Reviews October 2013 week five


The cadence of this comic is perfect.

I can hear every sentence spoken, and The Song Of Deathface Ginny, And How She Come To Be has all the quick, slick beats of one of those baritone western drawls, and is so well worded it could almost be a Nick Cave gallop like The Ballad Of Betty Coltrane.

 – Stephen on Pretty Deadly #1

Lighter Than My Shadow s/c (£20-00, Jonathan) by Katie Green –

This is a straight-up piece of autobiography about growing up with, struggling through, and eventually facing down the horrible beast that is eating disorders. From early power-struggles at the dinner table we see the seeds of future maladaption sown and though, yes, hindsight is a smug old bugger, it did make me wonder anew at some of the things adults say to children; things which may seem ‘normal’ or even helpful at the time but which can prove to be anything but.

We follow Katie as she grows up, transitioning from child to ‘young woman’, going up to high-school, then to University, becoming ever more aware of the expectations of the world around her. As the pressure grows and she feels less and less sure of herself we watch her turn food into a control mechanism; something to be regulated and rationed, an area of perfect clarity in a life of constant, bombarding change. Very quickly that ‘control’ becomes habitual, involuntary and all-consuming and the consequences change from nagging at the table to trips to the hospital.

Through her ups and downs (of which there are many) we see Katie come so close so many times to putting her finger right smack bang on the problem. She’s not a fool, we can see that she is intelligent and is putting a great deal of thought into her position and her problems, but time and again she is unable to reconcile her rational understanding of what she is doing with the ingrained, deeply woven patterns of behaviour that she just can’t help but follow. I think you’ll agree you don’t have to have an eating disorder to recognise that particular human trait.

In terms of comicbook craft and storytelling LIGHTER THAN MY SHADOW is absolutely bare-bones. The story is linear, factual and reads like a cross between a memoir and a diary. There are a few recurrent symbolic themes: the ever-present black cloud, the body which peels or poofs away into oblivion, the head-splitting internal voices; but mostly the cartooning is very straightforward and literal. There’s nothing ground-breaking or stunning in the art or the approach to the material, rather it is the story itself and what it tells us about an all-too-common struggle that kept me reading.


Buy Lighter Than My Shadow s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Pretty Deadly #1 (£2-75, Image) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios.

“Lord. Do they… do they still burn?”
“Never was my eyes that pained me, Sarah… it was always what they saw.”

Oh, the cadence of this comic is perfect.

I can hear every sentence spoken, and The Song Of Deathface Ginny, And How She Come To Be has all the quick, slick beats of one of those baritone western drawls, and is so well worded it could almost be a Nick Cave gallop like The Ballad Of Betty Coltrane.

“It all began when the Mason man took beauty for his bride
He quick turned a fool and made her a jewel
In the crown of his glittering pride

“He’d loved that gal since they were kids, a beauty for more than her skin
But he crushed that joy, when he made her a toy
To tease before covetous men.”

This is the story told by the girl in the vulture cloak whom blind Fox calls Sissy. Professional, travelling storytellers, they stand before the townsfolk on a gallows’ platform, Fox hoisting an illustrative cloth banner above the crowd on a cross. It reveals how Deathface Ginny, born in heartbroken captivity and adopted by Death was raised to be “a Reaper of Vengeance, a hunter of men who hav



Meanwhile, having sung for their supper, Sissy collects coins but is snagged by a ginger called Johnny (as Big Alice will refer to him later on). There is an exchange which each hides from the other (as Big Alice will find out later on). What Big Alice uncovers I will leave you to discover but Fox makes a desert-bound discovery too. All bets are off, allegiances take a desperate, unexpected turn and the hunt on horseback is on.

There are so many questions left hanging in the wind, but I like that! I want a first issue to mesmerise me (it did!) to get my mind whirring (it did!) and leave me desperately wanting more – and it did!

Moreover Emma Rios – along with colour artist Jordie Bellaire – has knocked this out the park. Both scream Paul Pope as loud as the battered crows caw. And, oh, those black feathers! The structure is complex, with inlaid panels revealing some secrets only with a careful scrutiny (for there are many things hidden here), while the surrounding narrative thunders on.

