Reviews December 2013 week one

A blonde biochemist invents a shrinking serum and – with foresight – a growth serum which – with hindsight – he probably shouldn’t have left on a window ledge. He then pours the shrinking serum on his wrist thereby reducing his entire body to two millimetres tall only to realise with a somewhat unscientific surprise that he can no longer reach the fucking window ledge.

– Stephen on Marvel Masterworks: Ant-Man / Giant Man, scientific genius

Rules Of Summer h/c (£14-99, Lothian) by Shaun Tan.

“Never break the rules. Especially if you don’t understand them.”

From the creator of THE ARRIVAL, TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA, THE LOST THING, THE RABBITS etc comes what appears at first to be a slightly more random affair, repurposing or simply deploying, for example, the image of the gigantic hare which amused me no end in THE BIRD KING AND OTHER SKETCHES for the cautionary “Never leave a red sock on the clothes line”. Which, given the consequences as two boys huddle under an inadequately low wooden fence beneath the enormous red eye of an evidently rabid rabbit, seems to be sound if surreal advice.

Some of the tiniest mistakes can have the most enormous consequences. I doubt you’ll step on a snail again. Some remain unknown (“Never drop your jar”) while others could never in a million years have been predicted (“Never eat the last olive at a party”).

As the book progesses, however, the connections between the seemingly disparate caveats begins to emerge. It seems to say, “Listen to your older brother – he knows what he’s talking about!” For it’s always the younger one who puts his foot in it.

“Never be late for a parade” is the deal breaker first separating the two, and if you turn back to the connected cover you will spot the older lad’s scowling disapproval. After that the smaller boy faces increasing exclusion, peering mournfully through their lounge window from the outside to see his brother watching television at night with a giant cat, their slippers lined up side by side. The anthropomorphic cat has even supplanted him on the family portrait above. “Never give your keys to a stranger.”

The most poignant one follows immediately afterwards. The older sibling is standing in a walled garden’s tiny doorway, silhoetted against the golden glowing light of the impossibly radiant trees festooned with exotically colourful birds within. He is emphatically and implaccably blocking the way of his smaller brother who is kneeling, hands clasped beseachingly, his plaintive prayers ignored. “Never forget your password.”

As to what happens next…

One of the things I love most about Shaun Tan is that he always has something to say. Another is that he will adapt his style – and even change the media he uses – each time to suit the scenario. Here the oil paint is rich and thick. On the title page you can see where the gooey paint has been pulled across the board or canvas like so much buttercream icing to form a path for the boys to parade down, one blowing his horn, the other banging his drum and, oh – wouldn’t you know it? – he’s just dropped his drum stick.

The alternative message, of course, is, “Hey! Give the lad a little leeway! He’s younger than you and has much to learn. And he is, after all, your brother.”

SLH

Buy Rules Of Summer h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Throw Your Keys Away (£6-00, self-published) by Dan Berry.

Signed and squiggled-in for free!

Dan Berry teaches creating comics for a living, and there is so much to his craft that others would do well to emulate, especially the comedians. I see way too many panels which are lifeless and static, whereas Dan’s are gleeful, bursting with movement and energy especially during the height of self-mockery.

‘I Am So Beloved By Everybody’ is a masterclass. Both fluid and fluent, the tongue-in-cheek self-celebration leaps nimbly from one absurd accomplishment to the next as Dan the Man prances and dances like a peripatetic primate. See him kicking his legs up and gesticulating wildly on the conquered corpse of a poor old horse his competitive jousting has skewered! It shouldn’t be funny, but it is, both his and his opponent’s lances sticking out of one of two nags he’s managed to knock down in one. Many lesser cartoonists would have simply listed the accomplishments, but this is a sequence of segues.

 

The same bright colours and lithe style are employed in the titular daydream of treetop liberation before Dan the Real Man drops falls to earth with a thud.

Markedly different, however, is ‘The Devil’s Steps’ which I have a funny feeling I’m familiar with. Here the evening colours are deep and rich and tasty greens which I would never have thought of employing, complemented beautifully by the blood-clot brown of a bovine devil who really hasn’t thought his location through. How can such dark colours glow?

Sign up to one of Dan’s courses: you will learn stuff. http://www.nwsad.co.uk/illustration/, since you ask.

From the creator of CAT ISLAND, HEY YOU! which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and THE SUITCASE which we also declared Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and is so mighty fine that it really should have been up for a British Comics Award.

