Archive for August, 2012

Reviews August 2012 week five

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Understanding is all, and the first thing you have to understand is the Chinese people’s utter devotion to the Communist Party instilled in them by Chairman Mao whom they loved and worshipped unswervingly even during the height of the chaos, anarchy, cruelty and civil war which the Cultural Revolution brought with it.

 - Stephen on A Chinese Life

The Making Of h/c (£22-50, D&Q) by Brecht Evens…

Glorious Belgique tour de farce from the laconic watercolour meister that is Brecht Evens. I really did find it difficult to believe he was going to be able to top his riotous celebration of friendship and fun that is THE WRONG PLACE, but he’s managed it hands down here by simply upping the ante on the sheer implausibility of plot and the various neuroses of the characters involved!

The “moderately successful” (i.e. not very) Flemish artist and devoted urbanite Peterson is offered the opportunity to be the special guest at the Beerpoele biennial art festival, Beerpoele being a charming location way, way out in the countryside. When he gets there, though, he finds much to his chagrin that the festival is little more than a glorified village fete.

However, things haven’t exactly been going well for Peterson recently back in the big city, so when the villagers, led by the ultra-enthusiastic curator Kristof, hoist him straight up on their collective pedestal like a true colossus of the art world, his ego inevitably responds and he begins to throw himself into the festival with increasingly reckless abandon, advising all the locals on their various individual projects, before deciding what they really need is a grand collaboration, to really celebrate the spirit of the festival and bring them all together artistically.

Peterson’s subsequent choice of a huge thirty-foot-high garden gnome constructed from papier mâché gives you just a little flavour of Brecht’s mischievous and resolutely off the wall humour which tickles and titillates throughout. Marshalling his troops in the little time they have is going to be no easy task for Peterson though, and it’s going to go right down to the wire if they’re going to get their piece ready in time for the opening of the festival.

As the deadline approaches and the pressure on him increases, Peterson’s motivational techniques become increasingly less orthodox, as indeed does the behaviour of the participants, some of whom weren’t exactly the most coherent souls to begin with. Fortunately for Peterson though, he’s able to seek solace in the arms of the infatuated teenage Cleo. Well he’d like to, but given as the surreal and farcical factors are gradually being ramped up to Vaudevillian proportions by this point, clearly something, well let’s face it everything, is probably, err well, certain, to go wrong…

I should add, for those of you already intrigued by the above but who are not familiar with Brecht’s amazing watercolours, just take a look at the interior art I have posted. There really is nothing else quite like it stylistically in comics, that springs to my mind at least. Were Picasso actually to have produced some comics, which actually existed other than in the HICKSVILLE library of course, he would have been hard pushed to produce something as impressive as Brecht. Now there’s a bold statement to finish a review with…

JR

Buy The Making Of h/c and read the Page 45 review here

A Chinese Life (£16-99, Self Made Hero) by Li Kunwu, Philippe Ôtié & Li Kunwu.

A vital piece of social history brought vibrantly to life through Li Kunwu’s eye-witness account of all that he and his fellow village children instigated, propagated and then endured during the Cultural Revolution… right through to China’s meteoric industrialisation, modernisation, and the opening of its borders followed by Beijing’s triumphant Olympic games.

That it spans all six decades – of destruction and reconstruction – is key to the book’s success, bringing with it the contrasts and context vital to understanding how China is perceived by different generations of its own population, and in particular Kunwu’s very personal take which I found far from predictable as a Westerner. Seriously, you’re in for several surprises.

Understanding is all, and the first thing you have to understand is the Chinese people’s utter devotion to the Communist Party instilled in them by Chairman Mao whom they loved and worshipped unswervingly even during the height of the chaos, anarchy, cruelty and civil war which the Cultural Revolution brought with it. It was also instilled in Li Kunwu by his father, a provincial Secretary in 1950 which is where the story kicks off, pretty much where Belle Yang’s own family tale FORGET SORROW left off.

Xiao Li, as he was known when born, didn’t understand the pressures and responsibilities shouldered by his father who took his work very seriously indeed. To him, village life was full of pageantry: hearty and colourful celebrations of traditional holidays. Then came the Great Leap Forward to “beat the Brits and catch up with the Americans” – a single-minded smelting or ore and anything with a trace of metal in it which meant the furnaces had to be fuelled which led to the frenzied demolition of the forests resulting in barren soil for the villages. Was this reported? No, for as well as communal cooperation there was a fierce sense of competition so no one wanted to lose face, and everyone reported bumper harvests while in fact they were all of them starving. Xiao Li’s father, now District Chief Li, decides to talk to the Regional Secretary:

“Don’t worry too much about it. Content yourself with working properly.”

Well, that will fill stomachs.

The famine lasts for years, and the details will make you weep. At the same time an anti-Feudalism movement began which set the younger generation against the old, leading to a little early rebellion in Xaio Li. But that was as nothing compared to the double whammy of Mao’s call to worship soldier Lei Feng who died aged 23 “in the service of the people” which began to militarise the village’s children… and, in Spring 1966, the coming of the Cultural Revolution as dictated by Chairman Mao’s ‘Yu Lu: Quotations’ known over here as ‘The Little Red Book’. The teachers, who loved Mao, dutifully commanded their pupils to learn each quotation by heart, and the children lapped this up too. But then the teachers began to talk of poisons which needed to be eradicated (basically it boiled down to anything perceived to be bourgeois… pleasurable… individualistic… traditional…) and the children, already fervent and pugnacious, took it upon themselves to rise up against their elders and do the eradication for them. Of them.

Haircuts were proscribed, menus decried and those who indulged in culture denounced. Whole shops full of art and artefacts were raided and raised to the ground, burning the books that they housed. Anyone contradicting the kids was threatened with being reported. And then… then it was time to turn on the teachers.

At this point my jaw was on the floor. You won’t believe it until you read it. And remember, Li Kunwu was amongst the most active, drawing those haircuts deemed acceptable, turning on a shop keeper and standing up to his father who’d long been worrying where this was all going, and joining in excitably with the hanging of signs all over the village denouncing whomever they could think of. There’s a lot of denouncing in this book.

A movement founded on the principals of discipline had ended up destroying it. Neighbours were at each others throats. It’s one big catalogue of self-destruction in which Li Kunwu was as guilty as anyone else. They came for his father next.

To his credit the artist and narrator shies not away from his own culpability, but his brilliance is in effectively helping us understand how it all came to this: the tiny details of their lives which foreshadowed what was to come. What follows is a sustained period of poverty of all, as Li leaves home to join the Red Army for a pittance. With his father in a re-education facility, his mother desperately ill and his sister away, his family is completely split up yet each member strives their hardest to keep in touch and keep each other’s heads up in spite of adversity. It’s a wonder any of them made it through alive.

What I’ve attempted to do is pick out the most salient points from the first fifth of the book which to me explain the creator’s attitude to what he observes around him in the second half after Chairman Mao’s death, the denunciation of the Gang Of Four, the gradual reversal of the Cultural Revolution and the sudden explosion of wealth. Far from having destroyed his faith in the Communist Party or the ideals behind it – the state providing for the people, the people in service to each other and a great big sense of community – he is desperate to join the Party and is frankly baffled to begin with when his artistic career takes off and the military encourage a sensuousness in his art which had been firmly forbidden during his apprenticeship.

Li is far more a witness than a commentator. He declines to cover the events of Tiananmen Square because, he says, he wasn’t even there (but that scene with his co-writer Philippe Ôtié shows him wriggling apologetically to avoid it – it was obviously a bone of contention), and you won’t see Tibet mentioned once. He’s far prouder of what China has accomplished in thirty-five short years and, as I say, once you’ve read the first half for yourself you will probably understand why.

Tellingly, however, the banners translated throughout in footnotes have stopped sporting slogans of social exhortation and become adverts for the worst in capitalism like “betting, pools, raffles”. What he sees around him is a squandering of food and money when once they had so little. There’s a funeral which takes a turn for the surreal (and surely expressionistic) when they sacrifice burnt offerings of money, brand-name clothing, a house and a car. Then there’s a grotesque display of gluttony and waste at a restaurant when one boastful boss, high on his own supply of ego and self-esteem, starts berating a waitress and innocent owner in terms of “Do you know who I am?!” – which is possibly the least impressive way of trying to impress people.

As to education, it becomes so valued and therefore competitive that the system itself justifies ways of earning a little extra cash so that those who can afford to open doors for their daughters or sons will do so – including Li Kunwu – and there goes equality for all. He also bears witness to outright corruption at the gates of a factory which, as a cartoonist now at the Yunnan Ribao newspaper, he uses his press pass to thwart. Meanwhile, within that factory – many about to close down having only just opened (over two centuries of industrial revolution in the west have taken just two decades in the east) – older workers are fretting about being left behind in a world they no longer comprehend. Then come the bulldozers, destroying old neighbourhoods and displacing neighbours to brand-new skyscrapers on the edges of town where there is no sense of community. But once again for a sense of context all you have to do is turn back to the first half of the book and, well, it ain’t perfect, but it’s predominantly progress as far as Kunwu is concerned.

There’s much to admire in the art with its fine sense of space, and which grows more precise rather representational the closer we move to the present. Some of the architecture is stunning (just flick to page 587 for a nocturnal courtyard of illuminated beauty) while the landscapes he visits later on are… pfff… off the scale.

If you’re wondering why this single review is as long as all last week’s put together, the book comes in at a whopping 700 pages. I’ve only scratched the surface, and it occurs to me now that because of graphic novels like this, FORGET SORROW, PERSEPOLIS, PYONGYANG, SHENZHEN, Silk Road To Ruin, and Footnotes In Gaza that I’ve learned far more about geography and history outside of Europe through comics than I ever learned during over a decade spent at school. Stuff I really needed to know, told through enlightening personal perspectives.

So the next time someone belittles this medium you love to your face, pick up this kilo of culture, and smack them over the head with it.

It’s closer to two kilos, actually, but I quite like the scansion; forgive me.

SLH

Buy A Chinese Life and read the Page 45 review here

Only Skin: New Tales Of The Slow Apocalypse (£16-50, Secret Acres) by Sean Ford.

“What are ghosts even made of anyway?”
“That’s immaterial, Clay.”

… says the ghost.

Both Stephen R. Bissette and Alison Bechdel commend this book to you on the back, and I do so here but not for the same reasons. I seem to have had a slightly different experience: that of an enjoyably staged, spacious affair set in and around small-town America with the tone and timing of THIEVES AND KINGS. It’s album-sized and pretty hefty; few very early works are this long these days.

Cassie and younger brother Clay arrive back at the petrol station run by their Dad after eight years absence. Chris has been running it 24/7 ever since their Dad disappeared a fortnight ago. He’s so bushed he’s virtually narcoleptic and seems to have slept through the latest incident: severed fingers found in a pool of blood by the petrol pump. He’s reporting it to Tracy the Sheriff just as they arrive.

Paul is dreaming of his father’s acute illness. The hospital room opens up to the woods – his father has disappeared into them. Still, at least he’s not ill himself, yet. He meets his friend Albert in the diner close to where the locals are protesting against all the people missing after venturing into the woods. The Sheriff wants to close them off while they investigate. Albert suspects ulterior motives: that she’s financially in bed with forest ranger Jonah, wanting to raise the woods to the ground for profit.

Jonah went missing a week ago. Whether or not he is financially in bed with Tracy, he’s biblically in bed with Rachel, and his wife Angie is far from best pleased. She brings their son Jordan over to play with Clay. Chris is drawing deer, Clay is drawing ghosts – specifically the sort of ghost that floats through the air like bed linen – just like the one that lured him out to the woods last night and showed a deer, slashed deep with claws. There was something else in the woods last night.

Jordan says he’s seen the ghost too, but he hasn’t. The floating bedsheet tells Clay that in no uncertain terms and has a little fun with Jordan to prove it. A woman falls through the diner door, exhausted.

It’s all very dreamlike and utterly charming. There is something dark in the heart of this as the mystery plays itself out, but no one seems to have picked up on the comedy. The ghost is hilarious. Although immaterial, it casts a shadow wherever it goes and when it rises from the paddling pool it drips water! It is at once demanding yet oblivious, and the piece at the party was in retrospect brilliant.

I won’t deny for one second that the blank-eyed art is slightly derivative, but hey, we should all choose our sources so well! No, my only qualm is the cover and format, both terrible throwbacks to something self-published twenty years ago when the launch party poster was infinitely sharper and gave you a far fairer clue to the contents.

SLH

Buy Only Skin: New Tales Of The Slow Apocalypse and read the Page 45 review here

The Manara Library vol 3 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Milo Manara.

“Milo Manara’s collaborations with legendary filmmaker Federico Fellini take centre stage in this latest volume of THE MILO MANARA LIBRARY! Together, these two masters produced the beautiful, surreal stories ‘Trip to Tulum’ and ‘The Voyage of G. Mastorna,’ the latter of which is presented in English for the first time! Completing this volume is Manara’s collaboration with Silverio Pisu on the satirical update of a Chinese fable, ‘The Ape,’ as well as a large selection of short stories displaying the maestro’s illustrative versatility!”

‘Trip To Tulum’ features some of the most beautiful, lakeside illustrations of all time with crisp, clean lines and ripples and reflections to die for. One splash later and you’re transported deep under the ocean where Galleons have long since sunk, more recently joined by passenger planes, all of them danced round by dolphins. Sharks circle as our heroine investigates and it’s all a bit Tombraider II.  As to the full-page city-scape looked down on at night from the top of an exotic, open-air restaurant, and the vast, crystalline tower rising up from the shore into a full lunar night glittering with all the stars in the Milky Way…breathtaking! Obviously all her clothes fall off at one point – that’s why most people buy Manara – but I’ve never seen a final-page punchline quite like this. Features Fellini too.