Lastly, big tip of the Stetson to DeConnick’s introductory afterword ‘Falling Up’ which is the most imaginatively contrived account I’ve read both of the origins of a comic and of its writer’s meandering path to creative fulfilment in the form of inspiration-orientated snapshots.


Buy Pretty Deadly #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Velvet #1 (£2-75, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting –

“…A group of highly trained spies and killers, and she’s played each of us… with ease. That was when I realized just how dangerous Velvet Templeton actually was.”

Spy stuff; does it ever get boring? VELVET certainly doesn’t, it’s as slick and punchy a first issue as you could want, taking us from blood on the cobbled side roads of Paris to a smoky London HQ to conspiracies in the rainy backstreets at a pace that’s exactly right for the set-up to a thriller.

An agent is down and the internal investigation quickly points to an inside job. How could it be anything else, given that the agency itself is so secret it barely exists? The idea of an error or an infiltration is almost unthinkable. But that blame has fallen so swiftly at the door of another agent doesn’t sit right with the Director’s P.A. Velvet Templeton, and she’s not going to leave it alone. Because she’s not ‘just’ the secretary, or at least, if she is now, that’s not what she always was.

The writing is excellent: as we follow Velvet’s internal monologue it feels like we are in perfect synch with her, feeling her misgivings as the evidence plays out around her and, as events accelerate, realising what she realises… just a fraction too late.

And the art is gorgeous. Clear, sharp and cinematic in the right places with Bettie Breitweiser colours ranging from murky to luminescent depending on the scene. The character design for Velvet is perfect, giving her age without making her look old, beauty without looking too soft and just enough human vulnerability to make it clear that she’s no super-being but she’ll still kick some arse should the need arise. Needless to say, by the end of issue one the need has most certainly arisen. If, like me, you’ve ever wondered what Emma Peel would do if push really came to shove then this book is for you. Good stuff!


Buy Velvet #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Three #1 (£2-25, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Ryan Kelly.

Set in Lakonia, Ancient Greece, sometime after my fiftieth birthday, this is Gillen’s direct reaction to having re-read Frank Miller & Lynn Varley’s 300 after a late-night booze bash.

Legend has it, you see, that a mere 300 noble Spartans defended the free West against an invading monarchy from the East in the form of quarter of a million Persians, and it’s a myth 300 perpetuates. But, as I make clear in my review, the Spartans had many allies; and, as Kieron makes clear in his afterword, the Spartans also had slaves: at least one each, maybe eight, on the battlefield carrying their shields. The Spartans never carried their own shields.

These were the Helots, owned not just by individual masters but the entire state, and their miserable plight forms the core of this series which is essentially about class.

Lords and masters inviting themselves to supper unannounced isn’t something unique to the Spartans. The British monarchy were doing it right up to Queen Victoria’s time, but at least most of them had the decency to phone ahead.  Not so here, and Eurytos and his bullish son plus their heavily armed entourage set foot in a communal Helot household demanding hospitality they also contrive an evening’s entertainment.

What follows makes for very uncomfortable reading, as well it should. You won’t be subjected to the sexual excesses of CALIGULA – both Gillen and Kelly restrain themselves, implying much, showing just enough – but nobility is not a quality very much in evidence here.

Sadism, slave hunting, humiliation, historical rebuttal and a curious reaction to wine are what you’re in for. I was completely unaware of that last one, but since this has all been meticulously researched with the help of Nottingham University’s Classics Department (Professor Stephen Hodgkinson, Lynn Fotheringham et al) I will add that biological predisposition to my knowledge box where it will rattle around virtually friendless.


Helot Terpander’s storytelling (via PHONOGRAM’s Kieron Gillen, obviously) is particularly impressive, its sentence structure in places reflecting that of the classics I translated at school, while Ryan Kelly you may know from Brian Wood’s magnificent LOCAL, THE NEW YORK FOUR and THE NEW YORK FIVE, all highly recommended pieces of contemporary comicbook fiction starring women. I’m delighted to report that his eye for history and frenzy is equally impressive and, combined with some startling work by colourist Jordie Bellaire, you will know the true meaning of bloodlust.


Buy Three #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Fran h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring.

