Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2016 week two

In which we talk of William Godwin, Mary Shelley and Bernie Wrightson. News from Bryan Talbot and The Lakes International Comic Art Festival underneath!

How To Talk To Girls At Parties (£12-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá.

“You cannot hear a poem without it changing you.”

Reading a short story, a prose novel or a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman is both a transforming and transporting experience.

So often they begin as tales ostensibly set in this world and may well return to this world once more, but only after passing over a metaphorical bridge – or some sequestered, sun-dappled stepping stones – into another.

It’s as though a rarely spotted signpost has popped up, redirecting you down a road less travelled, a side-path to somewhere else, somewhere other.

I’m thinking of DEATH, his BOOKS OF MAGIC, CORALINE, ANANSI BOYS and most especially THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE. That particular signpost was never meant to be glimpsed, I don’t think.

What you see is so rarely what you get. I wouldn’t bet on getting anything you see on the surface in a Gaiman graphic novel. THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS will give almost everyone involved far, far more than they bargained for, including its readers. You should be careful of bargains, always.

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Gaiman’s knack is to present you at first with the familiar, then take a subtle, almost unnoticeably swerve at the transdimensional traffic lights into the far from familiar in order to enlighten, to frighten and to change.

The set-up here is ever so familiar to those of us who, in our teens, didn’t know how to talk to girls at parties.

Vic and Enn are going to a party. The narrator, Enn, is being dragged along in the wake of Vic’s ebullient, carefree enthusiasm. He trails behind physically just as he has always lagged behind emotionally, and he is very much aware of his comparative awkwardness and ineptitude. To be honest, he’s terrified.

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How To Talk To Girls 3His experience of girls is especially limited since he’s attending an all-male school. And then there’s the post-pubescent leap.

“When you start out as kids, you’re just boys and girls, going through time at the same speed. And then one day there’s a lurch and the girls just sort of sprint off into the future ahead on you…  And they know all about everything, and they have periods and breasts and makeup and god-only-knew-what-else… for I certainly didn’t.
“Biology diagrams were no substitute for being, in a very real sense, young adults.
“And the girls of our age were.
“Vic and I weren’t.”

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All of this understandable hand-wringing is presented in the first half a dozen pages as the boys wend their way through London suburbs. And it is all so familiar.

“You just have to talk to them,” says Vic, helpfully.

But remember what I said. I don’t think it’s going to be quite that simple today.

It’s all so familiar because Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, the creators of DAYTRIPPER and TWO BROTHERS have from the very first page established the spirit of place and time so superbly. Yes, time! This is a period piece, set in the early days of punk, and music will play its own part.

Look at the cars, the fashions, the dresses and blouses – and the hallway globe Atlas which I used to take great delight in spinning while studying its demarcations not one jot! African masks were a very big thing when I were a lad.

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I love the late-summer light reflected later on in the conservatory, and the way in which the pavement bends and almost buckles beneath them. It’s all very human, comforting, soft and vulnerable. Anything ruled more strictly would have been way too clinical and far too modern.

There are no straight lines here. Avenues curve tantalisingly out of sight ahead of our teens as the regular, rhythmic pulse calls them ever on before then emanating from the bowed bay windows of the one detached house in the street.

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But have you noticed the stepping stones being crossed?

The seed of doubt which Gaiman has so cleverly planted as quickly as Vic has dismissed it?

Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá are the perfect twin collaborators for this project. In my review of their DE: TALES long, long ago I referenced Neil Gaiman for it felt to me that so many of the short stories there could not only have been originated by but written by Gaiman as well.

This review will take you no further than the first dozen pages of this graphic novella, for this to me is Important. But once you’ve crossed over its yellow-bricked, wooden-fenced threshold both Moon and Bá will make the shadows dance, along with the house’s occupants.

Did you bring your bottle of blanc?

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Buy How To Talk To Girls At Parties and read the Page 45 review here

Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein h/c (£25-99, Dark Horse) by Mary Shelley & Bernie Wrightson.

