Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2015 week two

Comics! Graphic Novels! Chester Brown interviews, James Jean postcards! What other buzzwords shall I play with? Oooooh, Young Adult Literature and we have two first issues! SCOTT MCCLOUD SIGNING PHOTOS underneath!

The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Geof Darrow.

There is something so moving about seeing a comicbook legend long-lost and lamented return at the very top of their game. That’s what happened in the original SHAOLIN COWBOY book which no one seems overly keen on distributing now.

Geof (one ‘f’) Darrow was the artist on Frank Miller’s HARD BOILED, a series so ancient, pre-Page 45, that it was never reviewed. His clean line and detail rivals even that of the great George Pérez, but with far, far, far more gore and a much wider sense of space. I used one of the panels from HARD BOILED in the Page 45 15th Anniversary Booze Bash quiz, so high is my admiration for the man and so long has his art endured in my memory.

So what is this?

This is the comicbook equivalent of one those enormously enjoyable and equally improbable kung-fu flicks starring the likes of Jackie Chan, and that ingenious acrobat is referenced here. I, however, would contend that any cinematic version of this virtually silent, stop-and-gawp slice-and-dice-athon is more likely to star the dour Beat Takeshi. It’s that left-field.

Forget the insane, two-page prose introduction (funny, though), and ignore the fact that a frog – being an amphibian and therefore inherently quite partial to water – is highly unlikely to be sitting on a menhir in the middle of an oh-so-arid desert! Relish instead the resurrection of the Shaolin Cowboy who has clawed his way back through the earth from Hell, bringing with him hundreds if not thousands of persistently single-minded zombies.

Good job he has a bamboo pole handily enhanced with a chainsaw at each end! Shame there’s a car full of carelessly bigoted wastrels heading in his direction. Or is it? *smirks*

What follows is some of the finest choreography ever in comics, and a concrete lesson warning you against using the word “gay” as a lazy pejorative. Seriously: don’t do it. The Shaolin Cowboy will show you why.

Can I just interrupt myself for a moment to mention Dave Stewart? Dave Stewart is the colour artist. When something’s this detailed it takes a lot of keen thought and just-so judgement to create clearly defined clean space from clutter. Keeping the sky lambent is a great start both during shots looking up as our hero descends and also throughout the whole of Act 2 which is a) landscape b) viewed from just above knee-height, meaning there is sky to be seen between limbs for a colourist clever enough to pick it out properly. Foreground depths (plural) are equally important, answering the sky’s blue hues with appropriate and increasingly dark shades of brown which is a tradition going back to Claude Lorrain if not further.

It’s a book in four acts with a certain degree of symmetry. Acts two and three are quite specific in their corpse-culling procedures but equally, hilariously relentless. The only equivalent I can think of is sonic: Wiseblood’s ‘Motorslug’ extended remix. But those last six minutes repeat precisely the same bludgeoning refrain whereas here Geof nimbly and fluidly fashions variation after variation of meat-cleaving mutilation in what I can only describe as the ultimate chainsaw massacre before the juice runs dry and our Cowboy quick-foots it across his quarry instead, deftly dispatching the beetle-bearing shamblers on the stepping-stone hoof. You’ll see what I mean.

The fourth and final act is a rip-roaring, wear-tearing, jaw-flooring finale before “Praise be to Buddha” and BLAM! You won’t see that coming.

But Darrow throughout is having a laugh and the last laugh follows “The End”. You just know to whom it will belong.

SLH

Buy The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Julius Zebra – Rumble With The Romans h/c (£8-99, Walker Books) by Gary Northfield.

Oh my good god, Captain Stoopid had expelled himself!

La la-la la-la….

Oh wait — excelled himself!

*considers carefully* Eh, the jury’s still out.

Emperor Hadrian is very much in. He’s in his amphitheatre and judging the mood of the Roman Colosseum’s blood-craving crowd.

“Zebra! Zebra! Zebra! Zebra!”

