Page 45 Reviews December 2014 week three

Rodin’s hefty hands upon wrists in particular blow me away. With Fegredo the wrists are often set at similarly expressive angles. His figures dance across the page like Nijinsky, so lithe and supple, acting out each drama as choreographically required, while his street clothes are like few others’, their folds flopping or flapping in the breeze.

Stephen on The Enigma by Peter Milligan & Duncan Fegredo

The Great Salt Lake (£5-00) by Matt Taylor.

That’s quite the cover, I think you’ll agree.

And, to be fair, if the following four pages of majestic interior art don’t sell this to you solo, nothing I write is going to make a blind bit of difference.

After the whale dives below the boat the sailor’s mind drifts back to his loved one whose memory draws him ever on, and the ocean becomes a swollen challenge of creatures real and imagined.

For such a silent comic it doesn’t half fill your head with music. It’s like there’s a full orchestra in there for the forms are gigantic, rearing over the waves in inky pools of black or phantasmagorical white and, no, of course I’m not going to tell you what those forms are. It is, however, not entirely silent and the final page will give you much pause for thought.

 

 

 

I’ve seen some pretty special production values on our self-published, A5 beauties over the last few years from the likes of Becky Cloonan, Dan Berry and Robert M. Ball, but this one takes the Belgian-chocolate biscuit. The interior paper is almost as thick as the card stock cover and I can’t get over the illusion of it having French flaps!

Jonathan was thrilled to discover this while wandering round a convention this year: “Here’s something Stephen hasn’t come across yet!” Which is funny because, on the rare instances I stumbled upon something before Mark, I used to feel exactly the same elation. Exactly.

Alas for poor J-Lo, Matt had to tell him I’d already ordered our copies a fortnight before. Still, we are at least on the same page: this is arresting.

SLH

Buy The Great Salt Lake and read the Page 45 review here

Enigma s/c (£13-50, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan & Duncan Fegredo.

Poor Michael. He leads a mundane existence. He doesn’t really seem to count and nothing he does seems to matter.

“Sometimes he feels like a rumour drifting through a world of hard facts.”

Speaking of hard facts:

“Jesus! Where did that come from?”

Michael’s referring to his startlingly less than repressed hard fact poking out of his pants.

It isn’t his girlfriend who’s just turned him on. They only have sex once a week on Tuesdays and although it is indeed Tuesday night neither Michael’s spirit nor flesh was willing; both mind and body were weak. Until a news bulletin alerted Michael to the latest manifestation of the masked man known as The Enigma. That certainly aroused his interest.

You’re about to read a great many superlatives because this hugely underexposed work of sprightly wit and deftly delivered complexity means the world to me and I cannot tell you how euphoric I am that it is back in print. I re-read it today for the first time in over two decades and you know how sometimes you should never go back? How something which impressed you no end once upon a time then leaves you feeling like the younger you was more than a little jejune? Not this.

I want to talk to you about Duncan Fegredo first. This is where my love affair with the artist first began.

I’ve always referred to Fegredo as the Rodin of comics, and I rate Rodin right up there with Bernini. There is a weight to Rodin’s neoclassical sculptures as well as an emotional impact that’s often like reeling from a head-butt. I have been head-butted before so I know what that feels like and the whole of ENIGMA is like that, scriptwise and all. It is a revelation. It certainly will be for Michael.

Rodin’s hefty hands upon wrists in particular blow me away. Hands, wrists and forearms are right up there with the stomach when it comes to male beauty and well exceed anything else. With Fegredo the wrists are often set at similarly expressive angles. His figures dance across the page like Nijinsky, so lithe and supple, acting out each drama as choreographically required, while his street clothes are like few others’, their folds flopping or flapping in the breeze.

Duncan would be the first, second and third to not only concede but to bellow that the first couple of chapters here are overworked: way too many extraneous lines which do describe the forms but not like his later shadows sculpt them. By the time we get to chapters six, seven and eight this relatively young artist has transformed himself in front of us from startling and thrilling to stunning and accomplished. The opening full-page spread of chapter seven remains one of my all-time favourite pieces of comicbook art and I don’t think “startling and thrilling” is a bad starting point, do you?

On it Michael and The Enigma are post-coitally naked, and I know that I am telling you the plot but just this once, all right? Fegredo – in his gentleness of Michael’s wrist and hand and his lolling of Michael’s head – conveys everything you need to know about the dynamics of this sexual relationship. Milligan need not write a word.

He does, however, and every word he writes is delightful.

“An enigma is when a large chunk is concealed. An enigma is a riddle, a puzzle, an ambiguity.”

The Enigma was a three-issue comicbook written and drawn by Titus Bird which Michael cherished as a child. He lost those comics along with his Dad who died in an earthquake which swallowed his household whole. Michael was then abandoned on the sidewalk by his Mum who sealed her betrayal with a kiss. Twenty-five years ago a woman rose in rage and shot her husband repeatedly in the face before ditching her infant down a well.

