Archive for September, 2011

Reviews September 2011 week four

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Wonderful news this week that Saudi Arabia will finally be giving its women the vote, and will also allow them to stand in future elections. Progress! Now if it legalised letting them drive without a male relative in the car, then they might actually be able to get to the ballot boxes…

Jonathan on Zahra’s Paradise h/c

Habibi h/c (£20-00, Faber & Faber) by Craig Thompson.

“From the Divine Pen fell the first drop of ink. And from a drop, a river.”

“Like a river has a spring, every story has a source.”

One of the most beautiful books that I have ever held in my life.

From its rich, russet cover embossed with gold and a smooth, raised cameo which one can’t help but stroke, to over 650 black and white pages threaded with Persian mythology, tales from the Qur’an and flooded throughout with patterns steeped in religious symbolism and curling, swirling, Arabic calligraphy, it is a work of wonder.

It’s also bursting with love and humanity – provision, protection, self-sacrifice and survival – but also degradation, desecration and defilement: the very worst we have to offer. Rape. Racism. Sexual slavery. The constant threat of death. Pollution. Oh yes, pollution. This work will surprise you and there are hints early on as tyres and plastic begin appearing anachronistically in the sewers, streams and desert. It takes an unexpectedly modern turn, I can tell you, and water is the key element here: water as a life source during drought, a killer during floods and a purifier too, because I also mean the pollution of innocence.

“The Prophet has said that every child is born with a natural disposition – perfect and lacking nothing – until marred by this world.”

Both Dodola and Cham / Zam / Habibi see far too much of the world far too early on.

When their land dried up with drought, Dodola’s parents sold her into marriage. That was the end of her purity. But it was also the beginning of her literary and religious education, for her husband copied manuscripts which she then learned to read. But her husband’s soon murdered, she is abducted and about to be sold into slavery when she finds a young baby bawling alone on the ground. Seizing her one opportunity she scoops him up and escapes, seeking refuge in a boat in the middle of the desert. It’s there we first find them, Zam and Dodola, three years later, “afloat” on the prow of their boat.

They survive safely for years, Dodola passing on the stories she’d learned from the Qur’an to soothe him to sleep, to bring them together, to motivate, educate and divert him. The boy was originally called Cham, the name of Noah’s third son who was born black then cursed, but to release them both from their past she renames him Zam (and calls him Habibi – “my beloved”) after the sacred well of Zamzam which gushed from the feet of young Ishmael when he and his mother were dying of thirst in the desert. It’s from this point on that Zam and water become inextricably linked in the story whether as a means of last-minute rescue, purification or as its provider. At first it’s the water they bathe naked in together.

“I wash and wash, but still my skin is darker than yours. Is it because I am dirty?”

Zam asks this quite innocently for when he was a mere three she was but twelve. But by the time he turns twelve, Dodola is twenty-one and he starts having entirely natural but, well, really dirty thoughts about her. Whereas they used to wash together, they can’t; whereas they used to share a bed together, Zam wrapped in Dodola’s arms… now it gives him an erection and it starts to tear them apart in a way which will have a profound, emasculatory effect on the boy after Dodola is abducted yet again and sold into sexual slavery in a Sultan’s harem, and he’s left to fend for himself in the nearby village, burning with desire and a fever born of starvation.

And that, I kid you not, is when their journeys really begin during years of tortuous separation.

I have four pages here crammed with notes and quotes but they give far too much away. What I hope I’ve established is the bond between our two metaphorical orphans left to nurture each other and fend for themselves in an environment poor in resources, rich only in predators. Male predators, it should be emphasised, imposing their lust on women, although there are a couple of exceptions (and not just the Eunuchs), most notably the “modern-day” Noah and literal fisher of men whose fishing ground is actually a squalid, disease-ridden river of effluence. It’s his turn to become the provider and that sequence is pure Will Eisner – positively effervescent – you’ll recognise that when you get there!

The biblical Noah also shows up in the one pure burst of comedy here as Dodola and Habibi imagine what life must really have been like on an Ark stuffed to capacity with animals picked in pairs for the purpose of breeding, yet obviously asked to forgo that pleasure for the duration of their stay: there’s just no room at the inn, as it were! The treatment of Noah’s atheistic wife, forbidden entry to the Ark is hilariously irreverent (“Next time, try believing in God!” he bellows from above as she stands in supplication, waste-deep in water.) and I laughed out loud as the animals went in two by two, male and female, the snails asking each other…

“Do we count? We’re hermaphroditic?”
“I’ll play ‘bottom’.”

There’s a superb sequence during which Dodola strives to earn her freedom from the Sultan during his challenge to turn water into gold. She sneaks into the all-male library (women not being trusted to decide for themselves which writings are safe and which are sinful) to study the ancient art of alchemy, but in the end finds a far more ingenious answer for herself, once more proving which of the two is more valuable.

But yes, on the whole, it’s a book about love and survival and although Dodola and Habibi endure against all odds and adversity, I don’t think Thompson is overly optimistic about the human race as a whole. We’re greedy, overpopulated and self-destructive.

“Why create man in the first place? Man forsakes his Creator. Man desecrates Creation.”

“We’ve poisoned the earth, and we’ve poisoned ourselves.”

We’ve also poisoned those life-sustaining waters to the extent that they become death-dealing cesspits of disease; we’ve raped the environment to the extent that modern-day floods of biblical proportion need no mythology to explain them, just global warming; and then we go and build dams in China etc. which actively flood out the plain-dwellers below. In fact, here’s a telling sentence given how much of the book is about slavery:

“Thanks to the dam, our home is no longer slave to flood or drought. We own the water instead of the other way round.”

Then we package it plastic bottles which end up where, precisely? It’s all here, trust me, including the water-bottling factory, the modern day ownership of water presaged well before by others selling what should be a universally commodity and a gift to all from God. I think that’s Thompson’s point.

This is my book of the year so far. We’ve anticipated it keenly for half a decade and for me it delivered on every single front. Better still, it surprised me. I relished its religious aspects – the sacred shapes, the magic squares, the calligraphic iconography, numerology and the way they all slotted together – because Craig married them both imaginatively and faithfully to the central narrative at each particular juncture and then finally, thematically, to love above fear. Structurally it’s astonishing, and it’d be very much surprised if many of these pages didn’t require a great deal of judicious juggling. Visually it is breath-takingly beautiful, each page alive with one flourish or another, and I don’t just mean the ridiculously detailed border frames, chapter pages, the Jinn, the dreams or the dives into the stream (although they were particularly stunning); I mean unexpected frames like the struggle three-thirds of the way down on page 199 between Dodola and the thieves, and some damn fine chase sequences too.

But above all I relished this thematically. It all ties together:

Temptation, torment, and feverish dreams.

“After battle the Prophet said, “We have returned from the Lesser Jihad to the Greater Jihad.” When asked “What is the Greater Jihad?” he replied; “It is the struggle against oneself.”

Gender, race, sex, slavery and violence.

“It’s misogynistic, racist… vilifies the descendants of Cham,” sighs Dodola of the legend of the Sultan and the magical fish.

It’s about the power of words, a love of stories. Food and water. Life and death. It’s no coincidence that the Sultan’s gardener is his executioner too. Just look at that fountain with its water cascading from the skulls’ empty eye sockets!

But above all, it seems to me, it’s about protection, provision, sacrifice and survival – spiritual and biological – and a most unusual love story under conditions which seem determined to thwart it.

“Sweet dreams, little Zam. I hope that we’ll make it.”

From the creator of BLANKETS which is now available in hardcover and softcover.

Buy Habibi h/c by Craig Thompson and read the Page 45 review here


The Man Who Grew His Beard (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Oliver Schrauwen…

“Gentlemen, can I have your attention please? Today there’ll be no free drawing. Instead I’ll give you an assignment. You’ll make a drawing featuring the following items: a cat, a table, a bottle of milk, a mouse, a piece of cheese, Mr. Peters.
“Now these things shouldn’t be put on the page randomly. A storyline will give everything its place and purpose. Here’s a tip: imagine yourself in this room, witnessing events.”

Oddly enough, the title, its font and also the cover art of THE MAN WHO GREW HIS BEARD made me think of the 1985 book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by neurologist Oliver Sacks describing the case histories of some of his patients, which given the completely insane collection of shorts in this book, both in terms of the stories and art, may not be entirely coincidental, I suspect. If surreal, single-panel humorist David Shrigley were ever to do comics, this is exactly what they would be like, to the point that I had to do a quick google search to check Olivier Schrauwen wasn’t a nom de plume for Mr. Shrigley. He isn’t.

Taking the story from which the above quote is pulled, The Assignment, and following the teacher’s instructions, one of the class has a rather peculiar and murderous sequences of events play out in his mind’s eye. Let’s see what happens when the teacher returns to see what he’s drawn…

“Now what is this? What happened to the cat?”
“It is dead.”
“And where is the mouse?”
“It’s in the cat.”
“And the cheese is…”
“… in…”
“…the mouse. I get it! That just won’t do, Mister! Get back to it!”

The teacher doesn’t remotely get it, believe you me.

The Man Who Grew His Beard By Oliver Schrauwen


New York Five (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly.

From the creators of LOCAL, this self-contained sequel to NEW YORK FOUR returns us to the lives of five young women handling life in the Big Apple with varying degrees of self-awareness, self-discipline and self-confidence.

Angie Wilder has her own band which has just struck it big on the gig circuit. She also has a boyfriend called Frank who is anything but: he anonymously seduced her younger sister Riley by text. Angie’s no longer speaking to Riley, Riley isn’t speaking to Frank, but Frank hasn’t done using Angie to speak to Riley as the first chapter’s cliffhanger makes clear.

Riley’s attending NYU with Merissa, Lona and Ren who all share an East Village flat roughly the size of a cupboard, their rent paid through part-time jobs evaluating PSAT/SAT tests. For this they need to undergo casual therapy sessions but the beautiful, outgoing Marissa’s stopped attending. In fact she seems to be spending an awful lot of time going back home to Queens. Lona’s less outgoing but still going out, if only to stalk her professor. We’re talking the breaking-and-entering end of stalking, dumpster-diving for dirt, and her boyfriend’s unimpressed. I really don’t know what Ren’s problem is. She doesn’t seem to have one right now. She likes older men. Is that a problem?

Like LOCAL, there’s an exceptional spirit of place here whether it’s the civic parks in winter, the city skylines at night or the chunky tenements with street-level steps rising up to their doors. The gigs are perfectly populated while the pavement outside is teeming with individuals hanging out on bikes, checking their bags or checking out each other. You can tell when an artist is trying to avoid drawing something; I couldn’t find a single instance of that here. Even the iron fire escapes and scaffolding have been lavished with so much attention that they have as much weight and character as the pedestrians passing them by. When you stop to take in just how many cityscapes there are on top of that…

Someone was on their way to New York the other day, and she asked if we had any comics that would act as a good guide. This would make the perfect guide, dotted as it is with insider titbits on every location featured including The Strand (used book shop), Washington Square, the Ukrainian diner Veselka, and St. Mark’s Place in The East Village:

“NY 101: St. Mark’s Place, as iconic and compelling as SF’s Haight Astbury, this enduring hang-out block is way more seedy and has much cooler rock and roll roots. But, in the end, both succumbed to The Gap. This author’s most-missed: the St. Mark’s Cinema.”

For me this is what Brian Wood does best: compelling and thoroughly contemporary straight fiction with a young cast of real individuals – females with foibles, individuals with issues – gradually revealing bits of themselves as they contemplate, hesitate or override their better instincts. Because coming back to that cliffhanger, it really is one of those, “Noooo, don’t do it!” moments.

Buy New York Five by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly and read the Page 45 review here


Zahra’s Paradise h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Amir & Khalil…

Eloquently written work set in Tehran about a beloved missing son, presumed snatched by the state’s thugs during a protest against the mullahs stealing yet another ‘free and fair’ election. It first appeared as a webcomic, serialised in multiple languages, presumably with a view to disseminating the truth about the violence that is perpetrated towards the burgeoning new wave of political dissidents who have the temerity to protest. Consequently it’s a rather moving read, one which makes you all too glad we live in a free society. At least we merely have greedy, incompetent politicians to cope with, not murderous cowards besmirching religion whilst ruling the roost.

I won’t give any more away about the story, told from the perspective of the mother and brother of the missing young man, but I do sadly get the impression it’s an all too realistic portrayal of a heartbreakingly common scenario. It’s a personal opinion and I’m getting slightly off-topic again, but I can’t help but feel that more damage is done to the good name of Islam in the eyes of the rest of the world by the supposedly legitimate Iranian regime, than any number of deluded individual terrorists or small cells of nutjobs could ever manage to achieve.

The finely pencilled, occasionally sweeping art in this work, meanwhile, neatly compliments the intricately weaving story, and has an almost proto Craig Thompson / Hope Larson feel to it. Overall this is an essential read for anyone wanting to depress themselves a little more about how repressed certain countries’ populations still are in the twenty-first century, by the very people that are supposedly to be leading and inspiring them.

On a lighter note then, wonderful news this week that Saudi Arabia will finally be giving its women the vote, and will also allow them to stand in future elections. Progress! Now if it could just get around to legalising letting them drive without a male relative in the car to accompany them, then they might actually be able to get to the ballot boxes…

Buy Zahra’s Paradise h/c by Amir & Khalil and read the Page 45 review here

Don Quixote vol 1 (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Miguel De Cervantes & Rob Davis…

“You’re mistaken, senõr. They are windmills.”

A rather chortle-worthy adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s enduring classic. Saavedra was a real character himself and had what could only be described as an extremely arduous yet adventurous life, including being captured by pirates and enslaved for five years on the way home from being maimed at the Battle of Lepanto, and later on spending nearly a decade in and out of debtors’ prisons. But despite it all, he managed to keep a positive outlook on life, and that certainly resonates throughout the absurdist adventures of his delusionary creation Don Quixote, and his long suffering squire Sancho Panza. This adaptation captures the surrealist nature of the material perfectly with an art style and editorial touch that at times put me in mind of Sergio Aragonés’ GROO, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo’s Astérix comics and indeed even the classic Pink Panther cartoons. Great fun, which proves once and for all that taking the piss out of Alzheimeic old people has been hilariously de rigueur since time immemorial.

Buy Don Quixote vol 1 by Miguel De Cervantes & Rob Davis and read the Page 45 review here


Evelyn Evelyn: A Tragic Tale In Two Tomes (Slipcased Ed’n) (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Amanda Palmer, Jason Webley & Cynthia Von Buhler…

Faux autobiography of the conjoined twin musical duo (well they wouldn’t be a trio now would they?) as recounted / channelled to Amanda (Dresden Dolls) Palmer and Jason Webley. Forget the fact that Evelyn Evelyn in real life bare an uncanny resemblance to Palmer and Webley bewigged and frocked up, this is the true fictional story of the sisters’ horrific childhood as illustrated by Cynthia von Buhler in a wide-eyed gothic style which will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Roman Dirge, Jhonen Vasquez et al. It’s a dark and terrible tale, which probably entirely due to having just become a dad, I am tremendously pleased that the sisters didn’t actually have to endure. Neil Gaiman’s a fan apparently (though that’s probably just as well if he wants to avoid a divorce, Amanda being his wife) and provides a thoughtful afterword.

Buy Evelyn Evelyn: A Tragic Tale In Two Tomes by Amanda Palmer, Jason Webley & Cynthia Von Buhler and read the Page 45 review here


Blue Estate vol 1 (£9-99, Image) by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, Andrew Osborne & Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Robert Valley, Paul Maybury…

“How to read Blue Estate by international acclaimed action film auteur, Jiu-Jitsu master & 9th level Bodhisattva Bruce Maddox.

In Tibet, Buddhist monks practice the art of dul-tson-kyil-khor, or mandala of coloured powders, using sand to create intricate patterns which are then swept away to symbolise the impermanence of life. When it comes to art, mandalas are the most Zen.

Music (like the original sitar ragas I composed for the soundtrack of my film Hunt To Kill 5: Power Fist may be equally transcendent… and the same can be said of certain motion pictures. For example, the entire Hunt To Kill franchise (which I star in, direct and stunt coordinate) is very spiritual (not to mention highly profitable in selected foreign markets).

Unfortunately comic books (and especially comic book collections) are nothing but frivolous distractions on the path to enlightenment, forever trapped in the physical plane. In other words: not so Zen.

However, whilst you may not experience nirvana while reading BLUE ESTATE, the following steps should at least help you to maintain a proper karmic balance:

  • Ensure your nether regions are clothed in loose-fitting garments to avoid a constricted yoni or pinched lingam.
  • Establish a “zone of tranquillity” where you drunken wife can’t find you.
  • Take a deep, cleansing breath. Then, close your eyes. Exhale through your nose. Open your third eye. Inhale through your third nose.
  • Visualise serenity.
  • Now visualise the opposite of serenity: a high-octane adrenalin shot of comic violence, violent comedy, tangled alliances, mistaken identities, desperate heroes, ruthless villains and maximum firepower.

You are now in the BLUE ESTATE state of mind.”

Not often I let one of the characters introduce a book but that probably gives a nice little hyperbolic flavour of exactly what this work is like, i.e. much humour and absolutely everything the final bullet point above promises. I realised pretty quickly this had to be a joke intro but once I actually started reading this crime caper I twigged the Bruce Maddox character, who features heavily within this story, is clearly a spoof of neck-chopping, flabby fantasist Stephen Seagal. I know I’ve bigged a lot of crime books up recently, simply because there have been so many great ones, but this too is brilliantly and hilariously written, full of LA egos, both cinematic and gangster playas (sic), and illustrated in a glorious technicolour style that definitely has hints of Paul Pope pencilling to it. Yet again I find myself saying that crime fans shouldn’t miss this one… or Stephen, I mean, Bruce will come and sort you out with a trademark neck-chop.

