Archive for June, 2017

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2017 week three

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Featuring Kate Evans, Junko Mizuno, Scott Westerfeld, Alex Puvilland. Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, a great many more and a new Raymond Briggs edition.

Threads From The Refugee Crisis h/c (£14-99, Verso) by Kate Evans.

“You ever wonder if you’re doing the right thing. Our relief effort – it’s just a band-aid, isn’t it?”
“Only in that it would hurt a lot of people if you suddenly removed it.”

There is a wealth of similarly bright wit and wry humour throughout, along with the exchanging of beaming smiles and food and felt-tip pens. You’ll meet people at their very best, because they can be! You’ll just have to wait for me to get there.

By far the finest, most thorough and affecting documentary I’ve seen or read on the refugee crisis in any medium, its clear, concise, cause-and-effect analysis is irrefutable except by those with lies on their tongue and hatred in their heart. Contempt for others is never an attractive quality.

Kate Evans concentrates on her personal, hands-on experience of helping out in the camps at Calais and Dunkirk in January and February 2016 – on the volunteers’ construction and distribution, on a great many asylum seekers she meets trapped there (often children without parents or other family), and on the French authorities’ atrocities, particularly on March 1st 2016 when the police moved in en masse for what can only be described as a black-booted massacre.

We will return to those first-hand accounts of these courageous individuals – and they are all very much individuals and ever so bloody courageous – because that’s what this book is about. 

However, on the rare occasions that we are pulled back into an objective consideration of said cause and effects, our key witness proves as pithy as she is passionate but nevertheless spot-on. Here Evans borrows what she emphasises is the dubious metaphor of the proverbial flood, along with that which plugs in the sink while the water continues to gush and then consequently spills over.

“What turned on the tap?
“The bombs and the guns: the ones that we drop and we sell and we profit from. The marauding psychotic death cults of Daesh (ISIS) and the Taliban, which rose from the ashes of countries we invaded.”

“We”: we who are not willing to mitigate, by providing succour or sanctuary, what we have started.

“Just imagine that you have a young child – half the world’s refugees are children. Imagine your country is at war, that your government is dropping bombs on your city, that the terror troops are a day away from your town. What kind of a parent would you be if you stayed?”

This is precisely what our Jonathan has written repeatedly in his reviews, for he has a child. Perhaps you have a child too?

Earlier Evans meets an old man too afraid to seek medical help in Calais for the most hideous, exposed wounds to his stomach “taped up with an old plastic bag” because they will photograph him and use that as evidence to “prove that he entered Europe through another country” which would immediately disqualify him from asylum in the UK. Immediately afterwards she reports:

“In the early hours of the following morning, US forces bomb the Médicins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The main hospital building is struck precisely and repeatedly for more than an hour despite its co-ordinates being known to the US military command. As a consequence of the bombing, MSF pulls out of the region, leaving the whole of north-east Afghanistan without life-saving medical care.”

From the afterword and then, I promise, we will return to what is really at stake – the real-life plight of individual human beings trapped between a bomb and an implacable, intransigent and culpably unyielding hard place – this is the simple, economic truth of it all:

“Austerity doesn’t prevent our government from directly subsidising the British arms industry. We are the second-largest exporter of weapons in the world.
“The bombing raids we conduct over Iraq and Syria cost an estimated £1million each.”

They cost an estimated £1million each. Also: not just paying for British arms but “subsidising” its industry. I never wanted to hear another word spoken against farmers again.

Imagine this: we stop bombing at £1million a pop (so causing this carnage) and funnel that money, immediately freed, to help to alleviate the suffering of millions of meet-you-and-look-you-in-the-eye lives by inviting them in to our exceptionally wealthy country. Next…? Once we stop causing this mass displacement through extortionately expensive bombing and so have even more money to spare, we take ourselves out on a global fucking picnic which we can then afford.

This is no picnic.

Sometimes there’s even no bread.

On 18th February 2016 the French police, on a whim, decide to stop bread being brought into the already destitute camp at Dunkirk.

From 15th February 2016 they decided to deny refugees dry blankets. Blankets bought and brought by English, French and other international donors in order to help keep families – children and even pregnant women – warm whilst living in rain-soaked, wind-swept, drain-less winter squalor. There is a single photograph taken outside the tent of a pregnant woman, artfully integrated into the sequential artwork, which will arrest you.

But oh that is nothing compared to the overnight beatings by those bearing blue uniforms with their badges removed, police tear-gassing children in their beds overnight (some threat to security, that), and I’ve a note about pages 127 to 132 that simply says in capital letters “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!”

And that wasn’t the cameo by Theresa May as former British Home Secretary, deployed in exactly the same place on the page as a previous appearance by Marine Le Pen, in precisely the same pose and gurning with the same ferocious inhumanity.

 

Instead, it involves a heavily pregnant woman and her equally vulnerable children whom we’d already met being violated by armoured police who hide their faces behind helmets as they do so.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I am in awe of Evans for all that she accomplishes here: for her kindness and caring in returning repeatedly to the front line (a telling phrase if ever I typed one), and for spreading the word in bringing this all home with such judicious, creative skill as to make it in so many ways more meaningful, intimate and affecting than a filmed, one-hour documentary one may watch late at night. Those are vital: I do not in any way mean to belittle any one of those many exceptional broadcasts which I’ve absorbed and pondered over for hours.

But this is more permanent, more personal and personable, delivered with immediacy, colour and comedy.

“Gaffer tape!”
“There’s nothing in the world that can’t be fixed with gaffer tape.”
“If you think it can’t be fixed with gaffer tape…”
“…You’re not using enough gaffer tape!”

Hooray for gaffer tape!

“We’re about to attempt to fix an international humanitarian catastrophe with sticky tape.
“Wish us luck.”

The cartooning is bright, unaffected and wherever possible bursting with the same energy which Evans, her friends and her husband pour into building accommodation then moving accommodation when the French authorities threaten to bulldoze it down.

“Today we are moving house. Literally, moving the whole house…”

Joyfully they sort donations, buy fresh goods, and hand them out while talking to as many people as possible. Occasionally Kate sits down to paint some portraits of young sitters for them to keep in plastic sleeves, and they are so very tender, rendered in soft, gentle washes rather than coloured with crayons. She brings out the individuality in each, the real nature underneath any high-spirited, boisterous buffoonery.

Speaking of soft, there’s a lot of lace used throughout the book. Calais was famous for its lace-making before it became famous for its fence-building, and it’s used here as the gutters between panels.

As to the conversations – again for immediacy – they’re hand-written in lower case, free from traditional comicbook speech balloons which would have jarred with the art and put the reader at a remove from the life and lives depicted here. That she avoids that potential pitfall is absolutely critical. This is far more natural.

Equally well judged is the way in which the commentary is delivered as if from a typewriter, bashed out onto complementary-coloured paper then cut into strips with scissors before being pasted onto the art. Brilliantly, there are breaks between its fragments so as to keep it as one with what it’s reporting. It’s ever so lo-tech, reflecting their basic surroundings.

One of my favourite encounters is with Hoshyar who invites Evans & co. into his eight-foot hut which he shares with Alaz.

“It’s well insulated. It would be warm(ish) except we have to leave the door open to let in some light.”

The things we don’t even think of…

“”I’ll make you lunch.” It’s not a question.”

Hoshyar had been in the Jungle for 120 nights at that point, and you can see that it’s taken its toll. It hangs in his haunted, faraway eyes and hunched shoulders, but still…

“Hoshyar busies himself in his eighteen-inch kitchen, knocking two eggs together and tipping them into a pan.
“The sadness temporarily ebbs from his face in the process.
“Welcoming, cooking, sharing.
“You can tell this fits with his sense of how things should be in the world.”

One of the brightest nights is spent with little Evser, laughing and giggling as she and Kate play catch with a football for over an hour. Once more they have been treated to dinner by those with virtually nothing of their own. Months later, and Evser and her mother have been moved to Dunkirk and downgraded from shacks to mere tents in the mud.

“We give her mother some oranges.
“There is an awkward moment.
“Her mother would dearly love to invite us in and offer us tea, but she lives in a mouldy pit, a hole – it doesn’t even qualify as a hovel.
“I fish about in my bag, find some lemons and press them into her hand.
“Evser doesn’t remember me.
“There are no footballs.
“She’s not laughing anymore.”

That wouldn’t be a fair place to leave you, would it? It’s hardly a fair place to leave Evser, either.

But what I’m trying to impress upon you is that it’s not all doom and gloom. Calais at its best, thanks to the volunteers, became a community with a school created by Zimarko after he gave up trying to get to the UK himself. It came with quite the elaborate playground. Sue contributed an art workshop housed in a miniature version of the Eden Project: “grown men, hunched over, colouring with felt-tip pens”. Everyone needs sustenance, especially for the soul.

But I’m afraid it’s also the venue where the volunteers trip up and make a mistake: nothing to do with Sue, just a well meaning miscalculation on handing out youngsters’ clothes. That episode is genuinely frightening.

There are also small, shanty-town cafes declaring themselves with good humour to be 3-Star Hotels and the food there is absolute heaven.

But there’s a brutally bleak double-page spread contrasting all his with what the French authorities had in mind for the Jungle’s future.

“125 shipping containers [not for shipping: for accommodation]. Ring-fenced. Spotlit. Biometric entry control. No cooking facilities. No privacy. No autonomy.
“A man stands, brushing his teeth by the wire.
“He gestures back at the 3 Star Hotel, the legal centre, the aid distribution points, the caravans, the brightly painted playground – a monument to human ingenuity and charity, however desolate and desperate it may be.
“”All this… will go.”

Please don’t believe that I am singling out the French government for criticism: it is Britain which controls and has closed the other side of the border.

“Passengers can expect delays of up to two hours on Channel Tunnel crossings this morning after the reported death of a migrant at the Calais Terminal.

“The impact of the train was such that it is not possible to tell the age, sex or nationality of the victim.”

I do apologise for the inconvenience.

Also recommended: Thi Bui’s THE BEST WE COULD DO and Sarah Glidden’s ROLLING BLACKOUTS.

SLH

Buy Threads From The Refugee Crisis and read the Page 45 review here

Spill Zone vol 1 h/c (£17-99, FirstSecond) by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland.

“A hunt? What a charming idea. Did you know that the first nature photographers were safari hunters?”
“Um, no.”
“Preservation can take many forms.”

As tightly constructed as it is eloquently expressed, SPILL ZONE is charged with a fierce imagination and narrative drive which Puvilland has pulled off with panache. I have some stunning interior art for you following, but for the moment let us stick with preservation.

