Archive for January, 2012

Reviews January 2012 week four

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Before we begin: Page 45 has secured its own exclusive signed and numbered bookplate edition of Antony Johnston’s THE COLDEST CITY at no extra cost! I’ve read the whole thing and you’ll find a full review of THE COLDEST CITY with interior art here! Due in May but pre-order as soon as you can, please: it’s a limited edition. At no extra cost! Also, see breaking news at the bottom.

Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary h/c (£13-50, HMH) by Kenshni Kashyap & Mari Araki…

“Why so pale and wan my love?”
“Did you speak with Alex?”
“Who’s Alex?”
“She’s my best friend. Was.”
“Not was, darling, still is. You must sort this out.”
“What happened?”
“We had a fight.”
“With your best friend? How maddening.”
“She has a new boyfriend.”
“Men are always the culprits, aren’t they?”
“Darling, don’t look so sad. These are the normal trials and tribulations of friendship. It’s just ghastly in the moment. Who cares about this girl? Tell me about you. What classes are you taking?
“Math, French, history, biology and existentialism.”
“Existentialism! Why that’s perfectly fabulous! What kind of school is this?”
“A very expensive one.”

Existentialism is just about the only school of philosophy I have any time for personally, perhaps not unsurprisingly given I am someone who practices Buddhist meditation. In any event the idea that discursive thought about the nature of things begins with the human individual as a whole surely isn’t any great philosophical insight, merely common sense? There are many parallels with Buddhism in that with existentialism the beginning of someone’s journey to understand often commences with a feeling of non-belonging and confusion in what seems like a world that makes little or no sense. I am also amused by the fact that many existentialist philosophers had an innate dislike or disapproval of traditional philosophy, regarding it as abstract, limited in its scope and not remotely useful in illuminating the human condition to an individual personally. I would heartily concur. Why raise the Buddhist angle? Well I was rather tickled by the very last page as we see a letter Tina is sending to her teacher Mr Moosewood (aka Moose), who has left her school and joined a Soto Zen monastery in California, one which does actually exist and was founded by the same woman, and is in fact the parent monastery of the one I often go in wilds of Cumbria.

Anyway, I digress and I haven’t even started the review properly yet! So… Tina, our 15-year-old never-been-kissed central character, and the rest of her classmates have been given an assignment by Moose, of which hers is to keep an existential diary. She’s writing it to Jean-Paul Satre…

“Dear Mr Jean-Paul Sartre,
I know that you are dead and old and also a philosopher. So, on an obvious level, you and I do not have a lot in common.”

… and at the end of the semester the diary will be sealed and given to Moose. He’s not intending to read it (precisely how he’s going to mark it I have no idea!), but instead will send it back to her in three years. Which all makes TINA’S MOUTH sound rather dry (ho ho), but actually this is a lovely, heart-warming tale about self-discovery, rites of passage and how best friends and boys can be, quite frankly, bitches and buttheads, respectively. Tina also happens to be of Indian descent so has her own cultural family foibles to deal with too, aside from making her already a little different from the social norm. So when BFF Alex dumps her for a boy, she decides it’s time to put her own cliquey prejudices aside and look for some new friends with a fresh eye. Oh, and whilst she’s at it, she’s determined to find the right person to pucker up and give her that all-important first kiss!

This is such a cleverly constructed, wryly observed work, dealing sensitively yet often hilariously with all the myriad types of issues an intelligent, well-grounded 15 year old is likely to run into. This is no diary of handwringing woe-is-me strife; instead Tina just observes what life is throwing at her, provides a daily commentary for her trusted confidante Jean-Paul and keeps firmly moving forward as her understanding of society and the people around her, and also herself, starts to blossom. Most enjoyable.


Tina’S Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary hardcover

Hildafolk brand-new edition (£6-50, Nobrow Press) by Luke Pearson.

Oh, the difference a dash of spot-varnish makes! Adult and tiny eyes alike will shine like marbles when they see the sheen, both on the front cover and the French flaps inside. Tilt it under lamplight and you’ll note it’s been administered not only unto young Hilda, Twig, and the snow gently falling over the rich brown mountains, but also just to the left, below each snowflake, effectively rendering them 3-D! We love attention to detail.

From the creator of SOME PEOPLE, EVERYTHING WE MISS etc., a brand new edition of the very first adventure before HILDA AND THE MIDNIGHT GIANT where we find young Hilda following in her mother’s artistic footsteps by taking her sketchbook out into the grassy, rock-strewn hillside to draw. She sketches her pet Twig perched on a tiny island in the rippling plunge pool below a cascading waterfall, she spies a lost Sea Spirit that must have drifted down the fjord; and then finally, excitedly, she discovers a true Troll Rock! She’d been reading up on trolls the previous day, but then the prospect of camping out under rain had distracted her, as did yet another visit by that strange, silent wood man who keeps walking through their front door completely uninvited (thank you very much indeed!) to lie quietly down by the fireside. What is that guy’s problem?

Anyway, Hilda gives Twig a bell to perch on the Troll Rock’s big, long nose to warn them in case it in transforms (as they’re said to at night!) and starts moving. She then sets about sketching it from every conceivable angle: from afar, from behind and from below – even from on top of its schnozzle! Oh, but it’s tiring work, and soon our pioneer and portrait artist starts to fall asleep, only to be woken up during the bright orange sunset in the middle of a blizzard… by the jingle-jangle of bells!!!

Oh so exciting and full of surprises, this will warm the cockles of the coldest of hearts: the cosiness of camping out at night, and the sound of rain on canvas; a giant lost above the tree-tops, confounded by their conformity; the mystery of the wood man, the wonder of the world Luke Pearson has created, at once familiar yet populated by exotic and fantastical new fauna. I’m not quite sure what Twig is! A blue-grey fox-cat with a bright white belly and antlers. In fact as a colourist alone Luke Pearson deserves to win every award going, and his attention to detail is right up there with Ware. The inside front and back covers would make the best Christmas wrapping paper ever! Indeed Nobrow probably have, and their paper stock is of the highest possible quality.

An awe-inspiring adventure, then, with two important lessons in hospitality and research. Because you remember that bell…?

“One should always read the whole book. They’re not for dipping into.”


Buy Hildafolk new edition and read the Page 45 review here

Prophet #21 (£2-25, Image) by Brandon Graham & Simon Roy.

Look, just pretend it’s #1. That’s what it should have been called – or by another name entirely. You will want nothing whatsoever to do with its previous incarnation. You will, however, want this, fully endorsed byWarren Ellis.

“All around John, the clicks and ticks of new creatures.
“Earth has changed since he last knew it. The old land is harsher, now. Unforgiving. Even the animals he’s known have changed.
“On the first evening he fights a domoeode wolfpack made more deadly by the cunning parasites that have bonded to them.
“Other animals, new unknowns. His second morning awake: a hiber xull screams like a kitten as he pulls it out of a river, proving to be inedible once he’s killed it. So he kills what he knows he can eat.”

John Prophet has awoken after millions of years buried deep beneath the Earth’s surface. It is a world now entirely alien to him, and his physical resources are few. But he has his instincts, he has his wits and he has his skills along with dreams which tell him where he must go and when. TheJellCityis a smell-based caste society, each with its own regions and roles. Most of what they gorge on is inedible to John – his stomach, however enhanced, simply can’t handle it – but they also eat meet from the oonaka farm he surveyed days earlier, and that will have to do. So for weeks John Prophet bides his time, hiding in an organic pod within the city, venturing out when he can to reconnoitre and forage until he can meet his preordained contact and learn of his mission. Then finally, one day, his contact arrives with a somewhat insalubrious demand…!

Quietly riveting science fiction from Brandon Graham (King City collection imminent) and drawn by Simon Roy in a way that demands you linger over every detail just as John Prophet must too. And the details do reward: I’d take a close inspection of that oonaka farm, if I were you! The creatures themselves are deliriously alien mutations which avoid all visual clichés, as does the language. Sci-fi nomenclature often makes me wince, but not here. There’s a keen sense of survivalism in the sparse tools at John’s disposal, and the second batch inJellCity proves highly imaginative. Far from overwritten in the third person singular, present tense, one forms an immediate bond with the dispassionate, observational author which is absolutely entrancing.

John’s mission, by the way, is a pretty tall order. You’ll see what I mean when you get there. I wonder if John ever will.

Here’s Warren Ellis’ endorsement of PROPHET with interior art.


Buy Prophet #21 the good old-fashioned way by phoning 0115 9508045 or emailing Personal contact: good lord!

Blue Estate vol 2 (£9-99, Image) by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, Andrew Osborne & Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Paul Maybury, Marley Zarcone, Tomm Coker, Andrew Robinson, Peter Nguyen…

“Think you’re ready to roll with us?”
“Not so fast.”
“There’s no place for amateurs on the mean streets ofHollywood… So before we get started, you need to ask yourself one question: DO I FEEL HOFF?”
“Well, do ya, punk?”

This time around it’s the turn of semi-competent Mafiosi Lino & Mauro to get us into the requisite ‘Blue Estate state of mind’ with their guide to how David Hasslehoff would handle any number of tricky situations a (not-so) wise guy could find themselves in on a day-to-day basis.

There surely can’t be too many crime comics out there that have you crying with laughter before you’ve even got past the introductory page, but yet again the surreal, opening-page entreaty perfectly captures the sublimely ridiculous nature of life amongst the movie-hip gangsters and good-time gals that really do inhabitTinselTown.

Volume two picks up the high-octane pace right where the previous volume left off as Lino & Mauro’s completely incompetent boss Tony Luciano, son of the head of the local Italian crime family, continues in his ill-conceived attempts to be a serious player. It’s not long before he’s causing Daddy problems with the local Russian mob, whose Big Bosski is bankrolling the latest film in Bruce Maddox’s Hunt To Kill franchise.

Bruce meanwhile has got problems of his own, as he’s pretty convinced his wife Rachel is cheating on him, and has hired obese, weasely P.I. Roy Devine Jr. to keep tabs on her. And we won’t even get into Roy Jr. issues with his Dad, who’s a serious old-school, ass-kicking cop, and thinks Roy Jr. is worth about as much as a shit on his shoe. WhenRoy snaps some covert pics of Rachel leaving a hotel room with sleazy Tony lurking in the background, it seems like it all makes sense. Except of course nothing is exactly what it seems as cinemascope-sized quantities of the brown stuff start hitting the fan for pretty much all of our cast of characters.

Seems like right about now would be a good time to take a deep breath, chill out and kick back to Mauro’s favourite Hoff music video… If you only watch one truly unbelievably bad music video this year, make it this one! You will believe a Hoff can fly!!


Buy Blue Estate vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

The Twelve vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by J. Michael Straczynski & Chris Weston.

Great news: after several years on hiatus, this series is about to be completed!

Occasionally, just occasionally, you find a Marvel comic that transcends its trappings and truly surprises you. THE INHUMANS by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee was one of the first in recent times. Then FANTASTIC FOUR: UNSTABLE MOLECULES brought “unusual” to a whole new level, as does the new Omega The Unknown, whilst this is sure to send shivers down your spine. Here’s Dynamic Man:

“I was supposed to be.. I was meant to be… the perfect man. The man of tomorrow. The man of the future. That’s what they always called me. The press. The public. Even my father. I was supposed to protect the world so it could become the perfect future, and once that happened, I would fit in. I would be home. But I don’t… I can’t understand this future. This world. It’s not what it was supposed to be. Clean. Pure. Perfect. There were supposed to be flying cars, and jet packs, and no more poverty, and buildings five miles high, and lunar colonies, and —

” — And instead it’s a place of even more despicable crime, more depraved behaviour, people crawling on the devoured rind of the earth. I stay in the air because I can’t stand the stink of it. I keep moving because that way I don’t have to think, is this the world we fought so hard to save? A world I don’t understand?”