Now The Head is sucking out brains through a tube, The Truth is confronting those who don’t want to hear it, The Interior League is redecorating lounges like nobody’s business, driving their occupants insane and The Enigma – masked in pure white porcelain and clothed more exquisitely than matador – is hovering aloof above it all.

What could this possibly have to do with Michael? What could this possibly have to do with The Enigma original comic’s creator, Titus Bird? What could this possibly have to do with Michael’s massive erection?

Please do not adjust your sets after the following sentence until you’ve read my follow-up.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Kieron Gillen has referred to this as the greatest superhero comic of all time. High praise from an impeccable source. Completely merited, and I can see where Kieron is coming from so I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. But to describe it as a superhero comic at all would be like describing Oscar Wilde’s THE HAPPY PRINCE as a fairy tale. Which, umm, Oscar did.

My point is it will disappoint those looking for virtually pointless pugilism while putting the people it’s perfect for off. It’s closer to horror and romance and self-discovery. It’s more like the metafiction of Satoshi Con’s OPUS except that the meta is within the fiction itself, not pulling you out of it through its traditional, shattered fourth wall. Although I will concede that Milligan’s authorial voice is chatty and chummy and will speak to you directly.

“It’s like The Book Of Revelations but funnier. It’s like The Last Trumpet but hopelessly out of tune.

“It’s like the perennial battle between good and evil but no one can quite work out which is which anymore, and most people don’t even know what perennial means.

Some of us can barely spell it.

SLH

Buy Enigma s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 3: The Case Of The Simple Soul (£14-99) by John Allison.

“Rain rain rain rain flipping RAIN, Mildred.
“What’s for dinner tonight?
“Wait no, don’t tell me, is it RAIN?”

Britain, eh? We have, like, two hundred words for rain. Outside the singularly British town of Tackleford it is torrential, and the page is lit to perfection in that strange, almost eerie off-greeny-grey that often accompanies an impenetrably stormy sky.

“We can get out of it in the barn, Lottie.”
“It smells like a bonfire.”
“Be careful not to sit on a rusty nail. That’s basically deadly.”

It smells like a bonfire because it was one. Someone’s been lighting up local wooden barns – accidentally or otherwise – and there’s so little left of this one that I’d probably keep that hood up, Lottie.

This, of course, is exactly the sort of mystery our two competitive teams of pre-teen detectives would be investigating but both are currently a proverbial man down. Linton and Sonny have lost Jack while Charlotte and Mildred are missing Shauna on account of Shauna and Jack are in lurve.

“Jack, Wouldn’t it be romantic is we were run over by a combine harvester together?”

Hmmm. Unfortunately Jack isn’t very good at romance: he can’t read the signs. I love his dopey lips and wide eyes as Shauna presses his hands to her heart. She is excited! She’s excited because although they have avoided death by threshing they’ve just spotted a huge, hunched man with no shoes or socks and a big, bare, hairy back. And I think it’s spotted them. It’s hiding under the bridge like a troll.

Jack forbids Shauna to tell Lottie and Mildred but “Sisters before Misters”, right?

Meanwhile at school Linton and Sonny have acquired a substitute for Jack in the form of Irish lad Colm who’s more than a wee bit wayward when it comes to “shopping”. So that could get them in trouble: there are such things as security cameras, you know. On the other hand, he’s refreshingly direct and seems to know stuff.

“Now then, lads. That’s your missin’ friend isn’t it, over there with blondie? Don’t worry, you’ve got to let ‘em go so they’ll come back. That’s what my da’ says. Of course, he’s talkin’ about pigeons.”
“…”
“…”
“…”
“I believe pigeons are in some way… magnetic?”

Oh, Sonny! Sitting on the grass, all dopey, with a daisy-chain draped over your noggin’!

“Sonny, take that off. Someone will thump the dinner out of you.”

Effortlessly Allison has set up all the elements that will come into play later on as the temperature rises on the burning barns, Tackleford’s fire department blaze into rash action and Lottie’s new obsession with romance leads her to try teaching the troll they’ve been tracking The Art Of Romance. He’s about as good at that as Jack.

You don’t see John doing this because every page is such a glorious distraction both in its body-language beauty (see EXPECTING TO FLY #1 and 2), its cartoon flourishes like Colm’s world cracking when Charlotte snubs his advances, and all the circuitous shenanigans set at school (they have a new, somewhat unorthodox French teacher in Mademoiselle Broussard) and while kicking around town afterwards.