In Grolleau and Royer’s AUDUBON – which captured the pioneering, ornithological artist’s awe of the natural world and the plumed beauties which populated it – we learned that he didn’t half love to preserve his birds, after shooting them clean out of the sky.

Addison Merritt is preserving her home town too, in photographs taken at extreme risk to her life during illegal excursions undertaken alone and at night on her dirt bike. What she captures in the most radiant colours is both terrible and beautiful to behold.

As is her home town which was caught one night in The Spill, transforming the once mundane urban environment into an ever-evolving kaleidoscope of what might be considered ideas, experimentation, self-expression, but also killing almost everyone in its boundaries.

Since then the town has been quarantined lest other lives are lost, which makes it nigh-impossible for anyone to analyse what happened to it.

But Addison’s illicit images have become an obsession with elderly art collector Tan’ea Vandersloot, who has bought every shot and hung them in her private gallery in gentrified Harlem. Like most individuals with an eye for the arts Vandersloot is insatiably curious. Unsurprisingly, then, Ms Vandersloot has been conducting her own extensive research into The Spill, and with wealth comes contacts, the ability to acquire information under the counter and, if necessary, trade for it. Her reach is extensive; it is international; and not every country is as safety-conscious as America.

We do not know what caused The Spill, nor the nature of it. It is only via Addison’s observations that we can even begin to guess.

“An alien visitation? Something spilling from another world?
“Most of the people who escaped don’t say much of what happened that night.
“My little sister, Lexa, hasn’t uttered a sound since then.”

Lexa is seen clutching ragdoll, Vespertine, who also hasn’t uttered a sound since then.

Except to Lexa.

“I’d snuck off to New Paltz that night for a little underage drinking. Lucky me.
“Instead of watching it live, I got to see it on TV.
“My parents weren’t so lucky. They were at work that night at the hospital.
“Now there’s just the two of us.”

This first instalment comes with terrific stage-setting, our entire focus on Addison’s P.O.V., hitching along on her ride, but don’t imagine she necessarily notices everything which you will.

Our first glimpse of the town is seen at a very late hour from above, black bird-shapes flocking in synchronised flight like a murmuration of starlings, while below the buildings throb in a rainbow of radioactive colours, especially effective as the outer suburb rooftops emerge from the surrounding trees.

Once inside one would be forgiven for forgetting it is night for everything is so Day-Glo bright.

Even looking through the toy-shop windows where some of the former inhabitants hang as “meat puppets”, suspended in mid-air as if on hooks, the light is unnatural. Their eyes are empty, a vile yellow mist emanating irregularly from their open mouths.

“Whatever’s watching though their eyes isn’t them anymore.
“I hope.”

Out of respect, Addison won’t photograph the dead, but her other rules are born more out of self-preservation.

“Rule Six: never, ever get off the bike. Even in here in the playground where nothing has ever messed with me.

Is the playground empty? Puvilland puts tremendous weight on the springed things, and the swings, they are swinging like crazy.

“Because in the Spill Zone, there’s a first time for everything.”

Cue 0 to 60 and a full-throttle chase at some excellent angles past Flatsville, a stretch of road where the cars look accommodatingly level with the tarmac so leaving the route unimpeded, but make the mistake of riding over one and you’ll join the silently screaming cyclist, also squashed into two dimensions.

Are you beginning to see what I mean by “charged with a fierce imagination” yet? Also the “narrative drive” for the wolf-shadow’s pursuit propels Addison where she least wants to go: to the hospital where her parents worked as nurse and paramedic.  Far from modern, it is instead a vast, foreboding, neo-gothic affair and if the intense level of dust-devil, geometric activity is anything to go by – both at ground level and spiralling above in the sky – it appears to be the very centre of this unearthly disturbance.

“Almost forgot I was scared of this place even before the Spill.
“And it’s not like a generous sprinkling of Hell has improved it much.”

As to the tight construction, you’ll understand exactly what I mean when you discover that this – for all its unnerving beauty and cleverly conceived, steadily built rules which are never to be broken and some of which I have intentionally left unspoken – is all just a taste and a teaser, a foreshadowing for the first climax upon which Puvilland will provide a walloping vertical spread at exactly the right moment after which my jaw required emergency medical treatment before I could articulate anything again.

Including my jaw.

But that’s just one climax, not the cliffhanger, so I would refer you all backwards to infer what you will.

The colouring throughout is phenomenal, not least during one of the creepiest scenes which was so well observed in terms of young behaviour. In it young Lexa has been left alone overnight. Well, left alone with Vespertine, her rag-doll who, I’d remind you, also survived The Spill.

There is something of the ceremony in child’s play.

I would assemble all of my Matchbox cars onto a starting line and play out my version of The Wacky Races, an animated cartoon starring Dick Dastardly, Muttley, Penelope Pitstop et al, few of whom were afraid to get their hands dirty in order to win (in terms of our stock, please see Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre’s PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH). I’d move all the cars about incrementally, a bit like shooting for stop-animation, and make my own narrative up in my head.

Here young, silent Lexa similarly assembles all her cuddly toys and dresses herself up as the Mistress of Ceremonies for her Royal Dance. She picks her toys’ partners for them and then, in the low-lit shadows, she holds one in each hand around their backs in order to make them dance together.

Around and around they go, Vespertine with her handsome pink beau, a bear…!

Then Lexa lets her hands go.

Oh.

That’s not the cliffhanger, either.

SLH

Buy Spill Zone vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ravina The Witch h/c (£19-99, Titan) by Junko Mizuno.

Ooooh!

There are eyes everywhere on the cover, most of them gleaming in gold – as are the stars, the debossed title, and some of the five-leaf clover designs.

I don’t know why there are five-leaf clover designs: Ravina proves singularly unlucky in spite of her good intentions, the friendships she makes, the good deeds she does and the wrongs which she rights.

If you’re looking for a coherent moral or message, though, I think you’ll be disappointed. Perhaps men are idiots (except those that wear dresses), prideful, deceitful and quite happy to wager their wives in a drinking contest in the hope of winning riches. Others like their bare bottoms being whipped.

Each to their own, I say, but if you’re looking for a new Young Readers graphic novel for bed-time reading, you’ll also be disappointed. This is Junko Mizuno! She’s neither a traditionalist nor renowned for being kid-friendly.

It’s more of a sensual experience instead, rich in illustrative wonder, taking delight even in the environs of a garbage tip which is where Ravina grew up, cavorting with crows who are happy to pluck beetles from her hair then brush it all silky-smooth. There’s plenty to eat and plenty to play with. It’s amazing what people through away once it’s passé. What’s wrong with a car boot sale?

Alas, she can only speak crow so when a naked old woman hobbles her way, pricked like a pincushion with needles, and bequeaths the young girl her magic wand along with the words required to activate it, Ravina doesn’t understand a word she has said. Still the magic wand’s pretty, as is the old, tortured witch, especially once the wriggly, writhing, slippery, slimy maggots start slithering out of her empty eye sockets.

You see? Garbage dumps! They are amazing places, full of such wondrous curiosities! Ravina would very much like to have remained there, thanks, but then men come along and it all goes horribly wrong.

Mizuno has revelled in traditional, all-ages storybook elements like giant, flying owls and added her own brand of bonkers. There is neither rhyme nor reason as to why the giant, flying owl is so intent on solving a crossword puzzle. It just is.

The king is very much the traditional fantasy king with puffy pants, white stockings, tiny feet, a tidy neck frill and bejewelled crown sitting atop a quite ridiculous hair-do. It’s not half as ridiculous as his moustache, though. All the men are rocking ridiculous moustaches: the courtiers’ look like crusty nose scabs and the rich man with his friends who first play host to Ravina in exchange for her services as a hostess look like the sort of psychedelic aristocrats as re-imagined by the Beatles circa Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Even the bloke who loves to wear pretty dresses has something questionable going on round his mouth.

I promised you sensual and it’s already there in the hair and the bows and basques and flowers – and goodness, there are such a lot of serpents! – but once pretty-dress-man introduces Ravina to the unexpectedly efficacious benefits of being blind-drunk, Ravina remembers those magic words and acquires quite an appetite. Shame she doesn’t acquire a napkin too, for she dribbles and drools her way almost until the end of the book. Nobody does dissolute quite like Junko Mizuno.

It’s a beautiful book, flowery, beautiful and baroque with black rats, bats and beetles galore and, although the reproduction here is perfectly exquisite, I’d like to see a deluxe edition with the gold-studded highlights on every page actually printed in shiny gold. Maybe the wine could be real wine as well, please, and the bare bottom actually bottoms.

Did I mention that this isn’t for young readers?

SLH

Buy Ravina The Witch h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Wicked + The Divine vol 5: Imperial Phase Part 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Matt Wilson.

Aren’t the covers growing darker?

Quality, diversity and effortless inclusivity…

Yet this comes with the death toll quotient that characterises a Nick Cave CD.

It’s impossible to review a fifth volume of any series such as this in any depth whatsoever without spoiling it for others whom we still want on board, because THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is unafraid to destroy the status quo – repeatedly, dramatically and without any hope of clawing it back – almost soon as it’s set up, so that it is in a constant state of flux and its protagonists in a constant state of quandary, whether they admit it or not.

Kieron Gillen is, I own, a very fine writer but he is incapable of even spelling the words ‘safe’ or ‘predictable’. I put a pen and paper in front of him when drinking down The Dragon the other year and, I promised you, he fluffed it.

Would you want it any other way?

Fortunately Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Sergio Serrano are each so adept in their own fields that all I had to do was Tweet the other week “Aren’t the covers growing darker?” (attaching a photograph of this one) for several of the so-far initiated to express an intense curiosity, thence swear a new-found allegiance.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is already our biggest selling series of graphic novels outside of SAGA, PORCELAIN, LAZARUS and anything created by the Unholy Trinity of Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser (KILL OR BE KILLED etc.) but I am a rapacious retailer plus an exuberant comics-lover, and I can always find room for one more.

In lieu of a new review, then, I beg you to cast your jaded, jaundiced but soon to be rejuvenated eyes over our previous accounts of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE and their glowing interior art (which I do actually talk about) while offering you my admittedly regurgitated high pitch:

Pop stars on their pedestals. You know how the likes of Bowie and Kylie are referred to as rock gods or pop goddesses? It transpires that some of them are.

“You are of the Pantheon.
“You will be loved.
“You will be hated.
“You will be brilliant.
“Within two years you will be dead.”

Every 90 years a Pantheon of a dozen gods is born anew, activated by ancient Ananke who finds them in young individuals previously oblivious to their potential or fate. She helps them all shine for their brief, incandescent years.

