Reviews February 2013 week one

“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

One Response to “Reviews February 2013 week one”

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