“EverywhereFrankenstein cover I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”

I don’t think the chances are great.

A glorious, cloth-bound hardcover, white and silver on black, with crisp reproduction values so superior to its original printings that it’s barely recognisable, we thought we’d seen the last of this but I’ve salvaged some more from abroad.

We’ll come to Wrightson’s outstanding illustrations anon, but between them sits Mary Shelley’s original 19th Century prose, intact, reeking of self-obsessed arrogance, decrying social injustice and delivered in the form of ambulatory, Godwinian chit-chat.

William Godwin was Mary Shelley’s father, author of ‘Political Justice’ then the novel ‘Things As They Are; or The Adventures of Caleb Williams’ whose protagonist isn’t half such an ugly-head but still feels the stick of social stigmatisation after asking too many questions of his landed employer which he really didn’t want to know the answers to. He then promises to keep his boss’ secret but Good Intentions Alley inevitably leads to Destination Hell:

“Here I am, an outcast, destined to perish with hunger and cold. All men desert me. All men hate me… Accursed world! that hates without a cause.”

I’d remind you that’s Godwin’s Caleb Williams, but the similarities are striking.

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Subtitled, ‘The Modern Prometheus’, ‘Frankenstein’s protagonist is – unlike the original Prometheus – no benefactor of mankind, but a vainglorious git who gives not one whit for this fellow man nor for his immediate loved ones. Instead he creates a creature from disinterred human body parts and imbues it with life without any consideration for the quality of it. So repulsive is this cruelly self-aware, intelligent individual to its fellow human beings that he is universally shunned by the very society he craves. Added blows upon this bruise come, for example, when he saves a girl from drowning only to be shot at by a local.

“This then was the reward for my benevolence! …The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave way to a hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance on all mankind.”

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This edition’s reproduction is infinitely clearer, I promise!

Frankenstein is, in fact, the first scientist for whom the question “Just because I can” was in serious need of an Ethical Standards Committee musing on whether he should. Accepting no responsibility for his actions – a huge theme of Godwin’s – Frankenstein refuses to right his wrongs or even mitigate them, failing his creation whose endurance goes beyond stoical and whose sincerity in determining to change is genuine even after repeated rejection.

“How can I move thee? Will no entreaties cause thee to turn a favourable eyes upon thy creature, who implores they goodness and compassion? Believe me, Frankenstein, I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity; but am I not alone, miserably alone?”

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This isolation and sense of self-imposed exile is felt keenly throughout Wrightson’s illustrations, whether the creature is crouched cramped in his “kennel” (Shelley’s own words), filling that solitary space and watching the world turn without him or in the multiple, magnificent landscapes which rarely depict more than one rambler. The weather plays its own substantial part in the emotional charge, and even inside Wrightson brings it to bear along with the further seclusion of Frankenstein himself for whom connection is an anathema and moping about with quill and paper is a default setting.

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It’s all ever so Byronic with its rain-streaked windows, high collars and neck-length, wavy hair. The drapery isn’t just decadent but decayed and appealed to my post-punk teenage angst enormously. If you’ve ever been inside my study you’ll have seen a full-colour, signed and lovingly framed print as the centre-piece above my open fireplace. Pass me the absinthe, why don’t you?

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Astonishingly for such dark, brooding pieces there are very few solid blacks. Instead the art is composed of an eye-frazzling array of intricate, layered lines and subtle feathering, which screams of Gustave Doré via American illustrator Franklin Booth. The compositions are markedly different to Sir Bazza Windsor-Smythe’s, but you won’t be disappointed when it comes to the thousands of individually drawn blades of grass. The figure work is equally phenomenal and when there are two protagonists in a single shot their antagonism is projected by both their posture and lines of sight.

The novel’s more heart-breaking than horrific, but therein lies a horror of its own.

“I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? …I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear.”

Man’s inhumanity to man, with more than a dollop of hubris.


Buy Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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


Magical, exquisitely coloured, and so beautiful to behold, the third of the four all-ages HILDA graphic novels is now available in softcover.

