Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2016 week four

Includes Jacky Fleming’s The Trouble With Women!

The Fade Out vol 3 (£9-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser.

   

“They were two broken-down writers, running on desperation and booze….
“And they’d written their story wrong.”

That’s Charlie and Gil through and through. But it’s not a film script for Victory Street Pictures that they’ve co-written wrong – it’s their lives, now spiralling out of control and careening head-on into traffic.

Prime period crime from the creators of CRIMINAL and FATALE, set in the city of secrets and lies, this is third and final volume of THE FADE OUT. Just look at those three covers arranged together, just as they are in our window drawing in completely new crowds to comics! It doesn’t get much more mainstream than this. The design is impeccable, the logos drowning in blood, cold water then absinthe-green.

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I reviewed the first two volumes of THE FADE OUT extensively, covering the spectacular light and non-local colour, and the fantasy of Hollywoodland: the writing and the acting and the myth-spinning slights of hand. They’re lying professionally before they’ve begun to be truly mendacious, but at Victory Street Pictures they’re all of them at it, even screenwriter Charlie.

It’s Los Angeles, 1948.

Charlie woke up in a bungalow in Studio City built to keep stars close to the set. The night before is an alcohol-induced mystery to him, but there was a lipstick kiss on the bathroom mirror that reminded him of a smile, the smile led to a face, and that face belonged to the woman lying dead on the living room floor. It was Valeria Sommers, young starlet of the film Charlie’s been working on, strangled while Charlie was sleeping. Slowly, assiduously, Charlie began to remove all trace of his and anyone else’s presence. But that’s nothing compared to the cover-up the studio embarked on: they made out it was suicide and it’s made Charlie sick to the stomach. As for Gil – Charlie’s old friend, mentor and covert co-writer – he’s still very angry indeed.

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After attacking the mystery from separate angles behind each others’ backs, they now believe they’re close to piecing together what happened from Valeria’s past involvement as a child actress with one of the studio’s co-founders, and their alcohol-addled obsession is going to lead to some extreme, hasty and ill-thought-out action.

Studio spin-mistress Dottie tries to save Charlie from digging his own literal or career grave, but he simply won’t listen. In his tunnel vision he can only see one light, even if he doesn’t know what that light looks like. Briefly he found a respite, a calm sea alongside Valeria’s replacement, Maya Silver, but now….

“Jesus, Charlie… Do you even see me at all?”

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And he doesn’t. Shirt covered in blood, he’s not even looking at the woman who’s risked all to give him sanctuary. Her pain, her disappointment and her worry is exquisitely delineated in a single expression by Phillips. It’s no coincidence that for the entire book Charlie’s been looking through cracked glasses which Phillips has turned into yet another of his fortes.

There’s some similarly subtle work when Gil’s wife, Melba, glances back at Charlie with equal anxiety after he’d been discharged from hospital after the war, bits of him missing inside.

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The couple take him in, and it’s in this recollection that so much about the two writers’ relationship is explained.

Phillips’ eye for period detail is exceptional, whether it’s the way skirts hang or fly at an angle during a dance, the home furnishings or a buffet banquet. It’s perhaps there that Breitweiser’s decision to avoid local colour shines best, refusing to let your eye settle but dazzling you instead. I can’t imagine how dull and lifeless the spread of food would have looked had it been lit literally instead.

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As to Brubaker, I challenge anyone to see what’s coming. None of us did here but we all agree that it was perfect. Certainly Charlie doesn’t. He hasn’t been able to for ages. As I said, there have been bits of him missing, both as a man and as a writer, ever since he saw combat, and this is the brilliance of Brubaker, tying the two together:

“In that moment, he saw why things always went wrong for him now.
“He understood his problem.
“It was that he’d lost the ability to imagine what happened next.”

For far, far more on the craft, please see previous reviews of THE FADE OUT which is now complete.

