Reviews May 2013 week one

Bookface is not somewhere you should live out your misery in public. It is self-detrimental and boring to others. When done repeatedly, it erodes your friends’ empathy and serves only to validate and so consolidate your own negativity, creating then perpetuating your own downward spiral. There, you’ve been told.

 – Stephen on Hope Larson & Tintin Pantoia’s Who Is AC

The Man Who Laughs (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Victor Hugo, adapted by David Hine & Mark Stafford.

“My Lords, I come to warn you, your happiness is forged from the misery of mankind.”

As adaptations go, I rank this right up there with Rob Davis’ DON QUIXOTE. Victor Hugo’s original is not a story of mistaken identity so much as buried birth and hereditary powerplay, but even so it is a tale so twisted it would make Shakespeare’s own head spin. What’s more, its socio-political poignancy is powerful harnessed by David Hine and Mark Stafford throughout, and in particular during the House Of Lords climax which is as fiendishly clever as the speech is rousing as it is derided by its orator’s peers. If only it weren’t so pertinent right now.

As to the last dozen pages, six of which are silent, they are a tour de full-colour force which will leave you as breathless as Eric Drooker’s BLOOD SONG. It’s a masterclass from both creators on adapting prose to comics, the key being interpretation rather than illustration for the last six pages of Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs were necessarily far from silent. Yet look what a graphic novel can do…


On the surface it would seem that Stafford’s style of cartooning is perfect for hyperactive comedy like the Talbot-penned CHERUBS, but oh how well it works on a more controlled satire, and his use of colour is a revelation for me. The sub-zero midnight blizzard curling and swirling around young Gwynplaine is absolutely freezing (and once more put me in mind of Drooker’s FLOOD and BLOOD SONG). Abandoned on the winter shore, nine-year-old Gwynplaine plucks a baby from the ice-solid teat of its dead mother, half-buried in the snow, and wraps it in his own tattered overcoat, exposing himself to the elements that rage all around. He struggles against a howling wind, carrying them on to their uncertain future. It’s quite the trajectory.

The Man Who Laughs is an impassioned attack on injustice – on the scheming, self-serving rich for whom the poor are but playthings to be milked even drier in order to feed the aristocrats’ appetite for all things opulent and excessive. They have so little to actually do that they spend their time guarding their grudges then taking them out on each other and those they grind under their suited and booted feet.

“Lord David seeks his pleasure through membership of the many aristocratic clubs of London. The Ugly Club, that worships deformity.
“The Fun Club, which exhorts its members to create mischief wherever possible. The rich break the windows of the poor.
“The Mohawks, where creating evil and injury is a matter of duty and the height of fashion is to deftly slice the nostrils of a rustic with the point of the sword.
“Thus Lord David prepares himself for public life, for it is no easy matter to become an accomplished gentleman.”

The titular man who laughs is Gwynplaine himself who is cursed with the same sort of rictus sported by The Joker in comics and Tony Blair in political cartoons. Only this grin is even more hideous, the lips stretched apart and agape, exposing every millimetre of gum in a masca ridens. Taken in by the elderly medicine man Ursus and his pet wolf Homo, the baby Gwynplaine rescued from certain death grows into a beautiful but blind woman they christen Dea, but her early trauma has left her fragile with a heart that flutters like a bird trapped in a cage: any sudden shock might kill her.

“I am only happy when you’re near me,” she tells Gwynplaine, who replies, “Then let us swear never to be apart – we’ll be happy together.”

And they would be, but as Ursus observes, “Happy, are they? Don’t they know it’s a crime? To declare your love too loudly is to invite evil.”

And evil, it certainly comes knocking in the form of Duchess Josiana, pretty sister to petty and ugly and resentful Queen Anne, and engaged by royal decree to be married to Lord David. But it’s a marriage they’d both prefer to avoid and so Lord David introduces the twisted Josiana to Gwynplaine whom he’d spied performing in a play, and her perverse desires along with the machinations of a courtier, will spell the most convoluted doom for them all.

