Archive for June, 2015

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2015 week four

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

Joe Decie’s THERE’S NO BATH IN THIS BATHROOM, two Young Readers’ graphic novels, TOKYO GHOUL manga, Malik Sajad’s MUNNU and more!

Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir h/c (£16-99, 4th Estate) by Malik Sajad.

“A young boy fell in the street like a loose overcoat from a hanger.”

He’s just caught a stray bullet.

Occupied Kashmir during the 1990s and Sajad dubbed Munnu (“the youngest”) is seven years old. Echoing Malik Sajad’s own childhood, this is a dense, intense and arresting read that will tear your heart apart and have you sweating with vicarious fear.

Those who already relished Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS, Belle Yang’s FORGET SORROW or  Kunwu & Otie’s A CHINESE LIFE are going to love this. I’m thinking particularly PERSEPOLIS, for this too centres on the strength, resilience and resourcefulness of a family in the wake of oppression.

That’s one heck of a cover with its title in gold relief, but immediately striking inside is the way the images resemble prints made from woodcuts, in keeping with the artisan trade of Munnu’s Papa. On the very first page there’s a topographical map of the city, each landmark raised on contoured hills in a medieval manner.

This effect’s emphasised further in the white lines, as if scooped out, between the angular forms of the Kashmiri people represented by a black, stylised version of their national animal, the Hangul deer, with whose beautiful, white, diamond-shaped eye-markings Sajad succeeds in imbuing an enormous range and depth of emotion using surprisingly subtle, simple strokes.

National symbolism aside, it’s also an astute choice of animal, deer (ideally) being free-roaming herbivores associated with nobility, strength and grace. Under Indian occupation, of course, the Kashmiris’ days of free-roaming have here been substantially curtailed with a bludgeoningly repetitive and brutal enforcement but they certainly maintain their grace on the page.

There’s something far more affecting to me about seeing the face of a faun nuzzling the neck of a maternally protective deer than there would have been had it been a drawing of a human mother and child. Perhaps it’s the residual effect of having bawled my eyes out during Bambi at the pictures aged four or five. Indeed when humans do rear their ugly heads as soldiers, there are grotesque scenes of them molesting a sister visiting her brother in prison under the excuse of frisking her for weapons as those detained watch helplessly in the dark from behind iron bars.

It’s juxtaposed on either side by a peaceful gathering of prayer and song in a former cricket ground now given over to the gravestones of martyrs as far as the eye can see. There the Kashmiri people / deer raise their hands towards the heavens, their arms like the bifurcating branches of the trees up above them.

Another early scene shows them swarming round a sacred mulberry tree in grief as two bodies in “snow-white shrouds” are returned after being shot by soldiers during one of the all-too regular crackdowns when houses are wrecked as they’re searched for all men over a certain height who are then paraded in front of an informant to be identified as militants. The rolling mass, rippling with those white demarcation lines between so many individuals, looks like a swollen river engorged with grief. It is beautiful yet terrible to behold.

Another wise decision to win over readers is making the heart of this book Munnu’s family. His beloved, touchingly affectionate older brother Bilal boasts the antlers of a healthy young buck implying he’s in his late teens, whereas Munnu and his two other brothers have small budding stubs: Munnu is seven, his other male siblings no more than a couple of years older than him. His sister Shahnaz is closer in age to Bilal. His father sports a pair of geometrically elaborate glasses which come over like a Perspex visor and that made me smile. His perpetually worried mother in her shawl and headdress looks a little like she’s an example of origami.

The tight-knit family is everything, and they’re keenly aware that theirs is lucky to be intact: so many of Bilal’s teenage contemporaries have snuck across the border to the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir to received armed training before returning and to become some of those all-too-young martyrs in that repurposed cricket ground. Also, there are those crackdowns I mentioned and each time the tension is taut as the mother waits in agony at home for her husband and Bilal’s safe return, tearfully praying within each of the three segments of a slowly ticking clock between the second, minute and hour hands.

Growing up under these intrusive conditions which have had a severely deleterious effect upon Papa’s trade (once thriving tourism is now all but extinct) is no ideal childhood and Munnu’s nightmares after a family friend is shot during an identification parade are prolonged and horrific. Sure, there are regular childhood games to be played – like fantasy cricket using the page numbers of an Urdu / English dictionary to score – but it’s hardly normal for a seven-year-old when practising his art to be copying disfigured bodies and AK-47s from newspaper photos. When we carved ink-stamps from erasers (and we did) we made the shapes of horned devil heads not machine guns. There’s something far more sinister about a machine gun ink-stamp mass-reproduced on children’s exercise books than individual drawings – or indeed horned devil heads.

Religion plays a large part inside and outside his regularly disrupted schooling as principals are arrested when linked to militants and some teachers are more kindly than others. One respected elder perceptively remarks, “The heat of the pulpit can either make one divine or a devil”. But however brutal you rate the punishments at school (and I rather think you will), it’s as nothing compared to dragging bodies through a street behind a military van until all the skin on their faces is scraped off to instil fear in the population. Now that is medieval.

Together we follow Munnu through his first published political cartoon aged 13 – then regular employment as a daily visual satirist at the Greater Kashmir newspaper during his early teens – to his first introduction to comics in the form of Joe Sacco graphic novels of extended reportage. Whence this graphic novel. After everything he witnesses he’s not short of passion in denouncing the Indian army’s occupation – chronicled here is atrocity after casual and callous atrocity; the army will even vandalise the ambulance due to take Munnu’s mother to hospital later on – but is candid about his lack of historical knowledge to keep his cartoons fresh, partly because of the jumble of languages the population is forced to speak, read and write in, emphatically excluding Kashmiri.

So the reader is not made to feel relatively ignorant. It’s only halfway through MUNNU that we’re given a history lesson ourselves and – wouldn’t you know it? – good old empire-building Britain plays its woefully traditional, substantial part in fucking things up for Kashmir, catalysing bloodbath after bloodbath before the current conflict kicks off during October 1947 and Kashmir is carved up by the United Nations between the two nuclear powers of India and Pakistan without any consultation whatsoever about what the Kashmiri people want.

It’s a recurring response – of lack thereof. The fervent desire of the Kashmiri population for independence is completely ignored.

Whenever Munnu (increasingly referred to as Sajad as his reputation as an artist expands) is received by outsiders during a Kathmandu summit or when visited by E.U delegates he is patronised to death by well meaning westerners as being ignorant and simplistic in spite of the fact that he’s lived the life that they only hear of from afar.

“I might not know where the bullet came from but I could tell her who the bullet hit.”

But if you think that Malik white-washes the Kashmiri factions’ own roles in massacres (the statistics of which lie in the eyes of the various different statisticians), you’re very much mistaken because if the Indian Army’s atrocities weren’t bad enough, organised religion is used by some Muslim Kashmiri to decry the minority Pandit Kashmiri whose homes are mob-attacked with stones in order to drive them out. Hands up who’s even remotely surprised?

“Infidels, infidels, get out of Kashmir but leave your women here!”

The Pandit population does get out, en masse, but wisely take their women with them. But then there’s an internal free-for-all just to settle personal or religious scores on every side and there’s lovely, isn’t it?

The last fifty-plus pages are terrifying on so many levels. If this had been a mere history lesson it wouldn’t have been half so effective or affecting. But no, this is a highly personal account cleverly constructed so that you care.

At any given point any one member of the family could succumb to a bullet or an illness whose cure could have been readily available were there not an occupying army sabotaging access to treatments or even decent nutrition. I lost count of the times that Munnu or one of his family were detained, restrained, searched and beaten until they could prove they were who claimed to be.

So when a young American woman whom Sajad falls for loses his mobile phone while visiting a highly restricted area… well, she simply doesn’t understand the consequences of it being discovered there with his SIM card intact by the Indian Army.

There’s so much about life in Kashmir which I didn’t understand. Since the terrifying nuclear brinksmanship in 1999 which I remember so well, it’s rather fallen from our news cycles, hasn’t it?

This great graphic novel, I am convinced, will bring it back to the forefront of our attention. To those of us who read great graphic novels, at least. Good luck in waiting for the oh-so-trusted mass media to report.

SLH

Buy Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir h/c and read the Page 45 review here

There’s No Bath In This Bathroom (Sketched In) (£5-00) by Joe Decie.

How To Sell Comics: a textbook example.

Look at that cover! Such gorgeous greens!

Laugh at that title! How daft is our language?

It’s so full of contradictions and hilariously vestigial nomenclature once history’s moved on.

When America imported its language from England to receive a right royal twatting it was just waiting for a comic like this. North Americans call toilets “bathrooms”. Long have their bathrooms been without baths. But then, so have ours: I have two bathrooms at home and one of them has but a shower.

As ever with Joe Decie (I BLAME GRANDMA, THE LISTENING AGENT etc) this is slyly suspect autobiography with a mischievous punchline delivered deadpan.

In this case it concerns a night on the town during Canada’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival with fellow comicbook creators like Dan Berry, spent in an open-all-hours cheap pizza establishment rumoured to be run by gangsters. It would have been a much more relaxed meal for Joe if he hadn’t needed the loo. Or at least if the loo had been a little more sanitary. You will not believe what’s in there. Or who.

There’s usually something magical about a Joe Decie tale whether it’s tall or not. For I don’t mean magical / fantastical (though that’s not out of bounds), I mean odd encounters or flights of thought, and this is no exception. How Joe reacts to them is always worth a smile.

I BLAME GRANDMA was created within 24 hours so the drawings were necessarily less embellished than the positively lush washes here. It verges on photorealistic. He’s a magnificent portrait artist too. Unlike many autobiographical cartoonists you can recognise Joe Decie immediately from his art – though he’s about half a foot shorter than I imagined – and his Dan Berry’s so lifelike, it’s eerie!

There are some fabulous gesticulations and comical expressions, my favourite being the bluff as Decie nods earnestly in agreement to something he couldn’t even comprehend.

Love the background winks to fellow creators Joe List, Liz Lunney and John Porcellino.

SLH

Buy There’s No Bath In This Bathroom (Sketched In) and read the Page 45 review here

Monkey Nuts vol 1: The Diamond Egg Of Wonders (£9-99, DFB Library) by the Etherington Brothers.

“And so LordMonkey Nuts Terra sent his terrible signal pulsing upwards through the earth. He really is very naughty.”

Oh, he’s so very naughty indeed!

From the creators of LONG GONE DON, BAGGAGE and the ingenious action-adventure puzzle book VON DOOGAN comes even more cracking comicbook chaos for Young Readers.

They will thrill, chill – and maybe dribble a little bit – at the sheer spectacle of it all! Is there anyone working in children’s comics today who can pack more colour and fine-lined detail into each and every page? I don’t think so! There are always extra background jokes in the form of signage but I positively wet myself during the cacophonous climax when the landscapes took on a life of their own! And upon Isla De Monstrea they’re as exotic as early Tombraider’s only with 25 gazillion times sharper definition!

Aarrgh! What is happening?! In order to distract all other contenders in his hunt for the Diamond Egg Of Wonders, Lord Terra has sent out a sonic signal which makes monsters drawn to the island like moths to his flame.

In their rampaging way stand but three idiotic individuals just like The Magnificent Seven, only fewer and far less magnificent:

Sid the tap-dancing monkey is addicted to lunching, munching and brunching on bananas! Rivet, the walking, talking, robotic, hot-beverage dispenser, is bananas! Police Chief Tuft is not bananas but he is as crazy as a coconut! Umm. Largely because he is one.

Are these three fully prepped for policing? Do they have take-down, truss-‘em-up tactics and tricks up their sleeves? Do they have their combined wits about them in order to conquer the chaos that erupts upon their delinquent doorsteps? They do not

They are about as witless as the most nit-witted numbskulls you can possibly imagine! I guess they’ll just have to wing it then.

Duck and cover!

Wave after wave of monsters hit Monster Island from tentacled terrors and petulant, primate-hating pyramids to a colossal, fire-headed fury in a very foul mood because he’s managed to get an alarm clock lodged up his bottom. Lodged up his bottom!

I once got an alarm clock lodged up my bottom and, let me tell you, when the alarm went off it was most discombobulating!

SLH

Buy Monkey Nuts vol 1: The Diamond Egg Of Wonders and read the Page 45 review here

Tales Of Fayt: The Mystery Of The Crooked Imp (£7-99, DFB) by Conrad Mason & David Wyatt.

Welcome to Port Fayt, so-called jewel of The Middle Islands which lie on The Ebony Ocean!

I say “so-called” because hook-handed buccaneer Crafty Crocklewick takes the time and trouble to deliver dire warnings about what lies ashore in the form of an annotated map upon which you will discover The Rusty Anchor and The Pickled Dragon amongst several insalubrious saloons!

The Rusty Anchor is described as “the safest lodging house in town, so long as you sleep with one eye open” while of The Pickled Dragon it’s suggested, “Try their gutspiller grog for a night you’ll never remember”. Given that the target audience probably averages around ten years old, they probably won’t remember that by the time they come to risk not remembering, but still. I love good map, me!

Bursting out from the pages of THE PHOENIX weekly story comic for kids, I can only compare the level of eye-popping detail to LONG GONE DON, BAGGAGE, MONKEY NUTS and the ingenious action-adventure puzzle book VON DOOGAN by stablemates The Etherington Brothers. The colouring style is softer and more painterly but behind that lie lines quite as crisp and just as much action.

Wyatt draws a mean, mist-shrouded pirate ship that’s run aground on the rocks beneath a silvery full moon and the Rattigan’s family mansion is rich with intricately carved woodwork even if, on closer inspection, you can spot some wallpaper peeling off its walls. I rather think the family has seen wealthier days.

Far worse, the Rattigans have learned that last night their horse-and-coach driver Whelk was set upon and their baby son Clarence abducted from the carriage so they have summoned The Demon’s Watch, a band of thinkers and fighters far more effective than Fayt’s official Dockside Militia, the Blackcoats.

Led by Captain Newton, a human-ogre hybrid, they are: ancient elf, Old Jon; green-skinned troll twins, The Bootle Brothers; wand-waving magician Hal; and young tomboy Tabitha with bright blue hair, determined to make her mark and so her membership official.

Immediately something seems off about the case but it’ll grow even more tangled before the day is done and the battle’s been won. Oh yeah, you can expect plennnnnnnnty of action involving fairies, a mysterious, red cowled mastermind, that pirate ship, an old-school Elizabethan theatre and its grandstanding lead Actor who is quite the troll, green beneath his grease paint.

He really is a complete and utter ham, and unfortunately writes his own lines. I guess for him it’s a theatrical release.

SLH

Buy Tales Of Fayt: The Mystery Of The Crooked Imp and read the Page 45 review here

Tokyo Ghoul vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida…

“Boy eats girl… da da da, dara da da, da da da dara da da…”

With sincere apologies to Haircut 100.

So… we finally got in the manga title seemingly everyone’s been desperate for and I thought I better give it a read. Set in a modern-day Tokyo haunted by ‘ghouls’ with a taste for human flesh, it’s a horror with comedic undertones for reasons I will elaborate on shortly.

No one has ever caught a ghoul, but people suspect that they are walking amongst the population hiding in human form. Then, occasionally, the half eaten remains of some poor unfortunate will be found on the pavement in the morning. These attacks aren’t frequent enough to cause mass panic, or indeed apparently to stop people walking the streets alone at night, but obviously people are concerned.

When our shy central protagonist, bookworm Ken Kaneki, is invited out for a dinner date by the glamorous Rize, it all seems too good to be true. It is, obviously, as she is a ghoul who’s decided Ken is going to be her Special Of The Day. Fortunately for him whilst she is in the middle of pouncing on him and his kidneys (after he’s chivalrously offered to walk her home) some scaffolding collapses, killing her instantly. Unfortunately for Ken, after her late-night snack, he’s in need of an organ donor. Now where you suppose they might find somebody, without any bothersome next of kin to say no to such a worthy request?

