Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2016 week one

Featuring brand-new Jeff Smith Bone, Adam Murphy’s Lost Tales from Phoenix Comic Weekly, Abnett & Culbard on Wild’s End Vol 2 and this, straight off the press!

Kill Or Be Killed #1 (£2-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Elizabeth Breitweiser.

In which the snow blows thicker and thicker.

To begin with it’s almost soft. It’s softer than a sidewalk from six storeys up, anyway.

It tumbles across the sprawling city as far as the eye can see, which is further than you might think, even at night, especially when you’re on one of its rooftops and so precariously close to the edge.

From below the thick flakes recede, smaller and smaller, into the heavens which glow a rich, luminous turquoise, while below all is neon-lit for danger.

By the final four pages it’s a veritable blizzard in blinding, icing-sugar white, with wild flashes of thought and explosions of violence like landmines detonated in your head. Then, when it’s settled there’s a moment of clarity – for Dylan at least.

He’s not going to kill himself. He’s going to kill other people instead.

Kill Or Be Killed 1


Kill Or Be Killed 2


Kill Or Be Killed 3


Kill Or Be Killed 4


Kill Or Be Killed 5


Kill Or Be Killed 6

From the Eisner-Award winning creators of CRIMINAL, FATALE and THE FADE OUT, the first six pages are a bludgeoning barrage of quite cathartic violence, all the more brutal to behold because Phillips has dispensed with the frames to go full-bleed to the edge of each page. It’s more immediate. It’s more in-your-face, just like that shotgun, which is meticulously rendered and weighted.

Crucially, however, even if it’s more difficult to draw then it’s as easy to read as ever, for the three-tier structure remains intact, the panels inset instead against an extended background. It’s something he carries right through the subsequent flashbacks and it pays off especially outside because the wider sense of space is phenomenal.

Kill Or Be Killed 7

Anyway, in case you’re reading this on the product page rather than the blog, here’s some of Dylan’s socio-political self-justification. It’s not why he’s blowing holes in these very bad people, but isn’t it kind of comforting to know that you’re making the world a better place than it currently is?

“Just look at the news for five fucking minutes and it’s obvious…
“Big business controls your government…
“Assholes go on shooting rampages almost daily…
“Terrorists blow up airports and train stations…
“Cops kill innocent black kids and get away with it…
“Psychopaths run for President…
“Oh, and the Middle East is one nuke away from turning us all to dust…
“And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Talk about topical – and that was written months ago.

What follows doesn’t lead directly into the opening sequence, but it does go some way to explaining how Dylan, studying later in life than most at NYU, might eventually find himself a) with a shotgun b) using it. As to how proficient he is, I know we will get there eventually.

Kill Or Be Killed 8

It begins with the attempt at suicide I hinted at earlier – not his first, either – and that began with a girl. It began with his best friend called Kira, one of the few people Dylan felt ever understood him. She got his sense of humour, his taste in music and his sense of isolation which had already set in before his flatmate Mason got between the two of them by dating.

“Their relationship ruined the one good thing I had.
“Kira still came to our place all the time, but almost never to hang out with me.
“And that made me feel even lonelier than I usually did.”

That sense of being cut off from Kira is emphasised by Phillips in a similar way to what Ware did at the window in JIMMY CORRIGAN: by distancing Dylan, isolated inside his own panel, from the rest of the couch where Kira and Mason sit closer together. Breitweiser bathes the lovers in light from the television set they’re watching, whereas Dylan remains shrouded in darkness. I can’t imagine anything much more uncomfortable.

Kill Or Be Killed 9

Oh wait, I can, because that’s what happens next.

And eventually it leads to the rooftop.

Where that leads is even more startling, but I’m not about to spoil that for you now. All I will say is that Dylan’s head is far from healthy. He’s fallen far enough already, but he’s got a long way to go before picking up a gun and going if not postal then at least house-hunting.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of Brubaker’s many fortes is making you want to spend as much time as possible in his protagonists’ minds, no matter how disturbed. Here he does so in part through Dylan’s vulnerability and confessional, apologetic tone. However confident in his newly acquired worldview Dylan seems on the first six pages – and I’d place money on that being a ‘good’ day – none of that is reflected in any red-bloodedly aggressive tendencies either earlier in life or even now.