It also boasts the recognition factor for it’s all so astutely observed: sitting down to supper for the first time with a family and encountering alien table manners; the jumbled mess of less technically minded adults’ computers; Lottie and sister Sarah’s push-and-pull, tactile relationship and the sort of cheeky, kind-hearted teasing that can only come from love and trust; teachers and their elbow patches; teachers down the boozer of a Friday night.

Also, I’ve been meaning to mention the petticoat. I don’t think I’ve typed the word “petticoat” before and so seldom see one worn anymore. Credit-hogging, local journalist Erin Jane Winters is wearing one and, as drawn by Allison, its pendulous pleats are ever so pretty.

There are thirty new pages here including a glossary this time written by Lottie herself and that early schoolground landscape is a spacious and spatial joy. Speaking of Lottie, I loved her book of local beasts.

“Jerry the Cyclops
“Fearsome looking but his lack of depth perception and physical fitness mean he is NON-THRETTENING.
“Giant bee
“Does it make giant honey?
“NOT SURE
“Local cyborg
“Not billionaire playboy as suspected, just an idiot with a soldering iron and too much spare time.”

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 3: The Case Of The Simple Soul and read the Page 45 review here

Brass Sun vol 1: The Wheel Of Worlds h/c (£25-00, Rebellion) by Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard…

“Heed not the dissenter! Be not lured from the winding way by their wild abstractions!
“Stay constant!
“Stay steadfast!”

No, not Stan Lee proselytising on avoiding non-superhero comics at all costs, but the followers of The Cog extolling the virtues of being vigilant against the temptations of believing in The Watchmaker. And as the Archimandrite himself is behoved to exhort upon hearing Speaker Eusabius mention such a blasphemous term…

“Speak not that name in these halls! The Cog is, was and always shall be! The Cog was not created by a charlatan prophet! The Cog is creation!”

Maybe, maybe not. It would seem to be a question of faith, misplaced or otherwise… Me, I can’t say I’m a true believer, no matter how hard Stan preaches, but what cannot be disputed is The Cog itself is very real indeed, as yet another epic astronomical introductory sequence by Culbard makes clear. It really is becoming quite the trademark. The world Edginton has created, of a technologically devolving society, living on what seems to be a planet somehow mounted on an impossibly complex mechanical structure bearing, I should add, more than a passing resemblance to watch parts (waiting tensely for divine bolt of lightning to sizzle my private parts), is equally grandiose in concept, magnificently so in fact, both in scope and design. Design… hmm…

The populace at large, though, are almost singularly unaware of their situation. Those who think they know the truth, far fewer in number than the hoi polloi, but of course who have control, are doing their best to avoid dealing with the fact that their world is gradually, year on year, getting colder, with summers shortening and the winters becoming ever more harsh. Almost as though a watch were winding down (air positively crackling now!)…

The one person who does seemingly know the real truth, or at least considerably more than anyone else, a former high official of the church of The Cog, is about to commit a very elaborate form of suicide, both to save his granddaughter from the authorities and also to attempt to absolve himself for a frankly irredeemable sin. That this act will enable his granddaughter Wren to undertake a revelatory journey, both for her and by extension us, is also part of his intentions. Without wishing to spoil anything, it’s perhaps suffice to say The Watchmaker, well, it might not be an entirely abstract concept. But then worlds don’t just make themselves? Or do they?

That was most of my review of just the opening issue after which I added I was hooked! It’s the full line and sinker now after these first six issues as Edginton has astonished me with the truly epic milieu he has plotted out and Culbard has then so sublimely envisioned. By the end of this first arc we have only visited a few of the once heavenly spheres, now mostly in dystopian decline or apocalyptic ruin, as Wren continues her quest to establish why the vast mechanism controlling the various planets seems to be slowly winding down to a state of total heat death. I’m quite sure by the end of the overall story after another two or three arcs, we’ll have had the full galactic tour and maybe even learnt a few of The Watchmaker’s secrets…!

It’s rare to read speculative fiction that is based on such an out-there fantastical premise yet maintains a complete plausibility at all times, though I think the suspension of disbelief is greatly aided by the eccentric cast of zany characters that populate the work. Similarly, rarely do you get such a sense of impending, encroaching all-pervasive apocalyptic doom combined with crackpot, irreverent frippery and frivolous fun, and these contrasts are what make this such an entertaining read. It strikes me as I type this, it’s very Douglas Adams in nature actually this work, which is an extremely difficult trick to pull off, so huge congratulations to Edginton for that.

Culbard meanwhile applies that wonderful mix of character scenes and epic alien landscapes used to such good effect in his four Lovecraft adaptations to give the work a real sense of cinema. Perhaps it’s the lovely larger page size format (and it’s also a very chunky hardback too, I must add, a proper whopper for your £25) but I really noticed reading this how he often mixes those opposites up on the same page or even double-page spread, with the vast landscape or huge action scene that takes up half the space then also providing the background three or four story driving panels sit on top of. Not a square millimetre of page wasted on gutters. It’s a great little compositional trick that adds to the sense of scale and grandeur and, again, that cinematic feel. Fantastic to see two truly great British comics creators right at the top of their game.

