Archive for April, 2014

Reviews April 2014 week five

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

What this proves as much as anything is that there are more than two aspects to every argument just as there are more than two sides to a coin: there are three, if your balance is up to it.

My advice is this: if ever you go into conflict to defend people’s safety from whatever threat, remember: that’s why you did it. Do not become that threat.

 – Stephen on Boxers & Saints.

Celeste h/c (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by I.N.J. Culbard…

“We’re not supposed to be alone. That’s why we see faces in things. It’s nature making sure we seek each other out.”

I’ll return to that line…

Ah, I do like Ian’s intro sequences and this is his most expansive yet, featuring us approaching first the Milky Way, then our solar system, passing by the various planets and asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars before eventually arriving, via a sumptuous satellite-graced double-page spread, on Earth. Upon reaching the surface of our planet we find what appears to be a pink blossom petal, drifting serenely past Mount Fuji, before settling at the foot of a Japanese man sat at the open window of his bedroom. Then we see a second petal on a bedside table by a ringing phone, its owner in the shower. The fact the petal then migrates to the floor is the first hint something strange is going on, though perhaps the now-whirring hairdryer was responsible for that. Perhaps. Then finally we see a man asleep in his car in the desert, a blossom petal drifting in through his open window and into his slightly agape mouth, causing a near choking fit that reminded me of a very scary childhood incident I once had with a moth…

Having revisited this opening sequence a fair few times, purely to marvel at it, I’ve found myself wondering what the appropriate accompanying music score would be, were this the opening scene of a film. Something slow and mysterious I think, though in retrospect arguably Planet Earth by Duran Duran would be very appropriate… “Look now, look all around, there’s no sign of life, voices, another sound, can you hear me now?” … because shortly thereafter virtually the entire population of the Earth just vanishes. I presume this may be where the title of the book comes from, an allusion to the not-so-jolly ship Marie Celeste.

As to the how and the why, well, don’t expect the explanation to be made clear for you. There are some possible interpretations that spring to mind, but I am very sure Ian intended this to be a thought-provoking piece of speculative fiction. What we have are three very mysterious and very different stories. None of our three characters is completely alone, mind you, which I will leave you to reflect upon, and I am choosing my words carefully there.

There are several lines of dialogue which seem particularly weighted with hidden meaning for the observant reader to pick up upon, such as the quote above. Taken in the context of what is happening, it provides some very subtle hints as to what may really be going on. But it’s not until the final page almost, when those petal blossoms return, that provide the biggest clue. That particular closing sequence put me in mind of a little sequence in the film version of 2010 actually, which is something I must quiz Ian about. Intrigued? Curious? Perturbed? Good, then my work here is done, much like the petal blossoms…


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

Weapons Of Mass Diplomacy h/c (£16-99, SelfMadeHero) by Abel Lanzac (Antonin Baudry) & Christophe Blain.

“This job is such bullshit.”

So declares Alexandre Taillard De Vorms, the French Foreign Minister, who is full of it.

Don’t get me wrong, his heart is largely in the right place but his mind forgets to listen to it, racing faster than a supersonic Concorde from premature retirement. A pin-up posher for Attention Deficit Disorder, De Vorms can’t even spell “consistent”, moving his goal posts so fast that he pulls the rug from under his advisors’ and speechwriter’s feet.

“We must address Lebanon.”
“It’s on page 8, Minister.”
“We must address it. I told you: structure! Legitimacy, Lucidity, Efficacy!”
“You said “Responsibility, Unity, Efficacy.””

It’s at this point that his maddeningly calm and so-dry-he’s-droll Chief of Staff, Claude Maupas, murmurs in:

“Yes, well, Alexandre, that’s sort of what we did. If you look at page 1 – there’s legitimacy. Pages 5 and 6 are unity. And the end really addresses efficacy, you see.”
“Yes! I mean no! It needs hammering in! With this Khemed crisis, ever Head of State will be there. Blockheads of State. I have to drive our points through their thick skulls! These people are morons. They don’t have time to think.
“Legitimacy. RAT-A-TAT-A-TAT

His priority is peace.

This is post-9/11, you see, and De Vorms knows he may be drowned out by the bellowing battle cry of America, but is determined that France will have its say too. To that effect he hires our beleaguered protagonist, Arthur Vlaminck, whether he likes it or not, and finishes with a fanatical flourish.

“I’m entrusting you with the most important part. The word.”

Yes, words are very important to Alexandre Taillard De Vorms. Well, his own words. The windbag doesn’t listen to anyone else’s apart from the banal, pseudo-cerebral bollocks he spouts from 6th-Century-B.C. philosopher Heraclitus. He wants a speech for every occasion. He even demands Arthur write him something to say to his luncheon guest, Nobel Prize winning author Molly Hutchinson who hears as Arthur hands over his notes.

“Oh, so you have words for me.”
“Why no, not at all! Those aren’t words! I don’t need words! I hate words. I’m a great admirer of poetry.”

I rest my case.

To compound Arthur’s problem each speech he is tasked with is subject not only to the pretentious abstractions of De Vorms himself, but to the unsolicited input of half a dozen advisors including self-serving poets who want to be quoted as “great”. As one colleague observes, “This isn’t a speech anymore, it’s a Frankenstein’s Monster”.

WEAPONS OF MASS DIPLOMACY won the Best Graphic Novel at Angoulême in 2013 and I can see why it would be much loved there. For a start it is written by Antonin Baudry under the pseudonym of Abel Lanzac, and Antonin was an actual advisor to the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin in the run up to the illegal invasion of Iraq.

It’s like BBC’s Yes, Minister on methedrine because, after all, there was a deadline to be averted and, bless them, the French did their best just Blaire in Britain did his worst. But the satire here is wider than that. There is the Anchovy War with Spain (think our own Fishing War with Iceland but anchovies are funnier) and every time an international incident flares up, the crises are met neither with resolute actions nor even coherent rhetoric but territorial grandstanding and credit-hugging within the government itself.

The volcanic script is delirious and its lettering forms part of the comedy. Christophe presents De Vorms as a human, cyclonic whirlwind, whooshing about the page with stop-and-start ferocity while seeing nothing that lies under his considerable nose. He sits down only to steam and flashes daggers of lightning at anyone interjecting or embarrassing him in public. He slaps piles of documents down on a desk so hard that dust erupts. He is passionate, fervent, loquacious and contagious – so much so that Vlaminck is infected immediately, his initial diffidence swept away by the storm as he glares, fired up, into his bathroom mirror at the end of chapter one. Let’s see how he’s doing by the end of chapter six, shall we?

There are way more than six chapters for this is a book of considerable length as well as density. It’s peppered with references to music and film and comics. Darth Vader’s appearance I can understand: I think we can consider him iconic. What baffled me was the inclusion of a minor Marvel character lost laid to rust called Rom the Space Knight. Is he an especially big thing in France? Because he’s not cropped up in any conversation I’ve had in two and half decades, and I work in comics!


Buy Weapons Of Mass Diplomacy h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Today Is The Last Day Of The Rest Of Your Life (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Ulli Lust…

Okay, so now I know exactly what to give my daughter when she wants to start backpacking around Europe as a teenager to hopefully dissuade her from doing so. Unless of course my plan to ensure she is a master of multiple martial arts has come to fruition by then. This brick of an autobiographical work is a brutally honest, endearing, cringe-worthy, joyful, upsetting account of Ulli’s travels with new best friend Edi to Sicily from Vienna back in 1984.

Ulli is a punk, in a society which at best tolerates her, and at worst, tries pretty hard to oppress her. It’s easy to forget that Austria in the early ‘80s wasn’t all Falco rocking Amadeus (or being rocked by him), but in fact a rather conservative, east-leaning country, that wasn’t yet part of the European Union.

So, Ulli and Edi’s first task is to get across the Austrian-Italian border without any papers, which involves a rather circuitous and somewhat painful route. Not so much joyful alpine hike as cross-country assault course. Once in Italy, the girls set out on their voyage of discovery with rather different agendas. Edi just wants to shag her way to Sicily, whereas Ulli would actually like to take in some scenery and sights along the way. It’s a cocktail for conflict and it’s surprising it takes as long to eventually come to a head as it does. Before that, though, we have precisely what you would expect when two teenage girls without papers or cash try and beg, borrow and occasionally steal their way down the full length of Italy. Carnage and chaos, but a whole heap of fun.

Having done a bit of travelling around myself, albeit with the aid of identification and currency to bolster my fortunes, this certainly is an accurate observation of the less romantic side of backpacking. It’s bloody hard work at times, but it is liberating and enjoyable. However… as the girls head further south, the typical Italian <ahem > gentleman’s ever aware appreciation of the female form starts to become more than a little irritating to Ulli, whereas Edi is simply in her element.

Southern Italy in the ‘80s was a strange place awash with cheap, uncut heroin and the Cosa Nostra was in near-complete control. It’s not quite Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness territory but as the girls arrive in Sicily, ostensibly for the winter, events start to take a more sinister turn as they start to fall into the orbit of some particularly dubious characters.

This is a wonderfully well documented travelogue. Ulli really captures the sense of time and place through the people they encounter, though she does a pretty mean background too, particularly when the girls are spending the summer in the rather more tourist-orientated environment of Rome. It’s the character studies that drive the book forward, from encounter to encounter with fellow travellers, street dwellers, pimps, pushers and criminals, plus a few well meaning good Samaritans too. I am also impressed at how honest Ulli has been portraying herself in this work; I would be very interested in having a conversation with her about precisely what she thinks now about the seventeen-year-old Ulli.


Buy Today Is The Last Day Of The Rest Of Your Life and read the Page 45 review here

Boxers & Saints Boxed Set (£24-99, First Second) by Gene Luen Yen.

“Right then, I understood. What I wanted all along had finally happened. I’d earned an invitation to become a full-fledged devil.”

Actually Four-Girl has just been invited to join the Christian church. The SAINTS half of this boxed set is riddled with such ironies but it’s all about context and we will get to that in a bit.

What this twin-book boxed set proves as much as anything is that there are more than two aspects to every argument just as there are more than two sides to a coin: there are three, if your balance is up to it.

So well constructed and affecting is this that, if you read either BOXERS or SAINTS outside of each other’s parallel context, you can’t help but fall passionately on their respective protagonists’ sides even though one is in direct opposition to the other. The stories both take place in the Chinese countryside towards the end of the 19th Century and criss-cross at key moments. The former’s chapters are marked by date, the latter’s by Four-Girl’s age, implying that the first is a history, the second an autobiography. Both are, of course, mytholigically infused fictions played out against very real historical events.

BOXERS follows Little Bao from wide-eyed childhood to young rebel leader as part of The Boxer Revolution against the “foreign devils” who have all but invaded China, asserting imperial control and bringing with them missionaries to convert the Chinese to Christianity. SAINTS follows Four-Girl from a childhood of rejection to a life with the only people kind enough to care about her: a Chinese couple converted to Christianity (“secondary devils”) and the (“foreign devil”) priest who converted them.

Both boast attractively restrained palettes – BOXERS plays with the pale colours of nature, of the earth, air and water; SAINTS has a more muted antler and sandy grey as befits her morose nature – until their dazzling saviours make their appearance, Joan of Arc glowing in her golden armour. The clear-line cartooning is expressive, often comically so like Lu Pai’s wonky and wrinkled three strands of hair and Four-Girl’s early face-pulling.

I read BOXERS first in which a very young Bao sits entranced in front of the annual operas before which a china statuette of Tu Di Gong, the local earth god, is brought out from the modest temple to overlook the festivities from his seat of honour. So enthralled is Bao that the characters then follow him round in his head for a full season:

“Sun Wu-Kong, the Monkey King, comes with me to fetch water.
“Guan Yu, the God of War, tends crops with me.
“And the Lady in the Moon sings me lullabies as I drift off to sleep.”

But the following year Bao’s father steps in when a visiting bully beats on Grandma Crooked and defends her. Two weeks later the bully returns with armed back-up wearing crosses and a bearded, foreign priest. He extracts compensation from Bao’s dad and smashes Tu Di Gong to bits in front of the villagers.

“Worship only one God! One God only! This is Good News of Jesus Christ!”


So powerfully is this portrayed by Yang – so well has he set up Bao’s adulation of his father and local customs – that I was vicariously apoplectic with horror and rage. If there’s one thing worse than foreign forces imposing themselves on sovereign land, then it’s when they impose their religion on it too at the expense of the local population’s long cherished customs and beliefs. But such is the stranglehold that the pale westerners already have on the country with the complicity of the Chinese authorities that there is no hope of recompense, no hope of fighting back… until a mysterious but seemingly ordinary man calling himself Red Lantern appears. Asking for nothing in return, he proves to be a healer first, then a martial arts instructor and finally a provider. Gradually he is building a small coalition of similarly put-upon villagers to defend each other in crisis and although Bao is told he is too young to train, he does so covertly, copying their martial arts moves from afar.

When finally they move out Red Lantern refuses to allow Bao to accompany them, but he does leave him a map through fields of corner, between a cleaved stone, past a small volcanic outlet to a cloud-shrouded mountain beyond. What Bao discovers there changes everything.

A newly enabled Bao thenceforth gathers a growing army of acolytes and a woman he falls in love with. As they travel, they struggle to live up to their commendably compassionate Edicts while Bao is troubled by more militant commands from the first Emperor of China in his dreams. What have I left out? Oh, everything!


The beauty of this is that Yang takes you on your own journey of sympathy and allegiance. In wars and rebellions involving territory, sovereignty and religion a lot of innocent people get caught in the middle. This comes to quite a head. However, Gene Luen Yang has hardly begun.

SAINTS will show these events from the other side of the suffering and this half doesn’t end well, either. But to begin with – believe it or not – it’s a comedy.

“I am my mother’s fourth daughter, born on the fourth day of the fourth month and the only one of her children to survive past a year. When my mother approached her father-in-law for my name, he refused. Four, after all, is a homonym of “death” and Grandfather had had enough of death. Eventually, the family took to calling me by my birth order. Four-Girl. Death-Girl.”

Dismissed by her mother as continuously dilly-dallying, our narrator attempts to win the family’s affections with feats of prowess to equal her male cousins’ – like wood-chopping. What follows had me howling with laughter, and it too involves an unfortunate fate for Tu Di Gong right above Grandfather’s head. Had Tu Di Gong’s fate not been foreshadowed in BOXERS I doubt I would have found it half so funny.

Unfortunately it provokes the final, pivotal act of what was already tragically bad nurturing which really rubs off on our eight-year-old: her grandfather declares her a devil and she embraces that role, first with the face-pulling referred to earlier then with a hex. Have I mentioned the talking racoon yet? Top tip: if a racoon starts talking to you then try not to listen.

All of which in a roundabout way lands her in the hands of a kindly acupuncturist who is also a Chinese Christian or “secondary devil”. And devils are now an attractive proposition for Four-Girl. She wants to learn more about Jesus who died on the cross with a tragically hands-on knowledge of acupuncture.

Actually she’s much more interested in the cookies which accompany the acupuncturist’s sermons; it becomes a recurring joke. This in turn brings her into contact with the foreign-devil priest who smashed Little Bao’s beloved statue of Tu Di Gong (I told you these tales criss-crossed) and beautifully brings us back to where we came in: she is invited to join the church.

Already rejected repeatedly by her non-Christian family this proves to be the ultimate schism and it sets her on a similar course to Little Bao’s but on the other side of the theological and increasingly blood-thirsty divide.

With nearly five hundred pages spinning out of this (trust me) very brief set-up synopsis, you can expect much to make you think. Friendships are tested; values are too. Caring for others is conflict’s only redeeming feature and both sides desperately want to do that. Gene Luen Yang invites you to play the blame-game then makes you ponder whether the conclusions you have jumped to have overstepped the instinctively hop-scotched mark.

The two covers, once set aside each other, have been designed to reflect both the parallel nature of the twin stories but also their divide. Although now that I come to do precisely that, I wonder if one is more emotively weighted against the other: one more militant aggressor, the other more pacifistic victim. The irony, of course, is that just as Joan of Arc’s vocation was to repel foreign intrusion so as to restore the Dauphine’s sovereignty for France… so it Little Bao’s for his Empress in China.

My advice is this: if ever you go into conflict to defend people’s safety from whatever threat, remember: that’s why you did it. Do not become that threat.


Buy Boxers & Saints Boxed Set and read the Page 45 review here

Over Easy h/c (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Mimi Pond…

“Tell me a joke. Or a dream. If I like it, I hire you. That’s the way it works. That’s our policy.”
“He’s not kidding.”

