Reviews December 2011 week three

Okay, so… it’s basically CRIMINAL, BATTLEFIELDS and a few superheroes this week. Not Page 45’s normal configuration at all! But then this volume of CRIMINAL is very, very high up in my top ten books of the year! Next week: Marjane Satrapi’s THE SIGH. Sounds much better in French: Le Soupir.  *sigh*

Criminal vol 6: The Last Of The Innocent (£10-99, Icon) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

The best crime comics in the business, CRIMINAL is a series of completely self-contained stories you can read in any order you like, and this strikes me as its finest outing yet. There is the added, private satisfaction of spotting faces familiar from one book in another, but it’s never an essential requirement.

Summoned home by his father’s sudden illness then death, Riley Richards has briefly escaped the city of his sins which have begun to cost him dearly, and travelled back to the town of his youth. It was a sunlit life immersed in the relatively innocent pleasures of crime comics bought by his Dad, and meeting down the diner where his best friend Freakout, stoned, with monumental munchies, would break records for scoffing ice cream. Then there was sweet Lizzie Gordon, the girl who lived literally next door; the girl that everyone assumed he would marry. If only he had. But his life changed course dramatically on the arrival of rich bitch Felicity Doolittle, bringing with her the alluring, honey-pot cocktail of novelty, sophistication, self-confidence and sexual availability. They argued, they split, they got back together, but eventually Riley made a fatal mistake: he married her.

Now he’s a man who witnesses the world around him at a remove, as if it’s not his own life at all. He’s become so detached that he doesn’t know how to feel at his father’s funeral, he just calculates what’s expected of him. He’s become so resigned that when he caught his wife shagging Teddy, the man he loathes most, he concludes that it simply makes sense. He’s almost immune to his father-in-law’s long-voiced contempt, and he all but ignored the slurred cries for help Freakout would leave on his answer phone before finally seeking help and sobering up for good. But returning home – seeing Lizzie as kind and beautiful as ever and Freakout still funny when dry – has reminded Riley of how promising it once looked before the empty marriage and the crushing gambling debts in the city that he’s grown to hate. And it occurs to Riley now that there may well be a way to reverse all his fortunes in one fell swoop. He’s going to kill his wife.

Nothing Brubaker drops in early on is accidental; everything is reprised. Riley’s machinations are fiendishly clever. There is nothing and no one he won’t use to achieve his goal, but that’s all it is to him: an objective. You’ll be shaking your head at the calculated lows he will sink to and yet – an incredible testament to the creative team here – you’ll probably still root for the man, fearful for where he’s fucked up!

For any successful first-person narrative it’s crucial that reader wants to spend time in protagonist’s self-absorbed head, and that’s where Brubaker excels. That the intricate plot mechanics are so devious and the delivery so adroit is what makes each read so enormously satisfying. What makes them so attractive is the art of Sean Phillips, by far the finest draughtsman in this most twilight of genres. His faces stay cast and masked in a permanent semi-shadow: I never trust anyone drawn by Sean Phillips, and some of them are positively threatening. Allowed for once to play in the suburban sunlight as well as the metropolitan grime, Phillips appears to have had great fun not only in capturing a much younger, less tainted crowd, but also in drawing the flashback sequences: snapshots of memory rendered here in Archie Comics innocence, even when the style beautifully belies the content under Felicity’s prom-night gown. To top it all off, this time the cover comes with a silky sheen rather than laminated gloss, rendered in the most velvet of blues.


Buy Criminal vol 6: The Last Of The Innocent and read the Page 45 review here

The Complete Battlefields vol 1 (£18-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Russ Braun, Peter Snejbjerg, Carlos Ezquerra.

As Dynamite have decided to reissue the first three Battlefields trades in one heavy calibre volume, here’s our three reviews of each individual part.

Vol 1: The Night Witches

A Soviet squadron of female bomber pilots and gunners is reluctantly received by the base’s commander – a chauvinist of his times – then sent out to destroy a bridge just captured by the Germans in rattling biplanes far inferior to their male colleagues’ fighters. The Germans hear them coming a mile off.

As ever with Ennis’ war comics he not only has something to say and says it with punch, passion and compassion, but he takes the trouble to individualise soldiers whichever side they may have fought on. Two separate stories here – that of the invading German unit, and then the women finding themselves relegated to the airfield’s cowshed for quarters – meet in a terrible moment, as Ennis explores what war does to human beings:

“Out on the edge of man’s experience for certain, a thousand miles from home with our fingers in another country’s innards. Later, I will pray for absolution. Later…
“Now I try to put the things I’ve done today in order, to box and label all that image and sensation. But stabbing a human being in the face defies me.
“Then again, I suppose I am the new boy.”

