Reviews September 2012 week four

“All those comics for kids on display in supermarkets with plastic toys attached are bloody awful. Truly abysmal. This, on the other hand… this is on another level entirely. Can I have my wallet back, please?”

– Customer Justin Cook on The Phoenix weekly. It’s a hit.

The Nao Of Brown h/c (£16-99, Self Made Hero) by Glyn Dillon.

“Little do they know I’m a fucking mental case.”

Astonishing.

Exquisitely beautiful, with the softest of pencil lines and crisply lit, delicately coloured washes, this is the finest graphic novel I have read all year, and one of the best I have read in my life. Full of humanity, it is tender and compassionate and very, very funny in places. In others, it is startlingly dark.

Our young Nao is twenty-eight with an English mother who’s moved to Brighton and a drunken father who’s moved back to Japan. She’s adopted her mother’s maiden name of Brown. She’s playful, intelligent and culturally well versed. Sharply dressed, she is pretty to the point of chic, with dark hair tied up at the back, falling in a fringe across her brow with wisps curling down past her ears. She’s an artist who’s just had four setbacks: her boyfriend cheated on her, ditched her and dumped her from his publishing company, twenty-four hours after a promising relationship with an American toy company went tits up too. After an initial burst of enthusiasm, they’d gone radio-silent so Nao sent them an email to nudge them into action.

“I didn’t think I’d been rude or anything so I was quite surprised by the speedy and hostile response I got.”
“Hostile?”
“Well, in my attempt to be professional yet curt… I’d signed off with just “regards”… but the G and T are pretty close to each other on the keyboard.”

That’s Steve Meek, by the way, an old art school friend she’s bumped into in a pub. He offers her a job in his “kidult” designer vinyl toy shop where there’s a list of things they don’t sell drawn up, presumably, from everything he’s been asked if they do sell. You’d be surprised: I’ve been asked if we sell 7” singles, colanders and, on one notable occasion, guns. This being Nottingham, I was particularly polite to him. There they compare notes on their disastrous love lives – oh, the comedy of courtship! – until a washing machine repairman called Gregory pops in by mistake and Nao is immediately smitten. Dressed in denim, he’s broad, high-browed with a thick but tidily trimmed beard. To Nao he looks just like The Nothing from Japanese folklore, and she’s determined to meet him again.

“Well, I’ve not seen anything quite like that before…” he confesses, peering down the back of her washing machine. “Looks like someone hacked away at it with a carving knife.”
“Really? … We do have a mouse problem.”

Hmmm. Quickly they bond over Buddhism and Franco-Japanese animation, but you know what first dates can be like, right? Nerves? Overcompensation? A bit too much to drink?

“My Mum said you’re Japanese. Would it be fair to say… there are two types of Japanese… women? The autonomous, intrepid ‘escapee’, who makes it to the west because they weren’t cut out to live the life of the docile cliché… the repressed, suffering in silence, Milquetoasts, unable to speak up for themselv –“
“Milk toasts?”
“Exactly… Look… ‘Hello Kitty’… the archetypal Japanese female… unable to articulate. Why? For she has no mouth.”
“…”
[slumps]
“Yes, Hello Kitty may appear to have no mouth, but Winnie the Pooh has no pants and Action Man lacks… well, he’s unlikely to get any ‘action’. Anyway, according to Sanrio, she does have a mouth… it’s simply unseen beneath her fur. Ergo, it’s never drawn… but it does exist… in theory. And… what you fail to take into account is that Hello Kitty’s male counterpart, ‘Dear Daniel’, has no mouth… therefore negating your claim that Kitty is representative of the archetypal Japanese female and her ‘lack of voice’.”
“… Perha –“
“And if you want the official company line… they’ve said Hello Kitty appears to have no mouth because she speaks from her heart. And anyway this is not ‘Hello Kitty’… it’s ‘Lucky Lune’. …I’m not sure what the story is with her mouth…”

Brilliant. Charming. It’s all so delightful, just like Nao herself. Unfortunately ever since the very first page something has been simmering away, and not even in the background. To begin with that too struck me as funny, Nao appearing to comment on her own condition with a certain good-humoured – or at least dry – detachment as here, where she stands on a platform next to a Help Point as a train approaches. She could use a little help.

