Archive for July, 2012

Reviews July 2012 week four

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

If Jason Aaron has some sort of topographical map of this on his wall, it must look like a cat’s cradle of doom.

 - Stephen on Scalped volume 9.

 

The Silence (£14-99, A&U) by Bruce Mutard.

Here lie some of the crispest black lines and glossy black shadows you are likely to come across in comics. It’s very striking indeed, particularly the Australian landscapes, beautifully framed, once more, in black.

While reviewing a client’s inventory for sale, gallery manager Choosy McBride discovers an anonymous work of art which takes her breath away. Its only hint of provenance is that it came from a remote area of North Queensland close to where Choosy is due to meet Fred Merriweather, an aging and ailing artist due to exhibit for the first time in twenty years. With her boyfriend Dmitri in tow she follows the trail of the enigmatic art to The Prayer House, an elusive gallery up on a hill, accessible only by foot. There they find all four walls covered in similarly mind-blowing masterpieces, but still no evidence of the artist’s identity, existence or even any curators. It’s entirely deserted and open to public plunder. Half-suspecting it’s Fred himself, Choosy is surprised to discover a radiant example on his own wall – and is even more surprised to discover that he simply took it for free. Uncannily, everyone she encounters has taken a single specimen down from the walls for free, and no one considers it theft. What is the artist playing at when there’s serious money to be made?

The eerie and the everyday have been impeccably joined by Bruce Mutard here, in a book which asks questions about the value of art aesthetically and commercially. Both Fred and Dmitri have become cynical about the commerce which has built itself up around what should essentially be about communication rather than interior decoration or speculation. Oh yes, that word I despise along with everyone in comics practising it: ‘speculation’. As I am wont to repeat (perhaps ad nauseam): “This is an art form, not a stock exchange”. So it is in Fine Art too: parasites spending money to acquire more money – straight from exhibition to auction – without regard to the intrinsic merit of what they buy or the fact that the artist makes no money from its resale. This is very much on Fred and Dmitri’s minds with Choosy caught not in the middle – for she’s a gallery manager not an auctioneer – but to one side, desperate to discover and represent this ethereal artist who seems determined not to be discovered, represented nor indeed recompensed. It leads to a most unexpected finale…

Critically, of course, you never see these works of art. That’s left entirely to your imagination.

Meanwhile the arguments on each side are well made, Choosy frustrated that while she operates in the real world where she successfully earns a living by promoting art she loves, live-in lover Dmitri seems to demand instant recognition for his talent without having to ‘sully’ himself with the day-to-day transactions that would keep a roof over anyone else’s head. Basically, “Get over it!” and “Get over yourself!” Fred, on the other hand, is jaded about his own work and a substantial reputation he doesn’t necessarily believe he deserves. There’s plenty to ponder, for sure.

If you’re anything like me, Dmitri’s negativity will drive you up the wall to begin with, just like he does Choosy, and there are many moments of silence which place the lovers so far apart. But Mutard may make you rethink.

My only criticism is that the conversations themselves occasionally verge on the contrived. In an effort to be clear, the sentences are sometimes too complete. I’m also naturally more drawn to somewhat softer artwork than the regimented and the rulered, but the forms inside each panel are far from stiff, and Bruce has made such an attractive job of it, I am completely won over. I can’t stop flicking through, just to make sure!

SLH

Buy The Silence and read the Page 45 review here

God And Science: Return Of The Ti-Girls h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez ~

Okay, I’m biased. It is my favourite series ever, so gimmie a break, ‘k? But seriously: any day I can read some L&R is a good day, and after thirty years Jaime and Gilbert still have more verve than 95% of the pap that we’re bombarded with on a monthly basis. The only thing better than reading the comic would be being in it, which is kind of what happens to Maggie, Penny, and Angel in TI-GIRLS as they somehow become embroiled in a cosmic slugfest straight out of Maggie’s secret stash of comic books. They’ll have to do some serious thinking outside the panels to get out of this one.

In a dingy apartment complex, Maggie and Angel clock on to the true identity of Maggie’s mysterious and ridiculously tall neighbour, Alarma… Call her crazy, but Maggie is convinced Alarma, the shy and retiring Alarma from the Fenomenons comics series, are one and the same! Easily duped, Angel dons her wrestling gear and goes out on the roof top to catch Alarma in the cape. But, as it turns out, Alarma’s staking out the apartment for any sign of Maggie’s insane and stunning friend Penny Century who’s life-long dream to have super powers has finally and completly unexpectedly borne fruit. Now the whole universe is in peril! Will Angel wear the domino mask and save us from hyperbole and third person rhetoric with the help of aged Mexican super-team, The Ti-Girls?!

This is possibly the most outlandish of Jaime’s stories since the early ‘80s and he brings some old favourites out of retirement for the occasion like super-droid Cheatre Torpedo, and Retro Rocky (last seen in AMOR Y COHETES). But it’s Penny’s long-lamanted need for superpowers, one of the longest running themes in Jaime’s carear, finally explored and delivered with an ironic right hook, which still manages to be quinessential LOVE AND ROCKETS despite shakking off the oft-lauded ‘realistic’ trappings of his art.

TR

Buy God And Science: Return Of The Ti-Girls h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Adventures of Venus (£7-50, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez ~

Wow! I actually forgot quite how bizarre these stories are. Originally The Adventures Of Venus were the lead story in MEASLES, a short-lived children’s comic from Fantagraphics. Surely a comic for only the most precocious of children? And as fun and completely suitable as these stories are for younger readers, their association with Gilbert’s mature work (everything Gilbert writes is in the same “universe”) would leave most parents running. Which is a shame, but understandable.

AOV is really very odd, the stories are a mix of self-assertion, romantic innocence, and frankly psychedelic weirdness. Gilbert’s approach here was to write a comic full of inventive wonder like the children’s comics he grew up with, and he excelled at this. These stories have heart.

Venus likes football, fried chicken, comics, and Miguel Mendoza, the cutest boy in class. And against all stereotypes, she is quite the little fashionista, top of her class, athletic, and incredibly confused by this big weird world. Well it’s not surprising when fig-eating monster-babies are bothering you and your dreams are straight out of a KRAZY & IGNATZ Tijuana comic strip.

TR

The Adventures Of Venus

Scalped: Knuckle Up (£10-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera.

The snaking series of sub-plots, subterfuge and far from straightforward agendas which Aarob and Guera have built up and laid down so successfully now explodes in this penultimate catalogue of role reversals and almost redemptions as no one does anyone else any favours, and if the plots thickens further, the cast thins dramatically! Everyone is coming at each other from so many different directions it’s remarkable that anyone is left alive. If Jason Aaron has some sort of topographical map of this on his wall, it must look like a cat’s cradle of doom.

We’ve reviewed SCALPED so extensively in the past, I have little more to say that won’t give every game away, but this particular volume kicks off with a handy, grim guide to actually scalping people. The final book is scheduled to arrive on October 31st 2012.

SLH

Buy Scalped: Knuckle Up and read the Page 45 review here

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Hickman & Ribic, Humphries, Ross, more.

“You are Death, the first and last of a generation.
 Where there is life, you will end it.
 Where there is hope, it will die.
 You are the last days… The end of an era…
The boy who killed America.”

At which point the unthinkable happens.

Reed Richards is back, and not in a good way. The smartest man on Earth has created The Children Of Tomorrow, housing them in The City, a vast, unassailable fortress which has taken the place ofEurope. Asgard lies in ruins, America is at war and nothing Nick Fury and his Ultimates can concoct between them to thwart Richards’ rise has worked. Exasperated, the President of the United States now takes matters into his own hands. First he enacts the Winter Protocols which demand the immediate detention of Fury, Falcon, Hawkeye, Tony Stark, Thor – the lot of them – and authorises the launch of tactical nuclear weapons. He has just informed a horrified closed session of Congress.

“Excuse me, Mr. President. But I was in those intelligence briefings. When S.H.I.E.L.D. first engaged The City, a nuke was used. The Children simply absorbed the released energy.”
“That’s correct, Senator Ralston. Which is why we’ll be using more than one.”
“How many? How many did you launch?”
“All of them.”

Which, I’m very much afraid, is where we came in.

There are way too many artists involved, but they do at least share similarities in style to the extent you won’t notice the transitions too often. Most strikingly, however, Hickman here has successfully raised the stakes on what was already a formidable series to the extent that anything – anything at all – could happen, and it is a very different county which America will wake up to tomorrow. Also: plenty of surprises, at least one of which you couldn’t possibly see coming.

SLH

Buy Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

World War Hulk s/c UK Edition (£14-99, Marvel) by Pak & Romita Jr.

With the US edition completely out of print, I’ve no idea what took us so long to think of reverting to US supplies, but still: all five issues plus the prologue and WHAT IF: PLANET HULK?

The first thing you’ll notice is the size of the panels (or maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll just sit, jaw agape at Romita’s massive and magnificent art, but trust me, the size of the panels is important). Unlike the wretched gimmick employed during THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN whereby one panel per page was removed in the countdown until the final issue was composed entirely of full-page spreads thereby turning it into a static slide show with absolutely no flexibility, fluidity or power, John knows how to tell a story with nuance and power.

That story is the return of The Hulk to Earth, hell-bent on revenge against the Illuminati (Iron Man, Xavier, Black Bolt, Reed Richards, Namor, Dr. Strange) who flung him into space and – he thinks – did so using a duff spaceship which ultimately exploded, destroying everything he had struggled to build in exile and slaughtering all those he’d come to love there.

There’s something he doesn’t know. Before he finds out, though, it’s one long rampage of utter, blazing, monumental destruction as he takes on The Inhumans, The Avengers both Mighty and New, the Fantastic Four and anyone else who gets in the way – like Rick Jones.

Whether this will rock your boat depends on how much more you require than that. Because, to be honest, there aint that much more on offer. Best-selling HULK trade we’ve ever experienced, that’s for sure: “Hulk Smash!” indeed.

Buy World War Hulk s/c UK Edition 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.

 
Adamantine softcover (£14-99,JonathanCape) by Hannah Berry

Disrepute s/c (£8-00, Graphic Medicine) by Thom Ferrier

The Underwater Welder s/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) byJeff Lemire

The Art Of Molly Crabapple vol 2: Devil In The Details softcover (£9-99, IDW) by Molly Crabapple

Ultimate Comics: X-Men vol 2 hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) byNick Spencer & Barberi,Medina

Secret Avengers vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) byRick Remender & Hardman, Zircher

Daredevil vol 1 s/c (£11-99, Marvel) byMark Waid & Rivera, Martin

Red Hulk: Haunted s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Parker & Casagrande, Pagulayan

Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Hickman & Sandoval

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic  Four vol 8 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Wolverine And The X-Men: Regenesis s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Aaron & Bachalo, Rouleau, Scalera, Bradshaw

Green Arrow: Into The Woods softcover (£10-99, DC) by Krull & Neves, Cifuentes

Doctor Who: The Crimson Hand s/c (£15-99, Panini) by Dan McDaid & Martin Geraghty, Mike Collins

Dragon Age vol 1: The Silent Grove h/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) byDavid Gaider & AlexanderFreed,Chad Hardin

A Game Of Thrones vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Bantam) by Daniel Abraham & Tommy Patterson

Pandora Hearts vol 11 (£8-99, Yen Press) by Jun Mochizuki

Sakuran (£12-99, Vertical) by Moyoco Anno

Souleater Not! Vol 1 (£8-99, Yen Press) by Atsushi Ohkubo

 
Many apologies of the brevity this week: J-Lo’s away and I screwed up on American Elf volume 4 which is exceptional, but I just couldn’t complete an adequate review on time. In recompense, know ye that we will be having signed bookplates to go with our first six copies of Adamtine (top of the list above), so if you already love Hannah Berry’s brilliant BRITTEN AND BRULIGHTLY, now would be a good time to reserve a copy!