Propriety probably dictates I shouldn’t repeat the joke itself, but suffice to say Mimi gets hired to work as a dishwasher at the Imperial Cafe by the implausibly named Lazlo Meringue. What follows – and indeed precedes – this particular scene is a humorous, fictionalised memoir of life at the lower-income end of the scale as art student Madge struggles to adjust to the realities of the working world, not to mention the peculiarities and peccadilloes of her new colleagues.

After serving her time in the greasy kitchen – there is one particularly horrific scene when she’s cleaning up after her first shift which nearly turned my stomach – and working her way up to the stellar front of house position of waitress, the fun really begins as Mimi starts to reinvent herself in a period of late ‘70s social upheaval, as the hippy dream finally came to an end and the wake up clarion call of punk began. She’s all at sea at first under the ever watchful eyes of the regular customers, but soon finds her groove.


Great fun, intelligently observed and nicely illustrated, it’s a cheeky peek through one person’s eyes to a time and place when there was as much pogoing as public poetry readings happening and no one was really sure where it was all going to end. Highly appropriate set and setting for what is, basically, a coming of age story.


Buy Over Easy h/c and read the Page 45 review here

May Contain Sharks (£4-99, self-published) by Jess Bradley.

”If we couldn’t afford a hat, we used a crab.”


Back in the Olden Days times were tough, the smooth was rough, and everything was in black and white. I know: I’ve seen photographic evidence!

Here too Jess amassed photographic evidence for this painstakingly researched  investigation into history, mother nature and scientific endeavour containing “32% Stoopid, 27% Colours, 24% Fibre, 3% Sharks and 0% Fleas”. She then jettisoned the lot and drew brightly coloured cartoons instead. Which is just as well because dressing a dog up in the gear of the ‘80s complete with a Flock Of Seagulls quiff would be cruel. Funny, though. And spot-on here.

Yes, it’s the triumphant return of the blindingly bonkers in the shiniest A5 comic alive including angry pandas, random clams and a beetle on its back. Poor beetle! Also: watch what happens when you give The Smartest Bear In The World the most complex quadratic equation ever created and a crayon!

The only way this comic could have been better is if the back cover to this laminated lovely was made out of stickers.


Buy May Contain Sharks and read the Page 45 review here

Abandoned Cars (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Tim Lane…

“I don’t know the metamorphosis that’s taking place. Nor do I know the danger I am in. That too comes later.
“Right now, I’m flying low and fast over the midnight whitecapped waves of the Atlantic. I’m flying invisibly, I’ve been here for centuries.
“I am the dark romantic, is the voice that surfaces from deep within my subconscious. It boils up through me, from the churning belly of a deep vat of diabolical acid… a tortured voice; not yet quite dead, but not living either.
“To the cars waiting at the railroad crossings, to the little homes partly defined by light, to the moon that isn’t there… to God, to everything…
“… I say with simmering elation… I AM THE DARK ROMANTIC!”

Like Charles Burns channelling Kerouac, with more than a dash of early Burrows, Tim Lane transports us to a brooding time, of a man on a journey, both external and internal, possibly spiritual, certainly a touch existential. He’s jumping freight trains, travelling through small town America, searching for something ineffable, though possibly he doesn’t realise that yet. It’s October 1994, and that man is Tim Lane.



I loved this autobiographical work, bookended and interspersed as it is with grim fictional vignettes. I think there may well be some elements of fact even in those, actually, given the bold legend that the book contains ‘168 pages of “not exactly” all-true adventurous stories about the Great American Mythological Drama!’ I can see precisely where he is coming from with that assertion though, having spent some time in the seedy underbelly of small town America myself, it is a funny old place.

If you are in the mood for something a little downbeat, mildly surreal at times, akin in flavour to say, BLACK HOLE, this is for you. You’ll certainly come away feeling slightly more angst-ridden by osmosis than before you started, but possibly less depressed about your own life! A second volume THE LONESOME GO, also published by Fantagraphics, is due in July.


Buy Abandoned Cars and read the Page 45 review here

Gantz vol 31 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku…

Once upon a time there was a manga that simply began with two Japanese teenagers getting mown down by a subway train while trying to save someone on the tracks… Then promptly being resurrected in a unfamiliar room by a strange black sphere called Gantz that tooled them up them with futuristic weapons and armour, then told them to shoot hidden aliens for points… Points making prizes, of course, which could be better weapons: the power to resurrect someone else, or the choice to leave the game completely with any memories of it wiped from your mind. It was fun, daft fun, and a lot of it. Then it started getting very serious indeed…

Fast forward another thirty volumes and the world has virtually come to an end thanks to an all-out alien invasion by huge ten-metre-high humanoids, also armed to the hilt, flying spaceships the size of cities, and generally being complete and utter bastards. They’re happily harvesting humans for food, keeping a few as pets in goldfish bowls, intent on colonising the planet, and all that stands in their way is a rag tag collection of hardened Gantz survivors from around the globe intent on saving humanity and taking back the planet. It’s almost as though they were being trained for just such a scenario all along…

Where the Gantz team of vampires, one of whom is apparently related to one of the main characters, fits in by this point I have no idea, as they seem to have vanished completely. Yes, you read that right, vampires. Anyway, the assault on the alien motherships has begun and there’s just one additional tiny problem to ramp up the sheer impossibility of the odds the Gantz warriors are facing to near infinite levels, their resurrection facility has stopped working… Oh dear.

Yes, this is arguably a battle manga, but it is so, so much more than that, though the fact that it is published by Dark Horse and spawned two hugely popular Japanese live action films should be a clue. Slick science fiction, a zany, eclectic cast characters, plus more twists and turns than Chubby Checker. If you want something relentlessly filled with action, packed with humour, and well, just plain mental, do give it a try! There are only a handful of volumes left to come out, and this is one of the very few ongoing manga I read as soon as a new volume is available. It will go down as a classic of the genre, trust me.


Buy Gantz  vol 31and read the Page 45 review here

24 #1 (£2-99, IDW) by Ed Brisson & Michael Gaydos.

I once watched an entire season of 24 in 23 hours thanks to my mate editing out all the adverts. It would have been 22 hours but for toilet brakes and fridge-bound, fresh-wine field trips. My point is that I am an expert and this is what you need for a successful series of 24:

1) Jack Bauer. And by Jack Bauer I mean Kiefer Sutherland. No one else has that perpetually squinting Clint Eastwood look and cute little overbite which is such a killer combo when he’s killing colleagues. Or when they’re killing him.

2) Colleagues to kill. Colleagues to kill him. Colleagues to be killed then come back from the dead.

3) Chloe. This is the last specific character / actor. Chloe stole my heart with her sour-faced, miserabilist pouting. She has all the scowls. Looking both suspicious and suspect for every second on screen, Chloe actually has a heart of gold, albeit of the three-carat “crap” variety once sold at Ratner’s. She will go out of her way to help you so long as you don’t ask. Ask for a favour and Three Little Pigs will go homeless.* Look, she’s busy. Busy being officious. Ask Chloe to choose between following a recipe and free-styling for famine, the only thing likely to get cooked is your books.

4) We’re still in CTU HQ here. We need an anti-authoritarian. Someone brilliant (in their own mind) who puts the super into supercilious and likes to get everything off of a chest whose t-shirt bears the slogan “I never said a word!”

5) An authoritarian. A careerist authoritarian who never listens, especially not to Jack because Jack’s been right on every previous occasion.

6) An American President to love or to loathe. In either instance publicly disowning Jack Bauer – or even activity sabotaging his one-man attempts to save an ungrateful America from Armageddon – is essential. If your name is Charles Logan you now throw a double and go up that snake rather down it. Throw your wife to the wolves for good measure! That her name wasn’t Sue Ellen astounded me.

7) A potential Armageddon. Start off small-time by assassinating married members of CTU or an American President by the end of episode one, then make sure you have at least three slights-of-hand up your sleeve and a member of Jack’s family in your campervan before revealing your final goal, which is to make this last 24 hours.

8. Infiltration.

9) Misdirection.

10) Wayward family members in every conceivable camp.

11) A ticking clock.

12) The weekly recap. If the following didn’t take place between time A and time B, it is not 24.

So, how does this measure up?

It doesn’t. None of the above is incorporated here. We haven’t even got Kiefer Sutherland except on the cover because it turns out that the brilliant Michael Gaydos whose work I adore cannot do Kiefer’s likeness.

The dialogue doesn’t resemble Bauer’s in any way, shape or form and all the bad guys initially want is a little bit of lolly. They go from loan sharks to terrorists just like that.

There’s a new series coming up and I am excited. Just not by this.

*huffing and puffing joke


Buy 24: Underground #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Justice League United #0 (£2-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Mike McKone…

In which the Justice League enter a team into the Blue Square North football conference and gradually work their way up into the heady environs of the Premier League. See them squabble over who has to wash the kit this week! See them engage in training ground bust-ups over who has to wear the luminous bibs resulting in a fine of two weeks wages! See them… <sigh>… it’s no use, I can’t keep this up, but then I never was very good at keepie-uppies…

I am willing to give this title a chance given it is written by Jeff THE COMPLETE ESSEX COUNTY, SWEET TOOTH, THE UNDERWATER WELDER Lemire, but the problem whenever they try and do any Justice League International reboot, under whatever name they come up with this time, is that Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis set the bar very high at times, as Dan Jurgens found out with the dreadful JLI title that was one of the initial DC New 52s.

Thus I was somewhat underwhelmed by this opener, I have to say, to the point where I actually thought I had finished it… until I picked it up again to do this review and realised I hadn’t read the last six or so pages. JUSTICE LEAGUE 3000, though, which absolutely no one is reading, is the perfect example of how you can do something witty, clever, completely different and thus a very interesting read, if you think outside the box a bit. The writers on that title? A certain Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis…

Next month, relegation from the New 52 looms unless JL Utd can secure all three points at a tricky away trip to Accrington Stanley…


Buy Justice League United #0 and read the Page 45 review here

Brilliant vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Icon/Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley.

In which the age-old question is asked: how would the real world really react to super-powers?

I recommend Kurt Busiek’s and Stuart Immonen’s SECRET IDENTITY. It was quiet and thoughtful and beauuuuuutifully drawn. Actually I recommend Kurt Busiek’s and Alex Ross’ MARVELS. I also recommend Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s ASTRO CITY seen, like MARVELS, from human individuals’ perspectives trapped at ground-level.

All three books or series are quiet and considered and answer that question. Shared key component: Kurt Busiek.

This one is more like SECRET IDENTITY in that it’s the authorities’ reaction to the first emergence of superpowers, and the investigative authorities react with utter incredulity. You would, wouldn’t you? Even when such freaks were caught on camera – and especially in this day and age – you would assume it was special effects even when verified by your collar-shirted colleagues and even when your colleagues had collaborative eye-witnesses. That is so very well evoked here.

Most of this, however, is seen from the perspective of the culprits: the college kids who have somehow solved the mystery of superpowers. Using magnets an’ shit. Brain electricity. Whatever.

Albert has returned to a university he’d spurned in favour of love. That didn’t work out. Once back on campus he learns what his peers have been up to and is horrified when they confess that Amadeus, the most charismatic of the crew, has already experimented on himself. And then come into a great deal of money. He’s been arrogant, reckless and caught on camera committing a crime. He seems to believe he’s untouchable. As his friends try to persuade Albert to help fix the glitches the FBI start to close in…

There’d be lots of surprises ahead if they were actually surprising. I’m afraid to report I could predict every one. Well, apart from the reaction of Albert’s mother. I’m also way past board of repetition being passed of as realism, as when the kids are interviewed: page after page of repetition in lieu of moving the story forward. The larger Marvel Universe titles are equally guilty of this now and their comics aren’t cheap. I really think it’s time value for money was considered.

Bagley is fab at representing innocence – even innocence lost or trounced upon – and his work with Bendis on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN was a joy. So here, his college kids are great and Albert’s exasperation on the phone to his mother was made crushingly clear as the camera pulls back. There are also big moments of boom. It’s just… when you’re asking a question like “What if super-powers actually existed in the real world, you need something closer to photorealism representing that real world. It’s no coincidence that of his many styles Stuart Immonen chose photorealism for SECRET IDENTITY.

*winces apologetically* Sorry!


Buy Brilliant vol 1 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.


Alabaster vol 2: Grimmer Tales h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Caitlin R. Kiernan & Steve Lieber

Alice In Comicland h/c (£22-50, IDW) by Walt Kelly, Charles Schultz, Alex Toth, Harvey Kurtzman, many more

Doctor Grordbort Present Triumph (£14-99, Random House / Vertical) by Greg Broadmore

Flex Mentallo, Man Of Muscle Mystery s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely

Hate: Buddy Buys A Dump (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Peter Bagge

The Love Bunglers h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez

Pretty Deadly vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios

Secret vol 1: Never Get Caught s/c (£12-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Ryan Bodenheim

Unlovable vol 3 h/c (£22-50, Fantagraphics) by Esther Pearl Watson

Batman Superman vol 1: Cross World h/c (£16-99, DC) by Greg Pak & Jae Lee

Suicide Squad vol 4: Discipline And Punish s/c (£10-99, DC) by Ales Kot, Matt Kindt & Patrick Zircher, others

All New X-Men vol 4: All Different h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Brandon Peterson

Deadpool: Complete Collection vol 3 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & various

Marvel Masterworks: Captain America vol 3 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko

X-Men vol 2: Muertas s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Brian Wood & Terry Dodson, Kris Anka

Attack On Titan vol 12 (£7-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Vinland Saga Book 3 h/c (£14-99, Kodansha) by Makato Yukimura

ITEM! Brilliant news for all comicbook retailers! ComiXology has eliminated the frictionless digital consumption of comics so you have to visit a ComiXology store front each time you want to buy digital. Even better news for Page 45 is that we have a ComiXology store front so it’s just as easy to buy from us, no more expensive yet we make a cut. Here:

ITEM! New comic by Audrey Niffenegger & Eddie Campbell online: THURSDAYS, SIX TO EIGHT P.M. Although I am getting REALLY sick of this “Novelists do comics” crap. Comicbook creators have been writing them just fine of a century, and novelists and artists who didn’t understand the medium ballsed it up something chronic for us all twenty years ago. Also, Audrey is a long-standing comicbook creator as well as a prose novelist. Anyway.

ITEM! It may look so simple, but this thumbnail by THE RINSE’s Marc Laming shows a perfect understanding of pivotal mechanics much overlooked by many. Seriously: study the distribution of weight there! Algebra? Fine! Geometry? Hit me! But mechanics is what finally did my maths in.

ITEM! Comics’ Lizz Lunney has a monkey. You will now wish you’d one too. You can buy her TAKE AWAY instead!

ITEM! The Comics Grid reviews The Guardian Comics Weekend Special with links to its online features and the exhibition at the British Museum.

ITEM! Wonderful to see University Of Nottingham Research covering comics and spreading the word to students following Kieron Gillen’s visit there discussing the research involved in classics-driven THREE set in Sparta. Oooh, Page 45 receives big love on the blog too! Bless you, Tara!

ITEM! Andy Oliver writes an exceptionally useful column on self-publishers selling their comics to retailers. Well, the few of us who treasure them. He’s covered almost every aspect I would have – including no, we don’t want self-published superhero comics: there are way too many superhero comics already, cheers! – and several I’d have overlooked. I would only add they we love to see hardcopies because it is vital for us to see the printed format and production values, which are two reasons we sell so many of Dan Berry’s CAT ISLAND etc.

ITEM! Speaking of selling comics, here I am!

The Art Of Selling Comics by Stephen L Holland at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival

It’s a ticketed talk which means you should book ASAP, please as there are limited places!

ITEM! Here’s the overall Programme for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 – go on, click! It is massive this year! All very clearly laid out with colour-coding and everything!

Have a shortcut to the other ticketed talks, panels and workshops for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 including Scott McCloud, Glyn Dillon, Jeff Smith, Sean Phillips, Rian Hughes, Becky Cloonan, Bryan Talbot, Felt Mistress, Fumio Obata, Neill Cameron, Gary Northfield, Mark Buckingham, Dave Gibbons, Jock, Emma Vieceli Nick Abadzis, Gary Erskine, Joe List, Darryl Cunningham, Page 45 and so many more!

ITEM! Finally, lest we forget, your guide to Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival. We will be updating with more info soon and a great big surprise. I was surprised! Hurrah!

– Stephen

Reviews April 2014 week four

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Intricate in detail yet gigantic in scale, the mountainous landscapes warp and flow as they are created and uncreated by the mind of a man who has acquired the ability to make manifest whatever he so desires but not the power to control it. There is no off-switch.

There is no moment of not.

 – Stephen on Genesis by Nathan Edmondson & Alison Sampson.

Sex Criminals vol 1: One Weird Trick (£7-50, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky.

