Page 45 Reviews November 2014 week one

G. Willow Wilson, you are a loving star! The kindness you have spread in this beautiful, brilliant comic will never be forgotten.

 – Stephen on Ms Marvel. Highly recommended.

Supercrash: How To Hijack The Global Economy (£14-99, Myriad) by Darryl Cunningham…

“This is where the ‘greater fool’ theory comes into play.
“The theory is that there is always a greater fool, somewhere, who can be sold a toxic loan and the dangerous piece of paper attached to it.
“Globalisation had opened up a whole world of fools who did not understand the American mortgage market.
“Nobody ever thinks that they themselves might be the greater fool…
“… caught holding the package…
“… when the music stops.”

“During 2007, lenders began foreclosure proceedings on nearly 1.3 million properties – a 79% percent increase over 2006. Then things got worse. By August 2009, 9.2% of all US mortgages were either delinquent or in foreclosure. One year later, this had risen to 14.4%. The party was over. The music had stopped. The bill had to be paid at last.”

Indeed it did. Just not by the people who had created the problem. I think this may well be the finest piece of investigative graphic journalism I have ever seen. I know Darryl doesn’t necessarily consider himself a journalist, from his perspective he’s just telling the story as he sees it, but it lays bare the truths and falsehoods behind the cause and consequences of the ‘supercrash’. And, as you might intuit from the title, there is undoubtedly blame to be apportioned, and he does so in a truly excoriating yet completely fair manner.

But there is also a wider story to be told here, because inevitably events of this magnitude don’t come about overnight, and in Darryl’s eyes we need to start by looking at the life and influence of Ayn Rand. Rand was a strange, practically messianic figure to some, yet full of contradictions evidently apparent to anyone not blinded by the fervency of her socio-political assertions, and also someone who brooked absolutely no dissent from her coterie of followers who became rapidly known as ‘The Collective’. Amongst those heavily influenced, some might say indoctrinated by Rand, was one Alan Greenspan, who rose in power to become the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States from 1987 to 2006.

Chief amongst Rand’s beliefs was in the need for absolute unfettered freedom of the financial markets. Regulation by government of the financial systems was tantamount to heresy in Rand’s eyes. The markets should be left to regulate themselves. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to imagine what is going to happen if you let the most avaricious members of society set their own rules does it? And yet, that is precisely what Greenspan presided over during his tenure as the top financial dog of the US economy. Gradually the checks and balances that were in place to prevent the wholesale rape and pillage of the bedrock of the US financial economy were eroded, sidestepped or just outright dismissed  as ever more toxic debt was packaged and passed on in ever more inventive and increasingly immoral, if not at times also downright illegal ways.

Eventually as Darryl explains so clearly, unravelling the mess as he does in the second act of the book, someone was going to end up in deep trouble, and so the runs on the various banks began, the frantic bailouts negotiated by Governments globally at the taxpayers’ expense, whilst the villains of the piece, the individuals that actually caused the problems got off not only scot-free but also trousering vast amounts of cash, some of them in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars. I am pretty sure I am right in stating that not one high level banking executive in the UK or US has been sent to prison for any sort of financial impropriety associated with the supercrash.

Gradually however, through pieces like this shining a bright and focussed light on the industry as a whole, and more traditional investigative journalism, we are at last starting to expose very serious wrongdoing such as collusion in fixing the LIBOR rate etc. which must surely see some custodial sentences imposed. Though when we actually see someone sent down instead of merely being given a hefty if token fine I’ll believe it. Plus I’m old enough to remember one Ernest Saunders, sent to prison in the early 90s for fraudulently attempting to manipulate the price of Guinness shares, his sentence commuted after a mere ten months in prison on compassionate grounds due to him almost immediately developing the incurable Alzheimer’s disease, and his subsequent miraculous full and entirely unique recovery upon release.

Reading Darryl’s work makes you realise how much corruption there is at the highest levels of government and the finance industry, how very often it’s a rotating door between the two for various individuals who have no sooner passed laws benefiting investment banks then promptly ending up on the board of one, at least one, in some capacity or other. Capitalism might not be the outright brutal oppression that North Korea imposes on its people but it’s definitely designed to minimise true social mobility and ensure all the wealth remains concentrated in the palms of the very few.

So in the third act, titled ‘The Age Of Selfishness’ Darryl tackles the thorny topic of what could replace capitalism, and how perhaps the ever swinging pendulum of political liberalism and conservatism (to use the American definitions) is in part responsible for the situation we currently find ourselves in. He goes on to make some interesting observations regarding how early people’s political tendencies are apparently created, before looking at the current political situation in both the UK and the US. It’s pretty bleak stuff I must say, but fortunately the final three pages provide some small cause for optimism pointing out as they do that mass citizens movements have brought about substantial societal change before, and have the possibility to do so again.