Buy Blue Estate vol 1 by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, Andrew Osborne & Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Robert Valley, Paul Maybury and read the Page 45 review here


Morning Glories vol 2 (£9-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma.

Oh me of little faith!

I had certain doubts about volume One, but each of these six chapters were riddled with revelations and reversals that had me slack-jawed at the implicit scope of what’s been crafted behind the curtain and yet to be unveiled. This is a completely new game, and I’m only just beginning to guess at the rules.

To recap: six new students have been selected to attend a prestigious boarding academy which will not let them go. There literally is no escape and whilst a semblance of regular routine is maintained in the corridors and curriculum, the overt threats from teachers and fellow classmates alike are almost as sinister as what’s not being said. There is a lot that’s not being said.

Here six interlocking short stories focussing on the past, present and potential future of each new Glory reveals them to have far more in common than their birth dates: they’re all so psychologically screwed up it’s just not true. Please don’t think that I know all the answers but… Why can’t Hunter tell the correct time? Where does Jade go each time she dies and why doesn’t she seem to mind? Did Ike really kill his Dad then hire an open-topped bus full of bimbos to jeer at the funeral? And if so, how did he get away with it? Did Jade’s parents die? Why does Jun seem to blow so hot and cold? What is Zoe’s earliest memory, how much is she capable off, and who the hell is David? Who is this Abraham that seems to have intervened in their early lives during crucial hours and what specific, completely unexpected connection does he have to one of them in particular? What do all these teachers actually want? Trust me when I tell you that those are some of the more pedestrian questions you’ll be asking yourself once this book has finished freaking you out.

“Faith isn’t about understanding. It’s about –“
“Putting your hand in someone else’s… and learning to take the good with the bad.”

Very much coming round to the art too: clean lines and a misty colouring.

Buy Morning Glories vol 2 by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma and read the Page 45 review here


Stormbreaker (£8-99, Walker books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako, Yuzuru.

We now have all three Alex Rider graphic novels in stock, each penned by WASTELAND’s Antony Johnston: Stormbreaker, POINT BLANC and Skeleton Key. No idea when I’ll have time to review them properly, but basically: full-colour espionage thrillers starring a fourteen-year-old schoolboy roped reluctantly into MI6 after his guardian uncle is killed on a covert mission. Alex had no idea the supposed banker was actually an undercover agent or that he’d been training Alex as a potential replacement for years. Martial arts, white water rafting, mountaineering, abseiling, scuba diving…? He thought they were hobbies! Learning those multiple languages…? Holidays! It’s only when his one remaining friend in the adult world is threatened with deportation that Alex agrees to join the club and embark on his first mission. Although… those gadgets are pretty cool!

My thirteen-year-old second cousin loved these books with their anime-inspired artwork, and he’s a reluctant reader. I’d say that was a pretty sound piece of market testing for you!

Stormbreaker By Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston and Kanako, Yuzuru


Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Pursuit Of The Flesh (£7-50, Boom!) by Clive Barker & Leonardo Manco, Stephen Thompson.

Just a quick note to impress upon you that this is the new series from Boom Studios as opposed to the classic series from epic available once more as HELLRAISER MASTERPIECES. Also, fans of the recent DAMAGED series written by David Lapham or Andy Diggle’s magic, three-volume run on HELLBLAZER beginning with JOYRIDE will relish the grit and the gore which their artist Leonardo Manco has not skimped on here. He’s by no means slacking here, and neither is Stephen Thompson who’s all a bit Butch Guice.

Clive Barker’S Hellraiser: Pursuit Of The Flesh By Clive Barker and Leonardo Manco, Stephen Thompson


Marvel Illustrated: Dracula (£12-99, Marvel) by Bram Stoker, Roy Thomas & Dick Giordano.

Formerly black and white, now full-colour.

Buy Marvel Illustrated: Dracula by Bram Stoker, Roy Thomas & Dick Giordano here


Art Of Metal Gear Solid h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Ashley Wood.

Breathlessly energetic and effortlessly poised full-page painting here. Huge weight on every mech and mercenary. If you can’t be bothered reading the graphic novels when you’ve already played the games (yup), you can just sit back and admire the formidably impressive artwork instead.

Buy Art Of Metal Gear Solid h/c by Ashley Wood here


The Astonishing Secret Of Awesome Man h/c (£13-50, B&B) by Michael Chabon & Jake Parker.

From the award-winning writer of Kavalier & Clay which later went on to inspire Brian K. Vaughn’s exceptional THE ESCAPISTS with art by Steve Rolston, Jason Shawn Alexander and Philip Bond, a bright and shiny young children’s book with a big broad grin that sparkles like those old tv ads for Colgate toothpaste. Packs an awesome punch(line).

Buy The Astonishing Secret Of Awesome Man h/c by Michael Chabon & Jake Parker here


Avengers Prime s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis.

Steve Rogers and Tony Stark:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy Avengers Prime s/c by Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis and read the Page 45 review here


Batman: The Widening Gyre s/c (£13-50, DC) by Kevin Smith &Walter Flanagan, Art Thibert…

“So… Alfred said a girl came over this morning. Anyone I…?”
“No one you know.”
“Alfred says she calls you Deedee. What’s all that about?”
“Business, Robin, mind it.”
“Did you guys… y’knowww…”
“If I was interested in smutty innuendo, I’d partner up with Eel O’Brian.”
“Fair enough. But if you have any questions about the feelings you’re having… or just questions about girls in general… you can always come and ask me. Okay, sport?”
“Alfred and his big mouth…”

Hmm, okay, so I am now forced to completely revise my opinions about Kevin Smith as a Batman writer because THE WIDENING GYRE is absolutely everything a great Bat-book should be: packed with action, intrigue, witty dialogue and a brooding Bruce. I’m not completely sure that Mr Smith is halfway to an Absolute edition as he coyly suggests in the afterword, but it’s certainly a major stride and flying kick to the side of the head forward from the relatively one dimensional CACOPHONY. I was rather puzzled why this is billed as a sequel to that book. I wasn’t by the end, but it would be somewhat churlish of me to say any more, and it’s certainly forced me to revise my opinion about CACOPHONY. Seen as an appetiser to the main course, it’s a rather different dish, much less bland than it first seemed.

Once again we get a look into an unknown chapter of Bruce Wayne’s past, as old flame Silver St. Cloud, aware of his true identity, unexpectedly comes back into his life, and completely prepared to share him by night with the streets of Gotham. And there’s another significant new arrival in the form of the vigilante Baphomet, who’s got all the makings of a possible ally, and whom, over a significant period of time, Bruce is seriously considering bringing into the inner Bat-fold as a trusted working associate. It’s well written stuff as we see Bruce / Batman struggling with trust issues about allowing a new person gradually into the different aspects of his life. The big difference of course is that Silver St. Cloud is already aware that Bruce is Batman, whereas Baphomet is of course unaware that Batman is Bruce. Eventually, won over by his discovery of a very significant tragedy in Baphomet’s past, he decides to bring him fully into the fold…

I can’t explain why, this is just one of those books that you have to read before someone else tells you too much about it. It is destined to become a minor classic I think, and with the impending publication of a third book which will conclude the wider arc (which becomes apparent) it is actually definitely in with a chance of achieving an Absolute collected edition.

Buy Batman: The Widening Gyre s/c by Kevin Smith &Walter Flanagan, Art Thibert… and read the Page 45 review here


DC New 52… mostly sold out last week before I had chance to even look. Well, they obviously don’t need me to promote them. Selected reprints due 19/10/11, the same day as their second issues, I think.

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews to follow or already up if they’re s/cs of h/cs – and quite a lot this week are! Regardless, you can now go straight to these books in the shopping area simply by clicking on their names.

Love And Rockets: New Stories #4 (£10-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez

The Finder Library vol 2 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Carla Speed McNeil

Pure Pajamas h/c (£16-99, D&Q) by Marc Bell

Feeding Ground hardcover (£18-99, Archaia) by Swifty Lang & Michael Lapinski

Hellboy vol 11: The Bride Of Hell And Others (£14-99, Dark Horse by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben, Kevin Nowlan, Scott Hampton

Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales Book 2 (£13-50, DC) by Alan Moore, Steve Moore & various

Jenny Finn: Doom Messiah (£10-99, Boom!) by Mike Mignola, Troy Nixey & Troy Nixey, Farel Dalrymple

The Wrong Place (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Brecht Evans

The Book Of Human Insects hardcover (£16-50, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka

1-800-Mice h/c (£16-99, Picturebox) by Matthew Thurber

Holy Terror h/c (£22-50, Legendary) by Frank Miller

Emma hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Jane Austen, Nancy Butler & Janet Lee

A.B.C. Warriors: The Volgan War vol 1 s/c (£12-99, 2000AD) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley

A.B.C. Warriors: The Volgan War vol 2 s/c (£12-99, 2000AD) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley

Ozma Of Oz h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower & Skottie Young

The New Teen Titans: Games hardcover (£18-99, DC) by Marv Wolfman & George Perez

Green Lantern Corps: The Weaponer hardcover (£16-99, DC) by Tony Bedard & Tyler Kirkham

JLA: The Deluxe Edition vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar & Howard Porter, John Dell, Oscar Jimenez, Don Hillsman

Strange Tales vol 2 softcover (humour) (£14-99, Marvel) by various including Harvey Pekar, Jhonen Vasquez, Rafael Grampa, Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Terry Moore, Jeff Lemire, James Stokoe, Nicholas Gurewitch, Dean Haspiel, Dash Shaw, Gene Luen Yang, Kate Beaton, Shannon Wheeler, Kevin Huizenga, Jeffrey Brown, Paul Mayberry, Paul Hornschemeier, Tony Millionaire, Farel Dalrymple, Jon Vermilyea, Benjamin Marra, Tim Hamilton, Michael Deforge, Alex Robinson, Eduardo Medeiros

Iron Man 2.0: Palmer Addley Is Dead s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Barry Kitson, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Kano, Ariel Olivetti

Essential Defenders vol 6 (£14-99, Marvel) by J.M. DeMatteis & Don Perlin, Sal Buscema

Ultimate Comics New Ultimates vol 1: Thor Reborn s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Frank Cho

Ultimate Comics Avengers Vs. New Ultimates: Death Of Spider-Man hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Leinil Yu, Stephen Segovia

Irredeemable vol 7 (£12-99, Boom!) by Mark Waid & Peter Krause, Diego Barreto

Spawn Origins vol 12 (£10-99, Image) by Todd McFarlane & Greg Capullo

Bloody Monday vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ryou Ryumon & Kouji Megumi

Gon vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Masashi Tanaka

Arisa vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Natsumi Ando

Sailor Moon vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuchi

Codename Sailor V vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuchi

XXXholic vol 17 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Clamp

House Of Five Leaves vol 4 (£9-99, Viz) by Natsume Ono

Negima! vol 31 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

Berserk vol 35 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Rosario + Vampire Season II vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Akihisa Ikeda

The Moon And The Sandals vol 1 (£9-99, June) by Fumi Yoshinaga

The Moon And The Sandals vol 2 (£9-99, June) by Fumi Yoshinaga

Kabuki vol 1: Flower (£9-99, June) by Yukari Hashida

Mouse Guard Role Playing Game h/c (£25-99, Archaia) by Luke Crane & David Petersen

Bolland: Cover Story: The DC Comics Art Of Brian Bolland h/c (£29-99, DC) by Brian Bolland

Williams: Eklektikos hardcover (£37-99, ASFA) by Kent Williams

Vampire Art Now h/c (£22-50, Harper) by Jasmine Becket-Griffith, Matthew David Becket

Page 45 Facebook fans are now being deluged by a tenth of my tweets. Yes, that’s still a deluge. They seem to “like” them, though.

– Stephen

Reviews September 2011 week three

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

If our sorcerous six want to wassail, they must smite for their right to party.

– Stephen on Demon Knights.

Everything We Miss h/c (£12-00, Nobrow) by Luke Pearson.

“The words he refreshes for go unseen and remain unknown, for the letter of reconciliation slipped under the door… finds itself under the doormat.”

Are you aware of everything you’ve missed? Of course not – that’s why you’re still sane.

Missed signals, missed opportunities; things you don’t see and things you do see all too clearly in your mind’s eye: memories of what you once had, now lost. Signals sent out but never received, of a potential romance stillborn through oblivion; buses we never quite caught leading to meetings we then never made; deadlines that did us in; the profound effect words uttered in casual conversation may have had on the lives of others; the company of friends, family or lovers now dead or deserted. Youth.

It’s both these connotations – of failure and regret – that are explored here in a quiet, considered and elegiac fashion as a relationship fails through lack of attention: too little too late, and being too late too often. I’m constantly joking, “You’re just in time to be too late,” but it’s usually about a comic that’s just sold out, never about anything as profound as a relationship. So often I’ve seen that happen, though.

The key to the book’s success is that the narrator does see it all, and not just this single relationship. He rises above the metaphorical treetops to view a whole world of things that are missed, some of them heart-breakingly poignant, others comedically absurd. It’s the perfect balance and my immediate reaction on reading this prior to Dull Ache and Some People (our current Comicbook Of The Month) was to tweet that we have a new Kevin Huizenga. Far from implying Luke Pearson’s derivative, it’s indicative of its style and a testament to the book’s quality.

There’s one brief scene in a bar which is a brilliantly observed string of cause and effect, an ode to the unobservant which made me smile just as hard as much of it made me sigh. For Pearson employs a considered, spare use of language, and by elegiac I mean moments like this: “The moon creaks. A window cries.”

It’s lovingly printed on thick paper stock and gorgeously drawn with the richest of shadows – so many shadows, silhouettes and shades – and coloured in warm, sunset hues of orange and brown. There are moments caught in the confines of a handbag as a mobile phone lights up unnoticed, suburban shots of disconnection and loneliness presented to perfection, but nothing will prepare you for the final few shots of the cliff, sea and beach, its smooth stones lapped by the tide and an early morning sunrise.

In the modern age of the missed mobile phone call or email which, once sent, is almost always presumed successfully received then either read or ignored – certainly not unseen – I’m now a bit worried after reading as to what my computer has designated ‘spam’ for the doormat above is metaphorical. You might want to check out that folder.

Buy Everything We Miss h/c by Luke Pearson and read the Page 45 review here


Optic Nerve #12 (£4-25, D&Q) by Adrian Tomine…

At last! New OPTIC NERVE material! Ah, I have to start this review by saying whatever you do, do NOT miss the two-page auto-biographical strip which finishes this issue after the letters pages. It had me literally doubled-up, crying with laughter. It’s basically one long anecdote about Adrian’s love of the single-issue format and how he feels he’s fighting a losing battle in persisting with it. Absolutely hilarious from start to finish and he manages to name-drop about a dozen of his favourite creators and friends in the most amusing ways whilst continually poking fun at his own expense. This issue is worth the price of purchase just for this two-pager alone!

Right, on with the review. The main content of this issue then, comprises of two rather different stories in terms of their tone. First up we have Hortisculpture, which is as good a point as any to let Adrian take over…

“What is it?”
“This is just a proto-type. But it’s a sculpture that I made, with a live plant growing through it.
“In this case, sweet Myrtle, it’s a synthesis of nature and craft, a marriage of the wild and the man-made; a living breathing objet d’art.
“It’s my life’s calling.”

What it really is, is a rather bad idea which Harold the gardener has chanced upon whilst reading about Japanese horticulture in the bath. It’s an idea so bad in conception that everyone else except poor Harold can see it straight away. But with the type of deluded confidence in his invention you regularly see in the comedy round-up sequence of ridiculous ideas on Dragons’ Den, he presses ahead into fiscal oblivion. The story is told primarily as continuous four-panel black and white shorts, two per page and the occasional full-colour-page short, which works well given the story is spread over a number of years in an episodic manner. The art is wonderful as you’d expect from Adrian, though oddly, as Tom and I both commented, it looks far more like Sammy Harkham’s art in this particular tale.

The second main story is called Amber Sweet and here the full colour art is more typically Tomine, though the colour palette and odd side-profile facial expression can also make you think momentarily of Chris Ware. Our nameless female lead bares a rather uncanny resemblance to adult entertainment actress Amber Sweet, and it’s making her college experience rather unpleasant to say the least, as everyone seems pretty convinced they’re one and the same person and Amber Sweet is merely her stage name.

This is a great little short story, which if the theory that everyone really does have a doppelgänger out there is true and that encountering them will only bring you misfortune, then having them be a porn actress certainly isn’t going to help matters! In the end, our Jane Doe feels the only way she can ever get closure is to take a road trip and confront Ms. Sweet.

All in all, issue 12 was well worth the wait (make sure you read the letter pages too) and despite the fact we know he will and love him for it anyway, let’s hope Adrian doesn’t make us wait so long for #13.

Buy Optic Nerve #12 by Adrian Tomine and read the Page 45 review here


Birchfield Close h/c (£9-00, Nobrow) by Jon McNaught…

Fans of PEBBLE ISLAND will simply adore this sequel of sorts as McNaught employs the same beautiful mixture of light red and blue shading, dots and fine lines along with a little solid black here and there to tell another laid-back tale, as two boys climb onto a roof and simply watch the world go by. There’s some really clever little moments in the storytelling that take this work a notch up from PEBBLE ISLAND though, such as when a hot air balloon takes off, we first get a few panels with the boys sat on the rooftop hearing strange noises before the balloon itself appears, which is when we realise the noises must have been the sound of the balloon inflating, followed by a little compressed sequence of panels imagining an adventurous and arduous ballooning journey, before returning to the boys on the rooftop again.

