Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2017 week four

We celebrate 2000 AD’s 40th Birthday with a love letter after admiring Alexis Frederick-Frost, John Martz, Philippa Pearce & Edith, then Warren Ellis & Jon Davis-Hunt, Rick Remender & Jerome Opena, Bill The Bard and more!

Do you want to meet Jillian and Mariko Tamaki? News underneath!

Tom’s Midnight Garden h/c (£12-99, Oxford Press) by Philippa Pearce & Edith.

“The clock belongs to old Mrs. Bartholomew upstairs. She’s rather particular about it…
“It keeps good time but seldom chooses to strike the right hour.”

I need to find a word other than ‘magical’, don’t I? Lord, but I’ve taken that one out to play often enough when it comes to comics, particularly all-ages comics like this. I know, let’s try ‘transporting’.

It’s the beginning of the summer holidays. Tom’s younger brother Peter has measles so, lest he catch it too, frown-faced Tom is hastily dispatched to Uncle Alan and Auntie Gwen who live in a town near Ely where he’ll be kept under quarantine. Uncle Alan collects him by car.

“I hope we’ll get on reasonably well.”

A once grand house, it has since been divided into flats, at the top of which lives the landlady, old Mrs. Bartholomew. Her grandfather clock stands screwed to the wall in the shared hallway, which is dingy even during the day.

His Uncle isn’t unkind but he’s rather remote and slightly austere, and while his Aunt is jolly and a generous cook, you suspect that they’ve never had children. It doesn’t help Tom’s sense of being trapped that there are bars on his windows and he’s not allowed out or to answer the door for the fortnight it takes to ensure he’s not contagious.

Both writer and artist capture the crippling awkwardness and monotonous boredom of staying alone anywhere but home when you’re young, outside your comfort zone, without friends or familiar books and toys: the sense of being very much a visitor. Time passes excruciatingly slowly as Tom writhes on a chair or lies flat on his back on his bed. So, in order to at least feel some sort of contact, Tom begins writing to Peter.

Then, during a typically sleepless night, Tom hears the grandfather clock’s sonorous chiming not ten o’clock, not eleven o’clock, not twelve o’clock but…

“Peter, I had to know what time the clock fingers would be showing when it struck thirteen…”

Tom descends the staircase gingerly in darkness, but the scant moonbeams shining from the narrow window above the back door aren’t bright enough to read the clock face, so he opens the door to let more light in.

Instead of the cluttered back yard he was promised lay outside, Tom is confronted by a vast, sprawling green garden of some country mansion, in full summer flower and in daylight!

I did promise you ‘transporting’.

The contrast is startling.

The drabness of Tom’s confines had been accentuated with but three muted and similar, slightly sickly shades shared by the walls, the bed linen and Auntie Gwen’s frock. Then there was the perpetually dark and gloomy hallway. Now Edith opens everything up – like an orchestra letting rip after mournful, wistful solos – with a full-page blast of fresh, vivid green, bright, sunshine yellows, livid purple and scarlet blooms. In addition, behind the initial, informal garden, there is the promise of more to explore with a meadow and second tree line in the distance behind the hedge.

As Tom begins to beam in his smart, white, best-visiting jim-jams, you can feel the cool, soft grass beneath his tiny feet.

There’s an exquisitely written scene over breakfast the next morning in which Tom tries to rationalise his experience as his Aunt and Uncle having lied about what lies outside. He angles his arguments in such a way as to coax a confession out of one or the other, but they are oblivious. Undeterred, he tries again his Aunt on his own. It’s delightful. Then suddenly it occurs to him to see for himself, to open the back door in broad daylight.

As promised, it’s just a back yard, and a small one at that.

We’ve barely begun but I’m not sure how much further to take you. Tom will continue to make further forays into this enticing realm and you will notice that those he later spies living there – three brothers and their young cousin Harriet – are dressed as late Victorians while Tom, of course, comes from the late 1950s.

On his second visit Tom discovers that time passes differently in his midnight garden than it does at his Auntie and Uncle’s, but a little later he becomes puzzled that a tree struck by lightning in a storm should be in perfectly fine fettle on a subsequent sortie.

I will say that a brief episode involving Tom perched in a wheelbarrow, which you’ll pass over as nothing the first time round, becomes exceedingly funny on your second read through. It’s one of those books which rewards multiple readings to see if it works once you’ve realised what’s happening.

There’s so much to admire in Edith’s line and colour art. The contrasts we’ve covered, although her backlit scenes throughout are some of the most effective I’ve seen, with shadows falling over those approaching to telling effect on subsequent inspection. I also adore Tom’s wide white eyes, big head and body language which are perfect for an age when we haven’t yet achieved full strength or agility. Auntie Gwen, meanwhile, is so plump and homely that she could almost have been pencilled – though not coloured – by Raymond Briggs, and Uncle Alan’s glasses through which no colour passes are perfect for the period.

Where Edith excels above all is on the other side of the midnight door, capturing the not just the scale but the variety of any such rambling estate. There’s the walled vegetable garden with its green door, an ornamental pond, formal walkways round mowed lawns and under organic tunnels of foliage, informal thoroughfares through more remote woodland under vast canopies of trees, shrubbery, flower beds, fences and gates, and a large greenhouse.

The dappled light under the apple orchard’s trees in painted to perfection, their squat, twisting, knotted trunks a sure sign of their maturity.

Now, there is obviously a substantial element of time travelling involved, but it’s far from linear or predictable. Plus there’s something far more complex, personal and intimate at work as you shall see.

