Hussenot! More! Apparently these lists are great for Google. WE ARE SUCH CYNICS!

The Spectators h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Victor Hussenot.

A book of reverie and rumination, this is a serene experience with plenty of space for you to stop and think for yourself.

It’s full of curiosity and questions, about one’s own life in the grand scheme of things and the lives of others – strangers you’ll never know or whose paths you may only partially, temporarily intersect.

As such there are a lot of silhouettes and shadows seen from afar, perhaps against the light of city windows at night.

And it is very much another city book, but a far less frightening one than FLOOD. There’s a nod to the existence of countryside beyond, right at the start rendered in a Gaugin-esque cacophony of non-local colour, before the tranquil misty blues, salmon pinks and creams herald the start of our tour round a city which has much to show us if we stop to look carefully and much to make us muse if we use our mind’s eyes. There’s a lot of imagining of what lies within and what lies beyond.

City transport features heavily. Early on Hussenot reflects on the contrast between the familiarity of one’s surroundings every day – the actual train or bus – and one’s fellow commuters who come and go. Some may reappear from time to time sitting in different pairs, others may never been seen again. But this was one of my favourite sequences as an actually playing card held up in one panel becomes instead a passenger on a platform seen through a subway car window.

“Arriving at a new station is as exciting as drawing a card in a poker game.
“A new platform appears… it’s a new deal of the cards…
“Some leave the game; others join it… but not always the one’s you’re expecting.
“Each is full of promise, but is the one we really need still hidden in the deck?”

Accompanying that third line is a page of six panels, roughly playing card shape, in five of which a commuter catches the narrator’s eye, their panels lighting up in different colours while the one who is oblivious remains in the figurative dark.

The unexpected one is a bloke, for the narrator’s a bloke, but he doesn’t make it onto the lamp-lit drawing board of possibilities whose face cards are all women!

There’s another devilishly clever page after two men who’ve been sitting inches apart on a bench surveying different aspects of the cityscape in front of them are shown to have largely parallel lives as well – give or take a musical influence. I won’t give the game away but there are elements of Ray Fawkes’ THE PEOPLE INSIDE.

That’s one of the rare instances that any word balloons appear in this graphic novel. Predominantly – if there are any words at all – you’ll find one or perhaps two sentences above, between or below a full-page spread or two or three tiers of images.

There’s a morphing motif which runs throughout, kicked off as our narrator discovers a clothes rail from which four bodies hang with differently coloured clothes. He tries one on for size (and sighs) before selecting another later on. Further down the line he’ll be clicking a remote control for a similar but quicker effect. I’ve been referring to him as our narrator because I couldn’t work out what else to do but he’s not really. Let’s call him our constant companion, even though the body swapping means that constant is the last thing he is!

“When I revisit certain places, painful memories resurface: In find myself back in that moment.”

Sure enough, as our narrator/companion walks onto set, there’s a differently coloured, former version of him sitting at a cafe table with a girl he quite evidently is not longer going out with. But – and this made me sit up and think for I’d never considered it an option – a red-hued future version of him now appears chasing a new girl across the page before they make merry with the drinks and the dancing.

“The only way to erase these memories is to return, again and again, to these same locations and fill them with new moments… Which in turn will become memories, which will renew themselves again… and again…”

I’ll leave you to discover how that is portrayed!

With debossed silver foil on the cover, it’s another Nobrow looker and a dreamy affair with some imaginative framing from which I was abruptly awoken, unnecessarily, by the legal gubbins being printed between the prologue and the main body of work. That was a bit daft, wasn’t it?

SLH

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

Optic Nerve #14 (£4-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Adrian Tomine…

“Hey, did you see that [censored] gave you a shout out on twitter? She used some of your art for her header image and said your drawing of her in The New Yorker was ‘a teenage dream fulfilled’.”
“Really? Wow, that’s nice!”
“So why didn’t you respond? You could’ve at least re-tweeted and said thanks.”
“Yeah… I’m actually not on twitter. I’m kind of… morally opposed to all that stuff.”
“Well, her two million twitter followers aren’t.”
“Haha… to each his own, right?”
“Made you look like kind of a dick, actually.”

Heh. As ever, the single-page autobiographical strip, once more tucked away right at the end after the letter column, steals the show even after the two brilliant stories that precede it. It is a mere three brief scenes of absolute perfection in terms of how to tell a story: chock full of drama, humour, plus Adrian’s trademark curmudgeonly angst, of course, with a belting piece of misdirection for the punchline that made me laugh out loud. I would say LOL but I know that is precisely the sort of modern day acronymical shennanigans that would make Tomine weep tears of despair. How he manages to pack so much into a mere twenty panels should be a compulsory lesson for all budding creators, that less really can be so much more when it comes to what to put in versus what to leave out.

As before, this issue follows the pattern of two very different longer form stories. The first, in Adrian’s new usual art style, covers the excruciating, budding comedy career of Jesse, a rather introverted young lady with a debilitating stutter. Her parents – having seen many a new obsession come and go with perturbingly repetitive frequency – fall into their typical roles and cycle of enthusiasm / pessimism / argument, before letting nature run its ever-turbulent course where their daughter is concerned.

What follows is another shot of Tomine’s classic blend of wince-worthy humour. I was practically peeking through my fingers when I got to Jesse’s first stand-up gig, as her parents sit in the audience waiting in a state of near hyper-tension for the inevitable car crash to occur. It doesn’t, for reasons of not wishing a spoil a great joke I won’t elaborate on but, rest assured, it’s a merely the metaphorical mother of all multiple car pile-ups deferred…

The second story, told in a somewhat looser art style, with lots of black shading and a single secondary light olive tone, tells the story of a divorced military veteran, living out of cheap motels, who unexpectedly bumps into a girl who house-sat an apartment he and his wife were renting when they were on vacation. Having recently cleaned out her car, she finds a set of keys she’d forgotten to give back to them. Pulled, perhaps in equal part by memories past, the curiosity of who had replaced them as tenants, and the thrill of doing something illicit, he stakes out the apartment, making note of the coming and goings of the occupant, and when he finally feels safe, let’s himself in.

It might be breaking and entering more on a scale of adult hedge-hopping, no maliciousness intended, however, again obviously, it’s not going to end well. But that’s the thrill with Tomine: bracing yourself for the moments the characters well and truly splash down in the fire, often before even realising they’ve even been daft enough to leap from the comparative safety of the proverbial frying pan. As always, one comes away from an issue of OPTIC NERVE feeling a strange mixture of sadness and relief, the latter being purely for not having such a sad life as a Tomine character!

JR

Buy Optic Nerve #14 and read the Page 45 review here

The Art Of Flying h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Antonio Altarriba & Kim…

Sometimes, as with people, things are not always as they initially appear. A first glance inside this hardcover revealed what appeared to be a relatively primitive art style, wordily lettered in a somewhat jarring font. I persisted with it though, for three reasons.

Firstly, Random House / Jonathan Cape have published some rather good graphic novels over the years so I thought they at least deserved some benefit of the doubt! Secondly, I was aware this work has won six major European comic prizes including the Spanish 2010 Best Comic Prize. Finally, I do have an interest in that particular era, WW2 and the run up to it.

The Spanish Civil War, though, was not something I knew a great deal about, other than from accounts by people like George Orwell etc. who had volunteered to go there and fight against the rise of fascism in the form of General Franco. So I thought it would be an interesting historical primer if nothing else.

This work is narrated by Altaribba, recounting the entirety of his father Antonio’s life, beginning with his decision, aged 90, to leap from the top floor of his nursing home, freshly shaved and dressed to go out in style, which presumably inspired the title. Once we’ve seen that denouement revealed, we then go back to the very beginning, to his crushingly austere and rather brutal childhood in the rural, agricultural Spanish heartlands.

As biographies of a life go, it’s extremely well told, the child’s clear desire to escape what was tantamount to penal servitude and spread his wings, thus, inadvertently at first, getting caught up in an incredibly turbulent period of Spanish history. Antonio’s teenage and early adult life was certainly also one of struggle and strife, those he never really truly escaped.

After the rather chaotic years of partisan fighting, sometimes of an internecine, factional nature amongst other elements of the Republican resistance, as well as against their main enemy the fascists, things took a considerable turn for the worse  when the Republican forces were finally defeated and driven from Spain. Rather than being welcomed by France, the losers were forced first into internment camps, then indentured labour. The squalid conditions of the camps killed a number of gallant fighters and their families who had already given so much in their doomed support of the cause.

Eventually, seizing his chance to escape, Antonio tried at first to settle in France before eventually admitting defeat and heading back to Spain, where he found a number of his former comrades, now trying to get by in Franco’s Spain by keeping their heads down and their mouths shut about their pasts. For a brief while you could actually say he thrived, being reasonably successful in business, but his latter days were spent once more in comparative poverty, having been financially betrayed by one of his business partners.

Sadly, he then found life in the old people’s home which he entered relatively early – simply by dint of being unable to afford anything else – a rather strictured, unpleasant and ultimately demoralising experience. In many ways, no different from most of his life. So, when you reach the point where the ninety-year-old Antonio is preparing to make his final escape, you can fully understand his decision to depart this world entirely on his own terms.

This is a very moving book in many ways, with much to say about how life less than a century ago in what we now perceive as stable, civilised Western European was anything but, with widespread poverty, violence, political instability and corruption, large scale movement of refugees, discrimination. We do have it easy these days in comparison, there’s no doubt about that.

I think it’s testament to Altaribba Jr.’s narrative skills, plus the fascinating details of Antonio’s life, that very quickly I didn’t notice the art too much. It’s not bad, it’s just nothing special. Frankly, in some ways, the art isn’t actually that important in a work like this, it’s the story which is always going to be the star. I should note, aside from the fact I can’t draw at all, apparently Kim is a highly regarded cartoonist responsible for a hugely popular humour strip in Spanish newspapers called MARTINEZ THE FASCIST, though having googled that it seems far more Robert Crumb / Gilbert Shelton in style than this work. Meanwhile, I did realise that the lettering would obviously have originally been in Spanish, possibly in a different font, so I guess I shouldn’t be too critical on that point. Neither remotely spoilt my enjoyment of what was ultimately a fascinating and highly illuminating biography.

JR

Buy The Art Of Flying h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Velvet vol 2: The Secret Lives Of Dead Men (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Bettie Breitweiser.

“That’s what happens when you’re ordered to kill your own husband on your honeymoon, it turns out. You lose your mind.”

1973. There is a Britain-based espionage agency called ARC-7 so secret that most other ops don’t even know it exists. Within that service there are field agents who are not names but numbers, and at its heart lies the Director. The Director has a secretary with long, sable hair now distinguished with a thick, white streak of maturity. She is his eyes, she is his ears but for so many years she was something else: one of ARC-7s most effective field operatives. So deep was her cover that even ARC’s agents aren’t aware of her former activities. And that may prove the undoing of whichever infiltrator has just set her up for treachery, treason and murder.

Throughout VELVET VOL 1 Velvet Templeton has been on the run from her own agency, desperately retracing assassinated Agent X-14’s steps and contacts across Eastern Europe while cross-referencing what she discovers with her own substantial and at times painful history in order to work out why Agent X was murdered from within. What had he discovered that made him such a threat? Was it the same thing that her husband discovered? Because he too was set up and Templeton took the fall so far for it that she almost didn’t recover.

But Velvet’s been thinking things through and now she’s done running.

She’s going to do the one thing they’ll least expect. She’s going to turn right around, breeze back into London and head straight into the lion’s den: ARC-7’s highly secure headquarters. And for that she will require a bomb and some far from voluntary help from the Director.

“Velvet… what is this about?”
“I really do wish I could tell you… because it’s not you I don’t trust.”
“You know what you sound like? Like every operative who ever got lost down their own rabbit hole.”

At which point I refer you back to the opening sentiments.

Brubaker’s internal monologues have always been compelling, individualistic and often fucked up affairs – in CRIMINAL, FATALE, THE FADE OUT et al – but here you’re almost as much in the dark as Velvet is, learning as she goes along, so you’re even more emotionally invested than usual. Several times I found myself suspicious of what I was being told because it sounded almost too perfect but with the strangest gaps (why, for example, so-and-so hadn’t been offed when everyone around him had) and I wondered if I was missing something.

I was. But then so was Velvet.

During the final two chapters you will have your head whipped round not once, not twice, but three times in swift succession and at exactly the same moment as Velvet’s because these people she’s up against are so deviously clever and who is playing whom at any given moment is far from obvious.

As I mention in VELVET VOL 1, Breitweiser’s colours have always been one of the title’s great draws. Here she introduces some of the more expressionistic effects which have lit up the THE FADE OUT and helped draw the eye. However, so much of this takes place at night that you may be enjoying the results without necessarily noticing their cause.

As to Epting, once more his eye for period detail – from vehicles to lounge furniture and a particularly posh, trans-European train dining car – makes one deeply nostalgic for a 1970s I really wouldn’t want to revisit if the truth be told. It’s just fortunate that Velvet Templeton’s always had a better fashion sense than most and I almost wept when she had to ditch that knee-length, black and white pashmina cardigan. I’m very emotional, aren’t I?

Epting’s also exceptional at age and Velvet is certainly showing hers. She’s not slowing down – she cannot afford to – but that face could not belong to a thirty-year-old and quite right too. This is a period espionage thriller starring a woman with decades’ experience at the agency. It’s this very history which is revisited which informs her psychological makeup and the whole point of the plot.

Astonishing, then, that an America television channel was so keen to sign up the series… as long as they could turn our Templeton into her twenties. Or maybe not.

SLH

Buy Velvet vol 2: The Secret Lives Of Dead Men and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets vol 2: Somewhere Out West (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham.

“A happy ending is knowing where to put those two words: THE END.”

They usually come way too late in STRAY BULLETS, which can be summarised thus:

Terrible things happen to terrified young people, turning them into terrifyingly out-of-control car wrecks. They get caught in the cross-fire of other people’s greed, grief or beef, and it sends their broken lives careening in horrifying directions.

Everything is connected.

This is the best crime comic in the business, right up there with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ CRIMINAL, and we had missed it terribly.

STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES edition at £45 contains all 41 issues of the series prior to STRAY BULLETS VOL 6: KILLERS, while this contains the second 7 chapters of STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES edition – which shows you just how good value for money STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES edition really is! However, you may not be comfortable with reading such a big book, so here is the alternative. They’re coming out at roughly two a year.

With more compelling individuals and more convincing characterisation in a single story than most people manage in a whole graphic novel, there is an 8-panel-per-page density and intensity to these tales broken by moments of golden sunshine that make what follows all the more devastating.

Here what seemed like disparate strands in STRAY BULLETS VOL 1 converge in a small town called Seaside, way out in the middle of the desert. Naturally. The mayor is waiting for an earthquake to swallow California whole, bringing Seaside to the coast.

Young runaway Virginia Applejack who had it unbelievably tough in book one tries her best to protect vulnerable, drug-addled Nina from the advances of Seaside’s revoltingly seedy old-age pensioners, one of whom looks just like a toad, another of whom has drugs of his own to further blur Nina’s brains out. Nina is far from her own best friend.

Come to think of it she’s no one’s best friend in this state, not even towards the ever-loyal if ever-volatile Beth and Beth’s far more orthodox boyfriend, Orson. Their relationship’s been struggling in this back end of nowhere. Beth craves conflict like smokers crave their next cigarette and she grows jittery and fractious without it. It’s good news / bad news, then when Spanish Scott turns up in search of his missing coke. And with Scott comes Rose, and of course little Joey. I told you everything was connected.

