Archive for May, 2017

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week four

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

Terry Moore, Philippa Rice, Eleanor Davis, Hannah Berry, Devin Grayson, Sean Phillips, John Bolton, Koren Shadmi, David Kushner, Maggie Thrash!

We’ve two graphic novels celebrating the human imagination’s capacity for shared and sustained, interactive world building in games.

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

Comes with free, signed, limited edition bookplate exclusive to Page 45!

Meet Clementine Darling, up for a fourth consecutive victory as Best Female Singer and Political Spokesperson. It’s a single award.

“Well done, Clementine!”
“Thank you, I’m literally beside myself!”

Hannah Berry is back with the work of her career, a blisteringly funny, fiercely inventive and scathing socio-political satire which doesn’t content itself with blasting the blithe disingenuousness of politicians and pop stars – both increasingly vapid and transparent in their self-serving mendacity – but focuses its ire instead on their equally unprincipled co-conspirators: their spin-doctors who here have seen fit to combine their calculating machinations in a coordinated affront on the public’s intelligence in order to benefit both parties and bury what little remains of the truth.

This is the core conceit and it works all too well: firstly, that the same PR agency could be as adept at manufacturing long-term, soap-opera strategies for celebutards as for political parties and their inept ministers; secondly that those self-same sleights of hand might be mutually beneficial.

“Do you know Devon Ayre?”
“From Das Booty?”
“No. Devon Ayre was with Daynjaryuz when they released Undress 2 Impress. He went out with Coral?”
“Right, right – that big break-up during the energy contract scandal!”
“Yes. Him. Please let Clementine know that she’s going out with him now.”

Clementine is sitting in the same limo, oblivious to her latest life choice, dutifully listening on headphones instead to a new song as instructed by PR guru Paul Rourke.

“I like it a lot!”
“What’s that, Clem?”
“I like the song a lot!”
“Oh good! That’s your next single, to be released next month. Ties in with the passing of the new Human Rights Act. Selina, Pen, if you could get this one to memorise the words ready to film the music video on Thursday thanks.”
*click*
“Guess what, Clementine! Do you know Devon Ayre?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Well, he’s going to be your new boyfriend.”

Clementine’s blank, cheery face flickers not one jot. Instead she slurps on a cartoon of pineapple juice. She wanted apples but was persuaded that pineapple was like apple. Happily so.

That *slurp* is far from accidental, reminding us of Clementine’s suggestibility, susceptibility, malleability, and Berry plays each episode of this deviously entwined distract-athon with just such deftly edited precision.

For that’s what this is: one huge, elaborately orchestrated distraction from any real news vital for an informed electorate, bumping it swiftly from the front-feed of ‘What’s Trending’ with vacuous, superficial headline-grabbing click-bait.

The ‘What’s Trending’ internet front page is reprised throughout, with all its corporate sponsorship, forming a constantly refreshed narrative of its own, charting the success of their meticulously scheduled shenanigans against the downward trend of any unfortunate, unforeseen hiccups which might blip briefly to the radar’s surface.

Clementine’s entire career as a pop-star – and “author” of best-selling autobiography – is but a means to that specific end so that she’s in the right place at the right time, whether it’s yet another vacuous Daytime TV husband-and-wife chat show masquerading as news and so satiating what little demand there is for it still, a spot on OMFGTV or an actual Newsnight interrogation where she can do the most damage possible.

Although let’s not forget that Clem’s trajectory is in itself highly lucrative, especially when it’s sent on a crash-collision course with that of her arch-rival Coral whom we first see on ‘What’s Trending’ with a new hairstyle / look in order to launch her new novel. Here’s Coral basking in public applause at that book launch, with a live Twitter-feed behind her:

“It’s always been my dream to write a book, and now after many days of harduous work I can finally cross it off my list!”

It’s a shame then that after so many – or at least several – days’ work, Coral should find her spotlight at risk of being stolen by Clem’s unexpected materialisation next to her own display of autobiographical best-selling success. No matter, time for a bit of improv.

“Because the thing is, some people are just not talented enough to write a book – anyone can write an autobiography, because they can just remember what they did and write about all that – and if they can’t remember things, they can pretend to be exciting by stealing other people’s ex-boyfriends…” 

That would be Devon Ayre, yes.

 

Do you realise the two ladies share the same publicist? Clem and Coral do: they’re just too dim to comprehend they’re being played against each other.

This is only Round One. The carefully choreographed bouts will become increasingly brutal.

The Twitter feed, by the way, is well worth scrutinising! It’s that sort of graphic novel: craftily constructed with multiple, layered threads, each precisely dovetailed, and so dense in detail if you care to look closely enough. There are dozens of crowd scenes among which you might recognise more than a few comics-related reprobates. Hannah Berry is quite the accomplished portrait artist!

I love that however beautiful each antagonist might be (and they are all antagonists – there’s more antagonism going down in here than at a similarly staged WWF tournament), they still all toad-like, with big mouths and squat faces, like they’re drained an entire of pond of Botox.

The colours are sickly rather than bright and primary – that would have been far too obvious – for this whole sordid affair is designed to make you feel slightly queasy, and we haven’t even approached the issue of the day which is the government’s back-door endorsement of human cloning… to the private sector.

And what is the primary goal of the private sector? Is it quality control, due diligence or commitment to ethical standards? It is not. The primary goal of every private sector company is to make money.

Now, where do you think the title LIVESTOCK comes in?

If lack of scrutiny gets your goat then this will have you chewing your own leather leash off.

LIVESTOCK could not be better timed given ex-‘reality’-TV star Donald Trump’s Twitter tirades successfully drowning his destruction of healthcare, women’s rights, civil rights and environmental sanity for the sake of big-business dollars as well as masking so many of his own private and public missteps. But let’s remember that this graphic novel was written many moons ago, Berry astutely observing the fabrications for what they were then, why they were being deployed by a complicit media, why they were so swiftly gobbled up by a public more likely to vote on Britain’s Been Brainwashed than during actual elections, and presciently predicting the path which would lead to this godawful excuse for a culpably cultivated future.

But if you think Trump’s bad, wait for beleaguered MP Duncan Frears and his beloved Border Collie during a doorstep interview that threatens to unveil a particularly pertinent truth and so unravel his career.

You cannot actually imagine.

Why don’t we play this review out with Clementine’s latest pop video? I’ve seen them do that on Newsnight. In it Clementine articulates the current geopolitical climate with grave concern for its most vulnerable victims and – in case you can’t quite discern the lyrics – the director has chosen to emphasise their eloquence by superimposing them artfully around the most prominent issues at hand.

Priorities are important.

Oh wait, here’s that exclusive signed Page 45 bookplate I mentioned.

Genius!

SLH

Buy Livestock and read the Page 45 review here

User h/c (£26-99, Image) by Devin Grayson & Sean Phillips, John Bolton.

“The more I think about it, the less reality has to recommend it.”

Originally published in 2001, this comic was so clever, accurate, eloquent and way ahead of its time.

It speaks of gender identity, sexuality, the escapist lure of the internet, online addiction, and the dangers of substituting virtual priorities for real-life interaction to the point of culpable negligence.

By the by, it also predicted how many of us would arrive bleary-eyed and outrageously late for work following an obsessive all-night session thumb-thumping away on video games.

But here, vitally, Devin Grayson is dealing with the creative capacity of the human imagination and the immersive power of stories and words, for Megan’s obsession is with text-only live action role playing. It delves far deeper than you might anticipate and, as a graphic novel, it comes with its own illusions so mesmerising that they are water-tight.

 

For a start, although Sean Phillips’s soft, shiny, largely monochromatic, photo-realistic art with its subtle deployment of colour charts Megan’s real-life struggles outside of the online arena… every single richly hued, neon-bright, fantastical image created by John Bolton is a complete sleight-of-hand. It’s a sleight-of-hand that has become even more successful since the ascent of massively multiplayer online role playing games with their visual components because we are used to seeing these avatars interact with each other on the screens, but every single one of these images lies only in Megan’s head.

When, therefore, we come to the first key climax at the end of chapter one, Megan’s wide-eyed “Oh shit…” shock – graceful fingers hovering uncertainly over the keyboards – is a reaction not to the previous “on-screen” painting by Bolton or indeed the subsequent afterglow which we see before us, but to the text which has conjured that startling image in her mind.

I have no idea whether Sean Phillips even had access to that image: one should not presume; each artist is more likely to have been working independently, concurrently, from script alone. Regardless, that moment once more proves what an extraordinarily accomplished character actor Sean Phillips is, and if Phillips couldn’t see it, then that goes double.

Throughout the graphic novel Phillips nails those bleary eyes, as well as Megan’s mood-swings. These become increasingly dramatic as the emotional pressures ramp up both inside and outside her virtual existence, the former’s grip growing increasingly fierce and compelling while the latter is left to fall apart as reality begins to escape her grasp, Megan begins to make various levels of contact in out-of-character conditions and then loses the plot in so many more ways than one.

“I can no longer tell if there’s something wrong with the world or something wrong with me,” she concedes in a moment of rare lucidity before, “Or if that makes any difference.”

I don’t want to give too much away, but online Megan has assumed the guise of Sir Guillaume De La Coeur, a paladin who, Megan decides, is willingly in thrall to his adopted lord and mistress and who considers honour of paramount importance. In her mind, Sir Guillaume is a young, buff, blue-skinned beau who begins to fall in love with his master – a development which repels that master’s real-life, out-of-character counterpart – and in lust with his best friend Lieutenant McCraven, also male and played by his OOC counterpart with a charming Celtic twang. Now that is received far more readily.

But an outsider calling herself Rose Violette, not part of the guild, had taken such a shine to Sir Guillaume that, err, well, and he in return courted her back. The next two sentences, when you stop to analyse them properly, are the perfect example of why I consider this the work of Devin Grayson’s career to date.

“He is sincere. I made sure of it.”

Seriously.

“And it’s better than real. It’s her dream come true.”

Will Megan try to tread softly lest she tread upon those dreams? She will not.

When “Rose” becomes too clingy for Megan’s comfort, Meg finds herself becoming as angry as her Dad, and voices that anger bluntly, brutally and in equally chauvinistic terms.

This is what I meant about gender identity for all the while Grayson – through having Megan adopting a gender which isn’t her own – has encouraged you to wonder who else may not be who they seem away from the keyboard. And by “delves far deeper than you might anticipate”, you will not believe the car crashes which the subsequent, extended, out-of-character interactions (which are blithely deceptive on Megan’s part) begin to catalyse.

“I no longer think that it’s just a matter of people not caring who you really are.
“I think we don’t even know how to be who we really are.”

Well, quite.

So what initially drove Megan so fervently into this online community?

With her home life disintegrating in the wake of her mother’s departure, leaving her feckless father to wilfully ignore his other daughter’s unsuccessful attempts to find off the unwanted sexual advances of his own supposed best friend (a silence Meg is complicit in), she found herself ignored and all but invisible except when asked to buy toothpaste.

Moreover at work she was growing disillusioned not only with importance attached to the bland stats of customer satisfaction surveys, but to the disingenuous compromise of allowing a drug’s owner to fund a survey as to its efficacy.

By contrast to all this, as soon as she takes her first tentative steps into this virtual world, Megan is both noticed and embraced. Instead of being rebuked or rebuffed for her naivety, she is kindly and patiently educated during OCC asides, and she discovers a liberation in being who she wants to be while appreciating a structure she find easier to adhere to within this fictitious environment than dealing with the chaos without, which she is quick to abandon as beyond her control. Additionally, in place of dry statistics, Megan immediately starts relishing not just the fantasy but the creativity which is poured into such a sustained, shared narrative.

Grayson finds so much to commend in this remarkable communal endeavour: she is, after all, a wordsmith herself and her script is as immersive as the virtual, text-based experience she is conjuring.

Let us not forget that not everyone is as predisposed as Megan to abandon their sense of perspective.

The moment which I remembered most vividly from my first encounter with this work some sixteen years ago was when Megan – who had already begun subconsciously adopting the French language she employed in character – begins hysterically screaming “LOLOLOLOLOL!” as if having some sort of seizure.

That wouldn’t work in film, but printed, in this medium, it’s a triumph.

There’s plenty more where that came from, along with a great deal of terminology and shorthand, new then, but which remains with us today even more prevalently deployed in text-messaging and on social media.

Speaking of that which endures, I leave you with these pithy truths which I grant you aren’t quite so absolute in the age of the PS4 controller, but still:

“Live one’s life so that it’s worthy of respect and honour by all…
“And don’t eat anything at the keyboard that requires more than one hand.”

SLH

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

Motor Girl vol 1: Real Life (£14-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

“Samantha?
“Are you okay?”

So you think you know what to expect from this comic.

It’s a burlesque starring a hyperactive desert-based, junkyard mechanic who’s tied at the hip to an anthropomorphic wry, dry mountain gorilla who sasses and back-chats, right? And that’s a diminutive, comedy, green alien on the cover, so you’re in for those too?

Hmmm…

No, that’s okay, you’re not wrong: they’re all here, present and correct, along with Terry’s persistent, consistent campaign against cretins who use cell phones whilst driving, which is deadly and ever so slightly illegal.

But is that really all you’d expect from the creator of RACHEL RISING, STRANGERS IN PARADISE and ECHO? The man who’s made a career out of juxtaposing comedy with hard-hitting trauma?  All it takes is a single, early, un-signposted panel to suggest that you’re in for a lot more than you first bargained for. This would fit comfortably on Page 45’s Mental Health Awareness counter: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

“What happened here?”
“Iraqi prison.”
“You were in the military?”
“Marines.”
“I was in the navy. Six years. Did you suffer any head injuries?”
“I guess. They hit me every day for ten months.”

Sam’s recurring headaches are excruciating, and when you finally witness the silent flashback, it will flatten you.

“Is that where you got these scars on the back of your scalp?”
“I suppose. They liked to work the backside so the front looked okay on camera. Y’know… for NATO.”
“Did you receive medical attention after captivity?”
“Nine weeks in the hospital, a year of rehab.”

It wasn’t enough.

“That’s a lot to go through alone.”
“I wasn’t alone. I was never alone.”

Now former Sergeant Samantha Locklear works virtually alone in a desert junkyard owned by ancient but far from frail Libby who is determined Sam should at least wear a hat and shades. It’s almost unbearably hot, but its isolation and practical purpose provides Sam with the stability she needs not to stay sane, but to survive.

