Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week three

Gilbert Hernandez & Darwyn Cooke, Farel Dalrymple, Neill Cameron, Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo, Malachi Ward, Michel Rabagliati, Antony Johnston & Shari Chankhamma, Ellis, Ennis, Gibbons & John Higgins, Phil Jimenez, Tim Bradstreet, Marcelo Frusin, Gary Erskine, Paul Pope, more!

Pop Gun War: Gift (£10-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple.

“No bird soars too high if he soars on his own wings.”

 – William Blake, from The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell


An inspired and inspirational black and white classic from 2003 – with some pages coloured for the Italian edition by Fazi Editore – which proudly proclaims freedom, individuality and self-expression.

It comes with a double-barrelled defiance towards those who would dilute, control or own others including the young outright.

Here is the sinister, manipulative and disingenuous Mr Grimshaw from “a magnificent corporation” who has already ruined the dreams of those with long-term, creative goals by appealing to their immediate gratification. One of them is now living on the street. Another, I infer, is so bitter that he seeks to spite others while wearing a ball and chain.

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“Gentleman, really listen to what your heart is saying. Give her your time.”

In front of the children – whom he has weaned away from someone with something to say – he produces the head of Medusa:

“Try to be rock and roll
“Throw trash on the ground.
“You will look cool.
“Walk slow. Act tough.
“Don’t think too much.”

For that would be inconvenient.

“Maybe even smoke a cigarette.”

The ultimate in poisonous, corporate indoctrination.

Please don’t think this is heavy. It is as light as an air-born feather and full of space, although its images do allude to that very space between buildings and the light which is lost under their sun-blocking edifices.

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Down below, the grottiness is seen from ground-level. Ground-level…? Dumpster-level from which the trashed are lucky to escape.

There are so many moments, however, when the protagonists rise above it in ways which will make you wonder, and the collected edition is introduced by the sort of detailed three-dimensional, illustrative map of the city island, full of architectural detail and surrounding geographical features, which makes the imagination soar. How many more stories are left to be told?

Here’s what our Mark wrote back in 2003:

“No pop, no guns and no war, but a dreamy meandering through an urban landscape. An angel falls to earth and asks for his wings to be chain-sawed off, leaving stumps behind to remind him of his former life. Little Sinclair, smart and out of place in the city with his sharp shirt and bow-tie, adopts the wings and ties them to his back. It’s not every day that you manage to scavenge such fine quarry. Fleeing from a gang of kids he finds himself on a precipice and finds that the wings still work, even when borrowed.

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“That’s just one of the magical touches of this book. You get a roaming mad monk, a huge flying fish (with glasses) and Emily, Sinclair’s little sister, who is becoming a local star with her band, The Emilies.

“The art captures the grit and grime of a big, impersonal city, managing to strike a balance of realism and magic that stops the characters being lifeless illustrations. For a first major work it’s impressive if rambling but marks Dalrymple as one to watch out for.”

As prescient as ever, our Mark. Since then I give you:

THE WRENCHIES, IT WILL ALL HURT (which I thought we’d reviewed), DELUSIONAL and so much more.

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Throughout I was put in mind of Eddie Campbell, specifically in this case BACCHUS.

It’s not just names like Sunshine Montana, but the sight of pint-sized, debonair Sunshine Montana in his old-fashioned top hat and tails wandering around a contemporary city in search of his errant friend, Percy the floating, bespectacled goldfish. When Sunshine Montana opens the basement door oh so dubiously he is a spitting image of Campbell’s Eyeball Kid – albeit with but the regular requisite complement of eyes. And they have a reputation which seems to precede them.

“Hello, Sunny,” says The Rich Kid.
“May I?” asks Sunny, opening The Kid’s car door.
“Not if you’re going to make fun of me.”
“I would rather make fun of someone who has a sense of humour.”

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If you think that Montana is hitching a lift, I’d remind you of the more famous SUNNY in comics, the stranded Sunny Datsun which fuels the kids imagination. Here too the car is suspended on breeze blocks, going nowhere. It’s the perfect final panel to any page, neatly undercutting everything you’d supposed that far.