Uh oh. I don’t think they’re vegetarians.

How did it even come to this?!?!

Julius Zebra (do not call him Debra!) had been striding the African plains with his mother and brother Brutus, head held high but nose held by hoof because, boy, those waterholes stank! I cannot think why.

So Julius defied his mother and all common sense and struck out on his own, only to fall into the trap of a Roman expeditionary force along with a long-winded warthog named Cornelius with an encyclopaedic knowledge (which was more than mildly irritating) and a lion called Miles WHICH WAS FRANKLY TERRIFYING!

A sea-change in fortune and geographical location later and our brain-dead bewildered beast finds himself in Rome, on death-row and about to go into four-legged combat against gladiators with a grudge because he’d called them “juggling monkeys”! It’s time for our zebra to seriously earn his stripes!

More bog-eyed bananas from the comicbook creator of GARY’S GARDEN, TERRIBLE TALES OF THE TEENYTINYSAURS and contributor to that bonkers TINY PENCIL package, this is isn’t strictly comics nor is it illustrated prose; instead it’s a skilfully integrated hybrid with comic panels bursting bombastically out of the prose and furthering its narrative before sinking seamlessly back in. I’ve never encountered anything quite like it!

Think of Gary Northfield as a delinquent Posy Simmonds and JULIUS ZEBRA as TAMARA DREWE with every dog in town let out.

There’s at least one illustration or elaboration per page, some breath-taking double-page landscapes (on the preceding page the port of Leptis Magna is heralded by a bleary-eyed Julius as “the most amazing sight he’s ever seen…” before Gary lets rip with one of the most amazing sights you will ever have seen!) and for educational purposes Professor Northfield also offers up some perfectly objective lessons in comparative anatomy. Clearly a zebra is not just a stripy horse!

I love the way the zebras’ stripes throughout are scribbled and scratched across their flanks in a flurry and frenzy: Gary could have made these distinctive markings as bold as Mother Nature intended but Mother Nature can’t half take her time getting things done (humans, for example, took millions of years) AND WE ARE IN A HURRY HERE!!!

It’s over CCLXXV pages long but with lots of short chapters for the attention-span challenged like me, plus there’s a logic-lesson in Roman Numerals (neat!) and a handy four-page glossary which is every bit as entertaining as the main event.

“Jupiter: One of the favourite Roman gods; the god of thunderbolts. You would usually call out to him when you stubbed your toe or sat on a pin or something.”

“Palus: A big wooden pole stuck into the ground and used for sword training in the Roman army. The poles were supposed to represent your enemy, which would have been even more useful if the enemy were trees.”

“Poena Cullei: A bizarre punishment where the condemned were sewn up in a leather bag with a snake, a dog, a cockerel and a monkey, then chucked into a river to drown. No doubt Jupiter got a few name calls along the way too.”

Is it just me or is the river sort of superfluous there?

“Show Me The Monkeys!”

Oh, do!

SLH

Buy Julius Zebra – Rumble With The Romans h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Descender #1 (£2-25, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen.

Such beautiful, bright light and vast sense of space that I’m immediately reminded of Jon J. Muth’s MOONSHADOW.

The opening shot looking out and over one of the nine Embassy Cities of the planet Niyrata – the technological and cultural hub of the nine Core Planets – and its fume-free traffic criss-crossing on multiple tiers is an almost electrical thrill, while the “cars” themselves are the sleekest and juiciest that Matchbox never made.

And then there’s Dr. Quon’s grand, clean and-oh-so chic bedroom with glass floors, glass doors, glass open-air balcony and big glass tanks full of bright little flecks that are fish! Love the cherry blossom floating in from outside.

I’m imagine Dr. Quon is held in very high esteem. After all, he practically invented modern robotics in The United Galactic Council.

It all seems pretty idyllic and I can quite clearly see how culture could thrive even if not everyone is relaxed.  There’s one director or delegate striding through a crowd bellowing about her right to exploit resources in spite of the Gnishians’ complaints. Her baby’s begun crying in spite of its android-nanny’s best efforts but big business comes first, does it not?

