Archive for March, 2012

Reviews March 2012 week four

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

The exceptional Page 45 feature written by the Nottingham Post’s Lynette Pinchess is now up online! Click on that sentence to read, and if you enjoy it, please, please spread the word by twitter or email or Facebook. Or even carrier pigeon! Thanks. I could not be happier!

The Lovecraft Anthology vol 2 (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Jamie Delano, Chris Lackey, David Camus, Dwight L. MacPherson, Chad Filfer, Pat Mills, Benjamin Dickson, Simon Spurrier, Dan Lockwood & Steve Pugh, Adrian Salmon, Nicolas Fructus, Paul Peart-Smith, Bryan Baugh, Attila Futaki, Mick McMahon, Matt Timson, Warwick Johnson Cadwell…

“That is not dead which can eternal lie.”

Which obviously means my darling tornado of a daughter who turns one on Sunday isn’t planning on giving me a much needed lie-in until I’m six feet under…

Or it could be the bold Lovecraft legend on the shiny rare bookplates that will be included free for the first few lucky purchasers of this second volume of eldritch horror at Page 45. Get yours whilst sanity – I mean stocks – last!

After the monster (ho ho) success of LOVECRAFT ANTHOLOGY VOLUME ONE publishers SelfMadeHero have rightly wasted no time in getting out a second compilation of creepy, sanity-testing tales penned by the great man himself, and adapted by a whole host of luminescent luminaries such as Jamie Delano, Pat Mills and Si Spurrier. As before a completely different art style is employed on each story by an extremely talented and stylistically eclectic set of artists. Actually, the first thing that strikes you before you’ve even opened the book are the four tiny bits of spot-vanish which form two pairs of glowing eyes looking out of two cadaverous beings shambling along a rather scary looking street. They really do seem to follow you around the room, which serves to get you in just the right frame of spooky haunted house mind before you begin reading. The stories themselves will all be familiar to Lovecraft devotees, but whether you’ve read the original prose or not, you will find every single one of these adaptations disturbing, one or two them extremely so due to the art. Perfect for anyone looking for some pure spine-tingling period horror.

JR

Buy The Lovecraft Anthology vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

The Intrepid Escape Goat vol 1: The Curse Of The Buddha’s Tooth (£9-99, Th3rd World Studios) by Brian Smith.

“Where are you taking me? Who was that man? Where are the dancers? And the fire jugglers? You better not have wrinkled my dress! Where’s the feast? I’m starving! This is the worst ceremony ever!”

Poor Princess Isis! She’s just been rudely awakened – from her pyramid tomb in Egypt, thousands of years after she last took a breath and way before they invented ice cream! Caught in a conflict between debonair, world-famous escapologist Thomas Fleet and his faithless assistant Fassad, Miss mini-myth is going to waste no time at all catching up with such modern delights as the Knickerbocker Glory and letting her elders-but-not-betters know exactly what she thinks. She’s not just a diva, she’s a goddess!

But Thomas Fleet, the Intrepid Escape Goat (he is a goat; he is intrepid and escapes from all sorts of stuff), has more pressing concerns. Having fired Fassad, he is need of a new assistant for his public performances and Princess Isis fits the bill. Not only that but he’s been challenged by a newspaper to expose the mystical doings of a certain Sri Lankan Princess Jayani who’s offered to use her ancient Buddha’s Tooth to discover the whereabouts of the royal Windsor family fortune via (wait for it) the appliance of séance!

Can our doubting Thomas get over his own scepticism of no-nonsense, non-mechanical magic to reveal what’s really going on? Can little Isis stop scoffing seventy-five scoops of ice cream for five seconds and so pay attention? It’s pretty unlikely.

Yet another Young Adult graphic novel that has made me grin again, this full-colour fandango will go over so well with those who’ve loved books like ZITA THE SPACEGIRL because it’s artlessly exuberant and. Just. Good. Fun. Art included, it’s like a modern Scooby Doo with its supernatural crime-solving and occasional anthropomorphism. Fassad, for example, really is a snake – in the grass, Egyptian sand or otherwise. And if you think I’ve been too heavy on the puns myself, Brian Smith should stand up and also take half the blame: this entire book centres on a crime in which the The Intrepid Escape Goat is cast as… the scapegoat!

G’ahh!

SLH

Buy The Intrepid Escape Goat vol 1: The Curse Of The Buddha’s Tooth and read the Page 45 review here

The Red Tree (£7-99, Lothian) by Shaun Tan.

From the creator of THE ARRIVAL, Page 45’s Comicbook of the Month December 2007, this too will give you pause for thought, especially if you’re a young person lost in the world.

It’s not so much a story as a short evocation which is heralded by a McKean-like clock against a Van Gogh cornfield, letters leaking from its base as they do from the child’s megaphone on the previous page. Inside it’s leaves piling up on the girl’s bedroom floor before the surrealism really kicks in courtesy of an enormous coelacanth floating down the high street above her. It’s not the last of the leviathans to come crashing onto the pages, either.

“Darkness overcomes you… Nobody understands… The world is a deaf machine…”

Interpret it as you will. To me, with its padlocked windows it’s an exploration of bewilderment, helplessness and hopelessness – the struggles most of us face, when children, to understand our identity, our place in the world or even perceive our future. If you’re young and going through that at the moment, you have my deepest sympathy and empathy, but it isn’t hopeless, I promise you, as this book makes clear.

SLH

Buy The Red Tree and read the Page 45 review here

The Viewer (£7-99, Lothian) by Gary Crew & Shaun Tan.

Well it’s certainly a picture book driven by inventive and densely coded images as you’d expect from the creator of THE ARRIVAL, but I’m not sure I’d want children reading it for fear they’ll fall in. They’ll certainly never go near a View-Master again.

This is what young Tristan finds within an old box he salvages from a rubbish dump. That, and three discs. Instead of a “3-D” light show of a Thunderbirds episode, however, he is drawn into a chronicle of evolution, and a history of death, natural disaster and man-made violence as the discs update themselves overnight. But how were these images recorded, and if the discs seek to update themselves, who will be their next witness?

Like THE LOST THING and THE RABBITS, this is a book that will reward thought and attention to detail. If you read Shaun’s own comments on his website, you’ll be drawn to investigate yourself, but I suggest you do so late at night and on your second bottle of booze so that you forget most of the details and rediscover them for yourselves. They’re certainly there to find.

SLH

Buy The Viewer and read the Page 45 review here

Strangers In Paradise pocketbook vol 4 restocks (£13-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

You don’t need yet another review of this, do you? You do?!

Okay: David loves Katchoo who loves Francine who probably does love Katchoo, though she’s going to marry Brad anyway. Isn’t she? Tambi wants David to impregnate Katchoo, but Katchoo doesn’t want David, so he may have to impregnate Tambi instead. Freddie was unfaithful to Francine, but can’t leave her alone; so Francine has three suitors and a mother but would rather they all left her alone. Oh, and guess who’s pregnant? Also: Casey is finally beginning to pick Katchoo up off the floor of rejection. But just because the past is a foreign place, it doesn’t mean it won’t cross borders, and someone should tell them both to look over their shoulders…

An awful lot happens in this big volume, and a lot that happens is awful. Will anything ever be the same? No, unlike most superhero series that pose that question, in this instance it won’t. Get your hankies out and prepare your heartstrings for another tough tug courtesy of one of the sweetest gentlemen on the planet.

For far more in-depth coverage of this extraordinary series, please see reviews of SiPPKT VOL 1 and VOL 2 and, oh yes, VOL 3.

SLH

Buy Strangers In Paradise pocketbook vol 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Elektra: Assassin h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz –

Deadly but beautiful ninja action from 1987. Bill’s art begins to approach the wild invention of STRAY TOASTERS with lashings to photocopies, splayed paint, collage, stickers and time-saving short cuts. The first chapter alone seems to have given David Mack his current tortoise-like career. Frank’s splintered storyline uses multiple voices to give a sense of confusion in both the narrative and their own minds.

We begin with Elektra escaping from the asylum, controlling her memories and trying to keep the ninja training at the forefront. Throughout the book, this discipline is responsible for many great plot twists – mind-swapping, lightning-quick reflexes, mind-control, everyday objects used as weapons. There is a great beast looking to bring the destruction of the world by controlling the mind of the next president of the United Statesand Elektra must stop him. Although this was published by Epic, it references Miller’s earlier DAREDEVIL storyline but the only Marvel bleed-through we get to see is a big-gun-obsessed Nick Fury along with several disposable S.H.I.E.L.D operatives.

MAS

Elektra: Assassin hardcover

Ultimate Comics: X-Men vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Paco Medina, Carlo Barberi.

“”The Tomorrow People.” Sounds great on a loop, doesn’t it? It sent a message that we were the future. We represented progress, evolutionary and otherwise. We were what comes next. But obviously there’s a problem with being the people of tomorrow… Tomorrow will never be today.”

The thought that’s been poured into this! Nick Spencer has made the political personal and the personal political, and thrown in fear, grief, religion and retribution. The only thing that’s emphatically missing is evolution, and that, for some, will make all the difference in the world.

In the wake of ULTIMATUM – the flood of nigh-Biblical proportions caused by Magneto’s tectonic temper tantrum – the American government, under the “apprehend or execute” statute, has made it legal to shoot on sight any mutant refusing to turn themselves in. Some like Storm and Colossus have already been interned in concentration camps where torture is rife. Others like Kitty Pryde (The Shroud), Bobby Drake (Iceman) and Johnny Storm (The Human Torch), reeling from the death of their friend Peter Parker in ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN VOL 4: DEATH OF SPIDER-MAN, have fled to the Morlock tunnels.

But now, everything changes. The public’s just learned that mutants, far from being the natural result of Darwinian evolution, are the direct, man-made result of experimental bio-engineering conducted and funded by the United States government in Canada.* In other words, the very existence of a man like Magneto who could drown entire cities is the U.S.government’s fault. So many loved ones were lost in the deluge, and America has exploded into mass protest and riots. But for Reverend William Stryker Jr it’s not just that he lost loved ones, it’s that the American government played God. They interfered with His Plan, and now both the government and the abominations they spawned must pay.

Now… that’s just the set-up. What actually happens is so far from obvious. Spencer has woven an astonishingly intricate yet elaborate tapestry from precisely placed, multiple threads which aren’t necessarily the colours they first appear. What exactly is Quicksilver – a known mutant terrorist – doing in the White House with the President’s ear? Why, after Rogue appears to have fallen off everyone’s radar, does she suddenly create such a spectacle of herself when she knows she’ll be hunted by death-dealing Nimrods? She says God told her to. Has she too found religion? The full picture reveals itself only gradually, but when it does – oh, the surprises!

There are some very neat touches like Stryker, haunted by his father, adopting the monk’s traditional past-time of self-flagellation. Talk about beating yourself up. Also, the smile-inducing  dialogue between Bobby and Johnny is full of pop culture references, but if you think it’s all rosy between those two and Kitty, well, these are bad times, they’re burning with grief and harsh words will be spoken. Not really surprising when you find yourself in a world where your very existence is illegal.

* See ULTIMATE ORIGINS for how, and ULTIMATE COMICS: DEATH OF SPIDER-MAN FALLOUT for the public revelation.

SLH

Buy Ultimate Comics: X-Men vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Astonishing X-Men: Joss Whedon Ultimate Collection vol 2 (£22-50, Marvel) by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday.

Brilliant, beautiful and tremendously cruel. I had my doubts when Whedon was given Grant Morrison’s set-up to play with, but he grasped the baton, ran full-pelt and won gold medal by a visible distance. Helped in no small part by having a consistently impressive single artist rather than at-times barely readable companions on Morrison’s travels, Whedon delivered sharply timed reversal after reversal, of which there are several here, each of which confounded expectations he’d carefully set up with surprises which were equally well constructed when you went back and looked.

Features the single finest use of telepathy I’ve ever come across (one such reversal), and concludes with the biggest reversal of all. For as the series began Kitty Pryde was still mourning the death of her old flame, Peter Rasputin AKA Colossus. Now, having been resurrected by one of the Breakworld’s warriors to rid Earth of mutants in order to avert the doom prophesied to their own planet, and freed from his strange-metal prison by Kitty, Colossus learns that it is he who is forecast to destroy Breakworld: they have created the means of their own destruction. But at least he and Kitty can finally be together…

Yeah, right.

The complete second half of Whedon’s in a single volume.

SLH

Buy Astonishing X-Men: Joss Whedon Ultimate Collection vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Essential Hulk vol 3 new edition (£14-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas & Herbe Trimpe, Gil Kane.

“Hulk can lift buildings in the air… Smash thru solid steel! But the boy is dying… and Hulk can do nothing to save him! Hulk never felt so weak before… so helpless! Wait! The boy moves — groans — ! Then maybe it’s not too late — not yet! Maybe Hulk can save Jim — if he can just figure out what to do! Think, Hulk! No matter how hard it is… think!!”

See, if I were General Talbot Ross, I wouldn’t come after The Hulk with several squadrons of weapon-loaded stealth jets. I’d just set him quadratic equations.

Fortunately the Hulk has taken Jim to the shores of a lovely deep lake:

WATER! Yes! Water is the answer — it has to be! Cool water always makes Hulk feel well again – strong again! Maybe it will do the same for Jim! It has to!”

Dear God, he’s going to drown him!

The Hulk’s a marvellous creation, a stupid version of Frankenstein’s monster – i.e. the one popularised by Boris Karloff rather than Mary Shelley’s version – unleashed in moments of rage with a vocabulary as limited as his powers of comprehension. Yet somehow he manages to understand words like “litter” when the General refers to a stretcher being lowered from a helicopter:

“Won’t you let me have a litter lowered for him — before it’s too late?”
“Ross want to cover Jim in bones, jam and rusty tiny cans?! How that help Jim?! That just Modern Art!”

No, of course he doesn’t say that. He says, “Yes — a litter! Maybe you can do — what Hulk can’t!”

And then they start shooting at him again. Poor, misunderstood child.

All the regulars are here in their primitive joy: The Leader, The Abomination (who has found himself on board an alien spaceship as first mate), The Rhino, The Sandman (who forces Betty Ross into a blood transfusion which transforms her into a glass statue which proceeds to wobble precariously each time The Hulk jumps at a plane), The Avengers, Hydra, Maximus, The Absorbing and The Glob. Ah, The Glob! Yet another muck creature your mother would kill you for bringing into the sitting room. Twenty-eight issues of numbnut nostalgia, admittedly in black and white, for just under fifteen quid. Hours of mirth, if you want to rewrite some of the dialogue and send it to your friends.

SLH

Buy Essential Hulk vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint featuring The Flash s/c (£13-50, DC) by Scott Kolins, Adam Glass, Sean Ryan, Sterling Gates  & Scott Kolins, Joel Gomez, Rodney Buchemi, Ig Guara, Oliver Nome, Trevor Scott…

Wee bit of naughty titling from DC this one, as whilst it certainly features The Flash it doesn’t actually have any FLASH issues in. Although, to be fair, there weren’t any published during FLASHPOINT! Instead this collects the REVERSE FLASH, CITIZEN COLD, LEGION OF DOOM, GROOD OF WAR and KID FLASH LOST FLASHPOINT tie-ins. The Legion Of Doom is my pick of the bunch featuring various good guys and bad guys in their different FLASHPOINT incarnations, including a psychopathic Plastic Man, having a huge face-off inside prison. I did also enjoy the Citizen Cold mini which does a completely different heroic take on that character. The other stories were okay, though there was a much better Reverse Flash story told in the main Flash title a few months ago which involved the not so good Professor constantly fine-tuning his own origin story. Flash Fact: it was issue #8 for those of you who want to read it. Overall, probably the weakest of the FLASHPOINT supporting books.

