Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2016 week five

The comicbook history of beer! Seriously! Also, US police racism/corruption, white-supremacy secessionism, British colonial imperialism, other equal horrors plus Agatha Christie and a fair few laffs!

Pretty Deadly vol 2: The Bear s/c (£13-99, Image) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios.

“We are all shaped by what we do.”

Powerful, profound, and exquisitely coloured by Jordie Bellaire, this book bursts which what Emma Rios describes as “lyrical landscapes”.

With such a quietly controlled script, reading this is an intimate, sensual, spiritual, almost out-of-body experience as your eyes are drawn around organic page compositions, between free-floating visual ideas and inset panels.

There’s a process-piece conversation between DeConnick and Rios in the back which ably demonstrates how much thought goes into translating so many clever and complex concepts into elaborate, eloquent visual narratives.

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The Garden wherein the Soul of the World resides is particularly impressive. From there Sissy – who has assumed the mantle of Death and so become both the inner and outer worlds’ Gardener – can see all that occurs, pruning through necessity for the benefit of the bramble. As the branches bend and bifurcate above, so too the roots swell below, while the red-rose tendrils trail in the air, shedding green leaves against a pale pink sky.

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This is very much a book of the living and the dead, and the balance is currently out of kilter for we have reached World War I and the horse-mounted Reaper of War is sending 10,000 souls to The Black every day.

“When they dig their trenches… do you think they know that they’re digging their own graves?”
“I do.”

In PRETTY DEADLY VOL 1 we met Sissy and Foxy, Molly the Raven and Johnny Coyote, Deathface Ginny who had become the Reaper of Vengeance, and Big Alice, the Reaper of Cruelty. Here you will encounter other Reapers, one of whom you may not even suspect to exist, but when its identity is finally revealed it will make so much sense – not just for this story, but for the way in which the world works. For yes, this is also a book about how the world works.

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Previously our narrator Bunny Bones instructed Butterfly on the ways of nature: of adversity, fear, patience, perseverance and survival. Here Bunny has much to impart about the bear and the bees. About how bees are builders or foragers, guards or nurses – even undertakers. How their honey may be sweet but it is their larvae which actually sustains the bear.

“The needs of the bear are not the same as the needs of the bee.”

If the bee stings, it dies. On the other hand:

“Oh, Butterfly. Big things are often humbled by small. That too is the way of things.”

None of this is extraneous.

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PRETTY DEADLY is also a big book of compassion and, as it opens, Susan whom we encountered many moons ago is dying. It’s long been established that her line can see the dead, so when her old flame Fox comes to escort her to the other side, her daughter Verine begs Fox to let her linger just long enough to see her son Cyrus again. She makes this request even though Susan’s in pain and Cyrus is on the other side of the world. His head’s in the moon but he’s hidden himself and his heart well away in a French trench. He’s unlikely to make it out, for the Reaper of War is at work.

Just as the first book begins with a ballad – The Song Of Deathface Ginny and How She Came To Be – so this opens with another generational lament, including wise words for any wake.

“Don’t steal tears from tomorrow, boy
“Don’t grieve for what ain’t lost
“Don’t waste time on yesterday
“You still got paths to cross.”

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Almost everyone you loved from book one will be back, and their paths will surely cross. In doing so, hitherto unseen and unexpected aspects will be revealed, and more than one war will be fought to the death.

SLH

Buy Pretty Deadly vol 2: The Bear s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Comic Book Story Of Beer (£14-99, Ten Speed Press) by Jonathan Hennessey, Mike Smith & Aaron McConnell…

“Some might dismiss beer as nothing more than a throwaway consumer item.
“But make no mistake…
“Beer is not only ubiquitous… it is ancient.
“And it has played a far more vital role in the story of humanity that most people realise.
“Nowadays we tend to think of beer as a recreational drink… something to accompany food.
“But for untold centuries beer was food.
“Think about it. Grain, yeast, water… Beer has the same essential ingredients as bread… the stuff of life.”

Which therefore means I have, in fact, a bread belly!

