Archive for February, 2015

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2015 week four

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Latest graphic memoir from Lucy Knisley, Jim Henson’s DARK CRYSTAL, UMBRAL VOL 2 by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten, CRIMINAL VOL 2 by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Young Adult Graphic Novels from Andi Watson and Raina Telgemeier, several self-published comics and Jodorowsky’s FINAL INCAL from Humanoids Press.

Displacement (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Lucy Knisley…

“Help! Why am I here taking care of my grandparents by myself!? Maybe I’ll get novovirus and they’ll airlift us out!”

That is a very good question. Why is Lucy looking after Alzheimic, nonagenarian grandparents on – of all the potentially hazardous places – a cruise ship around the Caribbean by herself?

Leaving aside the answer to that question for a moment, what I do know is that this scenario makes for great comics! This is definitely my favourite Lucy Knisley work so far, it really did make me chuckle and shake my head in disbelief throughout. You might not think escorting elderly relatives on holiday has much potential for drama but, believe you me, you’d be very wrong.

It does slightly beggar belief that her family have let her take sole charge of what everyone believes will be Phyllis & Allen’s last holiday. And you do definitely get the impression everyone is absolutely delighted they haven’t got the responsibility of making sure said holiday isn’t the actual reason for their demise. Phyllis’ Alzheimer’s  is by any standards pretty severe indeed, with her barely being able to remember where she is from one moment to the next, and whilst Allen is more compus mentis, his frequent bouts of incontinence, and his lack of concern regarding them, present their own challenges. Indeed, you might think a member of the family would have voiced the opinion that a holiday destination with the immediate and ever-present danger of falling overboard and drowning might not be the best choice…

 

It certainly means Lucy is kept on her toes and that continuous sense of stress she has to endure provides the perfect backdrop for some rather touching and tender moments of connection with her grandparents, plus her reminiscences regarding her grandparents’ younger days and their place in her own childhood. That sense of love shining through the drudgery of duty certainly comes through strongly, and it’s clear that whilst Lucy doesn’t exactly get to enjoy her vacation, she does appreciate the chance to spend some genuine extended quality time alone with her grandparents, probably for the last time.

Nice to see that this work is in full colour, too, as we only had flashes of it in her last work, AGE OF LICENCE. She has a lovely, delicate, precise art style that looks really clean and simple, but I am sure is rather difficult to execute with such panache. I think the truism of less is more certainly applies with illustration, as you have absolutely nowhere to hide if your drawing abilities are not of the highest standard. I also loved how each chapter heading, one for each day of the holiday, is just a full page of waves, different every time, mind you. It seems highly appropriate for what I am sure felt like an endless perpetual motion endurance test of a vacation at times. Happily, it’s much more fun for us to read.

JR

Buy Displacement and read the Page 45 review here

Umbral vol 2: The Dark Path s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten.

“The war is over, Rascal. The world is ours.
“You have the power to avoid all the bloodshed that is to come. Just give me the Oculus.”

Everyone’s after the Oculus. It’s the magic equivalent of the 40-inch flatscreen on last year’s Black Friday.

“Oh. My. God.
“Anyone else want to remind me I’m just a stupid little girl?”

At which point I’d remind you that Rascal is far from being a stupid little girl, and when you get to the last five pages, do remember I said that.

Rascal is a resourceful young thief who stumbled upon the Umbral – pitch-black, metamorphic nightmare creatures with slashed-out, razor-tooth grins – just as they slaughtered the royal family, stole the throne and acquired some serious real estate.

In return Rascal stole the Oculus just as they were about to use it, and now they want it back. Since they are shape-shifters impersonating those at the highest levels of power and therefore in charge of the entire kingdom, UMBRAL VOL 1: OUT OF THE SHADOWS was one long, frantic chase through Strakhelm’s secret caverns and its less cooperative taverns, but this second volume has quite a different angle and pace.

Rascal is now riding towards Sunrise with the foul-mouthed bastard smuggler called Shayim, a one-eyed woman who effectively brought Rascal up; also green-skinned lard-bucket and daytime drunkard, Profoss Munty, former soldier turned academic; and Dalone, a grey-bearded man who claims to be a 500-year-old wizard who fought in the war by Strakan’s side and maintained the Orbis, the shield over the Pit to prevent the Umbral escaping. There are a few problems with that. Firstly, he appears to be singularly useless at magic. Can’t cast a spell. Not one. Although he is trying to teach Rascal. Secondly, there is no mention of Dalone or the Orbis in any history books.

“It’s as if someone rewrote history.”

Or he’s lying. The Umbral say he is lying. Oh yes, our gang of four may have escaped Strakhelm but every time Rascal falls asleep she returns to their nightmare realm to be goaded about her parents and past. And most of what is said makes sense.

Thirdly – and this is a problem for our entire gang of four – the Umbral are shapeshifters, right? Who is to say that any of our gang is who they seem?

Johnston has smuggled all you need know into this book and hidden every piece in plain sight. But he has hidden it so well that on a first reading you don’t have a clue what you’re looking at. Either you don’t trust it or it doesn’t sink in. It’s only on a second reading – after the Phoenix-like finale where the anger will out – that you start chuckling to yourself every half-dozen pages.

We’re also welcomed to Tolgleam, a sylvan city sequestered in The Bulaswode forest, spiralling up the cliff-face behind it, we’re introduced to The Kin Of The Whispered Blade (if one of them asks for a word in your ear, run like crazy, run like hell) and we’re kept appraised of movements at the subterranean Mist Mountain where developments occur with a certain degree of detachment far from shared by the Umbral. Funny! I like funny, foul-mouthed villains.

All of which is rendered deliciously by Mssrs. Mitten, Boyd and Mauer predominantly in purples and greens. I go on at greater language about the magic language etc in UMBRAL VOL 1: OUT OF THE SHADOWS but here your first sight of Tolgleam rising from canopy to canopy and lit by a drizzling of mist will send you scrambling for superlatives while the second of three big reveals concerning our gang of four at the end of chapter eleven will have you turning the page back and forth, wondering if the words have been wrongly assigned. They have not! Hahahahahaha! Makes you think, eh?

Lastly, can I heap and extra dollop of praise on Team Umbral for the Umbral’s calling cards: those slashed-out, razor-toothed snarls, lit from within as if by a furnace and which make just as much sense when they (wildly) exceed the sides of their faces as when they don’t. No easy trick to pull off. If they didn’t work half so well – if as recurring images they hadn’t embedded themselves so emphatically in your brain – well, yeah…

UMBRAL VOL 1 was possibly our most popular Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month of all time. The feedback was deafening. See you back here for round three! It does seem that anything could happen.

SLH

Buy Umbral vol 2: The Dark Path and read the Page 45 review here

Criminal vol 2: Lawless s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

“Before it was over Tracy did get the answers he wanted, and a few he didn’t. But it seemed to him that was just the nature of answers.”

Is family a trap? Tracy Lawless might come to believe so.

A soldier court-martialled, confined and now released after some “episodes” in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, he returns to his home city to solve the riddle of his younger brother’s death nearly a year earlier. It’s a long game involving patience, surveillance, and infiltration after building a reputation, for Ricky had fallen into his father’s life of crime and become involved with a particular group of heisters and more than involved with the woman in their midst.

So does Tracy.

Wracked with guilt about what he sees as abandoning his brother, he recalls their different relationships with their father, and the separate courses which those relationships and their difference in age set them on.

“If only you’d been a couple years older… If only your legs were long enough to reach the gas pedal.”

Phillips gets slicker and slicker, his twilight faces effortlessly expressive, and I know it’s a little thing, but I love the shapes of the speech balloons, slightly more ragged than most: it helps integrate them into the artwork.

Brubaker as always knows his stuff, like what makes the ideal model for a getaway car. Once again he builds a compelling narrative around a couple of “jobs” which themselves are bursting with tension, but it’s about what makes people tick underneath, how they got where they are, and whether they understand that before it’s too late.

We keep the other volumes in stock as well, but all six volumes of CRIMINAL are structured so that you can pick up each one separately if, for example, you prefer this scenario to the last. As with the new edition of CRIMINAL VOL 1, the original landscape covers are now included in their ISBN-free glory.

SLH

Buy Criminal vol 2: Lawless s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Princess Decomposia & Count Spatula (£10-99, FirstSecond) by Andi Watson.

Young B’Adult Literature At Its Best!

What can I even mean?!?

Poor Princess Dee is so very industrious.

Well, she has to be: there’s mail to be minded, state papers to be signed, laws to be licensed and delegations she’s been delegated to attend! The Underworld doesn’t run itself, you know!

This should all fall to her father, the king. Alas, he is utterly exhausted from so many hours devoted to bed, attending assiduously to each of his own ailments and really putting his back into putting everybody out – especially his daughter and chef. He’s so addicted to Wellbeing Weekly and each of its dull-as-dishwater fads that he’s demoralised his last royal chef into seeking alternative employment where the food is more nourishing and tasty: Dismal Vista Prison!

And that’s what I mean by B’Adult:

The king is a bad adult – an emotionally manipulative and selfish shirker, evading every exertion and exigence. He relies instead on the limitless patience of his doting daughter who takes his responsibilities very seriously indeed.

 

“Just when I think I’ve cleared my desk, CLUNK, down comes another pile of papers.”
“You need a holiday.”
“Then I’d never be able to catch up.”

I hear you, hon! I hear you!

Into this limp and unleavened mix comes Count Spatula, master pâtissier with a shaved head, slightly pointy ears and twin gaps in his teeth where some would sport fangs! Oooh!

But young Count Spatula has a rare sense of perspective, a heart of gold and a recipe for the most unconventional lemon-drizzle cake you can imagine! Umbrella required! He picks our Dee up when she’s at her most down and even attempts to bring a zing of zest to the dining table of the old king himself. Unfortunately that may get him noticed…

From the creator of Young Adult soaraway successes GUM GIRL and GLISTER, plus British adult classics which we cannot sell you for shame that they are out of print (BREAKFAST AFTER NOON and LITTLE STAR, our first-ever Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month), comes the sort of kids’ comic I crave: one which, as ever with Andi Watson, neither underestimates nor talks down to its audience with linguistically or visually infantile clichés.

PRINCESS DECOMPOSIA AND COUNT SPATULA, for example, owes everything in its inking to silent cinema creep-fests ‘Nosferatu’ and ‘The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari’, hence the misty mid-day focus when Dee and Cee are out and about in the Overworld summer-sunshine, and all the speckled, flecked and flickering, scratched-black-celluloid effects at night!

So much of this art is to die for. I love Princess Decomposia’s minimal, pointy nose, often appearing so far to the right that it’s merely representative. I love the shiny adoration in her eyes at the climax of her six-page plea for reason and reaction – for responsibility – from her father. I love the black, bat-winged buns of her hair! I love her father’s face, a wizened black-hole of wrinkled skin being sucked into itself through sheer lassitude. And I laughed out loud at the Lycanthrope delegation’s debonair dismay when offered a biscuit in the form of a Winalot Shape.

Give the dog a bone!

SLH

Buy Princess Decomposia & Count Spatula and read the Page 45 review here

Drama s/c (£8-99, Scolastic) by Raina Telgemeier.

Everything about this book begged me to hate it.

I’ve read neither SMILE nor SISTERS so had no preconceptions, but I’m allergic to the melodramatic strain of cartooning wherein every character in every panel gesticulates wildly with their mouths wide open as if they are shouting even when they have nothing whatsoever to say.

I also harbour an extreme aversion to this sort of “Gosh!” and “Wow!” over-zealous glee which makes me shudder as much as the threat of a group hug. And then there’s that other ‘Glee’ factor for this is indeed focussed on the build-up to a theatrical performance during which you just know that people will “discover themselves”.

Ugh! It’s all so wholesome that I soon felt the need to cull kittens.

Except. The twins won me over. Let’s back up, shall we?

Callie has a crush on Greg and stuck-up, self-centred Bonnie has finally ditched him, hurrah! Shy Callie then makes the move she’s been dying to make for ages but, umm, Greg just doesn’t see her that way and it all grows a bit awkward. Thankfully there’s the distraction of ‘Moon Over Mississippi’, this year’s Spring musical production, and Callie just loves the theatre. She has no aspirations as an actor, mind, but she loves set designs and has loads of ambition.

And that’s when the twins appear – Justin and Jesse – as Callie’s pinning the auditions notice to the board in the corridor.

Equally ‘theatrical’ (read: camp as tits), it’s Justin who’s most outgoing and stage-struck and (of course) gay of the two, while Jesse is perfectly happy to sit back, admire and support his brother. Callie may have a crush on him. Jesse may have a crush on Callie.

Anyway, the pages that got me hooked against all odds (because musicals too make me vomit) involve Callie, Justin and Jesse buzzed up after a trip to an independent book store, Jesse and Callie stepping in and out of a giant book on set design. Jesse suggests Justin sing Callie the part he’s gunning for in ‘Moon Over Mississippi’ which is the romantic lead. Obediently Justin hops over to the car park palm tree and begins to act his socks off and sing his heart out. Then comes the pregnant pause in which the lady-love-interest is supposed to respond. Jesse smiles shyly at Callie, blushing, before clip-clopping over to his brother, staring into his eyes adoringly:

“I’d no plans for a man from a northerly land, till I first saw your face. But I knew, yes I knew, though my daddy hated you, we’d meet again… in a special place.”
“That’s the part where they kiss,” says Justin with a big, broad grin, Jesse smiling ever-bashfully.

“Obviously!!!” shouts Callie, traumatised.

Infer what you will. Structurally it’s all rather clever with that moment reprised to perfection and, no, this is emphatically not about Callie getting a boyf. Being single is a perfectly viable option, you know.

SLH

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

She Always Looked Good In Hats (Signed & Numbered) (£7-00) by Matthew Melis…

“You’re my hero! If a theatre was closing and I had the money…”
“But that’s the point, Donnie. Jodhpurs doesn’t have the money.”
“I thought this was just a summer job, not a dream thing.”
“Does it have to be a dream? Can’t it just be an opportunity?”
“It’s an expensive bit of serendipity to chase after.”

She may have looked good in ribbons too, but Matthew Melis’ self-published work concentrates wholly on the magnificence of millinery, and the desire of Alice, a.k.a. Jodhpurs, to carve out a meaningful and enjoyable career for herself, rather than just slavishly follow a pre-programmed path of wage slavery. A summer job selling hats at a store run in a quiet part of town by the elderly Ollie proves to be a revelation, and when his landlord decides not to let him renew his lease, it seems like it might be time for him to call it a day, close the shop and retire gracefully.