What follows is an accelerating climax of desperate, tangled gambits and frankly wince-worthy violence as these impossibly complicated relationships finally play themselves out. It’s an immensely satisfying pay-off for all your hard concentration that point, but we have only just begun because, remember, this series goes backwards as well as forwards in time!

The main differences between this and, say, 100 BULLETS which we all love to wit-riddled death, is that this is all so intimate, so personal, and that the individuals – the victims in this series – are so young. That’s what made Lapham’s SILVERFISH such a nail-biter too.

As to the art, it is pure black and white with no grey tone at all. It’s incredibly clean but supple as well. The figure work is immaculate, the local behemoth Nick having the burly, hunched-up and sweaty same physicality as the protagonist of Jeff Smith’s RASL. In fact most of these townsfolk are drawn as grotesques. As to the expressions, they communicate so much going on behind the eyes whether you like what you see or you don’t. Everyone here lives and breathes. For a while, anyway.

Lastly, if you haven’t yet clocked who Amy Racecar really is, all will finally be revealed.

THE END

SLH

Buy Stray Bullets vol 2: Somewhere Out West and read the Page 45 review here

Ex Machina Book 5 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris.

From the writer of SAGA comes the finale to EX MACHINA, my favourite piece of political comic fiction of all time.

Hundred finds his tenure as Mayor of New York City coming to a close more abruptly than he’d planned. He’s already declared he won’t stand for a second term so that he can concentrate on finishing his job rather than campaigning for re-election. But the power of the media is demonstrated when a radio show compels the citizens of the city to rise up en masse and it’s not very pretty.

All of that is as nothing compared to the final issue set several months later where we witness the separate fates of Bradbury, Kremlin and Hundred himself. Not one of them will you see coming.

This is a promise I make to you: not one of them will you see coming.

I almost dropped the book when reading the Bradbury scene, I did drop it during the Kremlin confrontation and my mouth gaped wide after my mind had fully processed the final page and its preceding phone call…

 

Before the politics rears its ugly head, however, I promised you repercussions when it comes to the sci-fi element and here be rats. A lot of rats. Also a rat catcher with an eye-patch sporting the words “Out Of Order”. Ha!

As Pherson – the man who can command animals the way Mayor Mitchell Hundred can command mechanisms – returns again and again with a message for Mitchell that he simply won’t listen to, we finally learn exactly what all the colour-coded control systems are all about, and why they’ve been given. It’s not good news, nor is the White Box. In fact it has serious implications not just for the future but for how Hundred conducted his original election campaign way back when.

All of which brings us to this new edition’s cover, and way back at the beginning I promised you this series was far from black and white. What does that cover say to you of the man it portrays?

Pour yourself a stiff one. You’re going to need it.

SLH

Buy Ex Machina Book 5 and read the Page 45 review here

Godzilla: Half Century War s/c (£14-99, IDW) by James Stokoe.

“I had arrogantly begun to think of Godzilla as an anomaly, a one-off. An animal of the Atomic Age too stubborn to die. Once the A.M.F. figured out how to deal with him, that would be it. We could all go home knowing that we had done some good.
“Then the others showed up and humbled the lot of us…”

Ah yes, the others

Not since I glued together my very first Aurora model kit, at the tender age of eight, have I been so in love with Godzilla. And yes, I used every piece of glow-in-the-dark plastic they offered, including that magnificent, jagged spine.

Here too the crystalline spine glows, as does the billowing smoke on page after page thanks to some monumentally lambent colouring by, I infer, James Stokoe himself, assisted by Heather Breckel. So much attention has been paid to each cloudy puff’s highlights. From the very first page I can promise you carnage on a gargantuan scale – we’re talking Geoff Darrow on SHAOLIN COWBOY or Frank Miller’s HARD BOILED – whenceforth it only multiplies.

Along with rookie soldier Ota Murakami, we first encounter Godzilla in 1954; in Japan, of course, where they first dropped the bomb. It’s pretty tough luck for the Japanese, having to reap what we sowed in the form of this rampaging mutation. The soldiers cannot contain the beast; they can only survive it thanks to some shit-hot tank driving. In the wake of such wreckage the Anti Megalosaurus Force is formed, Murakami being its key recruit. But it’s in Vietnam in 1967 that they realise Godzilla is far from alone and, worse still, its trajectory is far from random. After that it’s Africa, Bombay, then the whole bloody world as those ridiculous creatures swarm: Megalon, Rodan, Ebirrah, Hedorah, Mothra… Battra! As the stakes escalate, so do the A.M.F.’s counter-measures, but just when you think the odds can’t get any worse, the fight is joined by those from beyond and oh dear lord my eyes are on fire!

Inevitably there’s some manga in the mix this time out, and I love the puffing, sweaty faces. Most of all, however, I love the way the transport subtly reflects each era, especially in 1975 where the crack team’s more of a whack team, crashing about in a VW Campervan presumably pimped in Haight-Ashbury.

SLH

Buy Godzilla: The Half-Century War and read the Page 45 review here

Planet Hulk #1 (£3-99, Marvel) by Sam Humphries & Marc Laming.

Seldom has an artist filled every conceivable inch on the page with big, bold forms without it for one second feeling cluttered or crowded.

And that’s what you want from a HULK comic: big, bold forms! Especially when there are multiple Hulks of so many different sizes, hues and degrees of semi-sentience! Regardless of whether or not they’re given lines, each is imbued with a distinct personality, some even less friendly than others.

Back with you in a second…

Previously on SECRET WARS #1 and SECRET WARS #2 (both reviewed): the Marvel Universe was destroyed, Earth ceased to exist and everyone on it perished. In its wake a new world appeared populated by those who will be familiar to you but in oh so different circumstances! This Battleworld is divided into kingdoms between which trespass is strictly forbidden by God above, the lord and master of all he surveys,  ****** ****** *** ****

Let’s play Hang Man! It wouldn’t be inapposite.

SECRET WARS, then, is the central title for the next few months and now sees the launch its satellite series, each of which focuses on a distinct kingdom or zone although – having read this first week’s wave (far many more than I’ll be covering here) – I can see how cleverly some will be connected, trespass or no trespass.

Here an incursion is authorised – but by whom? Who is it sitting there scowling implacably on his throne? * He’s a lot less loquacious than usual, I’ll tell you.

As the comic commences a blonde warrior called The Captain is hailed as victor in the latest Killiseum combat tournament transmitted throughout Battleworld. Huge jubilation to the non-existent rafters etc.

His chain-mail, cloth and leather garb combo is a fusion of warrior-race soldiers many moons ago, although its icons and arrangement are strangely reminiscent of a certain Steve Rogers. He has triumphed over the feral Wolverine Clan with the aid of an axe, a star-striped shield and a bellicose, bi-pedal, Cretaceous-era chappie we’ll simply call Tall, Red And Toothsome.

 

The Captain’s not done this for fame, he’s not done it for fortune. He’s done if for information about a missing companion; for this single moment when the vainglorious master of ceremonies, Arcade, strides forth to commend his accomplishment; and for when Steve Rogers springs his trap – ready and waiting and right by his side.

When you realise where Arcade’s been imprisoned, I promise you will roar with laughter!

What does any of this have to do with multiple Hulks? They’re subsisting in a barbaric environment similar to the original PLANET HULK and under attack by the Hammers of God whom we call Thors. They appear to be holding their own but don’t think they’re all working as one.

According to ****** ****** *** **** this is where The Captain will find his companion. Now why do you think he would impart this much-prized information to someone who has royally pissed him off?

I swear to green goodness that everything I’ve typed has been relevant. Sam Humphries has written this so you will care. It’s not a random companion Cap’s after – guess who! And if you thought someone was missing from this – your official HULK substitute for several months to come – Ahahahahahaha! I give you final-page, revelatory shenanigans!

* It is actually possible to scowl implacably. As irrefutable evidence I present you with exhibit A by Marc Laming. You’ll see.

SLH

Buy Planet Hulk #1 and read the Page 45 review here

A-Force #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Marguerite Bennett, G. Willow Wilson & Jorge Molina.

Previously on SECRET WARS #1 and SECRET WARS #2 (both reviewed): the Marvel Universe was destroyed, Earth ceased to exist and everyone on it perished. In its wake a new world appeared populated by those who will be familiar to you but in oh so different circumstances! This Battleworld is divided into kingdoms between which trespass is strictly forbidden by God above, the lord and master of all he surveys,  ****** ****** *** ****

SECRET WARS, then is the central title for the next few months and now sees the launch its satellite series, each of which focuses on a distinct kingdom or zone although – having read this first week’s wave (far more than I’ll be covering here) – I can see how cleverly some will be connected, trespass or no trespass.

Although in this case: most definitely trespass!

“In the shadow of The Shield, with the sun on the sea… there is an island. Welcome to Arcadia. It’s pretty tight.”

It’s also thoroughly Florentine in its Italian Renaissance, red-roofed domes. Throw in a little Venice because we’re living by the sea, although there are fewer wooden jetties on stilts and a substantial, solid rock base instead.

Keeping its inhabitants safe from harm is A-Force, an female fun-for-all led by She-Hulk. While patrolling today A-Force discovers a stray mutant Megalodon, which is essential a Great White Shark on spinach and steroids before you even get to the “mutant” part. One of their members acts in haste and the world – in the form of Word From On High – comes crashing down around them. Autonomy? I don’t think so!

Of course I’m still being cryptic. I want you to enjoy discovering these for yourselves but you can join the dots up between what I’ve written here, just as I did with this and the preview for SIEGE #1 by Kieron Gillen & Filipe Andrade into which this so slickly ties. If you need any more clues just think which other Marvel titles Kieron Gillen has written.

Gorgeous art at either end while the bits in the middle are a bit toy-doll, to be frank. Certainly nothing like the great Jimmy Cheung on the cover.

SLH

Buy A-Force #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Thor vol 1: The Goddess Of Thunder (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman, Jorge Molina.

“Thor… There are things that have happened since you fell… Things you should know before you…”
Not now, Father. It will have to wait until after I’ve –“
“Your hammer has gone missing.”
“What?”
“And so has your mother.”

Fairly standard superhero art, a little too heavy on the line until Molina turns up, but some pretty cool Frost Giants underwater.

Alas, the Son of Odin has fallen from grace and is no longer worthy enough to lift his fabled Mjolnir. Although neither is All-Doting Daddy. Has the All-Mithering Mother gone and got herself an immortal make-over while their backs were turned?

If she had, then the thought bubbles issuing in tandem with – but in contrast to – the new wench-warrior’s confident Thor-speak wouldn’t be so startled at her current condition, dubious about her abilities or ridden with Americanisms. On the other hand the new soul deemed worthy of being Thor is at least be familiar enough with the Odin-son, his family and his Mjolnir to know their names and past behaviour, so who is she?

I know the answer, it maketh sense, but after some deft misdirection Aaron rings a clanger of a bell so loud you’ll be hospitalised.

Meanwhile back to the story and Roxon Oil is at it again, sticking its international nose where it does not belong and sinking its corporate claws into that which belongs to others, in this case the skull of a fallen Frost Giant – their dead king. The Frost Giants are led on an underwater assault on Roxon by dark elf Malekith (used for largely comedic purposes like Gillen used Mephisto and Loki) and they’d all deserve whatever they’d get but our new female Thor intervenes.

Neither father nor son is remotely happy that someone has half-inched the hammer. The son’s complaint is proprietorial and so understandable. But the All-Incandescent, All-Intolerant, All-Interfering dipshit of a daddy is going to bollocks things up for everyone just because it wasn’t what he had planned and anyway she’s a girl.

Men!

SLH

Buy Thor vol 1: The Goddess Of Thunder (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Sam Jamwitch #3 (£2-50) by Kate Hazell, Ed Hawkesworth

Scars (£2-50) by Sally Jane Thompson

24 by 7 h/c (£14-99, Fanfare Presents) by Kristyna Baczynski, Dan Berry, Joe Decie, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Sarah McIntyre, Fumio Obata, Jack Teagle

Sithrah Book 1 h/c (£14-99, Coffee Table Comics) by Jason Brubaker

The Power Of Tank Girl (£19-99, Titan) by Alan Martin & Rufus Dayglo, Ashley Wood

Superman Wonder Woman vol 2: War And Peace h/c (£18-99, DC) by Charles Soule & Tony S. Daniel

Deadpool Classic vol 11 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler, Mary H.K. Choi & Bong Dazo, Rob Liefeld, Kyle Baker, Matteo Scalera

Deadpool vol 8: All Good Things s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by various

Thanos Vs. Hulk s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin

Wolverines vol 2: Claw Blade And Fang s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule, Ray Fawkes & various

A Silent Voice vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshitoki Oima

The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past (£13-99, Viz) by Shotaro Ishinomori

Rosario + Vampire Season II vol 14 (£6-99, Viz) by Akihisa Ikeda

The Summit Of The Gods vol 5 (£14-99, Fanfare / Portent Mon) by Yumemakura Baku & Jiro Taniguchi

Dan Dare Omnibus (£14-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Gary Erskine

Eric h/c (£5-99, Templar Publishing) by Shaun Tan

Strangers In Paradise vol 3 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore

News!

ITEM! Robot 6 at Comic Book Resources interviews Page 45’s own Jonathan! Loads of photos! Please note: there are two pages of interview! Please click on “NEXT” at the bottom of the first page!

ITEM! Alex De Campi has made a trailer for NO MERCY as recommended by Kieron Gillen & Bryan K Vaughan. Nice! NO MERCY #1 by Alex De Campi & Carla Speed McNeil reviewed by moi. In stock now!

ITEM! I watched Alan Bennett’s ‘Sunset Across The Bay’ (1975) again the other night. Devastating. Ridiculously you can buy a 12-film Alan Bennett BBC DVD collection for just £12-83 at Hive Stores. You can even nominate Page 45 as your local independent store so we make a cut and have it delivered here as well so you pay no postage at all. Here are the details:

How To Buy Discounted Books, CDs, DVDs etc Via Hive AND Support Your Local Independent.

“You can’t be branching out into yoghurt at our age!” Bernard Wrigley cameo in Alan Bennett’s Sunset Across The Bay.

- Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2015 week three

May 20th, 2015

New comic series from Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey (INJECTION), Phil Hester & John McCrea (MYTHIC) plus THE HUNTER one-shot by Joe Sparrow, Eric Drooker’s silent FLOOD, manga from Tadao Tsuge and more Marvel SECRET WARS with Jodie Paterson’s prints underneath. Hurrah!

Flood: A Novel In Pictures h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Drooker.

Lord, but I love the rain!

Preferably in the countryside during summer, accompanied by the smell of ozone or freshly cut grass; on water, on glass or sleeping under canvas but even at night in the city – I don’t think Japan’s ‘Nightporter’ is entirely innocent of the blame on that score.

When it hits here halfway through – as our beleaguered everyman emerges from the infernal subway which is dark and dangerous yet potentially thrilling in a primal way – it comes to me a blessed relief. There seems to be very real light at the end of that tunnel as the rain pours from the heavens onto the concrete steps below.

But an enormous clock tower is cast in stark contrast, silhouetted against the sky – boy, have we boxed in our lives not just with buildings but with time itself! – and the rain is far from fun for the man sat in it, cold, barefooted and holding out a cup rapidly filling with nothing but water.

Our hero is homeless too: he lost his job, he lost his lover then, evicted, he lost his apartment. His heart is exposed, vulnerable, for you to see.

From the creator of the equally eloquent and political BLOOD SONG comes a hardcover reprint of his first wordless narrative composed of three chapters created at intervals during a seven-year span and you can see Drooker as an artist develop in front of you on the page. (In some early panels Robert Crumb leaps out at you.)

