Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2017 week three

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

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