JR

Buy Brass Sun vol 1: The Wheel Of Worlds h/c and read the Page 45 review here

A Bunch Of Amateurs (£4-99, self-published) by Andrew Waugh.

A BUNCH OF AMATEURS is about a bunch of amateurs, each of which turns out to be experts. Experts who have made vital contributions to various sciences.

None of which stops Andrew ‘This Means’ Waugh from having a right old laugh with his imagined scenarios – conversations between these amateur experts and their customers, colleagues or colonels.

Each of the four farces has a different, attractive matt colour palette beginning unsurprisingly with green.

Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), you see, was an Augustinian friar who not only grew but bred pea plants at his monastery presumably in search of the ultimate pea soup. Here they’ve become so virile they have indeed all but blotted out the sun and monopolised the monasterial gardens to the point where the monk in charge of the kitchens has had nothing else to work with in two whole years. He’s very patient, though. Well, you’d have to be at a monastery, wouldn’t you?

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) was an Austrian-born actress and star of MGM’s ‘Golden Age’. Together with composer George Antheil, however, she apparently also invented an early form of spread-spectrum communications and frequency hopping which would later pave the way for bluetooth and wi-fi.

Now at this point I was beginning to think we were in Joe Decie’s I BLAME GRANDMA territory in which Joe’s grandmother invented the paperclip. “You couldn’t make this up!” I wrote in my review. Well, I hope you’ve all bought your copies by now.

It transpires that Waugh has made none of this up – apart from the conversations themselves, and this one had me in stitches. It’s Lamarr’s sophistication giving way to an arched eyebrow and exasperation as she pitches her findings to a colonel and a professor, the former chomping on a cigar, the latter puffin on a pipe while Lamarr herself smokes a slim cigarette held like Europeans do at a back-bent angle. It’s also the professor and colonel’s star-struck chauvinism.

“I believe I have something that could greatly benefit the war effort.”
“Indeed. Well, I’ve got to say, you’re already benefiting the room with your presence. Simply ravishing. Am I right, professor?”
“Stunning.”

It gets worse.

“May I continue?”
“Please do.”
“It hasn’t escaped our notice that the country’s torpedoes are a particular risk from signal jamming. All it would take to send one off course would be for the enemy to locate the control signal and broadcast interference at that exact frequency.”
“I’m no scientist, Miss Lamarr but you are undoubtedly broadcasting a signal at this very moment.”
“Excuse me?”
“You’re causing interference in my heart.”
“Woof.”

And so it goes.

Mary Anning (1799-1847) is a plump cheeked palaeontologist in a bonnet, selling her wares on a table by some sand dunes. She did comb the cliffs at Lyme Regis and flogged her fossil findings to punters like this posho who takes her for a simpleton so seeks to take her for a ride. I think you’ll find it’s yourself in the passenger seat, matey.

Finally we have Michael Faraday (1791-1867). Him, you may have heard of. What you might not know, however, is that – following little formal education – he was self-taught during his seven-year stint as a bookseller apprentice.

This one put me in mind of YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK’s Tom Gauld. It’s probably all the books. It’s also another posho punter being inbred, aristocratically stupid as Faraday pops up from behind his test tubes like in Watch With Mother’s Mr. Benn. You know, “And suddenly the shop keeper appeared.”

“Good day, sir. How may I help you?”
“Ah, there you are. Yes, I’m interested in buying one of these new-fangled “books” I’ve heard so much about. Do you have any?”
“One or two, sir.”

Perfect panel, that.

Actually that exchange sounds delightfully familiar.

SLH

Buy A Bunch Of Amateurs and read the Page 45 review here

The Walking Man h/c (£14-99, Fanfare – Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi.

Do you go walking?

Every time I cross the River Trent on my way to work, something magical happens. I can’t explain it, but it makes all the difference: a sensation of space and light and beauty heightened several-fold when I cross it on foot. Eye-candy. We all need eye-candy.

And that’s the simple premise behind this book: one man, sometimes with the dog his wife found under their house, takes eighteen different walks round the Japanese suburbs and occasionally out into the countryside.

It’s clean and it’s beautiful and the word that keeps springing to mind is indeed ‘magical’. The amount of work that has gone into some of these landscapes is staggering: line after delicate line tracing the structure of trees, roofs and fencing.

A quiet book of exploration which will cure any brief bout of the blues.

10th Anniversary hardcover reprint.