A heart-warming tale that will make you feel fuzzy in which two new lovers talk dirty to each other for days. It’s so frank that if I started quoting it out of context this would begin to read like a lads’ mag, so no. Where does the crime come in?

Well, it’s like Bonnie & Clyde with orgasms. Orgasms during which time stops more than figuratively and the world goes completely silent. Do you see stars when you come? Sorry, that was a bit personal. Suzanne sees swirling colours and flashes of light which linger longer than you’d expect. Or maybe you wouldn’t. You lucky thing.

All of this Suzanne discovers during her first, unplanned episode with her head underwater and the taps still running in just the right place. Now imagine what sex with a partner would be like if you were Suzanne: you orgasm, the earth may move for you and the colours may come but the world itself stops and goes silent. You have to extricate yourself from your partner who’s “paralyzed”. That’s not completely satisfying. Then imagine that, after years and years of this, you met someone else just like you and you could finally enjoy post-coital bliss in your shared world of silence.

“Jon… is your dick glowing?”

Suzanne calls it The Silence. Jon calls it Cumworld. He’s a bloke – please forgive!

It was the name of his favourite porn shop he used to ransack while in the zone and its legitimate customers were suspended in time, oblivious to his presence. And those early escapades have given him an idea. Suzanne loves libraries – they helped her out while attempting to research her condition – but hers is suffering and its bank is about to foreclose. So if Jon could successful pilfer from a porn shop… why can’t they just spank a bank?

This is absolutely magnificent: an up-front celebration of one of life’s better pleasures – as long as you’re over eighteen. If you’re under eighteen, it’s rubbish. You really won’t want it. Please don’t buy it, we could get into trouble.

I never did understand reverse psychology.

Chip Zdarsky is the perfect choice of artist for he draws a bit like Michael Avon Oeming, so whilst explicit, this isn’t titillating. It’s sexy art, don’t get me wrong, but sexy in a stylish, engaging and thoroughly attractive way. And the amount of time he’s spent on those lights during climax… there are a lot of climaxes here.

There’s also a lot of laughs as you’d expect from the author of HAWKEYE, and they don’t dry up at the end for there are process pieces from Zdarsky who is a mischief merchant in his own right, and a short radio drama created by Matt and Chip to promote the first issue in which Chip phones a sex line expecting lovely Linda and finds Matt on the other end instead. Hey, equal opportunities!

It’s a play which will say that we’re all a bit gay whether locked in the closet or loo. Actually, it will prove it. Seriously prove it. You’ll like it, it’s liberating.

As to the main event, anything can happen. When Suzie starts singing Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls I guarantee you never seen or read anything quite like it, and I’ll have to go back and check the individual issue it was first printed in to see if they changed it for the collected edition.

It’s also incredibly cute: early inter-date texting, hesitancy in half-sentences and sharing your sexual secrets is such a turn on! Jon and Suzanne have plenty – it’s nice of them to share. Matt Fraction too.

Now, back to the bank and what could possibly go wrong?


Buy Sex Criminals Vol 1: One Weird Trick and read the Page 45 review here

Genesis (£4-99, Image) by Nathan Edmondson & Alison Sampson.

“So quickly I have learned what haunted means. It is not some phantom from the afterlife, it is what we hold in our minds and do not release; it is the blade with which we cut ourselves, masochists to the end.”

Oh, but this is beautiful: a short story made epic by the art!

Intricate in detail yet gigantic in scale, the mountainous landscapes warp and flow as they are created and uncreated by the mind of a man who has acquired the ability to make manifest whatever he so desires but not the power to control it. There is no off-switch.

There is no moment of not.

For you know how ideas flash fleetingly into your mind even if pushed back immediately afterwards? Imagine that was too late and those ideas became actuality.

This is a man who from childhood had been raised to want to change the world: to believe that he would indeed change the world. The boy played with building blocks, creating houses and towns which were in his mind as detailed as the architecture he saw all around him. As an adult he built a church and created a congregation for it, but though they listened they learned nothing and changed not at all, so nothing around them changed either. So he jumped from its steeple and that should have been that.

It was just the beginning. For when the man wakes up he discovers that his childhood imagination is matched by reality. What he wishes for instantly occurs. Buildings are built, the famished are fed and it happens before the blink of an eye. Even his wife’s hair becomes fuller. But what happens at home one night – not a lapse in judgement but a simple cause and effect – destabilises everything. The man comes undone and as the man comes undone so does everything around him.

“Desire met and battled my thoughts. My subconscious was like a tide washing over what my mind wrote in the beach sand.
“But like trying to stop the flow of water with your hands, it continued.
“It is impossible to tell yourself to stop thinking a thought.”

If there is a lesson I learned here it is how desperately we all need our physical parameters. And company. Without either lies madness.

For me this is (predominantly) a horror story that made me quite queasy. I couldn’t look away because I loved what I looked at. Coloured so sensitively by Jason Wordie that the light shines through, Alison Sampson has matched the imagination of the protagonist and has herself made manifest what is in his and her minds. The landscapes bulge and buckle, reconfigure and spiral away on command.

Her bear is a beauty (there is a bear), but there are moments which elicit more intellectual smiles like the double-page spread in which the global architect attempts to fix things, starting from scratch and going back to basics. The basics in his case were childhood building blocks which we see on the very first page. But were you never given also a kit of cardboard whose pop-out pieces had folding lines and tabs?

In some ways the style harks back two decades, but with the production values of today (the paper quality and, I repeat, Jason Wordie’s colouring) it feels thoroughly fresh and looks thrilling.


Buy Genesis and read the Page 45 review here

New York Postcards (£11-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Adrian Tomine.


Ask me or my Ma what one our favourite activities is, and it’s people-watching.

I don’t mean sitting in judgement: that’s supercilious and sad. Bitching only blackens the soul.

No, I mean observing and enjoying the interaction of those walking past or sitting around us while we’re relaxing on a boulevard outside a café with a bottle of chilled white wine and a quiet cigarette or two.

Venice, Paris or Aix-en-Provence… Adrian Tomine’s chosen New York.

And that’s what these are: 30 observational pieces taken from the NEW YORK DRAWINGS art book of the man responsible for one of comics’ greatest treasures, the OPTIC NERVE oeuvre.

Can I say that? The OPTIC NERVE oeuvre?

Ah well, I just did.


Buy New York Postcards and read the Page 45 review here

Rachel Rising vol 4: Winter Graves (£12-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

The climax to the first full story arc. It’s going to get chilly!

“Zoe – that’s Satan’s! Hide it! Bury it! Throw it in the ocean! Don’t use it!”
“Too late.”
“Oh God.”
“Really? Now you’re religious? Geez, Lilith, pick a side.”

Let’s talk about Zoe, shall we? That’s her on the cover – such a charmer. She looks much sweeter in real life, though you’re never sure what she’ll do next.

We’ve come so far with RACHEL RISING that talking about Zoe is much safer than Rachel, Jet and Aunt Johnny – especially given the cliffhanger to book three.

But we will learn more about what originally happened to their 17th Century counterparts Bryn Erin, James, James’ sister Mary Scott and Lilith herself during the town’s conflagrational witch hunt. The deftness with which Terry Moore slides in and out through the time periods is astonishing especially since the first two [redacted].

Anyway, Zoe’s being groomed by a priest who sees great potential in our homicidal maniac, enabling her already not inconsiderable killing spree. Whatever would possess him to do so?

“Have you given any thought to your future, Zoe?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I am being serious. I’ve been this height for a long time. I’m tired of looking at bellies and butts.”
“I’d like to help you, Zoe. Send you to the best schools. Help you find a career. Maybe politics.”
“I’m not going to have your baby.”
“I know who you are.”

Short but sassy, Zoe doesn’t “do” intimidated. She does slice-and-dice, and she sure has a way with words. Here’s Zoe and Mary Scott reincarnated in Zoe’s sister Lindy. They are having a shouting match across a snow storm.

“Lindy? Is that you?”
“Your sister’s dead! You killed her!”
“You look just like her!”
“This is her body, you little psycho!”
“Oh! Okay! Then you might want to get tested to STDs. She was a hot item on Craigslist!”

There’s one hell of a lot of snow as Lilith unleashes her final assault on the town of Manson and a rare deployment of graded grey tone makes for some jaw-dropping nigh-apocalyptic skies filled as far as the eye can see with –

Look, you try reviewing the fourth book in a series without spoilers!


Buy Rachel Rising vol 4: Winter Graves and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets: Killers #2 (£2-75, Image) by David Lapham.

“Virginia! Virginia! Look at me! He’s joking. He’s joking. Stop…”

And Virginia is back!

So is Eli from STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #1, our current Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, only many years later.

That was prime STRAY BULLETS as is this, reminding you that everything is connected just like the previous series STRAY BULLETS: UBER ALLES EDITION, whence our Virginia Applejack.

The first was prime STRAY BULLETS because yet another child got caught between the grievances of adults, maiming them for life. This second issue is prime STRAY BULLETS because not only does it remind you that everything is connected but also that behind even the most docile domestic doors there lurks stifled suffering and violence just waiting to erupt.

Though it is no excuse for anything they are put through, some children can prove very resilient. Virginia is one and Eli is another. This is what happens when these two seemingly different souls meet.

I’m not going to stop going on about STRAY BULLETS because it is the best crime on the market – right up there with Brubaker and Phillips’ CRIMINAL – and we thought we would never see it on sale again.

Please see those previous reviews of STRAY BULLETS: UBER ALLES EDITION and STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #1 for more.


Buy Stray Bullets: Killers #2 and read the Page 45 review here

Sunny vol 3 h/c (£16-99, Viz) by Taiyo Matsumoto.

I love the way Matsumoto draws these orphans with flushed faces, messy hair, tiny, individual teeth, shouting over each other to be heard as snot streams from their noses especially on a cold, wintry day.

There’s an opening double-page landscape in the palest of colour, wet white paint almost obliterating the ochre Sunny Datsun and the kids hanging round the eerily empty equivalent of what we called “the rough”: a scruffy bit of disused wasteland to one side of our houses. Behind the scrubland rises a watchtower, giving the impression of a concentration camp.

SUNNY revolves around an orphanage but as I wrote of SUNNY VOL 2, Japanese orphanages are very different beasts to our own. The homes don’t house only orphans: the kids often have parents. Parents who, for one reason or another, leave them in state care.

Can you imagine what that’s like, wondering why you have been abandoned? Wondering if you will ever be reclaimed? Desperate for a visit yet, as soon as that visit starts, knowing it will end; that knowledge colouring all your precious time together? Book two was heart-breaking.

Megumu won’t be going anywhere because her parents really are dead, and she feels guilty that because of this she so desperately wants no one else to leave, either. But unlike Kiko who constantly reacts to kindness with complaint, Megumu likes to think the best of others even as she thinks she worst of herself.

She’s invited to tea by Rie and her friends from outside the orphanage and Rie’s mother is so gentle and generous. Megumu keeps zoning out so cuts her finger while preparing some food and Rie’s mum sticks a plaster on it.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” is what she says. “Thank you, Mom,” is what she thinks.

She’s zoning out because all the other girls there have family and keeping talking about them.

“What, dear?”
“This cup… It reminds me… This picture, a bear on skis. When I lived at home we had the same cups. On Sundays, me and my mom and dad would have tea together.”
“Then please take that cup back with you, Megumu.”
“No, I… I… I couldn’t…”
“I want you to have it, Megumu. You don’t want it?”
“That’s neat, Megumu. Your special cup…”
“You should take it.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. Thank you.”

The kicker is what Megumu reveals later through her private thoughts. Naturally – quite, quite naturally – she just wanted to join in.

Equally moving (I really must learn to stop reading graphic novels on the bus if I can’t control my barely stifled sobs) is the opening episode in which a once-wayward Nishita pays a return visit to the orphanage he grew up in so long ago that only Makio and his grandfather, the orphanage’s frail father figure, remember him. There was an incident with a large, sharp kitchen knife – a very, very serious one. It was how Makio’s grandfather reacted both then and now which halted me so.

On a lighter note, a television crew visit and, oh, the illusion of spontaneity!

“It’s not phoney, it’s film-making.”


Buy Sunny vol 3 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Essex County new printing (£22-50, Top Shelf) by Jeff Lemire.

Loaded with melancholy and loss but above all stoicism, of this BONE and RASL’s Jeff Smith writes, “The subtle inter-weaving of Jeff Lemire’s ESSEX COUNTY Trilogy is brilliant and constantly surprising. The cumulative impact left a lump in my throat.”

Jeff Lemire you may know from later works SWEET TOOTH and THE UNDERWATER WELDER etc. Here are excerpts from our reviews of the trilogy’s constituent parts, the first from myself, the superior two by school headmaster Simon Robinson…

The first chapter begins with four seasons on a remote farm. Lester lost his mother to cancer shortly after she begged her brother to look after him.

Uncle Kenny doesn’t know the first thing about children, but he tries, bless him. He tries to involve Lester as much as possible, but he’s rebuffed, time after time (and none too sensitively on occasions) with a “no” or a “nah”. It’s not that Lester is offensive or rebellious, he’s just quiet and contained in his fantasies of alien invasion and just a little lonely until he meets Jimmy, an ox of a man who was injured on his first ice hockey game for the Toronto Maple leafs, and who Uncle Kenny says is now somewhat slow in the head.

Jeff Lemire could have played all this so much more obviously, mining Les’ plight for sympathy, but he doesn’t. The countryside scenes in the shifting seasons are beautiful – not too fussy, not remotely overwrought, with a light that evokes the weather and time of the year beautifully.


* * *

“You know, there are only two ways to be completely alone in this world…lost in a crowd…or in total isolation.”

Upon reaching the end of this second book I did something I have never done before in 20-something years of reading comics: I turned straight back to page one and read the whole thing through again from start to finish. The first read left me stunned, in a self-reflective silence. The second read left me in tears; and in a public place as well. My father would be deeply ashamed.

‘Ghost Stories’ follows the lives of brothers Lou and Vince Lebeuf over seven decades. It is told mainly in flashback by Lou as his brain withers from the blight of senile dementia. In the 50s, he and Vince played professional ice hockey. But that was before. Before the play-off finals, before the injury, before Mary…before the accident. Twenty-five years later the brothers are cast together once again but Vince finds an empty place in his heart where he used to keep his love for Lou. And yet, dying, they cling to one another as their fragile lives splinter and weather until nothing but memories remain. The strength of this book lies within the subtle ease with which it captures the human spirit. The awful gnawing sadness of old age is delivered in every glass of whiskey, every aching joint and every single tear.

“Only two ways to be alone in this world, ey? Looks like I went and found another.”

* * *

And there it is on page 447: the glue that holds the ESSEX COUNTY trilogy together. With a simple family tree, backed with the sorrowful, ageing glare of Sister Margaret Byrne, the full melancholic scale of this wonderful, tragic story is finally revealed.

‘The Country Nurse’ interweaves the heartbreak of the fire at Margaret’s orphanage in 1917 and the unbearable poignancy of her granddaughter’s life as the modern day country nurse. Weaving, gliding between the two tales flies the now familiar crow – a harbinger of death or a bringer of hope? It’s difficult to tell – so many of the characters in ESSEX COUNTY are like retired boxers, back for one comeback too many. They’ve been thumped and kicked from one corner of life to the other and yet, punch drunk, they reel to shaking feet only to have life smash them to the ground once more for good effect.

‘The Country Nurse’ makes my chest ache and my limbs heavy with sadness. Yet, simultaneously, it exhilarates me and leaves me addictively turning the pages for more.


Buy Essex County and read the Page 45 review here

Operation Margarine (£9-99, AdHouse Media) by Katie Skelly.

When you wake up in the garbage, you know you’ve been dumped.

Meet Marge and Bon-Bon: one is Missing; the other is Wanted.

To be precise, Margarine Litres has just fled the funny farm and made the front page of the Tribune. Mommy is not best pleased. We don’t know what Bon-Bon is running from apart from yet another fruitless affair with a married man.

But now they have motorbikes and black leather jackets and guns and each other. Also: bounty-hunter Billy and The Faces Of Death on their tails, and the thing about the desert is “there’s nowhere to hide”.

From the creator of NURSE NURSE, this is a whimsical little road trip with danger lurking at every pit stop. I can’t promise you much substance, just style.


Buy Operation Margarine and read the Page 45 review here

Ranma 1/2 2in1 vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi –

One of the funniest series that I’ve read.

I think that she was the best-selling manga artist in America before all the cute merchandise bunnies came along but I’m sure that she’s still the most loved.

