Archive for March, 2014

Reviews March 2014 week four

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

These are such very gentle tales, laden with wisdom and wit, which may make you think about how you conduct your own lives, much like DAYTRIPPER did for me.

 – Stephen on Death by Neil Gaiman, Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham et al

Stray Bullets: Uber Alles Edition s/c (£45-00, Image) by David Lapham.

Terrible things happen to terrified young people, turning them into terrifyingly out-of-control car wrecks. They get caught in the cross-fire of other people’s greed, grief or beef, and it sends their lives careening in completely unintended directions.

Joey’s a car wreck. You just won’t find out why for hundreds of pages and then it all makes such appalling sense. But almost immediately it will dawn on you that a main protagonist in one chapter plays another role in someone else’s story as the narrative flips backwards and forwards in time.

Everything is connected.

This is the best crime comic in the business, right up there with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ CRIMINAL, and we have missed it terribly. The new series kicks off with STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #1 at £2-75: that’s the perfect place to start and the best single comic I have read all year.

This dangerously heavily tome collects all forty-one issues of the previous series including STRAY BULLETS #41, finally published a decade after #40, making this little more than a quid a comic. Forty-five pounds is a big ask, but once you’ve read STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #1 you will have no doubts whatsoever.

With more compelling individuals and more convincing characterisation in a single story than most people manage in a whole graphic novel, there is a density and intensity to these tales broken by moments of golden sunshine that make what follows all the more devastating.

In a way we are in Lynchian territory, for these suburban families seem perfectly normal from without, but wait until you see what simmers within. Also, I remember wondering what the fuck was up with the early, action-packed episode starring Amy Racecar and set in outer space. All I will say is that David Lapham isn’t the only one with a vivid imagination.

At one point these lives converge in a small town called Seaside, way out in the middle of the desert. Naturally. Young Virginia Applejack tries her best to protect vulnerable, drug-addled Nina from the advances of Seaside’s revoltingly seedy old-age pensioners, while Nina’s own friends, the ever-volatile Beth and Orson, land in trouble of their own when Spanish Scott turns up in search of his missing coke. And with Scott comes Rose, and of course little Joey. I told you everything was connected.

What follows is an accelerating climax of desperate, tangled gambits and frankly wince-worthy violence as these impossibly complicated relationships finally play themselves out. It’s an immensely satisfying pay-off for all your hard concentration that point, but we have only just begun. It’s followed by a new set of domestic freaks, and a short story which shows Lapham at his most manipulative:

After Kathy drags her boozed-up man into the house and out of the rain, she hears a knock at the door and finds two guys and a gal, pissed out of their skulls, insisting that Ricky owes them money. Kathy tries to shut the door on them, but the big guy – who insists he’s a cop – wedges his foot in the door, and the rest of that chapter grows increasingly worrying. Anything could happen. Anything.

Lapham’s command of the way dialogue can shift from confrontational to conciliatory to threatening – within breaths – will keep you on the edge of your anxious seat, but you’ll never guess from the lead-in how this story will end. To kick up the contrast, the next issue sees the return of the inimitable Amy Racecar in a private-eye spoof as ridiculously convoluted and funny as the opening credits to American television’s satirical SOAP. Amy’s on top, world-of-her-own form, and possibly Lapham’s most clever creation; I’m constantly forgetting that she’s actually [redacted].

Just when you think you’ve witnessed the worst atrocities this series of victims, survivors, chancers, bullies, losers and lowlifes has to offer, Lapham delivers a story of fatally misplaced trust which will have you turning the pages so tentatively with the words “No…  no…” quietly riding your breath. You’ll start to worry ten pages in. It’s always the quiet ones to watch out for, but as soon as that photograph is surreptitiously slipped into the pile that the man is showing the boy, you’ll begin sweating. Child abduction and abuse are not subjects to be treated lightly or sensationally. Lapham does neither; you’ll soon wish he had.

The main differences between this and, say, 100 BULLETS which we all love to wit-riddled death is that this is all so intimate, so personal, and that the individuals – the victims in this series – are so young. That’s what made Lapham’s SILVERFISH such a nail-biter too.

As they reach their mid-to-late-teens with sex high on the agenda they make more mistakes. And because they’re older and so capable of doing so much more with much greater strength, those mistakes have greater consequences. Brian and Mikey… now that’s one friendship which will never be the same.

As to the art, extraordinarily Lapham starts off knowing immediately how he wants to present these tales: all 1,200 pages are completely consistent whereas during STRANGERS IN PARADISE you can see Terry Moore develop in front of you. The paper used here has a satin sheen so that the shadows shine on the page. And it is pure black and white with no grey tone at all. It’s incredibly clean but supple as well. The figure work is immaculate, the forms soft are soft and yielding, and the hair falls just-so. As to the expressions, they communicate so much going on behind the eyes whether you like what you see or you don’t. Everyone here lives and breathes. For a while, anyway.


Buy Stray Bullets: Uber Alles Edition s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Death s/c (£14-99, Vertigo/DC) by Neil Gaiman & Chris Bachalo, Dave McKean, Mark Buckingham, Mike Dringenberg, Colleen Doran, P. Craig Russell, Malcom Jones III, Mark Pennington, Jeffrey Jones.

“Have you thought about getting help? I mean, seeing a doctor, or a priest, or someone? I really think you should see someone.”
“Oh, that’s no problem, Sexton. Sooner or later I see everyone.”

Death of the Endless from Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN:

She’s funny, she’s sweet, she’s gorgeous and gothic. She’s enormously kind and very good company – as you’ll find out for yourself one day.

But once every hundred years Death becomes human to glimpse mortality from the other side of Charon’s coins. In THE HIGH COST OF LIVING she bumps into a lank-haired and disillusioned sixteen-year-old dropout called Sexton who was hell-bent on committing suicide until he stares Death right in the face while buried under a refrigerator on a garbage dump. It’s not the best first impression.

Eager to sample life’s pleasures while she can – chief amongst them, music and food – Death drags Sexton along for a night on the town together, taking in the first live gig of new singer-songwriter Foxglove. Foxglove’s pregnant girlfriend Hazel is there but two other individuals have made a note of Death’s diary, and neither are half so welcoming.

Utterly charming, both the story and its protagonist are gloriously optimistic and remind us to appreciate all that we have in front of us while time allows, even if it’s just a bagel, a hot-dog, a compliment or smile of a passing stranger.


THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE is far more sobering, for there is always a price to be paid. A few years have passed during which Foxglove’s musical career has taken off and Hazel has had baby Alvie. They’ve moved from New York to Los Angeles where they live happily together in a vast, splendid mansion where –

No, they don’t. Foxglove is forever on promotional tour leaving her “secretary” Hazel at home. Foxglove’s second album has already garnered over 650,000 advance orders and she’s about to appear on Letterman after which she is bound for Britain. Two men have her back: her agent Larry and tour-manager Boris. Foxglove wants to come out of the closet she never personally shut herself in no matter the professional presumptions, but worldly-wise Larry advises against it, citing all manner of PR pitfalls. Plus Foxglove hasn’t exactly been faithful.

Worse still, she failed to listen to Hazel when Hazel told Foxglove that she and baby Alvie had bumped into an old acquaintance outside their mansion one rainy night last February. She was funny, she was sweet, she was gorgeous and gothic. And I am so very sorry, but there’s only one reason why you would usually do that.

These are such very gentle tales, laden with wisdom and wit, which will make you think about how you conduct your own lives, much like DAYTRIPPER did for me. There are many very good questions and the answers may not be easy, but they are surprisingly simple.

Chris Bachalo’s design sense is as glorious as his sweet, chic portraiture and oh how I loved his two-tone chequered backdrops! Unlike his equally pretty but impenetrable pages of late, there are no silly and so-easily-confusing across-the-page layouts: this is as accessible as it gets!

Additionally so skilled is Mark Buckingham that, when Gaiman was deserted by Bachalo halfway through DEATH: THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE to join Marvel, many remain unaware that it was Buckingham who pencilled the pages thereafter. Bucky is one of those rare artists who is not just an exceptional, individual force in his own right, but also an accomplished chameleon. He can do Chris Bachalo as well as Bachalo himself, and many other artists to boot. That, let me tell you, is no mean feat.

In addition there are so many extras that it is ridiculously good value for money. There’s the refreshingly non-alarmist yet candid and cautionary HIV / AIDS awareness six-pager illustrated by Dave McKean called ‘Death Talks About Life’ which guest-stars a deliciously embarrassed John Constantine, a sheepishly proffered banana and a condom. All education should be entertainment. There’s also ‘The Wheel’ from 9-11: THE WORLD’S FINEST COMIC BOOK WRITERS & ARTISTS TELL STORIES TO REMEMBER (bit of a rarity, that); Death’s first appearance from SANDMAN #8 then #20; ‘A Winter’s Tale’ from VERTIGO: WINTER’S EDGE #2, ‘Death And Venice’ from SANDMAN: ENDLESS NIGHTS; and finally a whole gallery of swoonaway pin-ups.

Death as a sex symbol: how very Shakespearian.


Buy Death s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sailor Twain (£10-99, First Second) by Mark Siegel.

“I’m not sure I can do it.”
“Do what?”
“Seven loves… It’s barely manageable. Practically speaking.”
Morally speaking, I should think not!”
“My sky needs more than one star. I’m a man of constellations, me.”
“And what of your loves, do many stars fill their sky?”
“They’re day-time beings who crave a singular sun!”

At which point Captain Twain’s eyes virtually pop out of his head. They do that a lot.

Plus Lafayette can turn a good phrase, especially went bent on distraction. Why, do you think, does he really need seven lovers? It’s not just to inflate his ego or satisfying his sexual desires. He’s working to a very specific plan, and it involves this graphic novel’s sub-title: ‘The Mermaid In The Hudson’.

Let us pull back by flashing forward six months when the book begins in the Ferryman’s Tavern on the banks of the Hudson River where Captain Twain drinks alone, staring out at the docks. A woman he knows as Miss Camomille has been searching for him ever since the trial. She has questions for him. She needs to know the truth. Twain is resistant until she pulls out a glowing pendant which he recognises instantly.

“He gave it to me… that last day. Said it came out of the river. Tell me! And it’s yours.”

Coming in at nearly 400 pages, this is a substantially story whose truths only reveal themselves towards the end, but know this now: mermaids do exist.

Captain Twain of the Lorelei passenger steamboat knows this for in May 1887, after struggling to find his poet Muse, he fished one out of the Hudson. She was gravely wounded as if she had been impaled on a harpoon. He carried her back to his cabin and nursed her back to health but she never sang to him. She never ensnared him and yet, although married, hooked he most certainly was.

He begins to suspect that Lafayette also believes in mermaids, and has perhaps been seduced himself. He suspects that is why Lafayette is courting six women with his eyes on a seventh for Lafayette’s older brother who went missing on the same steamboat wrote extensively on the subject and Lafayette is studying those journals with a feverish intensity. He is also in correspondence with a certain celebrated author called C.G. Beaverton who has just published a book called ‘Secrets And Mysteries Of The River Hudson’ which includes two chapters tellingly entitled ‘The Case For Mermaids: Disappearances And Strange Reports’ and ‘The Case For Mermaids: Cures & Remedies To A Siren’s Song’. Twain knows this for Lafayette, reluctant tot go ashore himself, asked Twain to pick it up for him.

I promise you this: it’s a lot more complicated than that.

I was enthralled myself, not least because Siegel is as interested in the art of conversation as much as anything else, and the subjects discussed by the ship’s residents of varying wit include moral outrage in the cause of control, hypocrisy, critical acclaim, the New Testament, the best use of any public platform and something I can’t mention here for giving one of the games away.

A book about spells has to be magical, and this was certainly that. There are strange apparitions who will also be explained, and the weather plays an important atmospheric role as the Lorelei makes its way up and down a river which flows in two different directions.

So much graphite is employed on the densely shaded pages that, periodically, you’ll be checking your fingers and thumbs for smudges. Combined with the cartoon figure work and ever-expressive wide-eyed wonder or consternation on Captain Twain’s part and you are indeed immersed in the sort of magical world you could expect from a century of animation.

The wit also extends to some of the chapter headings. When you come to ‘The Twain Shall Meet’ it so hilariously appropriate you wonder whether Siegel chose it purely for that pun, but no: it’s simple serendipity stumbled upon by a writer’s mind which naturally predisposes itself to word association.

It’s also a deeply melancholic book for the sun rarely shines figuratively or otherwise. A lot of time is spent alone, deep in thought, as our variously cursed characters struggle with their hearts if not with eloquence.

“You always seemed cheerful to me.”
“Yes, naturally. Despair likes discretion. Some demons howl and roar at their victims. That one preys in silence.”


Buy Sailor Twain and read the Page 45 review here

A Contract With God Trilogy h/c (£25-99) by Will Eisner.

“Dropsie Avenue as we knew it is gone.
“Only the memory of how it was for us remains.
“In the end buildings are only buildings.
“But people make a neighbourhood.”

I have had very few idols in life. There’s my Mum, Rosa Parks, Tony Benn and David Attenborough. But the late and very great Will Eisner was one.

To me, it’s all about heart and humanity: the courage to stand up and be counted, the compassion you show unto others, and the ability to communicate that message thereby helping us all understand what is important and that which is but vain and ephemeral.

Exceptional value for money, this time-capsule trilogy of geographically specific but in some ways universal social history contains three of the finest and wisest Will Eisner graphic novels, all set on The Bronx’s Dropsie Avenue: A CONTRACT WITH GOD s/c, A LIFE FORCE s/c and DROPSIE AVENUE itself.

Dropsie Avenue:

One of my three favourite Eisner books along with TO THE HEART OF THE STORM and THE NAME OF THE GAME in which Will Eisner condenses generations of intricately linked family lives and their evolving environment into 170 pages without sacrificing even a fraction of the intimacy and humanity that is Eisner’s hallmark.

It is, if you like, the life cycle of a community with its fluctuating fortunes from an open arable land farmed by two feuding families through early, spacious gentrification to the rise of the tenement buildings housing a wealth of ethnic immigrants, then their decline and fall into strip-mined ruin. Prohibition is the first nail in the community’s coffin, extortion leaching business’ rent money dry whilst setting the worst possible example to the children and making a violent example of those who refuse to comply. Then there’s the cunning of more legal profiteers luring the chief town planner into debt – their debt – to get what they want.

But most saddening of all is that each successive influx of English, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Black or Hispanic migrants are viewed with disdain and disgust as “foreigners” by the previous generation of ‘foreigners’ without any sense of perspective or acknowledgement of the benefits most waves bring. Amongst the tensions and outright hostility, however, there are some with a kinder heart and a certain self-awareness, the rabbi and Catholic priest delighting in their first inter-faith marriage and pulling together to form an early youth group.

I read DROPSIE AVENUE again this week with just as much joy as I did in 1995. Some of it is a little fanciful, like the burglar straying into the last living garden only to be charmed by its owner’s granddaughter who is, quite frankly, away with the fairies, but even that has its charm. Most of this, however, is an unflinching account of the ruthless, self-centred commerce which dictates how a whole neighbourhood lives – or struggles and dies in poverty – told with more than a passing knowledge of how real estate works. The figure work is as expressively theatrical as in any of Eisner’s books, whilst the buildings themselves in their various generations have a lifespan of their own which mirrors their inhabitants’. It is, in the end, like all Eisner’s works, about how we treat each other as human beings – rarely as well as we’d like to be treated ourselves.

A Contract With God s/c:

“Born and brought up in New York City and having survived and thrived there, I carry with me a cargo of memories, some painful and some pleasant, which have remained locked in the hold of my mind. I have an ancient mariner’s need to share my accumulation of experience and observations. Call me, if you will, a graphic witness reporting on life, death, heartbreak and the never-ending struggle to prevail… or at least survive.”

 – Will Eisner from his Preface, December 2004

Hailed by some as the first American graphic novel, A CONTRACT OF GOD is actually four short stories set in the same tenement buildings in the Bronx as A LIFE FORCE and DROPSIE AVENUE. All of these have survival high on the agenda for a population trapped there by poverty, plus individuals’ personal fortunes waxing and waning with a complex interdependency.