Walking that tightrope alongside her is Mike the mountain gorilla, her constant companion who is more than just a figment of Sam’s imagination, but a coping mechanism, a projection she knows isn’t real. Mike, of course, is a straight male gorilla: infer from that what you will.

Samantha’s so skilled she can identify any car and its condition by the sound of its engine. Her ideal career would have been a racing car driver.

“People actually pay you to go to cities all round the world and drive fast. What could be better?”
“Lying in a hammock by the beach, beer on ice, fish on the grill… watching the girls play volleyball.”
“That was a rhetorical question.”

Yes, but you answered it anyway, Sam!

“They ask me to join in.”
“You done?”
“But I can’t, see?” ‘Cause I’m there with Scarlett Johnasson… and she gets jellyyyy…”
“Omigod, shut up.”
“And they start wrasslinnn…”

It’s all so subtly written.

So if Mike isn’t real, what about the UFO and the comedy green aliens who crash-land on the doorstep? Only Sam and Mike see those, late at night, fixing up their stereotypical flying-saucer’s engine, to be thanked by an almighty embrace, the alien’s antennae bending into the shape of a heart, his oil-stained hands planted firmly on Sam’s boxer-shorted buttocks. The stain’s still there in the morning, as plain as plain can be… unless Sam’s imagining that too?

On that, I will stay schtum, but there has to be some reason why Mr Walden is prepared to pay a ridiculous sum of money to purchase the land, then up the ante with intimidation. Nice visual reference to Hergé’s TINTIN: DESTINATION MOON.

I love that Libby, the direct, gum-flapping old-age pensioner is even less likely to “do” intimidation than Sam; that she understands Sam’s needs and treats her like a daughter. She won’t sell unless Sam’s ready to move on, and she isn’t. She has a family that worries about her, but she’s simply not ready.

I can hear Libby’s “Ooo dogey!” drawl distinctly in my head which, weirdly enough, I am positive is partly due to the cartooning.

As well as wearing a hat and shades, Libby’s also determined that Sam, to stave off dehydration, should drink more.

DRINK!” Drink or you’re going straight to bed with no supper!
“That’s what Momma used to say, she could really bring the pain.
“Now I drink a Martini every day at five…
“And toast to Momma.”

So yes, new shorter-form series which is far from predictable before Terry returns to STRANGERS IN PARADISE – hooray! – starring a hyperactive, desert-based, junkyard mechanic, a highly sardonic anthropomorphic mountain gorilla, diminutive, comedy, green aliens, a sympathetic landlord and a lot less sympathetic, land-grabbing mystery man.

Fab, flapping hair once flying about on a quad bike, suitably matted and ill-conditioned when not, superb use of grey tones at night, and there’s an exquisite slow-motion scene in which a certain party’s launch through the air is virtually halted as Sam and Mike weigh up the situation calmly, unhurriedly, before Sam demonstrates quite ably why ex-Marines don’t need to carry firearms.

I think TANK GIRL fans would love this.

SLH

Buy Motor Girl vol 1: Real Life and read the Page 45 review here

You & A Bike & A Road (£10-99, Koyama Press) by Eleanor Davis.

“I like going further than we tell ourselves is possible.”

I used to love country bike rides: three or four miles down verdant Cheshire country roads to feast with a friend on sandwiches and sugary, fizzy pop like Dandelion & Burdock high up on the hill at Beeston Castle; three of four miles back again. Lovely!

Here Eleanor gets on the bike which her Dad’s just built for her and cycles across America from her parents’ house in Tucson, Arizona towards her own home… in Athens, Georgia. She’s drawn you a little map: it’s basically coast to bloody coast!

Between 15 and 50 miles she manages each day depending on the state of her knees and which way the wind’s blowing (against you is a ‘mare), and she doesn’t stop for 56 days. Extraordinary.

Also exceptional: this entire graphic memoire. I think that’s what the trendy people are calling autobiographical comics these days.

But it is! Davis has some remarkable encounters. Mostly they’re acts of spontaneous generosity we should all aspire to: an invitation to join a camping family eating a catfish they’d just caught; water from Mexico border patrols (they’re not always so kind: you’ll see what I mean when you meet the man in the canal); and on Day 21 she nearly gives in to what has become extreme pain in her knees by then, which catalyses intense grief and depression, but the bloke in the bike shop trained as a therapist, helps her through it, calls a doctor friend, recommends a sports masseuse then finds her a couple to stay with.

“Brian says you’re having vegetable soup for dinner!”

It’s all so thoroughly inspiring, as is Davis’ pencil art which conveys every ounce of gratitude as well as the pain, sweat, exhaustion but also elation at being surrounded on all sides by horizon or thrusting forward through “tunnels of green”.

Her body forms are beautiful: such enormous weight from such few lines as punters loom large over a billiard table or Eleanor herself sets up her tent at dusk then sits up inside, almost filling the bright, cosy space while outside the night and unknown are contrasted in a dense, graphite darkness which radiates, as might light. On both pages she makes superb use of the shape of her legs, knees and thighs in body-hugging black lycra, while the strength of her shoulders then the curve of her arms freed from a white singlet vest are thrillingly physical. That her head is drawn so much smaller only adds to the sense of scale.

“While you are setting up your tent anything can get you.
“Inside your tent you are safe.”

She stares out at us from inside that tent with her tiny head and an expression which seems to imply the qualifying addendum, “arguably”.

The trees in the wood put me in mind of those so elegantly delineated by Isabelle Arsenault in JANE, THE FOX & ME. In their own way those pages are as lush as the double-sided landscape cover extended through its French flaps, but then anyone who’s read Davis’ HOW TO BE HAPPY or LIBBY’S DAD knows that she is a master of many mediums and a vast array of disparate styles.

Apart from exceptional portraiture on Day 57’s ever so moving encounter, few other pages are as detailed as that but I sense that Davis drew this on the road – or at least on its various verges – in a series of diary entries. I could be entirely wrong. They all do the trick, though: at no point do you not sense that you are there alongside her as she crosses different terrains, spying a mountain ahead in the distance, moving towards it, “Now you’re climbing it” before “Now you’re over it” then leaving it far behind. Looking ever forward, “Now it’s gone”.

There are many dodgy moments like crossing an almightily high, exposed bridge with no room for manoeuvre should a bludgeoning jugger-bugger come thundering up behind her. Anything towards her at the same time…? Jeepers! Plus let us not forget that Davis is travelling alone (though often claims to be with her husband for intuitively understood safety’s sake) and although she does use more RV Parks and motels than she would have liked, sometimes an invitation to use a trailer or official camping ground otherwise deserted are wisely declined.

Occasionally Davis grows frustrated and angry at herself (I fail to see why, but then I fail to see why I sometimes do the same when I later consider the general state of play rationally), then once back on her bike repudiates herself:

“Eleanor, you would never use that language with someone else so please don’t use it on yourself.”

Excellent advice! It was pretty fruity.

“But by the afternoon I’m skimming through streams in hysterics.”

What I hope to convey here is that this is more than just a read and beautiful thing to behold: it is an experience. It is an experience we are so lucky to share without the considerable inconvenience of getting our collagen clapped out.

I leave you, however, with a sense of context candidly expressed early on which cannot help but inform your journey together, and it engenders an additional element of already excellent empathy as Eleanor pedals on.

““What made you decide to do this trip?” people ask.
“I say:
““My husband and I want a baby so I figure I either do this now or wait 20 years.
“Or
““My Dad built me this bike and I hate boxing and shipping bikes so I decided to just ride it home!”
“I don’t say:
““I was having trouble with wanting to be alive. But I feel good when I’m bicycling”.
“But that is also true.”

SLH

Buy You & A Bike & A Road and read the Page 45 review here

Rise Of The Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax & The Creation Of D&D (£14-99, Nation Books) by David Kushner & Koren Shadmi…

“But that’s against the rules, Gary.”
“Then the rules need to be changed.”

Ah, the heady days of youth, heading down to the local Games Workshop to pick up a selection of psychedelically coloured, improbably shaped dice. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll probably remember the fevered excitement when books like the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual actually came out. If you weren’t too busy playing Manic Miner, that is…

Still, at the time, before the Marvel and DC encyclopaedias came along, that monster mash of a tome, plus the core AD&D rulebooks themselves, the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide, made for the ultimate rainy-day read, and, if you and your mates could agree who would put the not-inconsiderable effort in to be the Dungeon Master, actually do some role-playing.

I was more of a Golden Heroes fan myself, an RPG that perhaps not unsurprisingly allowed you to be superheroes. Or indeed villains if the fancy took you. But, like many, I did also succumb to the lure of the twenty-sided icosahedron and spent some time dungeoneering. Mainly at school where I couldn’t play computer games, it has to be said, but still, I was well aware of the name Gary Gygax, and appreciated his efforts in endeavouring to stimulate my teenage imagination almost as much as Sir Clive Sinclair…

Gygax’s childhood and own formative years certainly make for a fascinating read. He loved listening to his father’s made-up fantasy stories and his mother reading the likes of Tom Sawyer to him. As a schoolboy he much preferred venturing into the labyrinth of tunnels underneath an old nearby sanatorium and exploring the abandoned insane asylum near a spooky lake than actually attending lessons, including a few narrow escapes dodging oddball locals who used to hang out there for presumably more nefarious reasons. Consequently, no one was entirely surprised when he dropped out of high school. A series of dead-end jobs followed, before a chance discovery of war gaming completely turned his life around.

There are some fascinating nuggets in this work which I was unaware of, such as the origin of modern war gaming is attributed to one Herbert George Wells. Good old H.G. actually published a non-fiction book entitled Little Wars, which described how he and his friend commandeered his son’s toy soldiers and created a game of their own, taking turns to tactically move their troops on imaginary battlefields. Wells then drew up a set of detailed rules so his readers could play such games for themselves. Shortly after he moved to Chicago aged 18, Gygax chanced upon a copy of Wells’ book, and thus his life’s obsession began.

It wasn’t, however, until over a decade of ever more elaborate war gaming, with an ever-increasing circle of friends and acquaintances, including postally, that the inspiration for D&D struck, courtesy of a particular medieval war game and a life-long love of the likes of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian books. 

Trying out his new mash-up game, which he’d titled Chainmail, amongst his hardcore war gaming friends, the magical, fantastical elements were met with staunch resistance, even disgust. It wasn’t until Gygax met a young man called Dave Arneson another year later that things really took off.

Arneson then went away and added many of the true cornerstone concepts of D&D, such as the dungeons themselves, neatly constraining the environment for what is a virtually limitless, free-form improvisational game, plus the idea that the game never really ends, with players instead gaining experience, before undertaking the next challenge, and the next, and so on.

Gygax instantly saw the commercial potential of this variant version of Chainmail and immediately set about codifying his own large set of rules to cover as many eventualities as possible. Setting up a company called TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) to manufacture and distribute the game after little success touting it to the established game manufacturing companies, it promptly overran the imagination of the public and the subsequent sales went stratospheric. Arnseson, meanwhile, so instrumental in the creation of the game, was never asked to join the fledging company…

Gygax, frankly, during the rise and rise of TSR, comes across much like the master huckster himself, Stan Lee, with his obsession for minutiae, micro management of absolutely everything, plus a total inability to give Dave Arneson the credit, or cash, he so clearly deserved. Eventually, begrudgingly, when lawyers got involved, Gygax did the ‘decent’ thing, with Arneson getting the long overdue well earned credit as co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and a valuable 10% of royalties on sales.

Arneson, who like Gygax, features heavily as a talking head in this work, seemed pretty sanguine about it all, in retrospect at least. Though at the time, crafty moves like Gygax retitling Dungeons & Dragons as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, purely to claim Arneson was no longer entitled to his 10% royalty cheques, probably tested his temper, and sanity.

We then get the inevitable fall of the TSR empire, Gygax’s own tempestuous departure and his subsequent various endeavours, some more successful than others. Still, it’s an impressive legacy Gygax left, one which modern gaming, both online as well as offline, has heavily built on.

Still, despite enjoying it, I found this work a little bit perfunctory and dry in the narration, and I don’t think the grey-tone, art style helps in that respect, either. There’s pure Gygax gold I expected to be in there which sadly isn’t, such as his apparently successful personal wooing of no less a talent than Orson Welles to star in a planned D&D movie (can you imagine?!) which was shelved as the scale of the financial troubles at TSR became all too apparent.

Compared to Box Brown’s TETRIS, which is an utterly forensic, meticulously designed and brilliantly illustrated in-depth examination of that blockbuster classic plus the crazy characters and total chaos behind it, this feels, well, a touch by the numbers. Dare I say it, even lacking in imagination, which for a book based on the game that touted the very use of said quality and all about the man whom single-handedly (according to him heh heh) revolutionised gaming, is a bit disappointing.

JR

Buy Rise Of The Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax & The Creation Of D&D and read the Page 45 review here

Our Soppy Love Story (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Philippa Rice.

What a lot of delightful, light-hearted, thought-provoking fun!

For by OUR SOPPY LOVE STORY, Philippa Rice emphatically means yours.

This one is for you to write down, drawn in and co-create!

I will explain in a second.

Rice has already chronicled much of her own, ongoing love affair with HILDA’s Luke Pearson in SOPPY itself, a collection of dreamy yet often irreverent cartoons and comics so astutely observing their behaviour together. I wrote:

“Rarely have I been so immediately, directly and profoundly touched by a work of such intimate art. There is a purity here both in the content and the lines and shapes which depict this autobiographical insight.”

We were so transfixed that we invited Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson to sign SOPPY together at Page 45 on Valentine’s Day 2015 and this proved so endearingly cute that we had to start culling kittens behind the counter in order to level the Karmic Balance. I’m not making this up: every five minutes I would pull a cat from its bag and then wring its neck. It’s an odd sort of crunch, I can tell you.

Then, heralded by the likes of George Takei, the graphic memoire went global! An entire second-print run selling out worldwide within a mere ten days! A third print run immediately went to press and it sold and it sold, and continues to sell like crazy to this very day. Had it been anodyne and quite as soppy as the title suggested that would never have happened. Its mischief is a mirth-making joy.

This too is a joy, and there are indeed a few scattered comics and cartoons contained within, but it also a very different beast.

Instead, it is a cheekily inquisitive and surprisingly substantial, gently guided journal for you yourselves to fill in, as your one true romance begins to blossom and bloom.

I hope you don’t have to buy too many copies.

Not only will it prove a testament in time to your unique, highly personal, enduring love for each other – by noting your traditions, aspirations, and average day in your lives together – but, far more importantly, it will crystallise thoughts and feelings right now which you never necessarily knew you had and help you to articulate them. It will catalyse communication!

