Archive for April, 2017

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2017 week three

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

A Thousand Coloured Castles h/c (£17-99, Myraid) by Gareth Brookes.

“This really is unacceptable.
“They’ve barely gritted this road.”

Will wonders never cease? They won’t, not once, nor will Fred.

It’s the neighbour’s garden which gets his goat the most.

“Unbelievable.”
“It’s just intolerable.”
“Absolutely typical.”
“Totally outrageous.”

I’d be surprised if something wasn’t beyond the pale.

A very British book full of singularly English gripes and recognisably regional obsessions, Raymond Briggs devotees will find much to adore. For Gareth Brookes has resurrected that era in the form of an elderly suburban couple in an equally insular environment: the husband in the front-room and back garden; the wife in the front-room and kitchen.

Fred is set in his ways, forever moaning about anything modern or fancy while oblivious to the wonders of nature while Myriam is quietly experiencing wonders galore, spectacle after unexpected spectacle, spawning in the street, bursting from bookcases or sprouting from electricity pylons: tendrils of green, floral growth blooming with a multitude of pink-and-white, yellow-stamen flowers; rifle-bearing soldiers with Elizabethan ruffled collars, step-ladders rising upside down from their khaki helmets; a procession of small girls dancing in bright blue blouses and red motorcycle helmets, climbing up stairs to float through the ceiling.

It’s a far cry from custard, budgies and boiled eggs. Fred loves boiled eggs. After he’s eaten one, it amuses him no end to up-end its empty shell in the egg cup and pretend that he hasn’t even started it.  Oh, he never gets tired of that!

“Myriam, what on earth is this?”
“It’s curry.”
“Curry? Have you gone stark raving mad?”
“I thought it would be nice.”
“Nice? Myriam, we’ve never eaten curry. We don’t eat curry.”

Of course the proscriptive old duffer doesn’t eat curry, but I do love the dictatorial “we”.

On the other hand, Myriam didn’t think it would be nice; she merely picked up the wrong tin in the supermarket by mistake. Her eyesight is failing, you see: a big, blurred blotch at the centre of her sight. Can this and her wild, hallucinatory private life be connected?

Immediately striking is Gareth’s seemingly, almost wilfully perverse deployment of the bluntest of art instruments: that of wax crayon. But it’s a brave move which pays off, for it’s perfect for conveying imperfect, grainy vision, hallucinatory experiences and it adds to the sense of era. It’s a contemporary era, obviously, but Fred and Miriam live in their own, long gone by.

For Miriam’s nocturnal sorties, into the back garden with the aid of a torch, the spectral blue gutters between panels add an eerie, ethereal quality, apt for the proceedings when she is witness to her neighbour out in the unkempt garden which infuriates Fred so incessantly. There are an awful lot of small white crosses in the rough. And now that neighbour is digging another hole. Or, you know, Myriam’s imagining things.

I should mention that all faces are blank: again, it’s all part of Miriam’s inability to see properly or straight, and it’s as disquieting and unbalancing as having imperfect vision or an ear infection.

But Miriam’s true isolation will begin when her family begin to suspect she’s gone barmy and she’s ganged up on both by Fred and their daughter Claire, worried that her mother will have to go into a home. Not worried because “Poor Mum”, but because nursing homes are expensive so bang goes her inheritance.

Which is nice.

Coming back to the comedy before I really hit you where it hurts, Fred’s absent-minded sing-songs while clipping the hedge or mowing the lawn are hilarious. He never gets anything quite right: he even comes a cropper when dunking biscuits into tea (more Britishness for you there). Here he mis-croons to the Brotherhood of Man, another perfectly judged ‘period’ reference:

“Kissing for you, keep all my kissings for you,
“Ba ba baby, ba blah.
“I think I felt a drop of rain.”

He’s no longer the solicitous optimist he once was in his youth, dreaming of starting a vegetable garden and planting a cherry tree in order to treat Myriam to fresh cherries in bed. This reverie is catalysed by a box of photos, one of which shows the couple side by side in deckchairs out in the wide world, on a cliff top looking out over the sea and indeed their future life together.

It doesn’t last long.

“I think I felt a drop of rain.
“Oh well, nice day down the drain.”

Fred’s constant “down the drain” refrain is funny to begin with, but decreasingly so, for Brookes’ initially quaint and quirky tail comes with many a sharp edge to it. With real empathy and understanding Brookes evokes the bewilderment, frailty and potential helplessness of being lost or alone in old age, with prospects diminishing rapidly.

It reminds me of Paul Scott’s prose masterpiece ‘Staying On’ (which featured an elderly couple similarly at odds but trying to get by), never more so than in this halting moment, mid-book:

“I’m losing my mind…
“And now I’m losing my sight.
“Who will look after Fred?
“Who will look after me?”

Notice she worries about Fred first.

“Myriam, what are you doing? Come inside now, it’s getting dark.”

The late-evening shadows loom large on the lawn, Fred’s speech balloons capturing his wife in a pincher movement, while Myriam, isolated in her own tiny panel, is left staring into an unknowable future, surrounded by a chasm of black.

“I know.”

SLH

Buy A Thousand Coloured Castles h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Face (£9-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Rosario Villajos.

Well, this will bring a smile to your umm… oh.

Playful, refreshing and chock full of ideas, rarely has a graphic novel surprised and delighted me so consistently throughout.

Conversationally narrated by our faceless friend – and she is very much our friend – its lightness of touch belies the wealth of what it so deftly addresses, leaving you plenty of headspace to ruminate on your own.

“Let me start with the principal that I am perfect and have a perfect life.”

That’s always good place to start. Appreciate what you’ve got, etc.

“I mean, almost perfect.”

Ah.

“I think I’m quite a normal girl: I like having beers with friends, dancing, you know, but also chilling out at home with a good glass of wine… Exactly like any other girl would describe herself on ‘Getaroom’.”

It’s just that she doesn’t have a face.

She’s not ostracised or anything, although dogs don’t react well and kids, “They don’t have a sensible middle ground, you know?” They’ll either stare and stare or immediately burst into tears. Some babies really do not like beards. Or baldness. Or, evidently, facelessness.

No, Face, as we shall call her (because that’s what her friends do) just hasn’t had much luck with the ladies. She’s feeling a bit lonely, so a friend suggests a thoroughly modern way to meet her match: on a dating app. And that’s where her troubles begin. They just won’t be the troubles you’ll expect.

Wherever you think this will go, it will go somewhere else, so I’m going to keep my summary succinct by leaving it almost there. Almost there, because one of the key elements of dating apps is the mandatory profile picture, and that’s Face seemingly screwed at the very first hurdle. She doesn’t have a profile. She literally does not have a profile – it’s a smooth curve – so she decides to buy some make-up. She’s going to have to really concentrate on the contouring…

Everything about this is inventive: even the lettering won’t conform to the norm. There will even be a startling but ever so clever, universally recognisable Batman reference. Universally recognisable: a bit key, that.

Conforming to the norm is partly what this is about in so many ways, whether it’s society’s expectations, one’s looks, one’s search for a romantic partner or one’s dynamic within a relationship.

There’s so much to consider here from identity and self-perception to symbiosis, gravitation and assimilation. There will be a certain degree of alignment, as is so often the case, but – I cannot repeat this enough – in far from predictable ways! There are also the rules of attraction to consider. Read this again after the graphic novel: oh yes, you’ll see!

Self-castigation will rear its ever so common head; the way we can end up making constant comparisons with the lives of others: their careers, relationships, creative successes, beauty, athleticism, entertainment value and gardening expertise.

We left Face beginning to explore the all-important issue of make-up, didn’t we? Some people firmly and even fervently believe that make-up is superficial, artificial, that in short it’s a sin. Its cost certainly can be.

“I had a look at the pictures of my female contacts on the social network and wow… I was shocked to find out that 75% were using makeup in every single picture, even in ones at the swimming pool at the gym or in bed!!”

But to some of those of us less gifted genetically in the facial department, it’s a playing-field leveller. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t use a little artistry to give myself a leg-up – and get my leg over, to be honest. You bet I wore it in bed! Will our Face do the same? Dilemma!

Told largely in black, white and tone but with some thrilling splashes of colour, on top of all the lateral thinking it’s the timing that impressed me the most with some excellent comedy beats, for example, after the turn of a page.

“I carried on with my life.
“I decided to stop messing around and have a break from the hideous mission of finding a partner. It was about time.
“Furthermore, it couldn’t be that difficult to be on my own and enjoy things like I used to before, right. My job, reading, going to the cinema, you know.”

Good on you, girl! Being single isn’t the end of the world. You don’t need to be in a relationship to feel validated. Enjoy your free rein and reign!

“Just to clarify: I got depressed.”

SLH

Buy Face and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 3: Further Realms of Fright (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.

Yet another immediately arresting cover: your eyes cannot help but meet Mara’s as she looks on from an angle at everyone around her, at everything happening around her, in her absence.

With her friends partnering up, she’s been left behind, posting alone on Livejournal, comments: 0.

Livejournal was a thing back then – an unfathomable thing, to be sure, living your whole life online in public – as was MySpace. Campbell captures the naive illusion of privacy to perfection there as well as implying its potential pitfalls should word get around, just as she does the intimacy of Cleo’s genuinely private, hand-doodled diary entries. It’s psychologically spot-on: the questioning, the doubts and self-doubts, and the way in which, in a letter to yourself, you can meanderingly think your worries through on the page in the hope of a better future, or as a means of self-justification.

It’s all so completely credible that this series’ comparatively low profile is a crime.

A much thicker book than previously, this third volume of ruminative WET MOON – featuring often strained friendships between young and so understandably insecure, individualistic punky girls experimenting with their hair, faces, bodies and each other in a southern college campus – grows kinder in places, in others even more ominous with a missing cat, stalking and daydreams of extreme, psychotic violence.

Also, one terrible, totally unexpected betrayal that will have you screaming: “Noooooooo!”

This time round I re-write that with hindsight (especially the “daydreams of extreme, psychotic violence”) for the original editions of WET MOON have already reached volume six and if you think you can wait another three or four months for the next re-issue after this, well, I admire your seemingly limitless self-control. If you can’t (and you can’t) then we have the equally delicious earlier editions of volumes 4, 5 and 6 still in stock. Only the covers are different.

