Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2015 week three

Featuring STRAY BULLETS by David Lapham, RACHEL RISING by Terry Moore, a new graphic novel by LAZARUS’ Greg Rucka, Ken Niimura’s new manga masterpiece and more!

Rachel Rising vol 5: Night Cometh (£12-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

“My grandfather was lynched with a rope like this. They took a photograph of him… lying on the road.
“His neck looked like yours.”

The next two panels made me burst into tears.

Spoiler-free, I swear, this review is deployed to bring brand-new readers to one of the very best books in the business!

Terry Moore is the Georgie Porgie of comics: he kisses with kindness so making his readers cry.

It’s not enough to show someone in pain: almost every other month for some fifteen years throughout STRANGERS IN PARADISE’s epic, heart-felt run, Moore managed to summon the best in his characters to care for each other whenever tragedy struck or wrong decisions were made. Not necessarily immediately – who of us gets it right every time at the very first sign? – but in the long run. When the chips are down. When it is needed the most.

RACHEL RISING VOL 1 boasts one of the best-ever beginnings in comics:

Early one morning a tall and beautiful but austere blonde woman wanders down to a sequestered glade and waits patiently above a dried-up river bed. Until a leaf spontaneously combusts and another woman claws herself slowly… and painfully from her grave… then staggers her way back home…

That woman is Rachel. She’s not a zombie, I can assure of that: she’s fully mobile and completely cognizant but she is most emphatically dead. She just can’t remember who killed her. All she has to go on is a couple of late-night snapshots of someone bearing down on her and the rope scars seared round her neck.

In the first arc of RACHEL RISING (volumes one to four) so much stuff happened which I am not about to ruin with spoilers. It was nasty and funny – oh, so funny, for Terry Moore has made a career out of combining comedy with tragedy in the best possible way, elevating each element through their juxtaposition – but one major question went unanswered: who killed Rachel and why?

Finally you will begin to receive answers but Terry is so good at scene-cutting! You think I am a tease on Twitter…? Terry has it down to a tee.

So much is going on here that you are left breathless, demanding to know what happens next to this party, that party or what seems like a most ill-advised sortie. There’s one particular death which is very grizzly indeed.

The landscapes towards the end of the book are halting: crisp and crinkled leaves strewn upon winter’s cold-baked, unyielding ground as a major character draws her last breaths and predators swoop down from above to peck out her eyes or stumble unsuspectingly from the dense foliage beyond.

But it’s Terry Moore’s rain that’s most impressive of all: I was so sodden to the core that I had to towel myself down while keeping half an eye on Zoe just in case, just in case… For this eleven-year-old girl has a very sharp blade with a very long history and she is not afraid to use it.

Lastly for long-term readers: did something strike you as odd and unexpected about Aunt Johhny’s [redacted]? Something slightly out of character about her [redacted]’s behaviour? Hahahaha! Terry must have been grinning his head off for months. It’s all there and so obvious when you look back but not necessarily evident at the time. And that’s the best sort of writing, is it not?

On a personal note:

“Someday I’m going to rent a big truck and ram it into every driver on the phone.”

Includes exploding rodents.


Buy Rachel Rising vol 5: Night Cometh and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets vol 6: The Killers (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham…

“You sure this is okay?”
“No, it’s not okay. That’s why it’s called breaking in.”
“You do this a lot?”
“Yeah, well, I’ve been on my own…”
“You must have some crazy stories.”
“I hung out for a while with a guy who pulls fingers off for a living.”
“For a living?”
“Technically, he mostly kills them, but pulling fingers off is his “signature move”.”

For those of you new to STRAY BULLETS, just take a moment to study this cover closely. Very, very closely… because, it actually sums up the complete and utter mayhem you will find within to perfection. And, to get the party started, on the pages inside just like on the cover, is that most cool of cool bad-ass motherfuckers, Spanish Scott, solitary finger raised to lips, instructing us, politely (for that is his way), to quieten ourselves before we read on.