JR

Buy Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint featuring The Flash s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint featuring Green Lantern s/c (£13-50, DC) by Adam Schlagman, Jeff Lemire, Pornsak Pichetshote & Felipe Massafera, Robson Rocha, Joe Prado, Ibraim Roberson, Alex Massacci, Ig Guara, Marco Castiello, Ruy Jose, Vincenzo Acunzo…

What If Abin Sur didn’t die? Oh, wrong publisher. You get the idea anyway, as this book opens with a really fun FLASHPOINT mini that just completely goes for it and manages to be an alternate reality BLACKEST NIGHT tie-in as well! The other minis are a mixed bunch, the FRANKENSTEIN one is easily the best thing in the book, actually, but seeing as it’s written by Jeff SWEET TOOTH Lemire that’s no surprise and is worth picking this book up for on its own. (I’ve literally just noticed the cover quote states pretty much the same.) The other two minis are the stories of playboy Oliver Queen and pilot Hal Jordan, both of whom are not superheroes in this reality, but find themselves drawn into the conflict nonetheless, with rather differing outcomes.

JR

Buy Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint featuring Green Lantern s/c and read thePage 45review here

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews to follow or already up. You can check by clicking on whichever you’re curious about: all the titles have been linked to their relevant product pages.

Cat Island (£6-00) by Dan Berry

After We Shot The Grizzly (£6-00) by The Handsome Family & Dan Berry

Sharknife: Stage First (£8-99, Oni) by Corey Lewis

Sharknife: Stage Second (£8-99, Oni) by Corey Lewis

Doctor Who series 2 vol 3: It Came From Outer Space (£14-99, IDW) by various

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?: Dust To Dust vol 1 (£7-50, Boom!) by Philip K. Dick, Chris Roberson & Robert Adler

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?: Dust To Dust vol 2 (£7-50, Boom!) by Philip K. Dick, Chris Roberson & Robert Adler

DMZ vol 11: Free States Rising (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Ricardo Burchielli, Shawn Martinbrough

Gone To Amerikay h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Derek McCulloch & Colleen Doran

My Friend Dahmer (£11-99, Abrams) by Derf Backderf

Star Wars: Jedi: The Dark Side vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Scott Allie & Mahmud Asrar

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint featuring Green Lantern s/c (£13-50, DC) by Adam Schlagman, Jeff Lemire, Pornsak Pichetshote & Felipe Massafera, Robson Rocha, Joe Prado, Ibraim Roberson, Alex Massacci, Ig Guara, Marco Castiello, Ruy Jose, Vincenzo Acunzo

Marvel Masterworks: Avengers vol 4 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas & Don Heck

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man vol 1 s/c (UK Ed’n) (£12-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli

Deadpool vol 8: Operation Annihilation softcover (£11-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Sheldon Vella, Bong Dazo

Secret Warriors vol 6: Wheels Within Wheels s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Alessandro Vitti

Secret Avengers vol 3: Run The Mission, Don’t Get Seen, Save The World h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Jamie McKelvie, David Aja, Michael Lark, Kev Walker, Alex Maleev, Stuart Immonen

Thunderbolts: The Great Escape s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Kev Walker, Declan Shalvey, Matthew Southworth

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol 12 (£8-99, Dark Horse) by Eiji Otsuka & Housui Yamazaki

Dororo: The Omnibus Edition (£18-99, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka

Abandon The Old In Tokyo s/c (£12-99, D&Q) by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Good-Bye s/c (£12-99, D&Q) by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

The Push Man And Other Stories s/c (£12-99, D&Q) by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
All copies of Cat Island and After We Shot The Grizzly by Dan Berry have the most beautiful, individual sketches in them for free. Each one is different. Review to follow next week, but we may have fun out. Thank you, thank you, @thingsbydan!

 - Stephen

Reviews March 2012 week three

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

“This always reminds me of fishing – casting loose lines into a random sea, trying to hook something substantial. It’s surprising what sense can emerge from nonsense, and how the juxtaposition of odd images on a page can have a serendipitous effect, catching ideas that might otherwise be hidden by the waves.”

 - Shaun Tan on idle doodling. See The King Bird, below.

Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself Fallout h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen, Robert Rodi & Whilce Portacio, Pasqual Ferry, Richard Elson.

“Did you bring us anything, Dad?”
“Little Gudrun, I brought you the greatest gift of all. I brought you a story.”

Hear ye, hear ye! The best fantasy comic currently in town! And it’s funny!

Ignore the fact that it’s published by Marvel, in exactly the same fashion that SANDMAN came from DC. Exactly the same fashion. The comic’s a comedy. It’s also a blood-soaked high fantasy ripe with mystery and matured mythology. It’s a rollicking, full-blooded entertainment. It’s a battle of wits contested by a right royal cleverclogs, and written by another one too.

Its star is a Loki reborn as a boy with no memory of his former self, sponsored by Thor yet distrusted on all sides by those whose memory is all too vivid. He’s not interested in perpetrating evil, but the successful execution of a meticulously laid plan, acquiring leverage with cleverage in this case to save Asgard and Earth from the Asgardian Serpent. In the first half, Fear Itself: Journey Into Mystery, young Loki gathered all his pieces in a manner which left us wondering what on earth they were all for. Here he moves them all into place, and when he finally makes his play I can promise you so many smiles of admiration both for the little tyke trickster and his author.

It’s written with a real love of language enriched with a singular wit, and when the dark lord Mephisto takes the stage, he frankly steals the show. Far from the two-dimensional soul-stealer of yore, this debonair devil (“I have the most luxuriant sideburns in all creation”) is a bon viveur with a penchant for power but also for pretzels. He’s an iconoclast who loves messing with minds and mocking the misfortunate from a position of relative impunity. Here he’s telling a barman about his trip to the Infinite Embassy created by Living Tribunal:

“They say that all realities’ Embassies are one and the same, and if you know the way you can emerge anywhere and anywhen. Which just proves that gods and demons are just as likely to make up myths about things they haven’t a clue about. But everyone agrees on one thing. You come in peace. Otherwise, the Living Tribunal gets a tad touchy… and, generally speaking, unless you want your existence privileges revoked, that’s a bad idea.”
“Is he… God?”
“Oh, you are just so cute. I could eat you up with a spoon. Maybe later… No, he’s not God. He’s just the biggest kid in all the playgrounds. And if he knows the principal, he’s not exactly chatty about it.”

It’s all about stories and storytelling. That is, after all, how Loki achieves his goals: spinning the right yarns to the right entities in exactly the right fashion. Volstagg’s tall stories told to his children are an exuberant joy. But back to the action – and there’s plenty of that – as Loki and his motley crew must navigate the halls of a far darker Asgard in order to, well, tell another story. You’ll see. Unfortunately the opposition is considerable.

“We need a distraction. Destroyer? Act in a suitably eponymous fashion.”

SLH

Buy Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself Fallout h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Saga #1 (£2-25, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples.

“This is how an idea becomes real. But ideas are fragile things. Most don’t live long outside of the ether from which they were pulled, kicking and screaming. That’s why people create with someone else. Two minds can sometimes improve the odds of an idea’s survival… but there are no guarantees.
“Anyway, this is the day I was born.”

Grand, double-sized opening to a new science fiction epic from the writer of EX MACHINA, Y – THE LAST MAN and PRIDE OF BAGHDAD (one of our earliest Page 45 Comicbooks Of The Month), and half the draw here comes in the form of Fiona Staple’s Alana and Marko, two of the most beautiful individuals I’ve ever encountered. Their expressions are infectious, whether it be Alana’s eyes smiling up between her flop of green hair or Marko’s tearful joy at the birth of their child. Her name is Hazel and she bears the embryonic stumps of her father’s curled ram-horns and her mother’s green wings. It’s the last moment’s peace any of them will know for some time.

Marko and Alana’s peoples have been at war with each other for as long as anyone can remember. It’s a war that has spread from the planet Landfall and its moon called Wreath for fear that either’s destruction would cause the other to spin out of orbit. Right across the galaxy other worlds have been dragged into the conflict and caught in its crossfire. This one’s called Cleave, and Alana and Marko are trapped there, wanted by both factions for desertion; she specifically for abandoning her post and aiding the enemy, he for fraternizing with it and “betraying The Narrative”. And they have no idea what’s heading their way…

Beautifully written, the double-sized chapter affords Vaughan the space to drop in so many introductory elements without cramming them together, but Warren Ellisexplains it far more eloquently than I ever could in a preview to SAGA her posted up here.

I would just add that as a Native American totem the Big Horn Sheep whose horns Marko bears represents new beginnings. I doubt that’s a coincidence.

SLH

Buy Saga #1 and by summoning us on 0115 9508045 or casting the arcane spell of page45@page45.com

Northlanders vol 6: Thor’s Daughter And Other Stories (£10-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Marian Churchland, Simon Gane, Matthew Woodson…

I still can’t believe this title is coming to a conclusion. Sales here are phenomenal and I had hoped it was going to give some of the Nordic sagas a run for their money in duration, but sadly I think there may be just one more book after this. Still, at least Brian is getting the chance to continue channelling his inner barbarian on Dark Horse’s CONAN comic which, with art by Becky Cloonan on the first arc, has very much succeeded in getting me excited again about a character who I thought I was done with reading, despite much love for the classic 70’s Roy Thomas / Barry Windsor-Smith incarnation. I know the Dark Horse Version Of Conan has been running since 2003 I think, and has its loyal followers, but you haven’t seen anything like Wood and Cloonan’s version, trust me.

Still, back to the book at hand… where Wood continues as before, giving us very different short stories and tales rather than an ongoing yarn, with three in this volume. The first, about the siege of Parisc. 885A.D. as seen from the perspective of one particular mercenary foot soldier, was probably my favourite, as the Norse nutjobs try just about every tactic imaginable, without success, to take down the tower that’s stopping them over-running the city and having a merry old time raping and pillaging. The irony being that King Sigfred, the Viking head honcho, wasn’t even actually interested in Paris, he just wanted fat King Charles to raise his bridge and let his 700 warships and 30,000 fighting men sail blithely past, so he could get on with sacking the rather less arduously defended rural interior of the country.

King Charles, probably thinking he could trust his fellow regent about as far as he could throw him (not far I wouldn’t think given how legendarily fat King Charles was and presuming King Sigfred was probably also wearing a ton of armour and weaponry), admirably declined, although perhaps his decision was also informed by the fact that he wasn’t actually resident nearby himself at the time… So, the Vikings decide they’re going to have to teach the Parisians a lesson, but all is not going to plan, a fact which is proving particularly irksome to our footsolider in question, who decides to take matters into his own hands. Gloriously brutal art from Simon Gane here (DARK RAIN, ALL FLEE!), with a lot of red used to say the least, that really suits the story perfectly.

So when the next tale of a lone hunter following a deer far up into the Arctic Circle, far, far further than is sensible or safe comes along, with a change of art style to Matthew Woodson’s altogether more delicate and detailed lines and palely lit skies, the difference is striking. This tale is as much about the mindset of one lone man as the first though, and is very much a direct counterpoint to the first story in some ways. I shall say no more as I don’t wish to spoil it.

Finally we have the titular tale of a young woman forced to make a hard choice, when her father, the local chief of the small island on which they live, passes away suddenly. For women cannot inherit, which is precisely the uncomfortable position Birna now finds herself in as others perhaps not entirely well disposed to her threaten to take over, leaving her facing a rather uncertain existence. But here again, we see into the mind of someone forced to make a choice, whether to accept her reduced lot, or to challenge the convention and lay a claim to her birthright. For perhaps if she chooses a make a stand, some of her father’s loyalist men will follow her, but first she needs to convince herself. Marian (BEAST) Churchland provides a completely different art style again here, almost ethereal in places, with a touch of Charles Vess feyness to finish off this volume in magnificent fashion. Sigh, I’m really going to miss this title when it’s gone.

JR

Buy Northlanders vol 6: Thor’s Daughter And Other Stories and read the Page 45 review here

The Bird King And Other Sketches h/c (£14-99, Templar) by Shaun Tan.

“Some are exercises to simply keep fit as an artist, where the practice of drawing is about learning to see, a study that never ends.”

“Nevertheless, interesting or profound ideas can emerge of their own accord, not so much in the form of a ‘message’, but rather a strangely articulated question.”

From the creator of THE ARRIVAL, etc., a highly illuminating insight into one artist’s driving passions and thought processes. You’ll discover sketches and page layouts which eventually found themselves included in some of Shaun’s finished graphic novels, unusual artefacts, experiments with the language of the sea, and curious creatures which themselves suggest stories so far untold. Some of the preliminaries have brief notes jotted in their margins, like the series of interconnected, roofless rooms arranged like a stage set, one evidently a watertank containing an octopus tentatively exploring the next; another, hilariously, on fire. Tiny figures look in on others. “Are we just moving from room to room?” he asks to one side.

Better still Shaun introduces each segment with some extended, eloquently expressed and inspirational thoughts of his own. On doodling, he writes:

“This always reminds me of fishing – casting loose lines into a random sea, trying to hook something substantial. It’s surprising what sense can emerge from nonsense, and how the juxtaposition of odd images on a page can have a serendipitous effect, catching ideas that might otherwise be hidden by the waves.”

It’s the perfect cure for ‘artist’s block’: “just start drawing,” he suggests, quoting Paul Klee’s description of “taking a line for a walk”.

“Klee has a second good metaphor: the artist as a tree, drawing from a rich compost of experience – things seen, read, told and dreamt – in order to grow leaves, flowers and fruit… Artists do not create so much as transform.”

Hence all the observational sketches and the section entitled ‘drawings from life’, a lot of them in colour, where Sean explores “the relationship between individuals and their respective environments”, a theme found throughout the artist’s graphic novels, especially the three listed above and, of course, THE RABBITS. Likewise “the tensions between natural and manmade forms”. I think ‘tensions’ is underplaying it somewhat! THE RABBITS, THE LOST THING and TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA are all littered with visual and narrative commentaries on what man has made of his natural environment, as a quick glance of any of those reviews will make abundantly clear!

Rarely have I had as much fun absorbing an art book, or come away so inspired. It’s a neat little package, and I’d pay good money to see any one of those ‘untold stories’ come to full, expansive life.

SLH

Buy The Bird King And Other Sketches h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Week In Hell: The Art Of Molly Crabapple vol 1 (£7-50, IDW) by Molly Crabapple.

Forward by Warren Ellis: it’s all his fault.

Molly had just finished a enormous job for a big hotel and made the mistake of askingWarrenwhat to do next. Inspired by a photo of Molly posing between three large canvasses, one on each side at an angle and one at her feet, “It was like looking into a box of art with a midget artist inside. I said, “what you should do, is seal yourself in a box, and every surface is covered in art paper, and you shouldn’t be allowed out for a week, until you’ve every inch of the box in art. Call it Molly Crabapple’s Week In Hell.””

Unbelievably, Molly did exactly as she was told: the box in question manifesting itself in the form of a hotel room. This, then, is the photographic chronicle on that Week In Hell and every possible inch of space bar the floor and ceiling is indeed given over to art paper: vast ‘canvasses’ swirling with the lushest of lines forming the sort of neo-Victorian fantasies that could only come from Crabapple. It’s like some Bacchanalian tea party as attended by animals, aerialists, and hundreds and hundreds of tiny girlthings, and hosted on the double doors by Molly herself and porn star Stoya, spliced onto octopus arms. There are vast, suckered tentacles everywhere.

The composition on those double-doors is particularly impressive: a fish bowl filled to capacity yet structured in a way that maintains a vast sense of space.round all its edges each of the revellers. Some of the shots are works seen in progress as Molly is visited by friends whose portraits find themselves incorporated into the whole or inspiring parts of it.