You got it, poor old Ken ends up as the recipient of various ghoulish innards – instead of ending up as the contents of them – and that’s where his problems really start. Unable to turn to anyone human including best friend Hike for help, in case he decides to turn them into a sandwich, he’s forced to seek succour from his new-found half-brothers and half-sisters. And their social skills leave a lot to be desired…

Hmm. I can’t honestly say I was as instantly gripped this as I was by say, ATTACK ON TITAN. It’s an interesting enough premise, but I think it is going to be far too much battle manga-esque for me. Which is a surprise given it is on Viz’ signature Ikki imprint. But then again so was MARCH STORY and I thought exactly the same about that. So: upmarket battle manga with a decent premise, then.

JR

Buy Tokyo Ghoul vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Gotham Academy vol 1: Welcome To Gotham Academy s/c (£10-99, DC) by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher & Karl Kerschl…

Can I get away with describing this as a BATMAN / COURTNEY CRUMRIN-esque mash-up? I think I possibly can, just about… Along with BATGIRL OF BURNSIDE s/c and a slew of titles DC are just releasing such as BLACK CANARY #1 (both written by Brendan Fletcher) this definitely represents a welcome partial shift in their traditional ‘superhero’ output.

So… our hero Olive is attending the prestigious Gotham Academy. She’s a little bit of a social malcontent right now, having split up with her boyfriend and managing to alienate most of her friends over the summer. She also had a run in with Batman… which had quite an impact on her.

Initially struggling to settle in, including being bullied because her mum is in Arkham Asylum, she decides to turn teen sleuth when some masked figures are spotted on campus. Like any good, ridiculously posh American school, they are of course merely members of a secret society, but they are definitely up to some serious no good, that’s for sure. Can Olive uncover their dastardly scheme whilst avoiding demerits and detentions?

 

This is great fun with a slightly spooky edge, which I suspect might be both Brendan Fletcher and Becky Cloonan’s respective contributions neatly balancing out. Much like BATGIRL OF BURNSIDE s/c , the art, this time from Karl Kerschl, is relatively cartoonish but excellent nonetheless, and totally in keeping stylistically with the content and tone of the story. And whilst it is obviously intended to be relatively lightweight fare (DETECTIVE COMICS this is not, though arguably there is considerably more sleuthery going on here), it does handle the darker side of schooling, the bullying and social pecking order skulduggery that goes on everywhere, rather well.

I’ve seen enough of Brendan Fletcher’s work recently to realise he is actually a pretty good writer, certainly in terms of current DC output. I’d quite like to see him tackle completely non-caped contemporary fiction at some point.

JR

Buy Gotham Academy vol 1: Welcome To Gotham Academy s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Black Canary #1 (£2-25, DC) by Brenden Fletcher & Annie Wu.

“From the moment the lights went up, the Wizard’s Wand show in Detroit was a performance to remember. Paloma Terrific debuted her new custom gear in the rig. D.D. was finally playing to the crowd. Lord Byron sat perfectly in the pocket playing to the crowd. And silent wunderkind Ditto pulled sounds out of her semi-acoustic so otherworldly that Leon Theremin would’ve been dumbstruck.”

– From some music magazine or other.

Artist Annie Wu a great many of you will already know from the deliciously drawn HAWKEYE VOL 3, given which you will be far from surprised that this is not your average superhero comic.

It’s not even your average superheroine comic because although Black Canary still sports fishnet stockings, this isn’t about the long legs, thigh shots and deep, forward-thrusting cleavage otherwise known as “tits’n’ass” comics which are a total disgrace to the medium.

Here the fishnets are torn in punk and post-punk fashion and that’s a studded leather jacket on top of the bodice which reveals nothing at all except a new wave fashion sense as our trouble magnet, now lead singer of the rock band Black Canary, lets it rip into the mic.

Wu’s lines are all whoosh-whoosh on the page, hair flying everywhere or lolloping over the forehead when the cast is feeling more sedate. It keeps the story sweeping along beautifully and the story right now seems to centre on Black Canary’s mute guitarist Ditto, for although it looked as though D.D. was attracting all the violence spilling onto their set so cutting the gigs short and ruining their reputation, she was merely defending their territory.

Really they were after the silent and secretive Ditto – she of the ethereal strings – and their assailants were merely the vanguard. What’s coming next (and I do mean what, not who) I can only compare to the Umbral in UMBRAL. Lee Loughbridge’s colours do something clever there: they take over everything on the page – all the linework and shadow which would ordinarily be black – except for the creatures themselves.

The effect is to render the inky ones alien, otherworldly and the centre of your eyes’ attention. They’ve got the bands too. Thank goodness D.D. used to be in the Justice League. For five seconds.

So what’s her story, then?

SLH

Buy Black Canary #1 and read the Page 45 review here

 

Thors #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Sprouse.

“Names, Throg. I need an I.D. on the victims. So far Ray and I have nothing to go on.”
“What can I tell ya? They’re not in the database.”
“None of them? How is that possible.”
“You’re talking to a frog that carries a hammer, pal. Any damn thing is possible.”

It is now!

In SECRET WARS #1 the regular Marvel Universe and its Ultimate counterpart collided, obliterating both. Now all that’s left is Battleworld, consisting of concurrent cross-overs and major events from Marvel’s past playing themselves out further than they did before or in different ways. Each takes place in a different domain between which travelling is strictly forbidden by decree of Battleworld’s deity Doctor Victor Von Doom. He is the law; order is maintained by the Thors.

This, therefore, is now a police-procedure crime comic, and it’s cracking!

For a start the art is by TOM STRONG’s Chris Sprouse so it’s big and it’s bold with smooth and attractive figure work without being over-busy or brutal.

Its stars every Thor throughout history – well, Marvel’s history – and there have been many: Stormborn (the X-Men’s Ororo), Thorlief (the Ultimate Universe’s Thor) Beta Ray Bill (he has the head of a skinned horse!) and Throg (he’s a frog). There are in fact hundreds of the hammer-hefting hearties.

The primaries on this investigation are Thorlief and Beta Ray Bill and the pressure is on for it’s just been designated an “Allthing” by Odin. This means all hands on deck because the case needs to be closed quickly before Doom himself gets wind of it and demotes the two primaries which would involve losing a great deal more than their police pensions.

So what’s got them all baffled? Five dead bodies have appeared in five different domains but what isn’t different is their identities: they’re all the same woman. Five versions of the same woman have been murdered. Who is the woman? Clue: she’s ever so slightly central to the Marvel THOR mythos.

What I love about the best of these SECRET WARS satellite series (and there are hundreds of those too; amongst those reviewed so far and still / back in stock, OLD MAN LOGAN #1 and PLANET HULK #1) is that they each contain a different piece of the jig-saw puzzle which is Battleworld and the secrets that lie behind it. Beta Ray’s informant, living on the street out of a cardboard box, knows stuff:

“I can tell you what I’ve learned in the shadows, Stormbreaker. I can tell you why people are dying. Your good friend Loki can tell you about the greatest lie of all. But I don’t believe you’re gonna want to hear it.”

A lie that’s bigger than Loki’s? Blimmin’ ‘eck!

SLH

Buy Thors #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.

Wytches vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Scott Snyder & Jock

Rumble vol 1: What Colour Of Darkness s/c (£7-50, Image) by John Arcudi & James Harren

Russian Olive To Red King h/c (£18-99, Adhouse Books) by Kathryn Immonen & Stuart Immonen

Borb (£14-99, Uncivilised Books) by Jason Little

Invincible vol 21: Modern Family (£12-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley

Massive vol 5: Ragnarok s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown

Oliver And The Seawigs (£6-99, Oxford) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre

Cakes In Space (£6-99, Oxford) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre

Rasputin vol 1: The Road To The Winter Palace s/c (£10-99, Image) by Alex Grecian & Riley Rossmo

Strangers In Paradise vol 5 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Strangers In Paradise vol 6 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Adventure Time Sugary Shorts vol 2 h/c (£16-99, Titan) by various inc. Roger Langridge, Noelle Stevenson, Frazer Irving

Batman And Robin vol 5: The Big Burn s/c (£12-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, various

Batman And Robin vol 6: The Hunt For Robin h/c (£18-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Andy Kubert, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, various

Supergirl vol 1: Last Daughter Of Krypton s/c (£10-99, DC) by Michael Green, Mike Johnson & Mahmud Asrar

Supergirl vol 2: Girl In The World s/c (£10-99, DC) by Michael Green, Mike Johnson & Mahmud Asrar, George Perez

Supergirl vol 3: Sanctuary s/c (£12-99, DC) by Mike Johnson & Mahmud Asrar

Supergirl vol 4: Out Of The Past s/c (£10-99, DC) by Michael Alan Nelson, Scott Lobdell, Justin Jordan & various

Supergirl vol 5: Red Daughter Of Krypton s/c (£13-50, DC) by Tony Bedard & various

Ant-Man vol 1: Second-Chance Man s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Ramon Rosanas

Hulk: Future Imperfect s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Peter David & George Perez, Dale Keown

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol 14 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Eiji Otsuka & Housui Yamazaki

Mobile Suit Gundam Origin vol 10: Solomon (£22-50, Random House / Vertical) by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

News!

ITEM! Artist Daren Bader interviewed about TRIBES OF KAI graphic novel which looks ferociously fine – and feline!

ITEM! Interview with Kate Beaton about her next comic collection, STEP ASIDE, POPS! Kate Beaton’s HARK, A VAGRANT! always in stock at Page 45!

ITEM! Craig Thompson’s new graphic novel – for Young Adults – is on the horizon! Pre-order Craigh Thompson’s SPACE DUMPLINS from Page 45! There’s so many Craig Thompson SPACE DUMPLINS process pieces online on his blog! Duck under the bridge and scroll down!

– Stephen

Page 45 Reviews written by Stephen & Jonathan then edited by an Aye-Aye with no eye for errors.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2015 week three

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Bodies s/c (£12-99, Vertigo) by Si Spencer & Dean Ormston, Phil Winslade, Meghan Hetrick, Tula Lotay.

“Know you are loved.”

This is going to surprise you.

Longharvest Lane, London: 1890, 1940, 2014 and 2050.

Four different artists for four distinct time periods. In each of them a naked male corpse is discovered in the same position, in the same location, with the same vicious mutilations and the same stark symbol slashed upon its wrists.

This brand begins to crop up everywhere and every when: on the finger prints of the corpse itself; on a Spiritualist & Pharmacist shop front window and door; at the Whitechapel Masonic Lodge, on the parachute of a doll in a dream; within the Pulsewave Generator’s holographic schematics in the future; as a mark left in place of one of the corpses which goes AWOL; and on the ancient painting titled “So Begins The Long Harvest”.

Whole thoughts and phrases echo throughout time, like “Who are you and what do you remember?” and “This is brutality”.

So this brutality begins during four eras which saw or will see extreme hatred and violence.

2014 sees D.S. Shahara Hasan, a Muslim East-Ender, in police riot gear leading the charge against an aggressively racist anti-Muslim demonstration rallied by England’s Glory. She is philosophical about the thugs and amused by her subordinate’s sense of humour:

“Tell me again why I’m the one in the armour and you’re swanning about in Hugo Boss?”

“Because your people are on a ruthless Jihad to set up an Islamofascist annex of Mecca on the Mile End Road?”

“And don’t you forget it. Your head’ll be first to roll as soon as my scimitar arrives from Taliban Central.”

She’s about to have that smile wiped off her face.

In 1890, during Jack The Ripper’s murderous rampage, Inspector Edmond Hillinghead strays on a top-hatted toff receiving oral relief down a dark alley from a woman with stubble before he trips in flight over a hacked and slashed corpse.

“Someone really didn’t like him.”
“Or really liked doing this to him.”

Dutiful and diligent, Hillinghead will do his best for the victim using fledging forensics in spite of his superior’s less than enlightened attitudes towards homosexuality. These too are dark times.

In 2050. armed with a bow and arrow, Maplewood discovers her own incarnation of the body in the scantily populated, broken capitol, along with a brightly coloured ball and a conspicuously coherent girl called Bounce. For like someone with Alzheimer’s and everyone else around her, Maplewood struggles with labels, scrabbles for the right words and barely remembers her own name. The Pulsewave saw to that many moons ago. But who saw to the Pulsewave?

During an air raid in 1940’s East End – while across The Channel The Holocaust is occurring – we find one Inspector Weissman hiding his Jewish heritage with an anglicised name which no one will use. He has unorthodox methods of policing his turf, using the long rain of Blitz bombs to harvest a fortune in theft.

“The blackouts and the raids mask a multitude of crimes. Most of them mine.”

But not all of them, apparently, are his.

All four artists – Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay and Phil Winslade – bring distinct atmospheres to their eras: smooth and clean, suppressed grotesque, elusive and ethereal, and a Butch Guice brand of photorealism, respectively.

Dean Ormston’s lines are a tightly controlled cross between SPIRITS OF THE DEAD‘s Richard Corben and HELLBOY’s Mike Mignola when it comes to the shadows and period feel. Lee Loughbridge adjusts his colour palette for each era and with Ormston restricts himself largely to black, white and a glowing spot-red for spectacles, sigils and blood. When complementing Tula Lotay’s dreamlike sequences he’s far softer, far brighter and in places quite close to Paul Pope’s HEAVY LIQUID. Those sequences are almost like a mirage.

The eight chapters are split into six pages for each time period, which is a discipline in itself, but their order rotates as required. You’re encouraged – nay, compelled – to cross-reference densely packed clues. These range from the more obvious iterations of Longharvest Lane (by 2050 the cracked and dilapidated street sign is missing several letters) and Longharvest Arms, Green and indeed Infirmary. And, deliciously, the time periods will bleed into each other with both cause and effect.

But I promised you surprises, didn’t I? The biggest is this: it’s no mere whodunit. Like Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s comicbook masterpiece FROM HELL, this is a whydunit, and the self-sacrificial “Why?” is infinitely more important.

For, at its great big heart, this is a wake-up call, combating wave after wave of human prejudice and its sick and sorry attendant violence.

It’s precisely the sort of thing Will Eisner spoke of so wisely in DROPSIE AVENUE, THE NAME OF THE GAME and TO THE HEART OF THE STORM etc. The clue’s on the very first page.

SLH

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

Blubber #1 (£2-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez.

Holy Hellfire from the Heavens upon High!

Thank fuck that this comes with a crazed-critter cover so lurid that even the natural world’s most voracious, omnivorous and top-of-the-food-chain predators would recognise that it is as venomously lethal to their guts as it will prove to the spiritual well-being of any human foolish enough to lap up the body fluids within.

We’re all about consumers at Page 45 for we are unashamedly capitalist bastards, but what is being consumed within may make you gag.

From LOVE & ROCKETS’ much beloved Beto, Sunday evening David Attenborough this is not!

In last week’s review of the magnificent and monumental 750-page DRAWN & QUARTERLY: 25 YEARS OF CONTEMPORARY CARTOONING, COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS anthology (a title designed to garner as many Google points as it possibly can – hey, we play those games too!), I quoted publisher Fantagraphics as being designated “transgressive” and no new comic could possibly underscore the accuracy of that epithet more emphatically than this. I am a firm advocator for transgression which is why I love Fantagraphics as dearly as I do Drawn & Quarterly.

But you have been warned: LOVE & ROCKETS is as literary as you could like but Gilbert is taking a holiday here to revel with delirious abandon in detailing the reproductive life cycles and carnal pleasures of various beasties you would least like to encounter on safari.

If I can find even a single page of interior art online I probably won’t reproduce it here. If I have republished it here, it is the one least likely to land me in jail.

Sorry..? Of course it made me laugh!

SLH

Buy Blubber #1 and read the Page 45 review here

East Of West vol 4: Who Wants War (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta.

“Hope?
“I think hope will be the death of us.”

I loved the lie.

The lie right at the end of the last book, discerned only if you interpret the visuals.

That’s what comics at its brightest does best, and EAST OF WEST is amongst the brightest and the best of Image’s creator-owned series, shot through with Jonathan Hickman’s impeccable design sense.

Lo and behold, this volume kicks off with another Hickman flourish to remind you where we are, what’s happening and what has gone before in the form of a beautiful, colour-coded timeline which could not be clearer taking you up to 2064AD when The Horsemen were reborn and the Apocalypse began.

