Archive for March, 2017

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2017 week five

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Featuring Brandon Graham & Marian Churchland, Michael DeForge, Ron Regé Jr, Ray Fawkes, Katriona Chapman, Sarah Graley, Jon Klassen and more!

“Giotto would be gurning in his grave.” – Stephen on Siberia 56

Katzine: The Factory Issue (£5-50) by Katriona Chapman.

But then, months later, the Dutch police arrive…

Would you just look at that cover!

Printed on rough-grained watercolour paper, it’s a gorgeous thing to hold in your hand. The balance of form is phenomenal, its sense of box-burdened weight is impressive and the combination of colours so surprisingly rich when you take stock of each individual component. Those have to be the warmest greys I had ever beheld in my life… until the glimpse we’ve given within of Chapman’s forthcoming graphic novel.

It cannot come quick enough.

This is the sixth self-contained KATZINE so far, each one of which I found mesmerising, but none more so than this. Chapman has that rare ability not merely to engage her readers with personal areas of interest – always judiciously chosen from her rich, well travelled life – but to entrance us almost immediately and leave us pondering long afterwards.

Here she’s taken a subject you’d least expect to rivet you – that of monotonous, assembly-line factory work for one and a half years in Amsterdam – and created an absorbing account of living, breathing individuals learning from each other. This must have been one of the most diverse gatherings of international co-workers ever and here is the key: Katriona cares. She’s profoundly interested in people, and her interest is infectious. They’re also a fascinating bunch.

Every workplace is a community, and within most communities there are both nurturers and nightmares. So it is here.

What amused me most of all, however, is what this factory was constructing: conveyor belts for other assembly-line factories! Some fit together in pre-ordained patterns from interlocking plastic modules like ridiculously long jigsaw puzzles, but others require the ramming of lubricated steel rods right through their width, and you know how when you’re running, leaping, diving and rolling around on screen during a console game and you realise you’re replicating exactly those movements while sat on your sofa…? Such is the skill in a single panel when Chapman rams the rod “through hard, with a twist of the wrist” that I caught myself almost mimicking it. I could certainly feel the force required.

Her tenure and recollection begins on 11th March 2002 when a man took eighteen people hostage at gunpoint in Amsterdam’s Rembrandt Tower. It’s a context which never quite leaves one throughout the account, so when Kat’s agency rep comes to call with a new set of contracts, however innocuous they seem, one begins to feel slightly uneasy for her. Nope, they’re fine – it must have been my imagination.

But then, months later, the Dutch police arrive…

SLH

Buy Katzine: The Factory Issue and read the Page 45 review here

Arclight s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brandon Graham & Marian Churchland.

“Arclight?”
“My lady, your body has returned.”

There are so many strains of fantasy but the most infectious by far are those that are ethereal and otherworldly, not just in aspect but in custom and cadence and the way in which their creators communicate them to us. ARCLIGHT excels at all four.

Mysteries should not be delivered to you, hand-held, but laid before you in such a way that you are required to tease them apart yourselves. There’s a difference between obscure and oblique.

We first meet Lady Kinga in the protection of her loyal knight, Sir Arclight, far out at the border-edge of the Blood House lands. She seems far more at ease amongst its vast trees than surrounded by the courtiers of her kingdom and this is as well, for she is not as she was.

Those are not matted tresses blowing in the breeze from beneath her hood, but twigs jutting out from under it. The noblewoman has become trapped in an alien body, her nature known only to Arclight. She is in possession of arcane knowledge and an instinct in touch with both the natural and unnatural world. She senses that a powerful magic has passed by, warping the wood in its wake, shaping it into tunnels of knotted and gnarled, raised roots.

It is there that they discover a newt-like creature of fire-red skin, limp and dying from its contact with that magic so, in order to preserve the beast, they must perform some of their own, transferring its essence to a goose. For this transition they require blood which, while sustaining life within the body, is always on the move and of which Lady Kinga has none. Instead she uses a portion of what she carries in flasks. All magic here requires the letting of blood, and a lot will be required; but Lady Kinga’s supply is limited.

There’s so much to recommend this, from the world-building to the world-painting. Like ZAYA, the early pages come with a restrained Arthur Rackham palette in an ancient woodland setting which Rackham admirers would feel quite at home in and populated by the two figures they would be equally comfortable keeping company with. The light at the root-tunnel entrance is very subtle.

Against these olive-browns the blood, the beast and the turquoise cloak which Sir Arclight wears over his carved-bone armour stand out a mile. Later the light – and there is so much light! – will be flecked with pale blues, purples, yellows and greens whorling around in the sky like a William Turner sunrise or storm.

Given that this is written by the creator of MULTIPLE WARHEADS and KING CITY and both drawn and coloured by the creator of the equally allusive, elusive BEAST, you would be so surprised if this repeated old tropes without infusing them with something new to comics. I imagine Charles Vess of SANDMAN, STARDUST and DRAWING DOWN THE MOON would swoon over this, but equally so Monsieur Moebius, for the double-page landscapes are epic.

But this is an alchemical fusion which transmutes those and any other influences into an entirely new element of Churchland’s own crafting. I’m speculating on Rackham, Vess and Moebius but I know for a fact that Churchland incorporated Yoshitaka Amano’s fashion sense into the mix. Sir Arclight in his aquamarine cloak could easily be from Faerie nobility, far from incongruous in A Midsummer Night’s dream, and there is much of the Elizabethan about everything here from the courtly intrigues to its couture.

And so we come to the androgyny and it’s not your Natassja Kinski ‘Cat People’, girl-with-a-boy’s-bob thing going on. Cut to the court, and it’s ostensibly a much more sybaritic affair but also, above and beneath that, a genuine, heartfelt and complete relaxation of stereotypes to form new norms. Well, new to comics. Thankfully it’s being going on around us in real life for years.

Meanwhile, far beneath those palatial, stone surroundings Lady Kinga’s modest apartment, hidden away in a quiet understone pass is – like her new body – far more fibrous with wooden bookshelves, books and an armchair fashioned rather than carved from a tree, retaining its organic shape. I love that her potted houseplants, and those trailing from baskets hanging above, radiate a natural light but – best of all – there’s a single panel in which Lady Kinga refreshes her roots by soaking them in a steaming basin of water.

There she studies scrolls to discern what could have hurt her new familiar friend which snuggles itself down on a cushion by her side on the floor. A few hours later there is a knock on the door and that news from Sir Arclight:

Lady Kinga’s body is back and resides once more in court. But if Lady Kinga’s no longer within it… what is?

SLH

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

Underwinter #1 (£3-25, Image) by Ray Fawkes.

“I keep having these nightmares and I think I know why.”

‘Symphony’ part one: it’s all very sensual.

It’s also more than a little sinister, evoking early on the taut tensions of sado-masochism, the sharp string bow playing across soft, bared flesh.

Precisely worded, like any musical movement it builds beautifully.

“It’s my bruised ribs, struck, col legno, hit with the bow and not the hair…
“It’s my welted skin, the jete strokes, where the bow bounces again and again in ricochet.
“And then as the music intensifies, sautille, tremolo, bariolage… then it is also my voice.
“And there’s a pain that is beyond all imagining, beyond sanity
“And I weep…
“Because I don’t want it to end.”

‘Overture’ has two meanings, you know.

I am most definitely in!

A string quartet is invited to play blindfold at an exclusive party at a secluded mansion. There is a lot of money involved: £10,000 each for this first session. If they are pleasing, and enjoyed, they will be asked back.

The gig is brought in by Kendall, the libertine of the group: well built, well racked and well packed, first seen laid back in the arms of an older man, his lunchbox painted to be prominent.

However harmonious they may be on stage, in private Ms Ortiz at least is fractious, sneering, until she sees the colour of the money.

“Welcome. I am Meister Maranatha.
“You will play the pieces in the order selected for you. Do not improvise. Do not speak during the performance.
“You will wear the clothes we provide. You will not remove your blindfolds.”

From the creator of the fiercely inventive ONE SOUL and THE PEOPLE INSIDE whose construction, specific to the medium of comics, you will never have seen the like of (no exaggeration), this is a complete change of delivery in watercolour washes reminiscent of David Mack, expressionistic flourishes which reminded me of Bill Sienkiewicz and Francis Bacon, then a raw, roaring, abrasive crescendo during which the blindfold slips and –

You might want to Google ‘Maranatha’.

SLH

Buy Underwinter #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge…

“Sticks?! You came. I always thought you hated me, but here you are visiting me in my time of need.”
“No, I’m visiting girl. She was bitten by a harmless snake.”
“Oh.”
“I do hate you. You’re literally the worst. But I have to recognize I have certain obligations to the residents of this forest, so I’ve hired proxies to keep you company.”

Not sure having ants crawling all over me is what I’d want if I was lying on a drip in a hospital bed, but still, it’s about what you’d expect from the rather hard-hearted “49-years-old former Olympian, poet, scholar, sculptor, minister, activist, Governor General, entrepreneur, line cook, headmistress, Mountie, columnist, libertarian, cellist.” As Sticks Angelica is want to self-promote, sorry, describe herself…

Following on from a disturbing family scandal, Sticks has decided to live off the grid deep in the Canadian woods in total isolation. Except she seems to be perpetually surrounded by the local wildlife that antagonise and annoy her in no small measure simply by existing. Which is a shame, because they all actually seem to idolise and adore her despite her obnoxious manner. Particularly a rabbit named Oatmeal who is deeply, madly and utterly unrequitedly in love with her. My favourite denizen of the dense foliage, though, was the cross-dressing moose named Lisa Hanawalt. And of course, harmless snakes are anything but!

It starts to get really strange (remember who the creator is…) when a reporter called Michael DeForge turns up to interview Sticks for a proposed biography. In typically terse fashion she’s having none of it, promptly knocks him out on the spot, and buries him neck-deep in the heart of the forest. Then, presumably believing no one could possibly do it better than herself, she becomes our narrator informing us all about her upbringing and myriad odd occurrences during her formative years. Meanwhile, Sticks develops an almost maternal instinct for an unnamed feral child that provides us with an interesting counterpoint to her character compared to the brash, hard exterior that she projects, well irradiates, out to the world.

What we thus end up with is a typically trademark surreal DeForge yarn (FIRST YEAR HEALTHY, DRESSING, ANT COLONY, A BODY BENEATH)   that is also a curiously insightful examination of how we are all curators of our own personal public history, some of us infinitely more subjectively so than others. All that really matters in the end, though, is were we loved and cherished, and did we reciprocate those emotions to others unselfishly? I will leave it up to you to decide whether Sticks eventually manages to pass muster in that particular respect… As fine a potted / potty comics faux biography as Seth’s GEORGE SPROTT and Chris Ware’s ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY 20 in its own very, very peculiar way.

JR

Buy Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero and read the Page 45 review here

Pizza Witch – Deluxe Edition h/c (£10-00, Shiny Sword) by Sarah Graley…

It would be fair to say that Sarah Graley’s comics star is ascending. Well, if you think being involved with something called Lil’ Poopy Superstar a noteworthy rung on the comics ladder to stardom, that is…! Given it is RICK AND MORTY’S: LIL’ POOPY SUPERSTAR and Sarah wrote and drew it, I certainly do!

That’s a pretty big licence to be allowed one’s own largesse with. I should also add that back-up comic art in that particular tome was provided by a certain Marc ELLERBISMS Ellerby. Plus she’s got KIM REAPER #1 arriving very shortly too, following the mis-adventures of the “part-time Grim Reaper; full-time cutie” which sounds and looks very fun. Maybe the cute-but-dead genre has some after-life in it yet…

Sarah’s evidently daft sense of humour and energetic, engaging art that tips its metaphorical hat to the likes of LUMBERJANES, OVER THE GARDEN WALL and SCOTT PILGRIM is proving a winning combination, it seems. And we’ve sold myriad copies of her autobiographical OUR SUPER ADVENTURE to locations as far flung as Australia! So who, or what, is Pizza Witch… and what, or who, is she after…? I shall let the supernatural lady speak for herself…

“I parked the broom, what’s up?”
“Do you believe in love at first sight, George?”
“WHAT.”
“I just delivered a pizza to the dreamiest babe who ever babe’d!!”
“More babe than me?
“Shut up George!!”
“When she comes back with the money, I’m gonna ask her on a date!!”
“Hm.”
““Hm” What?”
“Just… Let your pizza do the talking? Everyone who eats it pretty much falls in love with you anyway. Also, people don’t want to be asked on dates when they order pizza… They just want pizza…”
“Eheh…”

George is her cat.

Except… the dreamiest babe ever is lactose-intolerant and hasn’t even tried Roxy the Pizza Witch’s perfect pizza laden with her trademark (and very literal) pizza magic but also loads of digestive dairy disaster!! Eheh indeed. Cue one cheesy cheese-free rom-com as Roxy is determined to do whatever bizarre questing activities it takes to get a slice of the action with the girl of her dreams…

Originally a webcomic, then very kindly offered by Sarah as a limited print run thank-you as part of Sarah’s Kickstarter for OUR SUPER ADVENTURE, the pineapple-sweet, 24-page main tale is reprinted in a far swankier (and neatly re-lettered) format here. The rest of this lovely gold-embossed, shiny hardcover is then bulked up and out with extra toppings of a bonus short story and various concept and process pages. Sarah has also very kindly signed and sketched a small pizza slice in each our copies! Go on, dig in!

JR

Buy Pizza Witch – Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Triangle h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen.

Jon Klassen eyes are unmistakable and ever so expressive.

They either stare directly at you, poker-faced, with an alien intelligence and unknowable thoughts or they slide hither and thither, assessing the situation, attempting to keep their own counsel but often betraying a truth. Or a lie.

They allow the rest of his faces to perform not at all, enhancing the deadpan delivery while ramping up the comedy quotient, for there lies much mirth in the repetition.

You may know Jon Klassen, as the co-creator of all-ages SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE and EXTRA YARN plus the sole creator of the I WANT MY HAT BACK, THIS IS NOT MY HAT and WE FOUND A HAT tricks.

And they are all tricks in one form or other, the images informing the true meaning or contradicting what is written outright. This, I argue – in each review and possibly to deep sighs of “Do shut up, Stephen” – makes them comics, for without the visual narrative they would mean a lot less or nothing at all.

This is not a comic.

That doesn’t matter: illustrated prose is a wonder as well and the visuals are still delicious. I’m sure there will be gurgles and chortles throughout from very young readers and this is what we want!

But whenever I write “all-ages” I do so deliberately, meaning that the books are likely to be enjoyed equally by oldsters and even, like HILDA, bought as often as not by adults for adults. I adore every one of the above. Absolutely adore!

This one, not so much. With no mid-story gags to speak of, I was anticipating a ferociously funny punchline.

I’m still waiting. “Heresy!” etc.

Triangle travels to play a sneaky trick on Square. I’m sure it’ll enhance spatial awareness no end.

SLH

Buy Triangle h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Siberia 56 h/c (£16-99, Insight Comics) by Christophe Bec & Alexis Sentenac.

From the writer of CARTHAGO, the sub-aquatic, shark-infested shiver-fest featuring razor-sharp teeth embedded in a mouth big enough to engulf a bathysphere as if it were a bonbon. That mouth belonged to an eighty-foot long Megalodon, a species of shark which didn’t have the decency to die out 2.6 million years ago as we were all promised.

This too has teeth, but they feature in a future so far off that I probably don’t have to dread its arrival. They’re also found only on a planet so far away that I’m unlikely to stray there by mistake, even with my preternatural ability to catch the wrong bus.

Let’s hear the low-down on SIBERIA 56 from its publisher, shall we?

“It is the age of space exploration, and five scientists travel 80 million light years from home to study the planet of Siberia, the location of Earth’s 56th colony. Covered with dense snow and steep mountains, Siberia’s poles reach temperatures of -300° F with icy winds of close to 200 mph.”

It’s not that much more clement at its tropics.

Now, I grant you that no one could possibly know what lurks thereupon until it is investigated, but I don’t think it’s the most massive leap of imagination or cold, deductive reasoning to extrapolate from a present rife with flying drones that this far-flung future might have satellites capable of picking up 600-foot, heavily armoured, ice-bound, predatory lampreys on the prowl which they have mis-monickered “snakes”.

I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t need frail feet on the ground before you discovered that.

They’ve a more plausible excuse for failing to identify the planet’s even more antisocial alpha predator (no clues in this review), but even so: which particular meteorological property of this planet made it even a passing consideration as a potential colony when you’ve 55 others on the go?

At this point we’re just talking about the weather. And since the daily weather is what human beings talk about most, I don’t see anyone in their right minds decamping to Siberia 56 from infamously rain-drenched Britain let alone folks from Florida. Even Earth-bound Siberian inmates would probably decline swapping their current gulag for a life-long fling on a planet which would be equally fettered: with all-encompassing survival suits not to breathe oxygen but to quantifiably decrease the probability of contracting chapped lips.

With but a couple of exhibitions of extreme over-acting, the art on offer is ever so pretty. Sentenac excels at landscapes: landscapes which are as epic and as alien and as luminous as you’d like. That’s why you’re here. Alexis can also ramp up the tension like nobody’s business when you’re all alone on the glacier and you feel something very big and presumably ravenous thundering towards you and – not to be underestimated, this – underneath you.

But Sentec is left woefully adrift by Bec throughout on the cold, hard logic front. No, not just the logic front, but the story-building front.

The colonists’ database seems of paramount importance throughout: that’s what they’ve been sent there to construct from inexplicable scratch (see drones earlier) and the new expedition’s greatest asset which they rely on in order to survive. Yet it has (firstly) the most implausible, negligent gaps when shit they knew simply wasn’t entered, then (secondly), on narrative command, the most ridiculous leaps of instantly summoned stats derived from no discernible evidence.

And that destroys all the tension Sentenac attempts to build.

It’s as if the writer lost his original map or his Card Index System and, with it, the plot.

In Christophe’s defence, perhaps the translator was rubbish. I don’t know because I haven’t read the original. But we are told early on of the key subterranean carvings which reminded the crew of Lascaux cave paintings that…

“According to the analysis of the microresidue, these drawings were done with a metal tool. They’re at least 60 million years old.”

Okay, fair enough. So why are they referred to later on by beardy, irritatingly know-it-all, go-to scientist Boyett as “frescoes”? A fresco, by very specific definition, involves painting on plaster: painting on wet plaster most often, but certainly painting specifically on plaster and not “drawings done with a metal tool”.

*grinds teeth*

It’s far from the only ill-informed gaffe, but Giotto would be gurning in his grave.

SLH

Buy Siberia 56 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions

The Cartoon Utopia (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Ron Regé Jr.

“Believe only your own consciousness and then act accordingly and abundantly.”

I thought only my step-mother could make black and white dazzling, but Regé is back with a spiritual manifesto and ode to creativity: a singular, secular vision delivered with all the fervour of a religious sermon. It’s a call not to arms but to peace and perception unshackled from the conditioning of ages, exhorting all to see new possibilities, infinite possibilities, so enabling one’s full potential to be realised in both senses of the word.

The result is empowering and positively euphoric.

It’s also mesmerising: wave after wave of hypnotic patterns, symmetry within asymmetry and vice-versa, pulsing, radiating and mutating with a kaleidoscopic rhythm.

 

I love the way that the lettering is fully integrated into the art, often delineated with exactly the same thickness, the hollowed capitals precisely the right size, totally at one with each page and its constituent panels. I’ve never been allowed to review a book by Ron Regé Jr before. I found it profound, inspirational and beautiful to behold.