And then it appears in the heavens above them… and everything changes forever.

It appears to be a celestial machine, humanoid in shape and roughly the same size as Niyrata itself. There is one above each of the eight other planets and when their blank eyes flare red it looks as though they are about to communicate…

10 years later and young Tim-21 wakes up on the mining, moon colony of Dirishu-6. No more than 10, maybe 12, he’s puzzled to find himself alone, although “current population: 1” suggests that he is. Bodies litter the sealed lunar walkway and the gangways below that. He can’t find Andy and he can’t find his Mum but he does find the Communications Hub and manages to access its database. Looks like rather a lot’s happened in the last ten long years…

 

There’s a lovely moment when Tim finds his robot “dog” whose bark has gone wonky and backwards.

“You must have been so lonely. It’s okay… I’m here now.”

So what’s the connection between Tim, the monumental Harvesters as they came to be called, that which their “communications” caused across each planet they spoke to… and Dr. Quon no longer looking quite so young or half so handsome, but unshaven, paunchy and consigned to a bunk bed… on a Niyrata looking a lot less cultural or technologically hub-like?

I’d be a rotten reviewer if I told you, though I have left clues.

In the back there’s a brief breakdown of each of the nine planets so you can perhaps hazard a guess as to the identity of Tim-21’s guests, what each species has been up to over the last game-changing decade and what they may be planning now. Jeff’s left you plenty to puzzle on, and if his name rings a bell then SWEET TOOTH, ESSEX COUNTY and TRILLIUM etc.

I’m in!

SLH

Buy Descender #1 and read the Page 45 review here

All New Hawkeye #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire and Ramon Pérez…

“We’re really sorry, sir. It was my idea.”
“I don’t care whose damn it was! I want the damn grass cut!”
“Then why don’t you cut it yourself you lazy #$%#…”

<WHAP>

“That the best you can do, old man?”
“You mouthy little #%$!”

<WHAP>

“Get your bike!”
“Wha…?!”
“We gotta go now, Clint!”
“Where we gonna go, Barn?”
“I don’t know. Just keep biking.”

Well now, this was an unexpected delight. I mean, I probably shouldn’t have been remotely surprised given how highly I rate Jeff Lemire, but let me tell you, if you were perhaps also worried this title was going to take a dip following the departure of Messrs. Fraction and Aja (and let us also not forget Pulido and Wu on VOL 3 art duties) I can most emphatically assure you that will not be the case based on the evidence of this first issue.

On the other hand I do think that Marvel’s current penchant for renumbering back to #1 at even the  change of a creator’s underpants, is possibly going to have precisely the opposite effect that it is supposed to have in this particular instance, as people may see it as an ideal opportunity to exit a title at a presumed peak, rather than transitioning seamlessly onto a new creative team. Indeed, those people may well turn out to be completely wrong about that – this title hitting its peak with the Fraction / Aja run, that is – but I do realise that is a very bold statement to make at this point.

Okay, so what’s different and what’s the same? Well, we still have some elements of the dual narrative structure, but not just through the eyes of current-day Clint and Kate, wise-cracking and one-upping back and forth whilst bulls-eyeing bad guys, but also a young Clint as the issue switches between a typical high-octane all-not-exactly-going-to-plan Hawkeye-Hawkeye team-up taking down a Hydra cell, and what is possibly the beginnings of a retelling of Clint’s origin story. Also, I may just have broken my own record for most hyphens in a sentence there.

The two time periods are rendered with dramatically different art styles, but by the same artist, Ramon Perez. In fact for the modern Hawkeye Sr.&  Jr. double-act he’s gone for a style not entirely dissimilar to David Aja’s, so much so in fact that I had to check it wasn’t him! I can only presume this is to (subliminally) part-reassure readers that whilst much will be different about this title going forward, the panel-by-panel fun and frolics element is going to remain largely unchanged, visually at least. I think this is an entirely wise decision on Lemire’s and Perez’s parts, given Lemire’s own comments in his afterword about the humongous size of the scarlet booties they are filling.