- Stephen

Reviews July 2012 week three

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012


Daniel is all droopy and dreary, while Sue Bagnold is masterfully depicted in all her fatigued fragility, looking up optimistically through oversized glasses from above heavy wrinkles weighted with years of unrewarded stoicism. She wears baggy, he wears saggy. Also, he has no chin.

- Stephen on Days Of The Bagnold Summer

 

Blacksad: A Silent Hell h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido…

“I need to find Sebastian ‘Little Hand’ Fletcher.”
“The piano player? I love his music”
“For as long as I’ve known him, I’ve done everything I could for him, personally and professionally. But he’s been missing for months now.”
“That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s in danger…”
“He’s a heroin addict. I’m afraid he’s in danger of doing something stupid. You see, I’m not just a patron to Sebastian… If anything were to happen to him it would be like losing a son…”

And so begins what appears, initially at least, to be a very straightforward case for private investigator John Blacksad and his right hand fox Weekly, to find a missing musician in the jumping, jazzy town of New Orleans, on behalf of the ailing owner of a prominent local record label, old goat Faust Lachapelle. Except very quickly, of course, Blacksad starts to realise everything isn’t quite exactly how it seems. For a start there’s the estranged son of the label owner, whose just a bit too friendly with the very heavily pregnant wife of the missing piano player, not to mention the loudmouth hippopotamus investigator who old goat Lachapelle hired and then promptly fired before retaining Blacksad’s services.

What does become apparent, though, is that someone wants ‘Little Hand’ to play his last note, and in fact they’ve handed off some strychnine to the local heroin dealers (who are horses, of course) to pass on to Sebastian to ensure he’ll soon be getting his very own jazz funeral, trombones, umbrellas and all. By the time Blacksad tracks the local dealers down with a view to finding Sebastian, they’ve already made the sale, making it even more imperative that Blacksad locates him as soon as possible. The down at the jowls boxer dog himself, meanwhile, oblivious to the hot shot he’s carrying around in his pocket, is determined to make a stunning comeback on the ivories with a brand new song he’s written entitled ‘Pizen Blues’. It’s a lament of sorts, for sure, but also a very incriminating one as well. And to make sure he delivers his damning message to perfection he’s not planning on shooting up until after he’s performed, if he can find a venue that will let him play these days that is, which means Blacksad still has a chance to save him!

This fourth instalment of Blacksad was certainly worth the wait, I must say! It’s as gripping a story from Juan Diaz Canales, if more straight crime and less socio-political than the previous three instalments collected together in BLACKSAD, with the usual extremely witty dialogue and interplay between all the characters. Though, of course, John gets to steal most of the best one-liners! And yes, Blacksad simply would not be Blacksad without Juanjo Guarnido’s breathtakingly beautiful art. I instantly enjoyed that this story was set in a new locale, giving the artist chance to do something with a very different background feel, and he really captures the slightly wild Cajun flavour of the Big Easy. Once again, though, his true genius is in how he brings his anthropomorphic creations to life, by simultaneously making use of their distinctive animal features for maximum dramatic and comedic effect, yet doing so in such an incongruous manner that you do forget at times it’s an anthropomorphic work, usually until he hits you with a classic sucker punchline. I do think the equine heroin dealers were my favourite creations, actually, they did crack me whenever they appeared!

BLACKSAD: A SILENT HELL could easily be read without having first read BLACKSAD. It’s completely standalone and you don’t need to know anything that has gone previously. If this is your first experience of John Blacksad though, I would think it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll be picking up the first work shortly thereafter. My only very minor gripe about this volume was that I didn’t realise that fully half of it was extras, where basically Guarnido performs a show-and-tell with various of his first draft sketches (mightily impressive in themselves) and a commentary as to how he then intended to work them up into the final panels, and what he was trying to achieve in each case. It’s all extremely interesting stuff, it’s just that I was so disappointed when I realised I’d got to the end of the story and I thought I was just about half way through, simply because I was enjoying it so much!

Do note, though, there are a couple of extra short stories not available in the French edition, the first of which has a very amusing and somewhat poignant twist, right at the very end of the book. Hopefully señores Canales and Guarnido are already hard at work on the next instalment, while the third Bryan Talbot GRANDVILLE book (BÊTE NOIR) is guaranteed for December 2012!

JR

Buy Blacksad: A Silent Hell h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Tale Of Brin & Bent And Minno Marylebone h/c (£15-99, Jonathan Cape) by Ravi Thornton & Andy Hixon.

This is one book you can judge from its cover: the interior art is rendered in exactly the same computer-generated way, and the work as a whole is creepy as fuck. Seriously, it is a very long time since a graphic novel disturbed me – worried me – as much as this.

Populated by grotesques – including the hair-shaved inmates of the old people’s home, the two titular psychopaths and girl who wanders into their sights – it is eerie and empty and as clinically clean as the indoor swimming pool which Brin and Bent bleach to oblivion then pump full of chlorine, burning the skins of those in their care. I can virtually smell the ammonia from here, and as the infirm reach out imploringly from their chemical bath you cannot help but think of Auschwitz. As for the scenes where the couple feast on each other’s lust, so much here is sexually implicit through the positioning of hands and teeth and the posture of the bodies without once showing genitalia. I rather think Jonathan Cape would have balked at that! Nonetheless, it’s like being trapped in a torture chamber custom-designed for the Marquis de Sade. Fans of Dave McKean’s PARTICLE TAROR – MINOR ARACANA will love it.

It is also quite mesmerising, thanks to Ravi Thornton’s sparse, dark poetry, also implying much more than is said. I should emphasise that this isn’t illustrated poetry, however; the lines are fully incorporated into the flow of sequential art.

“Disordered, destructive, sexually shambolic.
Apart they are extreme.
She is rattled.
He is loose.
They have tendencies they can neither deny nor nurture.
They are bewildered. Insular with their dreadful desires.”

They are also entirely silent. They communicate with looks and body language and pheromones alone, cooking up cruelty to satisfy their sadism. So what will become of young Minno Marylebone, the innocent angel who slips in at night, transforming the corrosive waters of the pool into a vast, celestial sea?

“Minno Marylebone comes through the back door.
Minno Marylebone does not see Brin and Bent.
Brin and Bent see Minno Marylebone.
They see a boy, a girl, a child androgyne.
They see their collective satisfaction.”

That Ravi alludes to an instance in her own life when “something bad happened to me” right at the front might have coloured the work as a whole but, as she emphasises, “It’s a psychological tale, metaphorical in every sense”. Still, it’s impossible not to wonder.

Here’s the soundtrack, by the way, which kicks off as creepily as you’d expect, but becomes something quite unexpected, just like the graphic novel itself. http://ravithornton.weebly.com/musical-scores.html

SLH

Buy The Tale Of Brin & Bent And Minno Marylebone h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Days Of The Bagnold Summer (£9-99, Jonathan Cape) by Joff Winterhart.

“There is probably no truer portrait of teenage and parental angst.”

- Posy Simmonds of TAMARA DREWE, GEMMA BOVERY etc.

This was the summer that Daniel Bagnold was supposed to staying with his dad and heavily pregnant step-mother in Florida, but this step-mother cancels at the last minute. Instead he’s stuck with his weary mother Sue who’s sure he must be devastated.

“Daniel Bagnold thinks of everything he will be missing this summer: a 14-hour plane journey, heat wave weather in all-black clothes, a father he faintly remembers, a stepmother he has never met but who still “would rather be seen as a friend”, a new born baby sister crying through the night and… 6 whole weeks of no ‘Kerrang’ magazine…”

There is a tiny, sly smile on his face. But he doesn’t let on. Instead Daniel daydreams of forming a band called Skullslayer he’s busy writing lyrics for. The gigs they’ll play will be mosh-‘mazing. He drew a really cool skull back in school.

This is a subtle, touching tale of a weary mum and teenage son living life together yet worlds apart. Daniels’s got it all to look forward. His mum finds she doesn’t like looking back. Or forward. Or in the mirror.

The dialogue – such as there is between the two – nails the contrariness of a sullen teenager determined to hide any happiness.

“You seem in a good mood.”
“No I don’t.”

By contrast, Daniel’s mate Ky is much more chipper and communicative, his mother positively effusive. Here Sue’s driven them to a signing by Ky’s favourite author (then been asked to stand well away – Daniel says she’s embarrassing them), and Ky’s now at the front of the queue.

“Can you put ‘To Kyran, from one genius to another’.”

That too embarrasses Daniel. Everything embarrasses Daniel. Being spotted by other kids from school. Girls. Conversation. He’s terminally shy and resolutely uncommunicative, especially at home. Some mothers will recognise this all too well:

“Over the last few days, Sue has noticed Daniel around the house a lot. Not that she has actually seen him any more than usual, but there are other ways of telling he’s in. [A pair of discarded trainers] The bass rumble of footsteps and music coming through the kitchen ceiling… the trail of black hooded tops left throughout the house… the frequently empty fridge… with the occasion grunted exchange on the landing…
“In again tonight, love?”
“Mmffh.””

Meanwhile poor Sue soldiers on, trying to make contact as best as she can. She doesn’t understand Daniel’s music. She mistakes the lyrics he’s transcribed from a Metallica song for his own existential angst about parental rejection, instead of burying her head in the sand, she takes the opportunity, however hesitantly, to ask if he really feels that way. Daniel declines to come clean.

All of which would be woefully tragic and poignant in its own right, but the art counterbalances what’s being said (and what emphatically isn’t being said) to exceptional comedic effect. Daniel there looks both to and past camera (a very neat trick to pull off), looking both sheepish and pathetic but above all recalcitrant and dumb.

This is yet another of those books whose style the ignorant will mock as “grubby” and “unaccomplished”. You know, “more badly drawn, black and white indie bollocks” or as Richard Emms, director of APCOMICS, once wrote to me (and I quote, without spelling corrections) “a de-caffinated black and white underground book printed on toilet paper… which you continue to support each month within your columns in CI”. Oh, how he made me laugh – and that’s a whole letter column begging to be reprinted!

But no. Daniel is all droopy and dreary, while Sue Bagnold in particular is masterfully depicted in all her fatigued fragility, looking up optimistically through oversized glasses from above heavy wrinkles weighted with years of unrewarded stoicism. She wears baggy, he wears saggy. Also, he has no chin.

This is absolutely tremendous and there’s nothing quite like it in comics to date. Unsensationalist, British and brilliant, it’s full of heart and humanity and please make it through to the end. Sue does.

The sequences which really broke my heart were those involving labrador Maisie. Once Daniel and Maisie were inseparable – he even insisted on her appearing in the family photograph (dad long since gone) but now he ignores Maisie who lies in his way, leaving Sue to walk her instead. She used to settle between them on the sofa, happy, content and much loved.

“Now she is too arthritic to climb up, so she just licks the place where she used to lie…
“Maisie no! Bad girl!””

Sigh.

SLH

Buy Days Of The Bagnold Summer and read the Page 45 review here

Parker: The Score h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke…

“Well, hey, Parker. C’mon in.”
“The deal’s off.”
“What?”
“Someone was following me.”
“Oh that. That don’t mean anything.”
“He’s dead.”
“You killed him? For Christ’s sake, why?”
“He pulled a knife.”
“I don’t know, Parker, that’s a hell of a thing.”
“Tell me, Paulus, how did you know I was followed?”
“It was Edgars, he thought it was a good idea.”
“Who the hell is Edgars?”
“You don’t know him. He’s never worked an operation like this before.”
“Then what is he doing here?”
“He set this up.”
“An amateur? Goodbye Paulus.”

“Paulus! What’s the hold-up here?”