Our story opens in 1978 with young Eli playing peeping tom at his local strip club, peering at the cavorting ladies and sleazy johns. He’s more than a little surprised to see his dad in there, which leads to his first encounter with Spanish Scott. Then follows a two-page driving sequence, Spanish Scott at the wheel with an unsuspecting Eli in the passenger seat, that is pure Grand Theft Auto in its execution. At its conclusion, dropping Eli back off at his house, our superfly bad guy is behoved to dispense a few words of wisdom, to complement the (terminal) life lesson he’s just dispensed to a couple of not-so-wise guys.

“Sorry about that, kid. You have to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Your loser father probably won’t tell you that.”

Yes… Eli might not get too many more chances to either… not if Spanish Scott has anything to do with it…

Fast forward to 1986, when everyone’s favourite teenage hellraiser – Virginia Applejack a.k.a. Amy Racecar – suddenly reappears, and where Virginia goes, well, trouble is certainly sure to follow. Eli would do well to heed his mother’s warnings about Ms. Applejack. For Eli though, missing a limb as well as a father, Virginia seems like an angel sent down from heaven to save him. She could well be responsible for getting him there rather quicker than he’d like but somehow these two misfits fall madly in love and before too long it’s them against what feels like the entire world, or at least Eli’s mom.

So when Virginia is hired by Mr. Finger, yes that Mr. Finger, to babysit his kids whilst ostensibly he takes his wife out for a romantic meal, you just know there’s going to be more to it than that. There is, obviously, as in reality Mr. Finger wants Virginia to find his wife’s stash of emergency cash for a ‘business opportunity’ that’s just arisen, and so she gets herself and Eli dragged into some heavy drama that just going to escalate further and further with very serious consequences for all concerned. Just another chaotic episode in the crazy life of Virginia Applejack…


Ah, some people are just made to create a particular comic, and so it is with David Lapham. He is STRAY BULLETS and STRAY BULLETS is him. The snappy dialogue, so street, so witty and so on the money, is beyond even Bendis at his finest. The plot – pure convoluted, gritty, brutal contemporary-fiction unpleasantness – made real for our guilty and salacious enjoyment. Is he the best at what he does, to borrow a well used phrase? I think so, I think so, he is certainly right up there. To give this material some context, there are a handful of other comics of this ilk over the last twenty years that have had as much impact on me. Some of SCALPED and 100 BULLETS probably, much of CRIMINAL certainly, but then STRAY BULLETS is that good, it always was.

There are some artists – and this is the only way I can describe it – about whom you get the sense they are drawing it entirely for themselves, not for anyone else, just for them. I get the strongest sense that Lapham is precisely like that. This is his comic, written just how he wants, then drawn just how he likes: tough, uncompromising, exactly how a contemporary crime comic should be. The psychotic flashes of Amy Racecar fantasy – there is a hilarious issue included in this arc – only serve to heighten the sense of deranged tension you feel reading STRAY BULLETS. With every turn of a page, you’re expecting it all to go pear-shaped, and when it eventually does, it is as spectacular as it is devastating…

Volumes 2 to 5 will be republished shortly, although you can read their entirety now as STRAY BULLETS: UBER ALLES collecting volumes 1-5.


Buy Stray Bullets vol 6: The Killers and read the Page 45 review here

Henshin (£14-99, Image) by Ken Niimura.

“I feel like I’m surrounded by walls made of air.”

Well, that had me thinking….

Thirteen short stories, each of them full of moments of magic or surprise: when music drifts down an alley a young women bursts into dance round the back of city buildings and all over the full-page spread; a shop assistant on an errand in Paris flies high on his ability to communicate; a cat adds its own special ingredient to an improvised gourmet dinner.

Those first two were breathtaking in their sense of space and exuberance, the first putting me much in mind of young Windy in Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s THIS ONE SUMMER bouncing round her chalet’s living room, the second of Stuart Immonen’s extraordinary feats of weight yet weightless in Kurt Busiek’s SECRET IDENTITY – and, oh, that blissed-out smile on his face!

Niimura’s art dispels every ludicrous but annoyingly prevalent preconception and cliché of what manga looks like. Far from the sugarbuzz shout-athon, it’s also a far cry from Taniguchi’s clear, crisp lines. An office scene called to mind Posy Simmonds; at a picnic I perceived elements of mid-Mazzucchelli; a merry reunion boasted bits of both Kyle Baker and Joann Sfar. It’s all very energetic.