The current status of each of the Seven Nations making up the divided States of America is detailed in a summary and stats from its government, language, population and GDP to its military might, economic strength, political stability and long term viability, all accompanied by a map. If that sounds dry, you haven’t seen Hickman’s design work!

And if you think a comic involving the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse has to look bleak, dark and dreary, then you haven’t seen Nick Dragotta’s lush line work glowing with Frank Martin’s colours. Very much in the tradition of John Buscema and Lee Weeks in its smooth and solid forms, Dragotta’s figure work is impeccable, his eyes are piercing and his own designs for the likes of the Endless Nation and the “blind” boy Babylon in his survival suit are sensational.

Here’s my own summary:

America which has been divided between Seven Nations, representatives of whom sit on a secret council and conspire against each other, vying for power, even though their goal is the same: to bring about Armageddon. It is their sworn duty, for they are The Chosen who follow The Message, a sacred text heralding the end of the world.

Fighting the same nihilistic corner are the Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, resurrected in EAST OF WEST VOL 1 as children. Well, three of them were: War, Famine and Conquest. Death was conspicuously absent.

Why? Death, had stayed behind as a white-skinned, white-haired, white-clothed, gun-slinging adult because he’d fallen in love with Xiaolian Mao, now leader of the Mandarin-speaking People’s Republic Of America on its West Coast, a woman who, he discovered, had born him a child and the hunt is now on for that son dubbed The Great Beast, Babylon.

The Child Horsemen want to kill Death’s progeny; Death wants to save him.

Death wants to save the whole world.

It’s that sort of a book, riddled with ironies, like the Endless Nation of Native Americans once so myth-based now being the technological champions of the modern world and, militarily, its mightiest: they have just conquered The United States of Texas. They export their technology to every trading nation which devours it hungrily, but there’s a rumour that the Endless Nation is holding back.

Whereas relationship was once strained, the scenes between Mao and Death are so very tender that you’ll feel hit by a brick at the punchline undercutting them. Yes, I know – Death, a romantic! He’s has so far failed to locate their son and so fulfil his promise.

His son is the one currently being subjected to that lie.

Nurtured in isolation and secret deep underground by the greatest schemers of them all, perhaps, the boy has been raised to help bring about the Apocalypse. He is now roaming above ground for the first time, both led and misled by the sentient receptacle of knowledge he is still umbilically linked to, a silver sphere which hovers above him and to which he is beholden for all that he sees. That which he’s shown is being filtered.

The sphere, for example, looks to the lad like a balloon with a reassuringly smiley face. There is much more for Babylon to be taught while he’s still malleable because the boy who is supposed to bring about the Apocalypse is in danger of becoming a vegan.

SLH

Buy East Of West vol 4: Who Wants War and read the Page 45 review here

The Boss h/c (£9-99, DFC Library) by John Aggs & Patrice Aggs.

“I hate field trips!”

I’m  with you, Nazim!

Ours were usually to some desolate agricultural or industrial museum. Educational away-days…? Bor-ring! Although we did once go to a zoo where we should probably have been locked up.

Nazim isn’t the titular Boss, by the way. The Boss is the level-headed, quick-thinking young man of purpose who’s striding into fully prepped action on the cover and tossing his cell phone behind him for Freddie to catch. Freddie will prove cracking on comms.

It’s just as well because Bella, Nazim, Lucy, Freddie, Alex, Joseph, Patrick, Anne, Robbie, Hannah and The Boss are all going to have to stay both in touch and on their toes if today’s field trip isn’t going to land them in detention forever or, far worse, on a mortuary slab.

I’m going to come clean and confess that in spite of DFC’s sterling reputation for kids’ quality comedy and adventure comics (they publish THE PHOENIX weekly and all its subsequent collected editions), I opened this somewhat gingerly. School-age super-sleuths…? Do me one! But this could not have been better thought through, using almost every element of its given environment – a town-bound castle packed full of sightseers, busy-body locals and eagle-eyed teachers – to create both opportunities and seeming insurmountable hurdles as our various young women and men in their give-away school uniforms desperately attempt to keep track of two thieves whilst staying as incognito as possible. The consequent tension was tremendous.

Think about it: they can’t go into pubs and they’re caught outside the castle grounds then it’s pretty much game over.

All they know is that a priceless illuminated manuscript – the Rackhamstone Psalter – is going to be stolen from its alarmed glass case at the top of one of the castle towers and if they’re going to stand a chance of obstructing the theft or catching them in the act they’re going to have to think ahead and work out how they’d do it first.

I liked that. Led by The Boss – and with distraction / interference being run by a thoroughly adept Alex – they’re not just reactive but pro-active and my adrenaline kicked in long before the action kicked off.

John Aggs you may already know as the artist on THE RECRUIT (another Young Adults graphic novel but for early- to mid-teens whereas this is emphatically all ages) but it’s Patrice Aggs on art duties here and where she excels is on individuality, the liveliest of expressions and expert body language.

There’s an early scene set on the school bus where The Boss sits at the back between Bella and Nazim, their forward-leaning, frantic anxiety neatly juxtaposed by The Boss’ cross-legged calm. He’s pretty dapper in his shirt sleeves and tie and ditching his school blazer lends him an immediate air of authority.

That’s not to say he’ll stay unflappable forever. The sense of movement accelerates on the page dramatically as parties are split, cell phone batteries are depleted and Nazim spots something alarming holstered under a jacket.

“Observe, record, fetch the police. Those are the rules.”

In an ideal world, at least.

SLH

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

Baggage (£9-99, DFC Library) by the Etherington Brothers.

Yowsa!

If the secret of a great graphic novel for Young Readers is to make their eyes light up like shiny marbles at the sheer sweet-shop spectacle of it all, then this is the golden gobstopper!

Also, this does contain a sweet shop full of Tripple Brittle Ripples, Choco Dip Nanas and Woofs! Woofs are made of white chocolate with cheddar and garlic. Err…. woof! There grumpy Granny Bee is moulding liquorice into the shape of bare bottoms.

Eh, it’s a hobby.

From the creators of LONG GONE DON and the ingenious action-adventure puzzle book VON DOOGAN, this is as colourful as a bird of paradise and as busy as a humming bird – relentless mayhem and a surprisingly dense read. And we mean that in the detailed not stoopid way, though there’s plenty of stoopid to boot!

Set in a city with exotic elements from Florence to San Francisco with the only trams in existence that could possible plunge the wrong way, it’s action-packed with non-stop escapades as Randall the disaster-prone lost property officer is set a seemingly impossible task by his cantankerous boss to avoid getting the sack. All he has to do is return the oldest item in the warehouse, a battered old suitcase splattered with stickers, to its rightful owner before the end of the day. Should be simple, right, if he puts his mind to it?

What mind would that be?!

This is the idiot whose “system” for filing things involves categories like “Things That Stack Nicely”, “Things That Are Really Quite Dangerous”, “Things That Smell Funny” and “Things That Might Not Actually Be Lost”. One of those things is wriggling and calling for help!

Cue slapstick shenanigans as Randall’s treasure hunt following clue after clue on the suitcase takes him all over the city before ending up… well, you won’t see that coming.

Before then there’s an interactive subterranean maze set in a sewer to the negotiate (which is probably the longest shortcut in history), and a grand stadium where they’re playing out the finals of… I have no idea what that sport could be!

“What part of TACKLE do you not understand, Steely? You’ve heard me use the word in training, yes?”
“Yeah, erm, it’s when we try to stop the other guys from scoring any points! Usually by kicking them hard in the WHATNOTS!”
“Textbook definition, son!”

SLH & JR

Buy Baggage and read the Page 45 review here

Life On Another Planet (£13-50, W.W. Norton) by Will Eisner.

Back on our shelves! Review originally written half a dozen years or so ago…

And now, as they say, for something completely different.

Also, a confessionette (it’s like a maisonette, only smaller, secret and guilt-ridden): I hadn’t until this afternoon actually read this book. 30 years I’ve had, so with an Eisner reprint every month at the moment, now seemed about bloody time. You can tell it’s 30 years old: it’s only 120 pages long yet it took me hours to devour. It’s like LUTHER ARKWRIGHT: dense and intense because way back then every page counted. No extravagantly silent or two-panel pages here! Instead there are lots of highly inventive layouts for which Eisner was famous in his SPIRIT pieces, with panels like windows under torrential rain or bordered by the sprawling, leafy drive of a mafia boss.

It’s an insane caper of international proportions aspiring to the sky, catalysed by two Astronomers in New Mexico picking up a signal from space in the form of a stream of prime numbers. Within moments a Soviet mole gets wind of the discovery, then the CIA’s brought in, Nadia makes her first appearance and quickly the whole thing sprawls out of control as countries, corporations, cults and even dictator President Ami of Sidiami become embroiled in a race to respond or prevent a response to the alien message. For Sidiami, read Uganda (Idi Amin was in charge when this came out); and for U.S. Presidential candidate Milgate, read Nixon, I’d have thought. Heavily in debt to many world nations, Ami seeks to reverse his country’s fortunes by having his country secede from planet Earth then selling it to the highest bidder as a launch site for a probe into space whose single occupant will be a plant mutated from the cells of a mafia member fleeing family retribution after killing his wife.

Sorry…? Yes, it really is that insane – not your normal Will Eisner affair at all – with multiple alliances and reversals of loyalty as each individual connives to get what they want whether it’s a man, a woman, a seat on the board or a President in their pocket. As such it’s as well observed as his Jewish autobiography. It just couldn’t be further from DROPSIE AVENUE geographically or in scope.

SLH

Buy Life On Another Planet and read the Page 45 review here

The Wake s/c (£13-50, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy.

Dive deep, swim fast!

“Now the creature, the noise it’s making, it sounds a lot like a section of the whale’s song that’s urgent, a section that comes right before a response.”
“What kind of response?”
“A massive response. Because the creature isn’t talking to us. It’s talking to them.”

At which point Sean Murphy will send the mother of all shivers up your spine…

Sub-aquatic, ice-cold horror from the writer of AMERICAN VAMPIRE, SEVERED, BATMAN: BLACK MIRROR, and the glorious, gawp-worthy writer/artist of PUNK ROCK JESUS, JOE THE BARBARIAN and HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS.

200 years in the future: a wet-suited woman glides over the narrow waterways between what were once dry-land skyscrapers, one of which is leaning precariously. A dolphin harnessed with sonic and survey equipment surfaces from the water lapping gently against a brownstone’s roof. And then there’s another tidal wave!

Now: marine biologist Lee Archer – sacked from NOAA and on the Department of Homeland Security’s shit-list for her marine biology conservation – is contacted by Agent Cruz and coerced into flying to Alaska’s South Slope to analyze an eerie, underwater call they cannot explain. Base camp is thousands of feet below sea level:

“Jesus, what is that?”
“It’s called a Ghost Rig. It’s a prototype. Yes, it’s a secret. No, it’s not legal. But it has the potential to extract nearly two hundred barrels a day, so there it is.”

Lee discovers she is not alone. There’s Dr. Marin, successfully published professor of folklore and mythology summoned to study an ‘artefact’, and the enigmatic yet supremely capable Leonard Meeks – an infamous poacher of very rare species – to study tissue samples. He looks like a vulture. And where do you think these sounds and tissue samples are coming from? Oh dear, that’s never a good idea…

On one level this is classic Doctor Who: illegal and environmentally disastrous strip-mining of Earth’s natural resources while invading the home territory of an ancient and previously undiscovered species. Exacerbate situation by capturing a creature and then belatedly bring in the experts before all hell breaks loose in a half-lit and confined environment, in this case flooded with water. It won’t help that the Merman sprays hallucinogenic toxins from glands in its eye sacks.

But wait! That’s just the first half. In part two we swoop to the future 200 years later which has borne the brunt – the repercussions – of the first half’s actions, and the world has surely changed in so many ways. Rarely have I encountered a future so thoroughly thought-through by its writer with some genuine shockers in store. This graphic novel is so much bigger and so much more brilliant than it appears on the sea’s choppy surface.

For a start, it is all about eyes: what we perceive and what we persuade others to perceive. And it’s all about ears: what we hear and that which we desperately hope will be listened to.

It stretches back thousands, nay millions of years. There is a key sequence involving the hunting of a giant white shark (maybe a Megalodon) by hundreds with spears just like we used to hunt mammoths; and they actually use a downed mammoth as bait.

 

On the surface this is a beyond-worrying horror story, yes: it will make you go “Brrrrrrr!” But it will also make you think.

Now, what is a Raindrop?

“It means the real-life referent that inspires a system of folklore. The raindrop hits the water, and concentric rings of lore spread from the point of impact. Like the Asiatic Bear in Tibet, its habit of walking on its hind legs. Now that inspired legends of Yetis.
“There’s no telling how many legends this creature inspired. From the Mermaids of Assyria, to the Sirens of Greece, with that call it’s making.”

The call that goes out to millions.

SLH

Buy The Wake s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batgirl vol 1: Batgirl Of Burnside (£10-99 s/c, DC) by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher & Babs Tarr, Irene Koh…

Why so serious? No, seriously?

This seems to have been the question someone – possibly Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher – asked the head honchos at DC. Either that or one of the head honchos at DC saw the success of Gillen and McKelvie’s highly relevant, demographically diverse and most importantly fun YOUNG AVENGERS run and thought, “We’ll have a bit of that! Which B-list Bat-character can we risk trying it out on?”

And it seems to have worked because this is joyful, crackpot nonsense. I am also quite sure the positive buzz this reworking has engendered, along with the similarly off-beat GOTHAM ACADEMY, is partly responsible for the slew of cartoonishly illustrated comedy titles and mini-series such as BIZARRO and BAT-MITE that DC is suddenly launching post- (speaking of crackpot nonsense, although of the utterly shite kind) CONVERGENCE.

So, Babs Gordon is off to Burnside college, presumably feeling the need to get some qualifications just in case superheroing doesn’t work out, career-wise. I mean, how could that choice of jobs possibly turn out badly…? She’s still fighting crime in her spare time – well, what little there is left of it after partying hard with her new roommates and locking lips with random hunky strangers. And guess what? Chasing down goons with a pounding hangover isn’t much fun at all!

It’s well written, utterly preposterous stuff featuring pop-up social media commentary (à la YOUNG AVENGERS…) and villains who are seemingly more interested in grabbing the spotlight than actual criminal endeavours. Of course, it’s the ‘Batgirl of Burnside’ who starts trending before rapidly going viral, which probably isn’t ideal if you have a secret identity to protect. In that sense this did remind me a little bit of very early SPIDER-MAN where puny Peter Parker was forever fretting about someone working out he was Spidey, all the whilst fantasising about knocking Flash Thompson’s teeth down his throat.

Black Canary pops up, loosely keeping the BIRDS OF PREY connection going, and I note with mild interest the forthcoming BLACK CANARY title is also going to be written by Brenden Fletcher where “martial arts, super spies and rock and roll combine” and “she’s quickly learning she’d die to protect the gang of misfits she’s fallen into”, which all sounds a bit Matt Fraction’s HAWKEYE to me. Art will be from Annie Wu, who… errr… did the Clint Barton portions of HAWKEYE VOL 3

Anyway, the art here from Babs Tarr very strongly minded me of the colour versions of SCOTT PILGRIM in places, which is probably appropriate as it is does have that similar daft sense of fun. This ought to succeed in enticing some new younger, possibly even female, readers into superhero comics, so in that sense I applaud DC’s motives in commissioning this material. As a 43-year-old male, I rather enjoyed it also, despite me probably not entirely being the demographic this title is aimed at. A strong start, let’s see if they can keep it up.

JR

Buy Batgirl vol 1 s/c: Batgirl Of Burnside and read the Page 45 review here

Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man vol 2 – Revelations s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez.

“Miles Morales is one of the top ongoing series in comics right now.”

That’s what Marvel chooses to quote on the cover.

Well, it was. It really was, and every episode written with warmth, wit and humanity by Brian Michael Bendis!

But ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN has ceased to be. It is that proverbial parrot which is pushing up its claws, Python-stylee.

And, oh, it had so much more life left in it! This seemed not rushed but effectively truncated, cauterised by a great big planet in the sky leading straight into SECRET WARS #1, and ULTIMATE END #1 by Bendis & Bagley.