And so we, and Parker, meet Edgars. He’s got a plan, a plan so crazy that Parker immediately wants to walk away for a second time. And yet, it’s such a bold audacious scheme, he can’t help but find himself getting drawn in, responding to the challenge. Edgars’ plan is, quite simply, to knock over an entire town, a town called Copper Canyon, a very small self-contained copper mining settlement located in a box canyon, complete with its own tiny police department.

With a dozen good men, and the right leadership and precision planning (which is where Parker comes in), then robbing the mining payroll, the two banks and even three jewellery stores on the main street just for good measure, all seems eminently possible.

Certainly a less complex story than the previous two volumes, PARKER: THE HUNTER and PARKER: THE OUTFIT, this is very much just an out and out classic heist story. The ensemble cast of experienced villains Parker puts together are all consummate professionals who know their roles inside out and play them to perfection, entertaining both themselves and us alike, plus of course terrifying the locals, with a virtuoso performance of menacing armed robbery, all of which means that nothing should possibly go wrong then…? Well, let’s not forget there is an amateur on board…

Superb pulpy period art from Darwyn Cooke once again, who also handles the adaptation duties with aplomb. After picking blue as his primary colour to complement his pencils last time around, this time Darwyn goes for a dusty yellow, which gets you right into the gritty mood for a good dust up in the sandy, sulphurous hills. As before, you really do you just have to pause and marvel at his artwork, with Parker’s demeanour and mannerisms in particular just a delight to behold, with him barking orders and generally acting the alpha male hard-ass extraordinaire to keep everyone focused and most definitely not on the straight and narrow.

I would think this is probably the most accessible adaptation so far, actually, completely independent of the other two books, which are emphatically linked if not truly two volumes of the same story, just because it’s such a perfect, self-contained crash, bang, wallop of its own. What all three Parker adaptations do go to show, though, is just exactly what the right artwork can do to bring a story to life and grip you with just as much intensity as any cinematic experience, thus setting my forthcoming conclusion up nicely.

Ultimately, the other reason all these Parker graphic novels have been brilliant is Donald Westlake’s writing (Richard Stark being his pen name) and I’m sure I have read somewhere that Cooke was in correspondence with Westlake before his relatively recent passing telling him he intended to leave as much of his writing intact as possible. Sadly something that hasn’t really happened with any of the Parker film adaptations to date, of which I thought there had been six. It’s an odd fact but the main character in every Parker film adaptation has never been called Parker, at Donald Westlake’s request, as he insisted that it could only be used if someone did a series of Parker films, rather than loose individual adaptations.

Now the more astute of you will have noticed my comment that I had thought there had been six film Parker adaptations. Given that The Score is such a brilliantly simple idea, I was genuinely surprised it had never been made into a Hollywood film over the years as it seems perfect for one, so I decided to double-check and found it was actually pretty faithfully adapted in France in 1967 and entitled Mise à Sac (which translates as ‘pillaged’) though once again, the main character is called Georges rather than Parker! Apparently it was never released internationally, so I’ll probably never get to see it, but I am intrigued! It would have to be extremely good to be better than yet another peerless Darwyn Cooke adaptation, though. He initially signed on for three, but hopefully there will be more to come.

JR

Buy Parker: The Score h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wild Children (£5-99, Image) by Ales Kot & Riley Rossmo.

“We’re in a two-dimensional sequential reality.”
“Inside a comic book.”
“We’re also outside. You see, we sent our agents out there.”
“Gentlemen? Can you please strip the colour from Lotte? Just temporarily? Careful, please.”

Sure enough, in the very next panel, the colourist mutes the man’s suit. Lotte’s quite startled, believe me.

A team of super-smart school children in search of a higher education rise up with one voice and spike the staff’s coffee machine with acid. They have guns, great big guns and a bomb. Although they’re the first to confess they’re not real, no one seems to believe them. Not the cowering teachers, nor the SWAT team assembled outside, glued to the live feed they’re generating. Bored with a sanitised curriculum designed to sedate, it’s time to teach everyone a lesson.

This is so eminently quotable I’m surprised I’m resisting the temptation. Won’t last long, believe me. With plenty of fourth-wall wiggling, it references Georges Bataille, THE INVISIBLES and Mark Twain (“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”) plus Kot has most certainly read Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s A DISEASE OF LANGUAGE. It’s like Joshua Middleton drawing Lindsay Anderson’s ‘If…’ spliced with Hickman’s NIGHTLY NEWS right down to the winking side-bars asterisked outside the panels:

“We thought about doing these for every page, but I’m on a deadline here so you’re getting calculated honesty instead. Fits the story better anyway.”

Please pay attention, class. These kids have some important ethical questions for you.

“Is this fair trade cocaine?”

SLH

Buy Wild Children and read the Page 45 review here

Dungeon Quest Book Three (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Joe Daly…

A double-sized helping of the further adventures of Millennium Boy, Nerd Girl, Lash Penis and err… Steven, as they head out into the wilds in search of the remaining missing pieces of the mysterious Atlantean resonator guitar, with only garish armour, some extremely unlikely weaponry and various types of ganja and psychedelic mushrooms for sustenance. It’s really not supposed to make any sense whatsoever, nor be remotely politically correct be warned, but it is certainly utterly hilarious. Here the quartet’s quest is explained to them at last by the holy man Bromedes whose mystical penis sheath they managed to return at the end of volume two, before he sends them on their way into the path of further faux-antediluvian danger, debauchery and general all around mayhem, with a few additional quests tacked on for good measure! Joe Daly shows no signs of wanting to wrap this up any time soon, primarily because he’s having so much fun writing and drawing it I would imagine and I for one am absolutely delighted! DUNGEON QUEST VOL ONE and DUNGEON QUEST VOL TWO are in stock at the time of typing.. There is also some interior art on display for volume ONE for those intrigued as to what on earth this might be like.

JR

Buy Dungeon Quest Book Three and read the Page 45 review here

Revival #1 (£2-25, Image) by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton.

Wausau, Wisconsin, and the dead are coming back to life.

They’re not zombies, they’re fully sentient individuals, and most are as chipper as ever.

Rothschild, Wisconsin, is also within the quarantined zone. The C.D.C. has yet to ascertain if this “reviving” is a contagious disease and until they do, well, a whole country of people who simply won’t die…? It’s not as if they have an NHS to save money on. Benefit claims would rocket through the roof. The religious right, by the way, are having a field day.

Officer Dana Cypress, the sheriff’s daughter, is dressing for work while her son Cooper plays outside in the snow. Something drifts by – a bright white sprite with hollow black eyes. It notices him.

Officer Dana Cypress finds her sister alone on a bridge. Her car has run out of petrol. Maybe. Dana really shouldn’t take her younger sister on a case: their father would be so very pissed if anything happened to Martha.

A half-zebra, half-horse has bolted out of the stables, its mouth spewing blood, collapsing quite dead on the virgin white field. Someone has fed it some tablets…

Clean, sturdy and perfectly attractive art as you’d expect from Mike Norton (HOPELESS SAVAGES, QUEEN & COUNTRY etc.) which you can check out for yourself in this REVIVAL interview, but I’m giving you nothing except this: there is one scene of excruciating horror that really made me wince involving the pulling of teeth. It’s not a torture scene, no, but it is exceptionally well played by both writer and artist and, oh dear, Dana really shouldn’t have taken Martha on that case.

SLH

Buy Revival the old-fashioned way by driving a tractor into town, phoning 0115 9508045 or emailing page45@page45.com

Punk Rock Jesus #1 (£2-25, Vertigo) by Sean Murphy.

It begins with a prayer swiftly answered by violence. God knows where it will all end.

Ladies and gentlejokes, I give you the freshest, fiercest debut from DC since decade-old EX MACHINA. It’s 32 pages of story unblemished by adverts in radical black and white. <gasp>

You’ve swooned over Sean Murphy’s art on JOE THE BARBARIAN and HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS and this is every bit as thrilling in its post-Bachalo beauty, a comparison which holds true right down to the o’er-shaded nose tips. On the other hand, it was never a given that the man could write too. Court controversy on t’interweb, true, but that’s nothing compared to this, packed to the pulp paper its printed on with plot and sub-plottery destined to offend all and sundry. I fucking love it!

Ophis has announced a new reality show starring the first human clone in history: Jesus Christ himself. For the J2 Project they’ve hired Dr. Sarah Epstein, geneticist in service to saving the environment. In 2013 she clones polar bears in an attempt to stave off their extinction, then developed a hyper plant which fed off carbon dioxide faster than anything else. She even tried to pollinate the Brazilian rainforest before being stung by lawsuits from six fast-food chains. Now she’s determined to engineer new strains of algae to halt global warming but to do that she needs funds. Ophis’ funds.

“And if I have to resurrect Jesus Christ to do it, then I will.”

I’d note the language there – far from accidental. In fact there are loads of neat little extras, like the polar bear lying like a dog by Sarah’s hearth. Anyway, for this they need a self-sacrificial virgin (obviously it must be another immaculate conception) and some of our saviour’s DNA. And, you know, whatever happens next, this exchange on live television should certainly be born in mind:

“There’s never been any evidence that the [Turin] Shroud is as old as Christians would like to believe. And carbon dating has proven that. Most important here is no one outside of Ophis has been allowed to verify the validity of the DNA.”
“Blasphemy. Carbon dating is flawed – the Shroud is real and that proves Jesus was, too!”
“Is what Father Sterlins says true?”
“There’s no disputing carbon data. And there’s never been any empirical evidence that a person named Jesus Christ ever existed.”
“How dare you! Scientists are not to be trusted! Their arrogance has given us atomic bombs and nuclear waste. They tell us that we all come from monkeys, and insist on telling that to our children.”
“Evolution through natural selections is a fact. Fossil records prove it.”
“Evolution is just a theory!”
“So is gravity.”

So some of the Christian contingent seems all for it, while others protest vociferously outside Ophis’ HQ. Which is where our head of security comes in, born of sectarian violence. Yes, Murphy’s brought Northern Ireland into the mix: he’s a former member of the IRA! I think it was HELLBLAZER’s Andy Diggle who first said to Sean, “And Vertigo gave this the green light?!?”

Controversy, controversy, and the country’s in rapture. Whether or not the revolution will be televised, the countdown to the Second Coming is! And  just when you thought Sean had crammed enough plot threads into a series already packed with potential pandemonium, here comes another, just after the birth.

“How’s she doing?”
“She’ll be out in a few seconds.”
“Did any of the nurses see anything?”
“I can’t believe I agreed to this.”
“This is your fucking fault. If you hadn’t for the last nine months, we wouldn’t have to do this!”
“I lied because I knew what you’d ask me to do!”

Uh-oh. P.S. It gets worse.

SLH

Buy Punk Rock Jesus #1 by the power of prayer – psalm 0115 9508045 on page45@page45.com – or stagger in drunk and just nut us.

Demon Knights vol 1: Seven Against The Dark s/c (£10-99, DC) by Paul Cornell & Diogenes Neves, Michael Choi.

“I come from an island where men are castrated – and the women are pleased.”

Ladies, I invite to you introduce yourselves in precisely that manner to someone at sometime this week, then advise me of your reception.

So old, we’re told, but if I may be so bold, here be something new: a dragon age of sword and sorcery Paul Cornell-style, irreverently puncturing its form with contemporary slang and slotting its recombined cast of DC’s immortal entities into new roles and a fresh environment. So it is that Jason Blood, Madame Xanadu and Vandal Savage find themselves reminiscing over a pint down the local tavern just as the locality finds itself the target of a queen’s invading horde. Sir Ystin, Al Jabr and the charming Exoristos – she of the gelded isle – have barely introduced themselves when the questing queen’s outriders burst in(n) through the doors which Savage has already vandalised and find themselves burned by the bad breath of Etrigan. If our sorcerous six want to wassail, they must smite for their right to party.

SLH

Buy Demon Knights vol 1: Seven Against The Dark s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batgirl vol 1: The Darkest Reflection h/c (£16-99, DC) by Gail Simone & Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes.