This is a truly outstanding piece of work, illustrated so intelligently as ever in his wonderful no nonsense informative style, which hits new heights of in terms of detail and its ability to disseminate such complex information so simply, and it deserves to win awards and gain the highest praise and plaudits from not just within the comics industry but also the wider world. I also don’t doubt he’ll now find himself on the watchlist of some very wealthy and well connected people, but that’s the price you pay for shining the light of truth on such a murky morass of quasi-illicit activities by the so called great and good. He’s probably ensured he’ll never get a mention on the Queen’s birthday honours list now either, but he’s certainly deserving  of it in my book for the public service he’s done everyone in writing this work. Bravo Darryl, I salute you.

JR

Buy Supercrash: How To Hijack The Global Economy and read the Page 45 review here

Ordinary h/c (£14-99, Titan) by Rob Williams & D’Israeli.

“You let people down. It’s… who you are.”

Drawn with such energy then coloured to sunshine perfection, this is packed with hundreds of visual background jokes. D’Israeli appears to have had the laugh of his life!

As to Willams, “Truly, we were on the road to random”, I thought – utterly bananas! And it is. But scratch below the surface and so much makes sense and you wait until you encounter its heart.

Michael is a muppet. A divorced plumber with a son in school… somewhere… he is perpetually late, increasingly broke, in debt to some thugs and in spite of a widow’s peak of raggedy, receding hair he dreams of his chances with actress Scarlett Johansson.

Today he is late assisting his business partner with an octogenarian’s crapper. The assistance in question is taking on the old biddy’s verbal incontinence while Brian finally gets down to the plumbing. On his way he encounters said thugs and in the middle of negotiations a plane breaks down. Well, its engine goes boom. Then everything starts to change.

Well, every one. Everyone in the world experiences a transmogrification, reflecting their career, personality or self-esteem. One bloke turns into a dragon, a New York Yankees baseball player becomes a giant, thwacking off the top of the Empire State Building and it turns out the American Chief of Staff is a Hawk. Who knew? Even a taxi driver appears to have experienced an epiphany of sorts – calmness, satori, enlightenment. Instead of a know-it-all he’s genuinely omniscient. If he was working in London, he might even drive south of the Thames.

Everyone except Michael, that is, who is freaking the fuck out and I seriously can’t blame him.

For so long irresponsible, he now grows increasingly desperate about his young son’s safety, last seen at school over the river on Manhattan island. As he struggles to get there a powerplay erupts between the American Vice-President who wants to amplify his superpower’s superpowers and Dr Tara McDonald who is determined to find a cure. Dr McDonald doesn’t appear to have manifested a preternatural ability but I can assure you she both has and does. And I’d keep an eye on the religious Vice President’s aureole of demons and angels slogging it out round his bonce for supremacy.

I wouldn’t call all these mutations “abilities” – some are most emphatically afflictions. The President, for example, has his thoughts made manifest while addressing the nation in actual, visible thoughtbubbles just like a comic and, oh my, how I love creators who really think about their medium of choice!

Another waterslide ride like Grant Morrison & Richard Case’s DOOM PATROL, this is totally mental but you cannot stop and sure can’t get off so you might as well sit back and adore the insane trajectory. Long before approaching its perfect finale you’ll have realised how rich this really is.

Backtracking to the kick-off, D’Israeli delivers on the sweaty, weeping desperation department swiftly followed by the stooped head and sunken shoulders of a down-trodden man. Will this prove the making of him or the breaking off him?

SLH

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

In Real Life (£13-50, First Second) by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang…

“I’m a gamer and I kick arse. No, seriously. I organise a guild online and I’m looking for a few of you chickens to join me.
“This is Coarsegold Online, the fastest growing massive multiplayer role-playing game with over 10 million subscribers worldwide. You might’ve heard of it.
“This is my avatar. In game, they call me the Lizanator, Queen of the Spacelanes, El Presidente of the Clan Fahrenheit.
“How many of you girls game?
“And how many of you play girls?”

I don’t play MMORPGs so I was unaware that the vast majority of female gamers apparently don’t play female characters online, basically through not wanting to be harassed by men-children. Highly topical in the light of the recent #gamergate controversy, I must say. It’s not the main thrust of this story, the fact the main character Anda joins a guild created by ladies for ladies only, so they can feel confident enough to play female characters online, but it does firmly ground the story in reality for sure.

Anda our heroine is blown away by the presentation at her school and offer by renowned gamer Liza McCombs to join her Coarsegold clan as a probationary member. Assuaging her mum’s well-meaning concerns about her playing games on the internet with complete strangers, Anda convinces her mum to use her credit card to sign her up, and promptly enthusiastically dives into the online world, making firm friends with another newbie called Sarge. At first they undertake the usual levelling up antics battling monsters, but then Sarge gets wind of a way to make some cash in the real world, by assassinating gold farmers.