There’s a story set in Venice (more exterior shots would have been lovely) and one in space, while the ‘The Ape’ referred to above is an epic, fantastical horror affair.

Mostly black and white this time round, although “The Journey…” is certainly full-colour. For a more in-depth review of Manara please see THE MANARA LIBRARY VOL 1.

SLH

Buy The Manara Library vol 3 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Swamp Thing vol 1: Raise Them Bones s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Yanick Paquette, Marco Rudy.

The natural balance is all out of kilter. Weather systems run riot. Pigeons by day and bats by night fall lifeless from the skies; in the ocean the fish are dying. Out in the dessert where plant life is scarce, something is stirring and making a home for itself. Something that feeds on death and disease and decay. Slowly, The Rot is spreading…

Six weeks ago Alec Holland woke up in a swamp. A botanist whose life’s work was a bio-restorative formula capable growing vegetation in the most infertile regions of a planet, he died in an explosion many years ago, and in his stead the Swamp Thing roamed the glades. It had memories of being human, but it wasn’t. A champion of The Green, that Swamp Thing was a pure earth elemental.

Now the roles are reversed, for Alec Holland has memories of being that muck monster he never was, and intense, romantic feelings for a woman with white hair he’s never met. Begged by The Green to resume his prior calling, he flatly refuses until The Rot comes calling in all its hideous, unstoppable horror, preying on the decay and disease in us all. The only reason he escapes with his life is a woman on a motorbike with a shotgun. A woman with white hair: Abigail Arcane.

Oh, this is good. It’s grim and a bit wordy but good. Alan Moore and then Rick Veitch are tough acts to follow and no one has succeeded until now. Nancy A. Collins’ stab wasn’t bad. But where this succeeds against all expectations is in starting from scratch whilst simultaneously building on what went before. There’s a very good reason The Green now needs someone partially human – and it’s all to do with the desert. Similarly Abby and half-brother William’s involvement is far from random given uncle Anton Arcane’s prior role in The Rot. Does it tie in with DC New 52’s ANIMAL MAN? Oh, it will, but you can approach it from either angle.

The faces and figure drawing are of the Lee Weeks, Ron Granger and Marc Laming school of attractive, sturdy and striking, while some of the page layouts with their organic frames in The Green aim for what JH Williams III accomplished in PROMETHEA. As to the covers, they hark back to Bissette and Totleben’s run on Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing over and over again, and there’s a cover and sketch gallery in the back whose final pages – as Yanick messes around with one particular cover layout – are stunning.

Will Alec Holland make the ultimate sacrifice and resume the mantle of the Swamp Thing remembering full well what it will mean, and knowing it’s irreversible? Will there be a Green left by then to help him? The disease is spreading faster and faster infecting all who stray near. As any gardener knows there’s only one way to stop the rot, and that’s by cutting off anything infected. Anything, or anyone.

Doctor Alec Holland says: if you have an inflamed knee, wrap it in cabbage leaves and cellophane. Cabbage leaves contain a natural anti-inflammatory amino acid.

Doctor Stephen Holland says: if you have an inflamed cabbage, for Pete’s sake keep John Constantine at a distance. He’ll only provoke it further.

SLH

Buy Swamp Thing vol 1: Raise Them Bones s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 4 (£14-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka, Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten, Rick Burchett, Brian Hurtt…

“Come on. I’m not dying in Prague.”

Which oddly enough are almost exactly the words I uttered to my best mate and former Prague resident, the indomitable Mr. Savage, as he returned unsteadily from the bar with yet another round of foaming Budvars, replete with tequila teasers and absinthe chasers. Much like Paul Crocker, more familiar to us as the Director of Operations of Her Majesty’s covert SIS service, but here in his previous role in the field – and firing line – as Minder One, I was beginning to wonder whether I would make it out of the city alive.

Obviously he and I did, just about intact in both our cases, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this review and Greg Rucka wouldn’t have been able to write the three QUEEN & COUNTRY collections set in the current day featuring the abrasive spymaster. This fourth collection therefore, wraps up the “Declassified” mini-series material detailing the back stories of Crocker, Tom Wallace and Nicholas Poole, including in Crocker’s case, the oft referred to ‘Prague incident’. I so, so wish this series was still going, and for anyone who hasn’t read it, but likes espionage based fiction, I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.

Also, many thanks to customer Justin Sheppherd who recently lent me the three Queen & Country prose novels penned by Rucka which directly follow on from the comics, and also his DVDs of the ‘70s TV show The Sandbaggers, which inspired Rucka to create QUEEN & COUNTRY, him being such a massive fan of the show.

JR

Buy Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 4 and read the Page 45 review here

The Man I Picked Up (£9-99, June) by CJ Michalski.

“I always want to do sexy stuff with you. But… if I tried to jump you every time I felt like it… it wouldn’t be very proper.”

It most certainly wouldn’t… Cue massive impropriety!

I do love the way he was holding his chin in deepest consideration, though. This is a man who has given much thought throughout his adult life to the nature of manliness. He is a big-quiffed, raven-haired stud, and has a motto to suit his every need.

“Accepting things with open-mindedness is… the spirit of true manliness!”

Especially when the young man is offering you his lunch box.

“It’s not manly to make someone that upset!”

So don’t turn him down.

This is the manifestation of my manliness…!”

I’ll give you one guess as to what just manifested itself, and where.

If you hadn’t yet guessed it, this is more of that hot boy-on-boy action we stock purely to piss off the puritans and show solidarity with our comicbook sisters who for decades have had to put up with comic shop shelves stacked with big-boobed bad babes in low-cut or non-existence skin-tights wrestling so physically with each other. That it makes us a fortune is irrelevant to this compromised capitalist, and I only give each a thorough once-over to make sure we are not transgressing the trade descriptions act by selling you something with less than the requisite Filth Factor Five.

This passes muster but there’s not much to fluster – in fact it’s predominantly sweet. There are four separate storylines, each involving a pleasure deferred until one of the protagonists finally throws his heterosexuality to the wind (propagandist translation: manifests his manliness by tossing it off) and gives in to puppy-eyed doting simply because of a snowdrift.

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, please note: real life rarely works out like this.

Although…

SLH

Buy The Man I Picked Up and read the Page 45 review here

I’ve Seen It All (£9-99, June) by Shoko Takaku.

At least, I thought I had until this.

It is precisely like an episode of Embarrassing Bodies left on the cutting room floor because Dr Christian Jessen, confronted with too many weeping willies, became obsessed with finding the perfect one and could detect it under two layers of clothing. Two layers and an armoured box if you’re a cricketer.

I have no idea how many Hippocratic oaths would have been broken in the hot pursuit here, but I suspect they’d be manifold. Also, laws and a sense of responsibility and fair play.

“On my pride as a specialist in men’s genitals…” is not a sentence I ever expected to read, but on closer examination – and I can promise you plenty of those – it transpires that a man called Ayumi has the golden goods which Dr Saikawa is after. A bit too clinical for cynical me, but therein lies the comedy: Dr Saikawa’s assistant / straight guy is hilarious.

SLH

Buy I’ve Seen It All and read the Page 45 review here

Essential Warlock vol 1 (£14-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas, Mike Friedrich, Jim Starlin & Jim Starlin, Gil Kane, John Byrne plus more.

Homicide or suicide? Certainly it’s a sacrifice few would be willing to make.

Following his run on CAPTAIN MARVEL in which he created Thanos, the craggy-chin Titan besotted by Death, this is Starlin’s most significant contribution to comics, and one of those rare, enormously satisfying, self-fulfilling time loops.

The entire cosmic saga is here from black-and-white beginning to end, as well as the stuff that preceded it. Honestly? I’d skip all that and jump straight in at STRANGE TALES #178, only going back to the earlier material as a curiosity. Or you could buy the full-colour MARVEL MASTERWORKS: WARLOCK VOL 2 h/c which features the cosmic saga on its own, for never has butterscotch been so attractive as it is on Adam Warlock’s skin. Fans of Bryan Talbot’s ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT will relish the art as much as the introspection and the adversarial role of The Universal Church of Truth with all the ruthless repression, hypocrisy and indoctrination that comes with our own organised religions. So here we go, the cosmic saga:

Warlock is a star traveller with a Soul Gem which sits on his forehead ready to rip out opponents’ life force like a glistening vampire. But it comes with a cost – a burden of guilt – for very early on Adam comes into contact with The Universal Church Of Truth’s handywork, learns that it’s headed by The Magus, and discovers that this Magus is his future self corrupted and driven insane by his experiences. From that moment on he sees but one course of action: he has to cauterise the future by terminating his own lifeline before it’s too late. And that’s precisely what he achieves when he’s confronted by a bloody, broken version of himself lying in the ruins of some future battle:

“You… So my time has really come.”
“You know why I am here?! Then you must also realise I’ve no desire to do what I must now do!”
“Of course I understand, you idealistic buffoon! Are not you and I one and the same person? My final moments are upon me! I am dying and you have come to steal my soul so that it will never become the foe I defeated those long months ago!”
“Months… I didn’t realise it had happened such a short time ago!”
“Short time?! You fool, it’s been an eternity! During that time, everything I’ve ever cared for or accomplished has fallen into ruin! Everyone I’ve ever loved now lies dead! My life has been a failure! I welcome its end.”

That takes place approximately one-third of the way through. It’s only then that the rough stuff starts happening and Adam has to endure all that was promised until, in a final battle against Thanos alongside Captain Marvel and the Avengers, Adam Warlock falls, and you see precisely the same scene played out in a new perspective.

Gutting.

Collects MARVEL PREMIERE #1-2, WARLOCK (1972) #1-15, INCREDIBLE HULK (1968) #176-178, STRANGE TALES (1951) #178-181, MARVEL TEAM-UP (1972) #55, MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE ANNUAL #2, and AVENGERS ANNUAL (1967) #7.

SLH

Buy Essential Warlock vol 1 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.

 

Amulet vol 5: Prince Of The Elves (£9-99, Scholastic Press) by Kazu Kibuishi

Courtney Crumrin vol 2: The Coven Of Mystics h/c (£18-99, Oni Press) by Ted Naifeh

The Voyeurs h/c (£18-99, Uncivilised Books) by Gabrielle Bell

Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Masterpieces vol 2 (£14-99, BOOM!) by various

Wanted (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & J.G. Jones

Penny Arcade vol 8: Magical Kids In Danger (£10-99, Oni Press) by Jerry Holkins & Mike Krahulik

Star Wars Omnibus: Clone Wars vol 1: The Republic Goes To War (£19-99, Dark Horse) by John Ostrander & Jan Duursema

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Classics vol 2 (£13-50, IDW) by Mark Martin

Farscape: Scorpius vol 2: Glorious Basterds (£9-99, BOOM!) by Rockne S. O’Bannon, David Alan Mack & Gordon Purcell

Rat Pack vol 1: Guns, Guts And Glory (£14-99, Titan) by Gerry Finley-Day, John Wagner, Pat Mills & Carlos Ezquerra, Massimo Belardinelli plus more

Sonic Saga Series vol 1: Darkest Storm (£8-99, Archie Comics) by various

Fear Itself: Thunderbolts s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Kev Walker, Declan Shalvey, Valentine De Landro plus more

X-Men Legacy: Five Miles South Of The Universe s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Mike Carey & Steve Kurth, Khoi Pham

Fear Itself: Journey Into Mystery s/c (£11-99, Marvel) byKieron Gillen & Doug Braithwaite

Bleach vol 44 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Bleach vol 45 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Bokurano Ours vol 6 (£9-99, Viz) by Mohiro Kitoh

Bakuman vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Tegami Bachi – Letter Bee vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by Hiroyuki Asada

New art-orientated Page 45 interview I gave to the wonderful Scarlett Daggers of Nottingham’s Dr. Sketchy’s! Includes a Page 45 secret never revealed until now. I probably shouldn’t have, but she was ever so lovely and did kind of ask! What can you do, eh?
 
A magical piece of animation whose backgrounds – choice of colour, textures etc. – and finale put me in mind of Shaun Tan’s THE LOST THING. Forwarded on Twitter by Alison Sampson AKA @itsthatlady from @mariocavalli: Metro by Jacob Wyatt

If it’s still up by the time I post this, SCOTT PILGRIM’s Bryan Lee O’Malley on his new book, SECONDS, due 2013.

 - Stephen

Reviews August 2012 week four

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

 

Scott Pilgrim Colour Edition reviewed below! Yowsa!

Meanwhile, I wrote a blog about our regular column in the Nottingham Post, the BBC Radio Nottingham programme on Page 45 recorded this very morning and a certain award! Lots of links to the articles themselves and a great big bundle of mischief to boot. Please click on the headline below!

 Page 45 Wins Award For Best Independent Retailer in Nottingham!

The Red Diary and The Re(a)d Diary h/c (£22-50, Image) by Teddy Kristiansen, Steven T. Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen.

“This is the story of a painting.”

Well, THE RED DIARY is. Written and drawn by Teddy Kristiansen, it’s a bereaved biographer as private detective, and ridiculously clever in its own right. It was published in France and then Denmark.

But then Steven T. Seagle – Teddy’s collaborator on IT’S  A BIRD – went and wrote THE RE[A]D DIARY based solely on Teddy’s images, because he needed an excuse to publish it via Image and speaks neither French nor Danish. He thought it might be a fun exercise.

It is a brilliant exercise and I swear that when you get to page 53 your jaw will drop on the floor! Meanwhile I give you a masterclass in black humour as Teddy goes all left-field on us in the flooded French trenches of World War I:

“Faldy’s ear rested on the ground, listening… Weldon’s eye watched from a tree stump… Could I make my declaration of cowardice to Lieutenant Hughes, who lies in halves shouting, “God! God! God!”? Should I own up to the mound of meat that was the rest of McQueen?
“I don’t know how long I talked to them. To whatever was left of them that might hear my apology. They seemed to take it as well as could be expected.
“Smyth stared straight up at me like he had words on the tip of his tongue… Wherever that had wound up.”

