Archive for May, 2012

Reviews May 2012 week five

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

It is horrific, but also far more impressive and imaginative than the initial premise suggests, for what Lapham’s done is twisted known history (and a certain degree of invention) on a diseased, demonic spike.

 - Stephen on Caligula

 

Sleaze Castle Etcetera h/c (£29-99, Markosia) by Dave McKinnon, Adrian Kermode & Terry Wiley.

“She dead. Me eat.”
“Don’t be silly! Jocasta’s a friend of mine.”

Temporary review while we pray for something more substantial and informed from Selina Lock, expert in all things SLEAZE, and now motivated by that very subclause to get her replacement in as soon as humanly possible.

Jocasta Dribble is a student at Newcastle University (“B.A. Hons, 3rd class and lucky to get that”). She spends most of her time round her mates’ flats, down at the pub, or thrust through the doorway of hyperdimensional travel. She spends all of her time dazed and confused.

After reading this I guarantee you will empathise. You will also be a) delighted, b) excited and c) a new convert to the comic which had no rules that it didn’t jettison within seconds of creating them. Interludes abound, scenarios confound, and wait until you meet Dweng and Ralph.

“RUDE TO POINT!” admonishes Dweng, aiming his ray gun in Jocasta Dribble’s face.

There are sly nods and winks left, right and centre to the likes of My Neighbour Totoro and CEREBUS but they’re merely amongst the numerous Easter Eggs, the biggest of which is the secret language of the Little Happy Creatures invented waaaay before Doop. The Little Happy Creatures always looked like animated pink condoms to me, and they act like an excitable and irreverent Greek Chorus commenting on the proceedings in those freshly invented glyphs which I swear you can decode either through furious industry or spotting the blatant conversion chart if your eyesight is up to it. Even a couple of our customers made it into the comic like Jess and Chris Tregenza and yes, you’re absolutely right, that is our own magnificent Mark Simpson to the right of the middle panel of page 309!

With instantly recognisable portraits, Terry Wiley is an extraordinarily gifted caricaturist and his cartooning currently gracing VERITY FAIR is a precision-perfect joy: exuberant, inventive but never inaccessible to virgin comic readers. Moreover, it will make you smile!

So good to see this back in print. It was beyond massive at Page 45 and even during our previous employment at Fantastic Store. Dave and Terry signed here during both our Independents Days and I can honestly say that their following was fanatical, but they never let it go to their heads. Instead we have original art on our office walls including a witty advertisement the pair created for us free of charge for inclusion in a later magazine.

Hilariously haphazard introduction by its adorably random author Dave McKinnon, perfect for the contents which add all sorts of extra dimensions both to its fictional universe and to the term “loopy”. Infinitely more on-topic and informative introduction by the industry’s chief mischief merchant, Rich Johnston.

All copies at the time of typing are not only signed by Dave and Terry but sketched in by Mr. Wiley as well. Feel free to inquire as to whether that’s currently still true. You can follow Dave McKinnon on Twitter as @DaveMcKinnon23 and Terry Wiley as @terrywiley_idcm. You can even follow me as @PageFortyFive if you like but I am very, very naughty.

SLH

Buy Sleaze Castle Etcetera h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Vampire Academy: Frostbite (£9-99, Razorbill) by RichelleMead, Leigh Dragoon &Emma Vieceli.

“What happened?”
“My mother. My mother happened.”

Yowsa – that was intense! I don’t know how much of a kick you lot got from VAMPIRE ACADEMY VOL 1 but this is on another level entirely. The climax is phenomenal, the sequence so shocking that I could not believe what I was reading.

The key is that by now Mead, Dragoon and Vieceli have made it all so personal. They’ve invested so much in the stars’ complex relationships that the reader has too. They’ve defined each individual so well that the twists and turns, as so many break loose, are breath-taking.

This second volume kicks off with a hefty reintroduction to where we find ourselves now, but you’ll need it because the rules are pretty complicated.

Rose Hathaway and Lissa Dragomir share a rare bond born of a long, involved history but socially they couldn’t stand further apart. Not only is Rose but a dhampir – half-human, half-vampire and of unknown paternal descent – but Lissa is both a fully-fledged Moroi and of royal line to boot. The Moroi are mortal vampires who need human blood to survive – usually donated voluntarily by dhampirs. They’re under constant threat from the ravenous Strigoi vampires who crave Moroi blood not to survive but to increase their immortal power. That makes Lissa a prime target and the Academy’s role educating dhampirs to protect her vital. You’d have thought then that Rose’s empathic gift of being able to feel what Lissa feels would make her indispensable, but her position at the Academy is purely probationary: she’s seen as far too impetuous and ill-disciplined.

Now, just as Rose is about to undertake a graduation test, there’s an attack on a royal household leaving all seven Moroi and their three guardian dhampirs dead. Worse still, the sanctuary’s ward was broken by a silver dagger which the Strigoi can’t even touch meaning that they now have human allies. From a message scrawled in blood on the bathroom mirror Rose and her trainer Dimitri infer that a cell of Strigoi are bent on snuffing out each Royal family making Lissa, the last in her line, a prime target once more. Back at the academy both the young Moroi and trainee dhampirs are reeling in the wake of the assault. The Moroi are forbidden from using their elemental powers offensively while their guardians there simply aren’t ready. And that’s when Rose’s distant mother turns up, disturbing all sorts of emotional detritus in the resentful teenager’s heart. It’s going to be the worst Christmas ever.

The key words there are “resentful” and “teenage” because the series’ narrator, Rose, still has a lot of growing up to do. Perfect protagonists bore me, and Rose though pretty is far from perfect, struggling with a forbidden love for Dimitri while being pursued by the eminently more suitable, perfectly handsome and selflessly respectful Mason. She’s jealous of Lissa’s relationship with Christian, and thumps before she thinks. Things are further complicated by the arrival of Lissa’s cousin who somehow has access to Lissa’s dreams and believe me when I tell you that so many sub-plots bubbling beneath the surface finally come into full play.

None of which would be half so impressive without Emma Vieceli’s art, so sympathetic both to the script and to the troubled hearts externalised through the most subtle of expressions. There’s a soft vulnerability to Vieceli’s lines which perfectly mirrors the teenagers’ tentative attempts to express themselves and reach out to each other while mindful of – or confused by – the social or personal boundaries. That’s really what this is all about: the relationships. And that’s why the climactic violence, when it finally explodes on the page, it’s so fucking shocking.

My favourite two pages, however, were spent with Rose unwillingly trapped inside Lissa’s head as she’s about to do the nasty with Christian, unable to sever the empathic bond and about to lose her virginity vicariously! The final three panels are exquisitely timed as Rose finally breaks free, physically wrenched, her bruised eye staring out of the frame at the reader:

“That was… unpleasant.”

Funny.

SLH

Buy Vampire Academy vol 2: Frostbite and read the Page 45 review here

Caligula vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & German Nobile.

Oookaaay, no sample copy on the shelves for this one! They’re all firmly bagged and tightly sealed: please bring to the counter if you want a gander within and your voice has actually broken.

How can one possibly match the depravity of sex-strewn zombie comic CROSSED? You get SILVERFISH’s David Lapham to write the fully authorised biography of Emperor Caligula, and you just ask him to tell it like it was. No, that’s not what it is. No messing about with the lunatic’s formative years, it’s straight to gang-rape and pillage as teenaged Junius returns from selling his olive oil at market to find his homestead confiscated, his family mutilated and his mother… Look, did we really need to see that? Junius sets out in search of revenge, which is a pretty tall order if your target is the Emperor of Rome, so it’s time for some rest and reconnaissance. Following some guardsmen as they come off duty leads Junius to discovering them cumming off-duty down at the local bathhouse, but at least that gives Junius something to play with and by the time the opening episode closes his olive oil is no longer extra-virgin.

Some of you are going to find this almost as hard to swallow as Junius does, and if you think my language is strong, I’m just trying to reflect the contents which escalate in their depravity as Junius finds himself on the turbulent inside desperately wanting out, but refusing to give up on his increasingly corrupted craving for revenge.

It is horrific, but also far more impressive and imaginative than the initial premise suggests, for what Lapham’s done is twisted known history (and a certain degree of invention) on a diseased, demonic spike. Have you ever wondered why Caligula made his horse a Senator? All really isn’t as it seems. You’ll witness amphitheatre bloodbaths with bull-headed gladiators meting out gut-strewn injustice Wolverine-style complete with braced, metal claws to families randomly chosen by the fear-intoxicated Emperor; sadistic sexual role-playing forced on groups of Senators and their wives; violations of every kind imaginable. Let me be plain: this makes Alan Moore’s NEONOMICON look tame.

German Nobile’s painted art is perfect for the project. It’s volcanically ugly in the best way possible, the fetid light almost extinguished as if by the depravity depicted. The chariot races are as terrific as they are horrific as they are insane, and his ebony horse is terrifying. And all the while Caligula’s eyes blaze with a madness beyond comprehension, his mouth sneering with contempt for those begging for a mercy which simply does not exist.

SLH

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

Leviathan new edition or restocks or something (£13-99, Rebellion) by Ian Edginton & D’Israeli >

Even by 2000AD’s standards, the basic set-up for this one is ludicrous – the Leviathan is a ship several times bigger than the Titanic, from around the same period; essentially a floating city, which doesn’t just sink, but disappears. It has of course sailed into some form of Hell-dimension, and if the various upper crust caricatures in the luxury accommodation weren’t already scared of the lower orders, well, they’d have good reason to be now the forces of this dimension have started changing them.

And in so far as the writing addresses the class system, well, it seems to have come from My First Book Of Marxism. Proceedings are salvaged by glimmers of wit and bloodthirsty humour, and most of all by D’Israeli’s black & white art, which has the perfect blend of solidity and spookiness. He makes you believe in the impossible ship, the absurd characters, the predictable predicament, and more than that, he makes you care. Still a good job that they wrapped this one up, though; it worked as a one-off, but had it become an unnecessarily ongoing series, no artist on Earth could have rescued it.

Alex Sarll

Leviathan

The Pro (new printing) (£5-99, Image) by Garth Ennis & Amanda Conner.

Calling all of fans of Garth Ennis’ THE BOYS!

Amanda’s a natural at this sort of bombastic comedy, just like Jim Baike on Alan Moore’s ‘First American’ strip in Tomorrow Stories. Unfortunately she’s not given half as much material to work with in this brief whizz down Superhero Lane in which a prostitute with a foul mouth reluctantly allows herself to be coerced into The League Of Honour and sullies their reputation whilst soiling their goods.

S’okay, but we’ve been there and done that, and are merely left to giggle at how naughty Mr. Ennis is. Which he is, and I totally did. The last page has a fine admonition, though Garth might do worse than to take it on board himself sometime when he’s next throwing stones.

P.S. We had Amanda’s Aunties and Uncles in last year – a posse of about five – and each bought a Jamie Smart “Team Slut” t-shirt. Way to tour Britain, people! Brilliant.

SLH

Buy The Pro and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Masterworks: Spider-Man vol 7 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & John Romita.

Late sixties’ swingin’ collecting AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #62-67 and ANNUAL #5, but also SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #1 and 2 which you may well have missed. The first is in black and white, which was a bit weird for the time, the second in colour and starring the Green Goblin as Osborn regains his memory, loses his sanity and once more threatens to reveal Spider-Man’s secret identity to the perpetually oblivious Aunt May. Other adversaries include the follicularly fabulous Medusa, two Vultures, Mysterio and even the Red Skull.

There’s an increasingly more rare, archive material in these editions, here including lots of unused Larry Lieber layout pages and several house advertisements.

SLH

Buy Marvel Masterworks: Spider-Man vol 7 and read the Page 45 review here

Stormwatch (New 52) vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Paul Cornell & Miguel Sepulveda.

A very different dynamic from the old days of Warren Ellis’ STORMWATCH and the subsequent AUTHORITY. The Engineer remains firmly at the helm and Jack Hawksmoor is in charge. Jenny Q is still new but JLA’s Martian Manhunter has now joined them along with a few extras I’m unfamiliar with. The Moon is attacking Earth, there’s a giant horn in the Himalayas. So where are Apollo and the Midnighter? Apollo is a determined loner they’re finding it difficult to recruit. Recruiting the Midnighter, on the other hand, will be murder.

SLH

Buy Stormwatch (New 52) vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 
Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama (£16-99,JonathanCape) by Alison Bechdel

The Rinse (£10-99, Boom!) by Gary Phillips &Marc Laming

Channel Zero: The Complete Collection (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Brian Wood, Becky Cloonan

Dracula h/c (£13-50, HarperCollins) by Bram Stoker & Becky Cloonan

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

Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 3 (£14-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Steve Rolston, Mike Norton, Chris Samnee

Citizens Of No Place (£12-99,Princeton) by Jimenez Li

Spandex h/c (£14-99, Titan) by Martin Eden

Batman: Death By Design (£18-99, DC) by Chip Kidd & Dave Taylor

Empowered vol 7 (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Adam Warren

Wonder Woman (New 52) vol 1 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins

Irredeemable vol 9 (£12-99, Boom!) by Mark Waid & Diego Barreto

The Darkness Compendium vol 2 h/c (£75-00, Image) by various

Daredevil: Ultimate Brubaker Collection vol 2 (£22-50, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, & Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Paul Azaceta

X-Men: Phoenix – Endgame / Warsong (£22-50, Marvel) byGregPak & GregLand, Tyler Kirkham

Soul Eater vol 9 (£8-99, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo

Pandora Hearts vol 10 (£8-99, Yen) by Jun Mochizuki

 
Have a new Eddie Campbell interview on THE LOVELY HORRIBLE STUFF, out any day now.

CALIGULA VOL 1 review written while listening to Caligula Syndrome, easily the best song Marc Almond’s sung since the days of The Willing Sinners. Switch on your speakers and crank it up loud!

 - Stephen

Reviews May 2012 week four

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012


At this point, in a typically pointless, rambling aside, can I just add that…

 - The Flowers Of Evil, as reviewed here by Ronnie Corbett. Thanks, Ronnie.

Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 5: The Happy Prince h/c (£12-99, NBM) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell.