For a bottle has been washed up on the shore, and there is a message in that bottle: a signed certificate of sin from many years ago committed by Gernadus and his travelling troupe of Comprachios, so severe that they felt compelled to confess and cast that confession into the sea in a bottle belonging to one Hardquanonne, “the greatest sinner” of them all. It was they who abandoned Gwynplaine all those years ago. What exactly had they all done so wrong?


Buy The Man Who Laughs and read the Page 45 review here

Courtney Crumrin vol 3: The Twilight Kingdom h/c (£18-99, Oni Press) by Ted Naifeh.

“He’ll be lonely without me.”
“He’ll get over it. We all do. There are worse things than loneliness.”

After months spent exploring the inexplicable at her uncle’s house, young Courtney finally revisits her old neighbourhood while her worn-out parents try unsuccessfully to sell their old home. In Courtney’s absence her former best friend Malcolm has fallen under the influence of two house-breaking idiots, because there’s really nothing else for him left. Why, I will keep schtum on, but Malcolm falls out with Courtney painfully as she tries her best to steer him away from the delinquents – again, unsuccessfully.

It’s all very tenderly done, but only the prologue to a tale which will take Courtney on a reluctant journey from the grounds of her school to the Twilight Kingdom in order to find the cure for a curse so carelessly cast on one brother by the other.

Friendship and responsibility are as ever the key themes on offer, all concealed under a gothic facade of fantasy and danger, and portrayed with the lushest of artwork now in full colour which has drawn, unsurprisingly, the admiration of Charles Vess.

It’s the third in the series and does touch upon old plot points, but can be read independently and is heartily recommended to the 150+ of you to have already purchased PORCELAIN; as is COURTNEY CRUMRIN VOL 1 with its poison-purple cover and COURTNEY CRUMRIN VOL 2, bound in library green. The production values on this new range of hardcover editions are glorious, with silver ink framing the cover and pin-up gallery, printed on thick, quality paper.

A quietly touching ending, and a very cool read.


Buy Courtney Crumrin vol 3: The Twilight Kingdom h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Who Is Ac s/c (£10-99, Other A-Z) by Hope Larson & Tintin Pantoia.

Shall I tell you what I love about this graphic novel?

It emphasises the poison of self-pity, especially when made public in blogs.

Bookface is not somewhere you should live out your misery in public. It is self-detrimental and boring to others. When done repeatedly, it erodes your friends’ empathy and serves only to validate and so consolidate your own negativity, creating then perpetuating your own downward spiral. There, you’ve been told.

This, however, is a Young Adult graphic novel: a superhero-style, countryside fable as filtered through CLAMP – it’s not WET MOON! – so instead of sinking into an alcohol-exacerbated rage against the world, horse-loving, blog-prone Mel is possessed by a black-hearted internet demon who demands she troll for more followers like Trace. Tongue-tied Trace is a bit smitten by Mel (who is still hung up on Hunter – or rather guilt-ridden, you’ll see) so already susceptible to Mel’s conversion on account of a grudge he has on AC.

Who is AC? AC is a really a young writer called Lin, new to town; a fiercely independent girl who has the gumption to serialise and self-publish her swashbuckling fantasy by taking it down to the local photocopier, stapling the results together and leaving them, sale-or-return, in the local bookshop. Bravo! I love that too: Hope Larson encouraging others to create and disseminate – to act on their aspirations and so turn them into reality.

Unfortunately Lin has been taken over too (albeit by a more benign force via her mobile phone) and transformed into a lance-wielding superheroine who leaves a snowstorm of white rose petals wherever she goes. She saves the local photocopy shop from a robbery but later, accidentally and unknowingly) blows Trace off his bike who loses his glasses as a direct result. And Trace’s parents aren’t going to fork out for a new pair.

“Just sit at the front of the class, Trace.”
“Right. With the kiss-ups.”

So: misunderstandings all round (I mentioned Hunter, didn’t I?) and Lin’s own well meaning parents are going to put their proverbial feet in it too.

