Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2017 week one

Includes breathlessly awaited return of Hellbound Lifestyle’s Alabaster Pizzo!

Deserter’s Masquerade (£16-99, Knockabout) by Chloe Cruchaudet.

“Say it like you’ve got honey in your mouth.”
“Hello, my name is Suzanne…”

Well, this is a sell-itself cover if ever I saw one.

There’s an exceptionally strong, tactile physicality to the bare male back being wrapped round with a brassiere by a woman who looks lovingly but apprehensively up into his eyes as she seeks to close its clasp. Her wrists, hands and fingers are graceful, and her touch is tender, while his knuckles on hips aren’t those of a closed fist but open. It’s as subtle and soft as the molding, the shading. Their skin glows as if under moonlight.

Equally beautiful body forms populate this period graphic novel throughout, along with exquisitely expressive, gesticulatory character acting reminiscent of Will Eisner.

And Suzanne will have to do an awful lot of acting for fear of being found out. But after an initial reticence and reluctance to feminise herself in order to fit in, she finds that she actually relishes it and so much more.

At which point, the couple’s lives grow increasingly complicated…

Perhaps I should have used “historical” rather than “period” for DESERTER’S MASQUERADE is firmly rooted in a real story which begins one evening in pre-WWI Paris.

Louise is being prepped for the night out by her mother, advising her on etiquette and deportment as she deems befits a young lady; Paul is being bigged-up by his mum who admires the way his jacket shows off his broad shoulders. Unfortunately she’s making leek soup as he dresses for the occasion, and it’s ever so possible he’ll pong. His mates, on the other hand, gently tease him on account of his ardour for Louise but he’s determined that his enigmatic act will win the day. Louise, meanwhile, is being tutored by her friends on the affectations which she’ll need to pull off in order to attract.

“You need to fuss and fret a little bit.”
“She’s right. Play with your hair, stroke your knee, straighten your skirt… That way you appeal to his hunter’s instincts. You are his prey… The coup de grace: you throw back your head and laugh to show him your neck…”

It’s like being coached for a role in the crowd scene of a play. It works.

“Come on, let’s dance.”
“Well… okay but I should warn you now… I don’t know the steps like the other girls do.”

That matters not one jot. For many more nights over so many years, they’re going to make up their own dance instead.

Tonight it is beautiful to behold, Cruchaudet choreographing their hand-in-hand, give-and-take movements with a sweeping grace, accentuating their hips as they throw themselves up and Paul swirls Louise about. There is energy and freedom in their free-floating forms. Trickling down their hot necks there are rivulets of sweat which are both moist and pleasantly pungent, a sensory reaction which Cruchaudet has already set up for her readership with the leek soup, just as she has all the acting.

Except for the emphatically cramped and claustrophobic WWI trench scenes on the French frontline, all the panels here are borderless in black, white and grey washes, the cameo effect of the cinematic haze reminiscent of early film-making from around the same period. The bright scarlet dresses, skirts, and scarf (and a later, orange, chiffon chemise) could be a more modern tinting of those original black and white frames, adding extra sensuality to what is an exceptionally sensual experience.

The heady dance is immediately followed by a romantic, more serene scene in a boat on the lake in the Bois de Boulogne, which in turn leads swiftly down the altar, thence to the train station, Louise still adorned in her wedding dress. Alas, Paul is in army uniform for war is about to be declared, the virile young soldiers parading proudly in an orderly fashion down open avenues, full of optimism for the future.

One turn of the page later and you are in Hell.

What happens in the trenches won’t stay in the trenches: it will haunt Paul forever, and Cruchaudet proves as adept at ugly as she is at elegance. You will comprehend completely why Paul chose to desert – or saw little choice but to desert – but will still wince at the lengths he goes to in order to do so.

I’ll flash forward instead to Paul having to hide away in a hotel while Louise goes to work, in order to bring in an inadequate wage for the pair of them. Louise is at equal risk should Paul ever be discovered for she made all the arrangements, but Paul is far from grateful, slouching around in his vest, hairy chest on show, and begins drinking heavily.

It is the need for more drink which finally propels him outside at night in one of Louise’s red dresses, and oh, that look of naughty-boy joy as he strides down the lamp-lit street!

If he wants to saunter out during the day, however, they’re both going to have to be far more thorough and grow more inventive with the latest epilatory gadgets. And that’s how Paul becomes Suzanne.