Rarely do I quote from Woodring’s works – being silent, that proves problematic – but I thought I’d make an exception for the ‘Author’s note’ which had me in stitches. But no, I’ll leave you to discover that for yourself.

Discovery is what Jim Woodring’s all about: discovery, temptation, transmogrification, cat-killing curiosity, cause-and-often-unexpected-effect, surreal, dream-like journeys and the sheer love of visual craftsmanship deployed by a shaman whose imagination seems limitless. Here his trademark, rippled-textured contours as if printed from the most intricately carved woodcuts are more splendid than ever, particularly down underground where a thief has built up quite an esoteric stash.

Rarely if ever are they about romance, except between loyal pets Pupshaw and Pushpaw who fit together so snugly side by side as if carved and then halved from the same whole cloth. But now Frank has found Fran in CONGRESS OF THE ANIMALS (I would seriously read that first and then again afterwards but SPOILERS!) and poor Pupshaw and Pushpaw aren’t at all sure what to make of her.

She’s playful and physical and bursting with energy – maybe too much energy for our Frank, for he is dragged out of bed when hoping of a lazy lie-in. Still at least it’s all play, so cool! There’s piggy-backs, hide and seek, chase-me, climbing a tree, a holding of hands and then sunset.

You’re getting suspicious, aren’t you?


As I say, FRANK is all about discovery and our uncharacteristically fortunate Frank discovers a treasure-trove of appropriated property including a psychic projector – a memoryscope if you like – and pops it on his noggin. Cue rewind through CONGRESS OF THE ANIMALS, the events which led Frank to co-habitational bliss. He is delighted! Next it is Pupshaw and Pushpaw’s turn and they are delighted too. Now it is Fran’s turn…

I’ve written far more detailed reviews of Jim Woodring books including WEATHERCRAFT which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, but I think I’ve said enough. I may have said too much.

So this is me in the corner, recommending this book like nobody’s business not only because he was our Mark’s favourite comicbook creator of all time, but because the journeys have proved increasingly more intriguing, the craftsmanship, improbably, keeps on improving, and there are moments here which you will undoubtedly recognise in your own lives.

I have one word for you here: trust.

And that’s not about buying this book; it’s about the book itself.


Buy Fran and read the Page 45 review here

The Spectral Engine h/c (£20-99, McClelland & Stewart) by Ray Fawkes…

Spooky, steamy shenanigans from the creator of Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month ONE SOUL! The spectral engine chugs its relentless course across Canada collecting the spiritual remains of unfortunates and ne’er do wells alike who have demised in its vicinity. The spectral engine makes no judgements, passes no verdicts, merely collects its passengers and continues on its way.

Now this is how to do a ghost story, or more precisely an anthology of ghost stories! Based on several real-life events taken from history, Ray takes us on a journey to the creepier side of Canada.

Illustrated in a style than seems to fall pretty much half way between MERCY and ONE SOUL on a scale of scratchy to smooth, I think it is more than likely to satisfy fans of both. Also, Ray’s excellent writing here demonstrates just how much research he has clearly done on each of his vignettes, and the conceit of the spectral engine provides the perfect eternal and indeed infernal line upon which to make his stories seamless connect to one another. All aboard!


Buy The Spectral Engine h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Hartlepool Monkey h/c (£12-99, Knockabout) by Wilfred Lupano & Jeremie Moreau.

“Charlie, hanging is not a performance, still less an entertainment. Hanging means a man is dying. There is nothing amusing about that.”

Agreed! Which is why this comedy should never have been attempted. This works not for me on so many levels.

Oh, its heart is in the right place as evidenced by its afterword which is infinitely more enjoyable that the contents which precede it. But intentions are one thing and execution is another. The execution here – literally, figuratively and in terms of story content – is horrific, and this should have been all horror, total tragedy and zero comedy.

Worse still the comedy comes in the form of shouty-shouty kids-comics-for-adults claptrap in the form of scatological shit that never impresses me, duff monkeying-around jokes and visual gah-we’re-all-mad-around-here-aren’t-we stereotypes which completely undercut what should have been the central point:

Ignorance is rife yet nothing to be proud of. Ignorance is what kills people.