SLH

Buy The Walking Man h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cochlea & Eustachia s/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Hans Rickheit…

More mind-rending material from the obscurist’s obscurist, Hans Rickheit. If, like me, you still can’t unsee in your mind’s eye the huge pipe organ constructed from pig’s heads from THE SQUIRREL MACHINE, or perhaps are still nervously trembling in anticipation of what unimaginable monstrosity might lie behind the next door, in his anthology of oddity FOLLY, THE CONSEQUENCES OF INDISCRETION, you’ll know precisely what to expect from this extended collection of material featuring possibly the strangest pair of identical twin sisters you’re ever likely to meet. I’m not sure if trouble is their middle name, but it probably should be as they have a natural affinity for getting into improbably grim scrapes akin to Santa Claus getting his arse wedged, chestnuts-a-roasting, over yet another open fire.

So it proves here as they wake up yet again in someone else’s rather disturbing abode, sparsely yet sinisterly decorated with surreal objets de rather terrifying art, most of which seem as though they might be stuffed / pickled trophies or implements to facilitate inconceivable and possibly anatomically impossible torture techniques. Someone who seems to be half-mole, half-man, and whose residence / laboratory is set in a vast field of birds’ skulls… I sense trouble! If Hans should ever offer to interior-design my house or landscape the gardens, I can assure you I’ll be politely but firmly refusing…

Meanwhile, at first the girls are content to secretly observe the moleman, scrambling along the rafters, but once they spot what seems to be an identical triplicate of themselves, also creeping around the house, it’s not long before they’re discovered and the peril factor starts to ramp up exponentially. As I have mentioned whilst reviewing his works before, the closest analogy I can make in modern comics to Hans’ material would be Charles Burns’ X’ED OUT / THE HIVE / SUGAR SKULL trilogy. This is even weirder, though, trust me.

JR

Buy Cochlea & Eustachia s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sam Jamwitch And The Sad Wooden Ferrets; Sam Jamwitch And The Snoozle Pigs (£2-50 each) by Kate Hazell, Ed Hawkesworth >

Sam Jamwitch is a witch made of jam living in a house of toast with her aptly named familiar, Pectin (heh).

In episode one Sam and Pectin go into the woods to collect logs so that they can keep their toast house toasty warm. It is here that they come across the wooden ferrets, who are blubbering because of Sam chopping down the trees. Wanting to be a nice witch, Sam invites them home for a cuppa and crumpets to cheer them up. The wooden ferrets, however, are less than grateful and make a thorough nuisance of themselves, and they should certainly know better than to annoy a witch. It is here that we are exposed to the wonderfully dark humour of Kate and Ed and oh, how perfectly done it is!

It’s playful and naive illustration style perfectly complements the weird and whimsical world in with Sam and Pectin reside. Full of puns and with humour that is thoroughly British, I think that Sam Jamwitch is a bit of a gem.

In episode two Sam is after some Angry Acorns that “keep you at boiling point, maintain a livid complexion, and bitter aftertaste”; the perfect product for a witch finding herself a bit on the soft side these days. For the prestigious job of foraging for the Angry Acorns, Sam employs the Snoozle Pigs. With a nickname like that you would think that the inevitable is obvious, but apparently not to Sam. Oh, Sam. Maybe you won’t need those angry acorns after all.

Once again filled with silliness, puns, and dark humour; this is an enjoyable little treat that’s great for a chuckle.

JP

Buy Sam Jamwitch And The Sad Wooden Ferrets and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Sam Jamwitch And The Snoozle Pigs and read the Page 45 review here

The Shadow Hero (£12-99, First Second) by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew…

“NO NO NO!”
“But you don’t even know what a superhero is!”
“Of course I know what a superhero is! They are all over the newspapers!”
“Then why don’t you want to be one!”

Haha, pushy mothers, exactly the same the world over since time immemorial, though perhaps Hank’s mother might have her sights set slightly higher than most. Two Page 45 favourites, Gene Luen AMERICAN BORN CHINESE Yang and Sonny MALINKY ROBOT Liew, combine to tell the tale of the first Asian American superhero The Green Turtle, but it’s an affectionate spoof of American immigrant culture as much as a homage to this little known comics character.

Hank’s mother was always determined her son would amount to more than her worthless – in her eyes – husband, in reality a hard-working family man running a grocery business, harbouring a strange, mystical secret. Before arriving in the US, Hank’s father liked a drink, well quite a few, and whilst in a drunken stupor that ended up with him on a steamer ship to the new world, he made a pact with a powerful spirit force looking to escape the rapidly changing, chaotic world of early 20th Century China. America, the land of opportunity beckoned, but needing a human host to get there it made a deal to grant Hank’s father one wish in exchange for passage.