Alternatively: a great big colouring book for adults.

SLH

Buy The Cartoon Utopia and read the Page 45 review here

DMZ Book 3 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli…

Wizard magazine hilariously recommend this series to readers of FABLES. This is a bit like recommending a John Pilger documentary to addicts of ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Manhattan is no longer the thriving hub of culture and commerce it once was.

It is a wreck ravaged by all, caught in the crossfire between the U.S. Army and America’s own home-grown, anti-establishment militias which rose up while all the eyes and soldiers’ feet were abroad in Afghanistan and Iraq, and did a little insurging of their own.

A supposedly demilitarized zone, Manhattan is prone to be bombed with a moment’s notice and has become a no-go zone for everyone but the most intrepid or reckless reporters.

This reprints the thinner volumes 6, 7 and a little of 8. Here’s Jonathan’s most excellent overview of DMZ written – please note – in 2009:

“The normalisation talks were the fucking scourge of lower Manhattan. Don’t believe the hype — any signs of improvement on the ground are completely manufactured. It’s old-fashioned Surge tactics. Swarm a dozen square blocks with troops and air cover and suddenly it’s the safest place in the world. The next dozen blocks…   … not so much.”

For those people who are already gripped by DMZ, no background explanation is necessary on this volume except to mention that Wood’s level of storytelling has not dropped at all; if anything it’s gone up a notch a two as the conflict in the DMZ gets even more political (if that’s possible) and bloody (if that’s possible) as it grinds its way inexorably towards the inevitable end game. It’s just a case of who’ll be left standing to take a seat at the table once the dust has settled over what little’s left to eat…

For those unfamiliar with DMZ, or perhaps have thought, “Oo, it looks a bit too political to me I’ll give it a miss,” well you’ll only have yourself to blame when you’re asked to sign up for your compulsory ID card in the not too distant future, no matter which government is in power.

DMZ is an excellent education on exactly how politicians of every stripe and hue will seek to turn things to their own advantage and fuck the cost to the men and women caught in the middle.

Yes, it’s obviously meant to be a representation of what is happening on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan and various failed states in Africa right now writ large with internecine tribal rivalries, impotent international bodies, paid-for security goons and journalistic spin, conflicts of huge egos, and the inevitable scramble for power and money. But it’s a credit to Wood’s writing that the central premise of all of this taking place in the heart of America, in downtown Manhattan, is utterly believable making it not only a powerful warning to us of exactly what we’re letting our governments get away with in our name all around the globe right now, but also a brilliant story in its own right.

Every character is flawed or compromised by their ideological idiocy, cowardice, greed or just plain stupidity; it’s just to a greater or lesser degree that allows them in turn to be manipulated by someone further up the food chain with more power and influence to wield. Is anyone completely pure of heart and deed in this narrative? No, but then, that’s just like the real world, no? Even non-action can make you complicit as our non-hero journalist Matty Roth knows only too well. Pick a side, though… well, then you’re in it nostril-deep… Read it and weep, and be grateful you’re not living somewhere where someone else controls virtually every aspect of your day-to-day existence not least your survival.

JR

Buy DMZ Book 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Batman By Brian K. Vaughan s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brian K. Vaughan & various.

From the writer of SAGA, EX MACHINA, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD etc

With the Joker and Arkham Asylum playing roles in Brubaker’s BATMAN: THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, there was more than a cursory reference to madness there, but here Vaughan delved a little deeper into mental illness, specifically when it comes to identity.

In a short story themed heavily around Alice In Wonderland (and Lewis Carroll aficionados do stand a chance solving the clever clues throughout before the dark detective does), The Mad Hatter kidnaps Dr. Kirk Langstrom (the Jekyll-like geneticist able to transform himself into a creature with the Hyde of a bat) and one of his psychiatrists, using the former to transform the latter into a raving Jabberwocky, perhaps subconsciously in order to give the Arkham analyst some insight into his condition.

In the WONDER WOMAN two-parter Clayface steals some of the Amazon’s essence (Diana herself was originally created from magic clay), rendering her into a state where she is once more a Donna Troy twin which neither of the two ladies – priding themselves on their individuality – take too kindly to.

But the big one here is the three-part ‘Close Before Striking’ in which Nightwing (the first Robin) begins to seriously doubt the strength of Batman’s self-awareness when faced once more with Scarface, the ventriloquist’s doll with an eye for the moll, and a hair-trigger temper and Tommy gun. Except that Scarface isn’t the problem – he’s not real:

“The Ventriloquist is an extremely dangerous man. Arnold Wesker has a dissociative disorder that allows him to guiltlessly act out his psychopathic disregard for human life through a puppet persona. Possessing more than one distinct identity allows a man to do things most people would never imagine.”
“You wouldn’t know anything about that, huh?”

Why is Nightwing so worried? Well, for a start, how real has the identity of Bruce Wayne ever been since his parents were killed? He’s been a mask the Batman uses either to distract or extract information. The same goes for Matches Malone, a woise guy arsonist whom “Bruce” has been impersonating for much of his career in order to infiltrate the mob. Except: Matches Malone is real and isn’t Bruce, as becomes appallingly clear when a man fitting the description of Matches is gunned down by Scarface after apparent betrayal.

There is far more to that one than I’m giving away, both in terms of what Batman has been keeping secret, what he has erroneously presumed, and how stable he is in any identity. It’s actually a Batman gem amongst so much similar, trite old paste.

Oh yes, I’m constantly forgetting the art, aren’t I? Standard and perfectly acceptable superhero stuff for the Wonder Woman thing, animation-style rendering for the Hatter episode, really quite cool McDaniel fare that put me in mind of console game Time Splitters for ‘Close Before Striking’ and for the bonus five-pager, it’s so compact that the density of writing takes over, but you will not mind because it’s all very clever and would have made the most amazing spring-board to dive off of, had someone at DC recognised what Vaughan had given them: a brand new villain who thinks well outside the box and who was intended to have strong ties to Bruce himself, plus a very filthy joke involving the Periodic Table.

Niton will take a little bit more research than you think.

SLH

Buy Batman By Brian K. Vaughan 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.

Saga vol 7 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Velvet Deluxe Edition h/c (£44-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser

What Parsifal Saw (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Ron Rege Jr.

Afar s/c (£13-99, Image) by Leila Del Duca & Kit Seaton

Black Hammer vol 1: Secret Origins s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 15 – Cometh The Hour (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Laurence Campbell

Doom Patrol Book 3 (£31-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & various

George Sprott s/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Seth

Hillbilly vol 1 s/c (£15-99, Albatross) by Eric Powell

Invincible vol 23: Full House (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker

Livestock (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Hannah Berry

The Hellblazer vol 1: The Poison Truth s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Simon Oliver & Moritat, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan Jr.

Astonishing Ant-Man vol 3: The Trial Of Ant-Man s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Ramon Rosanas, Brent Schoonover

Spider-Man: Miles Morales vol 2 s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Nico Leon, Sara Pichelli

Unbelievable Gwenpool vol 1: Believe It s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Danilo Beyruth, Gurihiru

Unbelievable Gwenpool vol 2: Head Of M.O.D.O.K. s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Irene Strychalski, Rachelle Rosenberg

X-Men: Epic Collection – Second Genesis s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Bonnie Wilford & Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Tony DeZuniga

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 2 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

Bleach vol 69 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 11 (£14-99, Yen) by Natsuki Takaya

Platinum End vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Sword Art Online: Progressive vol 5 (£9-99, Yen) by Kiseki Himura

News

ITEM! LOVE IS LOVE raises $165,000 for Orlando Pulse victims!

Brilliant! Let’s keep the funds coming: LOVE IS LOVE in stock, reviewed.

We Ship Worldwide!

ITEM! Riveting and exceptionally eloquent Q&A with Yuval Noah Harari whose blindingly brilliant ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ I am currently addicted to.

Try this, on fictions:

“The best test to know whether an entity is real or fictional is the test of suffering. A nation cannot suffer, it cannot feel pain, it cannot feel fear, it has no consciousness. Even if it loses a war, the soldier suffers, the civilians suffer, but the nation cannot suffer. Similarly, a corporation cannot suffer, the pound sterling, when it loses its value, it doesn’t suffer. All these things, they’re fictions. If people bear in mind this distinction, it could improve the way we treat one another and the other animals. It’s not such a good idea to cause suffering to real entities in the service of fictional stories.”

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2017 week four

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Featuring American Gods #1, cannibalism, crackpot Arthurian fantasy, new John Allison & Max Sarin, Oliver East, autobiography by Dominique Goblet, Paula Knight, plus Io Black & Cryoclaire and more!

The Facts Of Life (£16-99, Myriad) by Paula Knight…

“We tried to carry on as normal but my negative chatter started up again.
“I’d never be one of those mums who could bake cakes for a school fare…
“… or one of those mums who could rustle up costumes for the school play.”

It is, perhaps, one of the facts of life that you are inevitably not going to get everything you want. But somehow, to not be able to conceive or carry a child to term for whatever reason, when you fervently desire for one, seems one of the cruellest tricks that life can play. Yes, there are those who are adamant they do not want children of their own, women and men, but the majority of people do wish to procreate and bring their own progeny into this world and seem to do so without any problems whatsoever, by and large.

To be denied that chance is to undoubtedly experience a sense of loss akin to losing someone who has been born and lived a life, however long or brief. Though it is also a very different loss, perhaps absence might be a more appropriate term, because you will never quite be sure what it is, who it is, that is missing from your life. You can imagine, you can dream, you can wonder, but you can never truly know.

Consequently, like BILLY, ME & YOU (about the loss of a child) by Nicola Streeten and HOLE IN THE HEART (having a child with Down’s Syndrome) by Henny Beaumont, both also published by Myriad, this is one of those works that leaves you feeling rather raw emotionally. Which is clearly how Paula felt upon finally accepting that her dream of having a child was gone, which in her case as she explains, was at least in no small part due to her ongoing battle with ME. I don’t doubt there are elements of that pain which are still with her today, and probably always will be. How can that not be the case? But Paula has at least been able to come to terms with it, begrudgingly perhaps, to some degree, and find a measure of peace.

This is her story, of how a little girl growing up in the north east together with her best friend, ended up travelling a divergent path entirely due to the vagaries of fate. Upon reaching adulthood her friend quickly settled down and became a mother with seemingly effortless ease, having a beautiful daughter and embracing being a parent in all its innumerate, relentless ups and downs. Whereas for Paula, who would have welcomed the maelstrom of madness that motherhood brings with open arms, well, matters were sadly much more complicated and rather less fulfilling.

I will have to hold my hand up at this point and say this is a book which it is probably impossible to digest with an entirely objective perspective. Whether you just don’t want kids, or desperately do but just haven’t met the right person yet and time is ticking, are currently trying but are struggling to conceive or carry a child, currently have a child or children, were sadly unable to, or indeed are currently pregnant, you have a subjective world view on this issue. It is inevitable. But given this is a work about trying to allow people to see a traumatic situation from another’s perspective, I don’t think it remotely matters. In that sense this is a very interesting work in that it will engender entirely different feelings in the people that read it.

I would imagine those who wanted children and were unable to do so will have the closest sense of what Paula has been through rekindled rather painfully. Those, like my wife and I, who ended up going down the route of IVF to get our daughter, will be reminded once more just how fortunate we personally were to overcome our fertility issues and know just what Paula has missed out on. People struggling with fertility currently will definitely empathise with the agonising uncertainty and not-knowing Paula and her chap went through, combined with wondering just how it will ultimately turn out for them. People who just popped kids out without any problems may well feel sorry, but really can’t hope to grasp what they have endured, despite what they might think. And there may well be some, not wanting children themselves, who probably think they’ve simply swerved a bullet.

The point is, this is her, their, story and Paula does an incredible job of allowing us to understand just what they went through, indeed, what they are going through. And actually, on that last point, as someone who does suffer with ME, Paula does ponder deeply upon whether having children would have been a real uphill struggle for her. I gained a slight sense, rightly or wrongly, of looking for crumbs of consolation where truly there were none for her, but it’s just part of the indefatigable honesty Paula pours into this work, when bone-sapping fatigue was in fact at times her mortal enemy on several levels.

What this work also does, in addition, is allow Paula to look at society’s perceptions of women, particularly in relation to children, and how they have and haven’t changed since her childhood. In that respect, like Una’s BECOMING UNBECOMING about her childhood during the Yorkshire Ripper years and sexual violence towards women, there is a dual narrative going on which neatly broadens out the conversation.

Artistically, I was extremely impressed. I’ve only seen a few mini-comics and short strips that Paula has done before, but this is very accomplished work. The linework combines real fluidity and motion with a gentle neatness that enhances the detail. Neither under-inked nor over-inked, just a perfect weight, it gives a robust purpose to the art that is also very easy on the eye. A real talent and this was a very deeply moving read as I am sure it will be for most people.

And I should add, despite the upsetting subject matter, there are happier times shown too, which do underpin the whole story, told by a clearly very strong woman, despite her recurring physical frailties due to ME. I have only had the pleasure of meeting Paula once, but she made me smile by reminding me in occasional depictions of her here, of an impish mischievousness I definitely detected in person!

A veritable triumph of autobiographical comics, which will only help to further much needed conversation on a very difficult, harrowing subject for many people, whom we should all have boundless empathy for, whether we truly understand their suffering or not.

JR

Buy The Facts Of Life and read the Page 45 review here

Pretending Is Lying h/c (£22-99, New York Review Comics) by Dominique Goblet.

In which Belgian cartoonist Dominique Goblet turns autobiographical comics into an extreme sport.

Dominique’s daughter Nikita wants to draw with coloured crayons while the grown-ups talk.

It’s all a little alien to her because she’s never met her moustachioed grandfather before. You remember what it was like when you’re in a strange new room with odd old people and they’re all immediately arguing about semantics as you do when you haven’t seen each other in four years.

Proudly, Nikita shows off her picture to her grandfather’s strange new missus:

“Here, see her hair… that’s my friend!!!”
“Ah, does your friend have long hair?”
“Well no, why?”
“You just said that it’s your friend and that she has long hair!!”
“Ha, hope, it’s just a character!”

Kids, eh? Don’t we love to indulge their whimsical ways? Mum’s certainly smiling.

“Hey, Nikita, Blandine is right, you said that it was –“
“Yeah well sure, but that was just for pretend!”

Pretend, see? Nikita dances gleefully around the room in her pretty floral dress, ever so pleased with herself. And you’d have thought that would have been the end the matter, all adults charmed by innocent jest.

But elderly, ghoul-faced Blandine sees things a little differently, towering over Nikita and gesticulating wildly like a demonic puppet on maniacally lurching strings, her shrieks of rage blotting out almost everything behind them:

“Well, then you are a LIAR!”
“PRETENDING IS LYING
“IT’S LYING!
“PRETENDING IS LYING!”

So that’s one way to handle a family reunion.

You’re on page 22. If fractious is your idea of fun then you’ve come to the right place: a graphic memoir of quarrels with several such expressionistic flourishes, Dominique’s blustering, boastful buffalo of Dad depicted during one of his many moments of deluded self-martyrdom as a boss-eyed, beatific saint complete with Byzantine halo, his hand raised in blessing on a page of illuminated manuscript.

“I gave you everything I did everything for you!
“I worked like a slave!! Day and night… did everything!! All… All for the two of you!”

He pours himself another glass of wine. (He doesn’t drink anymore. No, not a drop! I can’t think why his wife left him.)

“Well, true, or false?”

False…?

He’s full of these proclamations, these ultimatums to respond, and belittling nick-names for a daughter who remains astonishingly devoted, responding to his bullying tirades with surprising equanimity. I almost expected him to declare his daughter “FAKE NEWS”.

By contrast the book is introduced with an enchanting four-page prologue told in smudged puce biro. In it young Nikske (Dominique) is skipping down the road, heedless of her mother’s cautionary words. The child trips over and bursts into tears not on account of her grazed knees but the holes in her stockings. Her mother smiles, reassuringly.

“It’s not the end of the world, look, I’m going to fix them!”

She scrunches the stockings into a ball then rolls them around in her hand before dressing Dominique back in them. Lo and behold, the holes have gone, and the child looks up, wide-eyed into her mum’s smiling face! Her thoughts float from her head, all wobbly with wonder:

“She… she can do magic…”

It had me totally taken in too: over the page on the final panel, we see that her mum had merely popped the stockings on back-to-front.

There’s a more sobering side to her mother recalled later on which also involves laundry but a lot less love. All I will say is that the irritable tension in the claustrophobic confines of the sitting room is exceptionally well built by noise: the rain tapping incessantly on the window, the click-clack of scissors, the tak-tak of tiny, restless feet under the table top and the roar of racing cars growling from the television set as Dominique’s Dad lies prostrate on the sofa, drinking and smoking and taking fuck-all notice of the escalating domestic crisis right in front of him.

He’s not the only liar in Dominique’s life. Wait until you meet her boyfriend!

Unlike Thi Bui’s THE BEST WE COULD DO carefully considered exploration of her parents’ past in order to understand them, this is like an exorcism of ghosts which certainly deserve a good banishing (one hovers all around her boyfriend in soft spectral white on the dense, graphite pages), and although it’s expressionistic style isn’t going to appeal to everyone, I couldn’t imagine it so successfully done in any other way.

SLH

Buy Pretending Is Lying h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rolling Stock #1 (£4-50) by Oliver East.

“But I’ve only got eyes for what’s straddling our strada.”

Our Oliver’s out for a bit of bimble.

That’s what he does: he’s comics’ wandering, ever-observant explorer, setting himself a goal, packing pens and paper, then seeing what comes of it.

Always on foot but far from pedestrian, Oliver set off in TRAINS ARE… MINT then PROPER WELL GO HIGH to follow railway tracks as faithfully as was practicable, charming us with whatever unexpected details caught his keen rover’s eye. Since then he’s widened his expeditions to include the likes of a 200-mile trek south from Waverly Street Station in TAKE ME BACK TO MANCHESTER.

Here Oliver’s headed east and become something of a troubadour, ditching his first love, the railway, for a Romanian River called the Someșul Mic and committing to paper his impressions of this sun-filled stroll in the form of poetry. And they are very much impressions.

The language is full of words like “bimble” and “strada” that should be taken out for their own stroll more often, and illustrated by the pared-down shades of strutting, noisy cockerels and packs of kennelled or stray dogs announcing “some slight or other” and giving “unsolicited counsel” while casting shadows on gravel and asphalt. That’s what dogs do.

It’s exquisitely enhanced by the complementary colours of sand and blue sky on a bright white paper reflecting the blinding erosion of form. There’s a huge sense of space and a spirit of place as the locals go about their dusty, daily business, unaware that the Homesick Truant is roaming amongst them, casting his speculative eyes left and right, jotting it all down in a series of visual and literary sketches.

SLH

Buy Rolling Stock # 1 and read the Page 45 review here

American Gods #1 (£3-25, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaimain. P.Craig Russell & P. Craig Russell, Scott Hampton.

“Shadow had done three years in prison.
“He was big enough and looked Don’t-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time.
“So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.”

It’s so long since I read Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS prose novel that much of this came as a pleasant surprise: it was like being reacquainted with an old friend who was as charming and witty as ever yet – thanks to P. Craig Russell on crystal clear layouts and Scott Hampton on highly polished art – had grown even more handsome in the interim.