One of the most affecting short stories of all time brought to poignantly pencilled life by one of the true masters of comics: P. Craig Russell of Neil Gaiman’s MURDER MYSTERIES, Sandman: Dream Hunters and so much more. I first read the prose in my late teens and it’s stayed in my heart ever since. Here P. Craig Russell has done wonders with the work, his fine, clean line lit with lambent colours. I even love what he’s done with the speech bubbles linked to their square-boxed, qualifying commentary. More than anything, though, his art here is the ultimate essay in tenderness.

A gilded statue of The Happy Prince stands much admired, a large red ruby glowing on his sword-hilt, while his two eyes are clear, bright sapphires. Alive, he enjoyed a life of privileged pleasure and opulence in a rarefied, snowglobe existence entirely detached from the wider world outside the sequestered court. He was indeed very happy. But now as a statue raised high above the city, he can finally see the misery endured by the sick and the impoverished, the industrious yet ill-rewarded, while the rich who have so much think so little of those who serve them. It makes him weep, and his tears fall like pure drops of rain onto a tiny swallow below. The swallow should have migrated to Africa with his friends many moons ago, but the prince begs him to tarry a while longer and act as his courier. For there are those in dire need – a seamstress with a sick child, a playwright struggling to stay warm and meet his deadline, a matchgirl whose matches have fallen into drain water and will be beaten by her father – and the prince has much of himself to give.

It’s a story of iniquity and inequality, self-sacrifice and true love, no matter the consequences. It’s about countries and councils who throw so much of their wealth into useless, vainglorious monuments and enterprises, while failing to meet the most basic needs of those they would govern. Almost every panel has something satirical to say about people’s priorities in life or their position and disposition in society. Even the swallow’s fanciful dalliance with a slender reed says so much when thrown into contrast with its fateful falling in love with The Happy Prince. This is the same Oscar Wilde of The Importance Of Being Earnest, but here his boisterous wit is quietly contained, concentrated and considered; the tone no less passionate, but the passion – along with his supreme command of the English language – is harnessed to a quiet, dignified indictment of the superficial few who squander so much, a celebration of the redistribution of wealth, and a relevant reminder that as far as poverty goes there is always more to be done. It’s also a tribute to true, selfless love and, once again, it made me cry.

SLH

Buy Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 5: The Happy Prince h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Flowers Of Evil vol 1 (£8-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi…

“You perv.”

I was somewhat intrigued by the synopsis for this manga, wondering how the French poet Charles Baudelaire could possibly fit in with a high school romance / coming of age tale which might well also have some mild sado-masochistic elements. After reading this first volume I see exactly how so now, and it proved a mildly titillating read, I must say!

Our story begins as the hero, on the face of it just a very typical high school student, Takao, flunks his maths test. However, he then already begins to prove himself slightly deviated from the standard norm as his deep obsession with literature becomes clear and – at this particular moment – his utterly rapt absorption with Charles Beaudelaire’s The Flowers Of Evil.

(At this point, in a typically pointless, rambling aside, can I just add that whilst by no means being a connoisseur of poetry – in fact finding much of it rather dreary except from a good slap to the head style haiku – Beaudelaire’s The Flowers Of Evil is one of the few ‘worthy’ traditional works of poetry I did enjoy reading at school. Beaudelaire was a bit of a louche character, it must be said, loving his opium, drink and loose women, but what made his work interesting was much of his output revolved around the rapidly changing pace of life taking place in the ‘modern’ urban world of the big cities like Paris at the time, and how an individual was inevitably no more than merely a tiny fleeting part of that. It was probably the first poetry I was exposed to that didn’t involve copious amount of vales, hills and daffodils etc. etc. and thus was of infinitely more interest to myself. Right, digression over.)

So, after demonstrating his complete lack of interest in long division, Takao, possibly moved by Beaudelaire’s heady words, has a moment of madness and pinches the gym kit of his attractive classmate Nanako, whom he secretly has the hots for, of course! Unfortunately for him, his perverted pilfering is observed by the class outsider Nakamura, who begins to blackmail him into a distinctly one-sided friendship, which also appears to have some as yet unclear sexual element to it, culminating in making Takao wear the gym kit under his clothes when he takes the demure Nanako out on a date. It’s well written stuff and rather slyly amusing in places as Takao is increasingly put through the wringer by the delightfully devious Nakamura, when all he wants to do is forget his indiscretion ever happened; particularly now it appears he might actually be able to start a relationship with the girl of his dreams.

Guaranteed to remind anyone of what their early teenage years were probably like when it comes to the often excruciating subject of burgeoning sexual attraction. I’ll definitely be reading the next volume as I’m keen to find out exactly what nightmares Nakamura has got lined up next for Takao – if he actually makes it through his first date with Nanako unscathed and unexposed, that is!

JR

Buy The Flowers Of Evil vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Cerebus The Barbarian Messiah: Essays (£29-99) by various, edited by Eric Hoffman.

Over two hundred pages of essays and illustration on and from the 6,000-page magnum opus that is Dave Sim and Gerhard’s CEREBUS. It’s a work of such importance to the medium and industry that I reviewed every single one of the collected editions before the Page 45 website launched. For a start, lest we forget, it was Dave Sim who invented the collected edition in America (or Canada, whatever) and which Diamond Distributors initially rejected before capitulating in the wake of HIGH SOCIETY’s sales direct from Aardvark-Vanaheim.

Effortlessly inventive, right down to the lettering, for an overview of CEREBUS, please see my review of CEREBUS VOL 1 but, as I say, each subsequent volume has been given its own treatment, some mercifully shorter than others. I’ve addressed its few flaws as well, and I should add that each review comes with an increasing level of spoiler warning!

This collection of criticism, meanwhile, covers every era and addresses such topics as ‘Incorporating Oscar Wilde’, ‘Seeing Sound’, ‘Negative Space and Guttural Noise’, ‘Gender Politics’ and, of course, ‘Anti-Feminist Aardvark’. Whether it does so successfully I have no time to find out, but my confidence is high.

You’ll find an interview with Eric Hoffman, exquisitely illustrated with Dave Sim and Gerhard art, conducted by Tim Webber on his A Moment Of Cerebus website here: http://www.momentofcerebus.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/q-with-eric-hoffman.html

SLH

Buy Cerebus The Barbarian Messiah: Essays and read the Page 45 review here

Fables vol 1: Legends In Exile (New Ed’n) (£9-99, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & Lan Medina…

It has taken a mere ten years before I’ve finally cracked and read what is now (I think) Vertigo’s second longest running title after HELLBLAZER. Don’t ask me why it’s taken so long, there’s no particular reason, especially given the how popular this titles remains with its devotees. Maybe I’m just not that fussed about fairy tales. Anyway, given volume one has just been republished in this new edition (minor bits of very average extra content included at the back and a new cover, sadly not by James Jean, are the only differences I can see: no grand recolouring or better paper stock like the new SANDMAN editions), I thought I ought to finally have a look.

So, pretty much every fairy tale character that has ever existed now appears to be living in exile in a small part of New York known to its inhabitants as Fabletown, having been driven out by the sinister Adversary who now holds dominion over all their homelands. Fortunately most Fables can pass for human, or with the assistance of various shape-changing abilities and spells at least, and so the normal inhabitants of the Big Apple have no idea that the Fables walk amongst them. Consequently they have to govern themselves and it’s up to Deputy Mayor Snow White to try her best to keep them all in line, under cover, and avoid any of the bad blood and myriad old feuds breaking out again. But when her sister, the hard-partying Rose Red, appears to have been murdered, possibly by her on-off boyfriend Jack (yes, he of the beanstalk fame, and frankly somewhat of a chancer), it’s up to the sheriff of Fabletown, Bigby, aka the Big Bad Wolf, happily reformed and now on the right side of the law, to try and crack the case.

I can see why people do enjoy this title, actually, as it is just good fun, playing around with the long established characters and doing something completely different with them. Okay, I’m sold; time to read the next fifteen volumes, and various spin-offs.

JR

Buy Fables vol 1: Legends In Exile (New Ed’n) and read the Page 45 review here

Green Lantern vol 1: Sinestro h/c (£16-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke…

As easily one of the best pre-New 52 titles, it’s perhaps no surprise that DC decided not to bother rewriting history completely with the post-reboot title (or indeed any of the Lantern mythos, instead adding the RED LANTERNS and NEW GUARDIANS titles) and just continued on as though the whole thing had never happened. Reboot, what reboot?! Except, of course, there was a brilliant surprise in the final pre-New 52 issue as grizzled Corps stalwart and occasional ( well, okay, full-time) maverick Hal Jordan was profusely thanked by the Guardians for saving the (just after the BRIGHTEST) day yet again then promptly stripped of his ring and dumped unceremoniously back on Earth, resulting in one rather bruised ego. Still, makes a refreshing change for Hal to actually be the one dumped rather than the other way around as usual, which is a realisation that isn’t entirely lost on him. So obviously he’s straight on the phone to Carol for a rebound fling…

Meanwhile, given the Guardians decided that Hal was too much of a rulebook bender and general all-around wild card to entrust with the continued protection of Sector 2814, who could they possibly choose instead? How about the only person more likely to lose the plot and destroy half the galaxy in a fit of peucescent pique, that good old moustachio-twirler himself, Sinestro? What a fine piece of recruitment that’ll turn out to be in the end, I’m sure! In fairness, he’s none too happy about it either, given the extremely tight strings his new working relationship with the Guardians comes with, which is probably why, in part, he decides to take it out on Hal by making him string along on his first mission. Just one snag: Hal hasn’t got a ring anymore, so Sinestro has to create one for him, which of course in turn, being an extension of Sinestro’s will, can’t be used against him. Cue much wise-cracking and head-cracking as our most un-dynamic duo get themselves in several heaps of bother, which of course is always the other one’s fault.

JR

Buy Green Lantern vol 1: Sinestro h/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Avengers vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato, Neal Adams.

“Jessica Jones… How have you been?”
“Better than you.”
“How is motherhood treating you?”
“Yeah, that’s what I want to do: talk to your about my kid.”
“You know I’m going to kill that baby.”

It’s all about the baby.

During the Dark Reign while Norman Osborn was in charge of American security (see DARK AVENGERS volume one to DARK AVENGERS: SIEGE and the first series of NEW AVENGERS volume ten to NEW AVENGERS SIEGE plus SIEGE itself), he hounded this team of then-illegal superheroes until his psychopathic megalomania finally got the better of him. He overplayed his hand with an assault on Asgard against the President’s express wishes. It landed him in prison where, as this book opens, he remains.

The H.A.M.M.E.R. organisation he put together in place of S.H.I.E.L.D. was disbanded, but they never went away. They believed in what Osborn was doing so they slipped underground instead. Now they are back, and Osborn is soon free, drawing in the combined resources of Hydra, the Hand and A.I.M. and building a new, more powerful team of Dark Avengers with one extra secret weapon. Now he’s using the very corporate-owned media Madame Hydra despises to destroy the Avengers’ reputation. And for me it works infinitely better than AVENGERS VOL 3 because instead of telling the world what he wants it to believe – that he is the put-upon hero, and the Avengers the irresponsible villains – he shows the world on TV, baiting an angry Luke Cage into doing his work for him.

It’s also far more successful than AVENGERS VOL 3 because a) you have the neo-classical art of Neal Adams and Mike Deodato which is impossible to take your eyes off, b) this is where the sub-plot’s been brewing all along with the suspect loyalties of Victoria Hand finally revealed. This is the family with the most at stake. This is where the heart is. The good news is that is can be read without AVENGERS VOL 3 if you can just accept Captain America having got himself into a certain predicament when he appears.

The best lines throughout the book go to a Madame Hydra biding her time, and choosing her words with care. Here Gorgon speaks first:

“I’m wondering what drives Norman Osborn.”
“Same thing that drives us, no? We know the world should be different. We know our place in the world is being withheld from us. So we fight the tides.”
“Maybe.”
“But what you’re asking yourself… Is Norman a narcissist with multiple personalities, or does he have multiple personalities and one of them is a narcissist?”
“I wonder the same thing about you.”
“No, I am a narcissist. But I’m a self-aware narcissist.”
“The most dangerous kind.”
“All true leaders are.”
“Including me?”
“Especially you. Death couldn’t kill you, Gorgon. That’s the narcissist’s dream.”

But if you think this is all talk, I can assure you otherwise: the new Dark Avengers gathered from existing villains are pretty impressive (no clues) and then there’s that secret weapon (CIVIL WAR?). Fight after fight after monumental Mike Deodato fight scene, all orchestrated to show the New Avengers doing more damage to property then they preserve. The public’s pretty pissed, Jessica Jones is scared witless and Brian Michael Bendis is even naughtier than ever.

“Always wondered what would happen if I Iron-Fisted a Hulk.”

Daniel!

SLH

Buy New Avengers vol 3 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Moon Knight Vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

“I don’t understand…”
“What’s to understand? It doesn’t matter who you say you are… Steven Grant… Marc Spector… Moon Knight… You ruin everything you touch. Everything and everybody.”

Uh-oh. Now Captain Crazyhead really loses the plot, and someone pays the price. Never saw that coming.

“Commander Hill, we have an incoming communiqué.”
“Don’t we get a lot of those?”
“This is from someone saying they’re Moon Knight. They’re using one of Captain America’s secure lines.”
“Moon Knight.”
“It’s coming from the Los Angeles area. He’s using old codes. From a discharge agent by the name of Buck Lime.”
“Okay, well, put him through. (This should be annoying.) Mister Moon Knight. How can I help you?”
“Which one are you?”
“I was just about to ask the same question.”

From the creative team behind SCARLET (ooh, look, interior art!), ALIAS (nothing to do with the TV series but possibly the best thing ever from Marvel), SPIDER-WOMAN and definitely the best-ever run on DAREDEVIL… a 7,205th attempt at Moon Knight to coincide with the number of personalities battling away in his nocturnal noggin. You can add three more here, and they’ll be readily familiar to you.

In Moon Knight vol 1, finally after half a century of modern Marvel continuity, some of the supervillains have figured out that if 963 superheroes have chosen to live in Manhattan and only one in Los Angeles, they’d be 963 times less likely to get busted if they relocated to L.A… Marc Spector also happens to be in L.A., overseeing the launch of his Legend Of Khonshu TV show, so the Avengers call on him to scare the bejeezus out of the criminal community there… IN HIS MIND!