 

 

I do like a bit of comedy superheroes when it’s done well. Gene Yang plays up the Chinese cultural tropes you would expect to great effect, both in terms of family and the wider potted history of Asian / American superheroes (and villains!), whilst Sonny Liew knows how to work facial features for the maximum humorous effect, that is for sure. Hank’s pained expressions at his mother’s latest crazy attempts to lure him into the world of do-gooding are a joy to behold. Expressions he’s desperate for his mother not to see of course, for whilst the pain of getting yet another battering by the thugs of Chinatown is weighing heavily on his mind, letting his dear mother down would be far, far worse of course!

JR

Buy The Shadow Hero and read the Page 45 review here

The Royals – Masters Of War s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Simon Coleby.

Full-blooded art with some seriously fine architecture, most of it on fire or in ruins during this blue-blooded, Second World War, superhuman showdown.

Initially it’s the riff-raff on the receiving end but this gets bigger and bigger and nastier and nastier, sending you down some very dark and unexpected alleys. I don’t think comparisons with ZENITH Phase One are uncalled for: not just for the WWII setting and the superhumanity, but for the politics as well.

One of the many elements that intrigued and impressed me no end was how Williams incorporated so many historically recorded events so inextricably within the story he wanted to tell – how at times they even propel it – even if their execution and outcome necessarily prove different. The handling of Pearl Harbour in particular struck me as trenchantly observed when it came to the Japanese psyche. I should probably stop there before I give too much away.

London 1940, then, and the problem for young Prince Henry is that not only are his subjects on the receiving end, but they’re the ones doing all the fighting while his father, King Albert, holds lavish court in Buckingham Palace and his older brother gets pissed in the pantry with his trousers round his ankles.

Moreover, Britain is losing. London is being bombed to buggery in the Blitz while the RAF is painfully outnumbered and outgunned by the German Luftwaffe. The threat of an imminent Nazi invasion is all too real.

Royal Secret Intelligence Service liaison, Lt. Colonel Lockhart, isn’t exactly happy about the state of affairs, either, nor the affairs of the State. He’s sickened by the champagne-guzzling elite so far from the front line, and he’s all too easily goaded by the dissolute Prince Arthur.

“May I ask your Highness, why you do not enter the fight yourself?”

“Well… I’d have thought that was blindingly obvious, Lt. Colonel, even to a man of your blatant lack of breeding. But I’ll happily spell it out for you. I am a Prince. My life is extraordinarily enjoyable, and the gullible proles shoot their little guns and get blown to bits on my behalf. It’s a quite marvellous social system.”

So what’s new?

What’s new is this: the royal families of Europe have long enjoyed not only the Divine Right of Kings – the unquestionable and inalienable right to rule – but also supposedly God-given preternatural powers. Naturally they didn’t want to share them, hence all the inbreeding. However, after a little revolution or two in France and Russia – and King Albert being a genetic aberration, born powerless – the King decided to protect his children from jealous Bolshies by pretending his children were born without powers too. They weren’t. Princess Rose was born telepathic (something which drove her own mother mad), Prince Henry was born with the power of strength, flight and a certain degree of invulnerability, and Prince Arthur was born with the ability to piss everyone off within a fifty-mile radius.

Oh yes, Rose and Henry were born with something else which no royal family in Europe had been in possession of since records began: a social conscience. So late that same night, little more than an hour after the last German plane had dropped its incendiary load, they sneak out of the palace grounds, Rose cupped in Henry’s arms as they fly high above London, looking down on its black-out monuments. They are sharing a moment.

“It’s like Peter Pan.”

But as they descend past the dirigibles suspended in the evening sky, they see they are lit from the below, and what lies below is a holocaust of burning buildings, burning bodies and wailing orphans lost and alone in the blistering inferno.

“No, it’s not.”

Of Simon Coleby’s multiple stunning sequences and set pieces – including the prologue set in Berlin four years later; a titanic, oceanic confrontation; a jaw-dropping piece of perspective for the penultimate chapter’s cliffhanger and every single subsequent twenty-two pages – this held the most power for me: beautifully controlled one either side by both creators (JUDGE DREDD: TRIFECTA) but, in its molten core, coloured by JD Mettler so that you can feel the unbearable heat and hear the crackling corpses, it’s absolutely harrowing. Cut immediately to a morning shortly thereafter and the next German squadron making yet another of their relentless, remorseless approaches on the London skyline have more than they bargained for ahead of them: dozens and dozens of British fighter planes and a very angry, free-flying Prince Henry. He is not wearing royal livery, no, nor an officer’s uniform, but rank-and-file, khaki, rolled up sleeves, braces and brown tie. Nice.

It’s all quite angrily written, and I like that.

The early history lesson was far from perfunctory exposition but enjoyable in its own right (not a second of this is overwritten) and, in tandem with the ominous prologue, the cliffhanger is quite the ellipsis. Prince Henry has his day in the sun, all right, blasting through German bombers and returning one giant burning fuselage, held aloft, to a crowd cheering round the Victoria Monument with its angel of victory (again, great shot, Simon) but we already know by that point what will happen in 1945 and King Albert is reading The Telegraph headline with dismay.