Of the three books that make up the CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY H/C, this is the most personal, the most autobiographical, and it was only in 2004 that Will Eisner revealed that A Contract With God, the first short story here was “an exercise in personal agony” written and drawn eight angry years after his only daughter Alice died, aged sixteen, from leukaemia. The details have been changed but the essential raw sentiment remains the same, and it’s one I have seen in so many parents who have lost their children including my Uncle and Auntie and my best friend Anita’s no-longer-Catholic parents: a complete loss of faith in a God who could betray their trust so spectacularly as to deprive them of their child.

Here Frimme Hersch had been told over and over again as a child that he was “favoured by God” and that God would reward him for his many kindnesses. That’s not why he was kind; he was kind because he cared, and so when a baby girl was abandoned on Frimme’s doorstep he took her in and raised her as his own. This, to him, was all part of his contract with God which Frimme honoured to the letter, to the very full-stop. But as the story opens he is returning alone to 55 Dropsie Avenue after having buried his daughter, and the weight of the water pouring from the heavens on the man’s hat, coat and shoulders is immeasurable. That single page, as he struggles to heave himself up the tenement’s stone steps, water streaming over the balustrade and obliterating all but a streetlight behind him, is one of Eisner’s finest-ever illustrations.

What happens next is typical of Eisner in that it involves property and finance which rarely benefits those who need money or accommodation the most. The fourth story here is also prime Eisner in that love, money, marriage and social standing become the seemingly inseparable issues with infidelity also quite high on the agenda. But it’s also a coming of age story involving the tradition amongst Bronx residents back then of going on holiday to farms which they would share with other families, do their own cooking and help out with the chores.

‘The Street Singer’ is also based on a phenomenon Eisner was familiar with: random individuals wandering the back alleys of the Bronx singing with some accomplishment in the hope of receiving loose change. A single woman becomes entranced by one of these singers and hopes to revive her own career in a partnership but in her vanity she is oblivious to the degree in which the self-fixated drunkard is using her, while for him it’s an opportunity well and truly squandered. Domestic abuse is no stranger to Eisner’s works and so it is here, but I’ve a feeling the third story as well as some elements of the fourth will shock those who think of Eisner as but a kindly old gent.

Eisner was full of humanity – bursting with it – but humanity has its atrocious sides which Eisner was all too aware of and never shied from addressing. It involves a tenement’s Super – its bully of a live-in, do-little custodian – who more than meets his match in a ten-year-old girl who uses his warped lust against him.

A Life Force:

“Staying alive seems to be the only thing on which everyone agrees.”

The second book available as part of THE CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY H/C along with DROPSIE AVENUE and A CONTRACT WITH GOD, this is an intricate, interdependent affair gradually built around America’s Great Depression during which unemployment rocketed, wages crashed, starvation set in, Hunger Riots exploded and swarms of moths were apparently thick enough to stop New York traffic. Biblical!

No one is immune, not even the affluent Manhattan stockbroker whose fortune is wiped out and fine-living obliterated as stocks tumble faster than those bankers decent enough to throw themselves out of the fucking windows.

But the ordinary residents of Dropsie Avenue, already hard-pressed by penury, living figuratively under the shadow of Manhattan island, find it even more difficult than ever. No one has these immigrants’ best interests at heart: not the mafia-like enablers who now call in their favours, the brutally bullying unions, and most certainly not the Nazis back in Germany or the American government seeking at the very same time to deny as much access as possible to Jewish refugees. Eisner knows his history and presents it occasionally in bursts of newspaper clippings to give events here their proper socio-political and historical context.

Each of these forces exerts itself on individuals in this book and it’s their particular, tightly interwoven stories that Eisner is telling. The sequence in which Jacob so generously, so desperately attempts to free Frieda and her family from Germany’s anti-Semitic claws and America’s red tape – when he himself has nothing – is agonising. At the same time, however, Jacob’s reaction to his own daughter’s romantic involvement mirrors that of the Nazis’ to mixed marriages:

“My daughter Rebecca is going to marry Elton Shaftsbury!”
“But Elton is a… a… Goy!”

One of the many things I love about Eisner is his zero toleration for hypocrisy, exposing it whenever and wherever he sees it. Jacob’s wife, for example, proclaims that her children are her sole reason for living yet she refuses to meet her son’s fiancée whilst emotionally blackmailing him round for dinner. Neatly done!

Humanity in all its kindness and cruelty, that’s what Eisner’s about, as well its foibles and flaws. There’s an informed depiction well ahead of its time here of a mental illness that leads Aaron to recoil from reality, and it’s eloquently explained:

“Unhappily, somewhere in the divine cauldron where mysterious forces fabricate life, something went awry for Aaron, and in the soft circuitry of his brain an infinitesimal welding failed.”

Eisner is renowned for his expressive body language and a certain degree of overacting when the characters overreact themselves, but his mouths in particular can be ever so subtle. No one does glum or bewilderment quite like him. Also, there’s such a variety of panel structures here that you almost don’t notice it, panel borders and gutters often disappearing entirely without once confusing the reader, such is his impeccable sense of space. He really does make it all look so easy.

Easy to do, easy to look at: lives not so easy to live.


Buy A Contract With God Trilogy h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Noah h/c (£22-50, Image) by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel & Niko Henrichon…

“You lied to me. You cheated me. You cheated the human race. I should have killed you a long time ago.”
“You were too busy leading your people astray.”
“And you? Your own son plots against you and wishes you dead.”

Absolutely no idea how close the current megabucks film adaptation is to this work, but this basically reads and looks like a Humanoid publication i.e. glorious to look at and a bit off the wall. The graphic novel came first and I believe Aronofsky then basically reworked (i.e. dumbed down) the script for the movie, though rumours that Russell Crowe insisted on all the cast and crew referring to the ark as Tugger during filming are probably apocryphal.

This is great, though, a real epic, and it does touch upon all the central points of the Old Testament story whilst incorporating other fantastical, mystical and indeed almost sci-fi elements. I think have seen it commented somewhere that this story could almost be set several thousand years in the past or future, and indeed on a different planet, and I can understand those comments. Always nice to see someone really going for it in terms of scope. This will hopefully prove as successful as adaptation as say SIEGFRIED has here; it deserves to.


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

Sock Monkey Treasury h/c (£29-99, Fantagraphics) by Tony Millionaire.

Whopping collection reprinting the majority of the SOCK MONKEY series – 300 pages in both colour and black and white – which started out so innocently that we thought it was aimed at children. Whoops! Even early on, Dominique had her suspicions. She wrote:

I love the setting: a large turn-of-the-century house full of colonial nick-knacks and potential death traps, living dolls houses and miniature galleons, bristling with wee little guns. It’s twee comedy with a darker edge – Uncle Gabby and Mr. Crow are sweet but meddlesome and idiotic, and nothing they embark upon ever seems to end well. The faux colonial / Victorian dialogue at first put me off, but actually it works very well, reinforcing the oblivious stupidity of our heroes and injecting the necessary dose of morbidity. Pity the poor creature that these two try to help out, it can only end in evisceration, immolation or shipwreck.

Not sure I’d give either of these books to my children unless I wanted them to grow up all weird in the head.

So yeah, actually, maybe I would.

For the The Glass Doorknob I appear to have gone off on one about the colours.

It’s the colours. Every single page, elegantly composed and delicately drawn, radiates warmth. From the first spring morning, throwing its soft light across the gables of the toys’ wooden-roofed house and through the misty, pink-purple mass of the huge, pendulous tree behind it, to the blustery autumn afternoon, when the winds toss the vermilion and russet leaves up into the cold blue sky, swirling them away from the windows, this picture book delivers page after page of understated beauty.

Nor is it easy to discern just which media have been employed: some colours are flat tones, others appear to have been applied in washes and perhaps sponged out, whilst others, like the sage wallpaper behind the cream mantelpiece which Sock Monkey climbs in summer, must surely have been patterned by computer – I can’t see a stencil providing such regular or intricate shapes. Finally, there’s the linework which delineates each major area with a crisp, darker hue, never, thankfully, with the use of a ruler.

I’ve stared at some of these for ages. Which is just as well since this is a storybook with a simple, single thread and as such it’s not a huge read, even if there’s a second exchange between a tit and a beetle, running in parallel as the seasons change, in the bottom left-hand corner of the text pages. The main affair follows Sock Monkey and his friends as they discover – and quickly become transfixed by – the magic of a spectral light cast by a glass doorknob in the hall. But as summer approaches and the trees become thicker, the sunlight is obscured and the refracted rainbow disappears. The toys, unaware of how these things work, believe it is broken and, in a naive attempt to boost its power, they set about scavenging baubles and metal dishes, glass jars, bottles and necklaces, and tie them around the doorknob…

The “Inches” Incident

More chaos and catastrophe on the high seas as Sock Monkey, Mr. Crow and indeed their very house come under fire from an Inches turned evil.

Inches is the doll, and they’re horrible at the best of times but this one seriously creeps me out. She’s like a vampiric version of Playschool’s hideous Hamble, glaring implacably down from the mansion’s gable. It’s as if she’s possessed! Oh wait, she is! But by what?

Tony’s got a thing about insect infestation/animation, and I like it no more than I like hideous dollies. Brrrr.

Sock Monkey volumes 3 & 4

Quite the evolution going on. Previously you could sit back safe in the knowledge that Tony’s MAAKIES was a sick little puppy whilst SOCK MONKEY would remain a child-friendly Bagpuss gone wrong. But any child encountering these tales of woe is going to have some sinister dreams ahead of them.

It starts out ominously enough when Uncle Gabby, the titular toy, decides to go a-hunting. Tigers and foxes and even herons seem a little overambitious, so they plump for salamanders instead.

“Salamanders! I believe I could “take” a salamander! Just show me the salamander that could get the better of me!”

But over this smile-inducing, child-like silliness the skies quickly darken, as Gabby grows increasingly aware of the fragility of life, and the dark and naughty humour finally bursts wide open in a downpour of despair once Gabby carelessly breaks the neck of a nestling. The pages of silence – cold and bleak – are thoroughly arresting, and the self-mutilation as Gabby shears himself open is no less shocking for him being stuffed full of fluff.

“The tragedy is that it once had life, and now I have taken it away… I only wish I were alive, that I might have the ability to run to the comfort of death.”

And if you think that’s morbid, wait till you read the final chapter in which Mr. Crow is persuaded to dump the love of the Sock Monkey’s life into the rag-man’s truck, sending Uncle Gabby into a homicidal spree of mass immolation worthy of underground cartoonist S. Clay Wilson.


Finally, Sock Monkey: Uncle Gabby

Feels like the SOCK MONKEY swansong, in the last Winnie The Pooh tale fashion. Was this ever for children, or did I read it all wrong? Externally it’s so very inviting; internally it’s still very pretty. Going to read the words now…? Please remove all razor blades from your domicile.

Uncle Gabby has studied “un-naming” in order to free objects of their constrictions. He embarks on a journey with fellow stuffed animal Mr. Crow and the hideous doll called Inches to visit Ann-Louise who originally made him. But the house they find is completely deserted with a stone monument in the back garden, and all of Uncle Gabby’s memories unravel as the fantasies they were, and then someone smashes the house in anyway.

It’s almost funny, it’s so unremittingly harsh.


Buy Sock Monkey Treasury h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Silk Road To Ruin (£14-99, NBM) by Ted Rall.

Originally released as a h/c in 2006, this remains one of my favourite books from our extensive travel and politics section.

Time to dust off the old world atlas!

“Central Asia is the new Middle East: thrilling, terrifying, simultaneously hopeful and bleak, a battleground for a proxy war and endless chaos. It is the ultimate tectonic, cultural and political collision zone. Far away from television cameras and Western reporters, Central Asia is poised to spawn some of the new century’s worst nightmares.”

Yet Ted’s fallen in love with it in all its crazy anarchy and its various dictatorships, through travelling. Or attempting to travel. Geography and History were never my strong suits at school, and it’s only in the past ten years or so that I’ve become addicted to news programmes and interested enough to crave an education through the likes of Marjane Satrapi, Guy Delisle and, of course Ted Rall.

Like TO AFGHANISTAN AND BACK, this is three-quarters prose with some searing strips slotted in, not for comic relief (because Ted’s as ruefully entertaining in prose as he is in comics), but for added illustration of just how fucked up these countries are. Orphans of the Soviet Union, they were never going to grow up to be well-adjusted, but some of these places are bonkers. So first a quick bit of background: when the Soviet Union collapsed, it deliberately jettisoned some of its constituent countries whose inhabitants stopped being Russian employees overnight (teachers, doctors, nurses, police etc. were all paid by the central Communist State), and so found themselves unemployed and broke. Yet in spite of sitting on some of the world’s largest oil reserves, they’ve ended up poorer than ever on account of bungled negotiations for pipe lines (they’re not exactly coastal) and their leaders being avaricious and vainglorious old toe-rags. The results included 2,520% inflation during the first year, death rates rocketing, birth rates plummeting, schools disappearing altogether, and police forces subsisting on bribes (those bribes being extracted at random checkpoints if you want to get anywhere by “road”, at stations if you want to buy a train ticket… in fact anywhere their individual imaginations take them).

Seriously, Turkmenistan, for example, would be hilarious if it wasn’t so dangerous/tragic (fact: not a single river runs through it). Its dictator, Turkmenbashi (translation: “Leader of all Turkmens”), is mind-boggling: “Not only has the Central Asian dictator created the most elaborate and grotesquely comical personality cult since Ptolemy put the pharaohs out of business, his unique blending of naked greed and breathtakingly obvious stupidity has elevated autocracy to an art form.” His egotism rivals that of North Korea’s father-and-son despot dynasty. His picture is everywhere – absolutely everywhere. Can you imagine seeing Blair’s face on a cereal packet, or Thatcher with her own brand of perfume? (Maggie Musk: Smells Like Mean Spirit.) That’s the state of play in Turkmenistan whose ubiquitous, Nazi-inspired motto (dreamt up by Turkmenbashi, natch) is “One Nation, One People, One Leader” (One Choice). He built a gilt statue of himself, high above a column, which rotates 360 degrees a day so that he’s always facing the sun; he renamed January after himself, April after his mother, September after his book (compulsory rather than compulsive reading, and I seem to recall that you have to take an exam on it even to get a driving licence!); and yes, he did build a hospital with state-of-the-art operating theatre, swimming pool and air conditioning — but it’s for horses!

Rall takes you with him on rail trips from hell (70°C, no windows, no air conditioning; Rall and friend spent the trip shirtless in the corridor, their lips sucking in what air they could through an inch-wide vent 6 feet above the floor), fending off muggers, bargaining with militia and being asked to marry the ex-wife of a mobster who’d kidnapped her son.

Prepare yourself for a whole different world in a region you’ll be hearing a whole lot more about, and sooner than you think.


Buy Silk Road To Ruin and read the Page 45 review here

Young Avengers vol 3: Mic-Drop At The Edge Of Time And Space s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Emma Vieceli, Becky Cloonan, Jordie Bellaire, Ming Doyle, Maris Wicks, Joe Quninones, Christian Ward.

“Happy families. Now there’s a contradiction in terms.”
“Don’t be cynical. It takes practice. Doesn’t suit you, princess.”
“I really wish you’d knock it off with the “princess”.”
“I’m trying to be nice.”
“Don’t be. It takes practice. Doesn’t suit you, princess.”

In which one of the freshest, funniest and most inventive series – in any genre of comics in recent years – comes to a perfect close.

Oh, you have wailed and wailed, for you wanted so much more and who can bloody well blame you?

But Team Phonogram, as they like to call themselves, will shortly be bringing you THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE.

Meanwhile Al Ewing and Lee Garbett’s LOKI, AGENT OF ASGARD continues Loki’s journey with delicious mischief and Marvel have just reissued Kieron Gillen and Dougie Braithwaite’s JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY which is full of the young tyke’s tall tales and manipulative gameplay.

I wrote about YOUNG AVENGERS VOL 1 and YOUNG AVENGERS VOL 2 at considerable length, so please check out those reviews. I’ve little more to add than that McKelvie delivers more of his eye-frazzling innovation and spectacle and that all of the carefully selected guest artists will have you squealing. Emma Vieceli’s spotlight on Wiccan and Hulking is particularly sexy, stylish and as glittery as all get-out without being for one second saccharine or effete.