SLH

Buy Throw Your Keys Away and read the Page 45 review here

Carry Me (£6-00, Great Beast) by Dan Berry.

One bright summer’s day a Dad sets off, his small daughter held gently in the crook of one arm. They cross an ornamental stone bridge then turn left down a long, straight parth. A bank of lush, thick foliage rises to their left while to their right an open, grassy field slopes gently upwards as far as the eye can see.

It’s going to be good day. It’s going to be a great walk.

No. It is going to be absolutely terrifying.

In the ideal order of things, if you’re going to have a family, we nurture and protect our children even as we ourselves grow old, then hope to be looked after in turn. But that comes with a certain degree of fear: a fear of failing, a fear of age, a fear of frailty, a fear of death. And they do say that dogs sense fear, don’t they?

Family features substantially in Dan Berry’s work, even if in THROW AWAY YOUR KEYS he dreams of abandoning it, but it’s always for grin-inducingly comedic purposes. CARRY ME’s tone could not be more startlingly different.

It’s a silent fable so Dan has concentrated on his other strengths: successful sequential storytelling, form, colour and sense of space. ‘Algiers’ in HEY YOU! was full of white and so full of light. Here the very sky is strangled as anxiety levels explode. The true path becomes obliterated by impenetrable knots of branches barely glimpsed throughly the suffocatingly dark and sickly green leaves. The sense of panic-inducing claustrophia is intense. Yet still they struggle on.

The moment when I first realised the protagonist began aging was electrifying and, yes, there is far more to this journey than I have even begun let on.

Bonus: all of Page 45’s copies are signed and sketched in – at this stage, surprising no one! Cheers, Dan!

SLH

Buy Carry Me and read the Page 45 review here

Cat Island (£6-00) by Dan Berry.

Signed and sketched in for free! Cat sketches: you want!

Dan does love his production value: thick, silky smooth stock this time, showcasing a fine pen line and glowing, autumnal colours. There are trees and leaves galore in this suburban battle for territorial supremacy between one feather-ruffled man with a freshly cleaned car and his muddy-pawed moggie. You know who’s going to win, right? But wait; add to the domestic drama a newborn baby with its routine-wrecking demands and anything could happen. Anyone who’s ever had a baby will roll their eyes with recognition.

“As far as anybody could tell, the baby had three modes: 1. Crying because she was tired. 2. Crying because she had pooped. 3. Crying.”

Really, I think our Jonathan should have been reviewing this.

 

So what exactly is the Cat Island? Nope, no clues, but fans of Jeffrey Brown’s CAT GETTING OUT OF A BAG AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS and CATS ARE WEIRD AND MORE OBSERVATIONS will instantly fall for Dan’s lithe, leaf-chasing and occasionally petulant puss who obviously steals the show, while its insouciance put me in mind of Lizz Lunney. Superb, silent punchline that will have you roaring with laughter.

SLH

Buy Cat Island and read the Page 45 review here

Giant Days 3 (£4-99) by John Allison…

“Isn’t that Thom from Indie Society?”
“Yeah, with his pride and joy. Hey THOM, what’s going on?”
“Heh, just giving Vetiver a polish.”
“Vetiver?”
“My 1990 Fiat Panda. Once owned by David Gedge of the Wedding Present.”
“Literally the most indie car EVER.”
“Fully restored. My parents got her for my 18th birthday. Great for getting to gigs. We don’t get the good bands here very often.”
“Well, goodnight, Thom. Remember, hands on top of the duvet.”

Ha ha, the University adventures of Susan Ptolemy and Daisy Wooton continues, and they have a new friend in the shape of acid-tongued Erin as they investigate the merits of the Indie music society, whilst their chum Esther de Groot gets further lured to the dark side by the Black Metal Society. Ed Gemmell, meanwhile, is still following Esther around like a lost puppy dog, bless him, even though Black Metal really is absolutely not his scene at all. This series just gets funnier and funnier, it really does, I just need John to bring it out faster! The next BAD MACHINERY collection, BAD MACHINERY: THE CASE OF THE GOOD BOY is reasonably imminent though in March 2014.

JR

Buy Giant Days 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Hilda And The Midnight Giant new edition (£12-95, Flying Eye Books) by Luke Pearson.

Winner of the British Comics Award 2012 in the best Young Readers category as judged by Leeds schoolchildren, this new edition comes with a sparkly spine-edge trimming.