For Alice, though, Ollie’s stock represents a possibility, to pursue something that she’s become truly excited about, by setting up a shop of her own. She knows she’ll need a far more prominent location to make it work, though, and they don’t come cheap. Cue some serious soul-searching and discussions with family members and friends concerned she might be about to make an extremely expensive mistake.

What a wonderfully well written passion piece about the joys of independent retailing and hats both! Matthew captures Alice’s character and dilemma so well: this is first and foremost a character study of an individual who yearns for fulfilment, and how pursuing your dreams should be something that’s given the utmost consideration, rather than just dismissed as a flight of fancy. Just imagine if twenty years ago our Stephen and Mark had decided that starting a comic shop was just too much of a risk – it doesn’t bear thinking about!

I greatly enjoyed Matthew’s art too. He clearly likes his portraits, as many of the panels revolve around talking heads, which helps to really drive this work forward and pack in an enormous amount of storytelling into the also ample 43 pages, but he does like his curvy ladies too, hence Alice’s nickname. When you hear about thighs that could crack a walnut, well, Alice certainly possesses such a pair.

I also love a work where I find out a great useless fact I was previously unaware of. In this instance that Harold Lloyd, yes the silent movie star of ‘a pair of glasses and a smile’ fame and indeed an ever-present straw boater, was partly the clumsy, buffoonish inspiration for the secret identity of Clark Kent. I never knew that, and yet it makes perfect sense. But, like Harold after another round of chaotic upheaval, will Alice end up with a smile on her face, and perhaps even a hat at a suitable jaunty angle…?

JR

Buy She Always Looked Good In Hats (Signed & Numbered) and read the Page 45 review here

Dangeritis (£7-99, Great Beast) by Robert M Ball, Warwick Johnson Cadwell.

Ridiculous.

Like the award-winning NELSON, this is a comicbook relay race although – come to think of it – relay races you practise. This has been entirely extemporised in the vein of a game of comicbook consequences perpetrated by reprobates Robert and Warwick AND I THOUGHT THEY KNEW BETTER.

It’s a daft, day-glo cross between Jackie Chan and Hong Kong Phooey starring a dude with shoulder-length ginger hair and an equally dubious ‘tache. As the petrol station cashier sits idling texting and tweeting, our Derek is set upon by ninjas. There: that’s the protagonist and plot in all its intricate detail. There’s a pie gag that takes 2 minutes and 10 pages to bring to the boil in a microwave while Robert and Warwick take turns on the left and right respectively before clashing like the titans they are on the same explosive page.

Seriously, though, when was the last time you saw a ninja knocked out by a “Get Well Soon” card?

My favourite page is an angular cross between Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko – a splash-page that isn’t, with panels slotted into the spaces left over by the centre-piece assailant – which is immediately answered by Derek legging it Steranko-stylee with such a severe degree of foreshortening that it could give you the bends.

Ideally I should be analysing the far from complementary art styles in depth, dropping names like Rian Hughes on the left and Mike McMahon on the right but such an endeavour would be entirely at odds with the proceedings which the pun-prone might call criminal.

We ordered copies of this from Mr Ball three years ago and finally they have arrived. I will not be putting him in charge of emergency evacuation procedures any time soon.

SLH

Buy Dangeritis and read the Page 45 review here

Hepatic Portal (£5-00) by Emix Regulus.

Reading this for review I had to open my dictionary and my Biology A Level notes a total of thirteen times. (I got an ‘A’, since you ask.)

It’s a visually delicate affair with a thin but far from frail line whether in black and white or coloured in pale pinks, mauve, flesh, green, blue, browns and… no idea what that colour is.

‘The Allotment’ stars a potato plant whose subterranean tubers are alarmed by the metamorphosis of one of their own from common or garden spud to the sort of giant gem which John Pertwee wielded in his final Doctor Who story ‘Planet Of The Spiders’. Thence it disappears. As a helpful, peanut-shaped gourd explains:

“As soon as his subtle body became denser than his physical one, he simply ceased to manifest in this dimension. Indeed! He still exists, just in a different, more advanced dimension to ours!”

Let us just say that the potatoes are far from impressed and resistant to change / ambition.

 

‘Professional Phagocyte’ is a one-page rap and indeed wrap as a bunch of white blood cells chow down on bacteria, parasites and your own dead cell debris before the resultant pus combo erupts as volcanic acne on your post-pubescent cheek. Pop music indeed!

Paging Planet Asia…

“Can’t escape – you’re white and celly”
“Get digested in your belly”
“Livin’ in the immunity melee”
“Microcopically merciless like Machievelli.”

Your hepatic portal vein, by the way, is the vessel conducting blood from your gastrointestinal tract and spleen to your liver. The vein can therefore rich in nutrients depending on whether or not you live off Haribo Tangfastics like me.

The title’s relevance becomes clearer during ‘The Ark’ whose opening joke takes smart-arse too far and it was at this point that the crystals began to irritate me. There are more crystals in this comic than can be easily absorb – you could almost say it was saturated.*

‘WhyBalls’ is a welcome warning, presenting the latest human upgrade in a pair of eyeballs which provides the viewer with way too much information. Worse still, avoid True Eyes at all costs unless you think telepathy would be a blessing. (It wouldn’t.)

‘Dream No 4,096’ is, I suspect, a stab at LITTLE NEMO but it’s only a flesh wound with no comprehension of the mechanics of Winsor McCay’s panel dynamics, but then all is redeemed by the final four-pager involving a sonic purge for bile. Mostly the journey is more important than the destination unless you’re in dire need of a toilet, but here it is the punchline after such a density of information which proves itself laugh-out-loud funny.

* He wrote, taking smart-arse too far.

SLH

Buy Hepatic Portal and read the Page 45 review here

Final Incal h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Ladronn…

“Got him! He’s falling towards the great acid lake!”

Which, as devotees of the original THE INCAL material will know, is precisely where we left class R detective John DiFool, and indeed also where we first met him, due to the cyclical nature of said work.

Now, given how perfectly and magnificently complete THE INCAL is, with its expansive metaphysical themes, you might think I would have reflected before now, why did Jodorowsky ever feel the need to write this sequel? I didn’t, simply because I was incredibly excited to read it, this material never having been translated from the French before. I’m sure you can guess where this is going…

So, I am now left wondering if the real reason Moebius quit the project was his heart just wasn’t in it. Yes, he did complete about half of it, originally released as one album-sized book entitled AFTER THE INCAL in French, but then the project languished until Jodorowsky brought Ladronn on board, and decided to completely rework the story, and so Ladronn drew the whole thing starting from scratch.

If THE INCAL did not exist, I would be extolling the virtues of FINAL INCAL to high heaven, for it is intelligently and hilariously written, and is certainly an absolute visual feast, this material being just as beautiful in its own right as anything else produced within the INCAL / METABARONS / TECHNOPRIESTS milieu. But – and it is a big but – it feels like such an unnecessary, watered-down sequel when compared to the magnificence of the original that I just couldn’t help feeling disappointed upon completing it. It has little of the philosophical sophistication or multi-layered elegance of the original. Yes, Jodorowsky throws a couple of very minor devices of that ilk in, but overall it just feels like an incredibly slick and beautiful speculative action comedy adventure.

Is it wrong for me to feel disappointed by a work of such an incredibly high standard? If it is, it’s only because Jodorowsky pushed the bar so impossibly high for himself with THE INCAL. I do get the impression from what I have read about him that he doesn’t like to leave any idea unused, and I just wonder whether this isn’t a case of a sequel simply for the sake of it, entirely to satisfy himself. Also, the foreword is provided by Kayne West…? But given how much of an egomaniac Jodorowsky allegedly is, Yeezus himself is possibly the most apposite choice!

JR

Buy Final Incal h/c and read the Page 45 review here

In God We Trust h/c (£17-99, Knockabout) by Winshluss…

“Don’t the find that the world has gone crazy?! Those once sacred values corrupted… Murder, corruption, pornography… I tell you truly, the end is nigh!!! And why you ask? Well because people have forgotten all the marvellous teaching contained in the Bible!

Hmm. My sarcasm-sense is tingling. Note: anyone considering this as a present for a Christian friend, I’d advise you to give it a miss as Winshluss’ epic reimagining of biblical events sways back and forth, from the ribald to the cruel, from hilarious to blasphemous, more often than a trappist monk who’s over-wet his whistle with the monastery ale. Probably safer to go for GOD IS DISAPPOINTED IN YOU instead…

I wonder whether Winschluss was inspired in part by Crumb’s THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED? But whereas the genius of that work is the story is presented completely straight, the events themselves thus providing humour in abundance, this is very much gag-strip laffs of the more puerile kind. It does make some fairly salient points regarding the problems of past and current-day establishment Christianity, and pokes fun at the ridiculousness of taking some of the events of the Bible as verbatim fact, but it’s done in a somewhat schoolboy fashion and comes off as entirely mean-spirited, which doesn’t really work for me humour-wise on  this particular topic.

I fully get that the Christian churches deserve this lambasting of their conduct and canon to an extent, and it is well done for what it is, but there’s nothing remotely new here comics-wise, and it just feels like someone taking repeated potshots at an easy target. With God portrayed as a fag-smoking, curly-haired, childish reprobate it actually all comes off a bit FURRY FREAK BROTHERS. (I’ve just remembered I felt exactly the same about Alan Grant’s TALES OF THE BUDDHA BEFORE HE WAS ENLIGHTENED.) So this will therefore undoubtedly have great appeal for some, but certainly none for others.

JR

Buy In God We Trust and read the Page 45 review here

Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal vol 1: Creation Myths s/c (£10-99, Archaia) by Brian Holguin, Brian Froud & Alex Sheikman, Lizzy John.

“… But as I drew and designed, I seemed to discover creatures and places from a civilization that had been long lost. It was more like archaeology than art, yet art it was.”

 — Brian Froud, from his introduction.

Has it really been thirty + years since this beautiful fantasy first came to the cinema?

Brian Froud’s designs for this film gave the story a weight the technical skill of the Jim Henson Co. couldn’t carry alone. While in the film we see a dying world populated by mysterious characters, the world they inhabited was by far the most intriguing aspect of the whole. Its ruined structures hinted at past prowess through the undergrowth, and a lot of thought went into what exactly they meant. The strange glyphs and diagrams carved into the buildings and stones weren’t just throwaway aesthetic garnish, but based upon an understanding of the astronomical knowledge of this fictional world’s tri-star system which, if you remember from the film, orbited the planet Thra and “sung” to the Crystal deep in its bowels. This is symbolised by a series of concentric circles encasing an inverted triangle.

From this emblem Henson & Co created not only a world, but a religion, a complex society. Then they destroyed it, leaving us with arcane hints in the fantastic dystopia of Thra.

 

The first in a trilogy of books (of course!) explaining the legend of how Thra came from nothing, gave life to the ancient witch Aughra and how her wisdom cost her an eye, the loyalty of her son and the eventual genocide of her beloved Gelflings. This is a gorgeous object, as you would expect from the company that brought you MOUSE GUARD [and Toppi’s THE COLLECTOR], and Alex and Lizzy’s art is indistinguishable from Froud’s timeless designs.

[Editor’s note: one of my nicknames at university was Gelfling. I too was beloved once.]

TR

Buy Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal vol 1: Creation Myths s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 2 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Serizawa

Can I just apologise to any customers I served with a croaky throat recently? Every time I said “Thank you” I sounded like the cowled arms dealer from Resident Evil 4. I hope you went away with suitable upgrades and not some enormous floppy fish. Where you stash your missile launcher and medicinal ‘erbs is entirely up to you.

Has anyone reading this played Resi 5 or 6? I’d be genuinely grateful for feedback if your considered 4 the height of the property so far. I adored every element of it from packing and stacking my suitcase (it started out as a briefcase but by the time I finished filling it wheels were required) to its geographical twists, turns and reprises, the most satisfying shotgun action of all time and especially wetting the sofa when surrounded in that two-story shack in the middle of nowhere. Some games take a while to warm up. Cut scenes aside, R4 threw you straight in. Oh, and shooting crows: best sport ever!

Anyway, this work which I’ve not read at all is apparently a lead-in to Resident Evil 6… which I’ve not played.

I do all my own research. I am methodical!

SLH

Buy Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 2 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?

Criminal Special Edition #1 (£3-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Chew vol 9: Chicken Tenders (£10-99, Image) by John Layman & Rob Guillory

Hinges Book vol 1: Clockwork City (£11-99, Image) by Meredith Mcclaren

Justice League Dark vol 5: Paradise Lost s/c (£10-99, DC) by J. M. DeMatteis & various

Love vol 1: The Tiger h/c (£13-50, Magnetic Press) by Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci

Scooby Doo Team-Up vol 1 s/c (£9-99, DC) by Sholly Fisch & Dario Brizuela

Seraphim 266613336 Wings (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mamoru Oshii & Satoshi Kon

Sex Criminals vol 2: Two Worlds, One Cop (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky

The Fade Out vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

The Manara Library vol 6 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Milo Manara

When The Wind Blows (£8-99, Penguin) by Raymond Briggs

Zero vol 3: Tenderness Of Wolves s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ales Kot & various

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Mike Deodato, Kev Walker, Szymon Kudranski

Black Panther: Who Is The Black Panther? s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Reginald Hudlin & John Romita Jr.

New Avengers vol 3: Other Worlds s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Simone Bianchi, Rags Morales

Rocket Racoon vol 1: A Chasing Tale (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Skottie Young, Jake Wyatt

Uncanny X-Men vol 3: The Good, The Bad And The Inhuman (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Bachalo, Kris Anka

News!

ITEM! Page 45 Pronounced Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival! Well, I am, anyway. It amounts to the same thing except that I’m the one who’s going to be teaching in Lake District schools while Jonathan languishes in his lakeside Italian villa knocking back bottle after bottle of  Prosecco and then TEXTING ME PHOTOS OF HIM DOING SO.

Given that the other patrons are comicbook creators Sean Phillips, Bryan Talbot, Mary Talbot, Emma Vieceli and now Boulet, I cannot believe this is happening. They may have confused me for Gregg Wallace.

On the subject of which:

ITEM! “Nobody Really Knows What They Are Doing.” So true! You can buy it as a Lizz Lunney art print art print here: http://society6.com/product/nobody-really-knows-what-they-are-doing_print#1=45 Also, I do believe it’s on t-shirts as well.