Give or take that shotgun.

No, I mean inside his head. Indeed Dylan breaks off halfway through his recollection of Kira with an apology for tears:

“The person who knew me best felt sorry for me…
“After every – ah, fuck, sorry — ”

And while the illusion cast by Phillips in showing us those tears in the past is that it’s the past that we’re listening to, it isn’t.

Kill Or Be Killed 10

For a masterclass in getting readers to root for the least likely candidate, try CRIMINAL: LAST OF THE INNOCENT.

Thanks as ever to Sean Phillips for the advance pdf so I could screen-grab for the review and have the confidence to make this Page 45’s biggest comicbook order of August. Some layouts and text may have changed since then (so consider it a behind-the-scenes bonus!), but the first six pages come direct this week from Ed Brubaker’s newsletter which you should probably sign up to and are completely up to date.


Buy Kill Or Be Killed #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Lost Tales (£8-99, Phoenix / David Fickling) by Adam Murphy.

“Oh. My. God. Have you heard!? Palace. Ball. Tonight.”
“I know! It’s going to be epic.”
“OK, it is on,” thought Princess Dionysia. “Situation just got real.”

Ha ha! It certainly has, and you wait until you clap eyes on what she’ll be rocking to that ball!

“State-of-the-art, ultra high-tech embroidery science allowed the dressmakers to decorate it with whole galaxies… And within those galaxies, realistically detailed exo-planets, each one complete with its own alien geography, eco-systems and complex societies.”

That’s a tall order for any artist, but believe it or not Adam Murphy has fashioned a gown which looks as dazzling as that description. What a triumph in cosmically star-strewn blue, black and purple!

There’s a similarly spectacular shot of the heavens over America’s north-east coast in the very first fable as a young, picked-upon sister is the only member of her tribe to be able to see the otherwise invisible great warrior, Strong Wind. And he is celestial!

Lost Tales 1

From the creator of the two CORPSE TALK volumes which you’ll find in our all-ages PHOENIX COMIC section comes another graphic novel originally serialised in that hallmark of quality.

It contains eight exotic tales from across the globe and throughout the ages brought to wit-ridden life with an engagingly conversational, often conspiratorial twang sprinkled ever so merrily with current colloquialisms to wring maximum mischief from their ostensibly traditional form.

“The prince is here as well? You’re really in for it now…”
“Not helping…”

Stuffiness is an anathema to Adam Murphy, and he has so many storytelling tricks up his idiosyncratic sleeve to ensure that kids and adults alike are not just transfixed but grinning from ear to ear.

Overwhelmingly they’re tales of justice, injustice and almost invariably poetic justice during which Adam can break off at any moment to comment on what’s going down:

“Whoa! That escalated quickly….
“What is wrong with these two? I mean seriously, have they no moral compass of any sort?”


“Apparently not.”

Lost Tales 2

In these instances he leaves his visual storytelling skills to show you the specific misdemeanours that his miscreants are up to, and it gets funnier each time, because if you thought the Scottish landowners’ last crime was ghastly….

“Oh no. You absolutely vile idiots. Don’t do it!
“ – sigh – They did it.”

Murphy knows full well the mirth that lies in a refrain repeated with just the right timing, as when an African king tries to get to the bottom of a dispute between an honest merchant and his duplicitous fellow traveller who’s only gone and claimed the former’s property for his own, the wretch.

“You know, if there’s one thing I can’t stand…” says the King first time round. Then:
“Well, if there’s another thing I can’t stand….” after which
“One thing I really can’t stand….” and finally
“If there’s one thing I really just can’t stand…”

… before the truth is revealed by a lie. Clever!

Lost Tales 3

LOST TALES’ cover promises some exceptional beauty within and it delivers, every one of these fables finishing with a full-page, landscape flourish which is to die for. I wish I could show you them but since most constitute the punchline or at least resolution to the crafty endeavours or woeful miscalculations, I can’t. Typically the one that brought a tear to my eye was one of the happiest, but there is one so shockingly sad resolution – or, more accurately non-resolution – that I was totally taken aback and relieved it wasn’t the last.