What will emerge on the other side? Well, Miles will in one fictional universe or the other – as written by Bendis he’s far too much fun to lose – we simply don’t know in what form yet.

SLH

Buy Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man vol 2 – Revelations s/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.

There’s No Bath In This Bathroom (Sketched In) (£5-00) by Joe Decie

Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir h/c (£16-99, 4th Estate) by Malik Sajad

Child Of The Storm h/c (£23-99, Humanoids) by Manuel Bichebois & Didier Poli, Guilio Zeloni

Colder vol 2: Bad Seed (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Paul Tobin & Juan Ferreyra

My Little Pony: Fiendship Is Magic s/c (£14-99, IDW) by various

Syllabus: Notes From An Accidental Professor (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lynda Barry

Usagi Yojimbo vol 29: Two Hundred Jizo (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

Deathstroke vol 1: Gods Of War s/c (£10-99, DC) by Tony S. Daniel

Flash vol 6: Out Of Time h/c (£18-99, DC) by Robert Vendetti, Van Jensen & Brett Booth

Gotham Academy vol 1: Welcome To Gotham Academy s/c (£10-99, DC) by Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher & Karl Kerschl

Red Hood And The Outlaws vol 6: Lost And Found s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Lobdell & R. B. Silva, various

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 4 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Mike Mayhew, Kev Walker, Mike Deodato Jr.

Spider-Woman vol 1 Spider-Verse s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Dennis Hopeless & Greg Land

Battle Royale: Angels’ Border (£8-99, Viz) by Koushun Takami & Mioko Ohnishi, Youhei Oguma

Fairy Tail vol 47 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Naruto vol 70 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

New Lone Wolf And Cub vol 5 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Hideki Mori

Tokyo Ghoul vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

News!

ITEM! Dr Mary Talbot is back from the Munich Comics Festival with a big blog full of photos of herself, Bryan Talbot, Eddie Campbell, Audrey Niffenegger, Paul Gravett & co.

ITEM! From the creators of one of our all-time favourite graphic novels, DAYTRIPPER, have a preview of Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba’s TWO BROTHERS graphic novel. You can pre-order the TWO BROTHERS graphic novel from Page 45 right now – we don’t take your money until books arrive and we ship worldwide!

ITEM! From the creator of PLEASE GOD FIND ME A HUSBAND plus  FLUFFY and the exclusive PAGE 45 FLUFFY POSTCARD (order that to be sent to you by mail and watch the ironies fly) here’s Simone Lia’s Guardian comic on being a second-generation immigrant to England.

ITEM! Great Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro New Statesman discussion on genres. “I think that there’s a huge difference between, for example, a novel with spies in it and a spy novel.” This is the truth! (Illo by Tim McDonagh)

ITEM! Have you been relishing THE REALIST by Asaf Hanukah? Good news, then! Interview and swoonaway preview of THE DIVINE graphic novel drawn by Tomer Hanukah and Asaf Hanukah. You can pre-order THE DIVINE due in July from Page 45 here.

– Stephen

Page 45 Reviews written by Stephen & Jonathan then edited by a mild-mannered marmoset. In serious need of some spectacles.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2015 week two

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Comicbook crime, science fiction, dinosaurs, foreign exchange students, isolation and the illusion of autobiography! Plus two great big anthologies including this and 24 BY 7 starring Dan Berry, Sarah McIntyre, Joe Decie, Fumio Obata, Kristyna Baczynski, Jack Teagle, Warwick Johnson Cadwell.

Drawn & Quarterly: 25 Years Of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics & Graphic Novels h/c (£37-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Everyone! Ever!

“Comics
“Comics?
“Comics!”

This may be the first comic’s spine that is actually a comic!

Here are 750 pages of comics, comics criticism and comicbook creators providing keen insight into each other’s work whilst singing the praises of one of the greatest comicbook publishers in history, and I’ve been enthralled for days.

It’s true that some of the comics are readily accessible reprints but the overwhelming majority are either completely new (Tom Gauld) or so rare that you’ll never have seen them unless you are actually on the receiving end of Chester Brown’s Christmas cards.

Normally I would skip all the prose in favour of the comics themselves – at least to begin with – but Sean Rogers’ 45-page account of Drawn & Quarterly’s 25-year history with captain Chris Oliveros at its helm is so exceptionally eloquent that I barely even glanced at the photos. With additional research by Jeet Heer and interspersed with first-hand accounts by the likes of Oliveros’ cohorts Peggy Burns and Tom Devlin, it was exhilarating, infectious and refreshing, articulating everything I adore about Drawn & Quarterly’s honourable ethos, aesthetics and priorities which can be distilled succinctly thus: the comics and their creators come first.

 

While the publisher Fantagraphics is described as more “transgressive”, and RAW magazine under Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly as “formally inventive” and “avant-garde”, I would wholeheartedly agree that what distinguishes D&Q’s comics and graphic novels is that they are distinctly, overwhelmingly “literary”, as well as beautiful art objects. Speaking of beautiful art objects, BUILDING STORIES’s Chris Ware has this to say about its former flagship anthology:

“Conspicuously Canadian for its gentle editorial tone, the magazine seemed to point toward a new disposition from which to cartoon, offering a kind and congenial challenge to the sometimes sneery adolescence of American alternative comics of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Chester Brown, Maurice Vellecoop, and Seth (and yes, even you, Joe Matt) all seemed to be getting at something generous, uncertain and awkwardly human in their work…”

Hilariously human is how Lisa Hanawalt depicts life at the D&Q offices in a sprightly coloured double-page spread which sees them all out in a park, high-kicking in clogs while answering the telephone, languishing on a chaise longue or typing away in a hot tub while “Panels the pig selects promising submissions” from his really quite tidy pig pen. Their shipping and delivery service is handled by wolves, naturally.

As to the future, as well as the spine, Tom Gauld supplies the cover and endpapers wherein a cross-section of an asteroid shows beautiful books piled high – and low – everywhere! They’re racked on shelves, stacked on cupboards and some are even secreted under the floor boards while one has been left lying after being flicked through in its spacecraft hangar.

The message is emphatic and clear: IN THE FUTURE, THERE WILL BE BOOKS!

You really wouldn’t want to read this digitally, would you?

There is no way on God’s good Earth than I can cover all the comics here from David Mazzucchelli, Kate Beaton, Chris Ware, Anders Nilsen, Chester Brown, Dan Clowes, Michael DeForge, Tom Gauld, Miriam Katin, Rutu Modan, James Sturm, Jillian Tamaki, Joe Matt, John Porcellino, Louis Trondheim, Gabrielle Bell, Brian Ralph, Ron Rege Jr, Marc Bell, Pascal Girard, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Shigeru Mizuki, Guy Delisle, Lynda Barry, Mimi Pond, Julie Doucet, Art Spiegelman, Kevin Huizenga, Adrian Tomine and so very many more, nor the enlightening essays by Margaret Atwood (yes, Margaret Atwood!), Lemony Snicket, Sheila Heti, Jonathan Lethem, Deb Olin Unferth, Heather O’Neill, Fiona Duncan and many more still!

However, I loved how Margaret Atwood described HARK, A VAGRANT!’s Kate Beaton’s approach in her appreciation of Beaton and the broader tradition of bubble bursting:

“There’s a burping in church aspect to Beaton’s approach. It doesn’t demolish the church, but it does add another dimension.”

While discussing Anders Nilsen, Fiona Duncan writes…

“To separate fiction from non-fiction is a false divide, I’ve come to believe. All communication is storytelling.”

And she does have a point. Even autobiography is subjective and there’s an awful lot of illusion involved, regardless of whether the wool-pulling’s intentional. Kevin Huizenga issues just such a slight of hand in ‘My Career In Comics’ – to begin with anyway. You start to suspect that he’s having a laugh when he details his distraction, nay, obsession with drawing and redrawing and Photoshopping hair.

Funnier still, BIG QUESTIONS’ Anders Nilsen can’t help himself when analysing The Past (Cosmic, Not To Scale) and The Present (More Or Less) before foraging in The Future during ‘Me And The Universe’ originally published in the New York Times on September 24th 2014 – and that’s what I mean about most of these comics being rare. Of the time period 0 to 38,000 years after the Big Bang he writes: “Clouds of particles too hot / agitated to connect in any meaningful way. (Similar to 3 year period in your late adolescence.)” You might spot the USS Enterprise among the planets.

From Chris Ware’s personal sketchbook comes ‘My New Pal Tramadol’ and a more recreational drug strip which ends in a queasy blur-burst of colour. It’s followed by a fully formed two-page ‘Joanne Cole’ comic I believe is brand-new and informed by an earlier sketch and the autobiography / far-flung life cycle of a copper coin which has only ever appeared in an abridged form in the New York Times Magazine on April 10th 2014.

There’s a new, blue Mimi Pond memoir about being invisible, man-spoken to and meeting Tom Waits.

And unless you read RAW you won’t have stumbled upon ‘Sneaking Out’ by WHAT IT IS’ Lynda Barry and you’ll never have seen her hand-painted script for ‘Cruddy’. It’s awful to think that Barry’s career was once almost over and resurrected only thanks to D&Q, which gives you some indication of why the publisher is indispensible.

But then it’s equally sobering to be reminded that D&Q was once so close to foundering that Oliveros “in all good consciousness” attempted to actively dissuade marketing genius Peggy Burns from coming to work with him. Of the Drawn & Quarterly retail outlet she writes – I forget where – that every publisher should spend time working in a book shop and every retailer should publish at least one book.

I’m definitely down with the first but staring at this D&Q doorstop the second enterprise petrifies me!

SLH

Buy Drawn & Quarterly: 25 Years Of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics & Graphic Novels h/c and read the Page 45 review here

24 by 7 h/c (£14-99, Fanfare Presents) by Dan Berry, Sarah McIntyre, Joe Decie, Fumio Obata, Kristyna Baczynski, Jack Teagle, Warwick Johnson Cadwell.

“Seven comics as diverse as they are witty as they are beautiful to behold, each created within the same 24 hours. An extraordinary accomplishment.”

– Stephen L. Holland, Page 45

Whoever the hell he is.

What a stellar line-up! What fertile imaginations! What a variety of styles!

What a bunch of cheats.

Or at least that’s what contributor, editor and all-round director Dan Berry would have you believe in his introduction. He’s so funny! All seven comics were indeed created within the same 24 hours then printed within another to go straight on sale in Page 45’s Georgian Room in Kendal’s Clock Tower at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014. Magnificent! Ridiculous! Miraculous!

So they had a little prep time! I made notes for this review.

I don’t do favourites so it’s mere coincidence (*snorts*) that I commence with Sarah McIntyre’s ‘Scribble’ in which only the scribble is scribbled and even that scribble is accomplished. It really is! It’s a dab hand at mimicry, posing as a grass stain on one day, a smashed fly on another, a bogey, a spider, then What Will Happen To My Sister If She Doesn’t Give Back My Book. That particular scribble is awfully succinct. I’m not sure which day it attempted to represent Chaos as a two-dimensional piece of graphite gurning but that was pretty existential. Almost certainly a Saturday, don’t you think?

Anyway, Jamie (the scribble’s name is Jamie) began life on a young girl’s napkin, got thrown in the bin then escaped and let out a roar: instant teeth. It began to cry – for which you need eyes. Then Jamie ran around, ever-so-excited and found itself with legs. Legs! Suddenly it’s darting about like a mad-eyed monster from Michael Bentine’s Potty Time. Next stop: social media frenzy and huge artistic acclaim!

The cartooning is so exquisite that I will forgive its two pages of mid-70s’ wallpaper because that’s what inevitably happens when you begin to wield orange. Sarah McIntyre has all the best scribbles and if you think Jamie’s a dude then wait until you bump into his best boyf, Bob. Bob is besotted and has flap-flap wings and a wide-eyed innocence and adoration which are beyond adorable.

Here be wit, here be glee. It’s not easy trying to represent philosophy, France or a full English breakfast in scribbles.

Fumio Obata’s ‘Anywhere Road’ couldn’t be more different in style, in tone, in genre, in subject matter. Fumio created the graphic novel JUST SO HAPPENS in gentle watercolours. Here he brings his familiarly soft and gentle line to a tale of truancy as a woman walking her dog on the beach discovers a young boy in a sleeping bag.

She takes him to a seaside cafe to buy him breakfast but the lad is reluctant to open up or own up to having run away from home. At first he tries to run away from his good Samaritan as well but there’s something about the woman that intrigues him and it’s not just her kindness or persistence. Obata had me holding my breath for the entire duration.

Jack Teagle’s terracotta ‘Witch Cat’ finds a crowd-shy country cat forced to fly into town after running out of ingredients for a potion. Her worst fears are realised when she runs afoul of some particularly bad apples. No really, they’re very bad apples – one has a worm wriggling its way out of his head! Fortunately our anxious feline is befriended by Bananasaurus, a fruit magician and – yeah, crazy indeed and one to read with your young ‘uns at bed time!

You may already be familiar with Dan Berry’s NICHOLAS & EDITH and Joe Decie’s I BLAME GRANDMA which we have on sale separately.

I love everything about Joe: his mischief, his timing, his otherwise mundane household objects… even his handwriting. Yes, his handwriting! It’s one of the most attractive in comics: capital letters, far from rigid, that dance up and down while remaining as crystal clear as the layout here.

He tells how his gran invented the paper clip, fashioning it from fuse wire while working as a clerk in Sir Gerald Patten’s War Office around 1940. So that’s several household objects on the very first page. Our Joe draws a perfect pair of pliers, you know.

Joe’s grandma felt the need to file faster and keep what she filed better organised. The paperclip quickly catches on and before you know it she’s given her own office in the reappropriated Malvern Road Tube Station. She even had access to the station down below where she said she used to eat her sandwiches in the dark.

Fast-forward to the present day and there are repercussions for Decie himself. Well, you have to think of the patent and all that implies. You couldn’t make this up.

I will just add that his gran was given a St Hubbins Cross medal and – typically – kept it in an empty tin of boot polish. Joe draws a mean tin of boot polish too.

In lovely, loose, full-colour washes project director Dan Berry delivers a haunting tale of love, longing and lament.

In a small village by a vast lake Nicholas and Edith are in love. Their parents disapprove of their relationship for no better reason than a petty family feud. To be together they must therefore find sanctuary away from the spying eyes and tattling tongues of the idle-minded villagers. And there is an island, you see, an island on the lake.

It is an object of local superstition involving some so-called spectre of doom but you know what close-knit communities are like. You know how local legends endure. You know how parents keep their children in check: with a little elaboration and fear. But when you’re in love you can see right through these things, so one evening when the waters are calm Nicholas rows Edith to the island.

They find a clearing in the trees overshone by the serene, silver light of the moon.

“I love you.
“I want you.
“I need you.”

I will say little more except think Becky Cloonan – THE MIRE in particular. When you’ve read this through once you will want to start again from the beginning immediately. Entreaties are reprised word-for-word like echoes. Reproachful echoes, you could argue.

Visually, interesting things are done with Edith’s hair. Oh, how how I wish I could say what they were!

We’re all at sea with Warwick Johnson Cadwell’s ‘Tom Hand’ too. Like any good sailor’s yarn it’s set in a tavern where all the tallest of tales are told. There three sea dogs take it turns to show off their tattoos, each dedicated to the old Tom Hand and his watery demise. Each differs in what finally did him in, but the barmaid’s tale trumps them all. She has a tattoo too, you see, but it’s not necessarily where you’d expect to find it.

The forms are big, bold and as burly as the barflies’, the monsters are terrifying and the deep blues are rendered as energetically as the stormy seas themselves. You’ll almost certainly end up soaking wet.

Finally, VANTAGE’s Kristyna Baczynski tells a wordless, anthropomorphic, semi-cyclical tale spanning millions of years which made me smile with enormous satisfaction throughout. Her leaf and timber textures – as well as the bone and stone – are perfectly balanced, never once bogging the page down or cluttering it up but letting the light shine through, while the brightest of sage greens prove to be perfectly placed tones.

‘Hand Me Down’ begins slightly upsettingly when a three-eyed prehistoric lovely hatches from an egg, grows up, falls for a female, curls up in cave with his beloved then before you know it Junior is hatched. All very idyllic but before you know it (once again), he ages, is exhausted and dies.