 

Gold farming for the uninitiated is defined by Wikipedia as ‘playing a massively multiplayer online game to acquire in-game currency that other players purchase in exchange for real-world money.’ And apparently again according to Wikipedia ‘gold farming in the People’s Republic of China is more pervasive than in any other country, as 80% of all gold farmers are in mainland China, with a total of 100,000 full-time gold farmers in the country as of far back as 2005. Gold farming in China is done in Internet cafes, abandoned warehouses, small offices and private homes. When organized as an actual informal business, they are known as gaming workshops. Prisoners in Chinese labour camps have been forced to engage in gold farming for the financial benefit of prison authorities.’ Righty-o.

Consequently, the act of gold farming is generally frowned upon and real world bounties are indeed placed on the heads of specific groups of gold farmers, often at the behest of other nearby competing gold farmers obviously… The naive Anda initially believes she’s going after bots, but even after she realises she is wiping out real players, Sarge persuades her that they deserve it and Anda is simply doing every other Coarsegold player a favour. And, even better than that, she’s getting real money arriving in her PayPal account as a reward to boot. Well, actually it’s her mum’s PayPal account, which she has access to.

It’s only when she befriends a young gold farmer and learns his real world story, that of someone, indeed in China, struggling on the breadline, in harsh working conditions, that she begins to wonder whether her homicidal actions are justified, causing a serious fracture in her friendship with Sarge, as she tries to galvanise her new Chinese friend to talk to his workmates and take some collective action to improve their lot by demanding better pay and conditions from their boss. Meanwhile, her mum, finally noticing her PayPal account is suddenly awash with cash, sent by various strange men, goes ballistic and electronically grounds Anda, despite her protestations, cutting her off from the internet completely leaving her with no way of knowing what has happened to her friend. When she finally gets back online, well, things have changed…

What a well written, totally plausible tale this is, highlighting various social issues associated with online gaming, without ever seeming preachy. The pull quote from Felicia Day, actress and star of amongst other things The Guild and also writer of THE GUILD comics states entirely accurately, ‘A lovely graphic novel for gamer girls of all ages’, but I’d go further than that, it’s something that boys and indeed parents should read and would also enjoy immensely too.

I’m immensely impressed with how well constructed this story is, which despite being about a subject many a reader would know precisely nothing about, is written in a manner by Cory Doctorow which elucidates an otherwise potentially mysterious topic beautifully. The art similarly, by Jen KOKO BE GOOD Wang is perfect for this tale and moves seamlessly from online to offline and back again scenes. I actually think they’ve made the right call not utilising a different art style for the two worlds, the real and the online, aside from the use of characters’ avatars to depict them in the Coarsegold world, because isn’t the whole point, indeed points, of this story that in fact the two cannot be separated? Another brilliant addition to the ever-burgeoning legion of books we can whole heartedly endorse for teen and younger readers and school libraries.

JR

Buy In Real Life and read the Page 45 review here

Battling Boy: The Rise Of Aurora West vol 1 (£7-50, First Second) by Paul Pope, J. T. Petty & David Rubin…

‘There were three ‘big conversations’ in Aurora’s childhood.
Age 3…
“Your father is a science hero. We fight monsters.”
Age 7…
“I should tell you the story of how your mom died…”
Age 14…
“I’m going to train you to fight monsters.”’

Volume 1 of 2 detailing the back story of Aurora West, the feisty monster fighting daughter of Haggard West, last seen being extremely perturbed by the show stealing arrival of BATTLING BOY in her home city of Acropolis.

First up, I have to give the warning that this work is not illustrated and indeed only part written by Paul Pope. Why that would be so, I honestly don’t know. Whether it was originally intended this was something Paul would do, or just a great subsequent idea for a spin-off he didn’t have time to do, I don’t know. It’s also in black and white, not glorious colour like BATTLING BOY.

Your initial impression therefore may well be the same as mine, one of mild disappointment, simply because BATTLING BOY was so, so good, I wanted more of the same, and this didn’t seem to be it. But if you can look at this work in its own right, it’s actually brilliant fun, very well written and extremely well illustrated. It’s just going to suffer a bit in comparison for some people, die hard Pope fans, on first impressions at least.

So, Aurora West is an all-action girl, learning multiple martial arts and mystical meditation techniques alongside her regular schooling by day, whilst being her heroic dad’s sidekick by night. She’s determined to get to the bottom of her mother’s death, but there’s a monster named Sadisto running a local gang snatching kids off the streets to contend with first. Sadisto has much bigger plans too, but perhaps Aurora’s decision to undertake some investigations of her own might not be the wisest course of action…

I would say this is ostensibly aimed at younger readers, perhaps a touch more so than BATTLING BOY, though I certainly enjoyed it too. There is a reasonable degree of extreme if comedic violence, plus the use of various martial arts weaponry, so it might not be suitable for the smallest of readers, and obviously the loss of a parent is always a difficult subject to write sensitively about, but if action is what is required to entertain, this certainly has it in abundance, as Aurora careens from one dust-up to the next.

