Reviews January 2012 week three

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

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