Hope cleverly interjects the proceedings with young teens’ current obsessions and terminology, and if you think all will be wrapped up in a happily-ever-after for all then you very much underestimate CHIGGERS’ Hope Larson. Life doesn’t work like that, as any teen reader will tell you. Try to say otherwise and they will reject you.

I was also rather fond of the ebullient black and white artwork, splashed with purple during the battle blasts, which reminded me fondly of Tim Fish, even though I found its androgyny confusing. I couldn’t work out whether Trace, for example, was male or female for several pages and the same goes for the book-shop owner. Maybe that was intentional, sending the message that gender is unimportant whether it comes to relationships or careers (it should be entirely irrelevant), and perhaps a younger audience than myself won’t even notice nor care.



Buy Who Is Ac s/c and read the Page 45 review here

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat s/c (£5-99, David Fickling Books) by Dave Shelton.

“These tides are really weird,” said the boy. “It’s not like this at Cromer.”

A young boy hops on board a boat bobbing on the water and captained by a bear. He asks to be taken to the other side.

“Right you are,” said the bear.

He’s as confident as the lad is vague, neatly setting the scene for nearly three hundred pages of magically illustrated mirth as the pair find themselves all at sea and struggling to land either a fish or themselves.

It’s a book about learning to keep friends afloat in the wake of adversity – and in the wake of absurdity too. Faith, confidence and improvisation: pulling together instead of falling out and, as a consequence, falling apart. Thinking of others instead of yourself and jollying each other along!

Shelton manages all of the above with a touch as gentle as the giant of a bear’s. With little land in sight throughout the entire book, he nails the boy’s cross-patch frustration at the bear’s evasive optimism, and then the boy’s petulance and remorse. Oh, how we find it difficult to apologise! It’s also a book written by a man whose childhood was spent a long time before videogames and other portable distractions or in-flight entertainment.

“Are we nearly there yet?” said the boy.
“We are well on our way,” said the bear.

And that’s just page fifteen. There’s so much more you will recognise from childhood, like the fun to be had on a bright summer’s day, messing about colours and the light behind closed eyelids. “He liked the greeny blue the best, but it was difficult to hold on to for long.” I myself bounced spectral amoebas up and down my eyelids all day long. Still unsure if they existed.

With limited resources our duo try their hands at fishing, first with a fly (oh, all right, a tuft of the poor bear’s fur plucked while his bottom was turned), then with live bait and then – oh, dear – they really are going to bite off more than they can chew! Here they’re down to one last sarnie, and the bear’s previous combos (sprout and honey; anchovy, banana and custard; broccoli, sherbet and gooseberry) have been eccentric at best.

The boy looked at the proffered sandwich. He noticed that the bear was holding it rather gingerly in the tips of two claws and right at the corner. Despite this, the bread did not bend at all. The boy looked up at the bear. He looked back at the sandwich. It was very difficult to tell what colour it was by moonlight, but whatever colour it was didn’t seem right.

“What’s in it?” said the boy again.
“I can’t remember,” said the bear.
“Well, open it up and take a look,” said the boy.
“I can’t,” said the bear. “It’s stuck.”
The boy looked up at the bear. The bear smiled thinly down at the boy. They both looked back at the sandwich.
“Is it…” said the boy.
“What?” said the bear.
“Is it… only a bit, but is it… glowing?”
“No,” said the bear.
They each squinted at the sandwich and leaned in (cautiously) to look more closely.
“Hardly at all,” said the bear.

We rarely stock anything other than comics at Page 45, but this prose is a wonder and I’ll be buying it for adults instead. Plus our Dave won my heart by including a comic within and reminding us how, when we were young, we would pore over them time and time again when we had so very few, savouring their strangeness even if we hadn’t a clue what was going on. But back to the future, and the bear has it all in hand.

“Bored, eh? Well, I suppose you’d better try the complimentary on-board entertainment then,” said the bear.
“On-board entertainment?” said the boy, smiling expectantly.
“Oh yes,” said the bear. “You’ll love this.”