Oh, the sheer wonder of it all! That’s what you need to light up the eyes and fire up the minds of young readers: wonder, surprise and a protagonist o’er-brimming with an insatiable curiosity. Plucky young Hilda’s is infectious!

Living out in the wilds in a craggy valley surrounded by mountains, Hilda and her mother have recently and quite unexpectedly come under siege from the Hidden People. They’ve never spotted one and have no idea where they live, but this is their sixth little letter this week! And, oh dear, it’s yet another demand for mother and daughter to up sticks and leave the valley for good! But when Hilda posts a note of her own asking them to leave her alone, their home is bombarded by stones, their books seem to rip themselves to shreds and it’s almost too much for Mum. Hilda, however, is undaunted. She’s determined to discover who these tiny terrorists are, why they’re so suddenly up in arms and see if she can’t set things straight. Of course, there’s also the question of the vast silhouette that has loomed into view. Bigger than the nearest mountain, its eerie black body blocks out the stars, its white eyes silently scanning the horizon as if in search of something…

From the creator of SOME PEOPLE, EVERYTHING WE MISS, the other two HILDA books, this a breath-takingly beautiful book, its midnight blues as rich in colour as the daylight scenes. There’s more than a dash of Jordan Crane’s THE CLOUDS ABOVE to the floating woofs migrating across the sky like fluffy, wide-eyed, long-tailed tadpoles, while the giant is pure Tom Gauld. But there’s one monumental page on which the Midnight Giant fills the frame from head to toe, bent on one knee whose composition – you may laugh – instantly reminded me of Bryan Hitch’s Giant Man during his first growth spurt in ULTIMATES VOLUME ONE! The pink glow on the horizon is a golden touch.

There are some great gags that seem to spring spontaneously from the cartooning, while others are stored up for later with exquisite timing (you’ll love the infestation of nittens!) and a tea joke that’s still making me smile several hours later. Hilda herself is a model of inquisitiveness, resolve and resourcefulness, the plight of the Midnight Giant is truly touching, and adults will groan with recognition at the real reason behind the Hidden People’s sudden animosity. Above all, though, it’s the wonder of it all which will fill many a subsequent dream, so highly recommended to people of all sizes: no height restrictions at all.

SLH

Buy Hilda And The Midnight Giant and read the Page 45 review here

Sex vol 1: Summer Of Hard (£7-50, Image) by Joe Casey & Piotr Kowalski.

Confession / concession: I gave up after three chapters but I flicked ahead, noted the explicit fellatio so, by the time you read this, both our copies will be hermetically sealed and shored up on the top shelf with Top Shelf’s CHESTER 5000 XYV. Before I gave up, however…

First off, Kowalski’s giant semi-futuristic cityscape is impressive: lots of ridiculously tall skyscrapers squeezed onto Saturn City’s central island radiating bridges like the sun, and then blotting out every square inch of it for miles and miles beyond. The inking effect is like Terry Austin with bits missing.

I didn’t find his sex scenes sexy – they were way too cold and clinical for me – but then nor did I find them offensive. I found two of Casey’s so-far peripheral gay characters fey and affected but then, as a gay man, I find a lot of gay men fey and affected so I didn’t take offence to that, either. There’s nothing wrong with being fey, but I cannot abide affectation. (Get me!)

What did offend me were the variously and – as far as I can tell – randomly coloured emphases instead of italics or bold: an unneccessary departure/gimmick (one could hardly call it an innovation) which was distracting and ugly, cluttering the speech balloons and therefore the pages themselves. It also served to remind one how overused these emphases are in corporate comics. I think I’ve used two in this entire review whereas Casey uses up to four per single speech balloon.

The storytelling didn’t strike me as particularly gripping, either. Basically a certain Mr. Cooke of Cooke Industries is returning to the fold after a sabbatical, but doesn’t seem that interested in doing anything beyond exercising. He doesn’t seem interested in taking strategy meetings, photo ops, or even masturbating like all the other punters do when visiting a brothel as voyeur. The one thing he is definitely not interested in doing is resuming his role as some sort of superhero (details sketchy even by the third chapter) because I think something went tits-up and certainly somebody died at some point because there’s a grave on the very first page. Meanwhile, his current lack of vigilance in that department encourages playas to contemplate playing.

It is this very vaguery after some sixty-odd pages that made me give up. No one had said anything remotely interesting.

What I find unlikely is that the titular sex (“Huh huh – he said titular!”) will prove remotely relevant to the proceedings: i.e. any thematic core or even central plot development which would merit the comic’s title. My entirely uninformed guess was that SEX was chosen for publicity purposes so that dozens of predictably inane retailers would tweet:

“We have SEX!”
“Come to us for SEX!”
“Pay us for SEX!”

