Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2015 week two

This week we surely have something for everyone! Fifteen reviews!

The Story Of My Tits (£22-50, Top Shelf) by Jennifer Hayden.

“On the last day I had tits on this Earth, I painted them yellow, with orange nipples.
“I painted them orange, with green nipples.
“I painted them red, with yellow nipples.
“Then I rinsed off, the tears becoming the water I swam in, red paint ribboning away from me like blood.”

That’s about as eloquent as anything I’ve ever read.

I hope it’s not too stark for this astute, 350-page, autobiographical epic is riddled with wit, mischief, self-deprecation, joy, exasperation, love, learning, empathy and the sort of profound understanding of what is and isn’t important that can only come with hindsight and experience after a whole load of mistakes. It’s a graphic novel that makes you appreciate what you’ve got and who you’re surrounded by. I practically fell in love with Jennifer’s husband, Jim, and Jim’s mother Alice, both bottomless wells of kindness.

The cartooning is rich and playful with parenthetical asides that will have you grinning, and fantastical embellishments that speak volumes in shorthand, especially on recurrence. It’s dense with detail and luxurious textures which convey unmistakable senses of both time and place, but kept clean and clear by spacious gutters between each four-panel page.

I love the pointy noses, and as for the eyes it’s minimum fuss for maximum empathy. Hayden can convey so much in two circles, two dots and a couple of perfectly placed eyebrows. There are lots of clever devices like diagrams and charts and you may end up missing those curly whirly telephone chords which are now almost extinct. Communication is a big theme here. Some people are better at it than others.

Jennifer’s practical mother would rather not, even after a mastectomy.

“You’ve been through something really big, Mom. Don’t you want to talk about it?”
“Well, I certainly don’t think we need to dwell on it.”

Which is admirable in a way, but Jennifer’s own instinct had always been to express and even explode on occasion.

“My revenge was never to stop talking about emotions – mine and everyone else’s.”

She depicts herself like Charles Schultz’s Lucy behind a lemonade booth marked ‘Unlicensed Pyschologist. 5 cents. Free Beer. (The Doctor Is In)’. An unwitting patient’s popped by.

“Holy shit! So how did you feel when you step-mother’s lesbian lover came at you with the chainsaw?”

I did promise you mischief.

Jennifer’s father also avoids communication even when her Mum is diagnosed early in the graphic novel with breast cancer. Jen’s infuriated by his lack of support – he seems almost suspiciously equanimous to it all – but then her parents know something she doesn’t, and when that secret comes out Jennifer will find, not for the last time, that she can remain culpably silent too.

This, then, this is the story of one woman’s breasts from their frustrating late blossoming to their loss forever. It won’t be the only loss, either, for some of Jennifer’s loved ones won’t last the years and I found several passages here to be devastating. But its scope is far wider for how else could you understand that loss? It encompasses more than one family, more than one generation and Hayden herself will grow over the years from a somewhat prickly aspiring writer (who, she says, sucked) and a woman who couldn’t stop judging the success of her own life by the developments in others’ – including marriage and children – into an artist, lover and mother who knows exactly what to communicate, when to communicate and how.

Hayden’s finest moment is possibly when she judges it best to safeguard her children from what she’s going through (breast examinations, biopsies etc) then when to tell them and in what way.

As she endures those examinations and diagnoses and she processes her own options and what they imply for her future it is gruelling and harrowing and, yes, she breaks down, terrified of what lies ahead. She’d been living with the prospect for years ever since her mum was first diagnosed and who amongst us here is superhuman, after all? But at every turn Jim is her enduring rock (they met way back at college!) and if he were ever to read this (I cannot think why) I’d just like to say, you’re a star.

Jennifer, by the way, opts for a bilateral mastectomy – the removal of both breasts when only one was cancerous – and her reasons are arrived at with clarity. It’s a brave thing to do to bear all, but this will undoubtedly shed light and provide hope or – if there is or turned out to be no hope in the end – the sympathy of a shared journey.

There’s a whole lot of love to be had along the way.


Buy The Story Of My Tits and read the Page 45 review here

Bitch Planet vol 1: Extraordinary Machine s/c (£7-50, Image) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro with Robert Wilson IV.

“Shame them – maim them – try to contain them – stand back – she’s gonna BLOW!”

Wittily conceived, perfectly targeted and mercilessly executed, this is a two-pronged attack on the sort of chauvinism we’ve kind of convinced ourselves died out with the Victorians. It hasn’t. It’s alive and unwell in the form of day-to-day condescension like man’splaining, force-fed through media manipulations on female beauty and rears its ugliest head on the internet in the form of outright misogyny towards comics and games journalists.

One of those two prongs – “Hey Kids, Patriarchy!” – is the funniest and most lacerating series of faux advertisements I’ve ever seen. Take the wonders of weight loss:

“We guarantee you will lose
“Your balance!
“Your energy!
“Your joie de vivre!
“Your will to live!”