I’m delighted to report that it’s that sort of graphic novel.


Buy Pop Gun War: Gift and read the Page 45 review here

Twilight Children s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Gilbert Hernandez & Darwyn Cooke…

“I knew it, I knew it.”
“Bundo’s not in his house.”
“Maybe the big ball took him away with it.”
“If we’re lucky. Or maybe Bundo’s a complete idiot.”
“Call the Institute and tell them to cancel their visit.”
“I did, but they still want to send someone. A scientist, at least.”
“I still want people to stay away from the spot where the ball sat. We don’t know what this scientist will find out.”
“Yes, sheriff.”

Well, little did we all know that this was to be Darwyn Cooke’s swansong, but what a glorious and triumphant swansong it is. When I heard that Vertigo, amongst the many new titles, were putting out a mini-series penned by Gilbert Hernandez and drawn by Darwyn Cooke, I knew it was inevitably going to be something wonderful and so it proved.


The story, featuring a strange glowing orb that appears and vanishes in a remote coastal South American village – apparently at random, sometimes seemingly taking people with it – is a humorous, quirky take on the classic alien invasion theme. Or hopefully the prevention thereof… In addition to the vanishing locals, the orb is also prone to the odd explosion and has blinded a group of children. They don’t seem to be remotely distressed though, strangely enough…


Meanwhile, how does the sudden appearance of a mysterious beautiful woman tie in with the orb? Everyone seems very willing to help her, perhaps a little too willing. Well, except for the local femme fatale who’s none too happy to see someone with even greater powers of persuasion pop up on her pitch! Sure, it could be the classic small town good manners at work, but it seems like there might be a little more to it than that. Throw in a very bizarre pair of not-so-undercover CIA agents and a smooth young scientist sent to investigate for good measure and it’s a curious scenario indeed.


Gilbert is on top form here, you can tell he is having great fun writing the various characters and their tangled, titillating parochial lives. That’s his stock in trade, mind you! Darwyn Cooke, meanwhile, is simply on fire artistically. It’s the slightly softer style he applied when working on his non-PARKER material, such as CATWOMAN with Ed Brubaker or the annoyingly currently out of print DC: THE NEW FRONTIER, (softcover reprint coming in July!) that you always felt was full of such fun.


A mention for colourist Dave Stewart, who along with Elizabeth Breitweiser, is the best in the business. Between them they perfectly capture that sunshine filled, sleepy backwater feel. It made me want to go mix myself a margarita! The sort of place where nothing of any great significance ever happens, so every little bit of intrigue and gossip, true or otherwise, is salaciously devoured, before being promptly forgotten. The perfect place for an alien invasion beachhead to establish itself perhaps…



Buy Twilight Children s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mega Robo Bros vol 1 (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron…

Published June 2nd!

“ALEX! FREDDY! COME ON! We should have left five minutes ago!”
“But Dad! Freddy tore my comic!”
“It’s my comic!”
“No, you swapped it me for my Ankylosaurus!”
“That was for a lend, not for keeps!”
“Well then I want my Ankylosaurus back!”
“BOYS! We’re going to be late! Never mind about the comic!”
“But what about the Ankylosaurus?”
“Jeez, Dad, you don’t have to shout.”
“Robot hearing, remember?”

First day back at school for a new term and after the comic capers, of course Mega Robo Bros Alex and his younger brother Freddy miss the bus. Dad knows he’s going to be in deep trouble with Mum, a government scientist, as the boys are only too happy to remind him. The only alternative is letting the boys fly there unsupervised, after a stern talking-to about not fighting on the way… It couldn’t go that wrong surely?

“… Three hours late, and completely soaking wet when they got here. It’s not a great start to term, is it?”
“I really am terribly sorry, Headteacher. I had to, um, go and fish them out of the Thames. There was an incident.”
“Sorry, miss. You see Freddy tore my comic…”
“It’s my comic!”