Young school girl Hilda lives with her mother, a professional artist, out in the wilds of the most majestic countryside with mountains that rise into the crystal-blue skies, their snow-capped peaks enticing you ever upwards to explore!

They’re populated with fantastical creatures which Hilda loves to dash out to document and draw! Armed with a rucksack full of pens, pencils, paper and nature books, Hilda could spend an entire day…

… sitting bored indoors, looking mournfully out of her bedroom window onto the deadly-dull streets of a city suburb she is forbidden to set foot in. Oh dear. They’ve moved.

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To her mother’s mind these city streets are infinitely more dangerous than the troll-troubled hills they once frequented. With no discernible vantage points you could get so easily lost in the maze of seemingly homogenous house fronts, and then there are the people. People ain’t no good. Anything could happen to a young girl, out on her own…

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Bravely Luke Pearson has set his series on a brand-new course and brilliantly he’s played to his loyal readers’ fears. The school children who entice Hilda out know all the cool places, but they are very far from cool. They ring on doorbells and then run away, goading their potentially impressionable new friend to do the same. She doesn’t, for Hilda knows her own mind (thank you very much indeed!) and so stops to chat to the old lady she’s just called upon and takes time to compliment her window box of flowers. And then, just when you think Hilda’s winning, and beginning to bring them round in their search for the best and shiniest of rocks, there is a moment of awful brutality that had my jaw on the floor. Also: she does get lost.

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But oh, Luke Pearson, how well you know your craft! One of his finest skills is the ability to surprise – to make you gasp – and everything you have read so far is designed to do precisely that. Who am I to spoil that pleasure?

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There will be wonder aplenty, discoveries made from true discernment, and a heart-racing climax to get to the annual Bird Parade on time! Then the colours will morph out of all recognition and you will know the glow of an evening on fire. It’s so lambent, so eye-poppingly awesome, with exotic forms that fill every inch of each page.

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I love Hilda’s mouth when she goes “Oooh!” I’m making that face as I type: a projection to a small, rounded mouth to one side that lets out a well-rounded “Oooh!” It’s infectious – the sort of art that encourages you to enact what’s happening and so makes for the very best bed-time reading.

Coming shortly in 2016: HILDA AND STONE FOREST!

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Buy Hilda And The Bird Parade s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scarlet Witch vol 1: Witches’ Road s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by James Robinson & Vanesa Del Rey, Jordie Bellaire, Marco Rudi, Javier Pulido, Steve Dillon, Chris Visions.

“I’ve had some problems in the past.
“My life has been a minefield of missteps, mistakes and – I’ll be the first to admit – even some mental instability.
“But I am more than the sum of those mistakes and I am better than that.
“And I resolve to put things right.”

A surprisingly spandex-free, site-specific series, its international, geographical locations are stunningly well served by each of the artists with deliciously disparate styles.

Following the films there are flocks of new Scarlet Witch fans actively asking for her key appearances on our shop floor. I’ll be helping you out at the bottom of this review, but rest assured that this is a book itself is a perfectly accessible entry point which wends its own way, free both from convoluted Marvel history and Wanda’s own past, though the ghost of Agatha Harkness, as arch as ever, may well intrigue.

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It’s an occult detective series during the course of which Wanda Maximoff follows a trail of broken or corrupted magic from New York to the Greek island of Santorini, thence to an Ireland whose fallow fields are as beleaguered by arable plague as they were during the mid-19th Century during the Potato Famine. The series is site-specific, as I say, its writer James Robinson focussing on each country’s legend, lore and often all too awful history.

The first volume finishes in the bucolic back roads of Spain, in a vineyard built on the site of an ancient nunnery whose inhabitants had taken a solemn vow of silence. Accused by their own religion of witchcraft during the Spanish Inquisition, their unfaltering devotion to God led not one of them to break their most sacred vow, even in their defence. They were burned or buried underground, chained to walls of their very own crypt. But now it’s been broken into by labourers employed to extend the vineyard’s cellar space and they’ve all become possessed of a fearful madness. The very church which caused this human catastrophe was summoned to perform an exorcism, but an exorcism requires words and anyone who speaks inside the walls suffers the same fate.