Lovely, detailed art – here think Phil Jimenez – and Barbara Gordon looks great in her reclaimed role as Batgirl. Don’t worry, she’s very much aware of her spine-shattering fate at the hands of the Joker in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s KILLING JOKE. She may be stretching her legs now (we know not how but it’s coming) but if she’s healed physically it’s still left its scars on her psyche. And at one critical moment she freezes.

SLH

Batgirl vol 1: The Darkest Reflection hardcover

JLA: The Deluxe Edition vol 2 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Grant Morrison, Christopher Priest & Howard Porter, Val Semeiks, Arnie Jorgensen, Yanick Paquette, Gary Frank, Greg Land.

“Never underestimate the sentimentality of a Scotsman.”

Second, more substantial repacking on Grant Morrison’s definitive run on the Justice League facing increasingly monumental, transtemporal, pandimensional threats while staving off assaults from old enemies too.

Lex Luthor has formed a new Injustice Gang including the loosest cannon in the world who can’t stop messing with its members. That’d be the Joker, yes. They prove appallingly effective, chipping off younger members like Green Arrow Jr with ease and cutting off communication between the others. Meanwhile, just when they’re needed the most, the Flash, Aquaman and Green Lantern are abducted by Metron and sent in search of the Philosopher’s Stone which he claims risks falling into the hands of Darkseid, but it seems to be one giant wild goose chase. Regrouping, they encounter meta-being Adam One of Wonderworld awaiting the threat of the Anti-Sun, Mageddon. Reluctantly he allows them to return to Earth where they discover Darkseid has already turned the planet into an infernal, industrial slave colony of his own. They’ve arrived fifteen years too late.

Oh, it’s a complicated one, this! Brilliantly, Morrison co-cast the team’s veteran heavy hitters – Superman, Batman, the Martian Manhunter (Wonder Woman currently deceased) – with rookies like Kyle Rayner’s Green Lantern who struggles to believe he’s not out of his depth. As far as the more confident cohorts are concerned it’s one big military exercise executed with lateral thinking and clipped precision which is where, I believe, we came in.

Loved Howard Porter’s super-shiny art on this run, and usually missed it whenever he left, but no one’s going to complain about a little Gary Frank, are they? Collects JLA #10-17, PROMETHEUS #1 and JLA/WILDCATS #1 during all of which, FYI, Superman was in his blue-and-white energy mode. Oh, you’ll see what I mean when you get here.

SLH

Buy JLA: The Deluxe Edition vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Fantastic Four vol 5 h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, Barry Kitson, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Ming Doyle, Leinil Francis Yu, Farel Dalrymple.

Hickman kicked off his inspired run and very long game with FANTASTIC FOUR VOL 1 which concluded FANTASTIC FOUR VOL 4 and a death in the family. What was left of the team re-grouped with FF VOL 1 and FF VOL 2 then FF VOL 3 where the kids came to the fore. This runs in parallel with that third volume, their conclusions dovetailing nicely, as the adults discover they’re out of their depth.

The Kree Empire attacks, the Negative Zone’s Annihilation Wave is loosed upon our world, and Galactus takes on the Celestials. Fortunately the Annihilation Wave isn’t the only thing to emerge from the Negative Zone:

Heeeere’s Johnny!

SLH

Buy Fantastic Four vol 5 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 as they are, temporarily, now.

 

Scalped: Knuckle Up (£10-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera

Blood Blokes #2 (£2-99) by Adam Cadwell

Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me (&19-99, Hill & Wang) by Harvey Pekar & JT Waldman

Wandering Son vol 3 (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Shimura Takako

American Elf vol 4 (£18-99, Top Shelf) byJames Kochalka

The Adventures of Venus (£7-50, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez

The Silence (£14-99, A&U) by Bruce Mutard

Avengers X-Sanction (£10-99, Marvel) byLoeb & McGuinness

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates vol 2 h/c  (£18-99, Marvel) by Hickman & Ribic, Humphries, Ross

Ghost Rider: The Complete Series (£22-50, Marvel) by Rob Williams

FF vol 2 (£14-99, Marvel) byHickman & Tocchini, Epting, Kitson

Amazing Spider-Man: Ends Of The Earth hardcover (£22-50, Marvel) by Slott & Caselli, Ramos

Essential Web of Spiderman vol 2 (£14-99, Marvel) by Various

Skip Beat! Omnibus vols 4-6 (£10-99, Viz) by Yoshiki Nakamura

Hana-Kimi Omnibus vols 4-6 (£10-99, Viz) by Hisaya Nakajo

Men Of War (£14-99, DC) by Brandon & Derenick

Hellraiser: Heaven’s Reply (£10-99, Boom) by Clive Barker & Various

Punch Up! vol 1 (£8-99, SubLime) by Shiuko Kano

Awkward Silence vol 1 (£8-99, SubLime) by Hinako Takanaga

Reviews July 2012 week two

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012


“Just voted for @PageFortyFive as my favourite indie retailer in Nottingham. Was hard to say why in 10 words or less though! Went with “Page45 is a pioneering, friendly shop championing an underappreciated medium!””

 - Paul Duffield, creator of Signals, artist on Warren EllisFREAKANGELS

Thanks to everyone who has already voted. Please  cast your votes here! It may win you £100 nd a big kiss from me! “In Nottingham Independents”.

 

Fatale vol 1: Death Chases Me (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

The Losing Side Of Eternity: an unpublished novel by Dominic H. Raines, 1957.

“So here’s how my entire life went off the tracks in one day.
“It started at Dominic Raines’ funeral… and of course the weather was as bad as most of the old man’s novels…”
“I didn’t see her among the small crowd, which, looking back, is odd. But I was distracted by the engravings on the headstone. Raines wasn’t just an atheist… he hated all religions. So what the hell was this about?”

What the hell indeed. From the creators of CRIMINAL, more crime fiction with a Lovecraftian twist.

Nicolas Lash has inherited the estate of his father’s best friend, one Dominic H. Raines who published a string of bestselling detective novels beginning in 1960 before dying alone and bitter and broken. As Nicolas swiftly discovers, however, he’s also inherited a great many questions and a whole world of trouble in the form of an unpublished manuscript whose title speaks volumes and a woman he meets by the grave. She calls herself Jo and claims to be the granddaughter of a woman the novelist once loved. The symbol, she says, is a private piece of the past Raines and her grandmother simply couldn’t let go of.

“Later, I’d wonder why my head felt glued to the ground as she walked away. How with just a few words, she’d made me feel like some high school kid again. Dumbstruck. I didn’t know that could still happen.”

It’s been happening for years. Flashback toSan Franciscoduring the mid-1950s and Dominic ‘Hank’ Raines is a happily married man with a wife and a kid on the way. A reporter determined to expose police corruption and in particular one Walt Booker, he lures Walt’s woman Josephine to a bar one night, and she warns him – she does try to warn him – but from that moment on he just can’t get her out of his head…

“She hates herself… For wanting to survive this badly. For the things she’s done and the things she’s willing to do. She can still feel Hanks’ hands on her. Still taste him on her lips. And she hates herself for that too.
“She thinks about his wife… pictures her waiting up… lying to herself that her husband is working late. Or out all night chasing a lead. And she wants to cry, for what she’s done to this woman. But she doesn’t… because it’s not just about survival.”

Ah, la femme fatale: beautiful, seductive, and disastrous for all who stray near. But Brubaker and Phillips have carved something far more interesting, especially in Josephine who can’t help each act of seduction just like you can’t control your own pheromones, while she sees all those around her paying the price. Also, I’ve deliberately said little about Walt himself – both his public and private investigations into a death cult – nor what happens to Nicolas back in the present, because although this is everything you love about the same team’s CRIMINAL, it’s also a horror comic: the less you know, the better. Indeed Brubaker’s hinted at so many unanswered questions, I can’t get it out of my head, either, and you wait until the next shift in both in scene and time period in volume two.

It’s another perfect fusion of genres, but the big change and one of the keys to its complexity lies in the multiple, third-person perspectives: Josephine’s, obviously, but also that of the men who find themselves stricken by the raven-haired beauty who appears to weather the ravages of time infinitely better than those who fixate. Each for their own reason feels they have no option but to forge forward in their different directions; each believes they are running out of time. All of them seem linked by and trapped in a web woven wider and wider across time, spanning, it seems, an entire century.

I love the way Sean Phillips draws gunshots – jagged flashes of fire – and there’s plenty of action and more gore to come as the tentacles first start to show. Almost all of this takes place indoors or at night, and I’ve long said that I never trust anyone drawn by Sean Phillips. The faces are constantly cast in shadow, masking their motives and making your fear the very worst – either of them or for them. Cigarette smoke is rendered with a very dry brush, while much of the violence is framed in expressionistically rendered and instinctively positioned darkness. It’s not something you notice until you, err, notice it, you’re so caught up in the action. But it’s his quietest moments set in beds, bars or out on the street that I relish even more. The opening pages in the bucolic graveyard are particularly sublime, and the covers – including their subsequent printings, so wittily re-rendered – have been the best designed this year. Each one is reprinted in the back of the book whilst the cover to the first issue’s fourth printing manifests itself on the title page.

This is Page 45’s biggest-selling periodical this year, by the way. Now let’s make it our best-selling book, please.

SLH

Buy Fatale vol 1: Death Chases Me and read the Page 45 review here

Wizzywig: Portrait Of A Serial Hacker h/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Ed Piskor…

Firstly, thanks to Tom for mentioning to me that Wizzywig was an acronym pertaining to something to do with computing, phonetically at least at anyway. So therefore… quoting Wikipedia…

“WYSIWYG [1] is an acronym for what you see is what you get. The term is used in computing to describe a system in which content (text and graphics) displayed onscreen during editing appears in a form closely corresponding to its appearance when printed or displayed as a finished product,[2] which might be a printed document, web page, or slide presentation.”

So there you are. Apparently someone has also used the name, as spelt phonetically, for a piece of freeware which lets people who know nothing about web pages create HTML. Right, moving on from possible my dullest-ever opening to a review, I’m delighted to say this book was anything but. In fact I found it highly entertaining, and completely fascinating with its in-depth fictional exploration into the world of phone-phreaking and early hacking culture. Why don’t we recommence with a proper quote from the work that’ll instantly give you an idea of what it’s all about?!

BOOP!
“Hey everybody, this is Assjacket. My bulletin board is down, but the problem seems like it’s manageable. Leave your username and password on this voicemail. When I get it working again, I’ll save your information. If you don’t contact me your stuff will be purged.”
“What’s the next step, Kevin?”
“The next step is going to require a bit of social engineering. I’m going to attempt to get the bulletin board’s phone number re-routed to our voicemail, so that Assjacket’s users find the message hopefully.”
“You’re going to con a phone operator to get this done? Think it’ll work?”
“We’ll see… Hey Lois, this Bob from the uptown office. Can you help me out? My computer is down and I have a very impatient customer on the other line with me. Can you process a quick request?”

It really is quite unbelievable how with a combination of hacking knowledge and sheer front, our main character Kevin is able to continuously hoodwink users and the authorities alike. What I loved about this work was it shows exactly how easy it was, and presumable still is, to hack. Obviously, though, actions have consequences and no matter how hard Kevin, or any hacker for that matter, tries to hide their trail, they’re bound to leave a few digital clues behind for the rabid white-collar crime busters to follow.

Through a combination of forethought and more than a little luck, Kevin manages to evade the long arm of the law, but only at the expense of his own identity as he’s forced into hiding. Once on the run Kevin is forced to turn to the seedier side of society to find those who will be willing to pay hard cash for his unique services. It’s a life of sorts, but when the law eventually catches up with him, you get the impression he’s almost relieved it’s all over. That’ll soon change, though, as the authorities decide they’re going to keep him incarcerated in federal jail, without even ever charging him, for a very long time indeed. Fortunately for Kevin, his best friend and one-time partner in phone-phreaking crime back in the very early days now hosts a radio show and is on a one-man crusade to get some justice for his buddy, even if it’s simply a trial date!

