Reviews October 2012 week one

Shadows and light. Like the weather itself – rain, sleet and snow at midnight – the colouring by Bettie Breitweiser is beautifully bleak: an erosion of Butch Guice’s phenomenal form and action so frantic that it’s like being tossed into the firefight yourself.

 – Stephen on Winter Soldier vol 1

Also: please see right at the bottom – as every week – for more cool news!

Barbara (£14-99, DMP) by Osamu Tezuka…

“What quickens the passage of time? Action.
“What makes it pass insufferably slowly? Idleness.
“What sinks man down into frustration? Languor and passivity.
“And how does he rise up? By avoiding wasteful contemplation.
“What safeguards his honour? Vigilance.
“And what delivers me from my dilemma? Stimulation.
“Yet who could be inspired by this sleazy, heedless world? Chopin decried the crisis in his Fatherland. Rene Clement joined the Resistance. All that is left for us today is decadence! Nothing but the dead end of an ephemeral age!
“But still I will make art!
“Even if I must sell my soul to the devil, I will make art!
“Devil, come! I’m ready!
“It’s Barbara…”

Bit of a soliloquy to start us off there! Aficionados of the great man will rejoice that another of his classic adult, experimental works is finally available in English for the first time and I guess at this point I should give due props to the people at DMP once again after their recent publishing of SWALLOWING THE EARTH.

Much like Vertical’s magnificent MW, ODE TO KIRIHITO, The Book Of Human Insects and AYAKO, BARBARA deals with seriously adult themes and has some rather explicit content, to say the least. No idea if that is why no has published it in English before, but anyway.

It seems initially on the face of it a rather thin premise, that of a troubled author named Yosuke Mikura who seemingly spontaneously takes in an attractive down-and-out with a drink problem he finds at the local train station, partly out of compassion, partly out of predatory opportunism. But it very quickly becomes apparent that this is no ordinary relationship and that the author’s predilections and indeed perversions are, well, somewhat unusual to say the least. The titular Barbara meanwhile isn’t remotely what she seems either, of course. As the book progresses the volatile, often violent relationship between the pair oscillates wildly between rampant passion and furious rages, frequently with shocking consequences for innocents caught up in the crossfire, as Barbara is gradually revealed to Mikura for what she really is. I shall say no more on that point, as I don’t want to spoil anything.

As with many of Tezuka’s works, what we really are exploring is the human condition. Some of his works such as the magnificent epic BUDDHA do explore themes of enlightenment, yet others, such as BARBARA focus unflinchingly on the darker side of the human condition that is rooted firmly in ego. This is quite a relatively bleak work by Tezuka’s standards, but one can certainly see what he’s trying to achieve with it, even if it’s not always a comfortable read. Mikura is always teetering between realisation and further self-damnation and whilst you’re always willing him to transcend his conditioning and desires, you can see the traps he’s inevitably going to fall into again and again coming a mile off, whereas he seems completely unable to resist them.

It’s a beautiful piece, with surprisingly light linework in places too in terms of the art, and overall it raises my admiration for the great master even further. Certainly not the place to start for people wanting to try Tezuka but an absolute must for those who enjoy his material.

JR

Buy Barbara and read the Page 45 review here

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

“But… who are you? I don’t understand…”
“Then listen.”

The wanderer Michael and mystic healer Abi are now heading towards A-Ree-Yass-I, which may or may not finally shed some light on precisely who or what was responsible for ‘The Big Wet’ and the apocalyptic events that resulted in the Wasteland. The sly assassin Gerr who is tagging along with our duo however has his own agenda, or more precisely that of Marcus, the not-so-benevolent ruler of Newbegin, who has a vested interest in ensuring the potentially earth shattering secrets of A-Ree-Yass-I remain firmly hidden.

Meanwhile, is the revelation that the demigod-like being who is watching proceedings from afar, occasionally intervening for reasons yet unclear, considers himself Nephilim significant? Almost certainly, but the marvellous weaver of mystery that is Antony Johnston is still playing his cards very frustratingly close to his chest! I love this series precisely because he is continually teasing us by revealing such tiny fragments of vital information. I wouldn’t have it any other way mind you, but part of me just can’t wait until all is finally revealed! Fans of post-apocalyptica such as FREAKANGELS who haven’t tried this title yet really should, it will grip you very firmly indeed…

Meanwhile Warren Ellis is hooked. Learn why in WASTELANDS VOL 1.

JR

Buy Wasteland vol 7: Under The God and read the Page 45 review here

Happy #1 of 4 (£2-25, Image) by Grant Morrison & Darick Robertson.