Vol 2: Dear Billy

One of the finest Ennis War stories I’ve read, right up there with the best of Vertigo’s WAR STORIES volume one because this also takes one of the paths least trodden: the individual’s perspective, at odds with what is either commonly perceived or fashionably encouraged. Back in the days of COMMANDO (and we do have COMMANDO which still satisfies many a younger reader), it was us against them, and as black and white as the printed page. Then came the anti-war messages like CHARLEY’S WAR, and quite right too. War’s fucking rubbish. We’d be far better off nurturing our begonias. I wasn’t going to deviate into films likeMerry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence but that one’s actually quite pertinent here, for this is a nurse’s story written in the form of the last letter she wrote, in the wake of the Second World War, to the man she grew to love.

She met him in Calcutta – in a hospital where she tended the wounded: those who’d actually fought on the front lines against the Japanese and sustained horrible injuries just like Billy’s. It’s not just the injuries, either, it’s the ordeal, and Billy had been bayoneted nineteen times in a frenzied attack he endured on his own with no hope of salvation. But he tries to keep the details of that incident from Carrie; just as he then tries to keep her from the squalid carnage he continues to inflict as a pilot on those self-same Japanese. Billy’s good at his job: he gets it done, even if it means a thousand troops helpless on boats fleeing down a river, because any enemy combatant who survives is another Allied soldier’s potential death. He doesn’t apologise for it, nor does he show any mercy. But nor does he revel in it. And when the war is over and victory is won, then is the time to make sure that the mistakes of the First World War are not repeated. It is not the time for the humiliation of – nor retribution on – the Japanese people for the ruthless of their warriors’ crimes. It’s a time to build and embrace, to forgive and let live. And that – coming from Billy – is a mighty big step to take.

So surely Carrie the nurse can take those steps too? Or is there something she’s not told anyone because doing so would have destroyed her life? Something so appalling that it has already destroyed herself?

It’s not that I’ve never been a fan of Peter Snejbjerg, it’s just that I’ve not been a fan of much he’s been assigned to. Here he truly shines, and most effectively in the close-ups – which is an odd thing to say about someone who boasts such an economy of line. You might think there’d be too much open space, but actually he stops you in your tracks: it’s a genuine encounter.

And that’s what this is: a genuine encounter, and all the more powerful for it.

Vol 3: The Tankies

Garth Ennis is fast becoming a war veteran himself, the BATTLEFIELDS books being amongst his best, but this couldn’t be further from DEAR BILLY. While that BATTLEFIELDS volume dug deep into the scarred psyche of one young nurse traumatised by her treatment by the Japanese, this pulls back to observe the command and coordination – or lack of thereof – in Eastern Normandy post-D-Day, as the British infantry and scattered tanks desperately tried to inch their way through a German army supported by a blockade of infinitely superior Panther and Tiger Tanks hidden in dense woodland, waiting just around the corner.

I’ve not seen better storytelling from Ezquerra. To depict manoeuvres like this – ensuring that the reader instinctively comprehends where each vehicle is in relation to the others and so understands the immediate the threat they face – is no easy job, and Ennis manages the supporting history lesson here in much the same manner as Ellis did in CRÉCY: through a monologue, in this case issued by a determined corporal with a fierce Geordie accent taking blunt command of a Churchill made late for its rendez-vous with the infantry by its Lieutenant’s decapitation. Although the dialect is kept to a minimum to avoid bewilderment the accent is nevertheless note-perfect and entrancing, whilst the officers’ relative dispassion voiced in aristocratic Queen’s English sets them as far apart from the immediate action as they are geographically. A certain degree of caricature seems unavoidable when Ezquerra joins forces with Ennis, but that doesn’t make this a comedy (indeed the only element of that comes from Cassady on the cover to chapter two). In this instance it contributes to conflict within the Churchill tank which could at any moment be turned into a locked coffin of blazing hot metal, and in spite of the fact that I am by no means a war junkie, Ennis has me gripped yet again.


The Complete Battlefields vol 1

X-Men: Days Of Future Past s/c (New Ed’n) (£14-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne.

A much bigger edition than previously issued, this reprints all the final Claremont & Byrne issues following immediately on from X-Men: Dark Phoenix Saga, drawing a line under the title’s finest era until Grant Morrison, Joss Whedon thenWarren Ellis revitalised the property just a few years ago.