What is radically different, though, are the dreamy sequences featuring a young Clint and brother Barney finding themselves unwelcome at yet another foster home, largely due to their own inability to conform, behave and obey like good little boys, it must be said. Well, perhaps also Barney smashing their new foster father over the head with a baseball bat this time… These are produced in a water colour style, with a palette entirely composed of myriad hues of purple, minus any panels or gutters whatsoever, giving the effect of recalling long forgotten memories of a misspent youth.

I suspect it’s this era’s portrayal which is going to provide the real heart and emotional depth of Lemire’s run, given how much poignancy he manages to encapsulate in barely more than half an issue here. But I also doubt – especially as how the two time period’s stories and art styles begin to intercut and interact and eventually collide towards the end of this issue, before culminating in two emotionally polar opposite but equally dramatic finales which share the final page – that events in the modern era are going to be mere spurious fun, either. No, I don’t think they are going to be light and frothy throwaway frippery at all…

An intriguing, beautiful opening which only serves to prove that Lemire is a brilliant writer and this title may finally give him the right outlet on which to showcase his undoubted storytelling skills in the superhero genre, and that Ramon Perez is an excellent choice of artistic foil to assist him in this endeavour. I suggest therefore that you either remain on board, or indeed, jump on. A change of underwear with a big glossy purple #1 on, though, is entirely compulsory…

JR

Buy All New Hawkeye #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Menu – 100 Postcards Box Set (£16-99, Scholastic) by James Jean.

So tasty I tried licking one.

Sadly the experience was like chowing down on a cherry-flavoured Chapstick: disappointment followed by revulsion.

Try doing what God intended with these postal poppets (scribbling sweet sentiments on their backs then sending them with a stamp – that’s where the licking really ought to come in), and you’re in for a much more rewarding experience, as are your friends.

And let’s face it: 17 pence per postcard is probably the cheapest you’ll find anywhere in the country.

Of the James Jean REBUS art book I wrote:

“Strange fruit hatching, butterfly-brilliant petals, mythological beasts, quizzical encounters, children at play with hammers and scissors and staves (there’s some pretty macabre shit going down), and one boy chewing a wax crayon as his head buzzes open in a frenzy of sexual imagery scribbled in that very same medium. The whole book is bursting with desire. Huge Chinese influences too.”

 

And that seemed to sell a few dozen copies so I thought it was worth trying it again.

James Jean rarely draws comics but he did have a sequence in FABLES: I001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL which I found surprisingly tolerable.

SLH

Buy Menu – 100 Postcards Box Set and read the Page 45 review here

Chester Brown: Conversations (£22-50, University Press Of Mississippi) by Dominick Grace, Eric Hoffman.

Given that Canadian comicbook creator Chester Brown was heavily into porn in his younger days (see THE PLAYBOY) and has more recently explored his relationships with prostitutes in print (see PAYING FOR IT), you can expect sex to be quite high on the conversational agenda.

Fortunately Chester is very good as discussing sex and sexual relationships along with the Christian Church and wider society’s counter-productive shame-game in a mature, even-handed and exceptionally well considered manner, at times doing his interviewer’s job for them when they kind of miss the point.

Here he talks about a panel from THE PLAYBOY in which he confessed that, with one particular girlfriend, he had to imagine having sex with a Playboy Playmate in order to keep it up:

“That panel was flawed because I didn’t give the reader enough information to understand what was going on in it. I had made the mistake of going out with a girl that I wasn’t sexually attracted to. I was attracted to her for other reasons – she was very intelligent and enormously talented. She was – probably still is – an artist. She was good-looking but “not my type”. But I thought I should be above base physicality and that I should be willing to disregard the fact that she wasn’t my sexual type.”