So yes, Trilby, with her Tank Girl quiff, certainly grows kinder during the course of this volume, although to begin with she’s in familiarly unfaithful form, dissing her best friend Cleo to her new boyfriend Martin as a far from ideal best friend, thereby proving herself to be a far from ideal best friend.

But then the now-adorable Cleo – who wouldn’t just not hurt a fly, she would pamper it – wasn’t always such a considerate soul during High School. There’s a flashback followed by further recollections and self-recriminations which makes that abundantly clear. But then I did type “psychologically spot-on”: some of us were monsters when young.

Amongst other truths of youth: bonding over bands and tattoos, embarrassment over enthusiasms you sequester even from your friends; the sharing of secrets, the betrayal of secrets; and not quite knowing if you’re going out with someone or not. Hoping desperately that you are, but not wanting to fuck things up with presumption or the first move, this is tentative to a T:

“So… um, am I really your girl?”
“What?”
“Like… You said… You said I was your girl.”
“I did? When?”
“When… Um, when I met your band…? You said, like… you introduced me as your girl…?”
“Oh… yeah. I dunno…”
“Well, I…”
“You wanna be?”
“What…?”
“Do you wanna be my girl?”

You’ll have to wait for the turn of a page.

“Oh… Um, I… I dunno… maybe… yes?”
“Good enough for me. Heh.”

The ecstasy and adoration in Cleo Lovedrop’s bright eyes!

And that’s another reason why I consider it a crime that the profile of WET MOON isn’t bigger. Long before THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, SAGA et al, Campbell’s WET MOON was all-inclusive. Sexuality, the diversity of skin colour and body forms… it’s all here without either judgement, proselytising or indeed any indication that those were anything but the norm, thereby evaporating the very idea of the norm.

Here Campbell’s art evolves once more. Trilby’s collar bones are so skinny that you can pinch them and physically feel them between your fingers, and the freckles right down her back are sublime.

Campbell experiments in flashback by leaving out certain tones, delivering more delicate lines throughout in spite of extreme tendonitis, and giving Cleo absolutely enormous, smitten eyes like pools of liquid love.

There’s a scene in which Cleo and Audrey finally confide in each other in bed, in the dark, late at night. Instead of Cleo’s eyes bouncing with reflected light which isn’t there, they are instead great big orbs of open, trusting grey.

Exceptional!

SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 3: Further Realms of Fright (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

The Fix vol 2: Laws, Paws & Flaws s/c (£13-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber.

Detectives Roy Garney and Mac Brundo are corrupt police officers.

Detectives Roy Garney and Mac Brundo are hilariously inept.

Detectives Roy Garney and Mac Brundo are in debt to the wrong guy.

Detectives Roy Garney and Mac Brundo are in way over their heads.

Previously in THE FIX VOL 1… Look, it’s an extensive review and you’d be far better served reading that.

I’ll just reiterate that Spencer and Lieber present you with a series of expectations – not least of which is that no one could be more inappropriate than Mac and Roy – then confound them, royally, at every comedic corner over and over again.

It’s actually everyone’s blithe, deadpan openness and honesty about their awfulness that’s funniest.

Off camera Los Angeles’ Mayor Kincaid could not be less statesmanlike. Even on camera he’s being outrageous behind the podium. Learn which celebrity items of interest sell best on e-bay, especially if they’re dead! Then wish you hadn’t. Discover how cookery-mad local crime lord Josh achieves his centre during yoga. Hey, everyone had a different equilibrium, right?

Police partners Roy and Mac have been separated by this point: Roy’s dealing with the death of the celebutard he was hired to bodyguard; Mac’s been assigned to airport customs duty and a drug-sniffing beagle called Pretzels but charged by Josh with letting certain traffickers through.

 

Unfortunately Pretzels is less inept and more devoted to his job than Mac.

“Uh, Detective Brundo, it’s Anne…
“We got a young male, acting suspicious and Middle Eastern in the customs line.”

SLH

Buy The Fix vol 2: Laws, Paws & Flaws s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Thunder Brother Special (£4-50) by Paul Rainey…

“I bet I would look well suspicious with all these new clothes if Soap Division hadn’t set up that fake part-time job in a supermarket for me.”
“Sally, I need to talk to you.”
“I’m sorry… do I know you…?”
“I know you. I need you to liaise with Soap Division for me urgently.”
“Thing is, I have to be back for my tea by five or I’ll be in trouble for being late.”

“Okay… meet me in the cafe by the lake tomorrow morning at eleven… or your parents will learn all about how it really is that their daughter can afford to pay for all that shopping.”

Perhaps you have always secretly believed that soap opera characters were real…? Okay, you probably haven’t, but then that means this unlikeliest of premises will plough a fictional furrow less err… ploughed. Then firmly trampled all over.

Yes, Paul Rainey returns with another peculiarly British farcical romp following on from his superb time-twisting nerd-nonsense THERE’S NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT and his wickedly satirical skewering strips in his POPE FRANCIS GOES TO THE DENTIST and TALES TO DIMINISH. Actually, this very much feels an extended version of one of his crackpot strips, which is great because they usually leave me wanting more!

Soap Division is the covert organisation that records the ‘real’ lives of all the myriad TV characters for your guilty viewing pleasure. In addition, they fulfil the vital role of ensuring the soap worlds are never sullied by the unsuspecting viewers themselves. Obviously it’s a nigh on impossible task, one that teenager Sally now finds herself utterly mired in as apprentice to the chief Soap Division security officer himself, the implausibly named Thunder Brother. It’s completely madness, clearly, but let’s face it, all soaps are totally insane condensed parodies of real life, so this neatly squares the lunacy factor and in doing so makes it infinitely more enjoyable than an episode of Emmerdale could ever be..!

JR

Buy Thunder Brother Special and read the Page 45 review here

 

Savage Highway h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Mathieu Masmondet, Julia Verlanger & Zhang Xiaoyu…

“How many men are left on the face of this planet? A mere handful of what once was. Beasts who do nothing but butcher each other… Soon humanity will be too scarce to even propagate itself…”
“I think I can guess the next part…”
“Shut up…”

Adapted from a story by acclaimed French science fiction author, Éliane Taïeb, writing under one of her two pseudonyms (the other being Gilles Thomas), this dystopian road trip is a bloody tale of dogged determination, perseverance against seemingly insurmountable odds and the unslakeable thirst for reviews… I mean revenge! Sorry, it all sounded like the weekly slog to get the Page 45 reviews written for a moment there…

As a young woman on the relatively idyllic isle of Porquerolles, Helene’s life is irrevocably shattered when marauding raiders slaughter her parents and kidnap her younger sister. From that moment on, her only concern is to find and rescue her sibling, whom she believes has been taken to the ruined city of Paris. As a woman travelling the overgrown, crumbling highways of France alone, there is horrific danger lurking everywhere. Eventually she finds some trustworthy travelling companions willing to accompany her on her odyssey for mysterious reasons of their own. As Paris looms on the horizon, the personal peril factor only escalates ever more dramatically for Helene. Ooh la la…

An enjoyable Humanoids speculative fiction romp that has enough post-apocalyptic elements of the likes of Mad Max to make it entertaining without remotely hitting the levels of storytelling sophistication of, say, LAZARUS. I thought the main characters were very well realised though and the reveal regarding the great catastrophe, apparently involving a motif common to many of Verlanger’s works, was a nice touch.

The art from Zhang Xiaoya may be familiar to fans of the CRUSADES, also published by Humanoids a few years ago. It’s a touch more rugged on the linework than some Humanoids’ art, but it aptly suits this particular story.

JR

Buy Savage Highway h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Book Of Chaos h/c (£35-99, Humanoids) by Xavier Dorison, Mathieu Lauffray. & Mathieu Lauffray.

“I don’t understand any of this shit, but that’s nothing new.”

Possibly inspired by the extraordinary 1995 south-east Turkey Göebekli Tepe archaeological find of elaborately carved monuments erected around 9,500 BC which dwarf Stonehenge’s and predate them by some 7,000 years (and were built by hunter-gatherers – the stats are quite stunning), this visually impressive but unhinged graphic novel begins high up in the Himalayas in 2006 with Professor Jack Stanton of Miskatonic University and Professor Alexander Kandel discovering something they shouldn’t.

The Sanctuary is 2,600 high, carved from granite over 16,000 feet above sea level, “at an altitude where you can barely breathe without an oxygen mask”. Vast, demonic statues surround a sphere.

Professor Kandel’s desperate, dying words are a fervent wish the world never know!

Four months later and the surviving Professor Stanton has not only gone and written an entire book on it (typing with astonishing alacrity – even Methedrine has its limits) provocatively titled ‘Ante Genesem’, but is publicising it along with his exhibition on national television, claiming that this discovery could change life as we know it. Not our historical perspective, but the entire world.

And it does, in a way which I won’t give away, but everything quickly goes tits-up after an ocean liner crashes into Manhattan, mounting its shores to thrust its way through several sky scrapers. Fleeing by car, Jack goes splat through a bridge and into a primeval world of gigantic trees sporting skulls the size of two-storey buildings whose hollow eye sockets have been poked through with spears.

Some of this world’s denizens are deeply unpleasant. Also, Jack finds himself with a bleeding tattoo.

That’s not some sort of low-key British swear, it’s a glowing tattoo what bleeds.

A lot of Biblical splish-splosh (and one year) later and I think he’s back in Manhattan which has risen thousands of feet from the sea, only to find himself further pursued by a blood-red bat-demon and a floating airship filled with crusaders who consider him a prophet. Which, as I like to say (possibly overly often), is where we came in.

“I don’t understand any of this shit, but that’s nothing new.”

Now, there is a key element in the plot that allows for all kinds of fantastical doings, but what I don’t understand is how Jack – who is a professor – seeks to rationalise any of this palaver more than a couple of panels after the initial GTA Insane Jump from the Manhattan bridge into florageddon. Nor can I comprehend how he appears to have an unlimited supply of unbent cigarettes at his command and an unblemished A5 photo in his smaller-than-A5 back pocket.