“Advice For Ladies” in that lovely, frilly, feminine type-face includes an advertisement for Agreenex pills:

“What’s Wrong With You?
“Be the you he likes. Good to be around, any time, any day. Agreenex helps. It doesn’t change your circumstances, but it keeps you from caring. Because without thoughts, feelings or inconvenient opinions, you’re more fun to be around. So use Agreenex. Isn’t he worth it? (And if he kicks you out, where will you live? Do you really think someone would give you a job? Look at you.)
“Agreenex: because he’s sick of your shit!”

From the writer of PRETTY DEADLY, this is a different beast altogether, and I warn you right now that it’s not safe for work.

Female compliancy is paramount both in the eyes of the advertisers and in the body of the storyline itself.

Half of it is set on the so-called Bitch Planet, an off-world, all-female penitentiary run by the earth-bound Bureau of Compliancy and Corrections staffed by men. Some of the inmates are murderers, but others are in for “seduction and disappointment; emotional manipulation” and “disrespect”, while one Marian Collins’ crime was to be in the way of her husband having an affair. There’s a beautiful sequence of misdirection so successfully set up by both DeConnick and De Landro – as Marian’s husband desperately pleads with the BCC’s Off-world Overseer Roberto Solanza for the return of his wife – that I had to flick back and read it once more to see if it was watertight. It was!

There are plenty of subplots to keep you guessing but the main thrust that currently propels BITCH PLANET is Father Josephson’s search not just for the TV ratings he deems meaningless but for engagement. “Engagement is the measure that matters.” To that end he enlists Roberto Solanza, proposing that a team be created on his Bitch Planet for Josephson’s best broadcast, the contact sport called Duemila or Megaton which makes American Football look like a game of tiddlywinks. To make this happen the one inmate they have to secure is the athlete amongst them, Kamau Kogo. She’s far from convinced:

“Megaton? You want a bunch of girls to get their asses beat to pay for the system that locks them up. The fuck outta here.”

But the system has leverage – doesn’t it always? – and some of Kogo’s fellow prisoners have very persuasive agendas of their own. Not only that, but Kogo herself is very resourceful as you’ll discover when she encounters a peeping tom through a hole in the shower walls. That balletic sequence is gloriously drawn and coloured by main artist De Landro who nails Kogo’s gymnastic prowess and the muscles required to accomplish such feats. All of De Landro’s body forms are highly individualistic as displayed in “The Obligatory Shower Scene” but, unlike most such shower scenes, it is empowering rather than objectifying. Also, much is made earlier of how cold and uncomfortable the women are when naked en masse – it’s far from erotic, but awkward viewing instead.

My favourite chapter is the middle one focussing on Penelope Rolle, a woman of considerable girth drawn by Robert Wilson IV in a style that makes the most of her physique. The assaults on Penny’s presentation throughout her past are relentless. Indeed amongst the crimes she is charged with are “Aesthetic offences and wanton obesity”. Conformity and compliance are all, remember? They’re actually assaults on her happiness.

Back on Bitch Planet the authorities’ greatest threat in order to ensure her compliance is to dig deep into Penelope’s psyche to reveal Penny’s own ideal self: to confront her with how she wishes she looked and so shame her with the reality.

“Visualization is the key to achieving our objectives. We are trying to help you.”

They’re not, but they do!

Finally, Father Josephson himself is a right piece of work. He’s the sort of casual power-player who answers the phone with “Yyyello?” and redirects conversations with “Anyhoo” – both of which actually do deserve immediate incarceration.


Buy Bitch Planet vol 1: Extraordinary Machine s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Injection vol 1 (£7-50, Image) by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey.

Professor Maria Kilbride was once an optimist: a fresh-faced, enthusiastic explorer of hidden science. She was given funding by the FPI and four similarly specialised experts to cross-pollinate with. They were to put their minds together, think outside the box and do stuff.

They did stuff: they poisoned the 21st Century.

They did it with an Injection and now they discover that they and this planet are far from immune.

Professor Maria Kilbride now resides at Sawlung Hospital which, translated from old English, means “giving up the ghost”. Nominally a patient, she but is anything but. She is worn out, fractious, unkempt and implicitly under investigation by the FPI’s own inner Cursus which demands she cleans up her mess. Ever since Maria and her cohorts dissolved their Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit in the wake of their Injection, incidents have occurred. Walls of science and nature have come crashing down or are opening up. The world is evolving. The breaches are pretty spectacular.

So Professor Maria Kilbride is being dragged out once again to stop what she has started and she will try the best that she can. But she is tired, malnourished and would very much like a fucking sandwich.

From the writer of GLOBAL FREQUENCY and PLANETARY, this boasts elements of both: weird science, history, ghostly echoes, specialised experts and catastrophic incidents. It’s also highly reminiscent of Jamie Delano’s early HELLBLAZER with secret, string-pulling organisations and references to stone circles, ley lines, cursuses, cunning folk and the Ridgeway. In other words very British indeed, quaint villages included.