The basic premise is of Ranma and his father arriving back in Japan, fresh from a decade of martial arts training in China. It was there that they found the legendary cursed springs. During training Ranma fell into ‘spring of drowned girl’ and a splash of cold water will give him female form. Hot water reverses this transformation. His father fell into ‘spring of drowned panda’ with similar results: he turns into a Giant Panda! Later we will meet folks who fell into various last resting places of a pig, a cat and, oh… the list goes on.

For fans of over-the-top martial arts prancing there’s more than enough bizarre ancient techniques and high-jumping near-misses. Nearly every new episode will bring a new discipline as two people pair off to resolve some feud or other.

Some of the appeal of Takahashi, for me, is the values of honour and family that she put across. Father and son have returned to Tendo’s Martial Arts School of Indiscriminate Grappling because Ranma was promised to marry one of the owners’ daughter. As in MAISON IKKOKU, the courtship and many, many confusing love triangles make you wonder if the two will ever get to the altar. Although you know that they will, anything else would not fit into Takahashi’s world view. Bad things happen, misunderstandings occur but all gets sorted out in the end.

For comic inventiveness her nearest peer would have to be Al Capp when he was on form with LI’L ABNER. Confounding (“amusin’ yet confusin’ ” – to misquote) situation is piled upon confounding situation leaving you breathless and wondering what she will come up with next. Some of my favourite scenes have included the Martial Arts Take-Out Competition with teams racing across the city to deliver fast food and the recent episode where Ranma is engaged to marry a young man from high society. In the latter he’s bolted into an iron corset (natch) unable to switch back into male form. He was previously bettered by his suitor and now must learn the fearsome Parlais du Fois Gras in order to win the eating-without-being-seen contest. Follow any of that?

As much as I rave about woodland and open space, I do enjoy depictions of far-away suburbs whether it’s California (see LOVE & ROCKETS) or Japan.* I have no idea if it’s accurate or not, just that Takahashi’s world is believable. The school, the noodle bars, the family home all exist.

* [For Japanese suburbs of the most exquisite order, please see A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD volumes one and two by Taniguchi! – ed.].


Buy Ranma 1/2 2in1 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.

Oh, wait, sorry. Because of the two bank holidays books won’t arrive until tomorrow. Will pop them in then.

ITEM! Becky Cloonan’s BY CHANCE OR BY PROVIDENCE limited edition hardcover won’t be long now! It contains WOLVES, THE MIRE and DEMETER plus extra material. From Page 45 it will cost £17-50 plus p&p and you can pre-order now and secure yourself a sexy free bookmark by phoning 0115 95085045 or emailing


ITEM! Not entirely safe for work but almost: Lucy Bellwood’s FLIP THE SWITCH short online comic on experiencing an isolation tank.

ITEM! A process piece (i.e. working process from concept to finished art) by Isabel Greenberg, creator of my favourite graphic novel of 2013, THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH.

ITEM! Ted Nefaih’s Cover to the 15th Anniversary h/c of Serena Valentino’s GLOOM COOKIE – isn’t it beautiful? I don’t have a release date for you yet, sorry, but if you haven’t read Ted’s own COURTNEY CRUMRIN, then prepare to swoon at will. Four books so far, two more on their way.

ITEM! Elliot Baggott’s HUNDRED METRE GARDEN coming from Great Beast UK.

ITEM! Great piece for pedants like me from The Comics Journal on what constitutes a comic and what boils down to illustrated prose.

ITEM! Ludicrous assertion that boy’s literacy is suffering because of female editors’ stranglehold on the children’s book market. Beyond pathetic.

Typical to scapegoat women for a male shortcoming. I think you’ll find the author of HARRY POTTER, responsible for persuading a lot of young men to prose, was a woman.

There are so many books and graphic novels out there which young men will devour if you take the trouble to match the right reading material to each individual young adult.

Page 45 has been working with school librarians to successfully boost literacy for years.

I’m driving over to Staffordshire to address its School Library Association’s annual get together in June and there will be an updated blog full of beautiful graphic novels then.

– Stephen

Reviews April 2014 week three

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Ryan’s eye for history, combat and outright frenzy is as impressive as it is for contemporary North American architecture and, combined with some startling work by colourist Jordie Bellaire, you will know by page five the true meaning of bloodlust.

 – Stephen on Three by Kieron Gillen & Ryan Kelly, Jordie Bellaire

The Undertaking Of Lily Chen (£20-99, First Second) by Danica Novgorodoff.

This is a fiction.

It is a delightful fiction, a dazzling fiction, a whimsical fiction, a most peculiar fiction and a funny old fiction with the unlikeliest streak of romance set in rural China.

This is not fiction, as reported on July 26th 2007 by The Economist:

“Parts of China are seeing a burgeoning market for female corpses, the result of the reappearance of a strange custom called “ghost marriages”. Chinese tradition demands that husbands and wives always share a grave. Sometimes, when a man died unmarried, his parents would procure the body of a woman, hold a “wedding,” and bury the couple together… A black market has sprung up to supply corpse brides. Marriage brokers – usually respectable folk who find brides for village men – account for most of the middle men. At the bottom of the supply chain come hospital mortuaries, funeral parlors, body snatchers – and now murderers.”

It was at this point that I began to doubt the comedy value ahead.

The startling prologue did little to dispel these doubts as former pilot turned security guard Deshi fends off a drunken attack from his brother Wei Li on an airfield at night. The tussle throws Wei into the headlights then onto the bonnet of a military jeep, killing him instantly. Deshi flees the scene and breaks the news to his parents. This was always going to be an awkward conversation and sure enough the parents are enraged with grief and evidently, in the silent panels, enraged at Deshi. His is not the apple of their eye.

“I wish it were me instead,” mutters his mother, head in hands, on the sofa later.
“I wish it were me,” says his father, prowling the lounge as Deshi raises his bowed head, fearful.
“Or you,” Deshi’s mother tells him.
“Not Wei,” confirms his father.


You’re not feeling the comedy, are you?

To atone, Deshi is dispatched before sunrise to find a bride for his brother who will be laid to rest in a week. As his pinch-mouthed mother begins the ceremony of cutting cloth then stitching the corpse bride’s red burial dress (one size evidently fitting all), Deshi glumly sets off with some money and a mule in search of a grave robber. He finds one.

“Count on Song when things go wrong,” chimes his calling card.

And you can count on Song, for once he’s started, he will finish. But there is an air of the bandit to him and a desiccated skeleton isn’t what Deshi Li had in mind: that’s far from a comfortable companion for his brother.

Interrupted mid-disinterment and separated from Song, Deshi discovers a poor and famished rustic household in dispute. The mother and father are in dispute with their landlord because the lease on their land has come up for renewal and Mr Peng has received a much better offer in the form of a mining company’s requisition. Mr Peng is sure he can do something about it for the right price. Unfortunately that price is only right if it includes the couple’s daughter Lily Chen’s hand in marriage. Lily Chen is not keen.

Instead Lily sees Deshi as her means of escape – to Beijing where there is money to rolled in, lanterns to light the way and all manner exotic foods to eat. So she elopes with Deshi, hopping on his mule in the hope that he will save her from this unholy wedding! Deshi is determined to deliver her to another.

With 430 pages ahead I can promise much absurdity with many twists and turns of the most outrageous fortune. All parties will diverge and converge again and again while Deshi’s ear drums get a right bloody battering.

I confess that the catfish on the back in immaculate, aquatic watercolours made me wish this was told in that style initially. There is many a floating phantom and dream sequence which is indeed rendered just so, but for the most part Novgorodoff employs the same joyous line technique which initially brought her to our attention with A LATE FREEZE which we made a very early Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month (no longer available sorry). Very quickly I wanted it no other way.

Deshi is all gangly and consistently clumsy as the man of action he is completely unsuited to, Lily Chen’s father is an angry and exasperated, gonad-gripping gorilla of a man, while poor Lily Chen in her canary yellow dress is all overeager naivety, oblivious to Deshi’s true intentions.

There is so much space in this graphic novel with many a chapter break which makes it all the more epic. So often it is all about the silent journeys and those journeys climb so many mountains and span so much countryside illustrated by dry and wet brush techniques. The escarpments and trees’ bark are rendered in dry brush while the greenery is washed in as loose as you like along with pale purple shadows dappled across the paths’ stone or chalky surfaces.

There’s one particular page which had me weeping with wonder, harking back to more representational Chinese landscapes, as Deshi leads Lily on her mule round the nearest corner of the long and winding lakeside road, the stark white mountain losing definition in the distance as it climbs through the clouds to its summit.

Now, where were we? Oh yes, Wei Li’s wedding day awaits.


Buy The Undertaking Of Lily Chen and read the Page 45 review here

Three (£10-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Ryan Kelly, Jordie Bellaire.

Ancient Greece, 364 B.C. and Sparta is in trouble.

It has lost battles, it has lost empire, but it is determined not to concede its sense of self: what it means to be Spartan. What it has retained in abundance is pride.

This book is riddled with pride.

Eastern Lakonia, and the land is being worked by Helots, slaves owned not just by individual masters and mistresses but who are also in service to the state, shared when deemed necessary.

Now, lords and masters inviting themselves to supper unannounced isn’t something unique to the Spartans. The British monarchy were doing it right up to Queen Victoria’s time, but at least most of them had the decency to phone ahead. Not so here, as Ephor (civic official) Eurytos and his bullish son Arimnestos plus their heavily armed entourage set foot in an unsupervised, communal Helot household late at night demanding hospitality.

You can tell Nestos is a particularly officious dick because he’s wearing a Corinthian helmet which really wasn’t the thing anymore unless you were intent of impressing on everyone around you how rich and important and powerful you are.

So it is that, not content with food, drink and shelter, an evening’s entertainment is contrived, humiliating the Helots by plying them with unwatered wine and making them dance drunkenly round the fire naked. It’s then that Nestos cannot resist upping the ante and things grow swiftly squalid until Helot Terpander – who can never resist sticking his oar in while sober – goads the proud Nestos with a history lesson involving, oh, I don’t know, lost battles and lost empire.

Unsurprisingly all hell breaks loose as Eurytos demands every last Helot be slaughtered. What does surprise is that taciturn Klaros is far from the maimed slave he’s claimed to be, and the tide of battle is turned leaving only Nestos to run with his tail between his legs.

It’s here that things for me grew particularly fascinating as the story switches to Sparta and more of its traditions are explored we meet one of its two kings, Kleomedes II, and his right-hand man and former lover Tyrtaios. Kleomedes isn’t particularly well respected on account of his father’s failure at Leuktra (lost battle, lost empire), so when that brat Nestos staggers into town with news of Eurytos’ death, Eurytos’ fellow Ephors – the true rulers of Sparta – command King Kleomedes to track down the three surviving slaves – Terpander, Klaros and Damar – and kill them. You might think that a waste of a perfectly good king (Kleomedes does) but I did warn you the Spartans were proud. There must be no signs of weakness… like running from a battle with your tail between your legs.

Such cowards were called Tremblers and when Nestos is sent home, humiliated by having half his fledgling beard shaved off, he is roundly rejected by his mother.

“It would even have been better if we had a daughter. At least then it would have been less likely she would disgrace the line.”
“You speak as if I were one of your horses.”
“These will soon be bound for Olympia. They will race. And, if I am any judge, this year they will win. They are the finest in Greece. You are most unlike my horses.”


“I had a son. I loved him. I wish he had come home.”

So it is that we follow three parties: the Helots fleeing west to Messene, Kleomedes and Tyrtaios in pursuit and Nestos… well, his pride isn’t going to take any of this lying down, is it?

This is Gillen’s direct reaction to having re-read Frank Miller & Lynn Varley’s 300 after a late-night booze bash. It’s a lot less formal and far more personal, revelling in its research with the help of Nottingham University’s Classics Department (Professor Stephen Hodgkinson, Lynn Fotheringham et al) and delighting in lacing every conversation and confrontation in the book with its results.

Gillen’s conversation with the professor exploring Spartan and Helot traditions and the very latest findings are reprinted in the back, along with a new notes section supplied by Kieron on what is currently considered to be historical fact (it’s an ongoing endeavour) and which aspects are informed supposition and literary flourishes. I was, for example, completely unaware of the Helots’ curious reaction to wine but have now added that biological predisposition to my knowledge box where it will continue to rattle round virtually friendless.

Helot Terpander’s storytelling (via PHONOGRAM’s Kieron Gillen, obviously) is particularly impressive, its sentence structure in places reflecting that of the classics. There are a great many stories told here – the Greek’s were quite keen! – and exchanges are rammed with reasoning or loaded with guile depending on the speaker’s intentions.

You can tell when a creative team is really relishing what they’re doing and, like any great oratory, this commands one’s attention.

Even the skies are transfixing: some of the colours chosen are far from obvious but throughout you get a true sense of each time of day which is vital when you’re in a race. The golden armour glows under torchlight and the uphill battle climaxes are injected with so much adrenaline that I lost several pounds then slumped over exhausted.

Ryan Kelly you may know from Brian Wood’s magnificent LOCAL, THE NEW YORK FOUR and THE NEW YORK FIVE, all highly recommended pieces of contemporary comicbook fiction starring women. Yet Ryan’s eye for history, combat and outright frenzy is as impressive as it is for contemporary North American architecture and, combined with some startling work by colourist Jordie Bellaire, you will know by page five the true meaning of bloodlust.


Buy Three and read the Page 45 review here

100 Bullets: Brother Lono (£12-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso.

“We all die as we are born… gasping for air.”

El Hombre Respira!

After the blood-bath finale of 100 BULLETS (every single one of those books reviewed!) Lono was himself left gasping for air with a great big bullet in his guts, yet here he is in a mass and potentially make-shift Mexican graveyard, at sunset, shovelling the dry earth onto a coffin. Prologue or epilogue? Only time will tell. Also: maybe it’s sunrise and he’s been at it all night…

Either way, the entire team behind 100 BULLETS is back with a wit-ridden vengeance, verbal sabres and all, including colour artist Trish Mulvihill whose rich tones are, as ever, the perfect complement to Risso’s sharp silhouettes. So real is the feel of the heat that you’ll be reaching for your Factor 5,000.

Equally palpable – excruciatingly so – is the post-preamble torture scene. What is your personal pain threshold? How much can you endure to even watch? I ask because throughout this book Eduardo Risso has a way of making your toenails curl even as he pulls others’ off. Well, not Risso but Cortez’s captain of action, Cráneo, is keen.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am that comics is a silent medium without the sort of sound effects that come, say, with the hatching of an Alien egg. The final panel of this inquisition will haunt you with that precise, glutinous crackling all the same. I think we can consider the information fully extracted, along with much more besides.


Cut to Father Manny who runs a remote mission full of orphans funded, whether he likes it or not, by Las Torres Gemales – the Tower Twins in whose name the above information was being extracted. So that’s awkward.

It’s there that a young nun called Sister June is to be escorted by “Brother” Lono but the bus she’s travelled in on also carried a D.E.A. about to be fingered by a thug recently released, much to his horror, from jail. Whether he’ll have any fingers left to do that fingering with is doubtful because he’s being held in a smoke-glassed car opposite, very much against his will, by that overzealous torturer. That pick-up scene is so tense there’s barely any air to breathe, Brother Lono and Sister June seemingly oblivious to what’s going on around them.

Tension is one of the hallmarks of 100 BULLETS – the arid air is thick with it. The protagonists are constantly challenging each other, baiting each other with tight, wit-riddled wordplay implicit with threats whether overtly voiced or not.

It’s not just Azzarello’s script, either, for Risso’s glares can make your knees buckle from a continent away. No one wants to back down, so why is it that Brother Lono effectively does so in bar when relatively young shaven-headed Pico challenges him about eyeing up his girl?

Three years ago the conscienceless killing machine lumbered into confession and what he confessed before passing out made Manny’s ears bleed. Yet there he’s since stayed helping the thin-limbed orphans paint carved wooden statues for sale. Occasionally he strays into town for a drink before admitting himself to Sherriff Cesar’s jail for the night. They have an arrangement which both know is for other people’s good.

But other people haven’t been good.

The suave Cortez who administers the elusive Twin Towers’ drug trade is receiving visitors for State-side distributional discussions while ever vigilant for the D.E.A. dropping into town. His enforcer Cráneo has also been busy meaning that Sherriff Cesar has been busy with those who’ve seen the business end of Cráneo’s negotiation skills. So has Pico. He’s ditched one of those corpses on church land which is strictly off limits, threatening the fragile relationship between his boss Cortez and Father Manny and his mission. Now why, do you think, would he do that?

As stability is threatened and tempers fray, new threats are made, some more explicit than others; some involving the children. Pico reveals his secret, Father Manny discovers one he shouldn’t but all the while, as Uncle Remus would say, “Brer Lono, he lay low”.

Remind me what the best practice is for sleeping dogs, please.