This is an excellently written story from start to finish that had me gripped and – as someone who doesn’t mind a little bit of people sticking it good and proper to ‘The Man’ – fervently hoping Kevin would manage to beat the system one more time!!

Right, quick rant… You might think the type of treatment meted out to the fictional Kevin is somewhat unrealistic, but given the disgusting ongoing case of the US government vs. Gary McKinnon (an autistic hacker who broke into NASA’s systems looking for evidence of UFO’s which he claims he found) and what they plan to do to him (70+ years in maximum security prison without even the possibility of parole) should our spineless government eventually allow his extradition to the US under the one-sided 2003 extradition treaty that was supposedly only to be used for the rendition of the very worst criminals and terrorists, in fact it all seems very plausible indeed. If you’re not aware of Gary’s case, read all about it HERE because tomorrow, my friends, it could well be you who finds yourself several miles up a certain creek without a paddle if people don’t take a collective stand on issues like this. It is nine years sinceGary was first accused and threatened by theUS, and how on earth he’s keeping going I really don’t know. Rant over.

JR

Buy Wizzywig: Portrait Of A Serial Hacker h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Beanworld vol 3.5 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Larry Marder.

“’Now’ has turned into ‘then’.”

More wide-eyed wonder – for once in full colour! – in a book about creation, communication, cooperation, discovery and resources. One man’s junk is another’s treasure if you manage to unravel its mysteries.

There are plenty of mysteries here, like where Beanish goes when he makes hismidday“jump” (he’s keeping that a secret) and why the youngest creatures here, the Cuties, start a-snoozin’ whenever they’re left to their own devices. They just don’t talk to each other, and that’s a big worry if they’re going to grow up to become Chow Sol’jers because teamwork for them is a top priority. Without fresh chow for the Chowdown Pool there’ll be no vitamins, nutrients and trace minerals to absorb, so it’s time to think of the future and look to a little learning through the eyes of a child who really just wants to play.

Both the dilemma and the solution were brilliant, with obvious implications for our own educational system. Over and again, Larry Marder proves he is the wisest man in comics, connecting his unique and seemingly outlandish, self-sufficient ecosystem with the very real world around us. Oh, and he practises what he preaches, providing education through entertainment shot all the way through with exuberant joy. The language is fabulous, as witnessed here when the Boom’rs first voice their concerns

“We stumbledunkled into a somethingness we can’t quiff riff into twined idealios!”
“What sort of fact did you discover that doesn’t make sense?”
“The Pod’l’Pool Cuties neversonever do the yaketyklak between themselves.”

The designs are simply thrilling, especially in full colour. Mark made so many models of these for our windows, and he would have loved the giant amoeba with its cytoplasmic contents coming over all Native American / Jim Woodring. It’s flanked with flagella and primed with an angry red eye, assaulting the Beans as they float in their chow. And that makes Mr. Spook angry!

You don’t have to have read the previous three BEANWORLD books, but we have them for whenever you want to. It is, as it says, “A Most Peculiar Comic Experience” and it will stay with you for a lifetime.

“Search for the rhythms.
 Reach deep inside.
 Feel the surging pulse.
 Summon the BLISS!”

It is here.

Buy Beanworld vol 3.5 and read the Page 45 review here

The Song Of Roland (£14-99, Conundrum) by Michel Rabagliati…

Originally titled Paul à Québec when it was originally released in French, this has now been re-titled for its English release. Before I read it, I did wonder why, but afterwards I realised it’s definitely a much more fitting title, as about half of the work is given over to the story of Paul’s father-in-law, the titular Roland, his gradual demise from cancer and how the family pull together to cope. Which all sounds rather depressing, but actually Michel chooses to focus on the happier elements of a life very much lived, whilst ultimately not shying away Roland’s own concluding chapter.

The reason I say it’s a much more fitting title (and I presume Michel just didn’t think of it in time for the French edition rather than any great patriotic fervour for an independent Québec, though his musings on that particular subject you will also find within these pages, along with the pains of moving house plus all the usual family and work goings-on you’d expect of a PAUL book), is that The Song Of Roland, or La Chanson de Roland  if you’re in the gallique mood, is one of – if not the – oldest pieces of surviving French literature, being an epic poem about a proud warrior called Roland who refuses to blow his elephant horn to summon help from Emperor Charlemagne, when the French rearguard is attacked by the Saracens during the Battle of Roncesvalles in 778, believing they can win their particular skirmish without any help. Eventually he does blow his horn when it’s sadly too late, thinking the Emperor will see their slaughter and avenge them (which he promptly does) but Roland blows his horn so hard he suffers a brain haemorrhage and dies on the spot. There’s considerable parallels to be drawn between Paul’s father-in-law Roland, his attitude towards his illness, and the warrior Roland, ‘stoic’ being the first word that springs to mind. ‘Stubborn’, the second.

I love Michel’s easy-paced autobiographical PAUL works, for the thinly disguised autobiography they are. He seems a pretty easy-going, laid-back chap, with a similar take on life to Guy Delisle actually, but whereas Guy is off exploring remote corners off the world, Michel is just happy excavating his childhood and allowing us to explore his life in Québec. His art style is similarly relaxed, elegant with an almost cartoonish touch that also engenders a gentile feel to his works. If you do like autobiography but you’ve never tried any Paul, I do highly recommend any of his works. Don’t expect high drama or ridiculous revelations, just a very intriguing peek into someone else’s life, a life also very much lived, just in a very typical way.

JR

Buy The Song Of Roland and read the Page 45 review here

A Boy And A Bear In A Boat (£10-99, dfb) by Dave Shelton.

“These tides are really weird,” said the boy. “It’s not like this at Cromer.”

A young boy hops on board a boat bobbing on the water and captained by a bear. He asks to be taken to the other side.

“Right you are,” said the bear.

He’s as confident as the lad is vague, neatly setting the scene for nearly three hundred pages of magically illustrated mirth as the pair find themselves all at sea and struggling to land either a fish or themselves.

It’s a book about learning to keep friends afloat in the wake of adversity – and in the wake of absurdity also. Faith, confidence and improvisation: pulling together instead of falling out and then, as a consequence, falling apart. Thinking of others instead of yourself and jollying each other along!

Shelton manages all of the above with a touch as gentle as the giant of a bear’s. With little land in sight throughout the entire book, he nails the boy’s cross-patch frustration at the bear’s evasive optimism, and then the boy’s petulance and remorse. Oh, how we find it difficult to apologise!

It’s also a book written by a man whose childhood was spent a long time before videogames and other portable distractions or in-flight entertainment.

“Are we nearly there yet?” said the boy.
“We are well on our way,” said the bear.

And that’s just page fifteen. There’s so much more you will recognise from childhood, like the fun to had on a bright summer’s day messing about colours and the light behind closed eyelids. “He liked the greeny blue the best, but it was difficult to hold on to for long.” I bounced spectral amoebas up and down all day long. Still unsure if they existed.

With limited resources our duo try their hands at fishing, first with a fly (oh, all right, a tuft of the poor bear’s fur plucked while his bottom was turned), then with live bait and then – oh, dear – they really are going to bite off more than they can chew! Here they’re down to one last sarnie, and the bear’s previous combos (sprout and honey; anchovy, banana and custard; broccoli, sherbet and gooseberry) have been eccentric at best.

The boy looked at the proffered sandwich. He noticed that the bear was holding it rather gingerly in the tips of two claws and right at the corner. Despite this, the bread did not bend at all. The boy looked up at the bear. He looked back at the sandwich. It was very difficult to tell what colour it was by moonlight, but whatever colour it was didn’t seem right.
“What’s in it?” said the boy again.
“I can’t remember,” said the bear.
“Well, open it up and take a look,” said the boy.
“I can’t,” said the bear. “It’s stuck.”
The boy looked up at the bear. The bear smiled thinly down at the boy. They both looked back at the sandwich.
“Is it…” said the boy.
“What?” said the bear.
“Is it… only a bit, but is it… glowing?”
“No,” said the bear.
They each squinted at the sandwich and leaned in (cautiously) to look more closely.
“Hardly at all,” said the bear.

We rarely stock anything other than comics at Page 45, but this young adult prose is a wonder and I’ll be buying it for adults instead. Plus our Dave won my heart by including a comic within and reminding us how, when we were young, we would pour over them time and time again when we had so very few, savouring their strangeness even if we hadn’t a clue what was going on. But back to the future, and the bear has it all in hand.

“Bored, eh? Well, I suppose you’d better try the complimentary on-board entertainment then,” said the bear.
“On-board entertainment?” said the boy, smiling expectantly.
“Oh yes,” said the bear. “You’ll love this.”

He really doesn’t.

But when you discover what the cover’s all about… that, you will love and laugh yourself senseless.

SLH

Buy A Boy And A Bear In A Boat and read the Page 45 review here

Morning Glories vol 3 (£10-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma.

“For A Better Future.”

Previously on MORNING GLORIES: six new students have been selected to attend a prestigious boarding academy which will not let them go. There literally is no escape and whilst a semblance of regular routine is maintained in the corridors and curriculum, the overt threats from teachers and fellow classmates alike are almost as sinister as what’s not being said. P.S. There is a lot that’s not being said.

Now: so much so suddenly comes tumbling out, for it’s not just the school but the students too who have secrets. Some are genuine naïfs while others have been on a mission, but a worrying proportion of those secrets involve death. Which of these are the psycho killers, which are the secret lovers or sacrificial lambs? And which are of the teachers is privately fighting their own rearguard action?

Not since 100 BULLETS can I think of a long-form series constructed from such a ridiculously large number of sub-plots both miraculously weaved and meticulously played. The revelations will take your breath away, while the cliff-hanger will leave you gasping. It’s deliberately disorientating like the school itself, whose teachers are experts in insouciance and obfuscation.

Here they send their charges out on a marathon run, an orienteering exercise through the sylvan school grounds, in perfectly mismatched teams. Some seize it as the opportunity they’ve been waiting for – but not necessarily for the opportunity you’ll expect – and you will discover a whole new dimension to being “lost in the woods”.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention the dialogue. Fab.

“The devil goes to God and says, “You think Job is your faithful servant, but if you took away all the gifts you’ve given him, he’ll abandon you.” So God does it – he takes away all of Job’s blessings, his family dies, he gets sick, everything just starts to suck for him… But he never turns his back on God.”
“Everyone knows this story. But I’ve always had a problem with it, myself.”
“You mean like, why does God let him suffer?”
“No, I assume God couldn’t care less about the poor fuck. No, what I wonder is… What is God doing entertaining an audience with the devil?”

Will any of these children ever be free? Oh, I think so. It’s only a question of Time.

SLH

Buy Morning Glories vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

5 Centimeters per Second (£13-99, Vertical) by Makoto Shinkai…

“…They say it’s five centimetres per second.”
“What is?”
“The speed of a falling cherry petal.”

Ohhh, we might just have finally found something comparable to SOLANIN with this adaptation of the multiple-award-winning animated film. It’s the story of schoolboy Tohno Takaki, whose innocent and much requited adolescent love for his schoolmate Akari, both recent transfer students, deeply affects his teenage years and early adulthood. For once our love-struck duo part, as Akari’s parents move once again, they resolve to stay in touch by letter.

As time goes by, inevitably perhaps, their communications dwindle and eventually cease, but Tohno never stops thinking of his first love, to such an extent that he’s incapable of forming any meaningful relationship with another girl. That doesn’t stop other people falling for him, however, as he is such a kind and gentle soul, but it appears that he’s oblivious to the suffering he’s causing through his emotional distancing.