Political allegories inevitably find themselves into Crabapple’s work. She recently tweeted that it made her so proud seeing her works used on protest banners. So you’ll find not only grotesque, hook-nosed caricatures (‘a formal tea party for one’s worst self’) but specific appearances by the likes of Marie Antoinette, her mouth crammed with coins like a piggy bank, then split wide open to reveal those all-too familiar piggy bankers enjoying the proceeds as bonuses.

“Week in Hell took place 10 days before Occupy Wall Street hit New York. As I’m writing this, our loft’s been converted into a laptop charging station for the reporters covering police brutality down at the square. Week in Hell is the sort of deeply personal artwank that feels awkward in a landscape where senior citizens are getting tear-gassed. I can’t write about it without writing about that.”

The final photograph shows Molly holding some of the finished art work liberated from the walls, a process which would have terrified me. I mean, there are doorknobs to consider.

The Forward by Ellis is called ‘This is Not My Fault’. In it he writes:

“I get the blame for everything up to and including the bloody weather. I have read people inLondoncomment on Twitter that the sky has gone black and supernatural Witch-Rain is hammering down from the skies and smashing brick and bone and surmising thatWarrenmust be coming toLondonand therefore it’s all his fault. Which would not have been so bad if I hadn’t been reading said comments on my phone while seated in a train approachingLondon. But still.”

It’s all his fault.

SLH

Buy Crabapple: Week In Hell: The Art Of Molly Crabapple vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Durarara!! vol 1 (£8-99, Yen) by Ryohgo Narita & Akiyo Satorigi…

Wow, I think my head has just melted and turned to whispy black smoke… Not remotely what I was expected when I idly added this to my pile to review this week. I didn’t know anything about it and I thought from the cover it looked like it might be a slice of life manga, set in the fashionable Tokyodistrict of Ikebukuro. I wasn’t expecting SOLANIN or anything like that given it’s an on-going series, but sometimes the most unlikely on-going series, on the face of it given their content, like YOTSUBA&!, BAKUMAN, TWIN SPICA and CROSS GAME, just come out of nowhere and hit some random pleasure centres in your brain. This could just well be another one of those.

What I was expecting therefore was light-hearted social drama. What I was not expecting were suicide chat-rooms, a presumably slightly deranged if not completely mad scientist, a teenage psychopath and an urban legend known as the Black Rider who is in fact very real, and actually turns out not to have a head, as it roars around Ikebukuro on a motorcycle. All neatly tucked under some light-hearted social drama as naive fifteen-year-old Mikado Ryuugamine from the boring ‘burbs has, at his sophisticated friend Kida-Kun’s invitation, decided to start attending a private school in the fashionable district.

They’ve not seen each other for four years, but have been in daily contact via chatrooms (not the suicide ones) which feature prominently as chapter breaks and provide a sort of round-up / teaser of what has just happened and what’s going to happen next. Mikado, of course, has no idea that his old friend has turned into some sort of social kingpin, and is quite taken aback and more than a little disorientated by his initial introduction to the neighbourhood and some of its various colourful characters. He also has a close encounter with the Black Rider.

I have absolutely no idea where this manga is going to go, but I’m sufficiently intrigued that I will read volume 2 when it comes out.

Buy Durarara!! vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Beast & Feast (£9-99, June) by Norikazu Akira.

Another yelping of yaoi as a police detective finds himself caught in the clutches of a yakuza. And in his shower and in his bed. Warning: absolutely filthy.

SLH

Buy Beast & Feast and read the full Diamond preview here

Depression Of The Anti-Romanticist (£9-99, June) by Yasuna Saginuma & Riyu Yamakami.

Warning: not filthy enough.

SLH

Buy Depression Of The Anti-Romanticist and read the full Diamond preview here

Martiniere: Velocity (£19-99, Titan) by Stephan Martiniere.

We don’t stock many art books unconnected to comics and when we do they’re usually by Lowbrow peeps. However, we’ve been asked so many times, “Do you have anything with jaw-dropping, futuristic landscapes in them?” And now we do! As evidenced at Stephan’s own gallery: http://www.martiniere.com/environments/

For something less fantastical but no less futuristic, I’d recommend the 8-volume set of PLUTO, my favourite manga that isn’t by Taniguchi.

SLH

Buy Martiniere: Velocity and read the Page 45 review here

X-Men: Season One h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dennis Hopeless & Jamie McKelvie.

“Being in a girl’s bedroom makes a guy tingly.”

Superb and subtle body language throughout. Young Bobby Drake’s shoulders hunched, hands in pockets, eyes wide and wandering round the room as Jean Grey lies on her bed nonchalantly messaging on her mobile was one of so many details here that made me grin. Fingers then twiddling on her dresser… excellent! In fact Bobby’s loose, purple shirt is a star in its own right, its chequered pattern folding to perfection round his waist or across his back.

The artist on PHONOGRAM: RUE BRITANNIA, PHONOGRAM: SINGLES CLUB and the creator of SUBURBAN GLAMOUR has made this book his own. Just like Nabiel Kanan for our website front-page, for me McKelvie was the only choice for this graphic novel predominantly starring doubtful teenagers, and Matthew Wilson’s clean, bright colouring could not complement Jamie’s ligne claire any better. Out of costume, Jean, Bobby, Scott,Warren and Hank are dressed like the best contemporary teens; in costume as the original five X-Men, they are pure Paul Smith.

Although it should be noted that Cyclops is never out of costume!

Another original graphic novel, then, going back to the team’s earliest days yet set in the here and now. It works. Rather than retreading tales already told, most of this concentrates on the moments in between as the four young men and one young woman gradually get to know and figure out where they fit in which other. It doesn’t go smoothly, no.

Mostly it’s seen from Jean’s point of view and it ends on exactly the right note, although I caution you once again that it ends before you’ll expect it too, since the final pages are given over to the first full issue of Kieron Gillen’s recent UNCANNY X-MEN relaunch. My only regret is I’d have liked to have seen more of Jamie’s preparatory design work.

SLH

Buy X-Men: Season One h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung, Alan David, Oliver Coipel…

This is easily the best YOUNG AVENGERS material so far; easily. Actually it’s astonishing to believe just how much Allan Heinberg has managed to cram into one mini-series with deaths, resurrections, reincarnations, reappearances and indeed a possible revision of a certain piece of well-established Marvel history. Oh yes, and a marriage proposal and indeed a jilting at the altar, not even of the same couple either.

A quick overview then… deep breath…

Magneto finds out the Young Avengers are searching for the Scarlet Witch because Wiccan and Speed might be reincarnations of her two children who never actually existed, which when she realised she’d lost them she also lost the last of her remaining marbles and declared “No more mutants!” depowering most of Marvel mutantdom and killing Hawkeye again for good measure. (Read AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED and HOUSE OF M for more on this in that order, and you really should.) Along the way Quicksilver turns up during a rather disappointing reunion with Wanda in Wundagore after she turns out to be a Doombot in disguise, when the fingers obviously all start pointing Latveria-ward. By now the grown up Avengers and Wonder Man (set long before the recent Avengers annual) have arrived and everyone sets off to confront Doom. There they find the real Wanda, devoid of memory and powers and all set to marry vivacious Victor.Meanwhile, Iron Lad (who will eventually become Kang The Conqueror) has just reappeared out of the timestream too. There’s an initial confrontation, the results of which include the resurrection of an Avenger (though there’ll certainly be no happy ending for him), and Wanda gets her memory and powers back. The Beast then asks Wanda if she can reverse her mutant depowering spell, the X-Men show up to kill Wanda, and Doom tries to claim credit for absolutely everything, including what happened to the mutants. Somewhere along the way X-Factor show up as well too. Time for the absolutely-everyone-team-up versus the not-so-good Doctor big battle to conclude everything. Which isn’t going to be quite so one-sided as it sounds given that Doom’s managed to make himself near omnipotent with the aid of the power which actually enabled Wanda to depower all the mutants, when combined with her own innate powers, in the first place. It won’t end well for some, that is for sure.

… and breathe!

Now that brief summary doesn’t do this book justice at all, but hopefully you get the point that there is an awful lot going on here, and that’s before I’ve got into any of the snappy dialogue or myriad sub-plots such as Hulking and Wiccan’s very sweet romance, which no doubt has had the Concerned Mothers of America getting their collective knickers in a twist because they’re both boys. Never mind that one’s a magical being and the other one a half-Skrull / half-Kree shapeshifter. It’s handled here with so much humour, not least when Jarvis seems not entirely sure as to how to handle the situation domestically. More often than not when titles are taking absolutely forever to come out, it’s not a good sign. This, on the other hand, was well worth the wait.

To put it in context we need to ask the question is this as good as what it builds upon, namely AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED and HOUSE OF M, and the answer is simply yes, it most definitely is. But is Doom really responsible for everything that happened then, or was he just blowing his own trumpet? Well, maybe, but if you’ve got to blame somebody, a megalomaniacal despot is as good as anybody, right? Perhaps, but suffice to say Wanda’s got a long way to go before pretty much anyone will trust her ever again.

JR

Buy Avengers: The Children’s Crusade h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Uncanny X-Men vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Carlos Pacheco, Brandon Peterson.

Post- X-Men: Schism, this is Gillen’s relaunch of UNCANNY X-MEN, and I’ve been loving his work there prior to it. He’s also writing the finest Marvel title currently on offer in the form of Fear Itself: Journey Into Mystery and its sequel Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself Fall Out which I commend unequivocally to lovers of fantasy, mythology and storytelling. I’ve compared him to Gaiman. They’re funny.

This too has moments of mirth and one final, poignant, self-contained chapter about the last living member of the Phalanx, gorgeously illustrated by Brandon Peterson. The Phalanx were a race like the Borg: a hive-mind that absorbed others into its collective. For this shared consciousness, communion was constant, loneliness unknown. But thanks to Mr. Sinister’s scientific… inquiries… he’s now been hived off.

“He cut me in places I didn’t even realise existed. He colonised my undiscovered countries with pain. In the years that followed, he learned much. What I learned I would rather forget.  Eventually, he had what he wished. He left me in a great storage unit. I could sense other life nearby. I tried to communicate. I stretched out my mind. I clinked the remains of proxy-fingers against my cell. For years there was no response.”

Ditched at long last by Sinister in the wake of the preceding chapters, all the Phalanx survivor wants to do now is resume contact with the rest of his race and then he’ll be whole once more. This is the story of his struggle to do just that.

Did I mention that they are all dead?

SLH

Buy Uncanny X-Men vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint featuring Batman s/c (£13-50, DC) by Brian Azzarello, J.T. Krul, Jimmy Palmiotti, Peter Milligan & Eduardo Risso, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Mikel Janin, Alejandro Giraldo, Joe Bennett, Tony Shasteen, Alex Massacci, John Dell, George Perez, Fernando Blanco, Scott Koblish…

Once upon a time there was a reboot (that wasn’t a reboot, remember) that all hinged around an event called FLASHPOINT. Now the good and kindly people at DC, who promised to hold the line at 2.99 (dollars, that is), something conveniently forgotten about post-non-reboot I note, decided it would be only fair that, if they were going to cancel all their titles and restart them, they did mini-series of them all first. Which is a rather churlish introduction actually, because I did rather enjoy FLASHPOINT, and unlike BLACKEST NIGHT, I did actually enjoy pretty much all of these spin-offs. Like that particular event, they’ve carved up the big three – Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman – so that their minis are in different books, and then lumped in all the other stuff with them too. Actually, there are the Green Lantern and Abin Sur stories yet to come, but they’ll be out soon.

So in this particular volume we have the Batman mini where, in the Flashpoint world, it wasn’t Thomas and Martha Wayne that were gunned down that fateful night, but young Bruce. So as Barry Allen desperately turns to the one person he thinks will be able to help work out what on earth is going on, he’s rather surprised to find that Batman isn’t the person he thought he was. So who precisely is behind the mask? And how can Barry convince him to help? And what of the villains of this reality, are they their usual selves, or someone else entirely, especially a certain rictus-faced comedian? This is far superior to most of the various Batman Elsewords tales that have come out over the years, as this reality’s Batman has an even more heartbreaking back-story than Bruce if that’s possible, and perhaps because of that, he’s even darker, grimmer, more ruthless. Certainly not someone who’s easily persuaded that his entire reality is an illusion by a madman dressed in a bright red costume who wants help with being electrocuted to try and restore his super-speed.

The other stories were actually some of my favourites. ‘Deadman and the Flying Graysons’ features, of course, Boston Brand and Dick Grayson as part of a travelling troupe of acrobats who get caught in the middle of the upheaval in Europe, as the Amazons try to hunt down another member of their circus (one Kent Nelson, better known in mainstream DC reality as Doctor Fate) for a certain artefact in his possession, the helm of Nabu. ‘Deathstroke and the Ravager’ sees Deathstroke and Warlord as piratical buccaneers facing off on the high seas in a very personal battle, with a whole host of low grade, super-villainous sidekicks for crew on either side. And ‘Secret Seven’ re-introduces Rad Shade aka Shade The Changing Man along with various magical characters such as Black Orchid, Zatanna, Enchantress, now holding regular spelling bees in JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK. The first two back-up stories are well written, making full use of the chance to do something completely different with the characters, the third less so; but it’s just nice for me to see some old favourites return.

JR

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint Featuring Batman softcover

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint featuring Superman s/c (£13-50, DC) by Scott Snuder, Lowell Francis, Rex Ogle, Dan Jurgens, Mike Carlin & Gene Ha, Eduardo Francisco, Paulo Siqueira, Roland Paris, Dan Jurgens, Rick Leonard, Ig Guara, Rags Morales, Rick Bryant…

The main story in this work, the Superman mini, is excellent as poor little Kal-El has spent his entire life locked away in a lab being experimented on by the government. As he’s never been exposed to the yellow rays of the sun, he looks like a puny, skinny weakling, albeit still one with vertiginous powers. General Lane meanwhile has been making use of what he’s learnt in his experiments on Kal-El to try and create his own superpowered humans to use against the Amazonians and the Atlanteans. It’s all going to go horribly wrong, of course, but when humanity needs its Superman to defend them in its most desperate hour, why should Kal-El come to their defence? It was nearly a tear-jerker, this story, in a couple of places, I’m slightly ashamed to admit. It’s a cleverly put-together tale that also featuresLois Lane, who is key to showing Kal-El that not all humans want to insert probes into you.

Two of the three back-up stories aren’t bad, with World Of Flashpoint featuring Traci13 magically travelling round the world incidentally showing us what’s become of various mainstream characters, the most amusing one certainly being Guy Gardner who is a peace-loving Buddhist. And the Booster Gold issues, concluding his own title rather than being a mini-series per se are interesting as he is the only character other than Barry Allen who remembers the world as it was before the Flashpoint; it’s just a question of whether he’s going to be able to do anything about it. The third story, a single issue, called The Canterbury Cricket doesn’t really add anything, but does feature characters which all crop in the ‘Lois Laneand the Resistance’ mini in the Wonder Woman book.

JR

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint Featuring Superman softcover

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint featuring Wonder Woman s/c (£13-50, DC) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tony Bedard, James Robinson & Agustin Padilla, Scott Clark, Vicente Cifuentes, Adrian Syaf, Eddie Nunez, Gianluca Gugliotta, Christian Duce, Javi Fernandez…

It’s slightly harsh on Aquaman that he doesn’t share the billing on this title, as his mini, along with Diana’,s are simply different aspects of the same story really, as attempts are made to resolve the political differences between the Amazonians and the Atlanteans through a marriage of convenience. There are parties on both sides, though, plotting to ensure our lovely couple doesn’t make it to the altar, and in fact, one side’s dastardly plan is pretty much going to ruin everyone’s day, and explain how the world of FLASHPOINT came to find itself in the state it is today, half shaken to pieces and flooded.

