Archive for February, 2013

Reviews February 2013 week four

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

With any book like this, you fear it’ll be a white-wash: a hagiography of corporately endorsed spin; something else for Stan Lee to step in and sign even though he had absolutely no hand in its creation! Nope. I don’t see Stan Lee signing any copies of this meticulously researched muck-raking!

 – Stephen on Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

Susceptible h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Geneviève Castrée.

Told not with detachment, but with a calm, measured, unadorned directness, this a powerful and genuinely upsetting story of a childhood spent largely alone.

It is, Geneviève readily concedes, pretty much her own past presented as fiction and in delicate shades of grey both literally and figuratively, for her mother has much to commend her. When she’s there. But so often she’s not, the practical necessity of being a single working mother taking her out of the house well before breakfast, leaving a Goglu so young that she can barely write with an alarm clock telling her when to leave for the bus stop to school.

One morning she misses the alarm and panics, knowing not what to do. The entire day has been thrown into disarray: there is only one school bus. That particular sequence is heart-breaking.

Tellingly, Goglu refers to her mother, father and step-father by name rather familial bond, and in her father’s case it is a nickname, ‘Tête D’Oeuf’ (egg-head). Her step-father she calls Amer, in French terms is the male equivalent of ‘Amère’, her mother, both of which translate as ‘bitter’.

Tête D’Oeuf left his wife and child for friends in Ontario, reasoning Amère could cope on her own.

“When he got back, I told him he had been right: I didn’t need him anymore.”

His ‘final’ departure on a window is witnessed by Goglu aged two, through a window one night. It’s a slow and protracted sequence suffused with melancholy. They do visit him on occasion but Goglu cannot speak English and Tête D’Oeuf cannot speak French. It makes communication much less bonding pretty impossible.

When Amer appears on the scene, he refuses to be called Dad or Step-Dad. In truth he wants nothing to do with his girlfriend’s hugely inconvenient child, telling Amère she should have had an abortion. Goglu overhears this. Goglu overhears a lot of things. For much of this book she is sitting alone – she doesn’t make any friends until her late teens – hearing other people have conversations. Amer goes even connives to make Goglu miserable, and the house becomes one big feud, culminating one night when Amère, drunk yet again (sometimes leading to her playing away), tries to make Goglu dance with her. Which may sound like fun, but it’s just too uncomfortable and embarrassing, Castrée depicting the woman like something out of The Exorcist, her head on backwards. Goglu declines time after time then finally explodes with “You drunkard”.

She is grounded for three weeks.

“I am not allowed to do anything else but stay in bed and consider what I have done…”

Fun-filled voices float in from behind her bedroom door, while Goglu is left alone to fester in misery, self-loathing and a desperation for all of it to be over for ever.

“For at least the week following one of those moments when I disobey, I am allowed a bare minimum of conversation with my mother.”

The ‘conversation’ is Goglu attempting to apologise, her sour-faced mother, back turned, responding with further castigation.

“With Amer who mostly avoids talking to me already, the house becomes almost impossibly cold. I live alone with two accountants I no longer count on.”

What ultimately came to damn Amère in my eyes is her inability to put her child first, above her relationship with Amer. Even though she threatens to leave him on more than one occasion, she always relents or goes back. Maybe it’s the poverty – they are extremely poor. Needless to say all this, and so many more wounds which will have you agog, takes its toll.

“I wonder if it is possible for a sadness to be passed from one generation to the others…” muses Goglu at the start of the book, vines wrapping themselves around her, creeping into her veins, “… if my depression could be caused by emotions accumulated by me, but also by my parents, my ancestors even. Or if those difficult moments are simply provoked by what falls onto me.
“Maybe it is just my core that is rotten… maybe my internal fauna and flora are too fragile, unbalanced. That is possible.”

As the vines threaten to overwhelm and suffocate her, she struggles hard against them, crawling desperately out from under them before finally wrenching herself free. It is not a moment of triumph, though, as she sits hunched, head in hands, the veins in feet potentially still infected, certainly livid.

“I have pulled myself so far away from my family that it is almost like I don’t belong to it anymore.”

The art isn’t stark. Both the forms and the greys are actually very soft and there’s a truly wonderful and unusual degree of space around the figures and between panels, often pages. Goglu’s face is constantly flushed with fear and anxiety while Amère grimaces almost throughout. Amer is an ugly ogre, but Tête D’Oeuf, big-bearded and bald, is actually a bit of a softie. Although just when you think you’ve got him figured out, you meet his friends…

The one caution I have is for those – and I know several – who won’t be able to read this without the aid of a magnifying glass. The writing is tiny. I like it: it’s handwritten in joined up lower case and could not complement the art or the narrative better. I’m just saying it’s tiny.


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

Paul Has A Summer Job restocks (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michel Rabagliati –

Paul walked out of school and into a job he hated. Creative, bright but not academic, his artistic leanings were not nurtured until after the final unfair decision he moved out of the frying pan. His saviour comes in the (appropriately hirsute) form of an old friend running a summer camp for underprivileged kids. One of their counsellors has let them down, the season starts in a few days! Can Paul step in and take his place?

Of course he can. Paul leaves the next day and heads for a crash course in dealing with the great outdoors and being cooped up with adults and children alike.

Approaching his twenties, this can only be a coming of age story. Years later, in a beautifully crafted epilogue, he calls that summer the best three months of his life. It’s not just the American movie of the week “We’ve all learnt a lot from what happened here today” schmaltz (although the blind girl veers dangerously close to that) but a look at the turning point in a life.

The art is in the same historically versed area as Andi Watson, Shag or Seth (well this is published by Drawn & Quarterly) but taking generous cues from mid-sixties textile and houseware design. There’s one huge panel of a daunting cliff, rising like some faux-Polynesian Easter Island design. The clouds ruffle above, little squiggles as the climbers stare up at what awaits them.

Paul himself is an easily sympathetic character and an obvious stand-in for the author. Check out the self portrait at the back. It’s summer time here and this book is nostalgic without being cloying. If you’re the same age as me (105) you’ll see a lot of pleasing references in this charming book.


Buy Paul Has A Summer Job and read the Page 45 review here

Sandman Mystery Theatre vol 4: The Scorpion restocks (£9-99, Vertigo) by Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis.

“A world with war on its lips. A nation of rampant mobster activity and reeking street people. A city in which beauty should be snuffed out the instant it arises. And yet — a place where beauty… inexplicably… flourishes.”

Breakfast in a fancy restaurant overlooking Central Park is where this chapter kicks off – one that will take Wesley and Dian’s burgeoning relationship one step further, because unlike most supporting characters who love the masked protagonist, she’s not stupid. And unlike most protagonists, Wesley’s no action man, but a quiet, bespectacled and reluctant member of a rich establishment he’s inherently suspicious of. He’s also paunchy and a bit of a prude, but it would have been an appalling mistake to make him any more liberal than his contemporaries – towards homosexuality, for example – just to please our current moral sensibilities. He’s in for a rude awakening in a few episodes’ time…

No, this series is steeped in social history, with an atmosphere all of its own thanks to Davis’ impeccable period clothing, unidealised forms and rough textures, and if either of the pair is the adventurous one, it’s Dian, whose instinctive compassion does go against the grain of almost everyone else around her.

More murders, then, to haunt Wesley’s dreams and force him into hunting out the culprit. This time, however, the detective becomes the target himself.

At the time of retyping there are now eight SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE books.


Buy Sandman Mystery Theatre vol 4: The Scorpion and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Comics The Untold Story h/c (£16-99, Harper Collins) by Sean Howe.

Revealed: Superhero Superstars In Fifty-Year Comicbook Catfight!

This is like one of those celebutard gossip rags but with comics and creators you actually care about! Also: a 99.9% better chance of the dirt being true. Riveting!

With any book like this, you fear it’ll be a white-wash: a hagiography of corporately endorsed spin; something else for Stan Lee to step in and sign even though he had absolutely no hand in its creation! Nope. I don’t see Stan Lee signing any copies of this meticulously researched muck-raking!

We all know about the wider injustices perpetrated by Marvel and DC on its creators (I was going to type “earliest creators” but DC seem to be keeping that grand tradition alive right to this day/hour/minute), but I had no idea there was so much animosity, back-stabbing and outright paranoia pervading the Merry Marvel Bullpen back then. And I say “paranoia” but that doesn’t mean they weren’t out to get each other. Some of them were, and still are! The shit, it verily flies, I promise you.

Learn why Kirby finally walked (twice) and Roy Thomas as editor-in-chief too! After that Marvel went through four different editor-in-chiefs within 20 months, and it’s easy to see why. It was chaos! Unsustainable chaos drowned in ego-ridden, territory-marking wee-wee. You want to know why Cockrum did so many X-MEN covers after Byrne took over? To piss John Byrne off! He’d manage to irritate the hell out of everyone except Chris Claremont, and now it was Claremont’s turn. Deetz all here!

As to Stan Lee, there is tale after tale of betrayal. He and Ditko couldn’t agree on the direction of Spider-Man, nor the issues’ individual contents (which is rich given how little direction the so-called writer actually doled out before artists were left to create virtually from scratch). As early as issue 18 Stan was so infuriated with how much Peter Parker there was and how little fist-fighting that he settled the score in public:

“Lee’s letter-page description in other Marvel comics that month threw Ditko under the bus even as it made its sales pitch. “A lot of readers are sure to hate it,” he promised of the issue, “so if you want to know what all the criticism is about, be sure to buy a copy!””

When Stan assembled the Bullpen together to record a flexi-disc of banter, Ditko was markedly absent so Stan wrote in a seeming extemporisation:

STAN: “Hey, what’s all that commotion out there, Sol?”
SOL: Why, it’s shy Steve Ditko. He heard you’re making a record and he’s got mic fright! Whoops! There he goes!”
STAN: “Out the window again? You know, I’m beginning to think he is Spider-Man.”

“The month the record was announced, a notice ran on the first page of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. “Many readers have asked why Stan’s name is always first on the credits! And so big-hearted Lee agreed to put Stevey’s name first time this time! How about that?!!!” The joke was that Lee’s name was below Ditko’s – and twice the size.”

Stan sure wrote the dialogue (and dictated the credits) but only after Steve and Jack Kirby had told their own stories. When the Silver Surfer appeared for the first time in an issue of FANTASTIC FOUR, it was a total surprise to Stan. Kirby’s original plan for the Surfer was to make him cold and aloof. He even began work on a solo series with that in mind, but eventually Stan hired John Buscema without consulting Kirby and turned the steely Silver Surfer into the ultimate example of emo.

Coming back to the chaos, the writing was on the wall as early as AVENGERS #16 back in 1965 when the original team was ditched in favour of Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. You think this was a creative decision? Think again! THE AVENGERS was originally assembled as an answer to DC’s success with JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, gathering together their most popular solo superheroes under into a single scout hut to maximise sales. But with Marvel’s key success over DC was that they created a single universe in which the characters constantly interacted, one title’s antics informing the others. But even with a mere handful of titles Stan found he couldn’t keep track of what Iron Man was doing here and Thor was doing there so he replaced those characters with their own comics with those who had none – apart from Captain America whose adventures were handily happening back in WWII.