I think J.T. Petty may well be responsible for the majority of the writing duties with Pope advising on continuity and plot perhaps, though the general feel and dialogue of BATTLING BOY and this work are reasonably similar, and David Rubin’s art style is just close enough to Pope’s that you feel this work can co-exist quite nicely in the BATTLING BOY milieu, though ultimately it also stands alone quite nicely as well. I will certainly be recommending people read it in its own right.

JR

Buy Battling Boy: The Rise Of Aurora West vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 9: Critical Mass (£14-99, Vertigo) by Eddie Campbell, Paul Jenkins, Jamie Delano & Sean Phillips, Pat McEown.

“The Second Coming of Johnny Silk Cut.”

John Constantine: basically he’s one big smoke-screen.

So Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis / Steve Dillon eras of HELLBLAZER in all their quick-witted, socio-political brilliance are wrapped up, complete, and we start afresh with new regular artist Sean Phillips of FATALE and CRIMINAL fame. Including a few earlier appearances Sean drew 38 issues in total with an unbroken run of 44 painted covers beginning here.

I know this because I bought THE ART OF SEAN PHILLIPS written by Eddie Robson based on extensive interviews with Sean and his collaborators, and heartily recommend that you do so as well! It’s not just an art book, it is a full and frank insight into one career and the recent history of comics as a whole. Within you learn also how many rewrites were demanded of ALEC, FROM HELL and THE PLAYWRIGHT’s Eddie Campbell on HELLBLAZER which is why, after such a frustrating experience, he quit. Really: you would demand rewrites of Eddie Campbell? It is to Eddie’s credit that you really can’t tell. His Johnny Silk Cut is a riot.

“Sashimi… Had some of that in a restaurant once, Arthur… I took it home and cooked it… Tasted just like fish.”

John is called in to exorcise a mate’s Uncle Arthur, killing him in the process. Whoops. What worries our John is that Arthur was having the same apocalyptic visions as himself and a quick browse of his bookcase confirms that Arthur was far more than he let on.

At which point Arthur’s family disappear, replaced by Murnaar the bipedal cat demon, Bona Dea who’s both blind and blunt, and the ghost of Sir Francis Dashwood, legendary founder of the equally infamous Hellfire Club. They have a warning:

“Reality has been hacked in the middle with a machete. The guts are about to start puking out.”

Urban legends are being made manifest.

“Unreason has been let loose like a mad dog.”

They claim the only way to reseal the fragile, thin membrane separating life and death, reality and unreality, reason and unreason is a world trip by plane, binding its circumference in a circle using a talisman which is Constantine’s case is a zippo lighter engraved with a snake-circled tree. Of course it is. It’s far more relevant than you think.

It’s the perfect plot for Campbell who lets loose his encyclopaedic knowledge of history, politics, literature, theatre and folklore while exploring the preoccupations with life and reality which he would later expound upon to great comical effect in THE FATE OF THE ARTIST.

“Wait! This isn’t a joke! This serious – real life’s a joke!”
You’re tellin’ me.”

All the while Sean Phillips is choreographing Constantine in what amounts to a ballet: as one ciggie after another is lit to perch permanently between his teeth, he is left with both hands free to lurch and pinwheel across the page, smoke swirling ever upwards. All this, I might add, is drawn straight into inks giving the forms, shadows and action a fluidity which blew my mind at the time. Phillips’ art is always fully grounded in each environment without cluttering it up with detail when unnecessary. His Australia is as immediately recognisable as his London suburbs in spite of all the photo references Eddie Campbell had diligently supplied getting no further than DC HQ. There’s also an arresting, haunting depiction of effects on an individual’s body of the Ebola virus as Eddie warns the world 20 years ago of what we’re all facing now. If only more people read comics, eh?

Paul Jenkins picks up the plot post-Campbell (who has stuck around long enough for a rip-roaring finale), delaying John’s flight from Australia just long enough to embroil him a struggle between Aborigines under siege from the relatively recent white man and facing eviction from their land that has been theirs for millennia. It gets brutal.

Before all of this, however, original series writer Jamie Delano returns to deliver a Constantine classic which finally explains precisely why his long-suffering taxi-driving constantly-on-call mate Chas is so loyal – no, so devoted – to the presumptuous, manipulative man who gets him into so much trouble with his missus, Renée.

It is gloriously gross, involving Chas’ excruciating dreadful mother – the proverbial mad woman in the attic – and her pet / agent / spy / familiar with whom she appears to be in symbiotic, telepathic contact: a wig-wearing chimpanzee called Slag.

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 9: Critical Mass and read the Page 45 review here

Sunny vol 4 h/c (£16-99, Viz) by Taiyo Matsumoto.

“Listen, Haruo. School isn’t just where you come when you’re hungry. You gotta show up in the morning an’ study too.”
“Yer gonna mess up my internal clock!”

Dear, dear Haruo has an answer for everything; but also one specific vulnerability.

Welcome back to the Japanese orphanage where imagination is one of the children’s very few assets and parents are everything.

