Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2015 week two

Classic Japanese horror from Junjo Ito, violence as a way of life from Jasons Aaron & Latour; the return of RAT QUEENS,  Jim Henson’s STORYTELLER, Frederik Peeters’ AAMA and Stan Sakai’s USAGI YOJIMBO; introducing Stephan Franck’s SILVER. Oh, and Marvel Comics launches the beginning of their end, SECRET WARS #1!

Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Shane-Michael Vidaurri, Kyla Vanderklugt, Matthew Dow Smith, Jeff Stokely.

“Anyone is capable of kindness… I believe.”
“You hope, rather.”

Brrrr… It’s going to get chilly!

Little about the relatively mundane cover can prepare you for some of the beauty within. “There are witches inside” it seems to say, “And you know they’re all warty. It’s the tradition.”

Which is a shame. How much braver it would have been to have gone with Shane-Michael Vidaurri for ‘The Magic Swan Goose And The Lord Of The Forest” with its inventive layout, light and colour is something I’ve spent some considerable time studying. Our own Jodie Paterson – an inventive artist in her own right (see our range of Jodie Paterson Greetings Cards And Prints) – couldn’t agree more.

It tells of a time long ago when a wild, wooded land was so remote that its king had so far failed to claim it. Its virgin, snow-topped mountain overlooked a village so small that it was self-sustaining and at one with its local habitat. It was in harmony with nature.

“The years fell as quickly and as gracefully as the autumn. And what was once a small town became a city, and a king laid his claim on the forest.”

Specifically he laid claim on the forest’s tallest tree: so tall that its topmost branches were said to catch stars which imbued them with magical properties. Philistine that he was, the king chopped the tree down to fashion a crown for the day of his son’s coronation. But the tree was much loved by Lord Of The Forest, a tall armoured rabbit or hare who took umbrage.

That king already had a daughter much older than his son but, of course – oh, of course! – she was but second in-line to the throne. The princess loved her family but cared not for the court and its mannered pageantry, pomp and dull dealings. She preferred to wander through the forest and was particularly drawn to the sturdy, hollow stump of the tree her father had plundered. It was while loitering, daydreaming there that the princess overheard a curse cast upon the crown and what happened thereafter would change the kingdom forever.

I love a good twist – see Becky Cloonan’s THE MIRE – and have chosen my words very carefully.

There is a lovely lilt to how the words tumble and often chime, Vidaurri’s hand-drawn lettering as much an intimate part of the art as it is in Dame Darcy’s MEATCAKE or Emily Carroll’s THROUGH THE WOODS.

Vidaurri uses the space around each boldly inset panel – often no more than a single panel per page – to further the narration while decorating it with a vaulted ceiling, maybe mountains or mice, oak acorns or red-berried leaves.

The panel borders themselves might be composed as a cloak-clothed woman whose image is mirrored like a knave or queen playing card, or soared over by a majestic white swan. It’s the sort of playfulness I relish in self-published works but which is then often jettisoned when a “proper” publisher makes claim.

But if you prefer your witches traditional then Jeff Stokely’s adaptation of the original teleplay ‘Vasilissa The Beautiful’ with its grotesque Baba Yaga (see Neil Gaiman’s THE BOOKS OF MAGIC and the cover here) will please you enormously. There’s even a wicked step-mother with her equally malicious cuckoo kids and two cracking opening sentences:

“Once upon a time, long winters ago, at the very edge of the world, was a village which God had forgotten. A few lonely houses stood there, fenced by a forest so deep and so dark that the sky stopped above it for fear of getting lost.”

It’s one of three of the four stories here to feature families under threat so prominently. The other is ‘The Snow Witch’ from which I gleaned the opening quotation. It’s a landscape affair which requires you to turn the book 90 degrees but only once when you start to read it. (Too many superhero comics ten years ago required you to do this mid-session then again and again thereby ruining your immersion and – unlike CEREBUS: HIGH SOCIETY – for no reason other than the artist’s self-indulgent ego / whim.)

‘The Snow Witch’ extracts a promise from a young woodcutter never to speak of her existence or she will find and punish him. Her subsequent connivances put him in the most painful position possible (remember, it is all about family) and what follows is the most frustrating intractability which transmutes love into sorrow and suffering. What will cleave your heart in two is that it’s all so profoundly unnecessary.


Buy Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Southern Bastards vol 2: Gridiron s/c (£7-50, Image) by Jason Aaron & Jason Latour.


There are several things which are a great deal scarier to me than horror films. Hatred is at the top of that list.

I never back down but hatred, in truth, scares the shit out of me and hatred backed with the threat of physical violence is all too prevalent.

Welcome to the American South.