Shalvey and Bellaire have done a tremendous job of separating the past from the present: it couldn’t be clearer. Both the body language and colours command that you consider the contrast. They’ve also executed the most furious and thrilling cyclone of leaves I ever thought possible, while the action sequences later on come with balletic grace and a clipped, military precision.

In places I get whiffs of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN’s Kevin O’Neill. I may be down-wind.

It’s also typical Ellis in that it demands you go Google-ing specialised terms and then – if you’re anything like me – pretend you knew exactly what they all meant in the first place. You think I knew what a cursus was? Oh, how you overestimate me!

But if you’re also anything like me then you love to learn, you hate being hand-held and you relish a comic with intelligence, wit, and so much hard research and forethought behind it that you embrace the brand-new even when it harks so geo-specifically back to the past.

I am old, I am tired. Can someone please make me a fucking sandwich? Something with mushrooms, tuna and cheese would be ideal; melted even better.

Because like Professor Maria Kilbride I have seen what’s behind this closed door and it shouldn’t even be possible.



Buy Injection vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Bouncer (£29-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Francois Boucq…

“Well, my chickadee, who gives a damn about all this water when we have enough gold to open a casino in San Francisco!”
“You’re even stupider than I thought.”
“We’re rich. We can start a life far from this miserable shit town.”
“No! You are without doubt the world champion of idiocy. You’ve just managed to transform my land into a desert, and now you expect me to fall into your arms and run off with you?!”

No idea why Humanoids have decided to stop releasing the English translations of BOUNCER in the format of two French album-sized works collected together (often the stories are two-parters) after the first four, but this is the first seven albums, created between 2001 and 2010.

It’s even more puzzling because there have actually been two more French albums since, the two-handed ‘To Hell’ / ‘And Back’ from 2012 and 2013 respectively, but those aren’t collected here. I can only presume it’s a) a financial decision, and b) there are going to be more volumes coming out in the future. Anyway, this chunky tombstone of a tome certainly represents excellent value for money. Unless, perhaps, you already own the first four sevenths of it…

Anyway… this is probably Jodorowsky’s finest work in comics outside of MADWOMAN OF THE SACRED HEART and THE INCAL for me. And yet, possibly because it’s not illustrated by Moebius or part of the wider INCAL mythos like the METABARONS or TECHNOPRIESTS material, it doesn’t receive anywhere near the same sort of acclaim. It’s certainly not metaphysical, psychological or even psychedelic in nature like those works, or indeed his surreal and highly acclaimed cowboy film El Topo, but BOUNCER is definitely one of the finest Western genre stories in comic form.

I think the best Westerns – primarily cinematic, I think we can agree; Brian Azarello’s self-contained EL DIABLO and sadly truncated LOVELESS being two of the few brilliant period examples in comics – certainly have a touch of Shakespearean melodrama about them, and Bouncer definitely has that in abundance. Tragic heroes, comedic fools, oft one and the same, both Machiavellian and moronic villains, plus damsels in distress and femme fatales, you’ll find them all within these pages, scrapping for status or simply survival in these very baddest of lands.

Rather like the HBO show Deadwood in style, then, full of ornery characters and insalubrious saloons, BOUNCER retells the classic cowboy story of a man of mysterious origins, standing apart from his fellow citizens, both by his choice and theirs. A man of few friends, but no shortage of enemies. A man of a certain moral compass, despite living a debauched whisky-drenched life, that’s inevitably bound to point him firmly in the direction of trouble, sooner or later. More often than not.

BOUNCER has all the required elements for the perfect Western story: of greed and wrongs to be righted, innocent victims suffering horrifically at the hands of swinish brutes, and above all, one man prepared to do whatever it takes, no matter the personal cost, to make sure evil doesn’t prevail. And as mentioned, whilst the art isn’t by Moebius, don’t be put off from taking a peak through these swinging saloon doors, because Francois Boucq’s ligne claire is equally as beautiful and lustily, dustily coloured too in an appropriately vibrant sun-drenched manner.

I realise Westerns are regarded as somewhat passé in comics these days, despite modern takes on the genre like Jason Aaron’s and R.M. Guera SCALPED. But I hope this type of material can keep interest alive in the genre, because a great Western at its best is nothing more nor less than a fascinating character study of the true nature of man. Usually some poor unfortunate trying not to buckle under the most intense pressures from every angle. A bit like getting the Page 45 mail order out, then…


Buy Bouncer and read the Page 45 review here

Klaxxon (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Si Spencer & DIX.

Queasy, disorientating horror of hopelessness and helplessness from the writer of HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS and BODIES, this is set in a suburbia that has been bleached of all colour.

What remains are various hues of mud, from clay to grey to khaki.