The last, set in Scotland has to be my favourite simply on account of the sheer wealth of extras which Murphy brings to it as a storyteller. They all feature his trademark, seemingly off-the-cut commentary, but that one is particularly packed with little tricks of the trade to embrace the reader in such a way as to offer you the illusion that you’re watching the shameless shenanigans unfold alongside the narrator himself.

Oh, while I think of it, here’s that dress I mentioned:

Lost Tales 4

This book would be the most enormous joy to read out loud to your youngsters (I’ve practised in my head because it demands to be done), and it comes with the addictive trait of making you desperate to know what will happen next. In the spirit of which, I leave you with this pearl of wisdom:

“We are all just pages in the Great Book of Allah. Sometimes we just have to accept His will…”
“Not very helpful…”
“I said sometimes…. Other times, He’s waiting to see what you’re going to do about it…”


Buy Lost Tales and read the Page 45 review here

Bone Coda 25th Anniversary s/c (£13-99, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith.

“Are we having an adventure now?
“I almost wet myself.”

Yep, they’re having another adventure!

For twelve years we’ve been wondering what happened to the three Bone cousins on their way home with sweet, shaggy Bartleby in tow and now, quite unexpectedly, we’re about to find out!

And if it won’t all prove Phoney Bone’s fault, then I’ll eat my map of the Valley.

If you’ve yet to encounter Jeff Smith’s BONE and so, understandably, can’t quite comprehend why we are all so ridiculously excited, it was our biggest-ever all-ages comic appreciated equally by youngsters and adults alike. It ran for 55 issues with attendant spin-offs and was published by Jeff Smith and his wife Vijaya from 1991 to 2004. It’s been translated into 26 languages and won 41 national and international awards.

Its closest, contemporary equivalents for age-wide adoration at Page 45 are Luke Pearson’s HILDA and Kazu Kibuishi’s equally epic AMULET whose sales here are stratospheric.

Bone Coda 1

Sparkling with comedy gold before shivering into darkness, BONE was an immaculately choreographed and deliciously drawn fantasy drama starring open-hearted Fone Bone, scheming, greedy and grumpy Phoney Bone, and care-free, goofy and always optimistic Smiley Bone who have been chased out of Boneville on account of Phoney Bone’s antics while running for Mayor. They arrive in a Valley of rich, deep forests and vast mountains, to be greeted by the beautiful young Thorn with her rough and tough Gran’ma Ben, tiny Ted the Bug and his leaf-like, waaaay bigger brother, plus an enigmatic, poker-faced big Red Dragon whom Gran’ma Ben steadfastly (and slightly suspiciously) refuses to admit existed. Almost immediately they become hunted as the contents for quiche by the Stupid Stupid Rat Creatures. I don’t know why, but they specifically like quiche. I do know why they’re called stupid, though.

Bone Coda 2

As the series unfolds an ancient battle is reignited between even stranger, darker forces, and a secret royal lineage is revealed.

It had a beginning, middle then emphatic end which we dared not dream might spawn a coda… until now! The surprise and the joy is the comicbook equivalent of J.K. Rowling returning to Harry Potter.

In comic terms it’s Neil Gaiman reprising his SANDMAN series (as he just has with SANDMAN: OVERTURE!), Dave Sim revisiting CEREBUS (as he is about to, with CEREBUS IN HELL!) or our beloved Terry Moore threatening to cleave hearts in two once again on STRANGERS IN PARADISE. On that last one, we do live in hope!

Here Jeff Smith reminds us a) just how effortless he made look the very best cartooning inspired by Carl Barks, Walt Kelly, Chuck Jones and Don Martin, and b) how few can actually accomplish that with such dexterity, vivacity and seemingly throwaway mischief.

Bone Coda 3

Oh Lord, the craft! I give you the eyebrows for a start which burrow when furrowed or bounce above each Bone’s bald white bonce. I give you glossy, luminous eyes in the Stupid, Stupid Rat Creature Bartleby, or the hollow, haunting, pitch-black shark eyes of the hideous Kingdok. Ummm, in the main series at least; here you’ll have to contend with a gigantic vulture’s patient and unknowable staring, blinking eyes.

Originally intended for black and white only (as this episode is), the clear lines and spot-blacks nonetheless made the later colour editions a natural.