I’m no expert, but I would have thought that was one of the primary joys in sharing your lives with each other: communication. Sometimes, however, we do need a little nudge.

Rice knows exactly which questions to ask, and which prompts to offer for you in order to pursue this potentially illuminating, heart-felt investigation for yourselves, whether they be about yourself, your girlfriend or boyf, your husband or wife, or indeed your illicit other.

“Would you rather:
“Never read a book again OR never eat a dessert again?”

Leave out an ‘S’ and it’s easier: the last desert I ate gave me very dry wind and indigestion. I was also slightly suspicious of how many reptiles I might have wolfed down. Reptiles are important.

Anyway, I infinitely prefer books to banoffee pie, so that one’s very simple.

“Be able to talk to animals OR be able to read minds (human minds)?”

Before you make any snap decisions, may I suggest that being able to access the innermost thoughts of serial sexual harasser Donald Trump or any similarly suspected reprobate whom you come across down in London’s Tube might prove personally and profoundly uncomfortable or at least very awkward?

However many games of poker you might win with the “gift” of telepathy you would lose your sanity to in round one to a new deep-seated paranoia on discovering that ambivalence is nigh-ubiquitous. And that your two-faced neighbours actually hate you with a passion.

Jonathan can already talk to animals, but I rarely answer back.

“Be invisible OR be the only person who’s not invisible?”

Facial expressions are ever so important, don’t you think?

“Eat a spider OR kiss a pig?”

What’s wrong with pigs? Chauvinists aside.

So that’s about you, but you’re also asked about your significant other! You’re even invited to pose your own questions.

Do you really know what you truly think of each other? It’s time to find out in comparative checklists wherein you can debate between you which one is the more ticklish, tidy, calm, silly, sophisticated, organised, clumsy, grumpy, sleepy, happy, dopey.

You’re asked about the passing of time and your favourite weather. I’m only happy when it rains.

But you’re also prompted to live in the present as well, which is ever so Buddhist in appreciating what you have and expressing what you are experiencing in this moment that will never come again.

Finally, you’re encouraged to plan ahead with critical decisions like this for your future, which may well inform what happens next in your relationship should things go slightly skew-whiff:

“If I become a zombie, please…
“1) Kill me
“2) Leave me alone
“3) Allow me to bite you
“4) Keep me contained somewhere safe
“5) Other”

You are all cordially invited to bite me.

SLH

Buy Our Soppy Love Story and read the Page 45 review here

New Edition / Old Review:

Honor Girl s/c (£7-99, Candlewick) by Maggie Thrash.

What a price! Quick, before they change their minds!

“What was I doing before? Was I just… floating along? Maybe I was better off that way. Because what’s ironic is that being in love doesn’t actually make you happy. It makes it impossible to be happy. You’re carrying this desire now. Maybe if you knew where it came from, you could put it back. But you don’t.”

Maggie is only fifteen and she’s just fallen in love for the first time. With a woman. With a summer camp counsellor.

Maggie’s stomach is churning and she hasn’t the first clue what to do about any of it. She can’t get Erin or her feelings towards her out of her head and she’s stuck there for the summer. What if any of any of her friends find out? What if any of the counsellors find out? What if Erin finds out? What on earth is she supposed to do with all this?

Oh, the space and the light!

I knew this was graphic memoir was going to be a pleasure to read as soon as I opened it and the colours flooded out. But, being set in a remote, American summer camp for girls, I had no idea it would tick so many recognition boxes.

I’d praise Thrash’s memory – her ability to put herself back in her head aged fifteen – but my own memory’s appalling yet I remember every little bit of falling in love for the first time when my nascent self-awareness was too new to comprehend or cope. It’s not something you forget.

Still, there were a lot of surprises and this may not come with the conclusion you expect.

Thrash goes to great pains to emphasise right from the beginning how traditional this particular summer camp was. Unchanged since 1922, “There were mandatory Civil War re-enactments every morning. It was literally the blues screaming “blue” and the greys screaming “grey” for twenty minutes.” Grim. There’s also flag-raising and flag-lowering at morning and night, and singing lots of lovely Christian songs to each other.

Being a good little girl, Maggie had a pillow with all her merit patches sewn on; being a somnambulist, she also had a Somnambu-leash which she was supposed to attach to her ankle every evening. I don’t think it counts as a spoiler to tell you she doesn’t – not every evening – and it’s worth bearing that in mind later on.

There were uniforms for uniformity (“I was used to environments where it was important for everyone to be the same”) and zero diversity bar one blonde Jewish girl so seemed to set each year’s fashion trends. Oh, and then there was the whole Honor Girl system.

“On the first night, we always serenaded the Honor Girl, a 16-year-old camper appointed the previous summer… Everyone would light a candle, and at the end of the song, we’d each touch our flame to hers. It was meant to be symbolic – the Honor Girl imbuing us with her perfect spirit.”

Are you getting a sense that this might be one of the least hospitable environments for anyone suddenly stumbling upon the notion that they might be gay? Add in a mass of insecure teenage peers and being trapped there with them morning, noon and indeed overnight… There were a couple of girls the previous year about whom rumours swirled and they were ostracised all season long.

As I say, I think this is going to surprise you, and it’s got 270 pages in which to do so.

I’ve seen this sort of stripped-down style done so badly, so blandly – most recently in a reasonably high profile Young Adult graphic novel I decided didn’t merit a review – but this is full of nuance and character and great body language. It’s amazing what you can do with a few simple lines as long as they’re placed just-so. The expressions often contradict what’s expressed like tells at a poker game. It falls under the umbrella of minimum fuss for maximum empathy, and the colours ensure it’s certainly no mope-fest.

There are great many giggles to boot. I loved the old camp commandant – sorry, director – popping out on the odd occasion to wave a canoe paddle furiously and bellow prohibitions before collapsing, pooped out on the deck.

The storytelling is crystal clear with plenty of variety – another of the problems I had with that YA graphic novel was it was as so repetitious, so deathly dull, like someone telling you a story with “And then he did this and then she did that and then he did this and we didn’t” – opening up at exactly the right moments with landscapes to let you linger and ponder like Maggie herself.

As the memoir kicks off and concludes she’s had two years to do precisely that.

SLH

Buy Honor Girl 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 information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

The Realist: Plug And Play h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Asaf Hanuka

Your Black Friend (£4-50, Silver Sprocket) by Ben Passmore

The Left Bank Gang (£11-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

Why Are You Doing This? (£11-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

The Selfish Dream (£5-00, Ichor) by Om Lekha & Blinky 4

The Practical Implications Of Immortality (£4-00, Throwaway Press) by Matthew Dooley

A Castle In England h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Jamie Rhodes & various including Isabel Greenberg

Everything Is Flammable h/c (£23-50, Uncivilised Books) by Gabrielle Bell

Garbage Night (£12-99, Nobrow) by Jen Lee

Hellblazer vol 16: The Wild Card s/c (£22-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Marcelo Frusin, Steve Dillon, Lee Bermejo, Doug Alexander Gregory, Jock, Jimmy Palmiotti

How To Survive In The North (£12-99, Nobrow) by Luke Healy

Mayday s/c (£13-99, Image) by Alex De Campi & Tony Parker

Moonshine vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso

On To The Next Dream h/c (£11-99, City Lights) by Paul Madonna

Pantheon : The True Story of the Egyptian Deities (£12-99, Nobrow) by Hamish Steele

Rick And Morty: Lil’ Poopy Superstar (UK Edition) (£14-99, Titan) by Sarah Graley & Marc Ellerby

Batman: New Gotham vol 1 s/c (£26-99, DC) by Greg Rucka & Shawn Martinbrough, various

Moon Knight vol 2: Reincarnations s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood, Jordie Bellaire, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Garland, Francesco Francavilla, James Stokoe

Uncanny Inhumans vol 4: IVX s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & R. B. Silva, Kim Jacinto, Ario Anindito

The Unworthy Thor s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Olivier Coipel, Kim Jacinto

Dragonball Super vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama & Toyotarou

My Hero Academia vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

One Piece vol 82 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

 News!

 ITEM! We are so lucky to have this so local!

 Liam Sharp comic art exhibition at the Derby Museum Art Gallery, June 23rd to 3rd September 2017

This is the sort of thing you’d normally have to travel to London for – or even America!

I’m not guaranteeing that this piece will be there, but it gives you a clear indication of the level of intricacy which has been Sharp’s hallmark throughout his extensive career.

The former Derby resident will be flying back from San Francisco to be there in person, so if you want to shake his enormous, Viking hand in person, please keep track of my Twitter updates, turn up on the appropriate day and I will personally introduce you to one of the friendliest creators in comics who I have ever been lucky enough to call one of my mates.

We once stayed up all night and all morning, with no sleep at all, sharing our favourite tunes, some of which were written and recorded by Liam himself. Oh yes, the man is also a musician!

Speaking of…

ITEM! Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash songs & music CD is out now!

Just 10 quid direct from Dave so the man can make all the money himself without giving Mamazon a cut. Hurrah!

Reminder: BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH graphic novel is such a powerful, eloquent, involving, almost overwhelming experience that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, and it was one of my favourite graphic novel of the year.

We have the last 5 remaining copies worldwide of the original LICAF DUSTJACKETED EDITION OF BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH signed and sketched on by Dave McKean, which was itself distributed exclusively by Page 45.

ITEM! I cannot begin to tell you how important this is, and how accurately observed the ramifications are if artists aren’t credited.

Sarah McIntyre continues her campaign to prove that Pictures Mean Business in:

‘7 Ways You Can Support Illustrators’ for BookTrust

Illustrations all by Sarah McIntyre: obvious to you perhaps, but not to everyone and therein lies the point. Some scumbags even erase other artists’ signatures to suggest the work is their own.

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week three

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Feauturing new Guy Delisle, Jeff Lemire, Giacomo Bevilacqua, Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos. Everything reviewed by our Jonathan! It’s a first!

The Sound Of The World By Heart h/c (£22-99, Magnetic Press) by Giacomo Bevilacqua…

“A challenge to my inability to communicate, to my misanthropy, to my constant need for a challenge.
“… A challenge to respect the rules one places upon himself, whether he likes them or not.
“… A challenge to find love, the kind we often unknowingly brush against on the street, only to forget a moment later, overwhelmed by the river of our own thoughts, and the thoughts of a million passersby…
“That pure love that I have often found in the instance of a photograph…
“It is a challenge to the city of New York, the city of my birth, the city that sheltered and cared for me, both physically and mentally, throughout the years…
“… Sometimes successfully…
“… Sometimes not.”

Of course… it’s rather tricky to mend a broken heart and find love afresh if you’re not planning on speaking to anyone at all for sixty days…

Such is the scope of the emotionally self-sequestering challenge that Sam is taking on, at his own behest, and also his magazine’s editor Jorge. I think that probably reveals that Sam is a masochist and Jorge definitely has sadist tendencies, but it’s certainly an intriguing premise to explore both the fractured psychology of an individual and also the near-infinite fractal human interactions taking place within a city like New York on a continuous basis.

Like an endless game of bagatelle with eight million unpredictable balls, with pointy elbows, pinging around on the most insanely complex ever evolving three-dimensional board imaginable. How could you possibly hope to find the one person able to repair you emotionally in such an environment?

Our story begins with an unknown person narrating Sam’s epic undertaking to us, and also providing us with some personal background on our protagonist. Thus we gradually begin to understand the apparent reasons for his peculiar experiment as he strolls through the city of his birth, all the while carefully composing and taking photographs. I had presumed the narrator would turn out to be a possible future soulmate looking back sagely. In fact, it turns out to be someone completely different and entirely unexpected. And yet it makes perfect sense, in retrospect.

Giamcomo Bevilacqua treats us to a visual feast with shots of skyscrapers, Central Park and people, lots of people, from every conceivable aperture and angle. His art style, particularly of architecture, reminds me of Paul ALL OVER COFFEE / EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD Madonna, though a touch tighter. Plus this work is all in vibrant colour that perfectly captures the feel of a gloriously bright autumn day, even down to striations of wispy cloud being gently pulled across the sky, accompanied by the vapour trail from a departing aeroplane. The only thing that’s black and white are Sam’s photographs. As a creature of habit, he’s only ever printed his photographs sans colour, preferring to use the same print shop whenever he’s in the neighbourhood.

So, what happens to shatter Sam’s pseudo-serenity and deflect our tale into an altogether different direction? Well, it’s the unexpected presence of a red-haired girl in many of his most recent batch of photographs. She’s definitely there, in full glorious technicolour, which is a conundrum in and of itself given the photos obviously aren’t. But the real puzzle perhaps, is that Sam is entirely certain she wasn’t there when he took the pictures. Not once. After all, as someone who carefully composes every picture he takes, he knows exactly what, and who, is in the scene he wants to convey. And the girl was most assuredly not, when he took the pictures, in any of them…

Thus begins Sam’s real journey of introspection, finally getting below the protective surface layers he’d so carefully built up, as the mysterious red-haired girl begins to appear in front of him in the real world, seemingly at every turn. Sam’s reaction is always to turn away, to run, to flee. But what precisely is he really running from? And where will he end up? And who will be there? Some connections, however tenuously established, it seems, just can’t be broken…

What a wonderfully moving, poignant and beautiful work this is. As we, and Sam, finally gain a true understanding of what’s going on inside his head, plus out there in New York city, it seems all those millions and millions of endless human collisions can produce some quite startling and unexpected results.

JR

Buy The Sound Of The World By Heart h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hostage h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Guy Delisle…

“Nothing happened last night.
“Nobody came to get me out of here.
“Maybe they’ll come tonight?
“In the meantime, I’ll be spending another day attached to this radiator.”

Guy PYONG YANG / SHENZHEN / BURMA / JERUSALEM Delisle returns, but this time with someone else’s story. Actually, I kind of feel his travelogues are often really the locals’ stories of the places he visits, he’s just the conduit for expounding their unique flavour of cultural craziness, but here he is ‘merely’ the messenger.

If you ever wanted to know just how boring, frustrating and soul destroying getting kidnapped and chained to a selection of ironmongery for a period of several months is, then this is the book for you! Now, you might think a book where practically nothing happens would be rather dull, but in fact the exact opposite is true. Guy Delisle brings to vivid life the entire spectrum of emotions Christophe André was put through repeatedly during his confinement.