That may sound like an odd thing to say about an orphanage but Japan is a foreign country: they do things differently there. Many of these “orphans” still have living parents who have jettisoned them into state care because looking after their children would evidently be too much fucking trouble.

“No need to sugarcoat it,” says Asako to her foundation-caked and rouge-slathered mother who’s all doll-faced mutton dressed up as lamb. “We’ll be fine. You just keep doing whatever makes you feel good.”

Haruo is feeling restless and has taken to petty theft. I mean, really taken to it. The local traders only tolerate it because they know what a rough life he’s had, but the teachers are mortified to the core: honour and the genuine shame felt at inconveniencing others are so profoundly important to the Japanese people (please see A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD VOL 2). But Haruo is utterly unrepentant in spite of a store owner kindly declining to call the cops until his teacher promises, “I’ll make sure his mother hears about this.”

“Adachi, don’t tell my mom!! PLEASE, ADACHI, PLEASE!”
“We’re not talking about that now. How much is the pencil case?”
“If you do, she’ll never let me live with her again! I’LL DO WHATEVER YOU SAY!!”
“Uh… 1,200 yen, but…”
“I PROMISE I’LL NEVER DO IT AGAIN!!”

As ever with Matsumoto, there’s no sugarcoating the children, either. These aren’t the wide, shiny-eyed super-cutesies from sugar-buzz manga, but flush-faced, tiny-teethed and dripping with snot in the cold. They have straw hair and tantrums rather than glossy, tufty-wufty quiffs falling half-over their eyes and melodramatic, stylised gesticulations and proclamations.

There’s a sadness which haunts the series, often kept quietly to itself in ellipses, and if you want to gauge how highly we value this title, the first volume of SUNNY was our Dominique’s book of the year.

SLH

Buy Sunny vol 4 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

A Quiet Disaster (£5-00, Avery Hill Publishing) by Alex Potts…

‘Philip was getting old. His face was getting wrinkled, his hairline was moving backwards and he was on the waiting list for a knee operation. It was his day off and he didn’t have any plans, so, he ate his breakfast in front of the computer screen… and asked himself…
“What do I want to do?
“Is there anything in the world I actually want to do?
“Nothing comes to mind.”’

Not enjoying the luxury of ever having any personal spare time between the shop and my family, I can’t quite imagine myself in Philip’s envious position. I do vaguely remember the days where I could just do whatever I wanted, all day, but they seem like a distant dream now frankly. Two minutes on the toilet before my three-year-old nutjob bursts in demanding to know where I am is as good as it gets these days. So whilst I read this beautifully illustrated missive from the temporally rich Phillip as he puts on whatever half clean clothes he had lying around and sets off on a quiet stroll with no particular destination in mind, I allowed myself not to be too jealous as I eagerly awaited the riposte of his impending titular disaster.

When I’d finished reading, I actually felt a little sorry for lonely old Phillip. It’s not remotely dramatic at all this tale, which I guess is alluded to from the quiet element of the title, but there’s a real poignancy to several moments where we are seeing his overlaid memories, provoked by being stood in a similar place or situation, of what I believe to be the ending of a relationship. Meanwhile there’s also some strange comedic relief provided by a dog apparently wearing sunglasses that Phillip repeatedly encounters, or at least he thinks he does, which leads him into an embarrassing farcical finale of a confrontation in a local pub at last orders.

I really enjoyed this work, not least because it confounded my expectations, whilst simultaneously delivering a gripping, if paradoxically gentle, read. On the one hand, from start to finish, I kept thinking something tumultuous was imminently about to occur, yet the graceful poise of the plot makes perfect sense in its entirety. I was left feeling rather like Phillip at the start of his day, a bit deflated and empty, though I did raise a smile at the epilogue, which I think shows Alex has taken us on an all too typical day in the life of this character very successfully indeed. Alex has a nice style of illustration too, which reminded me a little bit, possibly more due to the colour palette than the penmanship per se, of Dan Berry. Just like Dan’s works, this has a very British feel to it, and fans of his should definitely check this out I think. One to watch out for.

JR

Buy A Quiet Disaster and read the Page 45 review here

C.O.W.L. vol 1: Principles Of Power s/c (£7-50, Image) by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel & Rod Reis.

“Why does everyone think they can touch me?”

Chicago 1962: hello, rank and ubiquitous chauvinism!

Well, I wasn’t expecting this: gripping from cover to climax and cover, this was both thrilling and faultless.

I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with the creators. Certainly if I’d encountered artist Rod Reis I’d know about it because on the very first page (bottom panel) I was wowed instantly into thinking of Bill Sienciewicz’s NEW MUTANTS run. Blaze is essentially Bill’s Canonball.

The quality is maintained on each successive page, the period feel denoted by palettes of blue-greys or fauns with the occasional deft touch of luminous erosion. Nor is there anything meek or effete about the expressions as the members of C.O.W.L. take one for the team or, I’m afraid, from them.