Buy 100 Bullets: Brother Lono and read the Page 45 review here

East Of West vol 2: We Are All One (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta…

“Then came a reckoning, following that day, there were no more judges, there were no more juries…
“There were just lawmen, and to a person, they were Rangers.
“God save the republic.
“God help the lawless.
“God damn the guilty.”

“When the Rangers had finished with the judges, they turned on the politicians.
“No thieves, no liars, and no whores were left alive.

I might have gone for hallelujah myself, once the politicians had all been dispensed with, but still. Of the first volume I wrote… “This could easily prove to be Hickman’s most comprehensive piece of speculative fiction yet. This first volume reads very, very much like the opening chapter to a prose novel, in is that rich with detailed promise of what is yet to come, and also to be revealed, of what precisely has transpired in the distant past to bring us to such an… unusual… time and place.”

In that sense I could quite simply conclude this review by saying this is chapter two, for the dense, prose-like, tightly woven plot strands are only just beginning to start to teasingly unravel as we gradually learn more about our various protagonists, the complex alliances and arrangements that precariously politically balance their familiar but strange world, and their motivations as multitudinous Machiavellian schemes to undermine each other start to be revealed. They didn’t get rid of all the thieving, lying, whoring politicians after all, then, what a surprise! The only person interested in outright head-on confrontation, though, is Death himself – if that is what he really is, we still don’t know – but then his desire is altogether more simple: he just wants himself some good old fashioned revenge, pilgrim, and nothing is going to stand in his way. A true force of nature, then? Perhaps, perhaps, but I think there is more to learn about our cold-blooded killer too, and possibly for him to learn about himself…

There are still so many things which remain frustratingly obscure or unclear, not least how the mysterious, prophetic Message itself fits in or indeed came about, but at this point Hickman has done nothing to disavow me of the opinion this is easily his finest speculative fictional work to date.


Buy East Of West vol 2: We Are All One and read the Page 45 review here

Lumberjanes #1 (£2-99, Boom Studios) by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson & Brooke Allen.

Hardcore Lady Types!

Friendship To The Max!

That’s what the Lumberjanes Camp is all about.

Also: extreme exploring and v sassy hair. Mal has a haircut just like our Dee’s: shaved on one side then dyed black and whoosh!

You’re not really supposed to sneak out from your cabin at night in pursuit of a shape-shifting Bearwoman only to be ambushed by a savage pack of three-eyed foxes which combust upon contact and project a mystery message like “Beware the kitten holy”. Not even as a posse. You run the risk of “stranger danger”.

But that is precisely what Mal, Molly, April, Jo and Ripley have done and now they must answer to cabin leader Jane who takes them to camp leader Rosie who’s whittling out of wood the most intricate eagle claws – so dainty – with an axe. Curiously, Rosie’s not cross; she’s intrigued. And what’s that glowing crystal doing in her toilet? I don’t think it’s an air freshener.

Highly animated art – positively hyperactive in places – with lots of lovely background laughs, my favourite being Mal in pursuit of a fox, mouth wide, arms flailing. It’s full of life, full of fun and full of individuality, as are the lady types themselves.

Jo, do you know the Lumberjanes pledge?

“I solemnly swear to do my best
Every day. And in all that I do.
To be brave and strong,
To be truthful and compassionate,
To be interesting and interested,
To respect nature,
To pay attention and question
The world around me,
To think of others first,
To always help and protect my friends
Then there’s a line about god of whatever
And to make the world a better place
For Lumberjane scouts
And for everyone else.”


“Mal, Molly, what in the Joan Jett are you doing?!”

Getting into trouble.

Bonus feature: editorial by Shannon Watters on a caffeine surge.


Buy Lumberjanes #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Cosplayers (£4-25, Fantagraphics) by Dash Shaw…

“You might see one of us and think we’re delivering your mail, or waiting on your table, but we’re actually acting, and we’ve given you a bit part.”

I have the strangest feeling there is some element of non-fiction in this slightly creepy and cringeworthy tale of two girls who like to film everyday social situations, then overdub the other participants’ voices with fake lines to make youtube videos. If I ever meet Dash, I’ll ask him. It starts off innocently enough as you would expect then veers into slightly darker territory as the set-up scenarios become more and more elaborate. I won’t spoil the different ‘scenes’ by explaining precisely what they entail, but let’s just say the emotional content gradually escalates…

Interspersed with chapter breaks of Dash illustrating people in cosplay outfits, probably taken from real life photos – without permission no doubt heh heh – this is just great fun. It is easily one of the most accessible pieces he has done given his penchant for the more elaborate, intricate and visually and linguistically surreal works such as BODY WORLD, THE UNCLOTHED MAN IN THE 35TH CENTURY A.D., THE BOTTOMLESS BELLY BUTTON, s NEW STORIES and NEW SCHOOL. I really think this premise could easily be spun out into a book, and maybe that’s the intention with this one-shot. Hope so!


Buy Cosplayers and read the Page 45 review here

The Bad Doctor: The Troubled Life And Times Of Dr. Iwan James (£12-99, Myriad) by Ian Williams…

Released 26th June 2014!

“If I tell you something, would you promise to keep it secret?”
“Of course.”
“It’s just that, while doctors must keep their patients’ information confidential, there is no reciprocal agreement.
“I’ve had a few patients with OCD over the years but I’ve never told them any of them this…
“Nor any of my partners, nor many friends, and I’m not sure why I feel like sharing this with you…
“… but I’m about the same age as you and I had OCD when I was younger.”
“Oh… right… that’s…”
“It developed in my teens and I had it right through medical school.”
“What sort of treatment did you get?”
“None, I hid it. It was hellish. I thought I was insane. I just tried to act as normally as I could. It wasn’t until years later that I sought help.”
“Oh, and I drank very heavily… but that wasn’t unusual at medical school.”

Ahh, Dr. Iwan James, our titular doctor, I don’t think he’s so bad, but he might think otherwise. For whilst his OCD is under control these days, it’s clear it colours significant aspects of his everyday view of life. He’s aware of it, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less real, or emotionally comfortable for him, as people who have ever suffered from any sort of mental malaise will know. That mild, if that’s the right word, continuing undercurrent of personal torment aside, he’s actually exactly the sort of doctor you’d want if you were able to choose. He listens, cares about his patients, and wants to help them, rather than just paying lip service and prescribing pharmaceuticals.

He also has an apparently unrequited crush on fellow practice doctor Lois, last seen with travails of her own in DISREPUTE, as together they battle against the bureaucracy and general bone-idleness of senior partner Dr. Robert. Not the Dr. Robert of Blow Monkeys fame I probably have no need to add, just in case you were momentarily confused… but music of the metallically heavier and, in his mother’s eyes at least, considerably more Satanic variety, has certainly played a big part in Iwan’s upbringing and issues with OCD. Just as well he’s into mountain biking in a big way, his rides into the countryside with his best mate Arthur his own stress-busting therapeutic release.

I was speaking with Ian a few months ago regarding this forthcoming, as it then was, book, and I’m delighted to say it’s everything I was sure it would be. It has genuine parochially British humour observantly highlighting our peculiar cultural fascination with illness. It’s mordant in some senses, but Ian’s not being mean. The Americans might like to shout about cosmetic surgery, but I can certainly think of a few British folks that are never happier than when lamenting i.e. whinging about their various day-to-day ailments, and Ian captures the GP’s eye of it here perfectly.

Plus in Iwan we have a character of real depth and complexity, having been through the emotional maelstrom himself, he’s perfectly placed to help those still in its midst. Not that he’s capable of that empathy towards all his patients mind you, but then the resident town weirdo / potential serial killer Aneurin Cotter is the sort of chap who would make anyone uncomfortable, and thus also neatly points out that GP’s have to engage and encounter all corners of their communities whereas most of us* do not. I also liked the fact we get a real insight into the roots of Iwan’s OCD, its effects upon him, particularly in the early days. I found that aspect of this work alone quite fascinating.

A mention too for Ian’s black and white art style, which upon first glance appears relatively straightforward and simplistic, but the more you study it, is in fact intensely detailed and varied in places, primarily in the composition of the panels and pages themselves. For example, whilst I note that a significant proportion of the panels, typically those which involve talking head conversations, are entirely bereft of background, where there is a background required for the purposes of exposition, it’s usually richly illustrated, which provides a nice subconscious, subtle juxtaposition as one is reading.

Similarly, you could conclude his character’s faces are quite plainly drawn, but there’s a lot of expression there, which is a neat trick to pull off, and I can see similarities with Kevin GLENN GANGES Huizenga in that respect. Panel borders, or lack of them, rounded corners, speech bubbles without borders, simple single lines apportioning text to a character, it’s clear Ian has put a lot of thought into the anatomy of this book, how the sum of the parts draw together to produce the whole, and I admire that attention to the construction of this work. I have no idea whether Ian considers himself an accomplished illustrator, but I certainly think he is a very clever artist.

*Although retailers get all the freaks of humanity through their doors too, rest assured.


Buy The Bad Doctor: The Troubled Life And Times Of Dr. Iwan James and read the Page 45 review here

Iron Fist #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Kaare Andrews.

HAWKEYE’s Matt Fraction and David Aja are a hard act to follow. Their previous run on IRON FIST was a rejuvenating joy.

Fortunately one of comics’ finest chameleons, Kaare Andrews of SPIDER-MAN: REIGN, is no slouch.

He’s using at least four different visual styles so far including an exquisitely rendered black-and-white sequence like freeze-frame footage from a Bruce Lee film lit from the left by an industrial spotlight so throwing Daniel Rand’s body into stark silhouette, indelible on the east but eroded from the west.

He’s channelling Jim Steranko.

“Two apaches descending hard and fast almost drown out the slide of nylon rope and chambered bullets. Almost.
“I draw them away from the girl. The apartments. Away from innocent lives.
“If they’re looking for something to destroy, how about an insurance company?
“I’m assuming they’re covered.”

Daniel Rand is tired and jaded. Numb. He is going through the motions.

He is being interviewed by a young lady “three steps out of a journalism degree, subsidized by Mommy and Daddy, enabled by a pretty face”. He is aware of the flattery yet prone to her interest not to mention her young, pretty face. So he tells of his childhood wrenched from home and into blizzardous mountains but seconds away from an avalanche by his father’s mad-eyed obsession with the mythical city of K’Un Lun. The expedition didn’t end well.

Now he’s in bed with her because whatever he’s earned it.

But whether sat opposite in the restaurant, brushing his teeth both before and afterwards or lying catatonic beneath Debbie / Barbie / Brenda or whatever her name is during sex, he remains robotic-eyed, close to drooling.

That is, until the helicopters strike.

I’d quote you the restaurant monologue in lieu of actual conversation which is hilarious in its relentlessness and slide towards size but please pick up the comic instead.

Once upon a time these satellite C-list series were mere filler while the big guns blazed well ahead. Now there seems so much invested in the five million Avengers titles to fuel its films’ fires that they’ve become self-indulgent, turgid and impenetrable. I prefer these far more accessible and individualistic series when given to creators of note, like LOKI and MS MARVEL and MOON KNIGHT – and of course YOUNG AVENGERS before them.

For more about Iron Fist himself, please see my review of THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST: COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 1 and buy Fraction’s book: it’s a killer.


Buy Iron Fist #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.

Rachel Rising vol 4: Winter Graves (£12-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore
Operation Margarine (£9-99, AdHouse Media) by Katie Skelly
Sex Criminals vol 1 (£7-50, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
Sunny vol 3 h/c (£16-99, Viz) by Taiyo MatsumotoRanma 1/2 2in1 vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi
Retroworld h/c (£17-99, Humanoids) by Patrick Galliano & Cedric Peyravernay, Bazal
Criminal vol 2: Lawless US edition (£10-99, Icon) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Chronicles Of Conan vol 26: Legion Of The Dead (£14-99, Dark Horse) by James Owsley & Val Semeiks, Vince Giarrano, Andy Kubert
BPRD Hell On Earth vol 8 – Lake Of Fire (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Tyler Crook
Superior Spider-Man vol 5: Superior Venom s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos N. Gage & Humberto Ramos
Dorohedoro vol 12 (£9-99, Viz) by Q. Hayashida
Fairy Tail vol 37 (£7-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima
Final Crisis s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & J. G. Jones
Joker Death Of The Family s/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

ITEM! I have totally run out of time on account of stuff happening!

ITEM!s will return next week!

– Stephen

Reviews April 2014 week two

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

We kick-off with a couple of previews this week. I do love comp copies! If you order now they’ll be dispatched immediately upon arrival and you never pay in advance, only when books arrive.

Plenty more to buy right now underneath. Daredevil: End Of Days s/c is a belter.

 – Stephen.

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

Published 1st May 2014.

There’s a well dressed woman on a Huddersfield High Street, July 1908, hand-selling the progressive paper ‘Votes For Women’. She’s approached by the sort of angry, flushed-faced battle axe you’d expect from Sir John Tenniel.

“The truth for a penny! The truth for a penny!”
“No, thank you!”
What? Don’t you like the truth?
“Certainly not!”

Exquisite cartooning.

This is nothing short of a masterpiece: a most affecting piece of personalised fiction so steeped in British social history – at specific times, in specific places – that I was under the constant illusion of reading a biography. Most of the individuals surrounding Sally Heathcote were very real, well documented campaigners for women’s suffrage and wider rights, while all the events so meticulously researched here actually happened.

Moreover it is primed with a punchline which, when detonated after so much assiduously laid groundwork of sacrifice and suffering, will ring in your ears for years.

From the creative team behind the 2012 Costa Book Award winner for best biography, DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES, with the addition of Kate Charlesworth’s period pencils and washes so soft until a staggering level of violence erupts catastrophically across the page, it is another arresting reminder from Dr. Mary Talbot of things that must never be taken for granted and should never be forgotten.

It seems barely conceivable now that women were ever denied the right to vote: on average that would mean half your friends and relatives and potentially yourself. The word is “absurd”.

What this graphic novel impresses upon one above all is both the sheer teeth-gritting tenacity of these determined individuals in pursuit of nothing more than basic humanity which we call equality, and the dissemblance, the callousness and the viciousness they were met with by a dogmatic establishment determined to hoard power for themselves, plus the obstruction and resentment they faced from their peers who jeered at them in the street. The threat of personal assault was constant, its level prohibitively intimidating to most.

Under circumstances such these it would take a saint to remain pacifistic. Under circumstances such as these, militancy was inevitable while to others it betrayed everything they believed in. But when words fail to work yet actions ignite headlines, well, what would your strategy be? Here’s the indomitable Mrs. Pankhurst after her daughter Christabel had sent her followers on a mass window-shattering campaign on November 21, 1911:

“Why should women go to Parliament Square and be battered about and insulted, when it produces less effect than when they throw stones?”

Sally Heathcote is caught in the middle and swept up in the moment.

It is in 1912, during this first moment of most extreme schism, that Sally’s recollections begin.

Fred and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence are returning to Britain. Old-school philanthropists, it was they who originally launched the newspaper ‘Votes For Women’ and who, as loyal supporters and bankrollers of The Women’s Social and Political Union, have been so badly hit by the government for compensation for that evening of extensive property damage that they nearly lost their house. And it is at this, their most vulnerable hour, that Mrs. Pankhurst severs her ties with the couple (as she would later her own daughter Sylvia) by expelling them for the W.S.P.U.. Which is nice.

But we are fewer than a dozen pages into the graphic novel before being pulled back even further to Spring 1898 when Sally, a pauper-prisoner of the workhouse, is first taken in by a younger, gentler Mrs. Pankhurst who employs her as a maid-of-all-work while aiding her seamstress skills. She is treated well and, while waiting on the family in Manchester, is privy to many a conversation on the current campaigns of Mrs. Pankhurst, her daughters, and their fellow activists. Unless provoked by the crowds they are relatively peaceful. The arrests and hunger strikes, brutal force-feedings and governmental cat-and-mouse games have yet to begin. Reason will win the day, surely.

But when Mrs. Pankhurst is lured down to London by the early successes of her more interventionist actions Sally is cast aside and is referred instead as a domestic servant to a Huddersfield household which is much less enlightened both upstairs and downstairs. It is a very rude awakening. Off her own bat she attends joyous, regional rallies – for the women’s movement is far less centralised as yet – but this lands her in even more trouble with the men of the house. So it is that Sally Heathcote too finds herself drawn to London and, through curiosity and the kindness of strangers, finds herself at the doorstep of the Pethick-Lawrences and back on the Pankhursts’ radar. Her journey has only begun.

