Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2016 week two

The Coldest Winter h/c (Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Steven Perkins.


Possibly the most beautiful bookplate I have ever beheld, signed by both Antony and Steven, for which we are enormously grateful.

Not only that but once you’ve absorbed this graphic novel of such smile-inducing, head-shaking craftiness, you’ll understand why Page 45 is so honoured to be associated with it.

It’s a prequel to Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s THE COLDEST CITY but, unlike most prequels, you’re encouraged to dive straight in here first for a winter and a war that could not be colder.

“The snow makes leaving Berlin impossible. Planes are not flying, roads are impassable, and almost no trains are operating. Besides, Lubimov is badly injured. He is still in West Berlin, and they cannot hide him forever.”

West Berlin, 1982, and the entire continent of Europe is frozen in the icy grip of the coldest winter for over three decades. Everything has been brought to a standstill, except for the clandestine manoeuvres of the Soviet KGB and Britain’s own Secret Service.




For a single night in January Dr Lubimov has been released by Russia to address a science conference in West Berlin for the first time in ten years and possibly the last, because Kremlin doctors have given him but two years to live. His condition is believed to be a side-effect of very nasty nerve toxins the doctor has developed for Mother Russia and which Britannia would like to get her dirty hands on too under the disingenuous excuse of developing antidotes. Of course he’s not going to be allowed out unaccompanied by armed agents notoriously difficult to deceive even under the easiest of circumstances and these are far from ideal.




For a start there are the crippling weather conditions about which David Perceval, the West Berlin attaché assigned to the case, has protested in the clearest and strongest possible terms. Unfortunately for him he’s in no condition to complain for he’s already about to be sent home by his immediate commanding officer, William Woodford, after a succession of bodged operations. Then there’s West Berlin’s unique geo-political bind in being a fortress back then, but one designed to hem the West in rather than the keep East out. Not only was it cut off by the Berlin Wall from the east side of the city occupied and administered by Soviet Russia, but it was completely surrounded on all its extremities by both the wall and by the communist German Democratic Republic itself.

Difficult, much…? In terms of extraction, we’re talking the worst wisdom teeth ever.




This graphic novel begins in West Berlin on January 20th 1982, nine days after the conference, with a phone call between Dr Lubimov – sequestered but also trapped in a British safe house – and his aged, already defected wife Olga, desperate to see him again. By the end of that prologue Dr Lubimov has a gun to his head. We then retreat to East Berlin on November 25th 1981.

How did it all go so spectacularly wrong?




From the writer of THE COLDEST CITY (obviously, and we had 50 signed bookplates for that too but they sold out almost immediately so, you know…) and the much-adored UMBRAL, THE FUSE, WASTELAND, two of our three DEAD SPACE graphic novels and adaptor-to-comics of Alan Moore’s FASHION BEAST plus Anthony Horowitz’s Young Adults’ Alex Rider graphic novels like SCORPIA drawn by Emma Vieceli and coloured by Kate Brown… *draws breath*… I believe this is his most brilliant book to date.

The class deference, old school ties, the grudges and period tensions are all captured perfectly, with no one trusting anyone – even on the same sides – as are the semi-derogatory dismissals. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Russians referred to as “Ivan”, the French as “Fritz”, Americans as “Yanks” or “Yankees” and the British as “Limeys”.




It is also so wickedly, so deviously clever that although I emphatically will not punch the man in the face the next time I see him (Johnston would see any such angle coming and have pre-prepped for it in multiple ways, decking me 36-hours before I’d even made my first flailing move) I felt when I finished it as if he had just playfully slapped mine – and I enjoyed it.

Unfortunately I cannot possibly tell you why, for I have signed our own Page 45 Official Secrets Act which means spoiler-free reviews.




What I can extol are the extraordinary virtues of Steven Perkins’ art.

You’re on a hiding to nothing if you attempt to illustrate a book called THE COLDEST WINTER – set during a continent-wide blizzard during which political relations are glacial – without being able to convey sub-zero temperatures. I have never seen a starker graphic novel. On turning each page I felt as if I’d accidentally and inadvisably stuck my fingers into a deep freezer and touched its metallic insides. Have you ever done that? You skin sticks, and it is impossible to free it without tearing some tissue away. It’s essentially dangerous, and knife-edge danger is what Perkins delivers.