Haha, that comic gag is a great running joke that keeps on giving throughout.


Well, this might just be my favourite PHOENIX PRESENTS story so far. It has all the requisite ridiculous humour that the kids demand, but it’s a really great story as well. I would actually put this on a par with the likes of THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN as an exceptional all-ages read.

Alex and Freddy are robots: the only sentient ones in existence, created by the late Doctor Roboticus. After his mysterious passing they were adopted by Doctor Sharma and her husband. But just like every single set of new parents, Doctor and Mr. Sharma had absolutely no idea just what they were letting themselves in for…


Neil has captured the essence of two continually bickering, mischievous brothers perfectly here. It just so happens these battling boys can shoot lasers beams from their hands, punch through walls and fly through the sky! Mainly whilst arguing with each other! They’ll need those skills to rescue the public from sky trains plunging towards the pavement, rampaging robotic dinosaurs roaming the National History Museums and much more besides. For it seems someone, or something, with an ulterior motive is testing them… and it’s not just the bullies at their school who are determined to verbally torment them for being different. It does take great restraint not to zap a bully with your in-built laser, mind you…

I continually found myself chuckling at Neill’s dialogue, particularly the ever exuberant Freddy with his ridiculous made-up songs involving poo. He is quite the expert at picking the most inopportune moment to debut them to his parents. And I can completely understand exactly how his brother Alex spends half his time protectively looking out for Freddy then the other half wanting to exasperatedly atomise him. A typical annoying younger sibling, then! Together though, when engaged in their dynamic duelling against all and sundry they make a most formidable team, with Freddy prolifically popping out pithy punchlines in a manner a certain Peter Parker would approve of! The interior cover sums it up perfectly with the pair of them stood outside their front door, Freddy excitedly blasting a couple of feet into the air, heels clicking, fists pumping, Alex just staring at him, hands in pockets, irritated.


This is brilliant fun, a supremely well written romp, that also has much to say about tolerance for our fellow man, and err… robot, and it’s just as fantastically and vibrantly illustrated. The action sequences are a joy to behold with about as much carefully choreographed mechanical mayhem as I think I’ve ever seen on page after page of comics. Neill’s future London with lanes of flying, red double-decker buses and robotic Coldstream guards replete with bearskin hats looks a fabulously crazy place. Oh, and his take on the future Royal Family made me grin very broadly indeed. I look forward to the next volume!


Buy Mega Robo Bros vol 1  and read the Page 45 review here

Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird h/c (£10-99 UK s/c, 18-99 US h/c, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo.

Have you ever had trouble with your scalp? Itchy? Nits? Dandruff, perhaps?

“It started a few weeks ago. I thought it was just a rash, but then it grew teeth and bit my hairbrush. I went to the Emergency Ward, but they screamed and threw bedpans at me.”

Poor Zelma Stanton! She’s a librarian from the Bronx and, after hesitating on its threshold, she appears to have brought quite the infestation to Doctor Strange’s architecturally outré mansion. But then it was never very safe in the first place.

“The Sanctum Sanctorum is the greatest concentration of occult esoteric and mystical phenomena in existence.
“It should go without saying, but do not touch anything you see, except the floor. And be careful where you step.
“In this house, simply opening the wrong door could literally unleash Hell on Earth.
“And then there’s the refrigerator. Seriously, don’t get anywhere near my refrigerator.”

Fruity and flamboyant, this is a comedy accessible to all. Like Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee’s self-contained INHUMANS graphic novel, it has a tried and tested appeal well beyond its Marvel Comics confines and you need know nothing before its Sanctum Sanctorum.

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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 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.

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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.”

Anyway, as our story opens, 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.

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He cures this poor lad but is then set upon by a gigantic, transdimensional lamprey. Easily dispatched. Easily, but messily.

So there’s the soul eaters, the leech and now those ravenous mouths growing out of Zelma Stanton’s head, wreaking havoc all over the mansion. His grimoires are dying, his magic is failing. Something is seriously wrong.