Let’s pull back to THE RED DIARY, though, in which a writer is researching the life of poet William Miller and is sent a small package by Harriet Birkin claiming to have been Miller’s lover in 1920 and that her brother, Philip Marnham had been his close friend before Marnham’s lonely death in the trenches. The parcel contains Philip’s Blue Diary which begins in Paris in 1910 and ends there in 1914. And at this point the biographer’s research takes a most unexpected turn and becomes something of a paper chase involving a Green Diary written in France between 1915 and 1917 and finally the Red Diary itself which fills in the gaps between Paris and England in 1915.

Philip Marnham, you see, was a painter. A painter who swiftly attracted the patronage of a mysterious M who commissioned painting after painting which made Marnham wealthy enough to indulge himself in opium but which, by his own account, sapped away his own soul and light. Why, then, did he suddenly have to disappear, fleeing France for England? And why is there absolutely no record – not even a footnote – about him in the art world?

I adore Kristiansen’s painting. Have done ever since the BACCHUS COLOUR special, and IT’S A BIRD is a tour de force employing so many different styles apposite to each subsection. Here too the style shifts between the present and the recorded, the biographer depicted in gentle pencil and rich red jumper against colours more fragile and pale, while the WWI scenes immediately put me in mind of George Pratt’s ENEMY ACE. I also love what he does with the panel borders in the final sequence, which become six far crisper frames for reasons I’d better not say.

As to Seagle, you’ll be surprised how closely some of the sequences mirror what Teddy had in mind, albeit seen from a skewed angle – particularly the patron who in each tale finds himself the victim of theft; it’s just that what’s stolen is completely different! – but then he’s paying close attention to the art.

It is however, a completely different story wherein it’s the WWI scenes that count. I cannot tell you any more for fear of spoiling the show, but I want to talk to each and every one of you after you’ve grinned yourselves senseless.

SLH

Buy The Re[a]D Diary h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Comic Book History Of Comics (£16-50, IDW) by Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey.

“Stan Lee found himself assigned to the army’s training film division, where he served with such luminaries as director Frank Capra and great New Yorker cartoonist, Charles Addams. Lee wrote short films, posters and pamphlets on such topics as army finance and venereal disease.”

It’s amazing what you can pick up here. Did you know that Terry Gilliam preceded Robert Crumb as assistant editor of Harvey Kurtzman’s HELP, and that John Cleese modelled for one of its photo comics?

Yes, I’ll tell you right now what I love about this: its breadth and above all sense of context, be it personal, historical, social, economic and even international. Tom Spurgeon wrote the introduction, and he’ll not put his name to any old tripe.

It’s also very, very funny in places. At first it rankled with me that this was comics and not prose, especially since Dunlavey’s style of cartooning isn’t my natural comfort zone. UNDERSTANDING COMICS was perfect because as a graphic novel it was self-demonstrative, and the two CARTOON GUIDE TO ECONOMICS books (yes, there was a second!) worked well because the images made the abstract comprehensibly concrete. Here I wondered at first why we couldn’t just have photographs of the people and reproductions of the covers – until the jokes kicked in, and I realised that Dunlavey was drawing in short-hand what Van Lente would have had to labour over in prose. A bit like I’m about to here!

“Though through our allegedly more “enlightened” modern eyes, romance comics may be seen as simply reinscribing the more patriarchal aspects of American society (as 99.9% of them were written and drawn by men)…

“Oh, John… I’m so happy you allowed me to drop my career to pop out babies for you until you throw me aside for you secretary in two decades!”
“Me too, sugar plum! Now shut your yap and go fix me a sandwich!”

… they almost always encouraged marrying for love rather than any other consideration, and tried to steer heroines away from the wrong kind of man, the template for whom remains basically the same in our day.

Mr. Right: working-class Joe
Mr. Wrong: Well-heeled sharpie
Mr. Right: Wants 2.5 kids
Mr Wrong: Wants in your pants
Mr. Right: 1-beer-a-day guy
Mr. Wrong: drunk right now.”

Every genre and movement is dealt with in detail as well as they’re unexpected impacts on each other, and never have I seen the whole Wertham / Bill Gaines / Senate hearing / Comics Code Authority debacle dealt with in such great depth yet so swiftly. Actually I’ve never seen anyone trying to salvage Wertham’s reputation before, and Van Lente points out precisely why. You’ll be surprised at what good he did do. The connections between comics and the two big animation studios gave me some nuggets on Disney I had no idea about – like the fact that Bambi was a bust and they were only saved by the Pentagon. And speaking of WWII poor Jack Kirby is as down on his luck as ever!

“So you can draw?”
“Yes sir, of course I can draw.”
“I was thinking, ‘Great, some officer wants me to draw his portrait’,” Kirby remembered.

Instead he was sent ahead into live combat zones as a scout to draw maps and pictures. I learned that Archie Comics’ Archie Andrews was based on the “mercilessly wholesome screen persona of Mickey Rooney, 50 US States tried to regulate crime comics and Canada managed to ban them. Why does everyone consider Canada so liberal? You try crossing their border with a suitcase of yaoi. The whole of EC Comics’ horror line makes far more sense when you learn about Bill Gaines’ unresolved parental issues, and there are statistics here to make you weep:

“Industry studies showed that in 1947, a stunning 95% of American boys and 91% of girls between the ages of 6 and 11 were habitual comics readers… along with 87% of teenaged men and 81% of teen women; and a still-impressive 41% of men aged 18-30 and – before romance comics – 28% of women the same age read comics regularly.”

In case you don’t know, today 1% of both genders combined would be an over-optimistic estimate.

SLH

Buy The Comic Book History Of Comics and read the Page 45 review here

Scott Pilgrim vol 1 h/c Colour Edition (£18-99, Oni) by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Ker-ching!

Our biggest-selling series of all time now in full colour…? Full colour that’s entirely in-synch with its source…? With subtle tweaks here and there and a big bundle of extras in the back…? Why am I typing in American?!

“Shut up, Stephen! What more do we get?!”

The secrets of Bryan Lee O’Malley. The origin of the title, the initial reception of the series, early character designs, seconds of satori, moments of mis-step and who’s based on whom in his head; photo-references like Scott and Wallace’s flat entrance – that bizarre little door in the wall that really and truly is there. Also: the original Oni Press pitch in full!

Best of all you get the perfect excuse to re-read this in full for the fifty-sixth time! I did myself this last Thursday morning and you know how some series need to find their feet and settle themselves in before setting the world on fire? Nope, not this one. It is the bomb from volume one, and I resisted that hyphen and echo. Cue customary overview!

Scott is a clot. He really is. He’s a total dumpling, and in terms of a Chinese take-away, dim doesn’t even begin to sum the lad up.

He is kinda cute, though, and as the series kicks off Scott is living with gay housemate Wallace for whom sly, dry mockery is a default setting. They’re so poor they even share the same bed. But Scott sleeps soundly until this girl called Ramona comes skating through his dreams – she’s a delivery girl and as you well know the quickest way from A to B is to skate through someone else’s dreams, right? Then Scott meets Ramona in his waking life, falls head over heals in whatever the hell that thing is (he may figure it out eventually) but is casually informed that if he wants her as a girlfriend he’ll have to defeat her seven evil exes in combat!

Truly a unique series with a heart of gold, and a wit and a Nintendo logic all of its own. There is not a single comic reader who could fail to fall in love with Scott, Wallace, Ramona or Bryan himself. O’Malley isn’t even close to running out of innovative ideas: his visual gags keep tumbling onto the page, and so convinced are we that this book is for everyone that if you try the first SCOTT PILGRIM black and white softcover at least and aren’t immediately hooked, we’ll give you your money back and even pay return postage.

You will, on the other hand, have totally failed to earn The Power Of Love, so no power-up of a flaming sword for you guys!

SLH

Buy Scott Pilgrim vol 1 h/c Colour Edition and read the Page 45 review here

New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 2 (£25-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & John Paul Leon, Igor Kordey, Phil Jimenez, Ethan Van Sciver, Keron Grant, Frank Quitely.

Emma Frost: “Hypercortisone D. They call it “Kick,” God bless the little dears. It makes them feel like movie stars, being directed by God, on location in Heaven… We found this dispenser outside the Common Room window. I’ve tried it, of course… in the interests of science. I felt angelic and violently insane for five hours. I foresee trouble if this becomes widespread.”
*
Quentin Quire: “You’re always encouraging us to dream… I just wondered what would happen if one of us had a dream you didn’t like?”
*
Charles Xavier: “These clothes, the angry slogans, are just the outward signs… he’s developing a small cult following. With a dangerous anti-human undercurrent. If any of our students were found to be involved in these latest killings… I’ve always feared something like this – trouble from within.”
*
When Jumbo Carnation, flamboyant clothes designer and mutant cause célèbre, becomes the latest victim of anti-mutant hatred, it’s one last nail in the coffin of tolerance for some of the younger students at Professor Xavier’s school. They’ve seen 16,000 mutants massacred in Genosha with human technology, their self-proclaimed mentor has been trying to win the battle for integration and peaceful co-existence for years, and to Quentin Quire, a bitter teenage with all the dopamine that comes with those years, the goal is no nearer to being accomplished than it was when Xavier began. All it takes is one profound emotional trauma and a blast of Kick, and it’s going to grow nastier than any of the students or teachers can imagine.

Morrison’s brilliance throughout this series has been to refine the spectacle, mechanics and melodrama of the superpowered mutant as outsider, and marry them to historical and contemporary social issues, popular youth trends, and throw in a lot of style while he’s at it. For the Genoshan genocide, read Holocaust; for the assault on Jumbo, read queer bashing; and then there’s always been that logic-defying racism within the football and music camp, when key players in both are quite patently black. All this and so much more – from reclaiming the language and imagery of bigotry, to recreational drugs, globalisation and modern evolutionary theory – has been tailored to fit this mutant soap opera and turn it into something refreshingly relevant and deliciously witty. And the icing on the cake, if you’ll excuse the pun, has to be the sybaritic Emma Frost, perpetually detached, self-important and superficial, whose complacent calm in the heart of the bloody storm is rendered by Quitely with total panache:

“It looks like you were right about Master Quire and his band of bad haircuts. This is quite appalling!”
“We told you, Miss Frost! We knew he’d ruin our Open Day! He wants to make a mess of everything.”
“I’m sure it’s just another petulant cry for help, girls. I don’t know what it is with young people these days, but I do miss the imagination and verve of the little zealots I used to teach. There was a wild, romantic light in their eyes and they threw themselves into the fray at every turn. Now it’s all bored stares, vague demands and a few broken windows. Hardly the stuff of mutant legend.”
“But weren’t they all killed, Miss Frost? The students you used to teach?”
“There were one or two fatalities, yes… but for heaven’s sake, Esme. Let’s try not to dwell on the down side.”

Imagination, flair and a keen fashion sense – when they’re on top form Quitely and Morrison have made reading the X-Men a chic thrill for grown-ups rather than a guilty addiction for the undemanding.

SLH

Buy New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 2 and read the Page 45 review here

New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 3 (£25-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo, Marc Silvestri.

“Xorn… why is that map upside down?”
“It’s a picture of the future, Charles… I call it Planet X.  I’m teaching my students to imagine tomorrow, and giving them the tools to take them there…”

The final volume of Grant’s inspired run on a previously brain-dead title before Joss Whedon takes over in ASTONISHING X-MEN and raises the game even further.

Previously: the human race is dying out, replaced by mutants which themselves are evolving further; Cassandra Nova, Xavier’s twin, sends mutant-killing Sentinels to commit genocide in Genosha, wiping out Magneto in an instant; the school acquires a new teacher in iron-masked Xorn; Jean Grey begins manifesting the power of the Phoenix once more; Cyclops succumbs to the sexual charms of the Emma Frost; Wolverine learns more about the Weapon X programme (it’s the Roman numeral ten); Xavier comes out as a mutant – he is – the Beast comes out as gay – he isn’t; a new power-enhancing, lethally addictive drug surfaces; there’s a riot, a girl dies, and Xorn takes off his helmet…

I don’t think anyone could accuse Grant of being dull. Here the final catastrophe causes Scott Summers to lose heart. He abandons the school, and through that single action rather than the death itself a terrible chain of events is set in motion which lead to the worst of possible futures. Morrison binds much that he has created into what at first appears a confusing few issues. It’s super-charged with long words – high pronouncements and  loud protestations – and slashed onto the page through the busiest of hyperactive art. It will need re-reading, it’s so well disguised. But that’s good, and when you finally begin to understand just what has happened it makes perfect sense and provides a very satisfying wrap. Majestic, creative and bursting with energy. It is, in fact, Sublime.

SLH

Buy New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 3 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.

 
The Manara Library vol 3 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Milo Manara

Only Skin: New Tales Of The Slow Apocalypse (£16-50, LOC) by Sean Ford

Peanuts, Complete: vol 18 1985-1986 (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Charles M. Schultz

Swamp Thing vol 1: Raise Them Bones s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Yanick Paquette, Marco Rudy

Sonic The Hedgehog vol 17 (£5-99, Sega) by various

Kill Audio s/c (£13-50, Boom!) by Claudio Sanchez, Chondra Echert & Mr. Sheldon

Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 4 (£14-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka, Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten, Rick Burchett, Brian Hurtt

Batman: The Brave And The Bold vol 2: Help Wanted (£9-99, DC) by Sholly Fisch & various

Fear Itself s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker & Stuart Immonen, Scot Eaton

Fear Itself: Avengers s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & John Romita Jr., Mike Deodato, Chris Bachalo

Wolverine And The X-Men vol 2 hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Nick Bradshaw, Chris Bachalo

Dorohedoro vol 7 (£9-99, Viz) by Q Hayashida

I’ve Seen It All (£9-99, June) by Shoko Takaku

Itazura Na Kiss vol 9 (£12-99, DMP) by Kaoru Tada

The Man I Picked Up (£9-99, June) by CJ Michalski

Gate 7 vol 3 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Clamp

Gantz vol 24 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

Tenjo Tenge 2-in-1 Edition vol 8 (£10-99, Viz) by Oh!Great

Naruto vol 58 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

Soul Eater vol 10 (£8-99, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo

Bleach vol 46 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Bleach vol 47 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Bakuman vol 14 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Rin-Ne vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi

Moebius drawing and colouring live. Astonishing recordings!