For, at its heart, this is the story of two lonely souls craving company, reaching out and finding it.

SLH

Buy Tom’s Midnight Garden h/c and read the Page 45 review here

A Cat Named Tim h/c (£17-99, Koyama Press) by John Martz.

Family entertainment, riddled with mischief, wonder and wit, in a hardbound variety of inventive, unpredictable entertainments for maximum interpretation and so interaction.

Filled with loops – both visual and narrative – this will have wide eyes hungrily scouring the pages, following the paths and bring big, broad grins to both you and your sproglets, as young as you like.

Everything here (bar one double-page spread showing Tim to be a master of many metiers) is emphatically comics, even the double-page spread in which Connie and Mouse activate an enormous, impressive and complex machine full of funnels, pipes and gauges, levers and light bulbs, dials and digital displays.

“What does it do?”
“I thought you knew!”

I saw so many faces in all its intricacies, but then humans will anthropomorphise anything, won’t we? Cars, clocks, trains, house fronts…

 

The loops begin on the very first page introducing our first act, Doug the duck and Mouse. Theirs is one long adventure as they traverse the globe by any and every means imaginable. At one point they navigate a tropical, serpentine river into which the longest snake you’ve ever seen dips in and out, its coiled body disappearing beneath the water’s surface as our heroes progress downstream towards danger. Then, on the very next page, there’s a Looney Tunes-like water-jet gag.

You never know what to expect, including the return of that snake under very different yet hilariously similar circumstances for its body is segmented once more, but by something else entirely. Will you be able to spot it?

Each of our other three acts you’ll find introduced before they take centre stage, and our second is the titular cat named Tim, who will try his hand at any activity, be it professional, recreational, educational, experimental, artistic or domestic. At one point he paints himself into quite the corner, only to extricate himself with comical cartoon logic. It’s so obvious once you’ve seen it, but I defy you to try that at home!

So we come to my favourite loop, that of Connie’s mechanically assisted, twelve-panel day which begins top-left and ends bottom-right, but whose path is far from straight-lined linear. Here her course is subtly suggested by colour and Connie’s line of sight.

Finally it’s time for Mr. and Mrs. Hamhock to keep us entertained while doing as little as they can, for if Doug and Mouse are continually on the move, then Mr. and Mrs. Hamhock are far more sedentary. Whatever could possibly unseat them? Ah, yes, that perennial anxiety / doubt! They may have left it a little too late.

From the creator of possibly the most poignant comic I’ve ever read, BURT’S WAY HOME (even more so that Jordan Crane’s profoundly moving LAST LONELY SATURDAY) comes page after colourful page of adventure, misadventure and japes, as fresh as fresh can be.

I have never, for example, seen a bird dutifully raking its tree branch in Autumn, while the leaves flutter down to collect unattended on the grass below.

SLH

Buy A Cat Named Tim h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hugh (£4-99, One Percent Press) by Alexis Frederick-Frost.

A miniature gem of delighted discovery and life-changing, creativity-catalysing serendipity whose initial black and white cardstock is cut round Hugh’s semi-profile so as to reveal a glimpse of the riotous, fuchsia-and-gold-coloured secondary cover behind.

The very first page of softly smudged pencils is rich in period detail from the buildings’ ornate facades to the fashion of the few men and women seen parading down its relatively tranquil street with their walking sticks, hats and voluminous dresses and the single horse-drawn cart.

On the second we spy Hugh with his prominent nose and pointy, Poirot-like moustache prising open an envelope to reveal an evening’s invitation to an Annual Accounts Report. Although excited, he diligently he maintains his ledger of what is due and what has been paid, but then he sets off at the bong of the clock, his thoughts full of formulae but – oh no! – it is raining, and the actual address is obliterated.

Hugh hastens on, recalling the street’s number, for such is head for figures and attention to detail!

He is wrong.

But he’s never been more right in his life.

What follows is a spiritual and visual blooming, which I’ve foreshadowed in my very first paragraph just as Frederick-Frost has when proving that you can judge this book by its cover.

This is what I love about comics: this!

The unexpected and the joyful, so succinctly expressed and so cleverly crafted by someone with something to say, and the skill with which to say it. If I thought for one second that we could import another hundred copies in time, I would declare this to be Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month for March.

Please note: we secured copies of this and so much more besides from Spit And A Half, the American distributor created, curated and manned by KING-KAT’s John Porcellino.

You can find a full list of our recent acquisitions underneath Page 45’s Reviews for February 2017 Week 2, each title linked to Porcellino’s own summaries where we have yet to provide thoughts of our own.

SLH

Buy Hugh and read the Page 45 review here

John Porcellino’s Thumb (£3-99, Spit And A Half) by John Porcellino’s Mum and Dad.

This thumb is a good thumb.

It boasts all the basic requirements: opposable, four fingers to oppose, and hand still attached for maximum opposition.

In addition it is clean and healthy with no evident signs of necrosis.

The real treasure and star attraction, however, is the thumb nail which is perfectly formed and diligently clipped. Its keratin is shiny and its cuticle kept at bay, revealing a perfect, pale lunula.

This nail is also naturally translucent whereas many come covered in an opaque, albeit glossy colouring which is sometimes a bonus but rarely on men – the male finger and thumb are ill-designed for such a varnish, being relatively stumpy. This is a subjective aesthetic assessment, of course, but it comes irrespective of societal, gender judgementalism which is as much of an anathema to me as variant covers. Please note: there are no variant editions of JOHN PORCELLINO’S THUMB.