It’s a brilliant conceit, executed immaculately: of course in this age the roles assumed by these gods would be as those most worshipped today – pop stars – and Gillen takes the opportunity to examine journalism, fame, fandom, envy, aspiration, exasperation, competitive back-biting, fear, mortality and even manipulation, for some are putting ideas into the other people’s heads.

They have been played.

You have been played.

As Eddie Campbell once wrote in BACCHUS, “Immortality isn’t forever”. One by one, some of these gods’ lights have already gone out.

But when it comes to the covers, I’ll wager it’s far more than that.

SLH

P.S. “Drinking down The Dragon” is not a euphemism. This isn’t SAGA. Jeepers.

Buy The Wicked + The Divine vol 5: Imperial Phase Part 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Motor Crush vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Brenden Fletcher & Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart…

Semi-serious sci-fi speed-themed malarkey set in a near-future world of illegal street racing, where a machine-stimulant drug known as the Crush is used to illicitly overclock bike engines, as well as her own metabolism in the case of our main protagonist, Domino Swift, who is most certainly a lady in a rush. Usually headlong over the proverbial handlebars into the next sticky situation, entirely fuelled by her own questionable life choices…

But she’s just one of those people who are always convinced they can rectify the situation, with yet another disastrous decision, of course. Her friends and family try their best to steer her in a different direction, rather than careening into the crash barriers of life yet again, but some people are just too stubborn to listen.

Now she’s racing for her liberty in the toughest race of them all, the Cannonball, though that’s seemingly the least of her problems, with the mysterious all-in-black racer trying to up the stakes even further. Throw in a life-long addiction to Crush – not her fault, I’ll give her that, as I really do mean life-long – and a weird upside floating pyramid firing laser beams that just appears out of nowhere at the most inconvenient moments, and no, there’s never a dull moment, or indeed any down time at all for Domino. Concluding this volume with an ending even more totally hat-stand bonkers than the rest of the book, I felt equally out of breath myself!

This is absolutely frenetic, frantic fun from the trio that did a pretty decent New 52 run on BATGIRL. Probably one for fans of SLAM and LUMBERJANES, and actually also SCOTT PILGRIM, it’s an impressively stylish, well designed and also astonishingly extensive continuity they’ve created in the space of a mere five issues.

I particularly enjoyed the vibrant artwork, with the humid, neon-lit, palm-tree-lined streets of Nova Honda echoing to the roaring sounds of epic bike races replete with swerving light trails. Plus the extensive use of faux letratone, which just adds a lovely little element of textural depth to proceedings throughout. I’m definitely not the target audience for this work, but I really rather enjoyed it.

JR

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

Dark Days: The Forge one-shot (£4-25, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr.

“Oh, Mr. Green Lantern. Are you afraid?”
“I don’t get afraid.”
“Oh, I think you do… I think we all do… it’s all in that moment of discovery…
“When you’re about to learn something you will never be able to unlearn.
“Something that puts all the pieces together, and you finally see the truth, and the world changes.
“And you know it’ll never go back the way it was before.
“But if you’re so very brave, then just open the door.”

Just open the bloody door, Hal!! So we can find out precisely who, and what, is in the secret cave inside the Bat Cave.

“Seriously. Only Batman would have a secret cave inside his secret cave.”

Obviously.

Bats has also actually installed a hidden room in the Fortress Of Solitude as well, just for good measure. I mean, he did have the good grace to ask Clark’s permission first, though he made him promise not to peek inside it at what he’d put there for ultra-safe keeping…

Yes, I can promise you more than a certain degree of mystery in this intriguing set up issue that is already a million times better than the execrable mess that was CONVERGENCE. I probably shouldn’t be surprised this is great, given the writers are the long time Bat-scribes Snyder and Tynion IV, plus the stellar trio of artists Jim Lee, Andy Kubert & John Romita Jr. on the pencils. But still, I’ve been burnt far too often with these big summer events. There’s a second set up issue to follow, Dark Days: The Casting #1, with the same creative team, before the main event begins. I’ve seen enough already to that I’ll admit I’m going to get lured into reading it all…

 

Basically, the Batman is trying to solve a mystery, one that has disturbed him so much, for so long, that whilst he’s had to call upon the likes of Mr. Terrific, Mister Miracle and of course old blue tights himself for assistance, he’s given precisely nothing away to anyone else whatsoever about the nature of this troubling conundrum. That however, is all about to change and not entirely through his own choice…

Piece by piece, what little information Batman has acquired is laid out for us, along with some cautionary insights from Carter Hall a.k.a. Hawkman, who has his own particular clandestine parallel interest to Batman’s investigations. I’m not sure, but I think there’s a little nod to Grant Morrison’s BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE that had Bats twizzling through time following the climax of FINAL CRISIS. Maybe… [I’m positive of it – ed.]

Regardless, this is an enjoyably complex and riveting set-up issue that has piqued my curiosity.  Not least because of whom Hal finds behind the green door… It’s an old piano, and Shakin’ Stevens is playing it hot… Okay, well, the door isn’t green, and it isn’t Shakey banging out ‘80s classics, but it is a shocker, certainly… Precisely how that person fits into it all, is just another perplexing part of this three pothole problem, Watson… Oh, do stop with the bad jokes…

Next: DARK DAYS: THE CASTING one-shot followed by the main, six-part mini-series DARK NIGHTS: METAL by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo. There is honestly no second ‘k’ there.

JR

Buy Dark Days: The Forge #1 and read the Page 45 review here

New Edition / Ancient Review

Ethel & Ernest s/c (£10-99, Jonathan Cape) by Raymond Briggs.

In this exceptional piece of British social history Briggs chronicles the life of his parents, from their chance encounter in 1928, through decades of change (wartime, decimalization, nationalisation, transportation, television and a wave of other new household appliances), to their deaths just one year apart.

“Both simple and complex, emotional and dispassionate,” wrote The Guardian and, yes, I’d be hard-pressed to conjure up another title whose power to move matches this masterpiece of honesty, clarity and tenderness. This is also an extraordinary social document, chronicling not just the changes but how his parents reacted to them, occasionally with resistance, sometimes enthusiasm and quite often with total bewilderment. They certainly haven’t been white-washed to make them anything other than true representatives of their particular class and generation.

“ETHEL & ERNEST has an historical sweep and a sure command of social detail not often found in contemporary fiction,” wrote the Daily Telegraph and I couldn’t agree more – apart from the implication that it’s fiction!

Particularly powerful is the way that, following the day of his mother, the panels loom larger and larger: his father alone in all that space. And then when his father finally dies on a random day, the cat simply saunters out the door…

This served as a Christmas present to five of my relatives this year, all of whom declared that it was their parents, provoking memories long-forgotten. Recommended to all.

And it’s not often you can say that of any piece of art, is it?

Also by Briggs and reviewed by us: WHEN THE WIND BLOWS and GENTLEMAN JIM.

SLH

Buy Ethel & Ernest 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’.

Clockwork Watch Omnibus Edition (£16-99) by Yomi Ayeni, Corey Brotherson & Jennie Gyllblad

Descender vol 4: Orbital Mechanics (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen

The Dying & The Dead vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Ryan Bodenheim

Empowered vol 10 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Adam Warren

Hilda And The Black Hound (vol 4) s/c (£7-99, Flying Eye Books) by Luke Pearson

King-Cat Comics & Stories #77 (£4-25, Spit And A Half) by John Porcellino

Space Riders vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Black Mask) by Fabian Rangel Jr. & Alexis Ziritt

StarDrop vol 1: When On Earth… (£8-99, I Box) by Mark Oakley

Tank Girl: Gold s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Alan Martin & Brett Parsons

The Witcher vol 3: Curse Of Crows s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Paul Tobin, Borys Pugacz-Muraszkiewicz, Karolina Stachyra & Piotr Kowalski

DC Comics: Bombshells vol 4: Queens s/c (£17-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett & various

DC Super Hero Girls vol 3: Summer Olympus s/c (£8-99, DC) by Shea Fontana & Yancy Labat

Harley Quinn vol 2: Joker Loves Harley s/c (£14-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & John Timms, various

Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad h/c (£26-99, DC) by various

Avengers: Unleashed vol 1: Kang War One s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Mike Del Mundo

Spider-Gwen vol 3: Long-Distance s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jason Latour, Tom Taylor & Robbi Rodriguez, various

Pugs Of The Frozen North s/c (£6-99, Oxford) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre

Assassination Classroom vol 16 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Inuyashiki vol 7 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Hiroya Oku

Dark Souls vol 2: Winter’s Spite (£13-99, Titan) by George Mann & Alan Quah

Star Wars Doctor Aphra vol 1: Aphra s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Kev Walker

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2017 week two

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

Featuring Jillian Tamaki, Sina Grace, Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham, Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows, Gerard Way & Nick Derrington, Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev wnew editions from Darwyn Cooke, Jeff Smith & Charles Vess.

Boundless (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Jillian Tamaki.

Reveries, perspectives, freedoms, constraints…

Bodies, faces, fiction and fabrication…

Illusion, isolation, engagement and disconnection…

There’s so much to absorb in this phenomenally rich and varied collection of searching short stories. You neither know what you’ll get next nor know how it will be presented or indeed how each will end – except unexpectedly.

It’s bookended on either side with two vertical, vertiginous tales, the first being a seeming celebration of newly discovered World-Class City life, away from home, as a fledgling woman enjoys heady independence…

“I’m gonna live in a World-Class City
“Not gonna leave
“’til my mom comes and gets me.”

… up to a point.

The forms are brave, bold and weighty, but if you look closely, in spite of what the author contends, a price is being paid.

‘Boundless’, meanwhile, is life seen from sky-level by a bird, ground-level by a squirrel and the point of view of a house fly very much aware of its mortality, further jeopardised by the irate attention it attracts on the move. The bird luxuriates in the freedom flight affords, un-confined to “a lateral axis”, but it must beware of where webs are woven.

“Most webs are so finely spun as to be completely undetectable and of no consequence to most organisms. We must avoid them at all costs. A simple lapse of attention or care can be deadly.”

That’s worth bearing in mind throughout this collection and, of course, life. Webs of deceit are being woven throughout ‘The ClairFree System’ which seeks to ensnare the unsuspecting with sincerity, which is a neat trick if you can pull it off. And the narrator can. There is a blindingly brilliant moment in the middle involving a hands-on approach whose intimate touch is reprised as the punchline. You’re not quite reading what you’re presented with at the beginning.