Now, if you’re anything like me you’re going to get your money’s worth by starting again at the beginning to see just how cleverly Gillen – and thereby some of his protagonists – have played you.

If you’re anything like Gillen, then you are probably going to want breakfast first.


Buy Young Avengers vol 3: Mic-Drop At The Edge Of Time And Space s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Encyclopedia h/c (£30-00, Marvel) by various.

Updated for the first time in five years – and I like the new cover by Mike Deodato who’s no longer Junior but evidently now his own man – this is a monster.

It weighs more than my brain! Actually, helium weighs more than my brain.

This weighs more than my skull and possibly even my ever-expanding belly.

It’s massive!

It’s extensive!

It is horribly laid out and illustrated which is shocking given how many exceptionally talented artists have worked on these characters in the past. Still.


Buy Marvel Encyclopedia h/c and read the Page 45 review here

UQ Holder vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu…

Nominally set in the same universe as NEGIMA, one of Ken’s previous mega-selling works, but several decades later, this is a world where magic and technology are almost indistinguishable. Our hero Touta has designs on being an adventurer, handily enough, and so the fun begins. The basic premise underpinning it all is that there are a number of people who are UQ holders, or immortals. The wrinkle? Well, I will let Touta’s teacher, who has revealed herself to be a vampire and in the process of saving Touta’s life conveniently turned him into one, thus ensuring this manga can run for several thousand volumes, explain all…

“So you’re saying all these guys are completely immortal too?”
“Not quite. Everyone here is a few cards shy of a full immortal deck. They’re not the real thing.”
“So, what is the real thing?”
“Hmm, let me see… vampires, like you and I. Specifically the nobility.
“There are also… people who use items to gain immortality – nectar of the gods, miracle drugs, philosopher’s stones, etc.
“Other supernatural beings, with a similar immortal nature to that of vampires, like Stan Lee.
“Those who gain immortality through electronic means, like robotics.
“And there are some I haven’t figured out yet… people cursed with immortality through a twist of fate, people who are built with multiple lives, people with an incarnation that brings them back when they die.
“Etcetera, etcetera. And there are those who have been genetically altered.”

It does sound like fun, actually. I rather enjoyed this first volume. Yes, it’s frothy and light, but it is well written. He is a consummate pro, our Ken. Also, I might have made that bit up about Stan Lee being like a vampire. Or not… pretty sure he is immortal, though.


Buy UQ Holder vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Gangsta vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Kohske…

I mainly read this because it is on Viz’s Signature Imprint which is usually reserved for stuff of decent quality. It appears to be weird crime capers with a few laughs, involving Nic and Worick, the ‘Handymen’ who you call when you need to make someone disappear permanently.

So far, though, it’s the cops who want a new gang in town taken out, so it seems our duo are playing both ways, and it’s not even a yaoi!

With that said, Nic does work weekends as a gigolo, whilst Worick has some sort of strange condition that means he rarely talks, but when he does his speech bubble is rendered in inverse…

Art is nice enough, kind of reminded me of Natusme Ono a little bit, which is probably the link in that this, I think, is supposed to be a sort of contemporary HOUSE OF FIVE LEAVES. I.e. no good guys, but nobody is that bad either, getting into scrapes, with some gentle comedy of manners thrown in for good measure. I’m probably not going to bother reading the second volume, to be honest.


Buy Gangsta 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.


Uber vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Caanan White

Pope: Monsters & Titans s/c (£18-99, Image) by Paul Pope

Kids Are Weird And Other Observations From Parenthood (£9-99, Chronicle) by Jeffrey Brown

To Afghanistan And Back (£7-50, NBM) by Ted Rall

Daredevil: End Of Days s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, David Mack & Klaus Janson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alex Maleev, David Mack

Jan’s Atomic Heart And Other Stories s/c (£10-99, Image) by Simon Roy

Chew vol 8: Family Recipes (£9-99, Image) by John Layman & Rob Guillory

American Vampire vol 5 s/c (£12-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque, Dustin Nguyen

American Vampire vol 6 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Rafael Albuquerque, various

World’s Greatest Superheroes s/c (£22-50, DC) by Paul Dini & Alex Ross

Superman: Earth One vol 2 s/c (£10-99, DC) by J. Michael Straczynski & Shane Davis

Catwoman vol 3: Under Pressure s/c (£18-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker & Paul Gulacy, Sean Phillips, Diego Olmos

Batwoman vol 3: World’s Finest s/c (£10-99, DC) by J. H. Williams III, Haden Blackman & Trevor McCarthy, J. H. Williams III

Batwoman vol 4: This Blood Is Thick h/c (£10-99, DC) by J. H. Williams III, Haden Blackman & Trevor McCarthy, J. H. Williams III

Mobile Suit Gundam Origin vol 5: Char & Sayla (£22-50, Random House / Vertical) by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

The Seven Deadly Sins vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Nakaba Suzuki

Magi vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Shinobu Ohtaka

Fairy Tail vol 36 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

The Secret Service: Kingsman (UK Edition) s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Mark Millar, Matthew Vaughn & Dave Gibbons

Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 10-12 (£9-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

Blue Exorcist vol 11 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Avengers: The Enemy Within s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Scott Hepburn, Matteo Buffagni, Filipe Andrade

Avengers Assemble: Science Bros s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Christos Gage & Pete Woods, Stefano Caselli, Tomm Coker

Cradlegrave (£13-99, Rebellion) by John Smith & Edmund Bagwell

Marvel Knights Spider-Man: 99 Problems (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Matt Kindt & Marco Rudy

Thor God Of Thunder vol 3: The Accursed (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Nic Klein, Ron Garney, Das Pastoras

Guardians Of The Galaxy vol 2: Angela (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli, Oliver Coipel


ITEM! Topical! Exceptional short comic by Richard Swan called ‘Wallpaper’ but about so much more besides.

ITEM! Adrian Tomine postcards coming soon! They’re not on our website yet because only comics and books go up in advance, but if you want to pre-order all you have to do for anything not on our website is phone 01159508045 or email and we will make sure you get whatever it is you want, even if you live in China.

ITEM! Fascinating interview with Alison Sampson and Nathan Edmondson about the GENESIS one-shot.

ITEM! Comicbook creators, current and future, Nobrow has released its submissions guideline for graphic novels. Invaluable.

ITEM! Trailer for the DVD film The Graphic Novel Man about the life and art of Bryan Talbot

ITEM! Preview of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie. I would add this to your Page 45 Standing Order right now! Phone 0115 9508045 or email! Thank yooooooo!

ITEM! Tories ban prisoners from receiving books. Oh, brilliant! If there is one thing which those in prison should have unfettered access to, it is books. Because literacy. Because learning. Because inspiration. Because books, basically. Oh wait, sorry, education: we don’t actually do that any more, do we?

– Stephen


Reviews March 2014 week three

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

If you have an interest in finding out more about one of the most infamous episodes of Japanese mediaeval history, you’ll love this, because it is well written and skilfully executed, as indeed were the 47 rōnin eventually.

 – Jonathan on 47 Rōnin.

Hilda And The Black Hound h/c (£12-95, Flying Eye) by Luke Pearson.

“How does an armchair fall down the back of a sofa anyway?”

Good point, well made, and in the strangest of circumstances.

Did you ever wonder what happened to those odd socks, hats, scarves, sixth issue of your favourite comic and that 5lb slab of milk chocolate you can’t find?

Err, I can explain the milk chocolate and I’m ever so sorry, but the rest didn’t get lost in the wash, you know! You don’t even put comics in the wash, do you? Do you…? No, there is a far more thrilling explanation which lies in bits of your house which you won’t find revealed in the average home survey!

Now what, do you think, does all this have to do with the gigantic black wolf-like creature, nearly two storeys high, which has been seen lurking at night in the heart of the city of Trolberg? Even Hilda’s mother has spotted it out of the corner of her eye and the papers are calling it The Black Beast Of Trolberg! It could make Hilda’s first weekend camp with the Sparrow Scouts ever so slightly dangerous.

Welcome to the fourth British Comics Awards-winning HILDA mystery in which you will discover that the countryside doesn’t hold the monopoly on fanciful creatures and geographical wonders. There are House Spirits called Nisses hidden in your home, you know. Yes, yours! They have big bulbous noses and they’re so very hairy that you can’t even see their eyes. They’re solitary creatures and highly territorial, which is why you’ve probably not met one before. You will, though, you will…


Hilda and her mother are slowly adjusting to life in the city, but Hilda still yearns for camping under canvas. When her mother is nearly slapped in the face by a wind-tossed leaflet advertising the Sparrow Scouts’ next meeting she recalls how much fun she had erecting tents, building bonfires and earning more badges than anyone else in her flock! Hilda is dutifully enrolled with its Raven Leader in time for a six-week course preparing for their weekend camping expedition, learning to secure shelters, tie herself in knots, read maps and rescue a family of inch-tall elves from the bundle of kindling they had reasonably presumed to be some sort of tepee. They’d moved their entire lounge in.

Hilda is determined to impress her mother and win as many trophies as possible, but her Camping Badge comes under threat when she discovers in the woods a Nisse who’d been summarily evicted from his house for trashing it. He claims that he hadn’t, but once banished he cannot return. Later that night she sneaks out with provisions but instead of finding the House Spirit, she is faced with a giant black shadow with huge white eyes glowing in the dark!

All of these things are connected, as well as the sudden growth in homeless House Spirits. With so much for our insatiably inquisitive Hilda to investigate with her white-furred, antlered Twig it will be a wonder if she earns any badges at all!

With Flying Eye Books you can guarantee top-quality production values, lavished here on art which deserves all the pampering it receives. The beast is a black beauty, while dappled pet Twig is one of the cutest creatures ever drawn. More than once he is tossed from his basket by the frantic goings-on in comedic panels worthy of Charles Schultz. It’s an odd thing to pick out, but I also adore the way coloured hair falls over one of Hilda’s eyes – and her mother’s – yet you can see the rest of its outline underneath. Even a trip to the grocery store is a visual feast, with such exciting jars, bottles and paper packets lining the shelves that you wonder what on earth’s in them and can’t help but speculate how tasty they’d be. There’s a great deal of nose-to-nose contact, a sneaky guest-appearance by Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson himself in a typically domestic SOPPY tableau, and an action-packed, runaway, space-hopping finale that will have you on the edge of your car seat.

It seems to me that three things drive the HILDA series: the magic of the art, the curiosity of a cat, and Hilda’s overriding instinct to help, even when she’s advised against it or the odds are all stacked against her. Not everything goes to plan, and there are quietly affecting moments of silent contemplation staring out of windows, but then in the morning resolve is renewed and Hilda will try once again!

I’d be proud of that sort of determined compassion in any of my children, and I beam to see it portrayed in the pluckiest of young people here.


Buy Hilda And The Black Hound h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets #1 (£2-75, Image) by David Lapham…

“They wiggle like my mom’s jello cake.”
“Did you touch one?”
“If he touched a boob other than his mom’s I’ll eat dirt.”
“Haven’t touched one yet but I’ve seen lots.”
“That’s a really good drawing.”
“These are just some kinds. They’re all completely different.”
“Boobs are awesome.”

Indeed they are, indeed they are. I’ll leave it for you to discover just how it is that young Eli has managed to purvey so many breasts without ever actually having touched any, but rest assured it’s all done in the name of good old fashioned teenage horniness and you’ll get a good eye-full, just like Eli, right on page one to perfectly set the scene. Straightaway, we realise we’re back on familiar Lapham ground, lurking in dens of seedy iniquity, surrounded by the pond life of humanity, riding the ripples on the vile underbelly of society. I love it!

But whilst poor old Eli might think he’s having the time of his life, careening headlong into the undiscovered country of the finery of the female form – even adorned with mesmerising tassels as they are – he’s going to be yearning for his lost days of innocence by the end of this issue. What an opener! Talking about hard-hitting, this is like getting ploughed into by an oil tanker whilst you’re just lighting up…

David Lapham, the real David Lapham writing stuff you so obviously care about, we have missed you and we salute you, sir. For this, this is real comics.

For those of you new to STRAY BULLETS, just take a moment to study this cover closely. Very, very closely… because, it actually sums up the complete and utter mayhem you will find within to perfection. And, at the centre of it all, on the pages inside just like on the cover, is that most cool of cool bad-ass motherfuckers, Spanish Scott, solitary finger raised to lips, instructing us, politely, for that is his way, to quieten ourselves before we read on.





There is a two-page driving sequence, Spanish Scott at the wheel, an unsuspecting Eli in the passenger seat that is pure Grand Theft Auto in its execution. At its conclusion, dropping Eli back off at his house, our superfly bad guy is behoved to dispense a few words of wisdom, to complement the (terminal) life lesson he’s just dispensed to a couple of not-so-wise guys.

“Sorry about that, kid. You have to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Your loser father probably won’t tell you that.”

Eli’s father… yes… he’s a strange one…

Ah, some people are just made to create a particular comic, and so it is with David Lapham. He is STRAY BULLETS and STRAY BULLETS is him. The snappy dialogue, so street, so witty and so on the money, is beyond even Bendis at his finest. The plot, pure convoluted, gritty, brutal contemporary-fiction unpleasantness, made real for our guilty and salacious enjoyment. Is he the best at what he does to borrow a well used phrase? I think so, I think so, he is certainly right up there. To give this material some context, there are a handful of other comics of this ilk over the last twenty years that have had as much impact on me as this one issue. Some of SCALPED and 100 BULLETS probably, much of CRIMINAL certainly, but then STRAY BULLETS is that good, it always was.

There are some artists – and this is the only way I can describe it – about whom you get the sense they are drawing it entirely for themselves, not for anyone else, just for them. I get the strongest sense that Lapham is precisely like that. This is his comic, written just how he wants, then drawn just how he likes: tough, uncompromising, exactly how a contemporary crime comic should be. I believe he has found the perfect home at Image for this title and I hope this new series runs for a very long time.


Buy Stray Bullets #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Bojeffries Saga (£9-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Steve Parkhouse.

A suburban sitcom created over the course of three decades to poke light-hearted fun at British society and contemporary culture, this is Alan Moore’s most accessible work of all time.

Well, it is if you’re British, ever paid rent, despised officiousness and despaired of the tabloids.

“Right! Inchmale. Council. I’m coming in. Don’t try to stop me… So, another member of the family, eh? There are rules on overcrowding, you know. Five people at least not counting a baby and a dog.”
“Yes. A dog. Didn’t think I knew about the dog, eh?”
“Døck? Vhere is døck? You shøw me døck.”
“I rather think you’ll show me, sir. I have a warrant.”
“Vørrant? You are pøliz come about døck? I never ate døck. Vos nøt døck anyway. Voss pøødle.”

In case you hadn’t gathered, Uncle Raoul is a Slavic werewolf and the joke never tires. Over and over innocent animals are left just a little too close for the poor creatures’ comfort and ravenous Raoul does what only comes naturally. The reprises grow cumulatively funnier and Parkhouse’s visual ellipses are hilarious.

Moore describes this as a “paranormal soap opera” for it is riddled with Chas Addams twists. The Bojeffries clan includes barking-mad, malapropism-prone werewolf Uncle Raoul, Festus the vegetarian vampire, Ginda the mop-topped minger who can “turn a cream egg into a diamond and then eat it anyway”, a basement-bound baby so toxic that you need biohazard suits to feed it… and then there is Dad. Dad is in flux. Dad may be moving on to the next stage in organic evolution. You’ll find him in the greenhouse. Or on the greenhouse. Slime is subjective, you know?

Without Steve Parkhouse – and, I would contend, only Steve Parkhouse – this would flail flat on its furry-fat feet. His is a burlesque, grotesque cartooning worthy of Leo Baxendale’s. His butch-ugly Ginda is a hippo-jowled, tooth-gapped joy except to those she voraciously attempts to bed. It is no small mercy that she must have played truant during sex education classes. We’re talking Roger Langridge’s The Gump from ART D’ECCO in an all-too-short skirt but with an even shorter temper and infinitely higher self-esteem.