In summary, Mrs. and Mr. Porcellino are to be commended for their remarkably good-looking genes and impeccable design sense which harks back to the early work of God. Although do bear in mind that some suspect God was but a pseudonym for Science.

SLH

Buy John Porcellino’s Thumb and read the Page 45 review here

2000 AD’s Greatest: Celebrating Forty Years (£12-99, Rebellion) by Alan Grant, Steve McManus, Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill, Malcom Shaw, John Smith, John Wagner, Rob Williams, & Brian Bolland, John Burns, Steve Dillon, Carlos Ezquerra, Duncan Fegredo, Kevin O’Neill, Dylan Teague, Chris Weston, Colin Wilson.

Hello!

I’m 2000 AD’s self-appointed ambassador for the week, welcoming newcomers and suggesting that loyal devotees might also consider this the perfect present with which to initiate your friends.

Unlike Judge Dredd – the one-man Emergency Response Unit for whom evidence is an irrelevance and juries an unnecessary impediment – I present exhibit A:

“You creeps are under arrest. Attempted murder, fifteen apiece.
“Plus seven for arming an infant.”

We’ll be returning to Williams and Weston’s whimsical short story about the dearly deluded and far from beloved, green crocodilian Klegg soon enough. It is this collection’s prime example of how much intricate detail and unexpected lateral thinking can be crammed into such short stories whilst leaving plenty of space for the eye to roam and the mind to muse on a) mankind’s atrocious lack of empathy b) the bliss of innocence and ignorance and c) what Emily Bronte might do if she were transformed into a bi-pedal alligator on the run from a big-game hunter while stuck in a utilitarian tower block whose elevator door obstinately refuses to open.

But if you’re new to the satirical world of 2000 AD then “Plus seven for arming an infant” should give you quite the clue of what to expect. As should this:

“By the time the traffic was halted, the assassin was spread over 500 metres of Mega-Way.”

Such cadence!

If you are new to Britain’s weekly comic which just last year published its 2000th consecutive issue in addition to new material in monthly magazines and specials, what an achievement is that! Also, what a great place to start: thirteen short stories from throughout this irreverent institution’s forty years, selected and introduced by acclaimed creators commending their peers.

There’s a particularly delicious and ever so English full-colour entry called ‘The Strange Case Of The Wyndham Demon’ by Johns Smith & Burns in which a quaint country village finds itself assaulted by semi-sentient bread dough whose need to feed coincides fatally with a dutiful wife’s need to knead. It’s not so much a hands-on experience as a hands-off experience.

“Ellen screams and steps back, suddenly faint, suddenly worried because her hands have gone.
“Ted’ll be home in an hour and she can’t find her hands.
“Ellen Harris’ last thought, as she faints from loss of blood, is: ‘Who’s going to do the washing up?’”

If that weren’t enough for this blood-letting kitchen sink drama, an angry old man called Doctor Sin – already on a vocal rampage of intolerance towards the satanic influence of rock and roll luring millions of innocent youngsters towards “alcoholism, hooliganism, socialism and self-abuse” – vows to get to the bottom of this devilry by weeding out local perversion and filth like the local St. Judith’s Bell Ringers association.

Speaking of intolerance, Judge Dredd himself is very well represented from as early as Prog 5 and as recently as Prog 1889.

Issues or editions were called ‘Progs’ in the future. That’s a sentence which beautifully sums up the smile-twitching situation we now find ourselves in: that 2000AD seen as a once far-flung future date back in 1977 has now long since come and gone. Not everything predicted has come to pass, although if we haven’t criminalised sugar yet (as they satirically suggested we might back in 1981) then we’ve certainly demonised it. 2000 AD’s semi-accuracy was part of its charm, as was such mischief: you’re not going to get fat on cocaine. I’m pretty sure obesity was a crime. And when I type “semi-accuracy” it was often spot-on, for I seem to recall one Neil Gaiman predicting our current obsession with mobile phones there. It isn’t included.

We’re certainly catching up fast in jettisoning our freedoms, but Judge Dredd’s stomping ground, Mega-City One, had long since dispensed with privacy laws. Everyone was on camera and every client who even bought a stick of lipstick was logged, their names and addresses surrendered to even the most casual police enquiries without question. I don’t think that world even had a word for ‘warrant’ any longer. And I think that’s brilliant: that the kids (and its readers were kids back then) were warned, through comedy, of the dangers of unchecked authority.

The epitome of this totalitarianism was Judge Dredd himself, he of the impassive, iron, jutting jaw as originally impressed upon us by Carlos Ezquerra. It was masterfully perpetuated by the likes of Bolland, Wilson, Weston, Dillon, Fegredo, Teague etc who are all in evidence here, and if you aren’t familiar with Dylan Teague, well, I present you with another Dave Gibbons. He really is that good, his whiplash choreography bolstered by foot-on-the-ground physics.

Crucially, Dredd never once removed his helmet for that would betray / instil in him some humanity. Although you might be amused to learn that he once had an Italian cleaning lady. He wasn’t the most sympathetic of employers: when she ushered in a cold-caller called Kevin O’Neill, Dredd threatened to drown Maria in her Minestrone. Quite right too!