Desperate for any shred of information that might indicate even the teensy-weeniest step of progress towards regaining his liberty, Christophe instead focuses on making certain he always knows precisely what date it is, wondering whether his sister would postpone her wedding or not (she didn’t, instead leaving an empty chair and plate in his honour at the reception) and, being a military history buff, re-enacting famous battles from around the globe in his head.

He did also conduct some rather amusing ongoing character assessments of his small gang of captors, including casting one very adroitly as Thénardier, the crooked innkeeper from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables! Plus continually be on the look-out for escape opportunities, of course… When those very slim possibilities of flight did occasionally arise, Christophe is totally torn between the ridiculous risks involved in making a break for it from an unknown location, with no knowledge of the local language whatsoever, versus sitting tight and simply waiting for what will surely be his inevitable negotiated release… After all, it’s not like he’s being treated badly during his incarceration, despite his total isolation. It’s a nigh-on impossible conundrum, I think, that one.

Guy captures all the sanity-sapping subtleties of Christophe’s plight to perfection, completely conveying the utter, unbearable mind-shattering loneliness of being locked away with absolutely no one to communicate with, all the whilst tormenting yourself wondering precisely what is being done to rescue you, and why on earth it is taking so long. He’s employed his trademark minimal colour palette once again, but his figures and facial features are more realistic than his autobiographical works, purely I suspect because that particular style is deployed for maximum comedic effect whereas he clearly wants to damp that down here.

Not to say that there isn’t humour in this work, there is, because obviously, it’s an entirely absurd situation, and human beings can find things to laugh at in even the most adverse of circumstances, especially given that we know Christophe did make it home safe and sound. In that respect this work reminds me of THE PHOTOGRAPHER by Didier Lefèvre & Emmanuel Guibert, where the main protagonist manages to get himself kidnapped in remote Afghanistan and has myriad tight scrapes and escapades before finally getting back to Kabul.

JR

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

Roughneck h/c (£20-00, Gallery 13 Comics) by Jeff Lemire…

“I was never really a hockey player… I was just a thug. At least now I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not.”

The doyen of downbeat is back with a frosty contemporary fiction feast of self-destruction and misery. Straight out in graphic novel form, unlike his equally excellent new ongoing mildly mysterious monthly series ROYAL CITY, this is Jeff firmly smack bang against-the-boards back in ESSEX COUNTY territory. Even to the extent of having a former professional ice skating central protagonist, hence the body check…

I’m starting to think Jeff is a frustrated plumber. By which I actually mean an ice hockey player who likes to go get the puck out of trouble, working in the dirty areas of the rink. Because that’s exactly how he writes. He drops his characters in a whole world of pain, leaving them slipping, sliding and scrapping on the metaphorical thin ice for their lives, the Zamboni bearing down on them for good measure… then writes a way out for them, even if they don’t exactly all make it out intact. But then, getting run over by a Zamboni will do that to you.*

Here, in the frostbitten, half-forgotten arse end of Canada that is the small (ice-)burg of Pimitamon, known locally as The Pit, we find Derek Ouelette, temporarily assuaging his ever present despair with an equally ever handy bottle of beer and / or shot of the hard stuff. Plagued by headaches from his days as an enforcer out on the rink in the NHL, before the red mist took his career in a spectacularly brutal, gruesome loss of temper, he’s now barely making ends meet as a short order cook back in his home town, whilst sleeping on a cot in the janitor’s office at the local ice rink.

He’s still willing to fight all-comers, though, being one stubborn Cement Head who’s clearly not learnt his lesson yet, but this time his opponents seem entirely to be those idiotic enough to taunt someone whose former profession was repeatedly battering people in the face for fun. They might think they have a chance against someone who’s slightly the worse for wear and seemingly over the hill, but given Derek used to give people a good beatdown whilst dancing around on ice skates, I hardly think a few beers is going to prove too much of an impediment to his balance or indeed fisticuffs technique. It doesn’t.

So, it seems like Derek is on an endless cycle of drink, beat, repeat which is only going to end up with him getting sent to prison, killing someone or possibly even both. So what will make him change his ways? Not even repeated ‘final’ warnings from his old school friend, and police officer, Ray, can make him hang up his metaphorical gloves. Enter stage left Beth, his long lost sister, who ran away from home as a teenager, down to the bright lights of the proverbial big city Toronto, ending up drug-addled and sleeping rough for a few years, before allegedly getting clean and her shit together. So if that’s the case, how come she’s turned up back in The Pit, penniless, with a black eye?

Well, she hasn’t got her shit together, obviously, she isn’t clean either, but she is pregnant…  and the fruitcake future father with the free-flying fists is in hot pursuit… Guess it’s at times like this that having an equally psychopathic brother to turn to could come in handy. Except… remember what I said about Derek being on the probable path to killing somebody and winding up in jail…? Still, it’s difficult to imagine him suddenly turning into the type of guy who he’d once of described in hockey parlance as having ‘eggs in their pockets’…

As much as I love Jeff’s writing, no matter who is illustrating, it is always wonderful to see Jeff wield the pencils and paints himself too. He’s gone for a typically subdued palette here, just black lines and shading with light watercolour blues, reflecting the chilly northern landscape and stunted, alcohol and oxycontin-anaesthetised emotional vibe, similar to ESSEX COUNTY and THE UNDERWATER WELDER. Where we have full colour panels here, as with his TRILLIUM and SWEET TOOTH, it is always either in flashback to scenes of the kids’ (in-)tense family life growing up with an abusive Cannuck knucklehead father and their put-upon Native mother, or Derek’s glory days out on the ice. And hallucinations…

It’s a device that well serves to further impress upon us the oppressive situation and circumstances of Derek and Beth’s lives. Then, there is an exquisite use of a single additional colour on two other pages which, well, I have perhaps said enough already, so I shall leave you to discover those masterstrokes for yourselves. In summary, another contemporary classic from Jeff.

* No Zambonis were hurt in the writing of this graphic novel; however several Hosers do get a good thwacking from the Cement Head.

JR

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

Jessica Jones vol 1: Uncaged s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos…

“Okay… I asked you a question: where’s our daughter? Where’s the baby?”
“Get out of here, Luke. I’m on a case.”
“I don’t give anything close to a shit.”
“Just leave. This… this isn’t the time. You were following me.”
““Not the time”?! Where’s my BABY?”
“Stop this macho shit. It doesn’t scare me.”

Jessica Jones has well and truly finished her extended maternity leave and is back in the investigative saddle, going undercover, playing double agent, and generally getting herself neck-deep into all sorts of preposterous trouble trying to find out who Alison Greene is working for.  Alison Greene being the bean-counting, low level accountant Captain Marvel gave the full shakedown to, thanks to some equally shaky precognitive intel from the Inhuman Ulysses, during CIVIL WAR II. Ms. Greene was seemingly completely innocent, much to Captain Marvel’s extreme embarrassment. Now it turns out, unsurprisingly, she has an axe she’d like to grind on Captain Marvel’s head and is trying to recruit Jessica Jones into her merry scheme.

 

Meanwhile, Jessica’s also been hired by Mrs. Brownlee to investigate why her husband claims to no longer be her husband any more, but someone else entirely. Given our superhero chums propensities for flitting from dimension to dimension and traversing back and forth to other worlds when the mood strikes them, a la SECRET WARS, she’s desperately hoping for some sort of explanation that might mean he’s not had a complete psychotic break. With Jessica’s connection to the capes and tights world, Mrs. Brownlee’s basically hoping she might entertain her insane sounding theory…

“So we’re clear… You’d rather pay me to find out if your husband is from another earth than have him checked into a…”
“I’ll pay whatever.”

It’s seemingly a nothing, nonsense case, right…?

There’s much that’s utterly brilliant in the opener of this new run of everyone’s favourite female Marvel fuck up. (I nearly left out the female, but come on, all equality and feminism aside, Clint Barton is clearly even more of a fuck up than Jessica Jones, hands down, no contest!) In fact I think there is only one thing wrong with it. Meh, maybe two if I am being picky.

Firstly, it’s just great to see Alias Investigations back. As fun as Jess’ appearances in POWER MAN AND IRON FIST are, as the alpha-wife, hen-pecking poor put-upon Luke into submission, this is the version of Jones we want. Then, the dialogue, which is absolutely Bendis at his best, with every page a pure pleasure of witty to-and-fro. The only other thing he’s writing at the moment that’s anywhere near as good as this is INFAMOUS IRON DOOM featuring the trials and tribulations of a certain Victor Von Doom trying his hand a little superheroing. Then, there’s that ‘nothing, nonsense case’, which is almost certainly going to turn out to be anything but, given the sting in the tale at the end of this volume. Fabulous stuff.

So what doesn’t work for me then? Well, I find it kind of hard to believe that Alison Greene thinks Jessica would betray her friends, particularly her best friend, Carol Danvers. It’s a real stretch, frankly. By the end of this volume I understood precisely why Bendis did it, and I shall say no more for fear of spoilers, but… it still feels forced.

Then, my real bugbear: Jessica takes Dani, Luke’s and her baby, and leaves the marital home, without any word of explanation to Luke, as part of her going underground cover story. Yes, you can say she felt she couldn’t tell anyone at all, including her husband, the father of her child, what was going on, blah blah blah, but the reality of it is, would she really put her husband and the father of her child through that, with no word of warning whatsoever, just out of the blue? I think not.

I understand Bendis clearly feels Jess works best as a character as the isolated outsider, rather than the happy contented wife, presumably also explaining the double meaning in the volume’s subtitle ‘Uncaged’, which is quite clever, actually, I will give him that. This set up immediately achieves that isolation, stirring up a whole cement mixer load of dramatic tension between our leading dramatis personae as a bonus, but again, it felt rather forced.

It’s almost as though Marvel, having seen the success of the Jessica Jones TV show – plus the forthcoming Defenders series featuring the character – has said, “Bendis, bring her back in the comics, just like before, exactly like before, nothing must change, just like Stan said, make it happen”. “It’s only a comic, Jonathan!” I hear you cry. But when Bendis has made his name writing realistic characters (and dialogue), I expect perfection.

Still, that sting in the tale I’m talking about, makes it all worthwhile and carries the story over the rocky plotholed (sic) ground. Plus I’m still reading the monthly single issues, so I’m clearly hooked and will shut up moaning now! And this title is a trillion times better than most of the utter shite Marvel is churning out at the moment. I really will shut up now.

Previous ALIAS collaborators Michael Gaydos and Matt Hollingsworth return on line art and colours, respectively, which is also a definite huge plus as the change in art ruined the PULSE material for me. Again, this welcome return of said dynamic drawing duo is presumably trying to make it feel like it is business as usual, but they are the definitive Jessica Jones art team so why not.

Also, at the risk of seeming like I actually condone variants, which I really don’t, I was pleased to see they had included all the cover art, as chapter breaks too, rather than tucked away unnoticed at the back. When you’ve got the likes of David Mack, Alex Maleev, David Aja doing some brilliant covers, they do deserve as many eyeballs as possible rolling over them. There are also some totally duff covers from other people, mind, but they just make you appreciate the genius of the likes of the Mack even more.

JR

Buy Jessica Jones vol 1: Uncaged 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 information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Bad Machinery vol 7: The Case Of The Forked Road (£13-99, Oni) by John Allison

Motor Girl vol 1: Real Life (£14-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore

Fante Bukowski Two (£13-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Noah Van Sciver

Our Soppy Love Story (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Philippa Rice

Outburst h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Peter Coudyzer

Rise Of The Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax & The Creation Of D&D (£14-99, Nation Books) by David Kushner & Koren Shadmi

User h/c (£26-99, Image) by Devin Grayson & Sean Phillips, John Bolton

You & A Bike & A Road (£10-99, Koyama Press) by Eleanor Davis

Archie vol 1 (£17-99, Archie) by Mark Waid & Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, Veronica Fish

Flash vol 2: Speed Of Darkness s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & David Gianfelice, various

Deadpool: Bad Blood h/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Rob Liefeld, various

Spider-Man / Spider-Gwen: Sitting In Tree s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Latour & Sara Pichelli, Robbi Rodriguez

Boruto – Naruto Next Generations vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto & Mikio Ikemoto, Ukyo Kodachi

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 12 (£14-99, Yen) by Natsuki Takaya

News!

ONE WEEK UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE TO ORDER!

    

ITEM! Hello! Would you like some lovely merchandise designed by the equally adorable Jamie McKelvie? If so, you really, really, really need to pre-order by May 23rd, please to avoid that dreaded tears / bedtime interface we would all rather avoid.

Why? Because that’s when Page 45 has to place its own pre-orders, and re-orders of comics merchandise are rarely available. Ta!

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: SKULL
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: KLLK

Also, while you’re here:

All THE WICKED + THE DIVINE graphic novels reviewed by Page 45, spoiler-free.

Which, by book four, isn’t easy!

FAQ: THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 5: IMPERIAL PHASE S/C is due 7th June, and you could pre-order that too is you’re of a mind to, but that isn’t even an inch as important because we constantly re-order. You just might like to have it shipped to your door ASAP!

Thnx!

ITEM! Reminder:

PAGE 45’s 50% SALE!

PAGE  45 KICKED OFF A 50% SALE OF 2,500 GRAPHIC NOVELS LAST FRIDAY NIGHT.

It’s probably going to be closer to 1,500 by the time you see this, but what a lot of grinning faces we’ve seen!

What I love so much about it is that the books you are buying are brilliant. They’re not rubbish, or else why would we have reviewed so many of them?

No, we’re simply doing this because it’s only Phase One of Page 45’s Evolution this year – a means to a most emphatic, architectural end – and because it has been proven that having too much to choose from destroys sales.

There have been surveys on this sort of stuff about jam! Jam!

ALL of these were in the sale as of Friday night!

But please don’t think this mean we believe we’re selling jam or we’re going to cut back on diversity. Oooooh no!

Just bulk.

Comics is a visual medium, particularly for kids who don’t browse by spine, and this will allow us to present more of the very best quality comics face-on.

You can always order in whatever you want by asking at the counter, regardless of whether we stock it on our shelves.

It’s basically the same thing as Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month, which we were begged for when a customer called Simon Ghent simply could not handle so many reviews of great graphic novels every month, and wanted to buy what we told him to!

Hello, by the way: we love giving shop-floor recommendations tailored to your tastes. Just ask at the counter!

THANK you! xxx

 – Stephen

 

 

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week two

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

The Wicked + The Divine enamel pins ordering instructions in News below!