Soft targets gently dealt with include seaside holidays in a caravan, goth and deaf metal (I know what I wrote), Big Brother (the televisual fiasco not the Orwellian dystopia) and the wisdom dispensed free both of charge and of any discernible intelligence:

“Quite right, guv. Hang asylum seekers, boost house prices, common fackin’ sense, ennit?”

Matching page-panel later:

“Now yer talkin’! Public blindings for underage drinkers, repatriate global warming. Sorted!”

Oh yes, our still-rampant racism is given several more kicks in the comedic cods, especially during the light opera / libretto.

This definite package is given an all-new 24-page send off in the form of a “Where Are They Now?” documentary delivered to camera by Professor Mark Glasses in a thick, phonetic, broad-Brummie accent (so when I typed “accessible” I do apologise) and I so wish I could communicate what had become of our vegan vampire Festus, now cross-dressing on goth-rock stage but both the cartooning and the typography are integral to the joke. However, Alan liked to leave each episode with a fond farewell, so it is only fitting that I do the same by concluding with this from the Christmas special:

“Somewhere, a traditional reliant robin trilled plaintively from a snowdrift.
“Statistically, people killed themselves, drank heavily, and listened to Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’…
“Although not necessarily in that order…
“Happy New Year, everybody!”


Buy The Bojeffries Saga and read the Page 45 review here

Mouse Guard: Legends Of The Guard vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Titan) by various.

An all-ages feudal fantasy created by David Petersen, MOUSE GUARD’s central series is written and drawn by David Petersen himself and I cannot commend its latest instalment, MOUSE GUARD VOL 3: THE BLACK AXE highly enough as the best place to start, taking place as it does several decades prior to volume one.

This is the second of its satellite series in which Petersen opens the world up to other creators he admires for short stories linked by his own framing sequences. There are all kinds of treatments here for you to discover, but two of my favourites were ‘Love Of The Sea’ by Christian Slade and ‘Back & Forth’ by Jackson Sze. Visually they couldn’t be more different.

The latter finds veteran explorer Faramond and newly qualified guardmouse Owain journeying from harbour to harbour, mountain to tree-tops, mapping out potential safe passages and trading routes while discarding those they deem perilous like the cavernous Forgotten Realm. Undoubtedly computer generated – you can just see the backlight shining through – the effect is yet one of bright brushstrokes of vivid colour as the rustic, riverside Bridgeporte, for example, its lodgings set atop a natural arch, gleams in the sun.


‘Love Of The Sea’, by contrast, is closer to Jeremy A. Bastien’s CURSED PIRATE GIRL liberated from such insanely intricate detail. The faces have a mid-Disney look to them (think: The Rescuers), but the silent story is performed in clean sepia line with lovely textures on panels coloured and frayed to pass as old paper. A mouse, a mermaid, and the passage of time. Simple, but effortlessly moving. Awww.


Buy Mouse Guard: Legends Of The Guard vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

47 Ronin h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Richardson & Stan Sakai…

Arguably the most famous example of bushidō (the code of Samurai honour) in Japanese history, this recounts the tale of the 47 brave men who decided to avenge the unjust death of their daimyo (feudal lord) knowing full well it would certainly mean their own. Asano Naganori, by all accounts quite a nice chap as feudal lords go, heads to the Imperial court where, despite being forewarned to expect rampant corruption amongst the civil service officials and demands for bribes being the norm, he finds himself being goaded into attacking one of them.

The only possible sentence for his actions in drawing his sword on a court official, as that official well knew, was death by seppuku or ritual suicide. Being an honourable man, and hoping to protect his family, Asano took his own life, but the damage was done and the decree came down that his family also be stripped of its title and its land. All to set ‘an example’ of what happens to those who disobey the rules of the Imperial court, just so the Emperor did not look weak. This was despite the Emperor knowing full well that the blame truly lay with the official in question, Kira, who was also ‘reassigned’ from the court to the countryside, thus leaving him fully exposed to revenge as his punishment.

Asano’s chief retainer decided his loyalty to his late lord demanded such revenge and asked who amongst the three hundred plus men under him were prepared to swear an oath to ensure such revenge was exacted, no matter what the personal cost. In total, they numbered 47 and once their mission was complete, they entered into legend.

Truly a heartbreaking tale, rendered sympathetically by the man best known for his anthropomorphic rabbit bodyguard Usagi Yojimbo, this actually has far more in common tone-wise, if not in terms of art style, with the fictionalised biographical epic that is VAGABOND – i.e. no rabbits of either the common garden or indeed sword wielding variety… This work also perfectly shows how ossified the codified strictures that permeated pretty much every aspect of Japanese life at that time had become. Eventually, put under stress, something had to give.

Whilst we may consider modern Japan to still be a fairly structured society, and obviously we can trace the roots of that back to myriad such cultural institutions as bushidō, it’s happily a far more relaxed place today, though it perhaps took WW2 and the American occupation that followed to finally administer the true killing blow, severing the head of the past. Honour is one thing, but to undertake such a task, knowing it will mean certain death, either in battle, or at one’s own hand because again honour demands it, I couldn’t live my life that way. On the other hand, you don’t pick up your standing order for several months and mysteriously disappear without having the good manners to cancel, I am coming round to your house to fuck you up and burn your comic collection before your eyes.

Looked at in one sense, bushidō is simply brainwashing, conditioning. When you consider that originally according to bushidō a samurai was supposed to commit seppuku simply upon the death of his master, and if you didn’t you chose the life of shame and became a rōnin, it’s clearly a nonsense. The whole rōnin thing came about because other feudal lords didn’t want those men simply signing up to serve someone else en masse thus increasing their power at a stroke potentially tipping the balance of power against them. Paranoia, in a word. Unsurprisingly, more and more samurai became rōnin, choosing dishonour over death, and eventually rules were relaxed to allow samurai to serve someone else, but it’s clear that they were viewed by many in their ivory towers as little more than low ranking chess pieces on the board of power. But for some, brainwashed or not, honour was everything.

But I digress. If you have an interest in finding out more about one of the most infamous episodes of Japanese mediaeval history, you’ll love this, because it is well written and skilfully executed, as indeed were the 47 rōnin eventually. They did get their ‘revenge’ first, though whether their wives and children thought it was all worth it is a different matter.


Buy 47 Ronin h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets #41 (£2-75, Image) by David Lapham…

“Come. Sit down. Kevin and I have been having a conversation.”
“About what you boys have been up to.”
“Up to?”
“Huss, he knows.”
“Knows what, Kevin?”
“Kidnapping? Violence? Blackmail? What the hell have you got my son into?”

Nine long years we have waited… and finally that patience has been rewarded! Talk about a cliff-hanger?!!! I am so, so happy for David that he has got this issue out at long last; and of course about the joyous news that the entirety of STRAY BULLETS has been reprinted in one glorious volume out this week, plus there will be much, much more to come, starting with STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #1 out now!

After the previous forty issues, spread over nearly ten years, it would be fair to say that I needed closure about the exploits of Virginia Applejack et al. I never doubted the toughest teen out there would be able to smash up the bad guys one last time and rescue her friend Leon, but I just never thought I would see it writ and drawn large, for real!

I was having a conversation with a customer recently, how longer-form drama has become the big thing in the on-screen entertainment medium over the last ten or fifteen years beginning with TV shows like 24 and The Sopranos through to Breaking Bad and True Detective today. But long before the Sopranos started back in 1999, David Lapham was telling gripping, bleak, even frightening stories of contemporary fiction in the longer form. Yes folks, comics got there first. For those who were along for the whole rollercoaster ride like myself, you will get a huge kick out of the denouement, whereas Huss is just going to get a huge kick in the nuts. It’s a perfectly fitting finale to what was a groundbreaking, award-winning title, with both the creator and the title itself winning Eisners, back in the days when that really meant something. Now, if Paul Pope could just kindly finish off THB… ha ha, ha ha, HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.


Buy Stray Bullets #41 and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer: Shoot (£10-99, DC) by Warren Ellis, Darko Macan, Jason Aaron, Dave Gibbons, Jamie Delano, Brian Azzarello, Peter Milligan, China Mieville & Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Gary Erskine, Sean Murphy, David Lloyd, Rafael Grampa, Eddie Campbell, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini.

“Impressive member you’ve got there, old boy.
“But you’re forgetting one thing…
“Mine’s bigger.
“Shall we measure?”

He’s talking to a thirty-foot, bipedal wolf. It’s an awful thing.

Now, will you just look at that top-tier talent! Even the seasonal short stories deliver the “Oh God, no!” goods with wit, depth and some ingenious twists. Sean Phillips’s art – on the Dave Gibbons piece set round the banks of the New-Year’s-Night Thames – is so rich in action and architectural detail that it bears some serious study.

However, the gruesome two-part ‘Newcastle Calling’ by Jason SCALPED Aaron & Sean PUNK ROCK JESUS Murphy is the balls-out winner, bearing all the trappings of a perfect HELLBLAZER shudder-thon: British culture in the form of punk rock, a prime piece of Constantine history reprised (the clue’s in the title; see HELLBLAZER VOL 2), and a fractious gang of video journalists over-confident in their crusade to discover the truth behind Constantine’s past which, as we all know, is best left buried.

Instead they break into the dark and derelict Casanova Club where John’s Mucous Membranes angrily snarled out ‘The Venus Of The Hard Sell’. It was also where John made the most serious of his five thousand, six-hundred and fifty-eight terrible mistakes, landing him in the legendary mental asylum called Ravenscar. Now they have woken what they shouldn’t and what they wind up doing to themselves – and to dead dogs – will make your toes crawl and their bunions bleed. Sean Murphy shows you just enough to make you wonder what God was thinking when he invented eyes.

All of this before our John joins us on the first chapter’s final two pages having got wind on the ectoplasmic plains of what the fuck is up, pulling him back so very, very reluctantly to Newcastle.

“Just this once, how grand would it be if this whole dammed mess didn’t somehow turn out to be entirely my bleedin’ fault.
“Fat fuckin’ chance of that though, aye?”

The other chief attraction is the reprint of Warren Ellis & Phil Jimenez’s ‘Shoot’ which tackled child-on-child gun crime and which DC originally spiked. Written and drawn before whichever the bloody massacre was back then, it was deemed too topical to print, which is precisely why it should have been printed in the first place. Heaven forefend that DC ever grows balls and proves topical.

A woman is reviewing video tapes of school shootings in order to address a Senate Committee with her judgement as to why they are happening. But she just can’t see it and keeps going back to the audio tape on which Reverend Jim Jones persuades his congregation, all nine hundred and fourteen men, women and children, to commit mass suicide.

“It’s deciding what to blame, you know? Blame the parents for keeping a gun in the house? Not without blaming the constitution and pulling the NRA’s chain.”
“The movies, the video games, the comicbooks…”
“More killers fixate and draw inspiration from the Bible than any other piece of culture.”
“So if I did a Nintendo thing called “Flying Chainsaw Jesus” I’d be rich?”
“Ew. And you’ve got kids.”
“And that’s how I oughta know. You oughta see the little bastards playing their video games. Eyes bright, teeth bared, like wolves tearing up a sheep.”
“It’s not the games that do it, Brian.”

No, it’s not. Nor, I can assure you, does this have anything to do with our John or any hocus pocus whatsoever. That would have made this an awful Constantine story, and a complete cop-out on what it is a very real real-world problem.

The only uncanny thing about John’s involvement is that he’s there at the site of every recent child-child slaying, but he’s only there to see for himself why they are doing it as a favour to a friend whose own boy got blown away, and I believe both John and Warren are absolutely on the nail.

Jimenez owns this story as much as Ellis: without his pitch-perfect expressions, particularly the last one, it couldn’t have worked. Now please see Andrew Vachss’ HEART TRANSPLANT (at a mere £4-99) if you want to learn the truth about early self-esteem and bullying.


Buy Hellblazer: Shoot and read the Page 45 review here

Captain Marvel #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & David Lopez.

Nearly miscredited this to Jelly Sue DeConnick.

I have a wobbly keyboard and this typing malarkey is tough.

Isn’t that a lovely cover? It’s fairly indicative of what lies within: softer than usual superheroic art for a softer than usual superheroic saga but make no mistake: Carol Danvers is a very naughty lady. You can see it the mischievous smile and the I-know-what-I’m-doing smile.

Except that Carol’s never quite known what she’s doing: not in the wider scheme of things, anyway. Once she was lost to alcoholism and became ultra-defensive to boot. Now she’s having a tryst with Rhodey, pilot of War Machine (now Iron Patriot). They seem pretty well matched.

“Tony Stark just tried to play me with the suggestion that you’re a better pilot than me.”
“I am.”
“In your dreams.”
“Let’s talk more about my dreams. I’m seeing you in a little black lace number –“
“Careful. Your heart.”
“A cocktail dress. Colonel Danvers. Who’s the one with the dirty mind here?”
“I am. I thought we established that.”

Alas, the subject which Stark was trying to play her on was the opportunity to head into space as part of a formal, rotating Avengers presence and it’s seems the perfect opportunity during which to find herself.

Fast-forward to the first page and Colonel Danvers (who in costume appears to accept demotion) has evidently already accepted and gathered a personal posse of intriguing individuals one of whom nearly crash-landed on Earth in an escape pod six weeks earlier. At which point you know just about as much as I do.

The ever-competitive exchange between Stark and Danvers takes place while they nonchalantly deal with a couple of lowlifes, killing two narrative birds with one rolling stone and thereby keeping the whole thing popping along at a bright and breezy pace.


Buy Captain Marvel volume #1 and read the Page 45 review here

FF vol 2: Family Freakout s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Lee Allred & Joe Quinones, Michael Allred.

Upsettingly undersubscribed series of gleeful wit and innocent joy, as playful as you like.

This features a pool party for the kids. Expect cool swimming costumes, petulant splashing and dive-bombs!

And in spite of this cover (far from the series’ best), it’s all about the kids. I’m not sure their adult supervision is up to the task. In fact, I’m not sure that all their supervisors are necessarily well-adjusted adults. You just know that Queen Medusa hired a nanny.

The best bit was discovering that the singularly solitary Watcher – aloof and never allowed to interfere – actually has a missus. We’d just assumed he was celibate or a castrato. Also, he does occasionally need to go to the toilet. Who knew?

Below its effervescent surface, however, there also lie some serious scientific investigations into long-standing Marvel phenomena like the shrinking / biggening thingummyjiggies called Pym Particles used by both all three Ant Men (and far more characters than you may have suspected) to –

“Shut up, Stephen!”

Look, my review of FF VOL 1: FANTASTIC FAUX tells you all you need to know, and once you’ve read that you will understand why I loved this bit, in which our over-protective, idol-worshipping Young Moloids who’ve since ditched The Ben and latched onto The Jen (She-Hulk) are particularly alarmed that The Watcher has a sex drive.

In unison, they demand:

“Do not pitch the woo to our Jen!”

Do not!


Buy FF vol 2: Family Freakout s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Attack On Titan: Junior High vol 1 (£12-99, Kodansha) by Saki Nakagawa…

“They’re gym shorts, and they’re not what I meant to steal! That is…”
“What?! No way! I… refuse to bow my head to any titan…”
“EREN?! Seriously? You fainted? You’re worse at apologising than Shia Leboeuf.”

Ouch! Really wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy this at all, but I found myself chuckling throughout. It is such a bizarre concept, take one of the most horrific titles out there and then applying every conceivable comedic high-school manga trope imaginable to it – and, believe me, there are a lot – plus a smattering of topical social satire to boot. Certainly nice to see Shia Lebouef is being pilloried by the comic community on even the far side of the globe. Hilarious hi-jinks fun, will make absolutely no sense whatsoever to anyone not reading ATTACK ON TITAN, but would certainly tickle those who are. For a volume or two at least anyway.


Buy Attack On Titan: Junior High vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Attack On Titan: Before The Fall vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ryo Suzukaze & Satoshi Shiki…

“Tch! You’re soweak, you’re so weak, you’re not even worth beating.
“This is no fun. Fight back a little, why don’t you? Fight back. FIGHT BACK.”

“Fi…ght ba…ck.”