Profanity, hot bullets and blue Brony action!

Many sarcastic thanks to whichever of my sympathisers on Twitter explained the term ‘Brony’ to me following a flock of five fellows, in a single swoop, signing up to the My Little Pony #1 Complete Boxed Set at £18-99 each. I cannot unlearn what I now know to be true, so may never fully recover. What I learned was this:

There has been a surge what could loosely be called of ‘man’-love for that saccharine pink pony, and those guilty of such a wayward cultural misalignment are called Bronies. Now, I’m hardly the butchest boy in the box and obviously Page 45 is an all-inclusive, non-judgemental love-in for all manner of diverse penchants and pleasures… but there are fucking limits.

By which I mean: “That’ll be £18-99, please. Thank you!”

Anyway, Happy here is a feathered blue pony with big, bulbous, bright shiny eyes, a purple unicorn horn and accentuated, goofy front teeth. Knowing Grant Morrison I seriously doubt this, but potentially he’s the product of a delirious imagination as ex-Detective Nick Sax is sped across town in an ambulance after receiving several gunshot wounds in part-exchange for having murdered the four Fratelli brothers. They thought they were on a mission to axe our Sax, but it was no-nonsense Nick who hired them in the first place. The police are swift to the scene but that’s good news for no one except the Fratellis’ Uncle Stefano who’s determined to keep it all in the family – “it” being the Fratelli fortune. Unfortunately no one bothered to tell him the password and the only person still alive who knows that now is Nick.

Corruption appears to be the order of the day on the snowy streets of God Only Knows and torture / interrogation will follow, all kindly overseen and endorsed by New Jersey’s Finest in the form of Maireadh McCarthy who’s firmly in Uncle Stefano’s pockets. Time to send in arch-information extractor Mr. Smoothie.

“I feel like the ghost of a hard-on that will not die.”

Along the way we’ve met a drunken paedophile dressed up as Santa (more on him next issue), and Nick Sax has quite casually and coincidentally dispatched a serial murderer in a prawn costume smoking a spliff from a back end of a hammer which was five seconds away from coming down on the head of a prostitute blowing him to blissful oblivion. Did I mention it’s Christmas?

From the writer of WE3, JOE THE BARBARIAN and BATMAN INCORPORATED etc. comes something akin to THE FILTH only (so far) without the giant, flying spermatazoa. Profanity abounds and he’s set out to sully the holiday season whilst lobbing in the incongruity of bright-eyed chirpy-pants Happy The Horse who claims to be Hailey’s imaginary friend sent to Sax to rescue her from, I infer, the plastered paedo.

Transmetropolitan’s Darick Robertson is on his best form ever with masterfully slick choreography, the sturdiest of figure work and eye-popping street scenes all beautifully lit and then coloured to perfection by Richard P. Clark. You can see exactly what I mean in this extensively illustrated HAPPY interview with Grant Morrison and Darrick Robertson.

SLH

Buy Happy #1 by singing the theme tune to My Little Pony down 0115 9508045 or emailing expletives to page45@page45.com

Modern Toss presents Desperate Business (£7-99, Modern Toss) by Jon Link & Mick Bunnage.

“How would you feel about working from home?”
“I haven’t got one.”

More mardy gag cartoons whose humour, like the MODERN TOSS GUIDE TO WORK, lies in the recognition factor, either overt or inferred. The cartooning is basic at best – we are not in the realms of Tom Gauld – but it does what’s required, which is basically depicting a bunch of miserable people sulking, scowling or shouting. Or looking suitably embarrassed.

The other day I found myself waiting in line to be served, fuming at those idiots who’d totally failed to master the supermarket self-service checkouts holding up the rest of us idiots who’d totally failed to master the supermarket self-service checkouts. Here’s one woman who believes she has mastered the supermarket self-service checkout, but it begs to differ:

“What about that bottle of wine in your handbag?”

I did always wonder about that. Where MODERN TOSS works best is identifying social, cultural or behavioural trends and taking them to the next level. For example, here’s a triple whammy:

“Hello, I’m think about looting your store later on but I can’t be bothered to go out, is there any way I can do it online?”

We are, in case you’ve failed to notice, three years into a double-dip recession, hence the title DESPERATE BUSINESS. Still, one happy chappy is smiling outside Pete’s 99p Shop.

“On the upside, now we’re the last shop on the high street we’ve won a national heritage grant.”

I could write a whole fucking essay on that one.

SLH

Buy Modern Toss presents Desperate Business and read the Page 45 review here

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

A magical cover by Farel Dalrymple whose cast gives a clue to the contents: dozens of short stories inspired by traditional fables and fairytails, each diverging radically from the source material.