The Shape Of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration Of Creativity (£11-99, Abrams) by Grant Snider.

‘Good Morning’:

“The sound of rain
“On rooftop and windowpane
“Is the universe applauding
“Your decision to remain in bed.”

Even rainclouds have silver linings.

There’ll be more weather warnings in the form of metaphorical meteorological conditions as Grant Snider forecasts which elements are most conducive to creativity in the ever-unpredictable ongoing trawl for ideas through stormy seas.

Gale force winds would necessitate lowering your search-sails, I’d have thought, and battening down your hatches until you reach more clement climes, but Snider is never so obvious and the final panel there, with its absolute excess, had me howling.

You’ll find ‘Brainstorm’ under ‘Perspiration’, one of ten categories the cartoonist has chosen to explore creativity under, each taken from his first page called ‘Genius Is…’

1% Inspiration
29% Perspiration
5% Improvisation
8% Aspiration
7% Contemplation
15% Exploration
13% Daily Frustration
11% Imitation
10.9% Desperation
0.1% Pure Elation

You’ll get there in the end!

Ideas come in all sorts of curious shapes and surprises. It’s worth fishing about for them, because they won’t simply appear out of nowhere if you don’t go looking for them.

       

There’s a lot of witty wordplay – though not necessarily as physical as that – throughout this collection of success and failure, hurdles and highlights, extreme pain before gain.

‘Types of Motivation’ will be instantly recognisable to anyone regularly dealing with deadlines with all their attendant pressures and pick-me-ups, and I’m astonished that Snider managed to find six different words ending in “-ernal” which worked so well together, each annotated with an illuminating internal monologue with variations of the end-goal to “finish”!

There’s also a certain degree of poetry as when Grant explores the ramifications of asking different sorts and sizes of questions, concluding with a flourish:

“When you come across an unusual question
“There’s not much to do
“But to stick with the question
“And see where it takes you.”

Lovely lilt, don’t you think?

Not all the strips are o’er-brimming with optimism – disaster can often loom large – but there’s usually and usefully some similar sort of consolation.

Sometimes the pay-off can be outstanding reward rather than mere consolation. In ‘Theories of Disappointment’ Snider provides two contrasting pages in order to catalyse you into reconsidering your entire outlook on life. On the left he presents a conservative, pre-emptive approach to avoiding disappointment by setting your sights low or eliminating them completely. But inaction gets you nowhere and it couldn’t end much more bleakly. On the right, however, the risk taker’s option reaps much larger rewards, ending on a note of abandon and consequent euphoria.

Grant’s here to invigorate or re-invigorate you, for example with a mental Spring Clean or fresh perspectives. ‘Imitation’ is bursting with novel ways of looking at traditional forms, colours and even art movements.

‘Draw Like You’ve Never Been Taught’ comes with that one unexpected beat extra, each time, for maximum mirth.

He has secrets to impart (“pay attention” is pretty good advice!) and encouragement aplenty to brighten your day and cheer you on that uphill, shale-strewn road to artistic success.

Openness to opportunity will prove key, but opportunity doesn’t half knock at inopportune moments. Still, dive in! Hanging about will only give you arm ache.

This should please fans of Tom Gauld’s short comics and cartoons like YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK enormously.

SLH

Buy The Shape Of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration Of Creativity and read the Page 45 review here

Strange Fruit h/c (£22-99, Boom!) by J.G. Jones, Mark Waid & J. G. Jones.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

‘Strange Fruit’ – Lewis Allan, Maurice Pearl, Dwayne P Wiggins
Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

That jaunty little lynching song has to contain some of the finest lyrics ever composed. The extraordinary control and restraint are part of why it works so well, along with its plantation and harvesting connotations.

This sumptuously painted graphic novel, on the other hand, has to contain the finest – in fact, possibly the only decent ever – use of the confederate flag which is regularly hauled out as a public, repugnant, celebratory display of racism. Its reclamation through repurposing had me grinning from ear to ear with vicariously vengeful glee. It could not have been better placed, but I know you’re a delicate crowd so I will save everyone’s blushes.

Although I have just found the interior art and it is so exceptionally beautiful that I cannot resist. I hope it intrigues.

 

 

In the spirit of similarly saving steaming hot welts of shame I should warn you that this graphic novel also portrays the horrific levels of overt, verbal and brutal, physical racism which the use of that song’s title suggests. I’m not going to be typing those words myself because in a review that would constitute an unnecessary normalisation of them, but I disagree vehemently with anyone decrying their replication in this comic for we are in Chatterlee, Mississippi, April 1927 and that was the hateful language so casually bandied about around there back then, and we shouldn’t bleach history of its most disgusting elements lest we forget how fetid they were.

Brilliantly, script-writer Mark Waid juxtaposes that absence of any racial goodwill with the higher priority of the day, that of good manners by not swearing in front of women. Cussing meant taking a fictitious God’s name in vain by the way (I don’t think He’d have minded much); it did not extend to ethnic slurs about actual living, breathing, individual human beings.

Right, I think it’s worth reprinting Mark Waid’s brief post-script here to set the scene:

“The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was no fiction. It was, at the time, the worst natural disaster ever to strike the United States. Uncharacteristically heavy rains up and down the Mississippi transformed the river into a raging buzzsaw up to 80 feet wide that cascaded over riverbanks and levees, flooding an area the size of Connecticut.

“In most communities, the levees, man-made, were all that held that river back. They were built and maintained almost exclusively by African American plantation workers who received little or no pay while their white superiors hoarded provisions and allowed little rest for their labourers.

“Ultimately, nearly 250 flood-related deaths were reported, and over half-million men, women and children were displaced by the floods.

“You can guess what colour the vast majority of them were.”

“Reported”: you wait until the two final pages. They will make you seethe.

But everything in the promise of that post-script is delivered here: the desperate fight to save Chatterlee from the floods, the reliance on harangued, conscripted, black slave-labour to do so; and the baiting of that so desperately relied-upon black, slave labour by the Ku Klux Klan, driving the work force away.

By “baiting” I mean hounding at the point of pistols and shot-guns.

Only one soul here treats her workforce with any consideration and Sarah Lantry’s surprisingly cooperative plantation is the one that’s going to be drowned if an old spillway is reopened to divert the alarmingly swelling waters from swamping the town.

Although I notice the contextually exemplary widow Sarah Lantry doesn’t carry her own umbrella.

Little details like that, un-signposted, make for a much meatier book than you might expect, and it’s certainly the work of artist and originator J. G. Jones’ comicbook career. If you already loved him from WANTED, you will weep in adoration at the glory within.

For a start, he’s a superb portrait painter, especially of Mr Fonder McCoy, the initially dismissed and resented, bespectacled engineer sent from Washington, with his intelligent eyes and double chin.

The first few pages are meticulously painted with ridiculous attention to denim detail and ever so lambent they are too, but even they are completely outclassed by the thrilling compositions of the first chapter’s final nine pages and their raw, physical beauty.

On top of the impeccable, muscular neo-classical physique, the weight of a hefty tree trunk, the folds in the robes of the Ku Klux Klan and a purple stormy sky crackling with lightning, there are two perspectives of phenomenal power shot from below then a double-page spread split into radial panels worthy of Neal Adams (except these actually work better – *cough*) to present a monumental sense of movement.

I don’t believe I have ever seen it done quite like this: a first panel whose figure is super-imposed upon its successors without in any way contradicting the explosive, sequential-art narration of what happens next.

What you might infer from the above is a distinct change of pace and perhaps even genre, for this wasn’t what I was expecting when I first read it.

I was expecting straight historical fiction – and for the most part, it is – but what I’m trying to imply is that there’s more than one reason why fans of Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ KINGDOM COME will love this.

My first clue was the comet streaking across the sky.

SLH

Buy Strange Fruit h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Little Mermaid (£12-99, Papercutz) by Hans Christian Andersen & Metaphrog.

Before the anodyne days demanding a feel-good-factor Hollywood ending, children’s fairy tales were scary tales through and through, and we should all rejoice that the likes of Metaphrog are rekindling that fire and brimstone both here and in THE RED SHOES.

Yes, it’s dire warnings for all in THE LITTLE MERMAID as an underwater world of visually evoked wonder, prospects aplenty and the innocent fondling of sensual marble statues gives grass-greener way to dreams of the impossible and – when made possible by a witch’s brew about which the side-effects, possible pitfalls and other potential repercussions are made perfectly clear (death, that sort of thing) – all this wonder and innocence and all those prospects of bobbing along quite contentedly on the bottom of the beautiful briny (shimmering, shiny) sea turns to dry-land, abject misery.

Yes misery, children, misery!

 

Be careful what you wish for, look before you leap, and don’t get ideas above your station or at the very least your regular tideline.

Also: life is cruel and unfair, plus stilettos are a bitch.

Don’t you just love those proscriptive, prohibitive, cautionary, finger-wagging tut-tuts of woe? No, nor did William Blake:

“No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings”.

 – ‘The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell’.

The thing is, though, that’s not really what this is; plus: she gives up her sub-aquatic wings for something that emphatically isn’t her own, and you don’t exactly choose who you fall in love with.

LOVE IS LOVE, a most wonderful thing. Shame it seems to involve so much self-sacrifice.

The titular Little Mermaid falls in love with a human prince first spied dancing on a galleon with women wearing split dresses down the sides, revealing their lovely long legs. He looks just like her treasured marble statue. The ship is struck by lightning and sinks.

She swims.

Oh, how she swims! She saves her dear prince from drowning by propping him all night long in the raging, storm-tossed sea until at dawn they reach land. He is unconscious all through this episode; she is exhausted. And when three girls approach she retires to hide behind a rock. The prince has no idea who has saved him, but he knows whom he first spies upon waking.

The Little Mermaid cannot let this lie, for she is completely and utterly in lust.

Sorry, it’s probably love. Love, lust, infatuation: who can tell except in retrospect?

This review is getting away from me.

So she makes a deal not with the devil but with a sea-witch and not all witches are evil. Most of those I know are lovelies! Hello! *hugs*

No, that’s just children’s fairy tales.

This witch is as kind as you like in giving the Little Mermaid an opportunity to seek what she most desires and is open and honest about what might go wrong. Well, she does demand payment: the Little Mermaid’s voice.

The one cautionary element which I would pick up on in this gorgeous graphic novel – and endorse 100 percent – is that you never agree to give up your voice.

Do you see that Page 45 accepts no advertising on its website? I am grateful to all (especially to co-workers and customers) but I will be beholden to no one. It’s a trust thing, you see. Recommendations, personal relationships and socio-political stances are all about trust, and I will never give up my voice.

The Little Mermaid gives up her voice.

I don’t know who does what at Metaphrog – Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers are as one – and I kind of like that. No, I really, really like that, for comics is a composite visual and (but not necessarily) verbal medium and both elements in comics are narrative. I know them both vaguely but have never thought to ask who does what because I don’t care: between them they are exceptional storytellers.

There is a tenderness and femininity here where it counts; a sensual aspect too. A luring, exotic nature to the form and colours which to my mind are Indian when those count most, putting you in the metaphorical feet / flippers / shoes of the smitten protagonist: you experience first-hand her dazzled attraction to this world of new wonders, however exotic the one she forsakes. And at fifteen you just want it all, don’t you?

I like that when the ship goes down (as do the lights) then so do the words.

Also highly recommended for tears before bedtime then long into that cold and dark night: Neil Gaiman & Lorenzo Mattotti’s restoration of the “grim” into The Brothers Grimm HANSEL & GRETEL and (speaking of Los Bros Darkity-Darkoss) Shaun Tan’s THE SINGING BONES album of exquisitely sculpted then thoughtfully photographed beauty.

SLH

Buy The Little Mermaid and read the Page 45 review here

My Brother’s Husband vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Pantheon) by Gengoroh Tagame.

A very gentle graphic novel full of quiet conversations and even quieter contemplations with such a huge amount of space that I devoured the entire 300 pages in a couple of hours, and I am a very slow reader.

It’s certainly no car crash or culture clash – this isn’t a book of conflict – but certainly eyes are opened and I learned stuff too. I did know that there is a tattoo ban in public swimming pools because my mate Ryz visited and she is covered in tats (tattoos are associated with organised crime), but I didn’t know that the Japanese don’t hug. Although young Kana does becomes delightedly addicted to this novelty.

Young Kana is delighted by most things and inquisitive about everything, so when burly and bearded Mike Flanagan from Canada arrives on her Dad’s doorstep she is stunned then uncontainably excited to learn that a) Mike was her Dad’s recently deceased brother’s husband b) in some countries outside of Japan men can marry and c) that her Dad even had a brother. But what she has now is a hugely exotic new uncle: a great big bear of a man with chest hair and everything! And he gives hugs!

He probably shouldn’t have hugged her Dad, though.

Immediately she invites Mike to stay which puts her Dad in an awkward position because… well, Kana’s Dad, Yaichi, feels pretty awkward about it all, and he begins to realise that he has a lot of thinking to do, and not a little soul-searching ahead of him about his twin brother, why they became so distanced (after an early, closely knit childhood), and his attitude towards sexuality.

I’d like to emphasise right now that Yaichi isn’t homophobic: he’s a thoroughly decent bloke and devoted single father, but there is a lot that this sensitive man has avoided until now and initially he catches himself having double standards that he’s ashamed of. For example, he’s used to wandering around the house in nothing but his boxers after bathing, but feels the need to cover up now that there’s a gay guy in the house. Especially since his brother Ryoji and he were pretty much identical twins! But then, he’d probably have thought to cover himself up with any strange man new in the house… I always have.

Basically he massively over-thinks things, realises he’s massively over-thinking things, and then becomes embarrassed about that. I think it’s all thoroughly forgivable, don’t you?

In the meantime Kana is a whirlwind of enthusiasm – it’s Mike this, Mike that, Mike the other – and asks the bluntest of questions as kids do, even though she’s not quite aware of what she’s asking. Funny!

It’s his daughter’s wide-eyed, unwavering adoration that bonds Yaichi to Mike in these vital early stages and gradually Yaichi begins to come around to the idea of showing Mike round all the local haunts where he and Ryoji used to hang out. Opening up about Ryoji might take a little longer, but Mike’s a very, very patient guy…

As I say, this isn’t a culture clash – Mike is well versed in Japanese culture because he was married to a Japanese guy and he doesn’t go round wearing the pink triangle you see on the front – but where things grow slightly askew is after Kana, desperate to introduce Mike to her friends, learns from a friend’s mother the term “negative influence”. And her father, having become completely comfortable, with his new brother-in-law, is horrified at the prospect of his daughter being taught prejudice.