So, those of you reading ATTACK ON TITAN will know there is a fair amount of mystery to it: who or what are the Titans, where did they come from, why does the title make no grammatical sense etc. etc? Not sure exactly how much will be revealed in this straight prequel, set in the relatively early days following the rise of the Titans and humanities retreat behind their towering, walled defences. Defences which, as readers of ATTACK ON TITAN will know, have some very dubious foundations indeed. I strongly suspect after reading this first volume that BEFORE THE FALL will indeed be a vital companion title, will eventually have some important revelations, but undoubtedly not before much allusion and indeed possibly misdirection have taken place. Nice.

Indeed, even the set-up premise of a human baby found alive inside a titan after his pregnant mother was consumed provides much to puzzle over. The general consensus is he must be the son of a Titan. Unfortunately for the baby in question he himself is going to have plenty to time to ponder his lot, as he spends his entire childhood in chains in a dungeon being repeatedly beaten by the child of a wealthy merchant who is determined to toughen his son up before he enters a career in the higher echelons of the military. And I do mean repeatedly. Dark stuff in places actually, I must say, but it certainly creates an interesting starting point for this title.


Buy Attack On Titan: Before The Fall 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.


Stray Bullets: Uber Alles Edition s/c (£45-00, Image) by David Lapham

Saga vol 3 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Death s/c (£14-99, DC) by Neil Gaiman & Chris Bachalo, Dave McKean, Mark Buckingham, Mike Dringenberg, Colleen Doran, P. Craig Russell, Malcom Jones III, Mark Pennington, Jeffrey Jones

Wasteland vol 9: A Thousand Lies (£10-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood

Hellboy: The First 20 Years h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola

Judge Dredd Casefiles 22 (£19-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar & Carlos Ezquerra, Ashley Wood, many more

Noah h/c (£22-50, Image) by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel & Niko Henrichon

Sailor Twain (£10-99, First Second) by Mark Siegel

Silk Road To Ruin (£14-99, NBM) by Ted Rall

Sock Monkey Treasury h/c (£29-99, Fantagraphics) by Tony Millionaire

Green Arrow vol 4: The Kill Machine s/c (£12-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino

Green Lantern: Rise Of The Third Army s/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns, various & Doug Mahnke, various

Iron Man: Epic Collection – War Games s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by John Byrne & John Romita Jr., Paul Ryan, Mark D. Bright, Tony DeZuniga

Marvel Encyclopedia h/c (£30-00, Marvel) by various

Mighty Avengers vol 1: No Single Hero s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Greg Land

New Avengers vol 1: Everything Dies s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man vol 4 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez, Sara Pichelli

Wolverine Max vol 3: Vegas s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jason Starr & Felix Ruiz, Roland Boschi

Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Jason Latour & Yves Bigerel, Paco Diaz

Young Avengers vol 3: Mic-Drop At The Edge Of Time And Space s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Emma Vieceli, Becky Cloonan, Jordie Bellaire, Ming Doyle, Maris Wicks, Joe Quninones, Christian Ward

Gangsta vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Kohske

UQ Holder vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu


ITEM! Bryan Lee O’Malley’s SECONDS to be published by SelfMadeHero in the UK in August. Gorgeous cover!

ITEM! New Paul Pope book and more besides in First Second’s Autumn schedule.

ITEM! Jamie Smart exclusively reveals the official poster for the next Spider-Man film! I do hope it is in black and white – preferably with French sub-titles.

ITEM! Gender-specific books: the Independent refuses to review them. Hurrah!

ITEM! I don’t have many “idols” and, since Will Eisner, I certainly can’t think of any in comics. Completely off-topic, then, but because I can: three pieces to read on Tony Benn, one of those very few idols, who’s left us all the poorer for his passing. Compassion is what does it for me.

– Stephen

Reviews March 2014 week two

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

What a very beautiful book and, oh, you will love the clouds of butterflies glowing under the moon’s reflective gaze and erupting from the oddest of places. Look, there’s one now crawling out of Kohta’s mouth!

 – Stephen on Inio Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph. Don’t. Just… don’t!

Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case Of The Good Boy s/c (£14-99, Oni Press) by John Allison.

“Who are you phoning?”
“The dictionary. I want a word for when “ungrateful” isn’t enough.”

John Allison, for me, is the king of British web comics and knave of the UK self-publishing scene. A veteran of both, he is all about the mischief. And the sleuthing. And the astutely observed friendships of contemporary school children.

He’s also one of the finest cartoonists we have, right up there with Dan Berry for movement and energy, supple forms and exuberant gesticulation.

In the opening exchange we had Jack admonishing young Linton who has been saved from drowning by Archibald, Mildred’s adoptive “dog” who leapt into water like a Jack Kirby hero with suspiciously anthropoid grace. Hmmm. Rather than just lying lifeless on the sandy shore soaking, Linton is scuffling about in circles either through petulance and irritation or in order to dry off his back. I don’t care which: this movement which few others would have thought of brings extra life to the panel and a great big grin to my face.

As to the characters’ expressions, they are priceless: Charlotte’s eyes closed in sanctimonious approval of her family’s month-long moratorium on meatballs out of respect for the removal of her dog Pepper’s bollocks; Sonny, Jack and Linton’s epileptic response to the fair ride Obliterator 500 and its ilk; the boggle-eyed baby Humphrey burbling “Borb Ground Wee” and “Botty”; plus Sonny’s super-serious, fire-lit eyes on getting to grips with a new mystery!

“Beasts intrigue me, Jack. Tell me more about the beasts.”

Although loaded online page by periodical page, John’s stories are long-form so now that they’re being published, case by investigative case, the fluidity of the narrative is far more obvious – as well as their considerable substance and length.

The town is Tackleford and the two sets of twelve-year-old friends are Charlotte, Shauna and Mildred; Linton, Sonny and Jack. They are linked by Shauna’s pash on Jack. She slipped a pink love note into Jack’s pocket complete with two panda stickers, three hearts and a butterfly. Unfortunately Linton found it and teased Jack without let-up (he is very funny!) which is why Linton ended up in the river. Friends do fall out, you know. Here’s Shauna and Charlotte:

“Fancy fightin’ over a flippin’ “magic pencil”.”
“Ugh. I know. Let’s add it to the list of things we’re not allowed to row about.”
“OK. Licking other people’s yoghurt lids. Best singers.”
“Rules of tennis, “badmington”, marbles, hula hoop. Imaginary… magic… trinkets.”
“Hula hoop defo doesn’t have rules, Lottie.”

Allison packs so much of these “things that kids do” into his series leaving the mystery to percolate gently in the background into its full flavour is ready: the romance, the bullying, the school smokers’ corner, the family squabbling, the embarrassing nightmare which is parents evening… and why Mildred’s parents refuse to let her play computer games – in her case wisely. They’re also strict about Mildred’s diet when she goes to stay with cousin Sonny:

“There’s some of her veggie burger mix in there, and an organic berry salad. Don’t let her anywhere near yoghurt.”
“Mum’s got me on a superfoods diet.”
“The name is a trick. It’s basically things from the garden that even slugs aren’t interested in.”

The intertwining mysteries this time involve nine missing babies (the first of which vanished under nursery manager Susan Bovis’ hilariously slapdash care: “Little ones are always wandering off. I’m sure they’ll come back. They’re probably having a wonderful time.”), the Magic Pencil which Mildred won from a fairground con-man with hastily calculated complex mechanics and sheer bloody-mindedness (“Whatever it draws, whatever it writes, comes true!” Will it?) and The Tackleford Beast, a huge bipedal shadow spotted roaming the ‘urbs by the usual suspects you would never believe in a month of Sundays. Oh yes, and then there’s the surprise find of curiously capable dog ‘Archie’, another of John’s cartooning triumphs.

This is brilliant, this is bonkers and if you are desperate for me to find a comparison point then this is the lo-fi, parochial UK equivalent of (amongst many other things) SCOTT PILGRIM.

I exhort you, then, to…

Discover the leaf-loving joys of Nature-craft Folk Club!

Gasp at the wrist action of Jack’s throwing prowess and note down the time it takes for his stick to go under the bridge! (“Fifteen… point six… seconds… heart heart kiss kiss… PANDA STICKER. NEXT!”)

Wonder at the wisdom of deploying the Magic Pencil when you’ve read W.W. Jacobs’ ‘The Monkeys Paw’ and be careful what you wish for!

And finally gawp at the glossary contrived for our American chums, every bit of mirth-making as the contents themselves.

Completely self-contained, this would be a brilliant place to begin your life-long love affair with Mr Allison, but if you want to kick off with BAD MACHINERY VOL 1: THE CASE OF TEAM SPIRIT then that is entirely up to you. I haven’t read it yet because it was stolen from me by our Jonathan in fact THIS IS THE FIRST JOHN ALLISON BOOK I HAVE EVER BEEN ALLOWED TO REVIEW.


Buy Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case Of The Good Boy s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Homesick Truant’s Cumbrian Yarn (£3-00, Rolling Stock Press) by Oliver East…

“The first train of the day allows me enough time to walk to Grange-Over-Sands, keeping as close to the train tracks as possible. A distance of just over 5km as the train flies.
“That is if the powers that be had had the foresight to lay a footpath of sorts along the 600-metre viaduct that stretches across Milnthorpe Sands.
“But they didn’t and they haven’t.
“This forces me to circle the sands and mud flats for 30km and 7 hours, get lost more than once, hounded by a dog, encouraged by a different dog and finish this leg with my stance as a non ‘dog person’ totally unaltered.”

Ha ha, I do like Oliver’s deadpan delivery. If you’re going to write a comic about tramping through the mud around Cumbria, you need a bit of humour, frankly. Whether it’s being surprised by a sleeping tramp (TRAINS ARE MINT) or experiencing sudden paranoia at the unlikely prospect of being sexually molested on a lonely footbridge (PROPER WELL GO HIGH), I’ve always enjoyed the undercurrent of observing the absurd in the everyday which runs throughout his work.


Commissioned by the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (we may have we mentioned we’re going to be there this year…?) this is a typical walk through Oliver’s world of… err… walking and, as ever, trains or at least tracks are involved somewhere, as he battles the elements as well as the wildlife on what seems anything but a pleasant stroll in this particular instance. Definitely one for those who like the idea of a bracing, refreshing walk in the countryside, if not the actuality of getting off one’s arse, heading out the door and getting piss-wet through.

I have reproduced some pages for those unfamiliar with Oliver’s unique art style. Do not be fooled by its apparent simplicity, it actually takes an immense amount of skill to illustrate so expressively and suggestively with such economy of line and no shading tones. The more I study any particular panel, the more I admire his compositional ability. A true British gem.


Buy The Homesick Truant’s Cumbrian Yarn and read the Page 45 review here

Nijigahara Holograph (£22-50, Fantagraphics) by Inio Asano.

“The promised day is near.
“The butterflies that had been pulled apart by fate…
“Shall become one.”

What a very beautiful book and, oh, you will love the clouds of butterflies glowing under the moon’s reflective gaze and erupting from the oddest of places. Look, there’s one now crawling out of Kohta’s mouth!

Kohta has found a butterfly pendant in the pitch-black warren of tunnels behind the school, beneath the Nijigahara Embankment. It’s one of a matching pair of pendants which will be lost and found, passed on from one protagonist to the next throughout this book. Kohta entrusts this one to former classmate Maki, now waitress in the café Makota inherited so fortuitously from his dead parents. It is to be delivered, and soon, for the promised day is coming and the connections will finally be made clear.

If you’re paying attention, of course. Inio Asano, the creator of SOLANIN, won’t be holding your hand. He’s created an elliptical narrative which orbits a cast of characters, gliding in and out of their lives as adults and school children. It’s such a gentle, sleepy, dreamy read that when sudden acts of extreme violence erupt seemingly out of nowhere, it is altogether halting. Except that they don’t erupt out of nowhere: they come from the human heart – and what happened at school and around the Nijigahara Embankment eleven years ago.

It all begins with a girl called Arié who claimed there was a monster in that tunnel. It begins with what was done to her, what kept her in a coma for over a decade, and its effect on classmate Kohta who develops an… affinity… for those tunnels and, for a bully, quite the protective streak.

Or does it begin with Amahiko, product of a loveless home and ostracised at each successive school he’s moved to? As an adult he is visiting his dying father in hospital – the same hospital Arié’s still sleeping in – lost in reverie:

“These days… I have dreams. It makes me wonder if what I’m seeing now isn’t really just a dream. Each day, the dreams become more and more real. And yet…”
“… In the end… you wake up, and you are yourself. Isn’t that the way it always is? Simply by virtue of being alive, all persons have some kind of role to play. They just don’t realise it.”
“.. Who are you?”

He’s on old man on whose balding head a butterfly has alighted.

“Could you push my wheelchair for me?”
“Excuse me?”
“Over there. To where that boy is crying.”

There are a lot of dreams here whose meaning may at first elude you (you may want to have a pen handy for jotting down the vast cast’s names!), but I promise you it will all make sense in the end. A very worrying sense, I might add, for even some of the quietest and ostensibly sane prove to be monsters if you join the dots between far-from-random flash-panels and listen carefully to what prove confessions. Then there are those moments of casual conversation which suddenly take an abrupt turn for the hideously dark. Threatening. Brutal. Cruel.

I did have a pen and paper handy and jotted down all sort of questions and connections – the repercussions – but I only did that for my own benefit. School teacher Miss Sakaki, and eye wrapped in bandages, will have an edifying lesson for you about ancient Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu who once dreamt he was a butterfly.

“A butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Tzu. Suddenly he woke up and there he was… Chuang Tzu. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Tzu who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu.”

No one here is going to be flitting and fluttering around, happy with themselves and doing as they please. Or at least if they do as they please they won’t be happy for long because there will be repercussions. As to the Nijigahara Embankment – about which the mere mention will begin to trouble you deeply – “Niji” can be written using the Chinese characters for “rainbow” or “two children”. It’s only recently that it’s become “the plain of the rainbow”; it used to be “the plain of two children”.

Rarely have I seen photography incorporated so successfully into exquisitely fine pen line like this. You’ll barely notice it’s there in the foliage, the overhanging canopies, the blinding sunsets with backlit clouds and trees silhouetted against the sky. I put it down to a skilled deployment of tone and indeed the light is exquisite throughout while the butterflies will leave you breathless. There must be thousands here.

SOLANIN proved to be one of Page 45’s most popular Comicbook Of The Month and this shares its contemplative nature, but its content is quite the departure, delving as the back-cover copy says into “David Lynchian territory”. There’s a lot more going on underneath than you may initially suspect but once it starts clawing its way up to the surface you won’t be able to look away.

P.S. I lied: it all begins with Arié’s mother, but it definitely begins with those tunnels.


Buy Nijigahara Holograph and read the Page 45 review here

Fatale: The Deluxe Edition vol 1 (vols 1-2) h/c (£29-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

From the creators of CRIMINAL, this too is crime but with a Lovecraftian twist.

It begins in a graveyard.

Nicolas Lash is burying his godfather, one Dominic H. Raines who published a string of bestselling detective novels beginning in 1960 before dying alone, bitter and broken. He was also an avowed atheist, so when Nicolas spots three sigils on Dominic’s gravestone, he is ever so slightly perplexed. At which point Jo, the most beautiful woman Nicolas has ever beheld, appears as if out of nowhere:

“My grandmother had them on her grave too…
“She and Mr Raines were in love once. I think that symbol was something private between them…
“Some piece of the past they couldn’t let go of.”

And immediately, like a kid in a school yard, Nicolas is irretrievably smitten.

Later that night he goes through his godfather’s effects and discovers an unpublished manuscript dated 1957 called ‘The Losing Side Of Eternity’.

At which point all hell breaks loose before we flash back to San Francisco, 1956, when Dominic Raines was a happily married man with a kid on the way. He’s not yet a writer, but a reporter determined to expose police corruption and in particular one Walt Booker who happens to be dating… oh, hello! She looks familiar!

Then there are tentacles and some heads explode.



Okay, that’s my shop-floor-show and tell, replacing my introduction to FATALE VOL 1 s/c for this deluxe hardcover of the first two books which, vitally, restores the opposing-page structure Sean Phillips originally intended and it makes all the difference in the world.

It also contains the sort of extras you’ve come to expect from this creative combo’s hardcovers: the prologue pages used to advertise the series, process pieces including the evolution of series’ logo (a design triumph), a cover gallery, the issues’ back-matter essays, other studies (oh, god, that monkey!) and an afterword by Brubaker.