It also triggered recollections of further down this long and winding road which reminded me that – as any SANDMAN reader knows – Neil Gaiman is a master of foreshadowing.

Craig Russell, whose exceptional adaptations to comics include Wagner’s RING OF THE NIBELUNG and THE FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE and who has here distilled Neil’s prose to its vital essence, is no slouch on the foreshadowing front, either. See Shadow’s calendar.

Shadow is a level-headed, pragmatic man and in this lies much wisdom.

“He did not awake in prison with a feeling of dread; he was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring because yesterday had brought it.”

Instead he kept himself much to himself and marked the days off until he would see his wife once again. During these three years of calm incarceration Shadow’s cellmate, Low Key Lyesmith, introduced him to Herodotus’ ‘Histories’ (circa 425 B.C.) and the self-professed reluctant reader became hooked. What happened to Lyesmith? Transferred without warning, apparently: vanished into thin air.

“Shadow did not believe in anything he could not see.
“Still, he could feel disaster hovering in those final weeks, just as he had felt it in the days before the robbery.
“He was more paranoid than usual, and in prison, usual is very, and is a survival skill.”

With five days to go before his release, after a collect-call to his beaming wife who enthuses about the last leaves of autumn, Shadow is warned of an approaching storm: something cataclysmic waiting outside. There’s no audible thunder in the figurative air but then lightning strikes: Shadow is told that although he was due to be released on Friday… he will in fact be released a couple of days early. His wife has been killed in a car accident.

In an instant everything Shadow had mapped out for himself after his three years in prison is gone. He still has a future but it is empty, unfurnished, unforeseeable and so unimaginable. Numb, he boards the bus to the airport, then his plane home, but home is not what he thought it would be. Shadow falls asleep in the storm.

“Where am I?”
“In the earth and under the earth. You are where the forgotten wait. If you are to survive, you must believe.”
“Believe what? What should I believe?”
“Everything.”

When he dozed once again he was back in prison.

“Someone has put out a contract on your life.”

Then when he wakes up, Shadow’s nightmare begins.

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly lost, late and disorientated in my dreams. But that is now Shadow’s reality. He’s at the wrong airport: the plane was redirected because of the storm. He misses its replacement; the next one is cancelled; but if he’s quick there is one he can catch.

“Shadow felt like a pea being flicked between three cups.”

Once on board he discovers he’s been given a duplicate ticket, but “This is your lucky day” for there’s a single spare seat in First Class.

Now, after the death of his wife, his early release, the redirected plane, the plane that he missed, the one that was cancelled and the seat which taken, Shadow is finally where he needs to be. Well, he’s where Mr. Wednesday needs him to be: right across the aisle.

“You’re late.”
“Sorry?”
“I said… you’re late.”

Normally I wouldn’t take you this far through a comic, but there are 36 more chapters to go, so I think you can consider this fair game! I’ve tried to remain allusive.

One of the key elements already reawakened in this instalment is something Neil had touched on in SANDMAN: that of faith, and the dwindling of gods’ power if followers fall by the wayside. If ancient gods are no longer believed in or worshipped, but lie forgotten, what power have they left?

As to structure, slight-of-hand stepping stones are one of Neil Gaiman’s fortes. We have spoken of this twice before in HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES and THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE wherein Neil’s stories begin grounded firmly in our shared reality but then his protagonists pass over a subtle, metaphorical bridge – or some sequestered, sun-dappled stepping stones – into another. It’s as though a rarely spotted signpost has popped up, redirecting you down a road less travelled, a side-path to somewhere else, somewhere other.

Back in prison Shadow took comfort in the inevitability of his release but – Gaiman being a master of foreshadowing – he thought of it in very specific terms:

“One day the magic door would open and he would walk through it.”

And now he has.

Top tip: avoid reading his on public transport. I’d forgotten how priapic this initial episode grows towards the end. My adjoining seat wasn’t empty.

SLH

Buy American Gods #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Yvain – The Knight Of The Lion h/c (£17-99, Candlewick Press) by M.T. Anderson & Andrea Offermann.

“I shall speak of love… and of hate. It is truly a marvel, but I tell you, hatred and love may live cramped together, crouching in the same heart.”

True. Cramped and crouching: it can grow awfully crowded in there. Are we talking jealousies? The teenage me was a nightmare.

“There are many secret chambers in our hearts where love can hide and many battlements where hate can stand, watching for enemies.”

We might still be talking jealousies: obsessively searching for and rooting out rivals. But we’re not.

“There was once an age when love was honourable.
“Or so I’ve heard.”

Was that a disclaimer?

Based on the 12th Century tales by Chrétien De Troyes, much of this may come as a bit a surprise. I’ve read a lot of complex courtly love, but this is not it. You may have read many Arthurian legends springing out from Sir Thomas Malory’s much later Le Morte D’Arthur where it’s all very valiant but this ain’t that, neither. To be honest, the court consists of a right bunch of frivolous idiots.

 

We begin with a beautifully drawn bit of falconry, the first sentence’s love and hate bisected by a panel border through the same image; once the hood is removed, the bird takes flight, soaring above the sorry figure of a knight who’s had the stuffing knocked out of him, dripping blood as he and his horse retreat through a cave towards Camelot.

There he’s greeted during the feast of Pentecost and immediately probed for gossip. They loved a good story, that lot. And they’ll hear it by hook, crook or emotional blackmail.

Our wilted warrior is Sir Calogrenant who’d set out in search of adventure and found it at a fountain where he poured a little too much water over a magical stone, at which point the weather went bat-shit crazy. This is cleverly told on a sequential-art tapestry behind them as Hurricane Harold strikes, deer scatter, the trees are lashed by gales, rain and lightning, and the local landowner charges out on his steed with a great big lance which he introduces quite intrusively to Sir Calogrenant’s stomach, then stabs at him a sword.

“Let me enter my complaint! Here!” Ouch. “And here!”

To be fair, even though his crops received a right battering, the lord does let the loser leave.

Vengeance is immediately called for at which point King Arthur wanders in or wakes up:

“What’s this? An adventure?”
“For the whole court.”
“Sounds jolly. Is it full of honour and so forth?”

Define honour. Alternatively: no, not so much.

Determined that the honour should be all his, Sir C’s cousin, Sir Yvain, takes the reins of a more sturdy steed, receives directions from a cave-dwelling troll, finds the spring and – do you know? – he’s not that frugal with the water, either. Even weatherman Michael Fish could have predicted what happens next. Understandably irate at what must now look like meteorological harassment…

“Who does my dukedom this discourtesy?”

… the lord lets loose once again but this time comes quite a cropper – as does Sir Yvain’s horse when it’s a little late on the final furlong in pursuit of the lord through a descending portcullis.

The lord is dead and Sir Yvain is trapped in his castle. Fortunately he is recognised by Lunette, maid to now-widowed Lady Laudine, as someone who once did her kindness and she fixes him up with an invisibility spell. Unfortunately that allows him to witness to Lady Laudine’s heartfelt, inconsolable grief… and her radiant beauty. He only goes and falls in love, doesn’t he?

We haven’t even begun. Okay, we have begun. But we’ve barely begun.

But I think you might perceive that if – and I’m only saying “if” – Sir Yvain is going to win the hand or even the heart of Lady Laudine, Lunette is going have to think fast and Sir Yvain is going to have to be on his best behaviour from now on in.

But honestly…? He’s not the brightest flame in the fireplace, his time-keeping sucks and the waylaying lads back at Camp Camelot really could do with growing up.

So far – unless I read this very wrong indeed – both Anderson and Offermann have played this mostly  with their tongues firmly in their cheeks, but there are hearts involved, monsters to be fought, slaves to be liberated and other injustices whose their intricate legal and intellectual merits must be adjudicated upon by bludgeoning, skull-splitting fights.

Even if Anderson dots the script with anachronistic colloquialisms (Sir Yvain Oblivion: “It was just stupidity that kept me away from you that long year. I recognise my mistake – honest!”) Offerman maintains the period feel throughout with a variety of castles, rows of tents and descents into briar-like woodland madness.

 

If you’re in it for the fantastical you won’t be disappointed, either: there is one hell of a lion / dragon death-match with a belter of a double-page spread as Sir Yvain first claps eyes on the ferocious, clawing beasts, followed by a flurry of dense, chaotic panels suggesting she might be aware of Gareth Hinds’ BEOWULF.

I don’t know if it’s straight-faced enough for some fantasists, but we’re constantly being asked this sort of fare, so here you go.

SLH

Buy Yvain – The Knight Of The Lion h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Giant Days vol 4 (£13-99, Boom! Box) by John Allison & Max Sarin.

Three young women discover the freedoms and financial constraints of leaving home for university.

How’s that for a mass-appeal high concept pitch?

John Allison wrings every millilitre of mirth imaginable from the proceedings and evidently drank a lot less at university than I did, for he remembers all its home-leaving, life-altering novelties with pin-point accuracy.

Previously in GIANT DAYS Susan, Esther and Daisy have discovered:

Halls of Residence, their loud landing congregations and the bedsits’ wafer-thin walls.
Halls of Residence’s communal kitchens with foodstuffs protectively labelled.
Those labels routinely ignored!
Choosing degree courses for which you are singularly ill-suited.
Bluffing your way through them anyway!
Learning to dance and your first night clubbing!
Friends from home on weekend-long binges, crashing and burning in your bedsit, then finding a job to fund those binges!
Finding more binges to burn out on.

But oh, above all, I recall the exhausted delirium of staying up two nights on the trot, feverishly writing an entire last-minute dissertation which you had a whole month to hand in on time.

Now, in year two, it’s time to be weaned off the comparative safety of campus and take a step even further towards self-governance if not more mature self-guidance: it’s time find to sign a house-sharing tenancy agreement!

First, of course, you have to find a house to share and people to share it with.

With so many students competing for a finite number of digs, things move fast and it can seem like Anneka Rice on Treasure Hunt. Except not all of the houses are treasures. There’s the live-in landlady from hell who won’t abide free love or even self-love; the semi-detached whose definition extends to both its gutters and indoor plumbing; the one with no heating; several in a suburb far too posh, twee or net-curtain-twitching to feel remotely comfortable crawling back and forth from drunken and /or drug-addled late-night assignations.

[Top tip: unlike John’s BAD MACHINERY which is emphatically all-ages, the responsible side of me – and I do have one! – would caution you that this may be for teens but not tweens.]

Susan, Daisy and Esther are already their own ideal unit but sometimes all that’s on offer are four-bedroom houses. This means that you may have to poach popular people from other prospective households to live with you, but there is a much bleaker alternative:

“So what you’re saying is, let’s go fishing in the pool of isolated loners, whose friendlessness is the mark of how good they’d be to live with.”
“Yes. Let’s invite a nightmare into our lives.”

All of this and more is explored by Allison then delivered direct to that part of your brain that craves ebullience by the magnificent Max Sarin. She will make the most of every opportunity to represent fanciful, figurative notions as actual occurrences, like the winged flight of available houses from a mobile phone’s app.

“Come back, houses, come back!” screams Esther, clawing the air.
“The motherload has been compromised! We have to find Susan fast before they’re all gone!”

Yes, there is a certain degree of melodrama both in the declarations and gesticulations, but that’s what we relish in cartoon comedy: mountains for molehills, dug up with due diligence then thrown in our face with a precision that makes us smile with its smart. The great Will Eisner firmly believed in body language augmented for maximum empathy and communication, and he rarely worked in this burlesque genre for which it is most appropriate. Max Sarin is one of its masters.

SLH

Buy Giant Days vol 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Drugs & Wires #1 & #2 (£4-99 each, Dead Channel Comics) by Io Black & Cryoclaire…

     

“Ugh. So much for getting in early. Aaaand of course there’s a queue for the shower. Fantastic.”
“What’s the hold-up? Did someone hang themselves in the bathroom again?”
“This is exactly why we banned auto-erotic asphyxiation in the common spaces. You think I made these signs just for the hell of it?”

Haha, the very rude punchline on the sign in question only adds to the ribald feel of this exceptional chunk of comedy sci-fi.

I’ve said it before, but speculative fiction that makes you splutter with tea-spitting mirth is verrry tricky. What a highly polished piece of self-published material this is, both in terms of writing and artistically. Artist Cryoclaire popped into the shop recently and asked if we would take a look at their work. Now, we get a fair few requests of this nature, so I asked if she could leave us a copy to look at when I got chance, which she kindly did of #1 and #2. You never really know what to expect with such submissions, but I was absolutely blown away with what I read.

To sum it up in a nutshell, I’d have to say this is the chimeric offspring of William Gibson and John Allison. Our main character deadbeat Dan, the poor chap above who can’t have a wash because someone’s up to self-abuse in the water closet, is described as a… ‘pissy misanthrope and recovering VR junkie, now condemned to a dead-end job delivering sketchy packages in a post-Soviet urban hellhole.’‘

Dan made his cyber-notoriety by getting massively off his tits on various pharmacopeia and recording his ‘out there’ psychonautical experiences, usually having a bad one, for other people to vicariously experience through the safe remove of virtual reality. He stoically, and rather self-delusionally, saw himself as a pioneering trailblazer of consciousness exploration, whereas everyone else just saw him as someone to have a good laugh at. Then a new computer virus partially fried his implanted cybernetic operating system and thus his brain causing him to be forced offline and marooned in the drudgery of everyday life. He’s still got his drugs, of course: he needs those more than ever these days, bereft of his online life. He does still get the odd troubling hallucination that he can’t explain mind you.

Most worryingly though, the virus seems to be gradually accounting for a not insubstantial slice of this particular tech-addled / drug-abusing fringe of society. Dan is actually one of the lucky ones as all the others to date were rather more permanently synaptically fried. The fact that he barely escaped with even a few neural pathways semi-intact is down to his friend Lin, a black market cybernetics installer who isn’t averse to cutting a few corners whilst slicing through tissue! Both Dan and Lin are determined to find out who is behind the killer virus wiping out their… well, acquaintances is probably a better word than friends, frankly.

I should have guessed the creators were big William Gibson fans even before opening the first issue up, given their publishing imprint is called Dead Channel Comix, undoubtedly referencing the first line of Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer…

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

Now that’s a opening line, and if someone is going to try and emulate the master of cyberpunk (though I seriously wish Gibson would get his finger out and write the last two issues of his comic debut ARCHANGEL – getting a bit tedious waiting now, William), you better be ready to take me on a technological rollercoaster of a ride. Writer Io Black most definitely is; the sci-fi elements of this work, the operating system implants, the cybernetic hacks, the underground techie community, they all feel perfectly credible as a possible mildly dystopian flavoured future. What then flips it all on its head like the blue screen of PC death is the bawdy, knockabout pithy John Allison-esque humour that punctuates the pitter-patter dialogue like phaser fire…

“Ever perform implant surgery when your blood sugar’s crashing? Last time I started operating on an empty stomach, I whacked off the wrong limb…”
“Well, that’s…”
“… three times.”
“Oh.”
“But hey, mistakes happen. And I finally unloaded those prosthetics we found on that dumpster-dive last month so that’s a win-win right there. Anyway, what’s been new with you? Implant still holding up okay? Any cool new hallucinations I should know about?”
“… Just the usual….”

Art-wise, Cryoclaire keeps the Allison vibe alive as I suspect she might well be a big Max GIANT DAYS Sarin fan, which only adds to the frivolity. The other resemblance I could see, which I actually mentioned to her and to my surprise she was utterly unaware of (so clearly not an influence, then!) was Natsume NOT SIMPLE, RISTORANTE PARADISO Ono. It’s in the faces.

#2 also hit the mark, moving the mystery elements of the story along and further developing the characters nicely. I’m keen to see where the story goes next and just how much further down past the U-bend Dan’s life can possibly get! At least he’s still got his drugs, they’ve not got flushed away yet, though Lin does keep confiscating them in an effort to keep his remaining grey matter from turning to mush! What a friend…

JR

Buy Drugs & Wires #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Drugs & Wires #2 and read the Page 45 review here

Cannibal vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Steve Buccellato, Jennifer Young & Matias Bergara.

For those who are not regular readers I would impress upon you that we do not do spoilers and that misdirection is amongst my middle names. Double-bluff is another of them.

“Let him go.
“A man’s got to follow his own path. Even if it’s headed in the wrong direction.”

We seem to love our gruff, small-town communities in comics at the moment. You know the sort I mean: where outsiders are spurned, grudges are grown, the law might turn a blind eye to due process when browbeaten into it and real power lies in those with the loudest, surliest and often drunkest mouths.

Somewhere in swampland Florida there’s a bar called Hog’s River where almost everyone congregates of an evening. It belongs to the Hansens and Pa Hansen is amongst the surliest son-of-bitches of them all. They’re practical, capable folk. His two sons, Cash and Grady, tend the bar and of course they all have beards.

They’ve a family friend in Danny who’s clean-shaven but not local and renowned for his disappearing acts, even on his son, estranged wife and sister-in-law. He’s just wandered back into town, but seems mighty skittish, often retreating to the shadows. His son Boone and Boone’s Aunty Louise are currently on the road, driving up to find him and they won’t bring good news.

Cash too is doing a disappearing act, but that’s to go courting Jolene. They have an unusual courtship routine. But Cash is so stoked he’s bought her a ring and is practising how to propose.

Thing is, right now, you don’t want to be doing any disappearing acts. People have gone missing and Sheriff Mays and Deputy Sheriff Mays (his son – it’s that sort of town) are mighty suspicious. It could have something to do with the virus that’s turning folks into cannibals. Oh, they get rabid for human flesh, so the worst thing you can do in a fight is bite someone; or get accused of biting someone. Grudges, due process: we’ve covered that one.

It’s making a closed community like this with easily frayed tempers even more antsy than usual.

And that’s when Jolene goes missing.

Lots of long shadows are in evidence on the art front, and on the writing front too. That’s why this works so well. It’s far from an epidemic, but that this cannibalism virus exists on the periphery at all is enough for eyes to narrow and for everyone to jump to conclusions. No one can let their guard down or take any chances.

So somebody obviously will.

And obviously other acts of violence which have nothing to do with this virus may slip through the cracks and so get overlooked.

One last thing… Here’s Sheriff Mays:

“No one with the virus can last more than a few days without getting overtaken by the fever.”

So that’s kind of good news / bad news. It’s bad that the urge is uncontrollable; it’s good that if you lock someone up for seventy-two hours and they don’t start salivating that you know they’re free from infection.

But it’s very, very bad that between brunches anyone, for a couple of days, could pass for fine, dandy and normal.

SLH

Buy Cannibal vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Demonic s/c (£13-99, Image) by Christopher Sebela & Niko Walter…

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

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

I guess the title is some clue as to what to expect, so it’s no surprise to find our erstwhile partners in crime-fighting walking straight into what appears to be a full-on demonic possession and indeed total clusterfuck of the highest supernatural order. It’s a situation that sends chills straight up Detective Grave’s spine, given his very strange upbringing as part of a commune, and more besides…

That’s a piece of his, as yet to us, shadowy past that Graves and his wife have agreed to never, ever talk about ever again. Unfortunately for Detective Graves, though, it seems his past isn’t done with him yet as he is offered a very dark deal indeed to preserve the lives of those closest to him. He takes the deal, of course, but did he actually need to…?