“The Underground is always… ‘challenging’. But with the jetlag kicking in, on an empty stomachh… I felt really on edge. All it takes is a little shove…
“… 9 out of 10… again.”

It is the perfect juxtaposition of words and pictures, Nao looking utterly unphased while seeing red.

But it isn’t funny at all.Nao, you see, suffers from a specific Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which is a very far cry from repeatedly washing your hands or touching each lamp post you pass. Beneath her seemingly limitless calm lurks a volcanic rage that can be triggered even during a relaxed Buddhist meditation class. And by ‘volcanic’ I mean bursts of murderous fury: violent flash-fantasies she can feel boiling up inside her, barely contained by the mantras she’s taught herself, like focussing on her mother’s unconditional love. She doesn’t trust herself around knives, scissors and especially small children, but even those she adores are at risk and gradually you begin to understand the full extent of her trauma, the fixations which consume her once a stray thought takes hold and send her into a spiral of self-recrimination and self-loathing that can paralyse her for hours.

It’s masterfully presented, and for me the key is that to begin with you don’t take her seriously – that you don’t comprehend her torture, just like those around her, oblivious to what she’s wrestling with. The only person who does understand the severity is her flatmate Tara and even she, to begin with, makes gentle jokes which Nao joins in with.

Where this all goes is what took me by surprise, and not just the once; how so many seemingly throwaway moments all tied together astounded me. Even the title is bursting with wit.

The Japanese fable, framed in black and fully inked, involving the squabbling family, the conker-headed son and The Nothing I will leave for you discover for yourselves. Like Nao herself the book is full of surprises including design elements, some of which were oh, so clever. And it is, as I’ve said, such a beautifully drawn and sublimely painted graphic novel. I love the way the light falls across Nao’s cheek in rounded triangles. Her mascara is immaculately applied – except when she cries with laughter. Yet it’s her bright red lips which amused me the most: her fixed grin of awkward apology, the pulled-in-tight smile of “I goofed”, and the bright delight of open-mouthed, exhilarated success.

There’s also so much culture here I hadn’t stumbled upon before, or at least in such depth, and the Buddhism in particular intrigued me. Nao visits the West London Buddhist Centre quite regularly, with much affection for Ray in particular who teaches more than just art.

“Enso is just the Japanese word for circle. It’s not a calligraphy character, it’s a zen symbol, symbolising enlightenment, the universe… the void… it’s an expression of the ‘moment’. So, once it’s done, that’s it, there’s no tidying it up or changing it.”

Painted with a single sweep of the brush, it can also look remarkably like a washing machine window in full spin. Nao has filled a whole wall with washing-machine Endos at home. It’s another of her fixations. She’s permanently set on the same cycle, round and round and round.

Something’s got to give.

SLH

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

The Phoenix #37 & #38 (£2-99 each, Phoenix Group) by various.

The good, the rad and the ugly-bugly.

“You know, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the web tonight. My friend Vincent the spider was having trouble tying his prey to his webbing and they kept flying away… “Vincent!”, I said, “You fool, Your flies are undone!””

Dear, dear Gary Northfield: half a hectare short of a suitably sized vegetable patch, he is the “Cor!” in the jet, the rot after the car, and totally in his element in ‘Gary’s Garden’, here performing to a captive audience of spellbound insects and youngsters alike.

It is vitally important we encourage the youngest generation to read and look forward to reading with all the zeal we had for our own weekly comics. And however much we wish they would read what we lapped up in the past, how infinitely more exciting to discover brand-new blood pumping through the veins of the British comicbook industry! (Please note: I’m not a vampire.)