It’s a decidedly surreal yet all too real nightmare of life in the far from civilised city. Anyone who’s read BLOOD SONG  knows that Drooker’s no fan. He grew up in New York and was a first-hand witness to the tyranny of landlords and hostile police action evicting squatters from a tenement building, and an entire population from a supposedly public park in riot gear, on horseback, just because. He sees the city as a cruel and fickle oppressor which man has created and ended up shackling his natural self as a slave to its grinding regime. It’s a despair-inducing chronicle of melancholia, isolation, alienation, and helplessness; a freakshow of the rejected, the dejected and the chaos of hoards before the storm. And when the storm hits, it pours into the city and sweeps all away.

The expressionistic art – an essay in black and white long before Miller’s SIN CITY – is extraordinarily versatile, speeding up, then slowing down, moving in then moving out, and when the blue tone joins it just after the deluge itself it is quite awesome to behold.

As to the rain itself, the subtractive medium of scratchboard is perfect for sheets and sprays of water which erode what we can see beyond them. I am a massive fan of rain drawn by the likes of Sacco and Eisner and indeed Miller in the original SIN CITY, but here it positively hurtles across the page, buffeting our man beyond his ability to resist before sweeping him up into the stormy sky, over the rooftops, past the Statue Of Liberty and – immediately and tellingly afterwards – away from the barred window of a crowded prison cell as its inmates look impotently out.

It ends in the prophecy of another watery Armageddon which harks back to the first – the only way to silence the babble and brutality.

For a silent graphic novel, this is one hell of a noisy book.

“Pictures are a means of communicating with people when words feel inadequate. It’s a way of bridging the language barrier,” says Drooker in the interview afterwards.

“Pictures are a more direct language than words. Words are always one step removed, because we’re encoding what we’re trying to express into verbal symbols – which need to be deciphered. Pictures are the earliest form of writing, and drawing them is something we do as young children – long before learning to read and write.”

It’s a fascinating interview raising points I hadn’t thought of before like this:

“Frankly I feel that our Judeo-Christian culture places undue emphasis on the word: “In the beginning was the word.” Other forms of expression – particularly images are sacrilege. The second commandment given to Moses was: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Jehovah is very explicit: images are taboo.

The one thing that the powers that be have always sought to control is communication.

SLH

Buy Flood: A Novel In Pictures h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Trash Market s/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tadao Tsuge…

“Weren’t you supposed to go to the beach with your company today?”
“Yeah… I decided not to go… didn’t feel like it.”
“Don’t be silly, you should have fun while you’re young.”
“No thanks. Call me stuck up, but I’m just not interested in horsing around… you get caught up in these meaningless fads, and afterwards it just makes you stupid, what’s the point?”
“… …”
“Maybe it’s square to stand by one’s principles. But I really have respect for that. That’s the kind of person I want to be… like you, Dad.”
“… …”

Ah, the archetypal, repressed Japanese male. Those two non-replies from the father turn out to be very significant, as he then gradually begins to lose the plot during a long, hot summer resulting in an… unfortunate incident. Tadao Tsuge is one of the great unsung heroes of Japanese comics, the younger brother of the relatively more celebrated Yoshiharu Tsuge (who status-wise has been compared within Japan to the likes of Robert Crumb): both made their names contributing to underground comics magazine Garo in the 1960s and 1970s.

To understand his comics, I think one needs to be aware of the fact that he’s never made a full-time living from them, aside from a couple of very brief periods, interludes really, like most of the creators from the alternative manga scene of that time. Instead he’s held down a succession of menial blue collar jobs, and just done comics in his spare time, many of which I suspect are loosely autobiographical or at least containing characters who have crossed his path.

One of these jobs, several decades ago, which he explains more about in one of the essays included at the back of this collection, was for a blood-bank (known colloquially as an ‘ooze for booze’ operation giving alcoholics a few yen for their blood) with somewhat suspect working practices and hygiene conditions, and which almost certainly resulted in him contracting Hepatitis C…

It’s perhaps not entirely surprising therefore that most of his comics revolve around the down-trodden life of the true working class man. Much like Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s material, it’s a bleak, uncompromising portrait of lives spent in drudgery, where happy endings are few and far between.

His style is even sparser of line and particularly background than Tatsumi’s, though I can see some similarities. If you are a fan of Tatsumi, you would undoubtedly enjoy this material though. It’s a window into a particular time and never ending struggles of a certain social class, as seen mainly from the perspective of eternally tense, uptight Japanese male, who is seemingly only ever one glass of sake away from going off the deep end in some way or other!

JR

Buy Trash Market s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Injection #1 (£2-25, Image) by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey

Professor Maria Kilbride was once an optimist: a fresh-faced, enthusiastic explorer of hidden science. She was given funding by the FPI and four similarly specialised experts to cross-pollinate with. They were to put their minds together, think outside the box and do stuff. They did stuff.

They poisoned the 21st Century.

They did it with an Injection and now they discover that they and this planet are far from immune.

Professor Maria Kilbride now resides at Sawlung Hospital which, translated from old English, means “giving up the ghost”. Nominally a patient, she but is anything but. She is worn out, fractious, unkempt and implicitly under investigation by the FPI’s own inner Cursus which demands she cleans up her mess. Ever since Maria and her cohorts dissolved their Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit in the wake of their Injection, incidents have occurred. Walls of science and nature have come crashing down or are opening up. The breaches are pretty spectacular.

Professor Maria Kilbride is being dragged out once again to stop what she has started and she will try the best that she can. But she is tired, malnourished and would very much like a fucking sandwich.

Could someone please make her a fucking sandwich?

From the writer of GLOBAL FREQUENCY and PLANETARY, this boasts elements of both: weird science, history, ghostly echoes, specialised experts and catastrophic incidents. It’s also highly reminiscent of Jamie Delano’s early HELLBLAZER with secret, string-pulling organisations and references to stone circles, ley lines, cursuses, cunning folk and the Ridgeway. In other words very British indeed, quaint villages included.

I infer that this is the next Ellis epic and I would advise you to get in on the ground floor, by which I mean right here, right now.

Shalvey and Bellaire have done a tremendous job of separating the past from the present: it couldn’t be clearer. Both the body language and colours command that you consider the contrast. In places I get whiffs of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN’s Kevin O’Neill. I may be down-wind.

It’s also typical Ellis in that the first issue demands you go Google-ing specialised terms and then – if you’re anything like me – pretending you knew exactly what they all meant in the first place. You think I knew what a cursus was? Oh, how you overestimate me!

But if you’re also anything like me then you love to learn, you hate being hand-held and you relish a comic with intelligence, wit, and so much hard research and forethought behind it that you embrace the brand-new even when it harks so geo-specifically back to the past.

I am old, I am tired. Can someone please make me a fucking sandwich? Something with mushrooms, tuna and cheese would be ideal, melted even better.

Because like Professor Maria Kilbride I have seen what’s behind this closed door and it shouldn’t be possible.

SLH

Buy Injection #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Mythic #1 (£1-80, Image) by Phil Hester & John McCrea.

HITMAN’s John McCrea appears to have had enormous fun drawing this – it’s infectious!

The black and white preview of MYTHIC #2 set above the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is positively Walt Simonson in its monumentalism!

This had me from the very first page which reminded me of Alan Moore & Steve Parkhouse’s hilariously grotesque and grotesquely hilarious BOJEFFRIES SAGA. In it a poor young man at a clapped out till in a run-down phone shop is confronted by a hideously warty old woman, whom I swear I last saw cleaning a lavatory sloppier than a cowshed in a Parisian hotel which haunts me to this day. Some of its wooden stairs were missing and our room wouldn’t lock. I don’t want to talk about the lavatory in any more detail. I’m not sure what I saw could have actually existed.

Our innocent young salesman is in for a similarly nasty surprise when the harridan plops her mobile phone on his counter with the words “Phone dead” and he makes the mistake of touching it. To his fingers sticks a thread attached via the phone to one of the woman’s larger, thumb-sized facial pustules and he probably shouldn’t have pulled on it because what pops out…

You will never squeeze a zit again.

The entire sequence is choreographed by McCrea with such exceptional physicality than I can feel the tension in that thread myself and feel it pulling on a pustule of my own which I haven’t known in over three decades.

You’re probably wondering what this book is actually about. So is the clerk once those demons are down.

“Nate, I’m not just here to spew cryptic exposition about your newfound destiny. Though I have to admit, I am pretty goddam great at it. I’m her to offer you a job.”

The card says “Mythic Lore Services.”.

Here’s the official blurb:

“Science is a lie, an opiate for the masses. The truth is that magic makes the world go round. And when magic breaks, Mythic fixes it. Apache shaman Waterson, Greek immortal Cassandra, and cell phone salesman Nate Jayadarma are the crack field team assigned with keeping the gears of the supernatural world turning, and more importantly, keeping you from ever knowing about it.”

They certainly have a novel explanation – and cure – for drought but it’s too rude to type. Ah, I see you are hooked! Here’s Cassandra confounding a scientist with a much merrier account of the world as he once thought he knew it.

“We are told the sun tracking through the sky above is a mass of incandescent gas, our earthly home a randomly formed satellite… These facts let you sleep at night, let you pretend to know what the world is all about. When actually the sun is pulled across the heavens by a flaming chariot piloted by a god clad in the dust of comets. Earthquakes are not the shifting of tectonic plates, but the wrestling of massive twin lizard-demons fighting for control of the underworld. The tides themselves rise and fall with the weeping of an immortal princess who sleeps beneath the shore awaiting her drowned lover’s return.”

I knew there was poetry in nature.

So what do you imagine the Giant’s Causeway really is? Heheheh.

SLH

Buy Mythic #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Hunter (£6-50, Nobrow) by Joe Sparrow.

Bravado: a “boldness intended to impress or intimidate”.

Bravado: a rash proclamation made when you’re feeling otherwise inadequate.

Bravado: as Marc Almond sang, “Is it me who’s feeling insecure?”

A man whose only skill lies in slaughter holds a big party. For him the best sound of all is “the melodious bark of a bullet”. It’s certainly not conversation so when he finds himself in his own metaphorical kitchen with nothing to say he reacts resentfully and in anger, declaring that he will kill one of every living creature on Earth.

Bravado.

He does so.

“My dear Earl, you’re too much!”

And he is.

But so is what’s coming to get him.

I don’t know why the type and lines have been designed to look like they came out of a dot matrix home printer 35 years ago – all jaggedy. I’m sure there’s a brilliance behind it but it certainly didn’t enhance my reading pleasure. I found it distracting.

Still, I’m totally down with the story and can only endorse its message: predators, please put down your guns and stop shooting the fuck out of our wildlife. Unless you’re doing it on a Sony Playstation.

SLH

Buy The Hunter and read the Page 45 review here

Secret Wars #2 of 8 (£3-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribib.

“Quarantine is for things that cause doubt.”

Previously in SECRET WARS #1 (reviewed somewhat elusively for fear of spoilers – stock depleting rapidly!):

The Marvel Universe was destroyed. Earth ceased to exist and everyone on it perished.

Now (spoiler-free too!):

A new day, a new dawn and a new Thor has been deemed worthy and initiated into the ranks of multiple Thors coexisting side by side. They are the keepers of the law, the Hammers of God. They kneel below their all-seeing, all-hearing, all-knowing deity. Is it the All-Father, Odin?

It is not.

Brilliant. This has been so cleverly thought through and it is so eloquently executed.

Someone has finally got what they always wanted and they are enjoying it enormously. They are king of all they survey (oooh, gender neutral pronoun!) and what they survey are multiple kingdoms between which access is strictly restricted unless someone is summoned for judgement. Judgement proves swift and rarely merciful. Beware which kingdom you are banished to!

Some are populated by superhero and supervillain zombies; others are patrolled by Ultron A.I.s. In others past Marvel crossover conflicts are being replayed in new iterations and you can follow their progress in five and a half billion new, attendant titles which will commence any day now in the place of the those that you loved. You can take a gander at these in Page 45’s Marvel Comics for May, Marvel Comics for June and Marvel Comics for July and a bunch of printed publications (also depleting rapidly!) which we have by our counter for free. If in doubt, ask! We want you to have them!

You’ll find your favourite Marvel heroes and villains cast in brand new lights under utterly alien circumstances but – once again – there is a considerable degree of logic in their new assignations based on their shared past history.

The joy is in discovering all these for yourselves – very much like Neil Gaiman & Andy Kubert’s MARVEL 1602 – so I will stay schtum until the collected edition arrives.

I will only add that the already accomplished art has gone up a notch since #1 and here Ribic delivers the best portrayal of Sinister I’ve ever seen. His expressions are so priceless you will be acting out the dialogue in your head. Sinister is jubilant, aloof, dismissive and cross; he’s mock-cross, goading and gleeful. In one panel he positively dances his way to a judgement whose authority he’d never recognise nor submit to in a million years. Don’t know who Sinister is? It really won’t matter.

And if you imagine for one second that this series stands still and you will have to wait for clues as to what waits on the other side of this segue between Marvel Universes, think again!

For what, do you think, has been quarantined?

SLH

Buy Secret Wars #2 and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Spider-Verse (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Olivier Coipel, Guiseppe Camuncoli.

Ummm. Okay.

This is volume three of the current incarnation of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.

It is very pretty. But then you’d expect nothing less of Olivier Coipel who did such a masterful work of rendering Norse eyebrows in THOR and so much more, so maybe pop the artist into our search engine and see for yourself!

In it a feuding family called Inheritors have set their gluttonous eyes on every incarnation of Spider-Man in Marvel’s Earth past, present and future along with its alternate Earths past, present and future. They actually want to eat them and eww.

But, boy, there are a lot of Spider-Men! If you wanted to unlock all these costumes whilst playing a videogame then you would be here for approximately 7 billion hours with button-bashing, calloused thumbs like nobody’s business. There’s Spider-Man, Spider-Ham (I kid you not), Spider-Woman, Spider-Girl, Spider-Gwen, Spider-*** [SPOILERS! – ed] and even a punk iteration that oh I’ve just bored myself.

If that is your bag then you can consider this the Christian Dior of comics and cheap at just £14-99! Although there is the SPIDER-VERSE OMNIBUS h/c which will set you back oh so much more for a considerably higher, more comprehensive page count. That’d be more of a Gucci suitcase for Spider-spotters. I don’t know, my Fashion-Sense tingles at the mere sight of me in the mirror.

The problem is that what starts off as a customarily witty Dan Slot script with both a sly sleight of hand then an ever so naughty side-bar castigating you for fixating on Peter’s bottom (which the artist has ensured that you will – it is naked and only just beneath the sheets!) turns into an interminable series of side-bar boxes explaining who everyone is and whence they web-weave.

Again, this may be for you the thrill of a lifetime. “Clip ‘em and collect ‘em all,” as Marvel once exhorted of the postage stamps printed within their very own comics. And readers did! They did clip ‘em and collect ‘em, thereby reducing the second-hand sales value of their 1970s’ Marvel Comics from $220,372 a pop to three dimes and a cent.

I have no idea about American currency at all.

SLH

Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Spider-Verse (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Goldfish Copper Foil Print (£18-00) by Jodie Paterson.

Oh just look at these puppies!

Err… guppies!

Err… Veiltail Goldfish!

They shine like copper ghosts floating in the dark.

Jodie Paterson’s cards have been an enormous success here so we’re introducing her prints.

They have nothing to do with comics, although – true fact – Jodie’s CV when applying for a job at Page 45 did come accompanied by an autobiographical comic whose climax came with the triumphant “I’VE GOT THE JOB!”

Guess what? She got the job!

Positive thinking works wonders.