SLH

Buy The Fade Out vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

The Trouble With Women h/c (£9-99, Square Peg) by Jacky Fleming.

“Darwin’s friend and colleague George Romanes said although women were the losers intellectually, having five ounces less brain, they were better at soft furnishings and disappointment.

“Which was fortunate.”

I howled with laughter throughout this book whose deadpan delivery is enhanced with immaculate timing, the two paragraphs above separated by the beat of an illustration. In this case it’s a woman weeping with frustration at male hegemony throughout history, men’s crushing refusal to acknowledge any female accomplishment whatsoever and their inarguably superior capacity for patronising dismissiveness.

Or maybe it was just that time of the month.

It’s essentially a ridicule of the ridiculous, a very real history of male oppression, insanity and hypocrisy, cooking anything up to keep women in the kitchen and stitch the more privileged into leading a life of needlework bliss.

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There are also bits which are made up. Which is scandalous. I suspect that the author’s a woman.

But most of this is entirely true. Quite often men are left to be damned by their own words, actions or both. There’s nothing quite as admirable as practising what you preach:

“Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Restless Genius of the Enlightenment and keen flasher, said girls needed to be thwarted from an early age, so that their natural role in pleasing men would come more naturally to them. He put his own children in an orphanage to thwart them.”

You can tell that Rousseau is a genius by his genius hair. This was something women lacked, observed great philosopher Schopenhauer, which “proved them incapable of any truly great or original achievement in art, or in anything at all”. It’s this intense level of cause-and-effect scientific study which has also proved men’s infinitely more meticulous minds.

In a genius stroke to dissuade advancement by follicular folly, “Women with genius hair risked being put in asylums, as it was seen as a sign of mental instability” – which seems reasonable and consistent. Caveat coiffure.

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Women’s innate physical disadvantages when vying for artistic accomplishment are well documented, so we shouldn’t expect much of them anyway.

“Women found lifting a pen very tiring as it caused chlorosis which disrupted blood flow and in some case led to uterine prolapse.
“Or was that the corsets?”

It was probably the corsets.

“Even if corsets did prevent breathing, women collapsed without them, so not wearing one wasn’t an option.”

Many are the recurring jokes, each successively funnier than the last, and there’s little more mirth-making in any comedy routine (like Eddie Izzard’s) than a gag in its own right which is then left well alone only to be brought back as a punchline much later on and completely out of the blue.

It’s better still when that punchline is left un-signposted, in this instance by making it entirely visual. No, I can’t tell you which one or it wouldn’t come out of the blue.

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I’m not sure whether Fleming used a pen or a brush to fashion these Victorian images which have a tremendous physicality to them, keenly demonstrating the restrictions women faced when attempting anything as unladylike as sport, but lifting either implement for this length of time must have left the poor dear exhausted. Maybe she now has man-hands and is therefore a step closer to becoming clever or a coalminer.

According to FLUFFY and PLEASE GOD FIND ME A HUSBAND’s Simone Lia:

“Fleming is a genius but with normal hair.”

Which explains quite a lot. I’m afraid I have to agree.

SLH

Buy The Trouble With Women h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hilda And The Midnight Giant s/c (£7-99, Flying Eye Books) by Luke Pearson.

Winner of the British Comics Award 2012 in the best Young Readers category as judged by Leeds schoolchildren, this is its first time in softcover.

Oh, the sheer wonder of it all! That’s what you need to light up the eyes and fire up the minds of young readers: wonder, surprise and a protagonist o’er-brimming with an insatiable curiosity. Plucky young Hilda’s is infectious!