This issue kicks off a whole new string of adventures like John and Patrice Aggs’ ‘Zara’s Crown’ starring schoolgirls Chloe and Zoe who’ve stumbled on a right load of loot left in a newspaper on the London Underground Tube. What a dilemma: hand in the bundled dosh or go on a spontaneous shopping spree? One is more mall-adjusted than the other. So who is the legal owner? Who is the illegal donor? And why is Zara clinging to the edge of The Gerkin?! I DON’T KNOW!!

Then you get the truly demented, like Jamie Smart’s ‘Bunny Vs Monkey’, a two-page outrage of bombastic glee plagued by miscreants and morons like Action Beaver, Pig, Skunky, Weenie and Le Fox, squabbling on all hyperglycaemic sides. Not seen Metal Steve yet. Here Monkey and Skunky attempt to infiltrate Bunny and Weenie’s best-laid private plans using a Trojan Moose.

“Ah, we’re here. I’ll press the door release… or was that the BUM ROCKETS?”

Oh, double bottoms indeed!

I love, love, love Neill Cameron’s art classes and so will your kids! (Your kids aren’t reading this, right? I just typed “bottoms”. Also: “bum rockets”.) I missed his ‘Pirates Of Pangea’ strip which will hopefully reappear as a graphic novel along with Kate Brown’s ‘Lost Boy’. I think the two are in cahoots come Christmas – or maybe before! Oh, it’s all just terribly exciting!!

Laura Ellen Anderson breaks the ice (and much more besides) in Evil Emperor Penguin, Thomas Fickling and Zak Simmonds-Hearn tell the epic, legendary tale of ‘Simon Swift’, and it’s also all-out, symbol-decrypting action for Cogg & Sprokit courtesy of Jamie Littler. You can join in and maybe work it all out for them first!

There’s a letters page where your own children’s art could easily be printed (just think of the affirmation and self-confidence that would ignite) and hats off in #38 for the Golden Monkey Cube puzzle which works really well, encouraging a spatial awareness and pattern recognition which I so woefully lack. There will be no shop-floor competitions: I will not lose to an eight-year-old. Similarly, I refuse to even mention Adam Murphy’s ‘Corpse Talk’ for it contains more moribund cleverness in a single panel than I have at my disposal in my woefully single brain cell.

So listen! You love comics, you want your kids to love comics and, yes, we stock oodles and boodles of prime graphic novels they’ll love. But how much more exciting would it be to fire them into a weekly frenzy which you can join in with too?!

You can try our samplers and sign up to THE PHOENIX online if you want by taking out a subscription! But if you shop with us regularly, why not take out a standing order for your kids here instead? We can also order back issues for you – just let us know! You don’t have to pay up front, just whenever you collect, and you can cancel if ever you want.

[Editorial warning: you will never want to cancel. THE PHOENIX is utterly addictive. Damn. Should probably not have mentioned that. As you were. Were you? I know I was. Shhh.]

I will do everything in my power to make this generation-spanning genius the most mammoth success, short of sucking on an actual mammoth’s mouth. They are so ICKY!

Within their first ten minutes on display customer Justin Cook had cleaned up a copy then ordered it regularly for both his children. He said that they loved it. Also (I don’t quote but it’s close): “All those comics for kids on display in supermarkets with plastic toys attached are bloody awful. Truly abysmal. This, on the other hand… this is on another level entirely. Can I have my wallet back, please?”

No.

SLH

Buy The Phoenix #37 and read the Page 45 review here

Angelic Layer Book 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Clamp…

Early work by the Clamp gang back in print for the first time in, well, forever. Arguably their first work to really feature what would become their distinctive art style as seen in CHOBITS and TSUBASA too, with much in the way of dramatic posturing and gesturing. Think of it a bit like Stephen just having slurped his second coffee and hamming it up… errr… I mean extemporising a review… on the shop floor to a captive Saturday afternoon audience (really, he’s blocking their route to the door) and you’ve nailed it. What a dramatis personae eh?