The life had been sucked from the area by a parasitic landlord who grins like a lunatic while enfeebling his son.

Two “friends” squat on a Carlisle’s grimy sofa, high on cavity wall insulation which they pick in tiny pieces from a hole behind them. Going out is an anathema to them. They personify inertia.

A young woman called Carole moves in next door with her voluminous mother. There’s something not right. Instead of taking the milk in from the doorstep in the morning, Carole puts it out. There seems to be a surplus.

Against his friends’ explicit wishes and advice Carlisle goes round to greet his new neighbour to see if he can help.

And in the bleak playground across the road, four identical, lank young ladies drop down from the impossibly high swings to crouch on the asphalt like broken-boned gymnasts or ghoulish gibbons.

Then there’s the banging. Then there’s the klaxon…

Okay, so that’s not a review; it’s more of an evocation. It’s a pretty accurate indication of what you’re in for.

Unsettling, to say the least.


Buy Klaxxon and read the Page 45 review here

Fables Comics h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Simone Lia, Tom Gauld, Eleanor Davis, Jaime Hernandez, James Kochalka, George O’Connor, Vera Brosgol, Graham Annable, Roger Langridge, R. Sikoryak, Jennifer L. Meyer, Gregory Benton and more.

Fables: short stories, typically starring anthropomorphic animals, conveying a moral message. Well, if not a moral message then at least useful instructions to guide you through potential pitfalls in life. Aesop’s generally your go-to guy but there are so many more.

The worst are strictly prohibitive affairs: don’t do this or life will spank you, possibly in the nuts. The best encourage you to rethink the immediate or the obvious in favour of a more canny approach and so a positive outcome.

Honesty is the best policy.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Those in glass houses should grow more greens.
A stitch in time is a temporal anomaly.
He who laughs last is a dimwit.

If you think I’m being irreverent then so is this, while remaining absolutely faithful to its original sources. I think that’s why it works so well: children get to learn their valuable life-lessons while their parents are amused by the detours and departures.

From the stable that brought you the mischief-ridden FAIRY TALE COMICS and NURSERY RHYME COMICS – both reviewed and both best-sellers in our Young Readers’ section – comes an equally naughty new comics anthology from some of our most cherished adult-orientated creators.

Tom Gauld is up early with ‘The Town Mouse And The Country Mouse’ and I love what he’s done with the marginal panels to reflect each environment.

‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ by Jaime Hernandez is possibly the most traditional retelling but its message is one of the best: “There is no believing a liar, even when he speaks the truth”. It’s something comics corporations should have learned long ago.


‘The Crow And The Pitcher’ by Simone Lia reminds you that sharing is caring before revealing a top tip in water displacement which might save your life if you’re ever caught in the desert with a well whose water you cannot reach and have a steady supply of rocks handy. You know, on the off-chance.

R. Sikoryak adopts a full-blown George Herriman KRAZY & IGNATZ approach for ‘Lion + Mouse’, right down to the language, while George O’Connor handles three mythical duties with a Hermes that put me in mind of Eddie Campbell. You can always rely on Eleanor Davis for juicy colours and here she presents a wake-up call in the form of ‘The Old Man And Death’.

Jennifer L. Meyer’s ‘Fox And Crow’ couldn’t look more different with its intricate, detailed pencils, its soft and delicate pink, purple and sage green washes and the most dashing fox dressed up in tails.

I count twenty-eight offerings in total from this individualistic bunch which proves, on top of everything else, that variety is the spice of life.


Buy Fables Comics h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Island (£9-99, Scholastic) by Doug TenNapel.

“I’m kind of worried. What are we supposed to do out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“Same as we always do for the kids… pretend like we know what we’re doing.”

Ha, the punchline to that particular parental to and fro is the dad then being completely and utterly unable to light a fire for his family and having to be rescued with a book of matches from mum, much to his chagrin. So, here we have a rather typical nuclear family of dad Lyle, mum Karen, teenage boy Reese and his younger sister Janie. By which I mean they’re only ever one careless word away from it all exploding! Ah, happy families…

Dad Lyle is convinced that what they really need is some quality family time together, it’s just he’s the only one who seems to think taking a boat trip is a good idea. One tropical storm later and our not-so-fantastic foursome find themselves washed up on a most peculiar island. How so? Well, I would say freakish monsters, zombies, skeletons, aliens, giant robots, plus a dash of magic would qualify as peculiar, wouldn’t you? It’s the sort of scenario you might concoct if you mashed about eight different episodes of Scooby Doo up together, and it’s certainly more than enough to keep our reluctant castaways in a permanent state of consternation.

Gradually, though, they start to put the pieces together of what on Earth, and from Outer Space, is happening. By the end they’ve discovered that essential quality for pulling together as a family: gritted teeth! No, sorry, I meant teamwork, of course! But before then there more bizarre island-based escapades to endure than you’ll find in the entire five seasons of Lost before the vacation is over.