There is, you might say, something rotten in the state of Denmark.

C.O.W.L. is an organisation of on-the-clock metahumans run by Geoffrey Warner who, post-WWII, have been employed by the city of Chicago to police the streets and protect its citizens specifically from other superpowered threats. (They’re not exactly nine-to-five for they operate for obvious practicalities’ sake in similar shifts to the police.) Even more specifically they were employed – as in paid good money – to protect Chicago from The Chicago Six and halfway through the very first chapter the last of The Chicago Six is taken down.

To all ostensible intents and purposes, C.O.W.L.’s work is done. They have effectively been so effective that they have won themselves out of a job.

It is therefore in every member of C.O.W.L.’s best interest to prove they still have some value to the city of Chicago and the politics here are played beautifully. Contracts for any sort of renewal have to be negotiated right down to terms and conditions and pay. And there is a strike. But the crucial thing about any strike is that if no one notices the difference between you being on the job and on strike… well, you’ve just proved yourself superfluous.

Some members of C.O.W.L. are better team-players than others, some more altruistic and some more… indulgent. Some do enjoy just getting their rocks off. The most conscientious is John Pierce of the Investigations Division. He’s not a punch-thrower, he’s a detective whose wife would love him to call it C.O.W.L. quits right now when the institution is on the brink of dispersal and the police would snap him up in an instant: it was Johns’ due diligence that delivered the last of The Chicago Six.

But the problem is… the problem is… some people are wise, some otherwise and the truth is not what it was.

It is John’s commitment and exceptional eye for detail which uncovers what could jeopardise his company’s reputation and so completely undermine the delicate balance of power in the above negotiations.

I hope I’ve been vague enough.

If you loved early POWERS – and I really, really did – you are going to adore this! Same goes for GOTHAM CENTRAL readers and those who relished IDENTITY CRISIS or THE AUTHORITY.

SLH

Buy C.O.W.L. vol 1: Principles Of Power s/c and read the Page 45 review here

100 Bullets Book 1 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso.

Collects first three 100 BULLETS volumes in one! It’s a thing DC’s doing now.

Gripping conspiracy crime fiction which, initially, looks simple enough: Agent Graves, a man of almost pensionable age in a suit and tie, arrivals on your doorstep with a briefcase.

In that case is irrefutable evidence that someone has seriously screwed you over plus the culprit’s identity. There’s also a gun and 100 rounds of untraceable ammunition. By “untraceable” I mean that if even a single bullet is found at the scene of any crime, investigations into it will cease immediately. How is that possible? Why is he doing it?

Would you use that gun, knowing you could get away with murder?

As the series progresses it becomes increasingly evident that this isn’t a game, it’s not even a private obsession. It’s a war.

Strings are being pulled while ties have already been severed; activations occur, more revenge is sought, but neither the original victims nor on occasion the original perpetrator are necessarily unconnected to Graves’s past or present. And some of them haven’t a clue they were victims, let alone connected.

There’s Mr. Shepherd, the Trust, the Minutemen and their history. There are several long-games in play.

So clever is this that there’s a stand-alone chapter in the next book containing two seemingly separate stories seamlessly interwoven and choreographed across a single park, and I cannot fault a word of dialogue. Azarello’s ear for dialect is superb. He has every nuance, every cadence of urban street patter down to perfection.

 

In the final story arc here we are introduced us to Loop, a young black guy raised in Philadelphia by his Ma, and whose Father is just someone she refers to. Loop talks the talk (and the talk is captured to the very syllable, with its own lyrical beauty), but so far he’s not yet walked the walk, though he teeters alarmingly close. A fine time for Agent Graves to tip the balance, providing Loop with an opportunity to meet the father he’s never known and resents, but for whom he constantly yearns. Unfortunately his Father turns out to be equally rudderless, collecting debts for a gnarled old loan shark, and although reconciliation does seem possible, they may well end up being the death of each other.

Recommended to readers of CRIMINAL and STRAY BULLETS. And indeed vice-versa.

Risso’s art is an essay in silhouette and shadow, so it’s recommended to SIN CITY patrons as well. There will be much more on Risso and the colouring so close that you can hear the cicadas anon.

SLH

Buy 100 Bullets Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets vol 1: Innocence Of Nihilism (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham

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

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

Everything is connected.

This is the best crime comic in the business, right up there with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ CRIMINAL, and we had missed it terribly. The new series kicked off with STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #1 at £2-75 and, back in stock, that’s the perfect, affordable place to start and the best single comic I’d read all year. You know, until the other eight came out.

STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES edition at £45 contains all 41 issues of the series prior to the current STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS, while this contains the first fifth of STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES edition which shows you just how good value for money STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES edition really is. However, you may not be comfortable with reading such a big book, so here is the alternative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This book contains the first series’ first seven issues.

SLH

Buy Stray Bullets vol 1: Innocence Of Nihilism and read the Page 45 review here

Ms. Marvel vol 1: No Normal s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona.