“Depraved behaviour”, by the way, includes mixed-race marriages and homosexuality. Everyone is beneath him, whether he’s flying or not. I think Dynamic Man might have been fighting on the wrong side during World War II. Chris Weston does a peerless job throughout, but most especially in his depiction of this Aryan uber-man: his snarling sneers and body-builder poses ripped from mid-1900s German magazines, as repellently grotesque as he is physically fit.

So let’s pull back. During WWII twelve random “superheroes” – not a team at all – explored the SS Headquarters inBerlinduring a mop-up operation. They were looking for snipers and other opposition forces, but found more than they bargained for. Buried deep underground and left in suspended animation, they’re discovered in the present day by the construction industry revitalisingEast Germany.Americais quick to reappropriate, relocate and then fund the heroes who were born into a patriotism that wouldn’t think twice which side to choose during any superhero Civil War. But that doesn’t mean to say that all sorts of other baggage isn’t collected from the metaphorical conveyor belt as well. Family reunions, if they happen at all, don’t all go well – and there’s one in a Jewish household that is particularly painful to watch as one of the so-called heroes is taught a well deserved lesson in being proud of one’s heritage. Adapting to modern life proves hard for some and impossible for others, with consequences that are decidedly worrying. One superficial show-off makes an utter TV tosser of himself, one has his heart-broken by the realities of life for kids in some urban schools, whilst another sultry sexpot conjoins vamp and ire to redecorative effect on her late-night assignations outside of the lesbian goth circuit she is wont to frequent.

Straczynski has taken old superheroes created in innocence then written and drawn in childish adventures, and transposed them, golden-age-tinted glasses and all, into the liberal/decadent/permissive (delete as appropriate to your world-view) 21st Century where they have as much to say about the there and then as the here and now.

It’s not a pretty picture. Or it wouldn’t be if Chris Weston wasn’t involved. He’s one of those troopers like DAN DARE’s Gary Erskine and indeed Bryan Talbot who marry British (and other) comics’ past and present to perfection. See Ellis & Weston’s MINISTRY OF SPACE.


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

Journey Into Mystery vol 1: Fear Itself h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Doug Braithwaite.

“I see your future, and it is knee-bound, tear-faced and bloody-lipped. It sees your eyes dancing at the end of meaty cords and your tongue sore-crowned in the belly of a beast. You are in the hands of Loki. You are deep in the land of Hell. From where you will find yourself, you will not even be able to see mere misery. You will gift me secrets and I will gift you death. You don’t, and you will truly know Loki.”
“The scroll’s seal is released. Inside you will find details of all The Serpent’s plans for Hel.”
“Good. Your death will send the clearest messenger to your master. That there’s more to fear than he.”
[A bucket of blood sprays across the room.]
“Oh, ick. Though… “more to fear than he!” Oh, Tyr! I do so enjoy this villainous talk!”

There’s nothing else quite like this in comics right now: a sparklingly literate fantasy from a writer well versed in mythology and with such an evident love of storytelling that it put me in mind of Neil Gaiman. In the hands of PHONOGRAM’s Kieron Gillen, Loki as a cunning, mischievous and eloquent young tyke is infinitely more interesting than he ever was as a bitter and malevolent adult. He’s naughty, irreverent, gleeful and funny and here on the side, if not of the angels, then at least of the gods. As Thor and Odin do battle against the Serpent and his minions in Fear Itself, young Loki gathers his wits to marshal his resources in the form of Mephisto, Hela et al. But the King of Hell and Queen of Hel are no mere pawns – except in the hands of the ultimate trickster. Indeed Loki manoeuvres each of his pieces across a board only he can see clearly with an ingenuity that will make your smile crack into a big, broad grin.

Loki’s guile, of course, is completely dependent on Gillen’s and Kieron is thinking right outside the box. The very idea that a shadow can be transported, and that wherever the shadow goes so much what casts it, is a brilliant way to smuggle something out of captivity. Similarly Loki’s early quest to find himself – quite literally – is both far from obvious, taking on the form of a most original treasure hunt. All this Loki must accomplish without true allies, for after his last lifetime as a liar, trickster and revolutionary, no one in Asgard, Hell, Limbo, Midgard or Hell trusts him. Only Thor acts as his benefactor, his protector in a universally hostile environment. He’s like a kindly foster father and it’s this new dynamic which first makes the book. Here Thor’s caught Loki texting on a Stark Phone he bought with the proceeds of gambling:

“… Were you cheating, Loki?”
“Yes! But they were too! Cheating was the game, and I triumphed unfairly most fairly.”
“I do not think I approve.”
“There was no harm! Unlike this! The humans of the internetare uncouth. When I said I was an Asgardian God, they called me a troll!”

Braithwaite judges the young lad’s expressions to perfection and Thor’s body language, leaning down conspiratorially as he points out Loki is half-giant, is actually quite touching. While we’re on the subject of Braithwaite, this is like nothing I’ve seen from him before, coloured as it is straight over his pencils, and full of the requisite eerie light for these fantastical otherworlds. It’s a book of intrigue, machinations and so full of surprises; also big ideas and a real love of language, as here when Volstagg, in defence of Loki, unexpectedly takes the blame for Thor’s escape:

“But why? You hate me.”
“I hate Loki. You have destroyed us all, time and time over. But… I have children, Loki. A great, prattling, squelching brood who exist to do nothing but create smells and trouble and joy. I love them all. And by the eternal droppings of Huginn and Munnin, I find myself sentimental about even the worst of you little monsters.”

Oh yes, sorry, there’s also a great deal of dung.

Most importantly, however, you don’t need to read Fear Itself to enjoy this separately: Loki’s feast of deceit may be in service to the gods’ fight against The Serpent but it’s another quest altogether. Even though Marvel have called it something different this book is most emphatically JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY VOLUME ONE, and continues in what Marvel calls Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself Fall-Out. That’s important because I should warn you that the story itself ends on a cliffhanger a couple of dozen pages before you’re expecting it to, followed as it is by pages of Marvel Thor history, interviews with Gillen and cover art etc.


Fear Itself: Journey Into Mystery hardcover

Fear Itself s/c (UK Ed’n) (£15-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen.

Released but a single week after the American hardcover edition, so bang goes our sales there! Never mind, at least it means I’ve already written the review we ran last week. I don’t want to clutter up this week’s blog so instead why don’t you make with the clicky below to read the full review and see the cover too!


Fear Itself softcover (Uk Ed’N)

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Rafa Sandoval…

Everyone’s favourite second-stringer gets his take to take a bow… and fire it repeatedly…

Actually, in the hands of Jonathan Hickman (ULTIMATE COMICS THOR and current run of the ULTIMATE COMICS ULTIMATES), this squarely hits the mark. In fact, it ties in with the current U.C.U. arc, providing considerable extra recon and intel on the current goings-on in the Southeast Asian Republic, where, if it weren’t enough trouble for Nick Fury that Reed Richards has returned with his very super-powered ‘children’ in eastern Europe, there’s another bunch of amped-up interlopers – well, two in fact – inhabiting twin cities that have suddenly popped into existence on the other side of the planet.

Backed up by the gang from Ultimate Comics X including the Hulk, it’s up to Clint Barton to make all nicey nice and play the diplomat with the newcomers (hmm… sensing a teeny weeny snag with that part of the plan)  whilst working out what they’re really up to. Hickman also provides an extremely credible sci-fi secret origin for Hawkeye and reveals a little more back story about the Ultimate version of the bespectacled bowman than we’ve known to date. Not as outright thrilling as ULTIMATE COMICS THOR perhaps, but this story is much more intended as a piece of a larger jigsaw, that is for sure.


Ultimate Comics Hawkeye hardcover

Editor’s note: we’re not making these titles up. It really is ULTIMATE COMICS ULTIMATES.

X-Men: Schism s/c (UK Ed’n) (£15-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron,Kieron Gillen & Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuna, Alan Davis, Adam Kubert, Billy Tan.

Please note: in addition to the five-issue mini-series and the X-MEN: REGENESIS one-shot, the UK edition of X-MEN: SCHISM s/c also contains Gillen’s GENERATION HOPE #10 and 11. TheUS edition, whenever it appears, won’t. We’ve only just reviewed the h/c but if you missed it you can read the full review by clicking below. No purchase necessary!


X-Men: Schism softcover

War Of The Green Lanterns: Aftermath h/c (£19-50, DC) by Tony Bedard, Peter Tomasi, Scott Kolins & various…

“That isn’t how this is supposed to end!”
“Mister…? Who the heck are you?”
“I’m nobody. I’m nobody now.”

Poor old Hal. He finally gets a taste of what’s it like to get jilted, and he doesn’t even get to keep the ring. Yes, as the Guardians show their gratitude for the one person who’s saved their collective blue behinds more times than Guy Gardner’s had temper tantrums, it finally hits home to Hal just how little else he has in his life other than the Corps. Which is pretty much the high pointof this mish-mash of stories from the post-BRIGHTEST DAY / pre-DC reboot (that isn’t a reboot, of course) before the various Lantern titles start again from #1. So, we have War Of The Green Lanterns Aftermath #1-2, Green Lantern Corps #61-63 featuring what Kyle and John have been up to and the extremely pants filler-issues starring Guy that were Emerald Warriors #11-13. Happily, the new titles – especially Green Lantern itself – seem pretty good, and don’t worry too much, Hal fans, for he might not be without the bling for too long…


War Of The Green Lanterns: Aftermath hardcover

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Normally you can click on these and, by the miracle of little online pixies, you will be escorted to the relevant webpage in the shopping area. Alas, due to some monumental fuckwittery over the last 24 hours, the pixies have been replaced by gremlins and all you do is just stare at this list vacantly, a globule of saliva dribbling down your chin.

No, wait! All sorted now! Reviews to follow or already up if they’re softcovers of previous hardcovers. Feel free to click away!


The Manara Library vol 2 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Milo Manara with Hugo Pratt

The Best Of Girl (£14-99, Prion) by various

You Are A Cat! Pick A Plot Book 1 (£12-99, Conundrum Press) by Sherwin Tija

Apple Selection vol 1: Summer (£29-99, Udon) by various

A.D.D. Adolescent Demo Division h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Douglas Rushkoff & Goran Sudzuka

Sweet Tooth vol 4: Endangered Species (£12-99, Vertigo) by Jeff Lemire

Irredeemable vol 8 (£12-99, Boom!) by Mark Waid & Peter Krause

Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Promise Part One (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru

Batman Beyond: Industrial Revolution (£12-99, DC) by Adam Beechen & Ryan Benjamin

Catwoman vol 1: Trail Of The Catwoman (£22-50, DC) by Ed Brubaker & Darwyn Cooke

Batman & Robin: Dark Knight vs. White Knight h/c (£16-99, DC) by Paul Cornell & Scott McDaniel, Christopher Jones

X-Men Legacy: Aftermath softcover (£11-99, Marvel) by Mike Carey & Paul Davidson, Harvey Tolibao, Jorge Molina, Rafa Sandoval

Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine softcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Adam Kubert

Spider-Man: Spider-Island softcover (Uk Ed’N) (£16-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Rick Remender & Humberto Ramos, Stefano Caselli, Tom Fowler

FF vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, Barry Kitson, Greg Tocchini

Daredevil vol 1 hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Paolo Riveria, Marcos Martin

Wolverine vol 2: Wolverine Vs. The X-Men s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Daniel Acuna, Jefte Palo

Marvel Masterworks: The Uncanny X-Men vol 4 (£18-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne, George Perez

Iron Man: Extremis hardcover (Uk Ed’N) (£9-99, Marvel) byWarren Ellis & Adi Granov

Cardcaptor Sakura Book 3 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Clamp

Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D vol 6 (£10-50, DMP) by Saiko Takaki

Mr. Convenience (£9-99, June) by Nase Yamato

Storm Flower (£9-99, June) by Runa Konjiki

Kimi Ni Todoke vol 12 (£6-99, Viz) by Karuho Shiina

One Piece Omnibus vols 1-3 (£9-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

NGE: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project vol 9 (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Osamu Takahashi

Assassin’S Creed: The Fall softcover (Deluxe Ed’N) (£13-99, Ubisoft) by Cameron Stewart, Karl Kerschl

Breaking news: to make good on my consistently erroneous tweeting of THE COLDEST CITY as THE COLDEST DAY, Antony Johnston has been forced to call the second book in this series THE COLDEST DAY. If I continue to fuck up, he’s threatened to call the third instalment THE COLDEST SHOULDER.