I mentioned Will Eisner earlier, but the lines, noses and high Parisian fashion, as Paul learns his new role and then even a trade, also put me very much in mind of what I call early-mid Disney circa ‘One Hundred And One Dalmatians’.

We’ve still barely begun, but I can take you no further; instead I pull you back. For the book doesn’t begin with the dance, it begins with three pages of a courtroom trial which will be reprised later but already inform everything as you read it. For you know from the start that something went awry, so you’re kept in a constant state of suspense, worrying what went wrong, when it went wrong and why.

You are given no clue at all as to the nature of the charges, and that is vital.

The very first page depicts a quite elderly man of unremarkable appearance swapping his civilian clothes for long black robes and the white scarf of office, assuming the identity of a judge.

“Clothes make the man,” as they say.

That’s how clever this is.

AGE ALERT for school librarians etc. It’s rare that we issues any age alert in reviews – although we are always responsible on the shop floor – but there’s far more going on between the covers and indeed down the Bois de Boulogne than I had anticipated, although the Bois de Boulogne is sign-posted early on (right there in wrought iron!), and that neck of the woods does have a certain history of exotic, libidinous, nocturnal activity. “Delicately put, Stephen!” Thank you.

SLH

Buy Deserter’s Masquerade and read the Page 45 review here

Ralphie & Jeanie (£10-00, Alabaster Comix) by Alabaster Pizzo.

Job interviews:

These are serious, potential life-altering affairs which should be conducted with the utmost decorum.

A little levity, when judiciously targeted, may well prove endearing to your prospective employer, for engagement and individuality as well as a quick wit and a sprightly demeanour are treasured by some as qualities conducive to a cooperative and constructive relationship between co-workers. It pays to be positive, you know.

You should arrive well prepped, but also fresh as a daisy.

Jeannie’s sure had a bath, but the bath was in beer which here boyf had left brewing. She thought it was a thoughtful, aromatic offering to calm her nerves.

“I really have the best boyfriend ever. <3”

It was certainly aromatic, and now so is she. Also “relaxed”, by which I mean drunk as a skunk.

“Uh, Eugenia Barboncino?”
“HEEEERRE’S JEANNIE!!!!!”

That panel features some truly tasty cartooning, our Jeanie thrusting herself effervescently, horizontally through the office doorway, wild-eyed, mouth wide and arms akimbo, addressing her imaginary, adulatory TV audience; emphatically not her startled potential employer.

But making an entrance that impresses is not without merits, so let’s see what transpires.

“Ms. Barboncino, why do you think you’re qualified for this position?”
“Please, call me Jeanie,” she proffers generously, waving her hand to dismiss the formality. “”Ms. Barboncino” is my father.”

There follows the loudest and most profoundly moving Oscar-acceptance speech of all time, before Jeannie THUNKs her head down on his desk.

“Ms. Barboncino, are you drunk?”
“Drunk with desire for this job!!!”

He picks up the phone. “Security?”

From the co-creator of HELLBOUND LIFESTYLE, a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, comes an ill-advisedly A4 floppy of blindingly bright, exuberant, anthropomorphic ordeals which had me howling with laughter. Is it so very puerile of me to find hilarious a po-faced art-gallery owner answering the phone with “Hello, Pooperdink & Plop?”

It probably is. I might try that at Page 45.

Note that the love-struck couple call each other Ralphie and Jeanie, not Ralph and Jean, affectionate nicknames of adoration which also denote a certain absence of level-headed maturity. They are clueless and completely impractical, not rising but falling to every occasion. Although Ralphie may surprise you – and Jeanie too – when it comes to his empathy and instinct in controlling some lively kids in a crèche.

“Thank you so much for coming on such short notice,” says the day care centre’s supervisor, smiling but so drained by the drought of support in her job that her hair is a crinkled, crumpled, frazzled mess and the bags under her eyes are bruised blue. “The other counsellors keep changing their phone numbers or abruptly leaving the country.”

Also on offer: a free day at the beach requiring massive, burdensome and accumulatively expensive accoutrements hauled over half a dozen subway stops; tax returns (you send them in; you don’t actually get anything in return except a bloody big bill), a wedding invitation, DIY (see: ill-advised), alien abduction (possibly) and unearthing a time capsule buried together during college, containing arcane objects whose function’s forgotten.