Not only that, but from a Professor:

“The Sanctuary far surpassed, in both horror and scale, our most deeply-buried fears. It has been there for thousands of years. Perhaps millions, even.”

Thousands or millions – do make your mind up – that’s quite a leap in scale.

It’s a very long journey. It’s a very long book. I didn’t come close to finishing it.

Bored!

Weak narrative tension full of credibility-eroding gaffs which put me in mind of SIBERIA 56 about which I was even more lacerating. Because we have to be honest, you know, or you won’t trust us when we big-up what we love.

SLH

Buy The Book Of Chaos 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.

Briggs Land vol 1: State Of Grace s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Mack Chater, Tula Lotay

Ganges vol 6 (£6-99, Fantagraphics) by Kevin Huizenga

Hellboy: Into The Silent Sea h/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Gary Gianni

One Hundred Demons h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lynda Barry

Revival vol 8: Stay Just A Little Bit Longer (£13-99, Image) by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton

Simply Samuel h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Tommi Musturi

The Filth s/c (£17-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Chris Weston

The Hunt s/c (£13-99, Image) by Colin Lorimer

The Secret Of Black Rock h/c (£11-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd-Stanton

Wild Animals Of The South h/c (£20-00, Flying Eye Books) by Dieter Braun

Witchfinder vol 4: City Of The Dead (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Ben Stenbeck, Julian Totino Tedesco

All-Star Batman vol 1: My Own Worst Enemy h/c (Rebirth) (£22-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & John Romita

Batman vol 10: Epilogue s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes & Greg Capullo, various

Superman Action Comics vol 2: Welcome To The Planet s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Dan Jurgens & Patrick Zircher, various

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette

Black Panther vol 3: A Nation Under Our Feet s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Brian Stelfreeze, Chris Sprouse

Captain America: Sam Wilson vol 4: #takebacktheshield s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Paul Renaud, Angel Unzueta

Ghost Rider By Daniel Way: The Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Javier Saltares, Mark Texeira, Richard Corben

Scarlet Witch vol 3: Final Hex s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by James Robinson & various

Assassination Classroom vol 15 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Fairy Tail vol 58 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Tokyo Ghoul vol 12 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2017 week two

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

Collecting Sticks h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Joe Decie.

First 50 copies come with the wittiest of free, signed bookplates designed by Joe Decie exclusively for Page 45!

Three things you should know about Joe Decie: he’s extremely decisive, fiercely practical, and always learns his lesson.

Glastonbury Festival 2003, 6:00am in the rain:
“I never want to go camping again.”

Cornwall 2012, 6:00am after a sleepless night of nocturnal, outdoor ablutions:
“I never want to go camping again.”

Back home in Hove, they’ve decided to go camping again.

This time it will be the entire Decie household – Joe, Steph and their young son, Sam – but they’re going to do it differently because not enough water has gone under the bridge for Steph. Too much of it went over the tarpaulin sheets. No, this time they are going to go “glamping”: glamorous camping sequestered in the woods, with real beds in a wooden shack with a wooden shed adjacent for those necessary nocturnal ablutions. It may or may not have a lock.

“Sounds expensive.”
“Oh it is… It costs more than a hotel.”
“Ah well maybe we should have a think.”
“I’ve booked it.”

Right, so it’s Steph who’s decisive.

 

Sam, meanwhile, has inherited his Dad’s DNA when it comes to preparation and practicality. Charged with packing his own town-bound suitcase for a stint in the countryside, top of the list is sticks. Lots of sticks. In the countryside, you will need sticks.

It’s time to come clean: Joe Decie is the most impractical man alive. You’ll discover this later when he’s building a fire, but they’ve got to get there first and you should see him navigating. Not for Joe, the dictatorial directions of an AA Route Planner. Oh, he’ll print it out, but when lost in its precision at a critical juncture, why not resort to the hard-science roll of D-20 die? It’s better than asking the locals: that would be publicly admitting private incompetence.

But never say Joe doesn’t come fully prepared with precisely the right equipment: he’s brought along graph paper and a very specific edition of a D&D rule book called ‘Lost In The Countryside’. They’ll be there by next Tuesday, latest.

 

Welcome to the uniquely mischievous, autobiographical world of Joe Decie, creator of previous Page 45 best-sellers POCKET FULL OF COFFEE, I BLAME GRANDMA, THE LISTENING AGENT, THERE’S NO BATH IN THIS BATHROOM and most recently DOGS DISCO which was packed so full of joyous sleights of hand that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month. When I heralded that last one as “the return of the pint-sized prankster”, Joe immediately fired back to his followers on Twitter, “I’m really quite tall, you know”.

He’d fit comfortably into your pocket.

Verisimilitude is Joe Decie’s forte.

His pen and ink-wash passion is for portraits which are so instantly recognisable from panel to panel as such individual, living, breathing human beings that you are conned into what becomes a joyfully shared connivance that everything you see on the page actually occurs.

Normally I wouldn’t dream of pulling back the proverbial curtain like this, for so often what is seen cannot be unseen and what is learned cannot be unlearned. But Decie’s ever so wicked stream of seemingly limitless conjuring tricks is so seamless, so involving, that however many times I have been fooled before by the first three panels of a four-panel, confessional, family-orientated gag strip, I still accept every word of what he writes in the next one as absolute truth, because there is so much of it in there.

Who knew that Coney Island was so close to Kendal?

I promise, however, that you will still read this ridiculous, extended family dysfunction as straight-up fact, then smile in hilarious hindsight, so here is another thing: I’ve met Joe Decie on several occasions and it still all seems just as plausible. He is a buffoon, a mischievous imp with constantly twinkling eyes.  It doesn’t hurt, however, that he hits every single nail of behavioural observation on its universally recognisable head. From The Dance of the Wasp Attack to treating reality like it’s the virtual reality of a console game and the side effects of social media.

 

My closest comparison would be Eddie Campbell’s equally impractical ALEC. Make what you will of the fact that I’ve previously declared that particular book the greatest body of work in comics.

Just as when Eddie Campbell begins a family in ALEC, his kids start providing so much of the material, so attention-span-lacking Sam’s obsession with sticks and Star Wars and his wonderfully wonky worldview – jettisoned liberally and seemingly apropos nothing – are mined for maximum mirth.

“Do you believe in the olden days?” is a gem in its own right.

But the confident follow-up that “In the ‘80s they used spears” tells you everything you need to know about a youngster’s sense of scale. Anyway, it’s time for bed.

“Daddy doesn’t like Jango Fett but I do.”
“Sam, you need to start thinking about things other than Star Wars.”
“Hmm?”
“There’s more to life than Star Wars.”
“Yes. So tomorrow I will play Star Wars and make a blaster out of…”
“There are other things you can enjoy.”
“Elephants?”
“Yes, elephants.”

On the following page Steph brings a bottle of wine outside to Joe: “That boy. He’s a one.”

Joe: “I know. Jango Fett! Honestly.”

As a result of the discipline involved in previously producing so many one-page punchline comics – often preceded by multiple other winks and parenthetical asides – COLLECTING STICKS has more comedy beats than almost any other graphic novel in existence. I’m not even sure about the “almost” but John Allison’s work, much of which was similarly created for daily, on-line dissemination in page-sized bites, is probably the closest contender. In addition, this longer form allows Decie to vary the beats and reprise jokes throughout, and he’s littered this book with cumulative comedy like his penchant for cluttering up any and every spare space with foraged bits and bobs (the more broken the better) and his constant, incurable worrying:

“You should give it a try. Stop reading this for a bit, and have a go, have a worry.”

Four pages of lunch-orientated ‘live action’ later:

“Oh, how was your worrying? Did you manage to make a mountain out of a mole hill? Amazing, eh?”

This conversational commentary – either on his own funny foibles or directly engaging the reader – forms a secondary, parallel narrative dancing about outside of the panels, never once tripping over or intruding too far. It’s like a DVD extra, except that those audio commentaries eclipse the dialogue, interrupting your ability to hear what is said and so follow the thread, whereas here they are in complementary harmony in the wonderful world of comics.

Oh yes, it’s all part of the rich and intricate language unique to this medium of comics, and although others might garble their words or jabber on way too long, Joe Decie is effortlessly fluent.

Everything here is so well judged, from when to let a line linger on its own merits to the balance of light and dark on a twin set of pages. And they are all exquisitely beautiful pages which will compel you if not to go glamping then to at least seek out your nearest beach, stream or woodland in order to follow its trails and forage for vintage goods like discarded candy-bar wrappers which might make you a mint in the future on e-bay.

As my book of the year – yes, my book of the year – this is going to take some beating.

So I’d snap up those signed bookplates ASAP.

SLH

Buy Collecting Sticks Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Arthur And The Golden Rope h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd-Stanton.

I love a good quest, and this is a most excellent quest involving Thor, Odin and Fenrir, the enormous, sable-coated wolf sired by the trickster god, Loki. It is ever so black and bad tempered!

Rich in the warmest of colours and with a superb sense of scale, HILDA fans are going to lap this up; ZELDA fans too because young Arthur is essentially an Icelandic Zelda, addicted to exploration and a certain degree of pilfering, forever adding artefacts to his arsenal of treasured possessions.

This includes the Hand of Time, an actual hand (a bit creepy!) which Arthur once discovered high up in an ancient tower, sat on an ancient stone column at the top of some ancient stone steps and bathed from behind in moonlight cascading though a window in the shape of a stopped clock. I imagine Arthur must have successfully interpreted this clue before whipping it away, for the Hand of Time has the power to freeze anyone who touches it – which is a neat piece of self-defence, when you think about it.

It’s probably best to use gloves.

Arthur’s also adept at making friends in high places, like the mighty red rooster Wind Weaver, nested towards the top of even more ancient, tall, craggy cliffs. Such was Arthur’s fortitude and determination that he managed to climb that nigh-vertical escarpment and return to Wind Weaver her missing egg, against all odds unbroken.

He also once rescued a cat from a tree.

Arthur is going to need to summon all his courage and command his quickest of wits, however, in this daring quest to restore fire to his otherwise frozen town after its gigantic brazier is knocked down and extinguished by Fenrir. I told you it had a bad temper.