In this case it kills a chimpanzee, abducted from its homeland, dressed in French regalia and adopted as the mascot of a French sailing vessel which is shipwrecked off the shores of British town Hartlepool. Its two most abused shipmates are washed ashore: the cabin boy and its monkeeeeeeeeeeeeeey. The town takes the cabin boy in, captures its monkeeeeeeeeeeeeey and assume it is both a Frenchman and but the vanguard for a fully fledged invasion. Because Hartlepool.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, all these maladroit misconceptions are exposed for what they are, but I would return to my central concern: this should not be a comedy and the scenes in which the chimpanzee is incarcerated (seen from its side though gaps in the slats of its stark, dark, claustrophobic prison) and then shaved with bloody cuts, tears and smears before appearing before a bumbling, hastily assembled open-air court are horrific.

If you think I am taking the message out on the messenger, you could be right. You could be. It is simply a matter of taste.

You could claim the creators succeeded: they made the abuse of an innocent animal so repellent that it has shaken me to my core. That is just as it should be. So why all the gags, eh? It’s not that funny, is it?

Almost finally, the lettering is awful: so thin I could barely read it.

Also, stop with the relentless shouty-shouty bollocks. Attempt some degree of nuance at least.



Buy The Hartlepool Monkey h/c and read the Page 45 review here

ERF h/c (£10-99, 2 Badgers And Spitfire) by Garth Ennis & Rob Steen.

From the writer of PREACHER,and so much more you must never let you child near, comes a book for the very youngest of readers, and it has a heart of gold. It still stands a fair chance of traumatising your children for life, and since this isn’t for you I can spoil it with the revelation that it’s about self-sacrifice and appreciating your friends while you have them.

The four friends in question are amongst the first sea-dwellers to discover they have lungs and get all amphibious on the planet. Each has a specialised skill: Figwillop’s a fast-mover, The Booper is a chameleon able to blend in with his environment to the point of invisibility, KWAAH! can inflate himself to twice his natural size, while Erf… is tiny and hasn’t discovered anything special about himself yet. Maybe he never will.

Still, they’re happy to let him tag along and swim in their shadow. Now that they’ve discovered lungs, however, it’s time to lug themselves ashore, onto a small island where they discover someone got there first. He’s mean, he’s green and he’s hungry. He is… the Colossux! He is, however, reasonable and, after much pleading, agrees to eat only one of them for breakfast. They have until morning to decide amongst themselves which one of them becomes so much black pudding.

“Don’t even THINK about escape.
“Because I am much, much faster than you,” he told Figwillop.
“And I can smell anyone in disguise,” he told The Booper.
“And I can eat anyone twice your size,” he told KWAAH!
“And I can… yes, well, anyway,” he told Erf.

The art is everything you would expect from the cover, although it’s slightly less in-your-face and it’s a shame you can’t see Erf’s friends. I don’t have much more to say about it than that except that our current copies appear to be signed and, judging by the thanks in the back, I think it began life as a Kickstarter.


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

Age Of Ultron (UK Edition) s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, others & Bryan Hitch, others.

It’s over. They lost. We lost everything.

Civilisation as we know it is effectively over; New York one massive, mangled wreckage, its once vainglorious skyscrapers crumbling into the yawning crevasses of its underground system where the streets and pavements used to be. As lightning crackles rather than flashes overhead, something unimaginably massive hovers above the ruins – an awful, futuristic construction of unknown intent. Nothing and no one is moving. It’s dead.

Move out from under its apocalyptic epicentre, however, and although the suburbs look like a war zone, some of the tenements still stand, barely, and there are pockets of life like this hooker on the street, making a midnight house call. The thugs that answer the door are heavily armed, one with the makings of an exoskeleton. Still, open the door they did – and that’s all he needs. That’s what Hawkeye’s been waiting for…

The opening was off-the-scale epic, and I hadn’t been so knocked out or excited about a Marvel or DC event in years. We’re talking the opening two seasons of ULTIMATES by Millar and Hitch. We’re talking KINGDOM COME which begins after things have already gone wrong and it’s about to grow catastrophically worse. Only here, it’s already happened. Here it couldn’t really get any worse. Here it’s more up close and personal.

What’s left of Marvel’s Avengers, Fantastic Four and X-Men are all but cowering in seclusion, holed up in a makeshift, appropriated bunker, for venturing out means almost instant detection. Leave and you don’t come back. Leave and you won’t be let back – you could be tracked or tagged.