“Wow, so many CDs.
“Do you remember what we did with these?”

It’s simply masterful.

I love that their love falters for not one second and cannot emphasise in strong enough terms how infectiously endearing and keenly observed the cartooning is. Ralphie is perpetually stoned and therefore tired-eyed, dazed and lank, while take-charge Jeannie is such an expressive creation, ebullient and exclamatory, with a self-congratulatory pride evidenced in her chin lifted and eyes angelically shut when she buys into urban, small-hold farming by growing veggies on their terraced city rooftop.

“But what’s wrong with letting the grocery store grow the food as always?” ask Ralphie.

Jeanie’s face is a picture of pure, lip-sealed, Dame Edna Everage wobbling-eyed exasperation before bursting into visually star-struck dreams:

“Cause if we become farmers we can quit our jobs and live off the grid!!”

Live off the grid! Jeannie gleaned the idea from Woke Magazine which, much to my surprise, does actually exist. I thought it was satire.

SLH

Buy Ralphie & Jeanie and read the Page 45 review here

Shit And Piss (£8-00, Retrofit) by Tyler Landry.

As above, so below.

“Grief is grief,
“No matter where you find it.
“But in this hole
“The grief,
“The filth,
“The scum,
“They amount to… nothing.”

I’ve seen a lot of self-indulgent, determinedly transgressive and meaningless claptrap scrawled in biro by juveniles in their twenties or thirties, merrily mixing sex and violence, and there will almost always be a huge dong. Page 45 is a mature Real Mainstream retailer for a mature Real Mainstream readership of any age, so we don’t stock such drivel.

This is not that.

Tellingly, there are no genitalia on display whatsoever.

The title is blunt – I’ll give you that – but in this scathing, angry and particularly powerful instance, it is entirely merited.

To begin with SHIT AND PISS appears to be a bleak and brutal horror comic, set in a dungeon-like sewer system into which effluence pours from above, hence its weeping walls, where a “meat man”, without the senses to comprehend its environment in anything but the most primitive manner cannot therefore engage with it an any meaningful manner except through violence. All this is overseen by our narrator, a skull whose sockets house a piercing intelligence which appears to be dispassionate, sitting in judgement.

So far, so heavy metal, but again, this is not that. Pay close attention to what is being said and the manner in which it’s being communicated.

“Within these hallowed hall
“Of shit and piss,
“Dwell creatures so entrenched
“As to permeate the bricks themselves.
“Expertly organised –
“And in ways not dissimilar to your own.”

You’ll find them establishing abodes, fortifying boundaries, constantly in conflict and ravenous.

On either side of the central column of this ruled, nine-panel grid lurk more familiar city dwellers or a colony of ants. Later you may spot dead dinosaurs and medieval knights impaled on lances in the wake of a mass battle, their castle burning behind them. I don’t think that’s a comparison point: I believe that’s the main meat.

Landry makes the most of his nine-panel grid which, as I say, is gutter-free and so may merge at  any moment to form a composite image with a striking use of defining tone between each constituent element (just as his silhouettes and inverse silhouettes do throughout) so that the beats are maintained in the monologue.

They are such damning beats, not least the last one, delivered with economy and eloquence.

“Down here in the shit
“And the piss.
“Genocide is a matter of course.”

As above, so below.

SLH

Buy Shit And Piss and read the Page 45 review here

Combed Clap Of Thunder (£5-00, Retrofit) by Zach Hazard Vaupen…

“Insanity witches.
“Drug maniacs.
“Friend addicts.
“Bathroom intolerants.
“The world is broken and I’m a person in it.”

Three of the most bizarre, surreal and yet delightfully coherent short stories that I may have ever read. These are as utterly out there as PICNOLEPTIC INERTIA by Tsemberlidis and pretty much anything by Michael STICKS ANGELA, FOLK HERO DeForge.

The titles ‘The Lonely Autocannibal The Scientist’, ‘Bodhisattva’ and ‘The Real Jesuses’ give you an inkling Zach Hazard Vaupen is about take you for a walk on the weirder side, but you will quickly find yourself drawn into three fascinating, if twisted, worlds of very well constructed  and thought-through existential crises.