Eons pass before the creature’s bones are discovered, his horn is detached and that’s when the repurposing begins as the horn is handed down through history as one ornament then another, whittled away each time through wear and tear and outright vandalism. Where and when it ends up I will not say but there’s a Tom Gauld moment towards the end that had me roaring with laughter.

If you stop to consider for a moment that these 170-odd pages of comicbook magic were all created in the same room within the same 24 hours, I defy you not to shake your head slightly and smile.

This creativity was captured in a collection of colour photographs published at the back of the book which give you a very real sense of the energy involved and the exhaustion staved off by espresso coffees and galvanising visits by Jeff Smith, Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot and the original instigator of the 24 Hour Comic challenge, THE SCULPTOR’s Scott McCloud himself.

There the creators all stand round their printed pamphlets on sale in the Kendal Clock Tower’s Georgian Room on October 19th 2014, beaming with pride and accomplishment and quite right too. Bravo!

SLH

Buy 24 x 7 and read the Page 45 review here

Between The Billboards & The Authoring Of Architecture (£18-99, Avery Hill) by Owen D Pomery…

“The billboards changed every month.
“Ebner wondered what he advertised on the outside.
“But pretended not to care.
“However far he leaned out…
“… it was impossible to see the complete picture.”

I knew of Owen only from his hilariously ribald THE MEGATHERIUM CLUB so I was intrigued to see how he was going to tackle a rather less (mis-)anthropological story. Although, although, you could very well argue this is very much anthropology, being a study of one man’s personal disaffection with the rest of society, viewed from his peculiar remove. For James Ebner does indeed live between two huge billboards, atop a high-rise building, in a single room, albeit quite plushly equipped and decorated.

Ebner descends down to the mean streets upon occasion, primarily for provisions including his essentials of gin and cigarettes, paramount to maintaining his solitary existence. However, the interactions with proprietors of shops and bars are onerous at best, often prickly affairs that only serve to reinforce Ebner’s ennui, despite their repetitive nature meaning these people have acquired a status of Ebner’s acquaintance, rather than simply being complete strangers. There is the occasional episode of socialising, prompted by much chivvying from his best, and now only friend, Israel, but these excursions become fewer and fewer as Ebner becomes ever more hermit-like.

We learn a little of his life before he withdrew from society and began living between the billboards, and we gain some sense that he is preparing for something. But what? As Israel remarks,

“You’ve taken so many steps back for your run up… that you’ve forgotten why you are jumping.”

Ebner disagrees, of course, but what we can see which he cannot, even from his lofty perch without a view atop the city is that he has sequestered himself away by design, entirely of his own volition. Perhaps he never intended to become so cut-off, but now it has happened he’s trapped in a mental prison of his own making. Could he escape now even if he wanted to?

Owen works as an architectural illustrator which I can clearly see informs much of his page and panel design. There are some great single pages, the larger picture composed of nine, three by three grid panels, taken from very specific viewpoints: face-on, plan and isometric. My favourite being a view of the underside of Ebner’s dwelling, the access ladder rising up to the entry trapdoor in the floor, other taller, surrounding buildings rising away higher all around to a unseen vanishing point miles above his abode. It’s a most striking page and I found myself returning to it a few times admiring the composition. Then, other sequences are very much about the passage of time within the exact same space, often viewed from Ebner’s personal viewpoint with narration as we attempt to understand the life our protagonist has chosen, is continuing to choose, from without and within.

They’re not precise comparisons, but partly due to Owen’s architectural background and partly the story of a man losing his place in the world, his very sense of identity, I was strongly minded of ASTERIOS POLYP, and also Paul Auster’s CITY OF GLASS. This is clearly not anywhere near as complex a work as either, but there is a sense of… orderly deconstruction… occurring here which is present in both of those works. Clearly David Mazzucchelli who drew both is a very different sort of artist to Owen, but there are strong elements of design underpinning and eloquently informing the narrative of all three. Additionally I was minded of a personal favourite of mine, again, no doubt because of the architectural connection, in CITIZENS OF NO PLACE, which is composed of a number of short stories revolving around design conceits.

In addition, after the main ‘Between The Billboards’ story, there are eight shorts which form ‘The Authoring Of Architecture’ part of this book, including a brief essay by Owen explaining his approach to comics. Additionally each short is prefaced by a paragraph of explanation from Owen revealing his thoughts about the work.

They’re a great selection of vignettes actually, comprising of some auto-bio bits, some entirely design-led conceits with visual punchlines, plus a particularly powerful one-page comic about an illegal card game which I thought was brilliant. It’s composed of one large panel which your eyes naturally, immediately take in first, which in fact turns out to be the conclusion, the disturbing story itself being told by a series of much smaller overlaid panels around the edge, explaining the chain of actions and consequences which leads us to this final panel.

I think Owen is definitely one to watch, there’s clearly far more to him than I suspected in terms of his story-telling abilities, both in word and image, than just the jester that wrought the ridiculous THE MEGATHERIUM CLUB, which I thought was comedy gold and I can’t wait for more of. I will make the one proviso which I made there once again though; his art style will not be for everyone. I love its sparseness and draughtsman-like approach, but it will challenge some sensibilities. Let yourself be challenged I say, because this is worth it. Also, whilst they last, Owen very kindly provided us with signed bookplates!

JR

Buy Between The Billboards & The Authoring Of Architecture and read the Page 45 review here

Criminal vol 5: The Sinners s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

Fifth self-contained nightmare of noir, but for those keeping track Tracy Lawless is back.

From the creators of FATALE and THE FADE OUT:

A year has passed since CRIMINAL VOL 2: LAWLESS and Lawless is still on the run for going A.W.O.L. from the U.S. military. He’s agreed to pay off his dead brother’s debts to Mr. Hyde by working out who’s been capping some major players who have little in common except that they should be ‘untouchable’. They don’t even work for Hyde – it just worries Hyde that it’s happening in his back yard.

Tracy diligently follows every legitimate lead and it’s almost comical watching him watch everyone except those he should be watching out for. You can’t blame him: his logic is impeccable. You can’t really blame the Triads either, for the same reason. Either way, it’s all very bad news for Lawless. As is Hyde’s daughter. And wife.

There’s no avoiding it: Sean Phillips is the most accomplished crime artist that international comics has ever witnessed. His faces are craggy and lived in, with minds racing behind every one of them. Introspection, intimidation, desperation and disdain; of course he can convey startled horror too – fear which will have you sweating vicariously – but it’s the more subtle nuances in a half-closed eye or a barely stifled snarl which make the man peerless.

Luckily for us he appears to relish working with the best crime writer since STRAY BULLETS’ David Lapham. It’s quite the library they’ve built together now. See also the two volumes each of SLEEPER and INCOGNITO for metahuman misdemeanours.

SLH

Buy Criminal vol 5: The Sinners s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Fuse vol 2: Gridlock s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood.

“I do not understand. Her real phone?”
“So handsome. So naive.”
“He’s like a puppy. I just want to squish him.”
“Every girl has two phones. One of them, you let your parents find so they think they’re reading your secret diary. Your actual secret diary is on a whole other phone you bought yourself.”

That’s teenage girls for you: infinitely smarter than adulterous male rats who honestly believe their wives won’t think to look at their mobile phones. I personally have known two errant husbands get caught like that once suspicions were raised.

Welcome back to the second instalment of cracking crime-precinct-procedure, homicide division. The big difference is that this particular precinct lies within an underfunded, patched-up, makeshift steel city on an energy platform orbiting 22,000 miles above terra firma.

In THE FUSE VOL 1: THE RUSSIA SHIFT young, highly promising German homicide detective Ralph Dietrich arrived on the space station to find himself partnered up with fractious, silver-haired veteran Klem Ristovych. If you’ve read volume one you’ll know that it ended with one hell of an ellipsis involving our Ralph and his own extra-curricular investigation. Here Johnston delivers a second last-minute whammy without warning and I like that. Detectives aren’t stupid, you know.

On the other hand this particular homicide won’t be solved without a great deal of legwork, a lot of dead ends, much ducking and diving, followed by split-second ninety degree turns. The thing is, you don’t know that you’ve reached a dead-end until you’ve navigated all the main roads and back alleys which lead there and, even then, you may well have missed a previously hidden passage or two.

Lesser writers set far more linear courses leaving the reader little to do but wait and watch from the proverbial passenger seat, but Johnston’s multidirectional approach means you’re constantly evaluating the detectives’ own evaluations and rating the red-herring level of each new clue. It is entirely possible that you’ll get there first if you keep your eyes open and listen carefully.

Better still, although Johnston knows his forensic science suspiciously well he also understands psychology and therein lie more leads if you look hard enough. It’s not just a question of how, when and with what, but why.

Reviewing THE FUSE VOL 1: THE RUSSIA SHIFT I also emphasised how much I appreciated Johnston and Greenwood’s resistance towards science-fiction-ication when far from necessary. Just because you’re in space or the future it doesn’t mean that everything’s changed beyond recognition. E-cigarettes still exist for a start because morons like me will still take up smoking but more impressively even in space we might want to recreate what we’re most familiar with like high streets with shops and pavements, and even gauche, nouveau-riche mini-mansions with driveways and grass lawns even though you’re living inside a big bucket of metal with a roof rather than the sky up above.

There’s also something about Greenwood’s loose, fluid line that drives the reader ever onwards and, lest colour artist Shari Chankhamma feels left out, can I just flag up the yellow, green and blue sheens on the space suit visors during the first chapter as well as the genuinely eerie atmosphere captured beneath The Fuse’s exterior solar panels. It’s a vast, open space beneath the cylindrical Fuse’s external shell which is still zero-gravity with a hot, red and yellow ceiling (the underside of the solar panels from which the energy generated is being siphoned) juxtaposed against a cool green emptiness with no floor in sight.

It’s hereabouts that this volume’s crime is committed or at least first discovered, on the external solar array. The latest Gridlock race is being broadcast on FUSE-Tube to very high viewing figures even though the sport is illegal. That’s another great extrapolation: I’m not kidding when I tell you that Nottingham’s Broadmarsh bus-station island was at one point the hub for equally illegal, informal racing around amongst all the regular traffic. Here that traffic is non-existent: no one except for technicians should be outside The Fuse. Yet Gridlock is the most popular sport in space: souped-up scooters magnetically bonded to the glass-smooth hull hurtling at full throttle across it.

Its lead League Spokesperson is Cathy Kuang, the young, glamorous daughter of one of The Fuse’s oldest, richest families. In a pre-filmed sound-bite introducing the show Cathy Kuang denies that the broadcast rights are about to be sold to for a great deal of money at FBN and instead deflects attention to today’s main event. It’s the League’s premier racers going one-on-one: Starlight versus Lockdown! No one knows who these fierce competitors actually are until the substitute race is abandoned almost before it’s begun.

It’s a substitute race because Starlight cannot be found. It’s abandoned because Starlight is discovered right in its path, one boot magnetically sealed to the solar array, ankle broken – E VA suit torn open by a recent meteoroid burst – frozen solid and quite, quite dead.

It transpires that Starlight is Cathy Kuang. Tethered to her wrist is a vacseal box containing a great big brick of distribution-ready drugs. But Cathy Kuang is straight edge: she cannot abide drugs, legal or otherwise. Also, as a seasoned Gridlock superstar, Cathy would know far better than to venture outside during a meteoroid burst forecast so far in advance.

Drugs, politics, corporate financing, underground sports, revolutionary ideology and family affairs. Not much to go on? They have too much to go on.

This is my autopsy. Proceed.

SLH

Buy The Fuse vol 2: Gridlock s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Airboy #1 of 4 (£2-25, Image) by James Robinson & Greg Hinkle.

Writer James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle are groggily stumbling round a strange woman’s apartment, naked, after waking up in after an orgy of alcohol, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and extra-marital sex.

“Relax,” says James Robinson. “People have done a lot worse.”
“Who. Hunter S. Thompson?”

At a single stroke – in a single comic after years of critical acclaim – James Robinson has effectively ruined his squeaky-clean reputation… whilst elevating it to “legendary”.

So how do you think that happened?

As the series opens James is sitting on his toilet – yes, bare-bottomed once more – on the phone to Image publisher Eric Stephenson, bemoaning his faltering career, and so self-confidence, at DC comics where he’s been type-cast as the go-to guy for Golden Age revivals: resurrecting old superheroes from a more innocent age. He’s doing that because Eric Stephenson is type-casting him too, offering him the opportunity to take on AIRBOY, now in the public domain, the ultimate in wide-eyed innocence from a bygone age.

At which point – having invited his hand-picked artist over to San Francisco in the hope of kick-starting ideas – Robinson by deliberate contrast show us precisely how bygone that age is. For what is actually catalysed is an evening of all-out, alcohol-fuelled and drug-induced depravity.

It is no coincidence that the pale green and tan colouring on the delightfully restful and spacious panels is immediately invaded and supplanted by the red-alert warning signs of wound-hued rusty-red and poisonous purple on increasingly cramped and claustrophobic panels lurching on the page before a moment of unedifying and potentially marriage-wrecking climax. Yes, both the creators are or were married.

I warn you right now that James Robinson figuratively and quite literally bares all, while artist Greg Hinkle “only” bears his enormous anaconda which is most assuredly a euphemism, yes. He tried to show his soul but Robinson is such a self-confessed egomaniac that he keeps interrupting Hinkle before he gets started.

At which point I should emphasise the illusion of autobiography!

This is all so immersive, so skilfully done that in spite of your better judgement you may well lapse repeatedly into believing that some if not all of this actually happened.

Whether or not this singularly sobering tale drives you to join the ranks of the Straight Edge brigade, this charade is performed for one reason and one reason only: to maximise the punch in the punchline, thereby setting the scene for all that will follow.

I love, love, love the cover to next issue’s inevitably culture clash as bygone-era Airboy is introduced to woebegone-era dissolution.

SLH

Buy Airboy #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 of 4 (£2-99, Dark Horse) by Ricardo Delgado.

Aaargh!

Just when you thought it was safe to creep back into the Cretaceous shallows that lurk down the bottom of your cul de sac if only you had the courage to leap over your neighbour’s fence and jump into their garden pond… *

AGE OF REPTILES is back!

That impeccably choreographed omnibus of do-or-die dinosaur survivalism is a best-seller here. Who on earth doesn’t love dinosaurs?

These are all silent series for the dinosaurs are resolutely not anthropomorphised as they are in many recent family-friendly animations, but are ferocious and vicious and if not malicious then at least more than capable of defending their territory whether they be predators or not.

Size matters. Size splatters. And there is much to be said for safety in numbers.

All of which you will witness in this new mini-series starring a land-roaming but equally subaquatic Spinosaurus Aegyptiacus. Imagine a crocodile but with longer legs and, consequently, greater agility and a much more considered, time-biding approach to getting what it wants most – food – while avoiding what it wants least: a crippling injury followed by death.

Our snaggle-toothed protagonist bears many scars suggesting that these are lessons learned through painful experience, but learned they most assuredly are.

Much of this first instalment is conveyed in slow and stealthy horizontal panels which are given a quick flick of movement in triangular fashion, whilst most of the epic this time comes in the form of the mighty weight of the vast herbivores rising up in numbers to bear down on our lone-roaming ronin.

Ronin…?

Yes. Far from a pack hunter, this is a sole survivor.

Please see Delgado’s impassioned essay at the back in which he talks enlighteningly not about archaeology but about controversially coloured Westerns and the far from black and white films of Akira Kurosawa which inspired them.

* Your neighbour’s pond is indeed a trans-temporal gateway. You may claim that your neighbour has no pond – and so may they – but they do!

SLH

Buy Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Eric h/c (£5-99, Templar Publishing) by Shaun Tan.

Another joy that dropped off our system a few cycles ago. It’s back!

You know, I rather suspect that Shaun Tan has a bottle-top collection. Maybe not quite as weird as the one in THE LOST THING but they do tend to pop up in his books. Or maybe the foreign student who once came to live with his family began one. And I’m fairly confident a foreign student did once come to live with them: this is far too astutely observed for it to be otherwise.

