Reviews March 2014 week two

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.”
“FORFEIT DANCE, NOW.”

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.”
“Superfoods!”
“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.

SLH

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.

JR

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.

SLH

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.

SLH

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?”
“What?”
“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!

JR

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.

SLH

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.

SLH

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…

SLH

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?

SLH

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.

SLH

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?”
“Yeah…”
“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…

JR

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…”

SLH

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.

 

One Response to “Reviews March 2014 week two”

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