Our Jonathan wrote an exceptional review of SOUTHERN BASTARDS VOL 1 in which he cited his own experiences there and I wish that they beggared belief, but they don’t. So you can perhaps see why I was reluctant to read this series at all. I found it traumatising. But it needed to be written, it needed to be drawn and I guess it needed to be read. What the author of the unequivocally recommended SCALPED has achieved here against all odds is to make the vicious villain of volume one the champion of volume two. Aaron is exceptional at delivering different points of perspective and adversity is can be a damn fine catalyst for sympathy and support.

Here you will learn how the American football coach of SOUTHERN BASTARDS VOL 1 came to be in his position of small-town power and the struggle it took to get there. You will also learn a lot about American football. You may in addition be persuaded to thank your lucky stars. Bonus points: if the hero of volume one is gone by volume two, then who do you think will step in for volume three? Surprise, reprise! That’s the other thing Aaron excels at: structure.

Jason Latour’s colouring speaks of a heat in both time periods, but the flashbacks are so dusty you’d be forgotten for checking if you’re got grit in your eye. On the surface the art style may look like Lee Weeks or Ron Garney (which is tribute enough) but stare a little closer and it’s a lot less traditional that it looks with craggy mouths and jagged noses employing the short of cartoon shorthand the likes of Keith Jones use. It can make for some really ugly faces oozing malice and cruelty and there are plenty of both to make you wince here.


Buy Southern Bastards vol 2: Gridiron s/c and read the Page 45 review here

GYO 2-in-1 Complete h/c (£14-99, Viz) by Junji Ito.

The walking fish of Okinawa have moved out of the city and are all over Japan and possibly the rest of the world. The parasite clenched to the underside of the fish, powered by the noxious gas that boils in their stomachs, wants new converts; it want human beings. This is the situation that Tadashi finds when he wakes up at the hospital. His beloved Kaori is dead but her bloated body still runs a strange, biomechanical machine. Somewhere out there, he hopes, is the answer to this terrible blight on the land. So he searches.

While not as beautifully constructed as UZUMAKI, this is still an excellent fix for gorehounds and lovers of twisted horror tales. The parasitic machines with their spines and insectoid legs clatter along in a quite disturbing manner and the gas-ridden near-corpses that fuel it look sickly to the touch.

The ending comes rather abruptly but Viz have rounded the series off with two short stories that reminded me why I was first attracted to Ito’s nasty little works (and why I’ve watched so many bad films based on his manga). ‘The Enigma Of Amigara Fault’ disturbed both Tom and myself. After an earthquake, a new side of Amigara mountain revealed itself. Lots of human shaped holes on the side of the mountain, each distinct from the next. Some have been drawn to the place after seeing a news report, believing that the shapes are meant for them. Then one boy enters one of the shapes and is never seen again. If you’re a tad claustrophobic, stay away from this story.


Buy Gyo 2-in-1 Complete h/c and read the Page 45 review here

aama vol 3: The Desert Of Mirrors h/c (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Frederik Peeters…

“In short I believe aama is much more than a way of studying or reproducing life’s evolutionary mechanisms.
“All that’s just a smokescreen. A cover to get people on board. First investors. Then researchers.
“I think aama is a revolutionary attempt to transform the human species by forcing it to take the next evolutionary leap.”
“You’re raving mad. Just like all the others.”

The burning question for me, though, is why there is a girl, who is clearly inextricably linked with the mysterious substance aama, that is the exact double of the daughter of our reluctant hero Verloc Nim, when she is halfway across the galaxy back on earth. His brother Conrad, a secret agent of sorts for the powers that be, definitely knows more than he is letting on, which is why he brought his brother along, under the now transparent guise of fraternal concern.


However, instead of finding the small colony of scientists they expected, hard at work researching this wonder creation in a controlled environment on the planet Ona(ji), it is blatantly apparent the experiment has run out of control and gone completely amok, with the entire ecosystem infected by or integrated with aama. Or, depending on how you look at it, everything has gone precisely how the mysterious shadowy figures behind the ‘experiment’ intended. The resultant genetic modifications to the local flora and fauna are as potentially deadly as they are dramatic.

As Condrad and Verloc travel deeper and deeper into this disturbing new world looking for the epicentre of this distortion of natural evolution, matters start to become even more surreal as our travellers begin to hallucinate wildly. What they see as their perception is forcibly altered, what secrets it reveals, to them as well as us, is key to our beginning to comprehend just what aama might be. And yes, we do finally start to get some concrete answers regarding the identity of his surrogate daughter! Without giving any more away, we leave this volume exactly where we began AAMA VOL 1: THE SMELL OF WARM DUST H/C, thus neatly setting up the fourth and final volume which should hopefully be due before the of 2015.