Anyway, you’ll find far more about the craft within for it comes with an illustrated prose companion written by Stephen Weiner which is a little light in detail and rather obvious for those already familiar with the series but will make an excellent primer for teachers or librarians and will certainly make newcomers desperate to devour the main body of work. I did like what he wrote about the aspect of physical danger derived from the likes of Chuck Jones’ Wile E. Coyote which I hadn’t actually thought of before: for example, when the Red Dragon finally gives in and reluctantly lets rip with his flame-thrower breath. Fone Bone is shown to be thoroughly scorched but actually otherwise unharmed.

“That’s right, kid. Never play an ace when a two will do.”

In addition there’s an interview in the back during which Smith talks both about BONE and his subsequent science-fiction series RASL. But the very best bit of the back-matter is Jeff himself reminiscing (with personal photos of friends / colleagues) about the history of the series, as both a creator and a self-publisher, which nearly stalled in its first six issues because US and UK comicbook retailers were even more in thrall to the cape corporations than they remain today, so initial sales and exposure were lamentably low. He details the precise turning points and the invaluable resource for gaining new readers which was the then-novel idea of a collected edition and – even though we have the luxury of knowing in hindsight what a stellar success BONE became through Jeff and Vijaya’s hard graft, quick thinking, faith, commitment and determination – I found myself rooting for them both and almost air-punching at their success.

Bone Coda 4

This love letter to supportive readers and retailers and fellow creators is far from dashed off, but an in-depth appraisal and a catalogue of gratitude. It’s warm, intimate and exceptionally generous, paying tribute to the likes of Larry Marder, Dave Sim, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Scott McCloud, Heidi MacDonald, Marv Wolfman, and most especially Vijaya whose name I so spectacular failed to get to grips when pronouncing that she graciously allowed me to call her “Vee” instead of slapping me one as I quite richly deserved.

It’s particularly infectious for me because Jeff’s trajectory – like Terry Moore’s – mirrored our own at Page 45. We all kind of grew up together at the very same time, and the one thing that isn’t remarked on within is this: before the trade paperbacks Jeff Smith did something which no one has ever done before or since: he kept the first dozen or more individual issues available with numerous, colour-coded printings so that in the days when we had only 100 different graphic novels available to stock (as opposed to the 7,000 we choose to house now), Page 45 was able to devote an entire wall of shelving to BONE alone, every single issue displayed face-on, without overlaps!

Oh man, the luxury!

And it worked wonders both for BONE and for a nascent Page 45 which craved and so desperately needed this sort of accessible, mass-appeal, quality craft to make us so swiftly successful.


Buy Bone Coda 25th Anniversary s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wilds End vol 2: Enemy Within (£14-99, Boom) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard.

Sorry about that. Punching your ex-husband.”
“You only jumped the queue.”

Welcome back to War Of The Wolds and the centre-piece of its trilogy. It’s perfectly structured.

In WILD’S END VOL 1: FIRST LIGHT the dozy inhabitants of the sleepy hamlet of Lower Crowchurch (not necessarily in the Cotswolds, but equally green and pleasant) find skittering, metallic, spider-like creatures infesting its woodlands and click-clicking their way through its cornfields. The one thing scarier than an enemy you can’t see coming is one which you can hear all around you. Lethal enough in their own right, they were as nothing to the far more formidable, lantern-topped alien which towered above them atop mechanical, octopoid tentacles. They barely survived its incinerating death-rays – some of them didn’t – and that was but a single specimen.

Now Abnett does what any self-respecting science fiction writer would do and ups the ante. Considerably.

Wilds End vol 2 1

The survivors of the first encounter – ex-seadog Slipaway, local journalist Peter Minks,feline Susan Peardew and Alphie the piglet whose Auntie’s now so much crackling  – sought to raise the alarm, and the Ministry Of Defence is now both suitably alarmed and thoroughly paranoid. Lower Crowchurch has been quarantined by the British army, our valiant if fearful foursome have been arrested, and with no prior experience of aliens, the Ministry has lured in the only experts they can think of: science fiction writers.

The first is a self-satisfied, supercilious fat cat called Herbert Runciman who holds his more successful colleague Lewis Confelt in contempt for peddling “fanciful juvenilia” which “tarnishes the credibility of proper science fiction”.