I enjoyed this dark tale from the writer of HIGH CRIMES with its intriguing plot and snappy dialogue. It’s basically a blend of KILL OR BE KILLED and OUTCAST with a police procedural backdrop. Sketchy artwork, which really does seem to be de rigueur at the mo, from a name new to me, Niko Walter, which very much adds to the creepy feel. Detective Graves and family are in for a very rough and extremely bloody time. Whether that will extend to more issues than this, I know not. This volume was not numbered which makes me think not, yet certain matters are left, shall we say, dangling tantalisingly…

JR

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

New Editions, Old Reviews

Bad Machinery vol 1: The Case Of The Team Spirit s/c Pocket Edition (£8-99, Oni) by John Allison…

“Well now, you have a good day at school.”
“Aw Mum, don’t cry.”
“Snif, I can’t help it, sorry love.”
“Bye then.”
“Aren’t you going to give your mummy a kiss?”
“But…”
“Do those boys not have mothers too? Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, my little baby boy!”

“Linton, you really ought to catch the kisses your mum is blowing. They’re for you, it’s only right.”

Yes! John Allison’s web-comic magnum opus BAD MACHINERY is being recollected in pocket-friendly, small-hands editions but in the same glorious widescreen technicolour!

If I had to name one person in comics whose art style is the very definition of illustration, I personally would immediately say John. To see his work laid out like this really is like watching an exquisitely produced animation, his linework is so consistent and the colours so eye-strainingly vibrant.

It’s also clear John really does have a love for sleuthery, mysteries and general all around weirdness, as seen in his SCARY GO ROUND material, and his shorts featuring the slightly ditzy children’s author and part-time detective Shelley Winters, THAT! and MURDER SHE WRITES. Fans of that last work will be delighted to learn, if they didn’t know already, that Charlotte the tween sleuth is one of the six young stars of the show here, as the boys and girls of Tackleford form their very own Blyton-esque numerical investigative unit to find out who or what is behind the apparent curse on the mega-rich owner of local football club Tackleford FC. Results haven’t been going well recently and the one boy who is actually bothered about football is concerned that their benevolent oligarch will up sticks and leave. I needn’t add that all is not as it seems, I’m sure! It did amuse me greatly too that I didn’t guess who the ultimate culprit was! I also suspect Surreal may well be John’s middle name, as along with his brilliant art, this type of off-the-wall humorous fiction really has become his trademark.

John writes his stories with such apparent carefree glee and obviously understands the inner workings of the juvenile mind because, over and above the chortling, fruitloopy storylines, it’s the interaction between all the kids that make this such a total hoot. It really does take me back to the more inane aspects of schoolyard humour, and the dashes of ribald cruelty too, which I had mostly forgotten about. For me John’s star has been steadily rising, and I do hope, and think, this could be the work that really breaks him through to a considerably wider audience.

[Editor’s note: Allison’s EXPECTING TO FLY #1 of 2 went on to become our biggest-selling comic of 2015; his BOBBINS our biggest-selling comic of 2016. And it only came out that October!]

JR

Buy Bad Machinery vol 1: The Case Of The Team Spirit s/c Pocket Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Providence vol 1 h/c (£17-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows…

“Say, weren’t you planning on writing a book, I heard?”
“Huh. Lot of planning, no writing. Don’t even have a subject yet, to be truthful.
“I want something big, something that cuts to the heart of this country and these times.
“That talks about things nobody’s dared talk about before.
“You know? Not just another slice of life in the city of bachelors.”

If you Google providence, the two definitions you are offered are “timely preparation for future eventualities” and “the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power”. However, I suspect no amount of preparation, nor indeed the care of God, is likely to provide much protection for what is to come for some of the characters in Alan’s return to the Lovecraft mythos in conjunction with artist Jaden Burrows after their grisly but gripping NEONOMICON

It’s initially set in Providence, Rhode Island, which itself has interesting origins, founded in 1636 by a man called Roger Williams, recently exiled from Massachusetts, to provide a refuge for religious minorities. The year is 1919 and the world, emerging from the carnage of WW1, has undoubtedly changed, yet also much has not. There are people still living double lives due to their sexuality, of which of our main character Robert Black is one.

Now, apparently there is an irony here, as I have read that Alan likes the idea of having a gay character in a period Lovecraftian yarn given that H.P. Lovecraft was, supposedly, immensely homophobic.

Whatever the reason it immediately helps creates a state of suspense as he sets about establishing Robert’s back story, his reasons for being in Providence, and the ongoing emotional anguish he endures in trying to maintain a covert relationship, all the whilst endeavouring to appear to his co-workers at the Tribune newspaper as just another everyday Joe.

With the journos all desperate to fill half a page in the next edition at short notice with something a trifle titillating, Robert mentions a French book, Sous Le Monde, which apparently sent people mad if they read it. It is the scandal surrounding this which Robert Chambers apparently based THE KING IN YELLOW on.

Being a bookish sort of cove, Robert knows of a professor nearby who wrote an article on Sous Le Monde, and so is dispatched to interview him. Which is where events start to creep into more Lovecraftian, paranormal territory, as the good doctor has an exceptionally powerful air conditioning system in his apartment, a medical requirement due to an, as yet, unspecified illness… I’m pretty sure, however, it won’t be a malaise covered in any great detail at medical school, not even at Miskatonic University…

There’s much to admire in Alan’s writing in this volume. I certainly suspect it’s a project he’s greatly enjoying. I like the subtle little points of connection which he weaves in, almost as asides, including one a character makes to Tannhäuser which proves particularly apposite indeed. One of the biggest nods to THE KING IN YELLOW comes in the form of the Exit Gardens, which in truth are state-sponsored suicide chambers, dressed up in art deco buildings in beautiful, floral surroundings. Where, once you check in, you are gently put to sleep forever whilst listening to the music of your choice. A posh version of Dignitas, basically. But because you don’t need to jump through myriad bureaucratic hoops first, anyone can simply walk in, sit down and rest in peace forevermore.

I’m intrigued to see how Robert picks up the pieces emotionally after an early heartbreak and precisely where his investigations lead him. I found myself engaged completely, connected emotionally with the characters, and left wanting more, my curiosity piqued up to piquant levels! Plus having read several issues ahead of the four in this volume I can assure you the horror factor is going to be ramped up gradually until readers’ states of mental wellbeing are in tatters too.

I am happy to report this hardcover collects all the extensive prose material that follows each individual issue. It’s ostensibly Robert’s journal and it does further and flesh-out the already comprehensive plot substantially. I certainly cannot fault Alan for giving value for money with this series. To my mind, it’s the best thing he has written for several years.

JR

Buy Providence vol 1 h/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.

Arclight s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brandon Graham & Marian Churchland

The Cartoon Utopia (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Ron Rege Jr.

DMZ Book 3 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli

The Flintstones vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Mark Russell & Steve Pugh

Forbidden Brides… h/c (£14-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & Shane Oakley

Katzine: The Factory Issue (£5-50) by Katriona Chapman

Pizza Witch – Deluxe Edition h/c (£10-00, Shiny Sword) by Sarah Graley

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 3 (£14-99, Titan) by Tom Fowler, Pamela Ribbon & CJ Cannon, Marc Ellerby

Rick And Morty: Lil’ Poopy Superstar (£17-99, Oni) by Sarah Graley & Marc Ellerby

Steven Universe: Too Cool For School (£10-99, Titan) by various

Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge

A Thousand Coloured Castles (£17-99, Myriad) by Gareth Brookes

Triangle h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Batgirl vol 1: Beyond Burnside s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Hope Larson & Rafael Albuquerque

Batman By Brian K. Vaughan s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brian K. Vaughan & various

Civil War II: Fallout s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing, Marc Guggenheim, Greg Pak, Nick Spencerv & Karl Kesel, Ramon Bachs, Mark Bagley, Rod Reis

Uncanny Avengers: Unity vol 3 – Civil War II s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Ryan Stegman, Pepe Larraz

Blame! Vol 3 (Master Edition) (£29-99, Viz) by Tsutomu Nihei

Erased vol 1 h/c (£21-99, Yen) by Kei Sanbe

Legend Of Zelda vol 11: Twilight Princess vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Himekawa

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 2 (£9-99, Viz) by Yashuo Ohtagaki

News

ITEM! Black Queer Romance Comics!

Hooray for BINGO LOVE from Inclusive Press whose romance lasts a full lifetime!

There are very few romance comics of any ilk that end well! What is it with us in comics that we are all such terrible doom-merchants?

And why will we not deal with old age?

Of course I will give you exceptions for we love to stay positive at Page 45:

Jade Sarson’s thrillingly free-from-guilt, all-inclusive and thoroughly feminist FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MARIE on the romance front!

Roz Chast’s CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT? on the old-age front!

Then there’s Paco Roca’s WRINKLES.

But BINGO LOVE looks to be all-embracing on every front and, God, it looks gorgeous!

ITEM! Animation test for the HILDA cartoon!

And it is perfect!

Oh, well it was perfect, but they’ve taken it down. Hope you caught it when I retweeted on Twitter!

Luke Pearson’s five HILDA graphic novels to date, each one reviewed!

ITEM! Philip Reeve addresses the completely counterproductive term MG (Middle Grade) to describe children’s books.

Stop it. Stop it now.

Everyone will think you mean “mediocre”.

There’s nothing mediocre about Reeve & McIntyre’s OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS, CAKES IN SPACE, PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH and JINKS & O’HARE FUNFAIR REPAIR or indeed Reeve’s own Railhead, Black Light Express etc.

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2017 week three

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Including Thi Bui’s graphic memoir of her parents’ lives in – and flight from – Vietnam and another on the Japanese nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Also: Y.A. James Bond Silverfin is back with a brand-new review and more!

The Best We Could Do hc (£22-99, Abrams) by Thi Bui.

So often the best route to true understanding lies in the lives of others.

And no one lives solely in their present.

Every individual is coloured by their experiences which have informed their decisions which have in turn brought them to where they are today. It is in these histories that lies the context, and context is everything.

It is not enough to be aware of the bigger picture if you cannot comprehend it, and the best key to comprehension is through the eyes of those individuals who are living it or have lived through it or have died during it.

So it is with those of us looking in from outside; and so it is within families themselves.

“Travis and I moved to California in 2006 to raise our son near family, trading the life we had built and loved in New York for a notion I had in my head of becoming closer to my parents as an adult.
“I don’t know exactly what it looks like, but I recognise what it is not, and now I understand…
“Proximity and closeness are not the same.”

This is a story of parenthood, of childhood, of a generation gap which seemed like a chasm, and if you thought Belle Yang’s search for understanding in FORGET SORROW doubled as a fascinating account of one life in early 20th Century, this is an even more involving and personable account of two separate lives in mid 20th Century Vietnam which eventually and improbably converge. Through this Thi Bui begins to know her parents for who they are in greater depth, and so come to terms with her own strange childhood after the family’s terrifying escape in 1978 from Vietnam via Malaysia to America, then feel far more at ease with her own place within it all.

It is rich in detail and extraordinarily articulate, partly because it is so well structured.

It begins with the excruciatingly difficult birth of her own son which her mother flew all the way from New York to attend but then kept her agonised distance. The following hours in hospital aren’t easy, either, the practicalities of motherhood not coming naturally to Bui. She bonds with her mother over the pain of childbirth, then…

“Ma leaves me, but I’m not alone and a terrifying thought creeps into my head.
“Family is now something I have created, and not just something I was born into.
“The responsibility is immense.
“A wave of empathy for my mother washes over me.”

Bui will return to her own motherhood only towards the end because this is not about that, but all which led up to it.

“My father always said he had no parents. In my twenties, I learned that my grandfather was alive in Vietnam and wanted to meet us.”

Her father refuses to join them. He is adamant. He does not want to see his own father again, but he won’t explain why.

“Soon after that trip back to Vietnam (our first since we escaped in 1978) I began to record our family history, thinking that if I bridged the gap between the past and the present I could fill the void between my parents and me. And that if I could see Vietnam as a real place and not a symbol of something lost, I would see my parents as real people and learn to love them better.”

We will all see her parents as very real people and understand precisely why her father or “Bo” will not return and will have nothing to do with his own father. It is extraordinary, I promise you. You cannot begin to imagine.

Before we delve fully into the structure, I want to talk about the art which is soft and tender, and full of lyrical flourishes like a boat on the sea behind a quiet conversation, lush landscapes and so much more swirling water at one point doubling as a birth. The page just quoted also depicts the tumultuous oceanic crossing, while beneath it a young Thi stands naked, with her back to us, a map of Vietnam carved out of her body where her heart should be, bleeding out of her, up towards the sea or perhaps bleeding down into her to fill that void with fresh understanding.

“How did we get to such a lonely place?
“We live so close to each other and yet feel so far apart.
“I keep looking toward the past…
“Tracing out journey in reverse… over the ocean… through the war, seeking an origin story that will set everything right.”

The first part of this story – her mother’s six baby births – is indeed told in reverse. None of them are easy. The most recent was in the coastal Malaysian refugee camp, another during war; her mother’s firstborn wasn’t stillborn but she didn’t last long, the first parental shadow falling over the proceedings in the form of her own aloof mother’s advice not to breastfeed. Is that where it all began?

“How does one recover from the loss of a child?” she asks as we stroll down a leafy lane. “How do the others compare to the memory of the lost one?”

This triggers memories of Thi’s early childhood in a dark apartment in California, left with her younger brother in the care of her father while her sisters go to school and her mother takes the only job they can get because their degrees aren’t recognised – assembly-line work on minimum wage – which her father refuses.

“That sounds terrible.”

Instead he just sits there smoking, occasionally erupting, while forbidding them to answer the door. Her brother cowers in the closet when anyone comes knocking.

But what happened to her father when he was their age? There will be cowering there too. Cowering on an almost unimaginably dark scale; also our first history lesson, post-WWII – of France’s return to Vietnam to take back what they saw as colonially theirs (perhaps out of pride after being occupied by Germany) – after Ho Chi Minh had declared independence on behalf of the Viet Minh. So begins the geographical divide and the first atrocities…

It is there that we leave him for now, aged seven, with few or no prospects.

“And in the dark apartment in San Diego, I grew up with the terrified boy who became my father.”

This is what I mean by structure: each particular element informs a specific other.

So it is with her mother’s story, which could not be more different and which is brought to bear on Bui’s low self-esteem in comparison to her mother’s beauty. Hers was a much more exotic upbringing, as the youngest daughter of an affluent family and a daddy who doted on her, educated and thriving in French schools. She made friends with an older servant girl who took her to live with her family during the school holidays, sleeping under the moon in the countryside.

But when the servant is married off and so leaves the household, marriage as a trap begins to form in her mind while education represented freedom instead. She aspired to be a doctor. Evidently that didn’t happen, but why? How did she end up married to Thi’s father? Through education, ironically. It wasn’t supposed to be permanent…

Again, the structure is so well judged, Thi Bui seeking to understand her parents thoroughly and independently, before they even met let alone got married and had children. You will see all those births again, this time in the order they occurred, fleshed out as so many dots are joined and – oh! – there was a brief moment before those children when, against all odds, it all seemed so idyllic: teachers with two incomes in a beautiful small town in the deep southern part of the Mekong Delta.

They’d survived the First Indochina War, the Land Reforms – both with catastrophic casualties – but then came the Americans in 1965, destroying Vietnam’s agriculture with their defoliants and its economy with their imports, the descent of cities into police states, and thirteen more years, fully fleshed out for us all to comprehend just how unlikely they were ever to have escaped, and the toll that mere survival took on both of them. You can even spot almost the exact moment of Bui’s father’s collapse from provider to withdrawn brooder while her mother desperately, indefatigably soldiers on, for what other choice is there for a mother?

That’s not the end of the story, obviously, even after the refugee camp and the flight to America.

Once more there’s the question of provision, assimilation, finding your own place in a strange country and foreign climate, re-education after those degrees aren’t recognised, and the painstaking accumulation of fresh documentation both for the family and each of their children separately. It is so very impressive, yet it is humbly titled THE BEST WE COULD DO.

Along with Francesca Sanna’s THE JOURNEY, Sean Tan’s THE ARRIVAL and Sarah Glidden’s ROLLING BLACKOUTS, this is another book with which to bang on the head of anyone tempted to think for even one second that seeking asylum is easy or believe the hate-mongering lies of the right-wing press and politicians that refugees are idle, disrespectful, sponging drains on our resources. In rebuttal Thi Bui could offer you the nightmare of random raids in a police state and the fear of being disbelieved, the horror of a sea crossing when you could be caught at any second, the generosity of Malaysian villagers with so little to give, the values instilled into their children by Thi Bui’s parents and the sheer hard graft of the mother in order to build something from nothing and set her children up to be educated at length, thrive in peace, and so that one of them could be in a position to write and draw this extraordinary graphic memoir over many years – while teaching in a high school for immigrants in Oakland which she helped create – in order to pass it all on to us for a greater understanding of others.

But, of course, this isn’t a rebuttal. This isn’t a polemic.

This is one woman seeking to gain understanding of herself and her relationship with her parents, in order to relax into parenthood herself.

We’re just lucky enough to be privy to this personal story, and so benefit from it ourselves.

SLH

Buy The Best We Could Do h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Grass Kings #1 (£3-25, Boom Studios) by Matt Kindt & Tyler Jenkins.

“Ain’t no law says I can’t be here.”
“There’s written laws, and then there’s the other kind.”

The artist from SNOW BLIND does not disappoint, as you will see. He’s taken the opportunity to open up with much larger, more focussed panels and their beauty benefits enormously from the matt paper this is printed on.

I’m generally quite sceptical about publishers’ comparison points in their solicitation blurb: selling their new series in advance to retailers and readers alike by referencing other critically acclaimed comics. But this time SCALPED looks like being on the money, and not just because the land was once more freely roamed by Native Americans before being stolen from them. (For an eloquently expressed graphic-novel history please see INDEH.) You will, however, have to wait for our review of the collected edition for me to explain myself, for I’ve already tried to tell you exactly what I mean in three different ways, each one explaining far too much for a comic which plays so well with your preconceptions.

It begins in the Spring of 1450 A.D. by the shores of a vast lake which will prove pivotal throughout.

“The lake holds the whole history of the place.
“Entire generations…
“The lake’s the only witness to all that’s come and gone.
“It cost me a niece… and a sister-in law.”

Clearly the narrator is far more contemporary, but how contemporary and who is it?

“The land… the water…? It sets the toll and takes what it will.”

 

What we are witnessing at this point back in 1450 A.D., by the sparse, lakeside settlement of animal-skin tipis, is murder for a mate. Not an open, honest, if brutal joust between stags in a thunderous display of virility, but a covert ambush of one man by another with intent to steal. Steal he does, claiming his terrified prize at night as she coddles her baby, pulling open the tipi’s flap and staking his claim.

“This land has been fought for.
“This patch on earth has been earned.
“And lost… over and over again.”

We witness that happening throughout the centuries which follow  until a rudimentary township is established with the arrival of wagons, a small community blossoms  and a church is erected, then more utilitarian, agrarian buildings make their mark along with motorised vehicles which already look a little dilapidated by 1950 A.D..

“And those that paid for it with blood and sweat and tears?
“They ain’t about to give it up.”

Now, this morning, in that self-same settlement, a young man in a backwards baseball cap is being bundled unceremoniously into a police car by a man in his mid-forties wearing a policeman’s uniform. Apparently the boy isn’t welcome on their land. But apparently the arresting officer isn’t legally a lawman. The boy bullishly protests that – according to the Sheriff in Cargill – they’re all squatters. But all the man called Bruce will concede is that they are a closed community, self-sustained, running off the grid, and that he and his two brothers will protect its borders.