Living out in the wilds in a craggy valley surrounded by mountains, Hilda and her mother have recently and quite unexpectedly come under siege from the Hidden People. They’ve never spotted one and have no idea where they live, but this is their sixth little letter this week! And, oh dear, it’s yet another demand for mother and daughter to up sticks and leave the valley for good! But when Hilda posts a note of her own asking them to leave her alone, their home is bombarded by stones, their books seem to rip themselves to shreds and it’s almost too much for Mum. Hilda, however, is undaunted. She’s determined to discover who these tiny terrorists are, why they’re so suddenly up in arms and see if she can’t set things straight. Of course, there’s also the question of the vast silhouette that has loomed into view. Bigger than the nearest mountain, its eerie black body blocks out the stars, its white eyes silently scanning the horizon as if in search of something…

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From the creator of SOME PEOPLE, EVERYTHING WE MISS, and the previous and subsequent HILDA books, this a breath-takingly beautiful book, its midnight blues as rich in colour as the daylight scenes. There’s more than a dash of Jordan Crane’s THE CLOUDS ABOVE to the floating Woofs migrating across the sky like fluffy, wide-eyed, long-tailed tadpoles, while the giant is pure Tom Gauld.

But there’s one monumental page on which the Midnight Giant fills the frame from head to toe, bent on one knee whose composition – you may laugh – instantly reminded me of Bryan Hitch’s Giant Man during his first growth spurt in ULTIMATES VOLUME ONE! The pink glow on the horizon is a golden touch.

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There are some great gags that seem to spring spontaneously from the cartooning, while others are stored up for later with exquisite timing (you’ll love the infestation of nittens!), plus a tea joke that’s still making me smile three years later. Hilda herself is a model of inquisitiveness, resolve and resourcefulness, the plight of the Midnight Giant is truly touching, and adults will groan with recognition at the real reason behind the Hidden People’s sudden animosity. Above all, though, it’s the wonder of it all which will fill many a subsequent dream, so highly recommended to people of all sizes: no height restrictions at all.

SLH

Buy Hilda And The Midnight Giant s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Doom Patrol Book 1 (£22-50, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Richard Case, John Nyberg, Doug Braithwaite, others.

A wit-ridden, language-loving psycho-hero series of continual metamorphosis, this whopping 424-page collection contains both CRAWLING FROM THE WRECKAGE and THE PAINTING WHICH ATE PARIS.

“What do normal people have in their lives?”
“What?”
“What do normal people have?”
“You’re asking the wrong person.”
“I’ve tried to be like them, I really have. But what happens when you just can’t be strong anymore? What happens if you’re weak? My painting’s ruined. Everything’s gone wrong.”

Not yet, it hasn’t.

“Come in out of the rain.”

Welcome to the half-lives of the Doom Patrol who, under Grant Morrison, each pull themselves back from the brink of insanity in order to deal with madness. Meet the consistently bewildered Cliff, a poor soul trapped in a metal body whose physical senses pale in comparison what he was used to, leaving him lingering in a virtual isolation tank where he can only remember what it felt like to touch! Greet Crazy Jane whose disassociation following childhood abuse has left her splintered into 64 unique personalities, each with their own metahuman talent! And frown in perplexity as Rebis reminds you that she/he/it is no longer Larry but a composite being made from black female Dr. Eleanor Poole, white male Larry Trainor and a negative flying spirit that glows green-on-black! Led by the driven but callous paraplegic Professor Caulder, they are the Doom Patrol, and their heads will soon be hurting every bit as much as yours.

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The series is packed full of sharp observations like the urban catechism of subway stations which you grow to know by heart and recite as you pass them by. And if you think that because this is relatively early Grant Morrison that you’re going to be let off the hook, then think again; for here be memetic theory and metatexts, and the wonderful Scissormen – black and scarlet empty people bearing very large blades, reducing human beings to blank stencils in the air and the English language to a series of cryptic crosswords:

“Defeating breadfruit in adumbrate.”
“The leaching will be novelistic for effacement! Curdle your pilgrimage! Curdle your pilgrimage!”

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You could try to translate them but that would be like attempting to decipher what Liz Fraser’s singing on the early Cocteau Twins’ tracks: pointless. Liz Fraser used her voice like a mellifluous musical instrument rather than worry us with real words.