ITEM! Canadian comicbook creator Seth is a Man Out Of Time. He really is. See GEORGE SPROTT, WIMBLEDON GREEN etc. Click on that first link for a film of you showing him round his house, which is almost exactly as you’d expect it to be.

ITEM! The Art Of Christian Bravery – what a website! Beautiful, fantastical paintings.

ITEM! Returning to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival – which we will on Friday 16th October 2015 – here’s the original announcement in full about me an’ Boulet and Boulet’s beautiful, beautiful poster for LICAF 2015!

Yes, Poblin is back and I couldn’t be happier! Reminder that he starred in his own comic called DESTINATION KENDAL.

– Stephen

Page 45 pronounced Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival

Friday, February 20th, 2015

 

    

Nottingham’s Page 45 has received the highest honour in its 20 years of comicbook retail.

Director Julie Tait has announced that Stephen L. Holland, Page 45’s co-creator and co-manager, has been made a fully fledged Patron of The Lakes International Comics Art Festival, effective today.

The festival’s original Patrons from 2013 are comicbook creators Sean Phillips, Bryan Talbot and Mary Talbot. In 2014 they were followed by fellow writer and artist Emma Vieceli and are now joined in 2015 by legendary French creator Boulet… and silly old till-monkey me!

“It Is An Honour To Serve”

It really is. Though I doubt you can play that video.

I cannot recall the last time I have fallen so head-over-heels in love.

Page 45 has always been committed to promoting quality and diversity in comics by introducing as many new readers as possible to the most glorious graphic novels available from Britain, America, the European continent and beyond… and doing so with a warmth, honesty and informed eloquence.

As soon as we met, Page 45 discovered that The Lakes International Comic Arts Festival’s goals were identical.

The Lakes International Comics Art Festival 2014

Page 45 Celebrated Its 20th Anniversary in October 2014 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 where Jonathan and I played host to 12 comic creators in The Clock Tower’s Georgian Room including Scott McCloud, Glyn Dillon, Sarah McIntyre, Lizz Lunney, Dan Berry.

 

In addition I presented The Art Of Selling Comics ticketed talk to creators, publishers, distributors and fellow retailers then performed free, extemporised show-and-tells – The Secrets Of Graphic Novels and Kids Comics Are Cool! – to the general public.

During the same weekend Page 45 broke its Christmas weekend sales record so that clinched the deal and I swiftly wrote this:

Ebullient, photo-filled blog announcing Page 45’s presence at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival exclusively and forever.

Page 45’s success was entirely down to LICAF’s strengths:

  1. Taking over the entire open-air town of Kendal like Angoulême’s festival in France. Yes, all towns are open-air, but comic conventions are indoors! Vive la différence!

  

  1. Free access to the general public made curious about comics through The Lakes International Comic Art Festival‘s year-long publicity campaigns. Most conventions charge a fee before you’ve walked through that off-putting door. Not so, Kendal’s Clock Tower! It was entirely free so the public swept in and encountered their first-ever graphic novels!
  1. Director Julie Tait’s exceptionally generous and imaginative, “can-do, will-do” energy and attitude to making every single one of our co-conspired ideas work during 200 hours of painstaking preparation which we found, frankly, hilarious. Yes, Julie Tait spent approximately 200 hours on Page 45’s appearance alone. You know how big this festival is, right? Mind-boggling!
  1. The coordination and implementation with military precision by Julie Tait, Sharon Tait, Jenny Graham and Sandra Wood. We own all four of them everything
  1. LICAF’s army of tirelessly, infectiously enthusiastic volunteers. One of them brought me throat lozenges, completely unsolicited. I almost cried
  1. Kendal itself: Kendal is kindness personified.

I kid you not.

And then there were the hundreds of comicbook creators signing, sketching and teaching Young Adults how to create their own comics like this: LAKES HISTORY MYSTERIES!

Behold, The Future!

The Lakes International Comics Art Festival 2015 takes place from Friday October 16th to Sunday October 18th with weeks of major events leading up it. Page 45 will be back in the Kendal Clock Tower with brand new ideas built on last year’s experiences.

And I will be up long before that in 2015 giving show-and-tells to Cumbrian schools so that Page 45’s 20-year commitment to Young Adult Literacy and School Libraries is expanded even further.

Then in 2016… Heh. Julie and I have hatched new plans already.

Keep Up To Date:

LICAF

The Lakes International Comics Art Festival website
The Lakes International Comic Art Festival Twitter: https://twitter.com/comicartfest
That’s where Julie constantly links to even more breaking news on LICAF’s Facebook.

Page 45

Page 45’s website news
Page 45’s Twitter https://twitter.com/pagefortyfive

If you have any questions please email page45@page45.com or phone 0115 9508045.

This news was first broken by John Freeman on his Down The Tubes website. I would imagine it’s far more coherent, plus there’ll be a lot more on Boulet! Go take a little gander, why not?

Cheers,

– Stephen @pagefortyfive

Page 45 won Best Independent Business in Nottingham in 2012 and 2013, and the only ever Diamond Award for Best Retailer in the UK in 2004.

Stephen has a degree in English Literature and The History of Art about which he is suspiciously keen to remind people. He was the only judge on The British Comics Awards to have been invited to sit for two successive years.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 1015 week three

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Smart art by Luke Ramsey; serious science-fiction from Mark Millar & Goran Parlov, Warren Ellis & Jason Howard, Garth Ennis & Facundo Percio; signed, unicorn comic from Kate Brown; Young Adult dinosaur adventure from THE PHOENIX COMIC; DARTH VADER by Gillen & Larroca and lots of Philippa Rice & Luke Pearson photos from our SOPPY signing underneath.

Trees vol 1 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard.

“Nothing good grows in the shadow of a Tree.”

What an exquisitely beautiful and delicately beautiful book!

I don’t tend to associate science fiction with “delicately beautiful”. Beautiful, certainly, as Warren Ellis’ PLANETARY was from start to finish, but not “delicately” or “tenderly” and this, in places, is both.

The light outside Tian Chenglei’s bedroom, framed by the tall windows and heavy-hanging drape, is blinding, casting young Tian into silhouette as he sketches and leaving the carpet a half-lit puce. I love the rich gold and midday blue as Professor Luca Bongiorno sits outside a cafe in Cefalu under a Mediterranean sky. He too is sketching Trees. The nearest rises ever upwards, off the top of the page; the one farther off is so tall it fades into heavens.

Over and over Jason Howard nails the necessary sense of scale. These Trees are forever fading out at the top, often at the bottom as well, for they are that vast.

They landed ten years ago without warning, without contact, without anything at all other than their evident existence. Some appeared in remote regions like the Arctic; others appeared in cities as established as New York: that was pretty bad news for anyone underneath. Obviously world leaders reacted but nuclear and biochemical weapons ‘inactivated’.

And that was it. On the whole, for the moment, nothing has changed except their existence. Okay, there have been those floods of highly corrosive, green waste, discharged from giant, circular symbols in their ‘bark’.

But there’s certainly been no contact. As President Caleb Rahim of Somalia says of the behemoth straddling his own country and Puntland:

“If there is anything inside that Tree, it has proven over an entire decade that it doesn’t care what we do upon it.”

Its landing, however, did alter the natural water channels, and not in Somalia’s favour. Now Rahim intends to take back the advantage by using the Tree’s evident oblivion and one particular property which makes it unique: it is the only known Tree low enough to be accessible by helicopter. You can land on it. And if you can land on it…

Ellis presents us with four intercut perspectives: from Mogadishu, Somalia; from Cefalu, Sicily, where that Professor spies fire in the heart of a young local woman dissatisfied with her lover and his connections to a gang of local fascists; from the City Of Shu, Special Cultural Zone, to which young artist Tian Chenglei journeys and discovers a thrill and a freedom he’d never known in his rural village, and answers to sexuality he never thought he’d find; and then there are the latest developments by the Blindhail Station, North West Spitzbergen, on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

This is where you’ll get most of the verbal fencing you relish from Ellis, between the station’s scientists old and new. Whereas most members would love to leg it back home, veteran Marsh refuses to leave and now he’s found a very good reason to stay. The ice has become littered with tiny black flowers. Black flowers should not be growing up there.

“Maybe lichen. Not blooms. And even Arctic poppies turn to face the sun.”

These haven’t. And when inspected under a microscope. Hmmm… familiar…

“Those are wires, Sarah.”
“Bullshit.”
“Okay then. Metal filaments…  These petals have micrometer wires. They’re growing a mineral structure on a biological substrate.”

Once more Jason Howard makes it all monumentally beautiful and beautifully monumental. The flowers remind me of those newly discovered in Dash Shaw’s BODYWORLD, of which Ellis was a huge fan, which turned out to have properties beyond the psychotropic. I think you’ll find these will too.

They’re certainly pretty hardy!

Also, plenty has changed since the Trees’ landing. How could it not? The environment is one thing, human perspective and reaction’s another. The Professor will lecture later on.

SLH

Buy Trees vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Unicorn And the Woodsman (£5-99, self-published) by Kate Brown.

All our copies signed by Kate Brown with love. Thank you, Kate!

This is a gorgeous comic with glorious production values: its pages are thicker than most cardstock covers and its cover is then thicker still.

Press your lips to its surface and it’s like kissing a cold cat’s thin ear – so silky smooth!

And that cover is divine on the surface, isn’t it? Its composition is majestic, immaculate, but pray look a little closer! No, it’s not what you think: I swear on the King James Bible that the Woodsman does not go all Chaucerian ‘Knights Tale’ on your ass: the unicorn will not be “tohewen and toshrede”d by a tree-felling maniac on malmsey.

But I’m afraid that FISH + CHOCOLATE’s Kate Brown has a habit of doing this: presenting her readers with what is seemingly bright, unsullied and pure then punching them in the guts with what truly lies in the hearts of men. Or women. Humans, basically.

 

There can be little more pure than a unicorn, living its traditionally tranquil, virgin and solitary life beneath a canopy of leaves through which low sunbeams shine, sylvan-softened, by the side of serpentine stream. And I do love the angles of light. Angles are important here.

But there is little less pure than the sub-human scum who hunt rhinos and elephants to extinction not for their life-sustaining meat which is left rotting by the wayside but for that toenail-dead, relatively small slice of horn erroneously deemed good for getting it up by Chinese quacks some several centuries ago. For the second time in my career I type the words “tiger cock” and it makes me very angry indeed.

So. Our unicorn is hunted for its singular, splendid horn and seeks shelter from a woodsman, begging his protection. That page is beat-perfect in its wide-eyed, submission-based composition, its ribbon-plea petition matching the mytho-steed’s stoop before being nailed down and tethered by an outstretched hoof.

“The woodsman,
of course,
knew just
what to do.”

Now, what I can promise you is this: different readers will react very differently indeed to the final three pages.

Let us discuss after class.

SLH

Buy The Unicorn And the Woodsman signed and read the Page 45 review here

Starlight: The Return Of Duke McQueen s/c (£10-99, Millarworld) by Mark Millar & Goran Parlov…

“They say a funeral is for those who are left behind, but I don’t really take much comfort from all this.
“I’ve lost my best friend, the mother of my boys, and my soulmate…
“Joanne is here in a wooden box and everyone is acting like it’s so damn normal.
“The preacher says she’s happier now and living up there in a better place. But how could it be better?
“We didn’t spend one night apart in thirty-eight years of marriage.
“How can it be paradise if she and I aren’t together anymore?”

I really did not believe that it was possible for Millar to produce a comic with more pathos than SUPERIOR, but I think he might have managed it, you know. There are so many heart strings getting tugged in the opening thirty or so pages, it’s practically a full violin concerto of melodrama! I don’t mind admitting there were a couple of moments when I had to wipe a discrete tear from the corner of my cynical old eye.

Our main character Duke McQueen (think a pension-age Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, basically, and if this gets made into a film I would dearly love Sam Jones to play the lead) safely retired from derring-do in his silver-haired dotage, mourning the recent loss of the love of his life, being gradually ever-more sidelined by his two busy adult sons, is feeling lost. Human beings are social creatures, and denied the contact with those we love, through time and distance, or mortality, it can be a rather lonely existence.

Duke seems to be coping well enough. After all you’d expect no less from such a renowned space hero, right? Except, except, his youthful exploits took place somewhere far, far away, and no one on the planet Earth ever believed a single word of it, aside from his late wife. Even two generations on, his notoriety and public shaming hasn’t been forgotten and has become something even young kids like to tease a crazy old man about…

“Uh, are you the guy that thinks he flew his plane to another planet?”
“What?”
“The guys were saying you got sucked through a wormhole and came home telling everyone you’d met real aliens. Is that true or are they just messing with me?”
“Yeah, I’m not sure if it was a wormhole, but yeah… I ended up somewhere else for a while and saw some crazy stuff. I just don’t like talking about it.”
“Is it true they put a probe in Uranus?”
“Get the hell outta my sight!”
“Sorry, Duke.”
“Relax buddy, I’m used to it.”

These days, he’s playing out his third and final act almost as if in a dream, for all he has are his memories. Those of his dear departed wife… and those of his time riding dragons and duelling space dictators.

When his two sons and their families aren’t able to come and visit him on the anniversary of their mother’s passing, inadvertently ruining the special meal which they have no idea Duke has spent days planning and preparing, it seems like he can’t feel any more alone in the world, or should that be universe? So when Duke’s house begins to shake as if a huge earthquake is starting, he’s as shocked as anyone when a spaceship decloaks and a young alien steps out pleading for his help. Yes, it’s time for Duke McQueen to saddle up and save the day once again! And keep your hankie handy for this is schmaltz at its finest!

This is superb work from Millar. I was gripped from the first page, not least because of Goran Parlov’s opening sequence set on an alien world which is pure Moebius, and that top-notch standard of art is continued throughout even once we’re (briefly) back on more mundane Earth, in Goran’s own inimitable style. But also because instantly you care about Duke and you desperately want something, anything, good or better yet exciting, to happen for this care-worn, gentle giant of a man. Better buckle up! A

JR

Buy Starlight: The Return Of Duke McQueen s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Intelligent Sentient h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Luke Ramsey.

Art or silent story book? You decide.

There’s certainly plenty of evolution across the landscape pages along with an AKIRA-like black, spherical set-back. Objects like pyramids are picked up and played with, signals are sent and received.

Life. This book is teeming with life.

From a primordial, scab-scarlet soup, through the earliest of sea critters with all that cartilage going on, past the woolly mammoths and equally hairy humans to futuristic, circuit-board cities and a veritable alien invasion.