The back-up stories are both pretty good, the first being ‘Lois Laneand the Resistance’ as a whole host of second-stringers try to bring down the Amazonian occupation of Europefrom behind enemy lines. DC take the opportunity to bring in people like Grifter onto the scene ahead of the non-reboot, and whilst it’s one continuous chase / fight scenario, there is a fair amount of humour throughout, as it certainly goes to show that the Lois Lane of pretty much any reality is going to want to have the last word. The other story, The Outsider is a real surprise and just goes to show what can happen if you give someone free rein to do something completely different. I don’t think the main character existed in the DC mainstream universe, I’m pretty sure that name was just something Alfred, Batman’s butler used from time to time, but here Michael Desai is a metahuman who has risen to take control of all of India and turn it into a vast criminal enterprise. Someone is trying to assassinate him, which turns out to be [SPOILER], and Black Adam is also involved as well. It’s great fun from start to finish probably because it doesn’t really tie into the main FLASHPOINT story at all but just concentrates on doing its own thing.

JR

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint Featuring Wonder Woman softcover

Crossed vol 3: Psychopath (£14-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & RauloCaceres…

Kind of difficult to understand how the same person, David Lapham, who wrote the wonderful STRAY BULLETS, YOUNG LIARS and SILVERFISH could be responsible for this horror show, or indeed that Avatar would actually think it is acceptable to publish it. Honestly, it’s the kind of thing that gives comics a bad name, as it is basically torture porn. If someone showed me their sketchbook in the shop, as happens from time to time, and it had this sort of material in, I’d be making sure they never found out where I lived, that’s for sure. I certainly hope the Daily Mail never find out about this or they will be encouraging people to start burning comics.

Joking apart, what I really don’t understand though is how a good premise like the Crossed can be so totally wasted. CROSSED VOLUME ONE penned by Ennis was utterly vile, but it wasn’t, on the whole, particularly prurient and was frequently darkly comedic. Hence whilst it was a writing tightrope act of balancing out the most horrifically unpleasant scenario imaginable with the most preposterous humour you could wring out of the situation, Ennis managed it very successfully. To the point where when people have caught up to date with THE WALKING DEAD, we do recommend it, with a note of caution [“I don’t care how depraved you are, this is worse!” – That’s-The-Way-To-Do-It Ed]. And it was ultimately about man surviving in the face of the complete and total insanity that are the Crossed.

CROSSED VOLUME TWO: FAMILY VALUES, however, as I noted in my review when Lapham took over the writing duties, wasn’t based around that fight for survival of man versus Crossed, but instead was a deeply unpleasant tale of someone taking sexual advantage of others who were looking to him for security, including his own daughters, hence the sub-title of the work. Yes, he met his comeuppance so we had a happy ending, of sorts, but still, there was absolutely no humour in it all, and I found it pretty much without merit.

VOLUME THREE: PSYCHOPATH is something else again though, as an insane loner manipulates other survivors he meets purely so he can fulfil his own sordid rape / murder fantasies. Which pretty much sums up the book from start to finish, full stop. Whilst the psychopath in question is human, he is in effect just as depraved as any of the Crossed, which I presume is the token point that Lapham is trying to make, that man himself is the beast and whatever causes the sickness that turns people into the Crossed is merely setting it free.

Ennis is thankfully back on writing duties for the Crossed ongoing series that has also started this week. Well, initially at least, then Jamie Delano takes over which could also be very interesting. I haven’t read that first issue yet, so I can’t pass any comment on what direction that is going in, but I think perhaps that Lapham has ruined this franchise for me now anyway. I can’t really see how Ennis is going to be able to turn it around into something readable that will allow me to forget about this monstrosity.

JR

Buy Crossed vol 3: Psychopath and read the Page 45 review here

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews to follow or already up. You can check by clicking on whichever you’re curious about: all the titles have been linked to their relevant product pages.


The Lovecraft Anthology vol 2 (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Jamie Delano, Chris Lackey, David Camus, Dwight L. MacPherson, Chad Filfer, Pat Mills, Benjamin Dickson, Simon Spurrier, Dan Lockwood & Steve Pugh, Adrian Salmon, Nicolas Fructus, Paul Peart-Smith, Bryan Baugh, Attila Futaki, Mick McMahon, Matt Timson, Warwick Johnson Cadwell

Axe Cop vol 3 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle

Jeffrey Jones: A Life In Art hardcover (£37-99, IDW) by Jeffrey Jones

Red Robin: 7 Days Of Death (£14-99, DC) by Fabian Nicieza & Marcus To, Ray McCarthy

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint featuring The Flash s/c (£13-50, DC) by Scott Kolins, Adam Glass, Sean Ryan, Sterling Gates  & Scott Kolins, Joel Gomez, Rodney Buchemi, Ig Guara, Oliver Nome, Trevor Scott

Astonishing X-Men: Joss Whedon Ultimate Collection vol 2 (£22-50 ,Marvel) by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday

X-Men: First To Last softcover (£11-99, Marvel) by Christopher Yost & PacoMedina, Dalabor Talajic

Annihilators, Earthfall softcover (£11-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Tan Eng Huat, Timothy Green II

Wolverine: Goodbye, Chinatown hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Ron Garney, Renato Guedes

Elektra: Assassin hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Frank Miller & Bill Siekiewicz

Ultimate Comics: X-Men vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & PacoMedina, Carlo Barberi

Essential Hulk vol 3 (£14-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas & Herbe Trimpe, Gil Kane

Marvel Adventures: Avengers: United (£7-50, Marvel) by various

Witchblade Compendium vol 1 s/c (£52-99, Top Cow) by various

House Of Five Leaves vol 6 (£9-99, Viz) by Natsume Ono

Tenjo Tenge 2-in-1 Edition vol 5 (£10-99, Viz) by Oh!Great

Gunslinger Girl Omnibus vols 9-10 (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Yu Aida

Bakuman vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys vol 19 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Urusawa

Kimi Ni Tokode vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by Karuho Shiina

Bleach vol 39 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Rosario + Vampire Season II vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Akihisa Ikeda

Blue Exorcist vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Bunny Drop vol 5 (£9-99, Yen) by Yumi Unita

Star Wars Legacy vol 11: War (£12-99, Dark Horse) by John Ostrander & Jan Duursema


This simply cannot be passed over: Tom Gauld’s hilariously concise short story: scroll down here!

If you liked that, then you will love Tom’s GOLIATH, our current Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month Club selection.

 - Stephen

Reviews March 2012 week two

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

“Moebius RIP. He died during the solar storms so it’s as if even the universe wept.”

 - Larry Marder

“Moebius isn’t gone. He’s just looped back to the beginning to start over. He is, and will be, forever.”

 - Kurt Busiek

There’s more from Matt Fraction, written months in advance, in Fear Itself: Invincible Iron Man.

King City (£14-99!!!, Image) by Brandon Graham ~

They say you can never go back. When Joe left King for California with nothing but some shell-toes and sick lock-picking skills, he never thought he would. But here he is years later, a Cat Master in charge of his own fate, at least that’s the idea. But this city has other ideas for him and his cat.

The cat’s name is Earthling and given the right injection he’s capable of anything. Need a second key, he’ll be a copy-cat, need a hover-board? A periscope? How about a Rubix Cube solved? All in one swipe of a claw, the cat has infinite uses, and in the right hands is the ultimate weapon. But that last part is just cats in general, right?

Joe’s only real friend left is the balaclava-clad Pete Taifighter, nicest guy in the world. Wouldn’t think he’s in this business of spies and thievery too, but he just about drowns in self pity when he’s asked to escort a beautiful, water-breathing alien to her fate at the Raquet Club, the seediest sex den in King City. Now he’ll do anything to get his finned fatale back. Joe has his own femme on his mind, memories of his ex, Anna, haunting these mean streets since he returned, but across town Anna has her own problems with her current beau, Joe. A vet in the Korean xombie war, Joe struggles with his addiction to Chalk: the drug that becomes you. It’s the only thing that holds back his PTSD; it got him through the war but with his whole squad succumbed to the drug’s dusty fate, and now his future with Anna looks set to crumble with his along with his body. And throughout these streets battle lines are being drawn, a new gang called the Owls are not what they seem, and creepy men in black take a special interest in Joe’s latest heist.

This book must have used all its nine lives to reach the shelves, and in spite of illness, emigration, publishers going belly-up and contractual hell, Brandon still managed to land on his feet. This isn’t merely a comic, but a hardboiled manifesto, a call out to everyone in this industry to raise your aim and up your game from a man who literally gave his left nut to finish this book. His first long-form work, Brandon took care to put his art first and just draw what he wanted. That isn’t to say this is needless indulgence, he clearly took from all his influences and challenged his ability to match their best work on every level and from character design to sequential layout, this is some of the most inventive and fun sequencing I’ve read all in one comic, yet it still comes off a concise, even succinct read!

The three story threads of Joe & Earthling, Pete and the water girl, and Anna and Joe wind around each other before coming together in a way you just don’t expect. So you’re safe to let your eyes wander round, immersing yourself in a string of visual puns and satirical asides. Lose yourself in a crowd scene, while the next chapter asks you to navigate a maze of streets set out like a board game. Literally, with cut-out pieces.

The city itself is very Moebius-esque at first glance but the more you see, the more its crowded shop fronts and dank back alleys open up and you see Brandon’s taken elements form Moebius’ style – its cinematic scope, the incredible cast of brilliant throwaway background cast, the never quite straight lines of his big blocky buildings – but other influences are bubbling in the brew. There’s a heavy Akira Toriyama (DRAGONBALL) influence in Joe’s flashbacks to the Cat Master training, the cat-shaped, domed houses are incredibly Capsule Corp. cute, but also the character inventory, and in fact whenever there are intricate pieces of junk to look at I’m reminded of early DRAGONBALL covers. When action calls for it, the scene will decompress and warp at the edges lending a kinetic energy to the movement reminiscent of Taiyo Matsumoto’s TEKKON KINKREET.

But I don’t want to give the impression Brandon’s style is without originality, I’m just emphasising how much he has clearly learnt from the very best and incorporates it into his own distinct vision. I suspect there’s a secret school somewhere like the comics version of the Cat Master training grounds. Clearly Brandon, James Stokoe, Marian Churchland and the handful of other contemporaries who contribute back-up stories and interludes to KING CITY are the class alumni.Brandon’s art is all swagger and cool charm, it breezes onto the page and lets you think it looks easy, just because it doesn’t boast; it doesn’t need to. The ideas are exploding off the page like a nerd-infused beat tract, and they speak for themselves, much like a cat.

TR

Buy King City and read the Page 45 review here

Murder She Writes (£4-00, ScaryGoRound) by John Allison…

All current copies are signed for free!

“SUSPECT ONE: the grievin’ young wife-to-be.”
“Lottie, I don’t think we should… she’s in no state.”
“Yeah WELL Shelley, she was gonna inherit ole Hugo’s cash… AND she found the body AND messed up the crime scene.”
“I want to be alone.”
“Oh I jus’ had a quick question. Were you marryin’ Hugo Nance for his money? Only I saw that Harald with his hand parked down the back of your tights.”
“Harald has REYNAULD’S! I was warming his fingers!”
“With your bum. Okay, wicked.”

The prolific Mr. Allison returns with a story featuring children’s writer Shelley E. Winters, famed for her stories about Tibkins the hedgehog (whose egg got a bit too hot before he hatched and so was born with chicken’s legs) and her intern, 12-year-old Charlotte. Shelley’s agent Barry wants to give her an early Christmas present so invites her to a writer’s retreat at a beautiful lodge in the Welsh mountains, along with the other children’s writers he represents. Shortly after arriving however, with Charlotte in tow, there’s a murder! Hugo Nance, writer of the massively popular Donald The Sheep books is found dead in his room. The only problem is that just about everybody present, with the exception of Shelley and Charlotte, seems to have a motive for wanting to pop Hugo off. Fortunately for all concerned Charlotte is a tween sleuth on the quiet, and here’s a little sample of her unique approach to investigation as all the guests are gathered round the body…

“HUGO NO NO NO NO NO!”
“Um, excuse me, if you can stop interferin’ with the corpse for a minute… maybe the crime scene won’t be COMPLETELY DESTROYED UP. Actually no, don’t worry. Because based on the number of bloody footprints you lot have done in the room… EVIDENCE SUGGESTS HE WAS MURDERED BY RIVERDANCE!”

Whilst I do love John’s utterly surreal Scarygoround Collections, it would seem based on this and his previous two shorts GHOST STORY and GIANT DAYS, that he’s writing more straightforward material these days, though no less hilarious. The character of Charlotte is just genius, with the complete lack of regard she shows at every turn to adult sensitivities. It’s clever actually, because the opening few pages make you think Shelley is likely to be the detective and Charlotte her comedy side-kick, whereas Charlotte steals the show in pretty much every scene she’s in as master detective and comedy genius, with Shelley in fact merely acting as her unwitting straight man.

I think this less surreal material is a great direction for John to go in at the moment actually in terms of building his fan base, and this could well be my favourite thing he’s done yet. As ever the art is masterfully illustrated with a light cartoonish touch and no less exquisitely coloured. This would be an excellent starting point for those unfamiliar with John and his work. Highly recommended.

JR

Murder She Writes

Blue h/c (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Pat Grant…

I think Pat Grant is certainly going to make a big splash with this work set in a small surf town in late twentieth century Australia; well, certainly at Page 45. Before I get into discussing the story however, I simply have to make mention of the art, and despite being rather remiss in putting up interior art recently I have found some for this work, because it’s a fabulous, stylish concoction with elements of Jim Woodring (FRANK, WEATHERCRAFT, CONGRESS OF THE ANIMALS), Marc Bell (SHRIMPY AND PAUL AND FRIENDS, HOT POTATOE, PURE PAJAMAS) and also the classic Sega console game Toejam and Earl in Panic On Funkatron! It’s absolutely beautiful and I know it’s going to win Pat Grant lots of new fans.

I was initially puzzled by the first 24 or so pages which are comprised of a couple of short stories, some abstract pages, and a trail of various thumbnail images. I was starting to think it was going to be rather more abstract work than I thought when I realised this… sequential collage, I think might be an appropriate term… was in fact intended to serve as an introduction / character-primer to the main story. There is also an excellent twelve-page essay entitled ‘Genealogy of the Boofhead: Images, Memory and Australian Surf Comics’ concluding the work, that is an excellent read for anyone like myself whose knowledge of antipodean comics is somewhat limited.

The main story tells the tale of three friends, of sorts, who skip school to go surfing, but when they realise the waves might even be a bit too big and rough for them, decide to walk along the train line outside of their small town to where someone has apparently been mown down on the tracks and various body parts left strewn around. This is all set against the backdrop of their small coastal town ofBolton, a one-factory town now gradually falling into a state of decline and disrepair, and about to succumb to an influx of immigrants, except the immigrants are blue, multi-legged aliens. Not aliens literally in the extra-terrestrials sense, but metaphorically in the sense of the Vietnamese arriving illegal en masse in boats, which was a hot topic at the time in the international media due to the Australian government’s tough stance, and still is at a national level today.

It’s fascinating in the context of this work, because the main character is clearly a bonehead, and there’s certainly the hint of nationalism, if not outright right-wing leanings in his overlying discourse reflecting back on things as an adult. It’s a sensitive one, this, because as the subject matter is presented here, one could conclude the underlying message of the work is that illegal immigrants are colonising and ruining small Australian towns for the people who’d always lived there. Yet one of the two short intro stories make it quite clear that this mentality was probably always present with respect to anyone who hadn’t grown up in a particular place, not just people arriving from overseas. And that’s something that’s true the world over to some extent.