Much of the story once Tohno and Akari part therefore is told through the eyes of those women who would like Tohno to be with them or, as in the case once he’s working in Tokyo, his actual girlfriend. Eventually though, even she gives up on their relationship as she realises she can’t compete with a dream. The big question is whether Tohno is willing or even able to wake up and start living in the present, either by finding out where Akari is now and attempting to discover if she still harbours the same deep feelings for him too, or by definitively moving on and letting her go once and for all…

This is a very touching and moving work, I can see why the film has garnered such high praise, and this adaptation is very gently and neatly done indeed. As mentioned, people who liked SOLANIN will undoubtedly enjoy this.

JR

Buy 5 Centimeters per Second and read the Page 45 review here

The Defenders vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Terry Dodson, Michael Lark, Mitch Breitweiser, Victor Ibanez.

“The older I get, the more life seems to be the stupid, frustrating stuff that gets in the way of you and reading comics…”

The Defenders should always be played with a certain degree of insanity, and not just in the pages of Twisted Toyfare Theatre. But the relatively iconoclastic Kieth Giffen era, when they used to run one-line adverts for other titles at the bottom of each page, was the only one worth paying attention to – until now.

The original core members consisted of Dr. Strange trying to pacify a grouchy Hulk and the testosterone-fuelled Namor, while the Silver Surfer buried his head in his hands and bemoaned man’s inhumanity to man. But the roster’s always been flexible, and this is Matt Fraction, the writer of CASANOVA, INVINCIBLE IRON MAN and a rejuvenated IRON FIST, so it’s time for some eloquent embellishment and an infusion of big ideas.

A cry for help from an unusually worried Hulk is received by Dr. Stephen ‘still-sleeping-with-his-students’ Strange, who promptly reforms the Defenders by making house calls on Namor (imperiously wrecking a posse of killer whale cullers), the ever-surfing chrome-domed wielder of the Power Cosmic (who answers the flurry as a blizzard of snow – he’s… experimenting), Betty Banner AKA Red She-Hulk with her “big-ass sword”, and Iron Fist who is himself having a one-night stand he probably shouldn’t, so buries his head in some comics instead. Approved!

Together they follower the trail of destruction left by Nul, the Breaker of Worlds, the ebony entity once merged with the Hulk, only to be shot down above Mount Wundagore by a time-addled Prester John in search of a new Avalon, and discover the miraculous Concordance Engine once glimpsed by Dr. Strange in the mind of an archaeologist gone mad.

“Ready the dimensional shift engines for transfer. As soon as we clear this world’s gravity well. I don’t want to risk taking any trash with us and I don’t want to drown in the subsurface undertow of reality collapse.
“It was a nice planet. A nice universe. Shame it has to end like this.”

It’s deliriously written with flashes of purple prose and tip-top terminology injected between the strange revelations of a portentous Prester John and the Defenders’ own daft dialogue. Each receives her or his own colour-coded, third-person perspective and is considerably enhanced by being drawn by Terry ‘sexy’ Dodson then the earthier Michael Lark and Mitch Breitweiser.

Fraction’s really re-thought it through. I particularly liked the notion of the Concordance Engines’ singular defence mechanism, determined to keep themselves hidden by taking the words right out of the your mouth. Explaining to others what you’ve been up to is literally impossible, which brings with it all sorts of unanticipated issues.

Please note: the seventies’ one-line adverts at the bottom of each page resurrected to mirth-inducing effect for the periodical are not reprinted in the trade paperback. But then they really wouldn’t have made sense here. Top tip, then: you may want to rethink waiting for the trades!

SLH

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

Batman: Earth One h/c (£16-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank.

“Who in their right mind transfers to Gotham?”

Oh dear, what a shame.

We love our Geoff Johns, writer of GREEN LANTERN, and I absolutely adore Gary Frank, the spectacular artist on SUPREME POWER, MIDNIGHT NATION, and SUPERMAN AND THE LEGION OF SUPERHEROES. Plus SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE, the inaugural graphic novel in this series seemingly stalled until now sold out an entire day before publication! For three years its readers have been desperate to lap up its successor, silently seething in disbelief when I’ve told them it’s been so delayed. So here it is,Merry Christmas! Are you really having fun?

The premise behind this purported series of graphic novels (two so far over three years) is that you can enter without any baggage: a completely blank canvas on which the author and artist can paint any present they like without care for the past or indeed future. And I do wonder if the success of SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE catalysed the entire DC New 52 initiative. Since that reboot – whereby every title reverted to #1 almost starting from scratch – I guess this premise had been rendered somewhat redundant; but that doesn’t mean, given carte blanche, that you shouldn’t experiment. So why, as Jonathan said, would you be so bland?

It is, I’m afraid, yet another direly dull rehash of Batman’s childhood trauma and, oh, mother’s lost her pearls again! Bruce is slightly recast as a spoiled and entitled brat partially responsible for his parents’ deaths (it worked so well for Peter Parker) and Alfred’s new role is certainly far from the family butler. Excellent: we have detours. Neither works.

I am genuinely surprised and disappointed given the creators involved that this plods along in such a pedestrian fashion. I wanted to sing its praises to the neo-gothic, cathedralic Gotham rafters. Instead I’m left to lament that although this is pretty – oh, so pretty – it is also pretty vacant.

SLH

Buy Batman: Earth One h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Suicide Squad vol 1: Kicked In The Teeth s/c (£10-99, DC) by Adam Glass & various.

The first chapter was actually one long torture sequence as the Suicide Squad – prisoners paroled to execute others – are tested to the limits in order to extract the name of their covert commander. We learn how Harlequin, Deadshot and El Diablo came to be banged up in the first place, and just how voracious King Shark’s appetite is. King Shark, by the way, is an anthropomorphic hammerhead of few words but much munching, and I anticipate this becoming a running joke. Him, I quite liked. The torture scene art had some fine light and textures; the visuals outside that arena of pain were horrible. Collects #1-7

SLH

Buy Suicide Squad vol 1: Kicked In The Teeth s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9 vol 1: Freefall (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss & Georges Jeanty.

From what I’ve been told, Joss Whedon has slightly rethought things since Season 8, and returned to sensibilities far more in keeping with the TV series. Quite what that means I have no idea for – gasp – I’ve never seen a single episode. But apparently there are some chicks, and they’re hot, and some male crumpet too.

“Season 8 ended with a bang that cut the world off from magic-culminating in another set of world-ending problems. Buffy has left her best friend,Willow, powerless, and brought an end to a millennia-long tradition of superpowered girls. By day, Buffy is a twenty-something waitress with no real direction, and even though magic is gone, she’s still a vampire Slayer by night. Bigger problem? Vampires are becoming an epidemic . . . of zompires! Collects #1-#5.”

SLH

Buy Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9 vol 1: Freefall 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.

 

Blacksad: A Silent Hell h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido

God And Science: Return Of The Ti-Girls h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez

Days Of The Bagnold Summer (£9-99,JonathanCape) by Joff Winterhart

The Tale Of Brin & Bent And Minno Marylebone h/c (£15-99,JonathanCape) byRavi Thornton & Andy Hixon

Parker: The Score h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke

Dungeon Quest Book Three (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Joe Daly

Usagi Yojimbo vol 26: Traitors Of The Earth (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

Wild Children (£5-99, Image) by Ales Kot & Riley Rossmo

Casanova: Avaritia (£10-99. Icon) by Matt Fraction & Gabriel Ba

Locke & Key vol 5: Clockworks h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez

Major Eazy vol 1: Heart Of Iron (£14-99, Titan) by Alan Hebden & Carlos Ezquerra

Professor Munakata’s British Musuem Adventure (£14-99,BritishMuseum Press) by Hoshino Yukinobu

The Stand vol 3: Soul Survivors s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Mike Perkins

Uncharted (£10-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & Sergio Sandoval

Batgirl vol 1: The Darkest Reflection hardcover (£16-99, DC) by Gail Simone & Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes

JLA: The Deluxe Edition vol 2 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Grant Morrison, Christopher Priest & Howard Porter, Val Semeiks, Arnie Jorgensen, Yanick Paquette, Gary Frank, Greg Land

Demon Knights vol 1: Seven Against The Dark s/c (£10-99, DC) by Paul Cornell & Diogenes Neves, Michael Choi

Journey Into Mystery: The Terrorism Myth h/c (£14-99, Marvel) byKieron Gillen & Mitch Breitweiser, Richard Elson

Fantastic Four vol 5 h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, Barry Kitson, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Ming Doyle, Leinil Francis Yu, Farel Dalrymple

X23 vol 2: Chaos Theory s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda, Phil Noto

Flutter (£9-99, June) by Momoko Tenzen

Secretary’s Job? (£9-99, June) by Miki Araya 

Jiu Jiu vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Touya Tobina

Psyren vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Toshiaki Iwashiro

 
It is vaguely possible that Lizz Lunney will be releasing a DEPRESSED CAT limited edition mug. Oh yes! She asked for a feeler about how well they might sell. I replied:

“Yes please! Sales tend to depend on the mugs. And we’ve LOADS of mugs to sell it to here!”

Are you one of them? Please let me know.

- Stephen @PageFortyFive

Reviews July 2012 week one

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012


The monster morphs like Stephen Bissette’s Swamp Thing, filling the grandmother’s dead living room, its shoulders hunched to the corners of the ceiling, threatening to burst through the plasterwork. It blots out the evening sky outside in the garden, black on black, still leaving much to the imagination as all nightmares should.

 - Stephen on A Monster Calls.

 

Journalism h/c (£17-99, Metropolitan Books) by Joe Sacco…

“Somebody ordered it, somebody did it, and somebody tolerated it. And all are guilty.”

Essentially a collection of all the shorter journalism comics Sacco has done for various publications like Time Magazine and also anthologies such as I LIVE HERE over the years, so you may well have come across some or all of it before in various forms, particularly if you are a fan. However, it is also an ideal Sacco primer for those unfamiliar with his work, because it covers so many areas of conflict he’s reported on, be it outright warzones such as Chechnya, also less militarily intense conflicts, though certainly not emotionally so, such as the Israeli-Palestinian one, down to his reflections upon the efficacy, or lack thereof, of international war crime trials at the Hague, through to the effects of the influx of African migrants onto the small island of Malta. The latter situation obviously being close to Sacco’s heart, Malta being his birthplace.

Sacco throws in a quote from a celebrated British journalist in concluding during his own foreword which is intentionally rather revealing about his own sensibilities and reasons for pursuing this particular aspect of comics which is, “I always say that reporters should be neutral and unbiased on the side of those who suffer.” That certainly comes across in the most straightforward reportage pieces on Chechnya and Palestine, and fair play to him because anything which helps raise awareness of the plight of those suffering, either directly or indirectly, at the hands of the idiots responsible for these conflicts is most assuredly a good thing.

The great thing about Sacco, though, is he is a journalist first and foremost, not merely someone who is attempting to highlight particular plights through his illustrative abilities, so consequently when he’s embedded with US forces in Iraq, you therefore get a fascinating insight into the somewhat monotonous daily life of a typical grunt, charged with ensuring a particular strip of road remains IED-free.

But I do like how he isn’t afraid to make it clear, in some circumstances, what his own thoughts on a given subject are. For example, with respect to the (still ongoing) war crime trials pertaining to the Balkan conflict, clearly considerably more crimes were committed than it would ever be possible to realistically bring to court, but he does find it rather troubling that there seems to be far more emphasis on nailing a few big names, instead of actually bringing as many criminals to book as possible. Plus neither do the Western governments and their lamentable inactivity in dealing with the conflict quickly enough escape his ire. The quote he uses from a Bosnian lawyer, which I opened with, who survived the siege ofSarajevois particularly telling.