To be honest, the townsfolk aren’t that much better, especially the adults. They scowled at Arthur and his adventures, his trophies and trinkets and the little goblin folk who followed him in rootin’, tootin’ celebration after he mediated an end to their war with the fairies. But, battered by Fenrir’s assault, the citizens are sure going to need our young Arthur now, for the only way to restore fire to the town’s brazier is to curry the favour of Thor, and the only way to curry Thor’s favour is to help him defeat the five-hundred-foot Fenrir.

For this meticulous Arthur will need three things: to capture a cat’s footfall, to snip off the roots of a mountain, and remember old lessons learned.

The Asgardians have tried to vanquish the beast by themselves, but Fenrir nearly squished Frejja, barely missed breaking Baldr between its teeth and successfully bit poor Tyr’s arm off. Can frail Arthur triumph where the mighty gods have failed?

In every all-ages / young-readers’ great graphic novel there must be certain things present including wit, rules and exploration for eyes.

Oh, you tut at the term “rules” but I didn’t write that they couldn’t be broken! What I mean is that a child will see through any gaps in narrative logic just as easily as an adult would, and might even be far less forgiving. They are ever so astute! This is a beauty, so casually foreshadowing whatever will follow so that its pay-off is perfect and caught me completely by surprise. But it’s all there! All of it!

The wit lies both in the background details, the denouement above, and in the keep-them-guessing intrigue which is scattered throughout. How can Arthur possibly capture a cat’s footfall? It’s insane! And a mountain doesn’t have any roots: that had me stumped.

As to the eye-candy, there are maps – yes, maps! – and so many pages which reward real inspection, from old-duffer Brownstone’s armchair introduction contrasted with his hours-later adieu (look at what’s happened to those bookshelves behind him in the intervening time!) to the mapped-out meandering’s of Arthur’s double-page sea-voyage. There tiny fingers will love to trace the serpentine path of our diminutive hero’s trials and tribulations past pirate ships and old beardy Neptune, through the coils of undulating sea monsters and battling a giant squid which is ever so intent on wrestling Arthur’s oars from him.

Then there’s beardy Brownstone’s initial, proud appearance inside his family vault of exotic heirlooms bathed in a spotlight. Young eyes are immediately invited to scan every shadow-strewn corner for curiosities: there are chests and chalices, a deep-sea diving suit, skulls and statues, a one-eyed owl, things floating in jars, swords, stones, and swords in stones. Oh wait – I think the second one is stuck in a giant eyeball!

There are swords stuck everywhere in Valhalla’s hall. Can you find them all?

I mentioned Todd-Stanton’s sense of scale – vital for making a quest like this seem as daunting as possible – and it’s everywhere from the fearsome Fenrir who towers over the brazier, and the brazier itself, so vast that it looms large in comparison to the rest of the town when seen from afar. On that very same shot, so high in the sky, you’ll spy that ancient tower which housed The Hand of Time and, on the mountainside opposite, Wind Weaver perched on her nest. Furthermore, Arthur may be small when standing beside adults and smaller still in Thor’s imposing presence, but compared to the goblin folk he’s a giant.

Finally we come to the gods’ hall library and it is as vast as vast can be. Poor Arthur most read every dusty tome in his research for find the roots of a mountain. You can see him scampering up ladders, balancing books on his head, receiving a nasty surprise, but if you look really, really carefully…

I love it. I love this to bits.

SLH

Buy Arthur And The Golden Rope h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Far Side Of The Moon – The Story Of Apollo 11’s 3rd Man h/c (£14-99, Tilbury House Publishers) by Alex Irvine & Ben Bishop…

“Eagle slowly rose toward Columbia. Collins and Aldrin coordinated the approach whilst Armstrong piloted Eagle.
“They came back together at about the same altitude where they had separated, in a stable orbit 60 miles above the moon’s surface.
“Collins and Armstrong had just pulled off a flight manoeuvre that no one in history had ever done before.
“NASA Mission Control read them congratulations from leaders all over the world, but the only thing Collins cared about was seeing Armstrong and Aldrin getting back into Columbia.
“There would be time for congratulations and reflections later.”

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Two names you will have almost certainly heard of. But can you name the third man in the Apollo 11 crew? Who orbited round and round the moon all by his lonesome, another first in itself, completely out of contact from the rest of humanity for long swathes of time whilst the dynamic duo forever placed their footprints in history on July 20, 1969. Probably not. Well, this is Michael Collins’ story and an insight into his unique perspective on the Apollo 11 mission.

Firstly, he never regarded himself as history’s nearly man, despite admitting he ‘didn’t have the best seat’ in the Apollo 11 module. Possibly partly because he wasn’t even initially on the rotation for Apollo 11, but he ended up getting a seat due to getting bumped from an earlier launch, as he required neck surgery to correct an injury sustained during Gemini 10’s splashdown. (A mission during which he also made history by becoming the first person to spacewalk to another orbiting vehicle.) I have no idea which astronaut he in turn effectively replaced from the intended rotation for Apollo 11, but they probably have more to feel aggrieved about!

Still, given the 1967 disaster that claimed the lives of Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White in a fire during a launch test of the Apollo capsule, Collins, like most astronauts, was well aware of the inherent risks of their chosen profession. Which almost certainly factored into his surprising, if circumspect, decision to not return to space after piloting Apollo 11 safely back to terra firma. Well a splashdown in the ocean, but you get my point. Even given that he would have been assured of a lead seat on a subsequent moon mission meaning he would have finally got his chance to walk on the lunar surface.

He simply decided he wanted to spend more time with his wife and children and have a normal life again. Given the subsequent dramatic events of the Apollo 13 mission, I’m sure both he and his family felt he’d made the right decision! After briefly dabbling in politics he settled into his new dream job as Director Of The Smithsonian Air And Space Museum. Where a certain capsule occupied pride of place in the museum’s collection, right inside the front door!

The facts are very nicely presented, if a touch perfunctorily, in this small landscape hardcover edition. The cover art, all black interstellar background punctuated with splashes of white stars and purple shading of a suited-up astronaut, with a bit of explicative overlaid narration, is exactly what you’ll get throughout. It’s a really clean, simple style entirely appropriate for this historical / biographical snapshot. Where you get a bit a technical explanation it’s often presented as white on a purple background which gives it the feel of old-school technical drawings.

This is a fascinating glimpse into the life of someone who has experienced an entirely different perspective on our planet that very few others have. As he surmises below, perhaps a little naively though entirely well intentioned, it’s a vista that inevitably and irrevocably widens one’s philosophical and political outlook…

“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles their outlook could be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its sub-divisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogenous treatment. The Earth must become as it appears; blue and white, not Capitalist or Communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue or white, not envious or envied.”

JR

Buy The Far Side Of The Moon – The Story Of Apollo 11’s 3rd Man h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Adventure Time Comics (£10-99, Titan) by various including Tony Millionaire, Box Brown, Marguerite Sauvage, Art Baltazar…

“Well?! Whadya think?”
“I dunno. How come I’m not in it?”
“Oh, don’t you worry, dude… I come to your rescue in the second issue.”

Haha, that is so wonderfully meta. Probably my favourite strip from this collection, both artistically and in terms of the story, sees Finn and Billy (BIIILLLLYYY!!!) teaming up to rescue Princess Bubblegum from the Lich. The reveal is that it is in fact the first issue of the very homemade Savage Sword Of Finn! Not sure that Jake’s particularly impressed, mind! Also, when we finally catch a glimpse of one of Finn’s own crayoned panels, it certainly isn’t up to the real Greg Smallwood’s standards who actually created this particular strip!

This is a most mathematical selection of shorts from a truly wide spread of talent in terms of artistic sensibilities. Actually, Finn’s upping-the-base-ante comment “Hexadecimal!” in one strip did make me chuckle. But then given practically everyone in the world is an ADVENTURE TIME fan, and one million years dungeon for you if you’re not, I’m sure they didn’t have any problems getting people to work on this gig. Thus we have the likes of Tony SOCK MONKEY Millionaire, Box TETRIS Brown, Art SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES Baltazar and Marguerite DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS Sauvage giving us their take on Ooo’s finest.

Art by Baltazar

 

Art by Marguerite Sauvage

I’ll have to come clean at this point, though, I actually started this anthology with only mild enthusiasm, just because I much prefer the long-form original Adventure Time graphic novels, or OGNs in comics parlance, like PIXEL PRINCESSES, MASKED MAYHEM, FOUR CASTLES, PLAYING WITH FIRE, BRAIN ROBBERS, BITTER SWEETS and GRAYBLES SCHMAYBLES over the ongoing title and thus I foolishly thought this would be an inferior offering. Instead, it’s like getting a whopping 16, count ‘em, 16 graybles!!  The parsimonious Cuber only ever gives us five at a time, so this was a real treat!

The tales mainly feature Finn & Jake, BMO, Princess Bubblegum and Marceline but there are of course many an appearance from the likes of Lumpy Space Princess and Ice King. Still waiting for Lemongrab to squeeze in his acerbic moment of glory in the comics but maybe he’ll get his own OGN at some point!

Words by Kelly Thompson, art by Savanna Ganucheau

Art by Greg Smallwood

Some of the yarns are as totally daft as a clapped-out toilet brush, others very sweet and moving, just like the show can be. A very well rounded selection, my compliments to the editors. It probably won’t win any new Adventure Time fans, but with the sad news of the impending end of the show, hopefully the comics will keep on flowing for some time to come.

JR

Buy Adventure Time Comics and read the Page 45 review here

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

“It’s not too late to stop. Simply close this magazine. Seal it in plastic and never open it again!”
“No? Still here? Very well… There is no turning back now. Welcome then…”

Jeff! Why did I doubt you?! This is the best opening salvo to a superhero series I have read in a very long time. At least two Marvel non-reboots and a DC existential Crisis… I guess perhaps I was just a touch underwhelmed by PLUTONA which never really seemed to find its feet and I foolishly expected this to be more of the same. I’m currently enjoying his OLD MAN LOGAN and finding his MOON KNIGHT brilliantly baffling for Marvel, but this is on an entirely different level.