Ha, if any budding creators want to understand precisely how you can throw even the proverbial kitchen sink at a story and still pull it all together plot-wise, they could do a lot worse than study this. It’s the fraught family dynamics that really make this work shine though, particularly the relationship between Dad Lyle and young teenager Reese, who is desperate to show his father that he can be trusted and is well on the way to being a grown up. Dad Lyle, perhaps understandably, is so busy trying to make sure his family survives through to the end of each tropically terror packed day, that he’s unable to see how much his son needs his father to just let go a little bit, and trust him…

There’s a little musing for real life thrown in right there, plus given Doug TenNapel has four children himself, I suspect he knows more than a little about how combustible a pastime parenting can be, for all concerned. Another excellent all-ages read to add to the ever burgeoning kids corner of Page 45! We’re going to need to annex half the manga section soon for our cornucopia of teenagers and young reader material, I think!


Buy Bad Island and read the Page 45 review here

Ei8ht vol 1: Outcast s/c (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Rafael Albuquerque, Mike Johnson & Rafael Albuquerque.

If your first impression upon opening a graphic novel is, “Ooooh, look at those colours!” then you’re off to a good start.

Unless it’s in black and white, in which case it’s high time you rethought your LSD intake.

Tones of turquoise form the consistent base on black and white. Throw in butterscotch, bloody red splatters, then lime-green or purple or blue and I was primarily more than impressed, until I realised it wasn’t just a pretty face I was looking at. They’re actually chronological colour codes: the past is in green, the present is purple, the future is blue, whereas the butterscotch Meld “is something else entirely”.

And it is.

It’s a pocket dimension in time into which things fall from the past, the present or the future, often by accident as if caught in some sort of Bermuda Triangle but occasionally by design. Joshua’s been sent quite deliberately from the future into the Meld in order to assassinate The Spear. He’s volunteered in exchange for the scientist’s help curing his comatose wife. Unfortunately he’s lost the majority of his memory and when he tries to communicate with the future using the frequency of 8 he’d drawn on his wrist, he hears instead a woman’s voice urging him to follow the dinosaur: that little critter which has just appeared to his right.

He follows the lizard only to encounter a woman called Nila whose voice is identical to the one he’d just heard, but she’s never seen him before in her life. She’s certainly never spoken to him.

Meanwhile, Doctor Hamm in the present has chartered a plane to fly into a storm he believes will take his team to the Meld. It doesn’t. It takes him waaaaaay back in time and into a period of the past populated by sabretooth lions.

How much more should I tell you? The Spear too has a time capsule which he doesn’t know how to operate and now leads The Tyrant’s soldiers in search of the rebels amongst whom is Nila. Nila’s younger brother has a monkey dressed in a NASA spacesuit, while Nila herself bears an uncanny resemblance to Joshua’s wife from the future.

Will everything connect? Oh yes, with much more to come, including that marking of ‘8’ Or infinity.

It’s not quite as breath-taking as the ridiculous clever and compact time-travel chapter in Warren Ellis’ SECRET AVENGERS VOL 3 or the first season finale of Matt Smith’s Doctor Who, but it’s plenty satisfying, I promise you.

The figure work throughout is rough-hewn but gorgeous, Albuquerque’s animals are thoroughly thrilling, while the elaborately helmed Tyrant looks like he’s drawn by Sir Barry Windsor-Smith – especially his nose, jaw and mouth. Which was unexpected.


Buy Ei8ht vol 1: Outcast s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Codename Baboushka: Conclave Of Death #1 (£2-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Shari Chankhamma.

“You might think she’s a hero.
“That would be a mistake.”

Doesn’t the cover scream James Bond title sequence at you? We’ll return to that in a minute.

From the writer of UMBRAL, WASTELAND, THE FUSE and its colourist on full art duties here, this a marked departure from Johnston’s other espionage outings like THE COLDEST CITY. As Antony mentions in the back, THE COLDEST CITY’s star “pulls a gun precisely three times, only shoots once, and doesn’t hit a thing”. Baboushka will be shooting, hitting, poisoning and blowing many, many things – and by ‘things’ I mean people.

“I promise you, these earrings are dynamite.”

She’ll be doing so swiftly, methodically and effectively without the art once losing its femininity.

Chankhamma’s faces put me in mind of Kate Brown (FISH + CHOCOLATE, NELSON etc) and she luxuriates in the Contessa’s scarlet high heels, tiered pearl necklace and flesh-coloured dress then throws everything she’s got – just like the security guards – at Baboushka in the field.

What might take a moment to drop like the proverbial penny is that this 80-mile-an-hour action sequence isn’t the main event – it isn’t the titular Conclave of Death which Contessa Annika Malikova is being blackmailed to infiltrate by the American government. The clue lies in the instructions issued by her man-handlers from EON (Extrajudicial Operations Network): do not kill the retiring ex-CIA gun-runner called Felton, but persuade him to sell her his secrets. These are very much on the table for the highest bidder but Felton would never sell to the Americans. He might, however, sell them to the notorious mafiya boss Baboushka if she came out of retirement. Guess which guise Contessa Annika Malikova used to go by back in Russia?