Seriously though, it’s really nice stuff and just the sort of material budding manga artist should be studying closely. Along with BAKUMAN of course, just so they know exactly how little chance they have of succeeding…

Whilst this work takes place in the same universe as CHOBITS and you also get appearances by many of the main characters from TSUBASA including Blanche the angel you can’t really call this a prequel, despite it saying exactly that on the back. To me it is more of a proto-version, particularly of CHOBITS, dealing with toy-like robots and much other general weirdness. It is a battle manga of sorts too I suppose, but also has much to say about human emotions and relationships too. Clamp fans will love it, others might be better off starting with CHOBITS and TSUBASA then moving backwards on to this, if you see what I mean.

JR

Buy Angelic Layer Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Penguin: Pain And Prejudice s/c (£10-99, DC) by Gregg Hurwitz, Jason Aaron & Szymon Kudranski, Jason Pearson…

“Wah wah wah.”

Deliciously nasty, blubbery little slice of the Bat villain who has probably become the biggest caricature of himself over the years at the hands of various writers and artists. Never mind Burgess Meredith! Rarely, if ever, has he been written and indeed drawn with such malicious glee as here by Gregg Hurwitz and Szymon Kudranski. As I finished reading I was literally thinking the only other time I’ve ever actually seen the character given such disturbing depth was the Jason Aaron / Jason Pearson tale that was collected in the JOKER’S ASYLUM series, when lo and behold I see they’ve thrown that very story in for good measure in the back of this collection. A great little bestial bonus.

Yes, you would certainly be forgiven for thinking that were one to find oneself on the wrong end of any of the various rogues’ gallery of Bat-villains, that the porky little pensioner with the protruding proboscis would be the one who you would have half a chance of escaping unscathed from. Not so, not so, as this chilling tale makes all too painful clear for the Penguin is a man who believes in revenge best served blast-chilled at veritably Antarctic temperatures, so cross him at your peril. He’ll pick your life apart piece by piece, leaving you a gibbering wreck, without leaving so much as a flipper of evidence to indicate he’s the one taking quietly sadistic pleasure in your mental destruction. Your savings will mysteriously disappear, evidence will be planted at your workplace that you are a vile pervert, loved ones will die inexplicably and horrifically, and what’s worst is this will all have happened in the few minutes whilst the Penguin is recounting it to you, morsel by morsel. Scarce wonder therefore that most then choose to end their own lives shortly thereafter.

Yes, you’ll certainly not be thinking of Oswald Cobblepot in the same light after this story in which, when he’s got a spare minute from wreaking destruction upon innocents who he believes have slighted him, we learn more about how he became the tough old bird he is now. It’s a heart-rending story but you’ll find it rather difficult to have much sympathy for him by the end. I actually enjoyed this just as much as the classic Azzarello & Bermejo THE JOKER, which is saying something.

JR

Buy Penguin: Pain And Prejudice s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Uncanny X-Men vol 3 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Greg Land, Billy Tan, Dustin Weaver.

“We have the Creation Engines. Woman’s work is women’s no more. No need to have them cluttering up the place with their bodices and general frilliness.”

Ah, dear Mr. Sinister. He’s turned into quite the aesthete and contradiction: you wake until the blast-from-the-past punchline.

This is the first AVENGERS VS X-MEN tie-in to be released, and just the first half of Gillen’s UNCANNY contribution to the event involving a lot of biffing and banging over young, redheaded Hope whom everyone assumes is going to be the receptacle of the Phoenix Force which is heading towards Earth with all the ill omen of Halley’s Comet and an infinitely greater capacity for pestilence and death.

Where this really grows interesting, however, is with the diversion deep below the Earth’s surface where Mister Sinister has created a very different sort of London underground and finding his own top soil infested with Moloids who are simply ruining his lawn.

Almost everyone there is Sinister, even if they don’t see eye to eye, but then as he points out, “Sinister is a system. And rebels against the system are also part of the system”.