So much of this is spot-lit from above, casting impenetrable, black brow shadows which make seeing eyes – and so reading minds – impossible. Spectacles are rendered as blank glass screens. Think Sean Phillips’ half-lit art in CRIMINAL which gives you ambivalence and ambiguity, but with the additional effect in this book of poker-faced unguessability. It’s a trick which here renders straight-laced and straight-faced individuals certainly inscrutable and quite possibly implacable.

That is precisely what is required in a graphic novel wherein the dogmatically, diametrically opposed, prideful protagonists are playing dare-you games with each other: games on which real lives so depend.




Then there’s the central car chase prior to Dr Lubimov being stranded hopelessly in the safe house and this is amongst the very best that I have ever clapped my eyes on in comics. With barely any purchase on the compacted snow, you can feel the car tyres skidding in the opposite direction to the steering wheel, and you can experience for yourself the insane adrenaline rush when attempting to lose your murderous pursuit.




Still, doomed David Perceval isn’t without his key moves or parting shots. Here he addresses his opposite, Comrade Aleksander Grigori Bremovych of the KGB, as he leaves a room in which they have both been debriefed by their superiors:

Posli vas, tovarishch.”
“Your German accent was better.”
“So was my driving.”




Buy The Coldest Winter h/c (Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Paper Girls vol 2 s/c (£11-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson.

“The present is not a gift.”paper-girls-vol-2-cover

I still have absolutely no intention of looking it in the mouth.

“Only time is timeless.”

You may have a point there, however high one’s default nostalgia setting’s dialled up.

Much of my mirth in reading PAPER GIRLS VOL 1 was derived from a recognition of the 1980s which was in equal parts affectionate and embarrassed, for it wasn’t the most enlightened era. Set in 1988, it starred MacKenzie, Tiffany, KJ and Erin, four twelve-year-old paper girls at a time where delivery routes were predominantly the sole province of boys. The first three had banded together a while ago for mutual protection while Erin joined them just in time for time itself to go tits-up.

The power grid failed, the sky went well-wonky, locals began to be disappeared (sic) and their quiet suburban neighbourhood was invaded by cowl-covered, incomprehensible, mutated teenage boys on the run from reactionary futuristic knights in shining white armour, riding giant, prehistoric flying lizards.

As you might imagine, no one received their Evening Edition that night.


Art from volume one

Lastly for now, Erin found a square, palm-sized metal device with a black screen and familiar (to us) silver Apple logo which looks like someone’s bitten a chunk out of it. It didn’t work for her, but then perhaps it was Forbidden Fruit fallen from the Tree of Knowledge – not something you’re supposed to nibble on. There were lots and lots of apples including an Apple phone which was obviously way ahead of its time even if it was one of those old-skool affairs with a circular dial and cradled handset. In this volume it will start working for Erin, but not our Erin or the space-suited Erin; it will start working for other Erin on the front cover who is forty years old.


There’s no getting round it: that’s who they met on the very last page of PAPER GIRLS VOL 1 and if that had us amused at how comparatively quaint the ‘80s look to us in retrospect, volume two will see you chortling mightily at the girls’ intense culture shock upon arrival in 2016.

“There are waters in the fridge if you’re thirsty.”
“There’s more than one kind of water now?”

Then there are our impossibly thin, gigantic television sets whose resolution might as well be three-dimensional, entire malls closed down in the wake of Amazon, the politics, profanity and just imagine you’re from 1988 and heard the following news bulletin:

“This just in from our social media department, an extraordinary Vine posted by Twitter user @JoanyFootball2.”
“What language is this?”


I’ll leave you to discover the circumstances our Erin finds future Erin in – the direction her life has since taken – and how about MacKenzie? Her house has certainly been spruced up.

Cliff Chiang once more provides all the vital grounding a science fiction series like this one needs in order to contrast the temporal disturbances – which are once more substantial, startling, enormous and delightfully ugly – with the everyday, out-of-their depth protagonists attempting to survive them. I adore all those clothes: the shirts and the jackets and the way young Erin’s jeans hang in loose folds while older Erin’s hug her thighs tightly. Similarly her mouth hangs agape naturally, even when not speaking, with a certain degree of weariness.