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Cue master class in silent storytelling by one Javier Pulido and some elegant forms and impressive spot-blacks worthy of Gilbert Hernandez.

It’s not quite HELLBLAZER but please believe that – as written by Robinson – Wanda is not without her wits, tricking her way to against-all-odds success at least once. Robinson knows that nebulous spell-casting to win the day makes for zero dramatic tension. There has to be a certain degree of logic: there have to laws as well as lores to contend with and be obeyed, bent or broken.

And here is the thing: within Jason Aaron’s equally accessible, current DOCTOR STRANGE it has been established that – just like Newton’s Laws of Physics – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every spell cast there is a price to be paid.

For every spell that Wanda’s now casting a price is being paid. For the moment it’s only glanced in a distorted mirror like a peak into Dorian Gray’s hidden attic, but her soul is aging rapidly. Plus, as long-term readers already know, sanity was never her strong point, either.

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Coloured by Jordie Bellaire, Vanesa Del Rey’s opening chapter in greys, greens and reds is as haunting as you could wish for. Even on the daytime streets of Manhattan it remains ethereal, Maximoff striding between two worlds, the mundane grey of one and the sorcerous scarlet of the other cleverly combined on the page in her garb. New York at night is a dream, lit up not by neon, but by the colour-coded impressions of its denizen’s souls.

Fast-forward to Greece and Marco Rudy’s painting presents you with both midnight hues punctuating once more by blood-red and with majestic daytime vistas of the island’s white-washed walls of its hillside town gleaming and beaming in the full summer sun against the Mediterranean blue of its cool ocean waters. Marco’s maze-like, circular and segmented panels are no random choice for we are in the modern lair of the Minotaur as Wanda strives to puzzle out its nocturnal activities then navigate her way to their core.

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Steve Dillon’s depiction is much more contemporary and chic, especially within the Irish airport, Maximoff striding down its functional thoroughfares in a long-coat/rain-coat affair buttoned at the belly. But it’s abruptly broken when Chris Visions steps in with something a little more… ancestral.

Hahaha SPOILERS! We no longer do spoilers around here, nor have we for years.

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We did once, which makes my AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED review one of the worst I have ever written. Please do not read it if you’re interested in picking up that book. But if you want the ultimate, all-encompassing background on Wanda Maximoff – if you’re not satisfied with this as your entry point – it will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the troubled woman and her oh so chequered past with a passion I poured in, perhaps too liberally! I originally wrote it as an introduction to Bendis’s subsequent NEW AVENGERS run which lasted almost a decade.

I promised you other recommended Scarlet-Witch reading above, and this is it:

AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED and its immediate sequel, HOUSE OF M


ULTIMATES SEASON ONE and ULTIMATES SEASON TWO which are my two favourite superhero books of all time.

KNIGHTS OF WUNDAGORE and the sequel to AVENGERS: VISION QUEST are, at the time of typing, out of print. Not my fault, I’m not the publisher. Sorrreee!


Buy Scarlet Witch vol 1: Witches’ Road s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Pope Francis Goes To The Dentist (£2-60) by Paul B. Rainey…

“D’you know what? I’ve been paying National Insurance for decades and there are only three things wrong with me: my hair, my eyesight and my teeth, none of which is covered by the N.H.S!”
“Perhaps you would like to make an appointment to see our specialist to discuss the work?”
“Sigh. Why not? What harm can it do?”
“She has a space free on Monday at three-thirty if you’re available.”
“Yeah, I can make that.”
“Please be aware that there is a charge of one hundred and thirty pounds…”
“WHAT?! A couple of years ago, I had doubleglazing put in! When I saw the man to discuss the possibility of me placing an order, it was free! This is because as an individual operating in a free market economy, he understood that if I placed an order, I would be spending a lot of money with him!”
“So, shall I book you in for Monday?”
“Go on, then.”