Wilds End vol 2 2

But that’s as nothing compared to the contempt Susan Peardew has for Lewis Confelt, for he’s the ex-husband in question who’s been hogging all the credit for the “scientific romance” novels which Susan effectively ghost-wrote herself.

In addition to the friction within the detainees – they’re all detainees now – cracks begin to appear between the military and the Ministry who’ve sent a squirrel of a man called Mr Laidlaw who believes the aliens may have been around much longer than anyone thinks, and suspects they may even walk amongst them, disguised. The problem is that this paranoia extends to the heroic survivors – the only real experts he has at this disposal – whose experience he obstinately refuses to utilise.

Nothing is being done and while the clock is ticking, the fields begin clicking once more.

Wilds End vol 2 3

In some ways Culbard’s storytelling here is similar to Jeff Smith’s in BONE: uncomplicated character designs made centre-stage through uncluttered backgrounds and crystal-clear page compositions. Same goes for the colouring. But things really heat up which the flames start flying with all the searing intensity of a white-hot furnace.

In addition there are some spectacular full-page flourishes where you’re either crooking your neck almost painfully up at the relentless, implacable invaders or looming over the relatively tin-pot army, with its tin-can tanks, from the aliens’ P.O.V. which dwarfs them.

Wilds End vol 2 4

Truly they don’t stand a chance, but if you imagine their situation is dire, then there’s a subtle piece of foreshadowing by both Abnett and Culbard which leads later on to a full-blown discovery on the final four pages so neatly reflected in the panel immediately preceding it.

Coming back both to the implacability, and the notion that an enemy you can hear on approach is even scarier than one that you don’t see coming, it’s noted by Herbert Runciman (who is as good as his word when it comes to extrapolation) that our invaders either don’t have, need or at least use a written language. Here they show no evidence of language as we know it at all. They don’t communicate. You can’t reason with someone or something you cannot communicate with. That’s even more frightening, and will prove Lewis Confelt’s most bitter and specific disappointment.

For much, much more including Culbard’s specific approach to anthropomorphism and body language, please see our review of WILD’S END VOL 1: FIRST LIGHT. Cheers!


Buy Wilds End vol 2: Enemy Within and read the Page 45 review here

DMZ Book 2 (£18-99, DC) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchiell with Danijel Zezelj, Nathan Fox, Kristian Donaldson, Viktor Kalzachev.

Some books are clever, some are entertaining and some have something to say. This combined all three.

Second substantial slab containing the previous volumes 3, 4 and 5 plus an extensive interview with Brian Wood and lots of preliminary sketches, there’s one chapter drawn by Zezelj whose art, it occurs to be now, looks just like his name sounds.

Previously in DMZ: America deployed waaaay too many troops abroad to be able to cope with a military insurrection at home. Manhattan is the demilitarised zone between the two sides, and what with all that construction and private security money, all the corruption and ineffectual military leadership of undertrained men, it looked a hell of a lot like Iraq when this was first published almost a decade ago.

DMZ Book 2 1

“Everyone knows Trustwell’s crooked. They’ve survived countless investigations, scandals, whistle-blowers, and left-wing documentaries. They’ve been making money from conflict since Kabul and Baghdad. They have all the right friends in all the right places.”

Sound familiar? *

Manhattan is caught in the middle of an American Civil War – and so is rookie journalist Matty. In a new period of relative peace, a private corporation called Trustwell has been given the lucrative contract to start rebuilding, whilst U.N. troops have been deployed there partly to protect the construction company from acts of sabotage, and partly to protect the citizens of the demilitarised zone from Trustwell’s own security teams. It’s doing a pretty shoddy job on both counts.

DMZ Book 2 5

As the “insurgent” terrorists infiltrate the workers hired by Trustwell for a pittance, Matty infiltrates the terrorist cell by turning a blind eye, but when the bombs start going off the U.N. retreats leaving Trustwell Inc’s security in charge, and it’s only a matter of time before Matty’s given a mission – and a bomb to detonate – himself.

Burchielli has a knack for refuse and ruins, and Matty’s torture is particularly nasty. His large cast of characters are all instantly recognisable, which is essential in such a complex tangle of deceit.