Which is where, I believe, we came in.

“Shelly! How goes it?”
“S’all good. Shot me a couple weasels this morning. Looks like you caught one yerself.”

We may well return to assumptions and presumptions anon, but let’s first talk about Tyler Jenkins.

There’s such attention to detail throughout and most especially on the evolution of the hamlet, emerging from scratch like Will Eisner’s DROPSIE AVENUE which you’ll also find within Eisner’s A CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY. As the population of Eisner’s town (and then city) swells, so do its domiciles and I loved the coming and going and repurposing, refashioning of buildings to suit shifting needs.

The Grass Kingdom is evidently far more tightly controlled for it remains rustic with grain silos, water towers, a light aircraft hangar, jetties for mooring small fishing boats and a view of the lake which is to die for.

All of this Tyler Jenkins delivers with a double-page flourish of wet washes which had me gasping out loud. It’s akin to an aerial photograph snapped out of a helicopter, and you can identify individual landmarks seen on previous pages and those you’ll encounter as Bruce drives their unwanted intruder way off their land.

It’s phenomenally well structured too: there’s a horizontal horizon of low-lying, misty blue mountains, but the sandy township itself is held within parallel, diagonal bands of much darker green – trees to the north, the lake to the south – while your eyes are further driven in to its centre from the top, right and bottom-left by the grey asphalt which of course radiates outwards as well. Quite swiftly, in our obdurate young friend’s experience.

Much is made in that car-bound conversation of Robert, Bruce’s older brother, who seems to reign over this closed community like a king – one with a temper and a propensity towards drink. It’s made very clear to the youth that he’s lucky to have been caught by Bruce and not Robert. But all that we see is a tight-lipped man, tired and haggard beyond his years, sat brooding on his porch and staring out to the lake. There follow two free-form pages of quick-fire recollection before three long, comparatively static panels as ochre afternoon becomes a crimson sunset then night.

Then he sees something else.

I mentioned attention to detail, didn’t I? The distant past and present danger will converge most unexpectedly on the final page, at which point you may want to rethink.

SLH

Buy Grass Kings #1 and read the Page 45 review here

ICHI-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir Of The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant (£21-00, Kodansha) by Kazuto Tatsuta…

“I’d like to work at Fukushima Daiichi.”
‘When the explosion happened, I was living in the Tokyo area and looking for work.’
“Are you… serious?”
“Yes. Very much so.”
‘I was swayed by high pay, curiosity, and just a bit of altruism for those affected. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about the radiation exposure, but my own research on this case showed me that it wasn’t as bad as the media and certain citizen groups claimed. In fact I told myself, if there really was a ‘hidden truth of Fukushima’ like they said, I’d go there and see what it was for myself.’

Back in March 2011 Japan was struck by the largest earthquake ever to hit the islands. Even more devastating was the consequent tsunami that instantaneously wiped entire towns off the map, and also resulted in three nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. Purely in financial terms, it is regarded as the costliest natural disaster in human history. This though, is not that story.

No, this is the story of the everyday recovery work undertaken in the following months, indeed years, which will stretch on and on into the foreseeable future for decades, by the brave or foolhardy legions of workers, most of whom are locals with a connection to the area. Their pay is not remotely lucrative due to how the work is structured through tiers of subcontractors, and up to 7,000 are working at the plant on any given day. This story is told by an amateur artist, using the pen name Kazuto Tatsuta to avoid the possibility of him being barred from working at the plant in the future, and it is effectively all those workers’ stories.

I should stop and tell you right now, that if you are expecting a huge undercover journalistic expose of horrendous conditions or unsafe practices you will be disappointed. Yes, there are some sharp corporate goings-on, but the deeply conservative Japanese are not renowned for playing fast and loose when it comes to public safety. In fact, given the sense of embarrassment felt that the meltdowns happened at all, despite the unparalleled and perhaps indefensible ferocity of nature’s assault on the plant, there is a real sense of purpose to rectify the situation, in the correct manner, as efficiently as possible.

Think of this, then, as a daily diary from the proverbial radioactive coalface, of one such worker, a tiny cog, engaged in the highly organised, almost endlessly vast programme of works relentlessly taking place around the clock at the plant. Thus we get a relatively objective viewpoint of those required to don the vast amounts of protective clothing and still end up absorbing sufficient radiation that six months work at a time could push you up to the safe annual limits and disqualify you from entering the site. At least until you’ve decayed a bit… and the radiation you’ve absorbed too… and then it’s back to work.

This work manages to achieve the slightly bizarre feat of being simultaneously quite a dry read of endless rounds of donning Tyvek coveralls, 3M facemasks, overshoe covers, undergoing decontamination procedures and in contrast an extremely engaging story of the day-to-day lives of people who are putting their hearts and souls into their work, in exchange for not more much more than a pittance. I think the latter wouldn’t have anywhere near as much impact without the weight of the former, but I did at times feel something mildly akin to the impatience the workers no doubt feel at having to endure another round of dress up and decon.

A truly fascinating work, very ably illustrated for someone who claims to merely be an ‘amateur artist’, his clean straightforward backgrounds wouldn’t look out of place in a Taniguchi work, which will provide an enduring valuable historical testament to one of the most significant and hair-raising / depilatory chapters of the story of nuclear power generation.

JR

Buy ICHI-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir Of The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and read the Page 45 review here

USCA – Independent Manga For The Next Generation (£10-99, Diorama Books) by various…

15 of Japan’s up and coming manga creators tout their unique and non-conformist wares in this eclectic anthology curated by the USCA manga magazine. USCA contacted us directly to ask if we wanted to take this English translation aimed at blowing away our occidental preconceptions about manga, and perhaps our minds apart as well.

Each story is wisely a one-shot and if you enjoyed the likes of the AX COLLECTION OF ALTERNATIVE MANGA which we had on the shelves for a wee while, this will hit the mark. From what I’ve gathered reading around a little bit, the creators in the USCA magazine are regarded as being even more cutting edge than AX, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The people whom I am hoping will pick this up are those of you who are already deeply interested in English language self-published creators and fancy trying something a little bit different. You know who you are…

Many, many moons ago, our dear beloved Mark persuaded me to pick up a very strange Japanese anthology that contained one of the funniest comics I have ever read, still true to this day. I can well recall wiping tears of mirth away barely able to get my breath. Propriety prevents me from regaling you with the salient details here, but suffice to say, it singled-handedly convinced me that ‘underground’ Japanese comics creators could be just as out there as their Western counterparts. I have had a couple of conversations with customers of a certain age about said strip who had the same recommendation from Mark, and it had a similar effect on them too… Just plain wrong!

Anyway… here, as with any anthology I found there was the odd miss story-wise and stylistically, as well as some resounding brain-wobbling right hooks to the head.  But that’s to be expected with as experimental an approach to comics as some of these creators are utilising. If you genuinely believe all manga is doe-eyed schoolgirls with a bad case of visible panty line falling in love with inappropriately aged vampires, you’re in for a big surprise, trust me.

Even when the heart on her sleeve VPL schoolgirl trope is deployed, it is purely to hilariously poke fun at it, in one of my favourite yarns in this collection, about a deceased teen offered the chance to go back and finally declare her undying love for the unsuspecting object of her affections. One slight catch, she has to throw a dart Bullseye-style to determine precisely what she can come back to life as for an hour to achieve her task. Oh dear, it just landed in ‘mosquito’…

JR

Buy USCA – Independent Manga For The Next Generation and read the Page 45 review here

Silverfin – The Graphic Novel (£9-99, Penguin) by Charlie Higson & Kev Walker…

The terror of a teenage James Bond:

“I must warn you…
“I haven’t had many driving lessons.
“This could be a bumpy ride.”

Oh, James! They’re always going to be bumpy.

There will be terror, but it won’t be Bond’s: as a thirteen-year-old he’s yet to become so hardened, detached or indeed accomplished. Don’t expect a precocious marksman or a preternaturally fit athlete, although he will start training at school and prove a fairly strong swimmer after being thrown in at the deep end of a freezing Thames in order to compete in Lord Hellebore’s Cup, a triathlon challenge involving shooting, swimming and running because that’s what his son George is best at.

James does evidence a smattering of sexism – though no more than any other 1930s boy – but don’t worry, he’ll be charmingly disarmed of that.

Back to the terror, and this teen-orientated tale kicks off near Keithly in Scotland on the banks of Loch Silverfin, framed by mountains and now surrounded on all sides by a chain link and razor wire fence so that the landed gentry inhabiting its island castle can keep out the riff-raff.

KEEP OUT
PRIVATE PROPERTY
TRESSPASSERS WILL BE SHOT

Lovely decorative dead dog heads…

One enterprising young poach takes bugger all notice and quite right too! Bloody aristos – it’s not natural, is it? – I bet you they’re English. This Loch always had the best fishing, though you do have to wade in quite deep for the choicest catch. Unfortunately the water starts churning, and so will your stomach…

This is a gorgeous graphic novel, a period piece between the two wars, set largely in the wilds of Scotland, and Walker provides all the eye candy you could hope for: plenty of panoramas and very rich colouring heavy on grass-green, earths and purple. He makes much use of mist for a hazy sense of distance or smoke at the smog-clogged train station.

Walker’s silhouetted castle is most Mike Mignola, as are his monstrosities, while his cast come over like Paul Grist characters – look at the eyes and teeth! – inked by P. Craig Russell (there’s a perfect James Bond quizzical arched eyebrow raised early on). Oh yes, there will be monstrosities, along with the obligatory Ian Fleming strapped-to-the-rack torture scene, although nothing so heavy as having a buzzing saw or lasers roving  too close to one’s crown jewels. Once more this is beautifully lit in a much more toxic shade of green, and toxins may well be involved.

It’s also a book about friendship and family, for although Bond had famously lost his parents by this point, his Aunt Charmian and her brother, Uncle Max, are determined to look after him as best and for as long as they can and even give him an unorthodox early driving lesson. Alas, Uncle Max – a former spy during WWI determined that James should not follow suit – doesn’t have long, for he’s fading away with cancer. There are two very tender scenes when his uncle lights up and teenage James is so sad. Not disappointed, not upset, but ever so sad. Yeah, I know the 1930s are a little too early for a young lad to link them, but it’s never a bad message to reinforce so delicately, is it?

But of course there are bad families too, passing down their line the fine art of bullying and, after that eel-ridden prologue, we begin with Bond bound for boarding school, specifically Eton.

This allows Higson an early opportunity to engage us with a “Bond, James Bond” moment because borders called each other – and may still call each other, for all I know – by their surnames. The suave confidence with which our future secret service agent will deliver such lines is undercut brilliantly by the first of many rude awakenings in store for him at Eton, when he’s contradicted with “James Bond – sir”, not by an avuncular and ever-exasperated Quartermaster but by his dreaded Housemaster.

All too quickly Bond falls equally foul of older boy George Hellibore, son of American arms dealer Lord Hellibore, but before that he has to deal with his bedsit being bare with peeling paint and plaster. Oh, yeah, you thought Public School accommodation was plush?! Pffft. There’s a reason we had to use drapes.

Still, the great thing about the school hols was you could always leave the bullies back at boarding school, eh? They’re not going to live anywhere near you.

Oh, James, you’re in for such a bumpy ride!

SLH

Buy Silverfin – The Graphic Novel and read the Page 45 review here

Doctor Strange vol 3: Blood In The Aether (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo, others.

What that cover lacks in full-on Ditko psychedelia, it more than makes up for in fluorescent, DayGlo glory.

“If the old books of magic don’t apply anymore… it’s time to write some new ones.”

The old books of magic no longer apply: DOCTOR STRANGE VOL 1: THE WAY OF THE WEIRD began their destruction along with the draining of all other arcane knick-knacks. Magic all across this world – along with so many others – has been expended and is only just beginning to flicker back into life.

So it’s out with the Cloak Of Levitation – there simply isn’t the energy to sustain it – and in with the Cape Of Getting All Wrapped Up And Tangled In.

Alternatively whilst thinking on his feet (and halfway up a sky scraper) it’s time for a two-minute Nambian Huntsman Spider Spell, cast on his boots to turn him into a temporary wall crawler.
That much our Master Of The Mystic Arts can just about muster, along with an apple he’d almost eaten to the core which, if you lob it just right, comes with a bite, and quite the tree-trunk bonk to the head.

No, the old books of magic not longer apply because their mystical mumbo-jumbo has been replaced by a Strange but satisfying logic and brilliant, balls-out laughter which is so much more fun. Matt Fraction did the same for HAWKEYE, realising that a comedy of manners in its true, theatrical sense, would be infinitely more appealing to the Real Mainstream than super-powered pugilism.

Artist Chris Bachalo throws himself into the same goal with gusto. Look at the details on the cover to #14!

The menu inside is one long scream. No really:

“The menu is just pictures of people screaming.”

They’ve seen the main dishes. Also the waiters. And the chef.

The chef is Master Pandemonium, a D-grade character who has ten demons for digits whose history I won’t bother to explain for it is utterly irrelevant: you won’t need to have read anything about him prior to this series. Suffice to say that here he’s reduced to two demons, but has trouble enough keeping those incessant squabblers at arm’s length.

I’m counting six key adversaries for six successive chapters of non-stop nonsense, each attempting to write their own proscriptive prescription for the dear Doctor after diagnosing his depletion, all of them ending in death.

The prognosis is poor but the delivery is delirious as our battered and constantly buffeted new buffoon of a Sorcerer Supreme staves off their half-assed attacks and monomaniacal monologues just long enough to…

Wait!

What went Wong?!

SLH

Buy Doctor Strange vol 3: Blood In The Aether (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

How To Create Graphic Novels (£4-99, LICAF) by Rodolphe Töpffer.

Pocketbook resurrection of a long-lost artefact originally published in 1845, translated by the gregarious John McShane whom many may remember from Glasgow’s AKA Books (which I thought was a wittily playful and positive name for a comic shop) who also provides an introduction full of insightful context almost as long as the proposition itself.

Amongst many amusements there, you will learn of the absurd pseudo-science called phrenology once bandied about by highly regarded quacks with a disregard for truth and evidence on a scale approaching Donald Trump’s po-faced proclamations. Rodolphe Töpffer, you’ll be relieved to hear, was not a fan. Of phrenology, I mean; I’d like to have seen him draw Donald Trump.

Here’s an edited version of what The Lakes International Comic Art Festival wrote about their publication:

“It was the first ever book on creating graphic novels, which has been translated, edited, and introduced by John McShane and designed by Festival patron Sean Phillips.

“Born in Geneva in 1799, Töpffer was a schoolmaster, university professor, polemical journalist, art critic, landscape draughtsman and writer of fiction, travel tales, and social criticism. Within two years of the first appearance of the world’s first regularly published comics magazine, ‘The Glasgow Looking Glass’ (11th June 1825), Rodolphe Töpffer single-handedly started creating what became the world’s first graphic novels.

“At first he resisted publishing what he called his “little follies”. When he did, they became instantly popular, plagiarised, and imitated throughout Europe and the United States.

“In 1845, he wrote HOW TO CREATE GRAPHIC NOVELS, the world’s first book about this new art of the graphic novel.

“This new edition has been endorsed by Benoît Peeters, the UK’s only Professor of Graphic Fiction and Comic Art (at Lancaster University) and comics artist and illustrator Dan Berry, Programme Leader for the BA/MDes Illustration, Graphic Novels and Children’s Publishing degree courses at the School of Creative Arts, Wrexham Glyndwr University, who will both be guests at this year’s Festival in October.

“”Many people who read Will Eisner’s A CONTRACT WITH GOD in 1987, or Art Spiegelman’s MAUS in 1980-9, or Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ WATCHMEN in 1986-87 probably felt that they were witnessing the first examples of a new form of literature,” notes John McShane. “But the truth is that these books were part of a rebirth of the form, a renaissance indeed, which Rodolphe Töpffer created in 1827 – all by himself.”

“So, what is this ‘little book’ which you now hold in your hands all about? It is Töpffer’s demonstration of the advantages of the graphic form over prose novels – and how to go about creating your own,” John explains. “Töpffer’s theories are still influential to this day, and still worth studying.”

What no one seems to consider worth mentioning is that within the work Mr T actually illustrates his prose hypothesis about conveying character as a constant and immediate emotion or thought in several drawn demonstrations utilising different – and differentiating – component parts of the face.

He does the same, passing by, on stature etc.

It’s a starting point which will give you much food for thought.

Let no one tell you, however, that this is where the history of comics began (I’ve edited that extract out). It may be where the first discussion of the medium occurred, but the history of comics began with ancient Egyptian, sequential-art paintings of harvests circa 1300 B.C.*, and flourished as Töpffer himself points out under Britain’s William Hogarth in the 18th Century. Its origins may even lie much earlier in pre-historical cave paintings like those in Lascaux (170th Century BC), depending on your interpretation of those fairly dynamic daubs. I subscribe, certainly.

This is a genuine gem of a find and an important part of our beloved medium’s evolution.

* Not hieroglyphics, obviously, for they were merely pictorial representations of letters.

SLH

Buy How To Create Graphic Novels 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.

Siberia 56 h/c (£16-99, Insight Comics) by Christophe Bec & Alexis Sentenac

Drugs & Wires #1 (£4-99, Dead Channel Comix) by Io Black & Cryoclaire

Drugs & Wires #2 (£4-99, Dead Channel Comix) by Io Black & Cryoclaire

Rolling Stock #1 (£4-50) by Oliver East.

Bad Machinery vol 1: The Case Of The Team Spirit s/c Pocket Edition (£8-99, Oni) by John Allison

Yvain – The Knight Of The Lion h/c (£17-99, Candlewick Press) by M.T. Anderson & Andrea Offermann

Deadly Class vol 5: Carousel s/c (£13-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Wesley Craig

Demonic s/c (£13-99, Image) by Christopher Sebela & Niko Walter

Providence vol 1 h/c (£17-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrow
DC Comics: Bombshells vol 3: Uprising s/c (£17-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett & Mirka Andolfo, Laura Braga, Sandy Jarrel, Pasquale Qualano

Harley Quinn vol 1: Die Laughing s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Chad Hardin, John Timms, Jill Thompson, Joseph Michael Linser

News

ITEM! Pre-orders, please!

 Once again I am trawling the monthly PREVIEWS order form for gems!

This time it’s March PREVIEWS for comics and graphic novels arriving mainly in May which you can read for free online on the Page 45 website and even pre-order, perchance or phone / email in to add to your regular order. We really wish you would because we have to order two months in advance and pre-orders help us gauge potential interest and guarantee you get a graphic novel or comic which you know you already want. Creators have died under the duress of trying to persuade people to pre-order: it is exhausting, but we mustn’t give up!

There’s a new Guy Delisle – most famous for his hugely entertaining travelogues like PYONGYANG, SHENZHEN, BURMA CHRONICLES and JERUSALEM – but this one isn’t going to be what you expect except excellent. HOSTAGE – I don’t think there’ll be many laffs.

ITEM! In marked contrast in May comes SPILL ZONE by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland.

Now, the cover ain’t all that, I grant you, but I’ve read the whole of the first chapter and their imaginations are on overload, with a real wit to back them up. Weirdest city darned city you’ll see.