What is wrong is this: Stephen has forgotten a very important lesson taught by the Ancient One long, long, ago. The laws of physics apply equally to magic: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

“The harder you punch, the more it hurts you.
“If a normal punch takes a physical toll on the one who throws it, what do you imagine the price of casting a spell to be?”

For years now Doctor Strange has been casting defensive and offensive spells willy-nilly. In the back of his mind he’s known there is a price to be paid but he’s brushed all that under the mystical carpet and buried his head in the sand. And now it is far too late.

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From the writer of SCALPED and SOUTHERN BASTARDS, this is by far the best book of DOCTOR STRANGE I’ve ever read. Aaron has learned Matt Fraction’s 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.

It is also breath-takingly beautiful. How could it be otherwise from the artist of Neil Gaiman’s DEATH?

Chris Bachalo brings you exquisitely crisp if not brittle, late-summer leaves and colours them to senescent perfection. Yes, even the season is in synch with the story. They’re being tugged from the trees opposite a mansion which you might malinger outside as well.

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Within you’ll find precarious towers of leather-bound books, stacked like a spiral staircase free-floating in space. The actual staircases have been designed by Escher.

The dying realms are truly ashen. It might be nuclear but it’s certainly not a natural winter, more like a volcano erupted across the void, its particles dispersed on invisible, cosmic currents to smother all colour in dust.

Something or someone has harboured a long-festering grudge against magic and is now taking revenge. Across the dimensions it has travelled, executing Sorcerer Supremes, sending waves of pathogenic pestilence ahead of itself, eating away at the fabric of hyper-reality and bleeding its energies dry.

“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?”


“Some days it sucks to be Strange.”


Buy Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird h/c and read the Page 45 review here

From Now On (£10-99, Alternative Comics) by Malachi Ward…

Thirteen stylishly illustrated time-twisting science fiction tales from Brandon Graham’s PROPHET and ISLAND contributor and cohort. This is much more understated material than the mentalism that is PROPHET. Each yarn here is more of a vignette, though I did start to realise with great delight that a few of the stories do… overlap (I think might be the right choice of word) even if the protagonists don’t remotely realise it. It’s relatively gently told stuff, but I do mean that in a positive sense. Both in terms of the overall feel of the collection and some of the art, I was actually minded of Ethan Reilly’s POPE HATS much more than, say, Box Brown’s equally enjoyable AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS, which is actually the sort of sanity shaking shenanigans I was expecting.




So whilst the stories are ostensibly science fiction, they are all really character pieces, set against the backdrop of timey-wimey weirdness. In more than a few cases, it has all gone horribly pear-shaped and the characters are somewhere on the sliding scale of trying to pick up the pieces / make the best of a bad situation / desperately avoid a rather painful demise. Some of the stories are definitely more convoluted than others in terms of plot, but overall it’s an excellent eclectic spread of different things you can do with a loose conceit.




There are some substantial variations on the art style from story to story too which was a nice touch. Half the tales are black and white, the other half are coloured. A couple reminded me of Chester Brown, some of Joe Daly, also Ethan Reilly as mentioned, plus a bit of Matt Kindt here and there, especially on the coloured strips, and even Ray Fawkes. Malachi is clearly a very versatile and talented artist. Highly recommended.





Buy From Now On and read the Page 45 review here

Paul Goes Fishing (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michel Rabagliati.

An ancient review from when this was first published, this particular graphic novel keeps disappearing off our website, we know not why! Honestly: if you see it, snag it, before it slips our hooks again.

I’ve never read any of the previous PAUL books but Mark was deeply enamoured, and now I know why: Rabagliati is a French-Canadian Andi Watson in thought and word and visual deed. Indeed this could almost be a prequel to LITTLE STAR, with Paul and Lucie expecting a baby, along with their friends Peter and France.