SLH

Buy Goldfish Copper Foil Print and read the Page 45 review here

Badger Blue Mini Print and Badger Green Mini Print (£8-00 each) by Jodie Paterson.

  

Meet Lilly and Edwin!

Would you want them on your wall? Of course you would!

You’ll probably start talking to them before long.

Each of this pair of prints comes on classy, textured watercolour stock.

I have absolutely no idea what possessed Jodie to dress badgers in jumpers but it’s a stroke of genius which has paid huge dividends and is even more of a talking point for customers while have their wallets whipped at the till than my own shop dodo.

We honestly do have a shop dodo. It’s quite dead.

SLH

Buy Badger Blue Mini Print and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Badger Green Mini Print and read the Page 45 review here

Wanderlust Explore Mounted Print (£20-00) and Wanderlust Run Away Mounted Print (£15-00) by Jodie Paterson.

   

“Time To Explore!” and “Let’s Run Away!”

I adore Jodie’s calligraphy – the letters positively dance – and each exhortation is perfectly framed in a garland of fresh flowers.

They’re perfect compositions full of space and light redolent of open, wildflower meadows, while both the calligraphy and the colours gives them a thrilling energy.

Also, notice the love heart on “Let’s Run Away!” implicitly meaning “together”! Awww.

Each print comes on textured watercolour stock and is mounted thereby saving you considerable extra expense.

SLH

Buy Wanderlust Explore Mounted Print and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Wanderlust Run Away Mounted Print and read the Page 45 review here

Songbird Cetti’s Warbler Mounted Print and Songbird Goldcrest Mounted Print (£20-00 each) by Jodie Paterson.

Both landscape lovelies on watercolour stock are already mounted which will save you some considerable hassle and a little bit of lolly to boot.

I’m not very good with birds [insert your own joke] so I’m relieved our Jodie has already identified them.

Both my mum and my sister are keen, expert birdwatchers while I am the source of some considerable head-shaking, over-optimistically identifying eagles in the sky when they’re not even birds of prey – on one occasion a sparrow.

It was difficult to judge distance that day.

SLH

Buy Songbird Cetti’s Warbler Mounted Print and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Songbird Goldcrest Mounted Print and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Velvet vol 2: The Secret Lives Of Dead Men (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Bettie Breitweiser

Ex Machina Book 5 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris

Elders #1 (£4-00) by Ethan Wiltshire

Angel & Faith Season 10 vol 2: Lost And Found (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Victor Gischler & Will Conrad

The Art Of Flying h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Antonio Altarriba & Kim

BPRD Plague Of Frogs vol 4 s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis

Godzilla: The Half-Century War (£14-99, IDW) by James Stokoe

Samurai Executioner Omnibus vol 4 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Strangers In Paradise vol 2 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Stray Bullets vol 2: Somewhere Out West (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham

The Spectators h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Victor Hussenot

The Unwritten vol 11: Apocalypse (£12-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, various

Batman: Detective Comics vol 5: Gothopia s/c (£12-99, DC) by John Layman, Brad Meltzer, Scott Snyder, various & Jason Fabok, Bryan Hitch, Neal Adams, Sean Murphy, various

Thor vol 1: The Goddess Of Thunder (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman, Jorge Molina

Monster Perfect Edition vol 4 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

Sailor Moon: Short Stories vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuchi

Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops vol 1 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Neko Nekobyou

NEWS!

ITEM! Enjoying GIANT DAYS? Me too, more and more with each successive issue! John Allison is currently serialising his SPACE IS THE PLACE online for free.

ITEM! Both versions have been out of print for a while but THE CEREBUS GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING is now available digitally. If I were a creator or a prospective creator in the comicbook industry I would make damn sure I read it regardless of whether I intended to self-publish. Fore-warned is fore-armed etc!

ITEM! Wonderlands one time only graphic novel festival in Sunderland is on Saturday May 30th 2015

- Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2015 week two

May 13th, 2015

Classic Japanese horror from Junjo Ito, violence as a way of life from Jasons Aaron & Latour; the return of RAT QUEENS,  Jim Henson’s STORYTELLER, Frederik Peeters’ AAMA and Stan Sakai’s USAGI YOJIMBO; introducing Stephan Franck’s SILVER. Oh, and Marvel Comics launches the beginning of their end, SECRET WARS #1!

Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Shane-Michael Vidaurri, Kyla Vanderklugt, Matthew Dow Smith, Jeff Stokely.

“Anyone is capable of kindness… I believe.”
“You hope, rather.”

Brrrr… It’s going to get chilly!

Little about the relatively mundane cover can prepare you for some of the beauty within. “There are witches inside” it seems to say, “And you know they’re all warty. It’s the tradition.”

Which is a shame. How much braver it would have been to have gone with Shane-Michael Vidaurri for ‘The Magic Swan Goose And The Lord Of The Forest” with its inventive layout, light and colour is something I’ve spent some considerable time studying. Our own Jodie Paterson – an inventive artist in her own right (see our range of Jodie Paterson Greetings Cards And Prints) – couldn’t agree more.

It tells of a time long ago when a wild, wooded land was so remote that its king had so far failed to claim it. Its virgin, snow-topped mountain overlooked a village so small that it was self-sustaining and at one with its local habitat. It was in harmony with nature.

“The years fell as quickly and as gracefully as the autumn. And what was once a small town became a city, and a king laid his claim on the forest.”

Specifically he laid claim on the forest’s tallest tree: so tall that its topmost branches were said to catch stars which imbued them with magical properties. Philistine that he was, the king chopped the tree down to fashion a crown for the day of his son’s coronation. But the tree was much loved by Lord Of The Forest, a tall armoured rabbit or hare who took umbrage.

That king already had a daughter much older than his son but, of course – oh, of course! – she was but second in-line to the throne. The princess loved her family but cared not for the court and its mannered pageantry, pomp and dull dealings. She preferred to wander through the forest and was particularly drawn to the sturdy, hollow stump of the tree her father had plundered. It was while loitering, daydreaming there that the princess overheard a curse cast upon the crown and what happened thereafter would change the kingdom forever.

I love a good twist – see Becky Cloonan’s THE MIRE – and have chosen my words very carefully.

There is a lovely lilt to how the words tumble and often chime, Vidaurri’s hand-drawn lettering as much an intimate part of the art as it is in Dame Darcy’s MEATCAKE or Emily Carroll’s THROUGH THE WOODS.

Vidaurri uses the space around each boldly inset panel – often no more than a single panel per page – to further the narration while decorating it with a vaulted ceiling, maybe mountains or mice, oak acorns or red-berried leaves.

The panel borders themselves might be composed as a cloak-clothed woman whose image is mirrored like a knave or queen playing card, or soared over by a majestic white swan. It’s the sort of playfulness I relish in self-published works but which is then often jettisoned when a “proper” publisher makes claim.

But if you prefer your witches traditional then Jeff Stokely’s adaptation of the original teleplay ‘Vasilissa The Beautiful’ with its grotesque Baba Yaga (see Neil Gaiman’s THE BOOKS OF MAGIC and the cover here) will please you enormously. There’s even a wicked step-mother with her equally malicious cuckoo kids and two cracking opening sentences:

“Once upon a time, long winters ago, at the very edge of the world, was a village which God had forgotten. A few lonely houses stood there, fenced by a forest so deep and so dark that the sky stopped above it for fear of getting lost.”

It’s one of three of the four stories here to feature families under threat so prominently. The other is ‘The Snow Witch’ from which I gleaned the opening quotation. It’s a landscape affair which requires you to turn the book 90 degrees but only once when you start to read it. (Too many superhero comics ten years ago required you to do this mid-session then again and again thereby ruining your immersion and – unlike CEREBUS: HIGH SOCIETY – for no reason other than the artist’s self-indulgent ego / whim.)

‘The Snow Witch’ extracts a promise from a young woodcutter never to speak of her existence or she will find and punish him. Her subsequent connivances put him in the most painful position possible (remember, it is all about family) and what follows is the most frustrating intractability which transmutes love into sorrow and suffering. What will cleave your heart in two is that it’s all so profoundly unnecessary.

SLH

Buy Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Southern Bastards vol 2: Gridiron s/c (£7-50, Image) by Jason Aaron & Jason Latour.

Terrifying.

There are several things which are a great deal scarier to me than horror films. Hatred is at the top of that list.

I never back down but hatred, in truth, scares the shit out of me and hatred backed with the threat of physical violence is all too prevalent.

Welcome to the American South.

Our Jonathan wrote an exceptional review of SOUTHERN BASTARDS VOL 1 in which he cited his own experiences there and I wish that they beggared belief, but they don’t. So you can perhaps see why I was reluctant to read this series at all. I found it traumatising. But it needed to be written, it needed to be drawn and I guess it needed to be read. What the author of the unequivocally recommended SCALPED has achieved here against all odds is to make the vicious villain of volume one the champion of volume two. Aaron is exceptional at delivering different points of perspective and adversity is can be a damn fine catalyst for sympathy and support.

Here you will learn how the American football coach of SOUTHERN BASTARDS VOL 1 came to be in his position of small-town power and the struggle it took to get there. You will also learn a lot about American football. You may in addition be persuaded to thank your lucky stars. Bonus points: if the hero of volume one is gone by volume two, then who do you think will step in for volume three? Surprise, reprise! That’s the other thing Aaron excels at: structure.

Jason Latour’s colouring speaks of a heat in both time periods, but the flashbacks are so dusty you’d be forgotten for checking if you’re got grit in your eye. On the surface the art style may look like Lee Weeks or Ron Garney (which is tribute enough) but stare a little closer and it’s a lot less traditional that it looks with craggy mouths and jagged noses employing the short of cartoon shorthand the likes of Keith Jones use. It can make for some really ugly faces oozing malice and cruelty and there are plenty of both to make you wince here.

SLH

Buy Southern Bastards vol 2: Gridiron s/c and read the Page 45 review here

GYO 2-in-1 Complete h/c (£14-99, Viz) by Junji Ito.

The walking fish of Okinawa have moved out of the city and are all over Japan and possibly the rest of the world. The parasite clenched to the underside of the fish, powered by the noxious gas that boils in their stomachs, wants new converts; it want human beings. This is the situation that Tadashi finds when he wakes up at the hospital. His beloved Kaori is dead but her bloated body still runs a strange, biomechanical machine. Somewhere out there, he hopes, is the answer to this terrible blight on the land. So he searches.

While not as beautifully constructed as UZUMAKI, this is still an excellent fix for gorehounds and lovers of twisted horror tales. The parasitic machines with their spines and insectoid legs clatter along in a quite disturbing manner and the gas-ridden near-corpses that fuel it look sickly to the touch.

The ending comes rather abruptly but Viz have rounded the series off with two short stories that reminded me why I was first attracted to Ito’s nasty little works (and why I’ve watched so many bad films based on his manga). ‘The Enigma Of Amigara Fault’ disturbed both Tom and myself. After an earthquake, a new side of Amigara mountain revealed itself. Lots of human shaped holes on the side of the mountain, each distinct from the next. Some have been drawn to the place after seeing a news report, believing that the shapes are meant for them. Then one boy enters one of the shapes and is never seen again. If you’re a tad claustrophobic, stay away from this story.

MAS

Buy Gyo 2-in-1 Complete h/c and read the Page 45 review here

aama vol 3: The Desert Of Mirrors h/c (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Frederik Peeters…

“In short I believe aama is much more than a way of studying or reproducing life’s evolutionary mechanisms.
“All that’s just a smokescreen. A cover to get people on board. First investors. Then researchers.
“I think aama is a revolutionary attempt to transform the human species by forcing it to take the next evolutionary leap.”
“You’re raving mad. Just like all the others.”

The burning question for me, though, is why there is a girl, who is clearly inextricably linked with the mysterious substance aama, that is the exact double of the daughter of our reluctant hero Verloc Nim, when she is halfway across the galaxy back on earth. His brother Conrad, a secret agent of sorts for the powers that be, definitely knows more than he is letting on, which is why he brought his brother along, under the now transparent guise of fraternal concern.

 

However, instead of finding the small colony of scientists they expected, hard at work researching this wonder creation in a controlled environment on the planet Ona(ji), it is blatantly apparent the experiment has run out of control and gone completely amok, with the entire ecosystem infected by or integrated with aama. Or, depending on how you look at it, everything has gone precisely how the mysterious shadowy figures behind the ‘experiment’ intended. The resultant genetic modifications to the local flora and fauna are as potentially deadly as they are dramatic.

As Condrad and Verloc travel deeper and deeper into this disturbing new world looking for the epicentre of this distortion of natural evolution, matters start to become even more surreal as our travellers begin to hallucinate wildly. What they see as their perception is forcibly altered, what secrets it reveals, to them as well as us, is key to our beginning to comprehend just what aama might be. And yes, we do finally start to get some concrete answers regarding the identity of his surrogate daughter! Without giving any more away, we leave this volume exactly where we began AAMA VOL 1: THE SMELL OF WARM DUST H/C, thus neatly setting up the fourth and final volume which should hopefully be due before the of 2015.

 

I heartily recommend anyone enjoying TREES to give it a look, as the writing is of a similarly excellent standard. Also anyone enjoying LAZARUS or EAST OF WEST would almost certainly love it as well.

JR

Buy aama vol 3: The Desert Of Mirrors h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Secret Wars #1 of 8 (£3-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic.

“It’s the end.
“But the moment has been prepared for.”

 - Doctor Who: Logopolis

It really is the end: the end of the Marvel Universe as you’ve known it.

The storyline first set motion in Hickman’s own NEW AVENGERS VOL 1 reaches its climax here. Almost all the Marvel Comics titles have ceased to exist – or are about to – as the world they are set on collides with the Earth of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe and both are destroyed.

What will emerge on the other side is a closely guarded secret, but there are clues if you look closely enough.

In the meantime, for four months, you have this central SECRET WARS series which is chaos choreographed with a military precision and five billion new, attendant titles which you can take a gander at in Page 45’s Marvel Comics for May, Marvel Comics for June and Marvel Comics for July and a bunch of printed freebies we have by our counter.

Take a deep breath: you’re about to be thrown in at the deep end!

 

So are the two Marvel Earths. Each has appeared in the other’s sky, blotting out almost everything else up there. Their populations are terrified and their respective superhuman populations have gone straight on the attack without necessarily knowing for the most part that they’re essentially up against themselves.

There will be no winners but already there are an awful lot of losers: big-name character casualties that will cleave hearts in two because love.

The Reed Richards – patriarch personified – of each Earth has prepared best of all but one of their schemes is most assuredly about to go all Robbie-Burns-style “agley”.

Perhaps it is the X-Men’s Cyclops whom you should be watching. Because, yes, that was clever!

The problem is, the problem is, I know all this stuff. Although I now read relatively few superhero comics I’m so ridiculously well versed in Marvel Comics’ history that our Mark originally gave me this job 25 years ago on the strength of that arcane knowledge! I cannot unlearn what I know so I have no idea if new readers will relish this as I did or be baffled by it.

On the other hand Hickman certainly capitalises on the freedom of this being the beginning of the end of it all, with the prospect of phoenix-like resurrection. For example, the Punisher gate-crashing a gathering of top-tier villains with this:

“Gentlemen. They say that when you die, you can’t take it with you. Which begs the question: exactly what am I gonna do with all these bullets?”

Polished art. I don’t have anything more to say about the art than that. It’s accomplished superhero art. Not my idea of a particularly good time: I’d rather have someone more stylised like Johnny Romita Jr at the helm but it is what it is and what it is is accomplished.

Also the end of it all, So let us begin!

