Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2017 week three

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

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