Featuring Rob Davis, Sophie Campbell, Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, Kelly Thompson, Leandro Romero, Garth Ennis, Goran Parlov, more.
Page 45 Festive Opening Times in the News Section below!
The Can Opener’s Daughter (Bookplate Edition) (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Rob Davis.
Making eloquent new sense is Rob Davis’ forte; making a nuisance is Vera Pike’s.
“Mum wouldn’t tell me what was going on. She wouldn’t speak to me at all. I tried asking Dad, but she confiscated him and locked him in a kitchen draw.”
We first met Vera in THE MOTHERLESS OVEN, my favourite book of that year, wherein we learned that although it is commonly acknowledged that children are the products of their parents – both by nature and nurture – in The Bear Park the parents are very much the product of their children. They are fashioned by their children before they are five in the Motherless Oven itself. They can be quite complex and caring. Certainly they are sentient.
Scarper Lee’s Mum was a barber-shop hairdryer and ever so maternal. Vera Pike’s Mum is the Weather Clock, Grave Acre’s bipedal, fully mobile, ruthless, dictatorial Prime Minister. She doesn’t do maternal.
Her Dad is a can opener. The sort with a bayonet blade you have to thrust in to puncture whatever it is you want opening, then wrangle the lid off by force. He doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
You will find everything here so very familiar, yet looked at anew, askew or turned on its head. Words may have multiple meanings depending on intonation or a minor adjustment. Almost every panel demands a quotation, so dense is the wit on display. Perspectives are important, the fresher the better, so here is the second in Rob Davis’ trilogy, dovetailing precisely into the first to illuminate elements of what went before and leave us gasping desperately for more.
It is a phenomenal work full of surprises which end up making perfect sense.
For a start – just like THE MOTHERLESS OVEN – it explores the generational gap opened up even further by the conceit that all mums and dads are constructs of their children. As mechanical objects, most are dismissively pigeon-holed in their parental role rather than regarded as individuals, then consigned to the scrap head once that role is over.
“Parents are made to make children feel guilt. They exist to deny your freedom so they can make you believe it is theirs to give.”
That’s Vera’s take, and she has indeed been denied her freedom by being shut away in Grave Acre’s equivalent of Number 10, to be home-schooled initially by the household Ink Gods. These are vocal bottles of indelible ink, and I promise that they’re making sense right from the very first panel they appear in, however random their proclamations might sound. It’s that sort of book.
It’s also the sort of book which presents multiple perspectives. Here’s Vera’s mother:
“They say that parents exist to give children something to rebel against, something that prevents them rebelling against anything that really matters… But what happens when a parent rebels…?”
And it is most definitely a great big book of rebellion. Vera Pike is welcome whirlwind of vital rebellion – a natural impulse in the young – but she’s not alone. Not everyone is content to be constrained by their roles. Most parents choose to have children. As we have seen, that’s not the case in The Bear Park and, without giving too much a way, there is a satisfyingly circular structure to so much history here.
Time to pull back: THE MOTHERLESS OVEN was set in The Bear Park, a working class area with very specific and absolute boundaries. There was nowhere else. There were plenty of parents, but no brothers or sisters that I can recall. Instead of birthdays, everyone had a deathday. Scarper Lee’s was imminent.
THE CAN OPENER’S DAUGHTER begins in the much more affluent Grave Acre where everyone has a double-barrelled name and we see no such parents. Indeed the reigning (and raining) Weather Clock is terrified of being referred to in public as “Mum”. It may not surprise you to learn that it’s partly a class thing, but I won’t explain why.
In The Bear Park’s schools they teach Circular History and Mythmatics. In St. Sylvia’s School of Bleak Prospects and Suicide, the boarding school to which Vera is banished after a big breach of etiquette, they teach Probable History and Terminal Vertices.
“Everyone paid attention in Terminal Vertices, not because Miss Cavendish-Hole was any less dull, but because your life depended on it.”
In Grave Acre you aren’t assigned a deathday; you plot your own suicide graph using desolation logarithms found in Cullculus. You choose your fate. Vera Pike chooses not to have one. She hides her graph, unplotted, under the mattress.
It may be by now that those who’ve already read THE MOTHERLESS OVEN are starting to see the connections. They’re ever so clever once revealed, and I’ll just jog them along a little here when Vera speaks up during a class in Hauntology where they’re studying The Bear Park and deathdays.
“Sir, how do we get to Bear Park?”
She’s met with roars of laughter.
“C’mon, Pike. It’s as impossible to travel from Grave Acre to The Bear Park as it is to travel from today to yesterday.”