There’s so much more in these three hundred pages for you discover yourselves, including a deeply affecting silent scene which has nothing to do with Yaichi or his brother, plus on top of that there’s Kana’s Mum’s place in the family to unfold.

I like that Kana’s drawn in the perceived ‘classic’ style of sugar-buzz manga (see YOTSUBA! for equally unbridled curiosity) which suits her personality perfectly, whereas the men are slightly closer to Taniguchi, if on steroids. The parks where the boys played have that same Taniguchi serenity too.

The sentences are much shorter than mine – markedly so – and this helps keep things free from melodrama, mawkishness, and didactic proselytizing.

Beware the visual thinking device, however! Tagame likes to present instinctive reactions at the top of a page – sometimes a couple of panels – and only if you look closely will you notice them joined by thought-bubbles to the subsequent scene below, which is the one that actually, thankfully, occurs.

Now I know what the Japanese sound effect for a snore is.

Concluding volume to come.

SLH

Buy My Brother’s Husband vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rise Of The Black Flame (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Christopher Mitten, Laurence Campbell…

“Hear us, Great Darkness, whose skin burns with the brilliance of a million black fires of dissolution.
“You are the origin of all things, and devourer of all things.
“Your perfect song can be heard in the void, but also in the hum deep within all living things in this breathing world.
“Though having form, you are formless. Though you are without beginning, so are you without end.
“Your time comes again, Great Darkness.
“This life will end so that yours may begin again.”

Oooo, when is sidebar not sidebar? When it’s this blinking good, that’s when! Fans of BPRD will be very familiar with the titular character who has cropped up as the main baddie in that most epic of series three times now, albeit in slightly different incarnations, plus made the odd guest appearance elsewhere such as in SLEDGEHAMMER 44 and LOBSTER JOHNSON.

What has not been explored up until now is his genesis. We know the original human host of the Flame, up to and including WW2, was one Raimund Diestel, often accompanied by his mysterious wife Kamala, before maniacal Landis Pope assumed the rather charred mantel in the modern day BPRD era.

This, then, explores just how the German naval deserter underwent his dramatic transmogrification to the supernatural psychopath, albeit one with impeccable manners, and that, perhaps, it was always his inescapable destiny. A path that indeed began many years previously with simple misstep as a small boy visiting a Berlin museum…

What a fantastic piece of horror writing this is. You never quite know with some of the Mignola-verse mini-series just how vital to the main story arcs they are, or indeed precisely how good they will be. The ABE SAPIEN material for example, is pretty essential reading, if you want to understand precisely what is going on in BPRD. But WITCHFINDER, LOBSTER JOHNSON etc., as fun as they are, can be a bit hit and miss for me and are not remotely essential. This mini provides much insight into the true nature of the Black Flame.

With that said, it also stands alone perfectly, you don’t need to know anything about BPRD to be mesmerised by this gripping tale about two British Empire policemen stationed in Rangoon, Burma, heading into the steamy jungles of the sub-continent to investigate the disappearance of young girls. Not that anyone in authority was paying attention until it was two young English girls that were taken, of course…

As our redoubtable comrades head deeper and deeper into a shadowy world inhabited by cultish magicians and freakish monsters, you start to feel their trusty service revolvers might prove somewhat inadequate protection against such sorcerous adversaries. Fortunately for them, along the way they’ll encounter a former colleague of Sir Edward WITCHFINDER Grey, a Miss Sarah Jewell, who’ll prove far more valuable to their survival prospects than any bullet ever could.

But, as we know, the phoenix-like rise of the Black Flame is inevitable. Therefore the only question that remains is whether the young girls can be saved…?

Absolutely brilliant writing from Mignola and – with long-term collaborator and firm favourite of mine, Christopher Mitten on the pencils (finally making his Mignola-verse debut!), plus of course, Dave Stewart on colours – this is nigh-on perfect. Unless you’re an ill-prepared policeman about to embark on an expedition to the very heart of darkness, that is…

JR

Buy Rise Of The Black Flame and read the Page 45 review here

Summer Magic: The Complete Journal Of Luke Kirby (£19-99, Rebellion) by Alan McKenzie & John Ridgway, Steve Parkhouse…

“And then they were gone.
“Just like magic.
“I was completely alone.
“Or I thought I was.
“That was the first time in my life I understood the true nature of fear.
“I understood that fear isn’t an enemy, but a friend.
“Fear clears the mind and slows down the passage of time.
“It makes you act that split-second faster.
“It gives you an edge.
“Then I SAW it…”

I was rather hoping they would collate and collect all this material one day. So a quick hurrah for that! Back in early 1988 a new character appeared for the first time and took the galaxy’s self-styled greatest comic in an altogether darker direction. Over the years, when 2000 AD has done horror, aside from the obvious recurring villainy of the Dark Judges forever imperilling the Big Meg ad nauseam which is starting to get seriously old now, I think it’s been done rather well, and by and large stands the test of time. Arthur Ranson’s MAZEWORLD (currently out of print) trilogy being an obvious early example of 2000 AD horror, through to more modern takes on the genre such as the extremely creepy CRADLEGRAVE set on a sink council estate.

I did chuckle at the bold legend atop the front cover which states “Before Harry Potter There Was Luke Kirby!” Indeed there was, and the first Luke Kirby material also predated the premier comics boy wizard, which is hands-down Neil Gaiman’s Timothy Hunter in the BOOKS OF MAGIC, by a few years. This material, in essence a collection of short stories published sporadically over nearly eight years, is not anywhere near BOOKS OF MAGIC level, despite how good it is. That work, for me at least, is on a level of its own.

What this material neatly blends is the peculiarly atmospheric flavour of classic British horror flicks such as American Werewolf In London, The Wickerman, plus practically anything from the Hammer Studios, with the twist that our main hero is a nine-year-old mage of immense potential learning on the incredibly hazardous job. Today’s Health and Safety Nazis would have a field day with young Luke’s lack of risk assessment and shunning of protective equipment before plunging headlong into his next perilous escapade. Still, this is set in the early ‘60s where the concept of health and safety was probably limited to finally realising it wasn’t a good idea to send a nine-year-old down a mine…  To the tenth, count ‘em, tenth, circle of hell, though, no problem guvnor, right this way.

Read as a whole, where you can see the weekly joins, particularly with the early stories compared to the later ones (something 2000 AD improved considerably on over the years to the extent that the likes of CRADLEGRAVE is simply one seamless narrative very smoothly spliced from the weekly chunks), it has all the charm, and mild inadvertent amusement, plus a dash of pure stoopid, engendered by said period flicks.

With all that said, this is genuine brooding horror with child abductions, werewolves, vampires, devils, demons and random exsanguinations lurking around every corner. Luke Kirby, though, has the magical chops to take on all-comers, once he’s got a bit of practice in. Girls, though, they’re an entirely more terrifying prospect…

Penned entirely by Alan McKenzie (who also scribed the excellently spooky Brigand Doom around that time, about an undead highwayman cavorting around in a dystopian future, though I have still to forgive him the woeful Supersurf 13 featuring a certain Marlon Shakespeare esquire), with very different turns on art from 2000 AD stalwarts John Ridgeway, Steve Parkhouse, Graham Higgins, I finished this wishing, as with a fair few other characters (including Brigand Doom which ‘concluded’ on a cliff-hanger to say the least), that there will one day be new Luke Kirby in the pages of the self-proclaimed galaxy’s greatest comic. It just feels like there is so much more they could do with the character.

But, perhaps that is also part of the charm of 2000 AD. They relentlessly find talented up-and-coming writers and artists, create new characters, churn out some great stories, then move on and keep on innovating. Aside from Dredd, obviously. There must always be Dredd. There really must. But you don’t get to 40 years old producing the same old shit week in, week out. Unless you have the marketing budget of Warner Brothers or Disney, that is…

JR

Buy Summer Magic: The Complete Journal Of Luke Kirby and read the Page 45 review here

New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Billy Tan, Michael Gaydos, Jim Cheung, David Mack, Chris Bachalo.

For which you will need Bendis & Yu’s SECRET INVASION, which is where Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS has been heading since its very beginning. I’m not kidding: as will be revealed here, a very long game has been played by both the creator and so the characters. This is it come to fruition, then almost immediately moved firmly on.

That cat can’t help leaping right out of the bag now, clawing and scratching away, so if you want to read the best-ever AVENGERS series outside of ULTIMATES Season One and Season Two, with knock-out comedy dialogue, but you don’t what the surprises spoiled for you here, please click on NEW AVENGERS VOL 1 for that review instead, and walk away now!

I wrote: “NOW!”

I’ve heard from one quarter at least that all SECRET INVASION was to them was one massive fight. Actually it was several, but point taken. The thing is, it isn’t self-contained. Not only was it the climax to several hundred pages of sneaking about, whispering, mutual suspicion and second-guessing about the shape-shifting Skrulls’ infiltration of planet Earth, but the flesh of it – the emotional core – lies here.

Its flashback revelations are stunningly clever with gorgeous art from Jimmy Cheung for the episodes revisiting the Illuminati’s covert counter-strike against the shape-shifting Skrulls all those years ago (see NEW AVENGERS VOL 3) and you finally learn exactly what the Skrulls have done since with all that genetic lost property.

Then, appropriately enough, its ALIAS’ Michael Gaydos who provides exceptional acting for the argument between lovers Luke Cage and Jessica Jones – first on the telephone and then face to face in front of Avengers Tower, home of the opposing MIGHTY AVENGERS who want this underground team locked up – about the custody of their baby after its recent near-murder.

Luke insists that Jessica has sold out, citing principles, honour and standing up for what’s right; Jessica’s sole contention is that as parents they must put the child’s safety first. Its truth and simplicity seem incontrovertible, even to a non-parent like me. Furthermore, Jessica maintains that, under their virtually unique circumstances, Avengers Tower is the only place where their baby is safe.

But S.H.I.E.L.D. has been played. Hydra has been played. The Avengers have been played. All by a single Skrull disguised as one of their own. Who, where, when and how? You’ve seen it all before, just not from this perspective.

Learn precisely how the Skrulls gained the inspired element they’d need to escape detection so long as they remain in human form and for what psychological reasons they carefully selected which individual super-humans to replace with their own infiltrating agents many moons ago! Watch it dawn on the Skrull Empress that her personal sacrifice and long-term strategy lay in tatters when several years ago The Scarlet Witch turned the world upside down during HOUSE OF M! Wince as The Scarlet Witch subsequently hands them their invasion on a “No More Mutants” platter!

Then weep as Jessica Jones’ words about the safety of her baby come back to haunt her.

The second half of this whopping repackage deals with the fall-out to SECRET INVASION whose repercussions are substantial: the last person in the Marvel Universe you’d want to be given the keys to the door has been given the keys to the door.

Clint Barton, the only current long-term member of the Avengers (as Hawkeye then Goliath now Ronin) is horrified to discover [REDACTED] marketing himself and his fellow convicted criminals to the public on television as the new official team. There’s a great scene in which they try to figure out who each shady figure is underneath their new masks, and once again Hawkeye is not best pleased to find himself represented by [REDACTED].

And you know our HAWKEYE, right? “Act in haste, repent at leisure” were words specifically written about him. Every idea he has is a bad idea.

What follows is a game of super-powered chess as each side tries to out-manoeuvre the other with several layers of misdirection, bluff and countermeasures, resulting for now in a stalemate with one notable exception.

My only qualm amongst so much excellence lies in the ‘Dark Reign’ chapter masterfully illustrated by Alex Maleev in which Bendis’ dialogue for Emma Frost sounds lazily like his own Jessica Jones rather than Grant Morrison’s, Joss Whedon’s and Warren Ellis’ louche, sybaritic Emma Frost well established by the trio of writers in NEW X-MEN then ASTONISHING X-MEN.

Still, every other element here will give you a great big grin.

SLH

Buy New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 4 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 information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Hostage h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Guy Delisle

The Sound Of The World By Heart h/c (£22-99, Magnetic Press) by Giacomo Bevilacqua

Casanova vol 5: Acedia vol 2 (£13-99, Image) by Matt Fraction, Michael Chabon & Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba

Batman: Detective Comics vol 2: Victim Syndicate s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by James Tynion IV, Marguerite Bennett & various

Amazing Spider-Man vol 5: Worldwide s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Humberto Ramos & Guiseppe Camuncoli, Francisco Herrera

Jessica Jones vol 1: Uncaged s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos

News!

    

ITEM! Hello! Would you like some lovely merchandise designed by the equally adorable Jamie McKelvie? If so, you really, really, really need to pre-order by May 21st, please to avoid that dreaded tears / bedtime interface we would all rather avoid.

Why? Because that’s when Page 45 has to place its own pre-orders, and re-orders of comics merchandise are rarely available. Ta!

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: SKULL
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: KLLK

Also, while you’re here:

All THE WICKED + THE DIVINE graphic novels reviewed by Page 45, spoiler-free.

Which, by book four, isn’t easy!

FAQ: THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 5: IMPERIAL PHASE S/C is due 7th June, and you could pre-order that too is you’re of a mind to, but that isn’t even an inch as important because we constantly re-order. You just might like to have it shipped to your door ASAP!

Thnx!

ITEM! Reminder:

PAGE 45’s 50% SALE!

PAGE  45 KICKED OFF A 50% SALE OF 2,500 GRAPHIC NOVELS LAST FRIDAY NIGHT.

It’s probably going to be closer to 1,500 by the time you see this, but what a lot of grinning faces we’ve seen!

What I love so much about it is that the books you are buying are brilliant. They’re not rubbish, or else why would we have reviewed so many of them?

No, we’re simply doing this because it’s only Phase One of Page 45’s Evolution this year – a means to a most emphatic, architectural end – and because it has been proven that having too much to choose from destroys sales.

There have been surveys on this sort of stuff about jam! Jam!

ALL of these were in the sale as of Friday night!

But please don’t think this mean we believe we’re selling jam or we’re going to cut back on diversity. Oooooh no!

Just bulk.

Comics is a visual medium, particularly for kids who don’t browse by spine, and this will allow us to present more of the very best quality comics face-on.

You can always order in whatever you want by asking at the counter, regardless of whether we stock it on our shelves.

It’s basically the same thing as Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month, which we were begged for when a customer called Simon Ghent simply could not handle so many reviews of great graphic novels every month, and wanted to buy what we told him to!