“Secretly I had been looking forward to having a foreign visitor – I had so many things to show him. For once I could be a local expert, a fountain of interesting facts and opinions. Fortunately, Eric was very curious and always had plenty of questions. However, they weren’t the kind of questions I had been expecting. Most of the time I could only say, “I’m not really sure,” or, “That’s just how it is.” I didn’t feel helpful at all.”

The guest amasses a seemingly odd collection of things – mundane bits and pieces we take for granted and would ordinarily trash, but which to him are cultural novelties. Ah, but Eric isn’t simply collecting objects for their innate curiosity value, for Eric is full of surprises…

All of which brings me to the salient observation that although this looks like illustrated prose, it is essentially comics; because apart from when Eric takes up residence in the kitchen pantry, perhaps, if you stripped away the images it is a very different read indeed.

Once you see Eric himself, especially in his environment, his interest in plugholes, bottle-tops and sweet wrappers (“small things he discovered on the ground”) becomes a lot less strange for they’re all at eye level but, conversely, the story becomes infinitely more fantastical and, crucially, the punchline is purely visual.

Lastly, it’s only just occurred to me that Eric’s singular method of “leaving” might well be a visual pun.

Anyway, a family takes in a strange and wonderful visitor who prefers residence in their kitchen pantry, and it proves quite the revelation. Short story taken from the TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA.

SLH

Buy Eric h/cand read the Page 45 review here

Midnighter #1 (£2-25, DC) by Steve Orlando & Aco.

“Currently: single
Looking for: dates, friends, sparring
Interests: violence (inventive)
Chronically new in town.
Computer in brain.
Superhumanly flexible.
Looking for other uses.
Have headbutted an alien.
Whatever you’re thinking, the answer is likely yes.
But with punching.”

It’s an unusual online dating profile, filed only under “M” but the masked mug shot might give it away.

Wait wait. Midnighter? It doesn’t stand for, like, Mitch? All this stuff here is, in fact, not a joke?”

It’s a bit late now: you’re having dinner.

I’d type “from the pages of Warren Ellis and Mark Millar’s STORMWATCH and THE AUTHORITY…” except, of course, this isn’t precisely that same psychopath for although Apollo appears to have escaped The Midnighter, The Midnighter hasn’t escaped the relaunch rewrite which was DC’s New 52. I’ve no idea what’s happened since but The Midnighter is now single, on his first date with Jason who seems to be taking it all in his stride. But let’s see what happens when the high-tech terrorists teleport into town and put paid to their pudding.

It’s very attractively drawn with multiple, miniature inset panels revealing concurrent action – moves and counter-moves – or, when The Midnighter gets into his pugilistic stride, precisely what the local Accident & Emergency will be dealing with in the form of x-ray snapshots of breaking bones. Aco’s art also comes with a fine line which makes The Midnighter look positively dapper in his waistcoat and tie. Oh yes, he’s in civvies. You never used to see that much, did you? You’re going to be seeing a lot more of it. And him.

So if the sight of a man unbuttoning another man’s jeans is the sort of thing that will make you feel so uncomfortable that you’ll need to walk into a public bar and order a double bourbon in order to feel fully masculine again, I probably wouldn’t buy this comic – because hard liquor is bad for you.

Much was made of Mark Millar’s JUPITER’S CIRCLE #1 (still on sale) and its unapologetic post-coital cigarette but this is even less flinching with hands all over the place. Hurrah!

You could argue (and, oh, so many will have online!) that there’s nothing to distinguish this from any other DC superhero title (whereas you know what you’re in for with Millar) and your delicate nine-year-olds shouldn’t be subjected to sexuality. And I would agree so long as you would agree that a woman unbuttoning a man’s flies or vice-versa was equally below the belt. On the other hand it has long been established that superheroes have ceased to be the province of nine-year-olds but of college students instead and the fifty-year-olds who used to read superhero series as nine-year-olds and simply never stopped.

Plus, look at that cover! If you’re perfectly content to buy your children a comic with that level of overt violence, then you have already abandoned your parental role as a right-minded moral guardian and have no right to complain about a little consensual fumbling, same-sex or otherwise.

So here’s a suggestion: how about you stop buying your susceptible ones corporate superhero soap operas stuffed full of advertising and designed to addict them to their brand for life? Why not treat them to Page 45’s Young Adult and Young Reader graphic novels catering to every conceivable early teens and pre-teen tastes instead!

Meanwhile, someone has stolen The Midnighter’s secret origin from some old biddy called The Gardner and they’re going to get their lights punched out.

SLH

Buy Midnighter #1 and read the Page 45 review here

STRANGERS IN PARADISE OMNIBUS is almost depleted – 76 copies sold here @ £75-00 each! – so we’re reintroducing more of its component parts:

Strangers In Paradise vol 2 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

There are very few comics on this planet with the power to move me like STRANGERS IN PARADISE. I could choose to quote from so many of these 350 pages. So much happens, so much is said. So much of it should never happen to anyone and so much of it should never have been said. That’s life.

“Hello… Katina? I hope this is still your number. This is Marie Peters. I know it’s been a long time… but remember you gave me your number when you moved to Hawaii and then Santa Fe, and asked me to call you if anything ever happened to Francine…? Well… I guess I’m making that call. I’m in Houston, I’m calling from Francine and Brad’s house…”
“Luisa! Book me on a flight back to Houston!”
“But you just came from…”
“NOW, please.”
“Things aren’t right here, Katina. I’ve never seen Francine this way and I’m worried about her. She’s so sad all the time, she drinks and cries herself to sleep every night. She won’t talk to me about it, but tonight she said she wants to go home. I think she means you, Katina. Listen, I know it’s none of my business but I just can’t sit by and watch my daughter die like this. Please come back, Katina. Whatever happened between you two, let it go. Whatever I said about you and your relationship with Francine, I’m sorry. Please… come back.”

I remember my shock when Francine wakes from the dream at the beginning of this book and we see that she has aged a decade. Or is that the wear and tear of being a mother, married to a man who avoids her? After lunch at a restaurant for which Brad never shows up, she ventures onto the terrace with its garden gazebo and stares into the distance, the autumn wind tugging at her thick, dark hair. And she has a vision of a woman with long blonde hair, sitting with her back to her.

Sandwiched between those opening pages and the answer machine message above are events in the past far worse than the first volume, for Darcy Parker is back and this time she means business. She has every intention of getting one of her Parker girls into the White House and she will use Katchoo to do so. Also, something so monumental, so very final, happens which I had forgotten occurring so early.

But half the joy of this series is that Terry juxtaposes the tragic with the comedic and Francine’s stint as a model at a photoshoot is glorious.

“I want you to look into the camera and don’t say a word, don’t move a muscle… Just give me the look!”
“The look?”
“The look.”
“Give the camera a look.”
“Not a look… the look! You know, the one you women have that says, “I’m sexy but selective, demanding but worth it, aggressive… yet feminine! Seductive in my Anne Klein suit, irresistible in my Camry. Provocative as I make my own bread while closing a big contract on my mobilnet cell phone between reps on my Thigh-Master!”
“Oh yeah, that look. We have so many.”

But there was one particular new element that took some of Moore’s readers completely by surprise, as David makes another of his many attempts to connect with Katchoo only to have it backfire on him. Again.

“You can’t hide for the rest of your life, Katchoo.”
“I’m not hiding! I just… don’t know what else to do.”
“I know the feeling. You live like there’s no tomorrow, and one day you’re right… And it scares the hell out of you. Believe me, I’ve been there.”
“So… what did you do? How’d you get through it?”
“Jesus Christ.”

Brilliant.

Katchoo reacts with fury. Not because David is a Christian but because he kept it from her.

Yet a great many STRANGERS IN PARADISE fans reacted with fury exactly because David had come out as Christian swiftly followed by Terry himself. “How dare a man writing with love about same-sex relationships be Christian?” they appeared to demand. With confused animosity.

And I don’t know about you, but that just makes no sense to me at all. Here was someone who, unlike so many in the history of organised religion, actually followed Christ’s teachings to spread love and understanding wherever he went and was brave enough to do so in print when it occasionally put him at odds with friends and family. And he was being chastised for that.

Now, I cannot recall whether Terry had come all the way over from America to sign at Page 45 just before or just after that but when he asked me to write the introduction to STRANGERS IN PARADISE: LOVE ME TENDER, the original fourth book in the series that contained this very material, after faltering once I knew exactly what I wanted to write and I chose my words carefully as a subtle rebuttal.

This is what Terry printed. Err, minus the typo and a couple of grammatical errors on my part!

Strangers No More

Dear Terry,

Thank you so much for producing such a beautiful book. In addition to a personal bi-monthly joy Strangers In Paradise, like so much of the material emerging these days, makes our jobs as retailers so much easier. Without creators like yourself, brave and talented enough to produce a book which appeals to so many different people, we’d never be able to begin marketing comics to the general public. Believe me, there are retailers out there who leap with joy every time a new, quality title emerges which we can not only enjoy ourselves, but promote and sell to the rest of the world who’ve yet to find a comic they might enjoy…

Stephen L. Holland
Page 45, March 7th 1995.

So began a very lucrative, mutually-beneficial business partnership and a wonderful friendship now almost three years old between ourselves at Page 45 (Mark, Dominique and myself), and Terry and Robyn Moore, which I could characterise, succinctly, as a transatlantic, telephonic tennis rally, consisting from both sides almost exclusively of the phrase “thank you”.

Well, that’s not strictly true.

The lucrative, mutually-beneficial business partnership began the day we received our first issue of Terry’s life-breathing comic, and it was cemented but moments later when we sold the first of what have since turned into thousands of copies, to an audience at least 50% female and almost wholly new to comics.

Once we knew what we had in our hands it was relatively easy for us. We didn’t have to create the fiction, we just bought it in, promoted it, took the money, said “thank you very much”, and watched the broad, broad smiles of those returning for the very next issue, the next collection, or a further suggestion to add to their comicbook reading list.

It will come as no surprise to you, therefore, that this fine work of fiction, about two highly individual girls from Houston, has, for some time now, been our biggest single selling title. Particularly in this format, the collections.

Early in 1997 Page 45 had the pleasure of playing host to Terry and Robyn for a Strangers In Paradise signing and Terry, four hours in (jet-lag no doubt playing havoc with his brain), had a hand so cramped from continuous sketching that… that he just continued to sign and sketch for another full hour. No moans, no protestations, just pure glee and excitement that he was here, with those who cared about his stories as much as he did. Robyn and I caught him shaking that wrist beneath the counter to liven it up, and on he went.

The very last couple in line were a mother and daughter whose names, I regret, elude me during this, a very tight deadline. Neither had read a copy of Strangers previously, but had heard about Terry’s presence and the book, and were intrigued. The mother bought a copy of Jon J. Muth’s beautiful, watercolour re-interpretation of Dracula; the daughter, well under 16 and armed with some of her own spectacularly promising sketches, bought the first episode of the book you hold in your hands.

Do you know what they said, the very next week, was their favourite segment? The piece about the transsexual marriage. Oh, Terry Moore, the love you spread…

In a society bombarded with messages of hate, from the tabloid newspapers and self-serving politicians to the more vocal members of organised religions, it is so heart-warming to come across a book whose priorities lie firmly in what was always, to me, the key Christian doctrine: Love Thy Neighbour. I don’t remember any post-script, qualification or specific exceptions being made; seems a fairly clear and concise Commandment to me.

So, here we go again, Terry: “Thank you”.

Thank you for Francine, for David and Katchoo. Thank you for Darcy Parker, Louis and Phoebe, Freddie, Chuck, Rachel, Tambi and all the others. Thank you for such beautiful brush strokes, such moving poetry, and all the joie de vivre you pack into your work.

Stephen L. Holland
Page 45
Nottingham, England, 1997

SLH

Buy Strangers In Paradise vol 2 Pocket Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Strangers In Paradise vol 3 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

“We’re not going to make it to Nashville, David. Even if we did, we couldn’t land it.”
“What are you talking about? How do you know?”
“Planes can’t fly without a rudder, David.”

The third volume of six begins once again in the present with Francine trapped in a debilitatingly unhappy marriage, and it becomes gradually clear that not everyone has survived the intervening years. For if you thought that the venomous presence of Darcy Parker in the lives of Francine, Katchoo and David was gone, think again. She’s left a legacy behind and a vacuum in her wake with there’s a power struggle which is about to ignite and suck the poor girls in again.

“144 people died because they got on a plane with you. Are you at peace with that? …If you really do care about the girl and her family, you need to get them away from you – as soon as possible. Before they’re taken away. Permanently.”

And that’s the most horrific sequence in an already turbulent relationship where harsh words are said: after the plane crash when one of the cast jettisons the other in the most hurtful way imaginable in order to try to save her life. The dramatic irony is excruciatingly. Francine isn’t just pushed into the arms of her future husband who will cause her such pain, she is positively, literally punched there.

Unfortunately it’s not enough. Do you remember Darcy’s cousin, Veronica? Because Veronica certainly remembers Francine, and you’re in for a very brutal encounter.

It is this, of course, which makes the funny bits all the funnier back when they were safe and happy, and as well as snow and gales he evokes so well with our loved ones staring into the distance, Terry draws a glorious summer countryside where David and Francine once shared some lazy afternoons at Francine’s mother’s.

“You’re not sitting on a bughouse or anything, are you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Bugs? You down there?”
“No answer. Must be safe.”
“That’s what they want you to think. That’s how they trick you!”
“Francine… I think it’s safe.”
“I’m all about a bug-free bottom.”
“It’s a wonderful thing.”

Three hundred and fifty more pages in which we see Katchoo’s first break in the art world, its unexpected effect on Francine, David’s secret finally revealed, and Francine struggling with her feelings for Katchoo as their trajectories diverge and all that is left are the lonesome lights flashing in the evening sky.

“See that star… the one shining brighter than all the others? I know the girl who hung it there.”

SLH

Buy Strangers In Paradise vol 3 Pocket Edition 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.

Bodies s/c (£12-99, Vertigo) by Si Spencer & Dean Ormston, Phil Winslade, Meghan Hetrick, Tula Lotay

The Wake s/c (£13-50, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy

Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 4 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Serizawa

Strangers In Paradise vol 4 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Uber vol 4 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Daniel Gete, Canaan White, Daniel Gete, Gabriel Andrade

Alien Vs. Predator: Fire & Stone s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Christopher Sebela & Ariel Olivetti

East Of West vol 4: Who Wants War (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta

ODY-C vol 1: Off To Far Ithicca s/c (£7-50, Image) by Matt Fraction & Christian Ward

Batgirl vol 1: The Batgirl Of Burnside h/c (£18-99, DC) by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher & Babs Tarr

Batman: Cataclysm s/c (£22-50, DC) by various

Ant-Man: Scott Lang s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by various

Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man vol 2 – Revelations s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez

Ms. Marvel vol 3: Crushed s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by C. Willow Wilson, Mark Waid & Takeshi Miyagawa, Humberto Ramos

Silver Surfer vol 2: Worlds Apart s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Mike Allred

Fairy Tail vol 48 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

News!

… is I’m knackered! More next week!

– Stephen

Page 45 reviews written by Page 45’s Stephen and Jonathan then edited by a manatee on malmsey.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2015 week one

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Featuring Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows, Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart, Garth Ennis & Gary Erskine, Brian Michael Bendis & Andrea Sorrentino, Ales Kot & Will Tempest, Brian Buccellato & Toni Infante, Sally Jane Thompson, Jason Brubaker, Nate Simpson, Nick Sousanis, Ethan Wiltshire.

News underneath as usual!

Nonplayer #1 (£2-25, 3rd print, Image) by Nate Simpson.

Beautiful, absolutely beautiful!

The lines, the dappled shadows and the lambent colouring, so rich and warm, evoke a fantasy land you really wouldn’t want to leave. There’s a giant cat whose chin nuzzles over the side of a horizontal tree trunk; and gigantic, armour-plated dinosaurs along with their woollier, mammalian successors carry the local aristocracy in a caravan whose warriors our heroine and her compadre are about to ambush for maximum XP points.

Yup, it’s all just a Massive Multiplayer Online Game you plug yourself into: an elaborate virtual reality which Dana’s so addicted to that she’s constantly late for work.