SLH

Buy Secret Wars #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Rat Queens vol 2: Far Reaching Tentacles Of N’rygoth (£10-99, Image) by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic…

Still reeling from the recent upturn in their public approval rating by the good citizens of Palisade, after saving the population from marauding monsters, the Rat Queens get straight back to doing what they do best: binge drinking, excessive drug taking, rampant sexual escapades, just good old fashioned debauchery, really! It won’t be long, however, before their unique brand of bravery is called upon again, as there is a darker evil lurking in the forms of N’rygoth, not an easy name to pronounce after twenty meads!

Continuing on from RAT QUEENS VOL ONE: SASS & SORCERY, we’re gradually getting to learn more about the girls’ utterly bizarre back stories, which go some ways towards explaining precisely why they are as dysfunctional as they all are. They’re an odd bunch to say the least, which probably explains exactly why I like them and their escapades so much! It’s extremely difficult to do ‘ridiculous’ fantasy or science fiction without it being too preposterously so, but for the moment at least Kurtis J. Wiebe continues to maintain the sublimely ludicrous appeal of this title.

 

 

 

JR

Buy Rat Queens vol 2: Far Reaching Tentacles Of N’rygoth and read the Page 45 review here

Silver vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Dark Planet) by Stephan Franck.

Oh, I’m racking this right next to Mike Mignola’s HELLBOY empire and its attendant BPRD spin-offs. It’s the same sort of fusion of horror and period crime.

New York City, 1931, and Jonathan Harker has died, finally reunited with his beloved Mina. He has amassed a wealth of valuable artefacts now being auctioned off to benefit his Harker Foundation, a charity raising money for medical centres for under-privileged children.

James Finnigan is such a successful con-man and thief that his newspaper headlines have paperboys sniggering whenever a policeman passes by. His latest target is that very auction, the final heist which will cap off his career and secure the future for himself and his two cohorts so they can enjoy a relaxed retirement.

Although an expert planner, Finnigan’s heist is not without its complications. It’s only the last-minute intervention of a young Chinese kitchen boy which saves his sorry soul for the lad seems to know what is coming – preternaturally so – and James ends up down a trapdoor leading to Harker’s true secret: an ingot of engraved silver and a journal purporting to tell of vampires and a history dating back five millennia to the existence of a Silver Dragon, a vast, ornate artefact depicting a dragon made from the purest silver which disappeared along with its tyrannical owner and the entire fortress containing it. Obviously that’s rubbish: vampires are the stuff of silly, gothic myths.

Tempting, though, eh?

Once more the cover does no justice to the sleek, slick, black and white twilight within. There are some beautifully high-contrast full-page spreads which I believe would have been better without the occasional, computerised gleam.

The first-person narration carries it through convincingly, entertainingly, and my only concern is that – given this is to all intents and purposes self-published – will we ever see its second-half conclusion? I truly hope so.

BATMAN: LONG HALLOWEEN’s artist Tim Sale is a fan, if that helps, and Mignola fans are in for a treat.

SLH

Buy Silver vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai.

The return of the Ronin rabbit!

It’s no throw-away affair, either. You’re in for a bit of a shocker.

While creating the self-contained 47 RONIN graphic novel Stan Sakai’s been away from USAGI YOJIMBO for three years but in his absence it’s started to be collected into bigger, omnibus editions. Thank goodness because under both Dark Horse and Fantagraphics this has been a title which has been lamentably left half-in, half-out of print for so long that it’s proved very frustrating to consistently stock.

At over 200 issues so far USAGI YOJIMBO is an anthropomorphic epic set in feudal Japan. It’s basically ‘Bedknobs And Broomsticks’ at war with swords.

This flashes forward fifteen years into the future and although almost all of USAGI YOJIMBO’s regular cast have survived the intervening years… not everyone’s going to get out alive this time.

Seriously.

That’s okay. Stan can go back and fill in those fifteen years leading up to this point but, blimey, this is quite the event with a two-tiered double ending which will have you biting your lips for a while. It certainly ramps up the dramatic irony for future instalments.

So it’s the final battle between Lord Hikiji and the Geishu clan: everyone on horseback, charging away, in 17th Century Japan. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for.

Then something falls from the skies. It walks on three legs.

Revelations, I promise you. This is all about family.

And ‘The War Of The Worlds’, obviously.

SLH

Buy Usagi Yojimbo: Senso 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 as reviews.

A Game Of Thrones vol 4 h/c UK Edition (£14-99, Harper Collins) by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham & Tommy Patterson

A.B.C. Warriors: Return To Mars h/c (£14-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley

Aliens: Fire And Stone s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Chris Roberson & Patric Reynolds

Flood: A Novel In Pictures h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Drooker

Revival vol 5: Gathering Of Waters (£10-99, Image) by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton

The Hunter (£6-50, Nobrow) by Joe Sparrow

Trash Market s/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tadao Tsuge

Unflattening (£16-99, Harvard) by Nick Sousanis

Forever Evil s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & David Finch

Green Lantern vol 5: Test Of Wills s/c (£13-50, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen, Charles Soule & Billy Tan, various

Amazing Spider-Man: Edge Of Spider-Verse (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by David Hine, Dustin Weaver, Jason Latour, Clay McLeod Chapman, Gerard Way & Richard Isanove, Robbi Rodriguez, Elia Bonetti, Jane Wyatt

Amazing Spider-Man: Spider-Verse (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Oliver Coipel, Guiseppe Camuncoli

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Kev Walker, Mike Deodato, Dalibor Talajic

Drug & Drop vol 2 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Clamp

Gantz vol 35 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

The Heroic Legend Of Arslan vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshiki Tanaka & Hiromu Arakawa

Badger Blue Mini Print (£8-00) by Jodie Paterson

Badger Green Mini Print (£8-00) by Jodie Paterson

Goldfish Copper Foil Print (£18-00) by Jodie Paterson

Songbird Cetti’s Warbler Mounted Print (£20-00) by Jodie Paterson

Songbird Goldcrest Mounted Print (£20-00) by Jodie Paterson

Wanderlust Explore Mounted Print (£20-00) by Jodie Paterson

Wanderlust Run Away Mounted Print (£15-00) by Jodie Paterson

News!

ITEM! Marvel’s SECRET WARS #1 is reviewed up above but SECRET WARS #2 is out already! Blimmin ‘eck!

ITEM! Drawn & Quarterly, publisher of Adrian Tomine, Lynda Barry, Guy Delise and MOOMIN – celebrates its 25th Birthday!

ITEM! Fascinating new interview with GHOST WORLD’s Dan Clowes, although I can assure that at Page 45 at least the readers buying books by Tomine, the Tamaki cousins, Anders Nilsen, Marjane Satrapi etc are emphatically not the same people buying superhero comics!

- Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2015 week one

May 6th, 2015

Jillian Tamaki, Tove Jansson, Seth, I.N.J. Culbard, Osamu Tezuka, Russell Stearman, Sydney Padua and a John Byrne classic that made me chortle!

The King In Yellow (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Robert W. Chambers & I. N. J. Culbard…

“Don’t touch it, Tessie!”
“But it’s just a book. What was it you said to me yesterday about dreams?”
“Hildred read it. Boris read it. Both took their own lives.”
“But it’s just a book! Now who’s being silly?”
“Ha!”
“Tessie, don’t! Listen I’m serious. Put that book down. Tessie! I don’t wish you to open it.”

Comics are fearfully powerful juju.

They can make money disappear from your pocket and into the Page 45 till just like that… *adjusts fez*. But… I don’t believe they have power to drive you insane and into the clutches of evil supernatural beings. Well… not until you’ve signed up for a standing order with us and then it’s too late, we got you… MWAH HA HA HA HA!!!

Joking aside, the primary conceit of some of Robert W. Chambers’ interconnected short stories is precisely that. The idea that there is a play, the titular King In Yellow, which in book form can cause a reader to begin to lose their mental coherence and thus become at risk from – indeed subjugated to – mysterious sinister forces lurking at the edge of our reality, including a mysterious godlike being known also as the King In Yellow. To fall into his purview is to begin a journey that will surely lead one to a state of utter desolation. Though perhaps that is not entirely true for all…

It’s well known that H.P. Lovecraft read these stories, first published in 1895, in 1927, and they almost certainly influenced his writing to some degree, not least because he references some elements in passing in a couple of his subsequent stories, so he was at least impressed enough to tip his hat in acknowledgement. Others suggest the style of these stories influenced some of his storytelling techniques to a considerable degree. I don’t know about that, but I do know the first few truly spooky stories from The King In Yellow collection – which Ian has gently reworked here to form this adaption (the latter stories being more of the romantic fiction ilk that Chambers plied through the remainder of his writing career) – are rightly regarded as true classics in the genre of supernatural fiction.

So, what of this adaptation? Well, I know I have made this very point regarding at least one of Ian’s brilliant Lovecraft adaptations (AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS / THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD / THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME / THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH, plus two more to come later this year!!!) but yet again he’s done a superb job of deconstructing fairly nebulous material content-wise, in this case four short stories, and re-crafting it into a seamless, brilliantly engaging yarn. I had a little chat with him recently and he mentioned he’d only had to invent one brief bridging scene from scratch. The original stories were never truly intended as sequential chapters in a longer narrative, through there are threads of recurring characters and places, but Ian’s taken exactly the right approach by weaving them into one sinister longer-form story. It never feels like a reconstructing of separate tales, merely different strands of individual woe unraveling in turn under the malign, pervasive influence of the King In Yellow.

Art-wise I will simply say the eyes have it. Or rather they don’t!  A distinct lack of pupils on the part of most of the characters, a devilishly deliberate conceit on Ian’s part, is incredibly disconcerting. In certain instances it has the particularly perturbing effect of seeming to allow the character’s gaze to break the fourth wall out to us, the readers, without them even looking directly at us. There’s a cumulative effect to it which is increasingly unsettling, I must say.

There’s also a spectacular extended sequence, as I’ve also come to expect from Ian, where one of the characters, perhaps foolishly believing themselves to have put their macabre travails behind them and taken refuge in the sanctity of a church, listening to a reassuring priestly sermon, is then promptly taken on a mind-bending journey through time and space, or perhaps merely their own disintegrating perception of reality and rapidly draining sanity, before coming face to face with the King In Yellow itself.

Sadly our perilous wander through this weird world all too soon comes to an end. You will be left wanting more though, as was I. Maybe this is not the last we’ll see of the King In Yellow… though if we should see him, it will certainly be the last of us?!

So put this book carefully back on the shelf and watch out for strange people who pay too close attention to your business… or before you know where you are you’ll find yourself penniless and bereft of coherence, wandering Market Street with only a Page 45 bag full of comics in your hand…

Cue the sinister Vincent Price laughter like at the end of the Thriller video again…

JR

Buy The King In Yellow and read the Page 45 review here

Supermutant Magic Academy (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Jillian Tamaki.

What an ending!

Here’s a prediction: the first three or four pages will utterly confound you and the title itself may put you off but then it is rather misleading.

Please, please don’t be dissuaded, for this pays big comedy dividends once you’re within.

It’s certainly a very different beast to the Tamaki cousins’ THIS ONE SUMMER and SKIM in form, tone and content except that in some ways it’s not: it’s all-inclusive, has a heart of gold and fiercely astute at observing and understanding the behaviour of young teens: how they treat each other or what they’re really thinking.

But. This is a comedy! It’s a wickedly clever comedy too, so many of the final panels of the one-page gag strips up-ending the five that have preceded it with a whiplash reversal. As such it’s as likely to appeal to fans of CYANIDE & HAPPINESS for who knew that Jillian was so naughty? Who knew she was such a comedian?

As I first read it I wondered if a longer-form narrative might eventually emerge and sure enough it does, centred on deadpan Marsha’s hilarious hidden crush on Wendy. I was going to attempt to transcribe The Hairbrush incident but I’ve found the actual page so see below or to your right if you’re reading this in the book’s product page. Brilliant!

Wendy is super-lovely, kind of heart and going out with Adam. On one page they make out, Adam asking if Wendy would be put off if she found out he was a robot. No, she says; and no, he wouldn’t be either if he found out Wendy was a robot, he promises. “Sentient robots are so hot, Wendy”, he says.

Wendy considers this for a panel while looking at the reader before uttering, “Beep, boop, beep, beep…”

Adam shudders.

So let us address the title SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY and really there is very little here which is about being a supermutant. Some of the protagonists – but only some of them – just look a little different. Wendy, for example, has cat ears. Not cosplay cat ears but actual cat ears. Another student is a hammerhead shark. Most of them, however, are completely human although Ethan (we only learn later) is Ethan The Everlasting Boy. Which retroactively explains why in one strip a tree has grown round him! There’s no hand-holding whatsoever which is why a second read-through is even funnier.

It is all so, so deadpan and I think Frances the curly-haired, precocious / pretentious performance artist may be the funniest of all. There’s a scene which she films as director, the first (and last, screaming) character wearing bunny ears and a medieval Plague Doctor mask, carrying an alarm clock on the end of a stick which is a cacophony of “MOTHER” tick tock and “father” tick tock before a rat nibbles seeds and “SCREEEECH” tick tock tick tock tick tock.

Pull back to Frances in her director’s chair:

“Cut! Print it. Excellent.”

Excellent indeed! I have no idea how Tamaki thinks of these things! There’s one strip which does touch on what the academy does and who tends to attend. It involves a session in which practising magic turns into the tragic. The pupil changes his form by invoking its desired Latin name. First he becomes a bear. Then he becomes a penguin. But when asked to turn himself into a butterfly he fumbles the ball and so turns into one. Footballs don’t have mouths. He is consigned to a cart full of other footballs destined forever to be kicked about during the school’s P.E. classes. One suspects the other soccer balls were students with similar slip-ups.

This is empathically not necessarily the slick and sumptuous art you have come to expect from THIS ONE SUMMER throughout which is once more why this might baffle you to begin with. Don’t worry about that. Really. This was originally a webcomic and I suspect that Tamaki just did what it took to meet her own deadline because that’s a big thing with webcomics. A lot of it is shorthand but not once does it fail the story she’s seeking to tell.

And I know a lot of this is quotations, but when a comic’s this comedic then the dialogue speaks for itself. It’s its selling point. Here we’re talking the role playing game of Dungeons & Dragons as a young man defends the pastime and his involvement:

“D&D is actually a very sophisticated role-playing game. While it may appear as merely an indulgence in Tolkien fantasy tropes, it is actually an epic, open-ended exploration of free form group storytelling, strategy, psychological warfare, and moral truth in a shared imagined space.”

Playing later:

“You’ve encountered a female dire-waveryn on the trail.”
“Does it have a vagina?”
“What do I need on this roll to have sex with the dire-waveryn?”

OMG boys!

Contains the best metaphor for leaving school, ever. Just when you think you’ve got one life licked, you have to move on to another.

SLH

Buy Supermutant Magic Academy and read the Page 45 review here

Exquisite Corpse h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Pénélope Bagieu.

Oh my goodness, this is exactly what we do at Page 45!

“…….”
“Sorry?”
“I just asked if I can help you with anything.”
“Well, no… just… uh… looking. Um… Actually… I’ve never been in a bookstore before. Pathetic, right?”
“Not to worry. Let’s go. We’ll start at the beginning. You were curious enough to come inside and have a look, right? That’s the main thing. Sooooo… Tell me, what kind of movies do you usually like?”

Providing recommendations – especially for first-time browsers based on what they love in other media – is the best part of this job!

So why is Zoe now curious about books?

Well, hacked off with her boyfriend who sleeps with his socks on and spends his unemployed days slouched in front of the TV… taking a break from her job as a product rep pestered by creeps who want their photo taken with her… Zoe was sitting alone on a park eating her lunch when the curtains in a window opposite started to flutter. There was a man in glasses peering furtively down at her. And she needed the loo so she buzzed his apartment.