Hello, by the way: we love giving shop-floor recommendations tailored to your tastes. Just ask at the counter!

THANK you! xxx

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week one

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

I should probably mention THE PAGE 45 2,500-GRAPHIC NOVEL 50% SALE!

And I probably will (with photos) in our News underneath.

The Nameless City vol 2: The Stone Heart (£10-99, FirstSecond) by Faith Erin Hicks with Jordie Bellaire.

Halfway through this extraordinary graphic novel – and so the trilogy – there is a moment so shocking that I had to re-read it three times to ensure it had actually happened.

It actually happened.

Take nothing, and no one, for granted.

“What’s your name?”
“Names are for people. I’m just street vermin.”
“No one is street vermin. Under Dao law, all the people of the city are equal.”
“You’re very stupid if you think that’s true.”

Quite. Saying everyone’s equal does not make it necessarily so. The American Declaration of Independence loftily stated:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But by “men” it meant “white men” and certainly not women. Slaveholders signed as readily as anyone.

No one is treated equally in America, Britain, or anywhere else. The hierarchy remains absolute.

 

As with all Faith Erin Hicks books, this is a tale about friendships. So much time is taken to explore their nuances if new, or their history in the case of old acquaintances.

The above was eight years ago, with young Erzi – Prince of the Dao Empire and heir to the Nameless City’s throne – riding alongside his father in a petal-strewn procession. I don’t think you will find either of them “equal” under Dao law to the ragged, green-eyed street urchin he’s just rescued from a beating by one of his soldiers. This was the even younger Mura: angry and defiant after being tossed out of The Stone Heart by its resident monks for trying to steal something they had long locked away.

She is the same Mura who now acts as Erzi’s bodyguard after last volume’s attempt on his life and that of his father, the General of All Blades. She is now stern and taciturn, ever so watchful with those piercing green eyes, and on each sleepless night she haunts the palace’s library.

In THE NAMELESS CITY VOL 1 we learned that – sprawled out at the base of a vast mountain range, and surrounded on all sides by enemies with eyes set on conquest – The Nameless City straddles the River of Lives at the bottom of an unnatural gorge.

The Northern People who first built the city also carved that improbable passage through those enormous mountains, but no one knows how for their language is lost. However, in joining the river to the sea they ensured that this city, through which all commerce now passes, controls the flow of wealth. It is a city of a thousand names for everyone envies its strategic position and it has been conquered and re-conquered, named and re-named except by its native inhabitants to whom it is Nameless.

One of those inhabitants is Rat, a young athlete able to run across rooftops at blinding speed, which is how she first met Kaidu or Kai. Kai only arrived in the city four months ago to begin training as a rather reluctant warrior. It was the first time he’d met his father Andren, also a general, who now has a plan to form a unifying Council giving everyone a say – not just the Dao – in the city’s future. Obviously the monks are keen, as is Rat who was brought up by them after the death of her parents. But the Dao have many enemies including the Yisun from whom they took the city, and they’re refusing to come to the table. The pressure is on and time is running out.

Right, I think that’s all the context you need, but for more hop back to THE NAMELESS CITY VOL 1.

As I say, like FRIENDS WITH BOYS, this is at its heart a book about friendships, and it has so much heart! Dozens of pages are devoted to sharing and caring enough to listen. You will, for example, finally find out what happened to Rat’s parents after Kai finds a small statuette of them which Rat normally hides away. Hicks is a master of these natural conversational triggers, and the way confidences then impact on consequent behaviour.

She’s also exceptionally gifted when it comes to exploring the joy, and sometimes initial difficulties, in being introduced to new friends for the first time. When Rat introduces Kai to Hannya and Iniko who are older, Hannya is open and solicitous towards Kai, encouraging him when he shows an interest in Iniko’s string instrument and teasing Iniko about his own dubious prowess. Kai in return is delightfully self-deprecating, but Iniko remains wary, protective, defensive and even slightly resentful towards this son of a Dao general.

It’s beautifully played by Hicks and colourist Jordie Bellaire who knows exactly how to flush a face in myriad different ways to denote tentativeness, bashfulness, awkwardness, embarrassment, shame, disdain and fury all in the same exchange after Kai finishes strumming.

“What’s the song about? I’ve never heard it before.”
“Oh, um… It’s about a battle between the Yisun and the Dao. Uh, we beat them pretty badly.”
“Pft. Even Dao music is about conquering. Everything is about violence. What they conquered, who they killed – “

Rat interrupts him.

“Iniko, stop it.”
“I’m just saying –“
“And I said STOP IT.”

I don’t have that page for you, sorry!

As to the music itself, evoking harmony and melody, it swirls around the page in purple and pink in a way that put me in mind of Hope Larson, as did the first page following the prologue with Rat underwater before she bursts to the surface in an open air swimming pool reminiscent of Roman baths. The midday, summer-sunshine light is remarkable – with hot skin against cool blue and pale, cream-coloured stone – as is the sense of space the two artists create between them both there and throughout with wide gates, broad corridors and evening, rooftop views of a glowing city below.

Kai and Rat’s new and unlikely friendship – between the conquering and the conquered – points to new hope for a far brighter future if Kai’s father can fulfil his plan for a united council. Unfortunately unity will prove in short supply in the most extraordinary quarters, and there was something which Rat let slip out without thinking, which she probably shouldn’t have.

“Sometimes I forget the monks have secrets they want to protect.”

SLH

Buy The Nameless City vol 2: The Stone Heart and read the Page 45 review here

Big Mushy Happy Lump (£9-99, Andersen) by Sarah Andersen.

Do you want to feel happier about your own life?

About your hang-ups, neuroses and self-confidence issues?

Sarah Anderson is here to make that happen, and hilariously so!

Perhaps you don’t have any hang-ups, neuroses or self-confidence issues: laugh at Sarah’s instead! She’s positively inviting you to do so in a warm and welcoming way, from inside the most recent big woolly sweater she’s stolen.

Highly recommended to readers of Allie Brosh’s HYPERBOLE AND A HALF, anyone who’s already read Andersen’s ADULTHOOD IS A MYTH will know that she is mischievous, open and honest; and honesty is vital for this sort of comedy for without it you wouldn’t connect and so be ticking all those recognition boxes.

I, for example, read this very first page in bed when I had written not one weekly review so far and desperately needed to crack on. I didn’t get up until I finished the book.

To be fair, that’s not so much my fault but Sarah’s. Her comedy is comics’ equivalent of Jaffa Cakes or Maltesers. I saw a bag of Maltesers the other day which boasted that it was resealable: I laughed so f***ing hard.

You also need consistency and conviction. Cumulative jokes are funny when they’re variations on a theme and if you pander to what’s popular you will lose your signature identity. Although there is the most excellent extended sequence involving Andersen’s conversion from aversion to cats through the necessity of containing her mouse infestation, which grew so bad that she’d find half a dozen of them hanging off the latest sweater she’d stolen… while she was wearing it.

One of those variations on a theme involves hurt feelings. When someone hurts Sarah’s feelings she shrugs them off; when someone hurts her friend’s feelings she rides through the wall in a tank.

Although you remember I mentioned that matter of honesty? Exuberantly, flamboyantly, wearing a fur coat and shades:

“I’M A TOUGH B****!!! I DON’T CARE WHAT PEOPLE SAY!! I’LL DO WHATEVER I WA –“

Reality Rabbit, the tiny white bunny of truth, sympathetically steps in:

“Somebody hurt your feelings, didn’t they?”

Silent panel, close-up, shades lifted: it’s quite the beat.

Then, quietly, hands clasped around knees in a panel shared with Reality Rabbit but with ever so much grey space around them:

“Maybe.”

Click on images to enlarge! You should be able to do that with most of our art.

There are so many different devices deployed in the punchlines.

There’s the ellipsis in ‘There Are Two Types Of People’, Anderson edging, slowly, gingerly into cold water followed by another girl throwing herself eagerly in: the joke lies in what you know happens next.

Then there’s the paralysis on discovering the shocking cost of cute clothing. The camera pans back. A new gulf appears between the article in question and its previously smitten but now horrified, freeze-framed, bog-eyed potential customer widening, white-faced in the void.

What else will you find within? A whole load more clothes (seasonally adjusted), the squeeze of time when even on a Sunday you are worrying about Monday; finances, fears, learning and lyrics; tattoos and traumas, plus the brilliance of bottling up emotions so that neither you nor your friends have to face them. That’s always a good idea, isn’t it, because that glass is never going to shatter then leave sharp shards in your gelatinous brain fluids or mental make-up?

Emotional rollercoaster rides! Just because it’s obvious, that doesn’t make it any less than 100% true.

Then there’s the cruelty of memory which wilfully chooses to fixate on mistakes. It’s another extended sequence involving self-perception and over-thinking things which I for one am far from immune to. Jumping to conclusions? Andersen pole-vaults to them! You have to put some real effort into that.

So much of this comedy is visual that I could not possibly do Andersen justice in words.

I adore her when she dips into the difference between the sexes, during puberty especially or hanging out in a bar. Time and again she taps into truths then articulates them with verbal and visual, pithy wit and dexterity.

My favourite truth above all in this outing is ‘How I Spend Money’.

I have gleefully shown so many customers this page over the course of the week and each one of them howled. They giggled, guffawed; they cackled and cried real tears at the counter in recognition.

After which I successfully rinsed them for every penny they had.

SLH

Buy Big Mushy Happy Lump and read the Page 45 review here

Fun: Spies, Puzzle Solvers And A Century Of Crosswords (£15-99, SelfMadeHero) by Paolo Bacilieri…

I am not, I must confess, a fan of crosswords, but my dad is, hugely so, so that’s one Christmas present sorted then! For this is, in part, a fascinating history of the original fiendish word puzzle from its inception in pre-World War One New York. The other part is a fictional story, itself a protracted puzzle whose ‘solution’ is only revealed right at the climax.

The two are seamlessly melded together through the conceit that our ‘hero’, the oddly titled Zeno Porno, (being a character from a previous work by Bacilieri who is a Disney comic book writer and also apparently a former secret agent of the CIA, though nothing is made of that latter point in this work) bumps into a long-time hero of his in Milan, the equally implausibly named Professor Pippo Quester (based on Umberto Eco), who just so happens to be writing a book on the history of crossword puzzles.

 

 

What follows is a both an insightful and fascinating historical analysis of the rise of the definitive fiendish word game, in all its various subtly different international flavours, and a gripping yarn that becomes a thrilling piece of suspense with a conclusion I certainly didn’t guess. Pretty much like any crossword clue…

JR

Buy Fun: Spies, Puzzle Solvers And A Century Of Crosswords and read the Page 45 review here

Surgeon X vol 1: The Path Of Most Resistance s/c (£13-99, Image) by Sara Kenney & John Watkiss.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
“True for bacteria and people.”

If you thought LOW’s futuristic premise based on scientific certainty was pretty crushing, welcome to another far, far closer to the bleak hour at hand.

All too topical, this medical and medication-based conspiracy thriller addresses bacterial immunity to antibiotics – which is already reaching dangerous levels – and speculates on its repercussions for a society in a political climate currently lurching horrifyingly far to the right.

It’s 2036, and the Conservatives have been eclipsed by the ultranationalist red-on-white Lionheart Party which is currently in power. I imagine they once had no members of Parliament whatsoever, but were given equal airtime by a feckless, controversy-cultivating and so complicit media. That’s wild speculation of my part, obviously. It couldn’t happen here.

In 2016 700,000 individuals died from antibiotic-resistant infections. By 2036 that annual figure has risen to 9 million. Tuberculosis, pneumonia, meningitis and most STDs have become untreatable. The condition is critical: you could now die of an infected paper cut.

This is far from a sensationalist prospect, I promise you.

“Alexander Fleming’s messy lab led to the serendipitous discovery of penicillin. The very first class of antibiotic,” we are told in a lecture by microbiologist Dr. Martha Scott. It saved hundreds of thousands of lives during WWII and “became the bedrock of modern medicine, curing once deadly diseases and infections”.

That is all true, and so is this:

“By 2010, antibiotic use was rife in farming as well as medicine. And no new classes had been found since 1987. Some poor countries even sold them like sweets since it was cheaper than seeing a doctor. And so the resistance grew.”

Bacteria adapt and evolve a great deal faster than we do: they multiply faster than we do.

“For decades, big pharma failed to invest in new antibiotics – not profitable. And governments didn’t devote enough resources until it was too late. Hospitals have become breeding grounds for these deadly infections, and enforced home isolation is now the only option for the seriously ill.”

Complacency is one of the things modern humans do best.

Featuring the finest (and unfortunately final) art of John Watkiss’ career, printed on paper stock which make his deep and rich blacks glow alongside James Devlin’s colours, this is a nightmare scenario so grippingly executed not because of its death toll (that is not what this is about) but because Kenney has concentrated on its ramifications for individuals under a regime which has decided – as a result of the limited resources and their efficaciousness – to ration the remaining antibiotics.

For a start, you will not receive treatment of any kind if you do not qualify for it under the stringent Productivity Contribution Index.

If you are deemed and dismissed as a waste of space by The Powers That Be – by being disabled and/or obese, for example – then you can probably fuck off and quite literally die.

The scenario has been so well thought through.

There are of course riots, for what else can one do when you are otherwise powerless and outright rejected by intransigent authorities? We begin with a bombing at a London mayoral election debate which injures both candidates and in attendance by accident is Dr. Martha Scott’s sister, Rosa. Like her mother, Dr. Martha Scott is a microbiologist involved in education and active research; but, like her father, Dr Rosa Scott is a frontline surgeon. She works for the NHS. Under the Hippocratic Oath she has sworn to uphold certain ethical standards. She does not believe in the rationing, by governmental command, of antibiotics: these decisions she believes should be made by doctors. She believes all patients in need should be treated equally regardless of the PCI and that she must certainly do them no harm through her actions or inaction.

Yet faced with two political candidates in need she chooses to help the one whose policies are in accord with her own, and hesitates to help the other. There are… dramatic repercussions.

Two weeks earlier Dr Rosa Scott operated on a patient whose life was immediately at risk but who didn’t qualify under the PCI and, threatened with disciplinary action, she quit the NHS. Instead she opened her own long-planned private surgery in the basement of her house. Unlike her father in the private medical sector, she is determined to operate on patients in need regardless of their financial resources. She is Surgeon X: underground and illegal. But she’s going to find that those initially most in need are those closest to home.

And that’s where the heart of this series lies: so close to home.