This work is full of imaginative little segueways like that which adds considerably to its charm. The only negative comment once again is the price as, at £9-00 for a little book of relatively few pages, it does seem a bit pricey. I do appreciate that Nobrow, the publishers of this and other recent quality little gems like The Bento Bestiary, HILDAFOLK, Ouroboros and EVERYTHING WE MISS clearly don’t want to skimp on production values, but I can’t help wondering if they aren’t harming their own sales with their ambitious pricing structure.

Buy Birchfield Close h/c by Jon McNaught and read the Page 45 review here


Ouroboros (£6-50, Nobrow) by Ben Newman.

A beautiful book with impeccable production values, an attractive palette of pale greens and rich orange-browns printed matte on a thick cream paper. It’s also a witty tale of transmogrification through mutilation and appropriation which comes full circle at the end of its 24 pages. Now two pounds less expensive than originally, if you’re feeling flush, this is an absolute joy.

Buy Ouroboros by Ben Newman here


Beowulf (£9-99, Walker Books) by unknown & Gareth Hinds.

“Absolutely splendid. Visceral, chilling, elegiac.”

– customer Chris Gardiner.

Chris Gardiner is something of a Beowulf buff. He’s read the original, come across countless adaptations and this is one of his absolute favourites. Its impact on him was immediate and arresting.

The dragon he called “incandescent” (and it seriously is in a purplish, painted, black-and-white double-page spread that almost sets the paper on fire), and the brutish confrontation between Beowulf and an obsidian Grendel – all muscle, sinew, claws, teeth and wet, globular hair – is a shocking affair after such formal rhetoric. It’s bone-cracking, beam-breaking, bludgeoning stuff which would have superhero fans wet themselves if they cared to look this way. There are three such confrontations as the pages go suddenly silent letting the images roar and bellow for themselves, and my one reservation about this entire adaptation was whether that silence robbed us of some of the best language. “No,” replied Chris, “I can read the original for that.” He’s right, I was wrong, for Hinds has considered his medium – and timing – very carefully.

So from the artist also responsible for adapting THE ODYSSEY, KING LEAR and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, I give you the ancient legend of Beowulf whose first known manuscript after centuries of oral tradition is dated around 1000 AD. In it King Hrothgar builds a banquet hall full of good cheer and revelry until it’s invaded by Grendel, a moor-dwelling man-beast capable of cleaving a man’s head from his body with naught but his black, bare hands. No matter how well armed are King Hrothgar’s men, by morning they are no more than bloody mashed pulps and so for twelve long years the hall goes empty, the heroic King Hrothgar exiled from the heart of his own Danish dominion.

Then arrives Beowulf from a neighbouring territory, announcing his presence with due deference to the mighty Hrothgar but also a determination to rid him of this pestilence. For he has heard word of the accursed Grendel and, if he be so permitted, he would rout the abomination forever. Single-handedly, with neither arms nor armour, he prepares himself for the predatory Grendel to embark on his nocturnal assault. He is committed.

What may surprise those unaccustomed to the original (if you can call any one such) is that this is but the beginning, for Beowulf has an entire life of such challenges ahead of him. He has a kingdom to rule himself, and threats there too which he must stave off. Even in old age far past the peak of his physical prowess a final battle awaits him.

One of the things I love most about Hinds is that he employs a completely different style for each book he works on. THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, for example, is set out of doors and boasts both a line and colour scheme close to Dave McKean’s in CAGES. Similarly within this single book, there’s a startling demarcation between the sequences set in Beowulf’s youth elsewhere and his old age in his own kingdom.

I do apologise to both Gareth Hinds and Walker Books that it’s taken me this long to discover their works but I’m now catching up and totally committed myself.

Buy Beowulf by unknown & Gareth Hinds and read the Page 45 review here


P.S. At the time of typing four of our five current copies are signed for free thanks to the monumentally helpful Philippa Morton from Walker Books. When ordering online you can leave us a note saying “make sure it’s signed”. We’ll guarantee it.

Wonder Struck h/c (£22-50, Scholastic Press) by Brian Selznick…

Fans of The Invention Of Hugo Cabret will be pleased to hear that Brian Selznick has most definitely adhered to the maxim of if ain’t broke, don’t fix it with this follow-up work, as once again we are treated to a beguiling mixture of short bursts of prose interspersed throughout a staggering 460 pages of full-page and the occasional double-page spread of black and white artwork. Selznick has stuck to the same illustration style too of heavily lined, cross-hatched pencilling which adds to the moody and mysterious atmospheric nature of the work.

In a change from Hugo Cabret though, here he ambitiously tackles two parallel stories, one of which is comprised entirely of the prose elements, the other of the artwork, so in fact you could read either independently. The prose story set in 1977 tells of a young boy called Ben, puzzled by something he spots in his mother’s room, whereas the wordless artwork story set in 1927, is of a girl called Rose who is intrigued by something she reads in a newspaper. Both children, who share some similarities in their lives including only having one parent, set out to investigate further and ultimately after some difficult adventuring all round, the two stories do come together in an enchanting manner.

The inherently different nature of this work and also Brian’s art may initially confound some comics purists for sure, but it’s worth persevering with, particularly if you are in the mood to try something a bit different, because above all Selznick is a great storyteller. The Invention Of Hugo Cabret won him myriad plaudits and awards, including achieving #1 status on the New York Times bestseller list, and I can certainly see that WONDER STRUCK is set to follow suit.

Buy Wonder Struck h/c by Brian Selznick and read the Page 45 review here


Amulet vol 4: The Last Council (£8-50, Scholastic Press) by Kazu Kibuishi.

“I feel like I just showed up to a final exam I didn’t study for.”

Attention young ladies, this is early and pre-teen series I’m sure to show you first!

Breathtakingly beautiful fantasy informed by a love of Hayao Miyazaki which now goes sky high to the city of Cielis where Emily, her brother, mother and their anthropomorphic allies have finally secured an audience with the Guardian Council. It’s their aid they need to counter the invasion forces of the Elf King, but the Council don’t appear interested in helping or even listening. Instead they are keener to test Emily’s mettle and what she can do as an apprentice Stonekeeper. It is here, after all, buried deep in the catacombs, that the Mother Stone resides: the original source of the seemingly sentient crystals which grant their wielders such impressive telekinetic powers once they’ve learned how to wield them.

Isolated from Emily, her friends grow suspicious immediately: the once splendid city is now little more than a ghost town whose terrified population hides indoors for fear of arrest. Worse still, those implacable guards who sweep former friends or family away are those thought long-dead. Could it be that Emily’s last hope of help is an even worse nightmare than the one she is so desperate to prevent? Secrets and illusions: it will take new and the unlikeliest of allies – like the Elf King’s son himself – to survive the floating isle but even then, it may be that the enemy has planned further ahead than they thought.

As ever there are some magnificent visual flourishes. The city itself, floating high up in the clouds at sunrise, is a spectacular mix of Florentine Renaissance and Roman Baroque architecture. Miskit And Cogsley discover a secret lagoon with its homestead hidden through a cliff-face cave; Emily’s trial will take into misty, aquatic, Tombraider-like caverns and monumental, death-trap halls; and the final double-page spread at night is dazzling.

We learn a little more of the history of the Council and meet one of its former members who knew Emily’s great-grandfather well. We also get to see Emily really let rip, and I wonder if there’s a clue in the shape of a certain telepathic speech balloon. Hmm… I don’t know how long this series is projected to run, but it’s far from finished here. Nor is Emily.

Buy Amulet vol 4: The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi and read the Page 45 review here


PS Magazine: The Best Of Preventive Maintenances Monthly h/c (£13-99, Abrams Comicart) by Will Eisner…

Humorous and rather zany collection of material from the great man that appeared in the US Army’s Preventative Maintenance magazine between 1951 and 1971, with a view primarily to teaching the soldiers how to get the best out of their equipment. You would think it would be tricky to make such a dry brief come to life, yet Eisner succeeds through his cast of comic characters like the sneaky Joe Dope, the lazy Sgt. Half-Mast McCanick and the improbably glamorous Connie Rodd.

I’m quite sure that was the secret to Eisner’s success with these strips actually, because every serviceman would have known someone like Dope and Sgt. McCanick in their own regiments and would, I’m quite sure, have loved to have a gal like Connie Rodd teach them how to strip down an engine!

This material put me much in mind of Mort Walker’s classic comic strip Beetle Bailey about lazy and inept G.I.s. and given that particular strip started in September 1950, I wonder whether Eisner drew any inspiration from it? Maybe, maybe not, but nonetheless this material has a charm all of its own and it’s easy to see why serving soldiers avidly lapped it up. It’s stood the test of time surprisingly well, and certainly serves to show how a little lateral thinking in the presentation of salient information can probably succeed in inspiring people to do something correctly, particularly when they’ve become inured to their Sgt. Major screaming and shouting at them all day long!

Ps Magazine: The Best Of Preventive Maintenances Monthly hardcover By Will Eisner


Drawing From Memory h/c (£13-50, Scholastic Press) by Allen Say…

Somewhat self-indulgent autobiographical work, which is most definitely illustrated prose rather than comics, even though the prose itself is on the ultra-minimal side. This is in fact a collection of very different illustrations of vastly varying quality, plus some photographs which, in conjunction with a few appropriate comments and recollections, recounts the childhood and early illustrative career of Allen Say. I have no idea whether any of his other award-winning fictional works are actually comics, but sad to say this work probably wouldn’t make me too bothered to find out. Sure it’s a well put together, if a little dull, look back at various pivotal moments in Say’s early life that ensured he ended up becoming an artist, despite his father’s wishes. The favourite thing about it for me was actually the spot-gloss cover of a teenage boy, presumably Say floating in mid-air with a beatific smile on his face against a plain yellow background. If it’s autobiographical comics about a manga master you’re after, then look no further than Jirō Taniguchi and A ZOO IN WINTER.

Buy Drawing From Memory h/c by Allen Say and read the Page 45 review here


Supergod (£13-50, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Garrie Gastonny…

“In any other situation, Perun would have been a devastating field deployment. Not that the Indian deployment was what you’d call entirely unsuccessful. Astonishing piece of engineering really. Fitting all that inside a man.
“There wasn’t really a man inside there though. Not anyone you’d recognise as human.
“The chunk of the previous iteration’s brain that survived Grenada, the part that’d learned to interface with mechanical limbs and onboard computers… they’d managed to clone that part. A few times. Perun actually had four sub-brains scattered around the container of his body, running his systems or seated as back-ups.
“More than any of them, I think Perun represented the true beginning of the industrialisation of human intelligence.”

Excellently disturbing speculative fiction recounted from the viewpoint of a scientist recording his memories for posterity amidst the smouldering ruins of London – well, pretty much the smouldering ruins of the entire world, in fact. The new arms race for the 21st century turned out to be building superhumans, except this time around the doomsday clock hit midnight and the bells began to well and truly toll, potentially signalling the end of all humanity. It’s science gone barking mad and every Daily Mail reader’s worst nightmare…

Very clever stuff, this from Warren, as our surviving scientist details the various countries’ very different attempts to engineer themselves a superhuman weapon, using science so far beyond the cutting edge, it’s clear all the scientists to a hapless man haven’t got a clue about the potential outcomes of their own experiments. Inevitably, of course, one such experiment finds its way out of a highly secure (ho ho) research bunker and into the world at large, and from that point on the other countries feel they have little choice but to deploy their own superhumans, no matter what their current state of readiness.

I loved the fact that the story is told at breakneck pace as confrontation after confrontation between the various combatants occur, and I also loved the absolutely realistic aspect, to me at least, that were confrontations ever to occur between such highly engineered superbeings, that inevitably one protagonist will always hold an advantage over another, meaning any such conflict is always likely to be resolved in mere seconds. No ridiculously long, drawn-out slug-fests, this is competitive evolution writ large, as ultimately the world can only ever be big enough for one supergod. If the world’s not completely destroyed in the process of working out just who that top dog is, mind you. And once the conflicts are over, what then? Will the victor ultimately view its creators with compassion? Or is humanity now so far beneath them as to be completely insignificant?

Buy Supergod by Warren Ellis & Garrie Gastonny and read the Page 45 review here


Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22 (£11-99, Harper) by MariNaomi…

Hmm, I did actually quite enjoy the first six pages or so of this, probably because I am a big autobiography fan and I thought, initially at least, that this was something which had great potential, but I have to say it all went rather self-indulgent after that, primarily because it is just so, so one-dimensional. It has the feel of a teenager’s diary, with all that promises (like the hilariously ludicrous UNLOVEABLE), but never rises above that premise at all. It’s just page after page of flatly presented… ‘then I did this, then I did that, then I kissed him, then I fucked this other guy, then I took some drugs and got randomly got fucked by someone else…’.

It just seems all rather childishly prurient to me (and I’m certainly no prude), and perhaps in places even a touch boastful. There’s virtually no attempt at insight, with the exception of about four panels in the entire book, just endlessly repetitive cataloguing of different sexual encounters split into chapter by the name of the relevant protagonist. So in that respect of chapter nomenclature it has one thing in common with Chester Brown’s PAYING FOR IT, but whereas the meticulous recitation of Chester’s sexual encounters are merely a mechanism for an intriguing excavation of Chester’s psyche, laid completely bare for us to explore in excruciatingly honest detail, and in some people’s cases be ridiculously judgemental over, this is just… crass.

If this were written by a man, the same idiots who criticised Brown would be screaming from the rooftops; instead no doubt they’re applauding. If you want to read something autobiographical by a female author that’s incredibly well written and indeed remarkably insightful, look no further than THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL by Phoebe Glockner. Profoundly moving, and also a touch heartbreaking, it is a deeply intuitive analysis of self-destructive teen behaviour.

What redeems this book somewhat though is the art. Yes, it is clearly very heavily influenced by PERSEPOLIS and FORGET SORROW: AN ANCESTRAL TALE (both tremendously powerful and sophisticated autobiographical works by female authors which we will be recommending to people at Page 45 for years to come), but there is also a touch of John Porcellino thrown in there too with the thumbnails of the boys’ heads that each chapter is titled after. Occasionally the style does wobble a bit, and some pages seem oddly jarring in respective to those immediately preceding / following stylistically, but still, the work is by and large, nicely illustrated. It’s just a shame it’s so deeply unimaginative.

Kiss and Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 To 22 By Marinaomi


Moriarty vol 1: The Dark Chamber (£10-99, Image) by Daniel Corey & Anthony Diecidue.

As WWI dawns, Holmes has been dead for 20 years. But Moriarty is blackmailed by MI5 into finding Holmes’ brother Mycroft. Then it all gets a bit action / horror.

Buy Moriarty vol 1: The Dark Chamber by Daniel Corey & Anthony Diecidue here


Carbon Grey vol 1: Sisters At War (£7-50, Image) by Hoang Nguyen, more & Hoang Nguyen, more.

Before reading the book it felt like the sort of material Humanoids or Games Workshop would be interested in: big, painted sky fights with Zeppelins, futuristic rifles, Germanic insignia and head-shots clean through the skull. Okay, messily through the skull and leaving very little head on those shoulders. Shampoo is certainly redundant for some here.

I can see a specific appeal for Games Workshop fans too, but in reality although there is much barely contained, oversized boobage (and some knowing jokes about that) and a severing of heads, it’s a murky melange of artists and writers working so at odds with each other that the end result is barely decipherable without the aid of their original solicitation copy, to wit:

“At the birth of the industrial age a great war rages. Into chaos twins are born Mathilde and Giselle, the Sisters Grey. Beautiful yet deadly the sisters are sworn to protect the Kaiser, ruler of Mitteleuropa. When the Kaiser is found dead Giselle is accused of his murder. Pursued by her sister and hunted by the enemy Giselle must clear her name and unravel the prophecy of the Carbon Grey before history itself is rewritten.”

Thank Christ there are no prophecies in my life. I don’t know about you but mine’s quite complicated enough as it is without turning it into a cryptic crossword puzzle and second-guessing my way round Sainsbury’s.

It does boast some genuinely impressive, painted art and the odd flourish of the unexpected, but also the most monstrously mixed storytelling whereby the voice-over persuades you that you’re looking at the protagonist being addressed rather than one waiting around the corner. It’s impossible to tell who’s who, what’s happening or how. It jumps and jerks and lurches around like a golem with St. Vitus Dance. I suspect it was created in snippets over a period of time with no real conviction that it would ever be required to join up and present itself coherently. A bit like myself at 3am, massacring minstrels on Assassin Creed: Brotherhood and pretending that the morning will never come.

Basically, though: there should have been three Sisters Grey in any given generation but this one boasts four because the last to be born had a twin. That is Mathilde, and she is a force for revolution.

Buy Carbon Grey vol 1: Sisters At War by Hoang Nguyen, more & Hoang Nguyen, more and read the Page 45 review here


Crossed vol 2: Family Values (£14-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & Javier Barreno…

Of CROSSED VOLUME ONE I often tell customers that it was the sickest thing I read in 2010. And I mean that in a positive way! It is perhaps inevitable in the switch in writer from Ennis to Lapham with this volume, that Lapham was always going to try and take things even further. At this point I should therefore say he certainly succeeded as this is truly, truly vile. It might even, just possibly, be too much for me in the sense that in ramping up the shock element even further, it does begin this time around slightly to feel as though it’s all being done purely for effect. And that’s even allowing for the fact there was a man shouting “Horsecock!” whilst waving around a horse’s cock in volume one!