“Everyone else gets to be normal. Why can’t I?”

Scream three hundred million teenagers worldwide.

G. Willow Wilson, you are a loving star! The kindness you have spread in this beautiful, brilliant comic will never be forgotten.

“It’s almost like a reflex like a fake smile. As soon as Zoe shows up I feel… uncomfortable. Like I have to be someone else. Someone cool. But instead I feel small.”

Page after page is riddled with this insight and empathy and it will mean so much to so many. If I have one piece of advice to those younger than me, to do better than me, to feel more comfortable, earlier than I did because I made this all-too common mistake, it comes in the form of this perfect observation:

“Being someone else isn’t liberating. It’s exhausting.”

Quite so. Be yourself!

It won’t get you a free pass to a party, mind you.

“Abu?”
“Hmm?”
“Can I go a party tonight?”
“Where?”
“On the waterfront.”
“With boys?”
“Yeah…”
“Very funny.”

Hahahaha! Oh, how I love this family. And that above all is what this comic is about: family and friendship.

 

Unlike most superhero comics this is genuinely mainstream with mass appeal. “Abu” the father is dead-pan and dry but unlike Jane Austen’s Mr. Bennet (Pride And Prejudice) he is so full of love. His priority is not how things look, but his daughter’s safety and happiness.

Starring sixteen-year-old Kamala, an American-born Pakistani, it confounds stereotypes and is instead packed full of genuine individuals like Kamala’s stylish friend Nakia who is thoroughly modern and savvy yet still proud of her Turkish heritage. For although Kamala can’t go to the party because there will be alcohol, Nakia won’t go to the party because there is alcohol. She knows her own mind, is what I’m saying.

Nor is Wilson afraid to pick holes in her own religion’s more superficial sillinesses, like the segregation of women from men in a mosque. It is rather difficult to concentrate when you can’t see the speaker!

Here there are those for whom race and religion don’t even figure like young shop assistant and school high-achiever, Josh, with the crush on Kamala that nobody notices. Then there are cast members who fail to see beyond the stereotypes, like over-privileged social blonde butterfly and concern-troll, Zoe.

“Your headscarf is so pretty, Kiki. I love that colour.”
“Nakia.”
“But I mean… nobody pressured you to start wearing it, right? Your father or somebody? Nobody’s going to, like, honour kill you? I’m just concerned.”
“Actually, my dad wants me to take it off. He thinks it’s a phase.”
“Really? Wow, cultures are so interesting.”

Kamala thinks Zoe “nice”, “happy” and even “adorable” but she’ll be disabused of that naïve notion before too long. Unlike Nakia, Kamala doesn’t yet know her own mind or other people. When she sneaks out at night to go to the waterfront the drink which she insists must be alcohol-free is spiked then she’s laughed at. As she stomps off in a defeated huff a metamorphic mist descends and Kamala passes out. Did I mention that she’s ever so slightly obsessed with Avengers? She writes online fan fic and everything! So Kamala has a vision…

From On High through billowing clouds, winged sloths and bobble-hatted doves descend her Holy Trinity of Iron Man, Captain America and Captain Marvel, the white, blonde goddess whom Kamala adores. Is she having a religious experience?!

Adrian Alphona’s art is adorable throughout. It’s soft and sweet and full of comedic expressions with a clearly defined spirit of place.

But it is on this particular page that he shows his real wit, transposing Iron Man and the couple of Captains gesturing beatifically into a traditional religious tableau complete with scrolling ribbons and… is that a hedgehog giving the victory salute?

“You thought that if you disobeyed your parents – your culture, your religion – your classmates would accept you. What happened instead?”
“They – they laughed at me. Zoe thought that because I snuck out, it was okay for her to make fun of my family. Like, Kamala’s finally seen the light and kicked the dumb inferior brown people and their rules to the curb. But that’s not why I snuck out! It’s not that I think Ammi and Abu are dumb, it’s just – I grew up here! I’m from Jersey not Karachi! I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be.”

It’s then that the vision of Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) asks a key question:

“Who do you want to be?”
“Right now? I want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated. I want to be you. Except I would wear the classic, politically incorrect costume and kick butt in giant wedge heels.”

Like the later shape-shifting episode in the school washrooms, the punchline to that is hilarious. If there weren’t shrieks of outraged horror deafening the internet from those who could not wait, read, or comprehend a comic correctly then I would be very much surprised. Kamala has a lot of growing up to do, and I’m going to love watching her do so. While getting into trouble with her family.

Like YOUNG AVENGERS, HAWKEYE and LOKI, this is another fresh face for superhero comics, broadening their appeal through diversity. And I don’t even mean racial, religious, sexual or gender diversity – though that is important too – I mean that Willow G. Wilson has brought with her a different voice which is far from worthily earnest, but genuine, sympathetic and understanding of young hearts instead.

Here is Kamala transformed by the power of her will and the whim of her instinct into blonde superhero Captain Marvel / Carol Danvers.