So many decisions were born out of sheer practicality. Did you ever wonder why Captain America and Iron Man shared TALES OF SUSPENSE? Because DC controlled Marvel’s distribution at the time and forbade them to expand. The creation of Spider-Woman, Ms Marvel and She-Hulk? It wasn’t to cash in on their male counterparts’ success; it was to shore up copyrights. Iron Man’s helmet got a nose for a while because Stan glanced briefly at a single page and didn’t think there was room for a nose in one particularly flat helmet and so dictated it be so.

Miraculously, it’s all so coherently structured and dense in detail without one ounce of fat. Funny, too!

“”I was just as crazy as everybody else post-Watergate, post-Vietnam,” said Starlin, whose hobbies included motorcycles, chess, and lysergic acid diethylamide-25.”

That’s Jim Stalin, by the way, whose enduringly sharp and psychedelic nay psychotropic WARLOCK space-saga is thereby explained, as well as its reception recorded: his fan mail used to come complete with gratefully donated doobage, Valerie Singletons in the form of pre-rolled spliffs.

I’m as guilty as anyone of assuming that a career is one straight trajectory: up, up and then often away with the fairies or booted unceremoniously out of the editor’s door. But no: all and sundry were in a constant state of resignation (in either senses of the word) moving back and forth between Marvel and DC or, in the case of legendary editor-in-chief and acne-ridden obelisk Jim Shooter, retreating home after his child-prodigy antics on LEGION OF SUPERHEROES to run a branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Those original SECRET WARS nearly never happened. SECRET WARS 2 certainly shouldn’t have, and you’ll get the run-down on precisely how out-of-control its proceedings were.

More fun facts: DAZZLER #1 sold over 400,000 copies! The concept was originally co-conceived by Casablanca Records (Kiss) who would release both an LP with a singer adopting the Dazzler persona, and film a motion picture to go with it. John Romita Jr. was asked to design her, and he did so, in the vein of Grace Jones, “a very statuesque, international model with short hair.” Oh yeah, and that blue makeup mask. Did you ever make that connection with Kiss? She was eventually depicted as white because Bo Derek once expressed an interest in the projected film version.

As to feminism, Stan Lee came up with three titles the same day: NIGHT NURSE, THE CLAWS OF THE CAT and SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL, “cat-suited sexpots and jungle queens”. But the kicker is Wally Wood inking over Marie Severin’s pencils on THE CAT #1 “with the heroine’s clothes completely removed and Severin – who’d had more than her fill of boys’ club shenanigans over the years – had to white out the Cat’s nipples and pubic hair.”

Also: did you know that Anthony Burgess, Kurt Vonnegut, Vaclav Havel and even Art Spiegelman were all on board to be published by Marvel at one point? And that, in a cost-cutting exercise, management once seriously suggested that Marvel Comics covers should be printed in only one colour?

Oh, there is so much here, including those lawsuits, and I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t spawn more. One of my favourite revelations was that in the first couple of years, during all Stan’s soapboxing about the Merry Marvel Bullpen, there wasn’t one! Oh, there had been a busy office life before and there would be again, but at the time Stan created the myth is was precisely that: a myth! Stan was virtually alone in the office, with his secretary Flo answering all the fan mail. You’ve got to hand it to Stan, he could weave a magnificent illusion.

Now, do you want to peer behind the curtain and smoke-screen? You’ll laugh, I promise.


Buy Marvel Comics The Untold Story h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman / Deathblow: After The Fire h/c (Deluxe Ed’n) (£16-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo, Tim Bradstreet.

Brain Azzarello wrote 100 BULLETS, a dark and compelling epic of conspiracy, deception and manipulation where no one is necessarily who or what they seem. It’s a civil war, waged in secret between powerful parties in order to protect their vested interests. And so is this.

As such I aim it straight at the Milligan Human Target fans rather than the Batboys, because it contains just as many twists.

Two sequences, a decade apart, form a puzzle of identity and loyalties revolving around Scott Floyd who, ten years ago, was a black-ops International Operations agent; The Falcon, a terrorist of Gamorran extraction who hasn’t been seen since; and Max Kai, a pyrokinetic firestarter, suited and booted – and highly volatile. All three were once involved on one side or another in a botched hit on The Falcon by the I.O. soldier codenamed Deathblow, as was the enigmatic Agent Fante of the C.I.A..

Now all five have converged once more, it seems, on Gotham where Floyd is a close friend of Bruce Wayne. When the former is burnt to a crisp in a restaurant mere minutes after Bruce Wayne has left the table, it becomes personal. The only lead so far is a charred, severed hand clutching the trademark death card of a man who is himself supposed to be dead: Deathblow.

Who is really working for whom?  What is Agent Fante’s agenda?  Where is The Falcon?  And are I.O. and The C.I.A. really on the same side?  It’s a book of covert licenses, granted by institutions who will use whomever they want to get whatever they want done, and it rings pertinently true (post-Afghanistan, post-Iraq) when you consider America trained the Taliban for their own anti-Soviet ends, and were happy to accept Saddam Hussein when Iran was seen as the greater evil.

Superb pencils (early versions of which are displayed in the back) are inked and coloured by some very talented individuals (including Tim Bradstreet), to form an impressively individual and atmospheric Gotham, replete with sun-blocking stone edifices and a dense smog belching from its industrial chimneys.


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

Avengers Vs. Thanos s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by various.

“I’ve seen and done many strange things! I’ve understood some of what’s transpired, not all! But it’s started me thinking! … And perhaps that was all I needed!”

Yeah, maybe. Or perhaps some lysergic acid diethylamide-25 would come in handy. Jim Starlin was pretty partial.

Otherwise this was brave back then but now pretty impenetrable, buried under a mountain of hand-wringing prose so deeply purple that it tinted the skin of the Titan within. The Titan being Thanos, son of Mentor and brother of Eros, who’s set his sights on conquering Saturn’s moon and thence the universe itself. Via Earth, obviously. Meanwhile he conducts an admirably platonic love affair with Death. That woman always gets the last laugh but here she doesn’t even try to get a word in edgeways. Very wise. If she had eyebrows, they would probably arch.

Artistically, it is fascinating to witness a young Jim Starlin develop on the page, at first hindered by the ham-fisted inking of weakling Chic Stone (who never did anyone a visual favour) then embellished by the increasingly competent hands of Dave Cockrum, Pablo Marcos and finally the criminally underrated Dan Green.

Historically, it is interesting to note that this is where the good Captain’s hair does the reverse of turning grey and goes blonde instead, just as he achieves Cosmic Awareness. So there’s half your repertoire of jokes null and void.

Increasingly angry about the Titan’s transgressions, the Kree warrior is taken aside by higher, universal entities like Kronos and Eon and possibly even Eternity to be taught “enlightenment through discipline and training”. Only then can he take on an enemy who, using the Cosmic Cube which makes all dreams come true, has turned himself into a God. Thanos doesn’t make particularly good use of it, though. Scratch that: after searching so long for the Cosmic Cube, Thanos appears to manifest no plans at all. If I got my paws on the Cosmic Cube I would, at the very least, clear my credit card debt and make sure Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ never, ever existed.

Meanwhile teenager Rick Jones, bonded to Mar-Vell via Nega-Bands, cries like a Brony whose MY LITTLE PONY has sacrificed its unicorn virginity to Satan’s engorged and wart-ridden cock.

It is, basically, Starlin’s earliest Captain Marvel stories rudely interjected by an awful lot of offal: the inverse of editing. There were perfectly decent collections before which wisely eschewed all the stringy, jaw-straining junk, but Marvel right now (early 2013) seems intent on publishing as many pages as possible just for the sake of a buck.

Don’t get me wrong: I have all the individual issues and lapped them up as a drunken teenager. But although this incorporates the tail end of Starlin’s exceptionally eloquent and deeply satirical Warlock Saga (highly recommended and available complete as MARVEL MASTERWORKS: WARLOCK VOL 2 h/c in colour or the more affordable ESSENTIAL WARLOCK s/c in black and white), you would be infinitely better off buying that than this, a massive, full-colour, mind-frying reprint of all the earliest Thanos appearances before THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL then INFINITY GAUNTLET then INFINITY WAR and then INFINITY CRUSADE VOL 1 and INFINITY CRUSADE VOL 2.

The Infinity Trilogy is one of the best examples of diminishing returns I can think of.

Umm… this:

“Collecting IRON MAN (1968) #55, CAPTAIN MARVEL (1968) #25-33, MARVEL FEATURE (1971) #12, DAREDEVIL (1964) #105-107, AVENGERS (1963) #125, WARLOCK (1972) #9-11 and #15, AVENGERS ANNUAL (1967) #7, MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE ANNUAL #2, and material from LOGAN’S RUN #6.”

Do you think that Jim’s getting royalties? I hope so.


Buy Avengers Vs. Thanos s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers vol 5 h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Brandon Peterson, Mike Mayhew, Terry Dodson, others.

In which Brian Michael Bendis bids a fond farewell to a team he rescued from the mediocrity (and at times godawfulness) it had festered in for thirty-odd years, turning in ten years of barely faltering triumph which surpassed even its oldest heights when drawn by John Buscema, Neil Adams, George Perez and John Byrne. And he does so in a three-page letter I would have physically applauded if I’d had somewhere handy to rest my wine glass. He rekindled a childhood crush I never thought I’d feel again.

It began with the heart-rending, jaw-to-floor interface called AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED before introducing the irreverence of Spider-Man and Luke Cage for a completely fresh dynamic in NEW AVENGERS VOL 1: BREAKOUT. Magnificent, dancing dialogue matched by some formidable artists like David Finch and Mike Deodato who appears to be no longer Jr.

It is a mere observation, then, that the run should really have come to a breathless close at the more natural and satisfying finishing line that was NEW AVENGERS: SIEGE, for the Avengers And New Avengers books which followed felt and smelt like an overextended, postprandial burp. Don’t get me wrong: much of it gave me great pleasure for Bendis is a very funny guy. I’m just saying that NEW AVENGERS: SIEGE was a more natural conclusion which ended on a note so high I could not possibly sing it. The final pages here will still make you smile, however, and glow with a cuddly-wuddly warmth. I did not just type that.

Here we go then: the two annuals in which Wonder Man finally loses his temper and takes it out on the team who took him in after forgiving him his first transgressions fifty years ago, calling them a force for destruction before, you know, destroying millions of pounds worth of property and probably causing some traffic jams. Basically trying to kill them. Again. None of which is remotely credible, let alone the fact they’ll forgive him that too. Moving swiftly on, it’s then that breakfast is rudely interrupted. It’s always breakfast isn’t it? Nice sense of symmetry.

“Guys! The Avengers Emergency Signal just went off.”
“Is there an emergency?”
“It’s the signal only Avengers can broadcast.”
“I don’t know.”
“Is that – what is that? Outer space?”
“No. No, I think – I don’t know. But I think it’s… inner space.”
“There’s an Avenger in inner space?”
“Who is it?”