Lo and behold, a new Kingpin has indeed set himself up: Count Nefaria, a man with a power level way off the scale, bent on reclaiming the gleaming head of the genocidal robot Ultron snatched from under his nose by Moon Knight. Obviously he’s way out of his depth – this is going to take a whole team full of Avengers. It’s a bit of a shame, then, that THEY’RE ALL IN HIS MIND!!!

This is the second and final volume with gorgeous, twilight art, the closest yet to Bill Sienkiewicz’s (see Essential Moon Knight vol 2 with bits on either side). There’s a cover I initially thought was indeed by Billy The Sink! Some truly brutal bust-ups leading to an explosive finale with some serious firepower and I’m really not kidding about the awful consequences. On the other hand, it was also deliriously funny.

“I’m sorry I was a bad boss.”
“Are you kidding me? You were never around, barely cared and I got to come and go as I pleased. You were the best boss I ever had.”

To be continued in THE AGE OF ULTRON, a great big AVENGERS event by Bendis and Bryan Hitch. So you will want these two books very badly indeed.

SLH

Buy Moon Knight vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Generation Hope: The End Of A Generation (£11-99, Marvel) by James Asmus & Ibraim Roberson, Tim Green II.

Third and final volume.

SLH

Buy Generation Hope: The End Of A Generation and read the Page 45 review here

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

Sleaze Castle Etcetera h/c (£29-99, Markosia) by Dave McKinnon & Terry Wiley, Adrian Kermode

The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward: A Graphic Novel (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by H.P. Lovecraft & I.N.J. Culbard

Vampire Academy vol 2: Frostbite (£9-99, Razorbill) by Richelle Mead, Leigh Dragoon & Emma Vieceli

Caligula vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & German Nobile

The Cape vol 1 h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramella & Zach Howard

The Amory Wars: In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 vol 2 (£10-99, Boom!) by Claudio Sanchez, Peter David & Chris Burnham, Kyle Strahm, Aaron Kuder

Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 1 restocks/reprint (£14-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Steve Rolston, Brian Hurtt, Leandro Fernandez, Christine Norrie,Bryan Lee O’Malley, Stan Sakai

Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 2 restocks (£14-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Jason Shawn Alexander, Carla Speed McNeil, Mike Hawthorne

Batman: Knightfall vol 2 (New Ed’n) (£22-50, DC) by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Jo Duffy & Graham Nolan, Vince Giarrano, Mike Manley, Barry Kitson, Jim Balent, Bret Blkevins, Tom Grummett

Stormwatch (New 52) vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Paul Cornell & Miguel Sepulveda

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: Death Of Spider-Man Fallout s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer & Mark Bagley, Bryan Hitch, Eric Nguyen, Sara Pichelli, Salvador Larroca, Clayton Crain, Billy Tan

Deadpool Max vol 2: Involuntary Armageddon s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by David Lapham & Kyle Baker, Shawn Crystal

Venom: Circle Of Four h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Rick Remender, Rob Williams, Jeff Parker & Tony Moore, Lee Garbett, Sana Takeda, Julian Tedesco, LanMedina, Nelson DeCastro, Terry Pallot

Uncanny X-Force vol 3: The Dark Angel Saga Book vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Billy Tan, Mark Brooks

Uncanny X-Force vol 5: Otherworld h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini, Billy Tan, Phil Noto, Dean White

The Mighty Thor vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Pasqual Ferry, Adam Kubert, Pepe Larraz

The Mighty Thor vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Oliver Coipel

Marvel Masterworks: Spider-Man vol 7 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & John Romita

 
Alison Bechdel’s ARE YOU MY MOTHER is released on May 29th from Jonathan Cape. Here’s a Comic’s Journal interview with Alison Bechdel from 2007 after Tom and I both declared her FUN HOME to be our favourite comic of 2006.

Also: Chris Ware’s BUILDING STORIES is going to be monumental. Look at all those beautiful photos! Out October 2012.

 - Stephen

Reviews May 2012 week three

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

It’s full-colour comedy in which our Jeff captures the contrariness of childhood to perfection along with its nagging and needs, while Darth dotes on his darling boy like any other proud father.

 - Stephen on Jeffrey Brown’s Darth Vader And Son.
 

Folly, The Consequences Of Indiscretion s/c (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Hans Rickheit…

I mean this in the nicest possible way but self-confessed obscurist Hans Rickheit is clearly not all there in the head. Stephen is often fond of describing reading Jim Woodring (WEATHERCRAFT, CONGRESS OF THE ANIMALS) as the closest thing to taking mind-bending drugs without actually doing so. If that is so then reading Hans Rickheit is certainly also of that ilk, but most definitely of the having-a-bad-trip variety. Unlike his previously published work, THE SQUIRREL MACHINE, this material is a collection of shorts from over the years, frequently featuring the same characters, in particular identical twins Cochlea & Eustachia, who inevitably get themselves into all sorts of unpleasant bother.

Definitely the type of read to make you wary of opening doors when you’re not entirely sure what’s on the other side, as Hans frequently surprises his characters, and us readers, by taking you somewhere you’d never expect, nor probably want to go to. It’s not just doors that characters have a habit of passing through / emerging from either… The closest analogy in terms of weird narrative I can make would probably be Charles Burns’ X’ED OUT I think, or David Cronenberg’s cinematic adaptation of William Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch. I would be genuinely intrigued to know what his inspirations were for some of these stories.

JR

Buy Folly, The Consequences Of Indiscretion s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Darth Vader And Son h/c (£9-99, Chronicle Books) by Jeffrey Brown.

“Luke, do you need to go potty?”
“No.”
“Well, you’re kind of doing a little dance.”
“I don’t have to go.”

He really has to go!

This is too, too funny. From the creator CLUMSY, FUNNY MISSHAPEN BODY, the two INCREDIBLE CHANGE-BOTS books and so much more, this comes in much the same format as Jeffrey’s CATS ARE WEIRD… and CAT GETTING OUT OF A BAG. It’s full colour comedy in which our Jeff captures the contrariness of childhood to perfection along with its nagging and needs, while Darth dotes on his darling boy like any other proud father. It’s the humour of incongruity, the joke being that the dastardly Darth isn’t really renowned for his kindness and compassion, or wearing bright orange, red-dotted ties. “Thank you, my son,” he rasps after unwrapping the proudly presented gift. (“I can’t wear this,” he keeps to himself. I think he’ll have to at home for a while.)

The recognition factor will keep you chuckling throughout: Darth with a dead arm, cradling a slumbering son he doesn’t want to disturb; puddle-splashing; tittle-tattle; that same, irritatingly twee album played over and over again.

“Luke, let’s listen to something else for a while… Maybe –“
“Ewoks!”
“Are you sure? How about –“
“No, Ewoks!”

There are a lot of long car journeys, aren’t there?

But it’s just as funny seeing the evil emperor attempting to wrap a small present of his own in those enormous, cumbersome black gauntlets, and getting sticking plaster everywhere. It’s more of a mess than mine! Also: some highly unorthodox uses for the Force, but you just know that you would if you could. You need know nothing about Star Wars to yuk-yuk it up here – I don’t. Still, it does make you wonder about nature and nurture.

“Luke, pick up your toys right this instant.
“Luke, I am your father.
“Do you want a time-out?”

Such a rebellious child.

SLH

Buy Darth Vader And Son h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Megalex h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Fred Beltran…

Before we get into discussing the book itself I must mention the excellent foreword by the artist, Ferd Beltran, where he primarily discusses how his interest in producing ‘3D’ computer generated art arose, and the challenges involved in rendering such worlds and characters. I should add he doesn’t mean 3D in the literal comedy-coloured glasses sense, just the sense of depth and realism that can be achieved by smooth, computer-rendered art when done well. He also talks about working with Alexandro Jodorowsky and I must confess I had forgotten that Fred Beltran was also involved with THE TECHOPRIESTS books, having wrongly assumed for some time that it was virtually entirely the art of Zoran Janjetov, but obviously not.

Anyway, apparently this work is set in the same universe as THE INCAL and THE TECHNOPRIESTS , though I didn’t see any overt connections as such, this seems entirely stand alone to me, but it certainly has much more in common with the latter than the former, and people who enjoyed THE TECHNOPRIESTS material should certainly take a look at this. This work has an entertaining, fairly typical, metaphysical commentary on society and the individual story from Jodorowsky, but it is indeed the art that really makes it come to life, and I frequently found myself stopping to admire Beltran’s skill.

JR

“Megalex is Death!Megalex is Death!” screams the flock of white parrots as it dive-bombs the military base. And it’s hard to disagree with them. It certainly isn’t “Life”.

Almost all of that has been consigned to history and buried under the planetary-wide city that isMegalex. Mountains have been levelled to form one homogenous sphere of grey, metal complexes – think The Death Star, only larger – and the final elements of resistance from the Dead Ocean and Chem Forest are brutally repelled. Governed from the Gubernatorial Palace, built out of unbreakable glass, by Queen Mother Marea and Princess Kavatah and the mummified remains of King Yod (“who has lost none of his wisdom”), the military machine is served by thousands upon thousands of identical clones with 400-day life-spans to avoid a potential contamination of dissent, after which they are slaughtered in vast meat plants and ground up like offal so that their constituent parts may be reused. The process – explicitly depicted in all its revolting “glory” – is overseen by drugged-up supervisors so that there are no anomalies. But on a chance distraction during another attack, one anomaly, a much larger humanoid, escapes their attention and finds unexpected help on hand to facilitate his escape.

As Jonathan says, the art is generated on computer, but doesn’t suffer from the typical clinical forms and/or gaudy colours. It’s actually very impressive. And, in the process mentioned earlier, quite revolting. More nudity – it’s European.

SLH

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

Skeleton Key Colour Special (£2-75, Dark Horse) by Andi Watson.

And what beautiful colours there are on this smooth, silky stock! It showcases Andi’s exuberant cartooning to perfection: my favourite pale blues in the world!

Three introductory short stories, then, from the creator of GUM GIRL, GLISTER and so much more as schoolgirl Tamsin, fox spirit Kitsune and Mr. Raccoon continue in their quest to find a way home using the transdimensional Skeleton Key which can pick any lock, letting them in and out of family tombs, filing cupboards and even petty cash tins if necessary. It’s often a tight squeeze, and it’s usually very funny seeing them extricate themselves.

It’s all a bit Doctor Who if the Tardis’ chameleon circuit were only working. For each time they find themselves faced with something already suspect or about to go disastrously wrong.

Here they encounter the New Necromantics: a trio dressed like David Bowie in ‘Ashes To Ashes’, Adam Ant in ‘Prince Charming’ and Alannah Currie from the Thompson Twins circa ‘Sister Of Mercy’ trying to train drained zombies to dance in their latest pop promo:

“No, no, no! It’s step, step, shimmy, step. Not shuffle, shuffle, drool.”

Next it’s a question of questionable Room Service at a hotel haunted by a former occupant who found its mini-bar nuts. Best of all, though, is their misstep into theMuseumOfThe Lostwhere their current condition immediately qualifies them as prize exhibits – along with Amelia Earheart’s Lockheed Electra, passports and homework. Also, presumably: the never-present dog who ate it. Very funny word-play.

My favourite panel was the ghost administering the Heimlich Manoeuvre to Mr. Raccoon, for the cartooning involved in Mr. Raccoon is exceptional. On the surface he is a flat-faced, square-head, but here you see best the invisible, three-dimensional contours which always exist due to the impeccable colouring but which never break the facial rectangle. I don’t know how well I’ve explained that. Ask me for a quick show-and-tell on the shop floor. It’s subtle but brilliant!

SKELETON KEY original series books ONE, Three and FIVE still available. Just. You don’t need them for this, but you’ll want them for sure and immediately afterwards.

Skeleton Key Colour Special

SLH

Tokyo On Foot: Travels In The City’s Most Colourful Neighbourhoods (£15-99, Tuttle) by Florent Chavouet ~

There is an honesty in wonder, truth in bewilderment. To visit a new place and soak it all in line by line must take a keen sense of the absurd. This isn’t really a CARNET DE VOYAGE in the strictest sense as Florent stayed for six months, taking the opportunity to explore the different districts of the sprawling capital while his partner interned. Instead what we have here is a personal, unofficial guidebook to the city. It’s an unapologetic love letter appreciating its dingiest dives to its most beautiful moments. Through the eyes of a westerner,Tokyo seems overwhelming at times; Florent softens the neon strips and gaudy consumerism with his crayon-coloured illustrations and photo montages. It’s clear when you read the book this is all sequential art, but only occasionally will he break a page down into a standard comic sequence, like when he’s arrested and interrogated byTokyo’s notoriously zealous police. And as harsh as that experience sounds, he remains a resolute outsider observing the unfolding pantomime with a keen eye.

In this way he reminds me of Nicholas (Momus) Currie’s ongoing adventures in Osaka. Although Nicholas, ever the chameleon-alien, actively participates in the pantomime, complete with dress sense, revelling in its absurd beauty. Through Florent’s you will see a city quite foreign and in its reflection a West equally as alien on every level. Wonderful.

TR

Buy Tokyo On Foot: Travels In The City’s Most Colourful Neighbourhoods and read the Page 45 review here

NonNonBa (£19-99, D&Q) by Shigeru Mizuki…

Enchanting autobiographical work from the creator of the scathing anti-war satire ONWARD TOWARDS OUR NOBLE DEATHS, which details his relatively austere, and at times quite poignant childhood, his developing interest in illustration, and also looks at his early fascination, partly fuelled by his grandmother, the titular NonNonBa, with the Japanese spirit world and the monsters, or yokai, who inhabit it. It’s clearly something that’s developed into a bit of an obsession as apparently he’s “travelled to over sixty countries to engage in fieldwork based on spirit folklore” whatever that may mean!