Basically because he’s entirely freed from their corporate constraints to get really out there with the capes and tights genre in terms of his typical cast of emotionally tortured characters á la ESSEX COUNTY, DESCENDER and his new monthly ROYAL CITY. It therefore has far more in comparison with the likes of Kurt Busiek’s ASTRO CITY with Jeff’s own prodigious talent for writing imperfectly formed people whisked into the mix. I note Charles Soule has commented in a pull quote on the rear cover that this “… feels like a superhero story through an X-Files lens: it’s strange and melancholy and real.” I think that’s an excellent, very accurate summation.

Here Jeff’s constructed a team of dysfunctional superheroes and villains stuck out in the literal, metaphorical and possibly metaphysical boondocks on a tiny farm on the outskirts of a remote, rural American small town. Well, town is pushing it, frankly. It’s little more than a farming community. And when I say stuck, I really mean stuck, STRANGEHAVEN-style. Our gang of bickering chums have been desperately trying to leave for the last ten years without success, mysteriously confined to their utterly dull locale, forced to live entirely in their secret identities. Well, those of them that can pass for human, that is; the others are forced to spend their days cooped out of sight in the barn…

So who are they and how did they land there from their hallowed home of Spiral City? Well, each one of them is a pastiche of / homage to a classic character, or composites thereof. Golden Gail, now pension age, but forever young as a nine-year-old girl having to go to school to keep up appearances is a nod to Mary Batson of the Shazam family. Markkon Markken the Barbalien, Warlord from Mars, firmly in the closet and masquerading as a human police detective will be instantly recognisable as the classic original J’onn J’onzz, Martian Manhunter. Puny Abraham Slam, transformed into a Super Soldier by allied scientists, well I bet you can guess… And so it goes roguishly, lovingly on.

How they got to the back of beyond, and then some, was as a result of yet another selfless act of daring-do, facing down the near omnipotent Anti-God (think Darkseid, basically!) in a climatic showdown in the very heart of Spiral City. During which they – and several villains who, realising the seriousness of the situation, also pitched in to help – were presumed to have been totally obliterated. Including their leader, Joseph Weber, the titular Black Hammer… However, there are those in Spiral City who steadfastly believe the supes are merely missing and haven’t given up hope of their eventual triumphant return. Not all of our gang of exiles share their confidence, mind you, which isn’t perhaps surprising after a decade of despair.

Thus for most of them, it’s like being trapped in a living hell, though some like Abraham Slam, playing the grandfatherly role of the head of household, are even beginning to find some degree of happiness within the confines of their current existence. What is a total puzzle, mind, is the whereabouts of Black Hammer himself, who is neither with his colleagues nor in Spiral City. Now given he is clearly meant to be a homage to Thor, and thinking very specifically about one of mighty Mjölnir’s powers, let’s just say I have a theory about precisely where he, and they, might be…

Barnsley’s finest, Dean BODIES / NORTHLANDERS / LUCIFER Ormston, is apparently someone Jeff has wanted to work with for a while since seeing his stint on BOOKS OF MAGICK: LIFE DURING WARTIME (really would like that to be recollected). His fine, flicky lines, which in my sliding scale of artists seems to sit somewhere just between Faryl THE WRENCHIES Dalrymple and Guy BPRD Davis, are perfect for this unsettling tale. As ever, colourist Dave Stewart, then applies his own vibrant brand of spectral genius to finish the pages off to perfection. I’m tempted to go as far as to say, if you only read one superhero title currently, make it this one.

JR

Buy Black Hammer vol 1: Secret Origins s/c and read the Page 45 review here

We Stand On Guard s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce.

The writer of SAGA, PAPER GIRLS, EX MACHINA, Y – THE LAST MAN, THE PRIVATE EYE and THE ESCAPISTS needs no introduction, so I was going to write that you can consider this a re-introduction, then I looked back and realised that politics play a substantial role in almost all of those, while PRIDE OF BAGHDAD is overtly critical of the American military’s conduct and indeed very presence in Iraq.

Here, in a century’s time, America invades Canada in retaliation for what it perceives to be – or claims to perceive to be – its drone strike on The Whitehouse. Talk about Fake News! We don’t even know if it was Canada that was responsible. It seems pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? But Canada does have a lot of lovely clean water much wanted over the border so there’s convenient, eh?

Disproportionate response is nothing new when it comes to the US military – nor a deliberate mis-identification of any clear and present danger – so I think you can consider Ottawa obliterated in the first few pages of chapter one.

 

During this almost instantaneous assault without any evidence of investigation Tommy and Amber’s parent’s limbs are blown off in front of them, their dad’s dying words being…

“Tommy… you listen to me… you… look after… your baby sister… whatever happens… you never… leave her side…”

Twelve years later, on the very next page, Tommy has left Amber’s side.

She’s all alone in the Canadian, snow-swept wilds, armed with a crossbow, hunting for her supper, but she’s about to have company, not necessarily any of it good.

I was uncertain about Steve Skroce’s art to begin with. I certainly found no fault with his sense of scale: the American military’s four-legged All-Terrain Tanks towering above the tallest of the trees in the Northwest Territories are monumental, terrifying, their armour so evidently impregnable. But there’s something inescapably toy-doll about the figures, their arrangements on the page and how they sit within their environment.

What won me over was the second issue’s invasion of the cosy, well-appointed home of a couple of pensioners quietly sitting on their suburban settee. The clarity verging on the clinical elevates the incongruity of what you’re witnessing, and that’s the genius of the series itself.

Somehow (somehow) it’s one thing for American soldiers to bust down so many domestic doors in Baghdad and brutally manhandle their occupants without any hope of being reasoned with, but setting this in Canada where the tree-lined avenues look so similar to our own and, of course, America’s… It brings the horror all home, hopefully.

 

So what happened to Amber’s brother, Tommy? Well, we do know he was captured by the Americans and presumably taken to one of their camps. Probably to what is ominously being termed “the basement”.

What you’ll find there will be unflinchingly brutal, and will come with complete deniability, zero qualms and no hesitation whatsoever.

SLH

Buy We Stand On Guard s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mighty Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Frank Cho, Alex Maleev, Stefano Caselli, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr., Khoi Pham, others.

Previously: CIVIL WAR. Wow, that was succinct.

Now that the team of Avengers which Iron Man used to finance have gone underground, hiding from the law that’s made them illegal (see NEW AVENGERS VOL 3 for their constant harassment by Stark), he’s building his own team afresh, overtly to fight the good fight but also to undercut any claim to the name that the others might have, thereby undermining their legitimacy.

It’s exactly what Andrew von Eldritch did with the 1986 ‘Sisterhood’ LP, snatching the name from under the noses of his ex-bandmates before legally reclaiming the Sisters Of Mercy moniker for himself.

Unfortunately within five seconds of assembling the new team from its more conservative veterans, Iron Man has his firewalls breached by A.I. enemy Ultron, and is transformed into a metallic facsimile of The Wasp (it’s all in their somewhat Oedipal history) which then proceeds to weaponise the weather, detonate an EMP and distract the individually effective but collectively unaccustomed-to-each-other Avengers into confronting it head-on.

Ares, God of War and the very essence of male pride / presumption, needs little such goading, but in the end it is he who nudges things in a more production direction which – thanks to the Wasp’s ex-husband and Ultron-creator Hank Pym – involves a Commodore Sixty-Four.

Yes, this was Bendis’ version of old-school AVENGERS, which is to say it was about the wider dysfunctional family that has grown over the years, but with a modern sensibility and dry, caustic wit.

He even brought back the thought bubbles which are cleverly employed for dramatic and often comedic purposes to contradict what individuals’ internal editors actually let out of their mouths.

Frank Cho’s art is sleek and sexy, particularly his seamlessly jointed Iron Man armours (there will be many), but not so sexy as to be overly objectifying. Evidently as this point he still listened to editors.

It took him forever, however, to draw so by the time ‘Venom Bomb’ came along the book was running so far behind its sister title, NEW AVENGERS that the SECRET INVASION was rapidly approaching, its sub-plot boiling over, and I’m going to be careful what I adapt or redact from previous reviews for what follows.

‘Venom Bomb’ was drawn by Mark Bagely.

What is a Venom Bomb, I hear you ask? It’s a biological weapon that turns everyone into raging Symbiotes. It went off by mistake, but it came from Latveria.

Iron Man: “You are a horror.”
Dr. Doom: “A lot more people hate you than hate me.”

Not far from the truth at the time for, post-CIVIL WAR, Tony Stark had become commander of S.H.I.E.L.D. aka S.I.N.K.I.N.G.S.H.I.P. and the futurist had become damned as an untrustworthy reactionary.

In some ways Bagley’s style seemed too plastic for this title, but there were some very clever tricks when Iron Man and Doom start time travelling. It’s a tradition they share when on the same page. Just as you might meet a particular friend and decide that it has to be tapas because that’s what you do together, every time Tony and Victor von D find themselves in the same panel it inevitably ends on Doom’s Time Platform.

In this instance they end up in Manhattan during a period when Marvel comics were coloured with Ben-Day dots and advertised their other titles at the bottom of each page with sentences like “What’s it like to be a living vampire? Find out in the pages of FEAR – because only Morbius knows”. Each of these pages, then, is coloured in Ben-Day dots (a trick Kaare Andrews went on to incorporate in the raging RENATO JONES), features similar slogans and a nod to Bob Layton’s Iron Man inking over John Romita Jr. circa those original time-travelling travails (to Camelot!).

Also, the exposition in Doom’s thought bubbles neatly takes the piss out traditional exposition in the word balloons, whereby a villain reveals all and so gives their adversaries the upper hand.

The second half of this all-in-one-edition consists of short stories taking place during, after or even before SECRET INVASION (for extra, painful dramatic irony). They were drawn by the likes of Maleev, Cheung and John Romita Jr. before Marvel ran out of adequate artists and printed pap instead.

There was, however, an elegy in an epilogue which by far the finest chapter in this half, as a funeral is held for one of the original Avengers who fell during SECRET INVASION.

Regrets, recriminations and for one bad man an uncharacteristically quiet satisfaction that he finally has everyone exactly where he’s long wanted them: under his heel or his thumb.

SLH

Buy Mighty Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Banshee, Nightcrawler, Sunfire and Warpath join Cyclops as a new team of mutants is coerced by Professor X into rescuing the other original members of the X-Men who left on a school outing without proper adult supervision and ended up in a terrible accident on an island. Well, in an island.