I absolutely loved this fascinating study of the world’s favourite beverage. For indeed, one of the many facts I learnt from this carefully cultured aliquot of alcohol-based indulgence is that globally people consume more beer than coffee, wine and even coca-cola. I tell you what, have another one on me (fact, that is): beer likely takes its name from bibere, the Latin verb for ‘to drink’. So as extremely knowledgeable scribes Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith attest, beer is linguistically synonymous with the very act of drinking itself!

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This, then, is the historical story of what is also my own personal favourite beverage, from time immemorial to its current social and skilful resurgence in this enlightened era of craft brewing. There’s a little bit of supposition involved in just how far back we can trace the beginnings of brewing, at least 9,000 years perhaps, accidental as it must have been, in part purely due to technical limitations of archaeology. But, one glorious day, the coincidental introduction of airborne yeasts into stored grain that was germinating in the sun and then processed to make gruel – proto-bread, essentially – resulted in an unexpectedly intoxicating brew. A magical happening that would have been a wondrous mystery to prehistoric people. An extremely fortuitous discovery that undoubtedly took a lot of experimentation to replicate and ultimately refine.

We then move forward through time via the Mediaeval revolution in brewing techniques right through to our modern era getting the full timeline of the development of beer, or beers, in all their myriad weird and wonderful varieties, that we have come to know and love. It’s truly educational stuff, I have to say: the level of research the creators have put in is testament to their own clear love for a drop or two of the heady brew.

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We also get the occasional interlude of ‘Meet The Beer’ that describes the specific genesis of an individual type of beer, such as the Porter, a firm favourite of long-standing customer and frantic BUFFY flicker, Leigh Hobson. It’s a brew that’s a touch dark for my personal tastes, preferring pale ales as I do, but I was entranced like a drunkard in his cups reading the various origin stories of some of our favourite contemporary beers.

The art is provided by Aaron McConnell, who has illustrated a couple of other works in conjunction with Jonathan Hennessy: THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION: A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION and THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS: A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION that sound rather more dry, prohibitive affairs, but I’m sure are equally exciting to the right audience.

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I shall conclude with a little excerpt from the introduction of this work, which made me chuckle greatly and also neatly highlighted another parallel between fine beer and top-notch comics I have noted. That is, you can’t beat a good recommendation. Particularly if you purchase comics from Page 45 and beer from the truly excellent Brew Cavern situated in Flying Horse Walk Arcade. The book begins with someone walking into a beer emporium looking to purchase some decent brews for his friends and being utterly bemused as where to start even looking, simply utterly bedazzled by the sheer array on the shelves. Fortunately for him there’s an omniscient and mildly insouciant retailer, in the best possible way, only too happy to help…

“Holy…! Where do I even start? Lambic? Bitter? Kölsch? Porter?!”
“Hi. Can I help you find something?”
“Yeah. Dumb question, but… what’s good?”
“Beer. Beer is good!”

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There’s a cheeky glint in the eyes of the pictured shopkeeper, as he adjusts his glasses before getting to work, that I’ve definitely seen in the eyes of a certain Stephen L. Holland as he sets out to educate, inform and lighten the wallet / purse of any newcomer into Page 45 in exchange for some quality reading material. I’ve also had several similar experiences with the equally informed Matt at Brew Cavern in recent months! If you need some sage advice on how to refine your drinking habits to hitherto untasted heights, whilst also cleaning you out of your supply of ready cash, he certainly is your man! Just… don’t spend all your money on beer instead of comics, please.

JR

Buy The Comic Book Story Of Beer and read the Page 45 review here

Briggs Land #1 (£2-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Mack Chater…

“BRIGGS! You got a visitor. Fifteen minutes, Jim.”
“So what the fuck happened to yesterday?”
“I got busy.”
“I needed you here yesterday. We have a schedule for a reason, Grace. It’s like this: you come visit me and I give you orders. Now, if that’s suddenly becoming difficult for you to understand, well…  forgive me if I’m not sympathetic to you and your frivolous life. What the fuck do you do all day, anyway?”
“Jim, please…”
“Shut up. I run this family. Me, not you. I know it. You know it. Our boys know it. And everyone else we know knows it. And if you are ever late coming here again…”
“STOP IT! This is the last time I’m coming here. I’m telling you this face to face as a courtesy. We’re over. I’m taking over control of the family.”
“Yeah, right. Over my dead body you are. What the hell’s gotten into you?”
“I know about your negotiations with the Albany County D.A.’s office. How’s that for starters? I put a thousand dollars in your commissary account. Consider it severance pay. I suggest you make it last. Don’t underestimate me on this. I’m no sellout. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to protect our land and our history. I’ve been a Briggs since I was seventeen years old. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.”