Further illusions are examined in ‘1.Jenny’, this time in the mirror-life that is Facebook, where the facts and stats begin to diverge from reality. Well, they do that, don’t they? What was it Charlie Brooker said about Twitter being an interactive game where one presents an approximation of oneself in order to win the most followers? Something like that.

“The mirror Facebook was all anyone could talk about for two weeks.
“At first it looked like an exact duplicate of the main Facebook, But soon small changes started to appear in everyone’s profiles…
“1.Katie’s liked National Broccoli Day
“(Katie hated broccoli.)
“1.Jonah was married to 1.Caroline
“(Jonah was 16, openly gay, and not yet dating.)”

These departures are amusing enough to observe in others but when 1.Jenny’s life begins to deviate dramatically from Jenny’s, Jenny becomes obsessed with following her mirror self, judging it and finding it wanting. Her therapist wants to discuss Jenny’s home life, her past; Jenny would rather discuss 1.Jenny’s.

As with almost all of these stories – a dozen or so including one on the back of the book – I’m still processing it and will do for months to come.

‘Half Life’ I knew I recognised – it’s from the NOBROW 7 anthology – but it’s even more fascinating in this context, as a woman gradually becomes more conscious of her own body, just as it starts to diminish, to physically shrink and doesn’t stop. What happens with her relationship to the outside world is riveting and goes far further than you would anticipate. It’s not an unhappy tale. The narrator is relatively equanimous to her situation, calmly observing its details before becoming fascinated by where its trajectory unexpectedly takes her. It’s really quite sensual.

Rarely does one encounter such a variety of visual styles as well as narrative approaches in a single creator’s compendium, although Eleanor Davis’ HOW TO BE HAPPY immediately springs to mind.

Here we are treated to the soft forms and fleshy colour apposite for the reminiscence by its producer of the short-lived but bright and bouncy sitcom-porno created for television.

 

But there’s more than a little up in ‘bedbug’, haggard husband Jeremy drawn very differently to his narrator wife – slashes of line and a clueless, open mouth as opposed to her more voluptuous, fully realised physique.

“I got bitten first, on my lower leg. We assumed mosquitoes – Jeremy closed the bedroom window. But soon, we both had bites in the tell-tale rows.
“We stripped the bed. No sign, not even a hollow moulted shell. The internet said that was common, though.”

Nothing here is accidental. Jenny’s lines are much, much looser in ‘1.Jenny’ – again, approximations – while ‘The ClairFree System’ is in black and white and quite precise, hailing the Holy Grail of a perfect skin and creepy, cult-like images too. Full-page poster panels, the lot of them.

For more Jillian Tamaki, please see SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY, SKIM and THIS ONE SUMMER with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, each as different from the other as the tales told here.

Jillian Tamiki and Mariko Tamaki will both be at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017 this October. Come join us; it’s fun!

SLH

Buy Boundless and read the Page 45 review here

Nothing Lasts Forever (£13-99, Image) by Sina Grace.

“I stop listening.
“I can’t deal with answers.”

A tender, honest and unsanitised self-expression during which Grace finally begins listening to himself, so starts to find answers and, in doing so, discovers the other thing he was searching for within: his perfect comics project.

There’s a telling two-page parallel in which, on the left-hand side, he scrutinises previously drawn pages hanging from a studio washing line, some appended with notes, others linked by thematic threads, anguishing over what he should create next.

“It’s gotta be: funny, cool-looking, have emotion and –“

His mobile phone interrupts. It’s Date O’Clock. On the right-hand side, he’s paying no more attention to the present.

“I try to combat the weirdness of internet dating by going overboard on personal stuff with “strangers” I chat online with…”

Which might be fine if you ask them about their lives as well… and so long as you on no account begin blathering on about your ex-boyfriends.

“I met an ex for lunch today…”
“So am I your sloppy seconds?”

Unable to take the hint (not listening…), Sina launches into a self-absorbed emotional post-mortem on that meeting before sitting up afterwards in bed, on his own, between the empty, upturned shells of his date represented as a toy – a Russian Doll.

“My strategy to overshare really doesn’t help me learn more about Dear John…”

Quite.

But this is what I mean about unsanitised: Grace is well aware of his own shortcomings, the contradictions between what he most wants to know by a third date but can’t bring himself to ask (“Do you feel like I’m “it”?”), and the over-commitment he doesn’t want to hear from some others on date two: this sends him running very scared indeed. But I suppose it depends to some extent at least on who asks, and how they ask.

Please don’t be fooled into thinking that this is artlessly slapped onto the page as either a careless emotional evacuation or a didactic, I know-best critique of others’ behaviour. It’s free from guile but it’s so tightly structured as a second, vital reading will make emphatically clear.

“Did you not like your ramen?” asks his Dear John date.
“I did! I think I may have a gluten problem or something with starches… ‘Evs! Check time!”

On a first read-through one could easily conclude that Grace was so caught up in his own monologue – preoccupied with offloading – that he failed to stop talking and eat: that his supposed gluten problem is just an excuse for that bad behaviour, and his “‘Evs! Check time!” was a hurried way of concluded that line of questioning. If you study his face, he’s certainly anxious about something.

But this is still quite early on, and earlier still there’s a similarly ambiguous end to a conversation at a convention which has been equally well set up in advance. In it he seems to duck a fan’s question about what’s next on his plate before ducking into the toilet to throw up.

“Must be stress… Yeesh, hope that doesn’t happen again.”

The ambiguity wouldn’t have worked half so well had Grace not preceded the encounter with self-doubts as to which artistic direction he should indeed pursue next, and immediately preceded that question with a convention-floor interview after which he castigates himself for what he perceives to be an evasive answer or at least one insufficiently confident about “the more sexual portions of SELF-OBSESSED”.

“Fuck, that answer sucked.
“In a country that prides itself on freedom of speech, I shouldn’t have to be concerned about others…
“Like, wouldn’t a kid in the closet in Iran expect me to live loud?
“I am unfettered by religion and shame, I should revel in my freedom!”

I can assure you that Grace does revel in it loudly and proudly throughout, encouraged by the likes of fellow comicbook creators Eric Stephenson, Jeff Lemire, Becky Cloonan and Brandon Graham to make both his comic and his craft as individualistic as he wants. He also revels in it poignantly and endearingly in a recollection of an early crush, aged 14, on a 28-year-old teacher which he attempts to pursue with a clumsiness which is ever so cute, online. One AOL chat ends with the teacher signing off:

“Gotta run. Alias is on. LY.”

And oh, the high, heart-fluttering thrill, hoping beyond hope that he meant “Love you”!

Then the down-to-earth crash as your hopes are dashed. It signified “Later, yo”.

“Ah…” replies Sina in a speech balloon dripping with desolation, a giant heart breaking behind him, “That’s what I thought…”

Let’s pull back again to the structure and the book’s immaculate, yet oh so subtle panel-by-panel composition, however. Between the comicbook convention restroom jitters and RamenGate, we are presented with a page called ‘All the times Amber was right…’ Amber is his best friend and confidante, his wise woman with unfalteringly fine advice, encouraging and emboldening when appropriate, puncturing his puffed-up delusions wherever necessary:

“And put some weight back on! I don’t wanna see any of that anorexic actress B.S. from you!”

The thing is, the first four free-floating examples are given in blue whereas that final sign off is bordered, in pink. It’s only on a second reading that the reason behind this far from random artistic decision will become clear. Little impresses me more than such an absence of sign-posting, and there’s plenty more where that came from.

I’ve considered whether such a critical observation itself constitutes sign-posting, but I have at least refrained from critical analysis in this instance, and on balance it seems far more important to impress upon potential readers that what may initially appear to be a jumble of multiple snapshots presented with mixed levels of rendering – either created for this highly original graphic novel or salvaged from sketchbooks, journals or lined notebooks – is in fact a painstakingly arranged, intricate lattice of increasing intimacy.

Diaries lend themselves to observation, introspection and self-analysis if you care to pursue your thoughts far enough. And that’s essentially the overt aesthetic: immediate, loose, candid, exceptionally revealing in every sense, and not afraid of being published for public consumption without polishing either the presentation (which would have eroded the intimacy) or the author’s personality (which would have obliterated it).

Instead his inconsistencies which we all harbour – his highs, extreme lows, and his self-destructive dating choices demonstrating an initial chasm between self-knowledge and self-guidance – are bared not for his own benefit, but for others’.

Just look at the cover with its attendant, top-right comprehension! It is, both in its sentiment and placement, the very antithesis of veneer.

This is above all about digging beneath the surface in order to help heal, and as such it reminded me in no small part of dear, dear Sarah Burgess (THE SUMMER OF BLAKE SINCLAIR – 3 volumes – and BROTHER’S STORY) whose struggles with sociability, self-confidence and self-worth in the form of her online comics I have long admired and pestered her on several occasions to press into print so that we can place them proudly (as we have this) in Page 45’s online Mental Health Section.

For as NOTHING LASTS FOREVER progresses, so it increasingly cuts to the chase.

“Why am I surrounded by love & support and still think about dying?”

Sina is indeed surrounded by love and support, even by his one central on / off ex-boyfriend – prepared to pick him up by car, by hand and in standing steadfast with both arms braced on either side as Sina wibbles aimlessly on about some nebulous future at a party – but it is so often that one feels most alone when surrounded by friends. And, for some like Sina, it is so often that one can feel most empty, remote and removed when in bed with another, during sex.

Please don’t judge. You may feel very differently, for we are all unique and complex individuals. Forgetting that is to fail to consider and acknowledge the validity of others’ struggles and their very humanity.

“Acclaim doesn’t fix depression.
“Therapy, supplements, talking about it, time, medication… these things help.”

A comic like this doesn’t come round very often, though I do wish it would (Sarah Burgess, you are brilliant and so please take note) and I, for one, relish meeting new people with experiences outside of mine which enrich my understanding of life and of love and of hurdles which I could never stride over nor vault. It’s ever so eloquently expressed, even in the silences.

I’d like to end on another high note, the title: NOTHING LASTS FOREVER.

You don’t think really believe that Grace is alluding to relationships, do you? Even if he may be in part, it’s far more positive than that.

SLH

Buy Nothing Lasts Forever and read the Page 45 review here

The Adventures Of John Blake: Mystery Of The Ghost Ship h/c (£14-99, David Fickling Books) by Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham…

“I believe you were a member of the 1929 Einstein-Carmichael expedition.”
“Well?”
“There was a scientist in the party.”
“That’s right.”
“What was he investigating?”
“He didn’t talk much. Was only interested in the experiment. And his son. James, was it?”
“No, John. Very bright boy…”

Rip-snorting, high-seas, high-octane, time-travel, all-ages, hyphen-heavy yarn penned originally for The Phoenix Comic by His Dark Materials author (first and second volumes of the first part of that trilogy, NORTHERN LIGHTS, have been adapted for comics) and adeptly illustrated by able seaman Fred Fordham, who I must admit I wasn’t familiar with, but certainly is a talent with his neat and tidy shipshape ligne claire linework.