He’s the world-famous prose novelist, Thomas Rocher and for some reason he wants her in and out quickly. He’s cagey, suspicious and expecting Zoe to pester him with questions. At first when she doesn’t he’s indignant.

“Don’t you recognise me?”
“Should I? Are you on TV?!”
“But… but I’m Thomas Rocher!”

Then it seems like a massive relief and he begs her to stay longer or at least come back soon.

So begins a completely new sort of relationship for both of them. Zoe finds herself treated to great food and with respect; Thomas finds the fact that she’s not a fan refreshing. She inspires him, curing his writer’s block.

But Zoe begins to grow bored when the curtains stay firmly closed and they never go for walks in the park. In fact, he never leaves the apartment at all. Would he really get mobbed if he did? I didn’t see the real secret coming at all. It’s a bit of a scandal!

Bagieu‘s cartooning is bright, light and expressive: you can tell exactly what’s going on behind each pair of eyes. Thomas’ visiting ex-wife and editor (she’s still firmly his editor) could have been a two-dimensional dragon or fashionista but although she does have a little fun with Zoe’s insecurity you can tell by the way she holds her finger to her mouth that her peace offering of a croissant is genuine.

There’s also a delightful scene with Zoe at work at a cheese fair dressed as a block of Edam, her colleague as a Friesian.

“You look kinda hot as a cow.”
“Thanks.”

Exquisite Corpse, by the way, was a game of collective creativity invented by the surrealists very similar to the one we used to play as a family called Consequences. You’d take it in turns supplying a word or sentence according to pre-agreed rules thereby building a sentence or an entire story.

I should perhaps also supply you with the definition of a ‘red herring’.

SLH

Buy Exquisite Corpse h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Palookaville #22 (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth…

“I have no intention of going into detail here…
“About my teenage sexual habits.
“Unlike some of my cartoonist peers…
“I have no compulsion to reveal.”

Ha, that did make me chuckle. He’s talking about his good chums Chester THE PLAYBOY / PAYING FOR IT Brown and to a lesser extent Joe SPENT Matt, of course. As ever, this next volume of Seth’s magnum opus includes the continuation of the Clyde Fans saga as Abraham Matchcard now contemplates the wreckage of his life following the bankruptcy of his business and endures the very definition of strained conversation with his brother Simon. Strangulated would probably be a better adjective to employ, actually.

It’s quite incredible how such a downbeat, depressing story can be so utterly gripping. I’m always a little disappointed reading a new volume of PALOOKAVILE but only because I inevitably forget the Clyde Fans material only forms the first half of the book! (Note: CLYDE FANS BOOK ONE collects the material that appeared in Palookaville #10-#15 if you want to get started!) But then I’m utterly delighted because I remember there will be some equally fascinating new autobiographical material from Seth’s formative years in the second half of the book, separated with something wonderfully random in between.

This time around the random wonder is photographs and a fake back history, including a fold-out comic about the original proprietor, of the Crown Barber Shop, which in reality Seth recently interior (and exterior) designed for his wife Tania Van Spyk, when she was ready to open her own barbers shop. It’s absolutely beautiful I must say, and you can read a little more about the process HERE in an online newspaper article about the shop.

Design is something that so powerfully stands out in Seth’s work these days. His love of small panels, frequently working on a 4 x 4 or 4 x 5 grid on an already relatively small page, means you really do see the clever constructional conceits that are ever-present throughout his stories. I can’t think of another creator where you can be so strongly aware of the design element without it distracting from the storytelling whatsoever. I am still completely present in the moment reading a PALOOKAVILE, but it’s just I am so vividly aware of this extra dimension and depth to the construction of the page subtly subconsciously seeping into my overall perception. His attention to detail is immaculate.

Which is why it is also always a little surprise each time to remember he deliberately employs a much less precise style for his younger days’ autobiographical material. The grid and page design elements are still there, but you can see he has just quickly drawn each grid with a pen and ruler, plus the lettering is very evidentially done by hand. It’s a clever trick because it immediately helps transport us back in time, to the boy discovering comics, and life itself.

And whilst he might not reveal his teenage sexual escapades, or lack of them, he does lay himself bare. It’s just as painful as any of Chester Brown’s or Joe Matt’s more sordid disclosures in its own way. For example, the choice snippet that he will probably be able to discern a piece of arcane film monster information from his collection of magazines results in the lasting embarrassing schoolboy nickname of “Back Issues”. Although, in retrospect, even he has to admit it was ‘deadly appropriate’.

JR

Buy Palookaville #22 and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin On The Riviera (£6-99, Enfant) by Tove Jansson.

“What a wonderful feeling to be poor… and listen to the rain on my little hut.”

There speaks a very rich man!

“Of course it is romantic to play poor, but I don’t like it when the roof leaks… and it is rather chilly sleeping under a boat at dawn.”

Hmmm. That’s the Marquis Mongaga in love with the idea of being bohemian and slumming with the Moomins after they’ve had enough of high society and posh hotels, neither of which they understood. Nor could they comprehend why almost everywhere was marked “PRIVATE”.

“I think picking flowers would soothe our nerves. It usually helps.”
“This is a private wild meadow. Get off this property!”
“But who owns everything here, then?”
“People with money, of course!”

Yup.

I think you’ll find that 99% of the biggest Bajan houses are owned by 1% of Barbados’ population and 99% of them will be white and only part-time residents.

Still, Snorkmaiden and Moominpappa did want to see The South (it really was that vague) and so they set sail to foreign climes with alien customs. They found it surprisingly easy to get a room at the snazziest hotel but they were under the impression it was a house and they were its private guests. Do you suppose that it all went horribly wrong?

Over and over again Tove Jansson in the form of right-minded Moominmamma extols the virtues of a modest life in MOOMIN (and boy, do we have all the MOOMIN!). She finds the hotel room way too big for comfort so they retire to the bed instead and set up shop under its canopy.

I love the way she answers everyone about everything with “Yes, dear”, reassuring all and sundry whilst sort of ignoring them.

May 22nd 2015 sees the UK release of this as a feature film, by the way. The illustration shows the original black and white Tove Jansson strip which you can find in MOOMIN THE DELUXE SLIPCASE EDITION or MOOMIN COMIC STRIPS VOL 1 and its transformation into an animation frame. This particular version is coloured too, but differently.

SLH

Buy Moomin On The Riviera and read the Page 45 review here

Insurrection #0, #1, #2 (£1-50, £2-50 & £2-50 respectively, Lost Publications) by Russell Stearman…

“Pointless isn’t it?”
“Huh? I’m sorry?”
“Pointless, I said it’s pointless.”
“What them? They look like they’re doing okay…”
“Noo, I don’t mean the people, I mean him, Mr. Heart Attack there.”
“I don’t see what’s pointless about having a heart attack.”
“Look at him, what do you see? Don’t look at his condition, look at the man.”
“Erm, he looks like an ordinary man…”
“Ordinary? Of a type maybe, but what is ordinary? He’s a City businessman who probably worked late for the umpteenth time, possibly for years now. He’s had a stressful day, or will have tomorrow. This was his lifestyle and now this.”
“Well I suppose that’s fate, the way it’s mean to be.”
“Fate. An interesting view, but he’s been working hard for this, his true epoch, his fin-de-siecle award.”
“I don’t want to offend, but how could he have been aiming for a heart attack?”
“See that?”
“His I.D. badge has a RBS symbol on it. He’s a banker, the kind of person who caused the recession.”
“That’s a pretty tenuous connection, he might not have been involved. Anyway one person can’t have the power to cause such a cock-up. And he couldn’t have the power to stop it, things got out of control.”
“You can’t let yourself be carried by the tide even if it seems more fun, one person can make a difference. After all what is a crowd but a group of individuals? He should have been a whistle-blower, should have realised the results of what was going on. Now in his time of individual need he’s in the arms of helpless strangers.”

And they say people don’t converse on the Tube! Clearly our protagonist Matt got somewhat more than he expected when he sat down next to this particularly verbose individual. Matt’s not the sort of chap who’s probably considered anything more radical than what type of beer to drink when he’s down the pub. That’s all about to change though when he meets a girl with a conscience. It’s fair to say his life is about to get turned completely upside down as he’s practically kettled completely unprepared into the unfamiliar world of social activism and protest. It’s probably exactly the kick right in the cods his life needs, but will he survive the experience physically intact, and without getting gripped by the long arm of the law?!

What a fantastically well written piece of polemic this is, which combined with some classic fish out of water comedy makes for a riveting read. Although, most people, myself included, might well add that it really isn’t that contentious to conclude where many of society’s recent problems have arisen from. Darryl SUPERCRASH Cunningham would agree wholeheartedly, I am sure.

So, storytelling chops Russell Stearman has in abundance, for sure; his illustrative abilities do need a bit of work, mind you, which I’m sure he won’t mind me mentioning. Much like THE TALION MAKER by far-flung Page 45 customer Neal Curtis, he can certainly construct his panels and pages, it is just the art itself that rather is on the raw side at the moment. That will undoubtedly improve with practice though, he clearly has potential. And much like THE TALION MAKER, this is an extremely strong work with a fantastic story to tell that doesn’t remotely suffer unnecessarily from any artistic shortcomings. If you have any sort of interest in class activism or the protest movement, take a punt on this because you will enjoy it.

JR

Buy Insurrection #0 and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Insurrection #1 and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Insurrection #2 and read the Page 45 review here

The Thrilling Adventures Of Lovelace And Babbage h/c (£16-99, Particular) by Sydney Padua…

I honestly can’t decide whether I like this or not. It does have much to recommend it, but it’s not without flaws, I must say. I think I would have much preferred a straight biography a la LOGICOMIX, which manages to explore both the life and mathematical works of Bertrand Russell in a witty, pithy manner that is as entertaining as it is educative. In contrast, this purports itself to be the ‘mostly’ true story of the first computer, whilst regaling us with the thrilling adventures of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage. Not that thrilling, frankly.

The true story is that Charles Babbage almost managed to build the first computer, his ‘difference engine’, way back in the 1830s, and that Ada Lovelace suggested computational programs that would have run on it, thus earning her the perhaps deserved moniker of the first computer programmer. The only things that prevented the building of the difference engine really, were ultimately a lack of funding, and perhaps Babbage’s own fondness for argument with all and sundry over just about everything. He was a rather cantankerous chap.

So, when someone decided to build a working difference engine in 1991 from Babbage’s original plans, and worked to the engineering tolerances possible for machining parts in the early 19th century, they did produce a working machine. Babbage also designed a more complex machine, and indeed even a printer, which were both also never built. He was also responsible for code and cipher breakthroughs during the Crimean War, for which he was never credited with during his lifetime. It is perhaps not entirely surprising therefore, that he died an unhappy and somewhat unfulfilled man. Arguing with everyone continuously can’t have helped either, I’m sure…

To me, you could do a brilliant graphic novel biography from such material. Instead this is farcical, spasmodic comedy shorts, weighed down with vast footnotes and interspersed with informative sections that are basically illustrated prose. It just doesn’t quite work for me, unfortunately. Either you have to wholly adopt one approach, like LOGICOMIX, or the other, such as EVOLUTION: THE STORY OF LIFE ON EARTH.

This veers around too wildly stylistically, page layout-wise also, for my liking, though others may well not find that a problem whatsoever. I’m not entirely sure the creator knows what audience she has put this together for, though she has certainly done a fantastic job researching and presenting such a body of – relatively complex in places – information. Overall, I certainly learnt a lot, mainly from the footnotes and illustrated prose sections, which of course must be one of the primary, if not the main, aims of any work like this.

JR

Buy The Thrilling Adventures Of Lovelace And Babbage h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Captain Ken vol 1 (£10-50, DMP) by Osamu Tezuka…

Published by blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-merchants DMP… so it may well be already out of print by the time you read this review… this work definitely sits down near the fluffier end of the Tezuka canon. This is quite understandable given it was originally serialised in Weekly Shōnen Sunday in the very early 60s, but given the series takes place on Mars, post human colonisation, where humans have already begun persecuting the indigenous Martians thus resulting in mutual loathing, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to learn there was some mild social commentary regarding the post-WW2 American occupation of Japan.

Particularly given that in some other later, more serious Tezuka works like MW, the Americans are often portrayed as an aggressive nation, though never referred to by name, merely as Nation X or similar. Anyway, Captain Ken is a sort of Lone Ranger character, a human who fights for justice on the side of the Martians, trying to prevent their exploitation.

It’s probably one more for the Tezuka completists than an entry point, but it is great fun. I have to say, though, there are many, many other more serious Tezuka works I do wish someone would translate and publish. And then keep in print…

JR

Buy Captain Ken vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers West Coast: Vision Quest s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by John Byrne.

Before NEW AVENGERS came Bendis and Finch’s AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED which did what it said on the tin: it tore the team and one of the team members quite literally apart.

Whence the HOUSE OF M graphic novel in which everyone has to decide what to do with an insane but comatose Scarlet Witch before she wakes up and starts using her powers to alter reality so that pigs might really fly, baked beans taste like food and Marmite becomes something other than the bilious tar coughed up by a minotaur on eighty cigarettes a day.

Bendis drew on two key moments in Avengers’ history in which the Scarlet Witch had already shown signs of not being ‘all there’ (although marrying a sentient vacuum cleaner wasn’t the clearest sign of sanity) and this is the main one.

Her husband, the android Vision, is abducted, reduced to nuts and bolts then reassembled using a Homebase instruction manual. So of course there are a few bits missing: like his feelings.

There’ll almost certainly be a second volume in which Wanda’s children are dealt with (clue: they don’t actually exist – something she should have cottoned onto given that everyone else got a good night’s sleep) when I’ll be forced to look up the word “doolally” in Roget’s Thesaurus for further variations on the expression. In the meantime, this is what happened.

Imaginative plottery, but ridiculous also. Byrne’s art is still oh so solid, but the inking by other parties is blunt and lazy. Honest assessment: when I was younger, I loved it.

SLH

Buy Avengers West Coast: Vision Quest s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

aama vol 3: The Desert Of Mirrors h/c (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Frederik Peeters

Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Shane-Michael Vidaurri, Kyla Vanderklugt, Matthew Dow Smith, Jeff Stokely

Rat Queens vol 2: Far Reaching Tentacles Of N’rygoth (£10-99, Image) by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic

Silver vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Dark Planet) by Stephan Franck

Skim (£9-99, Groundwood Books) by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki

Southern Bastards vol 2: Gridiron s/c (£7-50, Image) by Jason Aaron & Jason LaTour

The Michael Moorcock Library vol 1: Elric Of  Melnibone h/c (£18-99, Titan) by Roy Thomas & P. Craig Russell, Michael T. Davis

Batman: Earth One vol 2 h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank

Batman Superman vol 2: Game Over s/c (£12-99, DC) by Greg Pak, Paul Levitz & Jae Lee, various

Superior Iron Man vol 1 (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & Yildiray Cinar, Laura Braga

Gyo 2-in-1 Complete h/c (£14-99, Viz) by Junji Ito

Magi vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Shinobu Ohtaka

Magi vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Shinobu Ohtaka

Magi vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Shinobu Ohtaka

Magi vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Shinobu Ohtaka

Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance vol 3 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Tsubasa Haduki

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

News!

ITEM! Neil Gaiman, Alison Bechdel and Art Spiegelman step in to host PEN gala which will honour Charlie Hebdo with a Freedom Of Expression Courage award after other authors back out. Note how it’s the comicbook creators who are cited in the headlines. Progress.