Back to the contents, however. Back to the losing side of eternity, and Josephine is both cursed and conflicted.

“She hates herself… For wanting to survive this badly. For the things she’s done and the things she’s willing to do. She can still feel Hanks’ hands on her. Still taste him on her lips. And she hates herself for that too.
“She thinks about his wife… pictures her waiting up… lying to herself that her husband is working late. Or out all night chasing a lead. And she wants to cry, for what she’s done to this woman. But she doesn’t… because it’s not just about survival.”

Ah, la femme fatale: beautiful, seductive, and disastrous for all who stray near. But Brubaker and Phillips have carved something far more interesting, especially in Josephine who can’t help each act of seduction just like you can’t control your own pheromones, while she sees all those around her paying the price. Also, I’ve deliberately said little about Walt himself – both his public and private investigations into a death cult – nor what happens to Nicolas back in the present, because although this is everything you love about the same team’s CRIMINAL, it’s also a horror comic: the less you know, the better.

It’s another perfect fusion of genres, but the big change and one of the keys to its complexity lies in the multiple, third-person perspectives: Josephine’s, obviously, but also that of the men who find themselves stricken by the raven-haired beauty who appears to weather the ravages of time infinitely better than those who fixate. Each for their own reason feels they have no option but to forge forward in their different directions; each believes they are running out of time. All of them seem linked by and trapped in a web woven wider and wider across time, spanning an entire century or perhaps even longer.

I love the way Sean Phillips draws gunshots – jagged flashes of fire – and there’s plenty of action and more gore to come as the tentacles first start to show. Almost all of this takes place indoors or at night, and I’ve long said that I never trust anyone drawn by Sean Phillips. The faces are constantly cast in shadow, masking their motives and making your fear the very worst – either of them or for them. Cigarette smoke is rendered with a very dry brush, while much of the violence is framed in expressionistically rendered and instinctively positioned darkness.

But it’s his quietest moments set in beds, bars or out on the street that I relish even more. The opening pages in the bucolic graveyard are particularly sublime, and the covers – including their subsequent printings, so wittily re-rendered – have been the best designed this year.


As to the second half here and the men hooked on Josephine, theirs is a different perspective, though no less driven:

“It’s only after Claudia leaves and Miles realises that he feels sorry for her that he has a moment of clarity about how much he’s changed in the past week.
“He hasn’t used anything but pot since he first slept with Josephine. And he hasn’t even missed it. No cravings… nothing.
“Like she was all the drugs he needed.”

Los Angeles 1978, a dozen years on from FATALE VOL 1, and Josephine still hasn’t aged a day. Holed up in her luxury villa, she has – she realises – become that Hollywood cliché, “the strange old lady who stays indoors and watches old movies every night on TV. Except she doesn’t look old. She just feels it.” Everything she needs is fetched by Miss Jansen while her devoted gardener Jorge watches on from afar. Other than that she has successfully avoided the company of men. Given her history, it’s… safer that way.

Tonight she is watching the only decent film that failed movie star Miles ever acted in before being relegated to a life of B-movies, speedballs and subsequent self-loathing. And tonight is the night that Miles clambers over her walls with a wounded and bloody Suzy Scream in tow, clutching a reel of film. What they have witnessed is abhorrent; what’s on the film is worse. What Josephine knows is that in her life there is no such thing as coincidence so she takes the fugitives in. That’s when she holds strips of the film to the light and spies the prize that eluded her for years: a specific book being read by an acolyte of the Method Church before its ritual sacrifice. And as with all things, I’m afraid, Josephine simply cannot help herself – and subsequently neither can Miles.

Self-awareness is key to this series’ success: its protagonists retain just enough self-knowledge to realise that their self-guidance is fucked whilst being unable to alter course. Clearly we’re in for a multiple pile-up and you cannot help screaming, “Nooooo!”

Indeed, Brubaker and Phillips have concocted something uncanny in that its theme of compulsion is mirrored by its effect: FATALE is as addictive to its audience as Josephine is to those caught within her gravitational pull.

And yes, there’s plenty more on Nicolas Lash who’s succumbed to her charms in the present, desperately chasing her ghost and about to experience one hell of a flashback in a childhood memory which has somehow been blocked until now. Oh, but that’s clever – dovetails beautifully.

Also smart is Phillips’ art, whose rigorous self-discipline means his storytelling is instantly accessible (i.e. legible) even to those new to comics. You won’t notice this (which is part of the point) but each page is clearly tiered, with the lettering arranged at the top of each tier so that one’s eyes move swiftly from left to right rather than straying perilously down a row way too early.

Sean Phillips’ male faces all have that lived-in look: slightly battered both by the years and what life has thrown at them. Interestingly (I’ve not seen this mentioned elsewhere), although most of the male faces in FATALE are as semi-shrouded in shadow as they are in CRIMINAL, Josephine’s isn’t, even at night. It makes her seem slightly ethereal – not quite of the world around her.


Buy Fatale: The Deluxe Edition vol 1 (vols 1-2) h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Starlight #1 (£2-25, Image) by Mark Millar & Goran Parlov…

“They say a funeral is for those who are left behind, but I don’t really take much comfort from all this.
“I’ve lost my best friend, the mother of my boys, and my soulmate…
“Joanne is here in a wooden box and everyone is acting like it’s so damn normal.
“The preacher says she’s happier now and living up there in a better place. But how could it be better?
“We didn’t spend one night apart in thirty-eight years of marriage.
“How can it be paradise if she and I aren’t together anymore?”

I really did not believe that it was possible for Millar to produce a comic with more pathos than SUPERIOR, but I think he might have managed it with just one issue of this new series…

There are so many heart strings getting tugged it’s practically a full violin concerto of melodrama! Okay, our main character Duke McQueen (think a pension-age Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, basically) might not be in mortal danger, yet at least, but this introductory issue showing the great man in his silver haired dotage, safely retired from derring-do, mourning the recent loss of the love of his life, gradually being ever more sidelined by his two busy adult sons, is moving for the simple truth it portrays so well. Human beings are social creatures, and denied the contact with those we love, through time and distance, or mortality, it can be a rather lonely existence.

Duke seems to be coping well enough though. After all you’d expect no less from such a renowned space hero, right? Except, except, his youthful exploits took place somewhere far, far away, and no one on the planet Earth ever believed a single word of it, aside from his late wife. Even two generations on, his notoriety and public shaming hasn’t been forgotten and has become something even young kids like to tease a crazy old man about…

“Uh, are you the guy that thinks he flew his plane to another planet?”
“The guys were saying you got sucked through a wormhole and came home telling everyone you’d met real aliens. Is that true or are they just messing with me?”
“Yeah, I’m not sure if it was a wormhole, but yeah… I ended up somewhere else for a while and saw some crazy stuff. I just don’t like talking about it.”
“Is it true they put a probe in Uranus?”
“Get the hell outta my sight!”
“Sorry Duke.”
“Relax buddy, I’m used to it.”

These days, he’s playing out his third and final act almost as if in a dream, for all he has are his memories. Those of his dear departed wife… and those of his time riding dragons and duelling space dictators. When his two sons and their families aren’t able to come and visit him on the anniversary of their mother’s passing, inadvertently ruining the special meal which they have no idea Duke has spent days planning and preparing, it seems like he can’t feel any more alone in the world, or should that be universe? So when Duke’s house begins shake as if a huge earthquake is starting, he’s as shocked as anyone when… TO BE CONTINUED IN STARLIGHT #2!!!

Sorry, couldn’t resist an old Buster Crabbe era Flash Gordon-style to-be-continued-next-week ending there!



This is superb work from Millar. I was gripped from the first page, not least because of Goran Parlov’s opening sequence set on an alien world which is pure Moebius, and that top-notch standard of art is continued throughout once we’re back on more mundane Earth in Goran’s own inimitable style. But also because instantly you care about Duke and by the end of this first issue you desperately want something, anything, good or better yet exciting, to happen for this care-worn, gentle giant of a man. Better buckle up!


Buy Starlight #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Where Bold Stars Go To Die (£5-99, Other A-Z) by Gerry Alanguilan & Arlanzando Esmena.

“Anna, it doesn’t matter anymore if I ever see you again. But wherever you are in this world or the next… this one’s for you.”

Hahahaha! That’s not a dedication, it’s the punchline. What follows may give you a clue why I’m laughing.

Firstly, this is deliciously beautiful.

The landscapes in particular – the intricately gnarled bark, the fine-bladed grass and even the copulating dragonflies – put me immediately in mind of the great Mike Zulli, he of Neil Gaiman’s CREATURES OF THE NIGHT and THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF THE DEPARTURE OF MISS FINCH and original, of course, of the long-lamented PUMA BLUES nature comic. There should be more nature comics. This is a fact.

If you like your ladies tastefully draped with semi-transparent chiffon blowing in the breeze but naked and curvaceous all the same, you will absolutely adore this slim graphic novella. In the spirit of equally opportunities I should also confirm that the teenage protagonist, who fervently does adore these ladies from afar, is also delightfully fit. The ladies aren’t alone in showing some nether curves as Daniel rolls over or sits up in bed in order to facilitate his self-administration.

“Bold Stars” were not porn stars but soft-core stars of the Philippines’’ film industry and it is with one in particular, Anna, with whom Daniel falls in love. Absolutely besotted. Alas, he can find no reference to her online, so any printed glimpse of her on paper is like the Holy Grail which Daniel pursues as far as he can. As the sun sets he gazes out of this bedroom window across the bay and daydreams about her. And then he falls asleep…

It’s possible I have already said too much but it’s the dream that’s the key, and his rude awakening from it. For however relieved one always is to wake up from a nightmare, imagine conversely being torn not just from a most exhilarating fantasy but absolute heaven instead.

Arlanzando Esmena nails the sheer crumpled misery on Daniel’s face as subsequent days become weeks during which Daniel pleasures himself obsessively and exhaustingly with no pleasure at all. He’s doing this partly in order to try to recreate some second-best aspect of heaven in his head, yes, but that is not all, oh not at all.

Do you remember Neil Gaiman’s conceit about the prosperity – the persistent existence – of gods depending on their followers continuing to worship them and how, if they stopped, the gods would first wane then blink out of existence? Prepare for an unexpected appropriation for similarly feverish devotion which makes perfect sense to me.

All will be revealed, appropriately enough, in the dream.


Buy Where Bold Stars Go To Die and read the Page 45 review here

Nights (£8-99, Sublime) by Kou Yoneda.

Three separate stories in which:

A 30-something detective is prepared to put himself out – or in fact just put out – in pursuit of a smuggler, bringing a brand new meaning to the term entrapment…

A shy mechanic falls for an emotionally reserved car salesman and, as you can imagine from that summary, this short sure takes the longest to tell as they both dither hither and yon…

Kugo, a college student so sure of himself yet completely oblivious to the bleeding obvious, spots a reticent lad called Usui bashfully eyeing up from afar Kugo’s best buddy Nakaya from whom Kugo is inseparable…

This one is brilliant, absolutely brilliant, for cock-sure Kugo takes pity on Usui and decides to help him out, befriending him so that Usui can finally make a move on Nakaya whom Kugo – who would fail even the most cursory examination in self-awareness – considers “as dumb as they come”. Our Mr. Know-It-All is nothing if not direct.

“Hey. You’ve got a crush on Nakaya, don’t you? If you want, I can help you out.”
“Wh… what are y-you talking about?”
“You don’t even try to hide the way you look at him. I thought even Nakaya would’ve noticed by now. But he’s incredibly dense. I’m always with him, so I couldn’t help but twig to it.”

“…” is right. Have you spotted the flaw in Kugo’s detective skills yet? It’s no wonder their eyes meet. Usui gratefully accepts Kugo’s interest but doesn’t seem keen on making a move on Nakaya at all.

“Just being able to talk with you about Nakaya is enough for me.”

Funny, that.

I like Kugo. He may be much, much dimmer than Nakaya but at least he’s no egotist: he doesn’t presume the world revolves around him even, so he doesn’t presume Usui’s world revolves around him even though it does. Plus he’s altruistic enough to let a lad into his friendship with Nakaya rather than getting all territorial or indeed homophobic about it.

In fact, here’s a thing about yaoi: it exists in some snowglobe utopia in which homophobia doesn’t seem to exist at any level of society or within any age bracket. I’m not objecting to that; quite the reverse. These are, after all, fantasies to fuel others’ daydreams and wet dreams. Not everything has to be some gruellingly accurate socio-political commentary on the sad state of affairs in which we appear to be going globally backwards after so much hard-fought progress (see Africa, Russia, India, parts of America and of course UKIP).

Publish enough books in which love between the same sexes is taken as the for-granted norm with no one giving a toss and maybe the bigots will blink themselves out of existence.

“I have a dream” etc.


Buy Nights and read the Page 45 review here

Jellaby vol 1: The Lost Monster (£9-99, Capstone) by Kean Soo.

“Okay, let’s never talk about what happened in that washroom ever again.”

Aww, welcome reissue for this heart-winning Young Readers graphic novel about which I wrote:

This is so attractive that I’m abandoning my moratorium on big purple monsters in comics, for this all-ages escapade positively glows on the shelves between BONE and OWLY, and the scene on the train where our great, grape, dragon-winged friend tries to impart his desperate need for the loo is priceless.

Do you remember Watch With Mother’s ‘The Herb Garden’? Well, Jellaby is Parsley The Lion all over: big, innocent, slightly forlorn eyes on a giant, silent, nodding head, off-setting the critter’s reputation for being scary.

Discovered outside her house one night after a particularly disturbing dream, young Jellaby’s taken in by Portia, hidden from her mother, stopped from eating the flower arrangement (oh, wait – no he isn’t!), then taken to meet her school chum Jason. Portia decides that Jellaby’s simply lost, and together they embark on a journey to find the heavily bolted door that Jellaby appears to recognise in a newspaper. Unfortunately there’s someone waiting for them on the train — someone Portia’s encountered before, in a nightmare…


Buy Jellaby vol 1: The Lost Monster and read the Page 45 review here

Moon Knight #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey.

Here’s the essential thing you need to know about Moon Knight:

He’s barking mad.

With a minimum of four individually functioning personalities (they do at least do that – they function) he gives even Hank “Who Even Am I Today?” Pym a run for his mentalist money.

He’s also driven, but not like the snow. He’s driven by Egyptian god Khonshu under whose statue he died. Then he rose again from the dead and continued to verily smite things.

This madness – its origins and manifestations – was dealt with in different ways recently by Charlie Huston & David Finch, then by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev’s (see those MOON KNIGHT reviews) and I loved both. Hell, I was gripped by Doug Moench & Bill Sienkiewicz’s considerable and considered run 30+ years ago. Ellis has found an approach which acknowledges them all and then does something different:

Former mercenary Marc Spector doesn’t throw a punch.

Rather than descend, crescent-caped from a ‘copter, he sits sedately in the back of a silver stretch-limousine, calmly coordinating technology to take him to the scene of a crime. He inspects the scene of that crime. He doesn’t really consult with the cops although he does acknowledge their presence. He analyses, deduces and decides on a unilateral plan of action.

“This is all real interesting, but you are not a police officer. So you can’t just –“
“Officer, I appreciate your perspective. But I’m talking about going underground into the hide of a highly trained killer, which will be where he keeps all his weapons. I’d prefer to do that part for you.”
“You’re crazy.”
“It’s been said.”
“Also, I hate to be the one to point this out, but wearing a white suit… he’s kinda going to see you coming.”
“That’s the part I like.”

He is, in short, a gentleman, in a gentleman’s attire, and he will take matters into his own more-than-capable hands with the maximum preparation that’s possible for an impromptu operation and the minimum of fuss.



Similarly, there is something slightly Ditko-esque in Declan Shalvey’s side-stepping, white-suited squire and the way he descends through the city’s strata. Maybe it’s more Dean Mutter’s MISTER X – unlike Mark I never read enough of that. Regardless, I loved the way he strides to the scene, all matter-of-fact and determined, without a care in the world for how he’s perceived, gimp-mask and all. I also loved Jordie Bellaire’s complete disinclination to colour him in costume: it’s pure black and white. Spectral.