Rarely have I found myself leafing through a graphic novel on first, cursory inspection and found myself absorbed in such an attractive or consistent atmosphere. As you would expect from the creator of THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT, Bryan Talbot’s layouts are an immaculate essay in clarity, accessibility and restraint, his architectural panoramas quite breath-taking, redolent of their precise time and place. Charlesworth’s treatment of these is enticing and sumptuous, bursting with humanity. There’s a gentleness in Sally and her future beau Arthur which reflects their vulnerability both as individuals and to the exterior forces which threaten to envelop them.


We’re not just talking about the suffrage movement, its escalating violence and its backlash: we’re talking about the game-changing eruption of the first World War. So much of this book’s success lies in evoking the multiplicity and complexity and contradictory nature of the societal pressures at this pivotal point in history and I am frankly agog at Dr. Mary Talbot’s inclusion and balance which allows us to ponder, equally bewildered, which stance we’d take.

Seriously: the Liberal government (which was anything but) obstinately and vehemently denies women the right to participate in national life with the right to vote, yet emotionally blackmails them into persuading their men to enlist for the sake of that self-same country:

“Is your “Best Boy” wearing Khaki? If not don’t YOU THINK he should be?
“If he does not think that you and your country are worth fighting for – do you think he is WORTHY of you?
“If your young man neglects his duty to the King and Country, the time may come when he will NEGLECT YOU!”

These and so many more contemporary clippings are included by the Talbots at judicious intervals then annotated at the back, but never once did they rip me from the story at hand. Instead they made me feel that I was walking in Sally’s shoes and so living this life for myself: battered by headlines over tea and toast before wondering what on earth the day would bring next.

I cannot overemphasise how critical the art is to this absorbing atmosphere, predominantly washed in warm antler-greys and so reflecting the period as modern readers perceive it in photographic sepia or newsreel black and white, but with canny colour-coding for Sally’s ginger hair and Mrs. Pankhurst in purple.

In addition the marches and protests are brought alive with their respective union colours: red, white and green for the National Union Of Women’s Suffrage and purple, white and green for the National Women’s Social and Political Union. A lush bunch of flowers is given a very rare, multi-coloured array, concealing as it does an axe buried within.


Equally startling in its stark and shocking departure is the sequence involving outright terrorism which, I put it to you (I have not consulted with either Talbot nor Kate Charlesworth), is either a deliberate or subconscious throwback to David Lloyd’s work, appropriately enough, on V FOR VENDETTA.

Nothing, however, will prepare you for the grotesque scenes in Holloway Gaol which Sally has read about happening to others in the papers. Nothing we read in the papers can prepare us for anything like that happening to us, but it is now that they happen to Sally.

None of this would work half so well if all three members of the creative team hadn’t built up our personal, involved relationship with Sally the erstwhile seamstress for page upon succinct page. To some a straight biography, hagiography or historical account would have appeared the natural route to take. And that way I would have sat there, semi-educated, shaking my head dolefully and muttering “tut tut”.

This way I was enraged.


Pre-order Sally Heathcote: Suffragette h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mulp: Sceptre Of The Sun #1 of 5 (£5-00, Inky Little Paws) by Matt Gibbs & Sara Dunkerton.

Due May 7th!

A brand-new, break-neck adventure for Young Readers which has a lot more layered beneath its furry surface than you might initially suspect.

Here learned linguist Professor Wrenfew explains the mystery of the third pictorial Incan language which our intrepid mice have discovered carved on an ancient stone and sandwiched between two surprisingly similar Egyptian and Greek accounts of their gods venting wrath on unfaithful worshippers.

“It was Viracochia who created the sun, the moon, and the stars, and set them all in motion, thus beginning time.
“From the stones of the earth, he sculpted the first race and breathed life into them.
“Brainless giants that they were, they disobeyed and displeased him, so he punished them with a great darkness and floods.”

And that’s when my smiles – catalysed by something I’d already spotted back at the Egyptian dig – turned into a big, fat grin! I give you no more clues, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this done in an anthropomorphic story before.

It is a perfect comicbook moment because you’ll only be able to put two and two together by spotting what’s implied visually in the Mayan Mouse mythology, harking back as it does to the arid excavation site.

“As the waters cleared, he set about making a second race from the smaller stones, more intelligent than the first. When they emerged, he divided them into groups and taught them different customs, languages, and songs.”

That one, I’ll tell you: they’re mice.

These mice have now evolved to the equivalent of our Victorian era and this has a delightfully period feel, Sara Dunkerton’s eye for fashion and body language matched by her eye for colour which is consistently dry and sandy both back in Egypt and then in London, before bursting into something young eyes will find wondrous when the secrets of the stone are revealed!

Unfortunately our mice are in trouble.


It was Professor Harvest-Scott who made the astonishing finds in his archaeological dig, but first his camp was ransacked by rogues then, less than a week later, his fellow researcher Sellsey went missing along with many of his notes. Summoned by his old friend Cornelius Field, the dashing Jack Redpath flies into Cairo just as Victoria Jones of the London Guardian newspaper is due to report both on the unearthed [redacted] and on the mysterious stone carvings.

But en route to the site Jack and Cornelius are ambushed by a sniper, delaying them just long enough for a third party to make its Machiavellian move. It seems they know more about the stone than Professor Harvest-Scott himself, and they’re crafty enough to extract its meaning by any means necessary…

This has all the elements of a classic kids’ adventure like TINTIN itself: secrets and experts and exotic locations; infiltration, reputation and ducking for cover.

Moreover, more than a little lateral thinking gone into it. Most of the mice may scoot about on off-track motorbikes and slink about London in sexy Hispano Suizas, but where humans would hump up on a camel then our dessert rats use spiky African Armadillo Lizards as steeds. Better still, for the heavy lifting they employ beetles who can in real life carry umpteen times their own body weight about. Clever!

Right, so you have bought your daughter, son, nephew or niece this thrilling adventure. Well done, you! And you bought another copy for yourself. Well, quite right too! But I bet you never expected the Sara Dunkerton sketchbook in the back whose pencil work is a veritable masterclass in pistol-packing, punch-throwing pugilism. The eager young artists in your family will be copying and learning from those poses for hours!


Pre-order Mulp: Sceptre Of The Sun #1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

Originally released and reviewed so long ago that things will have changed but, oh, have they really? From the creator of the equally essential SILK ROAD TO RUIN

Think you’ve been following the news pretty thoroughly and are totally clued up on the military action over there? Reckon you’ve got all the background you need to reach a considered opinion on its legitimacy, its effectiveness and its motivations? Do you trust the BBC to be honest, thorough, and objective? Think again. This book seared through my skull with more concussive force than a car full of fertilised semtex.

Well, no, obviously it didn’t or Mark would’ve found this terminal splattered in a rainbow of head-jelly; but hyperbolae aside I wasn’t remotely prepared for the revelations here, reported by cartoonist and columnist Ted Rall, who has a background in the surrounding region and was there on the frontline covering the initial conflict for the Village Voice and KFI radio in LA.

It’s a tendentious piece of journalism, to be sure, but his arguments are persuasive, beginning with an assessment of just what can be accomplished (the escalating options he proposes still don’t bring much light), why it’s being attempted (Kazakhstan’s oil, anyone? A pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistani ports prevents the Russians helping themselves, and would avoid Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev from incurring the wrath of the US by negotiating with Iran), and a reminder that because it was politically expedient, it was the US with Pakistan who ushered in the Taliban with funds and ammunition, and that as late as 1999 US taxpayers were paying the annual salaries of each and every one of its officials.

As Ted moves into the heart of the action he witnesses entire Northern Alliance towns being obliterated when 5,000-pound precision-guided missiles hit precisely the wrong target, or the US simply throws its artillery around indiscriminately. The journalist death count escalates well beyond the reported figures as some are blown to pieces, have their skin ripped off them by prisoners or are murdered in their accommodation by opportunistic thieves. As the Taliban leave each area women sensibly leave their Burqas on (after a quick $1 shot for western television with them off) because they believed, often correctly, that their persecutors would return as the Afghans changed sides back and forth more often than they bothered to pray to Allah. And without the Taliban’s order, Rall witnesses Afghanistan’s society teetering on the brink of murderous, hedonistic anarchy. Having read his accounts, I’m surprised he got out alive; there’s no help coming from the US if you’re a journalist (or if you’re a local, for Rall saw not one single drop of those much vaunted food parcels), only from the occasional act of unwarranted and barely affordable kindness on the part of poverty stricken Afghanis.

Half the book is prose, half of it sequential art with more than a nod to Groenig’s style on AKBAR & JEFF, and if some of the sequences mirror each other, reading something twice gave me double the opportunity to absorb it – and I can tell you, it took some absorbing. I can’t say I agree with absolutely all of Rall’s conclusions, but this is certainly what he saw, and it’s more worth watching than the sanitised, feel-good dross I just saw this morning on BBC Breakfast. After which “Some readers may find these images disturbing”…


Buy To Afghanistan And Back and read the Page 45 review here

Hinterkind vol 1: The Waking World s/c (£7-50, DC) by Ian Edginton & Francesco Trifogli, Greg Tocchini.

“Whoa whoa! Wait! Don’t come in here! I… I’m… not dressed!”
“Relax, we’ve known each other since we were little. I’ve seen you in the pink. You haven’t got anything I haven’t seen – “

Many thanks to Francesco for that nicely played, beautifully drawn page of male nudity. Nice poster collection you’ve got there too, Angus.

It is only now that I type this that I realise that this not inconsiderable body-issue involving teenage Angus Chung has yet to resolved, one’s most immediate supposition confounded by the true nature of the Hinterkind later on. I think fans of FABLES will be delighted. I’m not one of them, but I was delighted anyway. We’ll get to that.

In the meantime, thanks also to Francesco Trifogli, this is the most beautiful post-apocalypse you will ever behold, and well worth the sacrifice of what we laughably call “humanity”. Nature has reclaimed even New York City: verdant, fully formed trees blooming atop its tallest skyscrapers in vast, billowing clouds of lush, leafy green. There’s been some structural damage, but then roots are like that.

“Calling it the end of the world was a conceit. The world kept ticking on just fine, it was humanity that took the hit. Seven months from top of the food chain to endangered species.
“Mother Nature breathed a sigh of relief. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “Fish and house guests smell after three days”. By extension, after three hundred thousand years, we’d really stunk up the place.”

There are still some of us left, though, hunting with bows and arrows, loin cloths thankfully absent. Small numbers of survivors have built a village in Central Park, its relatively formal parkland repurposed for agriculture. There are also stockades scattered across America in Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis – or at least, there were. They’ve recently gone radio silent, though their channels are still open.

Against everyone else’s better judgement Asa, their resident, grey-bearded doctor, is determined to make the two-month round-trip to one of those outposts in Albany to find out what became of their friends. No one from Manhattan has left the island for years so there’s really no telling what’s out there. Something is stirring, that’s for sure.

Young Angus has also decided he’s better off out there lest the village discovers his secret, and in case his sister Sophie is tarred with the same brush and suffers for it. He’s feeling pretty wretched. Not one to abandon her childhood friend (or resist the opportunity to tease), Asa’s grand-daughter, Prosper Monday, catches up with him but as the pair prepare to cross the bridge they are attacked first by a pride of ligers and then by something much, much bigger with six arms, tattoos, and a strangely familiar vocabulary.

I enjoyed this thoroughly from the offset thanks in no small part to the affections established early on with witty word play by writer Ian Edginton, Culbard’s collaborator on SHERLOCK HOLMES and D’Israeli’s on SCARLET TRACES. Then the Hinterkind are introduced and although I don’t want to give too much away, they are not a single race but a collective of colourful, diverse and perpetually hungry omnivores who are most emphatically not a mutation of mankind but victims of it.

“You’ve never been good at accepting anything other than yourselves. You even turn on each other – black, gay, Jew, Muslim. You look for any excuse to grind someone else under your boot heel!”

Whatever you think this means, it’s a speech proved all too true when yet another faction rears its exceeding ugly head, plus you wait until you meet the monarchy and if that wasn’t enough… Jeepers, how big is this going to get?!

In short, things aren’t looking good for what’s left of humanity, but at least the world’s forests are enjoying a well earned respite.


Buy Hinterkind vol 1: The Waking World and read the Page 45 review here

Caliban #1 (£2-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Facundo Percio.

Love the cover which positively glows and informs you immediately that you’re in OCEAN and ‘Alien’ territory. In space no one can hear you lose your shit.

The Caliban is a mining ship navigating warpspace with a small, somewhat fractious crew of conscious officers.

“The miners sleep down below along with the cargo. That’s so they don’t spend too long gazing at infinity that they step outside to get a better look at it.”

There’s an officious, unresponsive navigator called Karien who looks a lot like Hitler minus the Charlie Chaplin moustache; a man named McCartney who doesn’t respond well to officiousness; a timid and doting young man called Canny; sharp-tongued San, the woman who can (and they’ll be bloody grateful for that later on), and finally our Nomi the note-maker.

“One hundred nineteen planets and moons, and not one habitable. Suits of rebreathers, every time. Life: forget it. An orange mould they found on an asteroid. Some kind of mollusc on somebody’s moon, that lives inside its own excrement.
“So it’s stations, ships, recycled air. Fake light. Suns too bright to look at. Your body adapting in ways you don’t dwell on. Stillborn things that go straight in the trash.
“But all those dead rocks have yielded up a ton of treasure. Ore and oil and gas and water. The megatonnage is immense: you see the figures on a screen and the zeroes just go on forever.
“And because almost no one wants to live out here, everything goes back to feed the industries on earth. Which, last time I saw it, looked like a tumour breathing through a smokestack.”

Oh wait, I forgot the Captain. We haven’t seen him. He’s been too busy “banging the shit out of his executive officer”. We haven’t met the executive officer, either, who could be bloke for all we know. One doesn’t like to presume.

I’m not sure we’ll ever find out, either, because – wham! – out of nowhere in warpspace where they shouldn’t even be able to touch anything, they do. It’s big, it’s beautiful, almost ancient Egyptian in design, it’s just fused with Caliban inside and out, the sleeper pods are venting into the void and – oh. Poor Canny. That had to hurt.

Okay, so far I haven’t really read or seen anything I haven’t encountered before, but the script was mightily enjoyable and there were several flourishes from Facundo Percio which were very impressive.

It’s Garth Ennis. I trust him.


Buy Caliban #1and read the Page 45 review here

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

Matt Murdock is dead. He was beaten to death in full view of the public, and the ugly images were transmitted uncensored across the nation, across the world, to an audience transfixed by their grotesque brutality. And I do warn you right now that Klaus and Billy have ensured that it is very uncomfortable viewing. It’s supposed to be.

But if you were to listen closely on playback, if you were to turn up the volume and really, really concentrate, you would hear a single word muttered by Murdock as his last breath passed his lips. Bugle veteran Ben Urich, once one of Matt’s sole confidants, heard what was said and will not let it lie. Disgusted by the sensationalism, he is equally confounded by the circumstances of Matt’s death and the events leading up to it during which Matt killed the Kingpin, alienating all of his peers, then completely fell off the radar. But Ben is nothing if not dogged and determined to do his old friend one last kindness. He wants to tell the world what Murdock was doing before he died.

Unfortunately no one is pleased to see him.


As Urich begins to revisit Murdock’s past and those who populated it you’ll begin to see the depth and scope of this story gradually unfurl and then comprehend – like Urich himself – the extent of the silence he’s up against. It’s not a wall as such, but a void. An evasion. And a secret almost nobody knows.

Out of the shadows steps someone who should know what happened; someone who is old and angry and claiming that Urich’s best lead – Matt’s former lover, the Black Widow – is dead. Then into the shadows steps Urich when he tracks the license plate of an SUV from Matt’s funeral, ill-attended apart from the media vultures, to a park where children are playing soccer and one particular mother is watching, missing nothing.

“It’s very brave of you to come here, Mister Urich. You remember me when I had nothing to lose… Imagine what I’m like now.”

Oh yes, almost everyone you would expect to see makes most unexpected appearances. The strange fate of Typhoid Mary, for example, is both surprising and delightful but packed with poignancy. Oh, her final panel!

The art is absolutely extraordinary throughout and grows increasingly refined as everyone settles in, with additional bursts of David Mack splendour when appropriate. But right from the beginning there is the sheer sense of space in the Daily Bugle office in a double-page spread whose interior windows I stared at for ages; the breathtaking, Sienkiewicz-solo of the Kingpin at night, brooding as he stares out at the neon-blazed city he owns, or two separate panels of gritted teeth in the second chapter’s dark, dank, behind-the-bar alley – the first coming off like Byrne at his best, the second perfectly recapturing the glory days of Frank Miller as inked by our good Klaus Janson, present and correct on pencils.