His scheme had been far from unilateral, you see. He had made an international pact.

“Henry, you utter bloody idiot. Do you really think that we’re the only royal family with power?”

Nothing I have written here will prepare you for the brutality of what ensues or Rob Williams’ closely kept curve-balls; indeed I have compounded his own misdirection at least once above.

I did that with a review last week in a sentence which gave me inordinate pleasure, but only to enhance yours when you get to that comic’s punchline.

SLH

Buy The Royals – Masters Of War s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Zenith Phase Two h/c (£20-00, Rebellion) by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell.

In its time, so contemporary. Twenty-five years on and it’s still so relevant that it appears positively prescient.

There was one particular boy-band manager who was notoriously gay. And not just notorious for being gay – for being casting-couch gay. Pop star Zenith’s manager Eddie MacPhail is much less predatory but he seems to have annoyed U.S. Intelligence’s Phaedra Cale.

“Okay! I’ve had enough of this ‘Monty Python’ stuff! Zenith’s coming with me and I will not be dictated to by some old Scotch fairy!”
“Excuse me!”

Indignation.

“It’s Scots, if you don’t mind. ’Scotch’ is a drink!”

Well played, that man, Morrison!

Powers, politics and some of the slickest superhero art of all time. Reprinted here, it’s so glossy it glows. I used to dream that my hair was drawn by Steve Yeowell. And – to be fair – my hair at the time did look as if it had been drawn by Steve Yeowell. I spent an hour each day making sure of that.

ZENITH Phase One was a beauty to behold but here Yeowell really takes flight, loosening up from what I presume was a John Byrne fetish to become its own flexible thing. My presumptions come from a couple of the poses and the reflective circles of light in young Robert’s eyes. My preference for Yeowell stems from his infinitely keener, contemporary fashion sense and a line which is looser, more humane.

You know how some people wonder which actor they’d like to portray their biopic on screen? I think of that in terms of comicbook artists: I’d like Steve Yeowell to depict me.

Okay, for the set-up, please ZENITH Phase One.

Robert is a pop star whose sales largely centre around him having superhuman powers and a bloody great quiff. He’s not a superhero, mind. He’s not in the hero business at all. He’s all about those singles’ sales so when called on to help out he needs some persuading. Here’s a particularly effective lure: the truth of what happened to his parents.

Zenith is the first pure-bred superhero, resulting from his birth from two others: he’s ingested none of the metamorphic drugs designed to create superhumans from scratch. He is unique. And targeted. And he’s about to meet Daddy.

Meanwhile Richard Branson has set up shop and is about to unleash the most monumental assault on Britain’s sovereign soil on record. Did I say Richard Branson…? It must be the balloon sweaters. I meant Scott Wallace, obviously. Nobody sue me, now.

Includes some of Morrison’s ecological arguments which would manifest themselves far more extensively in ANIMAL MAN and WE3, both recommended.

SLH

Buy Zenith: Phase Two h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Complete D.R. & Quinch (£11-99, Rebellion) by Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, Alan Davis & Alan Moore.

Back in 2001 we used to print Recommended Reading Lists which weren’t really lists at all.

But even at their longest they were “mere” 24-page brochures which Mark had enormous fun illustrating with flair, so space was limited and reviews were necessarily condensed from our mailshots or at least succinct.

I once summarised ENIGMA as “Contains a great many lizards and a closet.”

DEATH I described thus: “She’s funny, she’s sweet, she’s gorgeous and gothic. She’s enormously kind and very good company – as you’ll find out for yourself one day.” I pretty much left it like that. Of this Mark wrote in 2001:

“Only last month the latest revamp of the Judge Dredd Megazine had the first couple of stories of the delinquent duo and it still made me laff. A lot seems to have been cribbed from the Hitchhikers Guide but it’s worth the price of admission for the reduced James Dean does Shakespeare skit. Now could someone reprint Moore’s BOJEFFRIES SAGA?”

And they finally have, with a brand-new chapter!

“A suburban sitcom with a Chas Addams twist.”

Ah, I’ve just got it!