This work was actually the first manga ever to win the prestigious Best Album prize at Angoulême, and it’s easy to see why as it rewards the reader on many levels, especially narratively. Even though I loved this work I possibly just prefer ONWARD TOWARDS OUR NOBLE DEATHS, though again that too was a prize winner at Angoulême! Amusingly enough it has just occurred to me that Mizuki’s own fascination with war may well have begun in the pitched battles he and his friends seemed to be endlessly fighting with other kids from nearby neighbourhoods, and which seem to have been fought with a ferocity the Bash Street Kids would have been proud of! He draws a particularly amusing lumpy bruised head!

This would definitely be an interesting read for someone who has worked his way through the Tezuka and Taniguchi canons and is now looking for another true manga master to discover. Highly recommended.

JR

Buy NonNonBa and read the Page 45 review here

Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland h/c (£16-50, Top Shelf) by Harvey Pekar & Joseph Remnant.

From the writer – and star – of AMERICAN SPLENDOUR, with an introduction by Alan Moore, this is Harvey’s last pronouncement on those around him and the city he and they inhabited. Harvey Pekar and Cleveland were inseparable, and this is part-autobiography, part-history. Some of the finest art ever to grace a Pekar project: incredible detail and a real spirit of place, vital for a project like this. Which is a relief, because some of the artists Pekar’s worked with over the years have been awful.

This is a place-holder review. More when it manages to stay in stock.

SLH

Buy Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mastering Comics (£25-99, FirstSecond) by Jessica Abel, Matt Madden.

The sequel to DRAWING WORDS AND WRITING PICTURES which I wrote about extensively. Rigorous instructions from two of comics’ finest creators responsible, separately, for LA PERDIDA, LIFE SUCKS, 99 WAYS TO TELL A STORY and BLACK CANDY.

SLH

Buy Mastering Comics and read the Page 45 review here

FLCL: The Complete Omnibus (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Gainax & Hajime Ueda ~

Takkun thought he had problems. His town is being smothered by the giant factory, his family are serial perverts and his brother’s slightly slow ex is trying to get in his pants. Then the mysterious Vespa girl thwacks Takkun with her guitar. And large robots pop from his forehead like bad spots. His brain disappears and the void left in its wakes leads to the belly of a robot cat intent on taking over the universe. No really. Pronounced “Fooly Cooly” or “Furi Kuri” and sometimes “eF eL see eL”. But now we’re getting silly.

TR

Buy FLCL: The Complete Omnibus and read the Page 45 review here

Frankenstein: Alive, Alive! #1 (£2-99, IDW) by Steve Niles & Bernie Wrightson.

The return of comics’ definitive FRANKENSTEIN h/c artist and classic collaborator on Len Wein’s ROOTS OF THE SWAMP THING in a mini-series written by 30 DAYS OF NIGHT’s Steve Niles.

The much maligned monster has finally found a home and companionship in a travelling Freak Show but, oh, the things he had to endure to get there! The tortured soul casts his mind back to the frozen, desolate wastes he’d once thought his Arctic tomb only to be revived in the thaw and tormented once more by the ghost of his callous creator.

Let’s be clear: you’re here for the art, and even if it isn’t quite the same insane detail of Wrightson’s original FRANKENSTEIN h/c which inclined me to compare it to Gustav Doré via Franklin Booth, it is still amongst the very best Bernie’s ever bestowed upon us, with exceptional modelling and breath-taking landscapes. Rarely do I link off our site during reviews but you have got to experience Bernie Wrightson’s FRANKENSTEIN: ALIVE ALIVE interior art for yourself. Also: classy matt black cover with shiny silver ink framing a full-colour oval portrait.

Extras include an extensive interview of Wrightson by Steve Niles himself about his earliest encounters with the Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee incarnations with much more to follow, hopefully including Bernie’s own experiencing crafting the FRANKENSTEIN h/c. How much do I love that book? I have a signed, full-colour print hanging above the fireplace in my study.

Buy Frankenstein: Alive, Alive by lurching to the counter, fumbling on the phone or hamfistedly hitting page45@page45.com

The Clock Strikes #1 (£3-50, Kult) by John A. Short & Vincent Danks.

Are you reading HARKER? You should be! Contemporary British crime comic riddled with mischief. Two books so far: HARKER VOL1 set in London and HARKER VOL 2 up in Whitby , with a third, original graphic novel to follow shortly from Titan. From Titan, not on Titan – that’d be quite the departure.

Anyway, its artist is the same Vince Danks, here illustrating a one-off pulp piece in ridiculously lavish detail under a cover worthy of Brian Bolland. This man’s architecture – exterior and interior – is an absolute joy and he’s really gone to town on the tone. A police Lieutenant investigates rumours of a supposed faceless vigilante tearing into organised crime and destroying their dope factories. Unfortunately he’s ticking off all the wrong people, and they’re tocking it all to heart.

“That’s awful, Stephen!” I’ve written worse. “We know!”

*sigh*

SLH

Chime in with an order for The Clock Strikes by phoning 0115 9508045 or make with the clicky on page45@page45.com

Higher Earth #1 (80 pence, Boom! Studios) by Sam Humphries & Francesco Biagini.

“Always be proud of where you come from. Even if it is made out of trash.”

From the writer of the fiercely funny pansexual comedy OUR LOVE IS REAL (copies still in stock @ £2-99), an 80 pence introduction to his new sci-fi series which asks a lot of questions which the surly sword-wielding protagonist seems keen to avoid answering.

Why has young Heidi grown up on one Earth used as landfill by another? Why has the chap with the crow come to reclaim her? Who is after the chap with the crow? And why does this all look so much like the old X-FORCE series only featuring Cable and Hope with Shatterstar thrown in for bad measure? See, Biagini looks a lot like Ron Garney on the surface, but the visual storytelling could use a lot more clarity. I shouldn’t have to check what’s happening; I should see it immediately.

Still, I wouldn’t bother typing this if I wasn’t intrigued. You’ll note there was no review of DIAL H FOR HERO. Grant Morrison, it wasn’t.

SLH

Buy Higher Earth #1 by recycling this into an email using the portal page45@page45.com or dumping your demands down 0115 9508045.

Batman vol 1: The Court Of Owls h/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion…

“My point is, sometimes we become so concerned with little dangers that we don’t see the big one, right beneath our feet. That’s all. Bruce?”
“I’m sorry,Lincoln. I have to go. I’m going to have my own people watch your room. They’re the best. Get some sleep.”
“But, Bruce, if they’re watching me… who’s watching you?”

Ahh… methinks the battle for the post-Morrison* quill is over, and Scott Snyder is the hands-down victor as this easily is the finest Batman title I’ve read since Morrison’s extended run.

This is exactly what Batman should be all about, with mystery and misdirection teased and tormented out over several issues as elaborate, nay labyrinthian (you’ll see what I mean), games are played, and masterplans deviously plotted and callously executed. It’s just that here it’s Batman and indeed Bruce Wayne who find themselves, initially at least, being manoeuvred round the board, seemingly at will by players unknown, the faceless and until now presumed mythical Court Of Owls.  

Exceptional storytelling here from BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR’s Scott Snyder as he creates a brand new set of Bat-adversaries, which have apparently been around since the founding of Gotham (more on that possibly in the ALL-STAR WESTERN part of the Court Of Owl crossover currently ongoing), yet which everyone believes to have no more reality than a children’s nursery rhyme. In fact the Court Of Owls referenced in said rhyme is something a very young Bruce Wayne tried once to investigate, in the distraught aftermath of his parents’ deaths, as he desperately searched for a deeper reason for their murder than the simple mindless thuggery of a single robber. He didn’t find anything then however, and hasn’t since on the rare occasions Batman has heard very vague rumours, leading him to conclude it really is nothing more than a fairy tale. Except now, for reasons yet unknown, it seems that the Court is ready to make a very public statement by killing Bruce Wayne, and yet Batman still isn’t convinced that they really exist.

“The man who tried to kill me made a comment about how much he loved killing Waynes.”
“No Wayne in the last fifty years has died suspiciously to my knowledge… other than your parents, of course.”
“I know that. But whoever he is, this man wants me to believe that he isn’t just a killer, but that he’s The Talon.”
“The Talon? From the Court of Owls folksong?”
“Except that he wants me to believe that the Court isn’t a fairytale… that in reality some secret group of men has actually been ruling Gotham from the shadows since colonial times. So I’m assuming the Wayne killing he’s referring to involves some incident from the past. Something to give credibility to the bedtime story. So again Alfred, what do you know about owls?”
“Just common trivia… they’re carnivorous, masters of camouflage… they’re natural predators of bats…”

Snyder is creating an epic storyline here, something that really sinks its roots deep, very deep into Bat-history, and producing something which will, I suspect, have profound implications for Bruce and for Batman for some time to come. Not a page or panel is wasted; every single bit of space is used to lay out an incredibly complex, dense tale. Anyone who thinks writing a Bat-comic would be child’s play would be well advised to read this and think again. There’s one superb sequence (out of many) which I don’t want to spoil, which oh so cleverly puts a completely different spin on one of the most pivotal parts of Bat folklore that had me absolutely gasping in admiration, and no, it’s not the death of Bruce’s parents. Snyder has put some serious thought into this, so just sit back and enjoy.

The art, from Greg Capullo, is of an equally high standard with some wonderful conceits employed liberally throughout which artfully (no pun intended just for once) match exactly what is happening on the page at that moment. He’s clearly read Gary Spencer Millidge’s brilliant COMIC BOOK DESIGN: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO DESIGNING COMICS! Simply magnificent stuff, and if Snyder and Capullo can maintain this standard, I’ve every reason to believe this storyline will be added to the relatively short list of modern Bat-classics which we at Page 45 are happy to recommend to people who ask which are worth reading.

*Yes Bat-pedants, I know Morrison is coming back to finish things off with the new monthly BATMAN INC. title but I quite liked the BATTLE FOR THE COWL pun once I’d thought of it and I didn’t want to waste it, so there!

JR

Buy Batman vol 1: The Court Of Owls h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Captain America vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Alan Davis.

Sharon Carter is Agent 13, and about to do something stupid.

“Computer, shut down all wireless commnetworks onboard.”
“Affirmative.”
“No communication traffic in or out of the Quincarrier. And lock all systems. No changes authorised without my command.”
“Affirmative.”
“If I don’t reauthorise by 0800 hours… activate self-destruct sequence one. And then contact the Avengers… tell them I’m sorry.”

Alan Davis is always a sight for sore eyes: it’s like bathing them in artistic Optrex. In addition, there are some lovely little nods to classic Captain America artist Mike Zeck. Take a look at the seventh page of #8: unmistakeable, that bottom panel.

Floating over a stormy ocean on the Hydra Flying Island, Baron Zemo and Queen Hydra are playing a long game. The Queen’s husband, Codename: Bravo has been captured and incarcerated, but she’s far from concerned. It’s time for phase two: new, improved Madbombs which once nearly started a race war inHarlem. Once detonated all hell breaks loose in the form of bloodthirsty riots, and at each critical juncture Steve Rogers finds himself reverting to his former, impotent self, pre-Supersoldier Serum.

The Machinesmith managed to deactivate the Serum in STEVE ROGERS. SUPERSOLDIER, while Bravo managed the same thing in Captain America vol 1. Worse still, it happened once before: a psychosomatic effect of a crisis in confidence. Is that’s what’s happening now?

Both Stark and the Beast fail to find anything clinically wrong with Rogers, so that the seeds of self-doubt sown in the last volume now germinate, take root, dig in and grow, spawning a second crisis of confidence. Is that was this is all about? Clue: I’d check those two former reviews. A clever one, our new Queen Hydra. Guest-stars Hawkeye and the Falcon.

SLH

Buy Captain America vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers vol 3 h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Daniel Acuna, Renato Guedes, Brandon Peterson.

It’s no secret I’ve been devoted to Bendis’ AVENGERS in its many incarnations ever since AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED, and the whole Osborn saga culminated beautifully in SIEGE. Why, then did we need another, weaker iteration of what went before?

Osborn is back and giving the Avengers P.R. hell, accusing them of being traitors to their country and detaining him without trial. Which is a bit like the Burmese government accusing Aung San Suu Kyi of being a despot. Incredibly the American people are lapping it up. And I do mean “incredibly”. Given Osborn’s reputation it’s just not credible.Meanwhile the Avengers are lured to his lair, newly populated with another set of Dark Avengers, ex-H.A.M.M.E.R. agents and Hydra.

Excuse me, I’ve just dozed off. By the time Renato Guedes took over as penciller I wasn’t even recognising this as written by Bendis. Both were so lacklustre. I’m beginning to see the corporate strings and the puppeteer become puppet: Storm joining the team just so she can leave in a huff for AVENGERS Vs. X-MEN…? Transparent. The only bit that really had me going was the Vision being resurrected and then having to learn exactly how he came to be in two pieces. Not just who tore him apart, but who made her do it: who tore the whole team apart in AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED. His wife, yes.

SLH

Buy Avengers vol 3 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Silver Surfer: Parable h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Moebius, Keith Pollard…

Wonderful to see this work back in print following the sad passing of one of the true greats of the comics industry. Don’t get excited, I’m not referring to Stan Lee, who’s still excelsiorising his own furrow in ever-decreasing circles, but of course Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius. Here isn’t really the place to eulogise the man, but suffice to say he was uniquely talented, which in some ways make him a logical choice to illustrate one of the great enigmas of the Marvel Universe, the Silver Surfer. Enigma, primarily in the sense that he’s never managed to sustain a series for very long, usually because he’s written so two-dimensionally, which is odd considering there are practically no constraints on where the character can go or what he can do.

Sadly, this non-continuity collaboration isn’t really any different in terms of the writing, as Galactus arrives on Earth, declares himself ruler, abolishes all laws, and then sits back to wait for mankind to destroy itself, thus neatly obviating the promise he made to the Surfer not to destroy humanity. He never said anything about not eating the leftovers though, did he?!

It isn’t, in all honesty, Moebius’ finest work either, and certainly not his most consistent. I did feel extremely guilty thinking that about the great man’s work as I went along, as he can usually do no wrong in my eyes whatsoever. But I then felt completely exonerated (and somewhat relieved, frankly) when reading the fascinating afterword to see Moebius felt exactly the same about this work himself, even going so far as try and get to the bottom of precisely why. No need to explain, Jean Giraud: if your heart’s not in it, mate, your heart’s just not in it. With that said there are some panels and pages – many, many of them in fact – where you just have to stop and admire a peerless master at work, and those alone are easily worth the price of the book.