No, Judge Dredd was and remains both hero and villain. He postures in his pursuit of justice, but all Dredd seeks truly is punishment. I doubt he could even spell “rehabilitation”. He is hilariously yet egregiously free from the concept of joy. He is thrillingly efficient to the point that one cannot help but applaud a one-panel button-punch which sends a criminal careening through page after page of aerial pain, and so determined that no perpetrator will go unpunished that you wish so fervently that he’d headed the original Stephen Lawrence investigation. Yet he is implacable, dogmatic, relentless and remorseless. In Wagner and Fegredo’s ‘The Runner’ he shoots a man down in cold blood for achieving his best jogging record:

“B-but he’s not a criminal! He loved running… He was always running. That’s all. Is it a crime to run now?”
“It’s reasonable grounds for suspicion.”

That’s a fabulous short story, by the way, seen from the point of view of that jogger / runner. Artist Fegredo is a maestro of movement as seen to spectacular effect in Mark Millar’s MPH, and remains comics’ king of gesticulation – on a par with Will Eisner or sculpture’s Auguste Rodin – and here his figure’s fingers are seen poised as if daintily drinking a cup of tea.

So we return to where we began with Rob Williams and Chris Weston’s ‘The Heart Is A Lonely Klegg Hunter’. It’s a relatively recent entry with exceptional, glowing colour art by Michael Dowling over Chris Weston’s phenomenally intricate lines. You’re in for a rich and deliciously satirical delight as Williams takes on speed dating, errant apostrophes, employer disloyalty, the humble aspirations and meek expectations of a literature-loving, anthropomorphic crocodile wearing a yin-yang belt buckle, feared and loathed so unreasonably by all, plus the duplicity of vapid, day-time television hosts who should all be taken outside right now and shot.

Sorry… I think the Judge is rubbing off on me.

“Boy, I thought Kleggs were supposed to be fearsome, not tiresome!”
“After sitting through that, Andrea, I for one feel we should invade the Klegg homeworld and wipe out their entire race.”
“Hmm. genocide. Good thing or bad thing? Viewers, press your screen now.”

My only qualm is that even more 2000 AD non-Judge-mental gems like Smith & Burns’ – unavailable in other collections – could have been better served with this spotlight. But I’d reiterate that it’s a crackingly good primer and I’ll tell you this for nothing:

2000 AD is a family, and once you’ve offered yourself up for adoption you will be cherished. I cannot think of a single other publisher whose Twitter @2000AD treats its readers with such all-encompassing, interactive affection. That account is evidently run with a great deal of fun for its readers.

There was (and continues to be) such an outpouring of adoration for the comic’s extensive 40th birthday celebrations (I hear this every day from those who attended on our shop floor) and its 2000th Prog which meant that Page 45 sold 10 times its normal number of copies, shipping it worldwide and – on several notable occasions – off-world.

250+ copies went to a planet called Quaxxan orbiting the very real star which you might well know as Betelgeuse, which was almost as strange and satisfying as when we sent a SCOTT PILGRIM t-shirt to Toronto.

I’ll concede that in this instance the postage was crippling, but you show me any other comic shop on this planet that can and will ship to anywhere in this worldwide wibbliverse. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And where there’s money involved, our Jonathan will find a way. He’s from Yorkshire.

Heart-felt congratulations to 2000 AD, then, not just on its prescience, its eloquence, its endurance and its anniversary achievements but also on giving so many individualistic artists and writers – whom we now know so well – their very first jack-booted foot in the door.

All the art shown is from this very collection; it’s just a shame I could find none of Fegredo’s nor John Burns’ online. Soz!

SLH

Buy 2000 AD’s Greatest: Celebrating Forty Years and read the Page 45 review here

The Wild Storm #1 (£3-25, DC) by Warren Ellis & Jon Davis-Hunt.

“Take it from me: there’s no such thing as being alive too long.
“There’s always something new.”

There speaks the futurist in Warren Ellis, constantly scanning the technological, literary and political horizons for what’s coming next.

This time, however, the creator of INJECTION, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, TREES et al is concerned with new iterations, specifically of old Wildstorm characters like those he himself introduced in THE AUTHORITY. It was a broader science fiction than its subgenre of superheroes, whilst keeping some of its more prominent trappings – the costumes, HQ and action – right out in front in order to please its readers. It did. I recommend it unequivocally.

This, I suspect, is veering even further away into purer science fiction with a far more European sensibility aided by Jon Davis-Hunt’s clean detail and spirit of place, and Ivan Plascencia’s cool blue and brown, sky and earth palette slashed with mere traces, tiny trickles of blood which make them all the more painful and worrying.

The cover and its colour are a statement of intent.

You need have read nothing before: Ellis is starting from scratch as if nothing had gone before, although there’s no point in throwing the babies with some potential out along with the cold, dirty bathwater. Deliberately, then, I’ll mention no more of the imprint’s prior incarnation and simply suggest some of what is presented here.

Covert civic operations seeking to keep gene-spliced blood out of the city’s water supply. Overt economic operations seeking to make big bucks from cleaner energy sources while keeping the alien nature of their corporation’s head under wraps. Covert International Operations seeking to keep quietly running the world. Miles Craven, director of I.O., seeking to share a street-side citron pressé with his husband Julian without being harassed by a clumsy, scatty and intense scientist / employee called Angela Spica determined to raise the bar on their ambitions exponentially in order to enhance lives worldwide in a whole new way.

Each one of those goals is compromised, in one way or another, by the chain reaction within.

For a start, Angela’s already experimented on herself.