Good, because I am in no mood to read The Little Mermaid except as reinterpreted in a singularly succinct double page from opposing perspectives and through the water’s surface by KING CITY’s Brandon Graham and BEAST’s Marian Churchland. Marian’s mermaid is like none you’ve ever seen before, although the style is decidedly Arthur Rackham (art book in stock).

Nor do I have time to read One Thousand And One Nights but have all the time in the world for Tara Alexandra and Nelson Evergreen’s relocation, the sultan replaced by corporate CEO Jonas Frasier. A thinly disguised DC, the comics subsidiary which was once its sole business has long been subsumed into a giant media conglomerate whose towering screens blurt out inane but sadly far from absurd news items like “How To Publish Your Pet’s Blog’. In a succession of downgrades it has been sidelined and squeezed into increasingly cramped offices and today, as Sherri Zahd walks through its doors, it is declared dead and buried, kaput. Sherri’s dad, Frank Zahd, was an Eisner winning comicbook creator whose ideas fuelled the fire and filled the coffers of Jonas Frasier’s business back then so he offers her own pitch and one pitch only to save the comic department from extinction.

Paramount to this sequence’s success, we are not told Sherri’s story but shown the impact it has on Jonas’ rekindled imagination, as he interprets her words in his head, envisioning the humanity at its heart – the love, joy, anger and suffering – in a swirling series of portraits at the end of which he sits there, astonished. Mind-blown. He won’t reinstate that side of the business, but on the strength of Sherri’s initial pitch he will hold off on the total shutdown. But when she comes back tomorrow, she’d better have more where that came from.

“Trust me,” she smiles, “I have a thousand.”

That should have been the punchline but, alas, it wasn’t. Never mind, the message came through loud and clear: Jonas expected another retreading of worn-out capes and costumes, but there wasn’t a single one of them in Sherri Zahd’s pitch. It was more like THE NAO OF BROWN – approved!

That tale was told in soft brush strokes and cool washes, but there are all manner of styles on offer here, mostly from writers and artists I’ve never heard of. Goldilocks & The Three Bears by Lee Nordling and Scott Roberts came with a cracking rejoinder that if what of most bears eat isn’t necessarily fit for human consumption, an alien’s environment is going to be just that – alien! Trespassers beware: you may have no idea what you’re sleeping in or scoffing! Honesty dictates I concede that a) I haven’t had time to read all 400 pages of this and b) I hated at least one story here with a passion while another bored me quite literally to sleep one night.

I can’t see the point in naming names and besides you may be thrilled by both. I seriously doubt that, but it’s possible. ‘Hansel And Gretel’ wasn’t one of them. Although the antropomorphised bees there looked more like wasps to me, Bombus and Vespula were gorgeously painted by Senk Chhour (two ‘h’s, yes) in a soft fantasy style far from fey but really quite gargantuan and it was as beautiful as their fate was grim. And I mean, truly grim.

SLH

Once Upon A Time Machine

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.

Third DC format for this, otherwise of course it would have been nearer the top, but it’s an old review you’ve probably read before. Anyway…

“You see, in a way, everything is made of stories.”

Now that’s an early statement which Moore will return to!

The final panel by Bissette and Totleben, of the sequence below at the climax to this second volume is a masterpiece of understated passion and dignified release as Abigail Arcane offloads her private thoughts to the plant elemental and protector of the Green who has buried his past and saved her from Hell itself. Blessedly she has no memory of this, but the episode has left her uncle damned for eternity and her estranged husband in a coma. Also, it is Spring and she is in a quandary:

“I mean, what I’m saying is, that if I felt strongly… you know, if I had strong feelings for… well, somebody else… Alec, it wouldn’t be wrong for me to have feelings like that, would it?”
“Wrong? Abby… you are too young… too beautiful… to be a widow… forever. Is there… someone… that you love?”
“Oh yes. Yes, very much.”
“Then… you must not… torture yourself… with pointless guilt…. If… there is… someone… that you love… then tell them…”
“Yeah, well… That’s, you know… That’s what I’m trying to do.”
“…”
“…”
“You mean… me…?”
“Oh, for God’s sake… Who else? …Oh no. I’ve ruined it, haven’t I? I’ve screwed it up… I should never have said… Look… let’s just forget it. I’ll go home now, and we’ll forget I said anything. I mean, it’s just so ridiculous, right? It’s impossible, it’s bizarre, it probably isn’t even legal… Oh hell. There’s something wrong with me. I build things up in my mind… I read things into the way you look at me, kid myself that maybe you feel the same as I do, but… You’re a plant, for God’s sake! Just saying it out loud, I mean, it’s just so funny! How could you love me?”
“Deeply… silently… and… for too many… years.”