As such it kicks off with Jean Grey’s funeral on a bleak autumn day, the bitter wind blowing leaves across an empty sky and tugging at the mourners’ black trenchcoats. There her lover, Scott Summers, stands silently at the graveside, churning over the events that led them to this awful moment, at the end of which he will say good-bye. However revised since then, it remains a useful synopsis of the X-Men’s early history, and when first published acted as a fitting way of letting the severityof what just occurred sink in. No fights, no sub-plots, just a group of friends standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, utterly bereft.

All the original X-Men attend but only the Angel stays on, and finds himself both out of practice and a fish out of water. Things have changed. The days are far darker and there’s much worse to come, their one hope lying in their youngest recruit who arrives in a taxi and sits on her suitcases awaiting their return: Kitty Pryde aged 13 ½.

The atmosphere’s broken somewhat by the annual illustrated by a John Romita Jr. far from fully formed as yet, and I’d probably skip that if I were you. Go back and read it later after the Wendigo storyline guest-starring Alpha Flight and the final farewell as Kitty Pryde undergoes a rite of passage, alone in the X-Mansion, single-handedly fending off an intruder Alien-stylee.

In between all that we have Days Of Future Past itself, a pivotal X-Men two-parter which will be revisited over and over again but never with the same shocking power. It kicks off abruptly, right out of nowhere, in a future where Kate Pryde (whom we’ve barely had time to meet) is one of the last surviving members not just of the X-Men but the entire superhero community exterminated alongside most of the mutant species in a cold, methodical pogrom executed by the robotic killing machines known as the Sentinels… initially at the behest of the American government. Now the few mutants left alive subsist in a concentration camp whose endless rows of tombstones pointedly outnumber its inhabitants. She’s on her way to meetLogan, now with the Canadian resistance movement, and theNew Yorkshe navigates is a bleak, bombed-out and perilous pile of ruins barely populated save for punk-like predators.Loganhas what she needs: the final component of a mechanism that will block the inhibitor collars worn by Kate’s few surviving allies: Storm, Colossus, Franklin Richards and his telepathic wife, Rachel Summers. Oh, and a man in a wheelchair, but not necessarily who you think.

Their plan is two-fold: break out and attack the BaxterBuilding, the nexus of the Sentinels’ genocidal operations before the world retaliates with a nuclear holocaust, and send Kate Pryde back in time to prevent this future from ever happening. Friday October 31st 1980 and Presidential candidate Senator Kelly is about to deliver his address on the Mutant Hearings attended by Moira MacTaggert and Professor Charles Xavier. By the end of the day all three will be dead, murdered by the new Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants, so sparking the future we’ve seen come to pass… unless Kate in young Kitty’s body can convince the X-Men to stop it.

Let me tell you: the final few pages are devastating.

It’s become second-nature these days to criticise John Byrne for his conservatism (and I think we can all consider that a euphemism by now) andClaremontfor his long-winded exposition and interminable sub-plots but here they are both at the top of their games on a title I loved dearly. For corporate superhero comics at the time, it was intricate, innovative, disciplined, and paid off in full. It looked pretty sexy as well.


Buy X-Men: Days Of Future Past s/c (New Ed’n) and read the Page 45 review here

The Defenders #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Terry Dodson.

The Defenders should always be played for laughs, and not just in the pages of Twisted Toyfare Theatre. The Kieth Giffen era, in fact, when they used to run one-line adverts for other titles at the bottom of each page was the only one worth paying attention to until now. The original core members consisted of Dr. Strange trying to pacify the Hulk and Namor while the Silver Surfer buried his head in his hands and bemoaned man’s inhumanity to man. Actually, he did most of that in his own title.

From the writer of CASANOVA, INVINCIBLE IRON MAN and the recent rejuvenation of IRON FIST comes a cry for help from a more-than-usually-responsible Hulk answered by Dr. Stephen ‘still-sleeping-with-his-students’ Strange who promptly reforms the Defenders by making house calls on Namor (imperiously wrecking a posse of killer whale cullers), the chrome-domed wielder of the Power Cosmic who answers the flurry as a blizzard of snow (he’s… experimenting), the Red She-Hulk (oh, I know, totally lame, but well written here) and, of course, Iron Fist who himself is having a one-night stand he probably shouldn’t and buries himself in some comics instead (approved!). Each receives their own colour-coded perspective in the monologue boxes and is considerable enhanced by being drawn by Terry sexy Dodson.* Also, guess what’s back? The seventies’ one-line adverts at the bottom of each page! Funny.