Not sure how long this site will stay up, but for the moment you too can read dozens and dozens of pages of Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland’s SPILL ZONE for free! Click “first” first of all to take you to the beginning!

Then you could pre-order, please, right?

 

 

 

 

ITEM! BandLogoJukeBox!

Ever wonder about the origin of some of your favourite band logos? Loads on offer here with comments by their creators, like the Buzzcocks. Click left and right for more, but one of my favourite bands was THE CRAMPS, their logo cribbed by lead singer Lux Interior himself from Al Felstein’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT script.

 

You wondered if there’d be a comics connection!

Right, I’m done for the night,

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2017 week two

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Featuring Fabrizio Dori on Paul Gauguin, Jason Shiga, Joan Cornellá, more!

Student Prize Competition in News underneath!

The Foldings #1 (£4-99, Two-Toed Press) by Joann Dominik & Faye Simms.

Speech bubbles!

You will find speech bubbles!

And they will come floating right out of mage Micah’s mouth!

Yes please! Yes please to any comic as fun and inventive as this! For considering its medium, and for such a wealth of world-building – as evidenced in the extensive, annotated sketch section beyond – which has not yet even begun to come into play in this perfectly composed, initial self-contained salvo.

Riddled with wit, pumped up with heart, and threaded with tantalising clues as to so much that will inevitably come next from these two new comics visionaries, this debut delivers on every front including its price point. I have no idea how Dominik and Simms have found the means to produce such a lavish, glossy and glowing package for a mere five quid.

They give you an entire comic story with a beginning bursting with subtle intrigue as to Jasper’s unique nature – provided by his insatiably inquisitive propensity to dive in and discover novelty at the very real and rash risk of revealing his resistances – a middle in which those advantageous attributes are challenged as flip-sided flaws, and the most ecstatic end in which passion is provided in the form of a representational, phosphorescent firework display!

Phosphorous was always my favourite element. Drive it from water then see for yourself! Oh, wait, maybe it was Caesium. Do not add any water or all your bone china will be brutalised! It’s possible I was expelled from a Chemistry class. Anyway…

 

Only then, once your value for money has already been delivered in dove-winged droves do these two ridiculously generous creators give you seventeen additional pages of lavishly illustrated, eloquent prose illuminating an entirely new and different but equally well thought-out perspective on this self-same world. An additional adventure!

And then Simms gives you her research: four full pages of gasp-inducing art intimating so much of what will follow.

The confidence and flawless execution is astounding.

Another thing I adored in very particular order: the third of four succinct paragraphs of what is so often too much introductory waffle:

“Doors change where they lead to, and if you step into a shop it may have moved by the time you step out”

Oh, you’ll love The Foldings. It’s basically Venice, free-floating in the sky.

Everyone knows that Venice rotates half its geographical mass overnight by 45% so inviting those of us over-confident in navigating its canal-crossing bridges the discomforting joy of experiencing misaligned hubris.

But this is a Venice not built on water but floating in air. There is no bottom to its depths, no sea-bed to which you might sink. Or is there? I experienced more than one extreme episode of vertigo for which I will be thanking neither Dominik nor Simms.

Oh, these two are so good!

And wood! Wood! Almost everything there is built of warped, creaking wood! And that carries – in addition to so much architectural beauty – additional consequences when the world is so structured on steam-punk.

Now, where do I buy some dust-eating fabric? I could do with a furlong or two of that.

“You know, if you ever did go in for assassination, I bet you’d accidentally use something totally harmless.”
“Perfect, no one would ever suspect if no one actually died…”

SLH

Buy The Foldings #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Gauguin – The Other World (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Fabrizio Dori.

“In these lands, I experienced a lightness such as I had never known before. My mind had freed itself of its old burdens.

“It was so simple to paint what I saw! Putting red or blue on the canvas without a plan, freed from former constraints, freed from the shackles.”

In which Fabrizio Dori nails Paul Gauguin on every level and constructs an exceptionally witty way, informed by Gauguin’s own art, of getting to the heart of the man and conveying that heart’s duality.

Liberation was everything to Paul Gauguin.

In his paintings he sought to liberate himself from traditional, formal, physical composition, concentrating instead on instinctive, suggestive harmonies of colour.

He sought to liberate himself from the conservatism and supercilious snobbery that becomes entrenched in any Institution – including the Art Establishment – however enlightened its predominant contemporary movement.

In his life he sought freedom from his financial failings and so constraints which came to prey upon him terribly, from the civilisation of a Europe so grey compared his early years in Peru, and the Parisian prison of a school whose teachers and pupils he didn’t understand and who did not understand him to the extent that – as soon as could, aged seventeen – he signed on with a merchant marine vessel headed for South America, and sailed the West Indies, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea before learning of his mother’s death and returning once more to Paris.

This book is so cleverly structured as to show, right at its centre, that Gauguin had finally achieved all that freedom and more. He had escaped Paris by uprooting himself to Tahiti in the Tropical Pacific Ocean, rejected his initial port of call in Papeete as a “colonists’ town” too reminiscent of the Europe he’d left behind, and settled in a southern coastal fishing village where he made friends, began learning the language and absorbing its mythology before exploring its even wilder terrain and finally finding a lover in Teura.

Not only that, but Gauguin acknowledged that he found his freedom, his peace, his idyll, his Eden and his inspiration for what he was certain was his artistic success… and he threw it all away.

Because the one thing Paul Gauguin could never liberate himself from was the desire to win.

“I had to ensure that everyone admired my work. Otherwise, what was the point?
“I was right. I’d always been right. And they had to acknowledge that.”

Combative, stubborn, he had to win the argument, to prove he’d been right in his rejection of some of Impressionism’s constraints, to have his new paintings admired.

“Tossed like a boat in a tempest, we live at the mercy of our contradictions, our needs.
“More than anything, I wanted to go back to Paris to get what was mine! I had to go back because it was my duty and my right to be there.
“Besides, not having a penny to my name, I was forced to. Paradoxically, at the same time, I wanted more than anything to stay in Tahiti.”

Yet that desperate imperative to achieve artistic recognition dragged him back to Paris. It was an unmitigated disaster, and although he would return to Oceania, things would be very different the second time round. For a start, there would be no Teura.

Fabrizio Dori successfully incorporates so many elements of Gauguin’s work within his own. The colour lighting could not be more vital in planting you firmly in Gauguin’s perspective. It is bleached, leaking off the page whenever Europe is revisited, yet springs immediately back to vibrant life in French Polynesia. It is rich, it is dark, it is exotic. And in its more visionary episodes – this graphic novel is one long visionary episode, as you will see – it is mysterious.

“Soyez mystérieuses!”

One of Gauguin’s biggest mysteries and most celebrated painting is ‘Manao Tupapau’ (1892), traditionally translated as ‘Spirit Of The Dead Watching’ with the additional ambiguity of meaning “Watching The Spirit Of The Dead”.

I promised you a witty narrative construction informed by Gauguin’s own paintings and it begins right at this centre with ‘Spirit Of The Dead Watching’ which we know was a portrait of Teura and almost certainly a reversed riff on Édouard Manet’s ‘Olympia’ (1863).

Please note: this actually is Gauguin! ‘Spirit Of The Dead Watching’ (1892)

For a start, Teura was Gauguin’s Tahitian wife, the love at the heart of all his newfound, deeply desired freedom and peace. There has been much to and fro about her position and her expression, but amongst Gauguin’s own written accounts he mentions the local’s superstition that at night the spirits of the dead roam, and they do not like to sleep alone in the dark.

What Dori has done, firstly, is incorporated Gauguin’s decision to leave. In Fabrizio’s account Teura is found by Gauguin in precisely this position, in the same colours, after his day trip to Papeete in order to begin preparations for his repatriation to Paris, without telling Teura that this was his purpose. Having had to travel back on foot on through a rain-drenched, storm-struck night, he arrives late to find the oil in their lamp had run out and Teura very much alone and afraid in the dark.

“Never leave me alone again. On nights like this, ghosts come down from the mountains.”

Fabrizio then has Paul Gauguin remember this:

“I held her close in my arms and, knowing full well I was lying, promised I’d never leave her alone again.”

Everything he had; everything he threw away.

If that wasn’t poignant and indeed clever enough, ‘Spirit Of The Dead Watching’ depicts an old woman sitting behind Teura in the dark, explained by Gauguin to some as that very spirit of the dead. And it is during this central sequence that Dori has Gauguin recall:

“It was at that exact moment I saw you.”

Pull back to the beginning of the main narrative of this graphic novel and we are introduced to a much older, world-weary Gauguin weakened by alcohol, sickness, morphine, betrayal and failure, on the Marqesas Islands, alone on a bed of his own:

“Is that you? I know you.”
“Yes.”
“I’ve seen you before. Long ago…”
“That is as it should be.”
“I’ve painted and drawn you before, many times.”
“And you have looked for me.”

He’d tried to commit suicide.

“I’m right beside you.
“As I have always been. I am the shadow that accompanies men all their lives.
“But when they die, it is their turn to follow me.”

I leave you to follow Paul Gauguin as he accompanies the Spirit of the Dead on what artistic circles do like to call a Retrospective. It’s full of dreams and colour, of light and darkness, of hope, ambition and disappointment, at the end of which the artist must answer a very important question.

Fabrizio Dori has done a phenomenal job of focussing our attention on the two opposing elements which pulled Paul Gauguin apart, while incorporating as much as possible of his critical reception with concision and precision. It would be impossible to address every aspect of his personality and performance in such a relatively short work – or address every aspect of this graphic novel in this review (what happened upon his return to Paris) – but it should be noted that he did like to perform, playing to his reputation as an outsider, and outcast spurned by the establishment, and often went to elaborate lengths to do so.

He was, in short, a bit of a martyr in the modern sense that we so often use when someone throws themselves on the self-sacrificial bonfire with a certain degree of relish.

SLH

Buy Gauguin – The Other World and read the Page 45 review here

The Autumnlands vols 1 & 2 (£8-99 & 14-99 respectively, Image) by Kurt Busiek & Benjamin Dewey…

“Whuh. Where…? Back in barracks, or…?”
“Nope, nope. Sheep in a hat. Still here. Hey.”

Which I will grant you sounds a rather more salacious way to wake up than it actually is…

In fact, Dusty the redoubtable terrier and the Great Champion a.k.a. human Sergeant Leroy are in the mountains, tracking down the source of strange magical emanations as you do. The human part is significant because the good Sergeant is in fact the only one on the planet, which is full of various highly evolved animal races either dwelling in mystically powered, luxurious, floating cities, godlike in the skies above or eking out a far less privileged, Medieval-esque, serf-level existence on the ground below.

Each tribe of animal hubristically believed the mythical Great Champion was of their own species, and so it was somewhat of a shock when the traumatic thaumaturgical events of AUTUMNLANDS VOL 1 resulted in Leroy’s explosive arrival from their far-flung past. The greatest mages of the age had gathered to attempt to rend the fabric of time itself and bring back the being apparently responsible for the very existence of magic, to enlist his aid in combating their current travail: that the mystical essence permeating their world was now gradually, undeniably beginning to ebb and fade away.

It all went spectacularly tits up, of course, bringing down one of the gigantic floating cities, primarily due to the bird-brained incompetence of the egomaniacal, slimy owl Sandorst of Samia. Who post-disaster has somehow managed to inveigle his way into being in charge of the survivors. Some people just lust after power, without any thought of what they are actually going to do when they’ve got it. Animals too in our world, judging from some of the nature documentaries I’ve seen!

Good job those land-dwelling, oppressed species here aren’t out to take their high-flying chums down a further peg or two, bringing them back to earth figuratively following on from the very literal fall, or indeed perhaps put them under the ground entirely. Ah…

Or so we thought…

Leroy being the only human that is…

And that is where I shall leave my plot summary of volumes one and two. Suffice to say this is Kurt Busiek on absolute top form with what is hilarious, thought provoking, wildly engaging speculative fiction of the most entertaining kind. Benjamin Dewey’s art is truly spectacular too, some of the best anthropomorphic art I’ve ever seen, including exquisite double-page chapter breaks, complemented beautifully by the redoubtable Jordie Bellaire on colours, who is right up there with Elizabeth Breitweiser and Dave Stewart in my mind in wielding the palette.

I shall conclude with a perhaps spurious and mildly frivolous “TRIGGER WARNING!!” as the tender youth of today might utter whilst dabbing their beading brows. I can’t completely explain the presence of a jauntily swinging penis in both volumes, as Leroy sans loincloth makes a recurring appearance. It seems rather unnecessary and perhaps a touch self-defeating on the capturing an audience front, certainly where we end up having to rack it on the Page 45 shelves, but hey ho. It doesn’t remotely spoil what is a veritable triumph of a title. Depending on your sensibilities it may even enhance it!

JR

Buy The Autumlands vol 1: Tooth & Claw s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy The Autumnlands vol 2: Woodland Creatures s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

More blinding brilliance of the analytical ilk you’d be hard pressed to find in comics or anywhere else outside of Professor Stephen Hawking’s brain.

Jason Shiga is the ever-inventive mathematician of comicbook creators responsible for MEANWHILE,

(and EMPIRE STATE), the laminated, all-ages graphic novel equivalent of those Pick-A-Plot novels we all relished in childhood wherein you chose the trajectory of the story by presumptuously making split decisions on the protagonists’ behalf, thereby determining which page you jumped to and what happened next.

We have two of those in the form of Sherwin Tija’s YOU ARE A CAT and YOU ARE A KITTEN which – do not be deceived! – are far less fluffy than you might suppose. Please don’t buy them for young minds to fall foul of: their outlook on life will grow bleaker than an abandoned bus station at half-past two on a frozen Sunday morning.

DEMON is real, honest to goodness comics but comes with the same weather warning: not suitable for kids or indeed your parents unless you want some awkward family conversations.

Jason Shiga, meticulous with detail, is known neither for imprecision nor for being random. He is a logic-driven puzzle-maker and a puzzle-solver, and in DEMON VOL 1 he invited you to solve a seemingly baffling, complex puzzle before his protagonist did. The satisfaction after the final reveal – when you then go back and realise how far from random and watertight it all is – will have you grinning your heads off then evangelical in spreading the word.

In DEMON VOL 2 what is exceptional is the forensic detail with which that protagonist, Jimmy Yee, now sets about considering his condition, experimenting with it (without a care in the world for whomever he expends), analysing his findings, understanding their ramifications then formulating a brutal plan of action.

It is delightfully deadpan and you will laugh your heads off, for our Jimmy Yee is not a very nice man! He is, however, a devoted Dad and since I’m still in two minds as to whether to give the game away in order to get you on board, I highly recommend you read my review of DEMON VOL 1 in which I take you, step by step, through experiencing Jimmy Yee’s predicament as he himself discovers it, whilst being equally meticulous in objective observation lest I spoil the plot.

I do not!

Aaaaand I’m not going to here. I can’t risk it. I’ve even been as circumspect as I can be with the interior art, one piece of which contains a piece of information vital for this instalment’s massive, startling new reveal and subsequent reversal of Jimmy Yee’s goals, but which typically looks merely lobbed in as arbitrary background fluff. I cannot emphasise this enough: nothing about Jason Shiga’s writing or drawing is arbitrary.

Indeed its how he chose to represent Jimmy’s initial map of a morning visually that make it so… I’m struggling to avoid the word ‘genius’ but I’ll bet you good money that any Mensa results put Shiga at the high end of that category.

Please don’t believe that Yee’s new-found capabilities are anything as anodyne as invulnerability or immortality. Au contraire, you’ll find mortality absolutely integral to everything that occurs.

I can promise you parachuting, Mexican standoffs, suicide, mass murder, custom-built wrist watches so cleverly deployed, tranquiliser darts as a far more effective method of containment than a gunshot to the head and two more volumes to come whose direction I cannot begin to fathom, although I have read the last two pages involving a phone call and a very expensive ice cream.

SLH

Buy Demon vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Zonzo (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Joan Cornellá.

Return of the rectal blood-letting and rictus grins.

Note: not actual cover. I cannot bring myself to reprint the cover.

If I describe these as six-panel gag strips, the emphasis is certainly on choking.

Of Cornellá’s first offense, MOX NOX, I wrote, “Innocence is such an anathema to Joan Cornella that I can only compare him to Ivan Brunetti.

“Clothed in the brightest, most child-friendly colours, this is truly transgressive, crossing all boundaries of common decency and good taste, and if there aren’t multiple mutilations on any given page it’s only because something even more awful is happening.”

If it’s any consolation I wrought my revenge the first time round by getting Joan’s gender wrong. I’m not naive or sexist enough to contend that no woman would write such Wrongs, but it’s still a relief to know I can now blame a bloke.

Nothing’s changed: the final reactions are still those least expected, except for the sixth panel in my favourite strip involving an engagement ring. The man’s expression in the final panel, – as we zoom in on his blank, black eyes reflecting the degree to which his brain has quit functioning, and the enormity of what has caused such an immediate and complete cessation – is exquisite.

It’s a classic case of act in haste, repent at leisure. They can’t have known each other that long.

I’m not giving you any more: that’s probably the only page we could publish.

I also wrote:

“Some strips present the wonkiest of solutions to problematic situations and most make those situations a great deal worse. Extreme Problem Solving, you could call it. Many of them involve skewed priorities and play on what is considered customary behaviour, upending it, and the unacceptable is accepted with all those gleeful grins.”

Same!

SLH

Buy Zonzo and read the Page 45 review here

Glitterbomb vol 1: Red Carpet s/c (£8-99, Image) by Jim Zub & Djibril Morissette-Phan…

“You’re taking this in stride. That didn’t freak you out?”

“Detective. I live in Oakwood. I see crime shit all the time.”
“Fair enough. Here’s what bugs me, Ms. Durante… Someone walked in the door, beat the living hell out of Mr. Tulder, and then dragged his presumably unconscious body away without anyone in the office noticing.”
“You think he was kidnapped?”
“Kidnapped, killed… Whatever happened, he’s not here. So, unless you know how to hide a three-hundred-pound loudmouth executive in fifteen minutes or less. I’m at a bit of a loss.”
“Hmmm…”

Well, Miss Durante ate him, obviously… Which isn’t remotely a spoiler as it happens right at the very beginning! No, consider it more a statement of intent…

 

Despite the stomach-churning, gory opening, I did think this was going to be a slow-burning, creeping horror that would span several volumes as the suspense regarding Miss Durante and her… friend… built up. In fact, it rather feels like the third act begins with the final issue of this collection, and given the dramatic conclusion goes out live on television, I can’t imagine how they can put the monster back in the proverbial hat, or person, and go much further with this.

Miss Farrah Durrante is an actress, darling. In Hollywood, no less – albeit a washed-up, over-the-hill one. And actually she only ever really had one moderately significant extended bit-part in a long-running science fiction TV show. A low rent Star Trek rip-off, basically. Scrabbling around for roles, always getting passed over for younger, more fresh-faced versions of herself, she’s struggling to make ends meet and provide for her young son. When a meeting with her asshole of an agent starts to go somewhat pear-shaped, she loses the plot and strange tentacles fly out of her mouth, stab him through the brain, and well, you know the rest.

She’s rather disturbed about it, as you might expect, and embarks upon the go-to Hollywood panacea for all such situations: therapy! With a deliciously dark sense of humour to complement the fright-filled chunks, plus reasonable enough art from Djibril Morissette-Phan, I reckon fans of Alex De Campi’s crackpot GRINDHOUSE series will really enjoy this.

