Reviews April 2014 week four

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

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