 

The penultimate page follows a final evolution of sorts, from the physical form to the free-roaming spirit.

There are patterns within patterns and most of those patterns are snakes. Or eels. Or lampreys. Or lungfish. I don’t really know which but evidently Luke loves that shape. Some of them are hidden, while some of them are staring you right in the face. Three of those faces belong to anthropomorphic snakes – one vaguely Egyptian, another perhaps Mayan, while the middle one has all kinds of fascist / Germanic shit going on – and these in turn are made up of a multitude of snakes in the same way Medusa’s hair had hissy fits. I know those are snakes: they have tongues.

Later on there are some actual landscapes in radically different styles and brush or nib thicknesses, sharing a sand, pink, cream, caramel and chocolate colour scheme. I don’t mean dairy milk chocolate, I mean that limp-ass cooking chocolate you used to get 35 years ago, surely now banned by international law. Think American only worse. I don’t know what the point to fit was: stopping step-sons from pilfering it from the pantry overnight? It worked!

Anyway, one of those landscapes is a network of Escher-like walkways I can easily see being a platform game, probably involving a precariously balanced silver sphere. So that’s my evening’s dream booked.

SLH

Buy Intelligent Sentient and read the Page 45 review here

The Pirates Of Pangaea Book 1 (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Daniel Hartwell & Neill Cameron.

So that’s how you spell Pangaea: with three ‘a’s!

1717, and Miss Sophie Delacourt is on a tall ship sailing the Caribbean seas, bound for the fabled continent of Pangaea. Which, to be fair, is a pretty small continent about the size of an English county but with much less cricket and far more riding. It’s what’s being ridden that’s startling.

She’s to be delivered to the island’s governor, her guardian now that her parents are dead and you’d think once they’d reached port that they would be safe from pirates, but then you haven’t taken into account the dreaded Sea Of Green. This is no ordinary inland waterway but a vast plain covered in grass tall enough to hide any human. Or reptile. Think raptors. Think bigger.

 

Navigating the Sea Of Green, therefore, requires protection and after the very same ship they sailed in secures its sails it is hoisted – lock, stock and barrel – aboard the back of a cream and green, long-necked leviathan, a beast called Bessie, several times the size of the tall ship. She’s kept under control by Snuffman John, so-called because of the pouch of snuff that keeps the diplodocus docile.

High above the grasslands infested by so many predators they should surely be safe – but you wait until you catch a glimpse of Bessie’s opposite, obsidian number! You’ve never seen a dinosaur like it!

These vast panoramas occupying the top half a page at least once per chapter are the stars of the show, although Hartwell always keeps something in reserve for Cameron to capitalise on later. A mere three pages after the black beauty with its white Jolly Roger tats looms, snorting into view (look how the page lists under its weight and momentum!) you will see why narrow valleys aren’t always the best escape route!

It’s fast and it’s furious – it has to be when published weekly in little more than four-page instalments – and there’s far more to come like the secret of Raptor Rock and the quest for the Golden Skull hidden in a temple atop the Forbidden Isle. There’s much shivering of timbers (I think they’d be ejected from the Pirates Guild otherwise and given that it’s another Young Adult album from the pages of THE PHOENIX weekly – that hallmark of quality whence STAR CAT, GARY’S GARDEN, CORPSE TALK, LONG GONE DON, BUNNY VS MONKEY and the artist’s own HOW TO DRAW AWESOME COMICS – you’re guaranteed a good read.

So please do look under the cover which isn’t all that it could be. Normally I’m a big a fan of a matt finish as anyone, but here the bruised-peach and purple palette looks stodgy compared to the more sympathetically matched and much brighter, lighter colours sitting on a stock whose sheen adds enormously to  the sense of space and fresh air.

SLH

Buy the Pirates Of Pangaea Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 10: In The Line Of Fire (£14-99, Vertigo) by Paul Jenkins & Sean Phillips with Al Davison.

“It’s a funny old game.”

Soccer, that is. Also, the one John Constantine cannot resist playing at almost every opportunity: poker. Not with cards, necessarily, but John the con is all about getting the measure of his opponent then bluffing or taunting his way to manipulative, slight-of-hand victory.

I mention the soccer because Al Davison draws that one; the rest is FATALE and CRIMINAL’s Sean Phillips walking the high wire without a safety net and wobbling not once. By which I mean he drew straight into inks, no pencils at all and the result is raw, fresh and thrilling. Yes, there are demons but most of the real horror in HELLBLAZER is human: what we do to each other for political gain, personal pleasure or from careless, callous expediency. This results in more interior monologue and casual conversation than almost any other comic, so you bet watching John wince under sunlight or slip in and out of the shadows had better be thrilling.

But you don’t need a review of a tenth HELLBLAZER volume, do you? You‘re either reading this avidly by now or, if you’re about to begin, you‘ll do so with HELLBLAZER VOL 1: ORIGINAL SINS where I’ve provided everything you need to know to get you hooked, line and sinker.

Reprints #97 to #107.

Gratuitous plug for THE ART OF SEAN PHILLIPS because I’m contractually obliged.

I’m really not.

Here’s a link direct to Sean’s site for the process involved in this cover. Ta-da! http://theartofseanphillips.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/hellblazer.html

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 10: In The Line of Fire and read the Page 45 review here

Caliban s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Facundo Percio.

Love the cover which positively glows and informs you immediately that you’re in OCEAN and ‘Alien’ territory. In space no one can hear you seriously lose your shit. Which is what is about to happen.

The Caliban is a mining ship navigating warpspace with a small, somewhat fractious crew of fully conscious officers.

“The miners sleep down below along with the cargo. That’s so they don’t spend too long gazing at infinity that they step outside to get a better look at it.”

There’s an officious, unresponsive navigator called Karien who looks a lot like Hitler minus the Charlie Chaplin moustache; a man named McCartney who doesn’t respond well to officiousness; a timid and doting young man called Canny; sharp-tongued San, the woman who can (and they’ll be bloody grateful for that later on), and finally our Nomi the note-maker.

“One hundred nineteen planets and moons, and not one habitable. Suits of rebreathers, every time. Life: forget it. An orange mould they found on an asteroid. Some kind of mollusc on somebody’s moon, that lives inside its own excrement.
“So it’s stations, ships, recycled air. Fake light. Suns too bright to look at. Your body adapting in ways you don’t dwell on. Stillborn things that go straight in the trash.
“But all those dead rocks have yielded up a ton of treasure. Ore and oil and gas and water. The megatonnage is immense: you see the figures on a screen and the zeroes just go on forever.
“And because almost no one wants to live out here, everything goes back to feed the industries on earth. Which, last time I saw it, looked like a tumour breathing through a smokestack.”

Oh wait, I forgot the Captain. We haven’t seen him. He’s been too busy “banging the shit out of his executive officer”. We haven’t met the executive officer, either, who could be a bloke for all we know. One doesn’t like to presume.

Suddenly – right out of nowhere and whilst still in warpspace where they should be intangible – the Caliban fuses with a much bigger and much, much older vessel. Imagine a forest suddenly trying to occupy the same space as your living room, tree trunks growing out of your fireplace, twigs threading through your lightshade and fusing with the ceiling… Someone’s going to get splinters at the very least.

So it is aboard the Caliban: some of the alien craft’s floors, walls and ceilings have attempted to occupy the same space as the Caliban’s crew – and succeeded. It’s pretty messy.

 

The Caliban’s lost its miners, vented into the void, and it’s also lost its engines. Since the alien vessel held no oxygen before impact, every time they open a hatch into an alien section the Caliban is losing its own. And speaking of losing it, you would too if you found what the remaining officers have on the other side of those airlocks. Yet venture they must for their emergency signal will take a month to reach their nearest point of civilisation and the only chance they have of restoring power to the Caliban is to link up with the aliens’ engines and pray that their systems are compatible enough that they can get their computers talking to each other.

They’d stand a much better chance if they had our Jonathan and Dominique on board

Now, what happened to the alien vessel’s crew, do you think…?

I can promise you grim and grizzly. Although Facundo Percio (ANNA MERCURY, FASHION BEAST) is very much an artist representative of the Avatar style, he does have an eye for the grotesque including body parts which bend in places they shouldn’t. Because someone or something has bent them. In places they shouldn’t. Repeatedly. Out of curiosity.

See, that’s the big difference between this and ‘Alien’ in which all the creature craved was to thrive: to kill to grow to survive. And then kill some more, because yum. The entity in question here is much more interested in gathering information and is prepared to borrow whatever it needs to do so, including the ship’s crew.

I never liked Karien anyway.

SLH

Buy Caliban and read the Page 45 review here

Darth Vader #1 (£3-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca…

“The Darth to the Vader
Flip over the crossfader
I’ll serenade you with a bag of space raiders
Or Walkers or Smiths or maybe even quavers.”

You Knows I Love You Baby – Goldie Lookin Chain

I have always seriously wanted to believe that the various buttons and LEDs on Darth Vader’s chest activated breakbeat samples and some different vocoder options, perhaps a Cornish accent, rather than just being some ridiculously vulnerable life support system. I have my suspicions he would be a bit of a dad dancer, mind you, though you never know, he might well be able to moonwalk across the road, always looking both ways first, of course, obeying the Green Cross Code. If anyone is going to unveil the mysteries of Darth’s lighter side, it’s going to be Kieron Gillen, I feel.

Some of my favourite sequences in the seventies Star Wars run of comics featured the original man in black throwing his telekinetic weight around and administering virtual Chinese burns to the throats of his cowering lackeys. Even as five-year-olds playing Star Wars in the playground for months afterwards, no one minded being Darth, simply because he was as cool as fuck. Even my little three-year-old nutjob spotted the cover of this issue at home and commented, “Who’s that? He’s not a goodie, is he? I like his mask, though.”

Having recently had a revelatory conversation with said nutjob regarding the Maleficent film, how it was possible for someone to start off being nice but end up a baddie due to unfortunate things happening to them, I therefore explained that this was the same scenario. “But is he good again in the end, like Maleficent?” was the next question, which I knew full well was coming. When I said that indeed, there was a happy ending and Darth helps save the day, all was well in the nutjob’s world.

We can perhaps leave the irredeemable villains of the universe like Ming the Merciless for a little while yet, I think, and thus we moved on to the merits of a lightsabre versus a regular sword… “I bet it’s easier to cut someone’s head off with a lightsabre than a sword, isn’t it daddy?” Truly, I feel the moment of sitting down and watching Star Wars IV together is edging ever nearer…

Anyway, I really enjoyed this first issue: Kieron does an excellent job of showing Darth does have his own mind and isn’t just the Emperor’s preferred implement of inducing blunt Force trauma. In fact, it’s what the Emperor is getting up to behind his back which is intriguing our Lord of Sith, believing as he did that he was the Emperor’s most trusted and valuable lieutenant. Given the dressing down and demotion he’s just received, being instructed to start taking orders from Baron Tagge (excellent – he was one of my favourite characters in the original run), he decides he needs to chalk up something in the win column, and soon. Cue a little friendly lightsabre-twirling, telekinetic throat-tickling chat with Jabba The Hut to engage the services of a certain green-helmeted bounty hunter whom he tasks with tracking down the naughty young master Skywalker. That should set the chest lights flashing, I reckon.

Great opener with nice art from Salvador Larroca which I enjoyed rather more than the first couple of issues of the main STAR WARS title itself.

JR

Buy Darth Vader #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?

    

Umbral vol 2: The Dark Path s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten

Hepatic Portal (£5-00) by Emix Regulus

Dangeritis (£7-99) by Robert Ball

Drama (£8-99, Scolastic) by Raina Telgemeier

Criminal vol 2: Lawless s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal vol 1: Creation Myths s/c (£10-99, Archaia) by Brian Holguin, Brian Froud & Alex Sheikman, Lizzy John

Princess Decomposia & Count Spatula (£10-99, FirstSecond) by Andi Watson

Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen (£14-99, Knockabout) by Dylan Horrocks

Uber vol 3 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Daniel Gete, Gabriel Andrade

Constantine vol 3: The Voice In The Fire s/c (£10-99, DC) by Ray Fawkes & various

Damian: Son Of Batman s/c (£12-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Andy Kubert

Amazing Spider-Man: Who Am I? h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Juan Bobillo

Axis: Carnage And Hobgoblin s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kevin Shinick, Rick Spears & Javier Rodriguez, German Peralta

Civil War Prelude: New Warriors s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Skottie Young

Daredevil vol 2 West Case Scenario s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Javier Rodriguez, Chris Samnee

Spider-Man 2099 vol 1: Out Of Time (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Will Sliney

The Emerald City Of Oz s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Eric Shanower & Skottie Young

Uncanny X-Men vol 3: The Good, The Bad And The Inhuman s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Bachalo, Kris Anka

Barakamon vol 1 (£10-99, Yen Press) by Satsuki Yoshino

Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 2 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Serizawa

News!

ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF) announces first of many, many international guests for 2015: Darywn Cooke I’ve seen LICAF’s Canadian line-up and that alone will have you squealing. Hint: try Googling “Canadian Cartoonist”. Recommend following @comicartfest on Twitter right now because THIS WEEK. Because THIS week!

ITEM! I count 50 UK Comicbook Conventions for 2015 listed on this website! Well, 49 conventions and a festival – LICAF – which is a very different beast altogether. Still, that is waaaaaay too many to be remotely sustainable (can you spell “diluted attendance”?) and I would creators, publishers, retailers and readers to be highly selective as to which they attend. We don’t even have anything to do with that Nottingham effort – Page 45 is all the Nottingham-based comicbook convention you need! – for we are exclusive to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival this and every year instead.

ITEM! John O’Farrell welcomes Newzoids, ITV’s newly announced puppet-based, socio-political satire while recalling – and warning off comparisons to – Spitting Image. I’m in!

ITEM! Marian Churchland writes about getting yourself back into the artistic saddle after some time away, often following bouts of depression. Marian was responsible for the graphic novel BEAST which was almost patronage and female vulnerability amongst many other things, and reminded one how bloody difficult it was for women during the Italian Renaissance to find materials let alone tutorials and patronage. Fun fact: the film rights were optioned a few years ago by someone who shopped with us and I was on the steering committee for its artistic development. Shame that never came off.

ITEM! Page 45 Shop Floor on Saturday 14th February. Young chancer to me:

“Can you do this graphic novel for £10?”
“Depends. What does the price say?”
“£14-99.”
“Nope.”
“What can you do it for?”
“Take a wild fucking guess.”