And, along with the honest dissection of his own artwork, there are some other excellent extras, including a series of promo posters of various Marvel characters he did, including Daredevil, Elektra, Punisher, Spider-Man, The Thing, Wolverine and, probably my favourite one, Iron Man. Makes you think what might have been, or perhaps it’s best if some things always remain a… What If?

Sorry, that really was some pandemonius punnery worthy of Stan himself there.

Actually, in what might be a first for the Page 45 website, I think, I have actually added some interior art for a superhero book, so you can see for yourselves, and happy days, I came across an image of the Iron Man poster in question too! Wouldn’t it have been amazing to have a full Iron Man story in that art style? Preferably not penned by Stan.

For some reason, however, Marvel didn’t think all that by itself would tempt you, and so have included another non-continuity story, again penned by Smilin’ Stan and illustrated by Keith Pollard. Nicely illustrated, for sure, in fairly typical superhero style for the time, but frankly another appalling hokum plot and, for me, it doesn’t add anything whatsoever at all.

JR

Buy Silver Surfer: Parable h/c and read the Page 45 review here

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

Deadenders (£22-50, Vertigo) by Ed Brubaker & Warren Pleece

The Art Of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist h/c (£24-99, Abrams) by Daniel Clowes, edited by Alvin Buenaventura

Fables vol 1: Legends In Exile (New Ed’n) (£9-99, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & LanMedina

Cerebus The Barbarian Messiah: Essays (£29-99) by various, edited by Eric Hoffman

Red Mass For Mars (£10-99, Image) byJonathan Hickman & Ryan Bodenheim

Green Lantern: Brightest Day s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke

Catwoman vol 1: The Game s/c (£10-99, DC) by Judd Winick & Guillem March

Green Lantern vol 1: Sinestro h/c (£16-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke

Batman: Bruce Wayne: The Road Home s/c (£13-50, DC) by Fabian Nicieza, Mike W. Barr, Bryan Q. Miller, Derek Fridolfs, Adam Beechen, Marc Andreyko & Cliff Richards, Ramon Bachs, John Lucas, Javier Saltares, Rebecca Buchman, Walden Wong, Pere Perez, Peter Nguyen, Ryan Winn, Szymon Kudranski, Agustin Padilla, Scott McDaniel, Andy Owens

New Avengers vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato, Neal Adams

Moon Knight vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

Generation Hope: The End Of A Generation (£11-99, Marvel) by James Asmus & Ibraim Roberson, Tim Green II

Tenjo Tenge 2-in-1 Edition vol 6 (£10-99, Viz) by Oh!Great

Saturn Apartments vol 5 (£9-99, Viz) by Hisae Iwaoka

Starry Sky vol 1 (£9-99, DMP) by Hal Minagawa & honeybee

The Flowers Of Evil vol 1 (£8-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

Maoh: Juvenile Remix vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by Kotaro Isaka &Megumi Osuga

Reviews May 2012 week two

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

 
“Is it a superhero comic?” I asked, with a hint of suspicion.
“Do you want it to be?” he replied.
“No.”
“Then it isn’t.”

 - Stephen and Andrew Tunney’s first exchange ever – on Girl&Boy

 

The Celestial Bibendum h/c (£24-99, Knockabout) by Nicolas de Crécy.

“Syrupy words, tender chords, 800 decibels and fireworks! The perfect cocktail for political and cultural success!”

Ah, the pursuit of power: power over the puppets, influence over the masses… there’s even a struggle for control of the narrative, you’ll see! And our seal Diego is very much a puppet in that scene, his blubbery mass suspended and swung helplessly over the throng. Everyone and everything will come crashing down in this comedy of the grotesque that careers into crevices where few other creators would ever dare to venture. Hold onto your hats, it’s going to be quite the maniacal performance!

Your narrator is the disembodied, bulbous white head of one Professor Lombax, PHD, benched on a sideboard in a remote, dilapidated country manor after the man came a cropper on account of a dog lost in the middle of an oil-slicked, hairpin bend overlooking a deep ravine. He’s had quite the experience getting there and has far, far further to travel, but he’s determined to tell you a story. Unfortunately the house isn’t abandoned: he’s not entirely alone.

The story he recalls is that of Diego, a naïve seal pup on one centre leg and crutches, disembarking on the quayside of New York-on-the-Seine, “the Capital of all excesses” with all the wide-eyed excitement of a dream come true. No sooner has he done so, though, than a man in black picks him up at the docks and stuffs him back on the next ship departing! Apparently Diego has been chosen – but not everyone wants him around. Swimming once more ashore Diego is picked up again – yes, apparently he’s been chosen (the same words exactly) “to become an important figure in the political and social life of this great capital city”, and swept swiftly off to the Educational Brotherhood who have friends in the City Hall.

“Victory over ignorance!” the academic rabble cries, guffawing with laughter and cramming the creature with knowledge. They make quite a song and dance of it. Politics, social sciences, mathematics, linguistics and art – yes, the seal pup rather takes to the naked female bottom – all these things he’s coached in (the funniest being fencing with crutches), but suddenly it is decided that above all he needs tutoring in charm. “Diego needs to be more popular than smart,” declares the gesticulating balloon that is Professor Lombax. What they need is a Communications Advisor – it’s time for a makeover!

All this Diego endures with bewildered silence – even the second attempt at sabotage – but will he stay schtum forever? Depends what gets into him, I guess. Also, what precisely is Diego being groomed for? What does the armless, legless, floppy old President really want of him? And what’s the opposition like, eh?

That, dear readers, is but a slither of the first thirty of these dense two hundred pages which will, like I said, take you into startlingly unexpected territory. The narrative’s focus flashes all over the place, cutting between past and present and hither and thither, sometimes for no more for a panel.

“Back to Diego!!! Stay on Diego, for God’s sake!!!” demands a horrified Professor Lombax, presumably of de Crécy himself.

It’s masterfully done, particularly the Professor’s spectacularly convoluted fate, and there’s many a main character I’ve not even touched on, but animals seldom fail to steal the show, eh?

Now, if you’re reading this in the shopping area you will already know from the interior art which can be blown up at the click of a button, that this is a monumentally beautiful book with Nicolas de Crécy catching a Mediterranean light to perfection there. And yes, the architecture is gobsmacking. But that’s just one style employed with a variety of line and paintwork where the colours both impressionistic and expressionistic grow as intense as you can imagine, veering from the sort of light employed by Monet (the various Rouen Cathédrales etc.) to Mattotti eye-scorchers (BOB DYLAN REVISITED etc.). The switch from one to the other or even the incorporation of one within the other can happen at any moment. It never jars, it just thrills each and every time.

For me it’s the work of the man’s career that I’m aware of, as confident as it is self-indulgent as it is judicious during each said indulgence. It is surreal and satirical and huge.

As to the title, Bibendum is of course the famous mascot of a certain tyre company better known over here as the Michelin Man. In slang it’s also come to mean someone comically overweight, and I rather think our seal Diego more than qualifies. I’d hazard a guess, given both the proceedings and delivery, that it even tangentially refers to the 1898, mascot-launching poster which declared “Nunc est bibendum” from dear old Horace: “Now is [the time of] drinking”. But you’ll need to wait until the opening of the third act to see exactly who or what the Celestial Bibendum is. Tyres used to be a translucent creamy beige, you know.

SLH

Buy The Celestial Bibendum h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Girl&Boy (signed) (£3-99) by Andrew Tunney.

I caught Andrew Tunney at a comic convention late last year. He had a table in the self-styled Troublemakers Alley next to Adam Cadwell, Marc Ellerby, Lizz Lunney & co., and on it sat a preview to GIRL&BOY. Now, I don’t know if you’re reading this on the blog or on the shopping page where you can see the cover, but it’s really quite striking: a young woman, backlit on white and looking slightly ambivalent, in a loose t-shirt and Robin-style eye mask. Which caused me a certain degree of ambivalence too.

“Is it a superhero comic?” I asked, with a hint of suspicion.
“Do you want it to be?” he replied.
“No.”
“Then it isn’t.”

After an effortlessly sassy rejoinder like that, I knew I was going to be stocking this whether I liked it or not. Guess what? I love it, precisely because Andrew was spot-on. It’s not a superhero comic, but something else entirely; a smart surprise with the perfect punchline told at night with the city’s harsh neon light filtered through Venetian blinds. Ladies, you will high-five Andrew Tunney immediately. Promise.

Printed on quality paper, each of our copies at the time of typing are graciously signed. Feel free to check before buying. You can always type “as long as it’s signed” with any online purchase, and we will always honour the request.

So, here’s my only real hint apart from the high-five:

“My name is girl. And this is my sidekick, Boy.
“Together we fight crime and loneliness…
“Never each other.”

And the panel directly beneath is a belter.

SLH

Buy Girl&Boy (signed) and read the Page 45 review here

Fallen Words (£14-99, D&Q) by Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

And now for something completely different.

Tatsumi has made me laugh before, but his own particular brand of manga – the darker, more socially realistic gekiga – isn’t exactly renowned for its comedy value. This, on the other hand, is a riot: short stories in the centuries-old Japanese performance-based storytelling tradition called rakugo, each with a comedic and often unexpected punchline.

They’re set in the past, many involve Geisha, most have marital relationships at heart, but all of them – each and every one – involve money. Still socially realistic, then.

There’s a great deal of conniving, deception or outright swindling going on. I did like the young page’s night in a brothel curiously empty of women, attempting to placate disgruntled old customers over the absence of the Geisha they’re all waiting for. She’s not stupid. There’s the story of the wife and mistress battling it out beyond the grave and the lesson that some things should not be expected to be forgiven.

My favourite, however, was ‘The God Of Death’ in which a young man accidentally summons the Grim Reaper who turns out to be unexpectedly amiable and accommodating. Struggling financially the young man finds himself offered a brand new career as a doctor: with the aid of the not-so-Grim Reaper’s knowledge about each patient’s preordained life span he is able to tell each patient’s family whether their loved one will live or die. But then the silly man gets a bit desperate (although highly inventive) and tries to cheat Death, and you know that’s one thing you can’t do. Easily the best punchline there, Tatsumi knowing the precise moment at which to depart and leave the reader laughing.

Usagi Yojimbo fans will love the Stan Sakai-style backgrounds particularly ‘The Rooster Crows’ where a man is tricked and subsequently  traumatised by his first visit to a brothel, while ‘New Year Festival’’s spoiled brat is pure Gilbert Hernandez.

There’s also much to learn about ancient Japanese traditions, handily backed up by the occasional annotation. Did you know, for example, that each godfather must be paid three ryo before he will name his godchild? Or that a godfather used to name the godchild at all? I had no idea that lotteries were this old. There were Three Edo Lotteries permitted by the Tokugawa shogunate from 1700. Finally, where would we be without the odd Japanese proverb?

“Look upon the snow on the peaks so you don’t have to feel the chill.”

Look but don’t touch, basically.

SLH

Buy Fallen Words and read the Page 45 review here

A Dinosaur Tale / Tofu + Cats (£2-00) by Lizz Lunney.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,” wrote Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

But this neat little 4” x 3” mini-comic can be read both backwards and forwards. Stitch that, Søren!

Yes, it’s the return of arch-existentialist Lizz Lunney in another profound treatise on post-modern solipsism, contemporary geopolitics, and European fiscal mismanagement. On the subject of which, next time you watch Cameron and Clegg retreat through the doors of 10 Downing Street, watch how each tries to get the last patronising, proprietorial pat on the back in. Funny!

Oh wait. No, sorry. This is about dinosaurs ditching their nihilistic ways in favour of a decent knitting pattern. And cats confounded by cubes of semi-sentient tofu which only experience satori after sanitary rejection. They’re fragrant to a vagrant. The end.

Actually… this is quite existentialist. As you were!

SLH

Buy A Dinosaur Tale / Tofu + Cats and read the Page 45 review here

Curse Of The Bogmen / Horseome (£2-00) by Lizz Lunney.

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced,” wrote post-modern, existentialist and relatively Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

Clearly he never experienced extricating oneself from a British telephone company.

This, then, is the precise metaphor Lizz Lunney applies to the BogMen, dreaming of travel but tied to their osmotic roots by a contract with nature and cursed by internet trolls until –

You don’t think I read too much into these things do you? 4” x 3” mini-comic.

Also, horses: I’m totally giddied up.

“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” – Søren Kierkegaard.

Oh, do shut up, Søren.

SLH

Buy Curse Of The Bogmen / Horseome and read the Page 45 review here

Black Orchid h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean.

This is a book of impressions: of memories, shadows and echoes.

So many songs evoke a past much missed, misremembered or barely recalled at all.

There is a wreck of man out there called Carl; a drunken, washed up, one-time player full of hot-air and an acrid obsession with the ex-wife who had the audacity to leave him for another, less violent man, and then testify against him. Her name was Susan Linden and he killed her for it. Or he thought he had; he’s in for a bit of a surprise.

For then there was the other Susan. An effective, solitary agent, undercover and on the brink of exposing a criminal organisation and the mastermind behind it. They caught her, they shot her, they set her on fire and then bombed the inferno for good measure. She was the Black Orchid, named after a flower that doesn’t exist, and she is quite, quite dead.

So who is this new Susan of radiant purple, grown in a greenhouse, and cast adrift in a world she’s had no time to comprehend? She has no idea. She doesn’t know who she is, what she is, or what she should do now. The only clues lie in a dead man’s past, in his contemporaries at college: Dr. Jason Woodrue, Pamela Isley and Alec Holland. Her only brief ally is a man in a mask who hides in the shadows of Gotham, and he says:

“Most of the things that “everyone knows” are wrong. The rest are merely unreliable.”

Now, several of those names my sound surprisingly familiar for a Neil Gaiman book. What one forgets is the Vertigo line originally had far stronger ties to the DC universe and its superhero community; what one may also have forgotten is that this was created long before the Vertigo line even existed. It’s a far more ethereal read than most DC Universe books – it’s far more of a child of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing – but a DC Universe book it most certainly is. It’s just… going to do things differently.