I really don’t think Grant is making any bold personal political statements through this work, but I still think it’s necessary to bear in mind all the various social, historical, cultural and political differences in this particular discussion about illegal immigration between Western Europe and Australia. Which all serves to make this sound rather highbrow and hard work, when it fact it’s just a fun story about three friends, of sorts, skipping school and shooting the shit as they goof off.

JR

Blue hardcover

It’s Dark In London: A Graphic Collection Of Short Stories (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by many includingWoodrow Phoenix, Josh Appignanesi, Neil Gaiman, Graeme Gordon, Alexei Sayle, Chris Webster, Steve Bell, Stella Duffy, Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair, Carol Swain, Chris Petit, Tony Grisoni, Ilya, Yana Stajno, Stewart Home, Warren Pleece, Dix, Carl Flint,Melinda Gebbie, Dave McKean, Garry Mashall, Chris Hogg, Jonathan Edwards, Oscar Zarate.

Sitting outside on this sunny Sunday afternoon after mowing the moss, I was all buoyant. Then I made the mistake of reading this again and, let me tell you, it’s very, very dark in this particularLondon.

But I learned from Neil Gaiman what a rookery was: “a warren of houses jerrybuilt onto houses, lightless courts, alleys and dead ends; a true warren – you could enter through a door in one building, leave through a door in another, far away, which made a rookery a perfect place for people who did not wish to be arrested”. Alan Moore’s ‘Highbury’ anticipates his public proclamations of all history happening at once, and precedes the NEW DEADWARDIANS series by nearly 20 years: “It’s romanticism in a way, and you can read the disappointment in Karl Marx’s eyes: the haemoholics are traditionally drawn from a certain class, lisping around their fangs, where he would have preferred a proletarian commonality of zombies.” I also enjoyed seeing Chris Hogg’s art again. Do you remember KILLER FLY? We’ve a piece of original Chris Hogg art on our office wall. Lovely.

Woodrow Phoenix takes you on a silent stroll which is possibly the only crimeless comic here, whereas Stella Duffy & Melinda Gebbie’s short story may reduce your sodium chloride intake whilst simultaneously increasing your blood pressure. But I don’t know, it all seems so utterly joyless.London.

As I wrote back in 1997 (and it was all that I wrote on the book): “Nice place to visit…”

SLH

It’S Dark In London: A Graphic Collection Of Short Stories

Emitown vol 2 (£18-99, Image) by Emi Lenox.

“If the grass is greener on the other side, maybe that’s because you’re not taking care of your grass.”

More daily diary entries, this time drawn long after the fact and after Emi herself had started working for Image, published her first book there and begun sharing convention space with the likes of Brandon Graham, meeting James Jean, and occasionally hanging out with the Allreds etc. She’s bursting with enthusiasm, and it’s so sweet when Emi spies her first book in PREVIEWS, gets her very own ISBN then embarrasses herself on a panel. But the vast majority of the book is still spent living a life familiar to us all and, boy, does she amass parking tickets and speeding fines. But she also experiences tremendous mood swings she’s quite candid about and worries herself half to death:

“Sometimes, (a lot lately) I feel like I have to wear all these masks. I guess I don’t have to but I do. It gets to the point where I don’t remember which one is truly me. I mean, yeah, they are all me… but I mean the “me” that doesn’t feel forced.”

“Sometimes my worries lead to problems and then I worry I ruined something. Did I always worry so much? Sometimes I wonder if there is a deeper issue that is causing my worry.”

None of us are immune to self-doubt, and one of the reasons I love Lenox is her ability to help people recognise they’re not alone. The bit when she actually has to ask her beau Tim if they’re boyfriend-and-girlfriend or not made me laugh. Their gradual, tentatively blossoming romance is super-cute, and I wonder if at this point I should offer a SPOILER WARNING. Go on, then, have a SPOILER WARNING. Stop reading now.

The very best bits here are, I’m afraid, about their long, painful and protracted break-up. Not because I revel in another’s misery; far from it, I want to give last year’s Emi a great big hug. It’s because her bewilderment is so perfectly presented, and her awkward uncertainty as to what to do when they keep bumping into each other is horrifically familiar. She just can’t get a clean break and I thank God that most of my ghosts live a very long way away indeed.

P.S. There’s a short story by Jeff Lemire in the back! Yowsa!

SLH

Buy Emitown vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

The Art Of The Secret World Of Arrietty (£25-00, Viz) by Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

With plenty of key sketches by Hayao Miyazaki himself, this new collection of full-colour preparatory work and fully finished paintings is as lush the others, particularly the garden landscapes which our leaf-sized heroin has to negotiate. Some two hundred and fifty album-sized pages long, this also contains creator commentary on artistic decisions and specific production processes, each song lyric and the complete voice-over script. The script is surprisingly short, but then there are so many silent sequences in these films which give the animation space to shine in its own right. So the overwhelming majority of this book is pure, visual craftsmanship, jaw-droppingly detailed.

Come Christmas especially all the Studio Ghibli books (which you can find on our site under art, criticism and creating comics > art books > manga & anime) outsell everything else in that category by a very wide margin. They’re not the cell-by-cell reproductions you can buy elsewhere which make me wonder why readers don’t just watch the films themselves with the pause button handy. You’re seeing the film from a very different angle, and some of the preparatory paintings are rendered in a far more expressionist fashion than you’d expect. A few are explorations of form, light and colour with a daubing of paint on the fronds that in one instance put me in mind of Paul Cézanne, helping to keep the finished frame as vibrant as you can imagine.

I should just take the opportunity to mention that if you’re reading this review as a young fan of Studio Ghibli, I think you’d get a massive kick out of Kazu Kibuishi’s AMULET series of all-ages fantasy graphic novels. Infused with the spirit of Hayao Miyazaki, they are stellar performers here, and every time I do a shop-floor show-and-tell making that specific comparison there is instant recognition followed by a purchase, and an almost immediate return-visit for book two!

SLH

The Art Of The Secret World Of Arrietty

The Manhattan Projects #1 (£2-75, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra.

“This is America… everyone gets a gun.”

It’s 1942 on the day the War Department hired child-prodigy turned physics-genius Dr. Robert Oppenheimer to join its quest to ensure thatAmericais armed to the teeth. Officially tasked with building and deploying the world’s first atomic bomb, its actual avenues of exploration are far more esoteric:

“Dr. Seaborg and Mr. McMillan are currently mining something called pan-dimensional space for the fringe materials we need to build our impossible machines of expansion. For example – - We use divergence engines to recover mythological artefacts from discarded space. These are imaginary weapons made real through scientific exploration.”

That’d be the likes of Poseidon’s Trident. But they’re not the only ones who’ve been thinking outside the box, and as the War Department’s military commander enjoys giving thin, frail, white-haired Dr. Oppenheimer a tour of Base Zero (skipping swiftly past a familiar face locked in his own private laboratory), security is breached by a Red Torii gateway (“No doubt Zen-powered by Death Buddhists.”) delivered by a blazing Hinomaru and an automated invasion force sweeps in threatening to steal or destroy everything they’ve worked on so far. Entertainingly, however, the main action is intercut with the parallel lives of Robert and Joseph Oppenheimer, twins born six minutes apart, and their divergent paths through early study, experimentation and ‘areas of interest’ taking us right up to the present day. You’ll have to see why it’s so entertaining for yourselves. Neat punchline.

From the team behind RED WING, the art here displays a little bit of Frank Quitely, maybe a more fragile Geoff Darrow, while the terminology put me in mind of Matt Fraction’s CASANOVA. It’s not taking itself too seriously!

“Ever since the success of Pearl Harbour, the Emperor and his Warlords have gotten extremely aggressive. We’re even having to check every ream of paper that’s delivered to critical government offices after last month’s sentient origami incident. I saw the bodies, Doctor… Papercuts are no way for a man to meet his maker.”

True. If our Tom were a haemophiliac he’d be dead by now.

Buy The Manhattan Projects #1 by emailing page45@page45.com or phoning 0115 9508045.

Hellboy vol 12: The Storm And The Fury (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo…

“NIMUE!”
“Not anymore.”
“Guess I don’t really care who you are.”
“Ah, but you do know me! Rasputin tried to set me free the day you were born. He failed, but I forgave him. I held him close and guided his hand, and when he tried again he cracked the wall of my prison. Through that gap I’ve stretched my long arm back into the world, I cast my shadow over all, no light…”

As the sagely Kurgan himself rightly noted, it’s better to burn out than fade away, and whilst those slightly nihilistic words of wisdom, which are most appropriate for a son of the Devil, came from 1986, it’s somewhat hard to believe that Hellboy made his first appearance a mere 7 years later, and a staggering 19 years ago. But, as Mignola wisely notes in his foreword to Hellboy’s final appearance, inevitably over time all creations begin to succumb to character fatigue on the reader’s part, and if you are trying to maintain a sense of continuity or build any sort of coherent mythos, then the option of continuously rebooting/retreading/retooling characters whilst discarding much or all that has gone before à la recent DC reboot (that wasn’t a reboot of course – am I ever going to tire of saying that, probably not…?) isn’t possible.

Whilst one thing that has been a positive character trait of Hellboy’s through this entire run is his steadfast, indeed stubborn refusal, to accept his apparent destiny as the offspring of him down below, it has, over time, meant that Mignola has pretty much done everything he can possibly do with the character. I think a lot of people began to feel that the shark was well and truly in danger of getting jumped* when the final, Arthurian-related wider arc began, but I can state that the resolution to that is handled in a satisfying and suitably blunt manner.

So, preamble aside, here we have the final confrontation between Hellboy and the Dragon of Revelation, or as long-term readers will know it, the Ogdru Jahad. This story is set as the world is rapidly beginning to go to hell in a hand basket as detailed in B.P.R.D., as Hellboy himself begins to realise from the various news flashes shown on the television in a rather peculiar pub he unexpectedly finds himself in. Of course, it’s not the totality of the Ogdru Jahad Hellboy finds himself facing, but the fraction of which the evil wizard Rasputin managed to loose upon the Earth due to his magical meddling. I said earlier that this is the final appearance of Hellboy, but… without spoiling anything, it is certainly possible, but by no means certain that there yet may be a curtain call at some point in the future for the crimson curmudgeon, maybe even in the pages of B.P.R.D., now I come to think about it…

*(For those of you unfamiliar with the idiom ‘Jumping The Shark’ it was coined by an American radio personality Jon Hein in reference to the exact moment when popular television shows begin to go into decline. If you’re curious as to exactly what the expression originally refers to, just have a look here www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDthMGtZKa4)

JR

Buy Hellboy vol 12: The Storm And The Fury and read the Page 45 review here

The Boys vol 10: Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker (£14-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson.

In which we finally learn why Billy Butcher wants to end all superhuman activity on Earth. Finally, violently, and in public. Adults only, please.

You might want to start at the beginning with THE BOYS VOL 1. It’s certainly a lot funnier, but this isn’t a bad place to start, either, since it goes right back to Billy’s childhood in theEast End as the man we know today travels home for a heart-to-heart with his father. Who’s dead. And never had a heart in the first place.

It’s a brutal story of horrific violence as Billy and brother Lenny struggle with their father constantly beating the living snot out of their mother, and if you wonder why she stays with him then you really need to read DRAGONSLIPPERS: THIS IS WHAT AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP LOOKS LIKE. Ennis understands perfectly, and it’s eloquently expressed by young Becky. Becky is the woman who saves Billy from himself: from becoming just like his Dad. He’s inherited his father’s volcanic temper which the stupid man only encourages. And, as happens, it grows even more explosive when soaked in alcohol. Billy’s service in the Falklands War provides a temporary release but on his return he’s just seen too much, done too much and… oh, I’ve seen this documented in real life, especially after some soldiers are released. He’s angry – angry at himself and everyone around him until the day he meets Becky, a woman of extraordinary compassion, unafraid either of Billy or of asking him gently to stop.

What’s so perfect about this chronicle is that there isn’t even a mention of superhumans existing for the first four chapters. Billy’s life was like anyone else’s in the ‘70s and ‘80s in the east End of London. It was all school yard fights then the cold practicalities of harsh economics, whether it be earning a living for a family to subsist on, or Thatcherite politics jettisoning those the state is supposed to care for into a community it had already demolished. There’s even a scene at the dinner table where Ennis explores the chasm between those middle class liberals condemning the destruction of the working class’s sense of community and the working class’s perspective and insight into it, as sat right in front of him in the form of Billy Butcher. Extraordinarily well written. My point is this: it could all have been so different. Against all odds Billy had found happiness with a woman in a part of the world superhumans had not impacted one single jot.

Then, towards the end of the book, something happens. Something so ghastly it actually makes Jessica Jones’ story in ALIAS VOLUMES ONE then TWO look lightweight. Some of you have pretty vivid imaginations. I like to think I do too. I never saw this coming.

Best book so far by a very wide margin. Now I’m really looking forward to the finale.

SLH

Buy The Boys vol 10: Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker and read the Page 45 review here

Superior h/c (£19-99, Titan) by Mark Millar & Leinil Francis Yu.

“Oh, baby. I know it’s embarrassing. But the hospital said we need to get used to it. You can’t just have baths when your dad’s around.”

The Mark Millar project I was most worried about turns out to be one of his finest. Like  MARVEL 1985 it has so much heart, and Millar has a knack for writing young boys: how they perceive the real world around them. It’s also dazzlingly drawn in breath-taking detail, whether it be a quiet afternoon secluded under the fiery canopy of the woods in autumn or during the epic scenes of colossal devastation. Yu can be tender and intimate as during the mother-and-son bath scene above, yet impressively bold. Some of his forms and compositions reminded me of Travis Charest.

Set in a world where superheroes are mere fiction, the province of comics and films, twelve-year-old Simon Pooni and his best pal Chris have just been to see Tad Scott star in the latest Superior movie. The special effects are stunning, but in all honesty the franchise is tired. And now they’ve been ambushed by the all-too-familiar school bullies who always kick hardest when someone is down.

“Hey, homos. You have a nice time making out in the back row?”
“Just ignore him, Chris. I hear the basketball team’s really missing you these days, Pooni. Still, the way these guys play, they might as well have a cripple up front.” 
“You’re an asshole, Sharpie, and you’ve always been an asshole. If I wasn’t in this chair, I’d kick your ass all over the mall.”
“Yeah, well. I got news for you, Simon… you kinda are in that chair.”

Yeah, Simon kinda is in that chair.

Multiple Sclerosis snuck on him with particular aggression; he’s even lost the sight of one eye and on bad days he can barely talk. There are days of remission, weeks even, but nothing permanent. Once a basketball player of promise, sometimes Simon’s on sticks but mostly confined to a wheel chair so his muscles have gradually atrophied through lack of use. It’s unlikely to get any better. Until, late one night…

“Simon? Wake up, Simon. There’s something I need to talk to you about.”
“Huh?
“I’m here to make a serious proposition.”
“HOLY SHIT! Mom! Dad! There’s a monkey in the room!”

There really is a monkey in his room; a monkey in a spacesuit who has selected Simon as the “most appropriate” out of six billion candidates to be turned into the adult, post-human powerhouse Superior: the fictional character as played by Tad Scott. Now that would take some explaining to his mother.

Now, I don’t really want to tell you what happens next, I just want to reassure you that is far from obvious, right up to the end. My one worry was that this, Millar’s riff on Superman / Shazam, ran the risk of insulting the plight of those who can’t call “Kimota!” and transform into perfect superhuman specimens but have indeed lost the use of one side of their body or their peripheral vision, rendering them unable to scan more than one word at a time. (Parenthetically, comics – with few words per line – are far more accessible to those without peripheral vision. I’m told by dyslexics that they’re a much easier read too.) My best friend had Multiple Sclerosis and – by far the finest dancer I’ve ever had the pleasure of filling the floor with – that’s exactly what happened to her.