But Vera’s Mum originally came from Bear Park before she got ideas above her station, as did Vera and her Dad. So what’s up with that?
The art is deliciously British with nods at St. Sylvia’s to older boarding school comics and if I detected a Gorillaz / Jamie Hewlett vibe in THE MOTHERLESS OVEN, in THE CAN OPENER’S DAUGHTER I’m minded of the likes of Steve Parkhouse in THE BOJEFFRIES SAGA and, while watching the Weather Clock herself – with her spikes, claws, long, curved neck and grotesque in-your-face face – I couldn’t help thinking of Gerald Scarf’s work for Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’.
It’s partly on those grounds that I couldn’t shake the notion that the Weather Clock and the Can Opener were riffs on a strident Margaret and a cowering Dennis Thatcher, even if it’s the Weather Clock constantly sozzled after using her husband to uncork the bottles. Talk about enabling.
Speaking of ascensions, I loved Vera’s growth in the book from a baby-faced brat with bunches, through uniformed pudding-bowl private-school girl, to chic, commanding rabble-rouser by simply untucking her shirt and ditching the pinafore dress.
The animation of the Ink Gods – the glass, stoppered jars sat on small pedestals – is exquisite and all the more remarkable for being accomplished purely by the lettering. They don’t move, but they are emphatically alive.
If THE CAN OPENER’S DAUGHTER dovetails as wickedly as I’ve asserted with THE MOTHERLESS OVEN, you may be wondering how. I’ve barely mentioned the latter’s narrator, Scarper Lee, and Castro Smith not once. Castro, you may recall, has Medicated Inference Syndrome kept in check with a surgically implanted Brain Aid which stops all the signals becoming noise.
It is Castro who can see all the connections. He figured out who Vera’s Mum was long before everyone else. He’s writing a Book of Forks.
“Forks are choices, forks are everywhere. My book is a theory of everything.”
As THE MOTHERLESS OVEN concluded we left Vera and Castro alone together on the other side of The Bear Park’s fence, while Scarper’s deathday was still looming large. So how do we get there from here? I’m not telling you.
“My interest is piqued – you are a source of intrigue, Mr. Smith. What is a Book of Forks and what can it offer me?”
“It’s an encyclopedia of all possible histories and a post-mortem of all possible futures. It explains deathdays, how weather works, where Gods came from, why the Immortals died out and how to repair a kettle.”
He can be quite practical, can Castro.
“The forks… three paths into one… one path into three…”
Next: Rob Davis concludes his own Book of Forks.
At the time of typing, thanks to Sam Humphrey at SelfMadeHero, all our copies come with beautiful, free bookplates signed by Rob Davis.
“This is where the end starts…”
Wet Moon vol 2: Unseen Feet (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.
“Uneasy friendships between a group of hesitant, second-guessing, slightly paranoid girls at college,” I wrote originally of volume two but, having now read all six WET MOONs so far, I only wish they were more paranoid, for one within them isn’t showing her true, seething colours.
The vulnerabilities are beautifully observed, as are the explorations of sexuality.
For these new editions I only had to adjust my WET MOON VOL 1 a little, while adding a new introduction for this did develop in most unexpected directions, and on re-reading what I wrote here I was delighted to discover that Campbell had continued to fool me and I still wasn’t looking in all the right directions. Before I forget I should mention that there’s a who’s who of WET MOON in the back should you need it to keep up.
After a quick flashback to High School, the second book picks up almost immediately after the first.
Cleo’s still finding messages left lying around campus saying “Cleo eats it” and one of the chief tensions in this is whether indeed she might be persuaded. She’s just bumped into Myrtle (literally) whilst fleeing a class containing her ex-boyfriend, and their new friendship – though as tentative as any of the others – does seem close with Myrtle appearing to be less judgemental than the rest of the crowd who could all Bitch for Britain. Audrey certainly “eats it”, but her new friendship with Kinzoku (who does actually appear to have a clue when it comes to love and friendships) threatens to unsettle her relationship with Beth. Meanwhile Trilby – the most mean-spirited and spiteful of the cast last book, who did actually try it on with Cleo – has got herself a boyfriend, but he doesn’t seem too confident in the bed department, whilst Cleo herself is disappointed to find out that pretty-boy Glen is [REDACTED].
I think I’ve just typed “friendship” four times already, so blatantly that’s what this series is about, along with body image and sexuality. The cast are constantly checking themselves out in the mirror and pawing themselves, changing hair styles, and then occasionally changing back based on approval or disapproval or anticipation of either.