*Please note: I have no idea if Terry is sexy; presumably his wife thinks so. But as artists they both deliver in some of the most sensuous lines in superhero comics.


Buy Defenders #1 having read our review by emailing, picking up the phone or – you know – visiting!

Batman: No Man’s Land vol 1 (New Ed’n) (£22-50, DC) by Bob Gale, Dennis J. O’Neil, Devin Grayson, Ian Edginton, Greg Rucka, Scott Beatty, Lisa Klink, Kelly Puckett & Alex Maleev, Roger Robinson, Dale Eaglesham, D’Israeli, Frank Teran, Jason Pearson, Damion Scott, Chris Renaud, Guy Davis,Jon Bogdanove, Phil Winslade.

Chunkier slab of the series which chronicled the repercussions ofGotham’s collapse under an Earthquake (BATMAN: CATACLYSM) and its subsequent year of penury and lawlessness whenAmericadecided it simply wasn’t worth rebuilding and summarily ejected it from theUnited States. Obviously the struggle to retakeGothamsucceeds eventually, but who gets the last laugh? It’s not Batman, and it most certainly isn’t Commissioner Gordon.

Roughly twice the size of the old edition, this reprints SHADOW OF THE BAT #83-86, BATMAN #563-566, DETECTIVE COMICS #730-733, AZRAEL #51-55, LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #117,118 and BATMAN CHRONICLES #6.


Buy Batman: No Man’s Land vol 1 (New Ed’n) and read the Page 45 review here

Brightest Day vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi & Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Fernando Pasarin, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado…

“I’m sorry about your son.”
“Welcome to the family business, eh?”
“Out of all the people that were buried six feet under, you get to live again. And I wish I could say you’ll turn over a new leaf, but I know you. I know what you’re going to do so I came here to tell you not to bother.
“Bother doin’ what, mate?”
“Trying to escape. To pull more jobs. To hurt more people. To make me run after you.”
“Why me and not my son, or Cold’s sister or your ridiculous friend the Elongated Man? Hell if I know, but I’m not going to sit in here letting that rot my brain.
“Is that a threat?”
“Naw, mate. It’s a Flash fact.”

Hmm, after the rather ridiculous slug-fest finale of BLACKEST NIGHT I can’t say that what I needed next was another ‘event’, so it is a positive that BRIGHTEST DAY is most definitely not an ‘event’. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal going on at all. But… that is actually what is intriguing about this title. In a way BRIGHTEST DAY is a throwback to the old team-up titles where you never really knew who was going to be in it from month to month. This is like that, but there is a fine plot thread running throughout, mostly hidden, which is very gradually starting to be revealed.

It involves an unusual selection of post-BLACKEST NIGHT resurrectees, heroes like and villains alike, and a disembodied White Lantern voice directing and cajoling the various characters, but particularly the now-human Boston Brand, to perform either very specific actions, some seemingly very random, or follow very vague orders. And that, really, sums up BRIGHTEST DAY so far. It works well in that there is a genuine sense of mystery as to what is going on (I think perhaps DC learnt from Trinity that espousing the whole plot in the first few issues of a year-long event is not a good idea), but it would be nice to have a little more sense that the writers actually do perhaps have a definitive plot in mind. Having read a few issues beyond this volume already, happily I think perhaps they do.


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

Superman: Secret Origin s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank.

Gary Frank: always a hallmark of quality. No one can do weightless yet physically present quite like Gary, and Geoff Johns has written the perfect vehicle for him. Another book then to add to the relatively short list in answer the customer’s question, “Which SUPERMAN books do you recommend?” Like Geoff and Gary’s SUPERMAN AND THE LEGION OF SUPERHEROES it’s a book about belonging; about being accepted for who you are and what you do, not where you come from.

“Why are you here?”
“To help people.”
“And do you expect us to bow down before you in return?”

And it’s a classic case of transposition there as Lex Luthor attributes his own motivations of self-interested hegemony to the most altruistic, benevolent being on the planet.

For when a young Clark Kent first arrives inMetropolis he finds the city in thrall to Lex Luthor, and its citizens beholden to him either because he’s already picked them from each morning’s crowd gathered outside his gates desperately begging to be aided, or because they’re still part of that crowd praying beneath him that they’re next. 78% ofMetropolis’ real estate is owned by Lexcorp, the American military has derived most of its new hardware from the man, and the media is in his pocket and under his thumb. No wonder The Daily Globe is on the brink of bankruptcy:Lois Lanewon’t let the real story go.

