Reviews June 2014 week four

Popstars on their pedestals: that’s where we place them in order to worship, just as we used to old gods.

 – Stephen on The Wicked + The Divine #1

The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains h/c (£12-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & Eddie Campbell.

“I can forgive myself for many things. For where I left him. For what I did. But I will never forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter, when I believed her to have run away, perhaps to the city.”

Who could possibly resist the ominous implications of opening lines like these? But once you have teased out the truths which lead to the bleak consideration above they prove word-perfect. Are there many things more satisfying in life than poetic justice? I think not.

I relish a clever structure and this one is crafty indeed. The following paragraph alone seems straightforward and innocuous enough, but words are chosen carefully throughout and retrospect is a funny old thing.

“I had searched for nearly ten years, although the trail was cold. I would say that I found him by accident, but I do not believe in accidents. If you walk the path, eventually you must arrive at the cave.”

The narrator is a Scotsman of strikingly diminutive statue. You might think that puts him at a disadvantage. You might be right; you may be wrong.

He calls at a fair-sized house gleaming white against rich, green pasture and fresh, purple heather as well as mist-shrouded mountains beyond. There he seeks a reaver called Calum MacInnes.

Calum MacInness proves to be a tall, guarded man with a wolfish face who looms over him. The narrator asks Calum MacInness to guide him to a cave in the Black Mountain on the Misty Isle. Although most believe that the cave exists not, he has heard that Calum McInness has been there and found gold inside. Those who do believe of the cave’s fleeting existence believe also that it is cursed and that there is a price to be paid for any gold gathered from within. Calum MacInness warns him of this:

“This is bad gold. It does not come free. It has its cost.”
“Everything has its cost.”

I have not lied to you once up above nor have I told you the truth.

I’m not lying now when I tell you this is one of Gaiman’s finest novellas which has gone through so many forms, including a reading enhanced by music and Eddie Campbell’s projected illustrations first performed at the Sydney Opera House, before arriving at this similarly hybrid book not just designed but constructed by ALEC’s Eddie Campbell himself.

Fascinatingly, the key conversations – snippets or largely confessions – are given subtle emphasis by being pulled up from the illustrated prose surrounding them in the form of comic panels. In any other circumstances I would have used the word “inset” instead, but to me they appear raised in an effect similar to spot-varnish. If you read these alone (and with careful inference) they expose the story’s skeletal backbone buried beneath the body of the book. Or at least, I think they do: I read the tale in its entirety and things unlearned cannot be unlearned, only forgotten, and none of us have time to forget.

In any case I don’t recommend doing so because only the emphatic effect is what’s intended and you would, of course, have lost much of the flavour in the form of Campbell’s atmospheric landscapes – his nocturnal croft, his majestic black mountains and in particular the twin thorn-bush paintings in which the seasons of life are contrasted with consummate cruelty – and Gaiman’s measured tone which is as solemn as the judgement pronounced.

There are precedents for mixed media in comics like Posy Simmonds’ TAMARA DREWE and GEMMA BOVERY but this shifts the balance in a new, daring way and there aren’t many first attempts at anything which you could consider resounding successes. This is note-perfect, even without the contribution of the FourPlay String Quartet, although they are all on tour right now with this: http://www.neilgaiman.com/where/

SLH

Buy The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Wicked + The Divine #1 (£2-75, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Matthew Wilson.

“Her eyes scan the front row like the sun rising and setting. Oh god. Oh god.
“The girl to my left passes out, hyperventilating. The boy to my right falls to his knees, cum leaking from his crotch. She’s not even looking at them. She’s looking at me. I swear, she’s looking at me.”

I love Amaterasu’s eyes there, her black eyes blazing with the corona of a solar eclipse.

Amaterasu is a new pop goddess already catalysing the sort of tearful, screaming crowd hysteria formerly generated by the likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Duran Duran; commanding a Bowie-like level of devotion which inspires one to dress up and make up to match; and generating all the cynical, scornful nay resentful press coverage that can come with it. Paul Morley is a very clever man, but he can also be the most crashing bore.

The difference is that Amaterasu isn’t just a pop goddess in Smash Hits terminology, she’s a pop star who claims that she really is a goddess and she’s not alone. There is a… family of them, each performing gigs separately, each with a shtick of their own – which is fabulous marketing.

And that’s all today’s interviewer sees: a sophisticated advertising campaign built around bullshit. Mythological claptrap. Pretention. Dissemblance. The idea that Amaterasu is anything other than Hazel Greenaway from Exeter is preposterous.