And speaking of those lately lamented, yesterday Sergio Toppi passed away just before the release of SHARAZ-DE. Look at this dazzling Sergio Toppi gallery!

What an atrocious year. We’re losing so many greats.

Here, this’ll cheer you up: photo of me, twenty years ago, passed out. Moment recorded and ‘kindly’ disseminated via Twitter by @Mannaz otherwise known as Nigel Brunsdon, whom I worked with at Fantastic Store Birmingham FOR WAY TOO LONG!

Big love, Nigel, and thanks for putting up with me.

- Stephen

Page 45 Wins Nottingham Independent Retailer Award!

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Oh, you lot are amazing!

As announced on Twitter on Wednesday 15th August – with a typically belaboured drum roll – and confirmed on Saturday 18th in the Nottingham Post, Page 45 has won the first-ever Award for Best Independent Retailer In Nottingham.

That’s pretty nifty in so many ways, and we couldn’t have done it without you. Just like the only ever Diamond Comics Award For Best Retailer In The Country back in 2004, the judges may have judged because that’s what they do, but it was you taking the time and trouble to vote that brought us to the attention of the captains of commerce in the first place. You got us into the vital top five. Thank you!

It’s Nifty

It’s nifty for us because it means free publicity, extra opportunities and a self-esteem upgrade. And let me tell you, we have seized those opportunities you helped provide.

After visiting as a judge Mel Cook, editor-in-chief of the Nottingham Post, offered Page 45 its own monthly slot in Nottingham Weekend to promote whichever graphic novels we want in whatever fashion we choose, and I started last Saturday 11th with Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL, perfect for such a multicultural city, rewriting what you see there to fit an audience that knows nothing about comics. I’ve already chosen the next book which appeared just last month and its reviews is brand-new. What an opportunity to fulfil our primary goal of bringing quality comics into contact with the Real Mainstream!

Poor Lynette Pinchess, though: the fully fledged feature writer who wrote this peerlessly eloquent article on Page 45 – and so may have been responsible for that column – has now become my personal editor.

Thanks to the efforts of Dianne Allen at Gemini PR & Marketing who oversaw the Nottingham Independents campaign, Mel also offered me a slot to respond to the award by writing about the vital importance of Independent Retail in an otherwise homogenised High Street.

You’re bored of that phrase aren’t you? Well, unless we do something about the insidious encroachment of the corporate giants obliterating all individuality, I think you’d better get used to it. Oops, here it is – almost as I wrote it – originally entitled ‘The Stuggle For Indepents’.

It’s Nifty Too

It’s also cool for comics because in a country where the medium is still frowned upon by the majority of the Real Mainstream, Nottingham’s establishment, suited and booted and tied-up to the max, has now recognised the art form in public and commended our efforts to bring its diversity to everyone most emphatically.

See also: getting the right graphic novels into the public eye in the space of that monthly column.*

Parenthetically: we successfully seduced judge Jennifer Spencer who is enormous fun, with our tactical deployment of MOOMIN! She wrote, “Congratulations on your award. I will most definitely be back soon…the Moomins are calling!”

They’re always calling, Jennifer. Even while you sleep.

It’s Nifty Free

With a single tweet we gained sixty sympathisers in twenty-four hours, including Jennifer Spencer. Lucky us, but pity the fools. They’ll get used to it eventually.

(Are you following us on Twitter, dear reader? It’s @pagefortyfive. Abandon hope, all ye who enter: I am a total liability.)

It’s Nifty For

This: getting local comicbook talent covered in the Nottingham Post. They probably don’t even know we have national and indeed international stars in our midst like D’Israeli, Ian Culbard, Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson. But maybe with my foot in the door, we can change that…? I promise you I will try. Interviews etc.!

What’s Next?

BBC Radio Nottingham rang. This Wednesday 22nd August Jonathan and I will be recording a programme dedicated to Page 45 and comics in general. Don’t know when it will be airing yet, but you can sure that the time will be tweeted.

There will be no “Biff, Bang, Pow!” unless I start punching people for dwelling on superheroes.

The Other Photo

Do you have a copy of August 18th’s Nottingham Post?

Tom texted me to take a look two pages prior to our proper appearance and sure enough on page 14 there is a second similarly ghastly photo of ghoulish old me underneath the headline, “Let’s call last orders on boozy reputation”.

You couldn’t make it up!

Sadly, they didn’t.

“Nunc est bibendum”

 - Stephen

 
*It’s funny: I only took the Comics International gig – offered thanks to THE COLDEST CITY’s Antony Johnston asking me to write a Page 45 guest editorial for Ninth Art back in 2003 (take a look around while you’re there!) – as an act of subversion in order to undermine its dire direction and smothering focus on superheroes with an injection of Real Mainstream material.

Now I get to infiltrate a proper newspaper read by the Real Mainstream and present them with the graphic novels which I know they will love. Far more at home, cheers.

Look Out, Livestock!

Speaking of Nottingham Independents, this is where I took my first archery lesson last week: Woodland Farm Complex – they do archery, fishing, shooting.

I cannot tell you how entertaining Daniel is. Also: relaxed, encouraging even to idiots like me, and flexible with his hours. I rang, he asked when, I said 2 to 3pm Friday and he said yes. Me and my Ma for £12, as simple as that. Any day of the week so long as they’re not already busy.

It’s in the heart of the countryside west of Mansfield and five minutes east from junction 28 of the M1. I took out a fox, a lynx and got the RSPCA on my case - even though they were 3-D models. UK feral lynx population undiminished.

Reviews August 2012 week three

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

 

“Oh, Stephen! You’re not going to define comics again, are you? Eddie Campbell will kill you!”

 - Just about everyone. I live to confound.

The Eyes Of The Cat h/c (£27-99, Humanoid) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius.

“At the ready, Meduz, he nears. I hear his pawsteps.”

Oh, this is a beauty, but what a terrible beauty to behold! You have been warned.

The first-ever collaboration between master storytellers Jodorowsky & Moebius, it is reprinted now in crispest black and white rather than its original yolk-yellow, and whatever the aesthetic reasons behind the first format, it benefits enormously both from the detoxification and the superior modern printing process. Created in the late 1970s, it was given away free to loyal fans of Les Humanoides Associés then pirated like crazy. My first encounter was in 1990, just as I joined the comicbook industry, when Stephen Bissette incorporated it into the fourth volume of his blistering horror anthology, TABOO, accompanied by a cracking essay he wrote himself and a couple of interviews too.

That it appeared in a horror anthology should give you a clue to my caveat: this is isn’t a cute little kitty comic. It is, instead, an eerily spacious and semi-silent narrative and I can almost hear each sparse sentence being delivered in a quiet, considered monotone. It is intense; the ancient, empty buildings of eastern origin rendered in all their crumbling detail, and told with what Bissette so aptly described as “hypnotic, metronomic pacing”.

On each left-hand page a boy stands with his back to us, silhouetted against the sky. He watches through a window and waits. To the right a single, razor-sharp shaft of light pierces the endless clouds that clog up the sky and block out the sun, like the sooty fall-out from a volcanic disaster. It falls onto the cracked paving of a lifeless street littered with rubble and cable and cogs. A black cat emerges, and steps into the circle. An eagle soars high above.

Truly this is the stuff of dreams (Moebius: “Alejandro is a professional dreamer”) but it suddenly explodes on a page of horrific black beauty that will sear itself into your brain with its curves, claws and jaws. This is so well composed, and gorgeously delineated. When you finally see the boy facing front, he’s like a weather-worn statue, his arm muscles moulded with sort of contoured rendering you’ve since come to expect from Barry Windsor-Smith. As Moebius explained to Bissette, he was always a fan of Gustav Doré.

It’s not a long read, I concede right now, and although way more affordable than Humanoids’ previous edition, the price is pretty steep. It is, however, an absolute classic for any connoisseur of comics, and its production values are impeccable with a matt black, green and cream cover and perfectly placed spot-varnish.

SLH

Buy The Eyes Of The Cat h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Recruit (£9-99, Hodder) by Robert Muchamore, Ian Edginton & John Aggs.

“OK, I get the point. What does CHERUBS stand for anyway?”
“Good question. Our first chairman made up the initials and had a batch of stationary printed. Unfortunately he had a stormy relationship with his wife and she shot him before he told anyone what it meant. It was wartime and you couldn’t waste six thousand sheets of headed notepaper, so CHERUB stuck. If you ever think of what it might stand for, let me know. It gets quite embarrassing sometimes.”

Promise: this will exceed your expectations!

Published by Hodder Children’s Books, its back cover declares, “NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNGER READERS” and it really isn’t: it is shockingly and unflinchingly violent for the first dozen pages, young James Choke losing his temper with devastating results, then being bullied back in return. I love what Aggs has done with the black, white and blood-red splatters that expressionistically introduce or curtail some scenes depending on what’s been depicted, and what’s being depicted is devastating in places, like the death, early on, of James’ mother.

Bereft, distraught and taken in to care, James is more scared for his sister. Her Dad – his step-father – is a violent man who drinks and she’d be better off joining James. Unfortunately there’s nothing that can done. But although James is landed right in at the deep end with a new, potentially hostile environment and even worse company, he is nothing if not resilient and resourceful. It’s not gone unnoticed. So imagine how startled he is to wake up one morning somewhere else entirely, naked, in bed, with a new set of threads. And the academy outside is palatial. It’s a clandestine, military academy which trains promising recruits to infiltrate, investigate and if necessary close terrorist networks down: extreme force sanctioned. Welcome to CHERUB, James: hope you survive the experience. You’ve already been drugged once.

“Criminals use children all the time. For example, imagine a grown man knocking on an old lady’s door in the middle of the night, saying he’d been in an accident. Most people would be suspicious. She’d call an ambulance but still wouldn’t let him in.
“Now image the same lady comes to the door and finds a young boy crying on the doorstep. “My daddy’s car crashed. He’s not moving. Please help me!” The instant she opens the door, the boy’s dad jumps out of hiding, clobbers the old dear and legs it with her cash.
“Criminals have used this for years. At CHERUB we turn the tables on them.”

With smartly paced storytelling throughout and a real power in places from relative newcomer, John Aggs, this all far more complex and clever than you’d imagine. The training is intense, relentless and gruelling, the initial aptitude tests and James’ performances far from predictable, never mind their final analyses. That’s when I really started to become impressed. Take this one, after James was given a pen and ordered to kill a chicken by severing the main artery and cutting through the windpipe with a pen. “This is sick.” Did he do it?

“How do you think you did on the third test?”
“I killed the chicken…”
“Does that mean you passed?”
“I… thought you wanted me to kill it.”
“The chicken was a test of your moral courage. You pass well if you kill it straight away or if you flatly refuse on moral grounds. I thought you performed poorly. You didn’t want to kill the chicken but you let me bully you into it. You made a decision and saw it through, so get a low pass. If you’d dithered or got upset, you’d have failed.”

All of which precedes James’ first mission with swimming trainer Amy pretending to be brother and sister. It doesn’t go quite to plan.

Each of the friendship dynamics are different here and I relished every one. I don’t know how much more strongly I can emphasise my admiration for the original script and adaptation, both Edginton’s and Aggs’ except to say I cannot think of a better action graphic novel for early-to-mid-teen boys, and there’s plenty for young ladies here too.

Hope you enjoyed the review. From tomorrow half of it will be translated into Russian, half into Japanese. You’ll need to cooperate to decode it.

SLH

Buy The Recruit and read the Page 45 review here

Beasts Of Burden: Neighbourhood Watch (£2-75, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson.

“When the end comes, and you leave this place… won’t you miss your friend, if his path takes him somewhere else?”
“It’s time for us to go. I hope your friend feels better.”
“I’m sorry what he saw upset him so.”

Holy Lamb Of God! You are never safe with BEASTS OF BURDEN, as anyone who’s read that hardcover can tell you.

Evan Dorkin will make you care too deeply and Jill Thompson’s gorgeous watercolours of the cat and canine companions are so utterly endearing. But peer below the surface, scratch just a little for those buried bones, and the dead will rise and freak the fuck right out of you.

So it is when a goblin family set their gluttonous eyes on a hen coop, only to be hounded out of town – and you don’t have a problem with dismemberment, do you? You will feel sorry for their failure. But the real killer here is the third of three stories involving a flock of sheep being herded cross-country by their loyal and faithful sheepdog Ben. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but if you could see through Jack’s eyes, you’d probably pass out too.

I positively baulked. I think I shouted “HO!” on the shop floor, which is why our Tom daren’t even look.

SLH

Buy and befriend the Beasts Of Burden by joining the livestock auction here on the shop floor, or send your bids in via 0115 9508045 or page45@page45.com

RASL vol 4: The Lost Journals Of Nikola Tesla (£14-99, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith…

“Sal needs the journals to continue work on the array, but that’s not going to happen. I’m going to destroy the journals.”
“Destroy them? Why?”
“Because I have the only copies. On ever y world I’ve visited, Tesla died in a train crash on his way home from Colorado Springs. His most profound insights never happened. The journals and the array exist in only one Universe – mine.”