Ha, the punchline to this particular instalment of Pope Francis’ saga to find an NHS dentist with reasonable waiting times and affordable prices is that he has second thoughts overnight at the cost and thus decides to cancel his appointment and continue looking. It’s almost like his never-ending, self-perpetuating quest is his personal penance for his sins. Though to him, I’m sure it seems more like purgatory!


Fresh from his brilliant recent time-travel epic THERE’S NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT, Paul’s rounded up this self-published collection of gag strip material featuring the likes of the dentally delicate Pope Francis, Monsieur Octopus the comics artist, Big Town News featuring a certain oafish mop-haired Mayor, the 14-year-old stand-up comedian, avid console gamers God + Son, plus Doctor Poo and his lovely companion Dara O’Briain in a particularly scatological strip!


The whole thing reads like some bizarre sketch show whipping from one ridiculous character another, keeping the laugh factor as high as the preposterousness of scenarios our characters find themselves in. This is the most consistently funny, and daft, selection of peculiarly British shorts I’ve read for a while. Though actually, many of these strips are rather slyly satirical, with some choice observations to make about our current socio-political malaise.


Paul even finds time to include a little autobiographical number “What Dave Gone Did” about his brief adventure to see Depeche Mode play, his favourite band of all time, in which amongst other things he pays homage to the fact that Dave Gahan didn’t succumb to a drugs overdose on May 28th 1996.

Great fun and fantastic value at the cost of less than a tube of toothpaste. The parsimonious Pope Francis would be ecstatic!


Buy Pope Francis Goes To The Dentist and read the Page 45 review here

Boy’s Club (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Matt Furie.

“My bad.”

Rarely have I found a pull quote which sums up the whole so succinctly.

Andy, Bretty, Pepe and Landwolf share a flat and a proud penchant for fast food, slow digestion, regurgitation, other-end excretion, video games and psychotropic ganja. Accidents will happen – except most of these aren’t accidents.

There will be many melting faces as the hit takes hold, and a plenty of trips to the toilet to perform, photograph and then finally freeze one enormous faecal trophy. Never let it be said that I leave you ill-prepared. That’s not the only trousers-down performance, either. Inhibitions are overrated, aren’t they?

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There are no inhibitions here.

I pretty much cracked all my weed jokes when reviewing Simon Hanselmann’s MEGG AND MOSS IN AMSTERDAM set in a similarly transgressive household, and if you lapped that up you’ll love this too, though you may want to wash your tongue afterwards.

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That review was far more fulsome and is a fair reflection of what you’ll find here except there are no dissenting voices – the dudes are as one, revelling in their physical pleasures, although there are limits.

“No pants, no chance.”

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Otherwise it’s pure, undiluted glee.

I wish the back-cover blurb hadn’t referred to the Muppets because I wanted to make that comparison too. It’s especially evident in the mouths and tongues. I would suggest “What if Fozzie Bear was a delinquent” but he was, wasn’t he?

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Please Note: actual printed line art comes in a range of pretty colours. The lines, I mean.


Buy Boy’s Club and read the Page 45 review here

Ringside vol 1: Kayfabe (£7-50, Image) by Joe Keatinge & Nick Barber…

“You got one fuck up. That’s it. Just one. Normally we don’t care who you hang out with on your own time, but considering the circumstances, if it keeps up I’d be forced to wish you luck in your future endeavours, so to speak. We clear here?”
“Crystal clear. Thank you, sir.”
“Who was that?”
“Talent relations. Don’t worry about it.”
“They mention me?”

Like CRIMINAL meets ANDRE THE GIANT, with a dash of the humour of THIEF OF THIEVES thrown in for good measure, this crime versus wrestling tag team caper mashes up the action and drama to provide more entertainment than Rollerball Rocko receiving an Atomic Splash from Big Daddy. But as we know – well, some of us at least – whilst the violence between the ropes might be entirely make-believe, what brutality takes place outside the ring has rather more devastating and lasting consequences. Not that I would want to have received a Kamikaze Crash from Kendo Nagasaki, you understand, fake or otherwise!