All of which is witnessed by seventeen-year-old Laura – last to pass out, the first to wake up – who has lucked into Luci’s favour and been taken under her wing.

I love Luci in particular: sexy, slinky, positively sybaritic. As styled by McKelvie she is the ultimate in androgyny, immaculately dressed in pressed white. As scripted by Gillen she is an arch, knowing merchant of mischief but beneath the velvet veneer there is something sharp and a little brittle waiting to break. Oh yes, it’s called a temper.

I think we’d better leave it there.

From the creative crew behind PHONOGRAM and YOUNG AVENGERS this moves startling fast for a first issue. For a writer who relishes wit-riddled repartee – and provides plenty here packed with musical winks and nudges – this is quite the “fuck, no!” jaw/floor thrill.

Without giving the game away (which is what someone usually says when they are about to give the game away) McKelvie and Wilson have come up with multiple special effects involving dots, rays and flat, spot colour to make the more miraculous moments stand out a mile from the warmer, graded pages. Who decided what is always difficult to discern with this team, but there is some gorgeous design work on display as well (hello, Hannah Donovan!) from the cover and its logo to the make-up and most especially the 1923 night’s round-table with what I infer to be its remaining members’ fashion sense and symbols.

The symbol circle’s contemporary counterpart on January 1st 2014 is markedly different not just in individual composition but… oh, you’ll see.

Popstars on their pedestals: that’s where we place them in order to worship, just as we used to old gods. Mass hysteria really is nothing new. Add in unhealthy hubris and the confluence of ideas here makes perfect sense. I anticipate something quite epic.

I am also intrigued. Which is exactly how a first issue should leave you.

SLH

Buy The Wicked + The Divine #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The End signed, sketched in (£6-00, Thingsbydan) by Dan Berry.

“14 Days & Counting.”

Well, this will give you pause for thought.

Bound within a luxurious, rough-grained, card-stock cover which had been screen-printed with scarlet, black and gold are some of the most sobering pages I’ve read from Dan Berry. Such is the beauty of the cover you might not register at first that the objects which the gold adorns are skulls.

It’s closer to CARRY ME in tone that the comedy of CAT ISLAND, THE SUITCASE, HEY YOU! and THROW YOUR KEYS AWAY, but in execution it’s yet another departure. The washes are in a wet, inky black and blue whose sheen is picked up beautifully on the crisp, white, satin paper.

A lot of this takes place at night, which doesn’t always bring out the best in us. We don’t like it when we can’t see what is happening. We don’t like it when we don’t understand what is happening. We don’t react well to that which we cannot control.

Time in particular we feel the need to control: we measure it out in years divided into months or weeks, which we decided should have seven days composed of twenty-four hours each housing sixty minutes and they, sixty seconds. A day makes solar sense, as does a year, but boy we don’t half attach a lot of importance to some of the more arbitrary measurements and a countdown sure gets the adrenalin rushing.

When the numbers first appeared overnight – all of them “14” – they did so on walls and billboards and buses: the sort of places you’d expect from a marketing campaign. So we shrugged because that’s what we assumed it was.

“Thirteen came and went the next day with a chorus of “I told you so” and eye-rolling from the people who kept up with this sort of thing. The progression from 14 to 13 was predictable and had been done to death, they said. If this was to be a truly effective ad campaign, we’d need to given a reason to car and we didn’t have that. 6 /10, must try harder.”

Love the smug, supercilious pundit there in his turtleneck sweater, brandishing a cigarette and tut-tutting with his fingers.

Dan’s put an enormous amount of lateral thought into this, a study in human behaviour under unusual circumstances extrapolated from how we do react to numbers and time. Also, I love the core conceit and where Dan ran with it right to the end.

SLH

Buy The End by emailing page45@page45.com or phoning 0115 9508045 because we have next to none in and it’s already out of print. Demand was that fast, yes.

Escapo h/c (£18-99, Z2 Comics) by Paul Pope…

“They conceived me up over that summer, those fresh-faced two…
“That little sperm and that little round egg, they joined and blended and rolled up, and they conceived me.
“And I was born in a sterile room full of steel tools and knives…
“… and they didn’t even ask if I wanted to be there.
“And it was in this way I made it through my very first escape hatch. Escapo, King of the World!”