Ah poor Robert Johnson a.k.a. RASL, Agent Crow seemingly has him finally boxed into the veritable corner, as much as you can box someone into a corner that can teleport between Universes mind you, and the end game is well and truly afoot. The bad guys, i.e. the military-industrial complex, want his discoveries entirely for their own selfish ends and Robert has long since realised his naive desires to help usher in a utopian age are never going to happen. In fact, it’s all he can do to stay one step ahead of the opposition and keep himself alive. He’s got a plan though, and despite the fact it’s certainly a long shot, it might just work…

I’m quite sure now Jeff’s sci-fi adventure is complete, in four volumes, it’s going to find an even bigger audience than it has to date, and keep selling for a long, long time, exactly like BONE. This is the type of story that you’ll want and need to devour quickly, as the story moves fluidly on from one action packed scene to the next, interspersed with a gripping biography of the Tesla of RASL’s world, a man with a frighteningly powerful intellect and utterly determined to master the elemental power of electricity and then begin to unlock the hidden secrets of creation itself.

I also love how in RASL Jeff has created a real hybrid scientist action hero, who with a nose that looks like it’s gone more than a few rounds in the ring, is certainly no lab coat nerd. He’s a genuine tough guy, but with real heart, which might well cause him a few problems along the way too, but he’s a character you can’t help but take a genuine liking to, and really root for. And that is in no small part due to Jeff’s superlative art.

I’ll admit, I was slightly sceptical when I first heard he was going to do something so different content-wise from BONE, such is lasting appeal of those roguish, loveable characters, but I shouldn’t have doubted him. For example there’s a particular panel in this volume where Agent Crow cruelly taunts RASL with a certain piece of information and the half page close-up of RASL’s face is an absolute master class in how to convey emotion, several at once in fact, as you can clearly see shock, disbelief, anger, plus a steely determine to try not to let anything show, all battling for control just beneath the surface. I could stare at that panel for hours, it’s absolutely magnificent!

Jeff has paced this work perfectly from start to finish, feeding us tantalising pieces of luxuriously detailed Tesla back story which slot in neatly between the frenetic break-necked pace of RASL’s relentless attempts to evade the odious Agent Crow, whilst desperately trying to devise a strategy to come out on top. This is speculative fiction at its most ingenious and entertaining, and I wholeheartedly urge those of you who haven’t taken a look already to do so, you won’t be disappointed.

JR

Buy RASL vol 4: The Lost Journals Of Nikola Tesla and read the Page 45 review here

Godzilla Half Century War #1 (£2-99, IDW) by James Stokoe ~

With most artists you can say, for example, “no one does smoke like Eisner”, or “no one does black tones like Jaime Hernandez.” Well to be blunt, no one does ANYTHING like James Stokoe! Your pupils will dilate, forced to bask in the hyper-detailed wonder that is Stokoe Vision. His rubble crumbles under foot, glowing smoke billows from twisted pylons, and Godzilla’s famous unearthly roar is a jagged burst of red noise.

The fact that he’s so prolific despite the labour-intensive art must be quite irksome to his peers. Plus the guy writes like John Carpenter, and he clearly has too much fun doing both!

HALF CENTURY WAR is told in retrospect by Lt. Otta Murakami whose first encounter with a 150-foot radioactive Megalosaurus armed with a practically useless Sherman Tank cements his career with a certain special task force. The first issue echoes the original ‘50s film, and I’m hoping the subsequent issues do the same, but frankly as long as I get to look at more of this wondrous art, they could introduce Baby Godzilla for all I care.

From the creator of ORC STAIN.

TR

Buy Godzilla: Half Century War by trampling you way to Page 45, roaring down 0115 9508045 or beating your keyboard thus: page45@page45.com Preview below new books!

Thomas Flintham’s Super-Fantastic Puzzles (£6-99, Scholastic) by Thomas Flintham.

“Welcome to Puzzleland! Prepare to be puzzled!”

You know what? This is actually comics!

“Oh, Stephen! You’re not going to define comics again, are you? Eddie Campbell will kill you!”

Yes! The visual puzzles are all integral to the story without which you wouldn’t have a clue what was happening. It’s even interactive comics because some of the pictures you’ll have to paint for yourself by joining up the dot-to-dots! It’s very much a journey through Flintham’s fantasy land populated by cute little creatures, horrible hybrids, some far happier hybrids, giants, dragons and eggmen.

Thomas is your travel guide, but you’ll have to do all the legwork yourself! Negotiate mazes, follow the threads and avoid the cracks in the pavement! I still haven’t grown out of that. I haven’t! Spotting the differences and matching up pairs at a picnic crowded with twins is a superb test of young readers’s observational skills, and some of them are pretty tricky!

At one point you’ll need to track a greedy old gold thief, locate a small bloodhound in a bag full of bits, bobs and… I’ve no idea what those are… then unleash it into the labyrinthine burrows before summoning a most unlikely ride to a castle in the clouds!

This is just magical, with Flintham coming off like a gentler Jamie Smart (FIND CHAFFY – highly recommended), with a dash of Animal Crossing to boot. Hurrah, huzzah and etcetera!

I’m forty-six years old, and I loved it to bits. Damn you, Thomas, for making me type that sentence. As a result we are no longer friends, though I love you. x

SLH

Buy Thomas Flintham’s Super-Fantastic Puzzles and read the Page 45 review here

White Cloud Worlds h/c (£22-50, Harper) by various, edited by Paul Tobin…

Wow, it takes a look to get me excited about an art book, particularly what is primarily a fantasy art book, but I think this work might just have succeeded in destroying my preconceptions about said genre. First up, the title is a play on the Māori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa, which roughly translates as ‘the land of the long white cloud’ and for those of you who’ve been fortunate enough to travel to that far-flung land and be dazzled by the amazing scenery, making it one of the beautiful countries on Earth, I have to say the artwork contained within the volume is of a comparable quality.

I think all the contributors may well be involved with Weta Workshop somehow, that’s the impression I got, who are themselves a conceptual design and manufacturing facility servicing the entertainment and creative industries. They’ve been involved with design, effects and props on The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and Avatar amongst many, many other well known productions. In other words, they’re a top notch outfit, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that they employ such fine artists.

If this type of art book is your thing, you’re going to be in absolute heaven. The standard of the illustration, painting and occasional sculptures is truly incredible and amazingly diverse in scope. I can’t honestly remember ever being so impressed over and over again by artwork like I was with this book.

I also really enjoyed the lengthy self penned biographies and mini-essays which accompanies each of the 27 artists work, in  particular Greg Broadmore’s genius one which reduced me to tears in places, so much so that I really must finish this review with the opening few paragraphs of it…

Greg Broadmore  – artist, writer, professional naked downhill mountain biker, competitive hair stylist, breeder of guinea pigs and so much more.  What didn’t he do? It’s hard to say really, as he was such a whirlwind force of nature – always pushing the boundaries of life and love. An Adonis of a man and an athlete of immeasurable skill, his presence in any room was felt and witnessed with awe and respect.

His chiselled abs could tent-pole the trousers of the hardest homophobe and a cursory glance from his green sultry eyes, welling deep with unfathomable emotion, could melt the vagina of the most glacial ice queen.

He took on life as a starving great white takes on a fat scuba-diver covered in delicious fish paste, and he left few morsels.

And then there was his art.

JR

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

New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 1 (£25-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Igor Kordey Ethan Van Sciver, Frank Quitely, Leinil Francis Yu >

We thought they were all out of print, so summoned in their digest modes! Oh no, all three back in stock so here’s David Hart with an opening ceremony of his own which is just genius!

Deep within South America, a baldy headed woman with a more than passing resemblance to Professor X reactivates a hidden Sentinel project. Bearing in mind she really really hates mutants, this spells genocide, ‘splosions and large metallic objects flying into skyscrapers. After numerous deaths and resurrections, Scott and Jean find themselves further apart than ever before; Prof. X doesn’t seem quite himself and has taken to carrying a gun; teenagers can’t spend their pocket money fast enough on the latest mutant fashions and pop music; outside the school gates, meanwhile, the mob begins to howl…

Like the rest of Morrison’s recent work, NEW X-MEN dances to a choppy, syncopated rhythm, shifting scene and viewpoint in creating a world soaked in corporatism, media trends, fear, loathing and good old fashioned sex. What makes this a spangly great book, however, are the spangly great moments; this is how a the best-selling superhero comic should be done: hip and flip, so pop it hurts. Cyclops, preparing to hit the insurers with another claim on a top-notch airplane reassures his passengers: “Relax. I’ve survived more jet aircraft crashes than any other mutant.”  Rather than digging out Magneto for a “Charles, are our are dreams so very different?” scene, the X-Men’s eternal bête noire gets dispatched in a single panel, martyred as a mutant Che Guevara, his face on a t-shirt becoming the latest meme.  Dominatrix school teacher Emma Frost sets out her lesson plan:

“I propose we spend today’s telepathy period hacking into the minds of some of our favourite screen idols. A gold star to the first girl to discover the awful truth about Tom and Nicole.”

Ideas fly out at a rate of knots and the comic reeks of the now. Where Morrison’s JLA saw him tangle with the monolithic icons of the DC Universe and reinvent them as latter-day saints, here he gets to play with the pop idols and sex symbols of the Marvel sandpit.  Most of the art in this volume is by Frank Quitely and bears the familiar hallmarks of his work: fantastic choreography and a real sense of heft and gravity combined with the odd distorted limb and the unfortunate fact the females could also go under the nom de heroine of Giraffe Neck Woman. On very few occasions, the book reads like a Fisher Price version of THE INVISIBLES (especially when the Beast says stuff like “I feel like a Hindu sex god”), but mostly it’s the best superhero book on the stands by a country mile, wired to the present and ready to play. Leave your coat at the door and dance to the new.

 

- David Hart

Buy New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 1 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.

 

Scott Pilgrim vol 1 h/c Colour Edition (£18-99, Oni) by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Coraline 10Th Anniversary Limited Signed Slipcase hardcover Edition (£25-00, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 3 – Russia (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Dave Stewart, Tyler Crook

The Making Of h/c (£22-50, D&Q) by Brecht Evens

A Chinese Life (£16-99, Self Made Hero) by Philippe Otie, Li Kunwu & Li Kunwu

The RE[a]D Diary h/c (£22-50, Image) by Teddy Kristiansen

Conan: The Daughters Of Midora And Other Stories (£10-99, Dark Horse) by various

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Classics vol 1 (£13-50, IDW) by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird plus various others

Uncanny X-Force vol 4: The Dark Angel Saga Book vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Billy Tan, Mark Brooks

Batman: Streets Of Gotham vol 3: The House Of Hush softcover (£13-50, DC) by Paul Dini & Dustin Nguyen

Elektra: Assassin s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli

Essential Warlock vol 1 (£14-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas, Mike Friedrich, Jim Starlin & Jim Starlin, John Byrne plus more

 

Doubting Thomas? Get an eye full of James Stokoe’s GODZILLA!

Sadly, Joe Kubert is dead. A legendary artist in comics, here’s what I consider the best testament. It’s a short and very honest piece, profoundly moving and acknowledging what one man can do for another. It’s written by another industry legend, Stephen Bissette. It won’t take long.

Joe Kubert R.I.P.

 - Stephen

Reviews August 2012 week two

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012


There are some real characters out there in the back of beyond over the pond, and as Hugo is finding out, much like I did, there’s more than a few which are best avoided!

 - Jonathan on Hugo Tate.

 

Ellipsis #1 (£4-99, Solipsistic Pop Books) by Tom Humberstone.

It all begins with a pregnant pause…

First of six, self-contained yet interconnected stories, and every one of our copies comes signed by Tom Humberstone himself. Honestly? He has the best signature ever.

It’s set in an airport, that bizarre nexus heaving with humanity from all corners of the globe, where you wait and watch and wait some more before boarding a plane and emerging somewhere else altogether. I’ve always considered that an act of magic: you don’t do anything but sit on your arse, yet somehow you materialise in a radically new reality, pregnant with adventure, where both the temperature and light can be startling.

To some, airports can be sterile limbos of tedious, time-consuming impatience, frustration or monotony, but to this young woman, our first-person narrator, they are the epitome of potential, however fleeting or illusory, and she relishes the diversity of her fellow travellers.

“I usually dislike people… (I’m a teenager) (it’s expected of me, right?) … but here… I genuinely… unconditionally… love everyone. Her. Them. Him. Her. Him. Even the gap year students I spend half my time trying to avoid so I don’t have to endure another boring game of travelling one-up-manship…”

Haha, how true!

Instead of folding her arms and frowning at the clock, our narrator spends her time speculating, exercising her imagination on the past, present and future of all who surround her, extrapolating stories from their body language. She should probably be a writer.

From the instigator and editor of Britain’s best anthologies, SOLIPSISTIC POP, this is unsurprisingly a thing of brilliance and black-and-white beauty. Tom Humberstone’s expressions are a joy and Jamie McKelvie is right: “Every lushly inked panel is worth lingering over, the art carrying as much meaning as the narration”. The tones are particularly well placed, especially the aerial shot looking down on the plane, and its tempo matches the experience it describes to perfection. Moreover, he’s transported himself – and so us – into the spiritual shoes of this young lady so thoroughly, so convincingly and so surprisingly, that I can’t believe she doesn’t exist. Well, she does exist as of now – in my mind, and forever.

SLH

Buy Ellipsis and read the Page 45 review here

Hugo Tate (£14-99, Blank Slate) by Nick Abadzis…

It’s always a pleasure to see a work really evolve and blossom into something special over a period of time, and that is most certainly the case here with this long-awaited collection of material, first serialised in Deadline magazine way, way back between 1988 and 1993. And I really do mean evolve because as Garth Ennis rather fondly states Hugo began life as quite literally, “a funny little stick man”. And yet, you can quite clearly see it has a certain something, as did the editorial team back then including Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins, who presumably gave Nick free licence to do what he wanted going forward.