That’s Wood’s triumph. Not only are there obvious comparisons to what was happening south-east of us at the time (Lord, I hope that’s right – my geography’s worse than my geometry), but the plot is wrought round its own separate and specific dynamics involving both sides of the wider conflict and media at large, and indeed several factions inside the DMZ. He’s also created an engaging, fallible and increasingly battered protagonist, without whom the book would fall flat on its face. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to concentrate on this, but if I instantly understood who was playing whom and for what, there’d be little investigative journalism for Matty to do, and none of the enormous pay off when the deviousness is revealed in its full scale.

* In September 2007 I wrote: c.f. Halliburton and Blackwater in Iraq. Blackwater’s the US security firm enjoying its immunity to prosection in Iraq, it seems, by killing its civilians. The incident in Nisour Square, Baghdad, in which up to 28 Iraqi civilians were killed is now under investigation by the FBI… who are using Blackwater to provide their security. Well, that’s going to be thorough.

I’ve not finished.

DMZ Book 2 3

This was followed by ‘Friendly Fire’.

Strictly speaking, however, this wasn’t about Friendly Fire, but about the US Army shooting innocent civilians, and the subsequent show trial conducted merely in order to draw a line under the incident. This is, in fact, about how the demilitarized zone in Manhattan between the government troops and the anti-establishment militia came to be:

“On Day 204 a hundred and ninety-eight civilians – peace protesters – were gunned down by twitchy United States soldiers. The U.S. government quit Manhattan and entered into cease-fire talks with the Free States… that’s how much moral high ground was lost that day. The military opened tribunals against the soldiers in question nearly three years after the fact. No one up the chain of command is being tried. Or was ever accused. Just the soldiers.”

With the trial imminent, journalist Matty Roth is given access both to Sgt. Nunez, the patrol’s commanding officer, and PFC Chris Stevens, the only one who didn’t open fire that day, but who’s going down anyway. What Stevens tells Matty establishes why those higher up the chain are culpable, for the war they were fighting up to that point was terrifying, chaotic and completely mismanaged:

“We had nowhere to hide. No idea who was firing, where they were, or what they looked like. Our maps were shit and every street looked the same. What the fuck kind of war is that?”

DMZ Book 2 2

Oh yes, and the grunts were deployed after a mere six weeks of boot camp training, many of them highly unsuitable to the task, and dragged from their lives as civilians through coercion. Once more this is all too familiar. Please see Kyle Baker’s SPECIAL FORCES.

Then there are the survivors of that march, and the victims’ friends and relatives, indeed the wider volatile community of the DMZ who demand blood for blood, and they certainly get it, but not through legal channels. As to the “Day 204 Massacre” itself, and the cowled peace protestors shambling past the soldiers in the blinding downpour, the art by Burchielli and Fox on the first, feverish account from PFC Stevens is haunting and hellish.

DMZ Book 2 4

In summary I leave you with the very real Sgt. John G. Ford, who’s served in Afghanistan, South America and Iraq, and his introduction reprinted here at the front of the back-matter, whilst apologising for transposing the last two paragraphs for impact:

“Here we have a PFC Nobody from the Midwest whose options are revolution or jail and not much else. But hey, if he joins up maybe he’ll get to make something of himself, maybe even learn a trade and if he’s really lucky – money for college.
“Now put him in a bad situation – scratch that, a nightmare situation, with minimum support, poor leadership, and the ever-present reality of punishment for any and every action. Shit goes down and he’s the one left holding the bag: game over, man. Set up for failure from Day One.
“Now comes damage control. Those in charge have “careers” to think about, promotions to deserve, asses to cover. Coming forward and admitting the system is broken or that the military is hurting is not an option. There’s too much at stake for those in charge.
“You don’t think this goes down? Go to war and then disagree with me.”


Buy DMZ Book 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Red Thorn vol 1: Glasgow Kiss s/c (£10-99, DC) by David Baillie & Meghan Hetrick.

“It rains in Glasgow like nowhere else in the world. It’s hard and cold, and it hits you in the face like a thousand tiny knives made of bone.”

Rarely do I quote a writer’s opening gambit. She or he will have put days of thought into the first few sentences of a brand-new series, so to steal that hard work for your own initial impact seems to me a little lazy. On the other hand, what a golden gift horse!

We’re in a Glaswegian graveyard, by the way, with a magnificent mausoleum on its summit.