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And that, as they say, is where we come in. It’ll not surprise you to learn that incarcerated antigovernment secessionist and local white power hoodlum Jim Briggs is not best impressed with his wife Grace’s attempt at a de facto coup. Quite how their three sons – all very different characters – plus the rest of the rank and file shock troops running protection rackets and goodness knows what else throughout the county will react remains to be seen.

It’s an absolute certainty Jim isn’t going to just take it, that is for sure. Being stuck inside serving a full life term for an assassination attempt on the President of the United States might make his control on the clan more than a little shaky, though, especially given Grace’s inside knowledge of his attempts to cut a deal with the authorities, potentially for lucrative fracking rights and real estate rights to their hundred square miles of rural wilderness. Sell out indeed, or perhaps buy out might be more appropriate depending on your point of view. If it’s one facing certain death behind bars slowly decaying in a tiny cell, well, it can give even a hardcore anti-establishment man a different perspective on the benefits of working within the political system.

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Brian Wood has come up with another belter of a premise for us here, spending the rest of the first issue giving us the lowdown on Mama Briggs and her brood, as seen through the eyes of the pair of romantically involved FBI agents on undercover surveillance duties, who are as intrigued as everyone else by the power grab and how raucously it’ll play out. We don’t have long to wait on that score as Wood fires off the first round of gunfire and high explosives that I’m sure will become an ever-present  punctuation on this title.

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I wasn’t aware of artist Mick Chater before, but his figure art is strong and substantial, very similar to Butch ARCHANGEL Guice’s. My thoughts upon reading this first issue were that it is almost certainly going to appeal massively to fans of SOUTHERN BASTARDS and SCALPED, plus the Justified and Sons Of Anarchy television shows. In fact, this is apparently already in development for an AMC show, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

JR

Buy Briggs Land #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Trial Of Roger Casement (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Fionnuala Doran.

“The sun rises in the east, so I arrived that morning with the night sky behind me… facing an unbearable light. A metaphor for my whole life.
“A tired metaphor, to be sure…
“But I’ll have time to correct it before publication.”

He won’t, you know.

It’s Good Friday, 21st April 1916, three days before the Easter Risings.

Two months later, Sir Roger Casement would be tried for treason; and two months after that he’d be hanged.

It may seem odd that an account such as this begins with the mildly comedic, but that’s part of its charm – along with the illusion that Sir Roger’s narrating – and it endeared me immediately. It’s repeated when, after washing up on Ireland’s west coast then passing out on its shore, he’s discovered by a dog and its owner. He’d barely had time to help bury the cache of German arms, and had been desperate to reach Dublin incognito.

“Bollocks.”

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‘Bollocks’ seems the perfect summary of this thoroughly bungled affair – from Roger Casement’s point of view, anyway. Throughout, this formerly effective, distinguished and decorated negotiator and diplomat for the British government is depicted as weary and worried – and frazzled, in fact. At one point he visually fractures. Again, there’s something funny about his wide-eyed dishevelment as he protests to a police sergeant later that day, claiming to be an academic and author writing a book on St  Brendan… until that cache of German arms is unearthed.

“Oh, shit.”

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It’s World War I, I’d remind you, and Britain is at war with Germany. So what was Casement doing smuggling German arms to Ireland?

Well, he’d been dispatched by the clandestine US-based Irish Republican Brotherhood to Germany in order to secure support there for an Irish revolt. His bargaining chip was that it would distract Britain from its war effort and divert troops to Ireland. In exchange he hoped to receive funding, arms and the release of German-held Irish soldiers to fight the revolution.

What’s made clear in this graphic novel – which flashes backwards and forwards in time between America, Germany, washing up on that shore and Casement’s subsequent trial – is that he received virtually no support from his own HQ (funding evaporated), a lukewarm fobbing off from German high command, and a great big duffing up from the Irish soldiers he was hoping would delight in his nationalist cause and their liberation. Slight miscalculation, there: they were German prisoners of war! They knew who the enemy was: the captors they’d just fought against. Britain was signing their pay cheques.