It seems that only one of them is prepared to take that risk, break the rules and sneak out into the night – even for one of their own. Somewhere in a basement of that tenement is one of their friends and colleagues, tied to a chair and almost beaten to death by a small army of humans armed to the teeth and two former crimelords you’ll know. They have an arrangement with Ultron. Hawkeye doesn’t give a shit.

Every single page of the first few chapters pencilled by Bryn Hitch knocked me sideways – the action was monumental and the atmosphere of desperation, almost defeatism from everyone except Hawkeye and the mate he went to rescue, was sustained throughout…


… Until Bryan Hitch was replaced as artist halfway through, and it was like watching a slow puncture on a tyre as the wind blew out of the story’s sail. Additionally, it was as if that wheel had already been changed because it didn’t even read like the same tale to me, as a couple of the cast took centre-stage leaving the rest to linger on the temporal sidelines. Indeed, it didn’t so much end as serve as an introduction to other, lesser series. Given what has now emerged about whither those series are heading and to what effect, I suspect the change of direction, which seemed such a severe swerve to me, was dictated editorially or from even further on high after half the work had been completed on this book so very long ago.

Shame. On so many levels.

Collects AGE OF ULTRON #1-10 and #10AI.


Buy Age Of Ultron and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers vol 3: Infinity Prelude h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer & Mike Deodato Jr., Stefano Caselli.

In which things grow increasingly ominous.

You’re reading INFINITY, aren’t you? I reviewed the first issue. All cosmic hell is about to break loose and Thor can surely sense it.

Over in this series’ sister title, NEW AVENGERS, it’s all been about death: universal extinction through dimensional incursions of parallel Earths. Here it’s about life and evolution (see AVENGERS VOL 1: AVENGERS WORLD and AVENGERS VOL 2: THE LAST WHITE EVENT), and as this volume kicks off the Avengers have inherited a new race of zebra-striped humanoids hatchlings. Within days the babies have become children and they seem neither to sleep nor eat and can breathe underwater without gills. They are bursting with energy, insatiably inquisitive and tenacious as hell. They could be immortal. They need to be taught.

Clint Barton AKA HAWKEYE has left his bunch of charges to their own devices to climb a giant rock in the shallows while he and his lady-friend Jessica Drewe AKA Spider-Woman sunbathe on a tropical beach.

“I think the deal was they were supposed to be learning something. Something about accountability.”
“Hey, I’m pretty sure they saw you rubbing the sunscreen on my back and vice versa. I say, lesson learned, kiddo. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about – I was an orphan and look how I turned out.”

It’s an exchange reprised later on when an arrow unexpectedly saves the children from a leaping sabre-tooth lion.

“Ahem! Accountability – being there when it counts.”
“He was starting to burn.”

And I’m afraid, by and large, that that’s where the comedy’s curtailed. For signals are being sent across all known space and something very wicked is heading our way.


Buy Avengers vol 3: Infinity Prelude h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Joker: Death Of The Family h/c (£22-50, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Greg Capullo, various…

I was really looking forward to this, but I wonder if I understood the punchline actually, because I didn’t really get it. I was expecting the mental equivalent of acid squirted in my eyes from a fake flower and instead I got what felt like a gentle tickle under the chin with a buttercup…

Without giving too much away things seemed to be building to a particularly dramatic conclusion, as the Joker threatens to rock the Bat family to its very foundations with revelations of dark secrets that Bruce has been keeping from them all, but when you finally get the big reveal, it all seemed rather anti-climatic to me. It just felt like a golden opportunity missed to open a new dramatic chapter in Bat-history by disclosing something spectacular. Also, as seems to be the new thing with DC, this material will be duplicated in all the various individual characters’ books.

For the record this collects BATMAN #17, CATWOMAN #13-14, BATGIRL #14-16, BATMAN AND ROBIN #15-17, NIGHTWING #15-16, DETECTIVE COMICS #16-17, RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #15-16 and TEEN TITANS #15, plus pages from BATMAN #13, BATGIRL #13, NIGHTWING #14, RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #13-14, SUICIDE SQUAD #14-15 and TEEN TITANS #14 and 16.