Far away from home was Rosa and Martha Scott’s mother six weeks earlier, last seen on a refugee boat off the coast of Burma, injected with a paralysing drug then drowned in the sea. She was on the brink of discovering a new class of antibiotics but someone evidently didn’t like what she’d found.

I know what you’re thinking: this is packed!

And it is. I haven’t even hinted at Rosa and Martha’s half-brother Lewis, a schizophrenic desperately in need of maintaining his medication but who ditches it in order to feel liberated by its side-effects and suffocating restraint. If Sara Kenney hasn’t had personal experience of a loved one in this condition then I would be stunned, for every element is perfectly played from Lewis’ deluded decision that this time he will be fine (when he wasn’t in the past) to the resultant suspicion and distrust of those once again closest to home and the wider, deep-rooted paranoia regarding authority and a conspiracy to constrain. The mind-set and language are both spot-on. I know: I’ve been there with two mates.

But what is brilliant is that it dove-tails into this scenario so well.

Also exceptional: the poetry when it’s practised, the history lessons and the extrapolation of a credible future from where we are today (surgeons still only 15% female – long live the patriarchy, eh? – see Y – THE LAST MAN), with lovely little satirical side-swipes at Twitter (“Chatterblast”) and cabbies who can’t keep their predictable, opinionated gobs shut even when they’re self-driven / automated:

“Welcome to London cabs. Would you like to know the predicted weather for this afternoon?”
“No.”
“Would you like to discuss politics or a topic of your choosing?”
“No!”
“Okay. How about King Charles’ views on architecture, the environment or complementary medicine?”
“Noooooo!”
“University College London – Cruciform Building. We’ve arrived at your destination. Have a nice day – and please don’t slam the door…!”
*SLAM*

My only complaint is that because this series is so rich in skulduggery that it does at times suffer from excessively expository dialogue. In this instance I can live with that: other than being released as an original graphic novel I’m not sure how it could have been avoided. It’s just that we don’t naturally remind each other in conversation of events that have dramatically impacted on our shared lives in the form of little memorandums or post-it notes.

I loved the bits out in orbit, the sunsets in Scotland, the flashbacks to Rosa’s mistake working in the war-torn Libyan field, and the entire examination of how highly we regard surgeons when they are – like us all – individual, flawed human beings who cannot get everything right their first time. Institutional failings are unforgiveable but individual mistakes are inevitably made.

So tuberculosis, pneumonia, meningitis and most STDs have become untreatable and the condition is critical: you could die of an infected paper cut.

But what if an old-school epidemic reached our shores…? One with “prior”, as they say.

It gets worse.

SLH

Buy Surgeon X vol 1: The Path Of Most Resistance s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Saga Deluxe Edition vol 2 h/c (£44-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples.

I love that the deluxe hardcovers’ covers focus, close-up, on young Hazel’s development.

She is, after all, SAGA’s narrator, filling the series with foreshadowing, the wisdom of experience, and the insight of hindsight. What don’t know yet is how long she has had to acquire her worldview, for we have no idea at what age Hazel is telling her story.

It’s essentially a comedy about love – of relationships, parents and children – and a discourse on the atrocities of war in which no one is safe. That its setting is science fantasy gives Vaughan and Staples the opportunity to fill it with the wonders of diversity, which they’ve both taken full advantage of, as well as its attendant bigotry. Hazel is having to hide her biological nature, for she’s a miraculous child born of two distinctive species which are at war. One has wings, the other has horns; Hazel has both.

 

 

Not only have they been at war for as long as anyone can remember, but for so very long that no one has so far recalled a moment when they were once at peace. Hazel’s not the only one within who has decided to hide a truth, but she is the only one privy to that secret.

It’s a deliciously inclusive series, is what I’m saying, and prospective newcomers are heartily encouraged to read my overview of SAGA DELUXE EDITION VOL 1 H/C even if you end up buying one of the seven softcovers so far. That contains the first; this contains 4 to 6 so please click on those SAGA covers if you want to read those reviews because conjoining them – as I did for Brubaker, Epting and Breitweiser’s VELVET h/c or Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser’s THE FADE OUT – is far more work than you’d imagine, involving a great deal of cutting and splicing, and the occasional bloody finger.

 

 

You know, if Fiona Staples hadn’t nailed the image above with those incredible eyes accentuated by the occasionally worn glasses, then that sentence would hang limp. As it stands, it shines. I remember the first few pages of SAGA  when she did the same for Marko: the love in his eyes when Hazel is born!

Not included in this volume, obviously:

The deluxe hardcovers come with extras, this time in the form of brand-new guest art from Jen Bartel, Bengal, Cliff Chiang, Pia Guerra, Faith Erin Hicks, Karl Kerschl, Jason Latour, Marcos Martin, Todd McFarlane, Sean Murphy, Steve Skroce and Chip Zdarsky.

Each of these pieces is accompanied by an introduction by Brian, then a Q&A in the same spirit as the periodical’s annual readership survey, while the extras themselves are introduced by a page of musings and an illustration by Pia Guerra which reminds me to warn you that there is in each volume One Of Those Moments which will leave you exceptionally relieved that you never leant this book to your grandma or grandpa. One of those here involves a dragon in an act which you will never, ever forget.

SLH

Buy Saga Deluxe Edition vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

A few years ago there was a wordless Nobrow work I absolutely loved called ADVENTURES OF A JAPANESE BUSINESSMAN by Jose Domingo. It was utterly surreal, brilliantly bonkers and totally hilarious featuring the horrifically relentless worst day ever in the life of the titular protagonist. This is definitely the closest anything has come to that since, with its weird, trippy sequences featuring the main character. Also, artistically, it has a number of similarities to that work too.

It also visually very strongly reminded me of Marc Bell’s SHRIMPY AND PAUL, plus I could see, believe it or not, elements of Chris Ware in there with some of the crazy little design elements that are thrown in and Tommi’s frequent use of straight lines and perfectly formed half circles. Also, at times, believe me, this is as odd as Jim FRAN Woodring, in fact even Hans FOLLY Rickheit.

 

I shouldn’t have been totally surprised, given this came from the crazed mind that produced THE BOOK OF HOPE. But whereas that is a strangely soothing and whimsically philosophical musing on the passage of time as seen through the lens of the autumn years of a perennial underachiever, this is just an all-out assault on one’s sanity with a number of reality distorting and flipping devices deployed at regular intervals throughout. He’s clearly a very versatile writer, our Tommi.

 

I finished this absolutely none the wiser as to what the hell it was all about, but I did feel like I had certainly had an extremely interesting and enjoyable experience.

JR

Buy Simply Samuel h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Drugs & Wires #3 (£4-99) by Io Black & Crylocliare…

“The, um, the idea, Miss H…, uh, Ma’am, was to make the software more approachable to the American public. Using some of today’s most beloved young sitcom stars, we created a pitch, that’s a little more, uh, light-hearted, more funny…”
“Funny? FUNNY? Bleeding Christ almighty, we had more laugh lines at my second husband’s funeral. What else have you got?”
“Um.”
“Let’s cut to the chase. When we bailed your operation out two years ago, you said you were making VR bigger than big. Building a virtual future, with virtual gaming, virtual vacations, virtual concerts, virtual fucking. Something for everybody. So we kept our hands off, even after you blew three release dates and every last cent of your development budget twice over. Didn’t even blink when you paid some washed-up New Wave act a quarter million for a piddling three-second start up noise…”
“…Error noise, Ma’am. Specifically for when the user…”
“The point is that we’ve put a lot of time, money and patience into this little project of yours. Now we’re in the show me phase and all you’ve shown me so far is this.”
“All due respect, Ma’am, but Dreamspace ’95 is the best VR creation tool on the market today. The problem is not with the software.”
“Of course it isn’t! That’s why you chucklefucks are being outsold by ‘Freddie Ferret’s Fun With Fractions!’ at every retailer on the East Coast.”
“Maybe if our Director Of Sales would…”
“I’m done talking. Get this fixed or start blowing the cobwebs off your resumes. It’s that simple.”

Haha, I do like a good tirade. I did initially mis-read the last part and think the choice insult in question was chuckleferrets, which only tickled me further. This mirth-moist third instalment of DRUGS & WIRES only serves to further deepen the mystery regarding precisely who is trying to wipe out the fringe headwear community, and indeed now messing around with VR providers. There’s a curious game afoot, and neither I, nor those at the pointy end of the virtual probings, have a clue about what’s really going on.

This title, neatly blending speculative fiction and relentless humour fits perfectly into the sci-farce sub-genre. I have no idea if that’s a genuine term, mind you, but if not, it should be! Anyone who has ever read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy would appreciate the digital daftness of this mash up of cyberpunk and clown school. Main character Dan is such a hapless car crash of an individual he fits perfectly into that Arthur Dent–esque idiot on the loose role.

JR

Buy Drugs & Wires #3 and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide: The Clone Conspiracy (UK Edition) s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Jim Cheung, Giuseppe Camuncoli, R.B. Silva, Javier Garron…

“Great! So Doc Ock’s back now?! Perfect! I guess Jackal’s just cloning everybody, is that it?! Couldn’t he clone somebody cool, like, I dunno, Prince? No! Let’s go for Tubby McPsycho here!”
“Your taunts ring hollow, Spider-Man. I know you well enough to see that, in your heart, you know the truth. I am no mere clone, simulacrum, or hologram. It is I, the one true Otto Octavius. The man who cheated death itself!”

Errr… I think Peter got the ‘back-from-the-death’ badge (along with half the Marvel Universe, mind you) long before you, Otto. But still, it is good to see Tubby McPsycho back in all his monologuing, ranting glory. Though he’ll be working on that physique with a most extreme weight-loss plan before the end of this latest Spider-epic…

Ah, it feels good to finally enjoy the Peter Parker version of Spider-Man again. The first three volumes of the current ‘millionaire playboy’ so-called ‘Worldwide’ run have been spectacularly average so it’s really nice to see Slott back on better form.

 

Casting my mind back over Slott’s now extremely lengthy run, the thought does occur that the highlights have definitely been the events: SPIDER ISLAND, SPIDER-VERSE and now this. I did also enjoy the entirety of the SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN run when Otto was on the loose in Peter’s body, which again, was something a bit different. It has to be hard to keep writing the same title and character for so long, and inevitably there will be downs as well as ups in the quality, I suppose. Long-term Slott collaborator Christos Gage also provides the bulk of the excellent pencils throughout.

Anyway, here Peter is pretty much correct: the Jackal is indeed cloning and thus resurrecting everyone who has ever died with the likes of Captain Stacey and Gwen Stacey returning from the great beyond. For long time Spider-fans, the reappearance of that particular duo will provide a little tug on the old heartstrings. Then there’s a plethora of villains, such as the Rose, the Rhino, Mysterio, various Goblins, Enforcers, the Stiltman, Miles Warren… hold on a minute, Miles Warren was the Jackal… So if it’s not him behind the Jackal mask, who is it?

It all makes perfect sense, as much as anything can in the Marvel Universe when you get the big reveal, but when this new Jackal offers Peter a Faustian pact to bring back [REDACTED] by twirling the test tubes with all the power and none of the responsibility… it’s a reincarnation too far for Peter and tips him over the edge. Then the punching starts, obviously! At the end, when the disintegrated clone dust has settled, it’s who’s left standing, in what condition, in whose body… that’s as fascinating as anything and will hopefully set up a few more decent storylines over the next couple of years.

JR

Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide: The Clone Conspiracy (UK Edition) 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.

Crickets #6 (£6-99, American Comics) by Sammy Harkham

Elves vol 1 (£10-99, Insight Editions) by Jean-Luc Istin & Kyko Duarte

Honor Girl (£7-99, Candlewick) by Maggie Thrash

The Last American (£15-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner, Alan Grant & Mick McMahon

The Little Mermaid (£12-99, Papercut) by Metaphrog

Magical Twins Deluxe h/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Georges Bess

Rise Of Black The Flame (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Christopher Mitten, Laurence Campbell

The Shape Of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration Of Creativity (£11-99, Abrams) by Grant Snider

Slaine: The Brutania Chronicles Book Three: Psychopomp h/c (£15-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Simon Davis

Strange Fruit h/c (£22-99, Boom!) by Mark Waid & J. G. Jones

Summer Magic: The Complete Journal Of Luke Kirby (£19-99, Rebellion) by Alan McKenzie & John Ridgway, Steve Parkhouse

Valerian: The Complete Collection vol 1 h/c (£24-99, Cinebook) by Pierre Christian & Jean-Claude Mezieres

Wonder Woman vol 2: Year One s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott

Champions vol 1: Change The World s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Humberto Ramos

New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Billy Tan, Michael Gaydos, Jim Cheung, David Mack, Chris Bachalo

My Brother’s Husband vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Pantheon) by Gengoroh Tagame

News!

ITEM! PAGE 45’s 50% SALE!

PAGE  45 KICKED OFF A 50% SALE OF 2,500 GRAPHIC NOVELS LAST FRIDAY NIGHT.

It’s probably going to be closer to 1,500 by the time you see this, but what a lot of grinning faces we’ve seen!

What I love so much about it is that the books you are buying are brilliant. They’re not rubbish, or else why would we have reviewed so many of them?

No, we’re simply doing this because it’s only Phase One of Page 45’s Evolution this year – a means to a most emphatic, architectural end – and because it has been proven that having too much to choose from destroys sales.

There have been surveys on this sort of stuff about jam! Jam!

ALL of these were in the sale as of Friday night!

But please don’t think this mean we believe we’re selling jam or we’re going to cut back on diversity. Oooooh no!

Just bulk.

Comics is a visual medium, particularly for kids who don’t browse by spine, and this will allow us to present more of the very best quality comics face-on.

You can always order in whatever you want by asking at the counter, regardless of whether we stock it on our shelves.

It’s basically the same thing as Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month, which we were begged for when a customer called Simon Ghent simply could not handle so many reviews of great graphic novels every month, and wanted to buy what we told him to!

Hello, by the way: we love giving shop-floor recommendations tailored to your tastes. Just ask at the counter!

THANK you! xxx

ITEM! The Inking Woman Exhbition at The Cartoon Museum until 23rd July 2017

Wish I’d been there on opening night!

ITEM! Did you enjoy Gareth Brookes’ A THOUSAND COLOURED CASTLES?

Ink #8 is out with an article by Gareth Brookes on “Expressing perceived reality through the language of comics”

You can follow INK on Twitter @Ink_Mag_UK

 – Stephen