Even in real life she prefers simulation-stimulation so when she sets out on her scooter through the grotty, concrete urban jungle she adjusts her proverbial set to make that journey more pleasant. I can’t say I blame her, but it does raise a few questions about escaping your environment or acknowledging, absorbing and even enjoying it. It put me immediately in mind of Woodrow Phoenix’s salient sentiments in RUMBLE STRIP about getting lost in your own little world while driving.

 

 

Virtual reality addiction is subject which Devin Grayson explored some time ago in the three-issue USER – and very successfully too (reprint, please!) – while Cory Doctorow gave me much pause for thought in his FUTURISTIC TALES OF THE HERE AND NOW.

Here, however, lies what I take to be the crux of the matter in NONPLAYER:

Massive Multiplayer Online Games like Warcraft allow you to combine forces with friends or even strangers from all over the world on quests for virtual loot and lolly against other avatars behind which lurk real human beings or the NPCs of the title: computer-driven Non-Playable Characters. These can and will interact with you in complex, context-specific ways which make them far from predictable. How you respond to them – verbally or physically – will dictate how they respond to you.

But when you’re nowhere near NPCs, surely they doesn’t exist? They’re certainly not playing out their own emotionally charged, personal conflicts in real time with other NPCs, are they? That would be quite the glitch.

A little over four years ago while our J-Lo was away on paternity leave I wrote about how much I relished this first issue while worrying about its schedule:

“Unfortunately I fear we may have discovered the new Joshua Middleton both in terms of talent and schedule for this single issue took a whole year to create, he’s being courted by the comicbook corp[oration]s, and ten years on we have yet to see the follow-up to SKY BETWEEN BRANCHES #0. Fingers crossed, though.”

Haha! Whatever was I worried about?

Fortunately NONPLAYER #2 is finally out today, this 3rd June, and I am rather excited!

SLH

Buy Nonplayer #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Fight Club 2 #1 (£2-99, Dark Horse) by Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart.

“Throughout childhood people tell you to be less sensitive.
“Adulthood begins the moment someone tells you, “You need to be more sensitive”.”

I swear on my psychotherapy couch that you do not need to have read the original prose novel to relish this original comic actually written – not suggested – by Chuck Palahnuik himself. I read the book many moons ago but can barely remember a word.

I seem to recall it was at least partially about smashing the system: rising in up in rebellion against corporate conditioning, financial finagling, governmental authoritarianism and the pervasive mediocrity we can obliviously settle for during our everyday, oh-so-short lives. About waking up from the ubiquitous mass hypnotism of messed-up humanity… whilst enthusiastically submitting to someone else’s indoctrination. If it wasn’t, it should have been.

It’s why Jonathan Hickman’s scathing NIGHTLY NEWS rang such a bell with me. The first paragraph of my NIGHTLY NEWS review reads:

“Terrorism. Communication. Authorative anti-authoritarianism. One man’s enlightenment is the same man’s indoctrination. Stop being a sheep, and be part of my flock instead!”

The cult of personality, eh? Unless it’s mine, I’m always suspicious.

As I said, however, Fight Club could have been about something else entirely, like hitting people. I imagine that’s why many went to see the film.

Fight Club 2 begins with a similarly iconoclastic personal survey in which you can discover, “Are You Space Monkey Material?” It poses 12 questions with mirth-inducing optional answers. Let’s try a couple.

“MY GREATEST REGRET IS…
A. The adverse effect my carbon footprint has on the intricate web of sensate life forms.
B. My past insensitivity to others whose cultural milieu and genetic makeup vary from my own.
C. My unexamined participation in the context of an entrenched capitalistic power hierarchy.
D. Nothing. Sir.”

We’ll leave aside “DO YOU GET OUT OF THE SHOWER TO TAKE A LEAK?” – it is funny, though – and skip straight past the increasingly angry activism of no-nonsense D to question number 12:

“THE GREATEST THREAT FACING OUR CURRENT GOVERNMENT IS…
A. Failure to recognise and reign in the scourge of white privilege.
B. The impending collapse of world oil reserves.
C. Dwindling honeybee populations.
D. Me.”

Okay, so the comic itself kicks off with the narrator addressing the audience directly.

“Look at him. He calls himself Sebastian these days. Ten years ago he was destined to be another Alexander the Great. A new Genghis Khan. But Sebastian… he calls himself happy.”

Well, with the aid of some tranks, anyway.

Back home his son is being nannied by a woman wielding a carving knife. But then his young son is having a time-out after being caught synthesising explosive compounds from local debris like dog poo.

His wife is unsatisfying and so dissatisfied, calling for a certain, so-far off-stage Tyler to “deliver me from this bland, boring life”. (First-time readers: you’ll see, you’ll see.) “Please, rescue me from my loving husband…”

By the end of the first issue Tyler may just have done that, but in the meantime she’s begun to take evasive manoeuvres of her own and Sebastian is swallowing them whole. Chic and suited, she’s quite the self-obsessed piece of work, invading a counselling session for those with Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome (such rapid aging that 10-year-olds appear to be 60) while complaining about her wrinkles – “They’re all on the inside!”

Chain-smoking throughout, she’s drawn by Cameron Stewart with a superb sense of insouciance that puts me in mind of Mrs Quinn, the rich bitch in Nabiel Kanan’s THE DROWNERS, though there’s more than a touch of Sean Murphy in her angular face.

My favourite pages are those on which pills or petals – rendered to striking contrast with three-dimensional modelling complete with shadows which fall over the panels beneath them – are imposed over what is being said by the narrator or the narrative’s participants. Whereas the dog’s barking merely drowns thoughts out like ASTERIOS POLYP talking over his girlfriend, the effect here is different because you can discern what lies below – with the romantic rose petals at least – suggesting that the bunch of flowers Sebastian has bought his missus is merely a smoke screen hiding the lie of their messed-up marriage.

“Happy Annive –“
“I lo – you –“
“Take your pill.”

There’s no hiding that last line.

Sebastian, meanwhile, is the epitome not so much of exhausted but sedated. Everyone’s more got more life in them than he has. Even his neighbour.

“Studies conducted by the United States Military prove that what women fear most is physical pain… What men fear most is being humiliated, losing social status, public ridicule.”

Sebastian used to be a fighter once, but he’s fallen asleep. Now it’s time to wake up.

I think I can hear alarm bells ringing.

SLH

Buy Fight Club 2 #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Providence #1 of 12 (£2-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows…

“Say, weren’t you planning on writing a book, I heard?”
“Huh. Lot of planning, no writing. Don’t even have a subject yet, to be truthful.
“I want something big, something that cuts to the heart of this country and these times.
“That talks about things nobody’s dared talk about before.
“You know? Not just another slice of life in the city of bachelors.”

If you google providence, the two definitions you are offered are “timely preparation for future eventualities” and “the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power”. However I suspect no amount of preparation, nor indeed the care of God, is likely to provide much protection for what is to come for some of the characters in Alan’s return to the Lovecraft mythos in conjunction with artist Jaden Burrows after their grisly but gripping NEONOMICON

It’s set in Providence, Rhode Island, which itself has interesting origins, founded in 1636 by a man called Roger Williams, recently exiled from Massachusetts, to provide a refuge for religious minorities. The year is 1919 and the world, emerging from the carnage of WW1, has undoubtedly changed, yet also much has not. There are people still living double lives due to their sexuality, of which of our main character Robert Black is one. Now, apparently there is an irony here, as I have read Alan has commented he liked the idea of having a gay character in a period Lovecraftian yarn given H.P. Lovecraft was apparently immensely homophobic.

Whatever the reason it immediately helps creates a state of suspense as much of this first issue is taken up with establishing Robert’s back story, his reasons for being in Providence, and the ongoing emotional anguish he endures in trying to maintain a covert relationship, all the whilst endeavouring to appear to his co-workers at the Tribune newspaper as just another everyday Joe.

They’re all desperate to fill half a page in the next edition at short notice with something a trifle titillating when Robert mentions a French book, Sous Le Monde, that apparently sent people mad if they read it. The scandal surrounding which, Robert Chambers apparently based THE KING IN YELLOW on.

Being a bookish sort of cove, Robert knows of a professor nearby who wrote an article on Sous Le Monde, and so is dispatched to interview him. Which is where events start to creep into more Lovecraftian paranormal territory, as the good doctor has an exceptionally powerful air conditioning system in his apartment, a medical requirement due to an, as yet, unspecified illness… I’m pretty sure however it won’t be a malaise covered in any great detail at medical school, not even at Miskatonic University…

There’s much to admire in Alan’s writing in this first issue, I suspect it’s a project he’s enjoying. I like the little subtle points of connection, almost as asides he weaves in, including one a character makes to Tannhäuser which proves particularly apposite indeed. One of the biggest nods to THE KING IN YELLOW comes in the form of the Exit Gardens, which in truth are state-sponsored suicide chambers, dressed up in art deco buildings in beautiful floral surroundings. Where, once you check in, you are gently put to sleep forever whilst listening to the music of your choice. A posh version of Dignitas, basically. But because you don’t need to jump through myriad bureaucratic hoops first, anyone can simply walk in, sit down and rest in peace forevermore.

I’m intrigued to see how Robert picks up the pieces emotionally after this issue and precisely what is wrong with the mysterious professor. The best sort of opening issue, one that engages you completely, connects you emotionally with the characters, piques your curiosity and leaves you wanting more. I am quite sure the horror factor is going to be ramped up gradually until readers’ states of mental wellbeing are in tatters too. I’m still mentally wincing from the ‘where’s my contact lens’ scene in NEONOMICON

JR

Buy Providence #1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

In our modern world, it often seems that the word in the king of communication, holding sway over images. We comics lovers know better, of course, but what if images really do inform our understanding of pretty much anything just as much as words? It’s kind of obvious when you think about it. I mean, IKEA have even taken it to a new level with entirely picture-based instructions for assembling their furniture, thus doing away with the need for multiple language versions of the same text. I’m pretty sure that’s not the example Nick Sousanis had in mind when he embarked upon this epic undertaking, but it actually sums up his philosophy quite nicely.

Nick started submitting his university work for one particular class in the form of comics, which went down so well that he started doing it for other classes too, gradually persuading more and more lecturers and professors to let him do so. In the end he decided this was something he could do a PhD about, the use of image as an equal partner to the mighty word. In the form of a comic, obviously.

So began his investigation of the process of ‘seeing’ from the perspective of science, art, literature, philosophy and even mythology to examine its specific role in the psychological process of interpretation that goes on in our brains. It’s a process he calls unflattening as he shows how images can be used not just to illustrate text, but in all manner of ways of communicating information. Text is by its very nature linear but imagery however is pure connectivity. The word ‘subtext’ springs to mind.

What follows is an extremely clever, engrossing and well constructed treatise… with pictures! He’s preaching to the converted with respect to us comic readers, of course, but it’s another vital piece of work in helping ferment wider discussion about the validity of our beloved medium. That’s not his primary aim with this work, but it’s certainly a useful adjunct.

 

Nick would like to see us “challenge text” and I think he has some very interesting points to make about the use of imagery, or lack of it, in academic learning, particularly for children. You only have to look at EVOLUTION: THE STORY OF LIFE ON EARTH or THE STUFF OF LIFE: A GRAPHIC GUIDE TO GENETICS AND DNA to see how fun comics can make pretty dry subject matter. FEYNMAN contains a lot of pretty high-end physics explained incredibly eloquently in comic form which I found far more digestible than in my excruciatingly boring quantum theory lectures at Uni. Equally, I would argue CRECY taught me more about that battle than reading about it in history at school ever did.

Ultimately, this is an impressive, powerful, and absolutely convincing display of just how much understanding can be achieved through the additional use of imagery. And comics. Now we just need a generation of comic creators to work on producing nothing but text books!

JR

Buy Unflattening and read the Page 45 review here

Material #1 (£2-75, Image) by Ales Kot & Will Tempest.

A tired and disillusioned professor questions the merits of modern life – how we’re spending so much time with machines that we’re becoming like them. A student objects and his daughter – via Skype – tells him she’s pregnant. At which point his computer begins to engage with him too.

A visionary director reaches out to a washed up, self-sedated actress for his next, largely improvised film. The studio seeks more commercially viable and quantifiable slants than ten sheets of blank script but the director is determined that the film will be both about and by the actress. Surprisingly it turns out she does have a mind of her own.

A fifteen-year-old boy standing passively at a protest march carrying the hand-written placard declaring “I cannot breath” is arrested, detained and questioned. On release, while babysitting, he discovers a pamphlet about The New Black Panther Party.

Seven months after being liberated from Guantanamo detention centre an innocent man finds he can no longer relate to his family or even touch his doting dog whom he played with as a puppy. They used dogs on him in the prison camp. Waterboarding too.  He never hurt anyone, nor planned to hurt anyone. But the only thing which arouses him now is being held down and hurt.

As with Kot’s ZERO, CHANGE, WILD CHILDREN and THE SURFACE, this is so unapologetically intelligent that it takes more than a single read to take in, and I’m still not entirely sure how these four scenarios except that lives are being changed. Rebellion seems to be on the cards.

Each is given two colour-coded pages at a time on a nine-panel grid, lending it a clarity I’m enormously grateful for. The art is direct, thin-lined and brittle. That bit about the dog really got me.

A synopsis is not a review, it’s true, so consider this a story about a story or a sales pitch. I bought it.

SLH

Buy Material #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Sithrah Book 1 h/c (£14-99, Coffee Table Comics) by Jason Brubaker.

Beautiful, spacious and unpredictable non-stop thrill-athon with the emphasis on the images so it’s perfect for a younger age range too.

I raced through this so fast whilst loving every second.

Seven-year-old Nirvana Page has been on a holiday expedition with her Dad. Insatiably inquisitive, Nirvana and her cat Sam have explored both flora and fauna and things so strange that they might well be both! I think she may have gotten a little too close to one of them. A sort of crustaceous lamprey, its teeth didn’t half look sharp and it managed to wrap a suckered tongue round her index finger. It’s feeling a bit sore but she doesn’t tell Dad – she hides it behind her back.

Her Dad, however, is hiding something too. For when Nirvana expresses a wish to visit Light City and to see her Mum again, well, there’s obviously something so wrong with Light City that Dad wants to avoid it at all costs – as well as all talk of Mum. He just won’t tell her why.

I think it’s the landscapes I love best: big, bold, tree-topped mountains, silhouetted in front of and behind all that mist as their seaplane takes off.

Although I did feel first-hand the alarm, desperation and blind panic as something from above destroys one of their engines then shatters the cockpit window before wrenching a helpless Nirvana right out of the plane altogether. She barely manages to grab a parachute and only just rescues her toy fluffy bunny from the spare seat which it was carefully buckled into. Heaven knows what’s happened to the cat. Heaven knows what’s happened to Dad, for that matter.

She wakes beneath the canvas of her parachute as it’s pattered by the first drops of rain heralding a storm. Peering out from under its heavy, saggy folds, Nirvana is caught under the last sunbeams of dying day in a vast, verdant countryside, so very beautiful to be sure, but so very empty.

Once more, I give you the landscapes and the rolling, roiling clouds above as the deluge descends. Superb, stark lettering as Nirvana calls out to her Dad. There’s no reply. She is completely and utterly alone.

SITHRA boasts a completely different aesthetic to Luke Pearson’s all-ages HILDA but Nirvana is just as resourceful and resolute and her faith in her father’s wisdom and love is very touching indeed. “What’s the smart thing to do?” she asks herself. “That’s something her father would ask her in a situation like this.” She is determined to make him proud but she has a very long night ahead of her.

Parents, I promise you this first instalment won’t leave you in the unenviable position of having to reassure your young ones for its morning brings magic.

It appears in the form of the glossy-eyed, lightning-fast, bi-pedal Sithrah, a bright-white, seal-like creature with hope in its heart and a message:

“No one is ever alone, Nirvana… Not completely.”

Their adventure has only begun.

SLH

Buy Sithrah Book 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scars (£2-50) by Sally Jane Thompson.

There’s nothing like exploring the countryside, especially with your girlfriend or boyf.