And I will be assassinated by the end of its opening sequence.

– Stephen

Reviews January 2012 week three

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Bruce Wayne is coming down with a hangover. Or at least that’s what Alfred thinks. But Bruce isn’t coming down with anything – in fact he won’t be coming down for days – he’s getting high as a kite on ketamine.

 – Stephen on Batman: Through The Looking Glass

Shaky Kane’s Monster Truck (£10-99, Image) by Shaky Kane…

An experience akin to dear old Albert Hoffman’s fateful psychedelic bicycle ride on home on April 16th 1943, except behind the wheel of a pimped-out monster truck roaring through diseased suburban Americana, whilst legions of every B-, C- and D-movie monster ever imagined carouse around pimped-out space vehicles and ‘60s shark-finned convertibles cruising the mall-encrusted highways.

Meanwhile, clowns patrol the streets staring gormlessly as life-sized, naked, anorexic dolls are loaded up into the back of pickup trucks by aliens armed with laser guns, as extinct dinosaurs casually trundle past the lighthouse in the middle of the street. And all the while this experience is rendered unto our disbelieving eyes in garish single-panel per page fluorescent colours in total silence… save for one abstract statement summarising each vista which maintains a burbling stream of barely lucid consciousness throughout. It goes without saying of course, I absolutely loved this!


Buy Shaky Kane’s Monster Truck and read the Page 45 review here

Keep Our Secrets h/c (£11-99, McMc) by Jordan Crane.

I’ve just used a hairdryer for the first time in years!

No, not on myself – my follicularly challenged bonce isn’t going to stage a comeback: this is the last hair style I’ll ever have – but on this magical children’s book with pools of heat-sensitive black which, when rubbed or passed over by an electric hairdryer, reveal secret activity only a pair of young friends can see. As they wander through their bustling house, though the sleeping kitchen then out into the back yard they marvel at what’s really happening right under everyone’s noses. There’s an accordion full of cats, trees full of bees, a great big fluffy old dog hidden in a piano, and that kitchen is far from asleep!

Above all it’s the interactivity involved that really makes this book, and I don’t just mean the heat-sensitive ink; I mean the fact that it will be shared by parent and child. I can just hear the squeals of delight and rich, gurgling laughter young readers will greet each crazy, colourful revelation with. They’re all so gleefully drawn by Jordan Crane, creator of the gentle, subtle and profoundly moving LAST LONELY SATURDAY, THE CLOUDS ABOVE and Uptight, and published by those same people who brought us the magnificent MCSWEENEYS anthology. I can also imagine the conversations kick-started by the real secrets of life, the answers which are blowing in wind, locked inside heart-shaped autumn leaves:

“Hold fast”
“Forgive first”
“Find a way”
“Grace above all”
“Share everything”

This being Crane, of course, there’s also room for a short story or two condensed into single sentences: “Missus Toogood has a book of medicine; she cries tears in a bottle she keeps in her boot.”

So yes, I’ve road-tested this for you, it was an absolute pleasure, and I can report that the ink reacts exactly as it should, giving up each of its treasures for a couple of minutes before burying them again completely as the cold curtain closes until next time. A hairdryer is recommended, though. Good job I kept one for guests!


Billy Fog And The Gift Of Trouble Sight h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Guillaume Bianco.

“I’m not mean. I just have character. S’different.”
– Billy Fog (page 13)

Known in France as Billy Brouillard, Billy’s a young boy who fights with his sister, occasionally dresses up in a bunny suit he insists is a cat costume, but is above all fixated on death – in particular the death of his pet cat Tarzan. At first I thought this was going to be played strictly for laughs like LENORE and the rest of the cute-but-dead brigade. It’s not.

Oh, you can see the overt influences of Tim Burton in the poems of The Little Knife Girl, The Puddle Princess and The Little Girl Who Never Got Up Again (perhaps she met the first little girl), you can spy plenty of Edward Gorey (THE DOUBTFUL GUEST) in some of the border-free, pen and ink art, and I do detect more than a little Michel Gagné in the silhouettes (page 13). There’s also an element of DOCTOR GRORDBORT in the Gazette Of The Bizarre’s Parapsychology pages (ghosts, superstitions and Ouija Boards) and even more so in Billy Fog’s Cryptozoology sections about two-headed snakes, insects, vampires and kid sisters (how to protect yourself!). They’re nonsense.

But underlying all this is a startling degree of seriousness as, over and over again, Billy’s thoughts drag him back to his poor dead cat and the weight of its passing’s implications. The early clue which I missed was in his letter to Santa Clause because I was still looking for Roman Dirge comedy and thought I’d found in questions like these:

“Who is death? What is it? Where is it? Do we have to go there?”

But no, on re-reading the preceding lines and those following it, it’s far clearer that this is a young boy genuinely troubled by thoughts he’s too young to handle, and he receives a candid and thoughtful reply at the end. Which is all very odd because the book, which bursts in and out of rhyme, is presented in precisely the fashion you’d expect from the likes of LENORE. It’s all very French and that makes me smile, as does the contents page which helpfully lists each of its component parts as being on page 13. And they are.


Buy Billy Fog And The Gift Of Troubled Sight h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Witchfinder vol 2: Lost And Gone Forever (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & John Severin…

I thought the first volume of WITCHFINDER was fantastic, with its period horror feel set in spooky Victorian London, replete with mysterious secret societies plotting grandiose schemes and rotten-toothed ne’er-do-wells lurking around seemingly every foggy corner, ready to slit your throat without even a second thought. Plus the art from Ben Stenbeck was beautiful and had that requisite Mignola look which I love.

Volume two, however, is an entirely different beast. I had expected the story to build upon the mysterious goings-on of volume one, with possibly the Heliotropic Brotherhood being set up as some sort of ongoing dastardly nemesis for Sir Edward to battle against. Instead we have the Queen’s premier paranormal detective on the trail of some mad Englishman hiding out in the sunny, and very dusty, Wild West.

I just couldn’t get into the story with the same relish, it just felt a bit thin despite a fairly interesting start, and sadly I just couldn’t get on with John Severin’s art at all. It’s far too much in the direction of Richard Corben for me personally rather than Mignola-esque. And yes, I do realise that may actually be a positive for many of you, just not me. I just love my Mignola stories illustrated in either that classic, clean approach or in the case of BPRD, Guy Davis’ altogether more stylishly brusque manner. It could be something I will get past with Severin as it took me a couple of books to warm to Davis on BPRD despite being a massive fan of his work since BAKER STREET, and now I’m always disappointed when BPRD is illustrated by anyone else. I guess then, this was a miss for me personally though I am certain many will enjoy it.


Buy Witchfinder vol 2: Lost And Gone Forever and read the Page 45 review here

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 2 – Gods And Monsters (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis, Tyler Crook…

After the collection of character related shorts and one-shots which came last month, BPRD: BEING HUMAN, I was itching like an idiot who’s licked the wrong sort of frog to get my hands on this, the actual second volume of the HELL ON EARTH arc of BPRD. All you need to know is that everything’s gone pretty much to hell in a hand-basket as whole cities right across the globe have been wiped out by the seemingly unstoppable frog monsters.

Meanwhile, despite the threat of global extinction, field agent Devon is still obsessing over the fact that Abe Sapien bears more than a passing resemblance to the creatures, which not surprisingly is starting to get on Abe’s nerves somewhat, as the duo continue to squabble like a pair of schoolboys. And, whilst everyone is wondering just where on earth Hellboy has got to, former BPRD twisted fire-starter Elizabeth just can’t keep out of trouble, even whilst lying low in a trailer park full of rednecks. Guy Davis and Tyler Crook share the art duties on what is shaping up to be the most epic BPRD arc yet. Given my comments re: the art on vol 2 of WITCHFINDER, I should also add I do actually likeTyler’s art style!


Buy BPRD Hell On Earth vol 2 – Gods And Monsters and read the Page 45 review here

Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamoroll vol 1 (£5-99, Viz) by Chisato Seki & Yumi Tsukirino ~

Super Kawaii new manga for younger readers. Cinnamoroll is a puppy with extremely long ears who – like a certain elephant – can use them to reach new heights! But when he isn’t adventuring in the clouds or rescuing his equally cute friends, Cinnamoroll likes nothing better than cup of tea in Café Cinnamon. That’s my kind of dog. Contains some very colourful pages and unlike CHOCO MIMI is actually structured like a comic, not a newspaper strip, which inJapan read top to bottom rather than left to right and some of our younger readers found that rather cramped. By comparison, Cinnamoroll has far more room to breathe and develop longer stories without growing stale.


Buy Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamoroll vol 1  and read the Page 45 review here

Whispers #1 (£2-25, Image) by Joshua Luna.

Sanitary Sam.

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5 –
“Shit! Can’t focus. Can’t believe I touched it. Can’t believe I let that prick distract me. I have to do this right to be clean. Focus.
“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. No. Didn’t feel right.
“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Better. But would it hurt to play it safe?
“1! 2! 3! 4! 5! 6! 7! 8! 9! 10! Off. Sure it’s off? Check to make sure. Check again. *sigh*

So that’s Sam, the protagonist, doing a Lady Macbeth and trying to wash himself clean of his imaginary damned spot. Not that he’s feeling guilty or in fear of being found out; he has an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In fact he has several obsessions that are all about Sam and a curious disorder indeed: he’s started to drift late at night around all his friends and watch them in secret, listening in on their thoughts. His body stays in bed, it’s only his astral self that goes travelling. It’s really quite hygienic. Oh, but the temptation to pry…

He tried to tell them today at the coffee house, but for some reason they seemed far more interested in consoling his ex-girlfriend who’s just lost her mother in a drink-driving accident and whose father may be permanently bedridden. Sam was only trying to bring comfort. God, but that Rico’s a prick. But then Sam now knows about Rico’s dirty laundry and is about to air it in public…

From one half of the fraternal collaborators on GIRLS (naked alien lady zombies), THE SWORD and ULTRA (immortal immature superheroes), this has plenty of promise and that empathic power to make you question yourself: what would you do in this situation if you found yourself able to listen in and even affect people’s thoughts? Hopefully not this.

The art’s far softer than you may be used to with a more opaque colouring I’m not always a big fan of; but here it works fine and there are some great moments suspended between city-centre traffic. Also, I did love the punchline which brought the whole thing full circle as Sam stands contemplating the barrier of a door.

Here’s a WHISPERS interview and preview with Joshua Luna in lieu of a link to our site.


Buy Whispers #1 by phoning 0115 908045 or – if you’re allergic to human contact – email page45@page45 and we’ll send you a link to pay via the website.

Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by BrianHolguin & Alex Sheikman, Lizzy Man ~

“… But as I drew and designed, I seemed to discover creatures and places from a civilization that had been long lost. It was more like archaeology than art, yet art it was.”

– Brian Froud, from his introduction.

Has it really been thirty years since this beautiful fantasy first came to the cinema? Brian Froud’s designs for this film gave the story a weight the technical skill of the Jim Henson Co. couldn’t carry alone. While in the film we see a dying world populated by mysterious characters, the world they inhabited was by far the most intriguing aspect the whole. Its ruined structures hinted at past prowess through the undergrowth, and a lot of thought went into what exactly they meant. The strange glyphs and diagrams carved into the buildings and stones weren’t just throwaway aesthetic garnish, but based upon an understanding of the astronomical knowledge of this fictional world’s tri-star system. Which if you remember from the film, orbited the planetThra and “sung” to theCrystaldeep in its bowels. This is symbolised by a series of concentric circles encasing an inverted triangle. From this emblem Henson & Co created not only a world, but a religion, a complex society. Then they destroyed it, leaving us with arcane hints in the fantastic dystopia of Thra.

The first in a trilogy of books (of course!) explaining the legend of how Thra came from nothing, gave life to the ancient witch Aughra and how her wisdom cost her eye, the loyalty of her son and the eventual genocide of her beloved Gelflings. This is a gorgeous object, as you would expect from the company that brought you MOUSE GUARD and Artesia, and Alex and Lizzy’s art is indistinguishable from Froud’s timeless designs.


Buy Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman: Through The Looking Glass h/c (£16-99, DC) by Bruce Jones & Sam Kieth.

Drinking from a wine glass the size of a large grapefruit last night may or may not have informed my reading of BATMAN: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. It is, after all, quite clearly bonkers with precisely the right man on art chores: Zero Girl’s Sam Kieth.

Bruce Wayne is coming down with a hangover. Or at least that’s what Alfred thinks. Wayne was out last night at Judge Rosalyn Hart’s, sitting right next to prominent politician Dunphrey Tweedle who’s just made the morning papers’ front-page by dint of being found murdered in his own bathtub. But Bruce isn’t coming down with anything – in fact he won’t be coming down for days – he’s getting high as a kite on ketamine. That would explain the traditionally tardy White Rabbit scattering papers across his desk and Celia, his long-lost childhood friend, materialising at his waist, the same age that he last saw her, dressed as Alice in Wonderland. Already cowled up and ready for action, Batman dashes down the sewers as his brain goes down the drain and finds himself lost in a surreal landscape of half-familiar characters: sinister fusions of Lewis Carroll’s cryptic protagonists and last night’s dinner guests and the magician Hart hired as entertainment – that chap with the really big hat. Should never have had those mushrooms…

Unless I missed something this isn’t a reprint but an original graphic novel launched with little or no publicity. Maybe the superhero fansites were confounded by the contents; I wouldn’t be at all surprised. The art for a start, they’re going to find a challenge, Kieth veering from his more rounded style for the real threats outside Bruce’s head to cartoon expressionism at the height of the hallucinations, disorientating both Batman and Batfans alike. Quite right too, but I suspect there will be mass irritation. That’s certainly a risk when attempting anything Carrollian without the great man’s nimble wit and charm or trying to shoehorn his characters into boots that don’t fit them. I think that’s Bruce Jones’ main mistake because some of the lines did make me laugh, like this outside a locked door.

“Wait a minute, Celia – I mean it does say ‘private’! They could be… You have heard of sex, right?”
“Well, of course! I’m not stupid! Comes right before seven, doesn’t it?”
“… Is that good six or bad six?”


Batman: Through The Looking Glass hardcover

Fear Itself h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen.

Marvel’s 2011 blockbuster event starring the Avengers, with a significant knock-on effect for their members’ own titles and UNCANNY X-MEN too.

“People are mad right now, and broke and they’ve been lied to and ripped off. And when people who’re already mad get scared then all hell kinda breaks loose.”

After enduring a United States under Norman Osborn (or George W. Bush – read it how you will), and with the economy in freefall catalysing mass unemployment and the repossession of homes, the American people are fractious. They’re raw and hurting. When Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter are caught in the middle of a riot they cannot control, they’re alarmed to discover there’s no foul play involved: no unusual energy signatures, no enchantments, nothing toxic in the air or water. It’s just how the temperature is.

So what will happen when the Serpent arises? When Sin, the Red Skull’s daughter, lifts the hidden Asgardian hammer her father could not, is transformed into something else and frees the ancient Skadi, God of Fear and the real All-Father, from the mystic bonds of Odin? What will happen when The Worthy summoned by Skadi and transfigured by mystical hammers into something even worse touch down in the Pacific Ocean, Brazil, China, Manhattan and the small town of Broxton where ancient Asgard lies in rubble?

That’s where the Avengers – both overt teams – are gathered here today, to launch a new Stark initiative to further the bond between Gods and man and put 5,000 Americans back to work by designing and then building a new Asgard here on Earth. But Odin isn’t happy. Disdainful of the creatures he is more used to being worshipped by, he is adamant that Asgard should be rebuilt by enchantment far from this blue and green marble. And when he senses that Skadi is loose upon the world, he orders it so, even if that means dragging Thor behind them in chains.

With robust and shiny art – like John Buscema inked by Jimmy Cheung – this is something rather different from recent superhero events. SIEGE, SECRET INVASION, Blackest Night – and even CIVIL WAR to a certain extent – had all been brewing for a while. But this is about to hit our heroes out of the blue and they don’t even know it yet. All they know is that the Gods have left them to fend for themselves and, if that wasn’t enough, Odin is prepared to destroy the whole of planet Earth just to cauterise the threat and hide his terrible secret.

As the catastrophic destruction spreads, so their fear rises and Sin/Skadi grows stronger. And that fuels further panic.

Includes the fall of Avengers Tower, major fatalities and the prelude by Ed Brubaker & Scot Eaton.


Fear Itself hardcover

Fear Itself: Avengers h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & John Romita Jr., Mike Deodato, Chris Bachalo.

Previously in Fear Itself: Avengers Tower has just fallen. Hawkeye and Spider-Woman survey the rubble from on high:

“Ugh. All my stuff was in there.”
“Yeah, you know what else was in there? All of Tony Stark’s stuff. Which I am assuming is much more valuable than your hairbrush collection.”
“You did not just say that.”
“Leave me alone… I’m very nervous.”

They’re flirting. Can you tell? Carol Danvers and Spider-Woman earlier, by some long velvet curtains, watching Hawkeye from afar:

“It’s a bad idea.”
“Drop it.”
“He’s still married.”
“He’s not.”
“Mentally, he is. Don’t you have that spider pheromone thing where you can chemically make someone like you?”
“Find a nice surfer boy or something and douse him with you chemicals and, you know…”
“I wish I had ‘shut up and get away from me’ chemicals so I could douse you.”
“It’s a bad idea.”
“Go away.”

Yes, it’s a return to my old bad habit of reviewing a book by Bendis simply by quoting his dialogue. But he’s funny, and knows exactly how to riff off established traditions. Truth be told, however, this cannot be read without Fear Itself too. It’s a series of snapshots – close-ups if you like – elaborating on the big battles during Blitzkrieg USA, over in Brazil, storming a Swedish Castle in search of the Red Skull’s daughter, Sin, and defending Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ baby as the New Avengers’ Mansion comes under assault from giant Nazi mechanoids. These ‘real-time’ scenes are themselves framed by excerpts from interviews with the various team members after the event, spliced so as to inform both the action and each others’ DVD-style commentary.

It’s an imaginative way to tackle the months your titles are locked into a Marvel event which is the centre of everyone’s attention elsewhere, and it’s not as if Bendis is merely treading water: relationships develop, a new member finally joins their ranks after declining for so long, and Bendis uses the opportunity to flesh out the mechanics of the two main teams. You have three of Marvel’s most attractive artists at the top of their games (I can’t get enough of Mike Deodato’s forms, textures and composition – some thrilling camera angles exactly when required and his reaction shots are expression-perfect) and for those following the series rather than reading this as an adjunct to FEAR ITSELF, it should be noted that this reprints not only AVENGERS #13-17 but also NEW AVENGERS #14-16, and so follows AVENGERS VOL 2 and New Avengers vol 2 as well.


Buy Fear Itself: Avengers h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Spider-Man: Spider-Island h/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Rick Remender & Humberto Ramos, Stefano Caselli, Tom Fowler…

My wife’s worst nightmare…

Being trapped on an island of human-sized spiders that is, not a Spider-Man graphic novel per se, though Todd McFarlene’s Spider-Man: Masques could actually probably qualify as my worst Spider-Man graphic novel nightmare, having decided to take a trip down memory lane after Stephen’s  review last week. If I were stuck on any island it’d certainly be the first thing I’d use as firewood…

[Agreed! However misconstrued, it was never intended as an endorsement! – ed.]

Anyway, fortunately for us this ‘event’ is Dan Slott bang on top writing form as Peter Parker finds overnight he’s not particularly spectacular or amazing anymore. In fact he’s just like any other plain ordinary Joe, or indeed J. Jonah Jameson, as all and sundry including old cantankerous flat-top himself suddenly find themselves able to do whatever a spider can. Which sounds like it should be great fun for all concerned, swinging through the streets, thwipping away merrily, until phase two kicks in and then they actually start to turn into spiders. Ravenously hungry spiders with eight legs and huge fangs… Not so much fun then, no.

Which means Peter Parker needs to use his one remaining natural advantage, his big boffin brain, in conjunction with his new spider-style Kung Fu he handily learnt from Shang Chi last week at the suggestion of the new Madame Web, former Spider-Woman Julia Carpenter. Just in case anything like this should happen, you understand. Of course there’s plenty of assistance from the FF, most of the Avengers, and also covertly from Venom, these days in a not-so-steady symbiotic relationship with Flash Thompson. Actually the ongoing Venom series, penned by Rick Remender (of which three crossover issues are included in this volume) has been a most pleasant surprise, I must say.

But if the entire population of Manhattan infringing on his copyright wasn’t enough to qualify as a bad day for Peter, there’s the fact that his girlfriend Carly can’t help but notice he’s got the hang of his ‘newly developed’ spider powers just a mite too quickly. So as the penny finally drops as to why Peter hasn’t exactly been the most reliable of boyfriends it looks likes romance is most definitely not going to be in the air for Mr. Parker any time soon.


Spider-Man: Spider-Island hardcover


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!

Jim Henson’S The Storyteller hardcover (£14-99, Archaia) by various including Roger Langridge

Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life (£13-50, IDW) by Matt Sturges & Kelly Yates & Brian Shearer

Superman: War Of The Supermen s/c (£10-99, DC) by James Robinson &Sterling Gates

War Of The Green Lanterns: Aftermath hardcover (£19-50, DC) by Tony Bedard, Peter Tomasi, Scott Kolins & various

Ghost Rider: Ultimate Collection (£25-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Mark Texeira, Javier Saltares, Tom Palmer, Richard Corben

Fear Itself softcover (Uk Ed’N) (£15-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen

Fear Itself: Ghost Rider s/c (UK Ed’n) (£12-99, Marvel) by Rob Willians & MatthewClark

Fear Itself: Journey Into Mystery hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) byKieron Gillen & Doug Braithwaite

The Twelve vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by J. Michael Straczynski & Chris Weston

Daken / X-23: Collision softcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Marjorie Liu,Daniel Way & Giusepper Camuncoli, Will Conrad

X-Men: Schism softcover (Uk Ed’N) (£15-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen & Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuna, Alan Davis, Adam Kubert, Billy Tan

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Rafa Sandoval

Sonic The Hedgehog Archives vol 17 (£5-99, Sega) by various

Kabuki vol 3: Moon (£9-99, June) by Yukari Hashida

Replica vol 1 (£9-99, DMP) by Karakara Kemuri

Psyren vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Toshiaki Iwashiro

Twin Spica vol 11 (£10-50, Vertical) by Kou Yaginuma

Blue Sheep Reverie vol 3 (£9-99, June) by Makoto Tateno

Blue Sheep Reverie vol 4 (£9-99, June) by Makoto Tateno

 You do know there’ll never be a review of SONIC 17, right?