The pencilled art there by Dustin Weaver is splendid and coloured in stark contrast to the preceding testosterone with gentle, countryside hues by Jim Charalampidis, while the architecture is a grandiose mix of Italian Renaissance and mountain-top Bavarian. A little incongruous, perhaps?

“Oh, please! Who doesn’t love a castle?”

SLH

Buy Uncanny X-Men vol 3 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself Fallout s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen, Robert Rodi & Whilce Portacio, Pasqual Ferry, Richard Elson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

Daredevil vol 3 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid, Greg Rucka & Marco Checchetto, Chris Samnee, Khoi Pham…

“For the first six months I knew Mr. Franklin W. Nelson…”
SNNNNOOORRREEEKKZZKKK
“…I hated him. I called him Foggy not because I thought he was dim, he was actually a brilliant student, but because to my ears, he was like a human foghorn.”

Waid wraps up his credulity-stretching plot concerning the Omega Drive with the aid of a Punisher / Spider-Man crossover, the relevant issues of which are collected here also. Megacrime want their new console back in time to exhibit at Nottingham’s GameCity, and if they don’t get it back, there’s going to be hell to pay. Well a hornhead at least. Then, just when you think it can’t get any worse for Matt, having put himself in the firing line of the veritable Who’s Who of crime cartels, syndicates and organisations he finds himself instantaneously… summonsed… to Latveria, to pay for his crimes. The punishment, well, it’s quite specific and rather ingenious to say the least.

I’m still very much enjoying Waid’s lighter and more frivolous take on DD, I must say. It is relentless stuff still, in fact you can barely catch your breath at times, but it’s as cleverly written and has just as much emotion as the dark triumvirate of Bendis, Brubaker and Diggle/Johnston managed, but with a more sprightly sense of fun too at times, neatly complimented with some very pretty art, this time around by Checchetto, Samnee and Pham.

JR

Buy Daredevil vol 3 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.

 

Wasteland vol 7: Under The God (£10-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood

Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation2 (£13-50, IDW) by Scott Tipton, David Tipton, Tony Lee & J.K. Woodward

Saga Of The Swamp Thing vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Shawn McManus, Rick Veitch, Alfredo Alcala, Ron Randall, Bernie Wrightson

Modern Toss presents Desperate Business (£7-99, Modern Toss) by various

Sonic Select vol 6 (£8-99, Sega) by various

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

American Vampire vol 3 s/c (£12-99, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque, Sean Murphy, Danijel Zezelj

American Vampire vol 4 h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque, Jordi Bernet, Roger Cruz, Riccardo Burchielli

Once Upon A Time Machine (£18-99, Dark Horse) by various

Near Death vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Jay Faerber & Simone Guglielmini

Flash: The Road To Flashpoint s/c (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins, Francis Manapul

X-Men: War Machines s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Will Conrad

Ultimate Comics: X-Men vol 1 s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Paco Medina

Ultimate Comics: X-Men vol 2 s/c (UK Ed’n) (£12-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Paco Medina,Carlo Barberi

Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Men s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Greg Land

Spider-Man: Lizard – No Turning Back h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Wolverine And The X-Men vol 3 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Chris Bachalo & Nick Bradshaw

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates vol 2 softcover (Uk Ed’N) (£12-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman, Sam Humphries & Esad Ribic, Luke Ross

Marvel Masterworks: Iron Man vol 2 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Don Heck

Marvel Zombies Destroy h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Frank Marraffino, Peter David & Mirco Pierfederici, Al Barrionuevo

House Of Five Leaves vol 8 (£9-99, Viz) by Natsume Ono

Barbara (£14-99, DMP) by Osamu Tezuka

Page 45 has shed its skin!

We have a brand-new window display installed for us by Philippa Rice in time for GameCity7 right here in Nottingham’s city centre, and families are squealing in the street and then taking photos of it. We could not be more excited! So what’s it all about? GameCity in Page 45’s window!

 – Stephen

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