And indeed they have done so. I don’t mind puerility any more than I mind fey, but I have nothing but contempt for the fucking obvious.

We sold a great many copies of the first issue, but by the fourth issue no one was biting. Nobody shopping at Page 45 seems to want SEX. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha-ha. *slow claps*

Buy SEX CRIMINALS by Fraction and Zdarsky instead. That has something to say and the skill with which to say it.

SLH

Buy Sex vol 1: Summer Of Hard and read the Page 45 review here

Dong Xoai s/c restocks (£14-99, DC) by Joe Kubert…

“I am Lt. Sung. I have been sent to determine conditions and your needs. I do not agree with your estimate of danger. Certainly there are signs of V.C. in the vicinity – but no evidence of an imminent attack. My men and I will return to our headquarters immediately. My recommendation will be for you to proceed with your preparations with materials on hand.

Based on true testimony by the surviving Special Forces members on the wrong end of one of the most one-sided battles in the Vietnam War, this account tries to capture the completely hellish insanity of what that particular flashpoint must have felt like for those caught up in it, including their increasing sense of dread beforehand as the inevitable moment approached. It can’t do this of course in exactly the way that say, the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan perfectly captured the absolute horror of battle, but what it does do is lay out a very well documented and precise timeline both in the weeks beforehand and then during the battle, explaining the orders given to and actions taken by the Special Forces group, first to merely observe and assist in training the local forces in securing their compound, then to help defend the indefensible as it became apparent the onslaught was coming. If ever the phrase ‘hold the line’ were appropriate, it was at Dong Xoai.

At first glance the art looks like little more than his initial pencil roughs tidied up slightly. You’d think this would detract from the work, but actually it helps give that sense of the heroic men of Special Forces Detachment A-342 moving dutifully and inevitably toward their fate.

JR

Buy Dong Xoai s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Masterworks: Ant-Man / Giant-Man vol 1 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby, Don Heck with Dick Ayers, Larry Lieber.

Don’t worry, this isn’t the actual cover: all our MARVEL MASTERWORKS s/cs come with the sympathetically enhanced “painterly” covers, chic black background and silver lettering, regardless of what you see on our product pages.

Here’s the basic premise: a blonde biochemist invents a shrinking serum and – with foresight – a growth serum which – with hindsight – he probably shouldn’t have left on a window ledge. He then pours the shrinking serum on his wrist thereby reducing his entire body to two millimetres tall only to realise with a somewhat unscientific surprise that he can no longer reach the fucking window ledge. He is then attacked by ants. Yet saved by one. He has mad communication skillz, our Hank… except when it comes to women.

He lost his first wife Maria when they honeymooned in Hungary where she and her father had once been held political prisoners. Which is romantic. There was a kerfuffle and that was the end of that. This we are told in a flashback just as spoiled socialite Janet Van Dyne is introduced by her father, a fellow scientist who doesn’t have long for this world, either, inducing Jan to beg Hank to help her avenge his murder by giving her the powers of a wasp: to shrink, grow wings and buzz ferociously in Hank’s ear for the next decade.

Halfway through this volume, our doolally doctor finally realises that if he uses the growth serum before the shrinking serum he can become Giant Man. What a genius! He will later become Goliath then… well, we’ll get to that.

If you thought Stan Lee was having trouble getting the hang of feminism in AVENGERS VOL 1 (and AVENGERS VOL 2 and… oh, forever!), this precedes that material and exceeds its chauvinism.

“You were right, Jan! None of the guards even saw us!”
“This is the part I don’t like! I miss it when men don’t whistle at me!”

That’s right: women adore being objectified. They don’t feel validated unless a gang of leering lechers humiliates them in public. I can just see Stan wolf-whistling as his secretary sashays past his desk.

Workaholic Dr. Hank Pym, meanwhile, is the epitome of patriarchal condescension:

“Look, kid… I’ve worked for weeks to put our growth and shrinking vapours in capsule form! I’ve even designed this new uniform to wear when I get larger than life size! But, the job isn’t finished! I’ve got to perfect them!”
“Why couldn’t I have fallen in love with a nice simple butcher or baker?”
“Honey, you’re just in love with the idea of being in love! Now button those ruby lips until we finish the job!”
“Even when you call me “honey” you make it sound… medicinal!”