The pull quote on the front cover from The Comics Journal simply states “Britain’s LOVE AND ROCKETS” and that is actually an excellent analogy in a few different ways, but certainly including the sense that here is something where you get to see the very humble beginnings, almost the roughs and ideas buzzing round inside the creator’s head before they find the particular path they want to take us on with their cast of characters.

Once we move past the proto-Hugo therefore, what we get is essentially two longer-form stories, the first set in a rather bleak and cheerless part of London, where our barely out of his teens protagonist oscillates between his grimy local boozer and then feeling generally downtrodden and unfocused. He’s no great idea what he’s going to do with his life, though his writing shows some promise, and is most definitely an outlet for his frustrations, but still he’s stuck in a deepening rut of his own devising and he knows it. The one potential chance of escape, albeit temporarily even, is to visit his sister and her Wall Street wealthy husband in the Big Apple, which is where our second tale begins.

But even there, despite the distractions of a whole new cast of kookie characters to entertain / irritate him, he’s finding the self same mental demons cropping up again to haunt him. The solution? Road trip! But on taking up an old punk rocker’s offer to help deliver a classic Cadillac to California, he’s about to embark on a somewhat wilder ride than he anticipated…

I loved this work, I really did (as I also did Nick’s classic all-ages tearjerker LAIKA). It probably didn’t do any harm that Hugo’s journey into the seedy underbelly of America jangled more than a few chords with my own mis-spent time in small-town Alabama. There are some real characters out there in the back of beyond over the pond, and as Hugo finds out, much like I did, there’s more than a few which are definitely best avoided! Will Hugo make it to California intact?! Anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction which wanders a little on the dark side will really enjoy HUGO TATE, and I’m certain this edition is going to win Nick legions of new fans which might, if we’re lucky, persuade him to reprise the character as he tantalising hints at in his own afterword, as I for one would love to know what Hugo is up to now!

JR

Buy Hugo Tate and read the Page 45 review here

Flossbook: The Story Of A Social Network (£2-99,self-published) by Tanya Meditzky & David O’Connell.

Crazy as a coconut is Tanya Meditzky, and we sure do love her for it. If you’ve yet to wade in the shallow end of sanity that is the occasional MILKKITTEN, do dip your toe in now.

Here she’s been joined by David O’Connel whose clean and crisp cartooning can’t help but make you smile: best bafflement in the business, the business here being a Facebook for flossers. It’s a parody of the recent film, I presume; I’ve not seen it yet howled with laughter at this. Reminded me of Matt Feazel at his finest.

Two university room mates – one as dim as a dodo – are inspired by their shared obsession with dental hygiene to create an online questionnaire, cleverly pandering to people’s self-obsessed love of sharing their own views, even if it’s about the favourite flavour of floss. When they realise they’ve rivals it turns into a race, and then an investor turns up to take them global.

“The guy’s a jerk!”
“He’s popular. I like him.”
“Just because he’s popular?”
“Yes. That’s how it works.”

Cue deception, misdirection and backstabbing.

“I was your only friend – how could you do this to me?!”
“I do not understand “friendship”, only “reciprocal manipulation”.

The fall-out of the fall-out is the most intense litigation known to man, the outcome of which hangs on legal precision and the devil in the details:

“My client would like to express that your client is a steaming sack of shitty shit.”
“My client would like to express that back to your client with knobs on.”

SLH

Buy Flossbook: The Story Of A Social Network and read the Page 45 review here

Gum Girl: The Tentacles Of Doom! (£6-99, Walker) by Andi Watson.

Attention young ladies! Attention young ladies! With perfectly placed spot-varnish, this cover looks just like a Fruit Salad chew! Oh dear, I’m drooling uncontrollably now.

Welcome back to Calamity Primary, a stone’s throw from Fiasco shopping centre and opposite a fire station which is perpetually on fire. Mount Misfortune is forever on the horizon just over the River Jinx. It’s exactly that sort of an on-the-edge town: Catastrophe’s just waiting to happen.

GUM GIRL: CATASTOPHE CALLING went down a storm with our younger customers. It was as pretty in pink as our bubble-blowing protagonist. Grace Gibson, you see, is both a costumed crime fighter and pupil at Calamity Primary School where her dad’s the headmaster. Alas, it’s been built right on top of the Misadventure fault line and hit by yet another earthquake just as it’s due a visit from the School Health Board. The pupils hurry and scurry and clean where they can, but something’s not right. The surly School Health Board seems far from kosher, suspiciously well suited and booted. But the real aftershock is an attack by the devilish Dust Bunny, a whirlwind of waste determined to sully the school’s reputation for hygiene! Why would he do that? Why?!

We may find out later, but right now it’s good Grace to the rescue and you know what they say? Girls, they wanna have pun!

“I’m here to clean up crime and polish off the bad guys.”
“You’ve never faced a foe like me… I fight dirty.”
“You need to work on your aim, Dusty Bunny.”
“I don’t need a direct hit with my Scum Bag.”

Oh, this is both clever and ever so cool! Andi Watson is a national treasure – by which I don’t mean ancient and ailing but vibrant and vital to the comicbook medium. He is bursting with brilliance and an infectious enthusiasm which radiates from each gorgeously coloured page. Gum Girl’s lateral thinking when dealing with Octopus Prime, that Dust Bunny’s grime and Sick old St. Nick is just genius. Fancy fashioning a gumbrella!

He also keeps it familiar with poor Grace Gibson slogging through household chores just to earn some pocket money. Washing the dishes, cleaning the car… but there’s no way at all she will tidy her room, is there? Haha, you’ll see. Loved her headmaster dad constantly head-counting during the school field trip to the local aquarium – even when attacked by sharks!

Mothers, fathers, uncle and aunts, please make sure you also check out Andi’s other Walker Books. Some things that GLISTER are most definitely gold! In the meantime, this girl’s like the gum that keeps on giving: you don’t have to swallow it, just enjoy the fruity flavour.

It’s… alimentary, my dear Watson.

SLH

Buy Gum Girl: The Tentacles Of Doom! and read the Page 45 review here

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

There can’t be that many GPs making comics in their spare time, I imagine. Thom Ferrier (not his real name, sensible man!) is one, however; a Doctor who has chosen comic strips as his venting / making sense mechanism. Perhaps it’s because I have been a bit ill recently but I found this book to be an interesting insight into the mindset of a guy who sits behind a desk and is required to deal with pretty much every kind of person imaginable. Sort of like retail… except for the years of grueling training, 48-hour shifts in A&E, blood and guts, death and grief, life-and-death decisions resting solely on your judgment… you get the idea.

There’s no real narrative or story arc here, the book really does come across as a doodlepad outlet for an often overworked but pretty astute mind. There are themes common to so many “slice of life” comics here: self-doubt, regret, annoyance with one’s fellow man, but always framed against this backdrop of “I’ve been trained for and entrusted with the task of keeping people alive”. Not all of the strips relate directly to medicine but those that do are my favourite; they feel natural and honest and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for more of them in the future. Perhaps not the most beautiful or uplifting book I have read recently but certainly one of the more interesting.

- DK

Buy Disrepute s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Monocyte h/c (£37-99, IDW) by menton3, Kasra Ghanbari & many, many more.

A hefty hardcover coming in at 12” x 9”, you could do some serious brain damage with this. I suspect it’s been employed on its authors.

Part art book, part… oh, let’s be honest, it’s just one great big art book interspersed with arbitrary twilight twaddle and neo-gothic gobbledegook. Interesting word, ‘gobbledegook’ – one of the best in the English language used to describe the worst.

“Thou will know me. Death. I am Azrael, made manifest through broken purpose. The outcome of men conspiring against a necessary end. Fools turning empathy and hubris into covenant. Long has this melancholy endured. Buoyancy forming thoughts ripened to whispers becoming vice. Idleness made kindle. And to what end?”

To what end indeed?

There’s some sort of war afoot between two immortal factions, meaning few truly feel death’s sting. They are the Antedeluvians and the Olignostics, slicing and dicing each other in some sort of hellish, olive-tinged wasteland using bones plucked from their own rib-cages and hurled like javelins. I think ‘monocyte’ might be a pun. It’s actually a relatively large phagocytic white blood cell, but there’s a chap here with only one eye and in this land of the blind he’s probably king. That’s what it says on the cover, anyway.

The great Barron Storey – perched atop the tree of influence from whose branches hang Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave McKean, David Mack et al – has been roped in to contribute a short story of his own and, however opaque, it is infinitely much lucid than the rest of this posturing pantomime. Typically he’s gone completely his own way with an expressionistic account of an afternoon down the local methedrine factory where a woman and boy bond over Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘America’ and a love of popsicles. It also references The Lord’s Prayer and Mighty Mouse whilst employing the Francis Bacon method of anger management by spraying it across the page. I thought it was fab.

The rest of the book makes no pretentions to story. Instead it’s a collection of artwork as stunning as that which went before (story artists include George Pratt, Ben Templesmith, Christopher Mitten and menton3) from the likes of Bill Sienkiewicz, Phil Hale, Ashley Wood and, of course, menton3. There’s even a couple of magnificent metal sculptures featuring the helmets so prevalent here.

SLH

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

Lenore vol 4: Swirlies h/c Colour Edition (£12-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge.

“…And that is why I hate goats.”

“Whatever” is the lamest excuse for a sentence of all time. It doesn’t even contain a verb. If anyone utters, mutters or huffs that word in your vicinity then walk away immediately and never interact with the vacuous parrot again. There’s no point: they have no capacity for expression. It’s not a refusal; it’s not declining to think or reason; it’s just masking an inability to articulate a cogent response by mimicking something they heard in an atrocious American mooovie. “Whatev’s”, on the other hand – in response to personal discomfort or discombobulation – seems perfectly stoical to me…

There’s a lot of personal discomfort in Roman Dirge’s LENORE. Something’s always getting poked, prodded or impaled, and it’s usually cute and fluffy. It kind of comes with the territory when the main protagonist is a ten-year-old dead girl who woke up halfway through her embalming process, and half the humour comes with the pervading shrug – the “whatev’s” in question, voice or unvoiced – with which each atrocity is greeted.

For this new series Dirge has switched shores to British publishers Titan and been given much better quality paper and a colouring budget. Works well, too, with a beautiful dawn ushering in the opening origin story and a Japanese sunset greeting the warriors charging up the mountain to do battle with the Samurai Sloth. Lightning reflexes? He’s a sloth! That one was positively Tom Gauld!

SLH

Buy Lenore vol 4: Swirlies h/c Colour Edition and read the Page 45 review here

The Beatles In Comic Strips h/c (£25-00, Skira) by Enzo Gentile, Fabio Schiavo…

I think we got a copy of this in more out of curiosity than anything, and curious it is indeed. It certainly isn’t comics; what it is, rather, is a hagiography of sorts collating many of the various appearances the Beatles and thinly disguised parodies thereof have made in comics, even if it’s just a single panel background appearance such as in ALICE IN SUNDERLAND or even an oblique title reference as in the case of Sgt. Rock and The Howling Commandos! There’s a fair amount of European stuff which, given that the two editors are Italian, isn’t perhaps too surprising, though the most amusing references for me are where they’ve cropped up in various DC and Marvel publications. Beatles fans will certainly enjoy this, but I can’t really imagine anyone else being too interested. It does also, in my humble opinion, completely miss the best Beatles appearance ever in comics which is John Lennon as the godhead in the first issue of THE INVISIBLES which I like so much I’ve just popped it on that product page for your delectation. Psychedelic heaven.

JR

Buy The Beatles In Comic Strips h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Superman Action Comics vol 1: Superman And The Men Of Steel h/c (£18-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Rags Morales, Andy Kubert…

“Put that man down, you maniac! Step away from the edge!”
“Just as soon as he makes a full confession. To someone who still believes the law works the same for rich and poor alike.”

I think the majority of people, if asked which of the New 52 writer / character they were pairings they were most excited about reading, would have plumped for Morrison / Superman, myself included of course. I was intrigued to see what Grant would do within the inevitable constraints that were going to get placed upon him, presuming that DC would require something a little more conventional than his previous take on ‘ole Big Blue, the masterpiece that is ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. This is something rather different though, which to my mind certainly succeeds in distinguishing itself in some ways, and probably also in the sense that it could be considered a typical Superman comic, and not just a Morrison comic. Did it satisfy me though? Well, mostly. I can’t imagine I’ll necessarily read it again, whereas I’m pretty certain I will return to ALL-STAR SUPERMAN from time to time, but one would be being rather churlish not to easily consider this amongst the better books to come out of DC’s non-reboot.

What I certainly liked was the different take on the character. Much like Geoff John’s excellent SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE VOL 1 (vol 2 out very shortly caped-caper lovers!) we see Clark as a raw young man newly arrived in Metropolis and determined to make his mark, even if it involves leaving a few on the bad guys. Whilst he’s not exactly straying into psychopathic vigilante territory, it’s a welcome, more realistic approach to the character and this slightly brash confidence Superman exudes certainly helps give the character a more contemporary feel and less of the mild-mannered dinosaur we’ve come to expect. Therefore it all seems fresh, immediately providing an interesting hook for long-time readers but without alienating them.

The plotlines, involving inevitably Luthor concocting nefarious plans, are typically slick and sophisticated, though occasionally there’s a sense of various storylines of yesteryear, something which seems particularly hard for writers to avoid with Supes I’ve found for whatever reason. Enjoyable though, and I can well imagine new readers will find it an excellent jumping on point for a character which Morrison has managed to make relevant and contemporary at a single stroke. Quality art from Rags Morales and Andy Kubert too. Neither are huge personal favourites, but they certainly make this younger, fresher Superman feel vibrant and full of youthful vigour, and rarely has the demure Clark looked so weedy, nerdy, and generally un-super-ish!