It’s just that whereas in volume one there was always an undercurrent of extremely dark humour to offset the sheer, mind-melting horror of this particular corner of post-apocalyptica, in volume two I didn’t find any humour at all. And that, perhaps, just tips things over the edge for me personally. A good comparison in my mind would be that the first Saw film, and arguably also the second, had an intriguing storyline that justified the extreme gore, whereas films three onwards were pure torture porn for the sake of it, and thus for at least unwatchable rubbish. I don’t know, I mean Lapham is a really talented writer who does love to go places other writers wouldn’t ever think of going e.g. YOUNG LIARS, and granted if there is one series in which a writer is entitled to be completely let off the leash it is this one, but even so… I suspect then, as I am rather broadminded and most definitely do enjoy a good dose of horror and / or violence in my entertainment, that this volume will divide those who enjoyed volume one. I‘m genuinely looking forward to hearing from customers who read this particular volume as to what their opinions are.

So… once again, it’s not the actions of the Crossed which are the most shocking, but the survivors: in this case Joe, the family patriarch whose relatives and also several other survivors look to for leadership and guidance, in the relatively idyllic valley hideaway they’ve managed to establish for themselves. Unfortunately for all concerned Joe isn’t adverse to abusing his position whenever the mood takes him, which seems to be pretty often. Eventually one family member finds the courage to stand up to him, then add the Crossed into the mix at the most inopportune moment and, of course, much carnage ensues.

I actually preferred the storyline in the CROSSED 3D short, also penned by Lapham, as there was some genuine plot to it compared to here, though even that also did stretch the realms of plausibility a touch too far towards the end of the story. I haven’t read any of the issues for volume three yet, also penned by Lapham, so I can’t make any comment on where things go after this volume… though judging by the covers I’ve seen as they’ve been coming in one dreads to think…

Buy Crossed vol 2: Family Values by David Lapham & Javier Barreno and read the Page 45 review here


Secret Warriors vol 6: Wheels Within Wheels h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Alessandro Vitti.

Final volume, and I can promise you that all will be explained!

Alternatively: final volume, and all I can promise you is one long explanation. That’s all this is. The Secret Warriors do actually appear in one panel, though, so, you know…


Buy Secret Warriors vol 6: Wheels Within Wheels h/c by Jonathan Hickman & Alessandro Vitti here


Uncanny X-Men: Breaking Point s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Carlos Pacheco, Terry Dodson, Ibraim Roberson.

“No, I think it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ‘smile for the camera’.”

From the fiercely funny writer of PHONOGRAM, DARK AVENGERS: ARES, THOR and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, Gillen’s solo run kicks off with how you go about spin-doctoring a world-renowned supervillain and species separatist called Magneto whom the world once saw levelling New York now that he’s living with the X-Men on an island off San Francisco. Okay, it wasn’t actually Magneto in New York, it was an impostor, but you try telling New Yorkers that. The terrorist’s certainly responsible for plenty more, and his sense of humour doesn’t do him any favours. If he’s actually joking. Here’s Kate Kildare, a woman of quick wit who doesn’t do ‘intimidated’ in spite of Magneto’s distaste for the P.R. he calls propaganda. Or maybe he’s just irked that someone’s better at it than he’s tried to be. I like her already:

“’P.R.’ was coined by Edward Bernays in the ‘20s. ‘Propaganda’ had somehow picked up a bad reputation in the war. So he started calling it P.R. instead. Plain brilliant rebranding: something everyone with an ounce of sanity despises transformed into something just about palatable. Even necessary. That’s what we’ve got to do to you. We have to make this work. And if we don’t, you need to leave this island immediately. Because if you stay, everyone’s dead. Sooner or later, you’re going to attract something even you can’t stop.”

In all honesty rebranding Magneto would take a miracle: an Act of God – one that only Magneto could prevent. Now remind me, what exactly is the tectonic history of San Francisco…?

The first issue here is so well played with gloriously glossy art from Pacheco. After that Terry Dodson takes over a direct follow up to Joss Whedon’s final fourth volume of ASTONISHING X-MEN during which Colossus and co. toppled an entire alien civilisation called Breakworld. Now the warrior race is seeking sanctuary and the X-Men feel obliged to take them in. What could possibly go wrong with that?

It’s a story about pride, dignity and trust; leadership, love and relationships. It focuses heavily on Colossus and Kitty Pryde whose own relationship has already twice been shattered by either one of them being presumed dead. Kitty herself spent an age alone stranded in space after Breakworld attempted to break planet Earth with a very, very big bullet. There’s a lot of healing to be done on all sides, and Gillen explores almost every aspect you can imagine of this complex new dynamic of a race now seeking sanctuary in the land of their conquerors.

“It must be hard for them. They never had to get used to being scared. By their rules, they probably think we’re about to slaughter them… Katya, what do we do? How can we even start?”
“Same as any relationship, big guy. We start by being interested. Being interested and listening.”

But if you think that sounds a bit heavy, I can assure you that all hell will break loose before very long, and Kitty will have to almost as much running as she did on her first night alone in the X-Mansion. Also Gillen is, as I’ve said, a very funny man so back to the opening chapter and here’s another recent recruit, King Namor The Submariner, getting pretty peeved at extortionists disguised as A.I.M. agents in their gauzed, honey-coloured hoods threatening to start an earthquake:

“Your arrogance sickens me, beekeeper. Only Namor has the ability to make the earth move. And reserves that privilege for one woman at a time. Unless they have experimental friends.”

What an imperious rex.

Buy Uncanny X-Men: Breaking Point s/c by Kieron Gillen & Carlos Pacheco, Terry Dodson, Ibraim Roberson and read the Page 45 review here


New X-Men vol 5 (Digest) (£10-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Keron Grant, Frank Quitely.

Emma Frost: “Hypercortisone D. They call it “Kick,” God bless the little dears. It makes them feel like movie stars, being directed by God, on location in Heaven… We found this dispenser outside the Common Room window. I’ve tried it, of course… in the interests of science. I felt angelic and violently insane for five hours. I foresee trouble if this becomes widespread.”


Quentin Quire: “You’re always encouraging us to dream… I just wondered what would happen if one of us had a dream you didn’t like?”


Charles Xavier: “These clothes, the angry slogans, are just the outward signs… he’s developing a small cult following. With a dangerous anti-human undercurrent. If any of our students were found to be involved in these latest killings… I’ve always feared something like this – trouble from within.”


When Jumbo Carnation, flamboyant clothes designer and mutant cause célèbre, becomes the latest victim of anti-mutant hatred, it’s one last nail in the coffin of tolerance for some of the younger students at Professor Xavier’s school. They’ve seen 16,000 mutants massacred in Genosha with human technology, their self-proclaimed mentor has been trying to win the battle for integration and peaceful co-existence for years, and to Quentin Quire, a bitter teenage with all the dopamine that comes with those years, the goal is no nearer to being accomplished than it was when Xavier began. All it takes is one profound emotional trauma and a blast of Kick, and it’s going to grow nastier than any of the students or teachers can imagine.

Morrison’s brilliance throughout this series has been to refine the spectacle, mechanics and melodrama of the superpowered mutant as outsider, and marry them to historical and contemporary social issues, popular youth trends, and throw in a lot of style while he’s at it. For the Genoshan genocide, read Holocaust; for the assault on Jumbo, read queer bashing; and then there’s always been that logic-defying racism within the football and music camp, when key players in both are quite patently black. All this and so much more – from reclaiming the language and imagery of bigotry, to recreational drugs, globalisation and modern evolutionary theory – has been tailored to fit this mutant soap opera and turn it into something refreshingly relevant and deliciously witty. And the icing on the cake, if you’ll excuse the pun, has to be the sybaritic Emma Frost, perpetually detached, self-important and superficial, whose complacent calm in the heart of the bloody storm is rendered by Quitely with total panache:

“It looks like you were right about Master Quire and his band of bad haircuts. This is quite appalling!”
“We told you, Miss Frost! We knew he’d ruin our Open Day! He wants to make a mess of everything.”
“I’m sure it’s just another petulant cry for help, girls. I don’t know what it is with young people these days, but I do miss the imagination and verve of the little zealots I used to teach. There was a wild, romantic light in their eyes and they threw themselves into the fray at every turn. Now it’s all bored stares, vague demands and a few broken windows. Hardly the stuff of mutant legend.”
“But weren’t they all killed, Miss Frost? The students you used to teach?”
“There were one or two fatalities, yes… but for heaven’s sake, Esme. Let’s try not to dwell on the down side.”

Imagination, flair and a keen fashion sense – when they’re on top form Quitely and Morrison make reading the X-Men a chic thrill for grown-ups rather than a guilty addiction for the undemanding.

[Editor’s note: this reprints material that was originally in RIOT AT XAVIERS which was once book four!]

Buy New X-Men vol 5 by Grant Morrison & Keron Grant, Frank Quitely and read the Page 45 review here


Demon Knights #1 (£2-25, DC) by Paul Cornell & Diogenes Neves.

“I come from an island where men are castrated – and the women are pleased.”

Ladies, I invite to you introduce yourselves in precisely that manner to someone at sometime this week, then advise me of your reception.

So old, we’re told, but if I may be so bold, here be something new: a dragon age of sword and sorcery Paul Cornell-style, irreverently puncturing its form with contemporary slang and slotting its recombined cast of DC’s immortal entities into new roles and a fresh environment. So it is that Jason Blood, Madame Xanadu and Vandal Savage find themselves reminiscing over a pint down the local tavern just as the locality finds itself the target of a queen’s invading horde. Sir Ystin, Al Jabr and the charming Exoristos – she of the gelded isle – have barely introduced themselves when the questing queen’s outriders burst in(n) through the doors which Savage has already vandalised and find themselves burned by the bad breath of Etrigan. If our sorcerous six want to wassail, they must smite for their right to party.


Red Lanterns #1 (£2-25, DC) by Peter Milligan & Ed Benes.

“What are you doing to my cat?”

Best line in the book as Atrocitus bursts through a spaceship’s hull to rescue his fellow feline Red Lantern. After that it’s mostly him raging about not being angry enough to successfully lead his legion of wrathful followers. Cue secret origin or something. Meh. Out of the three DC New 52s I read this week, two of them began with scenes of torture. Just saying.


Suicide Squad #1 (£2-25, DC) by Adam Glass & Federico Dallocchio, Ransom Getty, Scott Hanna.

This was actually one long torture sequence as the Suicide Squad – prisoners paroled to execute others – are tested to the limits in order to extract the name of their covert commander. We learn how Harlequin, Deadshot and El Diablo came to be banged up in the first place, and just how voracious King Shark’s appetite is. King Shark, by the way, is an anthropomorphic hammerhead of few words but much munching, and I anticipate this becoming a running joke. Him, I quite liked. The torture scene art had some fine light and textures; the visuals outside that arena of pain were horrible.


Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews to follow or already up if they’re s/cs of h/cs etc. Regardless, you can now go straight to these books in the shopping area simply by clicking on their names

Habibi h/c (£20-00, Faber&Faber) by Craig Thompson

The Armed Garden And Other Stories h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by David B.

Don Quixote vol 1 (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Miguel De Cervantes & Rob Davis

The Man Who Grew His Beard (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Oliver Schrauwen

The Magic Of Reality h/c (£20-00, Bantam Press) by Richard Dawkins & Dave McKean

Evelyn Evelyn: A Tragic Tale In Two Tomes (Slipcased Ed’n) (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Amanda Palmer, Jason Webley & Cynthia Von Buhler

Prison Pit Book 3 (£9-99, Fantagraphics) by Johnny Ryan

The Astonishing Secret Of Awesome Man h/c (£13-50, B&B) by Michael Chabon & Jake Parker

Zahra’s Paradise h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Amir & Khalil

Chew vol 4: Flambé (£9-99, Image) by John Layman & Rob Guillory

The Eye Of The World: The Graphic Novel vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Tor) by Robert Jordan, Chuck Dixon & Chase Conley

Ruse: The Victorian Guide To Murder (£10-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Mirco Pierfederici, Minck Oosterveer

Morning Glories vol 2 (£9-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma

Clive Barker’S Hellraiser: Pursuit Of The Flesh (£7-50, Boom!) by Clive Barker & Leonardo Manco, Stephen Thompson

Mass Effect: Evolution vol 2 (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Maac Walters, John Jackson Miller & Omar Francia

Demon City Shinjuku (Prose) (£10-99, DMP) by Hideyuki Kikuchi & Jun Suemi

Halo: Fall Of Reach: Bootcamp s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Brian Reed & Felix Ruiz

Marvel Illustrated: Dracula (£12-99, Marvel) by Bram Stoker & Roy Thomas, Dick Giordano

Spider-Man: The Vengeance Of Venom (£25-99, Marvel) by David Michelinie, Peter David & Mark Bagley, Jim Craig, Paris Cullins, Erik Larsen, Ron Lim, Aaron Lopresti, Tod Smith

Ultimate Comics Thor s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Carlos Pacheco

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 3: Death Of Spider-Man Prelude S/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli, David LaFuente, Lan Medina, Ed Tadeo, Elena Casagrande, Chris Samnee, Justin Ponsor, Joleele Jones, Sunny Gho, Sakti Yuwono, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, Scottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu

Hayate Combat Butler vol 18 (£6-99, Viz) by Kenjiro Hata

Art Of Metal Gear Solid h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Ashley Wood

Blue Estate vol 1 (£9-99, Image) by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, Andrew Osborne & Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Robert Valley, Paul Maybury

Reviews September 2011 week two

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

 In anticipation of our Anders Nilsen signing and slide show on Sunday October 16th (details here: LINK), it’s an absolute privilege to have his masterful BIG QUESTIONS reviewed by one of Page 45’s original team and current website wonder, our very own Dominique Kidd!

Big Questions s/c (£33-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anders Nilsen –

“… that’s nonsense. It’s some sort of house – like a human nest, sort of. They can’t fly themselves so they figured out a way to build a house that can. I mean, it only makes sense, if you couldn’t fly on your own, you’d have to figure out something.”

What a beautiful book! I read many individual issues of this story over the years, but to see them put together like this is something else entirely.

I don’t know about you but the reason I like to read is to take myself off into another life for a bit. Stories give access to a whole different world that you can live in for a while, that stays in your head after you have stopped reading. A place where you can think about things in a different light, similar to a dream but more defined. When people make books, if they do it right, they give us a whole other place to wander about in and that is certainly what Anders Nilsen has achieved here with his expressive little birds and expansive, supernaturally serene landscapes.

Drawn over the course of 15 years (!) these little strips in sometimes contrasting styles have somehow been put together to make one arcing, engaging whole. A light-hearted beginning leads us nicely into the story, introducing all the elements, dipping in and out of different parts, lulling us and drawing us into the worlds of the different players. We start to meet the birds, animals and humans who live on this patch of land and as we do we start to note the little differences in the personalities of the birds; curious, philosophical, nervous, distinctly average, self-important, each bird has their own take on things. And as we meet the birds we start to see our own world reflected in theirs.

When a plane drops an unexploded bomb and it lands with a thud in their territory, to some the answer is simple: it is hard, so it must be an egg, hence we should look after it until it hatches. To others it is just a big heavy thing that fell to earth and almost squished them; it is dangerous and should be left well alone. Like humans arguing over whether the earth is round or flat the birds are limited by their frame of reference: bird, egg, hatchling, predator, food. Almost immediately each one sets themselves a position and sticks to it, the narrow-minded and self-important taking it upon themselves to declare the “egg” a Gift and Sacred Responsibility, the argumentative and disdainful declaring that to be nonsense. And in the middle, the thoughtful and open-minded asking questions to which no-one will give them a straight answer, thus stranding them in a powerless no-mans land.

This is repeated when the pilot crash lands his plane (a featherless bird? a flying nest which malfunctioned?) and sets up camp. Is he dangerous, special or uninteresting? Should we bring him food or ignore him and eat it ourselves? And what of the plane? Why is it that as soon as someone takes it upon themselves to guard the wreck they feel they have the right to give orders, set up hierarchies, start with the “if you are not for us you are against us” speeches? Why is curiosity and investigation so frowned upon? The birds who set themselves up in roles slowly become defined by them: Charlotte the Evangelist, Betty the guilty gatherer of bones, Bayle, obsessed by the idea of being grasped by human hands, Algernon, haunted by the loss of his mate, searching. Even the dead stick around: skeletal birds who describe death as similar to life, just a bit “less”.

So now we can see what the title is all about: big questions. It’s a heavy-sounding one which contrasts gloriously with the inherent lightness I found the book to have. Yes the space is deep and wide, but Nilsen has made it so easy to travel, so engaging and beautiful. The word I keep coming back to is pleasurable; it is a pleasure to read and a joy to look at, full of air and light and room. Plot-wise I have barely touched on many aspects of the story; I made pages and pages of notes as I read and a list of the themes (the inscrutable swans) and nuances (the shadow of the plane overhead) could go on for paragraphs. But I fear saying too much in my enthusiasm; I don’t want to suck the life out of such a vibrant work with my interpretations, I want you to read it for yourself because I could never do it justice in a review.