You’ve either got it, or you haven’t. Me, having bought this newly coloured edition in addition to the black and white 1999 original, well, I guess now I’ve got it twice! Paul Pope just has it in abundance, though. Talent, that is. Seemingly he always has, though in a fascinating afterword, which explains why ESCAPO has been reworked and re-released, it’s clear Paul feels he’s moved on considerably since 1999, not just in artistic ability but also in the understanding of the tools of his trade. Not least that you shouldn’t used markers which will fade or bleed over time if you want to retain the integrity of the original artwork! Hence, his need to revisit, restore and thus (re)produce this new edition of what is, to my mind, an early Pope masterpiece.

There are comic artists who are truly, singularly unique, seemingly inspired by no one nor indeed inspiring others. Their style stands – in Pope’s case even down to his lettering – for all intents and purposes alone. I can’t imagine what effort of will it must take to produce such a performance. Much like that required to defy death purely for the entertainment of others perhaps, though obviously without the potential for a fatal mishap at any moment. Pope, however, does not perform with the drama-sapping luxury of a safety net, either. Epic in scale and grandeur, his pages and panels here are all spectacular in their concept and construction.

ESCAPO, though, is no showy piece of three-ring hoopla, instead it is a story bristling with passion and sentiment, albeit unfulfilled and misplaced, which at its pounding heart has the cruellest kind of love known to man, the unrequited variety.

Poor Vic: the public may marvel at his exploits and gasp at his brushes with disaster as that most daring of escape artistes, but he’d happily trade it all for just a single kiss from the lithesome object of his desires, the capricious Aerobella. Unfortunately for Vic, her vainglorious heart belongs to another, the beautiful Acrobat King. Will Escapo choose to end it all distraught, mid-performance, under the gaze of a rapt but terrified crowd? Or will he choose to live forever more with a broken heart? You want to know? Well then step up, step up, buy your entrance ticket, come into Paul Pope’s tent of wonder and delight, and above all prepare to be amazed…

This edition also contains a whole host of extras not in the original edition, besides the afterword, including the two-page alternate ending from the original French version and various beautiful Escapo circus posters by Paul and various friends which I absolutely adored. Some things are just worth buying twice.

JR

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

The Harlem Hellfighters (£12-99, Broadway Books) by Max Brooks & Canaan White…

“’The Harlem Hellfighters,’ that’s what Fritzee’s callin’ us now, ‘The Harlem Hellfighters!’”
“Ya think it’ll be enough to get me a medal a’ honour?”
“Until then, this will have to do. The French Croix De Guerre, The Cross Of War. And you are the first American, black or white, to win it. I’m both proud and sorry to say… you won’t be the last…”

So, not only did I not know that a unit of black Americans volunteered and fought in the First World War, I also didn’t know the first American recipient of the Croix De Guerre was black. A great-great uncle of mine won the Croix De Guerre in WW2, as it happens, fighting for the French Foreign Legion, though that is a story for another time, obviously. It seems the lack of knowledge regarding the existence of the Harlem Hellfighters is quite widespread though, as Canaan White talks about in his illuminating afterword as to why he took on this project.

There are talks about a Harlem Hellfighters movie happening, based on his script, not least because White has approached LeVar Burton. (Yes, possibly best known as Geordi La Forge, but also before wider Star Trek fame he was the star of the massively popular Roots: The Saga Of An American Family depicting the story of a Gambian slave seized and transported back to America in chains in 1750, and what subsequently happened to him and his descendants right through to the Civil War. If you have never seen it, you should, by the way, for it is truly epic.) Fingers crossed because, given the current anniversary of WW1 – which is presumably why this graphic novel is coming out now – I am amazed it hasn’t already been made. What a shame – and I use that word in a couple of different ways quite deliberately there.

So, is this straight non-fiction? Nearly. Artistic licence has been taken with certain characters, but it does mainly feature characters that are based directly on real-life people including Henry Johnson, the Croix De Guerre recipient. The events depicted are, again, fictionalised to an extent, but much of what we know did happen both during their training and active service, is exactly as portrayed here. This fictionalisation doesn’t reduce the impact in any way, either of the pure warfare element itself or of the story of the heinous discrimination the Hellfighters faced at every turn, from the moment they volunteered, at the hands of local Americans whilst stationed at training camps, to even on a daily basis at the front, at the behest of their own government, who simply did not want the allies treating them as equals lest they gain the idea they ought to start demanding equality more forcibly back home.

In lesser part therefore, this is simply a fantastic war story, the type I used to love reading as a kid in BATTLE. The action is captured with brutal precision, accurately portraying what an absolute hell on earth WW1 trench warfare was, with the senseless over-the-top charges directly into machine-gun fire and the industrial-scale use of chemical munitions adding to the wholesale slaughter.