Buy Avengers vol 5 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

The Art Of Osamu Tezuka: God Of Manga s/c (£19-99, Ilex) by Helen McCarthy

Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Joshua Dysart & Alex D. M. Sheikman

Ravine vol 1 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ron Marz & Stjepan Sejic

Batman: Black Mirror s/c (£12-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Jock, Francesca Francavilla

Catwoman vol 2: Dollhouse s/c (£10-99, DC) by Judd Winick & Guillem March

Ultimate Comics Iron Man s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Nathan Edmonson & Matteo Buffagni

New Avengers vol 5 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis &  Mike Deodato, Michael Gaydos, Michael Avon Oeming, Carlos Pacheco, others

Marvel Masterworks: Captain Marvel vol 1 (£18-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas & Gene Colan

Daredevil vol 4 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

X-Men: Wolverine / Gambit s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

Bleach vol 55 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo
The big news this week is that Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month is now being subscribed to by the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum! To stay that I’m stocked would be an understatement. On a personal level, it’s one hell of a validation; I think it’s also pretty good news for comics.

Many thanks for Marc Ward for sorting that.

This new BOO! horror comic for kids looks cool! We are definitely on board and you can preorder now via phone, email or in person.

Eddie Campbell pops up in the Comics Journal to deliver Campbell’s Rules Of Comicbook Comprehension wherein he argues why those claiming they can’t read comics may be experiencing some difficulties. Regardless of whether you agree with all of it, it’ll give you much pause for thought, particular the Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons example.

And lastly this week Dan Berry has recorded yet another entrancing Make It Then Tell Everybody interview, this time with Kate Brown (FISH+CHOCOLATE, PHOENIX COMICS etc.) whose laughter is lovely and will make you smile your head off.

Reviews February 2013 week three

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

You can easily see why the first volume won the Best First Graphic Novel prize at Angoulême as you really get the sense of Jerry Springer-like drama the various characters are embroiled in, but also the genuine emotional connections many of the characters have for each other.

 -Jonathan on Aya vol 2

 Extra new and links, as always, under New Books list!

The Initiates: A Comic Artist And A Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs h/c (£22-50, NBM Comics) by Etienne Davodeau…

“Out of the tens of thousands of winemakers, and hundreds of millions of bottles, how to distinguish oneself?
“The soil, certainly, The fermentation, yes.
“The work, necessarily. Talent too.
“The heart, a little. But okay, that’s more unpredictable. More hypothetical. Not always there.
“So I got something irrefutable. I chose the ‘beak’!
“Yes… besides, it’s faster and easier to draw than a real nose with nostrils and all.”

Friends Richard Leroy and Etienne Davodeau really do know absolutely nothing about each other’s professions. Richard is a wine-maker, a true artisan who believes that attention to every last detail is essential in creating a great wine. Etienne is an artist too, of comics, and is bemused by Richard’s complete lack of knowledge of the ninth art which, for a Frenchman, is probably slightly unusual at least. On the other hand, he knows absolutely nothing about wine-making. Thus follows a year of discovery as Etienne drip-feeds Richard what he considers the essential canon of graphic novels, both French and non-French and also goes to work in Richard’s vineyard learning just how much seriously hard physical graft is required in the production of wine.

This is a fantastic work which illuminates just how similar the approach to being successful in any artistic field is, really. Yes, you need talent and an eye for your subject, yes you need hard work to produce the goods, but you also need passion. Not just for your particular work, but for your field of endeavour as a whole. Both Richard and Etienne’s passion is apparent in vat-fulls, and some of the most telling and insightful discussions they have are when one of them makes a realisation regarding said similarities.

As Richard and Etienne delve deeper into each other’s worlds, we get to see the whole process of making wine, and graphic novels, from start to finish. From monotonous cultivation of vast numbers of vines through to the final bottling up, from the thumbnails in a sketchbook to the finished publication, and both are equally fascinating processes which would make for an interesting graphic novel in their own right. Together, like the process of producing a truly special vintage grape, or the meeting of minds between writer and artist on a project both really believe in, we get something really special here. It’s a fascinating read with some amusing cameos from various French comics luminaries. I particularly loved Lewis Trondheim’s explanation about why he always draws himself with a beak, directly in response to Richard’s question, reproduced above.

I do like Etienne’s art too and whilst it’s difficult to say precisely who it reminds me, I do see elements of Guy Desisle, Posy Simmonds, and even Raymond Briggs. It’s a rather gentile affair, which is perfectly suited to the subject. For much like graphic novels, you can’t rush making a good wine or the end result just won’t be acceptable to the palette.


Buy The Initiates: A Comic Artist And A Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Aya vol 2: Love In Yop City s/c (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie…

“Hello, great healer.”
“That your car over there? Want me to cast a spell on your husband?”
“No, I’m here about my son.”
“Ah, you want him to make it big?”
“He’s disappeared. Help me to find him.”
“Got some of his stuff?”
“Here’s his favourite comb, some underwear, a dirty shirt…”
“That’s enough.”

Available in English at long last, this tome represents books 4 to 6 of Marguerite Abouet’s slice of life look at the goings-on in the fictional Yop City, set in the late 1970s’ Ivory Coast, which was something of a golden era for the country economically and socially, before events took a turn for the worse with the late ‘90s coup, then the 2002 civil war. All the gang are back as the 19-year-old Aya, ever the wise head on young shoulders, serenely guides her friends and family through one crisis after another, usually of their own making. This time around. though, she does have some problems of her own, due to the unwelcome attentions of her University Biology professor. Try as she might to sort the situation out herself, it becomes increasingly apparent she’s going to need the help of her friends for a change.

I do love Abouet’s laid back, easy going portrayal of Yop City life, punctuated by the various shenanigans her cast are frequently getting up to and into. You can easily see why the first volume won the Best First Graphic Novel prize at Angoulême as you really get the sense of Jerry Springer-like drama the various characters are embroiled in, but also the genuine emotional connections many of the characters have for each other. I imagine local neighbourhoods back in our grandparents’ time were very much like Yop City, everyone knowing every else’s business with the sheer impossibility of keeping anything gossip-worthy secret for too long. Apparently she was inspired to write AYA by reading Marjane (PERSEPOLIS) Satrapi, because she wanted to do something to show a side of Africa that didn’t revolve around the usual media obsessions of famine and war, but the genuine day-to-day life experience for some of its citizens, and she succeeds with aplomb in that respect.

The art, from Clement Oubrérie, is equally excellent, capturing the rich flavour of African culture, with its sunny climate, vibrant colours, and cacophony of ever-present background activity.  All perfectly counterpointed when we see Innocent, the most definitely not-in-the-closest gay hairstylist with a penchant for dressing like Thriller-era Michael Jackson (red leather jacket, geri curls and all) who is of course the secret former boyfriend of very much in-the-closet Albert, trying to adapt to his new Parisian life. Expecting the streets to be paved with gold, Innocent is rather disappointed to find you can’t even hunt pigeons in the park if you haven’t got any food. His increasing misery, whilst being rather amusing to read, really does make your heart go out to him, and neatly sums up everything that is so brilliant about this work.

I imagine AYA must be one of the best kept secrets on our shelves, actually. I freely confess I only picked up the first volume (then available in three separate hardbacks) when I was short of something to read one night and was instantly hooked. I find myself rather sad I’ve finished it now. All the multitudinous characters’ story arcs are neatly wrapped up, though rather than any great dramatic conclusions, you get the impression it’s merely the neat closing of various chapters. I do rather hope, therefore, they aren’t the concluding ones, and that Abouet does intend to write some more at some point!


Buy Aya vol 2: Love In Yop City s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Manara Library vol 4 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Milo Manara.

“If the term ‘adult’ carried with it a twinned sense of the sophisticated and the erotic, it could find no better flag-bearer than Milo Minara.”

How very true on both counts!

That’s Bart Beaty in his introduction to the first two Giuseppe Bergman epics, both reprinted here, after confronting the same unfortunate, coincidental ambiguity in the term “graphic novel”. I’ve encounter several members of the great unwashed who presumed I was talking about prose like The Marquis de Sade’s.

This, of course, is in far better taste, or is it? However fiercely independent most of Manara’s women are, they’re forever coming a cropper under men’s lustful gaze in environments ill-conducive to self-restraint, their fingers (at the very least) taking full advantage. They’re usually far from civilisation and the long arm of any law that hasn’t already been corrupted. They’re usually embarked on “an adventure”.

So it is in PERCHANCE TO DREAM: THE INDIAN ADVENTURES OF GIUSEPPE BERGMAN, when plucky and sultry Signora Fosca is summoned to the Venetian HQ of the film company she works for as head of production. An entire crew including cast has gone missing in India after sending back footage of the chivalric fantasy film they’re working on, only snippets of which will play. The rest of the fourteen-hour footage is presumed ruined, but as the signora sets out under the semi-protective gaze of van driver Giuseppe, screenwriter Steve and horny delinquent Fabio, the reels appear to restore themselves. Gradually they track down the team’s missing members, most of whom have lost the plot, going mental or native and drowning in drugs. They also come under attack, become separated and all of their clothes fall off. Frequently. For a while Giuseppe disappears altogether, Signora Fosca left to roam alone, now under silent protection of a sadhu she can’t shake. A sadhu with long, matted hair and beard who is, of course, naked and perpetually tumescent.

The art is absolutely exquisite, Manara having now risen about the earlier influences of Moebius and mentor Hugo Pratt, ditching the shaded textures in favour of silky soft lines and spot blacks. Fans of Charles Vess, P. Craig Russell and George Perez, for example, will swoon over the jungle pages as the knight in his billowing cape confronts a tiger basking on the stone steps of a ruined temple.

And, as I say, whatever Signora Fosca’s shortcomings (adultery, impatience), she is relatively unfazed by what she endures and completely determined to fulfil her instructions and against all credible odds. In fact she’s a great deal less daunted than Giuseppe himself, who in the first story, HP AND GIUSEPPE BERGMAN, is quick to bemoan his life and plight and at one pouts petulantly, declaring.

“That’s all we need: rapids! This is an ordeal, not an adventure!”

He has, however, nailed the core of Manara’s stories: these are indeed ordeals. Giuseppe is at first ecstatic. He has been selected to travel: to have an adventure entirely of his own choosing and with an unlimited budget. Here’s his only stricture:

“The adventure you experience must be truly captivating, astounding… it must allow those who are following you to completely escape their daily problems. To unwind. To become engrossed in something other than their grey reality. We have a mission…”
“But how will they be able to follow me?”

You leave that to Manara. “They” are us, the readers: the fourth wall is constantly breached here, Bergman turning to camera quite early on to ask, “So… was that the sex scene?” Only the first, Giuseppe, only the first.

Anyway, yes, he is ecstatic:

“Finally I will be the one to decide what I do and don’t do! Every morning I will wake up totally freeee!”