But what I can wax lyrical about it the art, the production values and the sheer gorgeousness of the book! At just shy of 600 pages it is massive. Little fold-out flaps inside the front and back covers show portraits and profiles of all the main players, bomb and plane included. Full-page title panels abound, as do white-on-black spirograph patterns (remember spirograph?!) adding to the sense of space and acting like little rest stops along the journey, pacing the book beautifully. Art-wise the inevitable comparison is with John Porcellino, so simple and naive are many of Nilsen’s strips. However, other parts of the book are more detailed, some fine-art-esque. Here is a guy who definitely “can draw” and just chooses to do so in different ways at different times. This helps to keep the book fresh and lively and works wonderfully with the different arcs and themes of the story. There’s some Chris Ware in there too in some of the layouts and title pages and in some of the landscapes and more spacious panels I saw elements of Jiro Taniguchi. Being from Drawn & Quarterly the production values are great, of course: the cover and spine matte white, embossed and delicately coloured, the pages crisp black and white; there’s even a fold-out page part way through; just lovely.

So yeah, when I read a book I like it to absorb me and to stay with me for a time. I recently read a couple of prose books, hefty things by acclaimed authors and pretty good they were too. They engaged me, they stayed with me, but with this book I was able to wander; to sink into it and to want to go back. To have not just words but images and landscapes floating about my head long after I put the book aside; to have a simple line drawing of a worm express as much to me about life and loss as a paragraph of words. I suppose there we have it: the beauty of comics.



Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot h/c (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Jean-Patrick Manchette & Jacques Tardi…

“It was winter, and it was night time. An icy wind, having blown straight down from the Arctic, funnelled into the Irish Sea, swept over Liverpool, and raced across the Cheshire Plain, where cats flattened their ears, shivering, upon hearing it rumble in the chimneys.
The wind blew over the small Bedford van’s lowered window, straight into the eyes of the man sitting within.
The man did not blink.
He stepped out of the van, pushed the silencer against the girl’s heart, and squeezed the trigger once.
The girl flew backwards, the sound of her bowels emptying, and fell onto her back dead. The man climbed into the Bedford and drove off.”

Another brilliant adaptation of a Jean-Patrick Manchette crime novel by Jacques Tardi. If you liked WEST COAST BLUES, well, you absolutely will love this. If you are a crime fan and haven’t read that work yet, you really must as for whatever reason, it is something that tends to get overlooked. Yes, Tardi’s art style is completely unique and can take a little adjusting to if you’re only used to conventional American / UK styles, but give it a go because he brings gritty crime to brutal, realistic life – and indeed equally cold, hard unpleasant death – like few others can. He also employs a very different style, with thicker lines and much more black-ink shadowing to the altogether much more breezy, colourful, typically ligne claire style he employs for his own more fantastical and nonsensical works like THE ARCTIC MARAUDER and THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC. But for these crime pieces and also his distinctly anti-war WW1 opus IT WAS THE WAR OF THE TRENCHES, this darker style is entirely appropriate.

Extremely unusual for me to start a review talking about the art, I suppose, but I am a big Tardi fan and would love more of you to try his work. I am also most definitely a Manchette fan. This is no-nonsense, hard-hitting, right-across-the-bridge-of-your-nose-with-the-butt-of-a-gun action, chock full of characters you wouldn’t want to cross, let alone double-cross. All Martin Terrier, hitman for hire, wants to do is retire peacefully, but of course those who have made use of his services over the years aren’t about to let him go into his dotage that easily now, are they? And so it is that Terrier finds the relatives of one of his previous, more nefarious victims hot on his tail for revenge, preferably of the slow and painful kind. Can Martin turn the tables before all his friends and lovers are bumped off in an attempt to draw him out into the open? Maybe. But, the other thing I love about Manchette is you don’t get the ending you expect, and I’ll leave things on that slightly mysterious note!



The Hidden h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Richard Sala.

Isn’t the creative process fascinating? I no longer have access to what Fantagraphics actually wrote, but this was my summary of the solicitation in October 2010:

“Eight people stranded by snow at a diner, their phones picking up mere shards of conversation. The static-ridden radio announces some global catastrophe in bursts. The already jittery customers decided it would be a good idea to freak each other out with dreams and anecdotes that don’t end well. Oh, and a dangerous inmate has just discharged himself from hospital.”

Not a single element survives except the static-ridden radio announcement now heard by Colleen and Tom who are driving down the mountains at night, but it’s definitely the end of the world! The first town they found was empty and obliterated, cars abandoned, girders toppled over rubble. There’s no food, no working cars, just a guy they’ve found lost in a cave who somehow feels responsible. As they make their way to the remote desert diner the bearded man is convinced lies but a day away, they’re spotted by Sally and Glen who’ve just finished catering for a millionaire media mogul and his gathering of the rich and famous at a secret party also in the middle of nowhere. They stepped outside for a cigarette at just the right moment. What they heard next was disturbing; what happened next was horrific. What lies in wait for them at the diner? Dinner or disaster?

There be monsters; monsters of man’s own making.

This is Sala’s second book in colour, rich in red and orange, but it’s the first, I believe, to dispense with all hope and humour – apart from the man with the Marty Feldman eyes. He’s taken the Edward out of Gorey and the tongue from his cheek, replacing it there with shovels, hatchets and stakes!

By far the finest scenes for me were Glen and Sally’s recollection of the media mogul’s coterie: bloated, wizened, corporate grotesques in suits and ties, guzzling smugly away on free fine wine which soon sends them barking. It’s an orgy of blood, tissue and mass mutilation as they tear each other to pieces, each page coming off as the most savage of satirical, political cartoons. Successfully, I might add.



Velveteen & Mandala (£12-99, Vertical) by Jiro Matsumoto ~

On a grassy river bed a scruffy-looking blonde girl lies in an abandoned tank, delusional from hunger. Her ‘friend’ Mandala isn’t faring any better. Despite managing to always have food she is also demented beyond all reasoning, breaking down at the most inconvenient times and repeating “Tape Recorder.” Each day a cargo plane flies overhead and drops dead bodies, which are then swarmed by ladybirds. Not too far off in a shabby cabin a teenage boy called ‘The Super’ loads his gun and gets ready to tag the dead. But the girls just wish he would put some trousers on, and once night falls and the recently dead wake up again, he’ll wish he had.

Velveteen’s world is an affront to reality, it’s positively Lynchian. Dreams and premonitions blend into her reality in an almost nonsensical way, until a very sly twist in the last few pages snaps together this surreal puzzle. But what a wonderful picture it makes. This book is full of references to pop-culture, and like SCOTT PILGRIM and KING CITY, at times they become integral story telling tools. And there’s something about blatant references to Final Fantasy in other media that I find slightly edifying, particularly the use of attack menu. Ask anyone who’s clocked up serious hours playing SquareEnix games over the years, and they say they walk around with a little menu interface popping up in their minds like Velveteen does. You’ll have to squint to spot the references to Evangelion, but Miyazaki’s films are used as common reference describing the situation and as a result they don’t feel shoehorned in for the sake of it.  This is particularly strange and affecting when Velveteen, who at this point is far from being sane, tries to play a tragic rendition of the theme from My Neighbour Totoro, arguably Miyazaki’s greatest children’s film, on the piano. Even the setting is a nod to the Sanzu River (Japanese Buddhist river of the dead), though far more toxic and indiscriminately punishing to all who find themselves on its banks. This comes together beautifully, but like the aforementioned David Lynch, Jiro’s demented world may be too abrasive for some, but just saying that is like a challenge to others (you know who you are!).



Find Chaffy (£5-99, Barrons) by Jamie Smart.

I spent a mirthful morning in bed with these ten errant Chaffies whose fellow white fluffy-folk have a knack for getting lost. All over the country these meeping maniacs have been spotted and photographed straying perilously close to coastal cliffs and lawnmowers. With an appetite for… well, eating… they’re impetuous, easily distracted and prone to getting lost in a crowd. Some of them are masters of disguise and it certainly doesn’t help that they’re small enough to squeeze themselves into a jam jar. With jam in it!

Do you think you have what it takes to spot these mischief makers in the crowds of cats, ghosts, dinosaurs, and octopuses? Can you chase out Chaffy from the ninja quest for the rare green lotus before it actually eats the rare green lotus? (Answer: no, you can’t.) It’s actually quite the challenge!

Long-time Jamie Smart fans will be delighted to see the return of the Angry Robots: Dorkin-esque design triumphs with their waddling petulance and arm-waving exasperation. There’s no shortage of fun to be had in the details here; so much happening on each double-page spread populated with hundreds of pandas, sheep, pigs and bears – each given that distinctive Jamie Smart treatment – that you may be so distracted yourselves that you fail to hand it onto to whichever young reader you bought it for. It’s not just about finding the Chaffies, either: there’s the journey itself which will have you chuckling away at Smart’s stupidity which – I can tell you – is infinite.

From the creator of SPACE RAOUL, BEAR and UBU BUBU, as well as the curator of FAT CHUNK: ROBOT and Fat Chunk: Zombies. Secret ingredient: glee.

Please note: SPACE RAOUL is also suitable for younger, more impressionable minds as long as you don’t mind them being impressed. The others, definitely not for the younger ones!



Bake Sale (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Sara Varon.

Eggplant is an aubergine, Cupcake is a cupcake, and this is another tale of friendship from the creator of ROBOT DREAMS. But whereas ROBOT DREAMS was built on an early twist so unexpectedly harsh that ninety-five percent of its sales here have gone to adults (I think we’ve each of us at some point in our lives has felt left on the proverbial beach), this one is aimed squarely at younger, wide-eyed readers with a love of soft sponge and sugar frosting.

Cupcake runs a small bakery by day, then practises drumming in his band by night. Life’s pretty good and looks even better when Eggplant invites him to visit Aunt Aubergine, a world-renowned cook in Turkey. But how to afford the air fare? Reluctantly Cupcake gives up his role in the band so he can take his tasty produce on the road and diligently develops new fondant fancies, each themed according to the festival he attends. He’s slightly dismayed to discover himself so quickly replaced on drums by a potato (“A potato?! Everyone knows potatoes have no rhythm!”) but soldiers on like a trooper until Eggplant breaks the disastrous news that he’s out of work and can’t afford the ticket himself. Having sacrificed so much for the opportunity to benefit from Aunt Aubergine’s inspiration, what is Cupcake to do? Like any good friend, instead of flying to Turkey himself he buys Eggplant’s ticket for him.

Gamely he waves Eggplant off but his motivation has waned and things start to unravel when he finds himself late for work then settling for second-best with two-day old coffee, stale cakes and brownies. As for the blackboard behind the counter, instead of a long list of freshly baked Specialities Of The Day, it simply reads, “Nothing is special today”. When he goes to watch his old band parade through the streets and clapped on without him, it’s a physical disaster. Whatever will be left of Cupcake and his customers on Eggplant’s return?

I knew it couldn’t be all sweetness and light with Sara Varon at the helm, but eventually things start to look up again and there’s a life lesson worth learning very early on: there’s no substitute for giving less than 100%. You know it when you do it, and it’ll just make you unhappy. Note to self: your customers will know it too.

Don’t fret about being unable to read the full recipes over Cupcake’s shoulders as he embarks on a new mouth-watering experiment: they’re all printed in full at the back!


Chimichanga h/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell…

“We’ve done it!”
“I want this wall torn down and this stuff thrown out.”
“Sir, what’s going on?”
“We’re shutting down your research and development wing, Dr. Lundy, to make way for our new Gas-xxxtream product.”
“But sir, I’ve done it! I just discovered the cure for cancer! Not a trace of malignant cells can be found in these rats! We just need to start human testing!”
“Can’t be helped. You’re out.”
“B-but… the cure for cancer!!!”
“Doctor! Do you know how many millions suffer from painful dehabilitating explosive gas every day?! You would deny them treatment?! Have you no soul?!”
“You’re scrapping the cure for cancer so people won’t have explosive farts?”
“Harvey, transfer the doctor to our Siberian facility.”

Can I actually make a confession at this point? I’ve never read any GOON which Eric Powell is renowned for writing, though I did read the Goon / Dethlok crossover which was collected as a backup strip in the recent METALOCALYPSE DETHKLOK trade and was mightily amused. I can’t therefore say how typical this particular work is of his output generally, but I did find it a hoot.

Enter little Lula, bearded girl at Wrinkle’s Travelling Circus, and all she wanted was a chimichanga, but after a trading a lock of her beard with a passing witch for a pretty rock, it turns out to be an egg which promptly hatches into a rather boisterous monster with gargantuan strength (and appetite). Naming it Chimichanga in tribute to her favourite snack, Lula quite naturally thinks it would make a marvellous new attraction for her grandfather’s circus, even if <ahem> strongman Randy, “with the strength of a slightly larger man” feels more than a little put out by the new arrival.

Meanwhile, back at the witch’s house the wrinkled old crone has managed, with the aid of Lula’s hair, to create a potion that temporarily cures the taker of any painful trapped gas. The fact that it’s only temporary is extremely important to the greedy pharmaceutical boss, who of course wouldn’t ever want to cure anyone of anything permanently now would he, as that would be a complete disaster for his business! Unfortunately, the witch only has enough of her secret ingredient for a small production run, necessitating Lula’s kidnapping to ensure a continuous supply of bearded lady’s shavings for the dastardly scheme. So it’s up to Uncle Wrinkle, Chimichanga and various other associated members of the travelling circus to save the day and put the evil capitalist scumbag in his place.

This is great all-ages fun that definitely isn’t just for kids, much of the story is squarely aimed at more cynical adult sensibilities, albeit done with great humour, and I found it very entertaining, certainly enough so to convince me to have a look at THE GOON.



Vampire Academy (£9-99, Razor Bill/Penguin Teen) by Richelle Mead, Leigh Dragoon & Emma Vieceli.

Listen to them, the children of the night: bickering, back-stabbing and muck-racking; spreading the sordid sort of schoolyard rumours that are impossible to quash. Blood will out – even more so in a cooped-up college of young vampires and dhampirs – as will some secrets but not before the temptations of the flesh and social manoeuvring have seen the damage done.

Drawn by the creator of DRAGON HEIR (so here you go, you voracious Vieceli fans), this full-colour adaptation by Leigh Dragoon of the prose phenomenon shot straight to number four in the NYT bestseller list. I’m a Vampire Academy virgin so the mythology was all new to me; the boarding school rat race, horribly familiar.

Rose Hathaway and Lissa Dragomir share a rare bond born of a long, involved history but socially they couldn’t stand further apart. Not only is Rose but a dhampir – half-human, half-vampire – of unknown paternal descent, but Lissa is both a fully-fledged Moroi and of royal line to boot. The Moroi are mortal vampires who need human blood to survive. They’re under constant threat from the ravenous Strigoi vampires who crave Moroi blood not to survive but to increase their immortal power. That makes Lissa a prime target and the Academy’s role educating dhampirs to protect her vital. You’d have thought then that Rose’s empathic gift of being able to feel what Lisa feels would make her indispensable, but her position at the Academy is purely probationary: she’s seen as far too impetuous and ill-disciplined. They’re not wrong. She’s also struggling with the strength of her bond and a secret she shares with Lissa, while Lissa is struggling with more than one secret she’s keeping from everyone! With so many lies, so many overt physical and psychological threats where there should be sanctuary, the more covert enemies find it easy to nudge their traps into place; but when they finally strike it’s with a ruthlessness that will break all codes of conduct and with an ambition far larger than one vulnerable girl.

It’s… complicated!

Vieceli’s strengths lie in her eyes, the lingering looks, and the hair she so evidently loves drawing, while the manifold tensions – the jealousies, temptations and whom-do-you-trusts – are almost painful. Again, there’s so much more going on behind Vieceli’s faces than they ever let on, so much left unspoken. Don’t expect either protagonist to be a paragon of virtue – few of us are at that age – but I suspect that if we could win friends and influence people Miss Dragomir’s way, most of us probably would.

Best hair goes to Christian, by the way. Not that I’m obsessed with Vieceli’s hair.



iZombie vol 2: uVampire (£10-99, Vertigo) by Chris Roberson & Michael Allred, Gilbert Hernandez…

“You sure you don’t want to go outside Scott? You’ve been in here reading funny books for hours.”

Normally I’m not a fan of comedy horror comics as the storylines and jokes tend to be pretty weak; I’d rather watch an old Hammer Horror film instead for the unintended laughs, but IZOMBIE is most definitely an exception. There are giggles aplenty as Chris Roberson takes some time out in this second volume to explore the back stories of our three main characters. Zombie Gwen is finding she’s starting to lose her memories of her previous real life, exactly as predicted by the suave mummy Amon, but still finds time to make a date playing crazy golf with unsuspecting monster hunter Horatio. Scott the Were-Terrier, always pining unrequitedly, and quite hopelessly, for Gwen, finds an unexpected opportunity to belatedly make up with a recently deceased relative from beyond the grave, as his granddad’s soul gets stuck in a chimpanzee. And guest artist Gilbert Hernandez (yes really!) brings his own inimitable L n’ R art style to bring to life Ellie the swinging sixties Ghost’s not-so-happy childhood. Meanwhile, the paintballing vampire femme fatales decide it’s time to point Horatio and his vampire-slaying partner in the direction of the ‘real’ menace in Eugene, Oregon… zombies. Uh oh! And as if that weren’t enough, an old mad scientist pal of Amon’s has got plans of her own to call down one of the dark gods and bind them in human form for her own nefarious schemes. There’s never a dull moment in Eugene, Oregon, that is for sure!