What you see here are artists at one – no egos – each working in unison in service to the story, and there’s a considerable gallery of process pieces in the back which will show you Janson’s original pencils for that Daily Bugle spread, Bill Sienkiewicz’s sketches and inimitable inks (and I used the word “inimitable” with precision), David Mack washes you can bathe your sore eyes in, plus a host of unused covers.

Meanwhile, Bullseye himself is discovered dead in a rented room, a bullet blown straight through his skull. Above him, scrawled in his own blood, is the last word Matt Murdock ever uttered: “Mapone”.

What does that mean?

You will find out, right at the end. There are no anti-climaxes here.


Buy Daredevil: End Of Days s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Inhuman #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Joe Madureira.

In which a cloud of Terrigen Mist is sweeping across the world, changing humans into Inhumans.

“You really need to think about a change.”

A change, you say? Did you know there is a cloud of Terrigen Mist sweeping across the world, changing humans into Inhumans?

“Change. Pfft. Easy to say. Hard to do.”

Not when there’s a cloud of Terrigen Mist sweeping across the world, changing humans into Inhumans.

“I’m on a track, with no way off. I know it’s not what I’m supposed to be. I can feel something better for me, I just can’t find it.”

Don’t worry, it’s heading your way, sweeping across the world as a cloud of Terrigen mist. Look, it’s on the TV in the next panel, and it’ll be with you on the next page. That’s, like, so ironic.


As to the art: horrible.

Especially the colours by Marte Gracia who has made this as impenetrably murky as ULTIMATUM.

Cover’s okay, mind.


Buy Inhuman #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.


New York Postcards (£11-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Andrian Tomine

100 Bullets: Brother Lono (£12-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso

The Bad Doctor: The Troubled Life And Times Of Dr. Iwan James (£12-99, Myriad) by Ian Williams

Celeste h/c (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by I.N.J. Culbard

East Of West vol 2: We Are All One (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta

Number Cruncher h/c (£14-99, Titan) by Si Spurrier & PJ Holden

Three (£10-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Ryan Kelly, Jordie Bellaire

The Undertaking Of Lily Chen (£20-99, First Second) by Danica Novgorodoff

A Game Of Thrones vol 3 h/c UK Edition (£18-99, Random House / Vertical) by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham & Tommy Patterson

Astro City: Shining Stars s/c (£12-99, DC) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Eric Anderson

Daredevil vol 5 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

Earth 2 vol 2: The Tower Of Fate s/c (£12-99, DC) by James Robinson & Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott, various

Soul Eater vol 19 (£8-99, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo


ITEM! Monumental page by Colleen Doran, previously unseen, on a project with Warren Ellis currently on the back burner.

ITEM! Something new from Isabel Greenberg (creator of my favourite book of last year, THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH).

ITEM! Hair trouble! Unused CHLOE NOONAN pages by Marc Ellerby. What a shame!

ITEM! A reminder of the magic that was ZENITH and is Steve Yeowell, one of Britain’s all-time greatest artists. There is a retail collection coming, yes! I don’t quite know when, no.

ITEM! Short interview with Kate Brown about her new serial Tamsin And The Deep in PHOENIX, written by Neill Cameron and set in Cornwall.

ITEM! Do you love shadows and silhouettes? THE HOUND, a Celtic Myth set in Ancient Ireland, by Hugh Welchman. Some truly gorgeous images there and its support appears to double each time I look.

ITEM! A thrillingly animated French-language feature on Michel Rabagliati, Canada’s answer to our Andi Watson.

– Stephen

Reviews April 2014 week one

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Kids Are Weird And Other Observations From Parenthood by Jeffrey Brown. After reading Jonathan’s review I can now imagine Jonathan telling his daughter that there *are* monster under the bed just to keep her there.

 – Stephen on Jonathan’s parenting techniques. Oh, the stories I could tell!

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

GARY is in
again. Really
need UR help X”

What if James Bond came from Peckham?

Don’t know Peckham? Chap on the left of the cover: that’s Gary. He plays a lot of video games, drinks while driving stolen cars and cannot abide his Mum’s current boyfriend, Dean, who’s constantly belittling the pair of them. For a party trick he’s taught Gary’s young brother Ryan to roll spliffs. It’s something to show off to his friends. Sometimes Dean gets violent.

Uncle Jack’s on the right. He too came from Peckham but has done considerably better for himself. They think Uncle Jack’s in the Fraud Squad. He isn’t. He’s Britain’s highest-ranking Secret Service agent specialising in overseas threats. There’s one bubbling below the service right now and it’s about to go global.

But first… Gary’s got himself nicked by the coppers again. Time for Jack to pay one of his rare visits to neglected sister Sharon and sort it all out. Again.

From the writer of SUPERIOR and a great many more of the sharpest superhero books on the shelves, and the artist on another one: WATCHMEN. Dave Gibbons is the perfect choice for something so quintessentially British and does “reserved” to crisp, sharp-suited perfection while delivering the balls-out action to boot.

Millar, meanwhile, has plenty to say about class, its portrayal in the media and the practical ramifications of poverty both on the street and behind closed doors. I don’t just mean nuts-and-bolts poverty, either, but poverty of aspiration and poverty of opportunity.

Uncle Jack has neglected his family but he’s about to make amends: he’s going to give Jack the opportunity to join the Secret Service. He believes in Gary. It’s a shame that no one’s ever taught Gary to believe in himself.

The training missions are a complete departure from anything you’d expect but all make perfect sense. Begging for bus fare on the streets of London, for example. Successful coercion and blending in: observing exactly who told you to piss off and get a job, plus what they were wearing when they did so.

Yes, Jack can shoot like nobody’s business and GTA proves his forte. That’s video games for you. But he’s lived in a cultural vacuum and social cul de sac so his powers of persuasion leave much to be desired and his seduction techniques are lame. It’s not a straightforward trajectory at all. He was far more comfortable in his own skin back in Peckham, so there’s every chance he’ll give up and give in to the familiar.

Meanwhile, like all James Bond scenarios, there must be one godalmighty threat to fend off with specialised weaponry and ad hoc ingenuity. This one is epic in scale and topical both in its motivation and deployment. There is, however, something a little odd and oh so Mark Millar about the early warnings.

“Anything new on the kidnappings?”
“Nothing we can figure out. That’s six cast and crew from the Star Wars films, four from Doctor Who, eight from Battlestar Galactica and five from Star Trek.”
“The original or the JJ Abrams version?”
“Oh, the originals, of course. But Lady Hunt and I watched the new one on pay-per-view last weekend and I have to say I was very impressed. I resisted the idea of a remake at first, but the chap playing the doctor was practically channelling De Forrest Kelly.”

The threat is not to sci-fi celebrities. Believe it or not the kidnapper is doing them a favour. He honestly believes he is doing the entire, over-populated world a favour.

Features the worst wedding fight ever, no matter how much you hate your in-laws.


Buy The Secret Service: Kingsman (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Don’t get too excited, they’re mostly review copies. Younger writers are always looking for “blurbs”, one of the few words that sounds exactly as awful as the crime it’s describing.”

Our fastest-selling graphic novel to date!

It’s beautiful, funny and completely unpredictable. Unlike this intro. New readers, I present you with… previously in SAGA:

Alana and Marko are in love. She’s from the planet Landfall; he’s from its moon. Unfortunately their people have been at war for as long as anyone can recall. But both factions soon realised that either world’s destruction would cause the other to spin out of orbit. Such an assault would be suicidal.

So what they’ve kindly done is they’ve taken their fight to other people’s worlds. Which is nice.

Marko was sent to the frontline, didn’t like what he saw and surrendered. Alana was his captor and freed him. Each, therefore, is now on the run from their respective species for treachery, desertion… and blasphemy. Because, worst of all, they’ve successfully mated to produce a beautiful baby called Hazel. This unholy union is despised by all sides and for morale’s sake – to ensure no one else gets the wretched idea that love might be better than hatred – all traces of it must be eradicated.

Marko’s people have dispatched The Will, a phenomenal assassin with a Lying Cat. It is a cat that can tell if you’re lying. Problematically, it has Tourette’s Syndrome so it is likely to say so right in the middle of your poker-faced bluff. Alana’s people have dispatched Prince Robot IV from a race of walking, talking, fornicating television sets. You’ll be surprised what pops up on his screen.

But Marko and Alana have at least found sanctuary in a semi-sentient, wood-based rocketship along with an impromptu babysitter from what’s left of Cleave’s indigenous population. She’s a floating, glowing, pink ghost of a girl with her lower half missing, trailing her intestines behind her.

Now they arrive with Marko’s abrasive mother at the doorstep of monocular D. Oswald Heist, the avuncular author of the subversive romance novel that first brought the couple together. He has much to impart: wisdom, wit and cunning ways to win at board games.

He’s singularly smart at ensuring hot heads see eye to eye with him, even winning over Marko’s mother by being candid when it counts.

“They say it’s the worst pain imaginable, losing a child. But that wasn’t my experience. Don’t get me wrong, my son’s death just about destroyed me. But if I’m being honest, nothing will ever hurt quite so deeply as the moment I heard the first person I ever really loved was gone. But I don’t need to tell you that, do I?”
“I wear it that plainly?”
“I’m guessing you lost him recently. For what it’s worth, your son will get better with time. And maybe you will, too. But if your spouse was anything like mine, I regret to inform you that the rest of your days will be, by and large, kind of shit.”

Vaughan has enormous fun using this author scenario to poke fun at himself via Heist who first presents himself to the family outside his lighthouse lurching under the influence with a gun in one hand, a bottle in the other, and urine-stained Y-fronts splayed between a dressing gown whose loose belt trails over the rocks beneath his pink-slippered feet.

“Over the years, we met every kind of person imaginable. But no one makes worse first impressions than writers.”

I cannot even quote what Heist says to earn that accolade, but you will guffaw. Like everything here it is handled with delicate – or even indelicate – aplomb by Staples, as is a later scene in which Alana has managed to strike the fear of God into Heist to the extent that his hands close weakly in tentative terror, held up almost in supplication. How has she done this?

“If you like kids’ books so much, why haven’t you ever written one?”
“Because it requires collaborating with an artist. And artists… terrify me.”

The Will, meanwhile, is nursing his ship’s wounds on a planet that seems like paradise, even if its flying fish are sharks which circle overhead. The age-old problem with paradise, of course, is that you have to be very careful what you eat. Haunted and taunted by his dead ex-girlfriend, The Will also has to contend with Marko’s ex-fiancée who doesn’t handle rejection very well. Nor unsolicited attention, for that matter. I really wouldn’t do that, The Will.

They have with them a girl whom The Will rescued from sexual slavery in SAGA VOL 1. She is bright, optimistic, yet suffering from the scars of what she was once made to do. In related news: the best-ever use of the Lying Cat which will elicit the biggest of “Awwws” from each of you.

All our protagonists will converge before the end of this chapter which, I would suggest, concludes Act One. As surprising as anything and everything that precedes it, I think you will love the punchline.


Buy Saga vol 3 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

Whimsical slithers of lo-fi sci-fi from the co-writer and artist on Brandon Graham’s PROPHET.

You’ll hear some of the critters chittering round the crowded bar but don’t presume that just because you don’t understand them, they cannot understand you. And don’t presume that just because you haven’t been open and honest about your neo-imperialist expansion plan that these simple, insectoid souls didn’t get the measure of you the second you stepped foot on their arid, infertile soil.

Most of the aliens and animals are fully conversant in English, however. This includes a Gorilla called Dan who has resigned himself to life marooned on a tranquil dessert island rich in the fruits of the sea, whereas Brian remains restless:

“Five fucking planes fly over this goddamn island every day. One pilot has to look down.”
“Let it go, Brian. If someone was coming…”
“Yeah. A fella can hope, though…”
“Aww, I shouldn’ta said anything. We’ve got a little while until the next fly-over. Let’s go smash open some crabs with rocks.”

Because they can. They don’t eat them or anything – just pulverise them, before growing bored.

It’s a sweet tale, and I loved that last panel I quoted in which Dan the gorilla casts a comforting arm around Brian’s shoulder. Later they’ll get drunk and shoot bottles. I wonder what will happen when a yacht washes up on the shore…

‘Homeward Bound’ stars two magpies who’ve also discovered a wreck, this one from the stars, and I can’t help but think that Simon has read Anders Nilsen’s BIG QUESTIONS as one pair of birds wonders about what they discovered while a second has altogether more practical priorities.

Violence is never too far round the corner, but that’s the problem with male egos. Some people just cannot let it lie, no matter the risk of escalation, and the title ‘Bar Fight’ says it all. It’s also the problem with territorial lines (which are basically male egos on a military scale), hence ‘Good Business’ and the longest story here, the titular ‘Jan’s Atomic Heart’. Following a car crash, Jan’s medical insurance company has paid for him to be housed temporarily in a robotic body. It’s an old model and Jan is experiencing problems.

“Getting dressed this morning was like trying to force a t-shirt on an oil drum. That’s why I’m wearing these fucking sweats – they’re all I could get on.”

Of course you’d still want to get dressed in the morning – it’s part of your identity! Unlike the opening salvo which was so slight that it should never have been included for fear of putting potential readers off, ‘Jan’s Atomic Heart’ is a deviously well written number. Reading it through a second time with hindsight is a revelation. What looks like casual conversation – or even exposition – is anything but.

Simon’s art also takes a massive leap between the two stories and continues to evolve into something far more recognisable to readers of PROPHET, first incorporating washes then the more bulbous features and finally the distinct form of aliens he favours.

No mere curiosity, I enjoyed this both for the comedy and for the recognition factor: human behaviour.


Buy Jan’s Atomic Heart And Other Stories s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Why can’t I go outside and play?”
“Oscar, it’s past your bedtime. Plus there’s a curfew for kids.”
“What’s a curfew?”
“It means that kids all have to be inside at night or the police come. If we let you play outside the police would take Mommy and Daddy to jail.”
“But that’s not fair to me or the police.”

Ha ha, yes, the police card. Most played in our household to get my daughter to stay sat in her car seat. She is rapidly starting to get suspicious of the number of unmarked police vehicles and undercover policemen that seem to be patrolling the streets though. I keep expecting her to ask if we are living in a totalitarian state. Still, I suspect most toddlers and kids feel that is the case at least some of the time. Let me tell you though, being an absolute dictator, albeit benevolent, is far harder work than you’d believe!

I think it would be fair to say that this is basically a mash-up of Jeff’s excellent autobiographical material, especially the more recent stuff featuring Oscar such as A MATTER OF LIFE, and his humour material like DARTH VADER AND SON. Fans of both should be appeased and indeed amused though I suspect only those with kids themselves will know just exactly how on the money this observational humour is.

It was probably the same for cat lovers and his CATS ARE WEIRD and CAT GETTING OUT OF A BAG books.

Great fun.


Buy Kids Are Weird And Other Observations From Parenthood and read the Page 45 review here

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

This collection of original art and process material, accompanied by the thoughts of Paul Pope, is an excellent companion piece to the BATTLING BOY graphic novel. Art heads will undoubtedly love pouring over the deconstructed pen and ink work without the colour of the finished pages, plus all the character sketches which forms the bulk of this book. But I actually enjoyed reading Paul’s take on the characters and the storyline: I found it insightful into his mind as much as the creation process itself, and I would have liked a lot more of it. I do think the whole thing feels a bit light for the money, but I am sure Pope fans will probably buy it regardless.

Meanwhile for those who didn’t pick it up first time around all those years ago, ESCAPO gets re-released next month. I’ll probably pick it up myself actually, given it is now coloured, has an additional ten page strip, the alternate two page French ending, and all sorts of other goodies included. Makes you believe THB might actually get finished one of these years. I do have it on good authority he is working on it, but I’ll believe it when I see it.


Buy Pope: Monsters & Titans s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Callum! Shit! I didn’t notice you there…”
“Blanking me, more like. When’d you get out then? I thought first thing you’d do is ring your bezzy mate Callum.”
“Well, I woulda done, wouldn’t I, but I’ve been banged up for eight months so me battery’s a bit low, like, y’know?”
“Sarky git. Ey, we’re getting mashed round at Tozzer’s while his mum and dad’s out if you wanna come round. Your Craig’s there too. Come down with us, man. We’ll get a bucket going and get you monged out your case.”

Buckets… yes… the less said the better I suppose, you either completely understand that particular reference or you don’t. I remember leafing through 2000AD whilst this story was running and being intrigued. Sometimes they do run a story that’s a change from the norm, like MAZEWORLD, for example, that just perfectly hits the spot. I’d like it if they did a bit more of this sort of material instead of playing safe with the rote of established characters, but I guess they know their readership. And it’s possibly also a slightly unfair criticism as I don’t read it week on week.