Some of them are still getting to know each other so there’s a lot of naturalistic behaviour like languishing about on beds and sofas, exchanging crushes, secrets and scars, metaphorical and otherwise.
But what about the horror hinted at last time? Yes, that kicks up a notch too, and all those elements seem to meet in Zia, the girl with one arm who photographs herself lying on the ground as if dead, covered in mud and garbage; Fall who wanders around with her mouth open near the swamp, cooking burgers for her mute, scarred and blood-drooling Pa; and fetishist Fern, the uber-rich bald girl whose back bares a butcher’s brace of meat hooks. What is up with all that?
I leave you to see if anything becomes clearer for yourselves, but for me this book just opened things up further and I’m all the happier for that. As I wrote last time, Campbell has an eye for the more interesting female body shape, and relishes big, fleshy pierced lips and scowls. Her lines grow softer as she grows into the series, the eyes widen to become pools of doting and doubt, while her command of tones becomes rich and delicious.
It’s mesmerising, and actually very pretty except when they’re being ugly to each other.
Descender vol 3: Singularities (£13-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen.
Unfortunately not all the robots’ metallic surfaces are as shiny as they used to be or were intended to be. Good old humans, always tarnishing and sullying stuff with their selfishness, disregard or outright viciousness.
So it’s time for five warped recollections mirroring and marrying the present with the past, linking up with each other in unexpectedly intricate ways, then pushing events forwards far enough to make our wait for the next volume excruciatingly tantalising.
It’s my favourite instalment so far. At least two of these chapters explore the past of protagonists you won’t have imagined even have a back story, but they do, and one of those is of critical importance to what’s gone before and why they’ve said what they’ve said, when what they said I dismissed as mere whimsy. It’s not.
As I’ve mentioned before, none of this would be half so effective or affecting had Lemire and Nguyen between them not made us care so profoundly for young Tim-21. Developed to be a personal companion to humans, he is compassion personified, his devotion matched only by the family’s robotic dog Bandit, as you’ll discover here. Originally Tim-21 awoke lost and alone, save for said dog, on a mining colony ten years after a disaster which wiped out all the colonists except one who went on to… well… none of it’s pretty.
Ten years ago a cataclysmic disaster also struck each of the nine Core Planets, in retaliation to which all robotic life forms were outlawed and as many as possible have been hunted down to be thrown into furnaces while still functioning. Not everyone concurs with this, while some of the most passionate anti-bot bounty hunters are those you hope would most be not. These two paragraphs may be related.
Eventually we met Tim-22 on the cover, as did Tim-21, and they seemed to hit it off immediately until things took a worrying turn for the worst. But to some extent or another we are all the products of our past, humans and androids alike, and once again Nguyen and Lemire have here in these flashbacks imbued Tim-22 with far more tender humanity than those around him. It is very, very, very upsetting.
Each of the memories flash back as far as ten (or in one telling instance seventeen) years ago, before leaping forwards in jolts until they conjoin with the present and wham, we’re off again. I particularly admired the three almost identical panels which moved forwards first then days, then ten months, then ten years.
That’s all you’re getting. Please see the two previous reviews.
Hawkeye #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Leandro Romero with Jordie Bellaire.
This is a truth, for which I apologise to all our loyal postmen and postwomen (in a trade rather than evolutionary sense) while truly appreciating all your pre-dawn delivery diligence. Too many of us take our Royal Mail maestros for granted, including myself until I typed both those sentences which have no bearing whatsoever on this comic.
It is a bright and beautiful thing. It is refreshingly free from clutter and it clatters on at a right old clop with all the attention span that you’d expect from a teenage narrator who won’t be distracted from her singular mission by anything other than abs. Mmm…. abs.
Kate Bishop is focussed. Kate Bishop can see what few others see. What she sees in her hawk-eyed, instantaneous intuition is presented by Romero and Bellaire in shutter-speed, potential purple targets which Thompson wittily designates as ‘Innocent Bystander’, a car’s ‘Poorly Covered Plate’, ‘Security Alarm’, ‘Smoke Detector’, ‘Glass Jaw’ and ‘More Hot Abs’.
In righting wrongs master-archer Kate Bishop will take care of business meticulously, efficiently and without warning whilst wearing purple and counting abs.
I am not at all obsessed with abs.
Speaking of business, YOUNG AVENGERS’ Kate Bishop is setting up shop as a private detective in California around Los Angeles’ Venice Beach. Where there are lots of… pecs. She has no license, she has dubious investigative skills, but what she does have on her side is a certain chutzpah and the ability to improvise swiftly.