Except that he won’t. It is indeed an ordeal, rather than an adventure, over which Giuseppe ends up having no control whatsoever. Apart from the enigmatic HP who from time to time materialises out of thin air only to leave Giuseppe in the lurch again, the entire cast – and Giuseppe in particular – are tossed from one disaster to the next. It is totally surreal and often psychedelic, functioning in exactly the same way as dreams and, like so many of my own dreams, he is absolutely lost, this time in the depths of the Amazon where he will eventually lose his head.

It’s all so admirably confident, and if Giuseppe isn’t free Manara most certainly is, relishing and engaging wholeheartedly in the notion of “anything goes”. With time being short I was going to merely skim over the surface and leave you with my review of THE MANARA LIBRARY VOL 1, but just like Giuseppe I got sucked right and had no other option but to forge on until the book reached its conclusion.

“Sex and guerilla warfare… It doesn’t get any better!”


Buy The Manara Library vol 4 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Emerald And Other Stories (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura.

“It’s unbelievable! Who’d be afraid of a girl with tattoos in this day and age? It’s totally normal! Just like scarification, implants and trepanation…”

I need that like I need a hole in the head.

From the Japanese creator of Blade Of The Immortal and OHIKKOSHI comes a collection of short stories which are beautifully drawn but baffling. Apart, that is, from the genius eight episodes of school-girl mentalism called ‘The Uniforms Stay On’. As hyperactive as Evan Dorkin’s MILK & CHEESE, think “Uh-oh, we’re in trouble!”’s Shampoo, only without the faux-dumbing-down, blown bubblegum and snarls. They do, however, pose delightfully above each short in various fashion shots and action sequences. Attitude!

Yes, these girls are on a crusade. Who knows what will come under their random, six-second scrutiny? Food additives that don’t exist and packaging that does. The misrepresentation of Japan as a Buddhist country. The use of ugly faces on Japanese currency as a possible plan to kickstart the economy by making bank notes so repulsive you’ll want to spend or even give them away. Boys! Creepy men! The intimacy of a hospital sponge-bath: “If we’re gonna go this far, this nurse needs to make some kind of commitment.”

They’ll shoot their mouths off about anything, and break the fourth wall while they do so.

“Don’t you think the world-music section in music stores is so sad?”
“What kinda segue is that?!”
“… I went into Tower Records for the first time in ages, but when I looked over the Eastern European shelf, there wasn’t a trace of any of the bands that I like. It was so sad. And sad for this book’s author.”
“I see. You’re channeling Samura now?”

Haha! The more you think about that, the cleverer it becomes. Now they’ve found a third member and formed a band.

Possible instruments: bass, guitar, accordion, tambourine.
“Is this gonna be a triki pop thing?”
“If I practised, the melodica would be a snap!”
“I played recorder in elementary school.”
Possible instruments: bass, guitar, accordion, tambourine, recorder, melodica.

It’s presented just like that, Samura constantly whipping you in and out of the cock-eyed conversations or letting the ladies comment on his progress. It’s all just a little Scott Pilgrim. Speaking of, there’s already a battle in the band to name it.

“It’s like they always say. “French is the language of the gods. English is the pirates’ tongue. German is the braying of a donkey…””
“Wait… what?”
“Just leave her.”
“Found the German dictionary?”
“Found a cool-sounding word. How about ‘Jugend-Herberge’…?”
“That sounds so masculine! Cooler than Zeitlich Vergelter, even!””
“What does it mean?”
“Youth Hostel.”
“Start with the meaning! The meaning, girl!”
“Okay… ‘Gewerk-Schaft’…?”
“Whoa! So coool! Cooler than Rammstein, even!”
“What’s it mean?”
“Labour Union.”
“Are you even listening to me?!”

The longer short stories include a western; the strange relationship between a daughter, her father and his housekeeper (very strange); and a story that started out in a manner which consistently convinced you was going to be about paedo sex-slavery but turned into a platonic sort of Beauty And The Beast affair completely with stately home. Then everyone dies, and the brother comes back and so do the dead. I’m so confused.

Swoonaway landscapes with lots of detail far from what is misperceived as “the manga style”. *gnashes teeth*

“Anyway, drawing rooftops sure is easy.”
“Shut up, please…


Buy Emerald And Other Stories and read the Page 45 review here

Knights Of Sidonia vol 1 (£9-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei…

Fans of the frenzied, over-drive, sci-fi-meets-zombies experience, replete with big motorcycles, even bigger guns (and a talking bear) that was BIOMEGA, fall to your knees and rejoice, because here comes another sci-fi / horror mash-up from creator Tsutomu Nihei that’s pretty much guaranteed to please you. Firstly, I have no idea why there is the titular and phonetically inaccurate reference to the 2006 Muse track Knights Of Cydonia, given the Muse reference was to the area on Mars where the so-called face of Mars was observed, but still, perhaps Nihei is a modern prog rock fan? And perhaps the translator was unaware of the reference?!

Sidonia is, though, the name of the lone seed ship carrying the future of humanity, floating through the space between galaxies since the destruction of our solar system by weird alien life forms, that bear more than a passing resemblance to the amorphous evil guys from BIOMEGA, just in space. Enter our hero Nagate, who has spent his entire childhood in the depths of the huge vessel, never seeing another living soul except for his now-deceased uncle. Forced to the upper levels whilst desperately scavenging for food, he encounters an entire civilisation he was previously completely unaware of. A civilisation fighting for its very existence against the vast alien gooey blob things. Fortunately for everyone all he had to mis-spend his youth on was a simulator of one of the Sidonia’s transformer-like fighters. Obviously having logged a fair few hours in there, it’s fair to say his giant fighty robot technique is pretty slick. Time for the real thing…

Just great fun, written at a (slightly) slower pace than BIOMEGA, which allows for some character development and intriguing side-plot building. The art is pretty much identical to BIOMEGA and there are definitely some amusing little nods to that work, including amongst other things, a talking bear. I will, obviously, be reading this as soon as it comes out!


Buy Knights Of Sidonia vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Quest For The Spark: A Bone Novel: Book Three (£8-50, Scholastic) by Tom Sniegoski & Jeff Smith.

There appear to be those unaware that there be BONE novels.

There are three to be precise, and this is the third completing the trilogy written by Tom Sniegoski (who isn’t easy to spell) with full-colour illustrations by Jeff Smith (who is a doddle).

I mention this purely as an excuse to include this in our review blog and now quote Diamond’s solicitation text purely so we’ve room for the cover. That is all.

“The Nacht is growing stronger, and it’s a race against time for Tom Elm and friends to find the final piece of the Spark before the entire Valley – and possibly the world – are plunged into eternal darkness. The Queen of the Sky is brought down in the Pawa Mountains and our intrepid band of heroes is separated. What secrets can be found deep inside the mountains’ caverns? Will the great mountain cat, Roque Ja, be ally or enemy? And will one of their very own betray them to evil?”


Buy Quest For The Spark: A Bone Novel: Book Three and read the Page 45 review here

Batman: Night Of The Owls h/c (£22-50, DC) by Scott Snyder, more & Greg Capullo, more…

“Seems you have a secret, Bruce. Don’t you?”
“Your lucky penny, Sir.”
“Heh. Are you all right?”
“Quite, Sir.”

Good old Alfred. After the bit of classic Bat-history reworking in the preceding BATMAN vol 1: COURT OF OWLS which I’m still marvelling over at Scott Snyder’s sheer audacity, it did amuse me somewhat to see a certain piece of Bat-memorabilia that always struck me as a rather precarious thing to have lying around the Bat-cave put to such violent use.

So, following on from the tumultuous events of volume one, which culminated in the Court sending not just the current Talon assassin, but re-animating every Talon there has ever been, for a surgical strike upon Gotham’s most upstanding public servants, and a few dubious ones too, it’s up to the wider Bat-family to save the day, or night, depending on your semantics. Cue money-spinning crossover!

Now, I am most assuredly not usually one for crossovers that span into a myriad different titles, usually with the law of diminishing returns becoming ever more apparent, but here I am happy to report it works spectacularly well. Each Bat-family title is a matchup between the titular character and a Talon of yesteryear, but what could be dull and uninteresting is in fact just the opposite, as each story is done as a character piece with the Talons at the centre. It works well, avoiding it all becoming a samey slug-fest, and along the way we learn much of the history of the Court as seen through their various assassins’ eyes, which is a clever way of revealing much salient information for no hard detective work. Whilst no less than eleven writers contributed to this particular volume, someone was clearly acting as editor-in-chief and keeping the whole arc tightly under control, so a little nod to them too, whoever it was.

The key parts though, obviously, are in the main Scott Snyder-written Batman title, and as before he is on top form, spinning a yarn that as well as being of the ages, will quite probably be one for it as well. As before though, whilst secrets are revealed and some mysteries solved, others deepen yet further…


Buy Batman: Night Of The Owls h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Secret Avengers vol 2 #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Luke Ross.

Are you enjoying the new HAWKEYE series? Of course you are, it’s delighting all and sundry with its back-and fourth structure, snappy cut-scenes and nimble dialogue as well as its lack of costumes and supervillains. Totally street-level with Clint getting himself into a whole bag of trouble.

You’re going to love this too. Lots of Hawkeye, still no supervillains, and the beautiful Black Widow to boot for an espionage action-thriller with cake.

“Coulson, yeah. See, S.H.I.E.L.D. asks us for a sit-down, we oblige. But I assume beyond the pleasantries, and these – what’s in these scones, by the way?”
“Coconut. Pineapple.”

The last series of Secret Avengers saw Captain America and then Hawkeye calling the shots over a big group effort. This time S.H.I.E.L.D.’s calling the shots and Clint is so far from in control and the avenging so secret that he has no idea what he’s about to get mixed up in.

Nor are you, I’m afraid, for the appeal of this entire self-contained story lies in the element of surprise which is threaded throughout, and as for the punchline… Poor Clint.


Buy Secret Avengers vol 2 #1 by… Sorry, my mind’s gone blank.

Superman For Tomorrow – Complete Edition (£18-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Jim Lee.

When BATMAN: HUSH came out, also by Lee, I was initially underwhelmed by Jeff Loeb’s straightforward superheroic plottage and structure which struck me as akin to a video game complete with level-up bosses, then relented and declared it a perfectly fine thing by two totally fine people. When Lee was joined here by Brain Azzarello whose stunning 100 BULLETS crime-conspiracy series I seldom shut up about, I was anticipating something a little more challenging. Be careful what you ask for.

This is more challenging but not, I’m afraid, in a good way. It challenges you to stay awake, then work out what on earth’s going on. When you work it out, you’re then going to be challenged to care. Plus – and I’m willing to be declared obtuse – isn’t the dialogue overly abstruse?

I’m all for implication, I’m all for carefully nuanced verbal sabres, but I swear to God, I was often left wondering what point Superman was making during each tête-à-tête with the doleful priest.  And when I worked most of them out, I just thought, “Okay, clever – but too clever. And too often to make for an enjoyable or realistic read.”