ITEM! Speaking of Valentine’s Day, more Jodie Paterson cards like these on our website went down a treat and you may still find a few copies on sale in the shop. Jodie hasn’t said as much, but I suspect they were all inspired directly by me.

 

ITEM! Love to all who came to our SOPPY signing with Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson! Philippa’s Mum came – to her first-ever signing! – and we had so many freebies to give away thanks to Lisa Gooding at Square Peg and Emma O’Donovan at Flying Eye.

Make sure you’re here for Scott McCloud’s signing at Page 45 on Sunday March 8th, 2pm to 4pm!

At the time of typing we have copies of both SOPPY and HILDA sketched in but not many, so please enquire!

 

Here, have some photos! Awww!

 

 

 

 

–       Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2015 week two

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Featuring OUTCAST VOL 1 by THE WALKING DEAD‘s Robert Kirkman, Jacques Tardi’s RUN LIKE CRAZY, RUN LIKE HELL, Urasawa’s MASTER KEATON, a MMORPG-centric manga SWORD ART ONLINE, several new series from Image Comics and PLUMDOG by Emma Chichester Clark…

Single Black Glove (£3-50) by Kate Hazell…

“The lonely wave
Of a five fingered shadow,
Crashing silently on the city’s cinder block shore.

The imprint of a handshake,
A fossilised high five,
Down low, too slow.

They have nothing to hold
On to but memory,
So the future reaches out to the…

Single Black Glove.”

Aww, how sweet. You’ll find that poem and twelve photographs of single gloves, lost and lonely on the mean streets, on the final two pages of this tribute to the power of love as the titular digit warmer meanders along, blown by the wind to various locations through the city, pondering the wonder of relationships. Yes, there are things like skiing, skateboarding, playing heavy metal guitar that you can do all by yourself, but is it as nourishing for the soul as a walk together in the rain, sharing control of a steering wheel, or even cupping close together to stop a football and save a certain goal?!

Then… a falling leaf provokes a revelation of Newtonian proportions! The idea is shared with the other glove, thumbs interlock making the shape of a bird familiar to everyone, because it’s the one animal shadow everyone knows how to cast with their hands! But then the gloves take flight and… well, the end is as cute as the rest of this story, but it does have a gently serious point to make regarding relationships. It’s not just about being a couple, there is a wider world out there and whether we like it or not, we are all connected.

Finally, apropos nothing of any importance whatsoever, when I saw the panel of the single black glove skiing (don’t start counting digits, by the way, or you’ll observe some strange polydactylism going on), I had the strongest sense of nostalgia for the cover of one of the first ZX Spectrum computer games called Horace Goes Skiing. So much so I had to google it and make the comparison. It’s clearly a coincidence, but in doing so I did also find this online emulator.

Were computer games really this shit once upon a time? It’s hard to believe, frankly. Also, I had completely forgotten the incredibly irritating Frogger rip-off bit where Horace has to run across the road to get his skis before he even manages to get on the slopes, incurring fiscal penalties if he gets knocked down, presumably due to lack of travel insurance. I suggest reading comics instead: far less hazardous, the odd paper cut aside.

JR

Buy Single Black Glove and read the Page 45 review here

Plumdog h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Emma Chichester Clark…

After the gamut of cat-related comics we have been inundated with over the last few years (STAR CAT, CAT ISLAND, CAT GETTING OUT OF A BAG…, CATS ARE WEIRD…, HOW TO TELL IF YOUR CAT IS PLOTTING TO KILL YOU, HOMICIDAL JUNGLE CAT, I WAS THE CAT, YOU ARE A CAT, CAT PERSON, CAT ORGY NOTEBOOK, FAT FREDDY’S CAT and KING-CAT… okay well maybe not that last one..), it seems that we are well overdue for something dog-related… Yes, we’ve had LOST DOGS, DOGS – BULLETS & CARNAGE, LIKE A DOG, DOGS & WATER, STARGAZING DOG and even STRONTRIUM DOG, but they haven’t really been about our canine chums, have they? Happily this is about a dog and her owner and absolutely nothing but.

In fact, this is autobiographical material because Emma Chichester Clark has recorded the adventures of her whoosell Plum (a whoosell being a Jack Russell poodle cross), in diary form, all from Plum’s perspective. It’s wonderfully illustrated in a manner not dissimilar to Posy Simmonds’ MRS WEBER’S OMNIBUS and like that tome it’s full of gentle, observational humour. Actually, it would make a great newspaper strip but I guess Fred Bassett got there first so it’s just as well Emma has been, and still is, publishing this material on her blog… Here’s a typical entry…

Sunday 20th October

“My daddy gets terrible sneezing fits.
“He doesn’t just sneeze once or twice – he sneezes again and again and AGAIN – about 25 times until he is nearly DEAD!
“I get so WORRIED. I get so ALARMED. It is AWFUL. Luckily I’m there to give him the kiss of life and I’ve managed to save him every time so far.”

Because of course what you’re really need when you’re having a sneezing fit is your dog frantically licking your face to reassure you…

 

It really is a sequence of one-a-day gag strips, I suppose, given there’s always a punchline to Plum’s daily activities, but you do get a real sense of Emma and Plum’s life through their various activities and holidays, and it seems like Plum is a very contented dog indeed. I do hope stardom won’t go to his head though, he’s already made his first foray into moving pictures with this trailer for the book

JR

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

Master Keaton vol 1 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa.

Ooooh, I love me some spot varnish!

Spread across the front and back jacket with its fold-out French flaps is an old-school atlas indicating that the titular MASTER KEATON does like to travel. And indeed he has done so for many years in a capacity few would suspect.

Yes, gold foil aside, that’s a singularly mundane title for manga, isn’t it? You’ll find that quite apposite.

Everywhere he goes Master Keaton is underestimated: he does have the jejeune air of a dopey dilettante, an eccentric in a world of his own and possibly out of his depth. When he arrives at the archaeological dig in the Taklamakan desert he is dismissed as a dandy, dressed to impress but quite impractically in a suit, tie and somewhat ‘special’ stockings. But the boffins know nothing. It is the local Sheikh’s soldier-son who sees through to the truth and with very good reason…

From the creator of Japanese sci-fi PLUTO, 20TH CENTURY BOYS and recently repacking horror MONSTER comes a comic about an insurance investigator. Seriously.

The son of an English aristocrat and Japanese zoologist, Master Keaton – divorced like his dad, with a daughter he dotes on – specialises in high-end archaeological claims. It’s the subject he studied at Oxford University. Fiercely observant, little gets past our Keaton, however well hidden, and you can imagine how much is hidden when it comes to insurance claims.

He has another key skill set which comes in surprisingly useful wherever he roams: those of a soldier for Master Keaton was once a member of the British SAS. He is quite the Renaissance Man!

You yourself will learn keen survival skills I pray will never be required as well as top tips for orienteering and unexpected cultural history lessons.

The art is an odd one.

The opening colour landscapes in Greece are quite, quite gorgeous. The pinks on the ancient white stone, crumbling with age or worn smooth with wear and tear, are far from obvious, throwing up the greens in the grass reclaiming its ground and the beautiful blue of a Mediterranean sky. The sense of space is enough to make you cry, looking first through one arch to a middle-stance courtyard before a second arch beyond and what lies below what is quite evidently a hill.

The neatly dressed forms are perfectly reminiscent of THE WALKING MAN’s Jiro Taniguchi, but the faces are not. Master Keaton’s nose, for example, is so bulbous it resembles at time that of a proboscis monkey, whilst some minor members of cast like fellow lecturers who find fault with his daughter early on are drawn as ugly, boss-eyed caricatures – which is surprisingly blunt for a comic so sharp.

SLH

Buy Master Keaton vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi…

“In the past half hour, Thompson’s stomach cramps had become thoroughly unbearable. The cramps had doubled him over.
The killer decided he had to give up his trade. Soon. Each time, it got worse.
For the last ten hours or so, he had been unable to take in any food. Now that he had killed, hunger was gnawing at him in the most appalling way.
At the Perrache station buffet, he ordered a helping of sauerkraut and devoured it. He felt better.
He ordered another helping and savoured it. His stomach calmed down. So did his mind.
Thompson had just earned a tidy sum of money.”

Hitman par excellence, Thompson definitely has a most unusual eating disorder. It hasn’t got really out of control by this point, but it will, oh yes. Not that he lets it interfere with taking care of business as we find out on the very first page of this third Manchette and Tardi outing. As with WEST COAST BLUES and LIKE A SNIPER LINING UP HIS SHOT before, this is a dark crime caper where none of the cast is remotely likeable, all of them deranged / demented / disturbed to a greater or lesser degree.

Our heroine, Julie, fresh out of a mental asylum, has been handpicked to be a nanny for a wealthy orphaned child called Peter. She’s been recruited by his uncle, who is also Peter’s guardian, and looks after the child’s trust fund. She has precisely zero experience in this field, which would make her rather a strange choice, you’d think, but then Peter’s uncle has a long history of employing only people with mental issues or physical disabilities. A very caring chap on the face of it…

So, it’s a tough first day on the job, therefore, when Julie finds herself and Peter abducted by a criminal gang, including Mr. Thompson, and forced to write a ransom note implicating her as the kidnapper. As she’s a former mental patient, the police are obviously going to believe Peter’s uncle has at last become a victim of his misplaced altruism when, in fact, events have transpired precisely as he planned. All he needs to do now is get Thompson to eliminate Peter, hang Julie, thereby making it look like a suicide, and he can inherit the rather sizeable estate. The one thing he hadn’t planned on, however, is that his intended patsy is rather a feisty young lady, and so Julie manages to escape from the gang’s remote hideout, partly due to their own incompetence it must be said, and goes on the run, Peter in tow, with an irate and increasingly intestinally aggravated Thompson in hot pursuit. As the chase becomes more protracted and problematic, so does Thompson’s peritonitis.

As with their previous works, you get the sense that events are building towards an explosive and deadly climax, and that does indeed prove to be the case once more. Even so, I do love how Manchette manages to engender a complete sense of believability into such utterly absurd scenarios with his writing. I think the use of everyman characters plays a significant part in that, though there’s usually at least one person having an existential crisis of some sort just for good measure. Combined with Tardi’s gritty, ground-out artwork (no one looks pretty in his world), everyone seems like they belong in a police line-up and it’s quite easy to believe these events could really happen.

I note with great interest a film adaptation of one of Manchette’s prose works, The Prone Gunman, is coming out next month. The fact that it’s starring Sean Penn gives me hope for something really decent after the absolute debacles adapting of two of my favourite crime comics in BULLET TO THE HEAD and PARKER, so I am definitely going to give it a watch. I really can’t understand how you can mess up so badly making a film when you have such great source material, though both did suffer from strange casting, I must say.

JR

Buy Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Outcast vol 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him s/c (£7-50, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta, Elizabeth Breitweiser…

“Joshua… what are you eating?! It’s almost bedtime.”
“So… hungry…”

Thus begins what Robert Kirkman promises will be a proper horror, after some witty opening repartee which softens you up nicely for the initial shocker accompanying the quotation above. From the chap who pens arguably the most famous horror comic of all time, THE WALKING DEAD, that’s a chilling statement. In fact what he really means, as he explains in the afterword he included after the first issue but sadly not reprinted here, is that whilst the possibility of a zombie apocalypse ever occurring is precisely zero – and, let’s be honest, we all hope he’s got it right on that score – there are other terrors which are all the more horrifying because they actually exist.

Yes, demonic possession is on the very cusp of fact versus fiction as he readily acknowledges, and he certainly doesn’t want to get into any sort of religious debate about it, either. Ultimately he just wants to write an entertaining horror comic, disturbingly credible, with a genuinely creepy undertone to it, and this is the subject matter he has chosen.

I was initially sceptical that this premise could be spun into something with the same long-term potential as THE WALKING DEAD but, having read the first volume, one can see already Kirkman’s got something epic in mind for us. The main character, Kyle – a man who as a boy saw his mother and then, years later, his wife succumb to demonic possession – is clearly a man with some story to tell, if only someone would believe him. Shunned by his now-ex-wife, and pretty much everyone else he previously knew with the exception of his sister for reasons which are all too painfully clear by the end of this opener, he’s become a complete recluse.

When the local Reverend, intimately aware of his past, tries to enlist Kyle’s help with an exorcism, he initially refuses. But… when you’ve seen the things he’s seen, suffered in the manner he has suffered, well, he knows he can’t in all good conscience refuse to help another soul in torment. And that is why his problems are going to start all over again. And it’s the why he has really got the problem with, the question that has bothered him all this time. Why him? Why is he the outcast? I can think of an answer, but I can’t believe it’s going to be that obvious, I sense some potential misdirection afoot.

Spectacularly pensive and brooding art from Paul Azaceta, ably augmented by the exceptional colourist Bettie VELVET Breitweiser, which keeps us permanently balanced right on that knife edge of lurking horror and pants-wetting fright. There is a real sense of building foreboding in this opening volume, as we believe we are gradually beginning to get at least some small measure of precisely what malice is tormenting the vulnerable fringes of the town. Then… the conclusion is a real, genuine shocker, as one of our main characters gets an absolutely terrifying visit that will leave a devastating lasting impression upon him… Ouch.

JR

Buy Outcast vol 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Nameless #1 (£2-25, Image) by Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham.

“From Earth to the Moon.
“Malkuth to Yesod.
“Shit rains down.
“Nothing is real.”

I don’t think I’ve every typed the words “Morrison”, “predictable” and “pedestrian” in the same sentence before.

I remember “passionate”, “compassionate”, “fiercely intelligent”, “parapersonality” and “transtemporal, pansexual, mulltidimensional fight for the future’s freedom”. You wouldn’t really forget that one, would you?

Also, drugs: I remember a great many drugs and extreme vacillations between “Comics are ephemera, bound only for bins” and “Comics are the last medium unsullied by compromise with corporations just like the one that publishes most of my comics” depending on which horse du jour he felt like backing that day.

Artist Chris Burnham you may remember from Grant’s BATMAN INCORPORATED VOL 1 where he did a fine impression of Frank Quitely. Here he comes over all Corben which is perfect for horror. But before we begin, may I take a personal moment to say how fondly I recognised and remembered Glasgow’s Botanical Garden Gates, having lingered there long-time, but not all those plump, floppy fish here seen skewered on its weathervane?

“Hebrew letter “mun” means “fish”. “Fish” and “Death”. And death is daath.”