The other departure is in the Dissociative Identity Disorder diagnosis at the end.

“You don’t “catch” D.I.D. simply by pretending to be other people for a while. If that were true, we would be under an epidemic of soap opera actors putting bags on their heads and cutting people’s faces off, no? Not that that would be uninteresting to me.”

So. What is up, doc?


Buy Moon Knight #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Satellite Sam vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Howard Chaykin.

“Mikey, any chance that dick you call a dad will grace us with his presence today?”

New York City, 1951, and Satellite Sam is the name of a space-faring television show recorded live – though thankfully not in front of a studio audience. Its titular star, Carlyle White, is ever so slightly unreliable, you see, and although he’s only got one line this week – and right at the end of the show – no one is confident he’ll make it.

A shame, then, that a) some vital investors have popped into the studio control room unannounced and b) this week’s episode has just begun filming. Looks like it’s time for some improvised stalling in the form of over-egged extemporised lines and a mad dash across town for the network’s Elizabeth Meyers to Carlyle’s secret pad. I wonder how she knows where it is? I wonder what she will find there? I wonder what miraculous cliff-hanger they can come up with in the next half an hour in case Carlyle is a no-show for the show?

Clue: he’s a no-show, and his son Mikey is going to have to pick up the pieces then hope he has time to assemble them later on.

Howard Chaykin is perfect for this period piece, relishing the fashions, and his art’s a lot softer than of late. Not everything’s inked – there’s pencil shading and well placed tones. Fraction, meanwhile, has nailed the on-the-hoof histrionics and network skulduggery/ambition.

Normally I wouldn’t bother mentioning this, but because you would expect an Image book to be in colour, I will just add that it’s black and white, just like the television of the times.


Buy Satellite Sam vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Walking Dead vol 20: All Out War Part 1 (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard…

“So… today’s the day?”
“How do you feel?”
“Overwhelmed… this is big… bigger than anything we’ve ever done. This is war.”

“You can’t have a war without… casualties.”

Yes, never a series to shy away from killing beloved characters, Mr. Kirkman has decided to up the ante and go all-in for the next twelve issues, six of which are contained within this volume. Well, technically all-out according to the title, but that didn’t work with my poker metaphor.

What next? Rick and Negan doing the all-in, all-out Hokey Cokey mano-a-mano to decide the winner of their private war? I think I saw that in a Kevin Costner film once… More likely, though, is simply the highest body count yet, as both sides conclude peace in their time is starting to look about as likely as a zombie Michael Jackson suddenly appearing to lead the walking dead in a rendition of Thriller. Though, technically, if you think about it, that is possible, he has to be shambling around somewhere…

Pretty surprised Kirkman hasn’t played the celebrity zombie card yet… in fact, maybe like Rick’s weird full technocolour alien dream sequence in issue #75, Kirkman’s saving a celeb cameo for the 200th issue… How about a zombie Stan Lee? Also, remember the tiger? Yes, that tiger which spawned the “Ezekiel has got a tiger” merchandise t-shirts? Not sure if it’s too late to get a refund, but…


Buy Walking Dead vol 20: All Out War Part 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Complete Accident Man h/c (£22-50, Titan) by Pat Mills, Tony Skinner & Martin Emond,  Duke Mighten, John Erasmus.

Meet hitman Mike Fallon: he’s your accident waiting to happen.

“There was a guy on telly had a theory that a quarter of so-called “accidents” are really murders.
“That’s ridiculous.
“It’s only about ten percent.”

From the lurid pages of short-lived British weekly anthology TOXIC comes the blunt bombast of a shallow assassin who preened with a “pretty boy” comb and whose better days were easily his earliest.

Emond gave him a Phil Oakey flop under which his eyes rolled knowingly to the heavens as he bit his lip and uttered appeasing sweet nothings just to get his end away. He leapt like a lunatic across the page, insanely contorted and exactly right for this no-nonsense nonsense.

Each episode would contain at least one complete hit while furthering a wider storyline, one of which involved gaining The Death Touch which was apparently what done in Bruce Lee from a self-righteous sensei. An even long subplot kept tabs on his ex-wife Jill’s lover Hilary, a rainbow warrior turned “Veggie-lante”.

It’s basically MARSHAL LAW lite with fewer background jokes and ham-fisted colouring but it amused me no end originally, like these Golden Coffin Awards for the most artful assassin of the year.

“As you know, Maurice can’t be with us tonight – or indeed any other night – as most of him is scattered over Beirut…”


Buy The Complete Accident Man 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.


FF vol 2: Family Freakout s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Lee Allred & Joe Quinones, Michael Allred

Daredevil: Dark Nights s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Lee Weeks, David Lapham, Jimmy Palmiotti & Lee Weeks, David Lapham, Thony Silas

Wolverine vol 2: Killable s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Paul Cornell & Mirco Pierfederici, Alan Davis

Fantastic Four vol 3: Doomed s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Christopher Sebela, Karl Kesel & Mark Bagley, Raffaele Ienco

Justice League: Trinity War h/c (£22-50, DC) by Geoff Johns, Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire, J.M. DeMatteis & Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke

Lucifer Book 3 (£22-50, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, others

Wonder Woman vol 3: Iron s/c (£12-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang

Wonder Woman vol 4: War h/c (£16-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang

Deadlock vol 1 (£9-99, June) by Saki Aida & Yuh Takashina

Crossed vol 8: Badlands s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier, David Hine & Rafael Ortiz, German Erramouspe, Gabriel Andrade

47 Ronin h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Richardson & Stan Sakai

Intron Depot vol 5: Battalion (£33-99, Dark Horse) by Shirow Masamune

Drifters vol 3 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Kohta Hirano

Mouse Guard: Legends Of The Guard vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Titan) by various

Uncanny X-Men vol 1: Revolution s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Bachalo, Frazer Irving

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 1: The Selfish Giant, The Star Child h/c (£12-99, NBM Books) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 2: The Young King And The Remarkable Rocket h/c (£12-99, NBM Books) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 3: The Birthday Of The Infanta h/c (£12-99, NBM Books) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 4: The Devoted Friend, The Nightingale And The Rose h/c (£12-99, NBM Books) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell

Attack On Titan: Junior High vol 1 (£12-99, Kodansha) by Saki Nakagawa

Fairy Tail vol 34 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Attack On Titan: Before The Fall vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ryo Suzukaze & Satoshi Shiki

Crimson Spell vol 1 (£8-99, Sublime) by Ayano Yamane

Crimson Spell vol 2 (£8-99, Sublime) by Ayano Yamane

My Little Monster vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Robico

Also, ah ah, I can’t sell you this yet but I have my own copy to swoon over…!

Sally Heathcote Suffragette h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Mary M. Talbot, Kate Charlesworth & Bryan Talbot


ITEM! Glorious, fantastical art for MoCCA festival by SAGA’s Fiona Staples.

ITEM! The Lakes International Comics Art Festival gains cool new mascots designed by Jonathan Edwards.

ITEM! Mark Millar interviewed about new comic STARLIGHT plus a preview of the second issue. STARLIGHT #1 reviewed by Jonathan above.

ITEM! East Gate: another beautiful sci-fi landscape (proportions: portrait!) by Ian McQue

ITEM! Swoon and giggle at this Easter-Egg panel featuring Philippa Rice’s SOPPY in Luke Pearson’s HILDA AND THE BLACK HOUND – in stock now, review next week!

ITEM! Philippa Rice triumphs with book deal for an expanded edition of SOPPY in America, Britain… and South Korea!

ITEM! VERN & LETTUCE’s Sara McIntyre (comics’ “celebrity hatstand”!) featured in a Dubai newspaper. Random but brilliant!

ITEM! THE FIRELIGHT ISLE’s Paul Duffield provides a guide to creating your own scrolling web comics.

ITEM! Finally, Page 45’s shortlisting for The Bookseller’s Independent Bookshop Of The Year Award is covered by the Nottingham Post.

Warning: photo of my increasingly decrepit self. The results of the regional winners to be announced this Friday. Please wish us luck! Eeeep!

– Stephen

P.S. Prompted by the above, it appears I’ll be filming a TV pilot tomorrow (Thursday) which involves me bringing half a dozen graphic novels into the studio for a show-and-tell plus maybe an interview, I guess? Although it won’t be transmitted, it’s going to be filmed live which may give you a clue as to the sort of programme it is. If I don’t balls this up then the potential is very promising indeed. I have an idea, yes.


Reviews March 2014 week one

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Stok saves her own expressionism for Vincent’s volcanic meltdowns as the air becomes brittle in the wake of his wrath and the panels and their contents contort during his feverish hallucinations. The early intimations of these more violent episodes – as financial pressure and artistic frustrations crawl under the perfectionist’s skin – are rendered as dots which follow him round town like flies. You can almost hear the buzzing in his skull.

 – Stephen on Vincent (Van Gogh)

Nemo: The Roses Of Berlin h/c (£9-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill…

“We must have been hurting Germany’s supply lines for them to go to all this trouble ensnaring us. Do you think we’re any nearer the city’s underworld?”
“Depends. What do you suppose “Staatbordell” means?”

Jocular japes and steampunk shenanigans aplenty in this second Nemo Jr. adventure following on from the Lovecraftian-flavoured NEMO: HEART OF ICE. As before, there are numerous literary and cinematic references to be found, from the striking nod to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to the rather more obscure which I will leave you to find for yourselves for that is part of the joy of any new LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN material these days.

Janni Nemo, fearsome fighter and devoted mother has been drawn into a deadly trap, her daughter – presumed captured and spirited off to Berlin by the Nazis – the lure. But what, or more precisely who, she finds waiting for her in Berlin, is a far more deadly enemy than whole legions of leather-clad stormtroopers. For it is someone with revenge on their mind, and for whom time is no obstacle at all…

Not sure how accessible a jumping on point this is for new readers, or indeed whether it hits the heights of the original material, but it is great fun and probably closer in both respects than the CENTURY trilogy. I think it probably is as good as the original material actually; I just personally miss the team dynamic.

What is certain is that you simply couldn’t have any League material without Kevin O’ Neill on art: the two are simply and sumptuously synonymous for me. Even the four pages before the main story are absolutely glorious, featuring respectively: an all-guns-blazing German battleship, Nemo embracing her lover against the backdrop of a porthole letting a blood-red sky bleed through, a Nazi propaganda poster portraying Nemo as a trident wielding Kraken, and a submerged Nautilus launching a salvo of torpedoes. Not often I’m mesmerised by the art before I even start the story but Kevin managed it here!


Buy Nemo: The Roses Of Berlin h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Uncanny vol 1 Season Of Hungry Ghosts (£14-99, Dynamite) by Andy Diggle & Aaron Campbell.

“Festival Of The Dead means I’ve been in Singapore for a year now. Figures. Getting too comfortable. Getting stale. But this place has rich pickings for a man in my line of work… And this smug fuck is ready to fall.”

I’m sorry, Weaver, which smug fuck is that? Do you mean Mr. Lee, the man in the suit sitting on the opposite side of the poker table to you?

“I read him before the game. He’s a bluffer with more money than sense. Been luring him into a false sense of security all night. Letting him think he’s winning… before I spring the trap.”

Oh, before you spring your trap! You crafty fellow, Weaver. There’s no fooling you, is there? You smug fuck. That smile’s about to be wiped right off your face.

From the writer of SNAPSHOT and THIEF OF THIEVES VOL 3, oh, how we loved this!

Juicy, shadow-strewn art, maximum action, charismatic voice. You’ll enjoy spending time in this quick-thinking but over-confident idiot’s head; almost as much as Weaver enjoys spending time in his victims’ heads.

Weaver is a man who can, for a span, absorb other people’s memories and physical capabilities. Take Mr Lee’s bodyguard, Xiong, a black-belt in Taekwondo. One bluffed handshake later and Weaver is too – plus he also “remembers” exactly what the bodyguard’s packing. Well, almost. There’s a limit to what you have time to recall in the middle of a duff-up.

I love how Diggle has thought all of this through: both the potential and the pitfalls – the limitations.

“By the time I find Xiong’s car, there’s not much of him left. His repertoire of kicks, punches and disarm manoeuvres fade like a waking dream. Always hate the comedown. That hollowed-out feeling mixed with sour adrenaline. That and the muscle burn. It’s not like I had time to stretch.”

With skills like those you could do a lot of good for the world. You could also do one hell of a lot of damage. Weaver has no such ambitions either way. He’s no more than a gambler and a thief, enjoying the kiddie thrill of conning people, getting one over them and taking their money. It’s his pitifully small-time revenge for a youth spent languishing in state custody being diagnosed with every neurosis and full-blown mental illness known to man. What else were they to make of the voices in his head he absorbed through physical contact?

Weaver doesn’t care how he came to be like this but other people do, for there is strategic power to be gained and significantly more money than Weaver has ever lost or won. As slick as you like with barely a second for breath, this thriller goes global in no time.

There’s Maggie, sent to save him and deliver Weaver to one Deacon Styles in New York City. There’s the wolf in Maggie’s head when Weaver tries to read her, then the wolf on the wall in Styles’ opulent apartment. Styles is… acquisitive. He has acquired money. He has acquired knowledge. He has acquired Maggie and, although he doesn’t know it yet, he has acquired Dominic Weaver. All these assets will be used and abused to get him to the one place and the one person he wants most of all. They’re very well hidden. For now.

Together Campbell and colourist Crabtree will feed your greedy eyes with sunsets, cityscapes, tropical terrain; 100-mile-an-hour motorcycle mayhem, helicopters deafening you with their rotor-blades and a great big garbage truck with front-loading prongs which I wouldn’t mind taking for a motorway spin myself. Take that, BMW drivers! I’ll show you the true meaning of tailgating.

First six issues plus the script to #1, always handy for those wanting to peek behind the curtain and see how it’s done.


Buy Uncanny vol 1 Season Of Hungry Ghosts and read the Page 45 review here

Thief Of Thieves vol 3: “Venice (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman, Andy Diggle, James Asmus & Shawn Martinbrough.

THIEF OF THIEVES is comicbook crime that will have you laughing out loud right to its multiple punchlines, not least because your adrenaline will have shot through the roof.

It’s a battle of wits.

On the one side is Conrad Paulson AKA Redmond, master manipulator and the world’s most accomplished grifter and thief. On the other side is everyone else: tenacious (read: perilously obsessed) F.B.I. Special Agent Cohen, the Mafia, the Cartel and one very nasty man with a customised key ring called Lola. Oh, there are a few other parties with interests heavily vested, for Redmond isn’t the only one who can play the long game to perfection.

Redmond’s weakness is his estranged wife Audrey whom he still loves, along with his hopelessly flailing son Augustus. Augustus didn’t fall far enough from the tree and he fell resentful and rotten to the core. Determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, yet with little of his swagger or skill, it is Augustus who creates most of the god-awful mess which Redmond is forced to clean up.

Right at the beginning of THIEF OF THIEVES VOL 1, on the verge of a Venice job into which old Arno had sunk millions of dollars, Redmond quit crime forever. Now his son is being held hostage, naked, in chains and driven around America in the back of furnace-hot truck until Redmond returns with ten million dollars. He has one month to do it. Venice it is, then.

The sparkle of this series lies in the lies and element of surprise which I am not about to spoil for you. Let’s just say that this Thief of Thieves is about to thieve from thieves the very articles he once stole himself. He will have Don Parrino to contend with, the very Godfather of the Italian Mafia. He will have Colonel Bianchi and Captain Valenti of the Italian police to contend with. He will naturally have Agent Cohen to contend with because she cannot, she will not let go, even though Redmond has successfully sued to F.B.I. for harassment.

The key seems to lie in the mysterious Sabatini, broker of a specific sort of stolen goods, whom the Italians are onto. Watch out for that flashback!



Created by THE WALKING DEAD’s Robert Kirkman, each THIEF OF THIEVES book comes with a self-contained coup, a heist so ridiculously well planned that it will have you grinning from ear to ear once the writer finally delivers the key components craftily kept from you (and even the co-conspirators) until exactly the right moment. The authorial baton has been passed from Nick Spencer to James Asmus and now to Andy Diggle to orchestrate the players and mess with your mind as he did so successfully in SNAPSHOT and UNCANNY.