So no, this is not the main event. This is emphatically but a prologue precisely like those James Bond opening action-fests leading straight into the films’ title sequences as Codename Baboushka comes out of retirement in spectacular fashion.

I’m pretty sure it’s going to attract Felton’s attention.


Buy Codename Baboushka: Conclave Of Death #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Paper Girls #1 (£2-25, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang.

I like what Matt Wilson – colourist on THE WICKED + THE DIVINE etc – has done with the faces. The mouths, eyes and brows have retained Cliff Chiang’s black lines while the more subtle shadows round the lips, nose and furrows are gentle, darker tones of the flesh itself.

Apart from the winged apparition of Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe in full space helmet and shaggy old Beelzebub torturing Erin’s young sister in her school classroom.

“We warned you… Never eat from the Tree Of Knowledge.”

Dreams, eh?

November 1st 1988 and Erin awakes at 4-40am to prepare for her paper round. She’s got a big stash of cash in her bedroom’s desk drawer next to the keys and elastic-band ball so she’s obviously not doing badly (?) but this morning she’ll have to contend with the teenage detritus of last night’s Halloween so thank goodness for MacKenzie, KJ and Tiffany, three more paper girls who’ve banded together for mutual protection precisely in case of dweebs like these.

They’re going to need it too because, umm, that thing in the basement. Extra constellations in the sky. And three skulking figures wrapped in black linen with far from humanoid pupils. You won’t like what they find underneath. Thank goodness one of the young ladies had saved up enough paper-round money for a pair of walkie-talkies. You remember them…? Oh god, you’re eighteen, aren’t you?

Excellent execution of environment with Cliff Chiang providing scowls, late ‘80s early teen fashion, exquisite figure work, pavement-level perspectives and a sprawling, early morning suburbia with enough trees to make it somewhere you wouldn’t actively hate to live – unless, like MacKenzie, you have the local cops on your case.

Brian K. Vaughan wisely leaves Chiang to deliver most of the explication in the form of evidence around Erin’s bedroom.

Otherwise…? I have absolutely no idea.


Buy Paper Girls #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Doctor Strange #1 (£3-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo with Kevin Nowlan.

Best single issue of DOCTOR STRANGE I’ve ever read in my life, and the most beautiful. How could it be otherwise from the artist of Neil Gaiman’s DEATH?

Like Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee’s self-contained INHUMANS graphic novel, this has an appeal well beyond its Marvel Comics confines and you need know nothing before its Sanctum Sanctorum. But since we are in the business of beginnings here, let me help you.

Doctor Stephen Strange was once a surgeon.

In a way he still is. It’s just that the cancers he cuts out from infested individuals are now more mystical in nature and often come with a great deal of grumpy attitude, several sets of serrated teeth and breath that stinks of sulphur. But I believe we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

As a highly skilled and sought-after medical doctor Stephen had an ego like nobody’s business until an accident crippled the nerves in his hands. He searched the furthest and most inaccessible corners of the globe for a miracle cure – which is an odd thing to do for a man of science or even basic geometry – and found instead The Ancient One, after which he earned his place as Master Of The Mystic Arts and the Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.

“The nerve damage never healed properly. My hands still ache and tremble most of the time. Which is why my handwriting is beyond atrocious, even for a doctor.”

Hold on, which Stephen is this? Out-of-control ego…? Atrocious handwriting…?

Anyway, instead of an ego he now has a libido, even when confronted by an insectoid laydee sucking away at the soul of a comatose boy. What does our Stephen Strange do?

“Quietly casting a spell of romantic divination to confirm my suspicions. I think she’s into me.”

Hmmm. I think the ego’s intact.

He cures this poor lad but on his way to a regular meet-up with Doctor Voodoo, Shaman and the Scarlet Witch in a most irregular, sequestered magicians’ bar he is set upon by a gigantic, transdimensional lamprey. Easily dispatched. Easily, but messily.

“Sorry, guys. My last appointment rang a bit long.”
“Sure it did. What was her name this time?”
“Well, as it happens, there was a woman involved, but I don’t think it’s liable to work out between us.”
“Of course it won’t, Stephen. Because you’re a dog. And I say that as a dear friend.”
“Actually, it’s because she’s a soul-eater from the sixth dimension.”

So there’s the soul eaters, the leech and – after a pint down that pub – a woman appears on Strange’s doorstep with irate eyes and a ravenous mouth growing out of her scalp.

“It started a few weeks ago. I thought it was just a rash. Then it grew teeth and bit my hairbrush. I went to the emergency room, but they screamed and threw bed-pans at me.”

Then it explodes in his face.