It was hungry.

Actually the original X-Men are adults by this point, as are ex-X-villain Banshee, Sunfire (who promptly flounces out with a pout of Japanese nationalistic pride), and of course Wolverine who was already pushing 100, though looking remarkably spry on it. Alas, in those 100 years he had yet to learn any social skills whatsofuckingever.

Of the originals only Cyclops remains, wailing about responsibility of wearing spectacles, though Jean will be back pretty pronto and regret it almost immediately.

This 500-page, full-colour whopper reprints GIANT SIZE X-MEN #1, X-MEN #94 to #110, IRON FIST #14-15, MARVEL TEAM-UP #53, 69-70, ANNUAL #1 with Wolverine only appearing on six of those eighteen X-MEN covers.

That’s an extraordinary observation from a current perspective, but back then it was Cockrum on covers, as well as most of the insides, and Cockrum was all about Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler who here discovers that he has the ability to blend into shadows. Cockrum wasn’t remotely interested in Wolverine, a character so new to readers that they knew nothing of his back-story, let alone that there was a century of it to come.

As far as Logan’s concerned these are the first friends he’s ever had, and he doesn’t even like them very much. He certainly doesn’t know how to react to friendship. He’s curt, very defensive and quick to rise to any bait. But Wolverine’s sometimes right on the money as witnessed when he reaches out, quite uncharacteristically, by announcing his intention to join Storm, Colossus, Banshee and Moira McTaggart on a countryside picnic so that he can hunt. Here’s Storm:

“You would take the lives of innocent animals — not for survival but merely for sport?!”
“Even if I would, broad, what flamin’ business is it of yours?! I said huntin’, honeybunch — I said nothin’ about killin’. It takes no skill t’kill. What takes skill is sneakin’ up close enough to a skittish doe t’touch her…”
“Wolverine, I am sorry. I… misjudged you.”
“I could care less, ‘Roro. You’ve all been misjudgin’ me since the day I joined this turkey outfit!”

This is issue #109, the first truly accomplished issue which will settle in to become the classic run on UNCANNY X-MEN when Logan’s past first comes back to haunt him in the form of James Hudson and Alpha Flight. But the issues leading up to that are still vitally important in terms of sub-plot and context, kicking off with the death of Jean Grey in the space-shuttle crash, her rise from the river as the nigh-omnipotent Phoenix, and the first signs of Logan’s burning desire for her.

Also revealed is Storm’s past as a petty thief in Cairo following the death of her parents in such a manner as to catalyse a profound claustrophobia. Plus there’s this new team’s first confrontation with Magneto on Muir Island, and a hint of the Proteus story to follow in a couple of dozen issues’ times. Finally, Professor X is haunted by dreams that will lead to Lilandra’s first appearance (along with the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard) and the first, worrying hint that Jean Grey is not in control of her new powers nor comprehends the true extent of them as she becomes transfigured into a creature of pure, burning energy and knits together an entire neutron galaxy.

Scott Summers immediately spots the problem but Claremont and Byrne cleverly contrive to keep the couple apart often enough and long enough over the next several months so that there’s little time for them to talk, and it will be Jason Wyngarde who gets there first.

Oh dear.

Cockrum’s art was sturdier the more space he was afforded: his splash pages and double-page spreads had real weight, balance and eye-popping power as did most of his covers including the one above, which, I have only just realised thanks to Jonathan, features Xavier standing in the form of a cross. How is he standing? Oh come, I’ve given far too much away already.

Whereas Claremont’s figures tended to become toy dolls when cramped, Byrne, on the other hand, could make the most of the tiniest of panels. He had the ability to draw in miniature and there’s more of his art here than you might think as – for the first time – Marvel editorial has elected to fill in the mutants’ appearances in other titles.

It doesn’t actually benefit the story, but completists will thrill at all the missing links.

SLH

Buy X-Men: Epic Collection – Second Genesis 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.

Thunder Brother Special (£4-50, ) by Paul Rainey

Wet Moon vol 3: Further Realms of Fright (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell

World Of Tanks vol 1: Roll Out s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra & P.J. Holden

Savage Highway h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Mathieu Masmondet, Julia Verlanger & Zhang Xiaoyu

The Book Of Chaos h/c (£35-99, Humanoids) by Xavier Dorison & Mathieu Lauffray

Collecting Sticks (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Joe Decie

Face (£9-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Rosario Villajos

The Fix vol 2: Laws, Paws & Flaws s/c (£13-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber

Aliens: Life And Death s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & Moritat

Rick And Morty vol 4 (£17-99, Oni) by Kyle Starks, Marc Ellerby, CJ Cannon

Scooby Doo Team-Up vol 3 s/c (£11-99, DC) by Sholly Fisch & Dario Brizuela

Steven Universe And The Crystal Gems s/c (£11-99, Titan) by Josceline Fenton & Chrystin Garland

Batman vol 2: I Am Suicide s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads, Hugo Petrus

Batman: Legacy vol 1 s/c (£22-99, DC) by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Alan Grant & various

Captain America: Steve Rogers vol 2: The Trial Of Maria Hill s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Jesus Saiz

Toppu GP vol 1 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Kosuke Fujishima

Attack On Titan Adventure – Year 850: Last Stand At Wall Rose (£9-99, Kodansha) by Tomoyuki Fujinami

Fairy Tail vol 59 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

News!

ITEM! I went back to school!

I did, and I brought a grand’s worth of graphic novels with me for a regional School Librarians’ show-and-tell. I brought them all in a suitcase, packed to perfection and ever so heavy. Pulped, dead tree is truly heavy! Thank goodness for suitcases with wheels, I thought. Then I realised that I still needed to lift it into the boot of my car.

School librarians, prison librarians, gen-pop librarians, this is how Page 45 can help you:

http://www.page45.com/world/about/libraries/

We’ve been doing it for 22 years!

With four days this coming week to rest up (by which I mean write more reviews), I’m hoping to update Page 45’s 2014 easy-link secondary Library Page aimed specifically at schools to include all these new graphic novels and more, so I’m saving most of my photos for then. But you can find them right now on Twitter by following us @pagefortyfive for I formed a thread which I’m adding to even today.

If you like what you see then please retweet because otherwise school can fall in thrall to corporate agents of mediocrity and minimal diversity. And diversity is what we do best!

Here ends the self-serving sermon.

ITEM! So, yes, Easter opening hours!

We are open as always on Good Friday and this Sunshine Saturday (9am-6pm) but closed on Easter Sunday (on regular Sundays we are open from 11am-4pm) and closed yet again on Bank Holiday Monday. Good grief, what is wrong with us layabouts?!

If ever in doubt: Page 45: Where We Are And When We Are Open.

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2017 week one

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

Featuring new Saga from Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples, YA gn Afar by Leila Del Duca & Kit Seaton, the return of Seth’s George Sprott and more!

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

“I didn’t believe that Frank Lancaster had killed X-14…
“So I looked into it… and my entire life fell apart.”

There are some beautiful books on the market but few more so than this, reprinting all three VELVET softcovers, along with process pieces, the original trailer pages and an afterword by Brubaker on its origins.

Set in Paris, Monaco, London, Belgrade and the States during the 1970s and pulling back even further to the likes of the Bahamas in the 1950s, it is lush with 20th Century fashion from the sleekest sports cars to the slinkiest stealth suits, and wait until Velvet hits the Carnival of Fools, a masque full of masks in Monaco.

By “masks” I mean spies, few more disguised than Velvet.

1973. There is an international espionage agency called ARC-7 so secret that most other ops don’t even know it exists. Its agents are so exceptionally effective that the chances of any of them being taken out in the field are minimal. As the story opens, one of their very finest is taken out in the field.

Immediately an inside job is suspected and all fingers point to agent Frank Lancaster. But Velveteen Templeton, the Director’s secretary, has doubts: she suspects it’s a set-up.

It is a set-up. But what Templeton doesn’t realise is that she’s being set up to believe it’s a set-up and so get set up herself.

What most of ARC-7’s agents outside of the Director don’t realise is that Velveteen Templeton wasn’t always the Director’s secretary: she was one of ARC-7s most effective, deep-cover field operatives for so many years. And that may prove the undoing of whoever has just set her up for treachery, treason and murder.

On the run from her own agency, Templeton has to retrace assassinated Agent X-14’s steps and his contacts across Eastern Europe, criss-crossing the globe while cross-referencing what she discovers with her own substantial and at times painful history in order to work out why X-14 was murdered from within. What had he stumbled upon in America that made him such a threat? Was it the same thing that her husband discovered? Because he too was set up and Templeton took the fall so far for it that she almost didn’t recover.

Brubaker’s internal monologues – in CRIMINAL, FATALE, THE FADE OUT and KILL OR BE KILLED et al –  have always been compelling, individualistic and often fucked up affairs – but here you’re almost as much in the dark as Velvet is, learning as she goes along, so you’re even more emotionally invested than usual. Several times I found myself suspicious of what I was being told because it sounded almost too perfect but with the strangest gaps and I wondered if I was missing something.

I was. But then so was Velvet.

During the middle chapters you will have your head whipped round not once, not twice, but three times in swift succession and at exactly the same moment as Velvet’s, because these people she’s up against are so deviously clever, and who is playing whom at any given moment is far from obvious.

I cannot imagine the physical or metaphorical map Brubaker must have drawn to link all these dates and destinations so intricately, but his CRIMINAL can be exactly the same. Here as there he provides a gripping internal monologue as we keep pace with Velvet’s frantic plight in trying to keep one desperate step ahead of those who’ve evidently planned her undoing for ages.

“The suit’s synthetic microfibres stopped my ribs from breaking… that’ll have to be good enough. I’ll just box the rest away. But then, I’m good at compartmentalising. It’s one of the first things you have to master in this field. And not just storing away pain or secrets. It becomes a new way of thinking. A way of surviving. Your mind always running down four or five tracks at the same time. Even now, as I scramble to get away… a quieter part of me is planning an escape route.”

At which point artist Epting inserts a mental map of her potential escape route over the nocturnal ducking and diving which he has choreographed immaculately over the dozen panels accompanying that voice-over. It’s positively balletic throughout.