I note, actually, it has just been announced Fred is going to adapt Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird as a graphic novel for Harper Collins, who clearly view him as a safe pair of hands on the proverbial tiller for tackling such a heavyweight literary title. I think that is probably more than enough sailing puns now…

Cast adrift on the oceans of eternity, buffeted by the ever-changing tides of temporal instability, boy genius John Blake is determined to get his millennia-spanning motley crew back home to their respective eras safely. There are others, however, who covet his time-travelling vessel, the Mary Alice, and will stop at nothing to get their dastardly hands on it!

Ah, this is a great bit of fun, speculative fiction with Bond-style delightfully preposterous ‘espionage’ elements, courtesy of secret agent Roger <ahem> Blake, and the main bad guy, multi-squillionnaire tech giant Carlos Dahlberg and his enormous super yacht and gigantic guided missiles. I would make allusions to him making up for some inadequacy perhaps, but let’s keep this review as all-ages as the work itself!

Adults will undoubtedly love this boy’s and girl’s own adventure, as John teams up with a young lady called Serena whose daft dad managed to dump her in the drink without a life jacket in the middle of the South Pacific. Now she’s part of the ghost ship’s crew, criss-crossing time in search of safe harbour and answers to explain their peculiar odyssey.

Can John keep his crew, with the assistance of the eponymously named suave naval intelligence officer, out of Dahlberg’s megalomaniacal clutches?! Or will Carlos finally break the maxim that money can’t buy you everything and achieve his tyrannical ambitions of global, and temporal, total domination?! Why am I using a question mark as well as an exclamation mark?! The answer to the last question, dear reader, is that I am a idiot. For a resolution to the other two queries, however, you will have to read the book…

JR

Buy The Adventures Of John Blake: Mystery Of The Ghost Ship h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Providence vol 2 h/c (£19-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows…

“In fact, you’re spoiled for literary heroes tonight. I believe the gentleman next to that older lady is Lovecraft, whose story you enjoyed.”
“Really?”

Really.

Yes, good old H.P. himself makes a suitably saucy cameo appearance right at the end of this volume. If you think that sounds like a rather cheeky conceit, it isn’t, trust me, as H.P. will become a vital if minor part of our chief protagonist Robert Black’s supporting cast. It does, however, provide more than a little bumptious and welcome comedic relief after some of the most intensely horrifying pages you’re ever likely to cast your disbelieving, widening eyes over.

Fans of the Call Of Cthulu RPG may well recall that whilst reading certain skin-bound tomes and encountering mysterious otherworldly entities in all their various guises – some considerably less human than others – would garner you precious arcane knowledge, it would also cost you precious Sanity Points, of which you winsomely started with a seemingly relatively substantial, if finite, number. Lose them all, though, and a permanent gibbering vacation in the nearest asylum promptly ensued, also thus requiring the rolling up of… a new character.

What did you think I was going to type there, hmm? I’m not entirely sure at this point just how many Sanity Points I have left after this second of three such tomes… fortunately not flesh-encased, mind you, unlike the direct market editions, albeit being still limited to a most bizarre 6,666 copies for each volume before you’ll ever see sight of any softcovers. 6,666 being the number of publisher hyping greed rather than the much smaller, and less offensive, traditional Satanic 666…

If you thought NEONOMICON had some… disturbing content, shall we say, in one or two places (yes, I am thinking of the absence-of-contact-lens scene in the swimming pool…), this is as wrong as that on practically every other page. It’s small wonder, therefore, that poor old Robert is the veritable quivering jelly by the time he somehow makes it back to Boston from the genetically questionable wilds of upstate Massachusetts. Then matters start to get really strange as, well, let me get Pitman the photographer to explain it to you, and the ever-trusting Robert, as he leads him on a literal and metaphorical underground trip where the intersections between the world of dreams and our own are… less asymptotic, indeed entirely unbounded…

“You see, there’s, uhm, realism and there’s realism.”

Yes, it’s all about to get very real for poor old Robert, as he continues to try his quavering best to make sense of his increasingly bizarre experiences and detail them in his extensive prose journal writings, once again included, betwixt and between each issue of comics, for our entertainment / warning.

I stand by my comment in my review of the first volume of PROVIDENCE that this is the best comics Alan has written in years. If this really is to be his last comics project, as he insists, it’s certainly bowing out at the very apex of his prodigious powers, leaving a legion of highly perturbed readers in his majestic wake. In many ways, I do see this as a companion piece to PROMETHEA, which also explored the theme of imagination as reality, and the apocalypse, just from a rather more transcendent perspective, in the positive, traditional sense. This, however, is a huge warning of what (hopefully not literally) lurks beyond our immediate tangible perception, insidiously, relentlessly searching for a way in…

JR

Buy Providence vol 2 h/cand read the Page 45 review here

Doom Patrol vol 1: Brick By Brick s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Gerard Way & Nick Derington, Tom Fowler…

“Exceptional! Make some room! It’s time to take things to their next logical conclusion!
“Engage neurotic pain amplifier! Bypass settings one through four and begin at “Disorientating Agony”!
“Yesss! Yesss!  Release your fluids!
“Level six! Level seven! You will open up and let us in! We will obtain the meat!”

There are those who will inevitably find reading this disorientating agony, I suspect, much like Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL run, but sometimes, you just need to let it all wash over you and be transported along for the ride, even if that is in a stolen ambulance barrelling through dimensions unknown whilst reality falls apart spectacularly around you. Which is exactly what Gerard Way espouses in his interesting afterword, referencing a bemused reviewer who felt this wasn’t a comic that could be reviewed, only experienced. He has a point.

Still, I suppose I’d better try…

The Doom Patrol as we know it appears to be extant, though improbably disparate, scattered and utterly dysfunctional, both individually and more certainly collective. Okay, they were always exactly like that, but the gang is most empathetically not together. Neither individually nor collectively…

Cue Casey Brinke, EMT technician and who “only wants to do good things.” When she was a little girl, her mother told her… “Be a bright light in a black hole… just before she flew into the sun.”

Okay! Whether Casey, or parties with a guiding hand hidden behind the scenes know it, her mission seems to be to get the Patrol back together, apparently in as chaotic and messy a fashion as possible. Several of your old favourites will reappear one by one, such as Cliff Steele, Larry Trainor, Crazy Jane, Danny The Street, and my personal favourite Flex Mentallo. My absolute top moment in this volume, actually, is the Man Of Muscle Mystery suicidally riding a bomb, Dr. Strangelove style, to the rescue. The Hero Of The Beach doesn’t worry about trivial matters like getting blown to smithereens!!

I am presuming Casey is going to stick around, hazardous to her own health as that will no doubt be. And then there is a new Patrol member Terry None, which might be a wee nod to Morrison’s Number None of the Brotherhood Of Dada. Doom Patrol fanatics, as Way avowedly is, will probably notice all manner of Easter eggs inserted meltingly into the proceedings.

It’s gloriously daft writing from Way, I’ll give him that! There is an immensely engaging and even moderately coherent story slipped in there amongst all the froth and frolics, which is just enough to hold this emergency call of a comic on the proverbial road, tyres screeching, blue lights-a-flashing and the psychic sirens wailing and Dopplering away merrily. Lovely, friendly, frisky pop art from Nick Derington and Tom Fowler. Very clean, clear and consistent too, to say there is so much madness occurring on every page. Just one question remains then…

What’s Going On With Niles Caulder? No, really, what is going on with Niles Caulder? You’ll find out, as he also has a mini-story within the story told one-popping-up-apparently-but-definitely-not-so-randomly-page-at-a-time, with enigmatic titles like “What Are You Doing, Niles Caulder?”, “Niles Caulder: Habitual Snoop” and “Meanwhile, In Larry Trainor’s Innermost Parallel Lifetime.” It will all make sense in the end, trust me. And The Chief. You should always trust The Chief. Plus, it would seem, Gerard Way.

JR

Buy Doom Patrol vol 1: Brick By Brick s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Infamous Iron Man vol 1: Infamous s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

“So you’re the one who’s been giving my son a hard time all these years.
“Naughty boy.”

Along with Matt Hollingsworth who keeps the colours subdued until the cauldron comes out, line artist Alex Maleev absolutely owns this title.

He was Bendis’ creative partner on what was the finest run ever on DAREDEVIL and, more recently, this series’ immediate predecessor INTERNATIONAL IRON MAN. It was there that we first met the reformed, harmless and armourless Victor von Doom, smooth-faced, suited and booted following events in SECRET WARS. Now, following the events in CIVIL WAR II, there is slight a gap in the market for an Iron Man. So Doom swaps armours in order to atone for decades of home-grown tyranny, international terrorism and the world’s worst overuse of the term “Bah!” (which is a little like “Meh!” but a lot less dismissive and much more infuriated).

 

All three books are fab, but as reference you only need INTERNATIONAL IRON MAN to comprehend the dynamics between Doom, Tony Stark (now actually absent yet virtually present) and Stark’s ex-belle, the exceptional scientist Amara who is, I believe, falling for Doom against her own dear wishes and much better judgement. If she isn’t then I do apologise, but it’s subtly done and I really do think so.

With the aid of Stark’s armour, Doom is now using his years of prior knowledge to take down former associates in crime with very little effort, tearing their home addresses out of his Filofax as he tears down their laboratories.

He’s expending neither much effort nor half so many words as he used to: it’s all very admirably efficient. Less is more when you are as powerful as Doom and this is where Alex Maleev comes in. He renders Doom far more of a presence through relative relaxation: an inexertion, both in battle and conversation.

The very first page shows Doom in his original armour, gauntleted hands folded one over the other in the most keep-your-own-counsel, foreboding manner imaginable, speaking only when spoken to and when provoked; sometimes not even then. He takes one solitary action which is instantly effective, concluding the one-way conversation in a manner akin to putting the phone down on a cold-caller, but with additional benefit of knowing you won’t be cold-called again anytime soon.

This that page; this is that panel.

Honestly? I think the second panel of this collected edition is the best rendition of Doom of all time. I’d have stopped talking right then.

Glaring from under his cowl (gauntlets folded, yes) Victor growls – without growling anything – are you seriously going to fuck with me…?

