Reviews January 2012 week two


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The Losing Side Of Eternity: an unpublished novel by Dominic H. Raines, 1957.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swiftly discovers, however, he’s also inherited a great many questions and a whole world of trouble in the form of an unpublished manuscript whose title speaks volumes and a woman he meets by the grave.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

One Response to “Reviews January 2012 week two”

  1. […] a great twist on the hitman genre that I wish I’d thought of.”  – Ed Brubaker (CRIMINAL, FATALE […]

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