I never thought I would type this, but I rate this right up there with her previous appearances in Fraction’s and Aja’s HAWKEYE which remains the only superhero comic which Page 45 has ever allowed into our window, largely because it wasn’t really a superhero comic but – in its true, theatrical sense – a comedy of manners so contemporarily designed by Aja.
This first issue at least is equally contemporary, dealing as it does with the scum who harass women online, for more of which I would refer you to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 3. The art by Romero and coloured by Bellaire is a mischievous dream which is ever so light on extraneous clutter and ever so sharp on sequential-art subtlety which is perfectly apposite for a clue-based drama. I cannot believe it would be intentional but in one panel I even got whiffs of Jack Kirby romance comics (ask me).
Here’s a good joke. Kate Bishop walks into a bank.
“Excuse me, I’m here to make a deposit. Do you accept… sass?”
We do indeed. This sort of sass is acceptable.
Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov, others.
Ennis wraps up his impressive ten-year run on the implacable one with a finale that’s as thoughtful as it is furious and quite possibly the best thing he has ever committed to paper. He has something to say and it’s well worth hearing.
Before we get to ‘Valley Forge, Valley Forge’, however, although the vast majority of his MAX run was serious stuff dealing with real-world horror like sex-slave trafficking, there’s a brief return to the light relief Garth gave us initially in the likes of WELCOME BACK, FRANK.
Being a MAX title, however, we are well into the realms of the outrageous, almost as O.T.T. as THE BOYS. Sticking at least with the geopolitical, it’s a Central American revolutionary romp starring Marvel’s biggest, baddest – and most surprisingly liberal – big black mo-fo, Barracuda. Evidence includes an inference of two of the chapter headings (“A Mouth Is Just A Mouth,” “Curiouser And Bi-Curiouser”) and the fact that Wanda, his co-conspirator with a constant mouthful, is the world’s most lethal transvestite.
You don’t have to know who actor Christopher Walken is to understand his adversarial role, but make no mistake, it is Christopher Walken. It’s not just his impeccable likeness by Parlov, it’s also in the speech patterns as perfectly presented as any of Dave Sim’s guest stars’ in CEREBUS. Nor do you have to understand the intricacies of haemophilia to grasp that protecting a mobster’s boy with that particular condition in the middle of a gunship assault on the President’s villa is going to be… problematic.
Barracuda, of course, has his own long-game in play which should net him a small fortune, but he may not want to slap his own back – or anyone else’s – too quickly. It’s funny how Barracuda always ends up all at sea, but he usually figures something out.
By ‘Long Cold Dark’ you can tell that Ennis is wrapping things up by the number of bodies he’s counting. Yes, it’s another bloody massacre with a particularly spectacular claymore trap and its three-storey detonation at the top of a skyscraper. Artist Howard Chaykin done good there.
It’s been thirty years since Frank Castle last knew “the terror of being a parent”: the wonder yet constant worry for your offspring’s safety. In Frank’s case he had very good cause for worry and now he does so again because Barracuda’s done some digging around and found the ultimate bait. Insane levels of violence precede and succeed a cleverly constructed, tense game of cat and mouse with a young girl’s life at stake.
Goran’s great: under him both brutes are enormous powerhouses. I think I’ve described him before as a sort of John Buscema who takes liberties, and the result is a carnage that charges away at a rapid rate of shots.
So it is we come to ‘Valley Forge, Valley Forge’.
A book is being written about Vietnam and certain soldiers who served there at the time of the Valley Forge Massacre where Castle was the only man left standing. It’s a book whose interviewees have much to say about race, contemporary social conditions and an army at war, while its writer, Michael Goodwin, reminds his readers about the recent revelations regarding the false premises on which war was declared that time as well when we illegally invaded Iraq.
It also harks back to Ennis’ ‘Born’ now found in PUNISHER MAX COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 1, and it all ties together in the final issue, trust me.
Meanwhile, those ex-army chiefs who are looking forward to benefiting financially as board members on private construction companies or security firms in future armed conflict, those cowards who’ve hidden behind mercenaries like the Barracuda in their efforts to take Castle out and with him the knowledge of the treason they’ve committed (see ‘Mother Russia’ in PUNISHER MAX COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 2), they know Frank will be coming for them next. But one of them discerns a weakness they can exploit: Frank will never knowingly fire on American soldiers.
I should just add that I’m tempted to transcribe the whole “Buffalo Soldier” excerpt from Michael Goodwin’s book as mentioned above in which he interviews the sister of the black youth his own white brother befriended whilst on their tour of duty in Vietnam. She’s eloquent, stirring and I did type our four paragraphs of keenly observed truth before letting you off.