I heartily recommend anyone enjoying TREES to give it a look, as the writing is of a similarly excellent standard. Also anyone enjoying LAZARUS or EAST OF WEST would almost certainly love it as well.


Buy aama vol 3: The Desert Of Mirrors h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Secret Wars #1 of 8 (£3-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic.

“It’s the end.
“But the moment has been prepared for.”

 – Doctor Who: Logopolis

It really is the end: the end of the Marvel Universe as you’ve known it.

The storyline first set motion in Hickman’s own NEW AVENGERS VOL 1 reaches its climax here. Almost all the Marvel Comics titles have ceased to exist – or are about to – as the world they are set on collides with the Earth of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe and both are destroyed.

What will emerge on the other side is a closely guarded secret, but there are clues if you look closely enough.

In the meantime, for four months, you have this central SECRET WARS series which is chaos choreographed with a military precision and five billion new, attendant titles which you can take a gander at in Page 45’s Marvel Comics for May, Marvel Comics for June and Marvel Comics for July and a bunch of printed freebies we have by our counter.

Take a deep breath: you’re about to be thrown in at the deep end!


So are the two Marvel Earths. Each has appeared in the other’s sky, blotting out almost everything else up there. Their populations are terrified and their respective superhuman populations have gone straight on the attack without necessarily knowing for the most part that they’re essentially up against themselves.

There will be no winners but already there are an awful lot of losers: big-name character casualties that will cleave hearts in two because love.

The Reed Richards – patriarch personified – of each Earth has prepared best of all but one of their schemes is most assuredly about to go all Robbie-Burns-style “agley”.

Perhaps it is the X-Men’s Cyclops whom you should be watching. Because, yes, that was clever!

The problem is, the problem is, I know all this stuff. Although I now read relatively few superhero comics I’m so ridiculously well versed in Marvel Comics’ history that our Mark originally gave me this job 25 years ago on the strength of that arcane knowledge! I cannot unlearn what I know so I have no idea if new readers will relish this as I did or be baffled by it.

On the other hand Hickman certainly capitalises on the freedom of this being the beginning of the end of it all, with the prospect of phoenix-like resurrection. For example, the Punisher gate-crashing a gathering of top-tier villains with this:

“Gentlemen. They say that when you die, you can’t take it with you. Which begs the question: exactly what am I gonna do with all these bullets?”

Polished art. I don’t have anything more to say about the art than that. It’s accomplished superhero art. Not my idea of a particularly good time: I’d rather have someone more stylised like Johnny Romita Jr at the helm but it is what it is and what it is is accomplished.

Also the end of it all, So let us begin!


Buy Secret Wars #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Rat Queens vol 2: Far Reaching Tentacles Of N’rygoth (£10-99, Image) by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic…

Still reeling from the recent upturn in their public approval rating by the good citizens of Palisade, after saving the population from marauding monsters, the Rat Queens get straight back to doing what they do best: binge drinking, excessive drug taking, rampant sexual escapades, just good old fashioned debauchery, really! It won’t be long, however, before their unique brand of bravery is called upon again, as there is a darker evil lurking in the forms of N’rygoth, not an easy name to pronounce after twenty meads!

Continuing on from RAT QUEENS VOL ONE: SASS & SORCERY, we’re gradually getting to learn more about the girls’ utterly bizarre back stories, which go some ways towards explaining precisely why they are as dysfunctional as they all are. They’re an odd bunch to say the least, which probably explains exactly why I like them and their escapades so much! It’s extremely difficult to do ‘ridiculous’ fantasy or science fiction without it being too preposterously so, but for the moment at least Kurtis J. Wiebe continues to maintain the sublimely ludicrous appeal of this title.





Buy Rat Queens vol 2: Far Reaching Tentacles Of N’rygoth and read the Page 45 review here

Silver vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Dark Planet) by Stephan Franck.

Oh, I’m racking this right next to Mike Mignola’s HELLBOY empire and its attendant BPRD spin-offs. It’s the same sort of fusion of horror and period crime.

New York City, 1931, and Jonathan Harker has died, finally reunited with his beloved Mina. He has amassed a wealth of valuable artefacts now being auctioned off to benefit his Harker Foundation, a charity raising money for medical centres for under-privileged children.

James Finnigan is such a successful con-man and thief that his newspaper headlines have paperboys sniggering whenever a policeman passes by. His latest target is that very auction, the final heist which will cap off his career and secure the future for himself and his two cohorts so they can enjoy a relaxed retirement.