“I’ve seen, y’know, the movies, James Bond, all that. I’ve read the comics. So you know what I’m not going to do? I’m not going to lock up in the basement before interrogating you. I’m not going to set up some kind of complicated laser beam death-trap, then leave you alone to escape. That stuff is so dumb. But you know what I am going to do? I’m going to kill you. Now.”

That was within the first six pages, and it was quite the arresting development.

Returning to the legacy of Alan Moore, the early segues and black humour owe much to THE KILLING JOKE. “You’re fired” was inspired. But it quickly establishes its own tone which, as I say, is far more ethereal, far more impressionistic, as our newly bloomed Orchid struggles with the genetically implanted memories she shares with her dead sister, and reacts to the world empathically. Here, for example, is Arkham.

“This is the bedlam. The jungle of despair. I watch their expressions: milky eyes peering from frozen faces, mouths unsmiling wounds in ruined flesh. I spy a skull-faced man who lies unsleeping; his nightmares pool and puddle on the floor around him. In a glass cell a blazing x-ray sits and smoulders and weeps. His tears burn as they fall… then his out on the pocked glass floor.”

Another marked departure from the superhero genre is that the only hunting being done apart from the peripheral predators – domestic and child abuse both play a part here – is by the antagonists and the only one out for revenge is the bitter ex-husband and resentful ex-employee. Some people really don’t handle rejection well. In other authors’ hands it would be the Black Orchid out to avenge her predecessors’ murders – particularly given their shared memories – but no, that is the instinct of the animal. A plant has quite different priorities.

It’s a beautiful book, rich in green and purples, by a Dave McKean in his photorealistic phase, much inspired at the time by Bill Sienkiewicz. The computer has yet to be embraced and the only element of photographic collage I registered was the psychotic grin. Instead it employs pencils – sometimes coloured – and paint, some chalk and maybe, I think, oil pastels. There’s a terrific sense of light. It’s also thoroughly accessible to new readers, McKean splitting the page in half horizontally then working with three or four columns across. The occasional break into tumbling panels and the larger compositions in the Amazon jungle are all the more spectacular for it.

This new deluxe edition also boasts those rarest of extras: handwritten early jottings from Neil Gaiman’s notebook, Karen Berger’s first, detailed reactions to Neil’s draft proposal, Neil’s own proposal and promotional marketing text,  preliminary notes and dialogue sketches for the second of the three original issues, its page-by-page, one-line breakdowns and an excerpt from its draft script.

“Winter is coming. The leaves are beginning to fall.”

SLH

Buy Black Orchid h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Justice League vol 1: Origin h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Jim Lee.

Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Wonderwoman, Green Lantern, Flash and Cyborg. We know the line-up matters to you. Hold on – Cyborg?!

“Open your eyes, son! Look at the world we live in today! We’re witnessing the birth of a new race of people. Super-humans. Beings who can fly, tear through building and outrun cars. They will make what you can “do” obsolete! Do you understand? Catching footballs and scoring touchdowns is a joke!”
“…”
“…”
“You’re never going to come to one of my games, are you?”
“No.”

World’s Worst Dad! World’s worst pep talk too.

First off, I’d like to publicly apologise for writing this off in my review of the first issue. Geoff Johns, I’m sorry. The flagship title in the DC New 52 relaunch develops beautifully once the other Justice League members arrive, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve found so much of it eminently quotable. It’s funny! Take sword-swishing Wonder Woman, for example, with her one-track mind for smiting things and preferably through the eye. She’s actually quite sweet when encountering a girl so star-struck that she drops her ice cream.

“You’re Wonder Woman!”
“My name is Diana.”
“My name’s Raquel.”
“Thank you for speaking with me, Raquel. You’re not afraid of me?”
“No really.”
“What are you eating?”
“Oops. Ice cream.”
“Ice cream?”
“Haven’t you ever had ice cream?”
“No.”
“It’s greatest food in the world if you ask me.”
“Mm. [To street vendor, pointing with her sword] May I try some ice cream? And another for my friend.”
“Yeah… Yeah, sure. Just don’t, y’know, take my arm with it, okay? Heh… Oh man.”
“Hm. Ice cream is wonderful. You should be very proud of this achievement!”
“Um… thanks.”

What you have to remember is the key word “relaunch”. The DC Universe for most but not all of these titles has started again from scratch. Wonder Woman is unused to this world and the world is unused to super-humans: it’s terrified of them. Also, none of these people have ever met except the Green Lantern and Flash. Caught on the hop under assault from Darkseid, they’re still sizing each other up and don’t necessarily all like each other.

“You sound like a cop.”
“I am. I work in the crime lab.”
“Barry, you’re exposing your identity!”
“And you just called me “Barry”, genius.”

Green Lantern in particular is far from a team player. So is Batman but Batman is a tactician, a strategist, and is quick to grasp their current condition which is critical. Darkseid is virtually indestructible and his legions are spiriting the innocent away to defile them in his own image. So it’s the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few, or the one etc.

“Get out of your own way. Focus on what’s important here: everyone else. So far it’s been batter up, but we need to stop playing baseball and start playing football. We need to be a team.”

They need to think up metaphors!

Jim Lee is an epic artist as everyone who loves BATMAN: HUSH will know. Here Darkseid’s realm is a post-industrial inferno, a Sheffield Steel Works from Hell which stretches on as far as the scorched eye can see. Personally I prefer his pencils uninked as demonstrated in BATMAN: HUSH UNWRAPPED, and blissfully his pencils for each cover are reproduced for all to swoon over and study. However, one big criticism I’ve made many a time before: it is never, ever a good idea to demand that the reader turns her or his book 90% to read a single spread vertically. It obliterates one’s immersion. Pure self-indulgence on the artist’s part. A more disciplined approach is to find another way. There is always another way.

SLH

Buy Justice League vol 1: Origin h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Animal Man vol 1 (£10-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Travel Foreman.

Bad dreams in the night in black, red and white. Now that’s what I call capillary action!

Part of the DC New 52 relaunch, this isn’t a superhero book. Anyone worth their salt is going to make a Buddy Baker book all about family, and ESSEX COUNTY’s Jeff Lemire has written about family extensively there and even to a certain extent in SWEET TOOTH. Sure enough Buddy’s wife, son and especially his daughter Maxine are centre-stage as Maxine, forbidden a living, breathing pet, decides to exhume those buried round the neighbourhood and bring them back to some semblance of life. At the same time Buddy’s own powers go on the fritz, his family come under attack and it’s all very creepy. What’s wrong with the Red?

Grant Morrison’s own three-volume run on ANIMAL MAN is an absolutely essential read, especially if you’re on board for this.

SLH

Buy Animal Man vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers: Kree/Skrull War h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas & Neal Adams with John Buscema, Sal Buscema.

An absolute classic and oh, my days, but the extras! Twelve pages of swoonaway Neal Adams pencils taken from AVENGERS #93 (‘Journey To The Centre Of The Android’ etc.) and five additional pages of uncoloured excellence toned and inked by Tom Palmer, the last of which originally depicted Rick Jones with six fingers! Roy Thomas’ note to production read, “Rick has six fingers here; please take off, as carefully as possible, whichever one you feel will be missed the least.” Alas, this is the post-production page! There’s also a gallery of covers used for previous reprints formats though I’m delighted to see they have opted this time to merely recolour the majestic cover to #92.

Not exactly recoloured as colour-corrected (eliminating a couple of misplaced yellows and filling in the formerly dotted blues and flesh tones), this new h/c printing kicks off with four issues of enormously sexist silliness drawn by Sal with The Avengers reduced to The Vision, The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. And yes, this is where that oddest of Marvel relationships kicks off with The Vision discovering that not only can an android cry, but he can also love and is quite prepared to beat a bastard to death because of it. That scene, which I probably wasn’t alone in being stunned by at the time, comes later during the Neal Adams climax.

Clint Barton has swapped his bow and arrow as Hawkeye for Hank Pym’s growth serum as bare-skinned muscle-and-metal Goliath, whilst Captain America, Thor and Iron Man return to find they’ve managed to disband The Avengers. How could they?! They didn’t. Nor was it a group of three cows that shot down the Vision. Well, not exactly. We’re going waaay back to earliest days of the FANTASTIC FOUR.

Mar-Vell (Captain), Rick Jones, Ant-Man, The Inhumans and Carol Danvers are also caught up in the war raging above and so below, whilst the public are incited into anti-alien lynch mobs by political opportunism, scare-mongering and imprisonment-without-trial in a McCarthy-esque witch-hunt that will be as all too horribly familiar to modern Americans as it would have been at the time to those who’d witnessed or even endured the U.S. internment camps for the resident Japanese during World War II.

By which point Neal Adams has taken over the art, and it becomes pure, purple-prose, neo-classical gold! With the Vision in a coma after his bovine beating, Ant-Man is called on to shrink even further than ever in order to navigate what passes for the android’s blood stream only to be assaulted as an alien entity by anti-bodies. Superbly visualised by Adams, but that’s just the beginning: the sheer scale of Goliath bashing on a spaceship; Triton emerging from the Hudson, his gloved left hand the very model of foreshortening; and the ever-impassive Vision losing his cool for the first and worst time ever in search of his beloved Wanda:

“Vision – stop! Your android strength — ! You’ll kill him! You don’t know what you’re doing!”
“Another correction, Iron Man: my brain is a miniaturised, high-speed computer. I always know precisely what I am doing. I – AM – KILLING – HIM!

SLH

Buy Avengers: Kree/Skrull War h/c and read the Page 45 review here

New edition, old review

City Of Glass new edition (£10-99, Picador) by Paul Auster, Paul Karasik & David Mazzucchelli.

As a short prose story, this is one of the most frightening things I’ve read; as a piece of comicbook fiction under ASTERIOS POLYP’s Mazzucchelli, it’s one of the cleverest. Amongst their shared subjects are identity and fabrication. The horror lies in the blurring then loss of former through the use of the latter, for to lose your sense of identity – of who you are, and how you relate to others – is to lose sight of reality itself, and thereby lies insanity.

You might want to take these sentences slowly!

Daniel Quinn is a writer. He employs words to create fiction. One of the fictions he has created is William Wilson, the supposed author of his books. Moreover, “Quinn had long ago stopped thinking of himself as real. If he lived now in the world at all, it was through the imaginary person of Max Work, the private-eye narrator of William Wilson’s novels.” So even before the first phone call, his relationship to the real world in which he has no friends is several times removed, and when he does venture out, it is to walk through the New York labyrinth: “Each time he took a walk, he felt he was leaving himself behind…”

That single page is a perfect example of Mazzucchelli’s craft, visually tying the main themes together as the bricks of the New York tenements dissolve into a maze from which the reader pulls back to see it first perhaps as an overhead shot of the brain, then as a finger print left on the inside of his window. The mapping of New Yorkwill be revisited later on as Quinn, having assumed the role of detective, tracks the movements round the city of a crazy old man called Peter Stillman who drove his son insane in pursuit of the language of God. This he tried through isolation, by locking the boy up in the dark for thirteen years and beating the real words out of him, supposedly in order to prove the theories of Henry Dark… whom Stillman Sr. had invented.

Quinn first hears of this when the telephone rings and a voice floats through the receiver asking for Paul Auster (yes, the same name as the man who wrote the original prose!) of the “Auster Detective Agency”. At first he says there is no Paul Auster there, but when the phone rings again (on the anniversary of the night he was conceived – italics mine), the Max Work P.I. in him cannot resist. He pretends to be Paul Auster, and agrees to meet Stillman’s son, also called Peter. What he finds is a young man who can barely function any longer.

“I am Peter Stillman. I say this of my own free will. That is not my real name. No.
“Of course, my mind is not all it should be, no. But nothing can be done about that.
“This is called speaking. The words come out for a moment and die. Strange, is it not? I myself have no opinion…
“I am Peter Stillman. That is not my real name. Thank you.
“My real name is Mr. Sad. What is your name, Mr. Auster? Perhaps you are the real Mr. Sad and I am no one.”

Sometimes Peter refers to himself in the first person singular, sometimes as “Peter”. To accentuate this, rather than employ a regularly positioned word balloon, Mazzucchelli deliberately isolates the words from the speaker. At first they flow out of his throat (which looks stranger than you might imagine), then they’re assigned to Charon crossing the Styx, a caveman painting, a city drain, a plug hole, a well, and so on until, behind the bars of a locked jail, they drift from the open mouth of a broken puppet of a boy, abandoned at the bottom of a dark pit.

That’s the level of lateral thinking Mazzucchelli’s put into the work, when the image must be as telling as the phrase. The book’s full of panels with similarly symbolic imagery and expressionistic storytelling. As Quinn – orWilsonor Work or Auster – awaits Stillman Sr. at the station and the train “CLACK BEDRACK LACK YAYAYA”s past him, he’s split into multiple Quinns, each with a different facade. Later he will go on to call himself both Peter Stillman and Henry Dark, and if you think this work has layers on top of layers already, Quinn eventually resorts to tracking down the Paul Auster he’s been impersonating, only to discover that Paul Auster isn’t the detective he was hoping for, but a writer who’s currently embarked on an essay about Don Quixote, an attack on make-believe which Cervantes pretended he never wrote but merely translated.

Now, if you’re already fully frazzled, I would caution you against reading the entire New York Trilogy back to back because it seriously did my own head in, but I can assure you that as a single graphic novel this is both more lucid than this review might suggest, and a great deal more inventive than almost any other translation from one medium to another. Mazzucchelli’s done far more than merely illustrate the words: he’s interpreted them, and the ideas behind them, distilling the work without at any point diluting it, then charging it with associated images that go straight to the brain.

SLH

City Of Glass

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books like AVENGERS: CHILDEN’S CRUSADE. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews. “In lieu of”. Get me!