There has been a Vanishing. Oh yes! Lots of people have disappeared off the face of the planet, including Lois Lane. Superman blames himself because he was away at the time. Turns out that it’s not his only culpability. Meanwhile, he fights people and battles monsters and finds the device what did it, but can’t work out the how or the why. Then the JLA turn up to ask some pertinent questions.

You wait, I’ll end up pronouncing this a perfectly fine thing by two totally fine people as well. Just not tonight.


Buy Superman For Tomorrow – Complete Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

Susceptible h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Genevieve Castrée

Marvel Comics The Untold Story h/c (£16-99, Harper Collins) by Sean Howe

The Goon vol 12: Them That Raised Us Lament (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell

Everybody Loves Tank Girl h/c (£14-99, Titan Books) by Alan C. Martin & Jim Mahfood

d’Errico vol 2: Helmet Girls (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Camilla d’Errico

Animal Man vol 4: Born To Be Wild (£14-99, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan, Tom Veitch & Chas Trogg, Steve Dillon, Mark Farmer

Batman / Deathblow: After The Fire h/c (Deluxe Ed’n) (£16-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo, Tim Bradstreet

Superman: The Death Of Superman New Edition (£10-99, DC) by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern & Various

Avengers Vs. Thanos s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by various

Avengers vol 5 h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Brandon Peterson, Mike Mayhew, Terry Dodson, others

The Punisher vol 3 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Greg Rucka & Mirko Colak, Marco Checchetto, Mico Suayan

Wolverine And The X-Men vol 2 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Nick Bradshaw, Chris Bachalo

Avenging Spider-Man vol 2: The Good, The Green And The Ugly s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kathryn Immonen, Kelly Sue DeConnick & Stuart Immonen, Terry Dodson
Improper Books artist Laura Trinder sent me a Valentine Card. My first in years!


Meanwhile Jess Fink of CHESTER 5000 XYV sent out to the world the most beautiful, all-inclusive Valentine’s Card I have ever beheld in my life.

Reviews February 2013 week two

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

“This way. Her ladyship is in the drawing room, applying her tears.”

 – Dan Abnett & Ian Culbard’s The New Deadwardians.

Snapshot #1 of 4 (£2-25, Image) by Andy Diggle & Jock.

You can rely on Jock for the some of the most striking covers on the shelves, and these are no exception. As outside, so within: the black shadows gleaming on the top-quality stock and – haha! – someone is wearing a Zenith t-shirt! There are some stunning angles, looming silhouettes, hunched shoulders wishing for the womb, and streaming tears of terrified desperation.

“He – hello…?”
“Who is this?”
“This is, uh, this is Jake Dobson. Who, uh… Who are you… trying to reach…?”
“This is Detective Warren, S.F.P.D. homicide. The phone you’re speaking on is part of an ongoing investigation.”
“Homicide — ? Oh my God, there’s like pictures of dead people on this phone! A dead person — ! I swear it’s not mine, I just found it in the park, I swear to God I was gonna hand it in — !”
“Easy, son. You’re not in any trouble. Just tell me where you are.”

Oh, smart-arse Jake is in one hell of a lot of trouble.

From the creative team behind the two-volume LOSERS, the writer of the immaculate John Constantine trilogy beginning with HELLBLAZER: JOYRIDE, and the artist we all gasped at in BATMAN: BLACK MIRROR comes a thriller set in San Francisco which plays to one of my darkest fears: not being believed.

On his way to work young Jake Dobson has gleefully picked up a mobile phone dropped in Golden Gate Park. There is only one number on it: Bravura Acquisitions. But there are a great many photos: of a dead man shot through the forehead, the little finger of his left hand chopped off. Imagine Jake’s surprise when that same man, Jonathan Twain, walks into the local police station to retrieve his mobile phone, claiming it was part of a murder mystery evening he was throwing for his new work colleagues. That’s all right then. No corpse, no murder. So why is Jake sweating? Detective Warren does not exist, and the man who came to collect the phone – the man Jake fled from – had a gun.

“One of my colleagues was playing the detective. He must have taken the role to heart. Again, I can only apologise.”
“This is insane…”

Case closed. Except that they all know where Jake works now, and they’re going to return. Of course, Jake also knows where Jonathan Twain lives – he told the detective at the police station – and Jake’s Zenith-fan friend, whose wife is organising a protest march, eggs him on to check the address out.

“C’mon, man-up! Self-reliance! I’ll totally back you up. And if he tries anything funny, I’ll drop the sucker like a bad habit.”
“Sure you will. This is just to get you out of making placards, isn’t it?”
“I have no idea what you’re even saying to me right now.”

1. You will not believe what they find at the apartment.
2. You will wish to God that they’d never gone there.
3. You will wonder what the fuck that final page portends.

Diggle gone done it again.


Buy Snapshot #1 on your cellular phone by ringing three times on 0115 9508045 then hanging up or emailing some very worrying images. PS. Please don’t.

The New Deadwardians (£10-99, Vertigo) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard.

“How are you this month, Chief Inspector?”
“Very well.”
“Do you require any dental attention?”
“I had them filed back the week before last.”
“Good, good. So… have you been having any tendencies?”

Haha! Aristocrats are vampires, the lower classes are mindless zombies, and the British are all prone to “tendencies”: that everyone’s prejudices satisfied, then.

There are so many veins of dry humour mined here – some perfectly poised rejoinders – but under its wink-wink-nudge-nudge surface and the crowd-pleasing capitalisation on the current trend for all things shambling, there is one hell of a heart and much to be said.

It’s London 1910, fifty years after the Memorial War. In 1961 Prince Albert died and a monarch and country in mourning were suddenly faced with a proletariat turned Restless. That’s what they call the hoards of mindless zombies spontaneously raised from the dead – The Restless – and although the British army with its aristocratic officers fought hard in murderous campaigns reminiscent of the Zulu wars, the country is still under siege. Whole zones are barricaded off to keep out the ravenous riff-raff, and quite right too.

Zones designated ‘A’ like Marylebone and the Houses of Parliament are the safest havens well patrolled by police. There the aristos live, the so-called Young who age not one jot for they are now vampires – albeit well heeled, genteel and successfully resisting their neck-nibbling thirst with a stiff upper lip that has killed them inside. They have servants, of course, who are mere mortals called The Bright. Most of those live in Zone Bs: areas like the East End where you’ll find artists and poets and prostitutes – those still alive to what their limited life-spans have to offer. I loved this joke at a checkpoint:


You wait until you see Zone D.

Unfortunately Chief Inspector George Suttle of Marylebone has had a break-in and lost one member of his household staff to a zombie, with another bitten and in danger of turning. To save her, Suttle takes the socially unheard-of step of bringing young Louisa with him to receive The Cure, which will turn her into a vampire, while he receives a booster of blood which is where we came in.

Meanwhile overnight a body has washed up on the banks of the Thames. Or, more specifically, it’s been dumped on the mud right in front of the Houses of Parliament and the Albert Memorial Tower. Is someone making a statement, do you think? The body is male, naked, had his right hand chopped off and in his mid-forties. Well, he might be, or he might not, because he’s recently had his teeth filed too. His name is Lord Hinchcliffe, an advisor to Queen Victoria, and his corpse bears three additional markings of note: burn marks to the neck, another which looks like a quite specific brand, and a wearing of the gums which suggests he wore false dentition. It suggests he had… tendencies. But he’s a vampire immune to but three causes of death, so here’s a quick conundrum:

“That’s not possible, Chief Inspector. For a fatal case, there are none of the three causes present: impalement of the heart, decapitation, incineration. None of them.”
“Quite so. I didn’t say I could explain it, Doctor. But somehow, someone has managed to murder that which was not alive.”

What has Lord Hinchcliffe been up to?

Those familiar with Ian Culbard’s work (his several Sherlock Holmes adaptations like THE VALLEY OF FEAR and his Lovecraft book such as THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD) are in for a bit of a surprise: his lines here are far slimmer and crisper than usual. There is so much space. His tour de force is George’s bedridden, ancient mother, whose hooded eyes and pursed lips in one silent panel of what-on-earth-does-that-matter disdain are an absolute scream. It’s my single favourite Culbard moment so far.

“My breakfast is inordinately overdue, George.”
“I’m sorry, mother. There was an incident below stairs this morning.”

Cue silent panel, mentioned above.

“I am quite beside myself with hunger. I think I may perish.”
“I don’t think you’ll ever perish, mother.”

Throughout, however, Culbard’s consistent application of Victorian implacability in George’s countenance fits perfectly with what Abnett returns to over and again: the death of the spirit on acquisition of life ever-lasting. The deadening of the senses too: even when his investigations take George to a brothel, he finds he has no sex drive, but he may have hit upon a lead. She’s certainly hitting on him.

“I don’t know about telephones, George. But if you want to ask anything else, you can always come back this way and pump me for information.
“Just so you know, I like to protect my confidences, so you might have to pump me quite strenuously.
“Am I stirring anything yet, George?”
“We’ll see. But your perseverance is awfully sporting.”

Patricia Mulvihill’s colours are clean, soft and bright – the very antithesis of what Vertigo was renowned for. They’re classy, if you like, while Culbard’s forms and compositions are so full of decorum that it’s startling when all hell breaks loose.

Abnett find ingenious ways of weaving in all manner of social issues from patriarchal repression and women’s suffrage to what might happen in the matter of inheritance when no one is a family is ever going to die. Propriety was always highly valued by the toffs in Victorian England – good manners over good will – and there is a moment here that is pure Oscar Wilde when George visits Lord Hinchcliffe’s estate to pay his respects to the victim’s grieving widow.

“This way. Her ladyship is in the drawing room, applying her tears.”


Buy The New Deadwardians and read the Page 45 review here

Daybreak (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brian Ralph.

Welcome to a most unusual narrative. It begins thus:

“It’ll be dark soon. Better come with me.
“Down here. Make sure to close this lid once you’re in.
“This way.
“It’s been some time since I’ve had a visitor.
“Where are my manners? You must be thirsty. Please, make yourself at home.”

He’s talking to you, by the way, and it’s around this point you’d normally break off to inspect your surroundings: to garner some clues as to your current condition; scout round for scant supplies you know you will need later: a bandage, a medipack, bits of dried armadillo, a bag of nails you won’t learn how to use for another thirty hours game-play or even a crowbar if you’re lucky. You may need a crowbar: there be zombies.

And so it is that your new companion – who’s seen better days and once owned at least one more limb – shows you round his make-shift sanctuary, hidden from the slothful shamblers above. You’ll probably want to ask him some questions when you wake up. Where is the drop-down menu?

Yes, it’s just like a video game! Not a first-person shooter, per se, but something more akin to those point-and-click experiences like Riven and Myst. Except obviously you have no control over anything! It’s just an illusion. But, boy, is it engaging. “Total immersion comics,” was how Tom once described it.

I love how there’s only one panel between “Good night” and “Morning!” just as there would when resting on Fallout 3 or Skyrim. You’ll go scavenging for items, make sneaky escapes, seek out shelter and set-off booby traps which will knock you out only for you to wake up later in very different company. And, oh, those sudden attacks. All the more terrifying because you can’t do anything about them! I cannot begin to tell you how chilling the flashlight scene is where you can only see a few yards ahead of you and, oh dear, what’s that up ahead?