You’re beginning to get the picture, Jan. Now for the most staggering insight of all:

“What a bossy husband you’d make!”

If only her fluttering female brain could retain such self-awareness for more than two seconds, Janet might have remembered to say “No!” when Hank “Who Even Am I Today?” finally cracks a few years later, adopts his fourth secret identity of Yellowjacket and proposes marriage after having abducted her! Because, I kid you not, he goes on to be a wife-beater.

I think he has size issues.

Apart from a couple of dynamic splash pages like that featuring The Human Top, the interior art fails to live up the promise of some (some) fabulous covers until inker Dick Ayers is let loose on pencils and begins to use foreshortening to achieve a real sense of scale which is, after all, what the title is all about.

SLH

Buy Marvel Masterworks: Ant-Man / Giant-Man vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

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

 

Black Is The Color s/c (£10-99, Fantagraphics) by Julia Gfrorer

Carry Me (£6-00, Great Beast) by Dan Berry

The Eye Of The World: The Graphic Novel vol 4 h/c (£18-99, Tor) by Chuck Dixon, Robert Jordan & Andie Tong

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics vol 7 (£14-99, IDW) by various

Green Lantern Corps vol 2: Alpha War s/c (£12-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomais & Fernando Pasarin

Green Lantern Corps vol 3: Willpower h/c (£18-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Fernando Pasarin

Nightwing vol 3: Death Of The Family s/c (£12-99, DC) by Kyle Higgins, Scott Snyder, Tom DeFalco & Eddy Barrows, various

Deadpool Kills Deadpool s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Salva Espin

Iron Man vol 3: The Secret Origin Of Stark Book 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Dale Eaglesham, Greg Land, Carlo Pagulayan

Gold Pollen And Other Stories h/c (£19-99, Picturebox) by Seiichi Hayashi

Dogs – Bullets & Carnage vol 8 (£8-99, Viz) by Shirow Miwa

Uzumaki 3-in-1 Complete h/c (£17-99, Viz) by Junji Ito

 

ITEM! Oh, you thought ZENITH was only going to get a limited edition release? Think again! Retail edition of ZENITH coming in 2014. My favourite comic to come out of 2000AD. You may pre-order, yes! You don’t have to wait until it appears on our website. Email page45@page45.com, ring 0115 9508045, visit or even tweet me @pagefortyfive!

ITEM! Preview for new comic NIGHT POST from Improper Books! From the writer of PORCELAIN and BUTTERFLY GATE – you can pre-order that too!

ITEM! PHOENIX British weekly comic for kids reaches #100 and its stalwart Neill Cameron has blogged! Of course we stock it: this is quality comics for kids, encouraging them to read on a weekly basis. None o’ yer plastic-toy tat for us. Or YOU!

ITEM! Picturebox publishers winds down. So sad. Be smart and be fast! Take advantage of Picturebox’s 50% Sale or snap up our own copies before they sell out!

ITEM! THE GOOD INN by The Pixies’ Black Francis & Steven Appleby to be published by SelfMadeHero – I kid you not!

I snorted when I saw The Pixies referred to as a “cult” band but quickly realised that a) I live in a cultured and cultural snowglobe or at least an Ivory Tower with its antennae on optimum, b) I have no idea what I am ever talking about (please see above!) plus c) Whatevs – it’s The Pixies’ Black Francis! Hurray!

ITEM! And now finally… drum roll… Gary Spencer Millidge’s STRANGEHAVEN is back, back, back!

If there is one FAQ at Page 45 which challenges, “Why Are You Called Page 45?” for popularity it is, “When is the next STRANGEHAVEN?”

STRANGEHAVEN was vitally important to Page 45, debuting at precisely the same time as Page 45 opened nearly twenty years ago, and its stunning success cemented our faith in this medium’s quality and diversity while all the comicbook chainstores were buying in plastic dollies for their thumb-sucking men-children. Moreover it proved that publishing status is irrelevant. And it is! Just look at all the best-selling self-published books on our shelves from the likes of Lizz Lunney, Philippa Rice, Dan Berry and John Allison!

Before being collected by Gary himself in a couple of years time, STRANGEHAVEN is to be serialised in the revitalised MEANWHILE and we are taking orders for that right now!

Pre-order, please! That means you! Yes, you!

Thank you. You so sweet! xxx

– Stephen

One Response to “Reviews December 2013 week one”

  1. Reviews December 2013 week one - Escape Pod Comics says:

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