The collection is rounded off with three earlier snap-shots of what passes for Frank Castle’s life which were originally collected in ‘From First To Last’, featuring youthful revenge and custodial revenge and post-nuclear revenge. He’ll have his revenge, will our Frank.
‘The End’ was early warning that Ennis had set his sights on having something to say about war in the world: who’s been instigating it, why they’ve been doing it and how far other nations can be bombed into submission before they retaliate with apocalyptic consequences for all but those self-same perpetrators. He fitted the Punisher into the story in a manner which made perfect sense.
Frank Castle is incarcerated when the story opens, and that’s how he survives the nuclear strike: in a purpose-built bunker deep under the penitentiary. Only a few manage to join him, but it’s interesting company which sends Frank back to the surface with one last mission in mind. It’s not a rescue mission.
Richard Corben’s vision of a post-nuclear-holocaust America is the stuff of science fiction nightmares, the very clouds on fire like massive, molten cinders. He is the definition of gritty while Ennis provides the grim.
In ‘The Tyger’ ten-year-old Frank deals with the fall-out of a classmate committing suicide. Veteran Marvel artist John Severin proved that he had not just maintained his power, but improved his craft and was perfect for this piece. I was in awe.
Finally, as to ‘The Cell’ drawn with formidable shadows by Lewis Larosa, you tend to lose track over the years, but until now Frank had apparently failed to bring his family’s killers to justice. I don’t mean they haven’t been locked up, because they have – which is why Frank’s just handed himself in to be sent down.
Because justice to Frank Castle is a very different affair, involving kitchen utensils and a monkey wrench.
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.
Brighter Than You Think 10 Short Works By Alan Moore s/c (£20-99, Uncivilised Books) by Alan Moore, Marc Sobel & Melinda Gebbie, Stephen Bissette, Peter Bagge, Mark Beyer, Rick Veitch, Oscar Zarate, Bill Wray, Don Simpson
Hopeless, Maine vol 1 – The Gathering (£13-99, Sloth Comics) by Nimue Brown & Tom Brown
Long Gone Don And The Terror-Cotta Army (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by The Etherington Brothers
Lovers In The Garden (£8-00, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Anya Davidson
Rivers Of London: Night Witch (£13-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan
Sky Doll: Spaceship h/c (£23-99, Titan) by Alessandro Barbucci, Barbara Canepa & various
Harley Quinn vol 5: The Joker’s Last Laugh h/c (£22-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Chad Hardin, Alex Sinclair
Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat vol 2: Don’t Stop Me-ow s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kate Leth & Brittney Williams
Ultimates: Omniversal vol 2 Civil War 2 s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Kenneth Rocafort, Djibril Morissette, Christian Ward
Blame! Vol 2 (Master Edition) (£26-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei
Tokyo Ghoul vol 10 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida
Tomie Complete h/c (£25-00, Viz) by Junji Ito
ITEM! Not long until Christmas now!
I’m not sure any mail order will reach you in time but you may still find this handy for last-minute comicbook Christmas presents from Page 45 or any other outlets wise enough to stock these glorious graphic novels:
ITEM! Festive Opening Times at Page 45.
Page 45 is closed for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day only.
We close on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve around 4pm
We will be open on Tuesday 27th after Christmas and Monday 2nd January after New Year from 11am to 4pm.
New Comics Day for both those weeks will be Thursday rather than the regular Wednesday.
Other than that, it is wallet-whipping, credit-card-crucifying, sterling-snaffling business as usual!
ITEM! Lastly, given the way my regular days off / working at home fall this Christmas, it is possible that there won’t be reviews next week, soz!
I’m collecting my parental unit from Chester by car on Thursday, so working at the shop on Friday instead; plus Monday is Boxing Day and – quite understandably – my mother-type-arrangement would not take kindly to me ignoring family in favour of tapping tipsily on the keyboard. That just leaves the Tuesday during which my dearly beloveds won’t have dearly departed until midday or later.
We may work something out, or we’ll be back with a bumper edition in a fortnight’s time! You know, depending on what’s published.
Just in case this is Page 45’s last blog of the year, I’d like to lavish you all with love – whether you shop with us or not – for taking the time and trouble to read our reviews and buy beautiful comics and graphic novels wherever it is you tend to loiter.
I’d also like to hug each and every one of you for following our J45 on Bookface and this twit on our Twitter @pagefortyfive
Your endurance frankly astonishes me.
– Stephen xxx