Fair enough. I suppose all that has something to do with The Veiled Lady’s henchmen wearing deep-sea anglerfish head masks when they kidnap our titular protagonist who apparently will remain nameless and dump him in a supermarket shopping trolley. He tumbles out tellingly because our man and his trolley parted ways way back in 2001 since when, we learn later, he’s been on the run from the police.

Maybe he tried to steal the fuzz’s Dream-Key to their Empty Box in a Tombraider-like dream-space? That’s what our nameless one’s done to The Veiled Lady, which is why she is ever so slightly brittle.

 

Or maybe they want him for pretension since he quite evidently got a Christmas-cracker crash-course on the Kabbalah lodged in his throat.

An asteroid 14 miles in length and 6 miles wide is on a collision course with Earth. It’s called Xibalba, otherwise known as the Mayan underworld, the “Place Of Fear”, because whichever astronomer was on duty that night was feeling portentous as fuck. In 33 days there will be an Extinction Level Impact somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, but long before that there will be planetary-wide panic. Of course there will! Have you read Dan Berry’s THE END? So psychologically astute!

The thing is, the asteroid bears a symbol carved into its surface. The sigil is 3 miles tall and half a mile wide. It’s the glyph denoting the door to the Anti-verse!

The Anti-verse! Is there a single element there than cannot be traced back to a previous Grant Morrison mag?

For an infinitely more imaginative take on the Kabbalah, please see Alan Moore & JH Williams III’s PROMETHEA.

SLH

Buy Nameless #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Dying And The Dead #1 (£3-50, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Ryan Bodenheim…

“I’m sorry, Colonel. There is nothing we can do.
“We can try to make her comfortable…
“Manage her pain…
“But she’s beyond our abilities now.
“Clair was a wonderful woman… but it’s time to start thinking about letting go.”

One of those five lines will turn out to be the whole crux of a conundrum presented to Colonel James Canning by a mysterious individual known as The Courier. For whilst it may be beyond the abilities of mortal doctors to cure his wife of her terminal cancer, there are… others… who have that power. The power over life and death itself. Furthermore, Colonel Canning is one of a very few mortals who are even aware of these others, having previously encountered them in circumstances which I suspect may well in time become clearer.

Time… yes, that is also something which seems in flux for some of the participants in this first issue. For there is a mysterious, hidden underground paradise of extraordinary architectural beauty called The City whose Second (that is her title or rank) is tasked with guiding Colonel Canning from the surface to his meeting with The Bishop, the leader of these others. The Second seems completely unaware of Colonel Canning. Having been The Second since 1948, this puzzles her greatly, as do the Colonel’s comments regarding a great fire in The City because it’s an event of which she has no memory at all…

The Bishop on the other hand, well, he seemingly knows much, possibly all there is to know, and during his conversation with the Colonel many deep, philosophical matters are touched upon, such as the fact that there is a tree of life in The City. Not the Tree of Life, note, but a, which in turn suggests much. And that his kind bestowed religion of all shades upon humanity. Now, you might wonder why such beings, and I have my own personal theory about precisely what they are at this point, would wish to even deign to converse with a human. It turns out they need a proxy, to whom they are prepared to make a mutually beneficial proposal. If James Canning is prepared to undertake a task in our world for them, they will restore his wife to perfect health.

The task? Well, the impressive opening sequence to this issue – involving an amphibious assault on a wedding party on a Greek island by what appears to be a covert terrorist organisation, consisting entirely of an army of clones called The Children, all of just one male and one female, headed by an older dictatorial figure wearing a uniform with a modified infinity symbol, purely for the purposes of stealing an artefact called the Bah al’Sharur – is another huge tease in and of itself. All the Colonel has to do is recover the artefact. Now why I do suspect it isn’t going to be that easy…?

What an opener! This is Hickman at his best here, constructing an intricate puzzle to intrigue us, scattering some enticing pieces on the table to pique our curiosity, and then the game begins in earnest. I can already see I am going to love this series. Fans of the speculative fiction joint EAST OF WEST certainly will too, and also those who enjoyed SECRET, the previous espionage flavoured project which he also undertook with artist Ryan Bodenheim. He does like his detail, Mr. Bodenheim, and I can see elements of Geof Darrow and Simone Bianchi in there. The sequences as the Colonel descends deeper into The City are particularly spectacular.

Also, as with SECRET, there is a colour palette of merely one additional colour per panel used by colourist Michael Garland, in a maximum of two tones, which is very striking and really adds emphasis to the art itself. The only exception I can see to this ‘rule’ is the cover, which actually was my least favourite bit of art in the whole issue. No idea whether this is intended to be a mini-series or a more extended yarn at this point, but I’m hoping for the latter.

JR

Buy The Dying And The Dead #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Casanova: Acedia #1 (£2-99, Image) by Matt Fraction, Michael Chabon & Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba…

“Put a pebble in a shell.
“Put the shell in a box.
“Put the box in a bag.
“Put the bag in a trunk.
“Then throw the fucking thing in a cave and blow the opening shut with dynamite.
“THAT’S what it’s like trying to pin down ‘Amiel Boutique.’
“On paper he’s a labyrinth with no exit.”

Then the grey men attack and Casanova Quinn, our debonair gentleman criminal and occasional spy is forced to disrupt his research on his enigmatic employer and dispense some fatal lessons in library etiquette. Or, as he so eloquently puts it…

“What, you think because we’re in a library I won’t fuck you up and get a little LOUD? COME ON!”

The strange thing is not that Casanova Quinn has been attacked by mask-wearing persons mumbling strange symbolic languages intent on doing him serious harm. That’s par for the course for an individual whose father, Cornelius, runs the global spy organization E.M.P.I.R.E. which doesn’t even come close to describing the everyday weirdness of his existence. Indeed, it’s even the second assassination attempt he’s survived in this issue! The first being at the hands of a naked and nubile young lady who has enticed him onto the diving board of a swimming pool, long after a party at his boss’ Hollywood Hills mansion has wound down and all the other guests safely departed.

No, the really curious part is that his attempts to decipher the mysterious past of his employer, the ultra-rich Amiel Boutique, are entirely at Mr. Boutique’s request. For Amiel Boutique’s history is so shadowy, so secretive, that even he can’t remember it beyond a certain point, which unsurprisingly troubles him greatly. And in return, Mr. Boutique has told Casanova Quinn, currently living under the name of Quentin Cassidy, that he will do the same for him.

For Casanova too, is suffering from an amnesia of sorts, (long-time readers will know precisely why, new readers, just jump aboard then go back and read CASANOVA LUXURIA, GULA and AVARITIA to explain all), which means he has no idea of his true identity, merely that is he skilled in the various dark arts of subterfuge, self-defence and myriad other chicanery. Thus, a job as a majordomo for a man who asked no questions seemed like the ideal employment. Now that other factions are starting to move against him and Ariel both, well, it seems like a good idea to try and find some answers. What the right questions to ask are, though, and to whom, is a whole different matter.

Magnificently stylish. Not just Fraction’s writing, of a story that continually manages to serially and surreally reinvent itself and its main protagonist, seemingly effortlessly, but also for Fabio Moon’s gloriously retro chic art. Casanova Quinn looks like a cross between a ‘60s footballer and James Bond, and knows how to act the part too, subconsciously that is, for the moment. The overall feel is something of Barbarella meets Austin Powers. Given how utterly out-there the previous three volumes have been, I can’t imagine for one moment this isn’t going to go all sideways, very shortly, well into yet another universe or timeline at least…

Beautiful artwork from one half of the team responsible for DAYTRIPPER. The other half, brother Gabriel Ba, gets a chance to contribute to the fun once more in a chortle-tastic back-up strip penned by Michael Chabon, author of the prose Pulitzer-Prize-winning Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which, if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend. I say back-up strip, but I suspect it will turn out to be highly significant in some way before the end of the arc. Also, a rare mention for a letterer, Dustin Harbin, who I think may well be the best in the business right now. He also did the letters for a book called SECONDS by a certain Bryan Lee O’ Malley, which you may have heard of…

Finally, just in case you are wondering, the subtitles for each arc are the Latin versions of each of the seven deadly sins, acedia between sloth. So there will apparently be seven volumes of CASANOVA in total, one for each sin. I have at this point no real understanding of how that motif underpins or even pertains to the work, but I am sure it will at some point become clear. Maybe.

JR

Buy Casanova: Acedia #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Black Science vol 2: Welcome Nowhere s/c (£10-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera, Dean White, Michael Spicer…

“How can anything matter when every possible thing happens?”

I can’t help but feel this is the sixties television show Lost In Space, with a dash of Quantum Leap thrown for good measure, re-imagined in as twisted fashion as possible by someone who has taken the entire run of classic pulp titles WEIRD SCIENCE and WEIRD FANTASTY, performed some Dadaist cut-up of every plot device ever contained within said titles, and then randomly deployed them upon his characters, and indeed readership, at his deranged will. This is good.

Once again, I am left to ponder if Matteo Scalera and Sean Murphy are indeed one and the same person. Or maybe Grant McKay, the now missing leader of the Anarchistic League of Scientists, has used his Black Science technology to kidnap Sean Murphy from an alternate reality, brainwash him into believing he is an Italian called Matteo Scalera, and left him here. This too is good.

Expect to be confused and bemused. This is rip-roaring, utter science fiction nonsense which is as joyfully ridiculous as Hickman’s MANHATTAN PROJECTS. The lost in space Anarchist League Of Scientists ‘Dimensionauts’ are right up to their mutually loathing, proverbial necks in it, fighting amongst themselves as telepathic millipedes and hairless simians vie for the right to eat them. Only some strange, laser-welding long-haired aboriginal human types stand between them and a certain date with dinner.

 

Meanwhile, where is Grant McKay? Why, busy fending off a doppelganger that’s just appeared and wants to steal his children, though fortunately not to eat them! Kidnapping is probably preferable to consumption, mind you. Also, just to really up the confusion factor, it seems alien races from other universes have also been experimenting with Black Science reality-skipping technologies, and that the uncontrollable randomness of our team’s jumps might not be so chaotic after all. There’s patterns emerging, in every dimension apparently, according to the man himself, and if anyone knows what to do, it’s Grant McKay. Everyone else, meanwhile, myself included, hasn’t got a clue what’s going on! There’s only one thing for it, as Grant McKay himself says…

“We have to go to the centre of the onion…”

JR

Buy Black Science vol 2: Welcome Nowhere s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sword Art Online: Progressive vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Reki Kawahara & Kiseki Himura…

About once a year I have a dream where I’m about to head into an exam room at the Trent Building on the Nottingham University campus to take my second year organic chemistry exam. I’m panicking somewhat because this is the absolute nadir of my time as a student, the moment it finally occurs to me I am actually going to have to seriously scale back on the video games and do some work in my final year, if I somehow can just get through this exam*. When I wake up, it takes me a good minute or so before I calm down and remember that in fact I am now 42 and don’t ever have to think about nucleophilic aliphatic substitutions or 1,2-rearrangements or any such nonsense ever again.

Yuuki Asuna is having the opposite problem. A top student who loved nothing more than to spend her days and nights cramming for exams, she borrowed her brother’s virtual reality console and now finds herself trapped inside the MMORPG Sword Art Online, along with ten thousand other players, all of whom are somewhat surprised at this unexpected turn of events. Given most of them are gamers, however, it’s like all their dreams come true at once, but all Yuuki is worried about, rather than trying to level up, is how much of a failure she’s going to seem in the eyes of her peers and parents when she fails her exams, assuming she ever gets back to the real world, that is. And they are actually just her mocks, not even real exams!

Simultaneously satirising MMORPG culture and also the Japanese obsession with academic achievement as it does, this is well written stuff, makes excellent use of an interesting conceit, and the development of the character Yuuki as she starts to apply her innate intelligence in such unfamiliar circumstances offers endless opportunities for where the story can go, so I can see why this title has been massive in Japan. On that point there are two other SWORD ART ONLINE titles: SWORD ART ONLINE: FAIRY DANCE and SWORD ART ONLINE: AINCRAID. I have precisely no idea how they all fit together, though I presume much like ATTACK ON TITAN, once a manga publisher has a real hit on their hands these days, it’s just get the add-on titles out as fast as possible.

* I got 14% for organic chemistry, averaging a staggering 27% across all my second year exams, but fortunately my labs pulled me up to 41% overall, thus scraping past the required pass mark for the year of 40%. I did, however, complete Super Mario World, Mario Kart, Star Fox and Super Soccer on the Nintendo SNES, so the year wasn’t a total waste…

JR

Buy Sword Art Online: Progressive 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?

She Always Looked Good In Hats (Signed & Numbered) (£7-00, ) by Matthew Melis

The Unicorn And The Woodsman signed (£5-99, ) by Kate Brown

Caliban s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Facundo Percio

Intelligent Sentient h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Luke Ramsey

Displacement (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Lucy Knisley

Final Incal h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Ladronn

Starlight vol 1 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Goran Parlov

Ten Grand vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Image) by J. Michael Straczynski & C. P. Smith, Ben Templesmith

Trees vol 1 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard

In God We Trust h/c (£17-99, Knockabout) by Winshluss

Dexter s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lindsay & Dalibor Talajic

Judge Dredd Casefiles 24 (£19-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner, Pat Mills, Mark Millar, Dan Abnett, various & Steve Yeowell, Carlos Ezquerra, Simon Davis, various

Slaine: The Brutania Chronicles Book One: A Simple Killing h/c (£16-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Simon Davis

Hellblazer vol 10: In The Line Of Fire (£14-99, Vertigo) by Paul Jenkins & Sean Phillips, Al Davison

Batman: The Dark Knight vol 4 – Clay s/c (£12-99, DC) by Gregg Hurwitz & Alex Maleev, Ethan Van Sciver

Secret Origins vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by various

Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance vol 2 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Tsubasa Haduki

News!

   

ITEM! Scott McCloud to sign THE SCULPTOR at Page 45 on Sunday March 8th from 2pm to 4pm! Yay!

ITEM! Philippa Rice & Luke Pearson co-signing SOPPY and sketching at Page 45 on Valentine’s Day, Saturday February 14th from 4pm to 6pm!

This will be so cute we may need to cull kittens in order to maintain the cosmic balance!

    

So many freebies to give away on the day: postcards, wrapping paper, posters!

    

–       Stephen

Scott McCloud will be signing THE SCULPTOR at Page 45 on Sunday March 8th 2015!