He really doesn’t.


Buy A Boy and a Bear in a Boat s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Morning Glories s/c vol 4 Truants (£10-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma.

And you think your school days were a nightmare…

It’s in, I’m sure it’s as riveting as the first three, but it’s the fourth volume and I have other things to do. I went to great lengths reviewing the first three volumes, which you can read instead:


There you go. At the time of typing we also have copies of MORNING GLORIES #26 which follows immediately after this book at a mere 99p. Probably worth a punt, no?



Buy Morning Glories s/c vol 4 Truants and read the Page 45 review here

Uncanny Avengers vol 1: The Red Shadow h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & John Cassady with Olivier Coipel.

Last week the Avengers truly assembled. As if to remind us of exactly how many there are now, every single AVENGERS title disgorged itself onto our shelves:


Yes, we were well and truly avenged, though I’m not entirely sure who done us wrong in the first place.

So what is UNCANNY AVENGERS and what sets it apart from the pack?

Well, the artwork, for one, by John Cassady whom you’ll doubtless know from the genuinely ASTONISHING X-MEN VOL 1 and indeed VOL 2, and from all four volumes of the epic science-fiction masterpiece, PLANETARY. Cassady is class. His is a neo-classical art interjected with a gloriously attractive, smooth version of classic superhero stalwarts like George Perez and John Byrne. It has a solidity, and chic sense of style in its fashion sense. Cassidy, as I say, is class.

But when the script rolled in I suspect his eyes rolled up to the heavens: “Jesus Christ! I’m used to working with Joss Whedon and Warren Ellis. What the hell is this shit?”

It’s ill-thought-through and hideously overwritten – appallingly turgid, like wading through a sewage system that’s experienced intense evaporation during a singularly soporific heat wave.

Following the events of AVENGERS VS X-MEN, Captain America comes to the realisation that the Avengers never did enough to help the mutant population in the past, even though some of its earliest members (and several since) have themselves been mutants. That much makes sense, as does his idea to redress the public’s increased alarm by forming a specific Avengers squad composed both of the trusted (Thor and the good Captain himself) and ostracised mutant population (Wolverine, Rogue, Havok and the Scarlet Witch). It will send a signal that the Avengers stand by their mutant comrades, even though they’ve torn each other apart for weeks. Let’s forget that Brian Michael Bendis just ended his Avengers run with the Avengers themselves firmly in the media-manipulated dog house. Their endorsement really shouldn’t mean shit right now. Still.

The bit that makes no sense whatsoever is that, of all people, Havok is invited to lead this team in the field. Havok. It’s not just that he’s a D-list mutant (you may never have heard of) and brother to Cyclops who’s been responsible from the recent escalation in mutant phobia (something he’s escalating to this day – see ALL-NEW X-MEN VOL 1), it’s that Havok has little experience is successful leadership and, uh, Captain America’s on the team. Also, yes, why not welcome back the Scarlet Witch after her sanity-free sabbatical by immediately popping her on the same team as the mutants whose population she decimated in HOUSE OF M? (I know the proper definition of “decimated”, but it’s the term Marvel used, so…)

“But it will make for cool conflict, Stephen!”

Potentially, yes, but it doesn’t. It makes for painfully predictable grudges and, in any case, those are my points:

1) You can hear the writer (or editorial board) thinking, “This will make for cool conflict!” when you should never hear them whisper let alone think.

2) It makes no strategic sense whatsoever. And I thought Captain America was supposed to be the ultimate strategist in the Marvel Universe.

Anyway, the Red Skull has stolen the body of Professor Charles Xavier (RIP for three seconds) and surgically removed his nice juicy brain which he can somehow pop in his own cranial cavity without extracting his own and command all and sundry, telepathically, to misbehave. Yes, they’re going to vote BNP, UKIP or Tory (one of those xenophobic, hate-mongering hoards) and bring about a right old Reich or something.