Ralph has done this so, so well. You don’t get to say a thing, yet your companions do answer the questions you’ve never asked, just as if you had. He then plays with that later on when a far less hospitable host starts answering other people’s questions… Maybe they didn’t ask them, either. There’s a puppy-ish dog that bounds into view, nuzzling your nose, then retreats just as he would in your limited field of vision on screen. As to cooperative gameplay, the moment when you realise you have to help drive the car because… Funny!

In other ways too this is the most unusual zombie comic you’ll ever read, for the art is endearingly sweet. For a start its chief protagonist is the cutest amputee in the world, all tufty-haired, bare-chested, in shorts. Then there’s that dog you’ll come across later. It’s nice to have company, isn’t it?

It’s printed in a dark-chocolate brown rather than hard black-and-white and there’s so much glee in the cartooning. Anyway, settle back (though don’t relax), safe in the knowledge that Brian will take care of any sudden button mashing.

“Take off your clothes.
“Hurry – I’ve got any idea.
“Not your underwear! Leave that on.”

Yes, don’t get too carried away.


Buy Daybreak and read the Page 45 review here

7 Miles A Second h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by David Wojnarowicz & James Romberger, Marguerite Van Cook.

“I am amazed at how perfectly your body fits to the curves of my hands. It makes me weep to feel the history of your flesh beneath my hands at a time of so much loss.”

“I am a prisoner of language that doesn’t have a letter of a sign or a gesture that approximates what I’m sensing.”

You wouldn’t believe that from reading this. Written with a breathless, angry and eloquent urgency, this is a raw and bitter socio-political scream originally published by Vertigo in 1996 and told ten years into the AIDS epidemic which robbed Wojnarowicz or his health, then life, after it had taken away all his friends. This is what we forget: that AIDS was swift, it was lethal and there was no hope at all; that it was the grimmest of deaths as the body decayed, relentless in its pain, the drugs and their consequent nausea; that individuals could lose their entire circle of friends while being rejected by relatives, stigmatised by society and vilified in the media by politicians, policemen, those of the cloth and even health care officials in language we’d do well to remember.

“The man on the TV has a replaceable head. He can have the face of a doctor or a politician, of a research scientist or a priest with a swastika tattooed on his heart…”

““If you want to stop AIDS shoot the queers” says the governor of Texas and his press secretary later claims he was only joking and didn’t know the microphone was on and besides they didn’t think it would hurt his chances for re-election anyway and I’ve been looking all my life at the signs surrounding us in the media or on people’s lips; the religious types outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral shouting to men and women in the gay parade “You won’t be here next year you’ll all get AIDS and die ha ha.””

The crescendo is such that punctuation is swallowed in its cascade of meticulously phrased anger, and Romberger rises to the occasion, delivering a knock-out blow as a 370-foot tall Wojnarowicz punches St. Patrick’s to pieces. Romberger painfully captures the frailty of forms and tenderness of touch, but equally the delirium of David’s mad fucking visions and dreams. Marguerite Van Cook’s colours are virtually toxic – greens and oranges all over the place – while the crimson blood and white, shattered ribs spewing out of David’s blue, bed-ridden frame as he bursts in David’s arms is jaw-slackening. That may be Romberger’s finest-ever page, the panel insert bringing home the heart.

All this while the writer’s on AZT with its increased mental activity, making him even more aware of what he’s enduring. “Some days I don’t think about this disease for hours,” he notes; the implications of which are halting.

“I’m sick of being sick and it aggravates me to speak to people who have a degree of normalcy in their lives,” he confesses. “I can’t deal with another “But you look good”. It’s not affecting me too much in how I look but it’s Hell in how I feel.”

Sorry, I’ve gone straight for the jugular. Before all this Wojnarowicz reflects on his teens, hustling on the streets and picking up older men for a pittance. One drones on about his wife and son whom he says he loves but doesn’t seem to like very much. Then lack of sleep and lack of food compromises his common sense so that turning one trick in particular proves infinitely more dangerous when David ditches his savvier, streetwise mate and, just like the client, Romberger pulls no punches.

If you’re wondering where you’ve heard James’ name before, it may be BRONX KILL written by Peter Milligan.

This is not a beautiful book; it’s an ugly book, a brilliant book, a Last Will & Testament which I hope you will hear. It reminded me of similar diatribes from the merciless Diamanda Galas, and of Nick Cave’s Do You Love Me? but neither of them endured this.

The language employed in the first half is far calmer than the climax but no less considered, and it’s to this that David returns on the final few pages before signing of in New York City, 1993.

“I am waving. I am waving my hands. I am disappearing. I am disappearing but not fast enough.”


Buy 7 Miles A Second h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Chu’s Day h/c (£10-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & Adam Rex.

A book which one can’t help suspect span out of its titular pun.

Chu is a tiny Giant Panda susceptible to sneezing. No, that’s not it; it’s just that “bad things happen” whenever he does so.

His mother takes him to a library where there’s too much dust from the musty old books. His father takes him to lunch at a diner where they are worryingly liberal with the pepper. Finally they all visit the circus where there are all sorts of nose-niggling things in the air. Will Chu sneeze, and what will happen if he does? Clue: duck and cover!

Neil’s youngest-reader book yet, built on the classic one-two-three, and the sort which you will read to the little-un’s so half the fun will be acting out the drama, the anticipation as Chu goes…


And while the kids’ eyes gleam like shiny marbles, darting from one animal to the next (you can have fun together identifying them all later on), adults and older children can amuse themselves with the background jokes like the mice on miniature computers, performing database searches in those old, wooden index-card draws or the chef’s hat perched over a whale’s blow hole in the shape of its spray.

It’s colourfully painted in acrylics, I think, but who even knows these days. The father’s expressions made me smile, especially post-sternutation when he discovers he’s somehow acquired a slightly startled hitch-hiker.

“Oops,” said Chu.


Buy Chu’s Day h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Captain America: The Death Of Captain America (Complete) s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Butch Guice, others.

Yowsa! Four previous softcovers in one, this reprints CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and all three DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA books. As such it is book three of Brubaker’s CAPTAIN AMERICA run following CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER then CAPTAIN AMERICA: RED MENACE which turned a tedious superhero series into a taut international espionage action-thriller with layers of conspiracy and a long-term game plan from a dead Red Skull inhabiting the mind of Russian General turned corporate businessman, Aleksander Lukin. What’s more Steve Rogers became a complex individual with a vivid and intricate past which has come back to haunt him in the form of his wartime partner, Bucky, since brainwashed into becoming a covert assassin, and a credible love-life in the form of Sharon Carter who is in for a world of pain here.

The undermining of Sharon Carter, Steve Rogers’ on/off lover, fellow SHIELD agent and unwitting instrument of his assassination, begins on the very first page, and it’s gripping stuff.

In the first chapter the Superhero Registration Act is discussed passionately by those supposed to enforce the law, and it stars its own supporting cast while the good Captain fights the fight in the pages of the CIVIL WAR itself, so setting the stage perfectly for the next act here which featured that now-famous death. My notes asked, “What is the device – good for one use only – supplied by Victor von Doom for services rendered?” Get me, I’m prescient!

The involvement of Armin Zola confirmed my suspicions about where the storyline was heading, and he’s not the only old adversary to play his unique part in this gradually unfurling, devious long-term plan. Most interesting for those following the fortunes of former S.H.I.E.L.D. commander Nick Fury (SECRET WAR etc.) is the tactically brilliant way in which he inserts himself back into the main frame without emerging from hiding except in very plain sight. And that’s not as cryptic as you might think, if you read it carefully. Gorgeous, shadowy art, like Sean Phillips bathed in milk. Hell, I know what I mean.

Then we kick into the titular death itself. Arrested after his surrender at the end of the CIVIL WAR, Captain America becomes an easy target for the Red Skull’s allies who take aim and fire. But that’s all a distraction, for his killer is closer to home. With the Captain pronounced dead on arrival, those left behind – Sharon, The Winter Soldier, The Falcon, The Black Widow and Iron Man – are at each others’ throats, effectively crippling their ability to round on the real culprits and work out what’s behind their manoeuvres. Steve Epting and Mike Perkins deliver spectacular art with such a depth that one wonders how this remains monthly.

Chapter three: possibly the cleverest and most fortuitously timed pages of the exceptional run so far as The Red Skull goes after America through its economy. Mortgage foreclosures? They’re the headlines today. Guest-stars The Black Widow, the black Falcon, America’s own Black Wednesday, and Iron Man.

Chapter four finale: keep it contemporary! The Red Skull, Armin Zola and Dr. Faustus bite through America’s jugular vein: its economy. That’s how you subjugate a country. Then they field their own Presidential candidate. Meanwhile ever since the very first issue of this series, the Red Skull has been trapped in the body of General Lukin who himself is still in there (it’s nice to know they can share), but geneticist Zola has a plan. Oh, and a contingency plan in case that one fails. It fails, resulting in a truly satisfying last-page epilogue as this first major story arc – all 42 issues of it – concludes.

Stunning stuff and Steve Epting has done the nigh-impossible: make Captain America look cool, even in the rubbish new costume for Bucky designed by Alex Ross. His action sequences are spectacular, and when in quiet contemplation Epting’s characters ooze humanity. Like Sean Phillips’ art, everyone’s almost permanently in half-shadow, and he’s comfortable in the big city centres as he is on a country road or in a laboratory: everyone is perfectly, physically in place in their environment, which is no mean feat.


Buy Captain America: The Death Of Captain America (Complete) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

Chu’s Day (£10-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & Adam Rex

Quest For The Spark: A Bone Novel: Book Three (£8-50, Scholastic) by Tom Sniegoski

The Initiates: A Comic Artist And A Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs h/c (£22-50, NBM Comics) by Etienne Davodeau

Assassin’s Creed: The Chain (£14-99, UBI Workshop) by Karl Kerschl, Cameron Stewart

The Manara Library vol 4 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Milo Manara

Dead Space: Liberation h/c (£14-99, Titan) by Ian Edginton & Christopher Shy

Alabaster Wolves h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Caitlin R. Kiernan & Steve Lieber

King Conan vol 4: The Prince Is Dead (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Alan Zelenetz & Marc Silvestri, John Buscema, Rudy Nebres

Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation Squared vol 2 (£13-50, IDW) by Scott Tipton, David Tipton & J.K. Woodward

Batman vol 2: Night Of The Owls h/c (£22-50, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Suicide Squad vol 2: Basilisk Rising s/c (£12-99, DC) by Adam Glass & Fernando Dagnino

Batman: Arkham Unhinged h/c (£16-99, DC) by various inc. Paul Dini & Juan Ryp

Scarlet Spider vol 1: Life After Death s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Chris Yost & Ryan Stegman, Neil Edwards

Uncanny X-Force vol 7: Final Execution Book 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Phil Noto, David Williams

Marvel Universe: Ultimate Spider-Man vol 2 Digest (£7-50, Marvel) by various

Knights Of Sidonia vol 1 (£9-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Emerald And Other Stories (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura

Naruto vol 60 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

Paul Has A Summer Job restocks (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michel Rabagliati
Sally-Anne’s brilliant and beautiful report on the Angoulême comic festival in comic form. Some strikingly fine portraits like Chester Brown!