JR

Buy Glitterbomb vol 1: Red Carpet s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Karnak: The Flaw In All Things s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Gerardo Zaffino, Roland Boschi.

Let me introduce you to the green-cowled Karnak, now Magister of the Tower Of Wisdom, a rigidly austere and imposingly tall “temple” built of heavy grey stone, sequestered on a plateau high in the misty mountains of what I infer are the Andes or somewhere of that ilk.

A member of its royal family, he once enjoyed the company of his fellow Inhumans. Now his life is solitary, monastic and focussed on silent contemplation, broken only when one of his acolytes announces:

“Magister. The Infernal Device is calling.”

Hidden behind doors so thick that it takes four to heave them open – and even so, they budge only grudgingly – the Infernal Device is an old-skool, two-way radio supplied by S.H.I.E.L.D., the international espionage agency which now summons him from seclusion to an old substation in Svalbard on the Arctic Ocean where they are experiencing security breaches.

“Attilan, the seat of Inhumanity, was once located in the North Atlantic. It was a little like this. Bleak. Isolated. Cold. It is pleasing to me.”

Karnak is being called upon because a couple’s son – recently traumatised and transmogrified by the Inhuman’s Terrigen Mist into one of their own – has been abducted by a death cult. S.H.I.E.L.D.S.’s investigations have been hampered by legal restrictions and by infiltration whose source Karnak spots instantly.

“My curse is that I see the flaw in all things. Systems. Philosophies. Structures. People. Everything.“The bullet you fired at me was flawed simply by the act of being fired.
“You were flawed by being born.”

His insight allows him to target these weaknesses and so shatter structures, be they walls, bones or even illusions: comforting thoughts that get us through each day. He does so ruthlessly and remorselessly. Never a party person, Karnak is no longer a people person, and he is far from eager to please. Small talk is an anathema to him; smiling is an insult.

Yet he may be the best Marvel-Comic company you can hope to keep right now outside of our good Stephen Strange or Jessica Jones.

Always reliable for reinvention, Warren Ellis – whose creator-owned comics like INJECTION I hope need no introduction – has stayed true to the character’s focussed nature and distilled it into raw single-mindedness. He’s delivered a much more fractious take on a character about whom you need know nothing prior to this.

The austerity’s enhanced by Gerardo Zaffino’s gruff, grainy textures and superb command of half-light and midnight when confronted with Karnak’s eye-piercing, soul-searing gaze. The entire comic experience is led by colour artist Dan Brown’s rich olive green. But coming back to Karnak in action, Zaffino stops time virtually dead its tracks as that bullet is fired, the space ahead of its trajectory ruptured as any wound would be while what’s left in its wake flares brilliantly behind.

You will have plenty Matt Fraction & David Aja  IRON FIST kung-fu fighting, with the cliffhanger promising much more to come.

You are always, always encouraged – whoever you are – to buy Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee’s self-contained, exceptionally literate, deliciously delineated and lambently coloured INHUMANS collection (think Neil Gaiman, I kid you not), but you certainly don’t need it for this.

Now, what do you think Karnak’s biggest flaw is?

SLH

Buy Karnak: The Flaw In All Things s/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 3 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis & Jimmy Cheung, Alex Maleev, Francis Leinil Yu, others.

It’s all about trust and former friendships torn apart.

A single page of silence followed by a double page of silence, then:
“Oh my God… What — what does this mean?”

Post-CIVIL WAR, each member of this now very different, covert cell of hounded individuals who still consider themselves Avengers stands stock still in mute disbelief, trying to process the ramifications of their discovery, and way back then, I was right there with them.

It was enormous, paving the way for what follows this huge repacking of NEW AVENGERS vols 6, 7 and the ILLUMINATI mini-series.
This was phase three of Bendis’ reinvention and reinvigoration of the Avengers team and, with Yu on board for the dirtier pencils, it felt very different indeed.

First Bendis tore it apart from the inside in NEW AVENGERS COMPLETE VOL 1, then he built it up again in reaction to a conspiracy involving high-level corruption at S.H.I.E.L.D..

So far they’ve been too distracted to follow that through, and with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the legally sanctioned Mighty Avengers now led by Tony Stark himself, what’s left of the dissident group is joined by others who’ve fallen foul of the Superhero Registration Act and refused to sign up to a more military approach under direct orders from the very organisation that’s compromised.

All that and the SECRET WAR (singular) now converge very satisfyingly as Luke Cage leads Spider-Man, Wolverine, Spider-Woman, Iron Fist, Dr. Strange and a second, unidentified Ronin to rescue the original Ronin, who’s been left stranded on her undercover mission in Japan by the fall-out of the original CIVIL WAR:

“Who are my friends now? Who do I go to when I’m ready? Captain America recruited me, but Iron Man offered to stake me. Who do I go to? What side am I on?”

Very clever, that, for now Echo truly is a Ronin – a masterless samurai – and she’s about to fall victim to The Hand. But it’s also a question everyone is going to be asking, of themselves and each other for some time to come.

As I say, it’s now a very different dynamic. For a start, their new base of operations couldn’t really be anywhere else but Doctor Strange’s sanctum sanctorum, now necessarily disguised by a cloaking spell as derelict, abandoned, and about to be turned into yet another bloody Starbucks. Otherwise Stark’s almost limitless technology would be able to trace them. And try he does, after luring our lot into a trap with rumours that Captain America is alive.

Already they are constantly having to watch their backs, and protect Jessica Jones and her baby. But now, following the discovery of a certain substitution which I quoted above, internal issues of loyalty are necessarily examined with no small degree of paranoia, especially when it comes to new Ronin – though you will very much love who that is!

It’s also structured very differently, shifting backwards and forwards with astoundingly disciplined timing, as our renegades find themselves threatened on all sides with no time to analyse or to think their way forward.

So we come to the ILLUMINATI mini-series pencilled with panache and much glossy sheen by Jimmy Cheung, and it is not unrelated.
Years ago, we now learn, Iron Man led his covert cohorts – Reed Richards, Charles Xavier, Black Bolt, Namor and Doctor Strange – on a provocative counter-strike against the shape-shifting Skrulls following the KREE / SKRULL WAR  which saw the two alien races bring their violent animosity to Earth.

The Illuminati’s message: don’t fuck with Earth again. Their messenger: the traditionally tight-lipped Black Bolt.

It’s also a huge act of hubris for which they each pay the price right there and then, and for which Earth may be billed as well once their lost property has been rummaged through thoroughly.

“Lost property”?

They’ve left more than their footprints behind.

Please don’t click on this link if you want to keep the spoiler-free nature of this review intact.

To be continued in SECRET INVASION

SLH                       

Buy New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 3 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.

Giant Days vol 4 (£13-99, Boom! Box) by John Allison & Max Sarin

The Best We Could Do h/c (£22-99, Abrams) by Thi Bui

The British Invasion! (£17-99, Sequart) by Greg Carpenter

Cannibal vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Steve Buccellato, Jennifer Young & Matias Bergara

The Metabaron Book vol 2: The Techno-Cardinal And The Transhuman h/c (£20-99, Humanoid) by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jerry Frissen & Niko Henrichon

Pretending Is Lying h/c (£22-99, New York Review Comics) by Dominique Goblet

USCA – Independent Manga For The Next Generation (£10-99, Diorama Books) by various

Astro City: Honor Guard s/c (£17-99, Vertigo) by Kurt Busiek & Jesus Merino, various

DC Comics / Dark Horse Comics Crossovers: Justice League vol 2 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Peter David, John Ostrander, Ron Marz & various

Deathstroke vol 1: The Professional s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Christopher Priest & Carlo Pagulayan, various

Death Of X (UK Edition) s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule & Aaron Kuder, Javier Garron

Assassination Classroom vol 14 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

ICHI-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir Of The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant (£21-00, Kodansha) by Kazuto Tatsuta

Tokyo Ghoul vol 11 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Doctor Who: Supremacy Of The Cybermen s/c (£12-99, Titan) by George Mann, Cavan Scott & Ivan Rodriguez, Walter Geovanni

News

ITEM! Students! Will Eisner ‘The Spirit’ Of The Lake District Prize Competition 2017!

Be creative, and win prizes including Page 45 Online Gift Vouchers!

I’m not sure I was allowed to say that, but I happen to know they’re at least some of the prizes, perhaps all of them! You heard it here first!

2017 marks one hundred years since the birth of legendary American comicbook creator Will Eisner.

Most revered at Page 45 for the heart and humanity he poured into historical fiction about diverse communities like THE CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY, about bigotry and hypocrisy within said communities like THE NAME OF THE GAME (the name of the game being ‘marriage’), for his non-fiction, blistering anti-racist exposé THE PLOT, and above all – for me – for his thinly veiled autobiographical work TO THE HEART OF THE STORM, Eisner also produced an earlier, artistically innovative series of masked detective fiction comics called THE SPIRIT which wittily incorporated its titles, for example, into its backgrounds.

It’s THE SPIRIT specifically that we want you to have a shot at! You’ll find everything you need here on the new Lakes International Comic Art Festival website.

ITEM! Conveniently, SANDMAN’s Neil Gaiman writes about Will Eisner in the Guardian March 7 2017.

You should probably pop both Neil Gaiman and Will Eisner into our search engine. So many reviews!

We Ship Worldwide!

ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Art Festival podcasts!

So far they’ve interviewed THE WALKING DEAD’s Charlie Adlard, the current Comics Laureate, and LICAF’s director Julie Tait.

Julie Tait is truly a force of nature, a force for good, and the only leader this obstinate anti-authoritarian is ever likely to follow. Tait’s embracing enthusiasm is such that she sweeps you up in her infectious wake.

Future interviewees include fellow LICAF Patrons Emma Vieceli, Sean Phillips, Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot.

Please scroll down, do!

ITEM! Reminder: The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017 Brand-New Website & Creator Guests!

ITEM! I totally forgot to include this on the relevant week, but here are links to the free, full Hourly Comics Day comics by its instigator Dan Berry and veteran Joe Decie, both of whom you may already know from their Page 45 Comicbook Of The Months. Please click on any cover in the grid there for reviews. Or pop Dan and Joe into our search engine. Ta!

Dan Berry’s Hourly Comic Day Comic 2017

Joe Decie’s Hourly Comic Day Comic 2017

Top Tip One: Joe Decie is pronounced “Dee-See” not “Dee-Chee” as we do most days. That’s all the fault of fellow comics creator Professor Lizz Lunney who christened the pint-sized prankster ‘The Deech’.

Top Tip Two: Lunney is pronounced “loony”.

#TrueFact

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2017 week one

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

FREE COMIC ALERT!

We’ve discovered a bold new talent, and have copies of Katie Kessler’s first publication to give you FOR FREE! Please see News under Reviews!

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

“Never, never allow yourself to sympathise with Outsiders.”

If that doesn’t ring wrong with you in this day or any age, then heaven help you. And heaven help the rest of us.

Isn’t mankind most excellent at scare-mongering – at spreading poison like a virus – and, in so doing, causing its own self-destruction?

It is also exceptional at viewing the world in binary, blinkered black and white. This is how the white soldiers perceive what is happening to them, perpetuating it through what is so often simplistic, dictatorial legend and lore.

None of what I write is random – including the virus – for what Nagabe has so very gently fashioned here is a fable all too pertinent to our times both created and told in black and white. By “created in black and white”, I mean this is a black and white comic; by “told in black and white” I mean something entirely different.

Shiva is an optimistic and surprisingly stoical young girl dressed entirely in white.

We find her in the protective custody of a kind and capable guardian whom she calls “Teacher”.

Her guardian is black from fuzzy, horned head to toe, but his compassionate eyes are white and they see so much more than he will let on, lest the girl in his charge become distressed. His duty, as he sees it, is to protect her from anything harmful, including the truth. His livery is mostly black too, though you will notice the soft folds around his collar and his billowing sleeves, both white. This elegant entity appears to be a human / goat hybrid, and haven’t we demonised goats?

They live together in a cabin, outside in the woods, and they make do. Occasionally they visit a deserted village to forage for much-needed food including bread. It’s probably quite stale by now, for it’s been a fortnight. Undeterred and ever-optimistic, awaiting the promised return of her unseen Aunt, Shiva maintains her childhood rituals of tea parties. Unwilling to break her illusion – to burst her balloon – her Teacher indulges these fancies.

But alone in his study, cluttered with books and notes and plants in bell jars, Teacher suspects that he probably shouldn’t have lied to her. She’s been abandoned. Her Aunt is never coming back.

The sense of quiet, tranquil isolation is emphasised by Teacher’s calm, short and soothing assents. It would be almost be a bucolic idyll if we weren’t reminded of that the village is deserted and cannot help wondering why. The self-sacrificial role of Teacher is made poignantly clear by his insistence that they must never touch.

Meanwhile soldiers are patrolling the woods all around them, maintaining an exclusion zone, a perimeter, lest any Outsiders invade their territory and spread the Curse. Indeed, they are already taking ruthless, pre-emptive action inside their towns against any they suspect of being cursed – on no discernible evidence – and, while disposing the bodies, they see Shiva alone in the woods.

She is outside, therefore by definition, she must be an Outsider…

I’ve another page of jottings amongst which I note the black umbrella – designed for protection – and the hole in it; the wreath which Shiva makes for her Teacher so that he won’t feel so alone once she’s gone; the story about the God of Light and the God of Darkness from which I will leave you to infer what you will, and the completely unexpected, startling new development at the end.

I wonder what you will make of the interior art which I’ve captured for you? It could be interpreted in several different ways. Note: one piece is obviously in another language than this English edition. Also note, if you Google for more, please be aware that there have been unlicensed online translations before which don’t quite capture the nuances of what you’ll find here.

SLH

Buy The Girl From The Other Side vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

This is the sort of comic in which the line “Ok, back to reality” will have you snorting at its delusion. It’s fresh, full of fun, and has more jokes per page than anything other than an Evan Dorkin or John Allison comic.

Meet Lottie Person, who seems so serene on the surface.

“I’m fresh.  I’m fun. It’s just who I am.”

A fashion blogger with glossy green hair and a high hit rate, her life is pretty much perfect.

Her fans are devoted (she knows).
Her blogs are the best (she believes).
And that goes without saying (she blasés).
New verb!

“Except my friends are all horrible people.
“And my boyfriend decided we’re on a break.
“And oh yeah –“

OH NO!

“I have allergies.”

She has such severe allergies that they rule her life. Under the carefully controlled camera conditions of fashion photography, she radiates, she glistens, she sheens. Leslie Hung and colour artist Mickey Quinn have her emanating girly-girl, cartoon sparkles and her hair bathed in wavy light as if seen through some sort sub-aquatic prism. But a surge in pollen or one moment of stress can render her centre asunder.

That’s the sort of knowledge that you carry with you wherever you go. Here’s her new doctor, offering her a brand new medication drug trial:

“So much pain in your eyes. You’re a flower afraid of the sun. Lottie… haven’t you suffered enough?”
“Yes, Dr. Dick,” she wells up to herself, “I have suffered enough. I’m a beautiful flower and I deserve to be extremely happy!”

Hmmm. Catch Lottie alone at night – free from prying eyes – with her laptop, her allergies, her issues and her tissues, and you’ll discover she is one angry, competitive, social-media mess with raging jealousies. Lottie has locked herself in to a life and a style that can’t handle criticism or blemishes of any other kind. She reduces her so-called friends, peers and even complete strangers to one-word labels, defining them by a single trait: Cutegirl, Trashboy, Normgirl.

“You gotta stop calling her that! It’s messed up. Even if it is dead-on.”
“Esther, you know I love my friends! They’re very dear to me! I just don’t think I’d be able to tell them apart without nicknames.”

Lottie doesn’t appear to like anyone except herself. Oh wait – she doesn’t like Lottie, either. As Marc Almond once sang, “Is it me who’s feeling insecure?”

Then she meets fluster-free, uninhibited, self-assured Caroline, a start-up blogger of extraordinary natural beauty whom she’s so taken by that she immediately christens her Coolgirl and agrees to meet at a bar. Lottie doesn’t go to bars, but…

“People can change! This selfie proves it!”

She takes a lot of selfies.

Nothing that happens next will you in any way see coming. Nothing! No, it’s not same-sex pash time. No, it’s not brand-new boyf-arama, either. But I have told you everything that you need to know. I do hope that no one else has spoiled this for you. Pick this up quick, before someone does! There is far more going on amongst all the comedy that I’ve so far intimated. For a start, it’s also a mystery.

The creator of SECONDS, SCOTT PILGRIM and LOST AT SEA has proved himself over and over again to be a shrewd observer of personal foibles and contemporary interaction. Here each page is packed with both, often combined in single sentences, like #selfcare hashtags or emoji-ridden texts sent through a cafe window instead of any meaningful one-to-one communication which could be achieved simply by stepping through its door!

“My life is pretty much perfect” is immediately followed by her cell phone display:

“0 new messages from your friends” in red
“75341 notifications from strangers” in green

This self-congratulation crowd’s priorities lie not in achieving success – that would imply actually doing something – but in achieving popularity. If you fall from grace, expect it rubbed in your face. It’s not just Lottie who’s the colossally callous, superficial, egomaniacal, vain, deluded imbecile here!

Leslie Hung’s sense of fashion is obviously vital to the success of this comic: she has an eye for the chic and the absolutely absurd. I particularly relished the ridiculous, large lime and orange segment pockets on Cutegirl’s white, billowing dress, reprised in reverse round her ankles. This is L.A. – or at least its veneer – so everything sparkles, from the front-cover titles to the welcoming sign over the Los Angeles Police Department’s Downtown Precinct. Inside you’ll find Detective John Cho, who is about to unleash not his peerless procedural prowess, but his long-honed love of fashion. I mean, obviously.

Why might he need to start digging? That I won’t tell you, but it’s the perfect excuse for me to type up my favourite line which could only have been written by Bryan Lee O’Malley:

“Being a fugitive from justice is honestly so boring. I highly non-recommend it.”

Hung and colourist Quinn have female flesh – specifically hands and forearms – down to a tee. It’s smooth and it’s soft, with just enough give and that’s more important than you might think here. Caroline uses physical contact more than once to attract and distract, to steer things in a specific direction – her way – and you can feel her fingers making contact. I’d watch out for that one. I mean, who manages to secure a private phone number from a fashion blogger mere moments after having met them – and who manages to do that by getting the blogger to write it on their arm in felt pen? Caroline is a well of hypnotic self-confidence.

“There she goes.
“She forgot her phone and she’s living her life anyway?
“Who does that?
“She’s so cool.”

I love how everything opens up (from the comparatively confined space) in the two pages where Lottie and Caroline have a meeting of minds over one ridiculously specific coffee. Later in the hot, dark, windowless bar the claustrophobia returns, the pressure ramps up, and you can almost feel yourself sweating and spinning thanks to Quinn’s Bourbon colours. They’re ever so good at watering eyes and green, dripping mucus.

“Shut up, brain. Stop thinking.
“Thinking only gets you into trouble.”

I don’t think you need worry about Lottie using her brain much. Trouble, on the other hand… she’ll find plenty of that.

Not sure if anyone else has pointed this out, but there are only four men in this entire collected edition, and one of them is only a brief, tangential appearance. That’s one of the things I mean by “refreshing”.