Buy The Joker: Death Of The Family h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Green Lantern vol 3: The End h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke, various…

All good things come to an end. Or just peter out.

So, Geoff Johns’ run that began several years ago with GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH finally concludes with an equally titularly appropriate tome, and in fairness it was pretty epic for much of it. I can’t personally remember GL being so consistently well written for such a long time. Yes, it didn’t really have much to say in terms of socio-political commentary, well nothing at all, frankly (unlike the now sadly out of print classic Hal and Ollie ‘on the road’ material from the 70’s), it was simply a very colourful rainbow hued slug-fest, but it was great, great fun taking in both the BLACKEST NIGHT and BRIGHTEST DAY events along the way.

Possibly, probably, not helped by the New 52 non-reboot which didn’t really affect the Green Lantern titles at all story-wise, but certainly provided a jumping off point for a lot of people judging by the single issue sales, it did feel, despite some decent ideas, that it had begun to wane in the last couple of years. This concluding volume is fairly typical of what has preceded it throughout though, culminating in yet another big punch-up.

Well, almost… because then there is a fairly excruciating postscript which shows how all our Lanterns get their future happy-ever-afters as narrated from the Book Of Oa by a mysterious unnamed character (who I am pretty sure is supposed to be Sinestro). Except of course, the future is constantly being written, by new writers, so why even bother showing things which clearly are not going to come to pass? Schmaltz for schmaltz sake, but I guess I can forgive Geoff Johns this one indulgence. He’s earned it.

What I can’t forgive, however, is the fact that pretty much half this volume has already been published in GREEN LANTERN: RISE OF THE THIRD ARMY. This current DC tactic of repeatedly publishing the same material twice is starting to wear very, very thin indeed, and I’m not even buying the books. As greedy as Larfleeze frankly, which as long term GL readers will know, is saying something.

Also, is it just me or is the cover of this volume like some bizarre boy band pose?


Buy Green Lantern vol 3: The End h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story s/c (£10-99) 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. There have been no lawsuits. 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 smog-screen? You’ll laugh, I promise.


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

Judge Dredd: Year One s/c (£13-50, IDW) by Matt Smith & Simon Coleby…

Dredd had been on the streets close to a year. The academy had prepared him as best it could, but it was here where he’d learn what the city would throw at him, in all its strange varieties.

“Quite a haul, and it’s not even nine o’clock.”
“I’m an early riser.”
“Convenient. You can be in a cube by midday. Two years.”

Yes, this much more like it. After my disappointment at the rather tepid other recent IDW Judge Dredd title, it seems I am going to get what I wanted after all. A no-nonsense, not remotely played for laughs, sci-fi/crime mash up with a young Joe taking names and busting heads. I say not played for laughs, but as ever Dredd’s laid back, Jack Dee deadpan delivery of his lines always makes me chuckle. Instantly I am gripped like I’ve been sprayed with a can of Boing by the story Matt Smith has opened with, of normal juves suddenly exhibiting telekinetic powers, some of whom then deciding to take advantage of their new found abilities for the sort of behaviour you just don’t expect from fine upstanding citizens of the big Meg! Good job we’ve got a fresh, well marginally less granite faced, Dredd, only just out of the academy determined to take down any and all perps as hard as humanely possible.

As he starts to investigate in conjunction with the newly formed Psi Division, it becomes clear there’s something most strange indeed going on, and despite his intense distrust of anything outside his comfort zone, i.e. punching distance or Lawgiver range, he’ll grudgingly admit the Psi Judges’ unusual methods are going to be very necessary in his burgeoning crusade to clean up the streets.

This title, if it stays like this, is going to appeal to Dredd purists and sci-fi / crime buffs alike. I would have liked to see an even more lean, sinewy Dredd, as I remember from the very early days of 2000AD, but at least Simon Coleby hasn’t gone for the steroid abuser look you so often see Dredd portrayed as these days. He looks like he means business though, and when that business is cracking heads with your daystick, you certainly do need to look tough! An excellent first volume, no need to dispatch a Rigelian hotshot to IDW just yet…


Buy Judge Dredd: Year One 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.