I’m going to leave it there for fear of spoilers, but I’ll just return, if I may, to Jon Davis-Hunt and that “tiny trickle of blood”. There’s a slash in Angie’s t-shirt suggesting the experiment hurt plenty, but that’s nothing compared to a small sequence of panels after Angie sees a man bursting out of a plate glass window high above the HALO billboards advertising “Solar For Homes”, “A Battery Cell For Life” and “We’re Making The Next New World”. It is excruciating, as jagged shards of cellular meta-metal rearranges itself and multiplies, tearing through tissue then skin. The skin is just under one of Angie’s eyes. Every element there has been designed to emphasise the personal price and pain.

So:

HALO wants to make the world cleaner.

Angie wants to make the world safer.

International Operations wants to keep the world broken.

It’s easier to control that way.

SLH

Buy The Wild Storm #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Seven To Eternity vol 1: The God Of Whispers s/c (£8-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena…

“I remember Pa’s hand in mine.
“Grasping and shaking for what felt like a thousand years…
“…before he finally let go.
“His spirit released, allowing me brief communion before returning to the Well.
“I told him that I loved him. That I didn’t blame him.
“Didn’t blame him that his honour had sentenced us to this hard life.
“That I was proud of his sacrifice, that he never compromised his integrity.
“And I promised it wouldn’t be for nothing.
“I lied.
“And he knew.
“His final words to me were brief, the same old mantra.
“That no matter what happens…
Never hear the Mad King’s offer.”

Well, I guess this would fall very neatly into the Dark Fantasy Western genre. Each title that immediately springs to mind as sitting in the centre of that curious Venn diagram – Stephen King’s Peter David and Jae Lee-adapted DARK TOWER series, Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta’s EAST OF WEST and Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten’s WASTELAND – is a completely different animal, and this is no exception.

Adam Osidis is his own man. Though truly he didn’t have any choice in the matter. No, that was decided for him by his father, the moment he refused to give himself over to The God Of Whispers. Those that do are promised seemingly their heart’s desires, but would you really give someone total psychic dominion over you to fulfil that entreaty?

Possibly, if the only other choice was death for you and all those you love. So, sadly the vast majority of people have ceded, allowing the Mad King to amass a vast army under his control, including various powerful magical abilities to wield. The more his power and influence grew, the less people were able to convince themselves to even contemplate resisting, Adam’s father being one of the few brave exceptions. The Mad King very much wanted to add Adam’s father’s ability to his collection, however, and did not forget this slight.

So it is that only a relatively small group of free people remain, including Adam and his family, who were taken into the wilderness by his father to try and remain hidden from the Mad King’s clutches. They all knew it would ultimately be futile, of course; it was only ever going to be a matter of time before they were hunted down and discovered.

Now Adam is presented with his own choice. Is he as strong as his father? Seemingly not… But then he’s living on borrowed time as it is for another reason, so perhaps throwing his lot in with a rag tag bunch of magical freedom fighters who represent the last hope of overthrowing the despot isn’t actually that daring a defiance as it could be. Not that they seem particularly keen on trusting Adam…

This is a truly packed opener featuring the usual sophisticated, complex writing from Remender, and gorgeous, intricate art from Opena, very beautifully coloured by Hollingsworth.  I genuinely don’t know how Remender manages to shoehorn so much plot, subplot and character development into a mere four issues-worth of material, both comprehensively setting the scene and providing spectacular action aplenty as our dysfunctional group’s harebrained, suicidal full frontal assault seems to succeed rather too easily for my liking…

Just what is the Mad King up to…?

JR

Buy Seven To Eternity vol 1: The God Of Whispers s/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions:

Nameless s/c (£13-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham.

“From Earth to the Moon.
“Malkuth to Yesod.
“Shit rains down.
“Nothing is real.”

I don’t think I’ve every typed the words “Morrison”, “predictable” and “pedestrian” in the same sentence before.

I remember “passionate”, “compassionate”, “fiercely intelligent”, “parapersonality” and “transtemporal, pansexual, mulltidimensional fight for the future’s freedom”.

You wouldn’t really forget that one, would you?

Also, drugs: I remember a great many drugs and extreme vacillations between “Comics are ephemera, bound only for bins” and “Comics are the last medium unsullied by compromise with corporations – like the one that publishes most of my comics” depending on which horse du jour he felt like backing that day.

But before we begin, may I take a personal moment to say how fondly I recognised and remembered Glasgow’s Botanical Garden Gates, having lingered there long-time, but not with all those plump, floppy fish seen skewered on its weathervane here?

“Hebrew letter “mun” means “fish”. “Fish” and “Death”. And death is daath.”

Fair enough. I suppose all that has something to do with The Veiled Lady’s henchmen wearing deep-sea anglerfish head masks when they kidnap our protagonist who apparently will remain nameless and dump him in a supermarket shopping trolley. He tumbles out tellingly because our man and his proverbial trolley parted ways way back in 2001 since when, we learn later, he’s been on the run from the police.

Maybe he tried to steal the fuzz’s Dream-Key to their Empty Box in a Tombraider-like dream-space? That’s what our nameless one’s done to The Veiled Lady, which is why she is ever so slightly brittle. Or maybe they want him for pretension, since he’s quite evidently got a Christmas-cracker crash-course on the Kabbalah lodged in his throat.

 

Once rescued, our man of arcane knowledge is told there’s an asteroid 14 miles in length and 6 miles wide on a collision course with Earth. It’s called Xibalba, otherwise known as the Mayan underworld, the “Place of Fear” because whichever astronomer was on duty that night was feeling portentous as fuck.