‘Henshin’ means “transformation” but it’s this element of surprise which characterises the episodes much more strongly, including wholly unexpected acts of violence.

A niece called Nat bookends the collection, first joining then departing the household of a beaming uncle with something secreted in his car’s glove compartment.

A family home is threatened with a visit by the dad’s company’s C.E.O. and the promise of a promotion if all goes well, as if ripped from the very cathode rays of a 1970s’ BBC Play For Today. It is impressed upon the son that good behaviour is essential but in this instance good behaviour entails not helping out in order to suppress a strange genetic secret!

Victory Sign proves to be a very moving tale of enduring friendship, while Lying Is Bad’s explosive trappings wherein people go postal harbours a serious point about how Japanese treat gaijin with kindly-meant kid gloves – in fact how every nation’s population speaks to new arrivals even 10, 20, 30 years after immigration: differently.

The story title Par-tay immediately evokes the ghost of a Beastie Boys’ bellowing, beer-guzzling house trashing, but it is immediately, hilariously undercut by the refined decorum of a trio of friends sitting quietly on floor cushions around a traditionally low Japanese table, sipping wine while watching a video-game cut-scene in silent appreciation. That’s where the cat comes in, Civet-stylee.

In fact the cat makes multiple appearances for Ken has a crush on one – there’s no other word for it – who visits to accept Ken’s evening offerings of food then leaves him little “presents” as a thank you. Ken’s surprisingly appreciative of them. So appreciative that another dinner digresses onto the subject of poo and where/when you can’t.

No, I wouldn’t have brought that up, either, especially not at the table. But still, I did smile!


Buy Henshin and read the Page 45 review here

The Talion Maker part 1 (£3-50, self-published) by Neal Curtis.

“When he came to see me, I lost it… or found it… depends on how you look at it.”

Under the circumstances I think he found it, punching his University’s Dean in the face.

It was later that this previously pacifistic lecturer in new media lost it: after his beloved Hannah was murdered in a neo-Nazi arson attack on the independent bookshop she helped run, and the Minister for Immigration proclaimed on British radio that she had ties to terrorist organisations. She hadn’t: she was simply a lawyer campaigning for human rights, equality and justice, all of which Tony Blair defenestrated the second he endorsed – and collaborated in – the illegal invasion of Iraq.

This is all relevant, trust me.

Talion is defined thus: “the system or legal principle of making the punishment correspond to the crime; retaliation”.

Otherwise known as “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” – which isn’t a strict legal principle, although it was a common and somewhat messy practice leading Jesus to recommending the alternative of submitting to a slapping. I think our protagonist here is way beyond turning the other cheek.

The circumstances which led Daniel to decking the Dean were when the Dean suspended him after one of his students sent a set of Bob Dylan lyrics to Number 10 in protest at the Iraqi War. On these derisibly flimsy grounds said student was arrested then marched from campus in handcuffs under the new Anti-Terrorism Legislation, was publicly branded a terrorist by the Daily Fail and Daniel himself was interviewed by police in a very leading manner.

Do you think this far-fetched? It is not.

It begins well after the fact with a single sentence:

“I’ve been told I need to open up.”

The box flaps beneath it open and close silently in a rhythm resembling lungs breathing in and out. A tentative attempt to open up followed by a reluctance to do so.

Shards of glass accompanied a fractured sentence then reconstitute themselves into a single shattered pane as the narrator tries to piece it all together. And then, bit by bit, he does so.

Let us be perfectly clear: Neal Curtis is no draughtsman. His lines are thin and his figure and facial work is weak, although he does manage an unexpectedly well composed full-page flourish depicting Lake Barley in Ireland with a wall leading down to it in perfect perspective.

And it is the composition here along with the content which caught me for not once did I struggle to comprehend what was being shown or so eloquently said. Moreover, the tricks of this unique medium’s trade don’t merely punctuate the pages, they permeate them: “POLICE /// DO NOT CROSS” tape masking off the panels as the student is cuffed then thrust into a police van and a police officer looms with a transparently insincere, passive-aggressive smile in Daniel’s face.

Sentences are broken between boxes when Daniel confesses about his relationship with Hannah, “We seemed to have… lost touch… with each… other”.