It’s like a water park ride where once you start you cannot get off and, scream as you might, you just have to lie back and enjoy the rapids’ ride. Case in point: the painting that ate Paris:

The Brotherhood of Dada is on a quest for total global absurdity. So they steal a painting described as “hungry” and then let it lose. It quickly swallows France’s capital. Cliff, Crazy Jane and Rebis find themselves in an infinitely recursive world of paintings within paintings and Paris itself is transformed into enough art movements to satisfy even Sister Wendy.

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So many ideas and so much fun, from Mr. Nobody (barely glimpsed out of the corner of your eye, railing like Rick Mayall as an aesthete) to the Hiroshima Shadows, Weeping Blades and a plague of bodiless mouths, while the Pale Police will tempt you into spending hours trying to decipher the anagrams which are their only means of communication. And this time you can! Plus Cliff takes a trip into the fractured mind of Crazy Jane and Morrison introduces The Quizz, a girl with a fear of dirt but in possession of every superpower you haven’t thought of. Yes, the only way to strip her abilities is to think them up fast. “Flight” won’t bring her to ground until you’ve conjured up “levitation”, nor to ground-level unless you remember “height multiplication”, “stretching”, “spinning of spider webs” and “density reduction”.

Why not pair off and role-play the game yourselves? I did:

“In five seconds I will burn you alive.”
“Err, flame throwing, heat generation, nuclear fission, napalm breath –”
“Time out, and I’m afraid you missed the transmogrification of others.”
“I can’t even spell it!”

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Richard Case’s contribution is hugely underrated. Bringing ideas like this to life is no mean feat. His flat, black Mr. Nobody with free-floating eyes isn’t all there – in any sense of the expression! Same goes for the Pale Police: hollow constructs of white ribbons with Joker-like grinning mouths in their chests, a thumbprint of their intended victim drawn on their helmets from the memory of its maze.

In other character designs there’s what I would call an opulence. Moreover, Case’s recursive occlusions are immaculate, his Crazy Jane can be terrifying, and if the Doom Patrol look a little like toy dolls being tossed about by children in tantrums, to a very great extent they are.

SLH

Buy Doom Patrol Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo Trilogy (Slipcase Edition) (£26-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill.

Oh, of course it’s a LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN book. They’re just not in it.

This beautiful edition collects all three hardcovers, is three pounds less expensive and comes with a slipcase for free! Yippee!

Here we go, then: first one from me, the second two from Jonathan.

NEMO: HEART OF ICE

“You don’t seem much interested in the plunder, Miss Janni…”
“We’ve enough plunder… I wanted a challenge. Even father wearied of pillaging eventually.”
“Aye, true enough. Sorry if I’ve aggravated you, Captain.”
“Oh, we’ll be home in a week. I’ll be fine. It’s just this coat. It’s so big and heavy sometimes.”

Fifteen years after LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY 1910 Captain Nemo’s daughter Janni is feeling weighed down by the burden of her old man’s legacy – his fame and his accomplishments – and is desperate to step out from under his shadow. Unfortunately he cast it far and wide but, if the truth be told, it is Janni herself who brings it with her, perpetually comparing her progress with his, every step of the way.

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Now she has set her sights set on An Adventure: an expedition to the remotest wastes of Antarctica. Unfortunately her crew have recently earned the ire of the African Queen and Prince Consort of Kor by whipping away their valuables under the watch of a certain newspaper magnate, Charles Foster Kane and a heavily armed, technologically enhanced party has been dispatched in pursuit. Also: just because somewhere is remote, it does not mean it’s uninhabited.

Weird and wondrous – and quite terrifying in places – I just wish we could have spent longer in the likes of Metapatagonia where the anthropomorphs speak French backwards.

Each of Kevin O’Neill’s full-page splashes knock the frozen ball out of the snow-swept park, and Ben Dimagmaliw’s colours are richer than ever, positively luminous.