“The perfect place for a temper tantrum – or a valiant gesture. But whichever of those options this actually was, it was never going to stop the events already set in motion.”

The valiant but doomed gesture comes in the form of pages of a sketchbook being torn out by red-head Isla Mackintosh. They flap and flutter like autumnal leaves up into the stormy sky only to be battered by the positively Bratislavan downpour over the headstones towards us. The first and foremost depicts a wretched figure slumped forward, its wrists and ankles manacled in chains.

Red Thorn 1

The panel beneath that depicts someone or something in a similar predicament, with a long, flame-coloured mane, flopped over his face. It is, however, emphatically not a sketch.

There’ll be plenty more of Glasgow, you mark my words, for Isla Mackintosh’s older sister Lauren studied architecture there. Indeed Lauren was much enamoured with the city’s most famous architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, of the recently burned-down art school. Then one weekend she took off inexplicably for the Borders and was never seen again. Isla was born twelve months later. “Classic replacement kid syndrome,” hence the 25-year gap between them. She’s American, by the way, though her grandparents were from Glasgow and, after trying to trace some fresh clues as to her sister’s disappearance and failing, that’s where Lauren’s landed up: at a gig played by Strathclyde’s premier Nirvana tribute act and talking to a young bloke with a beard sitting alone at the bar and reading Camus.

“I couldn’t have met a boy more perfect if I’d drawn him myself.”

I liked his t-shirt (he teases).

Red Thorn 3

So what’s the problem? I have no problem with the comic at all or else why spend this time reviewing it? I loved Hetrick’s spirit of place and her invitingly soft figures and forms. I enjoyed Baillie’s mini-tour of Glasgow and his lovely Scottish lilt which was neither overly broad nor unnatural. There’s a moment of superb foreshadowing involving bridges plus I found his voice-over refreshingly direct and almost hilariously matter-of-fact, especially when it came to the real problem here, for that’s Lauren’s:

“In High School I’d spend most of my time doodling the cool, fun friends I really wanted. Then one day one of my drawings came to life and attended my school for a whole semester.”

I do beg your pardon?

That didn’t end well, but it did end abruptly, since when she’s vowed off sketching people for ten whole years. You’ll know exactly why when you get there.

Red Thorn 2

Then she got drunk with that Camus kid and now something’s knocking on the door.

On the final page artist Meghan Hetrick reprises the first page’s promise but with a marked makeover, for she makes good – oh so very good – on the writer’s own promise when he was recently asked:

“What can we expect from RED THORN tonally?”
“Abs,” he replied. “Lots of abs.”

At which point David Baillie basically won interviews.

I have to confess that after three weeks flying solo on our reviews I’ve run out of time and been unable to read the rest of the book – that was my review of the first issue – but flicking ahead I don’t think we’re in Glasgow any longer. Not unless it’s recently had a substantial Skyrim make-over.

Red Thorn 5


Buy Red Thorn vol 1: Glasgow Kiss s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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.

I am told byAvengers Korvac cover those that know that this is important to you now.

He appears in your video games, and I understand why given their often acquisitive nature. Precisely whom we speak of I will not say, but this was where he was best utilised and it came as a surprise both to us as readers back then and to our off-guard Avengers…

Ah, Marvel in the mid 1970s! What a thing to behold: billowing capes, ballooning boots, improbable team-ups and epic plots cascading over a dozen issues. Melodrama on a scale rarely experienced since the days of Caligula, all epitomised by this very book, distilled into a concentrate so strong that it’s virtually toxic.

This is the Dynasty of the superhero genre, where even the over-dubs wear shoulder pads:

“The Enemy tumbles backwards, the stunning impact of the blow ripping through the sum of his being. Somewhere in the depths of the cosmos within his mind, a planet shatters — and in unison, the billion billion souls who inhabit the sub-reality of The Enemy’s id scream in utter horror as their entire dimension trembles!”

Not just horror, but utter horror! Whoa!

Avengers Korvac Saga 1

Naturally I wasn’t around back then, having barely hit my teens last week [errrr… – ed.], but if I had been around to buy the originals I’d be able to tell you that I lapped it all up and then some. Almost every Avenger at that point bar the Hulk appeared, each blinking out of existence, one by one, through successive chapters in front of the others as they tried to deal with the immediate emergencies on hand. You know, like Ultron. Gradually the abductions accelerate leaving those remaining both helpless and petrified for their own safety.