Daniel Knossos AKA The Minotaur was one of the good guys, a babyface in wrestling parlance if you will. He’s retired now, having finished a stint in Japan after getting himself blacklisted on the US wrestling scene. He’s back in the country though, looking up old friends, but also with a score to settle. Not surprisingly his appearance has ruffled a few feathers, but there’ll be a lot more getting ruffled than that by the time the final bell rings. But for whom will it toll…? Ah, well, that’s where a plot filled with more twists and turns, including a classic heel turn, than a WWF title run comes into play!


Lovely chunky art from Nick Barber, ably coloured by Simon Gough, which is perfectly suited for a taking a dive into the seedy underbelly of the wrestling circuit.


Buy Ringside vol 1: Kayfabe and read the Page 45 review here


Ultimates: Omniversal vol 1 – Start With Impossible s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Kenneth Rocafort, Christian Ward…

In which the newest version of the Ultimates attempt to get the entirety of Page 45’s Tuesday delivery of new comics and graphic novels bagged, taped and ready for Wednesday customer collection and mailing out before the end of play. Once that impossibility has been dealt with our team of Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Ms. America, Spectrum and Blue Marvel move on to dealing with the easier task… Galactus. But, for a change our heroes aren’t suggesting a fisticuffs-enforced calorifically controlled diet for the purple-panted glutton, but instead deploying a game-changing idea worthy of Reed Richards to transform the Mr. Greedy of the Marvel Universe into an altogether more responsible type of cosmic citizen.

It’s a bold stratagem, but precisely the sort of high-level problem-solving our team have set themselves up for a fall over – I mean, to undertake. For, whilst their intentions might be morally sound, and on the face of it completely successful, it’s the unintended additional consequences of their actions which leave us with a very intriguing sub-plot… Cue a mysterious conversation between Galactus and Eternity, the very embodiment of the Marvel Omniverse itself.

“My apologies. One of them managed to achieve a state of hyper-cosmic awareness. Fortunately he will not be believed… and the others saw only what I wished them to. A simplified view of timespace. Seeing the full scope of reality would be too much for them…”
“And are you any different, Galactus? If I show the truth to you.., can you bear the sight?”
“No… Who did this? Who could do this? Who chained the cosmos?”
“If that is your question, Galactus… then that must be your task. Return to me. And find out.”


I’m betting on Stan Lee, I’ve always had my suspicions about that guy… Meanwhile, cosmic-level fans with find their power palates further sated with a mixture of covert and overt appearances from the likes of Thanos, Owen Reece AKA The Molecule Man, Master Order and Lord Chaos.


I’ve personally found this title to be easily the best ‘Avengers’ title since the post-SECRET WARS reboot, the ramifications of which get touched on here. Too many of the other Avengers titles feel utterly spurious, lightweight and throwaway currently, to me at least. Al Ewing has imbued this with a science fiction vibe which Jonathan Hickman employed to great effect, particularly in his extended FANTASTIC FOUR / FF run, most of which, baffling enough, is out of print. Also, given the current uncertainty regarding the whereabouts or eventual return of said World’s Greatest bunch of sticking their noses into cosmic matters that don’t concern them bickerers, I suspect this team may well be being set up as the interim substitutes for the time being. So FF fans should definitely take a look too.


Marvel newcomer Kenneth Rocafort does a sterling job on art with his gritty but clean style for the first five issues, which again, I prefer massively to the relatively cartoonish styles going on in some of the other Avengers titles currently, and he is the ongoing series artist, but his thunder is stolen somewhat by a gorgeous final issue from Christian Ward employing his trademark mesmeric psychedelic touch that will be familiar to readers of his and Matt Fractions’ ODY-C. I think it would be a bit much on an ongoing basis, but what a show-stopper to conclude this opening volume!