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What our literary super-crew encounter will be strange and awe-full but I will spill none of it, except to say that when time itself goes awry you are in for a storytelling treat. On the other hand it’s only fair to remind you that these LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN escapades are all collages culled from extant fiction, so… what other works took place in the freezing wastes of the South Pole, eh?

SLH

NEMO: ROSES OF BERLIN

“We must have been hurting Germany’s supply lines for them to go to all this trouble ensnaring us. Do you think we’re any nearer the city’s underworld?”
“Depends. What do you suppose “Staatbordell” means?”

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Jocular japes and steampunk shenanigans aplenty in this second Nemo Jr. adventure following on from the Lovecraftian-flavoured NEMO: HEART OF ICE. As before, there are numerous literary and cinematic references to be found, from the striking nod to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to the rather more obscure which I will leave you to find for yourselves, for that is part of the joy of any new LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN material these days.

Janni Nemo, fearsome fighter and devoted mother has been drawn into a deadly trap, her daughter – presumed captured and spirited off to Berlin by the Nazis – being the lure. But what, or more precisely who, she finds waiting for her in Berlin, is a far more deadly enemy than whole legions of leather-clad stormtroopers. For it is someone with revenge on their mind, and for whom time is no obstacle at all…

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Not sure how accessible a jumping on point this is for new readers, or indeed whether it hits the heights of the original material, but it is great fun and probably closer in both respects than the LOEG: CENTURY trilogy. I think it probably is as good as the original material actually; I just personally miss the team dynamic.

What is certain is that you simply couldn’t have any League material without Kevin O’ Neill on art: the two are simply and sumptuously synonymous for me. Even the four pages before the main story are absolutely glorious, featuring respectively: an all-guns-blazing German battleship, Nemo embracing her lover against the backdrop of a porthole letting a blood-red sky bleed through, a Nazi propaganda poster portraying Nemo as a trident wielding Kraken, and a submerged Nautilus launching a salvo of torpedoes. Not often I’m mesmerised by the art before I even start the story but Kevin managed it here!

JR

RIVER OF GHOSTS

“Mr. Coghlan, do you think you could assist me in seating myself? This pile of slain enemies will suffice.”

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Thus completes the Nemo Jr. trilogy, with a high body count of buxom blonde robotic Nazis and the satisfaction of scores finally settled. After the events of volume two set in Berlin, Nemo is chasing Nazis, and the apparently dead Ayesha, to that traditional holiday hidey-hole of Swastika-abusing idiots, South America.

Much like the LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY material I have personally found this run a bit up and down. Or more precisely yet again I’ve loved two volumes out of the three and been considerably less fussed about one. This volume I thought was great fun, with Alan once again working in various parodies of classic 20th century literary characters, which has always been a key facet of the appeal of this material.

This storyline of this particular volume just felt much stronger than the previous one, but taken as a whole I do concede the two together do form one excellent story. Wonderful art from Kevin O’Neill as always, crammed full of lovely conceits, such as Nemo’s octopus-sucker-styled armour. Overall I have enjoyed this trilogy, but I think if Alan decides to return to the League again, I would prefer him to do another team-based romp: I have missed the relentless verbal jousting and interplay between a wider cast of characters that raised the original two books (now compiled in this OMNIBUS) to its considerable heights.

JR

Buy League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo Trilogy (Slipcase Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Midnighter vol 1: Out s/c (£10-99, DC) by Steve Orlando & Aco, various.

“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…” (the latter highly recommended; the former is Ellis just getting going) 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 high-tech terrorists teleport into town and put paid to their pudding.

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It’s very attractively drawn with almost insane levels of detail, European-style colouring / modelling, and some thrilling perspectives looking up or down into a disused, industrial….. I’m not sure what it is actually.

There are 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. Often they are arranged artfully around the page as The Midnighter’s computer-brain observes and analyses everything around him at lightning speed.

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When it finally stops working – when he realises it’s being jammed – the same panels become a jumble of green.