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Scott McCloud, creator of UNDERSTANDING COMICS, will be signing his new graphic novel THE SCULPTOR at Page 45 on Sunday 8th March, 2pm to 4pm!

And I tell you right now: it’s my book of the year.

    

“OMG, Stephen, it’s only February!”

I know. I do this. I do this a lot. But:

In 2012 I was right about Glyn Dillon’s THE NAO OF BROWN, wasn’t I? Then it won the British Comics Awards for Best Graphic Novel.

In 2013 I was correct about Isabel Greenberg’s THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH. That too won the British Comics Awards’ Best Graphic Novel.

In 2014 I was also spot-on about Rob Davis’ THE MOTHERLESS OVEN and if that doesn’t win the British Comics Awards then there will be words!

My review of Scott McCloud’s THE SCULPTOR with interior art: www.page45.com/store/The-Sculptor-hc.html

Behold, The McCloud!

UNDERSTANDING COMICS was so eloquent, so incisive and so important that Mark and I named Page 45 after its 45th page. I’m not even kidding you.

The time: 2pm to 4pm
The date: Sunday 8th March 2015
The place: Page 45
Admission: Free!

No tickets, no fee, just turn up and see one of comics’ greatest craftsmen and most forward-thinkers and ask him what he thinks – about anything!

Also: Scott will sign everything!

By Scott McCloud we have:

THE SCULPTOR
UNDERSTANDING COMICS
MAKING COMICS
REINVENTING COMICS
ZOT!

“Aargh, I SO want some signed but I live in Tibet!”

Good on you! We love Tibet!

I follow the Dalai Lama on Twitter and I do believe that the skiing is brilliant.

Order THE SCULPTOR online now (and indeed any of the other graphic novels) and ASK FOR YOUR COPY TO BE SIGNED BEFORE DISPATCH in the comments box and it will be done! You’ll see! Otherwise your copy will go straight out to you because Page 45 dispatches almost everything within 24 hours.

Orders to be signed must come in by March 1st, please.

“Will you have copies on the day? I’m not sure I can make it!”

THE SCULPTOR‘s out so buy it! Just look at my awe-struck review!

If it sweeps out of print like Bryan Lee O’Malley’s SECONDS did before our 2014 signing (250 copies sold by the end of the day) then I really cannot help you. But you can help yourselves!

If you want a copy of THE SCULPTOR (and any other books) to collect in-store on the day to be signed in your presence OR during your last-minute absence, order it online now!

If you select “collect in-store” with “THIS IS FOR THE SIGNING” in the comments box then all copies will be added to our signing stash which you can collect on the day or – if you don’t make it due to last-minute snafus – we will pop under Scott McCloud’s nose to sign afterwards. Hurrah!

Orders to be signed must come in by March 1st, please, but I’d do it now in case THE SCULPTOR goes straight out of print.

Keep Up To Date:

Scott McCloud’s website including tour dates
Scott McCloud’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/scottmccloud

Page 45’s website news
Page 45’s Twitter https://twitter.com/pagefortyfive

If you have any questions now or on the day, please phone 0115 9508045.

… Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 1015 week one

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Including Scott McCloud’s THE SCULPTOR, Tove Jansson’s MOOMIN SLIPCASED EDITION,  Noah Van Sciver’s SAINT COLE, Brubaker & Phillips’ CRIMINAL with covers, Gilbert Hernandez’s LOVE AND ROCKETS: OFELIA, and free online Boulet comic underneath!

The Sculptor h/c (£18-99, SelfMadeHero) by Scott McCloud.

“I’m not afraid to die, Harry.”
“Give it time.”

David Smith is a sculptor feeling sorry for himself.

Once he was a prodigy and protégé taken under the wings of a rich and highly influential investor while still at college. He was publicly celebrated for six months: it looked like David’s future would be stellar. But then, in the full flood of that media spotlight which was serving him so well, David was summarily dropped.

In the Art world where a single critic can influence an entire room of sheep-like journalists and investors with a single turn of phrase, this is proving difficult to recover from. On a personal level it has destroyed David’s self-confidence and all hope for glory.

His dad, mum and sister are all dead. David is the last of his family and he’s feeling lost, lonely, left behind and forgotten. It’s made him bitter and resentful and prone to lashing out except towards his childhood friend, Ollie, who works in a gallery and is doing his very best on David’s behalf. That doesn’t stop David taking it out on Ollie’s new boyfriend and fellow sculptor, Finn.

Then on his 26th birthday while David is sitting alone in a diner, contemplating an empty plate and an equally empty future after being fired from his job flipping burgers, his Great Uncle Harry drops by. It’s time for a kindly pep talk.

“Gotta be some way to get you back in the saddle.”
“I don’t see how, with no money, no resources, so one to care, and no time before they kick me out… Still… Every night, I see them… these monstrous, beautiful things I could make… so real I could almost reach out and touch them. My dreams keep growing, Harry, even while my options keep shrinking. It’s like they’re demanding that I make them, demanding to be seen, demanding to exist… And now I’m scared I’ll never finish a single one.”

Then comes the moment of revelation, and it is masterfully done, as David struggles to recall when they last met.

“Man, the last time I saw you, you were…”

Four silent beats alternate between Uncle Harry’s soft but impassive gaze and David’s dawning realisation, closing in slowly, then…

“… Dead.”

“Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan, David.”

As David struggles to absorb the truth, ‘Uncle Harry’ presents him with an alternative route to happiness: of a wife, kids, a labrador and a life teaching while working on his art in the basement, but for David this simply isn’t enough: his art is his everything, his art must be seen.

“What would you give for your art, David?”
“I’d give my life.”

So, with some sadness, Uncle Harry offers him a bargain: 200 days to create art with his bare hands from any physical object. But 200 days only, after which David will die. And it’s at this point – as the clock starts ticking inexorably on – that David falls in love…

What follows is a further 450 pages of extraordinary black and blue beauty and a far from straightforward trajectory as David discovers what he can do with this gift, what his art really means to him, what his heart really desires and the price to be paid for all of them.

David is hardly his own best friend. A gift doesn’t change who you are and David is impulsive, compulsive, driven and self-absorbed with neck-breaking mood swings and no sense of moderation. Succinctly…?

“You think too much.”

Given to grudges and paranoia, he also talks too much without the benefit of an internal editor which would prevent him from burning so many bridges. Some things are better left unsaid or at least expressed in a more kindly and considerate fashion. David could do with reading Jane Austen’s ‘Sense And Sensibility’.

The girl he falls for, Meg, is in so many ways his opposite: trusting, compassionate, nurturing and overwhelmingly positive and confident except when it comes to her trade. She’s an actress who’d hoped to be up on Broadway by now but has to be encouraged by her friends to even attend some auditions. She picks David up and takes him in when he’s at his lowest ebb, for David has far, far further to fall. He thinks she’s an angel – which is far from surprising when you discover how they first meet – but no one is that straightforward, are they?

Throughout there are discussions about Art, Art criticism and absolutes – about history, objectivity and subjectivity – and what really matters at the end of the day. There are also the practicalities of commerce and marketing strategies to consider, which David doesn’t.

“I thought if I just gave it everything I had…”

These set pieces are surprisingly succinct for such a vast graphic novel, but then the book would be bloated and there isn’t an ounce of fat on it.

Instead Scott McCloud, the creator of UNDERSTANDING COMICS, REINVENTING COMICS, MAKING COMICS, ZOT!, leaves room for some of the most intimate, delicate and touching moments I’ve read in any medium, plus one great big heart-stopper on a rooftop which will have your heart racing and send you reeling from one reaction to the next faster than a Ferrari with its pedal to the metal. Its multiple climaxes – far more wide-ranging than you can possibly suspect – will take your breath away. Oh, the reprises!

It’s also in places laugh-out-loud funny as when it dawns on David whom amongst Meg’s friends and flatmates she’s slept with, Marcos’ eyes bugging out behind him as David puts his foot in it. I’m sorry to make this comparison but those eyes, combined with the no-no shaking of the head, shot me straight back to WIZARD’S TWISTED TOYFARE THEATRE. Credibility is overrated and I’m running pretty low on that anyway.

This too made me smile after David loses yet another game of chess with boney-fingered ‘Uncle Harry’:

“Figures… You always beat me as a kid.”
“Y’get distracted too easily.”
“Come to think of it, you always let me play white too.”
“Hey, I get the last move… you might as well get the first.

As to the sheer beauty which Scott McCloud has brought to the printed page, the light is thrilling whether when lying together on the grass, wandering alone in the cemetery, overlooking Manhattan with a palpable sense space between buildings or as the door opens up and Ollie first surveys what David’s been up to in his rented loft.

There are similar gasp-inducing moments early one morning on a bridge and the first two times he spies Meg, the second taking place across a crowded club, everyone else fading to an ethereal blue as David focuses in on her black hair and skirt and pursues.

Later on, just before David’s days grow painfully few and time accelerates rapidly, the narrative pauses for a page worthy of Will Eisner, depicting a tiny David, hands in his pockets, navigating a pavement made out of calendar dates ending on April 9th after which lies the monumental stone chasm of death. Of course, he can die ahead of his time at any time and the beginnings and ends of each month, which would be blank on a printed calendar, are here similarly treacherous, bottomless pits. Throw in its overheard perspective and a thrillingly acute vanishing point and you have a visual interpretation of Time quite emphatically waiting for no man.

Regular readers will know I love rain and almost anything (other than comics covers) eroded by light. The final page of the penultimate chapter ends with David alone in a borrowed apartment he’s babysitting, looking out of the window at a Manhattan skyline on the other side of Central Park surrounded by shrubbery. Every element of that soft, pale, blue-grey panel streaked by torrential rain is sublime, but it’s the fluid squiggles at the base of the bushes which really made it for me.

Finally for now, one of the key visual moments which McCloud had to nail was always going to be when our sculptor first puts his mind to the task of deploying his gift on his material of choice: a precious block of cold, hard stone which takes months to chip away at with chisels and mallets. As the low morning sunlight floods into his stark, wooden-floored loft, David pauses in front of the “stubborn old bastard”, throws away his tools and feels his way around the block. He then raises his hands and…

What a wallop! The most spectacular, liquid explosion of unyielding granite!

So welcome to the Art world and – to a certain extent – welcome to it, you are!

But as much as anything else THE SCULPTOR is a book like DAYTRIPPER about perspectives and priorities. About what actually makes you happy and how you can bring happiness to others or not. About life while you’re still living it: paying attention to what is in front of you, who is in front of you, soaking it all in and making that count. And, like DAYTRIPPER, it prompted a great deal of self-reflection.

“Look to Heaven!” screams an old man protesting about a protest which he considers blasphemous outside a cathedral.

“Silly people…” says Meg. “It’s all down here.”

SLH

Buy The Sculptor and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin: The Deluxe Slipcase Edition (£50-00, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tove Jansson.

Oh joy, joy, joy-joy, joy- joy, joy!

Which is more difficult to type than you’d imagine.

This slipcased whopper collects all five of Tove Jansson’s MOOMIN volumes before her brother Lars took over, each of which you’ll find reviewed by myself, Jonathan or Tom, although my more lengthy musings can be found in the landscape colour editions which you’ll also find here in their original black and white.

You’ll also be blessed with a gorgeous A2 fold-out poster of the cover and nearly thirty pages of immaculate character designs both used and unused in Tove’s assured, silky black line on what appears to be aged, tea-stained baking paper: they have that enchanting translucency.

I first discovered MOOMIN aged four or five while sleeping over at my cousin’s house, tucked up in bed one Boxing Day evening. The safe and soft sounds of our mums and our dads boozing away merrily below drifted comfortingly up the stairs. It was dark outside and it was snowing. Can you imagine the magic of that?

It was, of course, in the form of illustrated prose paperbacks, whereas this is the comics.

The Moomins themselves were enchanting: a tight but welcoming and insatiably curious family unit forever inviting waifs and strays into their home, then promptly wishing that they hadn’t.

Either that or they’d set out on wild adventures, propelled by Moominpappa’s incurable wanderlust. Moominmamma always managed to pack more essentials and potted geraniums into her capacious handbag than is remotely feasible, but then she was forever having to provide.

“Good thing we have such a lot of bed-sheets and table-cloths for the sails.”
“Yes, dear. Does the hemstitching matter much?”

Essentially none of them could say “no” or at least take “no” for an answer even with a daintily appended “dear”. Young Moomintroll would usually manage to put his foot in it and upset Snorkmaiden, his singularly sensitive belle; and, oh, the weird and wonderful creatures they’d encounter!

Ahead of her times, Jansson depicted floods of quite Biblical proportions and at least one drought, plus she was perfectly aware that the press were not to be trusted.

Everything would be back to a reassuring normality by the end but Tove Jansson’s first MOOMIN outing – the illustrated prose that is THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD – was a very different beast. The sepia paintings are as eerie as you like!

Anyway, fifty quid is an utter bargain when you add up the cost of the first five hardcovers and with these newly unearthed extras in the back it’s a steal.

Irrelevant aside: Tove Jansson is actually pronounced “Two-va Yon-son”, though obviously we won’t be doing that because no one would have a clue who we’re talking about. Also, it’d be like those pretentious old aristos who, in the 1930s, pronounced “champagne” “shom-pan-yer” or a French newsreader suddenly breaking off from her his mellifluous French accent to pronounce “Scunthorpe” in its thickest, bluntest, British best.

SLH

Buy Moomin: The Deluxe Slipcase Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Criminal vol 1: Coward s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

First of the six CRIMINAL graphic novels to be blessed with a new trade dress plus the landscape covers which adorned the original issues. From the creators of FATALE, SLEEPER and INCOGNITO, we rate this right up there with David Lapham’s STRAY BULLETS.

Each of us has our own set of rules: roads you promise yourself you won’t travel down, things you will never do. But how many of us manage to abide by them without failure? For most of us the occasional slip-up may cause complications, but it hopefully won’t be the end of the world.

For Leo, in his line of work, it could prove fatal – for him and for those left around him – which is why he’s always stuck by them. For example, if the job doesn’t need guns, you don’t carry them (“Prisons are full of assholes who valued their own lives only slightly more than other people’s”), and when embarking on any heist, any score, any job at all, you do your homework thoroughly and you always have more than one exit strategy planned. Only once did his father break his own rules, and it cost his freedom and ultimately his life.