He adapts the familiar open / closed shop sign to forward the narrative twice, that shattered pane of glass will be reutilised as a form of punctuation, and a map is wittily annotated with both “You are here” and “She is here, too”. I notice the comma: this man can write.

And – do you know what? – I say that Curtis’ drawing skills need improvement (and they demonstrate an improvement throughout this first part of 3 or 4), but when he shows you a great big grin, you will know instinctively whose it is.

Dedicated to Mark Simpson (1968-2005).

“Can I take a bit of a break, please? I’m tired.”


Buy The Talion Maker part 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Veil h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Greg Rucka & Toni Fejzula.

From the writer of LAZARUS and STUMPTOWN comes a graphic novel with some nasty nests of rats: subterranean, street-level and skyscraper-high.

It opens with a perfect page based on a 9-panel grid with a diagonal driving it from top left to bottom right as a candle on the point of a pentangle burns bright, is extinguished leaving an acrid plume of smoke, then spontaneously reignites. Elsewhere: a gun holstered behind a civilian belt, money changing hands in front of a tattered triple-X poster, a subway train approaching down a debris-strewn tunnel and a rat looking up, its attention caught by we know not what. Yet.

It’s a status update which will be reprised at the beginning of each chapter, a thick chain featuring with increasing prominence.

But right now that train is approaching fast, the litter on the tracks swirls up ahead of it and a woman sits up suddenly on the subways platform, gasping for air, sending the vermin she’s attracted scuttling for cover.

“Hhn nhnn hu-huh hurts… It… hurts…?”

She’s naked and doesn’t seem to understand the world around her, her vocabulary at first scant and limited to rhymes.

There’s a waxy feel to the pages, Fejzula electing to use colour rather than solid black tone to fill the shapes of shadows, and those colours are at first delicious: pale purples offset by slate blues and greens. There’s also a softness, a vulnerability which each cover sadly lacked.

The first two chapters had me gripped as the woman makes her way up through locked iron gates to a busy red light district and – being naked – attracts all the wrong attention, saved only by the swift intervention of a dude with curvy braids and a nose ring who scoops her away and up to his flat. It’s not much to look at; he apologises.

Unfortunately they’re going to be pursued, relentlessly and by multiple parties, because that pentangle didn’t draw itself, you know.

Alas, halfway through the narrative narrowed into a far more linear affair reminiscent of HELLBLAZER only without the wise guy, wisecracks, history lessons and wider ramifications. Even the politics were nebulous: people after power, the nature of which is never stipulated.

Black and white unpublished pages in the back.


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

Star Wars #1 (£3-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & John Cassaday…

“Threepio, you worthless rust bucket, you better not have damaged my ship.”
“For once, sir, the Millennium Falcon appears to be in good working order.
“As we hoped, Chewbacca was able to pilot us undetected through the moon’s orbital field.
“At present, the Falcon and I are safely hidden amongst the extensive refuse fields that surround the factory.
“If I may say so, Captain Solo, I do find it rather disconcerting that your vessel continues to be so easily mistaken for garbage.”
“You’ll be garbage if you mess this up, Goldenrod!”

Already heading to second printing at time of typing it would seem the appetite for all things Star Wars remains undiminished. It remains to be seen whether such faith is justified, either on the comic or indeed film front. I remember all too well going to see the first of the second trilogy of films and coming away from the cinema probably more disappointed than on any other occasion. Actually, if we’re being honest, Return Of The Jedi wasn’t that great, either. I mean, could they really not have come up with a different plot than another Death Star needing destroying? And Ewoks, sigh, really not that much better than Jar Jar Binks, frankly. And yet, still off I trotted to watch them all…

Anyway… comic readers of a certain age will remember a UK title called STAR WARS WEEKLY, which ran for a considerable period of time immediately after the first film and featured the further adventures of Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, C3PO, R2D2 et al in various adventures, pursued all the whilst by Darth Vader. It was actually rather good, featuring decent writing by, amongst others, Roy Thomas and great art from the likes of Howard Chaykin. Also, being published as it was by Marvel, it had great back-up strips reprinting classic material such as Adam Warlock, Guardians of the Galaxy, Deathlok and Micronauts. For those of us thirsting for more lightsabre-wielding, blaster-frapping, outer-space wise-cracking antics, it was perfect.