I know the titles sound as if they’re from some early-learning Ladybird range (PAUL JOINS THE SCOUTS, PAUL HAS A SUMMER JOB etc.), but nothing could be further from these considered musings, memories and affectionate tributes to those Paul knows and loves. It’s all about how we interact with one another and – as it is with Watson in BREAKFAST AFTERNOON, LITTLE STAR and SLOW NEWS DAY – work is high on the agenda, which is only natural given that we spend so much of our lives hard at it.

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Paul’s brother-in-law, Clément, for example, works in the aviation industry which used to be about a whole team of enthusiastic specialists using their innovative nous to design and build new Canadian aircraft. But then the Production Specialists – bean counters with no knowledge of or interest in the aviation industry – were brought in from outside, and the layoffs began in their hundreds, followed by further mechanisation, just-in-time production, inventory reduction and subcontracting abroad. Sound familiar?*

Similarly, Paul has seen his own work as a designer change dramatically over the last twenty years following the rise of the multipurpose Mac during the late ’80s and ’90s, with the consequent loss of jobs in the different disciplines of colour separation, typography etc. The production office would be somewhere for the exuberant exchange of ideas, knowledge, projects or just human chit-chat. Now Paul works alone in his studio on his Apple Mackintosh. He doesn’t even have to venture out for research: he can do it all online.

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These little histories of himself and his friends are sprinkled throughout the main narrative as Paul takes a break from work and leaves Montreal for the pastoral pleasures of fishing, where he and Lucie find Lucie’s sister Monique, her husband Clément (quite the expert angler) and their two daughters already relaxing on the lakeside. Even here, however, it’s surprisingly artificial, and the tranquillity is occasionally rocked by a lack of basic consideration or – in the case of a couple of young delinquents overindulged by their parents – by acts of shocking barbarity. Even the rain halts play for a while (though I have to disagree here – rain on water? I’ve been in heaven!), but none of this prepared me for what suddenly happens next. In hindsight it’s foreshadowed, but I won’t say with what, although I’ve done a little of it myself in this review.

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What I will say is that within pages of beginning the book I had completely forgotten the existence of any prologue, let alone what it was (it centres around a church collection box), and it was only with the last two or three pages that I remembered…

So, very highly recommended and a new discovery for me. I shall have to go back and read the other PAUL books now.

*Immigration, historically, has never been the cause of mass unemployment. It’s mechanisation – technology – and always has been since the Industrial Revolution.


Buy Paul Goes Fishing and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 13: Haunted (£18-99, Vertigo) by Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Darko Macan, Paul Jenkins, Dave Gibbons & John Higgins, Phil Jimenez, Tim Bradstreet, Marcelo Frusin, Gary Erskine, Paul Pope, Andy Lanning, Javier Pulido, James Romberger, Frank Teran, Dave Gibbons.

Once upon a time – when DC was cherry-picking, reprinting bits and bobs rather than the whole series in order – there was a HELLBLAZER book called HAUNTED which reprinted the first slither here by Ellis and Higgins, but this is much meatier and grows increasingly rank. So sordid are some of these additional tales that one can only shake one’s head at DC’s decision initially to spike the short story ‘Shoot’ by Ellis & Jimenez which has since seen publication and does so once again.

It was at the time a long overdue return to the roots of a very British, anti-establishment title which mixed occult horror with the very real and repugnant nightmares of racism, homophobia, homelessness, other assorted social deprivations, callousness, cruelty and cover-ups. Ellis immediately stamped upon it a recognisable spirit of place.

“And all over London the sirens start and the cries go out and the tears don’t dry and everyone looks up to find that the sky’s so stained with streetlight that you can’t see the stars anymore.”

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John Constantine, working class wide-boy and ruthless manipulator – a middle-aged trouble-magnet in a mustard-coloured trenchcoat – returns to London to find that an ex-girlfriend has made the headlines… as the victim of a particularly gruesome, sexually charged murder. Her ghost haunts the playground where she was happiest, before she’d met John, before he gave her the first taste of magic which may have led her to down the road to her death. Pulling in favours from Scotland Yard (for which there is always a price to be paid) Constantine comes into possession of her diary which details her seduction by an Aleister Crowley aficionado who began manipulating her perception, alienating her from her friends and using her for his own occult purposes.