 – Stephen

Reviews January 2012 week two

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012


The first of four volumes celebrating the breadth and depth of SANDMAN’s rich cultural texture.

  – Stephen on Annotated Sandman vol 1

Fatale #1 of 12 (£2-75, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

The Losing Side Of Eternity: an unpublished novel by Dominic H. Raines, 1957.

“So here’s how my entire life went off the tracks in one day.
“It started at Dominic Raines’ funeral… and of course the weather was as bad as most of the old man’s novels…”
“I didn’t see her among the small crowd, which, looking back, is odd. But I was distracted by the engravings on the headstone. Raines wasn’t just an atheist… he hated all religions. So what the hell was this about?”

What the hell indeed. Nicolas Lash has inherited the estate of his father’s best friend, one Dominic H. Raines who published a string of bestselling detective novels beginning in 1960 before dying alone and bitter and broken. As Nicolas swiftly discovers, however, he’s also inherited a great many questions and a whole world of trouble in the form of an unpublished manuscript whose title speaks volumes and a woman he meets by the grave. She calls herself Jo and claims to be the granddaughter of a woman the novelist once loved. The symbol, she says, is a private piece of the past which Raines and her grandmother simply couldn’t let go of.

“Later, I’d wonder why my head felt glued to the ground as she walked away. How with just a few words, she’d made me feel like some high school kid again. Dumbstruck. I didn’t know that could still happen.”

It’s been happening for years. Flashback to San Francisco during the mid-1950s and Dominic ‘Hank’ Raines is a happily married man with a wife and a kid on the way. A reporter determined to expose police corruption and in particular one Walt Booker, he lures Walt’s woman Josephine to a bar one night, and she warns him – she does try to warn him – but from that moment on he just can’t get her out of his head…

Ah, la femme fatale: beautiful, seductive, and disastrous for all who stray near. But Brubaker and Phillips have carved something far more interesting which, the more I think about it grows increasingly complex. For a start, I’ve deliberately said little about Walt himself – both his public and private investigations into a death cult – nor what happens to Nicolas back in the present, because although this is everything you love about the same team’s CRIMINAL, it’s also a horror comic: the less you know, the better. Indeed Brubaker’s hinted at so many unanswered questions in this first of twelve issues, I can’t get it out of my head, either.

It’s another perfect fusion of genres, but the big change and key to its complexity lies in the multiple perspectives: of each of the men who find themselves stricken by the raven-haired beauty who appears to weather the ravages of time infinitely better than those who fixate… and also Josephine’s. Each for their own reason appears to have no option but to forge forward in their different directions; each believes they are running out of time. All of them seem linked by and trapped in a web woven wider and wider across time, spanning, it seems, an entire century.

I love the way Sean Phillips draws gunshots – jagged flashes of fire – and there’s plenty of action and more gore to come, but it’s his quietest scenes set in beds, bars or out on the street at night that I relish even more. The opening pages in the bucolic graveyard are particularly sublime and as evidence I present you with this five-page preview of FATALE #1 courtesy of Warren Ellis including a cover which I predict (as early as the second week in January!) will be almost impossible to beat this year.


Oh yes, there’s also an excellent introduction to HP Lovecraft in the back putting him into historical context as well as within that of horror’s various sub-genres. None of the extras ever appear later in the collected editions: they’re a thank-you for supporting the series as they come out, and we do sincerely thank you. Also, you want that cover on your wall, don’t you?

Buy Fatale #1 or reserve the entire series by emailing ( or phoning 0115 9508045. Please see details of Page 45’s standing order service.

Sandman: Annotated Sandman vol 1 h/c (£37-99, Vertigo/DC) by Neil Gaiman, Leslie S. Klinger.

Oh, the stuff Neil knows!

The first of four volumes celebrating the breadth and depth of SANDMAN’s rich cultural texture.

Measuring 12” x 12” and coming in at over 550 pages, this enormous black and white hardcover reprints every page of the first twenty issues with plenty of space in the margin for the annotations. There’s also an introduction by Gaiman, a preface by Sherlock Holmes expert Leslie S. Klinger and an additional essay by Klinger putting the work into context with the history of comics which, in addition, reprints from SANDMAN #4 Gaiman’s substantial account of how he came to secure the gig in the first place. In his introduction Neil writes about his own love of annotated prose such as Through The Looking Glass:

“I loved feeling I had been given a key, or a succession of keys. I loved having jokes I had missed pointed out to me. I loved feeling that there had been scholarship and thought put into something, and that I had been made a gift of it. I learned background, I learned things I might not have found in dictionaries. Auctorial mistakes were pointed out and explained away. I reread with greater appreciation. It’s like going round a museum with a knowledgeable guide, someone who can point up into the rafters, where you might not have looked if you were walking around alone, and point out the gargoyles.”

Klinger’s previous annotated editions of Sherlock Holmes books have won awards but Gaiman always joked to his friend that he didn’t want SANDMAN annotating until after his death. Then Neil realised he was beginning to forget things. Armed, therefore, with an electronic archive of the scripts, notes and correspondences, Klinger’s own considerable knowledge and Neil as proof reader to correct any errors and point out new secrets, Klinger went away, sat down and delivered this: a casket of hidden treasure that could have been buried forever, now unearthed and unlocked for anyone who cares to marvel at it.

You’ll find extensive instructions from Neil to his artists, background descriptions (often embellished, reinterpreted or even ignored!); new notes from Gaiman about original intentions and changes made from the original script; historical, geographical, medical, mythological, literary and other cultural references explored; origins of words; origins of artefacts; reminders of where certain characters recur and how certain plot elements hinted at in the dialogue eventually played themselves out. There are additional notes about elements that appeared in the comics but not in the books – “next issue” notices and Neil’s revelations in the letter columns like the fact that issues 1 through 8 were “one long story, called (if you’re interested) ‘More than Rubies’” – and as for guest appearances by other DC characters like John Constantine, their history, as pertinent to their actions and interactions here at least, is explained. Oh yes, and occasionally even Neil made a mistake as when he used a juvenile version of a book for reference instead of the original.

None of this is stuff is vital to your profound enjoyment of the series but it is enormously good fun and if you’ve cherished the work Neil put into the series before you really are going to come away astonished. Of #13, for example:

“Note that all of the dialogue between Shakespeare and Marlowe and Shakespeare and Dream is in iambic pentameter.”



Buy Sandman: Annotated Sandman vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Spider-Man: Masques h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Todd McFarlane with Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza & Todd McFarlane with Rob Liefeld.

Todd McFarlane, eh? This was some of the final material he drew for Marvel before leaving and launching his own SPAWN. It’s almost impossible now to imagine an artist shifting as many units as McFarlane, Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld did then. As crazy as the artwork itself.

I don’t mean awful (certainly not in Jim Lee’s case, though definitely in Rob Liefeld’s), I mean crazy! Crazy hair which threatened to engulf Mary Jane and turn her into a permed, red-haired Cousin It; crazy panel arrangements with gutters that had given up the ghost so that the images cascaded on top of each other in a thunderstorm of multicoloured confusion; crazy, hyper-detailed web lines, knotted like glutinous barbed wire and thwipped out over the page in this direction, that direction, up, round and down! And then there were the monsters!

Todd McFarlane did love his monsters. Here we have Ghost Rider, Morbius the living vampire and a Hobgoblin no longer wearing a mask but transformed into a cowled demon with cat-eyes and a knife-draw for teeth. Blockbuster forms bursting with energy and filling every inch, throwing themselves at each other and bursting through backgrounds so that McFarlane didn’t have to draw them. Crazy, crazy, crazy and completely successful commercially: superhero junkies were hooked on their mainlined, sugarbuzz rush. I understand it. I totally understand it. Rob Liefeld, on the other hand, no.

Reprints SPIDER-MAN #6-7, 13, 14, 16 and X-FORCE #4 from the early 1990s.

I do like the cover’s spot-varnish.


Spider-Man: Masques hardcover

Uncanny X-Men: Dark Phoenix h/c (£6-99, Marvel UK/Panini) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne.

Corruption and seduction and genocide. Keep your enemies close and your friends even closer: this one will gut you for good.

Jean Grey was a kind, gentle soul, and one of the five original students at the countryside School For Gifted Youngsters. It was a quiet and secluded safe haven for those feared and persecuted just because they were different. They grew up together as a loving family under the paternal gaze of Professor Charles Xavier, an extraordinary, optimistic man whose vision for a future free from the anger and anguish of bigotry was indomitable. Each student was gifted or cursed at birth with a special power that lay dormant until puberty. And, truth be told, Jean Grey’s was the weakest: regardless of her sex, she was a telekinetic who struggled to move more than a chair.

Scott Summers was another of the school’s five original mutants. A blast of pure energy out of his eyes left unchecked could literally level a building. And so it was that he held himself back, and hid behind ruby-quartz glasses. He suppressed himself. In spite of all that, as they battled alongside, Jean Grey and Scott Summers gradually and naturally fell in love. They were the happy ending which Charles Xavier originally envisioned.

But in MARVEL MASTERWORKS: UNCANNY X-MEN vol two Jean Grey almost died and rose again as The Phoenix, transfigured into a woman of now limitless telekinetic and telepathic power. It worried her. And it frightened the new generation of mutants: Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, and even Professor Xavier who helped install psychic circuit-breakers, effectively suppressing Jean’s mutant abilities to manageable limits until she’d grow able to handle them. But for months now she’s had a mental intruder, a dashing aristocrat called Jason Wyngarde who’s been seducing her slowly in Cyclops’ absence, seemingly spiriting her away to an ancestral past which they shared. The truth is that they’ve been too distracted, and this is where everyone pays…

Claremont managed the mechanics of the subplot there (and so too here, with a shadow and a smile) to perfection, keeping Scott and Jean apart for far too long while Wyngarde made his move. It spanned nearly forty issues, but – with the above introduction – you’ll find everything here that you need. It’s overburdened with captions just as this review is overburdened by background, but the dialogue is still pretty haunting, and John Byrne was approaching the top of his game as the halfway house between Neal Adams, George Perez and Jim Lee. Even the speech balloons had their role to play, Jean’s chillingly distanced from the others’ in an otherworldly, far darker ripple as she grows increasingly remote in her own, angry world, punctuated by tantalisingly brief but poignantly intimate moments. And if you’re wondering why I’m expending so many words, it’s because this is a superhero classic: the defining X-Men saga for thirty-odd years before Morrison, Whedon and Ellis came along.

“What have you done?! I told you to stop that car, not turn it into instant junk!”
“You didn’t feel the girl’s start terror, Scott, or the thoughts of the killers chasing her. I’m a telepath. I did. These… animals got no more than they deserved.”

And that’s early on.

The X-Men have just been reunited in time for Cerebro to register two new mutants: Kitty Pryde and Dazzler. They try to make contact but so does the elite and nefarious Hellfire Club in the form of cold Emma Frost, The White Queen. Licking their wounds, the X-Men regroup then set about infiltrating the Hellfire Club. It’s a good plan and it might have worked. Except that amongst their members lies Jason Wyngarde, and he has an ace – or a Black Queen – up his sleeve. And the cards, they come tumbling down.