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Hapless is one word to describe Casement’s fall from grace; hopeless, his left-in-the-lurch and hung-out-to-dry predicament. And it’s not so much his fall from grace, either, it’s his fall from efficacy.

Doran handles the trial sequences very intelligently, presenting Casement’s silent retort to the prosecution’s dissemblance as a conversational, internal monologue outlining his motivations, his switch in allegiance following Prime Minister Asquith’s offer of the prospect of Home Rule to Ireland. Ulster’s Protestant middle classes “fearful of Rome and hating Papism, did not want a government domination by Roman Catholics” so the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force is formed to resist Home Rule, followed by establishment of the Irish Volunteers as an equal and opposite reaction to the UVF.

The rest, as they say, is history. But so is this missed trick: Casement’s two decades in the Congo from 1884 where he met Joseph Conrad. If you’ve read Conrad’s damning ‘Heart Of Darkness’ you’ll know what a transformative experience that must have been. It was Casement’s exceptional work as a consul there – gathering evidence to expose and condemn Belgium’s King Leopold’s strip-mining exploitation of the country’s natural resources, and indeed its people who endured horrific, systematic abuse as slaves – which earned him his decorations including the British knighthood. Ironically it must surely have been those self-same atrocities which helped fuel his disgust for any sort of colonial imperialism – including that of Britain in Ireland. Nevertheless, none of this is mentioned during the graphic novel itself. There’s a nod to the Boer War but the Congo’s only mentioned in an editorial timeline. That doesn’t ruin the book for me one jot – it’s just a blindingly obvious missed opportunity.

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Instead Doran concentrates on another thread: Casement’s affair with a supposedly stranded Norwegian sailor whom he adopts as his valet, and other same-sex dalliances he documented in his diaries which the British government discovered then used to smear Casement in order to forestall any post-trial appeals for clemency. And that’s fair enough – the thread, I mean! – because it’s the trial that’s in the title.

I loved the rough-hewn art and all the haunting or haunted expressions, as well as the expressionistic flourishes like tuberculosis-ridden Joseph Plunkett, Casement’s only Irish Rising face-to-face contact in Berlin, whose face dissolves in front of an increasingly anxious, hopeless, deflated and defeated Casement into a skull. The faint sage green only adds to the austerity: the outlook is bleak throughout.

This is exactly what I want from a biographical graphic novel: an angle, clearly focussed and an immersion which gives me some sense of stake in what’s proceeding.

SLH

Buy The Trial Of Roger Casement and read the Page 45 review here

Agatha: The Real Life Of Agatha Christie (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau & Alexandre Franc.

This ticks all the boxes for me – the boxes in the ‘No’ column.

Oh, apart from the art whose lines are neat and tidy and ever so full of space, which conjures every country visited to perfection, and whose warm colours positively radiate with heat in the desert. So that’s a considerable achievement I shouldn’t have dismissed in the first line.

There’s no denying that Agatha Christie was a terrific writer with a full and fascinating life, and Poirot as a co-star driving her potty is a fabulous conceit. It grows repetitive and tired pretty swiftly, but it’s a fabulous conceit. And, if cramming for an exam, you want a condensed history of Agatha Christie with some pretty pictures to help the medicine go down, this wouldn’t be out of place in any Primary school library. Secondary, at a push.

But as a comic, it’s one long, insultingly clunky, two-dimensional, expository mess.

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The first page is fair enough: London 7th December 1926 on which the papers report that Aggie’s gone AWOL and we’re presented with six panels summarising public and private reaction, finishing on her husband’s interrogation as prime suspect by the police. Haha! Serves the unfaithful fucker right.

But by page two it had lost me. I seriously doubt any Home Secretary would bark, “This is no ordinary woman. She’s a novelist! We must find her, no matter the cost!”

Trust me: this works better in German,

Trust me: this works better in German.

Everything about that sentence annoys me. However, what really got my goat was being buried under a mountain of stilted explication. Who talks like this except in a job interview? In a ballroom while dancing hand-in-hand with a lady you’ve just met…? What a chronic, boastful bore.