For someone with John’s esoteric knowledge it’s not hard to figure out how, what or why. He even knows the who. But he’s going to have to call in a lot of favours and get his own and others’ hands dirty before he can lay Isabel to rest.

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Ellis evokes a London whose very foundations are soaked in spilled blood, and populates the city with a fresh cast of supporting characters or – as regular HELLBLAZER readers refer to them – victims-in-waiting, for hanging around with Constantine is lethal. Nor does he waste any time in shoving the boot into Labour’s successively right-wing Home Secretaries through the mouth of dodgy copper Watford:

“Things get worse every bleedin’ day. It’s like Maggie never left office. Lovely jubbly.”

It’s this string of friendship fatalities which PREACHER’s Garth Ennis and THE NAO OF BROWN’s Glyn Dillon exhume in the back of this collection when Constantine reflects on the sorry circumstances that led Gary Lester, Emma, Nigel and Rick The Vic into John’s poisonous path. If anyone can ill-afford to become sentimental now, it’s Constantine. Thank goodness his Kit got away.

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Before that Ellis further examines the power of storytelling and depths of credulity: with artist Tim Bradstreet when John interrupts a writer’s account of how he came into contact with the crib of the anti-Christ stillborn a year before baby Jesus popped unopposed onto the scene; and with Marcelo Frusin as another scribe seeks a scoop on the serpentine heritage of our beloved royal family. Oh, and I mentioned a price to be paid, didn’t I? In a bedroom in Hackney a man has taken eight days to kill two low-level thieves in very imaginative ways. Landlords, eh?

The other chief attraction is, as I say, the reprint of Warren Ellis & Phil Jimenez’s ‘Shoot’ which tackled child-on-child gun crime. Written and drawn before whichever the bloody massacre was back then, it was deemed too topical to print, which is precisely why it should have been printed in the first place. Heaven forefend that DC ever grows balls and proves topical.

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A woman is reviewing video tapes of school shootings in order to address a Senate Committee with her judgement as to why they are happening. But she just can’t see it and keeps going back to the audio tape on which Reverend Jim Jones persuades his congregation, all nine hundred and fourteen men, women and children, to commit mass suicide.

“It’s deciding what to blame, you know? Blame the parents for keeping a gun in the house? Not without blaming the constitution and pulling the NRA’s chain.”
“The movies, the video games, the comicbooks…”
“More killers fixate and draw inspiration from the Bible than any other piece of culture.”
“So if I did a Nintendo thing called “Flying Chainsaw Jesus” I’d be rich?”
“Ew. And you’ve got kids.”
“And that’s how I oughta know. You oughta see the little bastards playing their video games. Eyes bright, teeth bared, like wolves tearing up a sheep.”
“It’s not the games that do it, Brian.”

No, it’s not. Nor, I can assure you, does this have anything to do with our John or any hocus pocus whatsoever. That would have made this an awful Constantine story, and a complete cop-out on what it is another very real, real-world horror.

The only uncanny thing about John’s involvement is that he’s there at the site of every recent child-child slaying, but he’s only there to see for himself why they are doing it as a favour to a friend whose own boy got blown away, and I believe both John and Warren are absolutely on the nail.

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Jimenez owns this story as much as Ellis: without his pitch-perfect expressions, particularly the last one, it couldn’t have worked. Now please see Andrew Vachss’ HEART TRANSPLANT (at a mere £4-99) if you want to learn the truth about early self-esteem and bullying.


Buy Hellblazer vol 13: Haunted and read the Page 45 review here

Codename Baboushka vol 1: Conclave Of Death s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Shari Chankhamma.

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

The back and interior covers screamed James Bond title sequence. We’ll return to that in a minute. I thought it was terrific marketing but prefer the honesty of cover art like this which reflects what lies within.

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 mentioned a few months ago 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.”

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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, TAMSIN AND THE DEEP, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE 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.