So much of the background detail is subtle but makes all the difference, particularly in the closed-down, deserted and dilapidated shopping mall: lots of detritus, particularly cardboard, scattered on benches or blown up against shop windows and doors; the grass between its parking spaces overgrown.

The two Erins are quite credibly the same person and, as you’d expect from the writer of EX MACHINA and SAGA, the characterisation throughout is top-notch too, the relationship between the pair evolves beautifully with an endearing empathy for each other even if things haven’t worked out the way the twelve-year-old would have wanted – perhaps.


Having given the game away about this instalment’s temporal location I think I’ll refrain from revealing anything more about the plot dynamics, but by its end you’ll have a much clearer indication of the sort of structure Vaughan’s working with here. I’m confident its neatness yet unpredictability will leave you with very satisfied smiles, just like the additional contractions and rearrangements our language has undergone, for the futuristic knights have followed the girls through:

“Bystand a nano, Grand Father. Ograph puts us smackmid of… 002016.”
“Ah, the year my mother was born. Must be right before this nation’s election. Poor bastards have no idea The Problems are about to begin.”

So those two are from verrrrry different time zones, aren’t they?


Buy Paper Girls vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Samurai vol 1: The Heart Of The Prophet h/c (£22-99, Titan) by Jean-François Di Giorgio & Frédéric Genêt.

“Why did hesamurai-vol-1-cover leave me here ten years ago?”

Ah, the glories of nature, sprightly coloured by Delphine Rieu and as crisp as a Blu-ray disc or a PS4 console screen! It put me more than a little in mind of the old Onimusha games so fondly remembered, and should certainly please fans of BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, VAGABOND, LONEWOLF & CUB and  LEGEND OF THE SCARLET BLADES which boasted wondrous winter paintings, fantastical wolves and an intricately woven story of cause and effect, of nature and nurture.

Absolutely epic landscapes here too: whether it’s autumnal foliage followed by snow-swept Japanese mountains, the low-lit, emerald, subterranean caverns, the lake bearing The Isle With No Name, the scale and perspectives of the hidden tombs glimpsed from above or the intricate wooden panelling on interior ceilings, it all looks like it’s been drawn on boards far bigger than the ones employed as standard then reduced without clutter or any loss of detail.


It’s to The Isle With No Name (apart from, you know, “The Isle With No Name”) that Takeo journeys in search of his brother. He’s accompanied by his catering servant Shirow, bumbling about and bemoaning his plight like dear Roy Kinnear in the Musketeer films. But as they approach the lakeside hamlet they’re distracted by the villagers’ chilling reaction to a young girl solving the unsolvable puzzle of The Prophet’s Heart.

Tied to an ancient cult led by insurrectionist General Akuma, the puzzle is a prophetic compass, and this single act will bring the Three Shadow Ladies down on their heads and herald the launch of an unstoppable army towards the gates of the Imperial Palace. For something unspeakable lurks in the stygian depths of The Tomb of Sei-I-Otsuka, and it craves the blood of the puzzle-solver most of all…


I really enjoyed this just for the sheer visual craft, and now that I think about it readers of Frank Miller’s 300 may also be swept away by the later battle scenes including a fold-out, triple-page spread. It’s a refreshing change to get my hamburger fix from something other than a superior superhero book. Because, don’t get me wrong, there’s little more profound beneath these trappings, but it’s tasty all the same.

Note: the next instalment, SAMURAI VOL 2: ISLE WITH NO NAME, has already arrived. Yup, he’s on his way back again.


Art from volume 2


Buy Samurai vol 1: The Heart Of The Prophet h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Poe Dameron vol 1: Black Squadron (£17-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule, Chris Eliopoulos & Phil Noto…

“Why, hellopoe-dameron-cover Poe. So nice to see you again.”

Indeed it is, as self-proclaimed best pilot in the galaxy Mr. Dameron was one of the few highlights, for me anyway, of the recent Star Wars film. Like Wedge Antilles with added charisma, oozing chutzpah, he clearly is being positioned to replace a certain cheeky, if irascible, character who apparently didn’t fancy making three sequels… And I don’t mean Wedge…

Speaking of people who weren’t interested in sequels, actor Denis Lawson was apparently asked to reprise Wedge, which makes you wonder if when he said no, they decided to create Poe Dameron in the first place.