I would have been livid, but Millar doesn’t fall into that trap for this is far less straightforward than it initially appears, being more a Faustian pact with some serious twists, some serious bait, and some seriously hard decisions ahead. Not just for Simon, either, but for the Lois Lane counterpart. And that really is where we have to leave it with just one observational note that a talking monkey at the bottom of your bed is hardly conducive to an easy night’s sleep.

“You gonna tell [your Mom] about the space monkey?”
“Sure. Especially now I’ve figured out who he really is.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, I prayed every night that my Multiple Sclerosis would go away and Mom was always praying that America would get fixed again too. So what if that magic wish was the answer to both our prayers? What if Ormon was an angel? Did he turn me into a superhero because America really needed one right now?”

“I dunno, man. I’m twelve years old. I struggle with friggin’ long division.”

The scene pulls back to a rooftop opposite where Ormon, the cute little spacemonkey sits, wide-eyed, staring at them from a distance.

“An angel? That’s hilarious.”

The monkey bears his teeth: two rows of sharp enamel spikes like a dental mantrap.

“I’m afraid I’m actually quite the opposite.”

SLH

Buy Superior h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Nemesis s/c (UK edition) by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven.

“Holy shit. I’m covered in old person.”

Like KICK-ASS this is set well clear of the Marvel Universe. There are no superheroes in this world, just one man in white with a great deal of money and time to kill. Time to kill people, specifically the finest Chiefs of police around the globe. He’s an inverse Batman relishing the suffering and humiliation he inflicts on the mighty or noble with meticulous timing for maximum death and destruction by toppling over metaphorical dominoes of explosive set piece disasters set at precisely the right angle to each other. HereTokyo is in for but a taster of what he has planned for America, its President and Washington DC’s Chief Blake Morrow. Nevertheless it’s a taster of the proportions compelling enough to convince Morrow to take him seriously, to take every conceivable precaution to outwit the man. Waste of time, actually.

A master strategist, every conceivable countermeasure has been anticipated days, months, years in advance, and every eventuality catered for. Everything they glean turns out to be fabrication, every hard-won advantage but a poisonous joker in Nemesis’ perfectly played hand – or at least proof that he was right all along. It’s relentless.

There is a tradition in superhero comics that the villain is unerringly outwitted by the hero of superior intellect, ingenuity or perspicacity, nowhere more so than in Batman’s last minute fat/fryer extractions. But this is a Batman who in addition has the luxury of acting rather than reacting, and on plans made laid at leisure leaving others to repent their haste.

Truly I would advise you to steer clear of any other publicity concerning this title if you want to be surprised by the sheer scale of the spectacle ahead of you because even in the short space of the opening chapter your jaw will drop not once, not twice and not even thrice. It’s an experience replicated by the number of reversals later on. Don’t flick ahead, basically.

Is it over the top? Of course. There’s more than a moment that’s pure Frank Miller. Is it gratuitous? Umm, it’s a superhero comic. Is it any good? Well, McNiven you may know as Millar’s artist on CIVIL WAR and WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN. It’s not a team generally known to disappoint.

Jonathan’s even found some interior art for you.

SLH

Buy Nemesis s/c (UK Ed’n) and read the Page 45 review here

Fear Itself: Invincible Iron Man h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction &Salvador Larocca.

“I figure Gods like it when you sacrifice things to them. At least this one always did, in the stories they tell about him. So I gave this one the two most valuable things I had… my sobriety… and my dignity.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Stark is over his limit. Caught in the worldwide grip of Fear Itself, the population of Paris is petrified. Truly petrified. Turned to stone by the Grey Gargoyle, they are the rubble that their city lies in. It’s a battle which Iron Man lost because the transmutational touch of the Grey Gargoyle had been enhanced beyond calculation by one of the weapons dispatched by the Asgardian God of Fear. But Tony Stark’s been designing weapons all his life – his very armour is a walking weapon – and he’s nothing if not logical. He just needs to catch someone’s attention and then take a leap of faith.

Meanwhile back at the ranch there’s a power struggle brewing between Pepper Potts and Bethany Cabe, and with Iron Man absent someone else will have to fill his sizeable, soldered shoes inFrance.

Otherwise known as INVINCIBLE IRON MAN VOLUME 9, this has already significant impact on whatever they actually call the next book: possibly INVINCIBLE IRON MAN VOLUME 9, possibly INVINCIBLE IRON MAN VOLUME 10. Either way, I can see we’re going to be explaining that on the shop floor forever. It also contains more swearing that any Marvel book I’ve ever read. Thankfully it’s all in Asgardian. Lastly, written months before the passing this weekend of one of comics’ own Gods, Moebius, Matt’s love of the man is evidenced here:

“Wait. What happened in Paris?”
“Where have you been? Tony was… There’s a… like a monster and it’s turning everyone to stone.”
“Is Moebius okay?”

Genuinely funny, and any comic lover’s immediate priority. Nice one, Fraction.

SLH

Buy Fear Itself: Invincible Iron Man h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers 1959 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Howard Chaykin…

“You broke that jaw?” – Ray Tango to Gabriel Cash from the finest action film of 1989 – not 1959 I realise, but hey, close enough – yes, it was Tango & Cash.

I have a sneaking theory that Howard Chaykin’s secret fantasy would be to draw Judge Dredd. Unless he has already and I’m just blissfully unaware of it? My reasoning behind that is his love of the redoubtable lantern jaw is now reaching truly ridiculous proportions. I absolutely loved this book, by the way, both the plot and the art, but literally everyone has a jaw, including the ladies, that not even Kurt Russell could have cracked, no matter how bad a day he was having.

Still, that minor quibble should not detract from what is an excellent yarn featuring one Nicholas Fury and his team of proto-Avengers battling various fascist leftovers intent on establishing a Fourth Reich. Or are they? Because who precisely is behind the reanimation, reactivation and redeployment of the myriad monsters, Übermenschen (und Damen) and what is the meaning of the numeral-embossed Skull they have taken as their new symbol? And how does the abduction of the young emperor of Wakanda by forces unknown factor into it all?

This book is great fun and the team of Kraven, Sabretooth, Dominic Fortune, the original Silver Sable and Namora (Subby’s cousin) is no less dysfunctional that the modern day bunch of Avengers that we’re more familiar with. Indeed Chaykin has just as much fun with the sparky interplay of the team’s members as Bendis does with the New variety. So if that particular title regularly tickles your fancy do give this a look, as it went criminally under the radar as single issues with only three takers here including one Colonel Gordon Davidson, Scotland’s answer to Nick Fury and a man whose been known to employ an Life Model Decoy upon occasion inside Page 45 to avoid talking to people from his mysterious past… and who regularly sends in one of his howling mad commando minions to pick up his comics for him when he’s too busy swooshing over the city in his helicarrier.

JR

Avengers 1959 softcover

Avengers: The Korvac Saga s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim Shooter, Len Wein, Roger Stern, George Perez, David Micheline, Bill Mantlo & George Perez, Sal Buscema, Dave Wenzel.

Ah, Marvel in the mid 1970s! What a thing to behold! Billowing capes, ballooning boots, those racial stereotypes and hilarious dialects, improbable team-ups and epic plots cascading over a dozen issues; melodrama on a scale rarely experienced since the days of Caligula! All epitomised by this very book, distilled into a concentrate so strong that it’s virtually toxic. This is the Dynasty of the superhero genre, where even the over-dub wears shoulder pads:

“On the plane of physical reality, Starhawk strikes first. ”For Aleta — for the Universe!” The Enemy tumbles backwards, the stunning impact of the blow ripping through the sum of his being. Somewhere in the depths of the cosmos within his mind, a planetshatters — and in unison, the billion billion souls who inhabit the sub-reality of The Enemy’s id scream in utter horror as their entire dimension trembles!”

Wow! Not just horror, but utter horror! Naturally I wasn’t around back then, having barely hit my teens last week [errrr... - ed.], but if I had been around to buy the originals I’d be able to tell you that I lapped it all up and then some. Almost every Avenger bar the Hulk appears, each being abducted one by one! The Guardians Of The Galaxy guest star! Everyone bickers! Henry Peter Gyrich makes his first appearance and promptly rescinds their national Priority Status! Yes, several dozen high-ranking superheroes have to take the bus into action! Hawkeye cracks some gags I swore blind were the funniest things I had ever heard back then, as Earth’s Mightiest attempt to locate their nigh-omnipotent enemy in leafy suburbia and fail to find more than some antique fittings (“Terrific. ’Avengers Attack Suburban Home! Defeated By Stylish Decor!’ The tabloids are going to love this!”). And then – then the really big fight happens!!! Had I been old enough, I would have spontaneously ejaculated.

Now, of course – now that I’ve reached double figures – the whole thing looks and sounds ludicrous. No, make that utterly ludicrous. The plots have holes in them so big that even I could whack a golf ball through them. The exchanges are hokey (“Hey! Wh-where do you get off, baldy? Treatin’ someone’s mind like a… bathtub with a ring! If you’ve hurt Quicksilver –!” ”No, Hawkeye, there was no pain. It was more like… insight!”), some of the battle scenes are just plain silly (“By Hela — what sorcery is this?! My hammer — I cannot withdraw it from the creature — or release my grip upon it!” ”It has passed into another dimension, Thunder God — where it is held fast by the dimensional interface — Should you succeed in pulling it free — the resultant temporal upheaval would doom billions of innocents inhabiting that far-flung other-verse!”), and the fact that you can just stroll into the Avengers’ Mansion off a little side-street does beggar belief. But some things are just so bad they’re brilliant, you know? And, hey, I just loved reliving that Yellowjacket costume.

Recommended for students who play Marvel vs Capcom on their games consoles in thrall to the mighty weed until3amin the morning. ”Seriously old-skool,” “Random” etc..

If you want to follow this up, go next to Avengers: Nights Of Wundagore where the Scarlet Witch first loses the plot. Or, to be fair, has it stolen from her.

Buy Avengers: The Korvac Saga s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman: Birth Of The Demon s/c (£22-50, DC ) by Mike W. Barr, Dennis O’Neil & Jerry Bingham, Eva Grindberg, Norm Breyfogle…

“Before we begin, hear me. I have knowledge which is alien to you, for I have tasted food fresh from dark fertile soil, and I have filled my lungs with untainted air, and I have quenched my thirst with water clear as the first day of creation, and you have not… because you cannot. Those things do not exist on this world any longer. They have been destroyed by man’s lust for dominance … a lust I know well, for at times it all but consumes me.

“All is corrupt, all is sick, all is dying.
“As am I. As are you.”
“Listen to him. He can halt the corruption. He can be our saviour.”
“By imposing his will on every single human being alive.”
“Is that so terrible?”
“Yes. I think it is.”

You tell ‘em Bruce! Collected trilogy of previously published material (BATMAN: SON OF THE DEMON, BATMAN: BRIDE OF THE DEMON and BATMAN: BIRTH OF THE DEMON from 1987, 1991 & 1993 respectively) which is touted by DC on the rear cover as being a prequel to Grant Morrison’s BATMAN & SON. That’s rather mis-leading because whilst the conclusion of the first story does indeed feature the first appearance of Damian in the last three panels, that is it. In fact, it’s never actually made overtly clear it is Damian, but it is clearly implied as the poor mite is abandoned in an orphanage before being adopted, all unbeknownst to Bruce who isn’t even aware he has a son. (Pedants please note, those of you who are about to ‘Ask the Answer Man’ – anyone else remember Bob Rozakis’ monthly column answering DC trivia that used to be in the back of each monthly title? – about the apparent differences with this story and Damian’s current established origin of him being grown in a test tube and raised by the League of Assassins, I have a nagging feeling that somehow it got ‘adjusted’ as a result of Infinite Crisis. Don’t quote me on that though.)

What this trilogy is really comprised of – and is definitely strong enough to sell it on its own merits – are two superb Batman vs. Ra’s al Ghul match-ups and Ra’s al Ghul’s origin story. The first two stories are penned by Mike Barr and illustrated by Jerry Bingham and Tom Grindberg in very typical period-Neal-Adams-like style, which is a compliment by the way. No spoilers but as ever Ra’s has got his warped mind set on wiping mankind from the face of the earth and starting all over again, with himself in charge of course, and it’s up to Bruce to put the pieces together and stop him. What I do like about Ra’s al Ghul stories is you usually do get some detective work as well as the fisticuffs and so it is here. The third story is completely different, told primarily in flashback as Talia recounts her father’s life to Batman, who has been destroying Lazarus Pits around the world just before a dying Ra’s can make use of them, before Bruce and Ra’s have a quick punch-up to finish the story.

JR

Buy Batman: Birth Of The Demon s/c and read the Page 45 review here

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews to follow or already up. You can check by clicking on whichever you’re curious about: all the titles have been linked to their relevant product pages.

 
McPherson: Bunny In The Moon: The Art Of Tara McPherson vol 3 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Tara McPherson

Martiniere: Velocity (£19-99, Titan) by Stephen Martiniere

Crabapple: Week In Hell: The Art Of Molly Crabapple vol 1 (£7-50, IDW) by Molly Crabapple

The Complete Crumb Comics vol 1: The Early Years Of Bitter Struggle (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Robert Crumb

Crossed vol 3: Psychopath (£14-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & Raulo Caceres

Moriarty vol 2: The Lazarus Tree (£10-99, Image) by Daniel Corey & Anthony Diecidue, Mike Vosburg

Peanuts, Complete: vol 17 1983-1984 (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Charles M. Schultz

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago vol 5 (£19-99, Dark Horse) by various

The Intrepid Escape Goat vol 1: The Curse Of The Buddha’s Tooth (£9-99, Th3rd World Studios) by Brian Smith

Northlanders vol 6: Thor’s Daughter And Other Stories (£10-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Marian Churchland, Simon Gane, Matthew Woodson

Uncanny X-Men vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Carlos Pacheco, Brandon Peterson

Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself Fallout h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen, Robert Rodi & Whilce Portacio, Pasqual Ferry, Richard Elson

Ultimate Comics Avengers Vs. New Ultimates: Death Of Spider-Man softcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Leinil Yu, Stephen Segovia

X-Men: Season One h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dennis Hopeless & Jamie McKelvie

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Chung, Alan David, Oliver Coipel

Essential Hulk vol 2 (£14-99, Marvel) by various

Essential X-Men vol 10 (£14-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Louise Simonsen, Walt Simonsen & various including Jim Lee, Rob Liefield, Art Adams

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint Featuring Batman softcover (£13-50, DC) by Brian Azzarello, J.T. Krul, Jimmy Palmiotti, Peter Milligan & Eduardo Risso, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Mikel Janin, Alejandro Giraldo, Joe Bennett, Tony Shasteen, Alex Massacci, John Dell, George Perez, Fernando Blanco, Scott Koblish

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint Featuring Wonder Woman softcover (£13-50, DC) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tony Bedard, James Robinson & Agustin Padilla, Scott Clark, Vicente Cifuentes, Adrian Syaf, Eddie Nunez, Gianluca Gugliotta, Christian Duce, Javi Fernandez

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint Featuring Superman softcover (£13-50, DC) by Scott Snuder, Lowell Francis, Rex Ogle, Dan Jurgens, Mike Carlin & Gene Ha, Eduardo Francisco, Paulo Siqueira, Roland Paris, Dan Jurgens, Rick Leonard, Ig Guara, Rags Morales, Rick Bryant

Spawn Origins vol 14 (£10-99, Image) by Todd McFarlane, Brian Hoguin &  Greg Capullo

Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Official Casebook vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Kenji Kuroda & Kazuo Maekawa

Higurashi vol 17: Atonement Arc vol 3 (£8-99, Yen) by Ryukishi07 7 Karin Suzuragi

Twin Spica vol 12 (£10-50, Vertical) by Kou Yaginuma

Soul Eater vol 8 (£8-99, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo

Monster Hunter Orage vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Beast and Feast (£9-99, June) by Norikazu Akira

Depression Of The Anti-Romanticist (£9-99, June) by Yasuna Saginuma & Riyu Yamakami

Blue Sheep Reverie vol 5 (£9-99, June) by Makato Tateno

 
Sad, sad news this weekend.