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What might take a moment to drop like the proverbial penny is that the first chapter’s 80-mile-an-hour action sequence isn’t part of the main event – it isn’t the titular Conclave of Death which Contessa Annika Malikova is being blackmailed to infiltrate by the American government. That will come later on a luxury liner which the general public – innocent, pleasure-seeking holiday makers – are going to rue boarding. There the instructions issued by her man-handlers from EON (Extrajudicial Operations Network) are not to assassinate the retiring ex-CIA gun-runner called Felton, but persuade him to sell her his secrets.

“You’ll have all my routes and contacts, across the whole world. Names and details of every politician I ever squeezed, every government I ever sold to or blackmailed.”

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All these are very much on the table for the highest bidder – including a sub-Saharan warlord, a European gang chief, a member of the Yazuka and a certain Scottish master thief whom the Contessa’s bumped into before – 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?

The prologue, then, is a signature move designed to attract Felton’s attention, working 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.

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So far, so good. Unfortunately no one’s prepared for piracy – and that’s pretty prevalent right now. I hope the Contessa can keep Felton alive…

As a young-teen-orientated thriller akin to Antony’s Alex Rider graphic novels with elements of a blazing Tomb Raider adventure, this works very well. It’s emphatically not Brubaker & Epting’s VELVET – there’s far too much melodrama and explication in the dialogue for that – but it could very tempt some of the action-orientated manga merchants to look west.

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Buy Codename Baboushka vol 1: Conclave Of Death 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.

A City Inside (£7-50, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie Walden

Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham

Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 (£6-00, Broken Frontier) by Rozi Hathaway, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino, Adam Vian, Rebecca Bagley, Kim Clements, Gareth Brookes, Gill Hatcher, Jessica Martin, Mike Medaglia, EdieOP, Owen D. Pomery, Alex Potts, Paul B. Rainey, Donya Todd

Highbone Theater h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Joe Daly

Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c (£29-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark

ODY-C vol 2: Sons Of The Wolf s/c (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Christian Ward

Apocrypha Now h/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Jun Maeda & Yuriko Asami

Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Anne Szabla

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 13 – End Of Days (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Laurence Campbell

Parsley Girl: Carrots (£6-00, Avery Hill Publishing) by Matthew Swan

Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Lucy Knisley

Star Wars: Kanan vol 2 – First Blood (£13-50, Marvel) by Greg Weisman & Pepe Larraz, Mark Brooks

Unfollow vol 1  (£10-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, R.M. Guera

Artificial Flowers (£9-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Rachael Smith

Zodiac Starforce: By The Power Of Astra s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Kevin Panetta & Paulina Ganucheau

Batman War Games vol 2 s/c (£25-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker, Bill Willingham, Dylan Horrocks, Bruce Jones, Andersen Gabrych & various

The Flash By Geoff Johns vol 2 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins

The Joker: Endgame s/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Greg Capullo, various

Wonder Woman vol 7: War Torn s/c (£12-99, DC) by Meredith Finch & David Finch, Goran Sudzuka

All New Inhumans vol 1: Global Outreach s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule, James Asmus & Stefano Casselli

Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo

The Tick: The Complete Edlund (£26-99, NEC) by Ben Edlund

Blue Exorcist vol 15 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2: Battle Tendency h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

One Piece vol 78 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

One-Punch Man vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata


Philip Pullman

ITEM! Philip Pullman on Why I Love Comics including excerpts from his series in THE PHOENIX COMIC WEEKLY!

Giant Days vol 1 3

ITEM! Diversity in comics featuring GIANT DAYS, LUMBERJANES, THE BACKSTAGERS etc in The New York Times!

That’s not some token article, either, it addresses women and LGBT content in comics not just for adults. Hooray!

Lumberjanes foxes

ITEM! Comicbook creators! Hiveworks is now accepting submissions until 15th June!

“Hiveworks is a creator owned publisher and studio that helps webcomic and online media creators turn their creative endeavors into sustainable businesses. We serve as mentors and as a home for many comics.”

Opportunity knocks etcetera!

– Stephen

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