What a terrific sub-plot: any one of them could fall prey at any moment!

Avengers Korvac Saga 3

The original Guardians Of The Galaxy from the future guest starred, everyone bickered, and X-Men nemesis Henry Peter Gyrich made his first appearance, promptly rescinding the Avengers’ National Priority Status so that several dozen high-ranking superheroes had to take the number 11 bus into action. Hawkeye cracked some gags which I swore blind were the funniest things I had ever heard back then, as Earth’s Mightiest attempted to locate their nigh-omnipotent Enemy in leafy suburbia and failed to find more than some antique fittings.

“Terrific. ‘Avengers Attack Suburban Home! Defeated By Stylish Decor!’ The tabloids are going to love this!”

Avengers Korvac Saga 4

And then – then – the really big fight happens with all 6,289 Avengers versus a single self-possessed dude in a pair shorts. Had I been old enough, I would have spontaneously ejaculated.

Now, of course – now that I’ve reached double figures – the whole thing sounds ludicrous. No, make that utterly ludicrous.

The plots have holes in them so big that even I could whack a golf ball through them, the exchanges are hokey, and the fact that you can just stroll into the Avengers’ Mansion off a little side-street beggars belief.

Avengers Korvac Saga 5

But this was written way before the summer blockbusters which we now take for granted like the original SECRET WARS, the subsequent SECRET WAR, the modern SECRET WARS or the socio-politically searching CIVIL WAR, so we’d never seen so many heroes sharing a sofa before. The only thing that could have topped it was if renowned crowd-scene maestro George Perez had drawn the whole thing rather than just the first few issues and some spectacular covers.

Pause for doom-laden prediction.

Avengers Korvac Saga 2

She’s not wrong.


Buy Avengers: The Korvac Saga 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.

Rachel Rising Omnibus h/c (£67-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore

March book 3 s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell

They Didn’t Teach This In Worm School! (£8-99, Walker Books) by Simone Lia

Interval Wilderness (£7-00, Avery Hill) by Claire Scully

Harold (£5-00, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Antoine Cosse

Butter And Blood (£9-00, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Steven Weissman

Nothing Whatsoever All Out On The Open (£5-00, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Akino Kondoh

Experts (£4-50, Retrofit) by Sophie Franz

Solomon Royal Ed h/c (£10-50, Kingpin Books) by Carlos Pedro

Fresh Romance (£22-99, Oni Press) by Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, Sally Ann Thompson, Various

The Uncanny Inhumans vol 2: The Quiet Room s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Brandon Peterson, Kev Walker, Various

Flash vol 7 Savage World s/c (£14-99, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen & Brett Booth, Andre Coelho, Miguel Seplveda

Suicide Squad Most Wanted: Deadshot s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato & Viktor Bogdanovic, Richard Friend

Jim Hensons The Storyteller: Dragons h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by Daniel Bayliss, Fabian Rangel Jr, Hannah Christenson & Various

Deadly Class vol 4: Die For Me s/c (£13-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Wesley Craig, Jordan Boyd

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth Side: P4 Volume 2 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Mizunomoto

Miracleman Book 4: The Golden Age vol 1 (UK Edition) h/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Neil Gaiman & Mark Buckingham


Coldest Winter cover

ITEM! Antony Johnston announces THE COLDEST WINTER drawn by Steven Perkins!

And it looks stunning!

We heaped praise on Antony Johnston & Sam Hart’s THE COLDEST CITY and if that extensive preview is anything to go by – with tonnes of interior Steven Perkins art – THE COLDEST WINTER is going to be a belter.

Coldest Winter 1

ITEM! The Guardian writes a big piece on Nottingham culture and includes not just a mention, but a link to, Page 45!

Please tell me who I should be grateful to for that and I will lavish them with thanks!

For The Love Of God Marie cover

ITEM! Jade Sarson is interviewed about FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MARIE! by The Herald in Scotland.

As you might have gathered from last week’s reviews, Page 45 utterly adores FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MARIE!

For The Love Of God Marie 4

Right, Jonathan will be back from his hols next week so I’ll have a lot more time for news.

– Stephen

For The Love Of God Marie 5

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.