As to the overwritten, see the return of the overwrought caption boxes explaining the action you’re supposed to see happen (and do) abandoned long ago by everyone other than Dame Christopher Claremont.

“The change happens immediately… the man is gone. The killer is set loose.”

“The assassin is silent. Were it not for the Red Skull’s new-found telepathy, he would surely be killed. “

Surely. Slaughter me now, or shut up.


Buy Uncanny Avengers vol 1: The Red Shadow 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.

Feynman s/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Myrick

Shame vol 2: Pursuit (£7-50, Renegade) by Lovern Kindzierski & John Bolton

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Stieg Larsson, Denise Mina & Leonardo Manco, Andrea Mutti

Bedlam vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image ) by Nick Spencer & Riley Rossmo, Frazer Irving

Peter Bagge’s  Other Stuff (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Peter Bagge

World Of Warcraft: Dark Riders h/c (£18-99, DC) by Mike Costa & Neil Googe

Aliens: Inhuman Condition h/c (£8-50, Dark Horse) by John Layman & Sam Keith

Don Quixote vol 2 (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Cervantes & Rob Davis

Marvel Illustrated: Pride & Prejudice s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jane Austen, Nancy Austen & Hugo Petrus

Destination X h/c (£9-99, Nobrow Press) by John Martz

Castle Waiting vol 2 h/c (Definitive Edition) (£22-50, Fantagraphics) by Linda Medley

All New X-Men vol 1: Here Comes Yesterday s/c (UK Ed’n) (£10-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen

Iron Man vol 1: Believe s/c (UK Ed’n) (£10-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Greg Land

Superman Action Comics vol 1: Superman And The Men Of Steel s/c (£12-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Rags Morales, Andy Kubert

Superman: Earth One vol 1 s/c (£9-99, DC) by J. Michael Straczynski & Shane Davis

Superman Action Comics vol 2: Bulletproof h/c (£18-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Rags Morales

Gunslinger Girl Omnibus vols 13-14 (£13-50, Seven Seas) by Yu Aida

Knights Of Sidonia vol 2 (£9-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

ITEM! Young Hellboy stars in an original graphic novel HELLBOY: THE MIDNIGHT CIRCUS by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo this Autumn. Early images of Duncan Fegredo’s SUPER-CUTE young Hellboy

ITEM! Preview pages for JUPITER’S LEGACY #1 by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely and now Preview pages for JUPITER’s LEGACY #2 by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely! We still have copies of #1, reviewed and linked to above! Plus you can pre-order JUPITER’S LEGACY #2 here (or, you know, add it to your standing order by phoning 0115 9508045 or emailing or even tweeting me @pagefortyfive.

ITEM! PORCELAIN: If you’ve yet to pick a copy up and gasp, this beautifully animated PORCELAIN trailer should do the trick!

ITEM! More on Terry Moore’s RACEL RISING TV deal. Brilliant!

ITEM! Interview with Ed Brubaker on the future of FATALE with gorgeous new art from Sean Phillips.

ITEM! Yay!  WE’RE OUT! The new long-form comic from ST. COLIN & THE DRAGON’s Philippa Rice who created our GameCity window last year. They’re out from their 2-D confines and into the real world! I’m just out.

BITE ‘EM! Squeaking of which… Lovely gay laydeez laughing at ludicrous preconceptions and prejudices with enormous good humour and hysterical wit.

It’s been quite the week, hasn’t it?

With Jonathan in Italy, Dominique and I spent an entire eight-day stretch week and indeed our first two Saturdays in over ten years working on the shop floor together. Oh, the laughter! Until, during the military exercise that is delivery day, Jonathan sent the following text: “Eating pizza and drinking wine on an island in the Italian lakes.”

The text I shot back was considerably shorter.

 – Stephen

One Response to “Reviews May 2013 week one”

  1. Reviews May 2013 week one « Escape Pod Comics Escape Pod Comics says:

    […] Stephen The post Reviews May 2013 week one appeared first on Page 45 | Comics & Graphic Novels | Independent Bookshop | […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.