But primarily this is story about a lesser-known side to the fight for racial equality in the United States. I suppose most of us presume it began in earnest with the civil rights movement during Martin Luther King’s era, but obviously there were trailblazers long before that. What simply beggars belief is that people who wanted to fight for their country, and to uphold democracy, could be so appallingly treated, even whilst undertaking their brave defence of liberty, by the very people they were protecting. Much like with SALLY HEATHCOTE, SUFFRAGETTE it’s quite hard to grasp in our more relatively enlightened society (relatively, note) how such insanely fascistic oppression could be deemed acceptable, and widespread casual discrimination just viewed as normal everyday behaviour. Bizarre and upsetting in equal measure.

Also, I should mention, White’s art style works really well here. I’m normally used to seeing him draw something horrific in an Avatar comic, but it’s nice to see that beneath all the gore he’s a really talented artist, and can do facial expressions that don’t involve demented psychosis or extreme torture, though obviously WW1 does still provide him with the opportunity to provide more than a few stomach-turning panels. Also, I think the decision not to colour the art is the right one as I believe it would have detracted from the story. Much like CHARLEY’S WAR, it’s much more emotionally disturbing for being in black and white. It allows the true human story to be told without it sinking under the blood and muck of the battlefield. An absolute triumph in my eyes, and I really do hope the film gets made one day.

JR

Buy The Harlem Hellfighters and read the Page 45 review here

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer Complete Edition s/c (£18-99, Top Shelf) by Van Jensen & Dustin Higgins.

You can always trust Top Shelf Productions.

I made the mistake once of questioning a book Chris Staros had signed up, thinking it odd for that publisher, and he quietly told me to trust him. He was right. It was SURROGATES, since you ask.

On the surface this looks like such an obvious one-trick pony which should swiftly become a knackered old nag unable to bear the weight of its 500+ pages: Pinocchio, the ultimate vampire hunter on account of an endless, self-replenishing supply of wooden stakes he doesn’t even have to carry round with him. All he has to do is lie and *SHINK* he’s stuck his nose right into someone’s “business”.

But you know what? Trust me. The creators have come up with a startling variety of permutations and they don’t all involve impalement; some involve the love of his life, Carlotta.

Pinocchio: “Carlotta! What are you doing here? It’s dangerous outside of Nasolungo! I wish you hadn’t come.”
*SHINK*
Cricket: “Some poker face…”

Likewise the running gag of Cricket’s multiple, accidental deaths at Pinocchio’s easily distracted hands: that the cricket is already dead – a ghost as in Collodi’s original tale, much, much darker than Disney’s – makes for moments of smile-inducing, resigned exasperation rather than oh-my-god tragedy.

There are moments of loss, don’t get me wrong, and it’s to the creators’ enormous credit that they restrain themselves from even considering the obvious gag when Pinocchio quietly murmurs, “I’m fine”. As to the ending, it is a very brave ending. It is the very best ending. But I doubt it is one you will see coming. I’m glad they took their time with that.

 

 

The art in black and white with a lot of grey tone may not seem much to write home about on the surface, but comics is all about the flow and I flipped through this at an astonishing rate. Where it comes to the fore is the flashbacks: the Puppet Theatre’s performance of Hamlet (King Claudius in conclusion: “I really had this coming.”) and the introductory summary of the Collodi’s original tale which I can’t successfully quote, so intrinsic is the cartooning to the comedy.

SLH

Buy Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer Complete Edition s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Eye Of Newt #1 (£2-99, Dark Horse) by Michael Hague…

“The eye is cold and merciless, a window to death and destruction. Only a true hero, one with a courageous heart, can stare into the dragon’s eye.”

Someone completely insane too, I would imagine. Or maybe once you start dabbling in magic, you’re bound to go a bit cuckoo, as you take your first steps along the road less travelled. Anyway, thus begins a highest of high fantasy four-part mini-series, that positively glows and crackles with eldritch energy.

Meanwhile, our youthful neophyte hero Newt is about to be engulfed in a very ancient and dangerous quest, an initiation into the deeper world of wizardry. An expedition that will help determine his place in the pecking order of the spell casting power structure for the rest of his magical career. The stronger the element he can find for the headpiece of his staff, the more powerful a wizard he will have the potential to become. If he survives the quest, that is, obviously.