So, after eight months inside in a young offenders’ institution for arson, young Shane is back on his shithole of an estate. His mates haven’t changed much, and there’s still absolutely nothing else to do except get off your head. Cue the creeping suburban horror lurking inside an elderly neighbour’s home, which is precisely the sort of thing you might be paranoid enough to imagine after a few buckets… but it’s all too real. Quintessentially British horror, I think it manages to capture both the depressing flavour of modern-day life for many of today’s inner city kids and also the B-movie feel of a low-budget cult horror classic. A modern day Quatermass is how it struck me.


Buy Cradlegrave and read the Page 45 review here

Real Heroes #1 (£2-99, Image) by Bryan Hitch.

“Why the faces? I was just giving a member of our public some one-on-me time. Twice… She’s bringing friends later.”
“I can make my own friends, thanks.”
“I hadn’t heard that.”
“Shall we go?”

Yes, go and meet your adoring public! Thousands of them are outside squealing their tits off after the Los Angeles world première of Olympians 2: Devastation, the superhero movie to end all superhero movies and now officially the world’s biggest film franchise. Yowsa! Do you think its cast get along fine behind the fire curtain? They do not!

Is this Bryan Hitch’s first script? It certainly doesn’t show: complete confidence, snappy banter and much referential mischief that turns it into a sort of multimedia, superheroic ouroboros.

Oh, I can only begin to imagine how many reviews are making comparisons to Galaxy Quest but for me this is infinitely more interesting in that. It kicks off like SUPERIOR in the middle of some high-octane film footage complete with cheesy dialogue to pull back to those watching themselves on screen, some more absorbed than others. There’s an arch reference to what many comicbook creators perceived as the last Superman film’s biggest (of many) flaws and eventually there will be a moment of pure Doctor Who.

But it is, of course, the film Avengers Assemble – and indeed its cast as interviewed for television on the red carpet – whose leg is principally being pulled with affection. Avengers Assemble was based stylistically on Bryan Hitch’s own four ULTIMATES books during the course of whose reviews I compared his monumental art to Hollywood special effects, and starred those Avengers assembled there by Mark Millar including a Nick Fury played by Samuel L. Jackson long before Samuel L. Jackson signed up to play Nick Fury. You see where I’m going with the ouroboros?

I don’t find this derivative, I find it inspired. Plus I always get a big, sexy feeling when drooling over Hitch’s neo-classical art. This has little to do with fist-fights and costumes. Hitch’s eye for sharp suits (actual suits, not battle suits – although he’s no slacker there) and slick, sleek dresses makes me clamour for a comic in which they take centre-stage. I would love to see Bryan do something without the science fiction element – like crime – so that a completely different audience could feast its eyes on his talent and enjoy his work as much as I do.

He’s been lucky enough to snag Laura Martin on colours and let us never take embellisher Paul Neary for granted who keeps Hitch’s forms soft, pliant and therefore human when other pencillers aren’t half so lucky. I do wonder, however, if ZENITH artist Steve Yeowell popped round for tea when the last panel of the penultimate page was ready for inking. I’m absolutely serious. Loved it.

Back to the world première of Olympians 2 and its cast, some more sober than others, are about to greet their adoring fans, some of whom have cosplayed all day. As the event is broadcast live all over the world, the movie company has promised an extra surprise. There’s a surprise all right – for everyone. Then in the midst of the carnage our various protagonists start to show their true, un-pre-prepped colours.

I love the contrast in body language between the covers to #1 and #2. Body language: Bryan’s pretty damn good at that too.


Buy Real Heroes #1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

Rarely do you see anything like this in a Marvel Comic!

It is delirious, with an expressionistic interior monologue and art coloured to eye-popping perfection by Val Staples.

There’s an eye-leading deployment of black and white during both the intricately cross-hatched panels and the smoke-ridden segues, Marco Rudy veering drunkenly from J.H. Williams III (PROMETHEA, BATMAN AND SON) to Jae Lee (INHUMANS, FANTASTIC FOUR F 1 2 3 4) and even Bill Sienkiewicz (ELEKTRA ASSASSIN, STRAY TOASTERS) complete with triangles, side-bar instructions and Gustav Klimt. Plus the double-page spread whose lettering forms the Spider-Man chest symbol with its stream-of-barely-consciousness is brilliant! Should we credit letter artist Clayton Cowles there? I don’t know, because this is very much an ensemble effort and a virtuoso performance even if Peter appears boss-eyed on one page and looks nothing like Parker anyway. Minor snafu.

What the hell is actually going on you won’t find out until the end, which is perfectly apposite because neither will Peter. He has been lured to a neo-gothic, three-storey house by way of a low-grade photo assignment. Within he finds psychic Madame Web – the old crone version – who predicts he will die unless he can solve the fabled riddle of the Ninety-Nine problems while the exploding girls beg, “Help me!”

The rest is like one long, disorientating, underwater acid trip as ninety-nine foes assault him with gas, taunt him with pills (which he may have already taken) and who even knows if they are real or not? It’s a bit disconcerting to suddenly find yourself in the aisle of a passenger jet without so much as a boarding card and a racially profiled strip-search at customs.

You’re already guessing that this is one mass illusion by Mysterio. If it was then some of the very brief pauses for thought might make sense, but it isn’t, so they don’t. The plot itself does once finally revealed with its extra generational twist, but being allowed to pass out on a desert island beach unmolested by a javelin does not.

Never mind, if the evocation of chaos and exhaustion is your thing, this is done to perfection.

One thing I should clear up before you even begin is that this has no ties to current continuity. Like the SPIDER-MAN: MARK MILLAR COLLECTION, which I always recommend as the single finest standalone Spider-Man book, it takes place during the vaguely classic period when Peter is either married to or at least dating Mary Jane Watson.


Buy Spider-Man: Marvel Knights – 99 Problems (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Synchronicities are the canaries in the mines of magic, my friend. If fate is bringing us together like this…”
“Then we’re running out of time.”

Written by the author of the current LOKI series and drawn by photo-realist Greg Land whose art I happen to find very sexy indeed, this will be a breath of fresh air for those muttering that the current AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS runs are nothing more than convoluted and over-extended science lessons. This is a far more traditional Avengers affair – or at least the tradition established by Bendis over the last decade which involves snappy dialogue and the obligatory “Who even is this Ronin dude?”

I think I know who he is this time given his specific areas of expertise (the nunchucks are always a red herring – that too is part of the tradition), personal connections and former geographical assignation. So obviously “he” will turn out to be a “she” again and I will look even more stupid than usual.

It kicks off during INFINITY VOL 1 and INFINITY VOL 2 and then deals with its fallout, Attilan-wise. If you wondered where the Doctor Strange sub-plot in those two books went, it landed here, splat in the middle of New York City which comes under assault first from Thanos’ minion called Midnight and then from a giant, tentacular, trans-dimensional beastie summoned by dear Doctor Strange possessed by the Ebony Maw. No one ever finds out about that, do they?

Al Ewing has borrowed Kieron Gillen’s introductory power-set boxes – which I think were themselves kind of borrowed from Bryan Lee O’Malley’ SCOTT PILGRIM – so  you know who’s who, what’s what and whether you should worry:

“The Superior Spider-Man: Delicious Doc Ock In A Crispy Spidey Shell.”
“Luke Cage: Runs The Show. Dresses The Part.”
“Barbara McDevitt, A.K.A. Quickfire: Corporate Superspy. Has Powers. Doesn’t Need Them.”
“Jason Quantrell, C.E.O. Of Cortex Inc: Wants It All. Wants It Now.”

The line-up’s in flux but there’s a much greater racial diversity including black and Hispanic characters which isn’t as important as whether they’re interesting. They are. Led by Luke Cage (missus Jessica Jones and baby Danielle are very much in evidence, Danielle offering many a pithy “out of the mouths of babes” pearl of wisdom), they are:

Spectrum (Monica Rambeau, formerly Photon, formerly Captain Marvel, now without silly mask but with hair straighteners instead – upgrade!)

Power Man (who’s more of an Iron Fist)
Falcon (Captain America And The…)
Superior Spider-Man (until everyone is sick of the supercilious motherfucker)
White Tiger (see Bendis’ DAREDEVIL)
Spider Hero (no hyphen; deliberately gaudy ad-hoc costume and our man of mystery who will become Ronin)
Blue Marvel (who never existed until now but has been around for years)

There are some great jokes, a public which refuses to be intimidated, a wider subplot involving our man of mystery, and vitally Ewing has a pitch-perfect handle on Luke Cage and Jessica Jones otherwise it wouldn’t work at all.


Buy Mighty Avengers vol 1: No Single Hero s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

A reprint of all those huge, floppy Dini and Ross one-shot morality tales in one infinitely more manageable, won’t-droop-over-the-sides-of-your-bookcase volume which, a little taller and broader than the standard American comic size. Pretty good value for money it is too.

Alex Ross (MARVELS, KINGDOM COME, JUSTICE) has a unique take on DC superheroes in that his versions really do show their age. Batman’s coming up to 50, Wonder Woman’s approaching the same age and Superman’s face and physique are those of someone at least 65, if in remarkably buff condition. Why…? I don’t know but it does lend them a weight and a sense of authority – a seniority over their peers – that others’ interpretations seldom convey.

In addition to the stories reviewed below, this also contains JLA: SECRET ORIGINS, JLA: LIBERTY & JUSTICE, one heck of a lot of sketchwork plus two enormous landscape paintings in the form of a double-sided, four-page fold-out. Are you ready?

SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH. A first-class seasonal story, convincingly narrated by the being called Superman, who finds that one man’s capabilities and the best will in the world cannot overcome the politics of men. Gorgeously painted, quiet, thoughtful and dignified. Ross’ African animals which would have fixated me as a young man.

BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME I found more problematic. Look, it’s very beautiful. It’s very, very beautiful. It’s also rather disappointing. What was I expecting? I don’t know; perhaps I hadn’t thought this through in advance. I think this is the first Alex Ross work which has taken superheroes away from an epic background and tried to pop them into contemporary grocery stores. Now you tell me, how precisely is someone wearing latex and a cape going to ‘sneak’ silently between these pencil-thin aisles to ambush a thief (with what I believe is called a ‘batarang’) without knocking the Twinkies flying? Nor, parenthetically, have I ever seen a grocery store so fully stocked or beautifully arranged, before or after a masked crusader comes squeak-creaking past the chewing gum and prophylactics.

Of course, this doesn’t matter in most superhero comics – design can take care of such silliness and create a dynamic spectacle – but Ross is a photo-realist and the ‘real’ Batman here is patently too bulky for the very real aisle.

Where Ross excels is in the majestic, the epic and conversely in a boardroom filled with normal, underpants-on-the-inside, real-estate-dealing speculators. MARVELS worked so well because Kurt cleverly combined for Ross the street perspective of the photographer with the magnificent, other-worldly spectacle he was gazing at from below. So those scenes featuring Bruce are fine; Ross’s interior and exterior scenes where Gotham’s elite network are magnificent.

But, oh no, here we come to the story. It’s an excellent introduction to those who have never encountered Batman before: it’s an everything-you-need-to-know about Bruce, his loss, his tortured existence, the scars on his back (metaphorical or otherwise), his luxury lifestyle and his nightly excursions. For those of us who’ve read a single decent Batbook, it’s superfluous. In fact it’s a facile cliché: urban poverty, nasty gunmen, here comes an orphan; Bruce has a flashback, boy turns to crime (must involve drugs), Batman turns him round, then Bruce spends a few pennies and miraculously solves all the ghetto’s problems. Ta-da!

The scene in which we first stumble across this particular orphan is genuinely arresting. The layout of the double-page spread is perfect, the model he choose for the boy can evidently act, and Ross evokes the mutual shock and horror with great pathos. And, if you’ve forgotten after this unexpectedly unfavourable review which I really didn’t want to write, this book is beautiful. So enjoy the pictures. They’re very big.

SHAZAM!: THE POWER OF HOPE. A return to form for Dini and Ross, who seem much more capable in the bright light of day and on a grander scale than on the streets of Gotham or dealing with everyday problems. For those of you unfamiliar with DC’s acquisition, Billy Batson, now working at a radio station, is a young orphan able to swap himself when required with Captain Marvel; they share an innocent outlook on life, and Ross’ triumph here is the evocation of Billy’s features in the broad-set Captain whenever his naivety is exposed. If it’s all a little nicer than nice, well, that works a good deal better for the creators than when they tried to introduce a darker element. Unfortunately there is one howler in this book which destroys both the subplot and, consequently, the finale. One of the lads in the hospital Batson visits was beaten up by his father. So what does the Captain do? He threatens the father, physically. Not only is it entirely out of character, but you just don’t bully a bully. It may be one’s immediate, knee-jerk and quite natural desire but, hey, add to the cycle, why don’t you? I never expected to say this, but even SPAWN once handled this better, showing the nasty repercussions which aren’t even suggested as a possibility here. A tad irresponsible.

WONDERWOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH was the fourth giant-sized annual and like SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH the premise is a good one: that there are limits to what the best intentions of a single person can achieve, howsoever good-hearted and suped-up they may be. Wonderwoman can help in disasters, take down criminals, but when she ventures into foreign affairs, hoping to stop the practice of using human shields in a war zone, her involvement creates fear amongst those she seeks to help. So she talks to Clark Kent who has experienced such frustrations and who suggests that the view from street level is substantially different from the perspective of one who can fly, and that she might perhaps try working with people rather than above them. So she does. She goes on protest marches and averts an escalation by snapping a gun in two; she attends a peaceful demonstration against loggers operating in a rain forest which the country’s government has already been paid substantial amounts of money to preserve, and secretly sabotages their equipment with her super-strength. And she returns (in disguise) to the country where she met an impasse, joining the human shields as they’re about to be moved to another area where the bombs will be falling, blows up the truck and then frees the women.

If the idea of this story is to educate young readers about some of the world’s injustices, then that’s admirable. Unfortunately the solutions are distracting, for not only would be nothing to stop the dictatorship rounding up and replacing the women the second kindly Diana leaves the stage, but each one of Diana’s little tricks also involves the use of a superpower which we don’t possess. Whenever important issues are brought ‘realistically’ into the superhero genre it is rare that they aren’t trivialised partly because, superheroes not actually existing, the solutions are impossible. We don’t have that magic wand. We’ve got to deal with things as they stand.

All of which explains why I still rate the SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH as the best of this beautiful bunch.


Buy World’s Greatest Superheroes 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.


Brody’s Ghost vol 5 (£4-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley

Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 4 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond s/c (£10-99, DC) by Adam Beechen, various & various

Hinterkind vol 1: The Waking World (£7-50, DC) by Ian Edginton & Francesco Trifogli

Justice League vol 3: Throne Of Atlantis s/c (£12-99, DC) by Geoff Johns, Jeff Lemire & Ivan Reis, Paul Pelletier, Tony S. Daniel

Justice League vol 4: The Grid h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis

Superman: Red Son (New Edition) s/c (£13-50, DC) by Mark Millar & Dave Johnson

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo s/c (£18-99, DC) by Denise Mina & Leonardo Manco, Andrea Mutti, Lee Bermejo

Mighty Avengers vol 1: No Single Hero (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Greg Land

Uncanny Avengers vol 3: Ragnarok Now h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Salvador Larroca, Steve McNiven, Daniel Acuna

Dragonar Academy vol 1 (£9-99, Seven Sea) by Shiki Mizuchi & Ran

Dragon Ball Full Colour Saiyan Arc vol 1 (£12-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

One Piece vol 70 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Kingdom Hearts II vol 2 (£13-99, Yen Press) by Shiro Amano


ITEM! How To Stand Out On The Shelves! Stunning cover to Mark Millar’s MPH #2 by Duncan Fegredo – bold, bright and contemporary! Looks nothing like the mass of other covers which will be crowding the rows of superheroic fisticuffs.

ITEM! Preview of Millar & Parlov’s STARLIGHT #2 out this week! We still have some copies of STARLIGHT #1 reviewed by Jonathan here.

ITEM! Submissions Guides for a range of comicbook publishers. Don’t be put off by the icons at the top, the likes of Nobrow are down below too.

ITEM! THE KEY by Grant Morrison & Rian Hughes created for BBC’s Freedom 2014 season.

ITEM! Page 45’s PREVIEWS for comics coming June 2014 is up online. All orders placed before 14th April 2014 are guaranteed. Orders placed the night before publication in June: not so much.

Includes Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new graphic novel SECONDS.

If you have a Standing Order with us, then don’t feel you have to order online, you can just phone us on 0115 9508045 or email and ask for the book or series to be added to your pull list.

If you do want to order online then you don’t get charged until the book actually arrives and is shipped straight off to you. Within 24 hours, yes. Dominique runs the most efficient mail order service in the business.


– Stephen