In 33 days there will be an Extinction Level Impact somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, but long before that there will be planetary-wide panic. Of course there will! Have you read Dan Berry’s THE END? So psychologically astute!

If that wasn’t bad enough the asteroid bears a symbol carved into its surface. This sigil is three miles tall and half a mile wide. It’s the glyph denoting the door to the Anti-verse, and if you think that already sounds a far from promising picnic spot, there are the transmissions emanating from Xibalba in the Enochian angel language of John Dee – Astrologer Royal to Queen Elizabeth I – which, when translated, don’t bode well for hospitality at all!

“Man – every one of you – prepare for wrath.”

And that’s just the opening gambit. The rest of the curse speaks of “one thousand thousand-strong thunders”, “torment”, “flaming firmament”, “poison stars”, “Wormwood” (seldom propitious) and “woe”. All things considered, therefore, I’d probably stick to the original operational agenda which is fly out to the asteroid, drag it off course using tractor physics from off-planet, then bugger off back to moonbase, lickerty spit.

I definitely would in no way descend into the crevasse / scar / open wound and investigate gigantic sealed entrances because I have watched Alien many times over and things went slightly awry. I wouldn’t even dispatch drones down there.

Artist Chris Burnham you may remember from Grant’s BATMAN INCORPORATED VOL 1 where he did a mighty fine impression of Frank Quitely. While retaining no small element of that, here he comes over all Richard Corben which is perfect for this kind of psychotropic horror. It’s the creepiest sort of horror going wherein things grow into or out of you, and Burnham will certainly make you wince more than once on that front. He does diseased and invasion of personal space all too well.

He’s also spectacular when it comes to the crevasse’s epic contents, its off-the-scale monumentalism, and indeed the textured surface of the asteroid itself as seen from above in the form of a gigantic, circuit-board skull. That’s worth the price of admission alone.

In this sort of horror there’s nothing you can fight, only things to scare you shitless like the degradation of the body and degradation of the mind  – madness itself – and the terror of being lost and alone.

“There’s only me left.”

There are a great many doors here. Doors can be very disturbing. Opening one is quite the commitment.

As well as psychological horror, Morrison’s also very good at that sort of awful, gaping nihilism, here evoking the very opposite of Lovecraft’s “most merciful thing in the world” which, in case you’re wondering is “the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents”:

“Humankind is a disease, a malignant mistake. The natural world seeks to purge its blissful, ignorant Eden of our contagion.
“Self-awareness: there is the black worm in the apple. Our curse is to know there’s something terribly wrong with us.”

But that’s when he uses language one can comprehend and ideas one can take seriously. The rest is occult psychobabble for which I have a notoriously low threshold, and if you think his ‘Keys to the Abyss in THE NAMELESS’ will clarify shit, I’m afraid it’s mostly more mystic mumbo jumbo involving Thantifaxath, Baratchial, the qlippothic Tzuflifu (are you laughing yet, because I have tears streaming down my face) and tarot cards.

For an infinitely more imaginative, coherent and constructive take on the Kabbalah, please see Alan Moore & JH Williams III’s PROMETHEA.

SLH

Buy Nameless s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Merchant Of Venice h/c (£18-99, Candlewick Press) by William Shakespeare & Gareth Hinds.

Promises, promises, and exchanges of vows…

Had Shakespeare decided to apply rhetorical skills to law instead of theatre then English literature would be much impoverished, yet I fancy many lost causes would have been won. The legal debate in the Merchant Of Venice is perfect evidence of that for its oratory – guilefully staged and executed by a disguised, fair Portia – serves both.

There are two main plot threads which are wittily entwined: the courtships and the court case. Antonio secures an interest-free loan from Shylock to be repaid within three months so that his friend Bassanio can woo Portia,  although he will have to solve a riddle which all others have failed at in order to prove his suitability as a suitor: priorities are important! The collateral he stakes – the forfeit Antonio will pay – is that proverbial pound of flesh: if he fails to come up with the goods, Shylock will be entitled to quite literally carve out a pound of Antonio’s flesh from wherever he chooses.

Guess what happens next?

What’s interesting is that it’s the Venetians’ very goading of Shylock and his (hmm…) “Jew heart” that prompts this unorthodox approach to money lending. The ensuing court case – to determine whether Shylock is indeed entitled to start slicing and dicing – is an equally loaded affair, but it’s so incredibly clever than one can’t help but grin throughout. Portia hasn’t finished, though. Just as she tested her suitors so rigorously before even considering their hand in marriage, so now she tests Bassanio’s verbal fidelity versus gratitude for legal services rendered. Will he part with his engagement ring which he swore never to remove and give it to his very own missus (the ironies of disguise – Shakespeare really loved that one), to thank her for saving his friend?

Not really fair, Portia!

Hinds has, once more, chosen a completely different style to draw in here, with black line and blue more reminiscent of Dave McKean’s CAGES than his own colourful take on THE ODYSSEY. It really opens the play out as the cast roam the meandering streets of Venice, crossing its old brick bridges and meeting off St. Mark’s. It’s a contemporary version, but I don’t mean that in the same way that Antony Johnston’s JULIUS radically reinterprets the play with real wit and relish; I mean the setting is contemporary and the language to begin with has been made more accessible before easing us gradually into something more closely resembling the original text when it’s at its most important (the court scene). It’s also, I should add, substantially abridged, which would have delighted me during my school trips to Stratford, aged thirteen.