So many key moments here which I refuse to ruin, but the best thing about this? That’s just the beginning. It just grows bigger and bigger and bigger. Each victory proves pyrrhic and just when you think they are winning it all grows disastrously worse. Then worse. And then, I swear to God, heartbreakingly worse. It really wouldn’t matter if they didn’t all love each other.


Uncanny X-Men: Dark Phoenix hardcover

It really is just £6-99 for that hardcover. I write this as note separate from the review for our shopping area in case that changes – as seems likely the case!

Batman: The Dark Knight – Golden Dawn h/c (£18-99, DC) by David Finch with Grant Morrison & David Finch with Jason Fabok.

Grant Morrison alert!

For those following Morrison’s run on Batman, this book looks like the only place you’ll find the one-shot he wrote called BATMAN: THE RETURN. It sets up the whole recent Leviathan epic but, ridiculously, it doesn’t appear from their solicitation copy that DC will be reprinting this vital story in the forthcoming BATMAN INCORPORATED h/c where it actually belongs.

David Finch, as you’d expect from the artist on NEW AVENGERS: BREAK OUT, does it full justice making it one of the finest-looking Batbooks ever. And let’s face it, there’s some pretty impressive competition out there, especially since Bolland went and recoloured KILLING JOKE. Bruce Wayne is back in residence and has gathered his cohorts together. This the beginning of something new, fighting ideas with better ones and constructing a more coherent campaign against crime on a number of carefully coordinated fronts both technologically and geographically. Here the target isYemen, and really, it doesn’t bode well for Damian.

There’s also a two-page short from SUPERMAN/BATMAN #75 reprinted in the back, but let’s get to the main meat of the volume which is BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT #1-5 (the previous volume, not the current run) both drawn and written by David Finch. If ever there was a victim of DC’s NEW 52 it was this, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

The glamorous Dawn Golden has gone missing, presumed kidnapped. There’s no ransom note yet, making it all the more worrying. A high society philanthropist, she’s nonetheless prone to well documented indiscretions and outbursts which have only fuelled public interest in her celebrity status. Both the media and the mayor are demanding swift action so the pressure is on for Jim Gordon, while a new blood called Forbes starts gunning for his job.

Bruce Wayne’s stake is personal. Apart from Alfred there’s almost no one else left from the era before mother lost her pearls, both parents lost their lives and a young Bruce Wayne lost his innocence that dank, dark night in the alley. A regular visitor to the manor, Dawn was never the easiest playmate. There seemed something sullen and unsettled about her while her father remained close, then impetuous, even reckless when absent. But also completely compelling. At college Dawn Golden broke Bruce’s heart but her hold on him never let go.

Initial trails lead to a Killer Croc high on street-grade venom – a strength, speed and stamina-enhancing drug – and then to the Penguin who puns his way through the ornithological dictionary while baiting a Batman who appears to be losing control. Meanwhile something has attracted the attention of Demon Etrigan and a young girl steals the Batmobile…

Good news: the art is exceptional. Fans of Jim Lee’s BATMAN: HUSH will love the bold, neo-classical, highly detailed figure work. His women are gorgeous, his compositions rarely short of thrilling, nor does the man skimp on the backgrounds. It may not work as a piece of detective fiction the way Cracker, Prime Suspect or GOTHAM CENTRAL do (none of this is solved except by accident), but it’s all tremendously exciting until it stops. It. Just. Stops. Because of the unrelated Grant Morrison story at the back, it also stops forty-odd pages before you’re expecting it to. Stranger still, the car theft proves completely unrelated to main storyline and yet is the object of the epilogue. Although, actually, the last line’s pretty good.

My theory is that this is only half of what was intended, and that the initial delays (several months between issues #1 and #2) meant that the whole thing had to be rushed to some semblance of a conclusion before DC relaunched their titles. I haven’t read the new series of Finch’s DARK KNIGHT so I can’t tell if you the threads are picked back up there, but as a single book without a “vol 1” on its spine, it’s disappointing.


Buy Batman: The Dark Knight – Golden Dawn h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman: The Return Of Bruce Wayne s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Chris Sprouse, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette, Georges Jeanty, Ryan Sook, Lee Garbett, Andy Kubert

Hmm, much like FINAL CRISIS you may find this needs a couple of readings to completely understand what’s going on, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as this is also a most enjoyable romp. Without giving too much away it seems that far from being killed by Darkseid’s Omega Beams at the climax of FINAL CRISIS, Bruce was in fact contaminated with Omega Energy and quite intentionally thrown back through history to Palaeolithic times. As he gradually slips forward through different time eras he’s accumulating more Omega Energy than Stephen does caffeine on a Wednesday sorting the customer orders, until he reaches the modern era where Darkseid intends him to detonate like a bomb wiping out all existence. Still Bruce being Bruce, and despite suffering from nearly complete amnesia, he’ll undoubtedly come up with a plan to save himself, and everyone else. As Superman observes, surviving is what Batman does.

What follows then is a reverse detective story in a sense, as clues Bruce has left for himself (how he’s done this finally becomes clear in the last part of the story) to find throughout time gradually restoring his memories, and allowing him to come up with a very ingenious way to foil Darkseid’s plan. Along the way we have cameos from Vandall Savage (twice, in different time eras), Blackbeard the Pirate, Jonah Hex, Doctor Simon Hurt of the Black Glove, and most of the JLA who are trying to understand where – or more precisely when – Bruce is, so they can help rescue their friend without him destroying everything. This last point is key, because there comes a moment when Bruce has to remember the first truth of Batman in order to finally save himself, that in fact he was never alone.

Morrison mixes in some nice little touches of hard sci-fi to the story for good measure, particularly when the heroes are gathered looking for clues of Batman’s whenabouts (more unabashed neology I’m afraid, Morrison tends to have that effect on me) at Vanishing Point, the temporal space station moored at the end of all time (no, there isn’t a restaurant) operated by the LinearMen.

And the distinctly different art contributions from everyone helping delineate the different time periods are all excellent, my favourite probably being Frazer Irving’s in puritan times which very much reminded me of his contribution to parts of Morrison’s outstanding SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY.

Overall it’s another very good Bat-book from Morrison, which has some of thezany feel of his BATMAN & ROBIN works in places as Grant has fun with some of the characters, but is actually much closer in tone to his BATMAN R.I.P. and the other immediately preceding books.


Buy Batman: The Return Of Bruce Wayne 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!

Keep Our Secrets h/c (£11-99, McMc) by Jordan Crane

Shaky Kane’s Monster Truck (£10-99, Image) by Shaky Kane

Wandering Son vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Shimura Takako

Billy Fog And The Gift Of Trouble Sight h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Guillaume Bianco

Blue Estate vol 2 (£9-99, Image) by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, Andrew Osborne & Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Paul Maybury, Marley Zarcone, Tomm Coker, Andrew Robinson, Peter Nguyen

The Unwritten vol 5: On To Genesis (£10-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, Vince Locke

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 2 – Gods And Monsters (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis, Tyler Crook

Witchfinder vol 2: Lost And Gone Forever (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & John Severin

Tina’S Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary hardcover (£13-50, HMH) by Kenshni Kashyap & Mari Araki

Dark Tower vol 8:  The Gunslinger – The Battle Of Tull h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Peter David, Robin Furth & Richard Isanove, Michael Lark

Invincible vol 15: Get Smart (£12-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley

Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Brian Holguin & Alex Sheikman, Lizzy Man

Batman: Through The Looking Glass hardcover (£16-99, DC) by Bruce Jones & Sam Kieth

The Flash: The Dastardly Death Of The Rogues softcover (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul & Scott Kolins

Avengers vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & John Romita Jr., Bryan Hitch

Spider-Man: Spider-Island hardcover (£29-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Rick Remender & Humberto Ramos, Stefano Caselli, Tom Fowler

Fear Itself hardcover (£25-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen

Fear Itself: Avengers h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & John Romita Jr., Mike Deodato, Chris Bachalo

Bokurano Ours vol 5 (£9-99, Viz) by Mohiro Kitoh

Monster Hunter Orage vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Cage Of Eden vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshinobu Yamada

NGE: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project vol 10 (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Osamu Takahashi

Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamoroll vol 1 (£5-99, Viz) by Yumi Tsukirino

Negima! Omnibus 3: vols 7-9 (£14-99, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

More variety this week, thankfully! (Hey, we can only review what we receive!)

Bless all of you who have followed my trials on Twitter – punctuated by vital links to previews of new books etc. – about my on-going battle in the House Without Heating. Double-bless those of you who kept me warm with your condolences. It’s all good now thanks to a new, honest man.

My advice: if the first thing a tradesman utters is a stream full of over-pessimistic hyperbole threatening to shut you down, then FIND SOMEONE ELSE!

On the other hand, Andrew Crofts is a local, affordable, gas-heating god and if you want a phone number then tweet me. I am on Twitter, yes: @PageFortyFive

 – Stephen

Reviews January 2012 week one

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

There’s a refreshing lack of melodrama in McKelvie’s art, replaced by a real, touching humanity.

 – Stephen on Generation Hope: Schism s/c

The Cartoon Introduction To Economics vol 2: Macroeconomics (£13-50, Hill And Wang) by Yoram Bauman & Grady Klein.

“What if the only thing worse than being exploited… is not being exploited?”

Discuss. The context here is the question of sweatshops and child labour which most of us, I would wager, view as fundamentally atrocious. We have, after all, outlawed both in the UK yet we’re still importing and buying those goods produced under precisely those conditions such is the nature of international Free Trade. But consider this:

“If working in a sweatshop is the option someone chooses… then the other options must have been even worse.”

Therefore if we ban these imports are we not condemning those working under such grim and relatively unrewarding conditions to a life of even more grinding poverty? That is, after all, why some anti-poverty activists defend sweatshops (“It’s difficult to make people better off by limiting their options.”) while much of the opposition to such affordable goods comes from wealthier countries and their national businesses who are more concerned about protecting their own jobs, goods and profits… which is entirely understandable.

The truth is it’s tricky, and one of the many triumphs of this edifying entertainment (oh yes, it’s funny) is that it’s made me sit up and think about my own instinctive / knee-jerk reactions to many aspects of national and international economic policy the second they’re paraded in front of me, from tax and spending to agricultural subsidies and overseas contracts. Yoram succeeds as he did in THE CARTOON INTRODUCTION TO ECONOMICS VOL 1 by exploring the complexity of the issues with a remarkable clarity, rendering them comprehensible by making them applicable to our everyday lives, and making them utterly compelling by humanising each aspect: showing why they matter.

Bauman also demonstrates how various policies have succeeded and failed throughout history in a rollercoaster ride of booms and busts which I for one couldn’t help start applying to the current government’s approach to our own economic condition – most worryingly America’s Great Depression! To everyone up in arms about the recent banking scandals, chapter 12 will be of particularly keen interest, while there’s plenty to mull over on the subject of stable and unstable exchange rates and the European single currency. The whole trade and technology section was an eye-opener, and at the risk of sounding ignorant I hadn’t realised the precise difference between monetary policy and fiscal policy. But when one considers that they’re supposed to be moderating mechanisms to boost or ease off the economy in the short term, it’s easy to see how any political party’s dogmatic drive on tax and spending regardless of the economic climate leads to a multiple pile-up further down the road.