Rage Of Poseidon h/c (£22-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anders Nilsen

Take Away! (£9-99, Blank Slate) by Lizz Lunney

Mara (£9-99, Image) by Brian Wood & Ming Doyle

Assassin’s Creed vol 4: Hawk h/c (£8-99, Titan) by Corbeyran & Djillali Defali

Assassin’s Creed vols 1-3: The Ankh Of Isis Trilogy h/c (£18-99, Titan) by Corbeyran & Djillali Defali

Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 6: The Search Part 3 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru

Charley’s War vol 10: The End (£14-99, Titan) by Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun

Dark Satanic Mills (£12-99, Walker) by Marcus Sedgwick, Julian Sedgwick & John Higgins, Marc Olivent

Explorer vol 2: Lost Islands (£7-99, Amulet) by Kazu Kibuishi and chums

The Last Of Us s/c (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Neil Druckmann & Faith Erin Hicks

Legend Of The Scarlet Blades Deluxe h/c Slipcase Edition (£37-99, Humanoids) by Saverio Tenuta

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates Disassembled s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Carmine Di Giandomenico

Uncanny Avengers vol 2: The Apocalypse Twins h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender, Gerry Duggan & Daniel Acuna, Adam Kubert

Thor Vs. Thanos s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dan Jurgens & John Romita, Michael Ryan, Jerry Ordway, Jose Ladronn

Rosario + Vampire Season II vol 12 (£6-99, Viz) by Akihisa Ikeda

Claymore vol 23 (£6-99, Viz) by Norihiro Yagi

Magi vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Shinobu Ohtaka

Bleach vol 58 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

07-Ghost vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Yuki Amemiya

My Neighbour Totoro Picture Book h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hayao Miyazaki & various

Sankarea vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Mitsuru Hattori


ITEM! Absolutely atrocious. You won’t believe what you read. Retailers: never, EVER criticise a customer’s taste in comics! Customers pay your wages. This is beyond arrogant. It is sneering and horrible and harms everyone’s fun. This is all about fun!

ITEM! PRETTY DEADLY preview! Looks pretty tasty, huh? Well, it is very tasty indeed, with one of the most imaginative back-matter introductions I’ve ever read. So not only is that retailer an utter cock, but he has no taste in comics. PRETTY DEADLY #1 reviewed above.

ITEM! Jaime Hernandez illustrates deluxe edition of Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her. Feel free to order via or phone 0115 9508045.

ITEM! IN THE DARK comicbook horror anthology Kickstarter.

ITEM! This marks the 3rd Anniversary of the Page 45 Weekly Reviews so far published every single consecutive Wednesday without fail. Watch me bugger that up now!

Retail can be a highly unpredictable environment, particularly on New Comics Day. Which is a Wednesday, yes! So this unbroken record is little short of miraculous.

There are loads of deadlines that go on behind the scenes – orders, VAT returns, Nottingham Post reviews etc – but this is the most public and I think it’s important.

You should be able to rely on Page 45 for everything from shop-floor customer service and recommendations to prompt and perfectly packaged mail order and, for creators and distributors, payment on time. So it should be for our weekly reviews: you’d scream if Doctor Who didn’t air on its relevant Saturday!

Big love, then, to Jonathan (JR), Dominique (DK), formerly Tom (TR) and now Jodie Paterson (JP) for helping me keep this blog healthy, diverse and eloquent.

And just as much love to Jonathan for teaching me with ridiculous patience how to format these blogs including HTML coding, how to glean and load images, how to format those images, how to link other titles within each review to their relevant product page (and so review) and for sorting out all the little troubles that pop up along the way. And they do – trust me!

You really have no idea how much time and ingenuity Jonathan and Dominique put into sorting our tech (and mine!) so a round of applause is due. Also to Chris Dicken of Random River for the site’s solid foundations, initial instruction, and monthly tweaks and twirls.

It’s also the third anniversary of the website itself which, on materialisation, Kieron Gillen described as “crush-worthy”. I’ve never forgotten that.

Roll website credits: they do make me laugh!

Thank you for reading!

– Stephen (SLH)


To the photographer who made me climb the Robin Hood statue: I’m still sobbing.

Photos and feature in tomorrow’s Nottingham Post. 31/10/13 Halloween!

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