Reviews May 2012 week five

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.


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.”



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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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

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