All this is discussed by Hinds in the back along with the key question one cannot avoid given the treatment of Shylock, and the constant, disparaging use of the word ‘Jew’: is this an anti-Semitic play or anti-racist tract exposing the raging anti-Semitism in Shakespearean England? Well, it’s more acknowledged than discussed, and I can only add that I winced every time Shylock was hailed as “Jew” rather than Shylock but at least Hinds left it there for, one would hope, much more discussion in schools.

SLH

Buy The Merchant Of Venice h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Thrilling Adventures Of Lovelace And Babbage s/c (£12-99, Penguin) by Sydney Padua.

I honestly can’t decide whether I like this or not. It does have much to recommend it, but it’s not without flaws, I must say. I think I would have much preferred a straight biography à la LOGICOMIX, which manages to explore both the life and mathematical works of Bertrand Russell in a witty, pithy manner that is as entertaining as it is educative. In contrast, this purports itself to be the ‘mostly’ true story of the first computer, whilst regaling us with the thrilling adventures of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage. Not that thrilling, frankly.

The true story is that Charles Babbage almost managed to build the first computer, his ‘difference engine’, way back in the 1830s, and that Ada Lovelace suggested computational programs that would have run on it, thus earning her the perhaps deserved moniker of the first computer programmer. The only things that prevented the building of the difference engine really, were ultimately a lack of funding, and perhaps Babbage’s own fondness for argument with all and sundry over just about everything. He was a rather cantankerous chap.

So, when someone decided to build a working difference engine in 1991 from Babbage’s original plans, and worked to the engineering tolerances possible for machining parts in the early 19th century, they did produce a working machine. Babbage also designed a more complex machine, and indeed even a printer, which were both also never built. He was also responsible for code and cipher breakthroughs during the Crimean War, for which he was never credited with during his lifetime. It is perhaps not entirely surprising therefore, that he died an unhappy and somewhat unfulfilled man. Arguing with everyone continuously can’t have helped either, I’m sure…

To me, you could do a brilliant graphic novel biography from such material. Instead this is farcical, spasmodic comedy shorts, weighed down with vast footnotes and interspersed with informative sections that are basically illustrated prose. It just doesn’t quite work for me, unfortunately. Either you have to wholly adopt one approach, like LOGICOMIX, or the other, such as EVOLUTION: THE STORY OF LIFE ON EARTH.

This veers around too wildly stylistically, page layout-wise also, for my liking, though others may well not find that a problem whatsoever. I’m not entirely sure the creator knows what audience she has put this together for, though she has certainly done a fantastic job researching and presenting such a body of – relatively complex in places – information. Overall, I certainly learnt a lot, mainly from the footnotes and illustrated prose sections, which of course must be one of the primary, if not the main, aims of any work like this.

JR

Buy The Thrilling Adventures Of Lovelace And Babbage s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth Uncensored s/c (£19-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & John Wagner, various.

“Ah have a dream, ma friends – a dream where ah see every square inch of this fair land covered by one big MacDonalds burger bar!
“A dream where every American child – be normal or mutie – kin grow up without knowin’ the horrors o’ natural food!
“Where every burger is served with pickle, an’ every ‘shake is so thick yu gotta drink it with a spoon!
“Yes, ma friends, ah dream o’ the day when all that’s decent and American – Mom’s apple pie, Hershey bars and the New York Yankees – yeah, everything that’s decent and American… HAS BEEN WIPED OUT!
“…And in its place will stand MacDonald’s – one huge, onion-spangled MacDonald’s – from sea to shinin’ sea!
“Enough speechifyin’. Let’s eat! The burgers an’ shakes is on me!”

Yes, as Chris Lowder and John Wagner write in their forewords, between their ‘speechifyin” Ronald MacDonald, a scheming Colonel Saunders, a rampaging Jolly Green Giant and even old Bibendum the Michelin man himself, it is astonishing that the <ahem> guest appearances were neither spotted and frantically scratched by the publishing higher-ups or attracted the subsequent attendant legal ire of the corporations squarely in the satirical crosshairs of Mills et al. But then as they also point out, 2000AD was a very different beast back then in 1978 (this collection covers Progs 61-85!), barely gestated and certainly not that well known.

Hence though, having got away with it once, the potentially copyright-offending parts of this epic were expunged from subsequent collections of the Cursed Earth Saga, including JUDGE DREDD: COMPLETE CASEFILES 2, which sees Judge Dredd trying to cross the radioactive wastes from coast to coast to rescue Mega-City Two from the raging Tooty Fruity virus turning citizens into cannibals. Presumably at this point, they have had permission to reprint them! Though I actually recalled the retraction strip they printed at the time which features Dredd and Spikes Harvey Rotten and the ‘real’ Jolly Green Giant, which is included in the back matter here!

Extremely entertaining, iconoclastic brand-bashing aside, this is a classic bit of extremely early Dredd regardless as he battles through the Radlands encountering weirder and weirder resistance week after week, reluctantly assisted by returning villainous biker Spikes Harvey Rotten, even encountering ‘Smooth’ Bob Booth, the last President of the United States, along the way, whom the Judges sentenced to 100 years suspended animation for starting the Atomic Wars which resulted in their subsequent coup d’état.

Current Dredd readers might find such early material a touch two-dimensional and the stories seemingly dashed off and practically joined together with sticky tape, but to me it’s fascinating to look back and see how Mills even managed to get five pages of such exquisite madcap nonsense out on a weekly basis given the very, very limited resources he was working with. It’s also amusing to observe the at times almost polite nature of the early more lithesome Dredd, drawn so beautifully by Bolland in particular here. There’s certainly no such pleasantries from the hulking version of today as he heads gradually out of middle age towards drawing his pension!