“When all the birds fly away in a hurry, get ready for a storm.
“So if these are still just the birds…. what the hell is that storm going to look like?”


From the writer of SCALPED and SOUTHERN BASTARDS, I commend this Marvel Comic to you mightily. Chris Bachalo brings you late-summer leaves and trees and a mansion you might malinger outside as well. Within you’ll find exquisite, leather-bound books and I adore what he’s done with the photo-shopped textures for teddybears.

Aaron has learned his HAWKEYE lessons well: if you want to make superhero comics more mainstream with a much wider appeal then sever them from extraneous continuity no one can keep up with, make them fun, full of foibles and a humanity we can all comprehend.


Buy Doctor Strange #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Invincible Iron Man #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez.

So yes, even though SECRET WARS is far from finished, Marvel have elected to relaunch their brand-new universe on time with –

Oh, of course it’s not brand-new! It’s barely tweaked so its fans will still feel at home, yet everything can be marketed with big “#1”s on the covers.

The good news is this: so far, so good. I’ll be stunned if anything manages to match the knock-out quality of DOCTOR STRANGE #1, but you can rely on Bendis to be brilliant even if he doesn’t appear to have brought anything particularly new to the table yet other than a woman Tony Stark will almost certainly find worth waiting for. She’s not feisty, she’s thoughtful, and I like her already.

She also has a secret which she’s handling very well – with admirable integrity – but hasn’t thought completely through. I don’t think Bendis has done with the X-Men yet.

Marquez is equally magnificent during the quiet, tender moments high above New York City at night – his fashion sense is impeccable – and thrilling at the high-octane action sequences starring someone both Stark and Bendis are well acquainted with.

The cliffhanger implies that SECRET WARS may well have at least one radical ramification. It works very well not as a spoiler but as a “How did that happen?” which should instead intrigue.

Also launched: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1. This too comes with one change, the return to a much earlier supervillain subplot, plus an excellent joke about Kraven’s nipples.

Also: AVENGERS #0 which sets the stage for half a dozen new titles. A bit messily, to be honest.


Buy Invincible Iron Man #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Walking Dead Compendium vol 3 (£45-00, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard…

There’s probably only one word I need to utter to sum up this entire third compendium of over a thousand pages collecting issues #97 to #144 of THE WALKING DEAD, which is… Negan.

He might be an utterly evil bastard, but he’s undoubtedly the wittiest, smoothest evil bastard to grace the pages of this comic, and practically every other. From the moment he first crosses the path of Rick’s merry band, making quite the… impact (regular readers of the title will know exactly what I am referring to) he’s quickly become the man we love to hate, but also hate to admit we love. He alone took my already considerable enjoyment for this title to such new levels, I ended up reviewing three successive smaller graphic novel arcs, practically unheard of for a title that’s been going this long, which is thirteen years to date! Having reread them, I might as well just reproduce them in full as they sum up the mayhem contained within this brick of a compilation perfectly. Here’s hoping the series continues long enough that there’s sufficient of these compendiums to construct a zombie proof dwelling with…

Walking Dead Volume 18: What Comes After

“Can I say something? I don’t quite understand the hostility in that look. No fucking sir.
“I’m a special kind of person. I don’t fucking rattle.
“You even made me drop Lucille. You have any fucking clue how much she hates being on the ground? She’s like an American flag that way. You just don’t let it happen… it’s disrespectful.
“Still… here I am, friendly as a fuckless fuck on free fuck day.”

In which everyone’s least favourite pinch-hitter Negan continues his reign of terror, enforced only by his sheer force of will, and of course dear old Lucille, his barbed-wire-decorated baseball bat. Scarcely have I ever wanted a fictional villain to get it so, so badly!! The last time was probably The Governor, actually, which all goes to show Kirkman’s horror epic doesn’t show any signs of running out of steam any time soon. What next? A man with a tiger for a pet? Enter King Ezekiel… a man who really has got a tiger for a pet… and who might just be Rick’s best chance at taking out Negan. Somehow though, I can’t quite imagine it’s going to be as simple and straightforward as that.

Walking Dead Volume 19: March To War

“We’re the big swinging dick of this world… have been for a long fucking time… but it seems people are forgetting that.
“So now our big swinging dick is going to swing harder… and faster, until we take off like a motherfucking helicopter and blow all these motherfuckers away.

“SIGH. We’re going to war.”

Ha ha I really can’t see that little speech ever making it into the TV show!! I am so pleased Robert Kirkman didn’t kill off the megalomaniacal Negan almost immediately as originally intended, because he really has been absolute comedy gold. The pained look on his face after his troops just don’t get his motivational message and he has to break it down for them had me giggling on and off for a good hour afterwards. I do love the TV show but the comic is just brilliant right now.

Walking Dead vol 20: All Out War Part 1

“So… today’s the day?”
“How do you feel?”
“Overwhelmed… this is big… bigger than anything we’ve ever done. This is war.”