SLH

Buy The Complete D.R. & Quinch and read the Page 45 review here

Superman: Unchained Deluxe Edition h/c (£22-50, DC) by Scott Snyder & Jim Lee…

Of the first issue, I wrote…

Easy to see why DC have let Scott Snyder loose on Big Blue as his extremely popular, and more importantly excellent, run on BATMAN continues unabated. Whether he can replicate that success on what is a rather more… one-dimensional character (and indeed supporting characters – I really am tired of seeing Lois Lane written as highly strung and career-obsessed, Perry as the gruff editor with a heart of gold, and not forgetting comedy relief and donut delivery boy Jimmy Olsen) remains to be seen, but we’re off to a good start here, even if Lois is full-on multi-tasking mode, Perry yelling at all and sundry to meet deadlines and Jimmy off on a donut run…

Okay, secondary characters aside, I did really enjoy this. It’s an interesting enough set-up with multiple satellites falling from the sky, possibly at the behest of Lex Luthor, currently en route to a super-max prison facility, though he does find time to make a brief show-stealing cameo, showing he has nerves of steel, if not the skin to match. And of course, only Superman can catch them all and save the day, except it seems one additional satellite was stopped from falling… But if Superman didn’t do it, nor following his initial investigations any member of the Justice League or other heroes, then who did? Our glimpsed answer, privy only to us fourth-wall breakers (if not Source Wall – sorry crap DC in-joke), shows that Snyder has already got a potential belter of story arc up his sleeve. Promising…

What of the art then? Well, I must say, since Jim Lee’s relatively recent return to DC and subsequent current run on JUSTICE LEAGUE, written by Geoff Johns, I have been reminded just how good his art can be, when he’s actually illustrating something I’m bothered about reading – like ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN – which always helps. Also, this issue features a crazy fold-out page right inside the front cover which gets things off with a bang. It doesn’t entirely work in that once you’ve folded it out, you realise it’s a double page spread on reverse sides of the huge page. I have to admit I did grab a second copy just so I could see what it looked like together in all its glory and who knows, maybe that’s what DC are intending, for everyone to buy two copies, precisely for that reason. Can’t quite imagine how on earth it’s going to work in the trade either, but anyway, it’s a nice touch.

[Editor’s note: we haven’t checked!]

JR

Buy Superman: Unchained Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Serizawa…

“If word of their condition got out, the students would have been terrified. I merely did what was necessary to avoid panic. All I need you to do now is find the source of the virus.”

I have commented a fair few times on the Japanese proclivity for basing manga at high schools, not matter what the genre of material, and now you can add official ‘dramatic horror’ video game prequel to that list, for this story arc is intended to act as a lead-in to Resident Evil 6. It’s not remotely connected in any important way I can see other than it shoe-horns various characters from that title in. I long since ceased playing the franchise so I merely read it from a comics perspective and actually it’s rather good.

In terms of both the relentless action and imminent-peril storyline provided by that ever-winning combination of big guns and even bigger monsters (and also the art), I was somewhat minded of GANTZ. Probably one purely for fans of the games, but if a publisher is going to do a spin-off / tie-in, it’s nice to see them make sure it is actually of decent quality.

JR

Buy Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 1 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?

Saga vol 4 (£10-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples

Thief Of Thieves vol 4: The Hit List (£10-99, Image) by Andy Diggle & Shawn Martinborough

7 String vol 2 (£9-99, ) by Nich Angell

Angel & Faith Season 10 vol 1: Where The River Meets The Sea (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Victor Gischler & Will Conrad,  Derlis Santacruz

Lobster Johnson vol 4: Get The Lobster! (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Tonci Zonjic

Second Avenue Caper (£10-50, Hill & Wang) by Joyce Brabner & Mark Zingarelli

Sonic Select vol 6 (£8-99, Archie) by various

Batgirl vol 4: Wanted s/c (£12-99, DC) by Gail Simone & Fernando Parsarin, Daniel Sampere, Jonathan Glapion

Batgirl vol 5: Deadline h/c (£18-99, DC) by Gail Simone, Marguerite Bennett & Fernando Parsarin, Jonathan Glapion, various

Batman And Robin vol 5: The Big Burn h/c (£18-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, Mick Gray, various

Swamp Thing vol 5: The Killing Field s/c (£10-99, DC) by Charles Soule & Jesus Saiz, Javier Pina, Andrei Bressan

The Authority vol 2 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Mark Millar, various & Frank Quitely, various

All New X-Men vol 4: All-Different s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Brandon Peterson

Daredevil vol 7 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee, Jason Copland, Javier Rodriguez

Silver Surfer vol 1: New Dawn (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Mike Allred

Uncanny X-Force: Rick Remender Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena, Billy Tan, Greg Tocchini, Phil Noto, Mike McKone, Julian Totino Tedesco, Dave Williams

Powers Bureau vol 2 (£14-99, Icon) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming

Assassination Classroom vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Dorohedero vol 14 (£9-99, Viz) by Q Hayashida

Mobile Suit Gundam Origin vol 8: The Origin (£22-50, Vertical) by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

Spice & Wolf vol 10 (£9-99, Yen) by Isuna Hasekura & Keito Koume

News!

ITEM! Ooooooh, look! Saga vol 4 is in! Merry Christmas to us all! Ker-Ching!

Also, this!

– Stephen

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