ITEM! Jillian Tamaki’s SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY is reviewed above and it is cripplingly funny! You can find Jillian Tamaki’s SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY posted online and select ‘previous’ and ‘next’ at the bottom of each page.

Sorry there’s no more: I’ve been on holiday!

Just so you know, Marvel’s big blockbuster this year has begun: SECRET WARS #1 out now, review next week. We’ve lots of freebies to give away too: just ask at the counter or when ordering online!

- Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2015 week five

April 29th, 2015

Asaf Hanuka’s THE REALIST: a graphic novel to rival Scott McCloud’s THE SCULPTOR! Books by Brubaker & Phillips; Mark Millar & Duncan Fegredo! Final SCOTT PILGRIM in colour! (Plus there may be more stickers, oh yes!)

The Realist h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Asaf Hanuka.

“Oh no!”
“What is it?”
“Change the channel to Israel.”

I’ve been desperate for an English-language print edition of this for years.

I do mean desperate. Your eyes are in for a feast and your mind is going to be walking more than that metaphorical mile in Asaf Hanuka’s shoes as he lets you climb into his skin, gives you a great deal to ponder and so expands your compassion and understanding.

Imagine, if you can, how scary it must be to receive a phone call from your landlord, out of the blue, to tell you that she or he is selling the house so you’ve got three months to leave. If you don’t find somewhere else to live, you’ll be out on the street.

Now imagine you have a husband or wife and a child…

That’s how this kicks off in the first three panels, the abrupt and unexpected chaos that was ten seconds ago a safe routine spilling into Asaf’s life as the bottle of ink spills onto his drawing and into the face of its cheerfully waving man.

The second tier portrays the pressure perfectly as Asaf envelopes his wife with a hug while their young son cheerfully building a tower of blocks is startled by its collapse then bursts into tears: the pressure of providing not just security but also optimism when your own hope has just evaporated and so left you empty.

In the final three panels the colour and light has been drained from the day, husband Hanuka lying awake in bed while his wife and child sleep; awake for hours as the bed recedes from us into the middle of a road; then further still, left suspended in space, in a void. It’s your quintessential fear of a future unknown.

I can relate: my most often recurring nightmare has been Page 45 being evicted from 9 Market Street in Nottingham and being forced to move to an attic in Coventry, a cathedral where the pews were our shelves or to the northwest coast where we had no customers whatsoever. Sometimes I couldn’t even find the shop.

That’s just the first of dozens and dozens of impeccably composed pages where the level of thought which has gone into every detail from the tier structure and the movement across the page to the colouring which is never for its own sake but always for eye-drawing or emotional impact.

This was originally commissioned by a financial newspaper as a weekly autobiographical comic following the Hanukas’ desperate search for a suitable apartment in a difficult market. There’s a fabulous page split in two, as an agent with a wide and thoroughly fake grin stands back while wife and child survey the dilapidated room anxiously, side-on, and Asaf, central and to the fore, imagines how it might look with a great deal of work in a mirrored second panel below. Again, the colouring says it all.

The book soon branches out into wider worries or whatever else is preying on Hanuka’s mind. He recently declared that this is how he best deals with his concerns: in nine-panel grids or full-page flourishes, finding the most effective visual ways for conveying his exact mental and emotional states both for the entertainment of readers and his own benefit. Once it’s there in front of him he can process these thoughts more constructively.

As well as being an impeccable draughtsman, the creator’s a superb lateral thinker: you can expect thrilling variety and plenty of the fantastical to keep you amused right through the book.

I loved ‘Eye Exam’ in which a young Asaf plays at being Bruce Lee, a soccer star-striker and John Travolta at the disco. Then he takes that eye test to see if he needs his vision adjusting:

L
IFE
ISNT WAT
YOU THOUGHT

There’s so much here I can relate to: having bad news preoccupy so much that it’s topmost in your mind, whatever you do, whoever you’re with, effectively cutting you off from them.

‘Brave heart’ is brilliant: when you drop your kid off at play group and he begs you “Don’t go!” yet you leave him there anyway then burst into tears in private. One presumes initially that it’s the boy who needs to be brave, but it’s the parent.

In ‘Warrior’s Rest’ so much is conveyed by an open door, the light shining through it and over his sleeping son, the dad’s silhouette partially cast on the wall to one side and the toy spaceman from earlier caught in the middle of the floor between two Transformers and his spaceship.

The elaborate strategy and competitiveness of Facebook is simply hilarious, but this is Israel and there are also security checkpoints, Asaf imagining himself being interrogated, and the white lies you tell your child to protect them from the truth, from the world. In some the couple quarrel and in ‘Less Is More’ Hanuka puts on a brave face… with a felt tip pen.

Others are more enigmatic, open to interpretation and I don’t have all the answers but I do love the questions.

I leave you with one page on which Asaf deliberately deprives you of the answer after struggling with a strip, deadline four hours and counting. His wife offers some sage advice:

“The idea isn’t that important. Just make sure there’s a funny ending that people understand, not just you.”
“Okay… yes… interesting… that could work…”

The final panel shows him scribbling in his notebook.

“Haha… brilliant… brilliant!”

You’ll never know!

SLH

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

Criminal vol 4: Bad Night s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

Warning: do not read this if you’re already coming undone!

This will unravel you further. You will be thrown into the headlights about to blind Jacob and wonder what on earth bloody hit you.

Each and every CRIMINAL graphic novel noir is a twisted masterpiece of multi-layered malfeasance but this one is so fucked up it’s not true. As are its protagonists – all of them. Remember I wrote that when you approach the dénouement, start seeing things from other points of view, then realise that what you’ve been reading is a lie. Or at least not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

So help you, God.

From the creators of Page 45’s current Comicbook Of The Month, THE FADE OUT comes a fourth instalment of CRIMINAL whose first volume was itself a Page 45 CBOTM and whose penultimate chapter comes with a twist of genius I did not see coming. Unfortunately for Jacob, its lust-struck protagonist, document forger and detective newspaper comic strip creator, neither did he. Let us begin.

Do you wish you’d gotten involved when you saw that couple fight?

Most of the time you instinctively fear for the woman. Not always – I’ve known some men get a right battering too – but usually you fear for the woman.

Jacob didn’t get involved that night in the diner; he backed right away. He’d already experienced enough grief in his life when his wife drove off a road in a storm, the car landing in an old culvert pipe where it – and she – lay undiscovered for years while the police questioned him with dogged determination and malice, even leaking his supposed guilt to the press.

But while driving home in the rain Jacob saw the woman once more, flagging a lift, and he pulled in. She was drunk – real booze-breath drunk. Then, a few minutes later, she was passed-out drunk in his passenger seat.

She hadn’t had time to tell him where she lived so he took her to his house, heaved her into his home and onto the couch. Being a gentleman, that’s where Jacob left her, but later that night she was grateful, so very grateful and she showed him her gratitude exactly as you’re imagining.

But it wasn’t too long before he wished that she hadn’t, and that he hadn’t got involved at all. Now the couple are in his home and he can’t get them out. Can you imagine why from what I have written?

Now the couple have leverage. Now the couple have a plan.

No. No, I have not given the game away. I have but alluded and which elements are important I won’t even tell you.

This is much, much more tortuous than you can imagine.

This is petrifying.

SLH

Buy Criminal vol 4: Bad Night s/c and read the Page 45 review here

MPH (£10-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Duncan Fegredo.

Oh, look at that cover!

Cool and contemporary with big, bold primary colours. Now that’s how you stand out on our shelves!

It’s a joy to see Duncan Fegredo back in the real world again – well, something more approximating it than HELLBOY: MIDNIGHT CIRCUS. That was an ethereal beauty and Fegredo was perfect for a series starring a big red guy with enormous hands. The hands!

However, it’s the cool and contemporary I love most about him: the arched expressions and Rodin-like wrists, often at angles in TALES FROM THE CLERKS, for example. There’s a gloriously subtle sequence kicked off on page nine in prison when Chevy looks away from a bald, bearded biker dude just as that dude takes an interest in him. It’s a perfect panel, all the important elements including their stares composed along the lines radiating from its vanishing point, far right.

Three panels later and the biker dude is staring towards the vanishing point and the angle of the eye, if you look very closely, is now aimed at Roscoe’s girlfriend, Rosa. Uh-oh!

Let’s pull back…

In 1986 the first and only sighting of a superhuman occurred late at night after he “ran out of juice” in Missouri. Rocketing uncontrollably at such an impossible speed across multiple States that he left a tornado-level trail of destruction in his wake, ploughing up compacted earth and asphalt, bursting through buildings and shattering glass, Mr Springfield staggered to a halt and was promptly arrested, drugged and locked away in solitary confinement by the United States Army.

That was it for superhumans for nearly thirty years.

Now it’s 2014 and young, ambitious, positive and forward-thinking Roscoe, a courier in bankrupt Detroit, has a shattering experience of his own. On a drug delivery he’s set up by his boss to take a fall with the Feds so that self-same boss, Samurai Hal – owner of The Joyside Lounge strip lounge – can have a clear crack at his girlfriend. Which brings us back to prison.

Whatever he dealt, Roscoe wouldn’t even take aspirin so he stays equally clean in jail. He stays positive too, thinking up all manner of ways of legitimately reducing his sentence. Until he finds out the truth, is goaded one step too far by the biker dude and – a stint in solitary later – is offered a pill stamped “MPH”. And he takes it.

MPH stands for Miles Per Hour and, boy, does that change everything!

When you can cross from the East to West Coast in four minutes while time stands still for everyone else, getting out of jail free is a cinch. Getting even is easier still.

Back at The Joyside Lounge:

“These bills floating around you is all the cash you got left, man…
“Any money in the bank I just transferred to a local drugs charity to make up for all those innocent lives you destroyed…
“Oh, I’m not done yet. Because I also just cancelled your home, building and life insurance policies. Can you guess why I’d do a thing like that?
“That gas you can smell is the pipes I bust open…
“The lighter I borrowed from Stacy behind the bar.”

Bam! Bam! Boom!

Each panel lasts as long as he likes for Roscoe who moves faster than lightning. To a horrified Hal they last but a second.

 

I love that Mark Millar even thinks of the insurance policies on top of the immediate destruction. He’s also thought long and hard about where to set this. Detroit – previously known as at the car capital of the world – has indeed been ditched, as derelict as Baltimore on television’s The Wire. Here’s Chevy with Rosa who has been trying to protect her brother Baseball from getting involved with the local, machine-gun-running local gang:

“What else can he do, Rosa? I know he’s smart, but it’s not just jobs we’re missing now. Half the street lights don’t even work. What kind of city can’t afford to light its own streets? It’s all going to Hell, girl. I’m telling you. America is fucked.”
“Oh, America’s doing fine, Chevy. It’s just us who’ve been left behind.”

At which point Roscoe shows up in the blink of an eye with a wink in his eye.

“Which is why the three of us are moving to California.”

What in the world do you suppose happens next?

Okay, I think I’ve given you all you need to know, summarised as this:

Mark Millar doesn’t write any old meta-human comics. They always have something socio-political to say. Pop him into our search engine and you’ll get comics like SECRET SERVICE: KINGSMAN (which I always sell as “What if James Bond came from Peckham?”), SUPERIOR (a Faustian pact with a monkey at the bottom of your bed), Marvel’s superhero CIVIL WAR (gun control represented in terms of super-powers) and most recently JUPITER’S LEGACY which, while being blisteringly pugilistic and a great big family fuck-up, has at its heart our wider economic crashes.

He’s good. He’s very good, and he thinks outside the box. I can’t think of a single Mark Millar title which is just a big punch-up. Please do pop him into our search engine. I think I’ve reviewed every title the man has ever written.

Then I give you artist Duncan Fegredo:

When the three of them get together – Roscoe, Rosa, Chevy and soon to be joined by Baseball – all necking MPH then you will see such wonders galore! What does the world look like when time stops still with four rogues running amok?

Rain drops, for instance…?

Duncan Fegredo is an absolute wonder at reaction and glee and – accompanied by colourist Peter Doherty – there is so much light and, yes, colour in this comic! Duncan’s depiction of body language is virtually unparalleled in comics: any comics in any genre. His expressions are exquisite and his gesticulations rival those of Will Eisner. He is one of comics’ greatest communicators.

So what would you do with a vial of MPH pills that could last you a week? A vial of pills that would give you super-fast speed while the world dozed off in your wake? What would you do and could you ever give it up?

Well, this is what they do and those who are in power are not very happy.

They’re not very happy at all!

P.S. I may have misled you a little, but you won’t be alone. Any misdirection is strictly in keeping with what happens within. Infer what you will but of course it’s more complex than this. One of the most unexpectedly delightful endings in comics.

SLH

Buy MPH and read the Page 45 review here

Legend Of The Scarlet Blades h/c (£19-99, Humanoids) by Saverio Tenuta.

“I think you still harbour feeling for Raido and myself, yet even so, you ordered his death and have deprived me of the sun. In reality, you are not fully aware of your actions. Do not be so sure that it is you who are the puppeteer.
“That, I never believed. I only cut my own strings and imprisoned the one who controlled them in this temple.”

Terrific surprise, this. I was expecting another SAMURAI: LEGEND, which was certainly very pretty but really little more than another Onimusha.

LEGEND OF THE SCARLET BLADES, on the other hand, is breathtakingly beautiful with vast panoramas of snow-swept mountains and walls snaking up to them; Japanese temples and rooftops, Acer leaves in autumn, cherry blossom petals and birds taking flight; gigantic white wolves called Izuna with ears like the lynx… but it is also an intricately woven story of cause and effect, of nature and nurture, that spans two generations in feudal Japan whose revelations eventually connect almost every event to another and everyone to each other, even if few or even any of the players involved know it until quite near the end. Maybe the wolves know. Yes, maybe the wolves know…

Lone warrior Raido has lost his memory. He’s lost his arm, an eye, and something else – if only he could remember what. Instead he is plagued by voices so loud he can barely sleep. They’re calling to him. He has a tattoo whose symbols don’t bode well and he has a past more complicated than he can imagine which he inadvertently catches up with when he encounters young Meiki and suddenly there’s silence. He sweeps her away from the clutches of Captain Kawakimi, ordered to arrest the girl by Lady Ryin, Shogunai of all that surrounds her. He knows not who they are, but they definitely remember him, as does General Nobu Fudo, the man with three eyes, the man with three arms and the man with two Scarlet Blades. Raido is supposed to be dead.

The past is revealed slowly, subtly and in all the right places, for it’s not as straight forward as you’ll think. For example, does Nobu Fudo have Raido’s eye? He does not. He has an eye that was sacrificed to Raido after Raido as a boy sacrificed his own to feed his starving wolf cub. There’ll be repercussions there. Unfortunately Raido will repay that repayment of kindness with… Ouch. It’s actually pretty affecting in places.

There is a reason, by the way, why the seasons have stopped and the domain of Lady Fujiwara Ryan and Lord Totecu Fujiwara before her is besieged by ice and its raging white Izuna. There’s an explanation for why the Izuna are raging, and why Lady Ryin is such a bitter and cruel mistress. It’s not an excuse but a reason. The same goes for the three-armed Nobu Fudo’s enmity towards Raido.

I can promise you a substantial read and as much eye-candy as you could want whether your thing is majestic landscapes, fantastical wolves or dramatic blade action. It’s not easy painting driven snow, but the blue and purple lights dance off it here perfectly.

SLH

Buy Legend Of The Scarlet Blades h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scott Pilgrim vol 6 h/c Colour Edition (£18-99, Oni Press) by Bryan Lee O’Malley with Nathan Fairbairn.