Fast-forward to the heavily fortified S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier floating high above the world’s surface, and its Commander Maria Hill is fobbing off a pedantic phone call from her mother whilst painting her toe nails. Now, I know that’s in the script so credit as always – always – to Brian Michael Bendis, but Maleev nails the multi-tasking mundanity of applying polish while listening to bothersome shit which you really shouldn’t have to take except from your mom. One of those actions requires real concentration.

What happens next requires even more concentration, but I would be exceedingly distracted throughout if I thought my socks had smudged the wet varnish.

Alex Maleev Exhibit C comes from Switzerland whither Doom temporarily re-houses Amara, and the mountainous backgrounds are – in their truest sense – awesome. Hollingsworth once again fires on all restrained cylinders and the effect is tranquil, idyllic.

I should probably be telling you the plot.

Doctor Doom has reformed and wants to set the world to rights, empowered by Tony Stark’s armour. No one believes him, especially former Fantastic Four adversary Benjamin Grimm. So that gets in his way a bit.

Doom is disgusted by what he finds has become of his kingdom, Latveria, which lies in rubble and under the command of a military rabble which should, he now believes, have transformed his prior dictatorship into a thriving democracy. Instead, there aren’t even any schools to go to, so the kids clutter up the streets, carrying rifles with live ammunition.

He’s also disgusted to find Ben there.

Things, however, are looking even more grim for our Benjamin whose rocks are coming off, clink, clink, clink, one at a time, because someone in the shadows appears to have made an unexpected return from the dead.

“Grimm.”
“Ah… Vic?”
“You need not speak.”
“It’s… She says she’s…”
“I know. I knew when I walked in. Hello, mother.”

But there’s someone else waiting in the wings whom Doom knows so well, and he should no longer exist, either.

Exceptional for Marvel right now, this is written with all due care for the past, but with a refreshingly thorough reassessment in the light of sweeping changes which comes from a lot of lateral thinking.

SLH

Buy Infamous Iron Man vol 1: Infamous s/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions / Old Reviews

Parker: The Outfit s/c (£17-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke…

“Salsa was a stick-up man from Cuba. He’d been a revolutionary, a gigolo and was now an armed robber. When he saw the call come through he keyed his Dodge. He’d been stalking out the gas station since Parker’s letter. Two years ago he’d stopped for gas and made it as a layoff dump. As he roared towards the station he pulled on his mask. The two clowns didn’t know what hit them. All they’d remember was that they were robbed by Frankenstein.”

This, the second Darwyn Cooke adaptation of a Richard Stark ‘Parker’ novel is a direct sequel to the first, PARKER: THE HUNTER. As mentioned in my previous review, with crime it’s all about the plot for me, but Cooke’s art on the first book just took my breath away literally right from the moment I opened the book. THE OUTFIT, if anything, is even more beautiful for reasons I’ll come to, and once again we begin with a panoramic double-page splash of the locale, this time Miami Beach c.1963.

Following the events of THE HUNTER Parker knows he’s made some serious enemies in the shape of the Outfit having taken them for $45,000, which sure isn’t chump change, but that’s how they’ve been made to feel, and it’s sure how they’re choosing to take it. The Outfit are coming after Parker so repeatedly now he decides the only option is to change his face as well as his scenery. But easy living costs money, and after an armed robbery heist to generate some quick cash goes slightly awry, all thanks to a good old-fashioned double crossing at the hands of a greedy dame, the Outfit learns just why it is they’ve been unable to spot Parker recently. And, so the chase begins again.

Parker, a smarter wit than all the bosses put together, surmises the only way he’s going to be able to get them to stop coming after him for good is if he keeps hitting them hard, where it hurts them the most… in their wallets, so that they’ll have no choice but to make peace with him. Of course, Parker being Parker, he has a few more angles to his plan than that, but he’s certainly not one to show his hand until it’s time to claim the whole pot. And so, with the aid of some long standing friends scattered across the States, who might not exactly be adverse to some easy scores against the Outfit themselves, he starts a co-ordinated campaign of action, having forewarned the Outfit this is just a taste of what they can expect if they don’t leave him alone.

One key addition to Cooke’s glorious armoury of endeavour this time around is the use of devices relatively atypical to sequential art, such as floating narrative text-excerpts to build extra vital detail and background information into the plot. Often when this device is used in comics, it makes the work feel text-heavy, but here it’s so punchily done in a breezily staccato manner, it really adds to the action. And in a particularly delightful conceit, when Parker’s extended gang of colleagues launch their concerted series of heists all aimed at interests of the Outfit, he employs a completely different art style to chronicle each heist, switching from illustrated magazine article to Pink Panther-esque cartoon style, to panelled newspaper strip, to ligne claire, further adding to the gloriously period ’60s feel of the whole joint. It also neatly provides a very clever mid-book interval in true old-school cinema style, before Parker takes central stage once again to bring the hidden elements of his master plan to a concussive conclusion.

JR

Buy Parker: The Outfit s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bone: Rose (£11-99, Scholastic) by Jeff Smith…

Using some of the supporting characters from BONE but set in an earlier time, this standalone work is quite different in that it is a straight story without the comedic element that often featured in its parent title.

This is in essence a high fantasy story about the Princess Rose and her sister Briar involving talking dragons, strange creatures (some of which will be familiar to readers of BONE), mysterious protectors, dastardly villainy and the usual expendable cannon-fodder villagers.

The lush painted artwork from Vess put me in mind of his slice of THE BOOKS OF MAGIC and adds to the magical fairytale qualities of the book. Personally I was left with the interesting paradox of finding the character of Rose slightly annoying because everyone seems so easily able to manipulate her naivety and exploit her, but on the other hand as a device it is used well by Smith to generate some lovely tortuous and unpleasant plot twists. You’ll almost certainly find yourself muttering under your breath to Rose, come on you really can’t be that daft, but in the end I found myself rather carried along by the story.

JR

Buy Bone: Rose 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’.

Giant Days vol 5 s/c (£13-99, Boom Box) by John Allison & Max Sarin

Threads: From The Refugee Crisis h/c (£14-99, Verso) by Kate Evans

Pop Gun War vol 2: Chain Letter (£17-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple

Ravina The Witch h/c (£19-99, Titan) by Junko Mizuno

Ethel & Ernest s/c (£10-99, Jonathan Cape) by Raymond Briggs

Motor Crush vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Brenden Fletcher & Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart

Batman: Detective Comics vol 9: Gordon At War s/c (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Fernando Pasarin, Scot Eaton

Nightwing vol 2: Back To Bludhaven s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley & Marcus To, Marcio, Takara, Min

Teen Titans vol 1: Damian Knows Best s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Ben Percy & Khoi Pham, Diogenes Neves, Jonboy Meyers

Venom vol 1: Homecoming s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Mike Costa & Gerardo Sandoval, Juanan Ramirez, Iban Coello

The Girl From The Other Side vol 2 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Nagabe

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2017 week one

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

New Jason, Jeff Lemire, Hamish Steele, John Lennon (?!?) and more!

Secret Path (£23-99, Simon & Schuster) by Jeff Lemire, with songs by Gord Downie.

A tremendously powerful, album-sized book, silent save for the inclusion of Gord Downie’s lyrics from songs you can download using a unique code enclosed in a sealed insert, although such is Lemire’s exceptionally well wrought craft that you can hear the poor lad’s relentless chattering of teeth and his shivering rasps of exhausted breath, exhaled into the empty, freezing air.

And then it starts to rain.

Yes, then it starts to rain.

When he huddles at night alongside the long, rigidly straight and so exposed rail tracks, arms wrapped around his legs, there is no cover, and snot drips snorting from his nose.

There’s no cover, no company, no respite and very little hope save for his dwindling dreams of ever finding himself home.

To begin with these daydreams are more vivid and colourful, the starkest and coldest of blues and his black leather boots giving way to bear feet dangling idly above water and banks of soft, tufted green grass below an apricot-coloured sky. He pictures his family – mother, father, younger sister and baby sibling – welcoming him back from a bountiful fishing trip with beaming smiles and unbridled pride. Everything is as it should be.

Nothing has been that way for years.

If you’ve ever seen the Australian film ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ directed by Phillip Noyce, based on the book by Doris Pilkington Garimara, you will have a very clear picture of the appalling story being told here. I’m afraid it was all too true, as is this. On the book’s back cover we are told:

“Chanie Wenjack (misnamed Charlie by his teachers) was a young boy who died on October 22, 1966. He was trying to walk home, along the railroad tracks, trying to escape the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School.”

Several boys aged 7 to 12 attempted the same thing at my prep school, Packwood Haugh, such was its… environment… but always during much more clement nights, and with far fewer miles to travel.

“Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where his home was, nor know how to find it. But like so many kids from residential schools – more than anyone will be able to imagine – he tried.”

Why would he do that? You know, apart from the not inconsiderable wrench of not actually being at home, in the arms of his loving family where he belonged?

Throughout the graphic novel we are given glimpses of incidents our runaway would rather forget. Not just his initiation into institutional “care”, either, though those scenes are repugnant enough: boys being stripped of their individuality with mandatory, ugly, perfunctory and identical haircuts; then stripped of all their clothes, privacy and dignity. They huddle, humiliated, naked and vulnerable under the communal showers, clutching their privates as the priest watches on.

We are never shown his face, then or late at night as he patrols the dormitories, pausing by bedsides. His disembodied hand flexes, and then reaches out. But we quite clearly see the awful fear in the young boy’s eyes, presumably not a one-off occurrence but a fear to be feared throughout each long hour of every successive day and then its subsequent night.

Predatory Russian Roulette.

Lemire’s recent ROUGHNECK was phenomenal, a real return to contemporary-fiction ESSEX COUNTY excellence where he all but began, with colouring as equally restrained and resplendent as this. There’s a starry-night splash page which had me agog. Here too Lemire packs a punch as emotionally charged as they were physically rendered in ROUGHNECK.

Not only that, but he has made maximum use of the size and shape of the format which was originally to have included a 12” vinyl album, wisely replaced (given international shipping) with a free digital download instead.

It begins, post-prologue, with the last vestiges of autumn – the few lingering, dried-up, senescent leaves – blowing over the open, exposed and austere rail tracks, the skeletal trees ranged like spiked railings on either wide side.

But it is its following page which I cannot find online uncut or at the right size which impresses me most. It shows four horizontal tiers of the same, unrelentingly straight (and so, by inference, infinite) railroad with no end in sight, as the lost lad approaches us, his eyes closed, his haunted thoughts inevitably elsewhere.

The combination of the vertically stacked, diagonally driven vanishing points creates a thoroughly unnerving, disconcerting, recurrent vista on which the eye cannot possibly rest, so inducing what I can only describe as a an involuntary flickering of vision in which you cannot help but skip alternate horizontal panels back and forth, up and down.