Button Man vol 4: The Hitman’s Daughter (£14-99, 2000AD) by John Wagner & Frazer Irving…

Not new, but new to me as I wasn’t reading 2000AD at this particular point and this trade has been unavailable for a while. The first of the BUTTON MAN series not illustrated by Arthur Ranson, I was slightly sceptical that Frazer Irving could match the master artiste, but he certainly succeeds with a bomb, errr… aplomb. There are bombs though, of course, and indeed bullets, knives, throwing stars and some good old fashioned fisticuffs, for all these things and more besides are the stock in trade of Mr Harry Exton. Do not fuck with him, or he will, most assuredly, sort you out good and proper in a most final and unpleasant manner, leaving you crying for your mummy as you bleed to death in several pieces on the floor.

The enigmatic Voices, organisers and avid covert viewers of The Game (wherein hitmen would fight it out; the victor taking the loser’s finger as a winning marker) are perhaps not wholly surprised when Harry, presumed dead at the end of volume three, pops up very much alive and kicking again. This time around he’s let loose in the Big Brother house with orders to dispatch as many contestants as possible. Sadly not really, though here’s hoping for volume five. In fact, he’s matched up against the daughter of one of his previous victims, who’s grown from a traumatised little girl into a veritable killing machine.

Except for the small fact that Harry had nothing whatsoever to with her father’s murder… Is he being set up? Again? You think he might be a little more suspicious by now. Unless, of course, he’s just getting everyone exactly where he’d like them before starting to have some fun? But are the Voices really that stupid either? One thing is for sure, the body count will be high, and more than a few people will be missing fingers – and much more besides – before the final page is turned. And I shouldn’t have worried because Irving’s art turns out to be a perfect foil for Wagner’s writing and indeed as I have said elsewhere, his portions of art in Morrison’s four volume miasma of mentalism that was Seven Soldiers Of Victory were my favourites.



Swamp Thing #1 (£2-25, DC) by Scott Snyder & Yanick Paquette.

One Of Our Mastodons Is Missing.

The natural balance is out of kilter. Weather systems run riot and creatures are being culled: pigeons by day and bats by night falling lifeless from the skies; in the ocean the fish are dying.

A former botanist whose life’s work was a bio-restorative formula capable growing vegetation in the driest regions of a planet, Alec Holland died in an explosion only to wake up six weeks ago in a swamp with memories of being a muck monster and intense, romantic feelings for a woman he’s never met. He’s tried to resume his work and got as far as he did last time round, but found the manual labour on a construction site infinitely less troubling. He receives two visitors: Superman urging him to resume his prior calling and help; someone – or something – he may find infinitely more persuasive.

The art’s a bit Kevin Nowlan in places.

Reboot status: not a reboot but definitely a different dynamic, which is half its draw. How will AMERICAN VAMPIRE’s Scott Snyder incorporate the Alan Moore SWAMP years? So far, successfully. THING

Doctor Alec Holland says: if you have an inflamed knee, wrap it in cabbage leaves and cellophane. Cabbage leaves contain a natural anti-inflammatory amino acid.

Doctor Stephen Holland says: if you have an inflamed cabbage, for Pete’s sake keep John Constantine at a distance. He’ll only provoke it further.


Action Comics #1 (£2-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Rags Morales.

“You know the deal, Metropolis. Treat people right or expect a visit from me.”

Those who’ve read Grant Morrison’s SUPERGODS will recognise Morrison’s approach here, a very different take from his All-Star Superman with its clue in the title: ACTION COMICS #1.

Of the original version Morrison commented on Superman’s socialist role as champion of the people, of the underdog as opposed to the rich and powerful. Also, a man so unafraid to throw his weight about that the public run screaming in a panic on its cover. So it is here, tying in with last week’s JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 as a much younger, brasher and flashier Superman defies the corrupt authorities who’ve decided to distrust him and – egged on by Lex Luthor, of course – perfectly prepared to endanger the public in order to catch their man. This Superman takes a barely disguised glee in flexing his muscles and his targets are both white-collar criminals protected by the law and neo-Nazis he’s reported to have dumped down the sewers and a wife-beater he threw out of a window and left with broken bones.

Crucially it’s far better structured and scripted than JUSTICE LEAGUE, giving you a satisfyingly full first chapter, and readers of IDENTITY CRISIS will love the return of Rags Morales to a title befitting his stature. Speaking of stature, the pragmatic workman-like builders’ boots and knee-patched jeans look one hell of a lot better than scarlet overoos of yore.

Key ingredients: faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and almost stronger than a locomotive. Almost. Locomotive 1, Superman 0.

Reboot status: reboot


Batwing #1 (£2-25, DC) by Judd Winnick & Ben Oliver.

Shiny, full-blooded art in the vein of Simone Bianchi as a man called Massacre butchers his way through a police precinct in Africa. Different.

Reboot status: not necessarily a reboot.


Animal Man #1 (£2-25, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Travel Foreman.

Bad dreams in the night – in  black, white and red. Now that’s what I call capillary action! They’re almost the best pages of art here too – which is in any case refreshingly fine-lined without being thin – until you get to the final-page punchline which is horrific. In a good way.

There’s something wrong with Buddy Baker, but there’s something even wronger with his daughter Maxine. She want pets. She gets what she wants. Just don’t ask where she got them from.

Reboot status: not necessarily but then not necessary.


Batgirl #1 (£2-25, DC) by Gail Simone & Ardian Syaf.

Lovely, detailed art. In fact the art overall this week is stronger than one’s come to expect from the majority of DC books. Here think Phil Jimenez, and Barbara Gordon looks great in her reclaimed role as Batgirl. Don’t worry, she’s very much aware of her spine-shattering fate at the hands of the Joker in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s KILLING JOKE. She may be stretching her legs now (we know not how but it’s coming) but if she’s healed physically it’s still left its scars on her psyche. And at one critical moment she freezes.

Reboot status: not a reboot


Stormwatch #1 (£2-25, DC) by Paul Cornell & Miguel Sepulveda.

Reboots status: most definitely a reboot!

A very different dynamic from the old days of STORMWATCH and the subsequent AUTHORITY. The Engineer remains firmly at the helm and Jack Hawksmoor in charge. Jenny Q is still new but JLA’s Martian Manhunter has now joined them along with a few extras I’m unfamiliar with. The Moon is attacking Earth, there’s a giant horn in the Himalayas, and it references SUPERMAN #1 due at the end of the month. So where are Apollo and the Midnighter? Apollo is a determined loner they’re finding it difficult to recruit. Recruiting the Midnight, on the other hand, will be murder.

Art: not quite Phil Jimenez, but getting there.


Annihilators h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Tan Eng Huat, Timothy Green II…

The main story featuring heavy hitters Gladiator, Quasar, Beta Ray Bill, Ronan the Accuser and The Silver Surfer was all a bit by the numbers for me, the odd bit of snappy dialogue and appearance of personal favourite Cosmo the telepathic dog aside. Maybe Dan and Andy are still smarting at Nova and Guardians Of The Galaxy getting put on indefinite hiatus (i.e. cancelled), which I don’t understand either, as both were extremely well written and far more entertaining than some of the woeful earth-bound pap many other Marvel writers were churning out at the time. Still, cosmic isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I suppose.

What is pure top-drawer stuff, however, is the back-up strip that ran in all the issues featuring former Guardians Rocket Racoon and Groot, also by Dan and Andy. It’s just one long hilarious comedy caper from start to finish and reprises an old Adam Warlock villain, who standing order customer and international – well Scottish – man of mystery Gordon Davidson and I (on one of the rare occasions he visited the shop in person instead of sending one of his Legion of MinionsTM to pick up his comics) had only just been idly conversing about, and wondering as to why Marvel had never used him since his original appearance. Yes, the baddest persistent-vegetative-state coma patient Barry Bauman a.k.a. The Star-Thief is back! A mental villain for an appropriately mental story, and I sincerely hope that the next upcoming Annihilators mini-series will have another Rocket Racoon and Groot back-up too, or I probably won’t even bother reading it, cosmic or not! Oh get me, I’m soooo fickle!



Spider-Girl vol 1: Family Values (£14-99, Marvel) by Paul Tobin & Clayton Henry, Matthew Southworth.

Spinning out of SPIDER-MAN: GRIM HUNT, there’s a familiar face under this brand-new Spider-Girl’s mask. Nothing to do with those future SPIDER-GIRL digests, this is emphatically part of Peter Parker’s present world.



Spider-Man: Grim Hunt s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente, Phil Jimenez, Joe Kelly, Zeb Wells, J.M. DeMatteis & Phillipe Briones, Phil Jimenez, Michael Lark, Marco Checchetto, Stefano Gaudiano, Max Fiumara.

Michael Lark: everything he touches is made more compelling for his presence. Brubaker and Rucka benefited enormously for his work on GOTHAM CENTRAL, and so does Joe Kelly here.

The main meat of this book is by Kelly and Lark, the culmination of a long game played over the previous year with the help of her daughter Ana by Sasha Kraven, wife of the deceased Kraven The Hunter. THE GAUNTLET was her doing: foe after Spider-foe nudged in Spider-Man’s direction, knocking the stuffing out of Peter so softening him up for this. With the Chameleon at their side they’ve already captured the precognitive Madame Web and young Mattie Franklin, and now they’re after the other spiders: Arachne, clone Kaine, Arana and, of course, Spider-Man himself. They’re quite literally out for his blood in order to resurrect Kraven Sr., but given that the Russian hunter shot himself in the head with a gun, what are the chances that he actually wants to come back?

The early chaos and consequent confusion is very well played, after which the roles are then neatly reversed. Plenty of twists in store. There’ll be more than one resurrection, several severances, and you know the old cliché which Marvel keep trotting out so irritatingly often that you no longer believe a word one of their hype-monkeys says: that “Nothing will be the same again”? Well I can’t recall the last time that so much did change in a single storyline. Not in Peter’s personal life, but right across his fellow spiders’.

Lark does his best to keep it moody and he would have succeeded, but through no fault of his own Marvel editorial has, not for the first time recently, made the insane decision of diluting the power of this climax by interspersing each chapter here with a dozen or so pages each of extraneous flashback by J.M. DeMatteis and Max Fiumara. It makes for a much longer read but a far less satisfying one and I humbly suggest you exercise some editorial control of your own and skip those chapters then, if you really want to, go back and read them later. Pretend they’re at the back of the book as they should have been.



Honesty Dictates

Given the stature of Jonathan Cape, I originally intended to run this fourth, but its abrupt change of tone halted me physically and I couldn’t bear to puncture our own enthusiasm. Unfortunately I have to run it somewhere if only as a buoy to warn you off the lurking sandbank, and to prove that we’re not indiscriminately obsequious. Oh well.

Ascent h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Jed Mercurio, adapted by Wesley Robins.

It gives me no pleasure whatsoever to savage one man’s earnest endeavour but this is unequivocally awful, without a single saving grace other than it ends.

Dear God, I hope it ends.

There is a back cover so one presumes that – just prior to the blessed relief – this unmitigated comicbook disaster ceases to bore one to sky-ridden death with its repetitive drone of ill-chosen camera angles and compositions so thuddingly awkward and ugly that any Japanese pilot would have downed his own plane and committed hara-kiri on the dam-ned spot. Worse than that, I recognise the same lack of ambition I exhibited when drawing my own comics aged eleven: this-will-do, barely communicative, crude compositional cop-outs because I was incapable of drawing any more than a head and a fist in each panel. That’s exactly what I spy in the schoolyard bullying scenes: “Okay, I can get away with this; it almost looks like someone’s pulling his hair”. Furthermore the shadows are clumsy and the gutters go missing disastrously.

So rarely have I failed to finish a prose book or comic that I can only think of two: C.S. Lewis’ Surprised By Joy and WALKING THE DOG, another very rare lapse in judgement from the UK’s leading light in graphic novels, Jonathan Cape. They’ve given us Bryan Talbot’s ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, Posy Simmonds’ TAMARA DREWE and Raymond Briggs’ ETHEL & ERNEST (surely three of the finest graphic novels from any country) plus the award-winning French album A TASTE OF CHLORINE (perfect summer reading!) and the exceptional RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER which we made Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month and which my mother devoured when she found it left on my coffee table last weekend and asked for a copy herself. In summary, Dan Franklin and Alex Bowler know their stuff, so it’s a genuine shock that something like this ever gets through their commissioning process. Or maybe they were on holiday at the time, I don’t know.

“In the Korean War [Yefgenii Yeremin] is the legendary ace dubbed ‘Ivan The Terrible’, shooting down more American jets than any other pilot in history. But the Soviet Union’s involvement in Korea must be kept a secret, so Yefgenii is exiled to a remote Arctic bases, his name unknown, his victories uncelebrated. Years later, and long forgotten, [he] is called upon one final time. With America about to launch Apollo 11, he is sent on the most perilous mission of all. At last he has the chance to write his name in history…”

I think what actually upsets me about this is that, being an adaptation of critically acclaimed prose, it will inevitably reach readers I wish that it wouldn’t. Just like Heart Of Darkness it will be some readers’ first ever comic, and so – potentially – put them off this medium for life.



Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews to follow or already up if they’re s/cs of h/cs etc. Regardless, you can now go straight to these books in the shopping area simply by clicking on their names.

Optic Nerve #12 (£4-25, D&Q) by Adrian Tomine

Drawing From Memory h/c (£13-50, Scholastic Press) by Allen Say

Amulet vol 4: The Last Council (£8-50, Scholastic Press) by Kazu Kibuishi

Wonder Struck h/c (£22-50, Scholastic Press) by Brian Selznick

Ps Magazine: The Best Of Preventive Mainenance Monthly H/c (£13-99, Abrams Comicart) by Will Eisner

Supergod (£13-50, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Garrie Gastonny

The Bento Bestiary hardcover (£12-00, Nobrow) by Scott Donaldson & Ben Newman

Hildafolk (£6-50, Nobrow) by Luke Pearson

Birchfield Close h/c (£9-00, Nobrow) by Jon McNaught

Ouroboros (£6-50, Nobrow) by Ben Newman

Everything We Miss h/c (£12-00, Nobrow) by Luke Pearson

Pilot and Huxley: The Next Adventure (£5-99, Scholastic) by Dan McGuiness

Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story (£10-99, Image) by Kody Chamberlain

Zombies Christmas Carol h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim McCann & David Baldeon, Jeremy Treece

Moriarty vol 1: The Dark Chamber (£10-99, Image) by Daniel Corey & Anthony Diecidue

Charmed vol 2 (£13-50, Zenescope) by Paul Ruditis & Tess Fowler, Marco Abreu, Carlos Granda, Dean Kotz, Reno Maniquis

Greek Street vol 3: Medea’S Luck (£10-99, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan & Werther Dell’edera, Davide Gianfelice

Stormbreaker vol 1 (£8-99, Walker) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako, Yuzuru

Crossed vol 2: Family Values (£14-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & Javier Barreno

Carbon Grey vol 1: Sisters At War (£7-50, Image) by various

Superman: The Black Ring vol 2 h/c (£22-50, DC) by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods

Marvel Zombies: Supreme h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Frank Marraffino & Fernando Blanco

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Kaare Andrews

Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine softcover (Uk E’Dn) (£12-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Adam Kubert

Secret Warriors vol 6: Wheels Within Wheels hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Alessandro Vitti

Fantastic Four: The Overthrow Of Doom hardcover (£22-50, Marvel) by Len Wein, Roger Slifer, Keith Pollard, Bill Mantlo, Marv Wolfman & George Perez, Keith Pollard

The Thanos Imperative s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Brad Walker, Miguel Sepulveda

Uncanny X-Men: Breaking Point s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen &Carlos Pacheco, Terry Dodson, Ibraim Roberson

New X-Men vol 5 (Digest) (£10-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Keron Grant, Frank Quitely

Marvel Adventures: Avengers: Thor And Captain America (£7-50, Marvel) by Paul Tobin, Todd Dezago & Ronan Cliquet, Ron Lim, Lou Kang

The Infinity Gauntlet (New Ptg) (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin & George Perez, Ron Lim

Blood Blockade Battlefront vol 1 (£8-99, Dark Horse) by Yasuhiro Nightow

Dorohedoro vol 4 (£9-99, Viz) by Q Hayashida

Twin Spica vol 9 (£8-50, Vertical) by Kou Yaginuma

The Art Of Vampire Knight h/c (£18-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino


At the time of typing we’ve just sailed past the 1,000 sympathisers front on Twitter. By the time you read this I could well be back down to 999. Or 969. Who knows? I languished there for a fortnight. Thank you for sympathising (if you do). I hope I make you smile, groan or at least occasionally crack open your wallets with breaking news.

Now if you could all just create an extra shadow account and follow me there as well then it would help Page 45 not one jot. My self-esteem, however, would go through the roof. Alternatively, just recommend us to friends, family and wine merchants.

Stay In Touch:

 – Stephen

Reviews September 2011 week one

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

 “So you think money is the root of all evil. Have you ever asked what is the root of all money?”

– Ayn Rand. Find out in The Rinse @ just 80 pence.

A Zoo In Winter h/c (£12-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi…

Ahh, Mr. Taniguchi you’ve done it again with this deeply thoughtful fictional work suffused throughout with gently beating veins of autobiography. Just how much of this work is purely fictional and how much is directly autobiographical I honestly have no idea, but I certainly read it with the strong sense that the portrayal of the main character Hamaguchi is perhaps very closely based on Taniguchi himself. And also certain specific events that take place within the book are direct representations of actual events, I suspect. Regardless of the emotional connection to Taniguchi’s own past though this is a really moving work, and certainly one that alongside QUEST FOR THE MISSING GIRL, A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD and THE SUMMIT OF THE GODS I will be recommending in perpetuity to people who inquire about more sophisticated manga.