“Are you also a good soldier?”
“I passed my entrance exam at the Woolwich Academy and was named second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in July 1909.”

At what time of day?

“I just took the pilot’s course in Bristol. I flew solo for the first time on 6 July. Almost 30 minutes all by myself!”

What were the weather conditions? I want specific wind speeds, please, followed by the shipping forecast.

“And I got my certificate from the Royal Aero Club in mid-July flying a Bristol Boxkite. Now I’m waiting to get into the Royal Flying Corps. Shall I see you again?”

Not on your bloody Nelly.

On the very next page she marries him.

It also works better in French.

It also works better in French.

There’s page after page after page of this unsubtle shoe-horning during the most unlikely or inappropriate circumstances. Here’s some idle chit-chat while painting in Syria:

“Is there a link between your detective and Pierre-Achille Poirot, a member of the Morea Expedition, the 19th Century French Army Intervention in Greece that was also a scientific mission?”
“You’re very observant, Robin. Indeed, I was inspired by him.”

Also, very specific, Robin.

This is worse than an old-skool DC superhero comic:

“Good morning, Master Bruce. You are secretly Batman and I have worked for your family at the Wayne Mansion for 37 years, 6 months and 2 days in the capacity of butler. Your parents are dead, you know.”

I think it’s time for some lunch. She’s raising a glass…

“Dear Monsieur Pigasse, thank you so much for the work you’ve done for my books in your brilliant imprint Le Masque. French is one of the subtlest and liveliest languages known to man!”
“And may I congratulate you! The Mystery Writers Of America association has just honoured your body of work with its Grand Master Award.”

She probably knows that, Pigasse.

Hold on, she’s about to go fishing. Do you want to keep that contract or not?

“As a writer, I’ve often wondered what my place was…”
“Shakespeare’s right hand?”

Vom!

SLH

Buy Agatha: The Real Life Of Agatha Christie and read the Page 45 review here

Scarlet vol 2 h/c (£22-99, Icon / Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

I don’t think I can better the introduction I wrote to volume one, so here we go again.

Few things anger most people I know more than the abuse of power.

Racism is one of them, so South Africa under Apartheid was a double whammy, and Congressman John Lewis has some arresting history for you in MARCH when it comes to policing in America.

Because when individuals, corporations or entire state institutions abuse their power and successfully get away with it through powerful connections, political indifference, mass-media collusion or wholesale capitulation, most of us get pretty steamed.

Welcome to Scarlet’s world: it’s just come crashing down around her. Her boyfriend was murdered by a corrupt cop in a city of corrupt cops and so not only did he get away with it, he was commended and promoted while the newspapers which displayed zero interest in investigative journalism printed barefaced police lies.

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So far Scarlet has [REDACTED] and published film footage of her doing so. She’s successfully galvanised Portland’s public into supporting her at a flash-mob rally into whose crowd the police threw a live grenade. But now she’s really got the Mayor’s attention:

“I have a list.”
“I thought you might.”
“At first blush, I don’t think you’re going to like it. Being that you and I have decidedly different world views.”
“I don’t think that’s necessarily true, actually. We both want the world to be a better place. We both have dedicated our lives to it.”
“Wow!!”
“What?”
“What a smarmy politician’s answer.”
“Well, I am a smarmy politician.”
“Can I insult you? Are you insultable?”
“I’m sensitive about my hairline.

So how did Scarlet secure that face-to-face, one-on-one meeting when she’s the most wanted woman in the state?

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From the writer of JESSICA JONES: ALIAS – which is cracking crime fiction – and his artist on DAREDEVIL comes something completely non-genre highly recommended to readers of CRIMINAL etc.

It’s brave stuff, not just in its direct attack on police duplicity but in where Bendis is prepared to take it. When I originally read book one, I wondered whether he’d written himself into a hole he couldn’t possibly climb out of, but that was pretty faithless of me given Bendis’ track record. Don’t expect him to back out or ease off now on the extreme actions both sides are going to take and the irreversible plight that then puts them in.

Maleev throws multiple art angles at the multiple flashbacks which depict the horrific events which tipped Scarlet’s growing inner circle. The most affecting of these is Isis’ appallingly brutal awakening from childhood idyll as a dutiful daughter with a doting Daddy. It’s narrated with a children’s picture-book clarity over three double-page spreads, illustrated by Maleev as fully painted portraits of Isis, close-up. The first, seen from above, depicts Isis delightedly holding her Daddy’s hand on the way to school.