I’ve never seen anything like it in comics. The effect is akin to a stroboscope.

For my money this is best absorbed without the lyrics every dozen or so pages, but it’s far better to have something included to skip rather than something missing.

Proceeds go to the Canadian National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) which promises to publicise yet-to-be-revealed atrocities such as those alluded to within, and then preserve them in the public conscience alongside the Catholic Church’s systematic but consistently covered-up sexual abuse of young boys by priests who were sworn to celibacy, which is now thankfully well within the proven public domain so you cannot sue me for saying so.

In the interests of balance: I’ve not known the Protestant Church’s clergymen to be any less hands-on, nor British public-school masters, in my day at least. God save us from closed, cloistered cults.

SLH

Buy Secret Path and read the Page 45 review here

On The Camino (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason.

“There’s a dead cat in the side of the road.
“A rainbow!
“I can see the sun, but where’s the rain?

Almost immediately:

“Ah! …”

The ups and downs and the truly unexpected: there’s nothing like a trek into parts unknown, and for the first time ever Norwegian-born Jason journeys into the realms of autobiographical comics, celebrating his 50th birthday by walking the Camino de Santiago.

I walked all 500 miles alongside Jason and relished every single second of his jaunty Spanish stroll, without having to endure his blisters or bed bugs. As much as I prayed for our pilgrim to reach his chosen destination, I wish he never had, for I didn’t want this ambulatory, countryside idyll to ever end.

I felt as if I had met each individual whom Jason encountered – as much as the adorably reticent and retiring Jason can bring himself to meet anyone. I dined alongside him, whether the meals be kitchen cook-ups which he had to cater and scavenge for himself, hostel-hosted group dinners, cheap Pilgrim’s Menu choices found around each town or the occasional, v. rare, solo self-indulgence on an à la carte menu!

Initially John finds it difficult to break the habits of a lifetime, preferring to walk in solitude anyway and make conversation in the evening, but until he grasps the easy way in – the routine of enquiring which nation each traveller is from and why they’ve chosen this special route, undertaken by many as a religious vocation – he can’t quite make that first move, and the first legs are full of actual silence or missed (and immediately mourned) opportunities to join in.

But as John wends his way, he gradually gets into his conversational stride and builds brief bonds with individuals whom he leaves behind in his pre-dawn departures or falls behind only to be reunited with them farther down the trail which is marked by handy yellow arrows which unfortunately don’t glow in the dark.

Top tip: take a torch for early morning starts, last late-night furlongs and extricating yourself from a hostel without disturbing anyone else. Packing in the dark becomes an art which John masters early on; choosing the right hostel, however, is one he never quite gets the knack of.

Oh yes, Jason’s real name is John. I think we’ll keep calling him Jason.

He finds plenty of time for imagining how conversations might unfold or events might play themselves out, before pulling back with “Nah! That didn’t happen”. I’ll leave those to surprise and make you chuckle.

He also finds time for self-reflection:

“Look at the view, you idiot! Try to be present for once in your life!”

Yes, nature’s eye-candy is one of the primary motivations for meandering around such spectacular countryside and the one thing I found odd is that, unlike Eleanor Davis’ recent YOU & A BIKE & THE ROAD, I didn’t experience quite the same sense of the changing environment. In one panel Jason exclaims simply “View!” but we’re looking at Jason instead!!! Funny!

The individuality and sanctity of some of the chapels he encounters is keenly evoked. Far from religious himself, Jason still appreciates the short church services with the passing of candles and exchange of hugs or their Gregorian chants, atmospherically interrupted by mobile phones. These services are sometimes part of a hostel’s lure and along some sections we discover selfless local devotees providing refreshments:

“It’s free. You’re a pilgrim.”

Such all-embracing, unquestioning generosity, also experienced in YOU & A BIKE & THE ROAD, is profoundly moving.

Jason, of course, has embarked on his endeavour not out of religious fervour but to celebrate his half-centenary, having only recently discovered nature. He’s beginning not to feel his age, exactly, but to acknowledge it with respect to others.

“I’m sunburned on my left ear. I say good-bye to all dignity and put a t-shirt under my hat.
“I meet Gorka and Minnie Driver again. We exchange experiences before they walk on.”

It’s not really Minnie Driver, but the similarity was noted on a previous evening.

“I can see myself through their eyes: an okay enough guy. But old enough to their dad, or uncle, let’s say.
“Or maybe they just didn’t want to walk next to someone wearing a t-shirt on his head.”

Ha! It may be Jason’s first foray into autobiography, but he’s retained his trademark bird and dog figures which seems perfectly natural, yet when each of the many statues popping up along the Camino is depicted similarly instead of as is, it brought a smile to my face. I don’t know why!

The big advantage, of course, in retaining the anthropomorphic aspect for Jason’s on / off acquaintances is that in his skilled hands one gleans a better sense of their demeanour and temperament, their essential character rather than a superficial likeness which serves no purpose in a comic like this at all.

As to Jason himself, there’s a tremendous panel in which he’s waiting outside the bathroom for a free shower after a 36km hike. Holding his wash bag in one hand, a towel draped over the other arm, he shows himself leaning back against the wall with an extraordinary sense of weight for such lean lines, and an expression which is quintessentially one of quiet composure, like a car idling in neutral.

Jason will be at The Lakes International Comic Arts Festival 2017 this October, so feel free to ask him how on earth he expresses so much so minimally, with what is the very opposite of exaggeration.

And it really is free if you catch him signing in our Georgian Room in the Kendal Clock Tower at 2pm that Saturday, which I’ve not been authorised to announce yet.

I’m ever so naughty!

SLH

Buy On The Camino and read the Page 45 review here

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

Oh dear gods, this is funny! I’m quite sure it shouldn’t be, but it is.

“Warning: PANTHEON contains incest, decapitation, suspicious salad, fighting hippos, lots of scorpions, and a golden willy.”

There’s something for everyone, then.

Always wise to read the back-cover blurb, and they’re not making it up. Believe it or not, the “suspicious salad” is the worst offender of the lot, tossed without any mind to Health & Safety; in fact, quite the opposite.

But believe it or not (reprise), Hamish Steele isn’t making this up, either. Although he’s mined the mythology for maximum mirth – lobbing in every anachronistic, artistic armament he can find – this is quite honestly how the Egyptian legends of creation and indeed procreation played themselves out without any heed to the niceties of familial decorum, marital boundaries, genetic wisdom or avuncular beneficence.

Prompted by the promise above I immediately searched the hand-dandy family tree of gods and goddesses arranged in such a way that they are linked as sibling, married to, child of, or even same guy. I wondered how many parallel lines I would find. The only way in which I was at all disappointed was in a narcissistic failure of the “same guy” to be married to himself. Otherwise…? All bets are off.

In particular Isis and Osiris really did keep it in the family, and their expressions in that timeline – one to-camera – are priceless.

The prologue’s punchline – the very act of creation – is equally iconoclastic, perfect in its pithiness, and its use of a very rude word sets the tone admirably for all that will follow; little of which is, in any shape-changing form, admirable.

Still, you can’t create an omelette without breaking eggs or cleaving heads and caving in the skulls of your followers, and the same goes for new worlds and new world orders, apparently. Transitionally the mortal Egyptians are to be presided over by a pantheon of four second-generation gods, Osiris being their first pharaoh married to his sister Isis, with their brother and sister, Set and Nephthys, equally entwined.

What one expects most from such tales of divine intervention and antiquity is solemnity, majesty, Dire Declarations in Capital Letters and Multisyllabic Words.

Instead you’ll be reminded, again and again, that Set is the most unbelievable cock.

Here’s Ra / Atum, sun-god supreme and the top-tabler in this celestial convention:

“Young Osiris.
“It is now up to you and your siblings to maintain the balance of Egypt during the transitional period between the Eras of God and Man. And one day you shall join us in Duat too.
“Now, don’t fuck it up.”

Young Set, to camera – immediately, gleefully and not for the last time:

“I’m gonna fuck it up.”

Set is the king of contradiction, his ambition for power limited by nothing whatsoever, certainly not Osiris’ oblivious gullibility. It doesn’t just end in tears; it begins in tears with Set dethroning Osiris almost immediately through blatant, see-through trickery and in spite of Isis’ repeated warnings.

Guys, please listen to your wives!

The problem, of course is that Isis is not only Osiris’ missus but his sister too, and no one listens to their sisters except sisters. Here are sisters Nephthys and Isis discussing their current conundrum:

“I’m sorry about my husband, Isis. I dunno what Set has against Osiris.”
“Maybe it’s to do with when Osiris kicked Set last week.”
“Maybe… Or maybe it’s because I’ve been sleeping with Osiris.”
“Eww, Nephy! He’s your brother!”
“So is Set!”
“He’s mine too!”

Meanwhile, as I said, Set’s seized power and Isis is deeply pissed off:

“That’s not your throne!”
“The pharaoh is gone and so his crown passes to his brother! Which is me!”
“You’d be a crap pharaoh!”
“I know! It’s hilarious! You can still be queen if you want, sis. You’re a solid eight.”

We’re nowhere near the suspicious salad yet, although it is fruit born of similarly inbred shenanigans which are so outrageous / extreme that I cannot possible write about them in public. So instead I’m going to roll out one of my favourite words: transgressive. If you’ve been enjoying the three MEGG & MOGG books, BOY’S CLUB or Joan Cornell’s MOX NOX and ZONZO, then I would humbly submit that this morass of family misfortune is right up your back alley.

I wonder if this is why Nobrow Publishing gave birth to its all-ages imprint Flying Eye? You certainly wouldn’t want this falling into the same tiny hands as HILDA.

Hamish Steele’s designs for these gods are exquisite (and perversely ever so attractive to children!), some of them sampling Matt Groenig’s penchant for wide-eyed, bulbous cartooning while others like uncle Set and nephew Horus lend themselves to equally expressive mischief with Horus’s head coming off like an innocent greetings-card blue tit in black; one which will certainly start singing more than the dawn chorus once Horus is on the receiving end of Set’s flamboyant flagrancy.

At which point I would just remind you that although this is a mesh of many mythologies from different localities, what’s here was there: Extraordinarily, Hamish is merely re-presenting these extant legends presented by and to the Egyptian populace in all seriousness (in fact, more than seriousness: with all the sacred weight which comes with the divinity they describe) in an irreverently off-hand and jocular fashion whose comedy lies in that very contrast, the startlingly sexual nature of what he’s disinterred, and the lightning-bolt timing and sometimes contemporary context with which he delivers it.