I think my favourite piece, though, is the one on the influx of migrants ontoMalta, simply because here, he clearly can see the argument from both sides. That of the Africans desperate to escape grinding poverty, but also the Maltese whose society is being irrevocably changed at an extremely rapid pace. It neatly sums up the problem of modern global inequalities in microcosm and the absolute impossibilities and impracticalities of current attempts by the EU to deal with illegal economic migrants from the African continent.

It’s handled with sensitivity but he manages to convey the real anger felt on both sides: the Africans at their treatment upon arrival, simply put straight into detention for up to a year, and the Maltese at the problems their sudden explosion in the population of non-Maltese on their tiny island is causing. It’s very clear from Sacco’s excellent piece that tension and friction is building considerably on both sides, which is inevitably going to come a head at some point in the not too distant future, one suspects. It’s thought provoking stuff, and one of his best for me. I would defy anyone to read it and not come away glad they’re not one of the people trying to come up with a solution to the problem. I’m the first one to think that all politicians are power-mad ego-maniacs, but to try to actually get yourself elected into jobs where you have to solve intractable problems like this clearly proves they have to be masochists too!

JR

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

A Monster Calls (£8-99, Walker Books) by Patrick Ness & Jim Kay.

“You will tell me the fourth tale. You will tell the truth.”
“And what if I don’t?” Conor said.
The monster gave the evil grin again. “Then I will eat you alive.”

On Sunday I read this cover to cover and wept. It’s possibly the single most affecting piece of prose I’ve ever read, which spoke to my deepest fear which I have lived with all my life. I suspect I’m not alone. It’s a book about nightmares – both waking and dreamt – and about isolation, communication, death and denial. And when you finally learn the truth which has been plaguing Conor since his mother first fell ill, you will understand why he must speak it or be eaten alive forever.

“The monster showed up just aftermidnight. As they do.”

Conor is living alone with his Mum, learning to be increasingly self-sufficient. His father moved away toAmericasix years ago with his new wife, and his mother is undergoing yet more treatment. The first round didn’t work, nor did the second. It makes her ill and leaves her tired. Conor understands this – he knows that it will all make her better – but he too is tired because he’s been having the same nightmare over and over again, almost every night since before his mother’s hair fell out, since before she was first hospitalised, since, it seems, forever: the darkness and the wind and the terrible screaming…

Now the monster comes calling when Conor is awake. This is not the nightmare; it is a different beast altogether. It is the churchyard yew tree crawled to life, bellowing through his bedroom window and threatening to break in. It is dark and gigantic, bristling with branches, its coiled muscles creaking and cracking and groaning like the walls of Conor’s house under its thunderous weight. But Conor’s not afraid of its bark or its bite. Conor is afraid of the truth.

The prose we’ll come to momentarily but I bought this in originally based on Jim Kay’s art. I’d been enthusing to a new customer about Bernie Wrightson’s FRANKENSTEIN and its layers of intricate linework, talking about Franklin Booth and Gustave Doré before him, and she reciprocated with page after page on her mobile of these terrifying, pitch-black illustrations which bleed right to the edge of each double-page spread with the power you’d expect from Bill Sienkiewicz. The monster morphs like Stephen Bissette’s Swamp Thing, filling the grandmother’s dead living room, its shoulders hunched to the corners of the ceiling, threatening to burst through the plasterwork. It blots out the evening sky outside in the garden, black on black, still leaving much to the imagination as all nightmares should.

That the prose is so powerful is for us pure serendipity but the reason I’ll be buying it for everyone. It’s not in the language, it’s in the delivery. Moreover it’s in Patrick Ness’ comprehension of the psychology of it all, particularly the resistance to truth, the isolation at school when rumours of his Mum’s illness first start spreading and he can actually see them spreading in schoolyard whispers out of the corner of his eye, and the way special treatment on compassionate grounds renders Conor virtually invisible. Here he’s just made himself very visible indeed.

He was going to be punished. It was finally going to happen. Everything was going to make sense again. She was going to exclude him.
Punishment was coming.
Thank God. Thank God
“But how could I do that?” the Headmistress said.
Conor froze.
“How could I possibly do that and still call myself a teacher?” she said. “With all that you’re going through.” She frowned. “With all that we know about Harry.” She shook her head slightly. “There will come a day when we’ll talk about this, Conor O’Malley. And we will, believe me.” She started gathering the papers on her desk. “But today is not that day.” She gave him a last look. “You have bigger things to think about.”
It took Conor a moment to realise that it was over. That this was it. This was all he was going to get.
“You’re not punishing me?” he said.
The Headmistress gave him a grim smile, almost kind, and then said almost exactly the same thing his father had said. “What purpose could that possibly serve?”

The fracturing of friendships, the bullying at school, Conor’s resentment of a seemingly stringent grandmother getting in between Conor and his Mum: that’s all played so well. And as for the agonising avoidance of communication… well, there’s a constant sense of ellipsis throughout, both during the day between Connor, his mother, his grandmother and his newly Americanized Dad, and at night as the monster keeps calling and insisting that after his three stories which initially confound Conor, Conor will have to tell his.

Patrick Ness keeps you in agonising, chest-knotted suspense right until the end and oh there’ll be tears or you’re dead inside. Some things are better left unsaid. Other things need to be spoken.

“Stories are wild creatures,” the monster said. “When you let them loose, who knows that havoc they might wreak?”

SLH

Buy A Monster Calls and read the Page 45 review here

Gloriana h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Kevin Huizenga -

First it was a self-published zine, then OR ELSE #2. From the creator of GANGES, THE WILD KINGDOM etc., now it’s reproduced as a neat little 6 x 8 h/c, including its original gatefold whose outer flaps themselves form a double-page spread in their own right! It is a stunning piece of design worthy of Ware. Ask in the shop and we’ll show you! Also included: the original fold-out to SUPERMONSTER #14, its back cover, OR ELSE #2’s back cover and a note on how to pronounce his name: “HIGH zing gah”.

Mark’s review from 2005:

One of the problems facing comic artists is what should be left in and what should be left out. Jeffrey Brown, in AEIOU, shows us a relationship but leaves out important facts in the same way that his character was not told the whole story. There’s a track by Love where words are left off the end of lines but it’s obvious from the rhyming pattern as to what’s left out and it brings more attention to them. In Kill Bill, the main character’s name is bleeped out, again forcing our attention to what’s missing. Some comics give you a single page and you’d swear that you’d read ten. The opposite side of this is that we’re never given the whole truth of a moment. If you want to truly understand any moment in time you’d have to have all the facts presented to you.

The central story of this issue (“The Sunset”) gives 20 pages over to a split second of Glenn Ganges looking out of a library window, seeing a feather fall and catching the full blast of the rays of the setting sun. One line, ”Earlier I was at the library and the sun was setting…”, is chopped up and repeated throughout, pulling us back and forth throughout the moment. We see different views, people in the library, birds outside and the images left on his optic nerve as the light pours in. It’s a dizzying experience and quite a trick to pull off. If that was the only section of the book it would have still made my ‘best of 2002′ list when it originally came out. Even the way he segues into the final chapter’s calm after the storm is wonderful (“The Moon Rose”).

The first part has Glenn & Wendy unpacking the groceries. Wendy is pregnant and their minds drift to the future, when the baby is a year or so old. Both end up worrying that something bad will happen but realise that there’s a way out of it.

“Come here. She’s kicking. There. Did you feel it?”
“No.”
“… Then?”
“Nope.”
“You don’t feel that?”
“Uhh… Nope”
“Here… wait a second.”

Then we cut away and then back to find that it’s Glenn carrying the baby before we’re onto the next panel where they’re both sitting down at the dinner table, talking about relations. Then the phone rings and it’s just Glenn unpacking the groceries & he’s been daydreaming about him and his wife daydreaming about the baby. By now we’re all disorientated and possibly in the right frame of mind for “The Sunset”. Viewing this book in isolation we’re not sure if Wendy is pregnant or if Glenn is actually married. It’s Wendy that’s phoned him, so she’s real enough. Outside of this book, in “28th Street” (from Drawn and Quarterly Showcase vol 2) they’re still trying to conceive and in OR ELSE #1 they appear to have had a miscarriage or lost the child in infancy.

This is a grand book and I’m glad that it’s been reprinted. Huizenga is definitely one to watch.

“Huizenga is definitely one to watch.” Funny. That’s why we never doubted Mark!

MAS

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

Baggage (£9-99, dfb) by the Etherington Brothers…

Relentless mayhem for the younger reader, which I found to be a surprisingly dense read. And I mean that in the detailed not stooopid way. It’s certainly action-packed with non-stop escapades as Randall the disaster-prone lost property officer is set a seemingly impossible task by his cantankerous boss to avoid getting the sack. All he has to do is return the oldest item in the warehouse, a battered old suitcase, to its rightful owner before the end of the day. Should be simple, right, if he puts his mind to it? Cue much slapstick shenanigans as his treasure hunt takes him all over the city before ending up in a most surprising location. I can see why DFC entitled this as a ‘Lost And Found mystery’ as the Etherington Brothers have certainly done an excellent job turning such a simple idea into a well crafted and entertainingly illustrated yarn, as poor old Randall follows tenuous clue after tenuous clue in his desperate search for the suitcase’s owner.

JR

Baggage

Monkey Nuts vol 1: The Diamond Egg Of Wonders (£9-99, dfb) by the Etherington Brothers…

More frenetic-paced frolics from the Etherington Brothers set on Isla De Monstrea which according to the blurb is… “home of the world’s only tap-dancing, banana-loving, rust-fighting, coconut-talking, crime-busting organisation…” And yes, it really is as bonkers as it sounds with our unlikely dynamic duo of Sid the monkey and Rivet the robot thrown in at the deep as a strange signal begins to turn everyone on the island even more mental than they were already. Absolute nonsense and errr… I loved every second of it! I was slightly disturbed by the more than passing resemblance Rivet has to SCUD THE DISPOSABLE ASSASSIN, but I soon got past that and immersed myself in the fun. At the end of it, I must admit to feeling slightly like I do after an hour with my tyrannical toddling daughter, which is happy but exhausted. Both these books by the Etherington Brothers are clearly designed to appeal to younger kids who like their cartoons… which is probably most of them!

JR

Monkey Nuts vol 1: The Diamond Egg Of Wonders

Anna And Froga: Want A Gumball? (£10-99, Enfant) by Anouk Ricard.

“Anna and Froga and all their friends are the most perfect combination of unbelievably adorable and total jerks… Anouk Ricard is a genius.”

 - Sara Varon of ROBOT DREAMS and Bake Sale – recommended!

“ANNA & FROGA is the best kind of children’s book… sweet and tart, with a crunchy bite to it. Just like the perfect wild apple picked right off the tree.”

 - James Kochalka of American Elf and FANTASTIC BUTTERFLIES – recommended!

“I don’t get it.”

 - Stephen L. Holland of Page 45 – what a moron!

Full colour comics for kids starring Anna and her anthropomorphic friends playing catch in the sea, misappropriating each others art and passing off painting by numbers as original art masterpieces. I did like the way that one worked out, and do like the way Froga is drawn with some pretty priceless expressions. It’s popped on the page in a pleasingly child-like manner and maybe the kids will lap these antics up. This adult found it flat. I’d describe the interactions as way too plinky-plonky if I knew what the hell I even meant by that, but it just seemed so obvious and oh, the ultimate crime: dull.

“A whale!”
“Hardly! Have you ever seen a whale? I’m a tuna!”
“I thought you looked fishy! Ha! Ha! Just joking! What’s your name?”
“Johnny. Yours?”
“Ron!”
“Froga!”
“Greetings!”

Great.