Bravo! Doesn’t that sound noble? It really does! One slight snafu:

“In hindsight I can see that if you’re getting sexually involved with someone, it might be a good idea to be attracted sexually to them.”

The arguments and counter-arguments which he then proffers without prompting to different attitudes towards different sorts of relationships, sex and sexual relationships are as thoughtful, detailed and eloquently expressed as any I’ve read.

I promise Chester does talk about comics as well. This is the creator of THE PLAYBOY, THE LITTLE MAN, ED THE HAPPY CLOWN, LOUIS RIEL, PAYING FOR IT and I NEVER LIKED YOU, and these interviews took place at different points in his career, some long before he had a graphic novel on any shelves and had only just found a publisher for his periodical YUMMY FUR after years of printing and distributing his own mini-comics via local shops and mail order in multiple print runs.

Those practicalities are all covered along with the lead-up to their production including a childhood love of superhero comics (which so many share – what he has to do with his childhood comics will make you weep) and (improbable, I know, if you know Chester) a fervent and dedicated desire to get his foot into that specific part of the industry’s door to the extent of taking his portfolio right to Marvel’s and DC’s doors and getting first-hand, in-person critiques from both Vince Colletta and Jim Shooter… just like Scott McCloud did this Sunday for a young lady who came to our signing.

SLH

Buy Chester Brown: Conversations and read the Page 45 review here

Tales Of Telguuth: A Tribute To Steve Moore (£18-99, Rebellion) by Steve Moore & Simon Davis, Clint Langley, various.

Steve Moore you may have heard of from Alan Moore’s UNEARTHING s/c or indeed the whopping great UNEARTHING h/c, both of which blend prose and photography into a passionate, eloquent but above all witty evocation of Alan’s mentor Steve Moore and the suburb of Shooter Hill where he has lived, in the very same house, for all but three months of his life.

And it is Alan who provides the extensive introduction to this 2000AD collection of full-colour short stories, some painstakingly painted in vein-popping, muscular Bisleyvision. Each is set on or even in the planet of Telguuth, “a planet of perverse wonders, lost amid the whirling suns of the galactic hub”.

Steve had nailed that descriptive distillation pretty much from the word go and used it as an introduction almost verbatim throughout the tales’ intermittent appearances.

Here we are sword-sheathed and sandled firmly within the realms of fantastical horror; each salutary salvo warning its readers about the importance of rules, the danger of deceit and the direction you’ll be heading in if you insist – against all advice and your very best instincts – on laying some good intentions upon the road you travel. Be careful what you wish for and knowledge is a dangerous thing etc. Cruelty seems Telguuth’s default setting and its demons are manifold.

There’s a real love of language on display, not restricted to the elaborate, gutturally named gods, seers and cities which are visited, although you will find the collection infused with at 3,000% more ‘k’s, ‘g’s and ‘z’s than most contemporary fictions.

The swapping of a tiny preposition can shift a sentence significantly.

“Come closer, boy. Closer… So I can get my hands in you.”

SLH

Buy Tales Of Telguuth: A Tribute To Steve Moore and read the Page 45 review here

Y – The Last Man Book 2 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Paul Chadwick, Goran Parlov.

From the writer or SAGA, EX MACHINA and PRIDE OF BAGHDAD, this is another Vertigo title receiving the chunky treatment, reprinting the slimmer volumes 3 and 4 exactly.

In Y – THE LAST MAN BOOK 1 all the men on the planet dropped dead apart from escape artist Yorick. It happened in an instant and because we remain such a patriarchal society the effects were devastating. The long-term forecast is far from friendly, either, for what transpires suggests that a world populated and run exclusively by women might be just as fucked up as the one we currently live in.

We don’t know what happened to wipe mankind off the metaphorical map, but the doctor Yorick’s travelling with believes she may have been responsible through a scientific act against God and/or nature.