The two of you alone yet together, undistracted by the intrusive, prosaic practicalities of modern living.

The sense of shared discovery and Mother Nature’s eye-candy as far as the eye can see! It’s absolute, unadulterated bliss.

“Um, listen…
“I, uh… I think we should break up.”

Whoa, get mister casual! I suppose at least he had the decency not to do it in a public bar.

I had a friend who was ditched by her pop-star boyfriend just after midnight on New Year’s Day… by text!

He wasn’t really a pop star. You could tell because he was constantly calling himself one.

The young woman here is caught completely off-guard and, cruelly, in the middle of the thrill of finding the jagged lower jaw of some beastie. So she has her back turned at the time and she does not turn round. She can barely straighten up so heavy do her shoulders now feel.

“Three years. That’s all three years is worth?” she thinks.

“Babe! Come on! What are you doing?”

It’s so well observed: “Babe”. It’s a bit late for affection, don’t you think? There’ll be a “Sweetie!” later on when he drops her off at home and she slams the car door in his face without a word. He’s reaching out with affection just to make himself feel better about having cut her heart in two. You’ve got what you wanted, tosser, so just shut up and drive away.

I was once ditched by a boyfriend. Immediately afterwards he tried to kiss me.

Sally Jane Thompson has many styles, some as lush as you like: http://www.sallyjanethompson.co.uk/gallery.php This is pared down completely to the most fragile pencils imaginable and rarely have a seen a tear well up so tenderly.

For such a tiny little comic it has a vast sense of space even when we return to suburbia with its tall flats, lower houses and back gardens big enough for trees.  I was particularly struck by the cover, along the bottom centimetre along of which in the distance rise conifer tree tops above which hangs a vast and empty sky.

The jawbone will play a considerable part in the healing process, by the way, whereas once it probably opened quite the considerable wound.

SLH

Buy Scars and read the Page 45 review here

Elders #1 (£4-00) by Ethan Wiltshire…

“Hello?”
“Ah, Mrs. Gibson I presume?”
“Oh no, there isn’t one…”
“Oh I’m sorry, we must have the wrong house.”
“No, it’s Stanley you’re looking for isn’t it?”
“We’re partners but we’re not married.”
“You’re NOT married… but you LIVE together?”
“Uhm yes?”
“INDEED.”

Ha. I do love the almost demonic, Kiss-like make up shading round Elder Cohen’s eye during that last exhortation. I should probably here point out that Elder Cohen and his door-knocking cohort Elder Christensen are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints better known to you and I as Mormons. Mr. Gibson, or Brother Stanley, upon whom they have called to pay a visit, is also a Mormon, though I think we can say his faith is… wavering slightly. Perhaps a concerned visit from the Elders complete with a few choice stinging rebukes… and the threat of eternal damnation… is just what he needs to scrabble back up atop the moral high ground. Or not. Indeed, given the Lord does move in the most mysterious of ways, perhaps what we perceive before our eyes in this very comic is not all to be believed…

Right, that’s as much plot and near spoiler collision avoidage as you are going to get from me! Suffice to say this is a comedy of manners in the classic British sense that pokes fun at the Mormon church and some of its tenets, with a lovely little twist that turns everything neatly on its head at the end. Tone-wise it actually reminded me a little of Dan Berry’s THE SUITCASE, itself a classic piece of British farce, being so gently over the top that even those on the receiving end could probably enjoy the joke. Though, I have to say, those of the door-knocking persuasion, of all religious flavours, are not usually known for their sense of humour.

I remember once, when having been door-stepped by a couple of Jehoviah’s Witnesses (I was expecting the wheelie bin cleaners so opened the door without looking first) and in my surprise foolishly uttering I was a Buddhist thus hoping they’d leave me alone. Instead, my heart started sinking rapidly as I immediately saw that in fact this was a full-speed-ahead we-are-go-for-conversion signal for them.

So I decided to change tactics and upon being asked why I practiced Buddhism rather than seeing the Glory of the Lord and indeed the error of my ways, I told them years of meditation now meant I could levitate… Seeing their shock and sensing their sudden uncertainty I ploughed ahead, claiming also telepathy, mind control of small animals, and if I had a full seven days of continuous, uninterrupted meditation in a completely dark underneath the house… pyrokinesis. Politely making their excuses, they backed away from the door in search of someone less mentally deranged. It’s a tactic worth remembering if you find yourself in just such a situation.

Anyway, Ethan’s done a sterling job here with his second publication, the first being the excellent JONATHAN STARLIGHT which we sold out of. It was originally intended as the first chapter of a longer form story, a teaser if you will, following the exploits of Elders Cohen and Christensen (not forgetting Brother Gibson!) and the trials and tribulations of the door-knocking adventures. I hope it’s something he’ll pursue in some manner or other as I think the concept has legs.

Art-wise, he’s come on considerably since JONATHAN STARLIGHT, and there’s a couple of lovely artistic devices here, plus a brave extended use of black panels for a particularly amusing sequence. Yes, you can see this is an artist who is still working on his style and panel layouts in places, but undoubtedly he has excellent illustrative ability.

I should add Ethan recently commented to me that he felt very unsure about even publishing this material after finishing it, whether it was sufficiently good enough, that he could see everything that was wrong with it. I am quite sure that’s an extremely common thing amongst artists of all ages and indeed experience levels. But one needs to keep moving forward, always, even if at times you just feel like you’re scrabbling around in the dark. Dare I even say, just publish and be damned?! It’s just so important to getting keeping your material out there.

For whilst you can’t choose the faith you were born into – or indoctrinated by – as a child, you can put your faith in yourself, and then commitment and hard work will surely get you there. Maybe not being able to levitate perhaps, but to become a great comic creator, certainly!

JR

Buy Elders #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Dan Dare Omnibus (£14-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Gary Erskine.

No idea how this dropped off our system, so sorry!

The complete edition of Erskine’s finest work to date: the perfectly poised, beautifully restrained yet totally trenchant take on the classic British space pilot, hauled out of retirement by a Prime Minister he despises in charge of a country he’s no longer in love with. Ennis’ restrained handling of Dare’s eloquently voiced disappointment keeps the man dignified but direct, a formidable figure as he sizes up the politician in front of him and delivers a considered but withering indictment of all that’s been lost through lack of leadership.

So it is when Dare has been joined by faithful old Digby and a battalion of soldiers who’ve just staved off a furious attack by a hoard of ferocious green monsters on a colony populated by both humans and the Treen (the Mekon’s people) who until recently were getting along splendidly. But the Mekon’s back, so suspicions are raised and tempers are high.

Oh yes, and there’s a thousand more nasties on their way:

“Mister Dare, I’d like a word with you please…”
“A very brief one, Captain.”
“Are you really giving civilians priority for evacuation? Over military personnel?”
“I take it you disagree?”
“Look here, sir, Fitzgerald and Kent and I are officers. If there is going to be some sort of final battle with the Mekon, chaps like us will be at a premium. And our tours of duty are almost done, and — well, frankly, we don’t feel like getting killed for a lot of prospectors and green wogs…”
“Well, if that’s the way you feel, you should board the shuttle as soon as you can.”
“Really?”
“You’ll leave your uniforms behind, of course.”
“Our — ?”
“You’re no longer British officers, you can’t possibly wear the uniform.”

Classic British reserve, but with a bite. Unashamedly patriotic and unwaveringly brave, Dare really is the quintessential old-school man of honour, but also a leader prepared to put himself on the frontline alongside his men and lead.

With art like this – as rich and British as Chris Weston’s or Bryan Talbot’s – one can’t help but regret that Erskine seems to spend so much time making others’ pencils look good with his inks rather than giving us the joy of his own layouts. It couldn’t be more apposite for the task at hand, particularly when we first meet the national legend so far into his future that he’s fully retired. He’s spending his days walking the dogs through a traditional English village past cricket pitches, oak-beamed pubs, all surrounded by rolling green fields, dry stone walls, and a brazen fox. They stop to take each others’ measure. If that sounds like an idyll that’s perfect, then surely it’s no more than the space pilot deserves after his long record of service to his beloved country.

But times, they have a habit of changing, and illusions can be shattered. It’s a very different world now, as viewed from the space station: America is an arid patchwork of craters as big as the moon’s, for America and China have finally finished each other off, the UN has failed and international cooperation is a thing of the past. Jocelyn from the old crew has at least risen to the position of Home Secretary, which will prove vital if everyone’s going to survive what happens next. Unfortunately, they don’t.

SLH

Buy Dan Dare Omnibus and read the Page 45 review here

Sons Of The Devil #1 (£2-25, Image) by Brian Buccellato & Toni Infante.

“Come on, Riggs… I’m gonna be late. Will you go already?”

Travis’ Border Collie looks up at him from the pavement, tongue lolling expectantly.

“You’re really gonna make me do it, aren’t you?”

He really is. Travis is going to have to pick Riggs up and carry him. That’s one way of taking your dog for a walk.

Thank goodness for that one moment of smile-inducing comedy because the rest is pretty horrific.

Vitally artist Toni Infante is far from sensationalist. His art is grounded in faultless figure work and suffused with a brooding intensity. Meek and innocent eyes are wide and hopeful, while others glare up from beneath baseball caps with resentment and barely suppressed rage. That Border Collie could not come with a coat that’s sleeker or a better-natured, loyal adoration.

Other faces are full of smug, self-satisfied mendacity and if there’s one thing Infante excels at – with his angular noses and tight-lipped, taut-lined faces – it’s confrontation.

Before we even begin the book has been primed with hair-trigger tensions, some of which have been building for weeks, others for thirty-plus years. Now they burst open on every conceivable front and if I were to sum this first issue up it’s with that perennial downer I refuse to endorse that no good deed goes unpunished.

Travis spies a young boy sitting on the pavement, lost and alone. There is an immediate empathy: Travis is determined to reunite the waif with his parents for he’s in search of the same thing himself. It costs him dearly.

A private investigator, the son of one of Travis’ old foster parents, believes he can do the same for Travis – to make up for an old mistake with far-reaching consequences they both have had cause for regret. This Mister Landon has found an old photograph, you see, of another man with eyes so distinctive and similar to Travis’. But that costs him more dearly still.

Flash back on the very first page to 1989 and cots are being raided two at a time, their babies stolen. There is an appalling act of violence which baby Travis witnesses far too young with his blue and blood-red eyes. It’s no wonder that Travis now needs anger management. But beware whom you’re referred to…

How’s that for oblique?

This is a book about cults. Cults have connections, don’t they? Just look at the Masonic Lodge. Unfortunately for Travis and everyone around him this particular cult has been waiting for precisely this moment.

Recommended for fans of Robert Kirkman books like OUTCAST.

SLH

Buy Sons Of The Devil and read the Page 45 review here

Old Man Logan #1 (£3-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Andrea Sorrentino.

Of all the SECRET WARS satellite series, this is the one I’ve been looking forward to most.

It does not disappoint!

The sound effects for a start are an integral part of the art, fusing sound and vision into a single sensory experience worthy of Dave Sim himself in CEREBUS.

Its visuals come steeped in the shadow of Jae Lee on Paul Jenkins’ INHUMANS, though it’s closer in colour and texture to his more neo-Gothic outing in Grant Morrison’s FANTASTIC FOUR 1234. Both come highly recommended as singularly eloquent, self-contained graphic novels.

Moreover, some of the sequences are presented with Jim Steranko flourishes like Logan’s assault on the gambling den of child-thieves, the lights going on / off in swift, staccato succession as if there were a strobe in the room. The figures fighting are lit up in stark black and white against a blood-orange background then each narrow window is brush-flecked in blood.

Blood. There is an awful lot of blood, but then this is a Wolverine comic so, you know…

It’s a sequel of sorts to the finest Wolverine series of all time: Mark Millar & Steve McNiven’s OLD MAN LOGAN (reviewed). It was set in a future where the heroes had lost, the villains had carved up America and something so awful had happened to Logan that he’d become a pacifist, refusing to pop his claws for anyone or anything. When you learn what that was you will understand why.

Half the fun was wondering – then discovering – what had become of those you once loved and so it is here, even if it’s only their legacy that’s left.

“Ya wear this uniform?! Do ya even know who this was?”
“What? It’s j-just a look. It’s just – It’s just cool.”
“Ya don’t even know.”

This is Bendis: whose uniform do you think they’ve so ignorantly co-opted? Love the spectacles!

Yes, I can promise Bendis fans in particular some guest appearances from those who will be close to your heart but grown rather a lot older or up now. Also, what is it with Bendis and severed Ultron heads? These disembodied silver skulls of the Avengers’ psychopathic A.I. foe are littered throughout Bendis’ books and Logan’s just found another, fallen from the sky, and it troubles him.

It is suggested to Logan that it’s come from over The Wall, the climbing of which is verboten. I think you can imagine what Logan does next.

It’s rather a long way to the top, so I’ll see you next month.

SLH

Buy Old Man Logan #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.

Criminal vol 5: The Sinners s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Fuse vol 2: Gridlock s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood

D&Q: 25 Years Of Comtemporary Cartooning, Comics & Graphic Novels (£37-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Various

Between The Billboards & The Authoring Of Architecture (£11-99, Avery Hill) by Owen D Pomery

Thanos Infinity Relativity h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin & Andy Smith, Frank D’Armata

Venom By Remender Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Tony Moor, Tom Fowler, Various

Marvel Universe Ant -Man Digest s/c (£7-50, Marvel) by Various & Various

Swamp Thing vol 6: The Sureen s/c (£12-99, DC) by Charles Soule & Javier Pina, Jesus Saiz, Matthew Wilson

Dragons Beware! (£10-99, First Second) by Rafael Rosado & Jorge Aguirre

Regular Show vol 3 s/c (£10-99, Kaboom) by K C Green & Allison Strejlau

Avengers World vol 3: Next World s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer, Frank Barbiere & Marco Checchetto, Raffaele Ineco

Usagi Yojimbo Saga vol 3 s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo vol 2: Samurai (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

News!

ITEM! Hurrah! At last! From the creators of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, a preview of Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERAIL GIRL

Please pop it on your Standing Order as soon as possible or bash these buttons to pre-order PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #1 online! We ship worldwide!

Both previous collections on our shelves now! Reviews: PHONOGRAM: RUE BRITANNIA and PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB.

Pre-ordering as early as possible is vital. Retailers order comics two months in advance. If you order in advance your copies are guaranteed! If you don’t, they aren’t and everybody cries. Nobody likes to see a comic lover crying on the shop floor. For a start, your tears may fall on our comics and that’s WATER DAMAGE!

ITEM! I haven’t finished yet. Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is picked up for television. Page 45’s review of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE.

ITEM! Free! But you must, MUST book in advance! THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Kieron Gillen and his historical consultant, Professor Stephen Hodkinson, discuss the creation of the comicbook THREE at Nottingham University, Saturday 13th June. Public most welcome and it’s a beautiful campus to stroll around on a summer’s day! I know – I got absolutely slaughtered there most afternoons for three who years. Page 45’s review of THREE by Kieron Gillen & Ryan Kelly.

ITEM! Less free (£4/£8) but later that same day for Age 12+: Kieron Gillen & Chrissy Williams host a create-your-own-Classics-comic in which they use the comic THREE as a springboard to help you craft your own short sequences. Nottingham University. No skillz required – so I may pop along myself!

ITEM! Are you relishing THE REALIST by Asaf Hanukah, May’s Page 45 Comic Book Of The Month? In July Asaf Hanukah is joined by Tomer Hanukah for the art on THE DIVINE which you can pre-order right now – then collect in-store so saving yourself postage if that’s what you prefer!

If you need a nudge, here’s a huge preview of THE DIVINE beneath an extensive interview with Tomer and Asaf Hanukah!

ITEM! Tickets are now on sale for events at October’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015. What a line up of talks, interviews, film presentations and workshops!

Remember: most of the festival is COMPLETELY FREE, including entry into the main exhibit hall, Kendal’s Clock Tower where creators will be signing all weekend long and Page 45 will once again be taking over the entire Georgian Room with our very own special guests!

October 16th – 18th. Hope to see you there!

– Stephen

 

Page 45 reviews written by Page 45’s Stephen and Jonathan then edited by a boss-eyed baboon.