His master, a particular ancient and somewhat curmudgeonly fellow known as the Dark Man, means well but his idea of a pep talk about the dangers that lurk beyond the not-so-metaphorical door to the netherworld consists primarily of curtly telling his charge that he would rather see him die than return with anything less than the most powerful headpiece. Tough love, eh? There are of course ‘Dark Forces’ and other multitudinous villainy afoot, which will undoubtedly plague and imperil our hero en route.

 

I think this really has the potential to be an excellent mini. Clearly there are parallels to be drawn with UMBRAL in high fantasy terms, and if you’re enjoying that epic series, you will definitely like this. Art-wise it’s also a bit different from the norm, though very much in keeping with the subject matter, and the closest comparisons I could make would be Charles Vess and Arthur Rackham, though perhaps with a slightly more sinister touch, in part engendered by the stylishly dappled use of colouring. I must confess I’m not familiar with creator Michael Hague, but apparently he is well known and highly regarding book illustrator, of the fantasy and children’s variety mainly, and he did do a graphic novel a few years ago called IN THE SMALL which sounds rather interesting, though sadly looks to be out of print. If you like the odd bit of beard-stroking and wand-waving, this could be for you.

JR

Buy Eye Of Newt #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers World vol 1: A.I.M.PIRE s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer & Stefano Caselli, John Cassaday…

How many Avengers books is one too many? I have to say probably this one, despite it being written by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer. One of the main stories never really got me interested, rehashing old villainess Morgan Le Fey in a run-of-the-mill manner, though clearly it is actually about developing the Starbrand character, and the other featuring A.I.M. seems to be trying to tie up loose ends from elsewhere primarily. This book sits somewhere between the current NEW AVENGERS, AVENGERS and also SECRET AVENGERS storylines, without ever really getting anywhere near the highs of those books, particularly the first two, which have been consistently brilliant for a while.

It does, however, have an eight-page sequence featuring Manifold and Captain Universe which I think are highly significant for NEW AVENGERS readers as they answer a very significant question posed there. I actually think it’s slightly naughty the answer being put in a different title which probably considerably fewer people are reading, when it really should be in NEW AVENGERS. Anyway, read it or not, your choice.

Asst. Ed.’s note: this title has switched direction a bit now with the current issues, is solo written by Spencer and I am enjoying it considerably more. I think it may well have found its own groove.

JR

Buy Avengers World vol 1: A.I.M.PIRE s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?

 

Abe Sapien vol 4: The Shape Of Things To Come (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara

Big Damn Sin City h/c (£75-00, Dark Horse) by Frank Miller

Dead Boy Detectives vol 1: Schoolboy Terrors s/c (£7-50, Vertigo) by Toby Litt & Mark Buckingham

Disenchanted vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier & German Erramouspe

Dog Butts And Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats. (£9-99, NBM) by Jim Benton

Massive vol 3: Longship s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown

My Little Pony: Friends Forever vol 1 s/c (£13-50, IDW) by Alex De Campi, various & Carla Speed McNeil, various

Rogue Trooper: Tales Of Nu-Earth vol 4 (£19-99, Rebellion) by Gordon Rennie, Ian Edginton, Mark Millar, Andy Diggle, Gerry Finlay- Day & Mike Collins, Simon Coleby, Steve Pugh, Dave Gibbons

The Harlem Hellfighters (£12-99, Broadway Books) by Max Brooks & Caanan White

Wonton Soup Collected Edition s/c (£14-99, Oni Press) by James Stokoe

Before Watchmen – Ozymandias / Crimson Corsair s/c (£14-99, DC) by Len Wein, John Higgins & Jae Lee, various, John Higgins, Steve Rude

Batman Detective Comics vol 4: The Wrath h/c (£18-99, DC) by John Layman, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson & Andy Clarke, Jason Fabok, various

Batman Detective Comics vol 3: Emperor Penguin s/c (£12-99, DC) by John Layman & Jason Fabok, Andy Clarke

New Avengers vol 3: Other Worlds h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Simone Bianchi, Rags Morales

Superior Spider-Man Team-up vol 2: Superior Six s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Christopher Yost, Kevin Shinick & Marco Checchetto, Ron Frenz, Will Sliney

Attack On Titan: No Regrets vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Gun Snark & Hikaru Suruga

Whispered Words vol 1 (£12-99, One Peace Books) by Takashi Ikeda

ITEM! Best single stash of comics from Page 45 ever: ALL the best books!

ITEM! Oh yes, and this we announced late Monday night:

Bryan Lee O’Malley

Signing at Page 45

Monday 18th August, 5pm-8pm

The very 10th Anniversary of SCOTT PILGRIM.

So that’s a thing.

– Stephen

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