SLH

Buy Anna And Froga: Want A Gumball? and read the Page 45 review here

Dinosaurs Vs. Aliens h/c (£14-99, Dynamite) by Grant Morrison, Barry Sonnenfeld & Mukesh Singh…

Looks like Grant Morrison is finally going to get over his Millar-envy as one of his projects will be made into a film! No, not ANIMAL MAN, not indeed THE INVISIBLES or indeed even WE3, but instead we’ll see semi-intelligent but rapidly evolving dinosaurs taking on highly advanced insectoid aliens in a secret world war that was “never recorded in Earth’s history books”. Well no, because dinosaurs can’t write, can they? And I’ve never actually seen a fly that can hold a pen! This, then… is the trailer… err… I mean graphic novel! Well, the first part at least.

Sigh, I shouldn’t be so sceptical, I suppose, but when “acclaimed [not by me, mind you, but hey ho] director” Barry Sonnenfeld of Men In Black fame decided he wanted to do a film about dinosaurs fighting aliens, then obviously the logical thing to do was a graphic novel about it, because everyone knows that’s how you get a film made these days, isn’t it, write a graphic novel? And who better to get to write it than someone who seems desperate to make it toHollywood?

I was therefore, you might have surmised, despite the presence of Morrison, expecting a right royal cosmic car crash. Obviously there is a UFO crash as that’s how the aliens end up landing on Earth, leaving them with the simplest of choices – to fight or die – against the previously warring two tribes of dinosaurs, but happily this thinnest of premises is made to work rather slickly (ah Grant, I can’t believe I ever doubted you!) and by the end I was hoping I won’t have to wait too long for the sequel… err… I mean next volume.

Fabulous art from Mukesh Singh (and I would suspect numerous denizens of Liquid Studio) which, whilst it quite obviously has one Tyrannosaurus Rex-sized eye and several million alien insectoid compound eyes too on said film pitch, is quite breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly detailed in places. But I guess when you don’t actually need the graphic novel to make any money, and all its production costs are but a mere drop in the ocean of the marketing budget of the forthcoming film, presumably you can afford a whole studio as well as artist to illustrate and colour your book…

Fans Of Aliens, Predator, Aliens Vs. Predator et al will no doubt love this. I’m more of an AGE OF REPTILES man myself, but this certainly has potential. Meanwhile, far more exciting, to me at least, is the news that Steve Bissette is returning to TYRANT!! Come on fella, you know we want it!!! http://srbissette.com/?p=14330

JR

Buy Dinosaurs Vs. Aliens h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Kick-Ass 2 h/c (£18-99, DC) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr….

What do you really need to know about this book? Did you like KICK-ASS? If yes, you will love this just as much, probably more, as the violence, profanity and frankly utter insanity reaches new levels, as the wannabe supervillain Red Mist decides to destroy Kick-Ass, one family member and friend at a time. Go on, buy yourself a gimp suit and a rubber truncheon and get out there fighting crime, you know you want to. If you hated KICK-ASS and thought it was the most puerile thing you’d ever read, buy this anyway, make us and Millar that little bit richer (or just less poor in our case!), and then run and tell the Daily Mail, see if we care. All their readers wear gimp suits anyway, that’s a known fact.

Please note, not suitable for children… The Daily Mail that is…

JR

Buy Kick-Ass 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman: The Black Glove h/c (Deluxe Ed’n) (£22-50, DC) by Grant Morrison & Andy Kubert, J.H. Williams III, Tony S. Daniel.

In fact collects the material that was in the BATMAN & SON and BLACK GLOVE Black Glove softcovers, so now is the starting point of the Morrison run.

BATMAN & SON by Stephen:

In which Batman learns he may have a son, and a fairly brattish one at that. Raised by his mother, Talia al Ghul, amongst international terrorists, he is of course just another weapon in Talia’s silo, and you wouldn’t normally take a ticking time bomb home with you, would you? It’s not good news for Robin (Damian: “He was my rival.”), but it does give Alfred further opportunity for arched eyebrows and the odd bon mot. And then there are the other two Batmen which Bruce has encountered, with a threat of a third, tied somehow to the Black Book whichWaynecomposed of all the weird stuff he’s encountered that he couldn’t logically explain. Both so far were cops, one berserk on steroids, and there’s a cover up in progress.

Kubert’s art is some of the most attractive I’ve seen on this title. In some ways he’s a straightforward superhero artist with enormous panache, and so succeeds here in opening up and reinvigorating the tired and murky proceedings, just as Morrison has done with his flash and brash James Bond approach. This isn’t the “difficult” Morrison some enjoy of SEVEN SOLDIERS or INVISIBLES. It’s just as confident, not at all “lite” and certainly not lacking in surprises, as evidenced by part seven set in the future, and that grotesque gothic prelude set in Arkham Asylum. Instead, it’s as slick and clipped as an Ellis script, only slightly more reasonable and with room for a little tenderness. Together, Grant and Andy have created something rather sexy.

BLACK GLOVE by Alex Sarll:

I think it was the Chinese general Chiang Kai Shek who, when asked in the mid-twentieth century whether the French Revolution had been a good thing, said it was too soon to say. Likewise with Morrison’s Batman: at time of writing the second act has only just begun, with Dick Grayson attempting to fill Bruce Wayne’s shoes in BATMAN & ROBIN. After which, presumably, we will find out about Bruce’s return from the enigmatic position in which FINAL CRISIS left him. And then, we’ll be able to assess whether the whole story made sense, was any good, and so forth.

That has more impact on the second half of this book, a set of stories teasing and setting up developments in the misnamed BATMAN R.I.P. and beyond; ‘Joe Chill in Hell’ is a fevered psychological chiller, but the three stories about fake Batmen have still yet to reveal all their secrets. The first half, though – the first half may tease and set-up and so forth, but even taken in isolation, it’s a thing of wonder. The run had pretty pedestrian art at times, but here we welcome JH Williams III, probably Frank Quitely’s only rival in the field of astonishing page layouts since Tim Sale went formulaic – and no slouch at the old ‘pictures’ bit of the job either. To keep him occupied, Morrison brings out one of those obscure bits of Bat-lore which dot his run (and about which you need no more than he tells you) – the Club of Heroes, aka the Batmen of All Nations. The Legionary! The Knight! The Gaucho! And various other ethnically-stereotypical Batmen knock-offs from a fifties issue, now pushed into the modern day, each of them a commentary on a way Batman could have lost it if he weren’t, well, Batman. Cue murder, mystery and betrayal. And, as I may have mentioned, some absolutely gorgeous art.

SLH / Alex Sarll

Buy Batman: The Black Glove h/c (Deluxe Ed’n) and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Masterworks: The Uncanny X-Men vol 5 (£18-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne, John Romita Jr.

Corruption and seduction and genocide. Keep your enemies close and your friends even closer: this one will gut you for good.

Jean Grey was a kind, gentle soul, and one of the five original students at the countryside School For Gifted Youngsters. It was a quiet and secluded safe haven for those feared and persecuted just because they were different. They grew up together as a loving family under the paternal gaze of Professor Charles Xavier, an extraordinary, optimistic man whose vision for a future free from the anger and anguish of bigotry was indomitable. Each student was gifted or cursed at birth with a special power that lay dormant until puberty. And, truth be told, Jean Grey’s was the weakest: regardless of her sex, she was a telekinetic who struggled to move more than a chair.

Scott Summers was another of the school’s five original mutants. A blast of pure energy out of his eyes left unchecked could literally level a building. And so it was that he held himself back, and hid behind ruby-quartz glasses. He suppressed himself. In spite of all that, as they battled alongside, Jean Grey and Scott Summers gradually and naturally fell in love. They were the happy ending which Charles Xavier originally envisioned.

But in MARVEL MASTERWORKS: UNCANNY X-MEN VOL 2 Jean Grey almost died and rose again as The Phoenix, transfigured into a woman of now limitless telekinetic and telepathic power. It worried her. It worried the new generation of mutants too: Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, and even Professor Xavier who helped install psychic circuit-breakers, effectively suppressing Jean’s mutant abilities to manageable limits until she’d grow able to handle them. But for months now she’s had a mental intruder, a dashing aristocrat called Jason Wyngarde who’s been seducing her slowly in Cyclops’ absence, seemingly spiriting her away to an ancestral past which they shared. The truth is that they’ve been too distracted, and this is where everyone pays…

Claremont managed the mechanics of the subplot there (and so too here, with a shadow and a smile) to perfection, keeping Scott and Jean apart for far too long while Wyngarde made his move. It spanned nearly forty issues, but – with the above introduction – you’ll find everything here that you need. It’s overburdened with captions just as this review is overburdened by background, but the dialogue is still pretty haunting, and John Byrne was approaching the top of his game as the halfway house between Neal Adams, George Perez and Jim Lee. Even the speech balloons had their role to play, Jean’s chillingly distanced from the others’ in an otherworldly, far darker ripple as she grows increasingly remote in her own, angry world, punctuated by tantalisingly brief but poignantly intimate moments. And if you’re wondering why I’m expending so many words, it’s because this is a superhero classic: the defining X-Men saga for thirty-odd years before Morrison, Whedon and Ellis came along.

The X-Men have just been reunited in time for Cerebro to register two new mutants: Kitty Pryde and Dazzler. They tried to make contact but so did the elite and nefarious Hellfire Club in the form of cold Emma Frost, The White Queen. Licking their wounds, the X-Men regroup now set about infiltrating the Hellfire Club. It’s a good plan and it might have worked. Except that amongst their members lies Jason Wyngarde, and he has an ace – or a Black Queen – up his sleeve. And the cards, they come tumbling down.

So many key moments here which I refuse to ruin, but the best thing about this? That’s just the beginning. It just grows bigger and bigger and bigger. Each victory proves pyrrhic and just when you think they are winning it all grows disastrously worse. Then worse. And then, I swear to God, heartbreakingly worse. It really wouldn’t matter if they didn’t all love each other.

Reprint UNCANNY X-MEN #132-140, ANNUAL #4, and BIZARRE ADVENTURES #27, the black and white magazine which I don’t think has ever been reprinted before, as Jean’s sister Sara visits her grave and recalls their childhood together.

Also here: PHOENIX: THE UNTOLD STORY with its original ending to #137, and the interview with Claremont and Byrne, and editors Shooter and Salicrup on why they insisted the ending be changed plus, gloriously, what would have been the first page to #138 if Jean had lived, which was originally printed, uninked, in the John Byrne art book thirty years ago. It’s absolutely beautiful, and infinitely more poignant in retrospect.

SLH

Buy Marvel Masterworks: The Uncanny X-Men vol 5 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.

 
Wizzywig: Portrait Of A Serial Hacker h/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Ed Piskor

Batman: Earth One h/c (£16-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank

Fables vol 17: Inherit The Wind (£10-99, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & various

Clive Barker’s Hellraiser vol 2: Requiem (£10-99, Boom!) by Clive Barker, Christopher Monfette & various

Halo: Fall Of Reach: Invasion h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Reed & Felix Ruiz

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9 vol 1: Freefall (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss & Georges Jeanty

Invincible vol 16: Family Ties (£12-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Corey Walker, Ryan Ottley

Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors s/c (£10-99, DC) by Peter Tomasi & Fernando Pasarin

Suicide Squad vol 1: Kicked In The Teeth s/c (£10-99, DC) by Adam Glass & various

Batman And Robin vol 1: Born To Kill h/c (£18-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason

5 Centimeters per Second (£13-99, Vertical) by Makoto Shinkai

Skip Beat! Omnibus vols 7-9 (£10-99, Viz) by Yoshiki Nakamura

Hana-Kimi Omnibus vols 7-9 (£10-99, Viz) by Hisaya Nakajo

Kobato vol 6 (£8-99, Yen) by Clamp


My car went in for its MOT yesterday. Bit worried since its tax disc had already expired. No problems, though, until the dealer handed back my car keys.

“A clean bill of health, “ he declared, encouragingly. “For your car,” he added. “Not you,” he said. “Obviously.”

It was the way in which he looked at me as he said that.

 - Stephen