Although an expert planner, Finnigan’s heist is not without its complications. It’s only the last-minute intervention of a young Chinese kitchen boy which saves his sorry soul for the lad seems to know what is coming – preternaturally so – and James ends up down a trapdoor leading to Harker’s true secret: an ingot of engraved silver and a journal purporting to tell of vampires and a history dating back five millennia to the existence of a Silver Dragon, a vast, ornate artefact depicting a dragon made from the purest silver which disappeared along with its tyrannical owner and the entire fortress containing it. Obviously that’s rubbish: vampires are the stuff of silly, gothic myths.

Tempting, though, eh?

Once more the cover does no justice to the sleek, slick, black and white twilight within. There are some beautifully high-contrast full-page spreads which I believe would have been better without the occasional, computerised gleam.

The first-person narration carries it through convincingly, entertainingly, and my only concern is that – given this is to all intents and purposes self-published – will we ever see its second-half conclusion? I truly hope so.

BATMAN: LONG HALLOWEEN’s artist Tim Sale is a fan, if that helps, and Mignola fans are in for a treat.


Buy Silver vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai.

The return of the Ronin rabbit!

It’s no throw-away affair, either. You’re in for a bit of a shocker.

While creating the self-contained 47 RONIN graphic novel Stan Sakai’s been away from USAGI YOJIMBO for three years but in his absence it’s started to be collected into bigger, omnibus editions. Thank goodness because under both Dark Horse and Fantagraphics this has been a title which has been lamentably left half-in, half-out of print for so long that it’s proved very frustrating to consistently stock.

At over 200 issues so far USAGI YOJIMBO is an anthropomorphic epic set in feudal Japan. It’s basically ‘Bedknobs And Broomsticks’ at war with swords.

This flashes forward fifteen years into the future and although almost all of USAGI YOJIMBO’s regular cast have survived the intervening years… not everyone’s going to get out alive this time.


That’s okay. Stan can go back and fill in those fifteen years leading up to this point but, blimey, this is quite the event with a two-tiered double ending which will have you biting your lips for a while. It certainly ramps up the dramatic irony for future instalments.

So it’s the final battle between Lord Hikiji and the Geishu clan: everyone on horseback, charging away, in 17th Century Japan. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for.

Then something falls from the skies. It walks on three legs.

Revelations, I promise you. This is all about family.

And ‘The War Of The Worlds’, obviously.


Buy Usagi Yojimbo: Senso h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

A Game Of Thrones vol 4 h/c UK Edition (£14-99, Harper Collins) by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham & Tommy Patterson

A.B.C. Warriors: Return To Mars h/c (£14-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley

Aliens: Fire And Stone s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Chris Roberson & Patric Reynolds

Flood: A Novel In Pictures h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Drooker

Revival vol 5: Gathering Of Waters (£10-99, Image) by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton

The Hunter (£6-50, Nobrow) by Joe Sparrow

Trash Market s/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tadao Tsuge

Unflattening (£16-99, Harvard) by Nick Sousanis

Forever Evil s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & David Finch

Green Lantern vol 5: Test Of Wills s/c (£13-50, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen, Charles Soule & Billy Tan, various

Amazing Spider-Man: Edge Of Spider-Verse (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by David Hine, Dustin Weaver, Jason Latour, Clay McLeod Chapman, Gerard Way & Richard Isanove, Robbi Rodriguez, Elia Bonetti, Jane Wyatt

Amazing Spider-Man: Spider-Verse (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Oliver Coipel, Guiseppe Camuncoli

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Kev Walker, Mike Deodato, Dalibor Talajic

Drug & Drop vol 2 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Clamp

Gantz vol 35 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

The Heroic Legend Of Arslan vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshiki Tanaka & Hiromu Arakawa

Badger Blue Mini Print (£8-00) by Jodie Paterson

Badger Green Mini Print (£8-00) by Jodie Paterson

Goldfish Copper Foil Print (£18-00) by Jodie Paterson

Songbird Cetti’s Warbler Mounted Print (£20-00) by Jodie Paterson

Songbird Goldcrest Mounted Print (£20-00) by Jodie Paterson

Wanderlust Explore Mounted Print (£20-00) by Jodie Paterson

Wanderlust Run Away Mounted Print (£15-00) by Jodie Paterson


ITEM! Marvel’s SECRET WARS #1 is reviewed up above but SECRET WARS #2 is out already! Blimmin ‘eck!

ITEM! Drawn & Quarterly, publisher of Adrian Tomine, Lynda Barry, Guy Delise and MOOMIN – celebrates its 25th Birthday!

ITEM! Fascinating new interview with GHOST WORLD’s Dan Clowes, although I can assure that at Page 45 at least the readers buying books by Tomine, the Tamaki cousins, Anders Nilsen, Marjane Satrapi etc are emphatically not the same people buying superhero comics!

– Stephen

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