“You can’t have a war without… casualties.”

Poor old Rick, he always seems to have the weight of the remaining world on his shoulders. Yes, never a series to shy away from killing beloved characters, Mr. Kirkman has decided to up the ante and go all-in for the next twelve issues, six of which are contained within this volume. Well, technically all-out according to the title, but that didn’t work with my poker metaphor.

What next? Rick and Negan doing the all-in, all-out Hokey Cokey mano-a-mano to decide the winner of their private war? I think I saw that in a Kevin Costner film once… More likely, though, is simply the highest body count yet, as both sides conclude peace in their time is starting to look about as likely as a zombie Michael Jackson suddenly appearing to lead the walking dead in a rendition of Thriller. Though, technically, if you think about it, that is possible: he has to be shambling around somewhere…

Pretty surprised Kirkman hasn’t played the celebrity zombie card yet… in fact, maybe like Rick’s weird technocolour alien dream sequence in issue #75, Kirkman’s saving a celeb cameo for the 200th issue… How about a zombie Stan Lee…? Also, remember the tiger? Yes, that tiger which spawned the “Ezekiel has got a tiger” merchandise t-shirts? Not sure if it’s too late to get a refund, but…


Buy Walking Dead Compendium vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Star Wars vol 1: Skywalker Strikes (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & John Cassaday…

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

Judging by the myriad reprints required for the issues contained in this first trade since Marvel re-took control, it would seem the appetite for all things Star Wars remains undiminished. It remains to be seen whether such faith is justified on the film front, but I think we can now conclude this run of comics is indeed a worthy addition to the canon. I remember all too well going to see the first of the second trilogy of films and coming away from the cinema probably more disappointed than on any other occasion. Actually, if we’re being honest, Return Of The Jedi wasn’t that great, either. I mean, could they really not have come up with a different plot than another Death Star needing destroying? And Ewoks, sigh, really not that much better than Jar Jar Binks, frankly. And yet, still off I trotted to watch them all…

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

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

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

The humorous dialogue is certainly on point, and after the first somewhat flimsy issue plot-wise, which is basically a throwaway adventure simply allowing every character to be wheeled out to say hello, things start to build up nicely in terms of storytelling. The art, well, for the second time in recent years Cassaday seems a bit stilted and flat, frankly, following on from his three issues opening Rick Remender’s UNCANNY AVENGERS before he left that title. I dunno, maybe it’s just not floating his artistic boat, but it all seems a far, far cry from his PLANETARY days. Strange. I note Stuart Immonen has now picked up the pencils (as with #8) and it is a vast improvement.

Will I continue reading this title? Probably. Will I be daft enough to go see the new film. Certainly.


Buy Star Wars vol 1: Skywalker Strikes and read the Page 45 review here

Darth Vader vol 1: Vader (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larocca…

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

‘You Knows I Love You Baby’ – Goldie Lookin Chain

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

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

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

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

Anyway, I really enjoyed this first volume: Kieron does an excellent job of showing Darth does have his own mind and isn’t just the Emperor’s preferred implement of inducing blunt Force trauma. In fact, it’s what the Emperor is getting up to behind his back which is intriguing our Lord of Sith, believing as he did that he was the Emperor’s most trusted and valuable lieutenant. Given the dressing down and demotion he’s just received, being instructed to start taking orders from Baron Tagge (excellent – he was one of my favourite characters in the original run), he decides he needs to chalk up something in the win column, and soon.

Cue a little friendly lightsabre-twirling, telekinetic throat-tickling chat with Jabba The Hut to engage the services of a certain green-helmeted bounty hunter whom he tasks with tracking down the naughty young master Skywalker. That should set the chest lights flashing, I reckon. Great opener with lovely art from Salvador Larroca, you can practically hear the asthmatic wheezing when Darth is glowering at all and sundry.


Buy Darth Vader vol 1: Vader 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.

Two Brothers (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon

Killing And Dying (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Adrian Tomine

Briar (£8-99, Improper Books) by Benjamin Reed & Chris Wildgoose

Cursed Pirate Girl 2015 Annual #1 (£7-50, Archaia) by Jeremy Bastien

Angel & Faith Season 10 vol 3: United (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Victor Gischler & Will Conrad, Cliff Richards

Death Vigil vol 1 s/c (£18-99, Image) by Stjepan Sejic

Kiss Him, Not Me! vol 1 (£7-99, Kodansha) by Junko

Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 10 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Multiversity Deluxe Edition h/c (£37-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Walden Wong, Ben Oliver, Frank Quitely, Cameron Stewart, Marcus To, Paulo Siqueira, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Mark Irwin, Jonathan Glapion, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Jaime Mendoza, Eber Ferreira


Page 45 is off to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015 this weekend! Friday 16th October to Sunday 18th. We’ll have creator special guests and graphic novels to make you squeal.

Please come and join us! It’s enormous fun!

– Stephen

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