Why we love Moebius and always will, with thanks for the link to esteemed publisher Picture Box: http://butdoesitfloat.com/filter/moebius

 - Stephen

Reviews March 2012 week one

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

If I were to coin a phrase to describe her art – with its babyish dwarves, its kohl-eyed animals and waspish witch – it would be Nursery Gothic; and if I were to chew on a chapter I suspect it would taste of liquorice.

 - Stephen on Camille Rose Garcia’s Snow White

The Lost Thing (£7-99, Lothian) by Shaun Tan.

From the creator of THE ARRIVAL.

“I played with the thing for most of the afternoon. It was great fun, yet I couldn’t help feeling that something wasn’t quite right. As the hours slouched by, it seemed less and less likely that anybody was coming to take the thing home. There was no denying the unhappy truth of the situation. It was lost.”

Bless. There’s so much heart and humanity in Shaun Tan’s work – an enormous amount of design work, and quite a lot of mischief as well. For a start he resolutely refuses to inform his readership what the book is about on the French flaps, and his postcard to Pete on the back (from Greater Suburbia) is equally playful. There are plenty of clues, though, in the form of commands: strict instructions to “INSERT MESSAGE”, “MAIL THIS WAY”, “print clearly”, and you’re told exactly how to shelve the book. I’d make sure it’s filed under fiction. You don’t want it mixed up with the autobiography or politics.

We’ll get to the story in a bit (I believe that we must: it’s what proper reviews do), but first we’re informed that “This book is intended to serve as an introduction text-book for students preparing for the first examination in the subject of hear engines and applied thermodynamics”. Well perhaps, but someone’s gone and torn the mechanical diagrams, algebra and mathematical tables into strips, seemingly soaked them in tea than pasted them higgledy-piggledy on top of each other forming a collage of margins and gutters on which the main story sits. They probably weren’t meant to do that. Fortunately Shaun is much more orderly, having arranged his bottle-top collection very neatly indeed on the inside front-cover.

It was while strolling past the beach one afternoon, scanning the pavement for those treasured bottle-tops that the young lad looked up (purely by chance) and first spied the Lost Thing “looking out of place” on the sand. I couldn’t really tell you what it was; nor could Shaun. It looked like some sort of giant cephalopod housed in a big iron boiler vaguely the shape of a teapot. A bit like an industrialised hermit crab. Anyway, since no one came to claim it, and no one else seemed to notice or care, Shaun took it to his friend Pete, but Pete didn’t know what it was, either. His parents didn’t even want to know and if it hadn’t been for the advertisement on the back of the newspaper, Shaun would have been at a complete loss as to what he was supposed to do with it. Fortunately the advertisers knew exactly what to do with things like that, so off the next morning they dutifully trot…

So many of Shaun’s familiar themes manifest themselves here, including the man-made overshadowing nature (see TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA and THE RABBITS). The beach, for example, is a thin strip cluttered with industrial this, that and the other (the life guard is hilarious) lying not below chalky cliffs or a dune-strewn grassland, but a gigantic concrete dam thrust-through with iron pipes which have stained it with rust. And above? A vast city packed tight with skyscrapers crammed so close together the sky doesn’t get a look in. Tan’s work always rewards scrutiny: so many background details! Signs prohibiting stuff, advertisements for Red Tape (no self-respecting bureaucracy should be without it), public service announcements like “Know Your Diodes”, Homogenous Equation notice boards, telling statues and a big banner proclaiming, “TODAY IS THE TOMORROW YOU WERE PROMISED YESTERDAY” (originally Victor Burgin). And the paintings themselves are beautiful and often quite absurd, like Shaun, Pete and the Lost Thing perched on Pete’s small suburban rooftop.

It’s funny, it’s wondrous and it’s yet another celebration of the diverse, the different – a fun-poking finger-wagging on how we like to arrange things, compartmentalise things, categorise things, pigeon-hole things, file things away then forget about them. And by “things”, of course, I mean “people”.

SLH

Buy The Lost Thing and read the Page 45 review here

The Rabbits (£7-99, Lothian) by John Marsden & Shaun Tan.

Arrestingly powerful piece written simply, concisely and directly by John Marsden and brought to anthropomorphic, all-ages life by Shaun Tan. And I do mean all ages. It’s an exceptionally fine book to give to young adults increasingly concerned about the environment but also – post-Iraq – war, but I would suggest that just as many copies have been snapped up by adults for exactly the same reason. That and the sheer majesty of Shaun Tan’s expressionistic execution.

For if THE ARRIVAL was a heartfelt rallying cry against racism in compassionate support of those who have no option but to leave their loved ones behind to go in search of safety abroad… if  THE ARRIVAL was about opening our arms and the doors of more prosperous and peaceful nations as a refuge for those facing very real physical danger, then integrating them into a magnificently diverse population, then THE RABBITS is a scathing satire on so-called civilisation and an attack on wholesale invasion. Specifically it’s a barely disguised allegory of what happened toAustralia and its ecology – its land, natural resources, its indigenous population and indeed species – when the white man came to town and obliterated them all. You know, with more than a little help from those cute little bunny-wunnies we blithely brought with us. We didn’t half breed like them too.

I can see Shaun Tan absolutely jumping at the chance to hop on board here. This is everything he’s passionate about, and he’s brought with him his usual sense of scale, the leviathan of a serpentine liner with its dragon-like prow looming over the land on the cover. The anthropomorphic rabbits are grotesquely bunched-up beasts, narrowed eyes peering through ocular apparatuses from under stiff, starched collars like malignant toads. They scrutinise and categorise whatever they plunder. Everything about them and everything they do and bring with them is an alien antithesis to the natural environment – all regimented right-angles, straight lines and lots and lots of industrial gauges, smoke-belching chimneys, and soulless, gargantuan factories with clocks all dictating precisely the same time. There are so many exceptional set-pieces here, but I particularly relished the double-page spread in which the uniformed and indeed uniform rabbits first set about imprinting their pre-conceived notions of perfection on the landscape, matching it precisely to a painting they’ve brought with them, an essay in ruled perspective and unwavering symmetry. Talk about prefabrication. Wittily the painting itself is imposed on the landscape behind it which begins to echo exact its lines of radiating perspective as the hutch-like houses are built according to plan.

For similar sentiments on how rubbish a balanced life of peaceful and harmonious coexistence with nature is, please see Eric Drooker’s BLOOD SONG. We even have interior art up there and it’s gorgeous!

SLH

Buy The Rabbits and read the Page 45 review here

Eric h/c (£5-99, Templar) by Shaun Tan.

You know, I rather suspect that Shaun Tan has a bottle-top collection. Maybe not quite as weird as the one in THE LOST THING but they do tend to pop up in his books. Or maybe the foreign student who once came to live with his family began one. And I’m fairly confident a foreign student did once come to live with them: this is far too astutely observed for it to be otherwise. I wonder if he came from China? My mate David had a Chinese student living with him for a while, and this is precisely what he experienced!

“Secretly I had been looking forward to having a foreign visitor – I had so many things to show him. For once I could be a local expert, a fountain of interesting facts and opinions. Fortunately, Eric was very curious and always had plenty of questions. However, they weren’t the kind of questions I had been expecting. Most of the time I could only say, “I’m not really sure,” or, “That’s just how it is.” I didn’t feel helpful at all.”

Just like Eric, he too amassed a seemingly odd collection of things – mundane bits and pieces we take for granted and would ordinarily trash, but which to him were cultural novelties. Ah, but Eric isn’t simply collecting objects for their innate curiosity value, for Eric is full of surprises…

All of which brings me to the salient observation that although this looks like illustrated prose, it is essentially comics, because apart from when Eric takes up residence in the kitchen pantry perhaps (and only perhaps!), if you stripped away the images here it’s a very different read indeed. Once you see Eric himself, especially in his environment, his interest in plugholes, bottle-tops and sweet wrappers (“small things he discovered on the ground”) becomes a lot less strange for they’re all at eye level but, conversely, the story becomes infinitely more fantastical and, crucially, the punchline is purely visual. Absolutely magical too. Lastly, it’s only just occurred to me that Eric’s singular method of “leaving” might well be a visual pun.

Anyway, a family takes in a strange and wonderful visitor who prefers residence in their kitchen pantry, and it proves quite the revelation. Short story from the TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA collection.

SLH

Buy Eric h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Feeble Attempts restocks (£3-50, Top Shelf) by Jeffrey Brown ~

This unbelievably dense collection of stray works touches just about every aspect of Jeffrey’s style thus far. From the most base sketchbook scratchings to full-colour strips encompassing bad jobs, childhood, superheroes, Jesus, politics and a slab of relationship drama are all represented. If for some mind-boggling reason you haven’t picked up any of Jeff’s stuff yet – and it better be a really good, far-fetched excuse – this is a perfect intro to one of the best cartoonists of today.

TR

Buy Feeble Attempts and read the Page 45 review here

Optic Nerve: Sleepwalk restocks (£13-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Adrian Tomine.

Real-life, short-story fiction in which a deceptively tender narrative exposes internal and external conflicts – often romantic ones – as well as some pretty shoddy and often petty behaviour.

“I loved GHOST WORLD. What else would you recommend?”

We’re asked that at least once a week, and the answer always starts with Tomine. There’s nothing glamorised here and it’s all so credible, like the young girl obsessing over an “I Saw You…” personal ad, and wondering if it’s her.

“It had become part of her daily routine to read the personals on her lunch hour. Aside from the horoscope and the comics, it was the only part of the paper that held her interest. Reading the ads was like eavesdropping for Cheryl… she liked to study the brief lines and try to imagine the people and circumstances involved. The “I Saw You…” section was especially intriguing to her. She was fascinated by the idea that someone could see you once and become so enamoured that they place an ad in the classifieds, hoping you’ll spot it amongst the thousands of others…”

Just in case the one she spotted was about her, she sits for hours in the cafe at the table she supposed she’d been spied at, staring at the people around her. I won’t tell you how that two-pager goes, but don’t you think that’s indescribably sad? I don’t mean pathetic; I do mean sad. Tomine’s balance is beautiful, a lot more compassionate than Dan Clowes’ early works, and if you’re at all intrigued, there are four collections to choose from in chronological order (of publication only – they’re completely self-contained) starting with the 32 STORIES facsimile edition of material Adrian created aged sixteen onwards. Then there is this, the SUMMER BLONDE collection and the SHORTCOMINGS graphic novel which is one of my go-to books whenever newcomers ask for prime, well observed comicbook fiction. You’ll recognise so many individuals from your own lives and smile. Or sigh.

Lastly, at the time of typing, there’s OPTIC NERVE #12. Oh, and the OPTIC NERVE SCRAPBOOK.

SLH

Buy Optic Nerve: Sleepwalk and read the Page 45 review here

Polly And The Pirates vol 2: Mystery Of The Dragonfish (£8-99, Oni Press) by Ted Naifeh and Robbi Rodriguez ~

Polly Pringle sits daydreaming in Mistress Lovejoy’s School For Proper Young Ladies while all around St. Helvetia rumours of the Pirate Queen’s daring adventures set the taverns and gossip columns alight. But Polly knows they’re all nonsense, as there’s only ever been two Pirate Queens: her mother and her! And the world doesn’t need a real Pirate Queen, just as a young lady doesn’t need a proper education. A proper boring education. But all that is about to change. In the back allies of St. Helvetia a frail old Chinese man is rescued from a mugging by the benevolent, self-proclaimed monarch of theAmericas, Emperor Norton. But his kindly act lands him in a political bind as the man, Mr. Shoe, is wanted for apparently treasonous acts against a foreign power, and Norton finds himself behind bars by offering asylum to the poor soul. In fact Mr. Shoe is wanted for his terrible genius, and the blueprint of experimental submersible gunboat he carries. Whoever possesses such a contraption would rule the sea, but none of this is known to Polly, all she knows is a dear old friend has been imprisoned and only the Pirate Queen could dare spring him. Cue epic adventure on land, sea, and even air as nothing is beyond Ted’s Pirate Queen.

Robbi Rodriguez expertly takes the helm in the art department. Following on from Ted’s impeccable style in Polly’s first adventure, Robbi adds a kinetic flare to the action, yet still manages to add gleam to a cutlass in the dark. It puts me in mind of Chris Bachalo’s solid art without the sequential clutter that Chris tends to fill his images up with nowadays. But that doesn’t mean Ted has been slack, this is the densest, complex, and riveting tale he’s written yet. And it’s fulfilling in the way TINTIN or ASTERIX were to me as a child, and still are today. The plot is not a patronizing route from A to B, but a twisting creature; it’s positively writhing, and demands your attention. If you were to start a child on a comic I think anything less would insult them, they need this sense of challenge from a comic that Ted Naifeh captures time and again. As much as we’re privy to the overall schemes of all parties, there are little plot points which although the characters are well aware of, we are completely oblivious to. It amounts to a clever and underhanded mystery alongside that of the Dragonfish: just who the hell is Polly’s father? Ted and Robbi sneak little hints in here and there which only serve to puzzle the reader, while seemingly insurmountable obstacles are cleared from the path of the Pirates by his non-presence. And I really couldn’t put it clearer than that, I think it’s best you discover that particular treasure yourself.

TR

Buy Polly And The Pirates vol 2: Mystery Of The Dragonfish and read the Page 45 review here

Snow White h/c (£9-99, Harper) by The Brothers Grimm & Camille Rose Garcia.

Vanity, pride, envy and spite; the preening queen here is the epitome of the evil step-mother, unable to bear the sight of the beautiful daughter she inherits from the king’s first marriage. So it’s hello, huntsman, and bye-bye, baby; bring me her lungs and liver! To eat. Yes, the nineteenth-century Brothers were very Grimm indeed as this unabridged translation makes clear: not just multiple attempts at murder but barely thwarted cannibalism to boot. But it’s the depth of the queen’s obsession that staggers (and ultimately becomes her undoing) for, even after being effectively exiled from the court and living far out of sight with seven beardy blokes of diminutive stature, Snow White is still very much on the mind of this infanticidal maniac, thanks to the tittle-tattle of a tell-tale mirror that cannot keep its gob shut.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
“Still ain’t you, bitch.”

So off to the woods this self-regarding sadist goes, disguised each time enough to fool a dozy Snow White who simply won’t be told, each time letting the old woman over the threshold to suffocate or poison her. Snow White’s role, in fact, is entirely passive throughout. She doesn’t actively do anything other than accept gifts from strangers – including a hand in marriage.

Camille has had an absolute ball here, predominantly in black, red, purples and green. The script is elaborately printed in multiple cases in a manner much favoured by McKean and is embellished with gold throughout. If were to coin a phrase to describe her art – with its babyish dwarves, its kohl-eyed animals and waspish witch – it would be Nursery Gothic; and if I were to chew on a chapter I suspect it would taste of liquorice.

SLH

Buy Snow White h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Breathe Deeply (£12-99, One Peace Books) by Yamaki Doton…

I had high hopes for this work by husband and wife team about two boys, Sei and Oishi, that fall in love with a dying girl called Yuko, but it left me sighing slightly rather than breathing deeply, I’m afraid. Yuko, it seems, has an incurable heart condition which realistically means that only a transplant could save her life. Sadly, no suitable donor is found and Yuko passes away and whilst Yuko herself seems at peace with her fate, the boys are left bereft and quite unable to get past the loss of their friend.