The story opens with a young man at the beginning of a fairly typical salaryman’s career working for a textile manufacturer in Kyoto circa 1966, who then almost by chance falls into a new career as a mangaka’s (manga master) assistant in Tokyo. From then on the story focuses heavily on the trials and tribulations that a budding manga artist faces both in terms coping with the hectic working schedule and hitting the relentless weekly deadlines, but also adjusting to the social life of the more bohemian set. Along the way there’s just enough time for some romance too, both firsthand with a particularly frail young lady and also at a remove as a chaperone to the textile boss’s daughter.

As ever, Taniguchi’s art is impressively crisp and precise, with typically lavish attention paid to minute background details, without them ever becoming a distraction. I always feel that reading something illustrated by Taniguchi is a genuinely immersive experience, precisely because of such detailing. It draws you in deeply to the world he’s created as much as any well produced television programme or film does, and thus creates a seamless experience for the reader.

Much of the subtle poignancy of this work does come from wondering precisely which are Taniguchi’s own experiences, particularly when it comes to the romantic element, not least the slightly mysterious ending that’s not really an ending. I would love to know whether the frail young lady was a real person in Taniguchi’s life and, if so, precisely what did become of her. I have my suspicions, but no amount of googling has yet revealed any definitive answers! Maybe that’s for the best, as no answer is necessary really to receive the warm emotional message which Taniguchi would like you to take away from this work.



Alan Moore: Storyteller h/c (£25-00, ILEX) by Gary Spencer Millidge >

“He spoke for us and offers us the symbols and stories reflecting how we felt. For me he does for fiction what Dylan does for music. He’s a Robert Johnson of the Age of Doubt; questioning, confronting, mourning and yearning, representing his readers in profound ways, an intellectual autodidact, one of my few true peers for whom I have limitless respect.”

 — Michael Moorcock

Moorcock’s forward raises the curtain on Gary Spencer Millidge’s lavish presentation of the life and works of Alan Moore, “a shaman…  a visionary.” Part biography, part audio-visual smorgasbord, the most accurate description of this book would be a literary life, except that, as Millidge amply demonstrates, Moore’s vocation as a storyteller takes him far beyond the printed word. The entirety of his work — in music, film, television, novels and short stories, as well as comics — is comprehensively recounted in Millidge’s commentary, quotes from Moore, and recollections from co-creators and friends.

The whole package is gorgeously illustrated in full colour on high-grade glossy paper and it displays a design sensibility that renders it an object of beauty in its own right. The large format (28.4 x 22 cm) coupled with the high-standard of production characteristic of ILEX (the people who brought us the two volumes of EROTIC COMICS) allow the visual elements of the book to shine, offering a tantalising glimpse of an alternate universe in which strips like ROSCOE MOSCOW and MAXWELL THE MAGIC CAT (whose scruffy mug graces the title page) have been codified into Absolute editions. Even as it affords an appropriate privilege to the visual elements, the format accords ample breathing space for Millidge’s engaging and knowledgeable prose, which is sure to provide new information for readers from all levels of initiation into Moore-ish esoterica. Alongside iconic images with which many readers will be familiar, such as the wedding photo of Alan and Melinda from 2007 and Mitch Jenkin’s portraits from Unearthing, are novelties such as the class photo from Moore’s penultimate year at Northampton grammar school, Eddie Campbell’s portrait of Johnny Depp in the style of FROM HELL, and an unlikely still of Moore in the company of Cliff Richard, Shakin’ Stevens, Alvin Stardust and Muppet the dog (taken from an episode of Get Fresh! in 1987).

With reprints of pages and panels from the most celebrated to the most arcane of Moore’s writings – as well as from the works that have most influenced him – this feels as much like a sourcebook or anthology as it does a conventional biography. Alongside representative reproductions from SWAMP THING, WATCHMEN and FROM HELLl, we find material from – to name but a few – ANON E. MOUSE, ST. PANCRAS PANDA, THE BOWING MACHINE and ASTOUNDING WEIRD PENISES, “the first and only comic book that Moore has ever entirely written and drawn himself”. The presentation of works whose origins lie in British comics, like V FOR VENDETTA and MARVELMAN, strikes a nice balance between facsimiles of the original black and white pages and the colourised reprints released into the American market. The inclusion of an extensive array of previously unpublished documents adds an air of authenticity to the proceedings and is enough to make the seasoned Moore aficionado quiver with delight. These include, in addition to photographic facsimiles of Moore’s notebooks and typescripts, items such as Moore’s certificate of baptism (“They spelt my fucking name wrong!”), the initial script to V FOR VENDETTA, chapter V (the only bit that, David Lloyd recalls, “failed to slot into place like the perfectly machined component I always expected him to manufacture”), and the “legendary” chart that plots the epic story of BIG NUMBERS on a single sheet of A1 paper (“one of the main reasons I did it was to frighten other writers. Just for the look on Neil Gaiman’s face”).

Indeed, if the inhabitants of that immaterial planet of fiction whose histories and geographies Moore and O’Neill have been mapping throughout THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN were to write books about the notables living among us, this is the sort of work they might produce. It’s the Black Dossier of biographies, culminating in a fold-out timeline and audio accompaniment in the form of a CD affixed to the back cover (no mean-spirited wranglings over copyright to plague this musical insert). Indeed, the nineteen-track collection contains an impressive selection from Moore’s back catalogue, extracted from a host of rare and previously unreleased recordings and post-mastered by Gary Lloyd. Of course, taking these songs and spoken-word performances out of context has its shortcomings – for example, the “Experience” section of the Blake tribute, Angel Passage, can only be fully appreciated when listening to the piece as a whole – but the CD successfully gives a flavour of Moore’s musical diversity and at the very least gives us a greatest hits collection that outstrips those of many contemporary pop acts. Queue the Sinister Ducks and Emperors of Ice Cream.

Proud owners of George Khoury’s THE EXTRAORDINARY WORKS OF ALAN MOORE may note some similarities in editorial approach and scope, but the two volumes are doing fundamentally different things and both are essential reading for those serious about the study of the man and his works. Whereas THE EXTRAORDINARY WORKS OF ALAN MOORE interweaves Khoury’s extended interviews with tributes from various writers and artists, STORYTELLER presents itself as the outcome of sustained and serious research by someone with a detailed working experience of the comics medium and significant access to Moore’s physical and mental spaces – one of the unexpected delights in the opening pages is an extended description of Moore’s house, yielding insight into his unique take on interior design (“starlight shines through holes drilled into a dropped ceiling and the walls are decorated with golden cherubs”) and his lost-calling as a property developer: “Moore admits that he’ll never be able to sell the house”. Millidge’s chronicle incorporates, it is true, a considerable amount of material from previously published interviews (meticulously documented in several pages of endnotes), but he has also undertaken his own interviews of Moore and others. There is, moreover, clear evidence of the researcher’s hand in the inclusion of new information and resources from many close to Moore and his work (including Dave Gibbons, Alan Davis, David Lloyd, Eddie Campbell, John Coulthart, Stephen Bissette, Oscar Zarate and others).

Ultimately, Millidge imbues his book with a clear focus and a richness of detail that rewards careful attention. Quite simply this account of Moore and his oeuvre is more expansive, exhaustive and enjoyable than anything published to date.


Matt Green

Any Empire h/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Nate Powell…

“I know everything. Remember that.”

This is an intriguing new work from the creator of SWALLOW ME WHOLE, which clearly has much to say about war and its impact upon American society right down to the effect upon its kids. Which all serves to make this sound like quite heavy going when, in fact, it’s just the opposite. ANY EMPIRE is told through the lens of local children in a typical, non-descript small American town, including the likeable Lee with his Air Force dad, and the altogether less likeable fantasist Purdy, who claims his dad was a green beret, and Purdy’s sister Sarah, who loves animals and is a bit of a Nancy Drew fan on the quiet.

Someone is committing violence to baby turtles in the local cornfields with a baseball bat, and both Sarah and Lee, quite independently, have their suspicions as to who is behind it. Purdy, meanwhile just seems to be intent on being as obnoxious to Lee as possible whilst still maintaining a friendship with him. But just when I thought this was going to settle into a fairly standard piece of contemporary fiction, it skips forward in time a few years, then further again to graduation in rapid succession, when our characters then go their separate ways.

Purdy, perhaps not surprisingly for such an angry young man, joins up and gets to see some real action overseas, and then the story begins to deviate somewhat from plausible contemporary fiction into the realms of… well I’m not precisely sure what! Clearly much of what follows from this point on must be intended as metaphor and the somewhat surreal conclusion of Purdy’s homecoming and the mixing of various characters from different time periods have a deeper meaning or meanings. Some of that meaning was instantly apparent to me, but certainly not all, and I think therefore will require a second reading for me to comprehend it completely. Not that this spoilt the work for me at all. I loved the complete insanity of the conclusion which, in and of itself, is a statement about war and, as with SWALLOW ME WHOLE, Powell’s art is a triumph of expressive looseness, which allows him to get away with taking the story in such an abstract direction.



The Rinse #1 (80 pence) by Gary Phillips & Marc Laming.

“There’s nothing like the air in the countryside.
“The smell of money is much sharper out there.”

Jeff Sinclair is a man who plans and keeps the map of any money trail hidden in his head. His job is to disperse vast sums of cash so that they can never be found, and certainly not traced. He is discreet, cautious, meticulous and methodical. Unfortunately for Jeff, not everyone he encounters is half so sage and in the space of one short day in sunny San Francisco three key encounters look likely to sully his otherwise clean bill of wealth. It’s about to get brutal.

Welcome back, Marc Laming! It’s been 15-odd years since he joined fourteen other artists here to sign at our second Independents Day, and if I knew he’d be returning in such fine form I’d have missed him even more. So many artists skimp on the details, leaving their figures stranded weightless and lifeless in limbo; but here every car, every bar, every single street awning is rich in texture and light, while each individual negotiating this living, breathing city must do so in step to its beat. I also happen to know that in the second or third issue Page 45 will find itself with a brand new branch in The Bay. Yes, apparently we’ve just opened in San Francisco, and that’s what I mean by detail! (Make a note for future reference: we feature in the same panel as a horse.)

There’s also a renewed softness to his forms, a love of deft smiles, and the way Jeff subtly adjusts his glasses or keeps close watch from beneath their upper frames makes all the difference in the world. As for his women, I offer you evidence on August 30th of precisely why you need this comic: Marc’s own blogspot:



Green River Killer h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Jensen & Jonathan Case…

A fascinating memoir (and I use that word quite deliberately) penned by the son of the detective who helped finally crack the case of the most prolific serial killer in US history – responsible for the deaths of over forty-eight women and girls – the rather blandly named Green River Killer of Seattle. The non-fictional nature of the material and also its atypical presentation serves to make this work considerably different from the recent glut of crime books. It is then primarily a biographical work rather than crime per se, which I don’t mean at all in a pejorative way, I just merely want to be completely clear about exactly what genre of book this is.

So, we the readers, start with the knowledge of precisely who the killer is, one Gary Leon Ridgeway as this tale is told partly in flashback, and what follows is as much of an analysis of Detective Tom Jensen and his Seattle P.D. colleagues, as they struggle with their manhunt over a period of twenty years, as a presentation of the facts of the case. The portions in the present day focus on their interviews with Ridgeway, who with a view to avoiding the death penalty for the eight murders the cops are certain they can pin on him, has offered to disclose the locations and manner of deaths of all his other victims. It’s a fruitless process to begin with as Detective Jensen suspects Ridgeway is deliberately misleading them, which makes no sense whatsoever to the good detective as if Ridgeway can’t produce more bodies, the deal is off the table and he’ll be heading straight for the electric chair. When you get the revelation as to precisely why Ridgeway has been stalling the cops, your stomach will turn. The sequences in the past illuminate various key moments, turning points and indeed dead ends in the investigation over the years, and serve to highlight the arduous nature of cracking such a difficult and high-profile case, plus Jensen’s inability to kick his smoking habit.

The irony, much like with the UK’s own Yorkshire Ripper is that the cops had Ridgeway pegged as a prime suspect quite early on, but it’s not until significant advances in DNA technology allowing for the reconstruction of partial DNA evidence, that they are finally able to nail him. So, whilst this work may not necessarily appeal to crime fiction addicts, if you have any interest in a look at real behind-the-scenes police work and the humdrum private lives of ordinary cops, this will certainly appeal. I loved it.


The Crow: Special Edition (£16-99, Titan) by James O’Barr.

“There is no greater sorrow than to recall happiness in times of misery.”

 – Dante

“Every bullet has a bed. It just needs to be tucked in.”

 – The Crow

Pain, Fear, Irony, Despair, Death. James O’Barr’s poetic tale of love, loss, all-consuming guilt and an attempt to salvage redemption was both deeply melancholic and remorselessly bleak to the extent that I used to advise removing all razor blades from readers’ households before even opening it. The harrowing original to a film that was comparatively jaunty, it really was that grim, buried under the author’s own guilt about the death of friend which he felt responsible for. It’s still an angry, haunting and haunted read, but with the addition of thirty new pages here either rescued and recreated from the cutting room floor or enabled by the O’Barr’s more mature artistic prowess and a certain resolution to his troubles, there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel (even if it’s to the other side) which is far from a cop-out, but an apposite ending the author could never have conceived of back then. It’s all explained in the new introduction.

“A year ago… a cold October night… a broken down car on a dirt road… A man… a girl… madness… pain… and shadows… My God, the shadows!!”
“… You?!? … T-Bird said you was dead.”
“Am I not?”

Cue Joy Division lyrics, tortured recollections and the growth of an artist in public. O’Barr’s initially limited, EC-style renderings in pitch-black pen and ink soon blossom into some seriously impressive figure work and iconic imagery, interspersed with pages of soft, whiter wash.

Twelve months after the murder of his fiancée at the hands of a gang he couldn’t fend off, Eric had risen from the dead, reborn as a post-punk preacher in black leather and kohl, to evangelise his way through the culprits one by one through the barrel of a gun. His motivation is revenge; his conscience is a crow; but his only hope lies in forgiveness.

“Are you mad?!! I could never forgive them!!”
“Not them, idiot! Yourself!!”



Bone: 20th Anniversary Full Colour One Volume Collector’s Box Set (£250-00, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith.

Limited to 2,000 copies worldwide, this enormous, gorgeously illustrated box with magnetic clasp contains:

The complete, 1344-page, full-colour BONE hardcover measuring 9 ½” x 7” x 3” decked with foil stamps and a satin ribbon bookmark.
A signed and numbered art print of previously unpublished concept art.
A 22k gold-plated coin with Phoney Bone’s head on one side (obviously!) and Phone Bone on the other dated July 1991 (when BONE #1 was first published and Mark’s eyes lit up like brightly coloured marbles) and July 2011.
Three pewter figures of the Bone cousins.
A miniature facsimile of BONE #1 with its original colour scheme.
A cover gallery and documentary book including a brand new essay by Jeff Smith himself, an illustrated, 20-year timeline, every single comic and collected edition cover, and an award-winning, feature-length documentary DVD, ‘The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, BONE, and the Changing Face of Comics.

Click on the images here to enlarge them and see exactly what’s inside.


The Last Dragon h/c (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay.

Dragons are a draw.

If we harbour so much love for creatures long lost – the giant lizards of yore whose haunting, hollow, excavated skeletons loom so impressively over our heads in natural history museums, catalysing the human imagination and a deep-seated regret – how much more romantic is our notion of the winged beasties which never existed? Freed from the confines of both biology and physics, these dazzlingly hued, fire-breathing, multiformed majesties have taken wing in our hearts and minds since mythologies began. However ferocious their threat, they’ve often been imbued with a certain nobility – hence perhaps the designated rank and heroic calibre of their various nemeses, and their pride of place on the Welsh national flag. There’s also occasionally an aspect of tragedy involved, perfectly evoked in the recent comic FOUR EYES.

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

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

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

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


Drifters vol 1 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Kohta Hirano.

“I have no idea where this is or what’s going on. I don’t even know if this is real or a dream. I only know… HOW TO RUN INTO THINGS HEAD ON!”

Fights, lamp posts, other people’s conversations… he’s not very specific, but you get the general gist: young O-Toyohisa is an impetuous warrior, one with a penchant for cleaving in twain. From the creator of Hellsing, the book’s original solicitation copy read:

“Imagine a world of magic, full of elves and hobbits and dragons and orcs.”


Fortunately that’s merely the arena whose gladiators have been gathered from all over the shop, the humble market stall, le supermarché (libre-service), and even the bartering barn before money was even invented. What do I mean? Flash back to feudal Japan where young O-Toyohisa is retreating, bloodied from the mother of all military maelstroms, and stumbles through a hole in the rain and into… an infinitely long, electrically lit corridor. On either side stretch doors upon doors. Some are bricked up, others are made of riveted iron, others sport whorled glass… and there, at a distance is a desk. A man in spectacles sits smoking behind it. Apparently he is “out to lunch”. Another door opens and O-Toyohisa dives through: “Next?”

Next is a 20th Century soldier.

When O-Toyohisa next awakes in any meaningful way he finds himself in the company of two more Japanese warriors: Nobunaga (hmmm… Onimusha?) and Yoichi. But Nobunaga was supposed to have died eighteen years ago and Yoichi… he’s the stuff of legend! Thankfully they find an attack on a local elf settlement settles their own differences in its defence… and all the while they are watched from afar.

Unknown parties are playing a game and in its pursuit they have snatched up prized champions from a multitude of temporal and geographical chess boards: Hannibal, Scipio, Anastasia Romanov, Joan Of Arc; cowboys, pilots, Japanese warriors. It’s all a bit Doctor Who: War Games.