JR

Buy Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth Uncensored 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.

Forbidden Brides… h/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & Shane Oakley

Snotgirl vol 1: Green Hair Don’t Care s/c (£8-99, Image) by Bryan Lee O’Malley & Leslie Hung

Demon vol 2 (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jason Shiga

The Autumnlands vol 2: Woodland Creatures s/c (£14-99, Image) by Kurt Busiek & Benjamin Dewey

Crossed + 100 vol 3 (£17-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier & Rafa Ortiz, Martin Tunica

The Foldings (£5-00, Two-Toed Press) by Joann Dominik & Faye Simms

Lake Of Fire s/c (£14-99, Image) by Nathan Fairbairn & Matt Smith

Outcast vol 4: Under Devil’s Wing s/c (£13-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Spaniel Rage (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Vanessa Davies

Vikings vol 1: Godhead s/c (£12-99, Titan) by Cavan Scott & Staz Johnson

Adventure Time vol 11 (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Christopher Hastings & Ian McGinty

Adventure Time: Brain Robbers s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Josh Trujillo & Zachary Sterling

Adventure Time: Ice King s/c (£14-99, Titan) by Emily Partridge, Pranas T. Naujokaitis & Natalie Andrewson

Batman: Night Of The Monster Men h/c (£22-99, DC) by Steve Orlando, Tom King, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV & Riley Rossmo, Roge Antonio, Andy MacDonald

Injustice Year Five vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato & Mike S. Miller, various

Injustice Year Five vol 2 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato & Mike S. Miller, various

Wonder Woman vol 1: The Lies s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Greg Rucka & Liam Sharp, Matthew Clark

All New X-Men: Inevitable vol 3: Hell Hath So Much Fury s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Dennis Hopeless & Mark Bagley

Daredevil: Back In Black vol 3: Dark Art s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Ron Garney

Deadpool: Back In Black s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Salva Espin

Invincible Iron Man vol 3: Civil War II (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato, Mark Bagley

Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur vol 2: Cosmic Cooties s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder & Marco Failla, Natacha Bustos

Berserk vol 5 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Berserk vol 6 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

The Girl From The Other Side vol 1 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Nagabe

Inuyashiki vol 6 (£10-99, Viz) by Hiroya Oku

My Hero Academia vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

One Piece vol 81 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

News

ITEM! The Lakes International Comics Art Festival announces guests for 2017 and a brand-new website!

Oh, the #LICAF website is beautiful to behold, streamlined and so much easier to navigate!

Behold the full line-up of international creator guests for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017! You can click on any of their names for full bio!

Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki of THIS ONE SUMMER!
John Allison of GIANT DAYS and all things BAD MACHINERY!
Chip Zdarsky of SEX CRIMINALS!
Charlie Adlard of THE WALKING DEAD!
Norway’s Jason!
Sergio Aragonés!
Stan Sakai!
Brendan McCarthy!
Ryan North!
Aimée de Jongh! 
Hannah Berry!
Dan Berry!
Joe Decie!
Emma Vieceli!
Emmeline Pidgen!
John Martz!
Christian Ward!
Peter Milligan!
Sean Phillips!
Duncan Fegredo!
Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot and more, more, more, more!

There will be celebrations of TO THE HEART OF THE STORM and A CONTRACT WITH GOD’s Will Eisner!

There will be celebrations of MOOMIN’s Tove Jannson! (I’ve just finished Tove’s ‘Fair Play’ novella and cannot recommend it highly enough.)

What the guests will be up to – their special events – will revealed in due course, but all-you-can-eat day and weekend passes for LICAF 2017’s special events are on sale now whilst remembering that…

ENTRANCE TO THE COMICS-HUB CLOCK TOWER REMAINS ABSOLUTELY FREE!

That’s where you’ll find Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival every year along with our own special creator guests signing for free! Also in the Clock Tower: tables and tables of publishers and creators for you discover and lavish your lucre on.

October 13th to 15th, folks!

ITEM! Comics journalism Ink Magazine #3 is out, and you can read it for free!

Fab interview with Marc Ellerby about his autobiographical ELLERBISMS reviewed, our copies sketched in for free!

There’s also a feature on Bowie bio HADDON HALL awaiting your attention on our own shelves.

I love Steff Humm’s introductions: personal, witty and pithy, welcoming you on board. I suggest you subscribe to Ink Magazine so you can have each issue winged straight to your in-box for free because I can’t keep bleating about its brilliance every fortnight.

ITEM! The Big Issue has launched a new literacy campaign.

“Low levels of literacy costs the UK £81bn a year in lost earnings and increased welfare spending.”

Or, as their founder wrote:

“If you are going to cut libraries you must be prepared to build more prisons, and more homeless hostels.”

There are some startling statistics in there. #WhyBooksMatter

Nottingham City Council is selling this building which houses our library. Lovely!

ITEM! Last Wednesday was so bloody gloomy that I couldn’t wait for darkness to fall because everything becomes glossy and glowing with warm colours instead. I took a photograph while waiting for the bus in Nottingham City Centre. With a struck of luck this striking young gentleman turned round at exactly the right time, his rainbow umbrella providing a perfect focal point. Serendipitously, he was standing right next to a sign saying ‘Proud’!

I’m calling it ‘A Time For Reflection’ because I’m pretentious and love a good pun. Please click to enlarge.

 – Stephen

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