That’s not going to happen to Leo, so when ex-colleague Seymour approaches him with another bent cop with insider knowledge of the perfect heist – five million in diamonds in a police evidence van on its way to court – he’s more than a little wary. Unfortunately Seymour knows Leo’s weakest spot – the fact that he actually cares – which blinds him when he should have been paying the most attention, and when the whole thing falls apart mid-heist, it’s all Leo can do to escape.

That’s Leo’s key skill: whether a heist is successful or whether it fails, Leo will get away. That’s what people hire him for. What Leo doesn’t know is that this time he’s been hired to get away, yes… after failing. Why on earth would anyone do that? So clever!

 

This is a seamless pairing of writer and artist, so utterly absorbing that it does what the best art in any medium does: it makes you forget its creation. Yet it’s so well conceived from every intricate angle from the get-up-and-go to the set-up-and-scram, and it isn’t even about the heist itself, it’s about trying to play out a very bad hand when the game has been rigged from the start, what happens when you start to hope for a little bit more.

Brubaker’s always been strong with the internal monologue, but Leo is entirely real to me, as is Greta and indeed lecherous, panty-pilfering old Ivan sinking inexorably into dementia, to whom Leo is devoted. But as much of this if not more is down to Phillips. In this back-alley world of murky morality, half-truths and hidden agendas, the characters’ faces are in constant shadow, laden with the scepticism of past experience or masking deceit. I wouldn’t trust anyone drawn by Sean Phillips.

But that’s just a fraction of what he brings to the table. Phillips is by no means a photo-realistic artist, and thank Christ for that – you can’t help but relish his instinctive, expressive lines, whether on faces or the curling, swirling smoke – and yet there’s something so confident and consistent in his style, in his handling of the cast very much in their environment, in how much to draw and what to leave out, how to light it and how to compose each page, that you are mesmerised into seeing it all play out as if in front of you.

SLH

Buy Criminal vol 1: Coward s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Love And Rockets (vol 11): Ofelia (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez.

Time and again I’m asked where to start on Los Bros Hernandez.

“Anywhere!” is the answer for they’re both consummate storytellers and the most convivial of hosts, introducing you to their cast as they come to each party and you’ll get along fine, I swear.

Luba is reading in bed when first her son then her three daughters climb on.

“The kids at school call me Sissy Boots.”
“Well, climbing into bed with me isn’t going to make you look exactly macho, sweetheart.”
“Just because I hate playing sports and I’d rather play dress up with girls!”
“They call me Tarzan at school just because I like to wrestle with boys instead of play hopscotch!”
“They call me Conan.”
“Some pack I’m raising. Come in then. I don’t need to hear any more. Climb into the Fortress Of Love.”
“Yay! Nobody’s mean to us in the Fortress Of Love!”

Isn’t that cute?

“I don’t need to hear any more” is actually the telling line, though.

Gilbert and Jaime are renowned for their down-to-earth portraits of Mexican and Mexican-immigrant life: a Latino soap opera with a sprawling cast who have aged on the page, loved and lost and now spanned generations. Both brothers portray age so well, from skinny-legged, hyperactive five-year-olds to the coarsely lined evidence of having weathered so many storms.

Both brothers also suffuse their rich, contemporary fiction with the fantastical. Not just local legends, though there are plenty of those. So many of the segments that make up this organic and unusual narrative are decidedly surreal. And it is comprised of segments: short sketches from here and there, now and then, that between them build up to form a much larger picture and although so much is said, so much is left unsaid to simmer in silence.

Like Greek tragedies it’s also full of formalities, of non-naturalistic elements and devices. I mean, does Luba really carry that hammer around with her everywhere? Around the house? Even to work? Well yes, probably, but it’s more a reminder of what she’s endured, and the manner in which she’s endured it!!

Also, consider the effect of Hector dating her knock-out, body-building sister, Petra. The panels are packed with thought bubbles riddled with Hector’s self-doubting insecurities – internal monologues as his mind whirls around in an incessant self-torture of lust and guilt while she, seemingly sublime, gives nothing away. Petra’s not weighed down by a single thought bubble, she just gets on and swims or dances. It keeps you worried that good-hearted Hector is going to balls it up by not paying her any verbal attention, by failing to actively engage and enjoy his time with her.

And then there’s Books, as unrealistic a figure as you can imagine, squat and sour and melodramatic. She’s not really a person, more of a narrative device, passing judgement on the proceedings:

“Patterns repeat themselves, little to no change in their actions, no lessons learned.”

That’s part of the point of this book: that some people simply don’t grow except in their waistline. But it does make the final twist all the more surprising, as one person finally makes a decision to break with the habits of a lifetime, whilst the predominantly ambling pace gives the dark dénouement a stunning punch to the guts.

I’d better give you an idea of what the book’s actually about, hadn’t I?

For a start: sex.  Everyone’s at it, or trying to get at it. It’s a veritable cat’s cradle of relationships! One of Luba’s sisters, Fritz, is dating both handsome soccer champion, Sergio, and his mother, Pipo! Luba herself personifies this (not the sapphic part – she’s actually censoriously homophobic, especially concerning her children). She doesn’t get much herself here but she is a force of nature, unfeasibly well endowed, with a raw sexuality which few are immune to.

What Luba does get comes from Fortunato, an enigmatic, Adonis-like figure from the sea who appears at key moments to seduce or fulfil the sexual needs of the female cast, always with a Reeves-and-Mortimer “Fortunato!” dub over his head!

The odd thing is, he might not even exist except in their heads – in their memories and in their dreams. And what’s the difference between dreams and memories? Neither necessarily represents an accurate recording of the past. They’re both elusive and subject to perception, and within both key elements may disappear with time only to re-emerge, sometimes inconveniently.

All of which brings us pertinently to Ofelia herself, Luba’s elder cousin. Oh, Ofelia has plenty of memories which she threatens to transcribe into a book, yet she doesn’t appear much except at the beginning and the end. Instead we gradually discover that she’s lived her stifled life almost entirely vicariously whilst nurturing both Luba then two generations of Luba’s offspring and it’s left Ofelia resentful.

But Ofelia she has one unspoken memory, shared by several, and that in itself may be the key as to why she chose to stay at home in the first place…

Tip of the hat to the chapter title, ‘Spot Marks The Ex.”

For more of Pipo and Fritz, please see HIGH SOFT LISP.

SLH

Buy Love And Rockets (vol 10): Ofelia and read the Page 45 review here

Saint Cole (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Noah Van Sciver.

“How did I let things get so out of hand?
“Within days I have destroyed everything.
“Why did all this happen to me?”

Not, you’ll note, “Why did I do all this?”

By the very last page Joe has indeed destroyed everything – more than you could possibly suspect, even though there’s a clue halfway through! – and it takes less than a week.

If you really are after an answer, though, Joe, it’s because you have no self-control, no sense of responsibility and ignore what little better judgement you have, so giving swiftly in to every ill-advised temptation that comes your way.

Noah Van Sciver’s Joe is one big car crash and there he is on the third page, weak, wet and bedraggled, staring into the abyss you’ll only find out about right at the end. The only things left are Joe’s constant sneer lines on each side of his nose.

I love Sciver’s heads, often sitting wonkily on shoulders like the protagonists’ necks are broken, and Joe’s mother-in-law is the most brilliantly repulsive, lager-swigging, pot-smoking, baggy and saggy waste of space – space that used to belong to Joe, Nicole and their baby. No more.

With thick, curling lines emanating from Joe and swirling round the innocent, oblivious customers, Noah’s also a dab hand at the sweaty delirium of drunk, which is what Joe is during most shifts at the pizza place where he works as much overtime as he can get in order to feed his missus and kid.

So you’ve got to give him that: he does work long hours in order to provide but with all sixteen fingers on the self-destruct button. Also, get a load of this:

“I’m 28 years old, working everyday to take care of my girlfriend – who will not get a job – and our child, who was unplanned and is more expensive than we thought.”

Nicole is the mother of your newborn babv, Joe! How is Nicole supposed to get a job? And “more expensive than we thought”..? Slightly more time consuming as well, I expect.

Joe doesn’t really do reality, as you will see. Nor forethought. He does boorish, belligerent, bad-tempered and “what could possibly go wrong?” The answer is “everything”.

Expect: sheets and puddles of dirty wet rain, clouds of sickly-sweet smoke and a punch in the face or two. I know I would, and I haven’t hit anyone in my life, I don’t think.

SLH

Buy Saint Cole and read the Page 45 review here

Moon And Stars Card (£2-50) by Jodie Paterson.

Once more with the gorgeous calligraphy, here in a subtle purple, surrounded by silver stars!

I love the final ‘S’ and its gradation of depth and colour.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside from our expanding range of Jodie Paterson Cards was equally beautiful.

I’m not quite sure where the moon has got to. Come to think of it, I’m not sure what its inclusion means. The moon has long been a reference to madness, as in “lunar” / “lunatic”. Is giving this breath-taking beauty on Valentine’s Day akin to saying “I love you profoundly even though you’re off your fucking trolley”?

It probably is. And I have just quadrupled our sales.

SLH

Buy Moon And Stars Card and read the Page 45 review here

Bear Hug Card (£2-75) by Jodie Paterson.

D’awww! This is so sweet!

Like all Jodie Paterson Cards this is printed on a classy watercolour stock with an equally rich envelope.

It depicts… well, you can see what it depicts: two bears, one with rosy cheeks and long lashes so signifying that one is a big, buff male bear and the other is a laydee bear – or that the other has recently watched Cabaret.

Watching Cabaret was a highly formative experience when I was fifteen. [That will be quite enough of that – ed.]

Our Mark was a bear, you know. A bear is a gay guy of a certain girth with a great big beard and a heart of gold. An otter is a gay guy of slightly more marginal girth or maybe a beard that could do with some fertiliser.

A sea lion is a cute but singularly stupid animal that claps its flippers together and balances a ball on its nose, even in the wild. Scientific FACT!

I could educate you on the subject of gay, back-pocket handkerchiefs and what each colour code means, if you like? I educated Ian Culbard on just that subject which he then slyly incorporated into his great graphic novel CELESTE which has the most swoon-worthy sense of space. Do you have a copy yet? Check out the handkerchief, I am not even kidding you!

Regardless, it’s still pretty chilly so this couple of bear-faced beauties are surrounded by shrubbery and probably in hibernation. Given half a chance I would join them.

For similarly calamitous reviews, please check out the rest of our Jodie Paterson Cards for I have sullied each and every one with highly inappropriate verbiage and yet we have still had to restock two times in just as many months!

SLH

Buy Bear Hug Card and read the Page 45 review here

Cataclysm: Ultimates Last Stand s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley, various.

Some sources said this was to be the death knell of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. I wasn’t sure whether I should be pinching salt or tickling its ribs, but it was far from improbable given that interest in the various series outside of Miles Morales’ had plummeted.

And in some ways it was its death knell because – once more outside the subsequent Miles Morales relaunch which came with quite the cliffhanger – there is now zero interest in any of the abominable titles that lamentably limped from this wreckage.

Following events during the AGE OF ULTRON, a hole has been torn in the time-space thingummybob and globe-gobbling Galactus has found his way through to a brand-new dinner table: the Ultimate Universe. It is woefully unprepared, and not just in the crockery department.

This invulnerable grim reaper, so vast he makes Manhattan look like Legoland, has made it to Earth and trampled the whole of New Jersey to dust. Nothing the Ultimates have found to throw at it has even raised its eyebrow. In the regular Marvel Universe only Reed Richards successfully managed to stave off the ravenous appetite of this world-eater, but the Reed Richards of the Ultimate Universe has chosen the distinctly different career path of monomaniacal would-be world-tyrant.

“What’s to do?” as Victoria Wood might say.

Bagley’s interior art delivered the sense of scale which this cover does not while Bendis fell relatively silent for the initial onslaught, letting the action rip across the page right from the start, but since this includes every single mini-series which attended and even preceded the event (like HUNGER), the rest is a very mixed bag.

Among the 20 issues here is the prologue which smoothly and succinctly explained everything you needed to know about the situation as it stood, regardless of whether you’d picked up AGE OF ULTRON or indeed a single Ultimate comic before, whilst delivery an affecting tale of love understood just in time to be too late.

SLH

Buy Cataclysm: The Ultimates Last Stand 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?

The Pirates Of Pangaea Book 1 (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Daniel Hartwell & Neill Cameron

Batman: The Dark Knight vol 3 – Mad s/c (£12-99, DC) by Gregg Hurtz & Ethan Van Sciver, Szymon Kudranski

Superman: Earth One vol 3 h/c (£16-99, DC) by J. Michael Straczynski & Ardian Syaf

Teen Titans vol 5: The Trial Of Kid Flash s/c (£13-50, DC) by Scott Lobdell & various

Inhumanity s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Mat Fraction, Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Waid, Kieron Gillen, Al Ewing, Kelly See DeConnick, Jonathan Hickman, Christos Gage, Matt Kindt, Sam Humphries, Warren Ellis & various

Monster Perfect Edition vol 3 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

Master Keaton vol 1 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance vol 1 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Tsubasa Haduki

News!

ITEM! Boulet’s short comic, THE GAENEVIAD online for free!

ITEM! UNDERSTANDING COMICS and THE SCULPTOR’s Scott McCloud examines seven graphic novels which deal with artistic frustration.

ITEM! AKIRA, sci-fi, manga and comics fans in general Paul Gravette presents a riveting and meticulous article on AKIRA’s creator Katsuhiro Otomo, putting his work into context and revealing so much which we in the west have yet to see.

ITEM! A week ago I foolishly declared that Page 45 was so close to its January sales record – which had stood stubbornly strong since 2004 – that only a blizzard could stop us. Next day…?

Still, doesn’t our shop glow in snow?

Oh, and we trounced the record anyway, by over 10%. Thank yooooooo!

ITEM! “ Is it time we agreed on a gender-neutral singular pronoun?” hand-wrings the Grauniad. Been using “they” – even as a singular – for thirty-five years now and it’s always worked for me!

ITEM! Paul Duffield demonstrates the beauty of spot-varnish covers in his SMALL TALES & FAIR FAILS update.

ITEM! An Oxford-based Comic Club where kids can learn to make awesome comics with Neill Cameron on Saturdays. Yay!

ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Arts Festival 2015! Whopping announcements begin this very month, so I would seriously bookmark that link and follow @comicartfest on Twitter!

Creator, publisher and retailer bookings for the LICAF Comics Tower where Page 45 took a record amount of money in 2014 are open until February 27th 2015! You bet your bottom dollar we’ll be there once again, with some very special guests!

– Stephen