“A melee of madness,” it promised and they did not lie; but I too promise you a melee of madness if you dare bring an elf anywhere fucking near me. I’d rather lick the back of Thatcher’s leathery neck.



Turf h/c (£19-99, Titan) by Jonathan Ross & Tommy Lee Edwards.

You’ve got to be curious, yes? Can the dapper dandy and self-confessed comicbook nerd jettisoned by the BBC actually write what he reads? Well, its first chapter was anything to go by, yes, he can.

New York City during the snow-swept February of 1929: a time of underground jazz clubs and speakeasies populated by high society and lowlifes alike, for ten years ago Prohibition put the money in the hands of those on the make and police and politicians on the take. Protected by the very law they are breaking and lord knows how many gunmen of their own, the gang bosses are virtually untouchable. So how come the Delancey family just disappeared overnight? Was it Don Mario Bava’s gang? Mmmm, probably not, no. Don Mario Bava, the Capo Di Tutti Capi, has just been slaughtered along with his mob high up on the 57th floor of the Baltimore Hotel in their private, unassailable penthouse suite. Strung from the ceiling, some of them with their throats ripped out. And the strange thing is that only one man got in its elevator that night: Stefan Dragonmir, young brother of Gregori. Four years ago the Dragonmir family arrived on the scene, all the way from Romania. They bought their way into society by lavishing money on charities, but there is tension between the two brothers, for one is more ambitious than the other.

Thanks to Edwards this is steeped in period atmosphere. He can do rakish (Stefan) as well as debonair (Gregori), sharp-dressed and sleazy too. His interior decor is as well researched as his exterior architecture, and Ross too knows his stuff. But you’ve seen so many mob films before, so what sets this apart? Is it the vampires? Yes, but we’ve seen that mixed with crime in comics too (BITE CLUB). No, what sets it apart, on top of all that, is that a bloody great spaceship has just crashed into Coney Island’s funfair! Both Edwards and Ross play that straight, making the incongruity even funnier. So if you thought this sounded just a little too familiar, I defy you to predict where on earth it goes next.

[Editor’s note: the periodical’s erratic publishing schedule meant that I missed the subsequent issues, so the rest will have to wait its turn. So many books, so little time…!]



BPRD Hell On Earth vol 1 – New World (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis…

And so begins the wider Hell On Earth arc, which sees Abe Sapien and his BPRD chums surrounded on all sides by horrific sub-human life forms and generally dealing with deviants intent on unseemly behaviour towards them… Yes, it’s the BPRD annual trip out to Yates Wine Lodge in Nottingham’s Market Square.

Well not really, but oddly enough following on from the literally earth-shattering events of BPRD vol 14: KING OF FEAR comes this enticingly titled vol 1 jumping-on point for potential new readers. And whilst you could indeed start reading BPRD here, at what is in reality vol 15, you would then almost certainly want to go back and read everything else that has led up to this dramatic point.

Why that wily Mr. Mignola, you’d almost think that’s exactly what he intended!?! Very clever of Dark Horse therefore to let BPRD vol 1: HOLLOW EARTH almost simultaneously go temporarily out of print…



Invincible Iron Man vol 8: Unfixable h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick & Salvador Larocca, John Romita Jr., Andrea Mutti.

“They say, in certain rooms, that to compare is to despair. Your life is your own, judge it only by that measure.”

Sound advice.

Alas, Doctor Otto Octavius has so many chips on what’s left of his shoulders that he looks like a deep-fat fryer. He really does these days, and both the chips and the degenerative state of his body are the direct result of the years misdirecting his undeniable scientific skills towards increasingly bitter conflict. Here the source of his sour-faced grudge is an early encounter on the scientific circuit with a dismissive Tony Stark; his challenge – under duress – is to get Stark to fix him or else admit he can’t. He probably can’t, but he can pick the bad Doctor’s brains about his resident saboteur and appeals to his ego to do so. Nice touch. Will it help?

Another nice touch: Larocca dramatically shifting his inking style during the flashbacks to something a little more European complete with Moebius flecks of texture.

Meanwhile Stark Resilient continues its bid to rebuild Asgard, leading directly into FEAR ITSELF. Reprints INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #501-503, IRON MAN/THOR FCBD one-shot and RESCUE #1.


Thunderbolts Ultimate Collection: Ellis & Deodato s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Mike Deodato.

“All that matters are politics, psychology and ratings.”

Fortunately I rate the politics and psychology on offer here very highly indeed. It’s more chilling than a fridge which whiffs of rotting meat and whose light won’t work.

A government-sanctioned group of criminal super-psychopaths are coerced into joining a field team whose missions, post-CIVIL WAR, are to locate, capture and contain (or maybe even kill) any superheroes who for some reason or other don’t fancy working for a government that would endorse such a policy. Instead they still insist on defending the helpless from thieves, rapists and murderers in spite of the risks that now puts them under. Those volatile operatives (Venom, Moonstone, Penance, Radioactive Man, Swordsman and Bullseye – the last one unleashed only in extreme circumstances and beyond the public gaze) are, along with comparative angel Songbird, held in check by the manipulative cunning of one Norman “Green Goblin” Osborn, a bi-polar control freak inadvisably mixing his own medication, and only just managing to keep it together himself. He sweats, he mutters, he obsesses, but his grasp on spin is note-perfect, lying like crazy to a national media interested merely in story rather than truth or education.

Moonstone is equally manipulative, herself a fully qualified psychiatrist, and thanks to Deodato’ s darker, sultry and more textured artwork (along with Rainier Breed’s colours), she oozes coquettish charm when sidling up to her team mates, like a cat playing with its catch. You can almost smell the pheromones. Osborne, meanwhile, never more frightening than when almost in control of himself, is creased in close-up with age lines, as subtle and worrying expressions flicker across his leathery face.

There’s plenty of plot in the pot as the series simmers along, but when it’s brought to the boil in the second half reprinted here in this complete, double edition, they’re going to get badly scalded. Of that second book I wrote…

“I’m going to be in therapy for the rest of my life.”

Second half of Ellis’ warren of wrong, wherein half a dozen of the world’s most fucked up psychopaths have been given Presidential license to subjugate unregistered superhumans and hold them for questioning in the twilight bowels of Thunderbolts Mountain. They have… issues. Norman Osborn is in command – of the others if not himself – the neo-Nazi is in love with his dead sister, the alien symbiote is feeling hungry, and Bullseye’s been starved of target practice. Recently four previously unknown miscreants have more or less handed themselves in. Are they all telepaths?

I predict a riot.



Essential Web Of Spider-Man vol 1 (£14-99, Marvel) by Louise Simonson, Danny Fingeroth, Tom DeFalco, Peter David, David Michelinie, Ann Nocenti & Greg Larocque, Jim Mooney, Vince Colletta, Mike Harris Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema, Tony Salmons.

It takes me mere seconds to point out / remind you that a) Marvel’s ESSENTIAL VOLUMES are black and white phone books reprinting some 25 issues or so each of older material, this being from roughly 25 years ago, b) we’ve recently moved all our ESSENTIAL volumes upstairs because although they sell like crazy online they don’t shift on the shop floor where they used to take up two whole shelves, so just ask and we’ll get what you want down, c) no one, but no one has ever produced inks at Marvel as beautiful as Kyle Baker’s. Here there’s more evidence of that. Not a lot, but enough to make me smile at them again.



X-Men: Phoenix Rising s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Roger Stern, John Byrne, Bob Layton, Chris Claremont & John Buscema, John Byrne, Jackson Guice, John Bolton, Mike Collins…

“But do me a favour, would you? If you ever come up with a great idea for how Uncle Ben or Bucky could still be alive… keep it to yourself, okay?”

A short excerpt from one of the funniest forewords I’ve read for quite a while, written back in 1999 by Kurt Busiek, explaining how he in fact came up with the actual idea for bringing Jean Grey back to life, and only got a mis-spelt credit to show for it! Also to be fair to Kurt – and the killer last line I’ve appropriated above which made me chuckle out loud – he couldn’t have foreseen Brubaker’s masterful resurrection of Bucky Barnes as told in the CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLIDER ULTIMATE COLLECTION. Uncle Ben does need to stay dead though, I’m right with Kurt on that one.

Sadly, the execution of the idea, radical as it was at the time, left a lot to be desired and doesn’t really sit alongside the still-worthy Dark Phoenix Saga as a companion piece, as Marvel originally intended. In fact, that is possibly why they had two cracks at telling it, both of which are contained within this collection. The first attempt is the whole shooting match, starting from the discovery of a mysterious object submerged in Jamaica Bay where the X-Men previously crash-landed a space shuttle and the Phoenix first emerged from the waters, stretched tortuously out over an Avengers issue, an FF issue and X-Factor #1 (the first run), and is so, so heavy with exposition it’s actually quite painful to read. I reached the stage where if one more character were to tell me in great detail exactly what they were doing in that particular panel, I felt like I might start spontaneously combusting myself.

The second crack at telling the story – well basically just the dénouement – culled from Classic X-Men #8, is considerably better and actually quite disturbing and moving for its real-time portrayal of Jean’s imminent death from radiation poison, as she visibly deteriorates before our very eyes. The final piece of material in the collection from Classic X-Men #43 is easily the highlight though, as we get to visit The White Hot Room properly for the first time (last seen in Morrison’s New X-Men run. I think) where Phoenixes go after death whilst awaiting their rebirths, and Jean has a deep-and-meaningful with Death. Sadly the Marvel universe version of Death is not quite so glamorous as DC’s, and appears in the form of a hairy-arsed builder here. I’m not even sure if it’s meant to be the same cloaked lady Death who Thanos regularly frolics about with, but anyway, the fact that he’s a builder here does make sense in the context of the story I promise.


Justice League #1 (£2-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Jim Lee.

The first of DC’s 52 new #1s this month, a campaign originally billed as a reboot until their readers complained and they swiftly backpeddled. The truth, as far as I can glean from the multitude of mixed signals, is that some titles of the line will carry on just where they left off (BATMAN INC) whilst others have indeed been rebooted – i.e. gone back to the beginning and started all over again.

This is one of those. Think ALL-STAR BATMAN by Frank Miller and Jim Lee; I couldn’t think of anything else as I read this. It’s not just the Jim Lee connection, either. These are the characters’ early years and they’re only now about to meet each other. There’s a great deal of grandstanding and animosity: they neither trust nor like each other. The authorities don’t like or trust them either, here coming at Batman and Green Lantern in helicopters, guns blazing.

Once again, it’s like a return to the days of Image, only without Frank Miller chortling to himself in the background. I didn’t recognise Geoff Johns in the script and I suspect that his regular GREEN LANTERN fans – who are legion – will hate it. I know I did, and the worst thing is that it’s all been done before. It’s not new, it’s old and it feels tired before it’s even begun.

You can’t judge an entire line of comics written and drawn by different individuals, though, and I have every faith in Grant Morrison’s ACTION COMICS.


Batman: Mad Love And Other Stories s/c (£13-50, DC) by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, more.

“The fact that Harley felt affection for the Joker was bizarre; adding the idea that she had once been his therapist made it tragic.”

 – Paul Dini from his introduction.

The origin of Harley Quinn, originally created for the animated series and here told in a similar visual style, plus a whole load more Dini and Timm collaborations. A consistently solid seller even in hardcover form, now in new, affordable flexi-form.



Okie Dokie Donuts h/c (£7-50, Top Shelf) by Chris Eliopoulos.

Slightly perplexed by this children’s comic which seems to be auditioning for a Saturday morning animation slot complete with opening ode to the doughnut sung by a cast of sugar-saturated office workers, some of whom sport moustaches reminiscent of the scab of dried snot found under Crustache’s nose in Steven Weissman’s CHOCOLATE CHEEKS.

It’s set in Big Mama’s ‘Okie Dokie Donut’ shop where she prides herself on her tasty homemade recipes. In, then, strolls a prime example of what’s technically known as The Scum Of The Earth: an uninvited sales rep with an answer for everything except what you actually want to know, attempting to sell you the very thing you don’t need while you’re trying to serve customers. If you’re a member of that particular fraternity may I invite you to attempt the anatomically improbable and not come back until you’ve succeeded?

Alas, Big Mama buys into the automated baking facility and wouldn’t you just know, it goes horribly wrong; not because it’s rubbish, because Big M’s antediluvian floor sweeper fills it with rubbish. For all I know, kids will howl with laughter but I hated every single second apart from the relaxed cream and olive colouring. Don’t kids like bright and shiny colours?

Cold-call FAQ: “May I speak to the manager, please?”
Answer: “Certainly if you’d like to buy comics. Otherwise, no.”



Pirate Penguin Vs. Ninja Chicken: Trouble With Frenemies h/c (£7-50, Top Shelf) by Ray Friesen.

Party guests the morning after they stopped where they dropped.

“Urnk. Oh, howdy PP. Food in T minus Ten?”
“No. Food in Q divided by 37.”
“What does that even mean?”
“I don’t know. Just go away.”

Quick-fire, candy-coloured gag-fest aimed primarily at ages 7 to 13 which really hits its stride when the stars part ways to team up with Astronaut Armadillo and Ninja Squid, a googly-eyed, rambunctious calamari who offers Ninja Chicken his hotel bed for the night:

“Oh, um, that’s really nice, but I don’t really know you.”
“We went to Ninja College together for 17 years!”
“Are you sure that was me, and not one of my cousins? There are a lot of Ninja Chickens, you know…”
“Nope. Definitely you, you’re the cute one.”
“That’s both flattering and creepy.”
“Thanks! I’m multi-talented! And multi-tentacled.”

Space travel, fighting, culinary mishaps, and the most honest flight attendants ever:

“Rule #1. Everybody be extra safe. Way safer than usual. Seat 5Q – Safen up. Rule #2 No spitting. Rule #3. Seatbelts go around your middle. Seat 5Q, you’re doing it all wrong. Don’t make me come back there.”
“Now, if the plane crashes at all during the flight, that would be bad. Everybody cross your fingers that it doesn’t happen.”

It’s probably just as effective as anything else you can do.



Lions, Tigers & Bears vol 3: Greybeard’s Ghost (£9-99, Hermes) by Mike Bullock & Michael Metcalf.

Another self-contained adventure in which Courtney’s supercilious cousin Beth, full of herself for having turned thirteen and outgrown a child’s love of stuffed toys, is abducted by pirates and held on the high seas of the Stuffed Animal Kingdom. Naturally it’s Joey’s big cats that come to the rescue although Beth resolutely refuses to believe that it’s anything but a dream.

From the creative time behind TIMOTHY AND THE TRANSGALACTIC TOWEL. The ink lines are a little thin for my liking – I think they’d benefit from a brush – but Gail Simone is an enormous fan and provides the introduction.


Fresh In & Online Right Now

Big Questions s/c (£33-99, D&Q) by Anders Nielsen

Vampire Academy (£9-99, Razor Bill) by Richelle Mead, Leigh Dragoon & Emma Vieceli

The Hidden h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Richard Sala

Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot h/c (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Jean-Patrick Manchette & Jacques Tardi

Find Chaffy (£5-99, Barrons) by Jamie Smart

Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22 (£11-99, Harper) by MariNaomi

Bake Sale (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Sara Varon

Ascent h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Jed Mercurio & Wesley Robins

Americus (£12-99, FirstSecond) by MK Reed & Jonathan Hill

The Savage Sword Of Conan vol 10 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Michael Fleischer, Don Kraar, Alan Rowlands, Jim Owsley, Bill Mantlo, Jim Neal & Dave Simons, William Johnson, Geoff Isherwood, Tony Salmons, Mike Docherty, Tim Burgard, Bob Camp, Val Mayerik, Pablo Marcos, Jim Neal, John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Rudy Nebres, Gary Kwapisz

Skeleton Key: The Graphic Novel (£8-99, Walker) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako Damerum, Yuzuru Takasaki

Point Blanc: The Graphic Novel (£8-99, Walker) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako Damerum, Yuzuru Takasaki

Sonic Universe vol 1: The Shadow Saga (£8-99, Archie Comics) by Ian Flynn & Tracey Yardley

iZombie vol 2: uVampire (£10-99, Vertigo) by Chris Roberson & Michael Alred, Gilbert Hernandez

Cuba: My Revolution s/c (£13-50, Vertigo) by Inverna Lockpez & Dean Haspiel

Astro City: Life In The Big City (New Ptg) (£13-50, DC) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson

Brightest Day vol 3 h/c (£22-50, DC) by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi & Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Joe Prado, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark

Thor: For Asgard s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Robert Rodi & Simone Bianchi

Spider-Girl vol 1: Family Values (£14-99, Marvel) by Paul Tobin & Clayton Henry, Matthew Southworth

Cage Of Eden vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshinobu Yamada

Velveteen & Mandala (£12-99, Vertical) by Jiro Matsumoto

Mardock Scramble vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Tow Ubukata & Yoshitoki Oima

Star Wars: Knight Errant vol 1: Aflame (£14-99, Dark Horse) by John Jackson Miller & Federico Dallocchio, Ivan Rodriguez

The ASTRO CITY reprint has a beautiful new cover, by the way!

Huge thanks to Matt Green for the eloquent Alan Moore / Gary Spencer Millidge review. Next week, the gods providing, our very own Dominique will be gracing us with a headline review for Anders Nilsen’s BIG QUESTIONS, a series she has championed from its inception. Dominique will also be in attendance for our Anders Nilsen signing, slideshow and pub chat on Sunday October 16th: LINK.

 – Stephen