Buy Ultimates: Omniversal vol 1 – Start With Impossible s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers Standoff h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer, Mark Waid, Al Ewing, others & various.

Great big crossover whose repercussions are still being felt, whose opening chapter pleasantly surprised me and which I read reviewed thus:

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.

It will envelope nearly a dozen different Marvel titles – ranging from its multiple AVENGERS series to non-entity why-do-these-even-exists – 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 [which I am now, so don’t worry about it], 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.

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.

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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.

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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 who has become trapped there and who they’re been turned into on the very last page. Clever.

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’s pretty much okay”.


Buy Avengers Standoff h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

You Belong Here h/c (£13-99, Compendium) by M.H. Clark & Isabelle Arsenault

Love Addict – Confessions Of A Serial Dater (£18-99, Top Shelf) by Koren Shadmi

Metabarons Genesis: Castaka (£19-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Das Pastoras

Kabuki Library vol 3 h/c (£29-99, Dark Horse) by David Mack

Monstress vol 1: Awakening s/c (£7-50, Image) by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda

On Sanity: One Day In Two Lives (£4-99, Becoming Press) by Una

Southern Bastards vol 3: Homecoming s/c (£10-99, Image) by Jason Aaron & Jason Latour

The Sheriff Of Babylon vol 1: Bang. Bang. Bang. s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Tom King & Mitch Gerads

Usagi Yojimbo vol 30: Thieves And Spies (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10 vol 5: Pieces On The Ground (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Christos N. Gage & Rebekah Isaacs, Megan Levens

Batman: Road To No Man’s Land vol 2 s/c (£25-99, DC) by various

DC Comics: Bombshells vol 2: Allies s/c (£12-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett & various

Wonder Woman By Greg Rucka vol 1 s/c (£22-50, DC) by Greg Rucka & various

Avengers: The Korvac Saga s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim Shooter, Len Wein, Roger Stern, David Micheline, Bill Mantlo & Sal Buscema, Dave Wenzel, George Perez

Scarlet vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

Spider-Women s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by varaious

The Totally Awesome Hulk vol 1: Cho Time s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Frank Cho, Mike Choi

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 1: Berzerker s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino

Fairy Tail Ice Trail vol 2 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Yuusuke Shirato & Hiro Mashima

Fairy Tail vol 54 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth Side: P3 Volume 2 (£8-99, Kodansha) by So Tobita


10 of my fav things to do in Nottingham

ITEM! Gloriously beautiful and tremendously witty one-page comic by Christian Palmer Smith featuring Page 45 and all your other favourite Nottingham hang-outs!

Page 45 still needs your votes to make the Top Ten in this this year’s Nottingham Best Independent Business Award, so please visit, email, tag @itsinnottingham on Twitter or Facebook, or use the hashtag #independentnottm on Instagram.

Here’s Page 45 winning the first-ever Best Independent Business 2012 Award, cheers! But we do need your votes to qualify, please.


Sample tweet:

“@itsinnottingham I have been bludgeoned against my better judgement into voting for Page 45”

That should do the trick.

Luke Pearson self portrait

ITEM! Oh look, I found a beautifully illustrated interview with HILDA’s Luke Pearson from 2013!

You’ll find the latest HILDA softcover reviewed above.

ITEM! Attention Bryan Talbot and steampunk fans!

Someone tweeted Constant Moyaux’s ‘View of Rome from the Artist¹s Room at the Villa Medici’, 1863, the other night, which struck me as startlingly similar to the opening page of Talbot’s HEART OF EMPIRE, currently out of print but contained within the glorious ARKWRIGHT INTEGRAL hardcover (extensively reviewed!) which is very much alive and kicking and sitting on our shelves.

I thought it worth checking with Bryan himself, because if it was the inspiration I couldn’t conceive how he shifted of the POV perspective so substantially. He wrote:

“Yes, I saw it through the link James has to the tweets on my site. I was amazed. The similarity is incredible. I’ve never seen it before.”