 

Mastering Comics (£25-99, FirstSecond) by Jessica Abel, Matt Madden

Megalex h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Fred Beltran

Halo: Fall Of Reach: Covenant s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Brian Reed & Felix Ruiz

Sandman vol 9: The Kindly Ones (New Ed’n) (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Marc Hempel, Neil Gaiman, Frank McConnell, Frank McConnell

The Savage Sword Of Conan vol 11 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Michael Fleischer, Don Kraar, Larry Yakata, Craig Anderson & Dave Simons, William Johnson, Tony Salmons, Val Mayerik, Sal Buscema, Ernie Chan, Rudy Nebres, Gary Kwapisz, Pablo Marcos, William Johnson, Rey Garcia, Andy Kubert, Henri Bismuth, Roy Richardson, Rod Whigham

Ozma Of Oz s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower & Skottie Young

Superman: Grounded vol 1 s/c (£13-50, DC) by J. Michael Straczynski, G.Willow Wilson & Eddy Barrows, Leandro Oliveira, Wellington Dias, Amilcar Pinna, J.P. Mayer, Walden Wong, Eber Ferreira

Batman vol 1: The Court Of Owls h/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion

Brightest Day vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade s/c (UK Ed’n) (£16-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung, Alan David, Oliver Coipel

Ultimate Comics: X-Men vol 1 s/c (UK Ed’n) (£12-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & PacoMedina, Carlo Barberi

Spider-Man: Season One h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Neil Edwards

CaptainAmericavol 2 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Alan Davis

Avengers vol 3 h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Daniel Acuna, Renato Guedes, Brandon Peterson

Silver Surfer: Parable h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Moebius, Keith Pollard

Blood Blockade Battlefront vol 2 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Yasuhiro Nightow

Yasuhiro Nightow (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamoroll vol 3 (£5-99, Viz) by Yumi Tsukirino & Chisato Seki

Naruto vol 56 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

Psyren vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Toshiaki Iwashiro

FLCL: The Complete Omnibus (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Gainax & Hajime Ueda

InuYasha vol 11 VIZBIG Edition (£14-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi

Nonnonba (£19-99, D&Q) by Shigeru Mizuki

Good Morning (£9-99, June) by Ritsu Natsumizu

Reviews May 2012 week one

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

 
Lizz called out to Twitter today to ask us to write a CV. Ever obliging, I replied: “Lizz Lunney. Occupational mentalist. Experience: being bananas. Hobby: horses. Motto: It’s all the pun of the pear.” 

Apparently she’s just into crisps. 

 - Stephen on Lizz Lunney’s At The Cave (signed). 

I’m Not A Plastic Bag h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Rachel Hope Allison.

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last…?”

 - WB Yeats, The Second Coming.

Turning and turning in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an honest-to-god, real island of floating trash more than twice the size ofTexas. It floats there like a toxic, ticking time-bomb; an indigestible iceberg whose plastic bags are mistaken for jellyfish and so swallowed by the likes of endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtles. What we see here is merely the tip of it. What we don’t do about it will only come back to bite us.

This is a thrilling piece of sequential-art storytelling, a symphony in its silent sense that can be absorbed between other graphic novels whose magic will linger long thereafter. It begins inSan Francisco as a heart-stamped carrier bag caught on a winter tree’s topmost skeletal twigs is blown from those branches in a storm. A loosely gripped umbrella follows suit; a book bounces from a briefcase; an old rubber tyre tumbles into The Bay. They’re trapped in the tempest, caught in the ever-widening gyre and settle mid-Pacific with the rest. There it is, that Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as seen from above. But then something strange happens.

Look a little closer and it’s a semi-sentient sea creature with claws like a crab, its eyes that tyre and umbrella, its mouth yawning like a ravenous chasm to reveal the book’s greeting, “HELLO”. We bob beneath the waves. The gargantuan gullet is open there too. Slowly it starts to reach out to suspicious squid and unsuspecting seagulls.” Hello”, “Welcome”, and will you “Come In”? It is mad; we are mad and will you “Have A Nice Day”?

Today, perhaps.

This is magnificent, and Rachel Hope Allison is a major new find. So much more has gone into this full-colour comic than its silence suggests. It’s all very matt yet far from opaque and the forms sweep across the page.

In terms of the story itself, you get out what you put in: that’s the nature of silent storytelling. In the back, however, it’s unafraid to be educationally didactic. Learn what the Garbage Patch is composed of. Weep at its effect on the wildlife. I cannot believe that 32% of items found in ocean debris are cigarettes, presumably cast overboard during sailing. They’re non-biodegradable, those filters. (And you wonder why I pop my fag ends back into my packet to be safely disposed of later. It’s not me being cheap, no. Although I am cheap, yes!)

Printed on 100% recycled paper this comes with a jacket-free hardcover as thick as an early-reading book. Archaia promises to plant two trees for every one used in the process of printing which is produced in conjunction with American Forests and Global ReLeaf programs.

“Global ReLeaf”! I like it!

SLH

Buy I’m Not A Plastic Bag h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Boy Who Made Silence vol 1 (£17-99, Markosia) by Joshua Hagler…

Absolutely intriguing.

This work is something which I think most people will need and want to read twice, at least, because if you’re anything like me, the first time through you’ll become immersed in admiring the incredible artwork, and probably also thinking of all the different artists it reminds you of, for a whole host of different reasons, primarily of technique. Dave McKean for some of the PARTICLE TAROT: MAJOR ARCANA, PARTICLE TAROT: MINOR ARCANA (and Sandman covers) mix of photographic snippets and other media, plus some sequences which very much reminded me of MR. PUNCH and PICTURES THAT TICK; Kent Williams for the effortlessly deconstructed and oblique painting style, particularly of people seen, amongst  many other places, in THE FOUNTAIN. You’ll possibly see things that may also make you think of David (KABUKI) Mack, including a couple of uses of his trademark triangular motif panel bordering, which must surely be an outright nod to him or Bill Sienkiewicz or maybe even Barron Storey from whom Mack appropriated much himself. I was also thinking that certain other visual elements strongly reminded me of Sam Keith’s MY INNER BIMBO, and then I remembered that Josh Hagler himself had actually contributed significantly to that work!

All of which goes to make it sounds as though I’m suggesting Hagler is some sort of stylistic copycat whereas I don’t believe that at all. In fact I think he’s very much his own man, but just of the same school or perhaps more precisely mindset as to how art can be used as a medium for communicating ideas to the reader, as those luminaries I’ve mentioned above. Moving into discussing the actual narrative elements of this work, I think that’s where I made the mental connection with MY INNER BIMBO, because – and I’m searching for the right word here really, abstract seeming too strong – there’s a definite attempt at a most assuredly unconventional construction of the narrative. Which is certainly the case with MY INNER BIMBO too.

Yes, when you break down most individual pages, there is relatively straightforward information being communicated to us, mostly through conversation after conversation taking place between all the various protagonists or, upon occasion (particularly in Nestor’s case) internal monologues, but most if not all of the emotional content is conveyed entirely through the ever-morphing, chameleonic, subliminal and also in places outrageously overt illustrative techniques, including the multiple lettering styles, plus the endlessly vivid colour palette, which are then built up to produce each multi-faceted panel, page and sequence, and by extension the whole work. The overall effect is something therefore which is quite admirably breathtaking.

There are a million clever touches small and large to admire here and there which just make the whole work a continuous bustle of vibrancy. Picking just one for an example, when the titular boy, Nestor, is baptised in a river towards the end of the work, whilst he’s upside down immersed in the water, the pages are printed upside down. And were that not enough then during this immersion whilst Nestor is having a flashback regarding his absent father, and indeed about his mother, the epiphanistic moment is portrayed in a panel where Nestor’s words in the particular speech bubble are reversed. It’s extraordinarily clever because if, like me, you think “I can’t be bothered working out what this says the hard way, I’m going to find a mirror”, those several seconds pause before you then see precisely what it is that Nestor has thought of, really do give you a sense of his personal build up to a truly momentous flash of realisation. I’m almost certain Hagler intended the reader to do it this way rather than puzzling it slowly out, word by word, because it provides such a striking note to proceedings.

So, the second time around I read this work I was fully able to marvel at the story itself, which is as equally as clever a construct as the art. There are certain works you come across in comics, which you know quite simply could not be done justice in any other medium, and this is one of those. Together this story and art produce something that is simply comics at its most envelope pushing and limit stretching. This is only volume one as well, though when Hagler says he’s not sure how long it’s going to take him to produce volume two, I can quite understand. It’s okay though, I’m more than happy to wait however long it takes. And, as I conclude this review I realise I haven’t provided any synopsis of the actual plot at all.

So, in a few brief sentences then… A boy called Nestor falls into a river, comes out completely deaf but also experiencing the world in an entirely different way. Some people in his small town come to believe he has a gift to make others be more empathetic to each other. Local pastor obviously gets rather excited and tried to get in on the act claiming it’s a gift from God. Nestor’s mother is rather more dubious about the whole thing, and in any event isn’t a particularly pleasant individual. Nestor’s father disappeared long ago, and for the moment we have absolutely no idea why, and neither does Nestor.

JR

Buy The Boy Who Made Silence vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Dream Locations Postcards (£5-99,) by Joe List, Lizz Lunney, Soju Tanaka.

“Greetings from the void,” says one of Joe List’s postcards, neatly naming my brain, while Lizz Lunney invites you to “Lovely, sunny, beautiful…SquirrelPark.” Keep your windows up and don’t get out of the car!

I was once chatting to a professional pest control expert and, if you think squirrels are cute little critters who just love to nibble their nuts, you wait until you get some in your loft. And if you do find some in your loft, under no circumstances try a summary eviction yourself. Rats will run away. Squirrels do not back down! Nuts are aphoristically famous for being tough to crack, so imagine the damage a squirrel’s teeth can do to yours.

Anyway (one public service announcement later), we are now bursting with Lizz Lunney epistolary madness including those twelve hilarious LIZZ LUNNEY GREETINGS CARDS, and this neat little booklet of 21 postcards by Joe, Soju and Lizz which comes with a bonus of  8 glossy stickers.

I’m constantly misreading “the sea of faces”, though. I wonder if that’s intentional?

SLH

Dream Locations Postcards

At The Caves (signed) (£4-00) by Lizz Lunney.

Ooh, our current crop comes with original cat sketches. Mine’s actually beaming.

Conversely, Depressed Cat is still sighing his way through his NINE MISERABLE LIVES, this time at the seaside, and experiences an imaginative cure for the most awkward of silences. Sour Rabbit refuses to knock his own knees, newly tattooed with a couple of smiley faces in a bid to stave off loneliness (that’s a rabbit?!). An Invisible Friend finds it impossible to hold onto his seat on a train; and Keith The Wizard experiences his ultimate dream holiday except for the Duty Free. Also: Dullbog The Bulldog, Leaning Rabbit, and a couple of competitive fish and chip shops punning their way to first plaice.

What…? Look, this is Lizz Lunney. If you are expecting any of this to make sense, you are delusional. The woman is all kinds of crazy, as are her comics and cards. That’s why we love her and that’s why they all sell so well.

Lizz called out to Twitter today to ask us to write a CV. Ever obliging, I replied: “Lizz Lunney. Occupational mentalist. Experience: being bananas. Hobby: horses. Motto: It’s all the pun of the pear.”

Apparently she’s just into crisps.

Lastly, I should just flag the fact that the semaphore inside this mini-comic’s covers isn’t just a random pattern. But Lizz won’t even tell me what it says, so I’m going to Google myself a quick lesson now. *waves good-bye*

Seriously: that’s a rabbit?!?!

SLH

Buy At The Caves (signed) and read the Page 45 review here

The Avalon Chronicles vol 1: Once In A Blue Moon h/c (£14-99, Oni) by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir & Emma Vieceli.

There be dragons! And griffins! And a certain degree of mind-bending, literary paradox!

Timed specifically to coincide with my adventures on Skyrim, it seems, THE AVALON CHRONICLES is the fresh resurrection of the BLUE MOON high fantasy from the writers of THREE STRIKES with a brand new artist for the saga, VAMPIRE ACADEMY’s Emma Vieceli. That means a lot of clean lines, whooshes of fine, flowing hair and bursts of cute comedy, manga-stylee.

But The Avalon Chronicles was also a book which Aeslin’s parents used to read her at bedtime. Aeslin became obsessed with the legend of the Prince and his beautiful Dragon Knight bride until the day her mother demanded she put away childish things and broke the bad news:

“Dammit, Aeslin! We don’t live in that kind of world. There are no happy endings and we don’t ride off into the sunset on the dragon. Your father and I…”
“Mom… where’s Daddy?”

Many years later and Aeslin’s Mum is a politician on the verge of an election and Aeslin’s on the brink of a date with hilariously self-regarding school heart-throb, Michael. He’s invited her to watch him play football tonight. It’s at this point, however, that Aeslin and best friend Meg discover a new shop that’s seemingly sprung up overnight, and in it a copy of Once In A Blue Moon, the sequel to The Avalon Chronicles written by the original author’s son. It costs them everything they have, but Meg is determined to rekindle a reluctant Aeslin’s interest in the series she once loved so dearly. A single stray thought later, it works.

Now Aeslin’s truly immersed in the book. Literally! She’s been sucked into Once In A Blue Moon, only to discover that it’s all about her. She’s even met its author, playwright Will Redding there. But she’s just not cut out for its contents.

“Go home? But Aeslin, you have a grand destiny. You’re supposed to be our Dragon Knight.”
“Me? There’s got to be some mistake.”
“No mistake. I’m charged with chronicling your adventures, like my father was for the last Dragon Knight.”
“I’m not a Dragon Knight. I’m not a fighter. Why not pick Cassidy?”
“Because Cassidy’s not supposed to be the Dragon Night.”
“If you’re writing the book, then change it.”
“That’s not how destiny works. I chronicle the story. I add a certain dramatic flair, if you will. But I don’t change the facts. And the fact is, this is your story.”
“Well, if it’s my story, then I decide. And I want to go home.”

Back home, Aeslin meets up with Meg, but when they open the book again, it’s very bad news.

“Holy crap!!!”
“Is that me?”
“Wow… You don’t come off so good.” “She left Avalon in its hours of need.””
“That Will! He’s doing this on purpose. He’s trying to make me look like a selfish — “
“Will? That’s the playwright, right? So when he writes in his book, it appears in this one. That so cool!”
“Cool?! Michael could read this. He’ll think I’m shallow.”
“Really? Michael… reading? You’re kidding, right?”