“It was her favourite time of the day.”

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The second is so closely framed that it almost crushes her. The third is the most successful rendition of wide-eyed, catatonic shock that I have ever seen in my life.

Maleev doesn’t skimp on the rowdy crowd scenes, either, but at one key moment the sound is effectively muted as the throng disappears to be replaced by an increasingly livid, fiery red when things go spectacularly wrong.

For more, please see SCARLET VOL 1 s/c or indeed SCARLET VOL 1 h/c which still in stock at the time of typing.

SLH

Buy Scarlet vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hound vol 2: Defender h/c (Signed & Numbered!) (£29-99, Cuchulainn Entertainment) by Paul Bolger & Barry Devlin…

“As (blood) brothers we can talk plain… right?”
“To be sure.”
“I hear a voice in my head.”
“HA HA! Hey… calm… I’m sorry… all right? Sit. Talk… please. What does it say this… voice?”
“It… she… tells me what to do in a race… in a fight. When I hear her I start to shake. The world twists and turns red before my eyes.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I haven’t heard her since I came to Skye…”

Readers of the first volume of Paul Bolger and Barry Devlin’s homage to the legend of Cú Chulainn, HOUND VOL 1: PROTECTOR will know exactly why that voice is absent and that it will most assuredly reprise once our hero Setanta returns from his exile and sets foot on the Emerald Isle. For as a young boy, Setanta was chosen by the Morrigan, a witch who follows the old ways of the Great Mother Danú, to be her weapon in the times of war to come. When Setanta left Ireland to attempt to gain access to the fighting school of the warrior women of Skye, that earth magic connection was temporarily broken.

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This second volume follows his training on Skye where firm friendships are forged and blood bonds made, plus the hoopla regarding his arrival back in his homeland, where surprisingly he’s actually hoping to eschew a life of violence. For despite all his martial prowess, deep down Setanta wishes for nothing more than to wed his childhood sweetheart and enjoy the quiet life as a farmer. However, before too long events and people are being manipulated wholesale by dark forces to force Setanta off his chosen path and back into blood-spattering battle once more. The Morrigan will have her way, and her champion, no matter the cost.

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Of volume one I wrote and which still holds completely true for this volume…

This is definitely a very measured, romantic almost, re-telling of the material, which I think is highly appropriate. Yes, there are moments of utter brutality, and there will be many more in the next two volumes, but ultimately this is the saga of one man and his evolution from a mere boy into a potent symbol of a culture. It’s appropriate therefore that the art is as delicately composed as the story-telling, in black and white with the odd dash of red, usually due to the spilling of blood or supernatural, glowing eyes. Sometimes there are heavily full or near-full silhouetted sections with black backgrounds where the characters are rendered in white, which neatly counterpoint the more typical illustrations of black on white.

The illustration style is quite delicate. Paul Bolger’s faces and anatomy do remind me of Jeff Smith at times (humans à la RASL and TUKI, rather than the family BONE obviously!), yet there’s also the odd dash of Paul Pope’s extravagance and flourishes in the capes and backgrounds as well. It’s a lovely clean style and palette which is in complete contrast to, say, Clint Langley’s painted SLAINE, which is great and perfect for gorefest action, but this sympathetic art style really adds to the story-telling element.

These second volumes are from the numbered run of 750 for the Kickstarter and have also been very kindly signed by Paul.

JR

Buy Hound vol 2: Defender h/c (Signed & Numbered!) and read the Page 45 review here

Alena (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Kim W. Andersson…

“What do you mean you met a guy?”
“I dunno. I mean a guy, just a guy… y’know. Nice, cute. He plays basketball and…”
“Are you kidding?! A jock? Alena?! I don’t believe it. Since when are we interested in guys? It’s not our thing. You know that.”

Nerve-jangling horror-fest that starts with the tension ramped right up to excruciating and only gets more exquisitely uncomfortable to read from there. Kim W. Andersson’s 2012 graphic novel has just been made into a rather well-received Swedish film and also finally translated into English, courtesy of Dark Horse.