Additionally, some of the jokes are more subtle than others, Steele leaving this piece of minor genius until quite close to the end when Horus comes a cropper in a manner not so dissimilar to Anglo-Saxon King Harold, as made most comically famous by the late and indescribably great Stanley Holloway.

“Horus! Your eye!”
“What are you talking about? My eye is fine!”

Yup, looks fine to me.

“No! Your other eye!”
“My… My other eye?”

This ‘what other eye?’ joke is predicated upon the fact that Egyptian paintings universally presented all personages in profile when it came to their heads and that those thus characterised might be unaware that they even had a second, unseen eye.

That’s ever so deliciously meta.

Finally, thanks to Steele’s remarkable restraint in leaving this so long, it was only at this juncture – forgive me for being so slow! – that I realised I was reading what must surely be the first comic ever to be to be conducted throughout using  profile-only faces.

Except for the very next page.

You are hearing a round of rattling, full-throttle and unequivocal applause.

SLH

Buy Pantheon: The True Story of the Egyptian Deities and read the Page 45 review here

I Killed Adolf Hitler h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason.

A luxurious new hardcover edition with a satisfyingly tactile debossed flag, released in time for the launch of Jason’s autobiographical perambulations ON THE CAMINO, this is far closer in tone and content to the likes of Jason’s LOW MOON, IF YOU STEAL and ATHOS IN AMERICA etc, all of which come highly recommended.

Calmly coloured by Hubert and told in a clean and relaxed, four-tiered, eight-panel grid, this ingenious, comedic dance is the last story you’d expect from a title like that, except that it does feature quite a lot of sudden deaths!

Set in a world where earning a License To Kill is as legal as a license to practice medicine, Jason clearly demonstrates why conspiracy to murder – to hire someone to kill someone else for you – is against the law here in the UK, Ireland and most American States. It’d be highly lucrative and the waiting list longer than the average builder’s. Everyone would be at it and for the most spurious reasons. But if you can hire someone to off your missus because you’re bored of your relationship, you’d better look out for tell-tale signs of ennui in your next lover’s eyes.

 

The star is one such hitman who – after a snappy succession of assignments, each with its own punchline – is paid to travel back in time and shoot Adolf Hitler.

He botches it.

Instead Adolf escapes in the same transtemporal globe and ends up back in the here and now. The delight of this, however, is that this isn’t really about Adolf at all, and wherever and whenever the various time-travellers end up, the majority of the action occurs in the present.

But how does everyone get here if the machine takes fifty years to power up after each two-way journey?

It’s actually a love story, told, deadpan, with the absurdist wit of Lewis Trondheim.

SLH

Buy I Killed Adolf Hitler and read the Page 45 review here

Lennon: The New York Years h/c (£17-99, IDW) by David Foenkinos, Eric Corbeyran & Horne.

“At first I found it really strange to live at Mimi’s. My mother never explained anything to me, I didn’t dare ask any questions.
“I must have thought that it was going to be for two or three days like before.”

His tiny suitcase remains on the bed, packed and ready to go, or perhaps never unpacked in the first place.

“I lived my whole childhood with a sensation of everything being temporary. I was always on deposit somewhere.”

That’s a fine piece of writing, and the art throughout is faultless, especially in the quiet moments. Horne is an exceedingly fine portrait artist; moreover, this softly shaded art, dappled with light, boasts a suppleness and deftness of touch which eludes so many engaging in such photo-realistic comics, inevitably in this case relying heavily on reference material. Too often the desperation to achieve likeness causes each rendition to become rigid and their flow as a sequence to become heavy and static, but the lines and light here are as pliant as you like.

Occasionally there’s the same image repeated a little too often but I can happily put that down to snap-shot recollection which is something that flickers through my own mind, and is essentially what Lennon is supposed to be engaged in: offloading to his therapist in a series of sessions, the first of which takes place just before the birth of his second son, Sean, to Yoko Ono, on John’s 35th birthday, October 9th 1975.

And therein lies my problem with this book and its central conceit: if Lennon were writing an extended, contemplative article for publication, or even as a personal exercise, it might work, but here he is far too lucid and fluent to be talking off-the-cuff to a counsellor who doesn’t get a word in edgeways. There’s no prompting, he just goes off on one – a very long one – in a measured, highly structured fashion, at first relating the self-confessed absence of any paternal feelings towards his first son, Julian, to his own abandonment as a child by his father and then his mother.

It’s very well expressed by both artist and writers – too well expressed by the writers – as the father then returns to use Lennon as a lure to regain his wife, with no thought whatsoever as to the further destabilising effect (after so many) on their poor son.

There are four terrifically well chosen and delineated panels on Horne’s part which depict the young lad waiting for his mother to return in Aunt Mimi’s entryway, dressed in school uniform and cap as if he were waiting outside the headmaster’s office – for hours.

The door doesn’t open.

Amongst the other things that irk me, however, is that that this isn’t a reflection on Lennon’s New York Years as its title professes. It may be a reflection from his New York Years with occasional allusions to them, but they’re far from the focus which instead sprawls over his years as a Beatle, yet with but a two-page footnote about ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, John casually, lazily asserting (but not necessarily erroneously, for sure!) that it was “the most revolutionary album of all time” without any explanation as to why – a subject about which you could easily fill a five-hour documentary.

I did nod thoughtfully to the notion that Lennon’s uptake of spectacles – after years of enduring blurred vision for the sake of vanity – was a direct result of a film he agreed to take a part in, that character being one who wore glasses.

But to return to the credibility of the conceit, when one sits down to write something (editing out all the false starts etc), one hopefully comes up with something a lot more coherent than most of us manage in conversation, with a wider vocabulary to boot. But not only is this too considered for verbal therapy sessions which usually involve some degree of faltering then coaxing, it’s also too well phrased and the language didn’t seem like Lennon’s, as spoken, at all.

The overall effect is to leave this feeling false, contrived and untrustworthy so I stopped trusting its accuracy let alone engaging in it as entertainment and, in the end, this falls through the cracks of being neither one thing nor the other.

Wish I could have found the Lennon-as-a-lad art online for you, though: it truly is tremendous. 

SLH

Buy Lennon: The New York Years h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hawkeye vol 1: Kate Bishop s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh.

“Five A.M. is my nightmare.
“It shouldn’t even be a time.”

This is a truth, for which I apologise to all our loyal postmen and postwomen (in a trade rather than evolutionary sense) while truly appreciating all your pre-dawn delivery diligence. Too many of us take our Royal Mail maestros for granted, including myself until I typed both those sentences which have no bearing whatsoever on this comic.

It is a bright and beautiful thing. It is refreshingly free from clutter and it clatters on at a right old clop with all the attention span that you’d expect from a teenage narrator who won’t be distracted from her singular mission by anything other than abs. Mmmm…. abs.

Kate Bishop is focussed. Kate Bishop can see what few others see. What she sees with her hawk-eyed, instantaneous intuition-vision is presented by Romero and Bellaire in shutter-speed, potential purple targets which Thompson wittily designates as ‘Innocent Bystander’, a car’s ‘Poorly Covered Plate’, ‘Security Alarm’, ‘Smoke Detector’, ‘Glass Jaw’ and ‘More Hot Abs’.

In righting wrongs, master-archer Kate Bishop will take care of business meticulously, efficiently and without warning whilst wearing purple and counting abs.

I am not at all obsessed with abs.

Speaking of business, YOUNG AVENGERS’ Kate Bishop is setting up shop as a private detective in California around Los Angeles’ Venice Beach. Where there are lots of… pecs. She has no license, she has dubious investigative skills, but what she does have on her side is a certain chutzpah and the ability to improvise swiftly.

Although living up to her previous appearances in Fraction’s and Aja’s HAWKEYE  would be an impossible act, this still kept me mightily amused to start to finish. That series remains the only superhero comic which Page 45 has ever allowed into our window, largely because it wasn’t really a superhero comic but – in its true, theatrical sense – a comedy of manners so contemporarily designed by Aja.

This is equally contemporary, dealing as it does with the scum who harass women online, for more of which I would refer you to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 3. The art by Romero and coloured by Bellaire is a mischievous dream which is ever so light on extraneous clutter and ever so sharp on sequential-art subtlety which is perfectly apposite for a clue-based drama. I cannot believe it would be intentional but in one panel I even got whiffs of Jack Kirby romance comics (ask me).

Here’s a good joke. Kate Bishop walks into a bank.

“Excuse me, I’m here to make a deposit. Do you accept… sass?”

We do indeed. This sort of sass is acceptable.

SLH

Buy Hawkeye vol 1: Kate Bishop 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 Wicked + The Divine vol 5: Imperial Phase Part 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Providence vol 2 h/c (£19-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

Spill Zone vol 1 h/c (£17-99, FirstSecond) by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland

The Adventures Of John Blake: Mystery Of The Ghost Ship h/c (£14-99, David Fickling Books) by Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham

Bone: Rose (£11-99, Scholastic) by Jeff Smith

Fantasy Sports vol 3: The Green King h/c (£12-95, Nobrow) by Sam Bosma

Nothing Lasts Forever (£13-99, Image) by Sina Grace

Parker: The Outfit s/c (£17-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke

StarDrop vol 2: A Place To Hang My Space Suit (£8-99, I Box Publishing) by Mark Oakley

Abe Sapien vol 9: Lost Lives And Other Stories (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Scott Allie & Michael Avon Oeming, Dave Stewart, various

Justice League Of America: The Road To Rebirth s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Steve Orlando, Jody Houser & various

Suicide Squad vol 2: Going Sane s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Rob Williams & Jim Lee, various

Mighty Thor vol 2: Lords Of Midgard (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman, Rafa Garres, Frazer Irving

New Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 5 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Jim Cheung, Joe Quesada, Mike McKone, Mike Mayhew, Marko Djurdjevic, Bryan Hitch

Spider-Man / Deadpool vol 2: Side Pieces s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by various

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 3 (£9-99, Viz) by Yashuo Ohtagaki

Crossed + 100 vol 2 (£14-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier & Fernando Heinz, Rafael Ortiz

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

News!

ITEM! First-ever all-comics issue of The New York Times Magazine is online for you to devour!

Comics creators include Kevin Huizenga (above), Tillie Walden, Sammy Harkham, Tom Gauld, Franceso Frankavilla and ASTERIOS POLYP’s David Mazzucchelli.

ITEM! Comics creator Jason (see two books above) will be attending LICAF 2017 in October

So that’s a bit of a rarity!

I may made an exclusive, unauthorised announcement about this in my ON THE CAMINO review above. By which I mean, I did!

 – Stephen