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 VOL 1, not least by me, 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-old 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!

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Anyway, there are two parallel subplots which Steve Orlando orchestrates perfectly side-by-side: The Midnighter’s love life which until now had only ever involved Apollo, and his quest to recover a startlingly diverse array of ridiculously high-tech weaponry stolen from the God Garden along with his past. The Midnighter has no memory whatsoever of his past prior to becoming weaponised himself, or that anyone else held that information. Isn’t the Gardener a lovely for keeping that all to herself?

The Midnighter, you see, has been augmented to win any fight, playing it out a hundred times hours in advance and then replaying those scenarios in a split second as they occur. That included his domestic rows with Apollo. Now he’s trying not to do that, to experiment instead and, with his ability to open windows anywhere in the world, he certainly has the capacity to impress a loved one. Or distress them, coming home covered in blood. As to less loved ones – armies armed to the teeth with hate-guided missiles (sic) – I wouldn’t get too blasé, either.

“You’re not surrounding me.
“I’m arranging you”.

SLH

Buy Midnighter vol 1: Out and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Warzones! s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Leinil Francis Yu.

Genuinely bleak and nasty, this isn’t the upcoming sequel to CIVIL WAR, but another of those satellite series to Marvel’s recent SECRET WARS. But, unlike the few others I’ve dipped into, it didn’t reference that series at all and can be read entirely separately as “What if the original had ended differently?”

I rate the original CIVIL WAR by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven very highly. It had something genuinely interesting to say about privacy and power, and it speaks volumes about our distrust of recent governments – with how lackadaisical they are with our private information, the surveillance they glean it with, and what they are most likely to do with superior military might – that everyone I know instinctively sided with Captain America’s refusal to register with the American authorities and submit to their potential deployment (even though he’s a former soldier used to obeying the chain of command) rather than Iron Man who recognised that those with superpowers are potentially lethal loose cannons, as witnessed when a bunch of relatively inexperienced, attention-seeking teens took on a bunch of supervillains they were woefully ill-equipped to handle, resulting in the death of six hundred souls. It’s interesting because many of those same individuals who sided with Captain America, like almost everyone else in Britain, are adamantly in favour of American gun control which is what Iron Man was effectively advocating.

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In case you’re intrigued enough to take a punt on the collected edition, I won’t tell you how it ended except that it was abrupt, unexpected and yet entirely in keeping with character.

In this alternative scenario – by the writer of DEATH OF WOLVERINE and the artist on Mark Millar’s NEMESIS – hostilities between the two sides of superheroes didn’t cease. They escalated. They escalated because things went horrifically wrong in Iron Man’s prison hidden in a pocket dimension while the two factions were locked in battle.

The Black Panther hacks into its security systems, which sets off a fail-safe self-destruct sequence – something he attributes to Iron Man instead. I am choosing my words carefully, yes. Iron Man is informed by Commander Maria Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D. that the Black Panther set off the self-destruct sequence deliberately under direct orders from Captain America. I am still choosing my words very carefully. Both sides are incredulous about the other’s callousness. Then the bomb goes off. The bomb goes off just as Cloak is teleporting as many as possible from both warring parties, en masse, back to New York City. Some make it out, some don’t. What does make it out, is the blast.

The bomb-blast destroys New York and takes fifteen million people with it.

Whose side are you on now?

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I ask that because in spite of my original analysis and the ante that’s now been upped I still instinctively sided with Captain America, and what follows, six years on, only goes on to entrench that alignment… because both scenarios are very carefully written.

Six years on and — haha, no! You wouldn’t thank me. You’ll want to read this comic for yourselves.

I’m a big fan of Yu who is solid, sure and exciting, and studies expressions well. They change only incrementally between panels as our own do between seconds unless something does actually take us by surprise. If every character reacts to everything and every word with melodrama as happens woefully often in superhero comics (and the sugar-buzz mainline of manga) then how do you discern the mellow from the genuinely dramatic? Inked by Gerry Alanguilan and coloured by Sunny Gho, there is a light, bright modelling going on.