So, our titular protagonist is empathically not in a good place. Trapped at a posh boarding school she’s brutally tormented daily by Philippa and her posse of lacrosse girls. The reason, well, one year previously, the above conversation between Alena and her friend Josephine ended rather badly, with Josephine taking a plunge from a high bridge, having climbed atop the barrier to instigate a dramatic confrontation with her confused girlfriend, Alena.

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It’s a scene Alena has replayed over and over many times during the last year, during the endless verbal and physical assaults she’s had to endure over her mysterious relationship with Josephine and her untimely and equally enigmatic death. The fact that Josephine has been appearing to Alena, demanding she fights back against her bullies, probably hasn’t helped Alena move on… But is she merely an unwelcome self-induced hallucinatory reminder of perhaps true love lost forever in the midst of that tragic life-altering incident, or something more…? As the bullies start to experience callous, escalating retaliations from a shadowy figure and we move firmly into classic slasher-flick territory, matters only become more ambiguous…

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If you are a fan of the Scream films, this will have huge appeal. Despite the pure gore factor, I found the character of Alena herself rather intriguing and very well written. The big reveal regarding the identity of the murderer I did guess, but I was so swept up in the comeuppance of Alena’s truly odious academic adversaries, that I didn’t mind one jot. Art-wise, it’s a style that dissembles the at times extreme violence, yet also allows for some excellent, subtle exaggeration of facial characteristics, particular on the part of Philippa who at times almost takes on slightly porcine features. As a good one-off chunk of bleeding horror, recommended.

JR

Buy Alena and read the Page 45 review here

Snotgirl #2 (£2-25, Image) by Bryan Lee O’Malley & Leslie Hung.

“Listen! Nobody cares about either of your stupid made-up boyfriends!”
“My boyfriend isn’t – Wait, I don’t even have a boyfriend!”
“Shushes, please!!”

Well, I’m even more delirious now that we made SNOTGIRL #1 August’s Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, for this is one of the most surprising second issues I can recall. Just as the first instalment went in a direction no one saw coming (and I didn’t spoil for you), this doesn’t go where you’d expect from there, either (and I’m not about to spoil that, either).

The cast will be expanded considerably and – like Lottie herself – you’ll be kept guessing throughout how much trouble she’s in. O’Malley is really messing with your mind – and Lottie’s.

That’s it really. We don’t normally do second issue reviews, and I can’t say much more without blowing it anyway.

SLH

Buy Snotgirl #2 and read the Page 45 review here

Demonic #1 (£2-25, Image) by Christopher Sebela & Niko Walter…

“She’s got you on a short leash, partner.”
“I need my leash yanked every now and then. It’s good for me.”
“Wow. Remember when we used to say she was like a tick you couldn’t…”
“Long time ago, Fischer.”
“Lighten up, Graves. I’m allowed to use your past against you, Mr. Sensitive. It’s in the partner’s manual.”
“Uh huh. Let’s roll. Faster we knock this out, tell the roomies to stop fighting over the milk, faster we can catch something worth our time.”
“Famous last words. 5-to-1 we walk into a complete clusterfuck.”
“Your lips to God’s ear, Fischer.”
THWAMM…

…as the eviscerated body hits the sidewalk just in front of them.

I guess the title is some clue to what to expect, so it’s no surprise to find our erstwhile partners in crime-fighting walking straight into what appears to be a full-on demonic possession and indeed total clusterfuck of the highest supernatural order.

Demonic-1

It’s a situation that sends chills straight up Detective Grave’s spine, given his very strange upbringing as part of a commune, and more besides… It’s a piece of his, as yet to us, mysterious past that Graves and his wife have agreed to never, ever talk about again. Unfortunately for Detective Graves, though, it seems his past isn’t done with him yet as he is offered a very dark deal indeed to preserve the lives of those closest to him. He takes the deal, of course, but did he actually need to…?

Demonic-2

I enjoyed this opener from the writer of HIGH CRIMES and I have a fair degree of confidence this initial excellent level of plotting and dialogue will be sustained. It’s basically a blend of KILL OR BE KILLED and OUTCAST with a police procedural backdrop. More sketchy artwork, which really does seem to be de rigueur at the mo, from another new name to me, Niko Walter, very much adds to the creepy feel. I fear Detective Graves is in for a very rough and extremely bloody time.