It is extraordinarily consistent, the mood maintained by permanent artist Shawn Martinbrough whose covers with colourist Felix Serrano form a striking, spot-varnish series of variations on a theme. Within Shawn and Felix are slick, sleek and sexy, whether it’s the intense eye-to-eye contacts with so much in minds, or the oh-hell-it’s-gone-tits-up action sequences. The suits are sharp and the shadows are just-so plus, as a bonus level-up here, they are given Venice to play with. My favourite city in the world! The piazzas under moonlight echo at night and if you have to run for your life across rooftops anywhere they might as well be those of Venice.

Ah, Tombraider 2! Ah, Assassin’s Creed too!

It has quite the skyline.


Buy Thief Of Thieves vol 3: “Venice” and read the Page 45 review here

Vincent (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Barbara Stok.


Oh, Vincent, it’s just as well because, other than your brother, few people will see anything in your paintings until the end of your days.

It didn’t stop Van Gogh, obviously. Nothing short of a complete mental breakdown halted his prolific, obsessive output. Even then he picked his easel back up and the subsequent seizures were but pauses as he sought to transform aspects and objects others took for granted into orgasmic, orgiastic confluences of colour to evoke their explosive passion rather than their plain, photographic likenesses. He was inspired!

As was I by this graphic novel which I entered into warily if not sceptically before Stok won me over page by early page. I almost considered writing this review as a timeline of my own reading reactions (hey, the reviews I have written exceed five figures after which novelty is hard to come by), but it’s not about me but both the artists, the book, and the subtle but very real skill with which Stok has chosen to write it. I mention this merely in case you’re wary too.

Vincent’s move from Paris to Provence was dealt with swiftly and, I thought at first, perfunctorily as he negotiates his initial bed and board at L’Hôtel Correl:

“A room, please. For an indefinite period.”
“Welcome to Arles.”

Da-dum. Simplicity itself, just like its visual staging. I thought I was watching finger-puppet theatre!

I am, of course, an arse. The second Vincent Van Gogh hits the bucolic beauty and whipped out his materials, dashing it all down in a frenzied hurry lest light be lost, I became as transfixed as the random passer-by who stops to admire both the vista before him and the one captured on canvas or board. I was also as dismissive of the local painters’ contempt as Vincent was. But why?

How could Barbara Stok begin to convey the thick, churning, delicious and delirious swirls of colour you could potentially read like Braille when her own chosen art style was wobbly outlines, dots for eyes, flat coloured tones and… Oh, no, no, no: there is plenty of perspective and depth in her own landscape panels over which she lingers as long as the two gentlemen in silence, drinking in the majesty and tranquillity of it all.

Stok saves her own expressionism for Vincent’s volcanic meltdowns as the air becomes brittle in the wake of his wrath and the panels and their contents contort during his feverish hallucinations. The early intimations of these more violent episodes – as financial pressure and artistic frustrations crawl under the perfectionist’s skin – are rendered as dots which follow him round town like flies. You can almost hear the buzzing in his skull.

This is assuaged but temporarily as Gauguin arrives. Oh, he has been so desperate for Gauguin to share his sanctuary and take up his role (as Vincent sees it) as grandmaster of this new starving artists’ retreat! But Vincent lives in a world of his own and is oblivious to even the earliest warning signs that they are not on the same wavelength at all.

But where were we? Oh yes: money.

The narrative is peppered by letters exchanged between Vincent and his loving brother Theo. Quite why Theo had all the money is never made clear and it’s only now that I type this sentence that I notice this. As I read the book, I simply didn’t care. All Stok made me care about – and all that counts – was Theo’s genuine respect for his brother and his bottomless generosity reciprocated on Vincent’s side by an acknowledged indebtedness. For Van Gogh is, from the very beginning, painfully aware of how much his sojourn in Arles is likely to cost Theo, and how unlikely it is that he can ever repay him. He will, however, die trying.

As represented by Stok, Theo is a saint but by no means a martyr. He genuinely admires his brother’s artistic ambitions, discerns his immediate genius and is content to let posterity declare his artistic success. In short, he acts as an old-school patron in its finest, most laudable sense.

I don’t know to what extent this is a hagiography, but Vincent is not wise with money. All that matters to him is to catalogue the beauty he spies around him in sweeping campaigns: multiple studies of spring blossom, fruit trees, wheat fields, vineyards, the sea, the stars and sunflowers!

But thanks to Stok’s delicious cartooning this loud and argumentative optimist / proselytizer comes a cropper twice to hilarious effect when confounded first by the killer combo of exorbitant hotel bills and a local lack of chromium yellow, then when singing the sweet amorous praises of a prostitute. He’s so naïve!

“All is for the best in the best of worlds,” declares our man with the plan when laid up in bed. Oh dear, that’s Voltaire’s ‘Candide’! Hahahahaha!

Seriously, this is masterful. Give me another couple of weeks and I will pinpoint exactly how Barbara Stok has turned a tragic life including mental illness and violent self-harm plus an unwavering devotion to the pursuit of intimate art into a consummate comedy and edifying eulogy for one of the greatest painters this world will ever know.


Buy Vincent and read the Page 45 review here

Nine Lives (£2-00, self-published) by Kristyna Baczynski.

Nine card panels and a cover measuring 10x10cm each which fold out, concertina-style, to confirm what happens to curiosity-stricken cats.

Quite how our misfortunate moggie ended up floating downstream in a cauldron you may debate amongst yourselves.

The black, rust-red and egg-shell blue inks gleam on the matt surface and the whole production screams “Nobrow Press”.

This should be the easiest comic in the world to review yet I am, this afternoon, registering no cranial activity whatsoever. Please send jump leads.


Buy Nine Lives and read the Page 45 review here

Vantage (£2-99, self-published) by Kristyna Baczynski.

An early bird wings its way to a window sill. A tired, shaggy-haired woman with hooded eyes discovers she has no coffee.

What follows happens every day.
Right under our noses.
Over our heads.
Behind our eyes.
In our veins.
Across the universe.
Behind the metaphorical curtain.

Blue landscape comic in which it’s all a question of scale and perspective, be it microscopic, aerial or cosmic.


Buy Vantage and read the Page 45 review here

In A Flat Land (£5-00, Moon Underground) by Richard Swan…

The first thing that will probably strike you upon commencing this sixty-four-page, wordless children’s story is the exquisite amount of detail in each finely inked panel. I can’t imagine how long it much have taken Richard to illustrate this, I really can’t. You get a sense of the time and effort required before you’ve even opened it up because the front cover, featuring a huge rain cloud, must have about a thousand drops of rain beneath it, beating down at a near forty-five degrees to the windswept ground. I would imagine a fair degree of stoicism is required to persist with such an intricate style of illustration for fields of grass and wheat are composed of near-infinite numbers of individual blades, buildings hand-hewn, well drawn, brick by individual brick, and you can practically see the pattern in the knitted jumper our main protagonist, a bored young boy in need of an adventure, is wearing. And that’s before we’ve got to the grain dust…

So, back to that boy…

He goes awandering in the manner of bored boys in need of a good adventure to liven up their day… first along the coastline near his home, past the pier and a long-abandoned pillbox, then delving into the fields and trees, gradually getting further and further off the beaten track, until he comes across a disused and somewhat dilapidated windmill, overgrown with ivy and missing its crowning glory of domed top and sails. After squeezing past the boarded-up door, he comes across a dusty model of the windmill, but again missing its top. Idly constructing something from an empty drinks can and four feathers lying on the floor, he then drops what appears to be a strangely shaped pin into the can, before popping his creation onto the top of the model. And that’s where, possibly quite literally, the magic begins… I’m loathe to say more regarding the plot, not wanting to spoil the magic, but suffice to say, the black and white illustrations take a delightfully golden twist as the windmill begins to crank into life.


Whilst this was apparently written with children in mind, it’s a wonderful all-ages read and the odd moment or two where you have to actually stop and think about what’s happened – not entirely unexpectedly given it’s a wordless comic – are signposted beautifully, producing a wry smile as you realise the boy has just experienced the same momentary puzzled bemusement as yourself. Cleverly composed, both narratively and artistically, I think this will have widespread appeal.


Buy In A Flat Land and read the Page 45 review here

The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man vol 1: Getting The Band Back Together s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber…

“Okay, then, by a 4-1 vote, the bathroom stays unisex.”
“Sorry, Shocker.”
“Now, any other business, or can we start drinking?”
“Never stopped.”
“Uh, yeah, I have something… can we talk about the empty chair? I miss the Living Brain.”
“You’re the only one.”
“No, Overdrive’s right… we’re supposed to be the Sinister Six.”
“Yeah, so?”
“So… there’s five of us.”
“Oh, come on, Beetle… Seriously?”
“Look, what’s a better deal than being the Sinister Six, but only splitting the money five ways? Huh? Huh?”
“Plus, Obamacare, you go to six employees, it’s tricky.”
“People are going to be confused.”
“No they’re not! Did we not talk about the whole ‘air of mystery’ thing? People see us, they’ll just think, “Who’s the secret sixth guy,” right? I mean it could be anybody! It could be Dormammu!”
“It’s always Dormammu with you…”
“I’m telling you, that’s way cooler.”
“Boomerang… that is genuinely the stupidest thing I have ever heard a real person say.”
“You’re stupid! …Sorry.”

Heh heh, you’ve probably realised by now this is not a book to be taken seriously. What it is not, however, is stupid like, say, pretty much any Deadpool title… <cue much gasping and sounds of fanboys hitting their collective heads on the floor in mass fainting hysteria>. What this is, is basically a hilarious sitcom starring very low-grade villains bickering, backstabbing and generally non-stop bitching about each other.

It falls to Boomerang, who has elected himself the nominal leader of our gang to try and steer them on their not so straight and narrow course en route to fabulous wealth and riches.  So, if getting blackmailed on pain of death by the Owl into stealing the head of Silvermane is the sum total of your masterplan, what you most assuredly don’t need is one Frank Castle taking a personal interest in what you’re up to… This is great, fun little book by one of Marvel’s best writers (check out his non Marvel work BEDLAM, INFINITE VACACTION, MORNING GLORIES, THIEF OF THIEVES if you haven’t already), which I’m personally reading in single issue format, to help get my essential monthly quota of chortles and chuckles.


Buy The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man vol 1: Getting The Band Back Together s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ultimates 3: Who Killed The Scarlet Witch s/c new printing (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Joe Madureira.

In the first four ULTIMATES books Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch spent over two dozen issues constructing a comprehensive geo-political thriller played out by a credibly complex cast of individuals in a media-savvy, military and palpably real environment.

By contrast, Loeb lobs five slim issues of pile-it-on puerility, expending no more than a single page building “tension” before servicing the fanboys with a double-page spread of Venom. Why Venom…? He’s popular and he brings Spider-Man with him in issue two for no very good reason other than sales. Seriously, neither of them have any role to play in this other than for hero to turn on hero old-stylee as Hawkeye shoots Spider-Man as a “Hey, man, how you doing?” pat on the back. And, oh God, here comes that mindless, mid-battle exposition again:

“Maybe I have gone a little crazy. Maybe every time I hear a gunshot it takes me right back to when my family… my kids…”

Did you lose your family, mate? Are you feeling a little down? I couldn’t tell from the first issue.

“You’re going to get yourself killed.”
“Yeah, so…?”

Not only have Millar and Hitch’s strategic soldiers and functional kevlar reverted to self-pity and spandex, but Jeph insists on holding your hand every step of the way on what amounts to little more than a series of battle cries and fist fights. Cliché after cliché. It’s tired, it’s transparent, it’s an unnecessary waste as every innovation Millar carefully crafted is jettisoned for the sake of a short-term buck. Am I too guilty of whining that someone broke my childhood toys? No, I loved it when Millar broke them because I’m a grown-up now and enjoy reading something a little more politically astute. I’m complaining that Loeb turned them back into plastic toys with no points to their articulation.

Of course, it’s Lichtner who’s to blame for the disastrously stodgy colouring, but then he had little more to play with than Madureira’s old-Image-style “storytelling” in which the environment is irrelevant so long as the muscles are bulging, the pages are splashing and everyone wears spikes and claws. It’s particularly unfortunate when Quicksilver starts pursuing that oh-so-important bullet because you can’t tell a) that it’s the same bullet or b) that it just did a u-turn.

As to the story, see title. Leads into ULTIMATUM in which there is no ultimatum.


Buy Ultimates 3: Who Killed The Scarlet Witch 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.


Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case Of The Good Boy s/c (£14-99, Oni Press) by John Allison

Fatale: The Deluxe Edition vol 1 (vols 1-2) h/c (£29-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

The Homesick Truant’s Cumbrian Yarn (£3-00, Rolling Stock Press) by Oliver East

Jellaby vol 1: The Lost Monster (£9-99, Capstone) by Kean Soo

Nijigahara Holograph (£22-50, Fantagraphics) by Inio Asano

Bedlam vol 2 (£10-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Ryan Browne

Satellite Sam vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Howard Chaykin

Walking Dead vol 20: All Out War Part 1 (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Where Bold Stars Go To Die (£5-99, Other A-Z) by Gerry Alanguilan & Arlanzando Esmena

The Complete Accident Man h/c (£22-50, Titan) by Pat Mills, Tony Skinner & Martin Emond, Howard Chaykin, various

Hellblazer: Shoot (£10-99, DC) by Warren Ellis, Darko Macan, Jason Aaron, Dave Gibbons, Jamie Delano, Brian Azzarello, Peter Milligan, China Mieville & Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Gary Erskine, Sean Murphy, David Lloyd, Rafael Grampa, Eddie Campbell, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini

Eve: Source h/c (£29-99, Dark Horse) by CCP Games

Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 7: The Rift Part 1 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9 vol 5: The Core (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Andrew Chambliss & Georges Jeanty

Oz: The Emerald City Of Oz h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Eric Shanower & Skottie Young

Sonic – Mega Man: Worlds Collide vol 2 (£8-99, Archie) by various

Animal Man vol 4: Splinter Species s/c (£10-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Steve Pugh, various

Harley Quinn: Welcome To Metropolis s/c (£14-99, DC) by Karl Kesel & Terry Dodson, Craig Rousseau, Brandon Badeaux, Phil Noto

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four vol 10 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr.

Nova vol 2: Rookie Season s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Paco Medina, Carlo Barberi, Ed McGuinness


ITEM! This building is alive and tells so many stories! Think Will Eisner, Chris Ware, Ilya and Jamie McKelvie! Click here for the whole Think Of A City tumblr!

ITEM! Search Party by Ian McQue, animated by Mondo Ghulam. Ooooooh!

ITEM! Excised from my review of VINCENT above, the following postscript, lest the irony be lost (I am a fan, yes):

“I don’t even like this crazy guy’s stuff. He was utterly rubbish at perspective: just look at that chair! I’m buying him a Painting By Numbers set next. Come on Vincent, stick between the lines!”

ITEM! New interview with Lizz Lunney! Yippee!

ITEM! Jaw-droppingly beautiful! Starry, Starry Night: What big cities like New York would look like if you could see the stars above them.

ITEM! Eric Stephenson, head of Image Comics, makes a laudably direct speech about circumnavigating the lies of corporate comics to ensure the future prosperity of the comicbook industry. Sound familiar? I have been saying exactly the same thing for twenty years, yes, but still, bravo!

ITEM! We have these beautiful Becky Cloonan bookmarks to give away with copies of her limited edition BY CHANCE OR PROVIDENCE hardcover which we will be selling at £17-99.

Containing WOLVES, THE MIRE and DEMETER with a new sketchbook section, it arrives in a couple of months, but we urge you to pre-order right now by phoning 0115 9508045 or emailing and we will reserve you a bookmark.

Please note: not distributed by Diamond and printed to order only. If you don’t pre-order this week we cannot guarantee you a copy.

ITEM! Lastly, this is a bit massive!

Page 45 makes The Bookseller’s shortlist for Independent Bookshop Of The Year 2014!

I think that’s the first time for a comic and graphic novel shop. We are so stoked!

Credit where it’s due: our submission was all our Jonathan’s work and he put one hell of a lot of time and thought into it.

– Stephen