SLH

Buy Snotgirl vol 1: Green Hair Don’t Care s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Listen well, boy. Right now there is no quarrel between us.
“No blades have been drawn and no blood spilled.
“I still have my wine and you still have your life. Get up now, walk away, and I will forget this.
“Continue to act the fool, though… and… It. Will. Cost. You.”

No, not Stephen suggesting someone ought to stop shuffling the superhero shelves like Paul Daniels performing some parlour prestidigitation with a pack of cards. Though frankly, we like that. NOT. A. LOT.

It’s actually Baron Raymond Mondragon, formerly the finest knight of the First Crusade and now a wine-swilling sot of a PTSD-afflicted psychopath indulging in a little campfire pep talk. He’s been press-ganged into investigating the strange goings-on half-way up the nearby Pyrenees by local liege Lord Montfort because he’s exactly the sort of no-nonsense lunatic you need when there’s talk of lights in the sky, rampaging demons and a scared witless local populace to ‘reassure’… Still, I guess that is exactly how they rolled, well, clunked along, in medieval times. Tough love and all that.

The lights in the sky would be a crash-landing spaceship and the rampaging demons hungry aliens, by the way… So perhaps the trembling villagers, who’ve holed themselves up in the local keep, might actually have a point.

So far, so DARK AGES by Dan Abnett & Ian Culbard. If you were a fan of that title, this similarly self-contained one-off will be absolutely 100% perfect for you. Nathan Fairbairn does a sterling job of creating an extremely dissolute cast of characters from the headcase heavies, foolish be-Knighted social fops, evil lackeys of the Church, heretics accused of witchcraft and, of course, lots of sacrificial serfs ripe for extraterrestrial snacking.

Many of the cast die gruesome and horrific deaths – it’s very ALIENS in that respect, which is a slight shame because they are great characters! I could really go as far as to say this is primarily a character-based story, there are that many individual sub-plots and points of inter-personal conflict going on. You might think they’d be better served spending more time worrying about the brutal beasties rather than arguing over religious points of principle and who is going to Hell. Because by the end even the few that survive will feel like they’ve been to the very lowest level of the fiery pit and clawed their singed way back out, as Baron Mondragon decides they need to beard the monsters in their lair and heads for the crashed spaceship. A gunboat diplomat right to the bitter end!

Excellent art from Matt Smith, not to be confused with the other artist Matt Dow Smith who does a fair amount for Marvel. This Matt Smith I wasn’t familiar with beforehand, but what a wonderful fine line he has, yet still manages to produce such strong vivid imagery. I should add a further note of appreciation for writer Nathan Fairburn as also he does the colouring and lettering. They make a fine team, these two, and I believe they are already hard at work on another series for Image.

JR

Buy Lake Of Fire s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Heathen #1 (£3-25, Vault) by Natasha Alterici.

“Do not be coy. We immortals live cyclical lives, playing out the same dramas over and over again.
“So when a key plot point changes, it’s bound to be noticed.
“And indeed someone has noticed.”

So speaks Ruadan, trickster god and spy.

He may well be immortal, but our protagonist Aydin most certainly isn’t.

She is, however, resourceful, fearless and well versed in the legends of Odin and his female Valkyrie.

“They were strong, beautiful, and struck terror in even the bravest men’s hearts.
“Charged with escorting the souls of fallen warriors to Valhalla, the Valkyrie were given power over death itself.
“But their power is not without limit, for Odin still dictates the fate of every warrior. No warrior lives or dies without Odin’s consent.”

Except that warrior one did: a king whom Odin determined would be victorious in war was struck down by Brynhild, leader of the Valkyrie, for which temerity Odin banished and cursed her, forcing Brynhild to marry a mortal and live out her endless days in exile.

Evidently, however, Brynhild was not without her bargaining power, for although she agreed to this sentence, she did so on her own terms: on the condition that she chose the mortal in question through a test of her own. As so often with these things, it was a test of worthiness. She ascended Mount Hinderfall and encircled herself in fire – magic fire – to await a mate capable of freeing her.

Every element of what I have told you is vital for what follows. Writer and artist Alterici has left nothing extraneous in the mix and thought everything through.

There is, for example, a degree of due ceremony both later on in Aydis’ construction of her helmet from fallen stag antlers – which male deer use in combat with each other for dominance in securing their mates – and in her telling of this tale to her horse. Just as a silhouetted Brynhild raises her arms to ignite the blazing curtain and in welcoming wait of whomever should succeed, so Aydis raises her own in front of her fire and welcoming that challenge.

“That story was passed through our clan for hundreds of years…”

Her arms drop down, lank, to her side, in time to a perfect moment of pomposity-puncturing deflation enhanced by a modern colloquialism:

“If it’s true, she’s been waiting an awfully long time.”

Alterici has made everything here look effortless, including Aydis’ hand-to-horn combat with the bull. Oh yes, that’s more male power conquered.

The choreography is exceptionally slick but, in addition, behold the energy in a broken line!

Alterici doesn’t seek to confine her virile steeds, stag or stampeding bull in a rigid outline, so sapping their movement and might; instead she suggests their exterior contours and body mass in relation to their environment with flurries and flashes of instinctive slashes, while her colouring is equally loose and lambent.

Now, I’m sorry to do this because Tess Fowler’s cover coloured by Tamra Bonvillain is beautiful: that is one mighty steed whose power – denoted by its muscles and exceptional weight – cannot be denied. It is most excellent! Objectively, however, when judging a book by its cover (and in this medium above all that ability should be essential) completely inappropriate for this particular comic and its pages within, on whose supple strength I first invested in HEATHEN way back when Grant Morrison was going to be bringing it to his aborted HEAVY METAL expansion.

Oh yeah, that’s how good this is.

Lastly, I promised you that nothing in Aydis’ opening recollection of the Valkyries (and Brynhild in particular) was random. It’s not. For Aydis too is in exile – a self-imposed exile for everyone believes she is dead. Moreover, she is in exile because she dared to break a taboo, and her father (not she) was given an ultimatum by the patriarchal Elders: execute his daughter or marry her off against her will to a man.

Thank the gods for one good soul, then, for he chose neither.

Instead he pretended to mourn his daughter at her graveside in order to cover her escape.

Two other things you should know about our Aydin in addition to being fearless, resourceful and very well versed: she is determined and ambitious:

“On some mountain top, a Valkyrie waits alone.
“And I intend to free her.”

Happy hunting!

The penny drops.

SLH

Buy Heathen #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Belfry one-shot (£3-25, Image) by Gabriel Hardman.

Isn’t that a clever title?

Oh, you know what you get in belfries – besides bells, I mean – but it’s a figurative phrase which could not be more appropriate for the head-spinning horror in store for Bill and Janet on this dark and nasty night. It’s cleverly structured from the very first page, right to the last which carries on its wings no small degree of irony.

The wings within – and the flight paths they take – are a streamline, neo-classical dream worthy of Neal Adams, as are the page layouts. Shambling awkwardly about on the pit’s detritus-strewn floor, on the other hand, they’re closer to one of comics’ horror kings, Gene Colan.

The first page opens with ear-splitting, Sienkiewicz SKREEEES flooding the black panels in jagged white and lemon-yellow, the visual equivalent of onomatopoeia. There’s almighty KRAK and an explosion of glass before it falls tinkling past branches. With a cough, co-pilot Bill wakes up in the wreck on his passenger plane’s cockpit, everyone else unconscious or dead, one making ill-advisedly intimate eye contract with a tree.

Something lands on the fuselage.

And it was such a beautiful day.

Right, I leave you to enjoy the wings – such beautiful, unfolding wings! – and the tearing and shredding and full-frontal nudity. Equal opportunities, mind.

The lettering continues to add much sound and movement while the colouring’s all earth colours and khaki with just a few hints of flesh when there a just few glimpses of hope and humanity.

From the co-creator of INVISIBLE REPUBLIC.

SLH

Buy The Belfry one-shot and read the Page 45 review here

Eclipse vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Zack Kaplan & Giovanni Timpano

“You were one of the guys who helped the mayor on the day of the flare. You guys saved the city.”
“Not exactly.”
“Yeah, I heard stories about it. You were a hero.”
“Someone else, maybe.”
“Right. We were all someone else then, huh?”

I’m rather enjoying this post-apocalyptic yarn about a world where even the tiniest glimmer of sunlight will cause spontaneous combustion. Yes, arguably it’s a premise that rather stretches credulity, that a catastrophic solar event could make sunlight instantaneously fatal in such a spectacular manner. But putting that aside, the world Zack Kaplan envisages of a hunkered down underground civilisation by day, vibrant almost pre-event normal overground civilisation by night, where the disparity between the haves and have-nots has become even more pronounced, neatly sets up our storyline and worldview.

Someone with a grudge has a hit list they are working their way through. Someone who seemingly isn’t affected by the sun. The preceding death threats and biblical writings in blood at the scene only add to the drama. Given that access to the spacesuit-like equipment that allows egress during daylight hours is extremely tightly controlled, used only by a few essential ‘Icemen’ as they are colloquially known, the police are completely baffled. Which prompts them to call in solar engineer David Baxter to help them with their investigation as the next name up is the daughter of a prominent and extremely well connected solar industrialist. Elements of Baxter’s own past are somewhat… mysterious… though it’s very evidently clear he feels conflicted about getting involved at all.

In essence, this is a whodunit with a speculative fiction twist, in the vein of Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood’s tremendous FUSE series. In terms of the art Giovanni Timpano’s ultra-fine linework verges on feeling almost too lightweight in places for me, but he makes up for it with some fabulous detailing. Troy Peteri’s choice of lettering font I also began to find a bit of a distraction, but overall, I certainly saw enough to make me want to read the next arc.

JR

Buy Eclipse vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Old Guard #1 (£3-25, Image) by Greg Rucka & Leandro Fernández.

That is one well equipped modern mercenary: combat boots, flak jacket… ancient, double-bladed battle axe.

Not quite standard issue.

From the writer of LAZARUS and BLACK MAGIC and – with Ed Brubaker – GOTHAM CENTRAL comes another impeccably researched but more action-orientated mystery of military manoeuvres across the globe. Across time too, and Andy is fucking sick of it.

Clue: her full name is Andromache and, if you know your Euripides, she had a pretty shitty time of it every since Achilles went and whopped her husband Hector. I mean, a really shitty time of it. The Greeks tossed her sprog over the Trojan walls then, just to rub it in, made her a slave to Achilles’ own son.

As the opening three pages make brutally clear the intervening centuries haven’t brought much more peace. She appears to have fought her way through them all. Which is one way to trying to work through your understandable anger issues. She hasn’t stopped fighting, either. Andy and her three male colleagues have one key advantage over others engaged in mortal combat: they’re not mortal. They cannot die.

Unfortunately in the 21st Century keeping that quiet is a tad more difficult than it used to be. You’ll see.

What you won’t necessarily see immediately – as Andy and co are on their way to South Sudan to rescue seventeen girls from heavily armed abductors – is what relevance there could possibly be in American marine Nile Freeman’s search of a family home in Afghanistan full of very frightened women. But you will, right at the end.

The initial scene inside the home is beautifully played by both Rucka and Fernández who delivers both day and night, throughout, in a style similar to 100 BULLETS’ Eduardo Risso: lots of silhouettes and shadows.

“We are searching for someone. We believe he is hiding her. This man. He has killed many of my people and many of yours. Have you seen this man?”
“No,” replies the old woman, staring at the photo in terrified recognition.
“No, there are no men here,” she says, glancing to the door behind which they are hidden, “and a man who would cower behind women… who puts them in danger and uses them as shields… he is no man at all.”
“I thank you for your honesty and help. We will leave you in peace… blessings on your house…”

Everyone’s in for some surprises, including you, which is why I stop here.

SLH

Buy The Old Guard #1 and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions:

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

“Vanessa Davis’ principal character is a young woman whose Renoiresque form belies her seething inner life… The quotidian structure of much of SPANIEL RAGE presents the reader with glimpses of a life as it is being lived. We follow a young woman’s meandering path into adulthood in this beautifully drawn, intelligent portrait of Self coming into its own.”

 – Phoebe Gloeckner, creator of DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL

“Miss Davis’s comics are charming, funny and honest, with a mysterious, compelling rhythm that is all her own.”

 – Daniel Clowes, creator of WILSON, GHOST WORLD, PATIENCE etc

“Drawn in a line that is at once delicate, immediate, and genuine, SPANIEL RAGE captures all of the little moments that make up being alive. Vanessa Davis puts life to paper like no one else.”

 – Sammy Harkham, creator of CRICKETS, editor of KRAMERS ERGOT

“A very more-ish book. Tried to dip into it and ended up reading the whole thing. It’s only life and it’s only lines on paper but she’s got that Lynda Barry confessional tone and the awkwardness of Debbie Dreschler’s figures and a lot of Vanessa Davis in there.

“Friends, fights, misunderstandings, phone calls and more.”

 – Mark Simpson, co-creator of Page 45 (written May 2005).

He was always succinct, was our Mark.

MAS

Buy Spaniel Rage 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.

How To Create Graphic Novels (£4-99, LICAF) by Rodolphe Topffer

The Facts Of Life (£16-99, Myriad) by Paula Knight

BFF (£7-99, Microcosm Publishing) by Nate Beaty

Gauguin – The Other World (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Fabrizio Dori

Walking Dead vol 27: The Whisperer War (£13-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Zonzo (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Joan Cornella

Glitterbomb vol 1 (£8-99, Image) by Jim Zub & Djibril Morissette-Phan

Grim Death And Bill The Electrocuted Criminal h/c (£21-99, St. Martin’s Press) by Mike Mignola, Thomas E. Sniegoski

James Bond vol 2: Eidolon h/c (£22-99, Dynamite) by Warren Ellis & Jason Masters

Legend Of Zelda Art & Artifacts h/c (£33-50, Dark Horse) by various

Lucifer vol 2: Father Lucifer s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Holly Black & Lee Garbett

Lumberjanes / Gotham Academy s/c (£17-99, Boom! Box / DC) by Chynna Clugston Flores & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Kelly Matthews, Nichole Matthews

Silverfin – The Graphic Novel (£9-99, Penguin) by Charlie Higson & Kev Walker

Starseeds h/c (£26-99, Fantagraphics) by Charles Glaubitz

Tales From The Darkside h/c (£19-99, IDW) by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez

Steven Universe: The Answer h/c (£8-99, Cartoon Network Books) by Rebecca Sugar & Elle Michalka, Tiffany Ford

Batman: Earth One vol 1 s/c (£13-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank

Suicide Squad vol 1: The Black Vault s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Rob Williams & Jim Lee, Philip Tan, Jason Fabok, Gary Frank, others

Titans vol 1: The Return Of Wally West s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Dan Abnett & Brett Booth

Doctor Strange vol 3: Blood In The Aether (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo, others

Karnak: The Flaw In All Things s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Gerardo Zaffino, Roland Boschi

New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 3 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis & Alex Maleev, Francis Leinil Yu, others

Power Man And Iron Fist vol 2: Civil War II s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by David F. Walker & Flaviano, Sanford Greene

Attack On Titan: Lost Girls vol 2 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiroshia Seko & Ryosuke Fuji

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 10 (£14-99, Yen) by Natsuki Takaya

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor vol 1: Gaze Of The Medusa (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby & Brian Williamson

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor vol 2: Doctormania (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Cavan Scott & Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson

Dynamic Wrinkles And Drapery (£22-99, Watson Guphill) by Burne Hogarth

News

ITEM! NEW TALENT! FREE COMIC!

Katie Kessler is only 16 yet she has already created and published a profound, succinct and eloquent eight-page comic which I sincerely believe will resonate with so many of you.

It’s called VISIBLE.

“I have this recurring nightmare.
“I dream I’ve turned completely invisible.
“I have to steal because shopkeepers don’t acknowledge me.
“No post, no phone calls, no contact.
“Every pair of eyes looks straight through me.”

Here’s the kicker, though.

“It’s not that different from real life.”

Katie Kessler’s VISIBLE. What a landscape!

Page 45 is giving copies of Katie Kessler’s VISIBLE away for free because we believe in the comic and we believe in Katie, but we only have 50 so we want to make sure each one will be cherished by those picking one up at our counter. That means you’re going to have to ask, please. There are no strings except that exchange of words. You can do that!

If you’re a regular mail order customer, simply ask by phone or email, or if you’re buying something with us online, just add a message in your instructions asking for your free copy of VISIBLE.

Alternatively if you’re reading this blog and want to see what all the fuss is about right now, well, You can read the whole of Katie Kessler’s VISIBLE comic for free on her Tumblr

There’s far more to explore besides to explore on that site: https://lsdandkizuki.tumblr.com/

Katie Kessler evidently has plenty to say, and already learned the skill with which to say it.

Watch out for what this phenomenal new talent does next!

ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017 Brand-New Website & Creator Guests!

The international comic creator guests have been announced including Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, Chip Zdarsky, John Allison, Brendan McCarthy, Stan Sakai, Sergio Aragonés, Aimée de Jongh! et al and last week we ran an extensive feature on October’s LICAF Festival 2017 under Page 45 Reviews Blog February 2017 week 4.

THIS ONE SUMMER by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki

Now we’re extending our invitation once again to fellow exhibitors – creators, publishers, distributors et al – to join us in the KENDAL COMICS CLOCK TOWER which saw so much foot traffic last year BECAUSE ITS ENTRY IS FREE that…

Page 45 took £10,000 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016!

You want some of that, right? Well, we’d love your company.

Invitation and Application Form: https://www.comicartfestival.com/exhibitors

ITEM! Last week was OCD Action’s Week Of Action!

But this is OCD, right, and it’s a serious condition so EVERY week should be a Week Of Action!

You can help them,
They can help you,
You can help yourself:

Four Steps To Fighting Back Against OCD. Choose what you’d like to do!

In addition, every penny of the £5 you spend on the £5 comic COELIFER ATLAS at Page 45 goes via LICAF in its entirety to help fund OCD Action.

OCD-orientated COELIFER ATLAS comic by Alex Paknadel, Dan Watters & Charlie Adlard, Dan Berry, Nick Brokenshire, Joe Decie, Mike Medaglia, Bruce Mutard, Ken Niimura, Jake Phillips, Bryan Talbot, Craig Thompson, Petteri Tikkanen, Emma Vieceli.

That’s two pages of HABIBI’s Craig Thompson you’ll find nowhere else for a start.

Please click on that link to read our review and remember, We Ship Worldwide!

ITEM! FREE BUNNY VS MONKEY T-SHIRT!

Buy a 10-week subscription to THE PHOENIX WEEKLY COMIC for kids at 40% discount AND receive a free t-shirt designed by Jamie Smart which is, umm, quite literally priceless!

You can choose sizes!

I may have mentioned this before [“YES, YOU’RE BORING US NOW, STEPHEN!”] but Page 45 unequivocally endorses THE PHOENIX. It is the exact antithesis of the anodyne pap you’ll find slapped on supermarket shelves, selling itself through the plastic tat attached.

THE PHOENIX is quality comics for kids!

It’s diverse, it is thrilling, and it is bananas, created with love in its heart by comickers who care.

Why else would Page 45 stock every single PHOENIX COMIC COLLECTION and review as many as possible? That has to be 90%, surely!

Page 45 is committed to kids’ comics and graphic novels at a time when the broadsheet newspapers give a mere, miserly 3% or their review space to kids books in general.

Last week two all-ages / children’s graphic novels – by Philippa Pearce, Edith and John Martz headlined Page 45’s Reviews!

 – Stephen