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But by “carefully written” I mean who do you think is backing whom? Which of Marvel Comics’ most cherished couples finds itself on opposing sides of the argument, in different camps which are not speaking to each other and so cannot meet in an America which has quite literally, geographically and geologically been divided in two? Can you spell “chasm”? There is one, right in the heart of the desert.

Peace talks are proposed and, against all odds, a single woman persuades Captain America and Iron Man to meet in a building in the middle of the bridge which straddles that cavern.

Even before it goes horribly wrong it is patently obvious that they are both so set in their ways, so locked in their mindsets, so trapped in their past and so bitter about what they believe the other has done that recriminations are all they can offer each other.

Then it goes horribly wrong, and there is no hope to speak of.

Remember: I chose my words carefully. Whomever you suspect, do not make the mistake the protagonists did. It all makes sense in the end.

SLH

Buy Civil War: Warzones! s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill one-shot (£3-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Mark Bagley.

I had zero intention of reviewing this and little more inclination to read it. But do you know what? It surprised me.

I loved Nick Spencer’s THIEF OF THIEVES, his MORNING GLORIES is complex and clever, Dominique is a worryingly big fan of his BEDLAM, plus his work at Marvel has been funny. But the last thing anyone wanted or needed so early into Marvel’s fresh, post-SECRET WARS relaunch was a crossover to which this is the kick-off catalyst.

It will envelope nearly a dozen different Marvel titles – ranging from its multiple AVENGERS series to the usual non-entity why-do-these-even-exist – written and drawn by completely different individuals, so the quality here is no indication of what is to come. To be clear: this is not an endorsement of the policy nor an encouragement for you to splash out ridiculous sums of cash on a corporate crossover when superhero fans could instead be buying the enormously entertaining DOCTOR STRANGE or even UNCANNY or THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, both of which essentially feature powers without capes.

But this is, nonetheless, an interesting premise whose initial execution sets the stage for a great deal of dramatic irony.

Now, if I were reviewing the collection on completion, no one would criticise me for laying its prologue bare, and this is essentially its prologue. But you may consider what follows SPOILERS rather than “Oooh, that’s intriguing!” so it is entirely up to you. What I won’t do is ruin its beginning or end which together constitute the heart of the potential dramatic irony and a great deal of self-recrimination when the Avengers begin to be dragged into this.

Are we ready? SPOILERS.

Pleasant Hill is a leafy little town where everyone is idyllically happy and civic-minded. There are restrictions, to be sure: curfews etc, but everyone is exceedingly kind and almost excessively courteous, especially to strangers. Stray upon it by accident and you may not want to leave. Which would be fortunate, since you can’t.

You can’t because it’s a construct, a sham. It’s a prison for supervillains created by S.H.I.E.L.D. which has grown bored shitless of incarcerating super-powered sociopaths only for them to break out and cause billions of dollars of collateral damage (and, incidentally, the loss of lives) to satisfy their psychopathy. If psychopathy is ever satisfied: I don’t think those two words mix, really, do they?

The whole enterprise is understandably way off the books because it involves a complete abandonment of human rights. S.H.I.E.L.D. is using fragments of the reality-altering Cosmic Cube to rewrite the felons’ entire identities. They’re not just brainwashing them, they are refashioning them into new individuals physically and mentally.

Now, let us be clear: I’m all for it. I don’t believe in the real-life death penalty because I don’t have faith in the British or American or almost every other justice system because they have been proved over and over again to be racist and target-driven rather than justice-driven: innocent individuals are locked up every day by those who know they’re not guilty. In the la-la land of superheroes wherein the villains run riot, however, I’m with Maria ‘Pleasant’ Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D. – fuck ‘em.