Whatever will Aeslin decide to do? Will she embrace her destiny in the hope of embracing Michael? Will she accept the challenge of the Dragon Knight to save a kingdom on the brink of war? Why is Aeslin destined to be the Dragon Knight anyway? And will she pass her maths test on Monday? Lastly, what happened to Aeslin’s Dad? No, I mean what really happened to him? Reading Once In A Blue Moon may be the only way to find out. Hmm. I really didn’t use capitals there, did I? Heh.

There is so much more to this black and white beauty than I’m prepared to giving away right now – plenty of surprises for Aeslin in the book itself – and it’s going to go very well in our young teen section. Probably to adults, if past performance is anything to go by.

SLH

The Avalon Chronicles vol 1: Once In A Blue Moon hardcover

Stormwatch vol 1 h/c (£22-50, DC) byWarren Ellis & Tom Raney with Jim Lee.

Washington DC, America:

“What the hell is this?”
“Two of yours, Mr. President. These are the explosives experts who murdered one of my officers last night. You either have no knowledge of this, or you will pretend you don’t. It doesn’t matter. You, or one of your creatures, have decided for no good reason to commit an act of war against Stormwatch, and therefore the United Nations. There will be a reprisal. And then we shall see where we stand. Do not test us. We have received your message that we are not wanted or safe in your country. Stand ready for ours.”

This is it: this is where the real Warren Ellis voice finally emerged from its corporate restraints on a title far enough off the radar for anyone to be bothered to bleach it. He inherited a numbskull, run-down Image superhero title and turned it into a literate, Yukio Mishima-referencing, fast-paced, geopolitical, science-fiction action thriller starring a madman called Henry Bendix, the Weatherman, who ran the satellite-based Stormwatch from its platform’s Watch Hall with clipped, military precision.

Like The Authority this title grew into, Henry Bendix wanted to change the world whether it liked it or not. And like The Authority he quickly discovered that the United States government was amongst the first to stand up and oppose him. Unlike The Authority, his methods grew increasingly utterly ruthless. But Stormwatch should have guessed the second he foisted upon its metahuman officers a certain Rose Tattoo, a weapons expert who could drive a man irretrievably mad just by having sex with him.

What astonished me when rereading this 11-issue repackaging of the first two softcovers, is how swiftly Ellis nailed his ambition. I count one page of slightly awkward exposition and that’s it. Like Bendix himself, Ellis swiftly reconfigured the existing Stormwatch to his own tastes and ends, ruthlessly rejecting several of its extant officers, repositioning others and bringing in his own new recruits (Rose Tattoo, the lemon-sharp Jenny Sparks and city-centric Jack Hawksmoor who could commune with his urban environment:

“In situations like these, Jack always checks the windows first. In cities, windows hold images for longer than you’d think.”

It was ridiculously full of new ideas and relevant, news-headline issues, setting the strategically split three teams against Japanese Death Cults, America’s paranoid, racist and deluded militias (claiming to protect its indigenous citizens from the Federal Government by bombing them both into oblivion), and rogue states like the fictional Gamorra funding terrorists to bring down planes over Britain. We are, of course, talking Lockerbie andLibya’s Colonel Gaddafi dressed like the legendary Fu Manchu. Throughout the book it’s all-out mutagenic warfare, while Bendix cleverly, covertly, moves his pieces into place while covering his tracks in the process.

There’s one particularly clever issue in which the ageless, no-nonsense Jenny Sparks, the spirit of the 20th Century (“I won’t wear one of those damnfool spandex body-condom things. I don’t have the bust for it.”) finally reveals her 96-year-old history. And hats off to Tom Raney for each decade is drawn in its relevant, predominant comicbook style, successfully mimicking the 1920s’ scientific romance of Flash Gordon, the 1930s’ invention of Superman, Will Eisner’s THE SPIRIT in the 1940s, Kirby, Crumb and then finally Dave Gibbons’ WATCHMEN. Parenthetically, I should just add that there’s a nice (precise) juxtaposition at the end of that sequence of black Battalion’s optimism for the future and the harsh, racist reality he encounters the very next issue. These are not accidents.

But really, let’s get back to the main man Bendix and the madness in his methods. He’s speaking second.

“Torture me, drug me, beat me… won’t do any good. You’re not getting a thing out of me.”
Torture you? Dear God, you are living in the Dark Ages. No, all we’re going to do is strip your scalp, drill a hole in your skull and push scanning needles into your living brain. We’ll extract the necessary information from your brain quite painlessly.”
“Unless we forget the anaesthetic. Hi, I’m the surgeon, and I’m drunk.”

Elsewhere, Jenny Sparks:

“Don’t ever touch my beer again.”

SLH

Buy Stormwatch vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman: Knightfall vol 1 (New Ed’n) (£22-50, DC) by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant & Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins, Klaus Janson, Mike Manley.

It’s not just the comic that’s spine-damaged.

Reprint of the big Batman event from 20 years ago, this time including vital chapters never previously reprinted. I always thought the previous editions were weird. Please note: we offer this up, but unlike GOTHAM CENTRAL, for example, it’s far from personally recommended. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

“In the first instalment of this classic storyline, the Dark Knight’s greatest enemies have all simultaneously escaped from Arkham Asylum and are preying onGothamCity. With his city under siege, Batman pushes his body to the limit as he takes on The Joker, the Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, The Riddler and the Scarecrow. But things get much worse when Bane, the man behind all the madness, confronts an exhausted Batman – and breaks his back. This massive first KNIGHTFALL volume collects BATMAN: VENGEANCE OF BANE SPECIAL #1, BATMAN #491-500, DETECTIVE COMICS #659-660, SHOWCASE ’93 #7 and 8 and BATMAN: SHADOW OF THE BAT #17-18, including chapters never previously reprinted.”

See? I told you.

SLH

Buy Batman: Knightfall vol 1 (New Ed’n) and read the Page 45 review here

Gotham Central Book 4: Corrigan s/c (£14-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker, Gred Rucka &Kano, Stefano Gaudiano.

“Hell, maybe it’s suicide. The kid worked for Batman after all.”
“Great. You want to ask him if Robin’s been feeling depressed recently? “How’s he been sleeping? Any signs of drug use? Trouble at school?”"
“Aw, God… Can’t be sixteen, even. You realise that if this is actually him, then even if this is accidental, the Bat is at fault?”
“Endangering the life of a minor… unless the parents are in on it too, then they’re all to blame.”
“Maybe Batman is one of the parents.”
“There’s a scary thought.”

It’s also quite a scary Batman:Kano’s feral, spectral version all shadow and blur. When a boy who could well be Robin is found dead on the rain-sodden streets and the crime scene photography is leaked to press, the investigation follows all obvious lines of enquiry until the least obvious and in some ways sickest presents itself.

This is the final volume of GOTHAM CENTRAL, the superb police procedural drama in which the streets are made all the more dangerous by its more notorious inhabitants, and Batman, far from being embraced, is blamed for their existence and resented for the emasculation involved in having to fire up the spotlight and call for outside help. So they don’t tend to do that: they solve the crimes themselves. Like any precinct, it’s populated by a variety of individuals, and it’s as much about them as the crimes themselves, in particular Detectives Renée Montoya and Crispus Allen, whose stories don’t end well, for snaking his way through the pages has been bent forensics expert, Corrigan. It’s here that their paths finally converge and the subplot erupts to devastating effect, shattering the lives around it.

Psychologically this is so well written, every artist they’ve chosen has kept it firmly grounded at street level, and a big tip of the hat should go to colourist Lee Loughbridge’s part in all that. There’s also a terrifying sequence in which no mere battle but outright Armageddon erupts in the skies above them, anarchy is loosed below, and Allen and Montoya have no idea whether they will ever make it across the city to see their loved ones again.

“Metal tears as something crushes the engine block. The windshield explodes inwards, showering me with safety glass. I tumble out of the car and into air that stinks of sulphur and burning flesh. My sight catches on one word and a face… and I freeze for a moment, staring into the eyes of a sin.”

SLH

Buy Gotham Central Book 4: Corrigan s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief (UK Edition) (£9-99, Puffin) by Rick Riodan, Robert Venditti & Attila Futaki.

Ridiculously affordable, this dense, witty and complex full-colour adaptation took me hours to read. Robert Venditti (SURROGATES, SURROGATES: FLESH AND BONE, THE HOMELAND DIRECTIVE) has obviously had to make some hard decisions of what to leave on the cutting room floor, and he’s done a fine job of keeping it clipped and to the point so that it canters along at a cracking pace without once throwing you out of the saddle.

There be centaurs and satyrs, oracles spewing poisonous predictions, minotaurs to battle and petty rivalries to overcome; our young hero’s going to have to grow up very fast if he’s to survive not just the mythological threats to his contemporary life but the loss of his mother and revelations regarding his lineage.

“You should never have been born.”
“You really need to work on your delivery.”

Percy Jackson is a young man who should never have been born. His very existence threatens everyone around him. His mother was mortal – all too mortal – but his father was Poseidon, Greek God of the Ocean, giving him elemental control over water. Unfortunately Poseidon had sworn an oath on the River Styx with his brothers Zeus and Hades not to sire any more demi-gods after the catastrophes of WWII. Zeus being Zeus, of course, simply couldn’t keep it in his pants and soon fell off the good wagon Chastity. His new daughter paid the price.

All of which leaves Percy very vulnerable indeed. Hades has already dispatched a fury, the three Fates have cut the line, and there’s more than meets the eye to the rivalry between Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. Someone else is pulling some strings. Now he, Grover and Annabeth have to race across a modern-day America littered with treachery and traps before the Solstice is upon them to reach the entrance to the Underworld (current location: D.O.A. Records, Los Angeles!) and retrieve Zeus’ stolen thunderbolt. The outlook’s somewhat overcast:

“You shall go Wessst, and face the God who has turned.
“You shall find what was stolen, and sssee it safely returned.
“You shall be betrayed by one who callsss you friend.
“And you shall fail to sssave what matters mossst in the end.”

Perfectly suitable for early teens, this couldn’t be less patronising, making it a riot for adults as well. I honestly think fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods would get a blast. Some very funny unbelaboured visual gags like half-goat Grover’s diet, and the promise of Pan appearing further down the line…? You know I’m there! Also, Ares turns up on a motorcycle.

“Um… Deus Ex Machina, anyone?”

SLH

Buy Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief and read the Page 45 review here

The Babysitter’s Club: Kirsty’s Great Idea (£6-99, Scholastic) by Ann M. Martin & Raina Telgemeier

The Baby-Sitters Club (B.S.C.) itself is a series of 213 children’s prose novels, many written by the original creator Ann M. Martin, published between 1986 and 2000 that have gone on to sell over 170 million copies. Enid Blyton, eat your heart out! There’s also been a 1990 TV show and 1995 movie based on the books and this graphic novel is the first of four that have been created, being faithfully adapted and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier (SMILE).

Unsurprisingly as a 39-year-old male, I was somewhat unaware of the B.S.C. phenomenon, though you may well be so much better informed! If not, here’s all you need to know. Basically, four friends get the idea to earn some extra cash babysitting and set up a club to do so, and this first volume does little more than introduce the friends and their families. It’s nicely done and I can see it appealing to very young girls, but in story terms it’s certainly no THE PLAIN JANES or EMIKO SUPERSTAR. The art is nice enough but I would expect no less from an Eisner Award winner. I would presume the subsequent three graphic novels have a bit more plot to them. Quite how they managed to make 213 prose works out of such a thin premise as a baby-sitting club is beyond me. Still, I’m quite sure some people would say exactly the same thing about superhero comics…

JR

The Babysitter’S Club: Kirsty’S Great Idea

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books like CITY OF GLASS. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews. “In lieu of”. Get me!

 
Girl&Boy (signed) (£3-99) by Andrew Tunney

The Hobbit (Revised Edition) (£12-99, HarperCollins) by J.R.R. Tolkien, CharlesDixon, Sean Deming & David Wenzel

City Of Glass new edition (£10-99, Picador) by Paul Auster, Paul Karasik & David Mazzucchelli

Judge Dredd Casefiles 19 (£21-99, 2000AD) by John Wagner, Grant Morrison, John Smith, Mark Millar, Garth Ennis & Greg Staples, Carlos Ezquerra, Brett Ewins, Ron Smith, Mick Austin, Dermot Power, Paul Marshall, David Millgate

Locke & Key vol 4: Keys To The Kingdom s/c (£14-99, IDW) by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez

Fallen Words (£14-99, D&Q) by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Snarked: Forks And Hope (£10-99, Kaboom!) by Roger Langridge

American Vampire vol 2 s/c (£13-50, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque, Mateus Santolouco

Essential Daredevil vol 1 reprint (£14-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Gene Colan, Bill Everett, Joe Orlando, Wallace Wood

Avengers: Kree/Skrull h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas & Sal Buscema, Neal Adams, John Buscema

Avengers: X-Sanction hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness

Justice League vol 1: Origin h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Jim Lee

Batman & Robin vol 3: Batman & Robin Must Die! s/c (£13-50, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving, Cameron Stewart, David Finch, Chris Burnham

Animal Man vol 1 (£10-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Travel Foreman

Highschool Of The Dead vol 6 (£10-50, Yen) by Daisuke Sato & Shouji Sato

Higurashi vol 18: Atonement Arc vol 4 (£8-99, Yen) by Ryukisi07 & Karin Suzuragi

Black Butler vol 9 (£8-99, Yen) by Yana Toboso

Durarara!! vol 2 (£8-99, Yen) by Ryohgo Narita & Akiyo Satorigi

Tegami Bachi – Letter Bee vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Hiroyuki Asada

X 3-in-1 Ed vol 2 (£12-99, Viz) by Clamp

Sailor Moon vol 5 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuchi

Tokyo On Foot: Travels In The City’s Most Colourful Neighbourhoods (£15-99, Tuttle) by Florent Chavouet

Y The Last Man: The Deluxe Edition Book One hardcover (£22-50, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan Jr.

 
That last one purely because someone specially ordered it then singularly failed to collect and pay for it. Lord, how I’m tempted to name names. If you order something, please have the common courtesy to collect. It’s, like, part of the deal?

- Stephen