Demonic-3

JR

Buy Demonic #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Viking vol 1: The Long Cold Fire s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ivan Brandon & Nic Klein.

“It was an ugly thing you did, Egil.”
“Was it? I call it strong.”
“That man earned what he had.”
“But he could not hold it.”
“You’re not a child anymore, Egil. A child takes what he wants. A man makes it. I did not raise you this way. Your father died playing this game you’re playing. They killed your mother just for standing besides him.”
“He died a man, grandfather. They knew my father’s name before he died.”
“They knew it after. We sailed across the world to get away from those who knew your father’s name.”
“And maybe one day I’ll sail back so they can hear it again from me.”

Described as a Viking Crime book by the author Ivan, this is berserker-level intense in its depiction of just how violent society was at the time for those people engaged in, shall we say, a more… entrepreneurial lifestyle.

I don’t really want to give too much away of the plot; suffice to say as you can probably ascertain from the quotation above, revenge – usually served up hot, raw and bloody rather than cold and at leisure – is frequently the special of the day. Well, every day by the look of it. Our central protagonists have that short term ‘get rich quick, what could possibly go wrong’ worldview that the most idiotic of criminals regardless of era typically posses. And of course a botched job leads to complications best avoided in any century, especially if kidnapping royalty is involved, and the justice of the time probably isn’t going to involve a slap on the wrist and comfortable accommodation while you consider the error of your ways.

I love the grandfather fishing for eels using a dead horse’s head as bait! We have that sequence for you here. Gloriously grotesque!

Viking Long Cold Fire 1

It’s well written crime from Brandon with the added bonus of swords and axes, so how can you go wrong?! I have to pass comment on the art too. I was initially slightly confused as to who was who, but once the initial bout of blood-letting is done with, Klein really settles down and produces some impressive and powerfully colourful work.

More good news on the Viking front: NORTHLANDERS is being repacked with the first substantial collection out now (highly recommended – its vast and diverse scope portrays multiple perspectives covering all sorts of social history), and BLACK ROAD #1 also written by Brian Wood is still in stock and reviewed.

JR

Buy Viking vol 1: The Long Cold Fire 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.

The One Hundred Nights Of Hero (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Isabel Greenberg

Adventure Time: Fionna & Cake – Card Wars s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Jen Wang & Britt Wilson

Adventure Time: Four Castles s/c (£8-99, Titan) by Josh Trujillo & Zachary Sterling

Adventure Time vol 9 (UK Edition) s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Christopher Hastings & Zachary Sterling, Phil Murphy

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor vol 4: Endless Song (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Nick Abadzis & Eleonora Carlini, Elena Casagrande, Leonardo Romero

Black Panther vol 1: A Nation Under Our Feet s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Brian Stelfreeze

Jessica Jones: Avenger s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos, Joe Quesada, Billy Tan, Mike Mayhew

Spider-Man / Deadpool vol 1: Isn’t It Bromantic s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Joe Kelly & Ed McGuinness

Attack On Titan vol 19 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Attack On Titan: Before The Fall vol 8 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Ryo Suzukaze & Satoshi Shiki

One Piece vol 79 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Pokemon Adventures vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

Pokemon Adventures vol 2 (£8-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

Pokemon Adventures vol 3 (£8-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

Pokemon Adventures vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

Pokemon Adventures vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

Pokemon Adventures vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

Pokemon Adventures vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

News!

Frederick Peeters blog

ITEM! Frederick Peeters’ tumblr has some gorgeous art!

ITEM! Some thoughts on this year’s Ignatz Awards nominees. Hooray for Tillie Walden!

A City Inside 2 - Copy

ITEM! Kieron Gillen provides an update on all his current comics projects including those not yet announced.

In doing so, he answers an FAQ here on THE WICKED + THE DIVINE.

Wicked And Divine issue 18 teaser 2

ITEM! Update on the restoration of CEREBUS: JAKA’S STORY

CEREBUS: READS back in print any second not, followed by CEREBUS: GOING HOME anon.

ITEM! Malin Ryden & Emma Vieceli’s BREAKS book one is now complete and online for free.

Breaks 1

– Stephen

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