 Marvel ranks its own characters circa 1973. Ain’t retrospect a bitch? Interesting how highly they prize characters they didn’t create (Dracula) and no longer publish (Conan, Doc Savage). Also, what did poor Quicksilver ever do wrong? You can tell its pre-X-Men relaunch: the Beast has evidently just gone blue, furry and solo in Marvel Premiere.

Bookshops could charge for browsing says CEO of HarperCollins. From the confines of a padded room in a mental health institute.

Reviews February 2013 week one

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

“Give me a choice of a smart one-liner over a punch in the face and I’ll quip you into shape any time…”

 – Jonathan on Avengers Vs. X-Men: Consequences.

“In my situation people set things on fire.”

 – The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry


Porcelain Exclusive Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition (£12-99, Improper Books) by Benjamin Read & Chris Wildgoose.

Absolutely remarkable.

Never in over two decades have I witnessed such a zealous reaction to a new creative team and a publisher’s first-ever graphic novel in advance of publication. I kicked off our campaign on Friday 1st February and within a mere 36 hours we’d received 25 pre-orders. Due February 27th, this is going to be huge.

My favourite covers tell a story begging questions, and I’ve stared at this beauty for ages. Within its crisp, white, sinuous Art Nouveau frame redolent of Alphonse Mucha stand two figures, with a third glimpsed through the ornate window beyond: a porcelain bird gleaming against a midnight-blue sky, runes encircling its neck. A young girl clad in rags glares suspiciously, defiantly to one side while an imposing, opulently clothed, walrus-like man with a thick, grey-flecked beard gazes down upon her, his expression impossible to read. Is it paternal or possessive?

The art is majestic with huge landscape flourishes, while the colouring is to cry for through and through. Chris Wildgoose and André May have done a bang-up job: gas lamps glow on a cold winter’s night; the Maker’s beard is as lush as anything drawn by Paul Smith, and summer gardens seem to go on forever underneath the pink and purple wisteria. Wait until you see the guard dogs: the silver, panther-like automatons shining in the night, their eyes glowing as though powered by a furnace within.

Sub-titled ‘A Gothic Fairy Tale’, PORCELAIN opens high above the snow-swept rooftops of a wealthy European city before settling in front a wrought-iron gate firmly locked against intruders. Outside its walls a boisterous crowd with no homes to go to have gathered in torn and tattered, patched-up clothes far too thin to keep the cold at bay.

“This is a bad idea!”

The bad idea’s to break in.

It will surprise absolutely no one that the child on the cover is the one volunteered, her initial resistance beaten right out of her. They hoist her unceremoniously up onto the walls where she dallies from a moment…

“Get on with it, you cowardly squidfart!”
“Stick it up yer bum!”

… before hopping, helter skelter, down the branches of an ancient tree. Cue wolven guard dogs and the mansion’s owner (he from the cover, yes). Cue police brutality on the other side of the garden walls. But what follows next is far from predictable, as the Child bluffs her way out of trouble and into the heart and house of the Porcelain Maker.

The script is charming. Its lilt is lovely and the dialogue dances as the twinkle-eyed aristocrat humours her affection of airs and graces – and she is quite the performer – and you can see them bonding right before your eyes. Far from supercilious or sardonic, he never once mocks her startled ignorance or forthright observations, but indulges them with grace. She’s obviously starving and not just this second, so he wonders if she might take tea. Half an hour later…

“Enough to eat?”
“It’ll hold me for now. Them sarnies were good, but some idiot had chopped all the crusts off.”
“I’ll mention it to the chef.”
“You know, you don’t seem too bad for an evil wizard.”
“Is that what they call me? Ha! Magnificent! Oh, child, you’ve made an old man smile today.”
“Well, ain’t you?”
“I’m an artificer, and occasional alchymist, but I’m certainly no wizard. Ha!”
“Well how have you got all the money, then?
“Because I tried to do something very important to me, but instead… I found out how to do something for everyone else.”

Love the expression when he learns of his reputation: not alarmed, but genuinely startled. Also, there’s a perfect piece of comicbook juxtaposition when the child asks if he achieved his first ambition, and he merely replies no without further explanation, Read wisely leaving Wildgoose’s picture to tell a thousand words. There’s quite a lot in that portrait.

What is revealed is that there is no one else living at home. Oh, there are butlers and cooks and assembly-line workers crafting the man’s wares in the small, on-site factory, but like the family pets they are all fashioned from living porcelain. He’s old and he’s lonely so he invites her to stay and, in spite of her obvious bluff about brothers waiting outside the walls, she really has nowhere to go. Oh, just one prohibition. The alchemical glaze used to breathe life into the china creations is a closely guarded secret know only to the Porcelain Maker and, understandably, he’s ever so slightly protective of it. The final process takes place beyond a locked door and that door must stay locked. The child must never stray inside.

Tip of the proverbial iceberg: you’re little more than a dozen pages in. What follows is a delightful exploration of a singular relationship as the Porcelain Maker takes great joy in the young girl’s education and our spirited madam pushes all sorts of boundaries. There are lots of little background jokes when she cannot resist embellishing his creations in her own inimitable fashion, and I hadn’t realised until reading the wealth of extra material at the back that Wildgoose designed and employed roughly a dozen different outfits and hairstyles just for this nameless Child.

The young girl’s spirited voice is perfectly pitched, with expressions like “Get out of it!” and customs like “Spit on it!” and obviously there will be downs as well as ups. But there will also be a multitude of further construction on the craftman’s part, all of it magical, as well as the constantly diverting give-and-take between our mismatched pair.

“As you’re staying now, would you mind not keep pocketing the spoons?”
“I just thought that if we had tea later, I’ll be prepared.”

You can read a substantial PORCELAIN preview here.


Buy Porcelain (Exclusive Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

The Freddie Stories h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lynda Barry.

“I have what is called a very boring life and now it is summer and my cousin Freddie is a fag. And that tree is blocking my view of the corner. Of the action of which there is none. In my situation people set things on fire.”

They really do.

That’s Freddie’s hateful cousin Arnold who sees no poetry in a tree – just squirrels to shoot with his air rifle. His is but one troubled perspective here on teenage life: the discontent, nasty life-lessons, grudges, wake-up calls, loneliness, treachery, bad mistakes and bullying. You’ll also meet Marlys, Freddie’s sister and single devotee in a household which, like most of Lynda Barry’s, resounds with the snarls, barks and incessant castigations of a mother for whom “Don’t” is the default setting. There are no fathers in evidence here, except one who fails to attend his own son’s funeral.

Mostly of these diary-like entries come from Freddie himself, an outsider, an outcast and acne-ridden loser so lame he makes friends with a fly, naming it, singing to it (The Fool On The Hill!) and celebrating its liberation which for Freddie is naught but a pipe dream.

“So if you are walking by a garbage can in the alley and you see a fly, say “Right on” to it for me in case it is Jeff. Say hi from your old pal Freddy.”

Who is he even talking to? To whom is this Freddy with a ‘y’ giving hip advice? No one. There’s no one listening. “So long, my friend,” calls Freddie through his open bedroom window, sobbing at his self-sacrifice and the sheer emotion of it all, “I will always miss you.” Poor love.

THE FREDDIE STORIES, reprinted here with a batch of strips deemed too dark and depressing for the early 1990s, manages to be both hilarious and horrific, often at the same time, but the most important thing is this: the creator of WHAT IT IS and PICTURE THIS is a wise women with much to impart and such clever ways of communicating it.

There’s that terrible revelation when you first comprehend that telling the truth can land you right in the shit, even when you do it to help. Also, in a particularly worrying sequence involving racism, resentment and sexual jealousy which almost impossibly tight with tension, Freddie observes:

“When you are the friend of a very mean person you feel certain they would never do to you what they constantly do to other people.” Oh, how true! But the clue is in “mean”, and a pack to a rat in a race is but a temporary convenience. “It’s not logical. But you still think it. Until you make them mad.”

But before you get carried away with Freddie’s insight and innocence, there’s a sequence later on in which Gigi, a friend he calls “ugly old spaz eyes,” announces she’s moving away, and he reacts by blanking the poor girl then punching her in the stomach. “Sometimes it just is not worth it, making friends” is his initial conclusion. If you don’t make friends you don’t miss them when they’re gone. But then Gigi won’t speak to him and leaves without ever saying good-bye, so he writes her 725 letters – in his head – thus:

“Gigi when you quit liking me because I socked you very meanly, I was very surprised. I did not know it was possible or even legal to quit liking a person for that.”

Lynda’s language and narrative structure are spot-on. Both can be highly expressionistic – mere flashes – and she nails the sudden shifts in human thought in sequences which are far from linear yet subtly serve a purpose, as well as that age group’s misappropriation of adult expressions in the pursuit of their status. This, in the middle of that imaginary apology to Gigi:

“It is July. What I am doing for a living this summer is going around. Right now I am at the zoo. There are peacocks screaming and howler monkeys going insane. And very many animals that will not look at the people, that keep their back to the people, and the people shout, “Hey! Hey you! Hey lazy!” They throw things.”

But we don’t see that panel from the crowd’s point of view; we stare straight at the two monkeys clinging together in abject terror, the baying mob outside the confines of the cage but behind them and appallingly close. I’ve rarely seen an image more harrowing, even on the protest material of animal rights activists.

Teenagers also like to try on hats, figuratively speaking, affecting language and behaviour they’ve acquired from popular culture.

“I said, “Freak or be freaked, can you dig it? Can it dig you?” “Freddie,” said Mom. “You sound idiotic.” I said, “Down with the man. The man is a fag. I am also a fag. We are all fags. But I am El Fagtastico!” The motion of the slapping hand of Mom was too slow! I, Skreddy 57, El Fagtastico numero 57, was too fast! “Come back here!” But Skreddy 57 did not obey!”

Perhaps this paved the way for Esther Pearl Watson’s UNLOVEABLE – that same car-crash comedy presented as an actual teenage diary – I don’t know. But there was little darkness in UNLOVEABLE whereas it can pop up here at any moment even when you least expect it, like ‘I Love A Parade’ in which your entire life flashes before your eyes in one big procession. A procession which will necessarily end.

The horror can also stay sustained, and I do wonder if Freddie isn’t demonstrating signs of genuine psychosis both in the creatures which haunt him – the Baba Man, Old Buddy, the blazing skull and then the others he perceives for some time in place of people’s faces – and his obsessive behaviour and language. As well as persistent black-outs, he’s constantly trotting out ticks (“2+2+2+2”) in between streams of consciousness, like ritualistic self-defence mechanisms. For, without giving too much away, Freddie is indeed subjected to some pretty damaging experiences!

“”You are my prisoner of war,” said Glenn. “Certain things will happen to you.” We were in his basement. Certain things did.”