What follows is a psychedelic consummation via the consumption of a fruit which ‘Alec’ plucks from his body mass, and a tribute to nature that is pure poetry culminating in a quiet moment of shared bliss. It won’t always be so, I’m afraid.

Before that there’s the famous tribute to Walt Kelly’s POGO full of inventive linguistic conflations, and Moore’s reclamation of Abel and Cain and their respective Houses of Secrets and Mystery which must surely have inspired so many elements of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN.

“Who are you? Am I dreaming this?”
“Well, not exactly… W-we’re a projection of the human unconscious, existing as a construct of the brain’s right hemisphere and…”
“Ignore my brother. He has no sense of mystery. Yes. You’re dreaming this.”

And Neil Gaiman, who was reading this at the time, provides the lengthy introduction.

SLH

Buy Saga Of The Swamp Thing vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Winter Soldier vol 1: The Longest Winter s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Butch Guice.

“Your memorial starts in an hour. You planning on attending?”
“Ha. No… Just do me justice… And make sure all the girls are cryin’.”

Shadows and light. Like the weather itself – rain, sleet and snow at midnight – the colouring by Bettie Breitweiser is beautifully bleak: an erosion of Butch Guice’s phenomenal form and action so frantic that it’s like being tossed into the firefight yourself. Rarely do I rave so vocally about the colouring in a Marvel comic but it’s both brave and bold and works perfectly in what is essentially another espionage thriller by Brubaker who’s going out with a bang at Marvel, on his fiercest form there since the first three years of CAPTAIN AMERICA itself. And as an espionage action-thriller co-starring Nick Fury, there are apposite explosions of Jim Steranko throughout – you really can’t miss them. A joy.

Following the catastrophic events in FEAR ITSELF, what’s left of the world is mourning for Bucky Barnes who fell on the frontline. For many years Steve Rogers’ best friend was thought dead, lost after a plane disaster in WWII, although in truth Barnes had been captured by the Russians, cryogenically frozen and brainwashed into becoming the Winter Soldier, their occasional stealth assassin during the Cold War. Thankfully he broke his conditioning and went on to sub for Steve Rogers as Captain America until being set up and exposed by Zemo for his Cold War crimes then sold out by elements in the US government to Russia. When he died on the battlefield of FEAR ITSELF, Bucky Barnes was still a wanted man.

Now: the report of Bucky’s illness grew out of his illness; the report of his death was an exaggeration. Nick Fury and Natasha Romanov, the Russian superspy codenamed Black Widow, conspired to save Bucky using an almost depleted source only at Nick’s disposal whilst covering up his survival. What did they use for a corpse? Oh, come on, you know your S.H.I.E.L.D. history! So that takes care of the international hunt for Bucky as fugitive. Only question is… who’s going to tell Steve?

Barnes and Romanov are now free to embark on a series of necessarily covert stealth missions to track down the three other Russian Sleepers that have since been shipped in stasis tubes to US soil. So far they’ve arrived just in time to be too late, finding the stasis tubes empty. And so desperate have they been to prevent the acquisition then activation of the Sleeper Agents, they’ve charged in too fast to take in the details: who they’re up against and the true identity of their opponents’ target.

The target is Victor Von Doom Esq, but the assassins have so far only used enough firepower to make Doom angry. To what end…? All will become a great deal clearer when you discover what else was bought alongside the acquisition codes. Oh yes, and who bought them.

This is slick as slick can be, with beautifully balanced banter between Barnes and Romanov. That they are lovers and equals makes for a different dynamic both in the field and in bed. Add in Natasha’s permanently arched eyebrow and you’re in for a treat. Doom too is the source of much mirth, and there was one panel in which he masked a certain degree of fretful guilt which I swear looks like it was drawn by Scott Pilgrim’s Bryan Lee O’Malley.

SLH

Buy Winter Soldier vol 1: The Longest Winter s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

Oh dear. The spark which lit NEAR DEATH VOL 1 sadly fails to reignite second-time round except right at the end when the series’ past cast finally catches up with Markham bringing with them a very tough choice and a final very unexpected twist during what I infer is the finale.

Up until then it’s a comparatively thin affair with some solutions arrived at far too easily. Key panels are missing (car/ferry interface) and the choreography is woefully weak in places.

It is of course possible that I simply wasn’t in the mood because the first book had much to commend it and many of merit doing that commending (Ed Brubaker etc).