The section I’d like to beat raving nationalists over the head with is the miracle of the labour market: over the centuries we’ve experienced extreme population growth, the doubling of the labour force when women entered it, industrialisation and the continued technological change and then, of course, globalisation… and yet still the track record of employment levels (give or take some awful fluctuations which appalling consequences for very real people) is pretty damn remarkable. Looking forward instead the whole issue of our aging population, pensions and health care is far more worrying and Yoram is at pains to point out that – unlike microeconomics which deals with individuals – macroeconomics dealing with national and international policy is very much a work in progress: we don’t have all the answers yet. The quest for a management system promoting long-term growth while maintaining short-term stability is still on.

The clarity, by the way, comes in the form of single sentences or connected half-sentences broken up by cartoons wittily, often colloquially interpreting them, extrapolating from them or showing their concrete applications: a ‘tell and show’ rather than a ‘show and tell’. Remarkably the whole thing flows like a dream. I couldn’t imagine digesting a whole book of prose on the subject nor being entertained while I did so, but presented like this I found I could focus far better while being given pause not just to absorb but to think about each aspect’s implications.

Read this: it’s empowering.


Buy The Cartoon Introduction To Economics vol 2: Macroeconomics and read the Page 45 review here

Stuck In The  Middle: Seventeen Comics From An Unpleasant Age restocks (£13-99, Viking) by Gabrielle Bell, Ariel Bordeaux, Robyn Chapman, Daniel Clowes, Vanessa Davis, Nick Eliopulos, Eric Enright, Jim Hoover, Cole Johnson, Joe Matt, Jace Smith, Aaron Renier, Ariel Schrag, Tania Schrag, Dash Shaw, Lauren Weinstein.

“Unpleasant” being school.

Just like every women’s shelter needs a copy of DRAGONSLIPPERS, every school library should have one of these. Similarly, if you’re a parent whose young teenager is going through hassle there, this might be a helpful investment – for you and for them. As for everyone else, you’ll almost certainly be able to relate and thank your lucky stars that they no longer shine over the classrooms, canteens and crucifying corridors of Ratrace High.

Editor Ariel Schrag (LIKEWISE) nails the treacherous, competitive and volatile nature of school friendships, as two girls bitch, back-stab and even plan the most humiliating visit to another supposed friend to cause her maximum discomfort, but even during this supposedly bounding activity, one of them’s constantly waiting to catch the other out:

“Oh my god!  Did you know that on Friday, Katie tried to come eat lunch with me and people!  Lamont was like, “Shouldn’t you be eating lunch behind the dumpsters with Amy?”!”
“Yeah, Gemma was coming over to my house one day and Katie was on the bus and she was like totally talking to this homeless guy!”
“Gemma doesn’t come over to your house.”

Ariel’s younger sister Tania Schrag does an equally successful job of communicating how painful name-calling can be, how school friends can so readily join in at a moment’s temptation, and how a single incident can rapidly escalate into mass rejection with all the public humiliation that comes with it. Also, just how big that school yard can seem if no one pipes up in your defence, and you have to find somewhere else to go. “I remember walking through the hallway,” writes Jace Smith later, “was like walking through a minefield of insults that could go off at any minute!!”  Jace is good enough, however, to provide potentially useful tips, as is Gabrielle Bell (LUCKY etc.) whose family situation caused some of the problems back then.

In “Craterface” Dash Shaw (BODYWORLD, THE UNCLOTHED MAN IN THE 35th CENTURY AD, THE BOTTOMLESS BELLY BUTTON etc.) brings empathy to anyone similarly afflicted during what are already one’s most self-conscious years with his helpful addition to the acne nobbling library, while Ariel Bordeaux recalls the lengths of conformity she went to in order to achieve that High School Holy Grail of fitting in, and Jim Hoover encapsulates how absurd the entire emotional environment is during those years with the most ridiculous Dear John letter on record: “My friends think I should go out with Chad. So I guess I can’t go out with you anymore. Maybe we can still be friends. Your friend, Sheryl.” Joe Matt’s piece and Dan Clowes’ contributions are reprints, but most of the others here are new, I think, from Vanessa Davis (SPANIEL RAGE, MAKE ME A WOMAN), Eric Enright, Cole Johnson (very good!), Nick Eliopulos, Lauren Weinstein, Robyn Chapman and indeed THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN’s Aaron Renier.

I note this was banned in some American libraries, which is why we’re now restocking it on principal.


Buy Stuck In The  Middle: Seventeen Comics From An Unpleasant Age and read the Page 45 review here

Terry Moore Sketchbook vol 1: Hot Girls & Cold Feet (£8-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

Wistful, loving, naughty and nice. Impish, anarchic, even angry. Above all, however, funny! Terry Moore’s love of women wells up from the heart and there is nothing remotely voyeuristic about the pleasure of basking in his pencil and ink sketches, most of which have never before been seen. Doesn’t stop them being sexy, though! Mischief ahoy from the creator of STRANGERS IN PARADISE, ECHO and most recently RACHEL RISING!


Terry Moore Sketchbook vol 1: Hot Girls and Cold Feet

Hellblazer vol 2: The Devil You Know (£14-99, Vertigo/DC) by Jamie Delano & David Lloyd, Bryan Talbot, Mark Buckingham, Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman, Dean Motter.

“RememberNewcastle, he said, and slapped me with a sudden chill of anger which now grows tentacles through me, like cancer, or death.
“RememberNewcastle. I wouldn’t have given him credit for such subtlety — but these words touch me as precisely as a dentist’s steel probing the exposed pulp of a molar nerve.”

Memory is very much at the forefront here for the second HELLBLAZER book from the late 1980s, as readers first discovered what was so utterly grim that happened in Newcastle during Constantine’s greener days to send him to Ravenscar’s Secure Facility For The Dangerously Deranged… then looked back at the early 80s’ days of the Falklands War… remembered British holidays at the seaside… and were taken all the way back to ancient Britain as a mad, diseased and vainglorious abbot is told a tale by Merlin, his head-on-a-spike, and we discover said abbot’s relative connection to thrice-born, Christian-killing King Kon-Sten-Tyn of Ravenscar, who was a total bastard too.

Not having read this material for some time, I was taken aback at how imaginative and vividDelanowas, particularly when daydreaming about the meltdown of a coastal nuclear reactor or flying the astral plane. He really does give the English language a damn good theatrical outing, with demons as loquacious as they repulsive. Rayner and Bucky’s line are crisp and clear, and Vertigo’s colourists hadn’t yet blown out all the candles and left us choking in the post-snuff waxy vapour of more recent years.


Buy Hellblazer vol 2: The Devil You Know and read the Page 45 review here

Roots Of The Swamp Thing s/c (£22-50, Vertigo/DC) by Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson, Nestor Redondo, Michael Wm. Kaluta…

Len Wein’s classic 13 issues of his reimagining of Swamp Thing that later inspired Alan Moore’s ground-breaking run on the title. And given the truly exceptional nature of what was to follow fromMoorethese tales from Wein, clearly someone with a deep affection for his creation, stand very fair comparison, being compelling examples of science fiction and horror fusion in their own right. The irony is that after producing the first 8-page Swamp Thing story for HOUSE OF SECRETS #92 (included here) and it being a roaring success, Wein and Wrightson (very much a co-creator of Swamp Thing with Wein) steadfastly refused DC’s overtures for a full year to do an ongoing series because they felt it would reduce the impact of their initial story. Fortunately they realised the error of their ways and went on to pitch Swamp Thing into several suitably outlandish and horrific situations, introducing the mad Dr. Anton Arcane, aided in his obsession to gain immortality by his nightmarish army of Un-Men and the tragic Patchwork Man (Arcane’s brother Gregori Arcane and father of a certain Abigail Arcane). There are also confrontations with Cthulu-esque monsters, aliens, time travellers and a tragically misunderstood first encounter with a certain cowled denizen ofGotham.

For its time the writing is really out there and clearly Moore appreciated Wein and Wrightson’s work, choosing to pick up from where they left off with the supporting cast of characters they had built and sweeping away anything that David Michelinie, Gerry Conway and Martin Pasko did on their brief subsequent runs on the title. If you’ve read and enjoyed Moore’s SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING I strongly suggest you take a look at this to see where it all began. As Wein himself states in the informative foreword to the book, “All in all, not a bad record so far for a character who began life as an eight-page mystery anthology story”.


Buy Roots Of The Swamp Thing s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Evolution: The  Story Of Life On Earth s/c (£10-99, Hill And Wang) by Jay Hosler & Kevin Cannon, Zander Cannon.

Light, bright, concise and precise history of life’s rich tapestry here on planet Earth, and the science behind it all right down to the specific single-celled organisms that grew more ambitious, and the bacteria that stayed still or became breakfast instead.

As a Professor of Biology the creator of the much missed CLAN APIS is eminently qualified to talk about DNA, RNA, proteins and amino acids, whilst his natural skill as a communicator turn it into a remarkable fusion of education and entertainment in the form of one long conversation between a monocular, professorial starfish and its alien prince and king. Even Charles Darwin pops up at a gig to explain his own theories…

“Natural Selection is the name of the evolutionary mechanism I proposed. It’s the process by which favourable traits are preserved in a group of organisms and harmful traits die out. Some also refer to this as “survival of the fittest”.”

…before expounding on the four basic conditions that must be met for the process to occur, how it occurs, and how he observed it occurring in a succession of phenotypes before the genotypes behind them – the unique set of genes in an individual’s DNA chromosomes that dictate their individual traits – were unveiled later on.

Each biological and evolutionary mechanism is backed up with such evidence and the history of its discovery which is vital in refuting the head-in-the-sand stupidity of Creationists who maintain that man was created from scratch last Thursday, and woman from his elbow or something.

Moreover what could have been an unwieldy tangle has been streamlined to perfection with room for recaps, and – this is the killer – the fact that this a comic rather than prose means that each step is easy to digest and you can refer back to previous panels for a quick recap because you’ll have an associated image for that key information already stored in your head. I used this myself when I needed to remind myself about the cellular differences between those three types of single-celled organisms – bacteria, eukaryote and archaea – , and I knew exactly which image I was looking for. Can you imagine how much easier this would have been to revise for at school? It’s like a series of illustrated flashcards linked with a narrative thread!

And it’s funny! Just like the CARTOON INTRODUCTION TO ECONOMICS, the cartooning hits just the right note of parenthetical asides (fungal-infected ant: “I think there’s a fungus among us”) whilst never distracting you from the information they pertain to (the difference between plants, fungi and animals when generating energy).

Over the subsequent chapters life on this planet is explored through fossils (a potential source of legendary creatures like the griffin and cyclops too?) as the notochords of chordates evolve into the backbones of vertebrates; and arthropods, with their supporting structure on the outside, develop eight jointed legs just to terrify Charlie Brooker in the bath. Plants start growing, insects start buzzing and hungry fish like the look of them so flop on the shore while those that see their brothers promptly expire decide it’d be better to wait until they actually breathed air first. Oh yes, and grow legs for non-flopping-about-ness. Amphibians, eh? Some decide to leave home altogether because their parents won’t let them smoke weed and then change their name by deed poll to reptiles just to have the last laugh. Just the sort of hubris that invites a mass extinction, which is what happens next.

Hosler entertains, but without the sort of buffoonery above that would make a mockery of his sound knowledge and expertise. There’s no disinformation to distract you for one second from the detail of what actual happens, how, why and when. He’s meticulous like that, right down to the evolution of insects which, unlike dragonflies, could fold their wings back after flight and so climb into crevices… and how the Permian Extinction, wiping out one-third of all insects, gave them a better fighting chance against the previously dominant species to the extent that 98% on all insect species can now fold their wings back.