Heart Of Empire comparison

“One of the similarities (barring the open window and the Vatican!) is probably because both pictures use the Golden Section. In fact most of the HEART OF EMPIRE illos and panel layouts were based on “the divine proportion”.

Heart Of Empire ripe fruit

“FYI  the notes on that page from the HEART OF EMPIRE CD Rom are copied below. Feel free to quote or paraphrase from them. When I say I made the view up, I did, but based the houses on the type of old buildings still in Rome.”

Page 1

I spent days trying to find this view of St. Peter’s, each day going to another bit of high ground in or around Rome. I didn’t find it. It didn’t exist so I had to make it up. Returning to Rome a year later and showing this page to some Italian friends, I was overjoyed by their response: in the world of the story, Mussolini never rose to power and so never had all these foreground houses bulldozed to make way for the huge boulevard that, on our parallel, leads up to the Vatican!

 I drew the pomegranates and figs from life; both represent fertility, (a reference to the twins) the pomegranate with its many seeds also immortality (the Homo Novus) and I personally have a soft spot for it through Rossetti’s inclusion of it as a vulvic symbol in his painting ‘Proserpina’. They are in season at this time of the year.

 Via Bottini is a tip of the hat to the Villa Bottini in the Via Bottini in Lucca, Tuscany, the headquarters of the organisers of the twice-annual Comics Festival. I’ve been several times and one year had an exhibition of the artwork from THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT there and the cracked and dusty frescoes on thewalls and ceilings directly inspired the look of Barberini’s chamber.

The composition is based on the Golden Section.

1 LICAF tickets

 ITEM! Tickets are now on sale for creator events at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016, October 14th to 16th.

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal is FREE EVERY YEAR!

Yup, you can wander into the Comics Clock Tower FOR FREE and meet your favourite creators and buy some glorious graphic novels in Page 45’s very own Georgian Room upstairs (lift access – oh yes!) then get them signed and sketched in FOR FREE! We’ll be hosting SCOTT PILGRIM, LOST AT SEA, SECONDS and SNOT GIRL‘s Bryan Lee O’Malley this year, for example, with other guests and resident creators to be announced imminently. FOR FREE!

Bryan Lee OMalley 2

However, some creator events are ticketed so you need to book ASAP, please, including….


Porecelain Expecting To Fly

We’ll be extolling the virtues and advantages of independent and self-publishing, the relationships that can be built with retailers and reviews sites. Anyway, it’s all there so please click on the link.

I’m ridiculously honoured to be joined on that hand-picked panel by:

Avery Hill

Ricky Miller (Director, Avery Hill Publishing)
Katriona Chapman (self-publisher of KATZINE, freelance for larger publishers and part of Avery Hill)
Andy Oliver (Editor-in-Chief, Broken Frontier, pioneer review site and brand-new self-publisher)
Stephen L. Holland (Festival patron, Page 45, award-winning comicbook retailer and prize buffoon.)


Every week I’m asked at the counter, “What’s the best way to get my comic published?” and “How do I get my self-published comic onto your shelves?”

We’re about to answer your questions.

ITEM! Enter The Guardian Young Critics Award 2016!

Come on, you’ve got to be more eloquent to me. Top Tip: avoid my addiction to alliteration and assonance!

Another top tip to reviewers of all ages: avoid reading others’ reviews. Write what you believe, regardless of what others tell you to say. There is a certain sheep mentality in journalism of all areas, waiting for someone to say something first … then everyone falls in line. Don’t be those sheep! Be a shepherd instead, picking out prize lovelies which you like the most, then sticking rosettes all over their eyes!

Below is a comic with enormous potential which knows its own direction. To its right are a gaggle of geese.

Sheep shock

– Stephen

It is entirely possible that I failed my Biology ‘A’ Level, but I know a good book when I read one.

[Editor’s Note: Actuuuuuuuually, Stephen got an A. In Biology! I know! You will notice that Stephen never refers to his French ‘A’ Level efforts or his Chemistry ‘O’ Level. An entire county had to be decontaminated after that.]

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