I must also mention the various back-up strips also collected here: aside from the Steel one which was neither here nor there, the others feature a youthful Mr. and Mrs. Kent, both already passed away in the main story, and various goings-on whilst Clark was a teenager in Smallville. I really enjoyed these and hopefully DC will keep the feature running for a bit longer this time.

JR

Buy Superman Action Comics vol 1: Superman And The Men Of Steel h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hawkeye #1 (£2-25, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & David Aja.

“Ahh, Eviction day. When Ivan, the landlord, and his tracksuit mafia take possession of all the stuff inside someone else’s place… and take great joy in dropping it all on the curb.”

Far closer in style and tone to Miller and Mazzucchelli’s DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN or Brubaker, Rucka and Lark’s GOTHAM CENTRAL than anything previously associated with the perpetually impetuous marksman, this isn’t, I warn you, a superhero comic, but a street-level, sideways glance at small-time crime no less crippling for those victims of the callous greed of rapacious landlords everywhere.

By his own admission Clint Barton can be more than a little juvenile. The man with the hair-trigger temper and a mouth to match it has a long history of actions both ill-considered and ill-advised, often rendering the knee in the jerk quite redundant. But for all his sins, this totally blonde bowman and relative outsider has a heart of gold and a social conscience to boot. So when those who have taken him in – the neighbours he shares communal barbeques with on hot summer nights on the roof of their tenement building – fall under threat of mass eviction, Clint can’t help but act on impulse, and you just it’s going to go horribly, horribly wrong.

It’s another first-person narrative and all the better for it. It dashes frantically, nay recklessly, backwards and forwards in time with little-to-no hand-holding, as Clint watches yet another badly laid plan precipitate a cycle of ill-aimed, flailing thuggery. At its centre lies the plight of a battered mongrel which Barton fed pizza to in order to win the dog over.

“What kinda man throws a dog into traffic – seriously, I ask you – traffic right now – rain – cabs – nobody watching out for sideways demon pizza mutts – c’mon, Clint – c’mon – nobody – nobody watching out – Can’t watch oh God…”

Now, there is a natural affinity if ever I read one.

SLH

Buy Hawkeye #1 the old-fashioned way by emailing page45@page45.com, phoning 0115 9508045 or bursting backwards through a twelfth-storey plate glass window.

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.

 
The Eyes Of The Cat h/c (£27-99, Humanoid) by Moebius & Alejandro Jodorowsky

Jennifer Blood vol 2: Beautiful People (£14-99, Dynamite) by Al Ewing & Kewber Baal, Eman Casallos

The Comic Book History Of Comics (£16-50, IDW) by Tom Spurgeon

RASL vol 4: The Lost Journals Of Nikola Tesla (£14-99, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith

Thomas Flintham’s Super-Fantastic Puzzles (£6-99, Scholastic) by Thomas Flintham

White Cloud Worlds h/c (£22-50, Harper) by various, edited by Paul Tobin

Stormbreaker: The Graphic Novel new edition (£9-99, Walker Books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako, Yuzuru

Daken: Dark Wolverine vol 3: The Pride Comes Before The Fall s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rob Williams & Michele Bertilorenzi, Matteo Buffagni

Highschool Of The Dead vol 7 (£10-50, Yen) by Daisuke Sato & Shouji Sato

The Flowers Of Evil vol 2 (£8-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

Black Butler vol 10 (£7-99, Yen) by Yana Toboso

GTO: 14 Days In Shonan vol 4 (£8-50, Vertical) by Toru Fujisawa

GTO: The Early Years vol 13 (£9-99, Vertical) by Toru Fujisawa

Durarara!! vol 3 (£8-99, Yen) by Ryohgo Narita & Akito Satorigi

New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 1 (£25-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Igor Kordey Ethan Van Sciver, Frank Quitely, Leinil Francis Yu

New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 3 (£25-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo, Marc Silvestri

 
I should add that NEW X-MEN: ULTIMATE COLLECTION BOOK 2 is already in stock and has been for years. We thought the others had gone out of print for good. Phew!

Have a huge archive of HUGO TATE material for feast your eyes on!

Some gorgeous new prints are up for sale on the website of Oliver East, he of our Comicbook Of The Month TRAINS ARE… MINT back in May 2008. ‘Swear Down 35’ and ‘Berlin’ are my favs. What about you?

Lastly, THIS WAS THE BREAKING NEWS THAT BROKE MY MENTIONS ON TWITTER LAST FRIDAY. Absolutely flooded, and I thank you for it.

- Stephen

Reviews August 2012 week one

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Another majestic piece of storytelling from Jeff, and I was hooked immediately. And whilst there are some superbly surreal dream sequences and hallucinatory segments that captivate and beguile this really is a story all about people at its heart.

 - Jonathan on Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire.

 

Adamtine s/c (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Hannah Berry.

“Right, then. Let’s go and talk to the driver. Staying here is frankly more tedious than I’m prepared to tolerate. And I’ve been to Basingstoke.”

They’re not going to find a driver.

Two years ago a man called Rodney Moon was acquitted of abducting strangers. At the trial, however, he admitted to the judge and jury that he had passed on notes to each and every one of them: cold, clinical letters that were found in their stead, detailing moments of misjudgement. He claimed they were given to him by the real kidnapper – a monster, he said – but no one believed him. Certainly not the victims’ families, or their friends, or the newspapers. Still, he got off. Though no one is quite sure what happened next.

Now four passengers who took the last train home are stranded in their carriage in the middle of the night. The train hasn’t moved for two hours. Presumably there are leaves on the line. Their cell phones are dead and the intercom is just a fuzz of static punctuated by brief bursts of strangely familiar words. Outside all is black, though there may have been a man outside…

Hannah Berry is back and on rollicking form. The painted art with its pallid pallet save for one rich red jacket is perfect for this eerie echo of a book. The panels are framed in an endless inky black for the present and stark white for the past. The huge noses put me in mind of Beryl Cook.

There are some absolutely cracking exchanges, but the creator of the singularly British BRITTEN AND BRULIGHTLY is far from having a laugh. This is a chilling read, as disorientating at first as it is for the four seeming strangers; but their secrets do give themselves up, eventually. Ridiculously clever once the connections are made, you’ll want it read it once, twice, thrice like I did, and then possibly never again. It really is that disturbing. Just leave a little note in its place, but don’t ever take the last train home.

SLH

Buy Adamtine s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Underwater Welder (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Jeff Lemire…

“You don’t have to keep doing this you know. You don’t have to go in there.”
“Yes. I do.”

“Jackie? There’s one hell of a storm rolling in… What’re you doing down here?”
“I’m looking for my dad. Have you seen him? I thought maybe he was here.”
“Oh I seen him all right… Was sitting there all afternoon, shooting his mouth off about God knows what. All that treasure he finds. Yer dad still couldn’t pay his damn.”
“Cool it, Gerry! Yer dad said he was off to pick you up, Jackie. Just need to find something for you first.”
“Find something?”
“Yep, that’s what he said.”
“Okay… thanks.”

Occasionally you read a comic or graphic novel at just the right moment in your life so that it touches you in a different way to if you had read it at another time, the circumstances of your life right then causing you to make some personal connection, profound or even just mildly tenuous to the events, which wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. Thus in my case if I hadn’t read KICK-ASS I wouldn’t have become a costumed crime fighter…

Joking aside, that synchronous element, true of all media obviously – prose books, music, film, television etcetera – was certainly present for me here as Jack Joseph, the underwater welder of the title, working off the coast of chilly Nova Scotia, is preparing to become a father for the first time and his life is therefore about to dramatically change*. There is then already the element of flux, of change, of the profoundest possible sense that things cannot possibly remain the way they were eating away at Jack…

And so, already a solitudinous sort of cove, in part due to the nature of his work, he finds himself drawn even further inward reflecting upon the nature of parenthood, his own relationship with his divorced parents, in particular his wayward father, who vanished mysteriously on Halloween when Jack was just a lad*. Jack had been expecting him to turn up to take him treat or treating, which in itself was to make up for not picking him up from his hockey game the day before. After that particular occasion, subsequently finding his dad in the local tavern where he spent most of his time when not vainly diving for sunken treasure, a disappointed Jack heads to pub again on Halloween evening to confront his father, fully expecting to find his dad holding court, but instead is left with a puzzle that will eat away at him for many years to come.

I do wonder whether this work – and SWEET TOOTH as well now I come to think about it, and you can certainly throw ESSEX COUNTY in there too – is informed by Jeff’s personal experiences of family and fatherhood. I’m not suggesting that anything he’s written is in any way strongly autobiographical, but it’s certainly interesting to see themes running through much of his work, that of familial and filial relationships being foremost amongst them. It certainly always provides a powerful undercurrent for the direction of his narrative and characters, and so it is here once again.

It’s not surprising, then, that Jack’s heavily pregnant wife Susan is becoming increasing upset with his distant attitude as they rapidly approach full term, and certainly extremely unimpressed with his decision to take two last weeks of work welding underwater at an offshore rig, right before the birth of their son. So when Jack has a most peculiar experience under the waves which requires him to be rescued, she fervently hopes that this event will finally force him to start thinking seriously about their future. Instead, of course, it has precisely the opposite effect, making him evermore obsessed with his own father, and the unusual circumstances of his disappearance. As the birth approaches, and Jack seems to be sinking further and further into the past, Susan begins to wonder if they even have any sort of future together. I must admit at this point, I was practically yelling at the page telling Jack to sort himself out!

Another majestic piece of storytelling from Jeff, and I was hooked immediately. And whilst there are some superbly surreal dream sequences and hallucinatory segments that captivate and beguile, this really is a story all about people at its heart. The art style is the typically loose yet incredibly detailed penmanship we’ve come to know and love from Lemire and there’s really clever use of page design too throughout: some lovely composite panel pages and also some delightful full-page underwater spreads. Recommended, therefore.

* Just to add for the easily confused that a) no, my wife and I are not expecting again, once is more than enough thank you very much, and b) my dad was not a diver hunting for sunken and treasure and has most definitely not vanished. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if one day he revealed he was an undercover agent spying for a foreign power but that’s a whole other digression for a different review…

JR

Buy The Underwater Welder and read the Page 45 review here

American Elf vol 4 (£18-99, Top Shelf) by James Kochalka.

Oh, this is so addictive! Kittens, cats and minor mishaps. Dancing to Der Komissar in a washroom mirror – brilliant!

Four whole years of daily diaries honed to two, three or four succinct panels at most: glimpses into the domestic life or professional strife of comicbook creator James Kochalka Esq. Feel free to reverse those adjectives. He’s father to both Eli and Oliver, now both old enough to add extra entertainment value for money, with wife Amy always at the ready to gently puncture the pretentious or self-absorbed. I love her inordinately. Warning: it’s a wee bit rude in places! Anyway, here’s James after flossing his young son’s teeth. Poor Eli is in tears:

“There, all done. Sorry I yelled at you.”
“You yelled as LOUD as you possibly COULD! I’m not that naughty. I’m GOOD. You have no idea how LOUD that was!”

That’s reasoned resistance! There’s also some astonishingly touching stuff which in other hands would be sickly but Kochalka handles it brilliantly with a plane in freefall on fire, one panel of black with feint, scratches of white, and then James emerging from the darkness stretching out one hand to his family:

“If I die… give me one year.
“I will try to come back to life. I think I can do it.
“Because I love you.”

SLH

American Elf vol 4

The Art of Molly Crabapple vol 2: Devil In The Details s/c (£9-99, IDW) by Molly Crabapple.

From the founder of Dr. Sketchy, the Not Up Its Arse Art Class whose Nottingham branch and burlesque brilliance Page 45 is ridiculously proud to play sponsor to, this is another luxurious art book.

“Feminist but feminine” is how Margaret Cho describes Molly’s delicately detailed penmanship. I’m down with that. Also: “daring”. There is indeed something saucy to the sea side of it, but I would also add “rude but not lewd” and “naughty yet nice” plus with something to say on top of that. There’s a rare male modelling here in the form of blonde Dusty Limits, and he’s presented in his bare chest and striped, blue-and-white long johns, ever so slightly preening like Donna Barr’s gay but not fey DESERT PEACH. He is self-regarding, but only to stave off the ravages of time which is the death of any old performer, sadly.

Unlike the first book, WEEK IN HELL, with its black and white beauty built upon walls which Molly mystifyingly made herself prisoner to, there’s actual colour here. It’s the colour of glazed, fine china.

Shifting its focus to the more cabaret-inclined, it is quite the performance with staged sets as thrilling as the Restoration Theatre’s. Porn star Stoya stalks the cover, but take a look inside for the devil is in the… ah, yes. Love her painted face! It’s all very 18th Century France – Marie Antoinette etc – yet really, really look at that nose and those lips: I’m getting Sam Kieth, aren’t you?

Lastly, it’s all so stupidly beautiful in spite of its piercing intelligence that I never even noticed that the woman suspended as the tarot’s Hanged Man has her throat soundly slashed. Not to begin with. Her blood defies gravity, cascading upwards as a flurry of florid, crimson butterflies.

Here’s something to say and the skill with which to say it. She says so in pictures, so interpret at will.

SLH

The Art Of Molly Crabapple vol 2: Devil In The Details softcover

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

Waiting in a graveyard in the middle of the night:

“Are you not going to ask why we’re doing this?”
“I’m sure you have your reasons and if you’re wrong I’ll be here to mock you.”
“You’re a good friend.”