From the creator of SECONDS, one of my two best books of last year, comes the final colour edition of ingenious comedy with a Ninetendo logic all of its own and a seemingly inexhaustible, playful inventiveness.

Flashbacks can come in the form of (highly unreliable!) Memory Cam stills and I think he invented the lobbed-in labels, the character summary or status boxes which so many other writers have emulated since:

“Julie P (the original and best)”
“Sandra (not the original)”
“Monique (not the best)”

Previously in SCOTT PILGRIM:

Scott is a clot, he really is. He’s a total dumpling. In terms of a Chinese take-away, dim doesn’t even begin to sum the lad up.

But Scott’s at least earned the Power Of Love and leveled up. It comes with a flaming sword: +5 for slashiness.

You see, Scott is in love with Ramona and he’s defeated six of her seven evil exes in combat – thereby turning them into a shower of shiny gold coins – with only Gideon to go. But for the moment Ramona’s gone missing and it’s left him in a zombie fugue state, dribbling away on a handheld video game.

Now it’s time for Scott’s own exes to sort the silly boy out in time for him, Gideon Graves, Envy Adams and Romona Flowers to have a final showdown with gay ex-flatmate Wallace boozed up and rolling his eyes sardonically on the sidelines. There may be casualties. Wallace’s tongue is very sharp.

As for the audience, where would they be without their mobile phones?

“Is that chick a dude?”
“I’m googling her as we speak.”

Fight!

“Is that chick dead?”
“I’m updating her Wikipedia page as we speak.”

Will Scott win through?

He’s almost learned how to tie his own shoelaces.

These colour editions – and oh my days, the colouring is gorgeous; I can no longer imagine the final few pages without it – come with loads of extras in the back. In this instance there’s a step by step process piece with Fairbairn (who also coloured Bryan Lee O’Malley’s tasty SECONDS) taking you through the colouring of a page from flatting through flat colours, lighting and modelling and colour holds to the finish line. If you don’t know what any of those terms mean, you will by the time Nathan’s done. It’s fascinating.

Other extras include O’Malley sketch pages of character fashion designs – actually quite crucial to the series’ success and certainly one of its great pleasures – and posters, other previous versions of covers including the SCOTT PILGRIM BOXED SET interior poster and exterior art, and things that were there but now ditched.

SLH

Buy Scott Pilgrim vol 6 h/c Colour Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Queen & Country Definitive Edition Vol 1 by Greg Rucka & Brian Hurt, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Christine Norrie, more ~

First two softcovers repackaged as one, and although the first half of this spy drama came across a little shaky – not unlike a seventies BBC buddy cop series, wobbly cardboard sets, wooden acting and bad research were all present and accounted for – thankfully the second was far more polished with some really gripping pacing.

Tara Chace, after assassinating a high-ranking member of the Russian mafia, has an attack of conscience which, understandably, could affect her line of work. While she’s sent to the couch (psychiatrist), two of her fellow male operatives are sent to Afghanistan, to find a list of contacts before the Taleban do.

This was apparently all written before 9/11, and it’s a good side plot an’all but that’s not what keeps the ball rolling - Tara’s detailed self-destruction is. She becomes a ticking time bomb, unable to work because of her state of mind, the poor luv spends her days drinking heavily and having meaningless sex with strangers just to see if she can still feel at all. I know just how she feels.

TR

Buy Queen & Country Definitive Edition Vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars Activity Book (£18-99, Marvel) by David Anthony Kraft & Carlos Garzon.

“My Spider- Sense is tingling! That means we’re in danger!”
“No kidding!”
“What evil lurks beyond the next corner?”

I DO NOT KNOW!!!

Oh yes I do, because I’ve just turned the page! I hadn’t realised there was an actual narrative going on. It’s Vic “What A Dick” Doom, Kang The Constantly Conquered, Mag “Not- So-Neat” Neto and Doctor “Minging And Mop-Topped” Octopus. What a bunch of buffoons!

Most have bits of them missing because this is a collection of children’s activity books first printed some thirty years ago to tie in with Marvel’s first line-wide crossover / tie-in thing, SECRET WARS which was originally designed to sell toys. Not to be confused with Bendis & Dell’Otto’s pertinently political and beautifully painted SECRET WAR and under no circumstances to be confused with SECRET WARS II which was drawn by Al “No Idea How He Got The Job” Milgrom and was equally awfully written.

The kids could do no worse so there are speech balloons left empty to fill in, blank faces and appendages to draw, puzzles to decrypt, pages to be coloured in (on paper which will bleed any felt pens like crazy), two big, fold-out posters and lots and lots of oh-so-retro stickers. It’s so totally naff that it is absolutely brilliant.

Written and drawn by two people who had never set foot in the Mighty Marvel Bullpen so had no comprehension of contemporary Marvel art (it was farmed out to a company presumable specialising in kids’ activity books), it loosely follows the story of SECRET WAR itself which featured all the major Marvel heroes and villains abducted by a virtually omnipotent being and dumped on a otherwise lifeless planet to brawl and bicker like crazy.

You may have heard that something vaguely similar of the same title is on the imminent horizon during which all the regular Marvel titles will cease before reappearing several months later on the other side in a potentially very different Marvel Universe. During the break there will be hundreds of other titles, some of which are new iterations of previous company crossovers, all of which are alternate versions of oh my god I’ve just bored myself. Ask at the counter etc.

Quite cleverly during the original version the comics carried on but jumped to what was to happen afterwards so that, for example, readers were suddenly presented with Spider-Man in a sentient black costume and you were left to wonder how on Earth that happened for something like six months until it finally appeared in the SECRET WARS mini-series. Credit where it’s due: that must have taken a great deal of cross-company planning and a lot of restraint on each writer’s part not to slip up with spoilers.

Discredit also where due: read about the sordid truth behind Marvel’s closed doors including this event in MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY. It is a complete revelation, a gigantic scandal-fest and laugh-out-loud funny. Jonathan and I raced each other through it to be the first to delight in each successive outrage!

SLH

Buy Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars Activity Book and read the Page 45 review here

Hawkeye vol 1 h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & David Aja, Javier Pulido, Francesco Frankavilla, Steve Lieber, Jesse Hamm.

First two so-sexy softcovers in one! This is magnificent!

“Okay… This looks bad. Really… really bad. But believe it or not, it’s only the third most-terrible idea I’ve had today and today I have had exactly nine terrible ideas.”

Oh, Clint. Every idea you have is terrible.

Comedy crime with an eye for design so sharp that this is the first superhero book we have ever allowed in our window. Partly because it’s not even a superhero book, but mostly it’s Aja’s design.

There’s a charming use of flesh and purple tones, and a thrilling deployment of stark black and white with plenty of wide-open space. In one instance a newspaper clipping smuggles in the creator credits; in another the only mask in this entire series so far (apart from a certain gold-plated façade) makes for a belly-laugh moment you may have heard whisper of. I’m not going to steal the fun from you. Here’s a Daily Bugle headline instead:

“EVERYTHING AWFUL
“Oh God Somebody Do Something”

Fraction’s timing is immaculate. At least three of these stories kick off in the middle, at the height of yet another monumental disaster, the one quoted above then proceeding to count down through each of Clint’s nine increasingly idiotic ideas. Thank goodness for Kate Bishop, then – the younger, female Hawkeye – who’s smarter, sassier and infinitely more savvy, so often left to pull Clint’s fat (and occasionally naked) ass out of the fryer.

“Tell you what, if I die, you can have the case. It’s good for travel.”
“Think I have quite enough of your baggage already, thanks.”

Here’s some of what I wrote of the first issue before the spying, the lying and the videotapes arrived. Before Clint’s sex-drive got him into the coolest comic car chase I can recall, complete with some old trick arrows he really should have found time to label before dipping his wick. Bring on the tracksuit Draculas, bro!

By his own admission Clint Barton can be more than a little juvenile. The man with the hair-trigger temper and mouth to match has a long history of knee-jerk reactions. But for all his sins, this totally blonde bowman and relative outsider has a heart of gold and a social conscience to boot. So when those who have taken him in – the neighbours he shares communal barbeques with on hot summer nights on the roof of their tenement building – fall under threat of mass eviction, Clint can’t help but act on impulse, and you just know it’s going to go horribly, horribly wrong.

It’s a first-person narrative with a grin-inducing degree of critical, objective detachment. It dashes frantically, nay recklessly, backwards and forwards in time with little-to-no hand-holding, as Clint watches yet another badly laid plan precipitate a cycle of ill-aimed, flailing thuggery. At its centre lies the plight of a battered mongrel which Barton fed pizza to in order to win the dog over. But now it’s in trouble.

“What kinda man throws a dog into traffic – seriously, I ask you – traffic right now – rain – cabs – nobody watching out for sideways demon pizza mutts – c’mon, Clint – c’mon – nobody – nobody watching out – Can’t watch oh God…”

Now, there is a natural affinity if ever I read one.

Second half:

“Okay… this looks bad.”

Of course it does, Clint: you are involved.

Until MPH by Mark Millar and Duncan Fegredo this week, HAWKEYE VOL 1 was the only superhero comic we have ever allowed in the Page 45 window, and the only superhero comic we have ever made – or are likely to make – Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month. Firstly, David Aja’s design skills are phenomenal; secondly, this isn’t a superhero comic: it’s a grin-inducingly inventive comedy crime caper, full of humanity and accessible to all: you don’t need to have read a single Marvel Comic in your life.

Oh, you’ll find so much to relate to, like that unfathomable tangle of wires which links your TV to your digital thingie via the DVD player and VCR, while your PS3 and Wii operate almost certainly by magic if only you can remember which arcane combination of controller buttons to press. God alone knows which plug is which anymore.

Then there are the ghosts of ex-girlfriends. Oh, not real ghosts, but imagine being caught snogging a damsel in distress (and in dat dress) by a) your girlfriend b) your ex-girlfriend and c) your ex-wife, all at the same time. I’m not exactly sure what a motif is, but Fraction and Aja have turned that trio into one. Probably. They recur, anyway, at the most inopportune moments.

Once again, this is one long succession of disasters but this time not all of them are of Clint’s making. The first chapter was written on the fly immediately following the horrific storms which hit the U.S. on October 29th 2012.

Clint has bought the tenement building he lives in to safeguard its tenants from a mob in tracksuits. There have been… altercations, bro. He’s also befriended those tenants, especially chubby, middle-aged Grill who insists on calling our Hawkeye “Hawkguy”. As the winds whip up around them, Clint drives Grill to Far Rockaway where Grill’s stubborn old goat of a dismissive dad is steadfastly refusing to pay any attention to the gale or water levels, leaving their last mementoes of Grill’s dead mum in the basement. Oh look, here comes the flood.

The very same night Kate – our younger, female and infinitely wiser Hawkeye – is preparing to hit New Jersey in an elaborate Emanuel Ungaro dress and Christian Dior stilettos.

“What could a storm do to a five-star hotel?”
“It’s New Jersey. There are La Quinta Inns outside of State pens that are nicer.”
“Oh yeah, Mr. Brooklyn? This where you and Jay-Z tell me Brooklyn is the greatest place on Earth?”
“Okay, one, I don’t know who that is, and two, shut up. Brooklyn is great, New Jersey is a punch line, and you are a kid and don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Both threads are moving tributes to people helping each other in times of crises, and that’s what this title is all about: helping people in times of crisis. And it stars the one man above all who simply cannot help himself – in either sense.

“Whoa, man, you look like hell.”
“Walked into a door. That, uh, proceeded to beat the hell out me.”

Clint seems to have spent the entire series covered in plasters.

He’s also spent the series in a line of personalised clothing like the H hat nodding back to his old mask, and the purple target t-shirt. As to Kate, she’s decked herself out in a variety of purple shades which she’s perpetually pulling down to glare her elder in the eyes with long-suffering disdain.

So yes, let us talk more about David Aja’s design which – with Hollingsworth’s white – fills the comic with so much light. His tour de force here is the Pizza Dog issue, told entirely from Lucky’s point of view, wordless except for those basics the mutt might understand. His day is spent constantly interpreting the world around him through sound, smell and association, conveyed by Aja in maps of connected symbols worthy of Chris Ware himself (see BUILDING STORIES, JIMMY CORRIGAN and, particularly for symbols, the early pages of ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #20). There is one seemingly throwaway moment where an absence of both sound and smell means everything.

What is particularly impressive is the absence of almost any anthropomorphism (just two raised paws). Instead it’s all symbols and skeuomorphism as the dog goes about its business (and indeed business) on daily patrol. What you don’t see on the unlettered cover to that chapter is the original credits which would normally read…

Fraction
Aja
Hollingsworth

… but instead read…

Ruff
Ruff
Ruff

And you know what I was saying in HAWKEYE VOL 1 about Matt Hollingsworth’s gorgeous colour palette? There is a highly instructive two-page process piece in the back in which shows you precisely how he achieves that consistency and the trouble he goes to do so. Pays off every single issue.

Anyway, back to the tangled wires and battered old VCR and our catastrophe-prone Clint doing the best that he can.

“Shut up about the show and shut up about my stuff – I know it’s a mess and it’s half-taped together and it’s old and busted – but it’s mine.
“And you gotta make that work, right? You gotta make your own stuff work out.”

Or, to put it another way…

“What is the hell have I gotten myself into? What the hell is wrong with me?”

Oh, Clint! Everything is wrong with you.

Except your heart.

SLH

Buy Hawkeye vol 1 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 as reviews. Neat, huh?

Palookaville #22 (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth

Criminal vol 4: Bad Night s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Exquisite Corpse h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Penelope Bagieu

Fables vol 21: Happily Ever After (£13-50, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Mark Buckingham, many others

Moomin On The Riviera (£6-99, Enfant) by Tove Jansson

Adventure Time: The Flip Side s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover & Wook Jin Clark

Avengers West Coast: Vision Quest s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by John Byrne

Spider-Verse Omnibus h/c (£55-99, Marvel) by Various, Olivier Coipel

Sunstone vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Stjepan Sejic

Supermutant Magic Academy (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Jillian Tamaki

The Thrilling Adventures Of Lovelace And Babbage h/c (£16-99, Particular) by Sydney Padua

Walking Dead vol 23 (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

William Shakespeare’s The Phantom Of Menance h/c (£11-99, Quirk) by Ian Doescher

Batman vol 5: Zero Year – Dark City s/c (£12-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Batman vol 6: The Graveyard Shift h/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Greg Capullo, various

Gotham City Sirens Book 2 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Antony Bedard, Peter Calloway & Andres Guinaldo, Jeremy Haun, various

Angel Of Elhamburg vol 1 (£12-99, Yen) by Aki

Assassination Classroom vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Captain Ken vol 1 (£10-50, DMP) by Osamu Tezuka

Mobile Suit Gundam Origin vol 9: Lalah (£22-50, Random House / Vertical) by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

One Piece vol 74 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Sword Art Online: Progressive vol 2 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Kiseki Himura

The World’s Greatest First Love (£8-99, Sublime) by Shungiku Nakamura

News!

ITEM! Interview / preview of STRANGE FRUIT written by Mark Waid and painted by J.G. Jones! Pretty impressive! Pre-order STRANGE FRUIT #1 from Page 45 here.

 

 

ITEM! THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Kieron Gillen plus many more join the creator line-up attending The Lakes International Comicbook Festival in October 2015!

ITEM! James Brubaker’s SITHRAH looks lovely Follow that link then give it a few pages and it really warms up. You can pre-order SITHRATH from Page 45 with a click of this sentence. We ship worldwide! “We know!”

ITEM! Salman Rushdie’s new novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, will co-star a graphic novelist!

-       Stephen

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