“I always thought that if I had amazing hair, if I could pull off great boots, if I could fly… that would make me feel strong. That would make me happy. But the hair gets in my face, the boots pinch… and this leotard is giving me an epic wedgie.”

SLH

Buy Ms. Marvel vol 1: No Normal s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Gotham City Sirens Book 1 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Paul Dini, various & Guillem March, various.

If it wasn’t for the obligatory, silly supervillain sequences I’d be more disposed to remember the cute lines and deft expressions given by writer and artist to Harley Quinn, here back from a massive shopping spree dressed as a school girl with her blonde hair done up in a couple of bunches. Catwoman, having learned that her other co-star Poison Ivy has donated the 30 million dollars she gave her to global reforestation projects, reprimands Harley on her consumerist splurges:

“You’re worse than that the flower child. You might as well be throwing away your millions on the Joker.”
“Not this time. I’m over Mr. J.”
“Oh, please. He’ll be calling for your money the second he hears about it.”
“Then you’ll be skipping out the door for another round of abuse, humiliation and regret.”
Has he called?!”
“No.”
“Oh. Well, like I said, I’m over Mr. J.”

So: the three girls are going to move in together. What could possibly go wrong?

Collects #1-13. Thirteen? Unlucky for some!

SLH

Buy Gotham City Sirens Book 1 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?

 

aama vol 2: The Invisible Throng h/c (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Frederik Peeters

All You Need Is Kill (£9-99, Haikasoru) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Nick Mamatas & Lee Ferguson

Art Schooled h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Jamie Coe

Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 9: The Rift Part 3 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru

Herobear And The Kid vol 1: The Inheritance (£14-99, Kaboom) by Mike Kunkel

Marx h/c (£13-99, Nobrow) by Corinne Maier & Anne Simon

Neurocomic h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Dr. Matteo Farinella & Dr. Hana Ros

Serenity vol 4: Leaves On The Wind h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Zack Whedon & Georges Jeanty, Fabio Moon

The Complete New York Four (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly

The Wake h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy

Walking Dead vol 22: A New Beginning (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Animal Man vol 5: Evolve Or Die s/c (£10-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Rafael Albuquerque, various

Batman Beyond 2.0 vol 1: Rewired s/c (£12-99, DC) by Kyle Higgins & Thony Silas, Eric Wight

Batman: Arkham Asylum (25th Anniversary Edition) s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Dave McKean

Avengers vol 6: Infinite Avengers h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Leinil Francis Yu

Deadpool Classic vol 10 (£22-50, Marvel) by Gail Simone, Buddy Scalera, Evan Dorkin, Daniel Way & various

Elektra vol 1: Bloodlines s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Haden Blackman & Mike Del Mundo

Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man vol 1 – Revival s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez

New Avengers vol 4: Perfect World h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Valerio Schiti, Kev Walker

Original Sin (UK Edition) s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, various & Mike Deodato Jr., various

Attack On Titan vol 14 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Gantz vol 33 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

The Seven Deadly Sins vol 5 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Nakaba Suzuki

UQ Holder vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

News!


ITEM! We have new Page 45 Tote Bags! Oh yes! Both a fashion statement and a status symbol, our first batch of 250 are almost sold out and – haha! – we created a variant cover! Because you know how much I love those! *spits* It was a printing error at the manufacturer but plenty of shop-floor folk have said they prefer the new one. Please do state your sartorial preference when ordering online or being fleeced on the shop floor. Cheers!

ITEM! IT’S COMPETITION TIME!

To celebrate Page 45’s 20th Anniversary we went to Kendal for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 and I done wrote big blogs about both of those. Full of photos!

We even had Glyn Dillon signing, sketching and watercolour washing in THE NAO OF BROWN which I declared two years ago to be the finest piece of graphic novel fiction of all time. So that was an honour!

What we have here is a copy of THE NAO OF BROWN which Glyn Dillon – after two hours hard work signing and sketching for Page 45 which we so, so appreciate – then went on to draw in with a unique variation on his regular thang. Look at this! *swoons*

That book is yours for free including postage (for we ship daily, worldwide) if you can just tell me this:

In my Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 blog which blinding faux pas did I confess to about meeting Glyn Dillon?

Everyone who answers correctly within a week will be put into a hat. Because it’s winter now and hats are warm and snuggly. You’ll enjoy it in there!

At the end of the week we’ll get one of Nottingham’s finest creators like I.N.J. Culbard, Philippa Rice, Luke Pearson or D’Israeli to draw one of you out of that hat and you will receive that gift for free with love from Page 45 and gratitude for all your support.

Seriously: thank you.

Please email your answers into page45@page45.com with the title heading THE NAO OF BROWN COMPETITION and we’ll print ‘em all off.

Right, having bought this building last Monday, we’ve got a £350,000 mortgage to pay.

Fancy buying a comic?

Cheers!

– Stephen

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