Previously in BLOOD BLOKES #1

It’s New Year’s Eve 2000, and young quitter Vincent is having a very bad day: four hours sleep, a freezing flat, a shower that refused to heat up and he’s late for a shift selling tickets at the Odeon which he swapped with co-worker Andrew. Still, at least that means Andrew will cover for him later so Vince can meet up with his girlfriend. Wrong! Andrew has just pulled a sickie, effectively pulling the rug from under young Vincent who’ll now have to work a double shift and miss his date – unless, of course, he quits. You know, just like he quit his Philosophy course at university where he first met his girlfriend Jane. But as far as Jane is concerned the quitter quit one time too many and it’s time to call it quits.

New Year’s Eve 2000: what a total pisser! It could only get worse if here were bitten by a bat then woke up in a dress…

Now: it’s still New Year’s Eve 2000, and the sun is only just setting on a typically tatty student flat: porn videos strewn on the floor, bottles between boots and curtains tagged together with masking tape. Mike has just fallen out of bed, Ariana’s rubbing her eyes and Douglas… Douglas has a bad case of bed hair. No, wait – the 5,000-volt look is intentional. Or inevitable. Anyway, deadpan Doug is back with breakfast.

“The corner shop proprietor said he didn’t have any blood.
“I hastened to disagree.”

Nothing I type can do the visual gags justice here – so, so many and each delivered with devilish timing. Deadpan Douglas in particular with his implacable expression, eight-foot stature, fright-wig hair and eyes glowering through inch-wide eyeliner is comedy gold, especially as offset by his mordant wit. Mike too with his long, lank hair, black-rimmed spectacles and mouth that goes “Ooh!” – a lot – is a scream. You have never read a vampire comic remotely like this, but you really, really should. How can you resist a title like “BLOOD BLOKES”?

I also love the narrative shift here: the same hours as issue #1, but seen from the vampires’ perspective as they too celebrate New Year’s Eve with its novelty 2001 glasses, and Mike spies Vincent storming out of the pub towards his date with disaster…

So how did our Vince wake up with fangs in a dress, eh? It’s not what you think at all.

SLH

Buy Blood Blokes #2 and read the Page 45 review here

Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me (£18-99, Hill & Wang) by Harvey Pekar & JT Waldman.

Great title and premise – even some great history to make us all think – but no, no, no.

“Harvey, there’s a thin line between genius and crazy and you’ve crossed it.”

Harvey, there’s also a yawning chasm between examining something from a personal perspective and smothering it with your own presence. This is the very opposite of Joe Sacco who steps aside in his own work to give a voice to those who have never been heard and let them tell the world what they saw. Instead Harvey is ubiquitous here – way too many portraits and irrelevant interjections as he lounges round libraries with his artist in tow – and I seriously doubt that the equivalent of his Sunday School teacher ever came close to claiming he was a genius. Harvey’s heart is in the right place, but while the opinionated everyman of original AMERICAN SPLENDOUR worked perfectly for dealing with the ordinary and everyday, it’s ill-suited to issues of such import as these. Waldman’s done his best given the scripts he’s been given: some really imaginative page layouts, and even an Italian Foods supermarket interior stands out as a thing of grey-toned beauty. Unfortunately the script he’s been given is unsalvageable in style – in its meandering nature and constant distractions – and the result is a bad graphic novel.

Now that’s been said, let’s see if we can rescue some sales because it’s the execution of the project I have problems with, not the project itself: a critical examination of the catastrophe that has been Israel’s relationship with its neighbours since the day it was created from the perspective of a man who was brought up by Zionist parents to be a particularly orthodox Jew, but became disillusioned not with his heritage but the country called Israel as soon as he started to think for himself. Just as JUDENHASS – in support of the Jewish people and damning the atrocities committed against them over the millennia – carried added weight through being written and drawn by a non-Jewish creator, Dave Sim, so this criticism on the political and military actions of Israel may have more impact coming a man who is proud to be Jewish, but not blindly nationalist.

And you know what? I think he nails it here:

“It was and still is the practice of nations to take advantage of other countries after they’ve defeated them in war.”

How do you lose a war? By being thoroughly broken. But instead of being magnanimous in victory to countries clearly no longer a threat and thereby securing the prospect of lasting peace through mutual good will, we have throughout history taken advantage of them instead. Harvey continues:

“But I thought the Jews were different, straight shooters who would never grab more than what they deserved.”

Or, I would add, needed. Unfortunately, as Harvey demonstrates, he was wrong: the Jewish politicians and religious leaders were no different at all.

In 1967 Egypt in the form of Gamal Abdel Nasser launched an attack on Israel with Jordan and Syria, and got thoroughly twatted for their sins by the Israeli army military in just six days.

“They then went on to take the Golan Heights from Syria… the west bank of the Jordan river from Jordan… and most of the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. All in less than a week. Well, I gotta say I was proud of Israel then. They’d taken on huge odds and beat them. A whole lot of Jews were happy about that, happy and relieved.” But. “What was Israel going to do with all this land and the new Arabs they’d have to govern?” Trade the land back for lasting peace? Nope, here come the Settlers onto land which they don’t even need, which is where, for me, it all went horribly, unnecessarily wrong.

Some might say being the victim of aggression gives you the right to punish the aggressor, but surely in terms of national prosperity it is the result that count most? It doesn’t matter who starts a war; it matters who ends it, how it is ended and what you do next. That by definition is how the future gets made; and it’s what you do next which defines that future.

Pekar covers much more ground than this, obviously: there are thousands of years of history to be explored, his own upbringing and then rude awakenings and his previous attempts to raise these well reasoned issues in print only to be shot down dismissively by those disinterested in reason or debate. That his arguments are so cogent makes it all the more regrettable that his personal appearances as narrator – wandering around town and wandering off-topic – aren’t.

SLH

Buy Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me and read the Page 45 review here

A Distant Soil vol 1: The Gathering (£14-99, Image) by Colleen Doran.

Classic science-fiction fantasy so beloved by Neil Gaiman that he wrote the introduction and nails the key quality: an overwhelming sense of joy matched by the ambition of a truly epic, empire-spanning adventure and crisp, clean lines. It’s like P. Craig Russell as inked by Terry Austen, and just as erotically charged and beautiful to behold!

I wish, I wish, I wish I had time to re-read this today and do the book justice, for we owe it a great deal. Twenty years ago there was so little like this to put on our shelves back at Fantastic Store and sell to the less corporately inclined. A particularly personal project, it’s bursting with individuality, embracing both Arthurian sword and sorcery and contemporary metropolitan life. And you wait until the two collide as they do, quite dramatically (and, yes, literally) when you’ll wonder about the true meaning of horse power!

I know several long-term customers for whom this is their favourite-ever series. Maybe you’ll find that it’s yours.

SLH

Buy A Distant Soil vol 1: The Gathering and read the Page 45 review here

Ultimate Comics: X-Men vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Barberi, Medina.

“Nick, this is – you’re brainwashing an entire planet here!”
“Well, yeah, but it’s cheaper than finding another universe-level telepath”

Prepare to have your minds messed with. What you see is not necessarily what you get. The question is, will you get what you’ll see?

With America incarcerating its mutant population in concentration camps guarded by Sentinels in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Nevada, Xorn has offered all mutants safe haven on the floating island of Tian – if they can get there. Three such mutants have done so, including Karen Grant… except that one of them hasn’t. Karen, you see, is really Jean Grey, dispatched Nick Fury’s eyes on the inside while pulling the telepathic wool over everyone else’s: she’s still in his office. Unless she’s actually on Tian and pulling the wool over Nick’s.

Meanwhile word has reached the camp where Storm is detained and Colossus is being tortured that mutants were created by man. As weapons. I do predict I riot, but then no one could predict what happens next, for Quicksilver’s been moving fast on the President persuading him to link the lethal Nimrod fleet to the mutant-tracking Cerebra and it’s all gone horribly wrong. Now he’s no longer the cocky son of a bitch he seemed but running back home to Wanda. I wonder who’s waiting in Egypt?

As I say, prepare to have your minds messed with: the final chapter changes everything. Maybe. There’s some clean and glossy art going on with a few magnificent full-page spreads, but it’s the complexity of what’s been woven both here and in Ultimate Comics Ultimates that really takes my breath away, and I do recommend picking up ULTIMATE COMICS HAWKEYE and maybe even ULTIMATE COMICS FALLOUT first, which is where all this kicked off.

SLH

Ultimate Comics: X-Men vol 2 hardcover

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

Everyone’s favourite second-stringer gets his take to take a bow… and fire it repeatedly…

Indeed, in the hands of Jonathan Hickman (ULTIMATE COMICS THOR and current run of the ULTIMATE COMICS ULTIMATES), this squarely hits the mark. From a peripheral book, this a vital piece of the larger jigsaw puzzle now being built in the current run of both ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN and ULIMATE COMICS ULTIMATES, providing considerable extra recon and intel on the current goings-on in the Southeast Asian Republic where, if it weren’t enough trouble for Nick Fury that Reed Richards has returned with his very super-powered ‘children’ in eastern Europe, there’s another bunch of amped-up interlopers – well, two in fact – inhabiting twin cities that have suddenly popped into existence on the other side of the planet.

Backed up by the gang from Ultimate Comics X including the Hulk, it’s up to Clint Barton to make all nicey nice and play the diplomat with the newcomers (hmm… sensing a teeny weeny snag with that part of the plan)  whilst working out what they’re really up to. Hickman also provides an extremely credible sci-fi secret origin for Hawkeye and reveals a little more back story about the Ultimate version of the bespectacled bowman than we’ve known to date.

JR

Buy Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

Please note: this isn’t actually SECRET AVENGERS VOL 1, it’s the fifth book because Marvel care nought ‘bout confounding. They didn’t even bother to number FEAR ITSELF: SECRET AVENGERS. Seriously, it is to sigh.

“Picking up a large blast of organically magnified energy in the Dera Ghazi Khan district of Pakistan, resulting in several hundred civilian casualties. No mutants detected on a sweep of the area.”
“Who will we vilify in their absence?”

Well done, Rick: another masterfully written McCoy. The Art Adams cover to this new creative team’s take on Steve Rogers’ covert Avengers screams, “Look! You can come back kids! This is no longer that odd Avengers title Nick Spencer made thought-provoking and Warren Ellis turned into GLOBAL FREQUENCY II (see volume 3). This is much, much safer with colourful costumes, Hawkeye at the helm and even a brand-new Avenger in the form of Captain Gaudy-Pants Britain himself!”

All of which does Remender, Hardman and ace-colourist Bettie Breitweiser (see WINTER SOLDIER) a huge disservice for – the scenes featuring Captain Britain aside – the first chapter proved plenty interesting with a startlingly unusual set-up beginning with a suicide bombing in a Pakistani market place. There a young woman and her infant son have been shopping for cumrin, turmeric and bay leaves to prepare a small feast for Papa’s return. They believe they’ll eat well, but when the bomb goes off it’s the explosion she devours in an instinctive act to protect her child. It would have worked too, except when the soldiers crowd round, only concerned for her safety, the bewildered mother reacts once more, entirely against her will, expelling the inferno she absorbed through her mouth. If that wasn’t startling enough, the act appears to trigger reactions in four other individuals around the world, the nature of which I still haven’t quite figured out yet, let alone the punchline which appears to feature some pretty major Marvel characters a most unlikely meeting.

So basically stick around, at least for a while, if only to laugh at the idea that you could send someone dressed like Captain Britain into any arena and still remain covert. I bet his underpants are an absolute riot.

SLH

Buy Secret Avengers vol 1 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.

 
Flossbook: The Story Of A Social Network (£2-99, Inky Little Fingers) by Tanya Meditzky & David O’Connell

The Recruit (£9-99, Hodder) by Robert Muchamore, Ian Edginton & John Aggs

Ellipsis (£4-99, SPB) by Tom Humberstone

Gum Girl: The Tentacles Of Doom! (£6-99, Walker) by Andi Watson

Monocyte h/c (£37-99, IDW) by Kasra Ghanbari

Sonic Universe vol 3: Knuckles Returns (£8-99, ArchieComics) by various

Lenore vol 4: Swirlies h/c Colour Edition (£12-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge

The Beatles In Comic Strips h/c (£25-00, Skira) by Enzo Gentile, Fabio Schiavo

House Of Mystery vol 8: Desolation (£10-99, Vertigo) by Matthew Sturges & Luca Rossi and many others

Superman Action Comics vol 1: Superman And The Men Of Steel h/c (£18-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Rags Morales, Andy Kubert

Batman: No Man’s Land vol 3 (£25-99, DC) by Ian Edginton, Janet Harvey, Larry Hama, Chuck Dixon, Bronwyn Carlton Taggart, Steven Barnes, Dennis J. O’Neil, Devin Grayson, Alisa Kwitney & various

Hitman vol 7: Closing Time (£22-50, DC) by Garth Ennis & John McCrea

The Punisher vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Greg Rucka & Marco Checchetto

X-Men: FF s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Jorge Molina, Mirco Pierfederici, Will Conrad

Blade Of The Immortal vol 25: Snowfall At Dawn (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura

Air Gear vol 23 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Oh!Great

Air Gear vol 24 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Oh!Great

Negima! vol 34 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

Negima! vol 35 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

Drifters vol 2 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Kohta Hirano

Vampire Knight vol 14 (£6-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

Sailor Moon vol 6 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuhci

Olympos (£12-99, Yen) by Aki

D Gray Man vol 22 (£6-99, Viz) by Katsura Hoshino

Claymore vol 20 (£6-99, Viz) by Norihiro Yagi

 
If you’ve not seen it: the most beautifully appointed comic shop in the world (Japan). As Dominique pointed out, it’s exactly the sort of thing our beardy beloved Mark Simpson would have constructed from cardboard! Make sure you stick around for the entire slide-show here

Also, in celebration of last weekend’s Nottingham Gay Pride, here is a very, very funny one-page comic strip by the naughty Neill Cameron!

Lastly, Paul Duffield’s SIGNAL is now free online and is one of the most beautiful and uplifting comics you will ever read in your life.

 - Stephen