Of course, not all men were on the planet when it happened: two were in orbit. Now they’re coming down in a rickety Soyuz capsule. If they survive that experience – and it’s by no means guaranteed that they will – then they’re going to find themselves in the middle of a ruthless international power struggle for what is now the most valuable commodity on earth: male human beings.

Relatively plain art makes this a strangely accessible read to the Real Mainstream. And whilst the dialogue takes a few books to hit the quality we’ve all come to love in his EX MACHINA, Vaughan does manage to keep everyone on their toes, successfully sneaking in surprise twists and turns, most of them decidedly unpleasant.

For example, when Agent 335 leaves Yorrick in the protective custody of a fellow member of the Culper Ring, instead of protecting him, she strips him naked, straps him to a bed and pumps him full of chemicals. Whose side is she really on? What is she up to? And what secret complexes does Yorick harbour?

SLH

Buy Y – The Last Man Book 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?

Pride Of Baghdad: The Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon

I Kill Giants (£14-99, Image) by Joe Kelly & JM Ken Nimura

Lenore vol 6: Pink Bellies h/c Color Edition (£12-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge

Astro City: Victory s/c (£12-99, DC) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Eric Anderson

Batman Beyond 2.0 vol 2: Justice Lords Beyond s/c (£12-99, DC) by Kyle Higgins, Christos N. Gage & Thony Silas, Dexter Soy

Justice League vol 5: Forever Heroes s/c (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis, various

Avengers & X-Men: Axis (UK Edition) s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Adam Kubert, Leinil Francis Yu, Terry Dodson, Jim Cheung

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 2 (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Mike Deodato, Kev Walker, Szymon Kudranski

Deadpool vol 7: Axis s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan & Mike Hawthorne, Mirko Colak

Kick-Ass 3 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.

Venom Vs. Carnage s/c (£7-50, Marvel) by Peter Milligan & Clayton Crain

Bleach vol 63 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

News!

ITEM! Here’s a cool Kickstarter with some gorgeous images which I was introduced to via Andi Watson: “Eekeemoo – Black Sun Rising” by Will & Liz Morris-Julien. Scroll down!

ITEM! Have a YouTube trailer for Gary Northfield’s JULIUS ZEBRA, reviewed above!

ITEM! 17 Sex Scenes In (very) Graphic Novels!

ITEM! Kickstarter for second comicbook creator photo album. Also, excerpts from the first. See which comicbook creator has the hairiest chest in the world!

ITEM! “I was designed to save the world. People would look to the sky and see hope. I’ll take that from them first.” Avengers: Age Of Ultron film trailer. Slick!

ITEM! Preview of Alex De Campi & Carla Speed McNeil’s NO MERCY #1

ITEM! Paul Gravett on the death – and life and work – of Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Pop him in our search engine: we not only have but have also reviewed almost everything published in English.

ITEM! While Scott McCloud was over signing copies of THE SCULPTOR (we have signed copies for sale, yes!), he mentioned Banksy’s intro to The Simpsons which I’d never seen. Bloody hell, it’s dark. Wait until after the couch…!

Scott McCloud signing at Page 45!

Would you like to see some photographs? These are by that demon D’Israeli:

 

 

 

 

“Quick! Everyone grab a book from SelfMadeHero!”

Left to right: the legendary Nabiel Kanan (responsible for all our website illustrations), till monkey me, D’Israeli, Ivy, Scott, J-Lo and Sam from SelfMadeHero. Isn’t Sam a hottie?! He really is!

I even remembered to take some photos myself. Impromptu half-hour Q&A (crowd to right, facing Scott, honest!):

 

Richard Chaney asks Scott to sign page 45 of UNDERSTANDING COMICS whence we derived our name.

BEYOND meta!

I challenge comicbook creators Luke Pearson and Nabiel Kanan to a Shy-Off!

Scott, Ivy and Sam at the station. I like the light.

It was very cold. Sam was very hot. I was very sad.

Thanks to everyone who came to our Scott McCloud signing.

Especially Scott McCloud.

That was a relief, I can tell you.

– Stephen

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