So when Superman finally reveals himself and the city’s focus shifts from Lex Luthor’s inventions and seeming philanthropy to the genuine beneficence of a flying man in a big red cape, the two are set on a collision course from here to eternity for as long as they both shall live. It’s personal.

It has nothing to do with Luthor’s overt protestations that the man is an alien, although that is precisely what’s been troublingClarksince childhood. As the story opensClark’s powers are emerging in parallel with puberty. Indeed he almost sets fire to the school in a sudden spurt of heat vision catalysed by a kiss. It’s comically clear what that alludes to! But he feels so guilty about breaking the arm of a friend during American football that he makes all manner of lame excuses to avoid a rematch, and it’s his very consideration for them that alienates his once-tight circle of friends. As David S. Goyer perceptively identifies in the introduction there is a deeply affecting key scene which would both warm and break the heart of any father, adoptive or otherwise, afterClarkis told the truth of his lineage and recoils, fleeing to the cornfield in under abjection. Joined by Pa Kent, he struggles through his tears.

“I don’t want to be someone else. I don’t want to be different. I want to beClarkKent.
“I want to be your son.”

It’s something he’s going to have to live with, work his way through, then find a way to be both. Thankfully he has nothing to prove to his parents.

“Clark… you are my son.”

Old film fans will get a kick out of seeing Christopher Reeves resurrected by Frank in the bumbling reporter and his dopey, disarming smile (the ultimate in feigned innocence), whilst the young Lex Luthor’s optimism, confidence and ambition is every bit as inspiring as his supercilious superiority is repugnant. Other origins embellished here includeMetallo and Parasite.


Buy Superman: Secret Origin s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Spectrum vol 18 s/c (£22-50, Underwood Books) by various.

Annual outing for the fantasy art anthology with a brief pause for sculpture. Rick Berry does a mean impression of Phil Hale.


Buy Spectrum vol 18 s/c and read the Page 45 review here


Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews to follow or already up if they’re softcover of hardcovers. Regardless, you can now go straight to these books in the shopping area simply by clicking on their titles! Hurrah!

The Sigh h/c (£8-50, Archaia) by Marjane Satrapi

Absolute Promethea vol 3 (£75-00, ABC) by Alan Moore & J.H. Williams III

Ronin Dogs #2 (£4-99) by Mark Pearce

Witch Doctor vol 1: Under The Knife (£9-99, Image) by Brandon Seifert & Lukas Ketner

Rocketeer Adventures vol 1 h/c (£18-99, IDW) by various

Same Difference h/c (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Derek Kirk Kim

Mush!: Sled Dogs With Issues (£13-50, FirstSecond) by Glenn Eichler & Joe Infurnari

The Red Wing (£10-99, Image) byJonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra

Soloman Kane vol 3: Red Shadows (£13-50, Dark Horse) by BruceJones & Rahsan Ekedal

Fables vol 16: Super Team (£10-99, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Eric Shanower,Terry Moore, Andrew Pepoy, Richard Friend

Hitman vol 5: Tommy’s Heroes (£22-50, DC) by Garth Ennis & John McCrea

Deadpool Max vol 1: Nutjob s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by David Lapham & Kyle Baker

Secret Wars (£25-99, Marvel) by Jim Shooter & Mike Zeck, Bob Layton

Secret Wars 2 (£22-50, Marvel) by Jim Shooter & Al Milgrom

Spider-Man: Mark Millar Ultimate Collection (£25-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Terry Dodson, Frank Cho

Secret Warriors vol 5: Night s/c (£10-99, Marvel) byJonathan Hickman & Mirko Colak, Alessandro Vitti, David Marquez

Moon Knight vol 1 hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys vol 18 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Urusawa

House Of Five Leaves vol 5 (£9-99, Viz) by Natsume Ono

No Longer Human vol 2 (£8-50, Vertical) by Usamaru Furuya

Princess Knight vol 2 (£10-50, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka


A month ago wee Hayley Campbell sent me a tweet saying there was a new film out starring Guy Pearce with a shaved head… which was therefore me. I’ve a bit of thing for Guy Pearce so I scoffed. Then my mate sent me a link and… Good grief: filming that must have been the biggest blackout of my life. And I’m the first to confess I’ve had a fair few. 30 seconds in: see what you think.

 – Stephen

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.