You may laugh (I’m afraid I did), but it all leaves its scars.

“2 plus 2 plus 2. “For the love of God! ” screams mom. My 2 plus 2 is driving her nuts she wants me to stop it, Mr. File wants me put in Special Ed. It’s winter.
“It’s winter and Glenn’s head has rotted down to his skull. Skulls again. Old Buddy brings them at night, in his sack they crack together. 2+2+2+2. It keeps Old Buddy frozen. 2+2+2+2. I have to keep saying it, I whisper it. I whisper it.
“2+2+2+2 onward to infinity. I have been getting sinister headaches and if you have ever heard a dog whistle it has a sound that is in my brains and wants to break my glasses. Marlys is now begging me. Stop, Freddie. No more math, Freddie, stop.”

For the most part Lynda Barry is in densely textured mode, but almost all of the pages originally excised are drawn as if by a child. Perhaps that’s why they were originally left on the cutting-room floor: visual consistency as much as narrative “continuity”. They’re still separated at the end so preserving the original editorial decision, but I’m inexpressibly delighted that they’re back.

‘Can I Go Home’ is a particularly eloquent four-panel piece expressing a younger sister’s adoration and adulation for her older sister, along with a certain degree of jealousy. It is packed full of insight – perspectives I had never considered. Whereas Marlys is stuck at home, Maybonne is free to roam. She’s reached that age.

“Have you ever missed somebody so much you want to kill them? They say Peace Man and you go Peace Man. But really you want to shove your peace fingers in their eyes.”

“I missed Maybonne, did she miss me? Doubt it. That’s why her life is great. When she goes away she don’t miss nobody. She just has her incredible experiences. Then she comes home and acts depressed. Excuse me but she never notices I’m living at home. That’s why I had to bite her arm when she was sleeping. Then she notices.”

We’re all in our own worlds, aren’t we? Also, this first sentence struck me as incredibly perceptive:

“Maybonne, you got the world for 5 years before I was born, but my world always had you in it. Maybonne, Maybonne it’s so good to see you. I’m driving you crazy because you are my incredible gorgeous perfect sister. That’s why I have to slug you again. Hold still.”


Buy The Freddie Stories h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dear Beloved Stranger (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Dino Pai…

Wan and winsome art grad Dino is treading water. He wants to kick-start his art career but finds himself at a loss to know where to begin. Perhaps, after several years of being told what to draw, he’s lost the ability to think for himself. There is one person who seems capable of kick-starting his passion though, his classmate Cathy, whom I presumed was the Dear Beloved Stranger that Dino pours his heart out to in letters. Letters he then posts by folding them into aeroplanes and throwing them out of his window…

You’ll note the word “presumed”, because when it is suddenly revealed who the beloved stranger actually is, I was slightly bemused, though upon reflection it certainly fits the character of Dino, and does make sense in the wider terms of the story. It just seems a little jarring though, the reveal.

Told in two very different art styles: a relatively scratchy, sketchy one that follows Dino in the real world, and a more relaxed, smooth and surreal one which takes us on the dream sequences that we come to realise actually form the graphic novel Dino’s drawing, when he eventually realises what it is he wants to do (good lad). The two styles combine neatly to provide a sense of someone who doesn’t quite have both feet firmly planted in the real world.

You can certainly see who some of his inspirations are, people like Jon J. Muth for example, thinking of MOONSHADOW with respect to the graphic novel sequences. I’m not saying he’s anywhere near that level of accomplishment yet, and I’m sure he wouldn’t either, but you can certainly see his potential.

Overall I did enjoy this work. There are some neat devices, both artistic and plot-wise, employed throughout, particularly the segueways from real to fiction and back again, which certainly shows that he has plenty of talent, and I think you just have to admire the vision and execution of what is, by any standards, an impressive debut graphic novel.


Buy Dear Beloved Stranger and read the Page 45 review here

Global Frequency (£14-99, Vertigo) by Warren Ellis & various.

“This is Aleph. You’re on the Global Frequency.”

All twelve chapters in one complete edition.

The Global Frequency is a covert organisation of 1001 operatives specialising in a diverse range of esoteric disciplines from nuclear fission and languages to tracking, elimination and le parkour running. They’re there to save the world from international terrorists, mad science and sonic angels. Different threats require different tactics – different combinations of skills – and when Miranda Zero makes her selection, you’d better pray that she gets it right, because when the phone calls you probably have less time to avert disaster than you do to get your pants back on, for each of the twelve chapters here is like a self-contained episode of the best HBO series condensed into ten blistering minutes.

“Captain Richard Quinn, USAF, is running around in there with five hundred million dollars’ worth of enhancement technology inside him. He has gone stark staring mad and needs to be taken down. Our job: to take him down, and rescue whoever else is trapped inside Project Big Wheel with him.”
“How is this our job?”
“Because the prevailing attitude in the corridors of power is that Project Big Wheel should be sterilised with a large nuclear weapon.”
“Wind’s blowing towards California….”

“What defines the human race?”
“Right now? The ability to piss me off.”

Quality artists from Gene Ha to Chris Sprouse signed up for this series and Jon J. Muth’s sonic angel is worth the price of admission alone. Plus however frantic the preceding pages, nothing will prepare you for the series’ climax.

“You are Miranda Zero, head of Global Frequency, a semi-covert rescue organisation of one thousand and one agents. I have one hour to extract from you the codes to enter your computer. With those codes, we can obtain all your information, and the names of your agents. And kill them.”

“This is Aleph in Global Frequency Central to all Los Angeles area units. Miranda Zero has been unreachable for exactly ten minutes. Emergency recovery procedure begins now.”

It was five years ago that Miranda Zero recruited a communications prodigy, a superprocessor she called Aleph, to act as the central hub of The Global Frequency. Over those years – and during the first ten chapters of this 1,000-mile-an-hour, supercompressed action extravaganza – Aleph has remained calm and collected as she directs those required to wherever they are needed, usually at the heart of some hideous scientific nightmare or in the middle of a terrorist operation. But now Central Operations has itself become the target, and Aleph is all alone down there…


Buy Global Frequency and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers Vs. X-Men: Consequences s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Tom Raney, Steve Kurth, Scot Eaton, Mark Brooks, Gabriel Hernandez Walta…

“Even now, in the school, when I want to pop claws through some smarmy kid, I still ask myself… what would Scott Summers do? And I tell you: whatever you’re thinking now… Scott Summers wouldn’t do.”

Dealing with the aftermath of Cyclops’ actions at the end of the recent AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN shindig (avoiding spoilers, me), this is in fact considerably superior to said event simply because it is entirely character-driven with witty dialogue and an engaging, thought-provoking game-changing plot, as opposed to an over-long, action-driven, repetitive non-stop mêlée. Give me a choice of a smart one-liner over a punch in the face and I’ll quip you into shape any time…


Buy Avengers Vs. X-Men: Consequences s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Justice League vol 2: The Villain’s Journey h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Jim Lee, Gene Ha, Carlos D’Anda.

Lovely to see some more Gene Ha art and Jim Lee returns for the more blistering action sequences. It’s all pretty consistent.

In whom do you trust?

Five years on from JUSTICE LEAGUE VOLUME ONE, and a lot has evidently happened. A book came out celebrating their victory over Darkseid, but its author’s gone missing. The team of super-saviours has won public adulation and formed a Watchtower station orbiting the Earth. But some of them still don’t know the first thing about each other while others can’t help themselves. Cyborg is tapped into every computer on Earth, and he can’t unplug himself from his mobile, weaponised life-support machine: that’s all that’s keeping him alive. He even knows all their credit ratings (and some of them suck). But a force has been woken which will soon expose so many of their secrets – their greatest losses, most of them parental – a force which is seeking revenge. Whatever did they do wrong?

Meanwhile, what’s a super-team title without a bust-up? Here’s Green Lantern. He’s just pissed off Wonder Woman and she’s gone postal on him:

“You’ve been dying for this, haven’t you?”
“This isn’t giving me any pleasure. But I’m sure you’ve heard that before.”


The Justice League has, however, put their trust in Steve Trevor. He once protected Wonder Woman when she first arrived in a world she did not comprehend and they bonded. He even reached out, but she worried for his safety and so declined to reciprocate. Now Trevor protects the League from as much bureaucratic red tape and governmental scare mongering as he can. Congress, you see, does not trust the League, not completely. It wants to know what the Justice League does up their in Watchtower; it wants to know what they have. Perhaps an inspection could be arranged… or maybe a new member?

Cue one very persistent attempt to get their attention by anti-establishment Green Arrow. They’re not having any of it, though. Once during the last five years the Justice League did let somebody else in, and it all went horribly wrong.

Next: the Justice League let somebody else in. You will be far from surprised to learn that it all goes horribly wrong.


Buy Justice League vol 2: The Villain’s Journey 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.
The New Deadwardians (£10-99, Vertigo) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard

Aya vol 2: Love In Yop City s/c (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie

7 Miles A Second h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by David Wojnarowicz & James Romberger, Marguerite Van Cook

Daybreak (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brian Ralph

Star Wars: Blood Ties: Boba Fett Is Dead (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Tom Taylor & Chris Scalf

King Conan vol 2: The Phoenix On The Sword (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Timothy Truman Tomas Giorello

Dead Space (£13-50, Titan Books) by Antony Johnston & Ben Templesmith

Dead Space: Salvage (£10-99, Titan Books) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Shy

Batgirl vol 2: Knightfall Descends h/c (£18-99, DC) by Gail Simone & Ardian Syaf, Ed Benes

Batgirl vol 1: The Darkest Reflection s/c (£10-99, DC) by Gail Simone & Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes

Superman: For Tomorrow (Complete) s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Azzarello & Jim Lee, Scott Williams

Uncanny X-Men vol 3 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Greg Land, Billy Tan, Dustin Weaver

Deadpool Max 2 vol 1: Second Cut s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by David Lapham & David Lapham, Kyle Baker, Shawn Crystal

Captain America: The Death Of Captain America (Complete) s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Butch Guice, others

Limit vol 3 (£8-50, Vertical) by Keiko Suenobu

Soul Eater vol 12 (£8-99, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo

GTO: 14 Days In Shonan vol 7 (£8-50, Vertical) by Toru Fujisawa

Gantz vol 26 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku
The massive news of the week is THE NAO OF BROWN “basically winning comics”, as Dominique wrote. In this instance it stole Le Prix Spécial Du Jury at Angoulême, which is pretty much the biggest accolade going. Although Page 45 did of course make it Comicbook Of The Month and I declared quite some time ago that is was my favourite book of last year. Still, this a somewhat grander victory! Brilliant.

Also, outside the world of comics, equal rights won out on bigots: gay marriage in the UK is now a thing. But this isn’t about GAY rights, this about EQUAL rights. Those who oppose are all about superiority and power. Compare with what they do to the poor: Bedroom Tax.

Exhausted parents! I tweeted the first half but there is much more here: new comicbook hilarity from CAT ISLAND’s Dan Berry.

 – Stephen