The problem lies in my previous paragraph, because S.H.I.E.L.D. has just done precisely that: they have incarcerated a hero who got too close to their truth. What I will not spoil for you is who has become trapped there and who they’ve been turned into on the very last page. Clever.

Avengers Standoff Welcome To Pleasant Hill 1

 

Avengers Standoff Welcome To Pleasant Hill 2

I don’t know if it’s Scott Hanna’s inks or a departure for ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN’s Mark Bagley, but the art here is slightly more grounded in reality, ironically enough.

According to Marvel HQ you should be able to pick and choose which titles you read without losing the plot: which you read will give you different perspectives on what goes down. I don’t actually care. I’m not an apologist for these sorts of shenanigans, I’d rather read the latest comic by Sarah Burgess or Dan Berry. I’m just saying, “Hey, I thought this was going to be utter bobbins and it turns out it isn’t”.

SLH

Buy Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill 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.

Amulet vol 7: Firelight (£9-99, Scholastic) by Kazu Kibuishi

Big Kids h/c (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge

Ganges vol 5 (£5-99, Fantagraphics) by Kevin Huizenga

Kill Your Boyfriend / Vinamarama The Deluxe Edition h/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Philip Bond

Mezolith vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Ben Haggarty & Adam Brockbank

Octopus Pie vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Meredith Gran

Star Wars: Chewbacca (£12-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Phil Noto

Sunstone vol 4 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Stejpan Sejic

Batman: Arkham Knight vol 2 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Viktor Bogdanovic, various

Deathstroke vol 2: Godkiller s/c (£10-99, DC) by James Bonny & Tony S. Daniel

All New Captain America vol 1: Hydra Ascendant s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Stuart Immonen

Amazing Spider-Man: Complete Spider-Verse s/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, others & various

Siege: Battleworld s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Filipe Andrade, various

Assassination Classroom vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Fairy Tail Blue Mistral vol 2 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima & Rui Watanabe

Fukufuku Kitten Tales vol 1 (£8-50, Vertical) by Konami Kanata

One Piece vol 77 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Tokyo Ghoul vol 5 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Crossed vol 15 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Mike Wolfer

Doctor Who: Prisoners Of Time (£18-99, Titan) by Scott Tipton, David Tipton & Simon Fraser, Roger Langridge, Gary Erskine, Kev Hopgood, others

News!

5000 km Per Second cover

ITEM! Did you enjoy all the weather in THE RIVER?

I predict without hesitation that 5000 KM PER SECOND will be equally huge here!

Pre-orders using that product page greatly appreciated – WE SHIP WORLDWIDE! – or just ask for it to be added to your Page 45 Standing Order!

Thank you!

5000 km Per Second 1

 

5000 km Per Second 2

ITEM! CEREBUS’ Gerhard draws Harry Potter. But you snooze, you lose: only available until 11:59 PM-PST Sunday, February 28th.

Gerhard Harry Potter print

Yes, of course we stock Dave Sim & Gerhard’s CEREBUS: one of the greatest comicbook creations of all time, and I’ve reviewed every volume / iteration. The artwork is currently being re-shot so some volumes have slipped out of print, but their reprints will be well worth the wait.1 Lakes Fest Clock Tower

ITEM! Creators! Publishers! Retailers! Ragamuffins! Applications are now open for exhibiting upstairs and downstairs in Kendal’s Clock Tower at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 on Saturday October 15th and Sunday October 16th.

Artists Alley Kendal

Entry for the public to the Clock Tower is ABSOLUTELY free, making such an attractive proposition that in 2014 we took more money than any other weekend back at Page 45 – even Christmas – and then in 2015 we beat that record by 10%… with just 1% of the range of our stock!

So obviously Page 45 will be back in 2016 as ever in our Georgian Room in the Kendal Clock Tower!

Books best photo

Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015 – that’s last year!

Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 – massive review with tonnes of photos!

Page 45 is a proud Patron of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival #LICAF @comicartfest

Page 45 sign right

– Stephen

 

 

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