Finally, with only one lead left alive to follow, Templeton believes she has no choice but to take the fight back to America, even though she knows that the second she sets foot on its shores alarm bells will start ringing. She’s counting on it.

“Every move I make from now on has to be two moves.”

Sometimes you won’t see the second move coming; often you won’t have seen the first move being made.

I love that Templeton is middle-aged and shows it. It’s not just the thick, white streak of maturity in her sable hair, it’s in the eyes that have seen too much and the suggestion of extra flesh around her mouth which put me in mind of Terry Moore’s equally individualistic women in RACHEL RISING. There was an American TV company desperate to sign the series… if Brubaker would just agree to Templeton being in her mid-20s, thereby missing the point and literally losing the plot. This is a period espionage thriller starring a woman with decades’ experience at the agency. It’s this very history that’s revisited which informs her psychological makeup and indeed the whole story.

In addition, so subtly, Velvet’s body language changes when undercover as a temp in Paris, her hair dyed grey to fade into the background. She holds a file modestly and meekly to her chest. When she brings a tray of tea to the investment manager’s desk, she’s slightly hunched in high heels. Successful espionage lies in the details, and the artists reflect this.

Epting and Breitweiser have steeped this series in its period time and place. It’s not just in the fashion of fabrics, though the black bathing suit in VELVET VOL 1 during the flashback to 1950s Bermuda was a masterpiece, its white stripe anticipating the streak which will later appear in Velveteen’s hair. It’s also evident in the hotel room furnishings, the bar tops, aircraft interiors, office spaces, shop windows, fly-posters, the monumental, white-stone, classical facades and balustrades, cars with their polished chrome, and a particularly posh, trans-European train dining car. Another quick nod to the fashion, though, and I almost wept when she had to ditch that exquisitely patterned, knee-length, black and white pashmina cardigan.

I’m very emotional, aren’t I?

As to those Regency facades, there are a couple of early pages I use most often to sell this on the shop floor – on top of the splintering glass shards which Breitweiser electrifies in the first chapter’s cliffhanger – in which the heavens have opened on a comparatively calm London town outside an elitist gentleman’s club, the street lights are reflected on the rain-rippled pavement, and thin streams of water pour with just the right weight from an umbrella as a cigarette is lit and then *pfuff*…

 

I have no idea how much time two pages like that must take to colour, but it is all very much acknowledged and appreciated.

Later on Breitweiser introduces some of the more expressionistic effects which lit up the THE FADE OUT and helped draw the eye. However, so much of this takes place at night that you may be enjoying the effects without necessarily noticing their cause.

Lastly – and I mention this only as a love song to Steve Epting for I will not be giving the game away – the final chapter of the first softcover includes a reveal which is visual-only and takes the most extraordinary and subtle command of human anatomy to convey. In retrospect Brubaker slipped in one single clue earlier on, trusting Steve Epting to have laid all the groundwork then pull off the punchline to sweet, ambiguous perfection.

It worked.

SLH

Buy Velvet Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“These are innocent people displaced by an evil war. They’re us.
“You really want to turn them away in front of our daughter?”

They’re also two-foot-tall, anthropomorphic meerkats whose eyes glisten like chocolate buttons dipped in even more liquid chocolate. One of their youngsters, Kurti, finds a photon rifle in the grass while gathering berries and brandishes it like a toy.

“Reach for the sky…
“Or I’m gonna war-crime you in the face!

Unfortunately, it’s not a toy. It’s very real and they finally find its trigger by mistake.

In many other hands the scene would be far more catastrophic po-faced, but Vaughan’s already made his point about war zones and live ammunition left where children play, and he and Staples milk the subsequent comedy for all its worth.

“HEY! What the fuck is wrong with you kids?!” shouts a heavily pregnant Alana, narrowly missed.

Kurti, tiny paws clasped to his mouth in horror, whispers in equally tiny letters: “Missus Alana said a cuss.”

As well as love, family, childhood and parenthood, SAGA’s always been about war, but here it comes right to the fore as Alana, Marko and their daughter Hazel find themselves trapped on a violently contested asteroid – for months while their depleted ship refuels from its subterranean resources – along with their resident, supercilious enemy Prince Robot (a walking, talking, bipedal television set) the fractious ex-soldier Petrichor and Hazel’s self-appointed nanny, Izabel.

Izabel, you may recall, was one of the few remaining members of the indigenous species found on the war-torn planet where Alana first gave birth and, like all remaining members of that indigenous species, she is quite, quite dead, floating around as an intangible pink ghost, severed at the waist and dripping entrails exactly as she did when she took her last breath.

She bonded with Hazel, allowing Izabel to travel alongside, but Hazel’s growing up and beginning to wield the magical abilities inherited from her father in the same way some kids wield a magnifying glass over ants.

“Eksplodis!”
“Whoa! That fat one blew up real good!” shrieks a delighted Kurti.
“Young lady! What in the world are you doing?”
“Don’t use your angry voice. It doesn’t scare me.”
“I’m not angry, I’m disappointed. You’re hurting innocent creatures? For laughs?”
“They’re just bugs.”

They’re just bugs. The things we learn during war.

And then Hazel says something she will profoundly regret.

Right, so, hello! I always recommend that those who’ve yet to savour the wicked delights of SAGA read my review of SAGA VOL 1 H/C even if you end up buying the softcovers, largely because I made a hash of the first softcover review which bears no resemblance to how I now sell the series on our shop floor. I also recommend you remember that there will be at least One Moment per book when you will be horrified that you leant a copy to your grandmother or began reading it on public transport. Here it slaps you in the face then pokes you in the eye as early as page four.

SAGA is one of the most all-inclusive comics around, Vaughan and Staples taking full advantage of its space-setting to wring as much diversity as possible from its limitless possibilities. Let’s not forget that Alana and Marko are from two separate species – not just races – so Hazel is a major miracle. Just when you think they must have mined the last vein, they come up with something wholly unexpected and fresh. They will never fail to surprise, but that comes with great risk when it comes to your heart because remember (again) war has come to the fore and warmongers do terrible things from many miles away.

SLH

Buy Saga vol 7 and read the Page 45 review here

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

If ever you need reminding of the joyous, unburdening relief in sharing a secret – after days, weeks, months or years of awful isolation and crippling fear lest you be found out – then this original Young Adult graphic novel should do the trick. It won’t always go well, but that’s a whole lot of mental energy eaten up by the effort to continuously conceal that you can more profitably expend elsewhere.

Additionally, if you’re in the market for some gorgeous anatomy, beautifully delineated body language, carefully considered and exceptionally realised, localised costume plus a startlingly wide array of aliens as exotic as the most mythical of beasts, you’re unlikely to be disappointed, either.

Hold on, hold on, although this is emphatically a fantasy rather than historical fiction, most of this takes place in an environment akin to East Africa and, later on, ancient Egypt.

There Kit Seaton conjures up a city surrounded by lush, irrigated agriculture, with palatial buildings, clean, spacious and orderly thoroughfares between marketplaces bustling not just with commerce but theatrical entertainments and leisurely pastimes. All of this in stark contrast to where we kick off: an arid costal town where even fresh water is a much sought-after commodity, then another inland which is high-walled, inhospitable and surrounded by a shanty of shacks. I love the angle there, the weight at the summit, dangling over the edge, contrasted with the faded colouring in the distance down below for maximum vicarious vertigo.

In addition, there are foreboding deserts between them, littered with dangerous relics of a more technological past which has been long left behind and forgotten.

Each of these will have to be navigated by the far from wealthy fifteen-year-old Boetema and her younger brother Inotu if they are to survive when abandoned in each other’s care by their parents for much-needed itinerant work as salt shepherds.

But the siblings have further troubles to contend with. Although picking up a new friend in the form of a feral monkey with whom he develops a vital bond, thirteen-year-old Inotu falls foul both of the local lads when he defends the cornered and cowering animal, then of the long arm of the law which appears to be surprisingly metallic.

Boetema, meanwhile, has been having strange dreams which become increasingly vivid to her and in which she becomes more and more emotionally involved. Oh, it’s not just that they take place underwater or in jungle terrain above which hover luminous, ringed moons…. it’s that she is no longer herself but, for example, a green, four-eyed tiger, mother to a cluster of cubs she could not possibly have sired.

Gradually she realises that she’s not actually dreaming but projecting, travelling and inhabiting these bodies, however temporarily, and it terrifies her. Worse still, in one such manifestation she makes a hasty miscalculation which has fatal ramifications then finds she cannot go back to rectify or atone for her mistake.

The killer is this: the sister and brother aren’t confiding in each other. For fear of scaring the other, each is going through their alienation alone.

And I’m afraid it may prove the death of them.

I wish I could end this review with a bombshell like that because this book made me smile in so many ways – I’ve fallen in love with another artist new to me – but honesty dictates that I have to put my hand up in order to declare one major problem: in this self-contained graphic novel one gigantic plot thread dangled above us so enticingly – and repeatedly in order to catalyse two narrative trajectories – is never resolved, that of Inotu’s encounter with the cyborg. It’s not resolved in any sense at all: not in his existence, his nature, his intention nor his success or failure in whatever scheme(s) he might have had in mind.

This is an editorial oversight. I don’t normally go casting stones in that direction except that – uniquely as far as I can recall – the editor is credited on the cover.

SLH

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

Yeast  (£3-99) by Stanley Miller…

“So, um…”
“Cough…”
“Someone… stole our nut…”
“Hmm…”
“He’s just sitting by our hole.”
“You could bribe it?”
“What with?”
“Drawings.”
“…Of what?”
“Whales…”

Teenage comics guerrilla surrealist Stanley Miller returns with, as requested, a sequential-art based narrative following on from his pair of gag-strip rib ticklers THINGS I THINK ABOUT SOMETIMES and WIZARDS N STUFF. Here we have the story of three psionically powered errr… entities… that live in a very non-descript hole in the ground and fervently worship a nut. They love nothing more than levitating said foodstuff up to their excitable eye level with the pulsating power of their prayer. It appears, to my snack-savvy senses, to be a partially opened giant pistachio, but I wouldn’t bet a bag of pickled walnuts on it.