This title is basically yet another extension of that original franchise and cast. Obviously Dark Horse started doing exactly the same thing a couple of years ago with the STAR WARS material penned by Brian Wood, which I have no idea whether that now will be considered canon or not. Or any of the other myriad Dark Horse material covering several time periods spanning thousands of years in Star Wars history. Or indeed the original STAR WARS WEEKLY material. Does it even matter, really?

This tale is set almost immediately after the end of the first film. Our chums have a mission to fulfil which naturally involves ridiculous personal and collective peril, implausible hokey plot twists and of course much lightsabre swishing, blaster waving and never-ending threats of personal violence directed at C3PO from Han Solo, sick and tired of Threepio’s verbal diarrhoea. They haven’t even waited five minutes to break out the big bad guns either as Vader is back by the end of this first issue, though the clue is in the background of the cover, I suppose, which does indeed make me think it will be much like the STAR WARS WEEKLY run with the continual cat-and-mouse chase of our pals trying to stay one step ahead of Vader, whilst getting neck deep in whatever various near fatal shenanigans the current plot arc throws up.

I can’t say I was massively excited by this first issue. The humorous dialogue is on point, easily the best thing about it, though the plot seems wafer-thin.

The art, well, for the second time in recent years Cassaday seems a bit stilted and flat frankly, following on from his three issues opening Rick Remender’s UNCANNY AVENGERS before he left / was replaced. I dunno, maybe it’s just not floating his artistic boat, but it seems a far, far cry from his PLANETARY days. Strange.

Will I even bother reading #2? Probably. Will I be daft enough to go see the new film. Certainly.

[Editor’s note: mirth merchants, please check out


Buy Star Wars #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?

Solo: Book One (Sketched In) (£9-99, self-published) by Hope Larson

Ex Machina Book 4 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris

First Year Healthy h/c (£10-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge

In Search Of Lost Dragons h/c (£25-99, Dynamite) by Elian Black’mor, Carine-M

March Book 2 s/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell

North 40 s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Aaron Williams & Fiona Staples

Abe Sapien vol 5: Sacred Places (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara

BPRD Plague Of Frogs vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, various & Guy Davis, various

Bravest Warriors vol 4 s/c (£10-99, Kaboom!) by various

Batman: Beware The Batman vol 1 s/c (£9-99, DC) by Ivan Cohen, various & Luciano Vecchio, Dario Brizuela

Black Widow vol 2: The Tightly Tangled Web s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nathan Edmondson & Phil Noto

Ghost Rider vol 1: Engines Of Vengeance s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Felipe Smith & Tradd Moore

Legendary Star-Lord vol 1: Face It I Rule s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Sam Humphries & Paco Medina, Freddie Williams II


ITEM! MOOMIN global success for one of our favourite comics publishers, Drawn & Quarterly. It’s also a really good overview / intro to the series. How Page 45 loves MOOMIN! And we have so very many!

ITEM! Beautiful Winsor McCay LITTLE NEMO page analysed structurally along with two distinct modes of reading.

ITEM! Hey! Hey! Comicbook creators: are you even aware about the Public Lending Right organisation? The Public Lending Right organisation remunerates creators for graphic novels borrowed from public libraries! Sign up now!

ITEM! NOTES FROM THE SOFA by Raymond Briggs: fund it now, receive rewards later! There are few graphic novels I love more than Raymond Briggs’ ETHEL & ERNEST. A glorious slice of British socio-political history!

ITEM! Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie discuss their plans for THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, PHONOGRAM III, Gillen’s own LUDOCRATS and more.

ITEM! Ever the iconoclasts and entertainers, Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie then submit themselves to an online question-and-answer session which… oh, just read it and weep!

ITEM! Neill Camerom invites Young Adults to the new run of MEGA ROBO BROS in the weekly PHOENIX COMIC this Friday!

ITEM! Lizz Lunney is interviewed! That is the creator of TAKE AWAY!, yes!

ITEM! Five Questions for Philippa Rice about her new SOPPY h/c

Phillippa Rice and Luke Pearson Co-Signing SOPPY on Valentine’s Day 2015

Please click on that link for the deetz!


– Stephen

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