Instead for prime crime I beg you, yes beg you, to try the wickedly clever THIEF OF THIEVES, CRIMINAL and STUMPTOWN to name but three.

SLH

Buy Near Death vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation Squared vol 1 (£13-50, IDW) by Scott Tipton, David Tipton, Tony Lee & J.K. Woodward…

“Who would like a jellybaby?”
“Fascinating. Gelatin confectionary, dusted with starch and moulded in the shape of a small child.”

Commence geek frenzy now as two of the most popular sci-fi licences ever collide in a quantum-foaming tale which will have Whooverian and Next Genner fanpeeps alike positronically frothing at the mouth. I freely admit I am a huge fan of both, but you never quite know whether these crossovers are going to be more than the sum of their parts (or indeed squared, as the title so boastfully attests) or merely just another badly conceived and equally badly written Warp Factor 9 car-crash which will leave you wishing you could go back in time to save yourself from the bother of reading it…

Happily the tale itself seems a reasonably solid yarn so far in this first volume of I believe to be three (it could be two), as the Cybermen and Borg have teamed up to assimilate the Trek Universe and it’s up to the 11th Doctor, his companions Rory and Amy, plus Captain Picard and his merry crew to save the day. The script is perfectly fine, but the art is entirely another matter altogether. Whilst I always applaud the bold idea of going for a fully painted story, the execution leaves a lot to be desired and is frankly rather distractingly bad at times.

You’ve got be very good to pull painted artwork off in this type of graphic novel (Jon J. Muth, Kent Williams etc.) and this isn’t anywhere near up to their standards. In fact when there is a flashback to the 4th Doctor’s (yes Tom Baker!!!!) previous meeting with a certain bequiffed Star Trek captain (yes, James T. Kirk!!!!) the pencilled artwork used is a brief period of blissful clarity in comparison. I would have much preferred it if they’d done it all in that style as the likenesses of the original Trekkers and Tom are excellent.

Still, it is all rather good fun, I must say. Be a good fellow and pass me the jellybabies, would you?

JR

Buy Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation Squared 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.

 

Steak Night (£8-00, Records Records Records Book) by Babek Ganjei, Jackson Coley, Antoine Cosse, Jessica Penfold, Grace Wilson, Kele Okereke

Kiddo h/c (£12-00, Records Records Records Book) by Antoine Cosse

Morning Glories vol 1 s/c new printing (£7-50, Image) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma

Walking Dead Compendium vol 2 (£45-00, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Crusades h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Izu Nikolavitch, Alex Nikolavitch & Zhang Xiaoyu

Moomin: Comic Strips vol 7 h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lars Jansson

Moomin Valley Turns Jungle (£7-50, Enfant) by Tove Jansson

Moomin’s Winter Follies (£7-50, Enfant) by Tove Jansson

White Clay (£3-50, AdHouse Books) by Thomas Herpich

Star Wars: The Crimson Empire Saga hardcover (£25-99, Dark Horse) by various

Criminal: The Deluxe Edition vol 2 (vols 4-6) h/c (£37-99, Icon) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Everything Together – Collected Stories s/c (£14-99, Picturebox) by Sammy Harkham

Snarked vol 2: Ships And Sealing Wax (£10-99, Kaboom!) by Roger Langridge

Pachyderme hardcover (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Frederik Peters

Batman: The Dark Knight vol 1: Knight Terrors h/c (£18-99, DC) by David Finch & Paul Jenkins

The Twelve vol 2 s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by J. Michael Straczynski & Chris Weston

Daredevil: Ultimate Brubaker Collection vol 3 (£25-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, & Michael Lark, Paul Azaceta, David Aja

Marvel’s The Avengers: The Avengers Initiative (£7-50, Marvel) by various

GTO: 14 Days In Shonan vol 5 (£8-50, Vertical) by Toru Fujisawa

Paradise Kiss vol 1 (£14-99, Vertical) by Ai Yazawa

The Clockwork Sky vol 1 (£8-50, Tor) by Madeline Rosca

Page 45 Presents: Make It The Tell Everybody!

The Birmingham Zine Fest is almost upon us! A thrilling event in the annual calendar, this year showcases some of our favourite comicbook creators in a series of live panels on comics chaired by Dan Berry starring Lizz Lunney, Philippa Rice, Luke Pearson, Joe List, Marc Ellerby, Felt Mistress, Jonathan Edwards and more.

I’ve promised to stay away (okay, Lizz Lunney took out a restraining order) but I may have lied! Who knows what will happen at the very last minute?

It’s going to be held on Saturday 13th October 2-4pm, but click around the rest of the site for a whole weekend of wonder!

 – Stephen

 

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