I’ll leave you to learn of reptiles’ return to the seas (“Evolution is not a progressive march. Life has no destination, no ultimate goal. It evolves to take advantage of new ways of getting resources”), the emergence of mammals then birds and how their endothermy later proved a literal life-saver. But there’s nothing I have seen here that wouldn’t make this a perfect set text for schools – nothing that would be judged inaccurate or inadequate in an exam. As adult entertainment I know we’re now spoiled by David Attenborough and his successors on television, but I also like to retain knowledge and can rarely do so without the printed word which makes this the perfect medium, especially with its glossary at the back.


Buy Evolution: The  Story Of Life On Earth s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Generation Hope: Schism s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie,Salvador Espin, Tim Seeley, Steven Sanders.

“When I was a kid I got a book. ‘Portraits Of Freaks: 500 Mutants You Must See Before You Die.” Just page after page of what could happen to you if you get that bad roll of the dice. One day you’re you. Next day you’re – oh, I dunno – sentient saliva. And whatever you get, that’s it, that’s your life, forever. Living like a lump of mucus. Being hunted and hated and laughed at for the rest of your days. And at the best – the very best – you end up as a fetish object to people like you. That’s being a mutant.”

The second half of Kieron’s run on the next generation of mutants whose coming of age has proved far more painful than the last, their mutations often far more severe. Hope’s role has been to stabilise them both at the point of manifestation and then as a team on Utopia. The first, unfortunately, depends on them getting there in time, before the traumatised children go mad, kill themselves or simply melt away.

The chapter that stood out for me here was the one drawn by McKelvie, Gillen’s partner in crime on the two PHONOGRAM books. His clear, gentle, sympathetic line is a natural for young characters being treated with empathy and that’s been Kieron’s approach. There’s a refreshing lack of melodrama in McKelvie’s art, replaced by a real, touching humanity.

The episode’s seen not from the X-Men’s perspective primarily but focussed instead on a group of students in bedsit land at SheffieldUniversityas they break out cans of White Stripe lager and exchange sexual fantasies. Luke wants to make love to a mutant… as a mutant. It’s he whom Zeeshan’s addressing above. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Luke was about to mutate in the most horrific way possible, his face then body melting like mud, his nose coming off in his hands? Yes, it would, but Gillen is never that obvious. Instead it is tragic, for it’s poor, sympathetic Zeeshan, brave enough to stand up and be counted – to stick up for others and castigate his mate – whose life literally dissolves before them and all Luke can do is grin and snap photos and load them online to get hits. As Hope and her friends speed frantically across the Atlantic from half a world away the sequence largely goes silent in stark, affecting contrast to the bellows of rage when they finally arrive… just in time to be far, far too late.

Once again, though, if you think I’ve given everything away about that single, exemplary masterclass in comics from this much bigger book… Gillen is never that obvious. There’s an epilogue set four weeks later, as well as an earlier, telling panel by McKelvie.

Now you really should read PHONOGRAM volumes one and indeed two. And this, obviously.


Buy Generation Hope: Schism s/c and read the Page 45 review here

X-Men: Schism h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron with Kieron Gillen & Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuna, Alan Davis, Adam Kubert, Billy Tan.

Is an arms race fought on foot? You’d really have to gun it.

Cyclops has come to speak at the international arms control conference inSwitzerland. The arms he would very much like to control are the mutant-murdering Sentinels: giant, genocidal robots conceived in hatred a long time ago by a scientist called Bolivar Trask. Since then the technology has spread across the globe though every nation denies it, one even refuting the very existence of Sentinels even inAmerica. But then there’s a blast from the Grant Morrison past and delegates experience an uncontrollable telepathic compulsion to speak up. It’s a scene you’re unlikely to see in the House of Commons, but wouldn’t it be cathartic if even a couple of MPs were occasionally this honest?

“I beat my children. I do it quite often, in fact, I… I do it because… well, because I enjoy it.”
“If I may interrupt, I’d just like to say that I am currently cheating on my wife of 35 years while she slowly dies from leukemia. And in the interest of verification, I will be emailing various sexually explicit videos to all major news organisations.”
“I would like to take this opportunity to list the various ethnic minorities I despise…”
“I, for one, am currently under the influence of the following illegal substances…”
“I am personally responsible for the deaths of the following individuals…”
“My fortune was pillaged from the poor!”
“My election was fixed!”
“I married a Doombot!”
“I once shot a man just to watch him die!”
“I’ve never believed in God!”
“I actually love America!”

“Yes, this is Ms. Frost. I’m afraid I’m going to have to cancel my3:00pedicure. On account of what? How about the supreme stupidity of everyone else in the world but me?”

It’s an assault by Quentin Quire last seen in NEW X-MEN DIGEST VOL 5 designed to achieve the exact opposite of what Cyclops intended, and sure enough by that end of the day each and every nation activates its own variation of the Sentinel initiative: massive, humanoid killing machines flagrantly flying over the pyramids of Egypt, standing guard over Tianamen Square, looming over the Eiffel Tower and making military manoeuvres over North Korea and the Yellow Sea. But some work better than others. Who is behind it, and why? It isn’t Quentin Quire who, once the puppeteer, is now rendered a puppet.

“Carlton Kilgore, as one of the world’s pre-eminent arms manufacturers, what is your reaction to today’s events?”
“I am outraged and appalled by such a cowardly terrorist attack. Hopefully we as a planet can come together and heal the wounds that were made here today. Until then, all Kilgore brand small arms are officially half-priced.”

He builds Sentinels. In the car:

“Our website is processing a thousand orders a minute, and Kilgore stock has already gone up three points. Now that’s what I call an arms control conference. Here’s to the power of irrational fear! May the X-Men live forever!”
“I’ll drink to that.”

It’s not who you think, but a scheming serpent’s tooth who has his sights set on big business, all that binds the X-Men together, and a certain members-only club known only too well to our frazzled and soon-to-be-fractured mutants. For Cyclops is about to be driven to make an executive decision that Wolverine simply won’t tolerate. And seeing eye-to-eye with Cyclops can mean one of two things: you’re cool and copacetic or you’re wasted in one almighty optic blast.

SCALPED’s Jason Aaron played the first half magnificently, and none of the artists would ever disappoint. This is one humungous event in the lives of your favourite mutants with major repercussions: the word ‘schism’ isn’t used lightly. But I did wonder, I really did wonder why Wolverine would now after ever so long suddenly baulk at using children on the frontline when that is what the X-Men have done for thirty-odd years. When GENERATION HOPE’s cast are the ones he draws the line at, yet they stay on Utopia anyway rather than follow old man Logan. And then our Tom whispered something in my ear. He whispered something in my ear about puppets and puppeteers and I really do hope that he’s right.

If he’s wrong, the pretext here is a little contrived. But if Tom’s right, Marvel should really give the man a job. To be continued…


X-Men: Schism hardcover

Batman: Under The Red Hood (£22-50, DC) by Judd Winick & Doug Mahnke, Paul Lee, Shane Davis, Eric Battle.

Both previous, out-of-print UNDER THE HOOD books conjoined. Of book one, I wrote:

Winnick writes a more than competent Batman. Indeed there’s a refreshing directness in his style. He also structures it for maximum page-turning, with the identity of the new Red Hood revealed to an unmasked Batman several issues before it is to us, when the main action catches up with itself during the finale. The artists too are clear and tight, even though some expressions could have done with more subtlety to accurately convey the emotions involved. You’ll get the point though: the main man’s not happy.

New factions have arisen inGotham. At the top of the criminal ladder sits the Black Mask (a bit like the Red Skull, only with a more refined dress sense, fewer guttural exhortations geared towards conquering the world, and a complexion similar to that ready-meal you left in the oven four hours longer than you should’ve when you fell asleep in front of the TV last night). He doesn’t do much except twiddle his thumbs and make caustic remarks. On the crime-fighting front, however, we have that new Red Hood, whose more aggressive methods, he persuasively argues, produce more effective – and final – results than Bruce’s. And that’s what this is about:

“Which is what?”
“You. I’ll be you. The you you’re supposed to be. If you had killed Joker… years ago.. beyond what happened to me… you know what hell you would have saved the world. But no. His murder is a long list of sane acts you refuse to commit. You never cross that line. But I will. Death will come to those who deserve death. And death may come to those who stand in my way of doing what’s right.”

Guest appearances by Superman and Green Arrow, who have something specific in common with the Hood, and you may want to read IDENTITY CRISIS before this, or you won’t get what’s niggling Batman when he takes Zatanna to one of the old Lazarus Pits:

“I still don’t know why you needed me here.”
“I needed someone I could trust. But I had to settle for you.”

Of book two [SPOILERS – but hey, if you don’t know by now..!]:

Most of the better Batman material tends to be found in the self-contained mini-series, and although this isn’t of the same calibre as, say, BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, KILLING JOKE or even LONG HALLOWEEN, there’s no arguing that Winnick has greased the seats so successfully over the last year that if readers are left clinging to the edge, Batman’s in danger of losing his grip entirely.

Why? Years ago he took on a second young lad called Jason Todd as Robin. He didn’t last long: The Joker blew him to bits. But recently a new vigilante, The Red Hood (an alias previously employed by The Joker himself), has been working Gotham’s underground, using lethal force to stamp out crime and leading him into inevitable confrontation with Batman. But that was the plan all along, because The Red Hood is Jason Todd, and he’s well-pissed not simply because Batman could have averted his death – and those of hundreds of other innocent people – by permanently ending The Joker’s sadistic murder sprees early on, but because he failed to avenge Jason’s death by doing just that: by putting mad dog down. In a final trap, Jason strips away Batman’s options, forcing him to choose between killing The Joker, or – to stop Jason murdering The Joker – killing Jason himself.

Even though INFINITE CRISIS rudely intrudes on the final pages leaving it anyone’s guess as to the eventual repercussions, I did come away from the finale thinking words like “ironic” and “harsh”. Then I cooled down a bit.

This collection also includes the annual “explaining” how Jason’s feeling so chipper after all these years. Further relevant reading might included BATMAN: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (which is when readers themselves phoned in to decide Jason’s fate – it was out of Batman’s hands!), and BATMAN: HUSH wouldn’t hurt either. For some down and dirty commentary on the fatal phone-in itself (as long as you’re over 16), please see Rick Veitch’s soiled and seedy BRATPACK, along with its introduction by Neil Gaiman.


Buy Batman: Under The Red Hood 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!

Sandman: Annotated Sandman vol 1 h/c (£37-99, Vertigo/DC) by Neil Gaiman’ Leslie S. Klinger

Batman: The Dark Knight – Golden Dawn h/c (£18-99, DC) by David Finch with Grant Morrison & David Finch with Jason Fabok

Avengers Academy vol 2: Will We Use This In The Real World? s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Christos Gage & Tom Raney, Mike McKone, Sean Chen

Batman: The Return Of Bruce Wayne s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Chris Sprouse, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette, Georges Jeanty, Ryan Sook, Lee Garbett, Andy Kubert

Uncanny X-Men: Dark Phoenix hardcover (£6-99, Marvel UK/Panini) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne

Spider-Man: Masques hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Todd McFarlane with Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza & Todd McFarlane with Rob Liefeld

Arata vol 7 (£7-50, Viz) by Yu Watase

Arata vol 8 (£7-50, Viz) by Yu Watase

Reviews written in a House Without Heating on New Year’s Day and it’s growing increasingly cold this January. That monster McKelvie (see GENERATION HOPE, above) suggested I rub Deep Heat in all over. All over! Thankfully I’m not sporty enough to have any to hand.

So anyway, they are what they are. Jonathan’s back next week (I hope!), and we’ll be all back to normal – i.e. new comics delivered on Wednesday, new reviews published that night, and with that relevant week’s new books listed immediately underneath.

Happy New Year!

 – Stephen