But then, disaster strikes, and the object of their adoration is abducted by, well, an even stranger faceless being. Confused and distraught, our trio seek solace and advice from Old Man Gribble. His random suggestion above might seem like a completely crackpot approach to establishing diplomatic relations, but his shamanic ways could just hold the key to retrieving their talisman intact and uneaten. Or simply be as bonkers as it sounds and not remotely help at all…

Stanley once again deploys his trademark David Shrigley-esque art style but the story seems like, plucking two flavours from my mind, a bemusing blend of Anders BIG QUESTIONS Nilsen and Hans FOLLY, THE CONSEQUENCES OF INDISCRETION Rickheit. Thus a curious combination of the sweetly profound and the farcically preposterous which just works. It left me feeling rather uplifted, actually! Sure, it’s not reinventing the pictures and words in beautiful unison wheel, but it’s certainly another step in the remarkable evolution of this undoubted future comics genius.

Do you like nuts, by the way? Particularly hot nuts so fiery that when you pop them in your mouth they make your eyes water? I do. If you do too, I can’t recommend The Notts Nut Shack highly enough. Their Garlic & Habanero and their Scotch Bonnet nuts, rocketing up the Scoville scale to the levels of 350,000 & 400,000 Scovilles respectively, are some serious tongue-tingling taste-delivery dynamite. If you’re city-centre-based you can purchase them at the Brew Cavern in the Flying Horse Arcade where I also fulfil all my extensive beer needs! And trust me, these bad boys are so hot, you will feel like your head is levitating off your shoulders and want a nice beer handy to slake your blistering mouth afterwards.

Which weirdly, rather synchronously, brings us full circle to the inexplicable title of this mini, as no yeast, no fermentation, no beer… Is it opening time yet?

JR

Buy Yeast and read the Page 45 review here

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

“There is another world. There is a better world. Well… there must be.”

In which everything and everyone falls apart as one of our resident freaks and misfits discovers that none of them were the results of accidents, but a single experiment, carefully choreographed very close to home.

There’s an agonising chapter devoted entirely to Cliff helplessly enduring an increasingly horrific explanation of what has gone before, his deactivated robotic body housing his very human brain, straining to express his mental agony. It’s all about Catastrophe Curves and unpredictable events. There’s another one coming.

But let’s not forget all the fun. Morrison packed DOOM PATROL with outlandish inventions, and here the Chief comes up with molecular-sized processors held in colloidal suspension, which are able to “interact in a way that simulates the electrical activity in the neurons of a human brain” to create the most powerful neural net ever assembled.

“The Think Tank is the future of artificial intelligence.”

And it looks just like a swimming pool.

It’s always entertaining to blaze out with an apocalypse, and this concluding chapter in Morrison’s ode to insanity comes with not one but two. The first of these is catalysed by Dorothy letting The Candlemaker out of her head. It’s not the first time she’s done that, either, her chief childhood bully paying the bloody price.

A product of her willpower and imagination, The Candlemaker’s apocalypse is likewise one of ideas, setting out to destroy the anima mundi – the world’s soul:

“Listen: if you want to destroy a people, first destroy its dreams.
“Generations of missionaries have lived by that noble creed.
“Modern man has successfully razed the imaginative landscapes of primal peoples the whole world over. Kill the gods first, slaughter the sacred animals, rewrite the mythologies, and build roads through the holy places. Do all this and watch the people decline. Without souls, they soon die, leaving dead shells, zombie cultures, shambling aimlessly toward oblivion.
“We’ve been experts at this kind of thing for centuries…”

Also: the ultimate incarnation of Rebis, some more bodywork for Cliff, the emergence of Sane Jane from Crazy Jane, and a massive expansion of everyone’s favourite stretch of sentient, semi-detached, but foundation-free housing, Danny The Street. Who needs planning permission when you can teleport? Bona to vada, Danny!

This whole series was about ideas and wonder and strangeness, Morrison’s own imagination running wild, and it ends on a deliberately ambiguous note which may cause you to rethink everything you’ve read after a distressing post-script in which a doctor determines to kill Crazy Jane’s: her imagination, her ideas, her wonder and strangeness.

Perhaps nothing exemplifies DOOM PATROL’s world better than a scene deep in the subterranean bowels of the Pentagon as a plot is hatched to unleash a homicidal maniac on the screamingly insane Presidential candidate Mr. Nobody and his Brotherhood Of Dada:

“Didn’t this ‘Brotherhood Of Dada’ transform a police officer into a toilet in France a couple of years back? What happened to him, Ms. Roddick?”
“As far as I know he’s hanging in the Beauborg Gallery.”

At the bottom of the page we discover that the military commander and Ms. Roddick are bouncing down the midnight corridors on animal-headed Space Hoppers. It’s a joke that’s revisited in different ways time and again.

Finally, as an added bit of fun – and I mention this partly as a warning, because I wouldn’t want you to think you still had thirty more pages of DOOM PATROL left to read – the DOOM FORCE one-shot parody of Marvel’s height of infantilism, the original X-FORCE, is tucked on at the end, each artist lacerating Rob Liefeld’s art as ably as Morrison nails the wretchedly piss-poor dialogue.

SLH

Buy Doom Patrol Book 3 and read the Page 45 review here

New Stock Discovered!

George Sprott 1894-1975 s/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Seth.

Thank goodness we have discovered fresh stock, for this was once made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month!

For sheer, immediate and arresting beauty this has to be one of the most magnificent books we have ever stocked. The cover alone takes my breath away with its silver and blue-foil titles embossed on an enormous, thick, antler-grey card and a black-cloth spine. Open it up and you’ve got the most indulgent double-page landscapes of snow and ice; painted, three-dimensional cardboard recreations of individual buildings significant in the strips; and the meticulously composed, delicately coloured vignettes themselves which together form the life and times of George Sprott.

Former Arctic explorer, lecture-hall regular and local Canadian television celebrity whose weekly series Northern Hi-Lights has long run its 22-year-old course, George Sprott is tired. He’s tired and old and past his time, and this evening, on October 9th 1975, his life will to come to an end.

“Tonight, of all nights, George is preoccupied with death. Mind you, not his own. If you recall, this morning George read of the death of an old flame. This sparked a rather regretful mood in him. At this moment he is thinking of the death of his mother. Back in 1952. George has always considered himself a loving son. In fact, he’d prided himself on the depths of his tender feelings for his mother. Not much of love was ever said between them. Yet he had felt secure in the unspoken bond they shared. It was only as he sat by her deathbed that it occurred to him. As she lay gasping, he realised he had not visited her in two years.”

So well written.

As the various vignettes accumulate – the recollections of his former colleagues, Sprott’s own troubled dreams and memories, and indeed the narrator’s occasional insights (Seth is in very mischievous mode: “As your narrator I must apologise for beginning yet another page with an apology.”) – it becomes increasingly apparent that George is a bit of a sham and his life, when he can bring himself to think about it clearly, has been a disappointment not least to himself. His Arctic adventures weren’t all that he made them out to be, and therefore the two careers he built upon them as lecturer and broadcaster are to some extent a lie. As to his time in a seminary, well, the dates (1914-1918) are as interesting as the episode there is telling. Here’s one short interview that speaks volumes, with Fred Kennedy, the local TV channel’s afternoon-movie host:

“George Sprott was a good friend of mine. I was with him at CKCK from the very beginning. God, we tied on a few together. Believe it or not, he was popular with the ladies. And I didn’t mind picking up his discards. And yes, he could talk. But always about himself. He never asked you a goddam question. Ever! I hate to say it, but George was a crashing bore.”

Seth’s always been one to dwell: to dwell on the past and concern himself with memory itself. Here mortality and indeed legacy come into play, for George hasn’t left one: his broadcasts were all junked by the station, he’s barely remembered and he doesn’t even know his own daughter. Given how he treated his wife, he’s lucky to have the affections of his niece

Seth’s previous book, WIMBLEDON GREEN, was a similar exercise in composite collage and thoroughly enjoyable it was in its own right, but if that was an exercise then this is the finished performance, far more grounded in reality and set in a very specific time and place now long past. Like Eisner in DROPSIE AVENUE it’s the cityscape itself which is of equal interest to those inhabiting it, Seth charting the history of individual buildings as time and circumstance like the Second World War dictate their evolution, their rise to prosperity and fall into dilapidation. Mark would have swooned at those cardboard constructs and indeed at every one of the pages here which give ample space to the magnificent art inside.

 

My favourite work from Seth to date, with plenty for you to ponder. Great little epilogue too: a throwback to WIMBLEDON GREEN in a way, which neatly ties together a few loose threads as we meet Owen Trade, collector/scavenger/thief.

SLH

Buy George Sprott 1894-1975 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.

Adventure Time Comics (£10-99, Titan) by various including Tony Millionaire, Box Brown, Marguerite Sauvage

Arthur And The Golden Rope h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd Stanton

The Far Side Of The Moon – The Story Of Apollo 11’s 3rd Man h/c (£14-99, Tilbury House Publishers) by Alex Irvine & Ben Bishop

Lumberjanes vol 6: Sink Or Swim (£13-99, Boom! Box) by Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh & Carey Pietsch

We Stand On Guard s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce

Superman vol 2: Trial Of The Super Sons s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason & Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, various

Batgirl And The Birds Of Prey vol 1: Who Is Oracle s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Julie Benson, Shawna Benson & Claire Roe, Roge Antonia

Green Arrow vol 2: Island Of Scars s/c (£14-99, DC) by Ben Percy & Stephen Byrne, Otto Schmidt, Juan Ferreyra

Mighty Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Frank Cho, Alex Maleev, Stefano Caselli, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr., Khoi Pham, others

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor vol 6: The Maglignant Truth (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Titan) by Si Spurrier, Rob Williams & I.N.J. Culbard, Simon Fraser

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 1 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

Goodnight Punpun vol 5 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 3 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

One-Punch Man vol 11 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

 

ITEM! Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie interviewed on film about THE WICKED + THE DIVINE.

We may have reviewed THE WICKED + THE DIVINE extensively. It’s ever so wicked. And divine.

Wasn’t that trailer excellent?

That’s it, really. I’ve run out of time!

– Stephen