Most of the work is told some fifteen years later, with the occasional flashback to their childhood, as Sei and Oishi, who were never really friends themselves, more rivals for Yuko’s affections, have both become research scientists, looking to tackle the problem of heart conditions in completely different ways, one from the perspective of stem cells, the other by constructing an artificial heart which has all the characteristics of a biological one. What follows is at times a rather confusing drama revolving around the two men and various other academics.

I think my main problem is I couldn’t really warm to either of the protagonists, plus the rather choppy nature of the story, and somewhat sketchy nature of the art too, all combined to make me feel rather indifferent to the whole thing. And that’s before things move completely into the realms of the utterly implausible as it’s revealed that Yuko never in fact died, but was hidden and has been in a persistent vegetative state for the last fifteen years. Cue frantic attempts to bring her back to life…

I have a feeling the creators wanted to try and do something different with this work, and in that respect they certainly succeed despite my negative comments above, but I think they’re also shooting for some profundity too, albeit to their credit in an oblique rather than overt manner, but I just don’t really feel they manage that. In terms of art and meandering story telling I was actually minded a little bit of Frederic Boilet’s YUKIKO’S SPINACH and TOKYO IS MY GARDEN. But if you want to read something entertaining and thought provoking (and satirical) about competing routes that modern medicine might be taking us all down in the not too distant future, then read TRANSHUMAN penned by Jonathan Hickman instead.

JR

Buy Breathe Deeply and read the Page 45 review here

Ultimate Comics Ultimates vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic, Brandon Peterson…

“A query for wisdom, Quorum.”
“Is something wrong, City?”
“No, First Builder, I grow at my desired rate of one kilometre per hour, but an anomaly has been encountered by the Sixth Geneticist.”
“Organic?”
“Yes, First Judge. Human… but not.”
“Show us.”
“Hmmmmm. What is this? He’s unlike any man…”
“Oh that is no man… One thousand years have passed but I’d remember your face anywhere, son of thunder. It’s a god. His name is… Thor.”
“God. Defined as a supreme being, to be worshipped; a deity. Maker… that’s absurd.”
“Your whole experience has been here, in the City… a millennium inside the Dome. I warned each of you before we dropped the walls… the world out there is wild and unforgiving. Geneticist…”
“Yes, Maker?”
“Evolve. Grow new eyes, to better see this so-different world.”
“Ahhhhhh… charged with some sort of exotic power… a chaotic energy. This one is a vessel, Maker, attached to some larger source. There, in the sky. The tethering tunnelling through space and time to always keep him connected. There are two sources. One small… shape of a man, and one very large… a great tree. Both are significant. These… things… they have the potential to hurt us. You offer wisdom, Maker?”
“Discard the vessels. De-power the gods.”

And so Jonathan (FF and S.H.I.E.L.D.) Hickman continues his one-man crusade to bring full-on, hard-edged speculative fiction to every last part of the Marvel universe, including the Ultimate version this time around. Building on his excellent ULTIMATE COMICS THOR (and this story itself being supplemented by his Ultimate Comics Hawkeye), this takes the Ultimates in an entirely different direction again, after Millar’s political (Ultimates vols 1 and 2 And Ultimates 2 vols 1 and 2) and then more recent, frankly balls-out full-on pure superheroics, with ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS vols 1-4. Neatly circumventing ULTIMATES 3 by Jeph Loeb which just needs to be avoided at all costs… (Though he has redeemed himself a little recently with ULTIMATE X ORIGINS to be fair.)

This also builds on Bendis’ ULTIMATE COMICS DOOMSDAY… for the Maker of the City and father to the very powerful beings within is extremely well known to us, and all the Ultimate Universe superheroes. In fact, he used to be one himself… But after creating the City and accelerating time inside it so his evolutionary shenanigans have far, far outpaced the real world, he’s decided it’s time to pay his old friends a visit and promptly parked his vast City slap-bang on top of what used to be Western Europe. Used to be… in the sense of right until he dropped his City of top of it…

Obviously, events like that tend to cause Nick Fury some consternation. So he promptly assembles his A-team, minus CaptainAmericawho is still wandering metaphorically and literally in the desert, and sends them to investigate, and of course, confront the inhabitants of the city. When they get their asses summarily spanked, he has no choice to pull back and attempt to regroup as best he can. Cue much head-scratching as what the hell to do next.

So imagine what happens to Fury’s blood pressure when two other cities with completely different beings of equally unimaginable  power also pop out of nowhere in the middle of Asia (as detailed in Ultimate Comics Hawkeye and currently continuing in the next arc of ULTIMATES) after some ill-advised eugenic meddling by one particular government there. Yes, this may not have the political satire of the original Ultimates run, but it is undoubtedly superb superhero fiction of the highest quality, with an immense sci-fi bent. I suspect if Jack Kirby is picking up comics from his local shop in the sky, his favourite writer might well be Jonathan Hickman…

JR

Ultimate Comics Ultimates vol 1 hardcover

The Punisher vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Rucka & Marco Checchetto…

Hopefully this reboot of the non-Max Punisher title means we’ve finally seen the last of ill-advised arcs such as Franken-Castle etc. because whilst what we want from Frank is a high body count and so many spent casings you could drown in them, what we also want is crime. More specifically crime fiction, and at long last in the hands of Greg (GOTHAM CENTRAL) Rucka we’re going to get it.

I’ve often thought that Punisher would be the perfect vehicle for something which focused on the bad guys and the cops as much as Frank himself, to provide us with something that has real depth. Much like Bendis and Brubaker did on Daredevil for so long, Punisher is prime ground for an ongoing longer-form narrative. A true war of crime, seen from all sides: the good, the bad, and the very soon to be deceased.

This opening salvo, then, offers high promise, as a wedding-day massacre inadvertently reveals a gang war simmering just below the surface and about to boil over. With innocents caught in the cross-fire, it seems like something worth Frank’s time to investigate more thoroughly, especially given it was a cop’s wedding. And investigate is what he does. Yes, we have the obligatory punch-ups and shoot-ups to punctuate the tension, but what I think is going to set this title apart, is everything that comes in-between. As Frank shows it takes a whole lot more than a big gun to take down the bad guys, and applies the sort of intelligence required to survive four tours ofVietnamto track down his prey and manoeuvre them neatly into his sights.

JR

The Punisher vol 1 hardcover

Daredevil: Ultimate Brubaker Collection vol 1 (£22-50, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, & Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, David Aja.

Can I please implore all this series’ readers to try a copy of GOTHAM CENTRAL as well? You’ll love it. Here I’m just going to reprint the preview, whilst adding that the cast of Matt’s mortal enemies that I give away below is incomplete. Two others will join him for a prison riot like no other. Oh, yes, they’re very big guns: one gets himself incarcerated on purpose, whilst the other doesn’t even need a gun in order to hit his target…

If I was to name this book, I’d call it “Immaculate Deception”. Not only was Bendis’ act virtually impossible to follow, the hole he left Murdock/Daredevil in was going to be almost impossible to extract him from. So, guess what? Brubaker hasn’t: he’s dug the sucker deeper.

Thrown in jail for crimes he did commit (blind attorney Matt Murdock is Daredevil, he did commit perjury by defending someone masquerading as himself in court…), Murdock has to somehow survive a penitentiary full of people he’s put there whilst still pretending he’s blind and defenceless, without all the heightened senses of smell, touch and hearing that are currently overwhelming him in this bedlam of anger and violence. To make matters worse, the authorities have ensured that he’s in the open pool with no special protection, and that Hammerhead, The Owl and The Kingpin are in there with him. Against his fervent advice, though, his beleaguered law partner Foggy Nelson refuses to give up on him and refuses to stop visiting.

He should have listened to Matt. Because, helpless in his cell, Matt now hears Foggy mercilessly assaulted and slaughtered. He hears every blow, he hears every scream, he hears Foggie’s heartbeat slow down then stop. With his oldest friend dead, Matt’s insatiable fury threatens to get the better of him as he strives to find out who did it and why, and the allies he chooses turn him into everything he hates.

For once I don’t mind giving a key moment away because that is just the starting point in a book crammed with stunners, both inside and outside the jail, huge twists, personal grudges that will play their way out, and Lark — Lark is just formidable. Superb sense of claustrophobia and danger throughout. Perfect pacing.

SLH

Buy Daredevil: Ultimate Brubaker Collection vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

FF vol 1 s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, Barry Kitson.

Public Service Announcement: I am informed by a follower on Twitter that theUKmonthly FANTASTIC FOUR reprints have stopped at just the point where this volume kicks off. So here you go, this is what you need next!

“And then I began to wonder why exactly all those villains are in my house. What would scare them as much as it would scare us…? What have you been hiding from me?”
“Oh Susan…”
“What’s happened, Reed?”
“I’ve done something terrible.”

So many secrets. So much left half-said!

The curtain rises for a fresh start, but in so many ways it’s merely the second act of a carefully orchestrated piece of theatre whose first four books were bursting with dramatic irony which now plays itself out as each family member finally comes clean, but only when they’re finally found out! By that time, of course, it’s a little too late to mend as four familiar forces have been unleashed upon this world and set about acquiring the resources they need to leave it – not in one piece, either.

The Fantastic Four are no more. The family is one man down, and some of them are coping better than others. Wracked with guilt, Ben Grimm has shut himself inside his room, cradling Johnny Storm’s nephew and niece against his orange-rocked hide. But as the famous ’4′ emblem is taken solemnly from their wall, Reed Richards takes Johnny’s holographic Last Will & Testament to heart and asks Spider-Man to join their endless quest to build a better world.

It’s Johnny’s sister Sue who beckons Peter inside and shows him around. Things have changed. For a start they’re now called The Future Foundation with an extended family of waifs and strays, some more clever than others, studying under Reed Richards and brainstorming to solve problems with their fresh new perspectives. For that Peter’s perfect, and Reed’s child-prodigy daughter Valeria has a knack of not only finding solutions but identifying the problems in the first place. And then she just causes some more. She’s discovered what her bad Dad’s been up to (see FANTASTIC FOUR volumes one, two, three and four), exacerbated his mistake and so made a deal with the devil, Victor von D himself. Doom can’t resist either her singular challenge (once more, the irony!) nor her offer of assistance for he has lost a part of his mind. Fortunately his brain is at least structurally sound, so what they need is a backup.

I can’t tell you how cleverly that’s played – Valeria and ‘Uncle’ Doom are an exquisite double-act; she fearless, he constantly surprised – because it requires Steve Epting’s superb, deadpan comedic timing. His art is a considered joy. The enormous gargoyle Dragon Man cross-legged on a comfy sofa and studying a book, spectacles perched on his purple beak looking like Sage The Owl, is an absolute hoot.

Also, the costumes have changed and change further still, third-generation unstable molecules creating variations on a black and white theme of three honeycomb hexagons or, in Peter’s case, a spider. He’s very much a guest. He’s not the only guest, either. Richards’ father has resurfaced from the timestream thereby altering the family dynamic further still, and then there are those invited by Reed to Doctor Doom’s unprecedented symposium in the Baxter building. Each attendee has been psychologically enhanced by Hickman, one for example with a born-again fervour and another, the Mad Thinker, finally living up to his name. Here he is doing Spider-Man’s nut in:

“An invitation. An invitation! It’s the opening move of the greatest of games – Ask yourself, who’s the opponent, what does he want? Is this his first move, or simply an orchestration to reveal who his opponents are… Oh, so very tricky. An invitation… what could it possibly mean?”
“I think it means you’re invited.”
“Mmmmmaahhhh! No. No. No. No! Foolish pawn. Foolish pawn that doesn’t even know that he’s a piece… Oh, oh… Or maybe you’re something more. Maybe so. Yes, maybe I can use this. You’re probably not even aware of how much he’s given away by sending you… So, reveal all. Tell me – and don’t try and think it over, as I need an untainted, primary response – tell me, what should I do?”
“Oh… I would prefer that you stay at home. Maybe take a bath… Maybe brush your teeth.”
“That’s it! That’s it – I accept the invitation!!”
“… Of course you do.”

You can spot a Jonathan Hickman design element in everything he writes, regardless of whether he’s the artist as he was on NIGHTLY NEWS. So it’s been with Secret Warriors, S.H.I.E.L.D., and now the double-page credit sequence here of a sun rising behind planet Earth, radiating its white light across the vast blue reaches of space inside the new FF logo. There’s also a deliriously beautiful cover perfectly capturing the spirit of high adventure.

SLH

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

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews to follow or already up. You can check by clicking on whichever you’re curious about: all the titles have been linked to their relevant product pages. Apparently next week I will be reviewing gift vouchers.


£5 Online Gift Voucher (for use on our webstore)

£10 Online Gift Voucher (for use on our webstore)

£20 Online Gift Voucher (for use on our webstore)

£50 Online Gift Voucher (for use on our webstore)

King City (£14-99, Image) by Brandon Graham

The Boys vol 10: Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker (£14-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson

Hellboy vol 12: The Storm And The Fury (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola &Duncan Fegredo

Silent Partner: The Graphic Novel h/c (£16-99, Villard) by Jonathan Kellerman,AndeParks & Michael Gaydos

Emitown vol 2 (£18-99, Image) by Emi Lenox

Blue hardcover (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Pat Grant

The Art Of The Secret World Of Arrietty (£25-00, Viz) by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

It’S Dark In London: A Graphic Collection Of Short Stories (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by many includingWoodrow Phoenix, Josh Appignanesi, Neil Gaiman, Graeme Gordon, Alexei Sayle, Chris Webster, Steve Bell, Stella Duffy, Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair, Carol Swain, Chris Petit, Tony Grisoni, Ilya, Yana Stajno, Stewart Home, Warren Pleece, Dix, Carl Flint,Melinda Gebbie, Dave McKean, Garry Mashall, Chris Hogg, Jonathan Edwards, Oscar Zarate

Nemesis s/c (UK Ed’n) (£10-99, Titan) by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven

Superior h/c (£19-99, Titan) by Mark Millar & Leinil Yu

Batman: Birth Of The Demon s/c (£22-50, DC ) by Mike W. Barr, Dennis O’Neil & Jerry Bingham, Eva Grindberg, Norm Breyfogle

Gotham City Sirens vol 4: Division softcover (£10-99, DC) by Peter Calloway & Andres Guinaldo

Flashpoint s/c (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Andy Kubert

Fear Itself: Avengers Academy h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Christos N. Gage,& Sean Chen, Tom Raney, Andrea Di Vito

Fear Itself: Invincible Iron Man h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction &Salvador Larocca

Avengers: The Korvac Saga s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim Shooter, Len Wein, Roger Stern, George Perez, David Micheline, Bill Mantlo & George Perez, Sal Buscema, Dave Wenzel

Hulk: World War Hulk s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & John Romita Jr.

Avengers 1959 softcover (£12-99, Marvel) by Howard Chaykin

One Piece Colour Walk vol 2 (£14-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Bunny Drop vol 4 (£9-99, Yen) by Yumi Unita

Naruto vol 55 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

One Piece vol 61 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Psyren vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Toshiaki Iwashiro

Hana-Kimi Omnibus vols 1-3 (£10-99, Viz) by Hisaya Nakajo

Skip Beat! Omnibus vols 1-3 (£10-99, Viz) by Yoshiki Nakamura

Chi’s Sweet Home vol 8 (£10-50, Vertical) by Konami Kanata

A Devil And Her Long Song vol 1 (£7-50, Viz) by Miyoshi Tomori

Durarara!! vol 1 (£8-99, Yen) by Ryohgo Narita & Akiyo Satorigi

Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamoroll vol 2 (£5-99, Viz) by Yumi Tsukirino

 
Shaun Tan’s THE BIRD KING AND OTHER SKETCHES will also follow next week.

 - Stephen