Anyway, I have really enjoyed the main STAR WARS comic and the recently concluded DARTH VADER immensely, but have found pretty much all of the character-named minis a bit flat, indeed pedestrian. This, however, has a fresh, exciting feel to it, and thus succeeds in actually adding to the canon rather than just being propped up by it. Penned by Charles Soule, whose current DAREDEVIL run is also pretty decent, with clean-cut Marvel stalwart Phil Noto on art, it’s quite simply action-packed fun.


Every good hero needs a villainous nemesis to play off against, though, and Soule wastes no time in introducing the dastardly Agent Terex of the First Order, who’s like a passive-aggressive David Niven, all polished accent and impeccable manners combined with a close cropped half-Mohican and sneering, sarcastic turn of phrase. Oh, and he positively loves torturing and killing people, dear boy.

We get two stories for the price of one here, the first of which neatly establishes the characters, involving a strange egg-like artefact and a missing explorer who may know the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, but also allows Poe and Terex to perform the first of no doubt many a deadly pas de deux and competitive verbal one-upmanship.

“Everybody goes home, and we forget this ever happened.”
“Oh, I doubt I will ever forget this happened, Poe Dameron.”


The second story has Poe and his Black Squadron crew popping along to the most heavily secured prison in the galaxy to have a word with one of the lovely Hutts, who may have a lead on the errant explorer. Guess who else has decided to pay their respects…? Yep, that’s precisely where my first pull quote comes in. What follows is a neat twist on a jail break story as Grakkus the Hutt pits Poe and Terex against each other by offering to reveal his information to the side that can somehow spring him and get him off-world. Let the game begin!



Buy Poe Dameron vol 1: Black Squadron 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 Can Opener’s Daughter (Bookplate Edition) (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Rob Davis

Descender vol 3: Singularities (£13-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen

Rumble vol 3: Immortal Coil s/c (£14-99, Image) by John Arcudi & James Harren

The Spire s/c (£26-99, Boom) by Simon Spurrier & Jeff Stokely

Wet Moon vol 2: Unseen Feet (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell

Adventure Time: President Bubblegum s/c (£8-99, Titan) by Josh Trujillo & Phil Murphy

Assassin’s Creed: Templars: Black Cross s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Fred Van Lente & Dennis Calero

Bee And Puppycat vol 3 s/c (£13-99, Kaboom) by Patrick Seery & Ji In Kim

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10 vol 6: Own It (£16-99, Dark Horse) by Christos Gage & Rebekah Isaacs, Juanan Ramirez

Copra Round Four s/c (£17-99, Bergen Street Press) by Michel Fiffe

Dark Souls vol 1: The Breath Of Andolus (£14-99, Titan) by George Mann & Alan Quah

Spectrum vol 23 (£23-99, Flesk) by various

Tank Girl: Two Girls, One Tank (£13-99, Titan) by Alan Martin & Brett Parson

Batman And Robin Adventures vol 1 s/c (£17-99, DC) by Paul Dini & Ty Templeton,others

Batman vol 10: Epilogue h/c (£20-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Greg Capullo

Batman vol 9: Bloom s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Greg Capullo

Deathstroke vol 4: Family Business s/c (£14-99, DC) by James Bonny, Phil Hester & Tyler Kirkham

Guardians Of Galaxy: New Guard vol 1: Emperor Quill s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Valerio Schiti, Arthur Adams

Ms. Marvel vol 6: Civil War II s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by C. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyagawa, Mirka Andolfo

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov, others

Spider-Man: Miles Morales vol 1 s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli

The Uncanny Inhumans vol 3: Civil War II s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Carlos Pacheco, Kev Walker Kim Jacinto

Assassination Classroom vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Blue Exorcist vol 16 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Fairy Tail vol 57 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 7 (£14-99, Yen Press) by Natsuki Takaya

Monster On The Hill (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Rob Harrell

That last one keeps dropping off our website even though it’s permanently in stock. We have no idea why.



ITEM! Christmas Shopping at Page 45! Includes Personal Service Promises and a Top 40 Comics & Books from 2016 with some Christmas Present Classics.

THE COLDEST WINTER with its signed bookplate (reviewed above) would definitely have been included had it appeared any earlier!

 – Stephen




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