The first features a strange individual abstractedly pondering the pros (and apparently no cons) of eating human flesh whilst taking in the delights of the natural world and philosophising / losing the plot. You can probably guess from the title precisely who the titular Scientist ends up sampling in the culinary sense…

The second is possibly the most disturbing given that it features a pair of identical twins, sort of, for one seems to be imaginary, whilst the other is determined to commit suicide, seemingly from practically the moment she was born. She just doesn’t want to do it by herself though, and since her twin isn’t interested in ending it all, she spends most of her childhood years trying to persuade other people to join her in a suicide pact. The punchline is the kicker. I can see exactly what the writer was intending here, and it is a genuinely affecting read.

The final story was probably my favourite as it took the nigh on apocalyptic state of the world to utterly bizarre and excruciatingly farcical levels of odd. As humankind gradually swirls upwards around the plughole towards the Godhead, the Real Jesuses themselves fervently playing their vital, if transitory, bit-part role along the way, the believers are in for a wee bit of a surprise when they finally meet the big man himself.

As I said then, three of the most bizarre, surreal short stories that I may have ever read!

Artistically I was also extremely impressed. Zach has an incredibly strong style but a very light touch which did remind me of the likes of GARDENS OF GLASS by Lando, but also very strongly of Ben Sea’s equally kooky EYELASH OUT. And actually, now I think upon further, also the odd bit of Frederick AAMA Peeters for good measure, particularly in the Lonely Autocannibal’s facial features. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for any future works.

JR

Buy Combed Clap Of Thunder and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Night: A True Batman Story s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Paul Dini & Eduardo Risso…

“Get up. Go back to work.”
“Your bedside manner is lousy.”
“Your attitude is worse. Calling in sick. Moping and feeling sorry for yourself. Wasting your time with this trash. You’ve accomplished nothing.”
“I’ve been having a hard time.”
“And doing nothing to rise above it. Make a new choice.”
“Like what?”
“Mitigate the chance of being attacked again. For a start. Be alert. Be smart. Drop some weight. Tone up. The exercise will nourish both your body and your mind. Soon you’ll be walking with pride and authority. It will take a few months of hard work, but if you want to heal and restore your confidence, there really is no other way.”
“I want to buy a gun.”

That’s Batman, there, dispensing the tough love to the battered Paul Dini. Back in the 1990s, whilst on the up and up and writing for Batman: The Animated Series in Hollywood, Dini was very badly beaten during a mugging. In addition to shattering his face, the assailants shattered his confidence, resulting in a long and difficult recovery process that was as tough, if not considerably tougher, in mental terms, than the physical.

During that period, having withdrawn nearly completely within himself emotionally, Dini would frequently find himself talking to the Batman, and a whole host of Bat-villains, all the while oscillating between despair and self-loathing. From blaming himself for walking blindly into the situation, to not being able to fend off his attackers, to repeatedly choosing to avoid putting it behind him and moving on with his life, Dini’s internal dialogues with the cast of characters that it had long been second nature writing, would form his psychological crutch whilst simultaneously also being the barrier preventing him regaining his mental health.

Much like Steven T. Seagle’s thankfully back-in-print IT’S A BIRD with art by Teddy Kristiansen, about his mental travails around working on Superman (also on Vertigo), this is not your normal Batman book. There are some fascinating little Bat nuggets thrown in here, including a Sandman and Death guest appearance (blessed by Neil himself) whilst Batman was hovering between life and death that Dini pitched for the animated series and sadly never happened, but ultimately this is simply a very painful, very tragic, true crime story. It is all the more excruciating to read when you are watching the blows rain down and enduring Dini’s protracted, emotionally suffocating recovery process, because you know it really happened.

He certainly picked the right artist to work with him in Eduardo 100 BULLETS Risso too because as soon as I saw the two hoodlums sauntering towards Dini, him having petulantly refused a lift home from his hot actress date for the evening in a vain attempt to induce jealousy, well, any sort of interest in him from her, and him then thinking I don’t want to be that white asshole who crosses over the road just to avoid two black guys, who are probably simply well-to-do Hollywood creative types, I knew just how viscerally brutally the beat down was going to be illustrated. And it was. It’s one thing revelling in that sort of thing whilst enjoying crime fiction like 100 BULLETS, it’s another thing reading it, knowing it was a man’s life on the line.

 

I admire his honesty in writing this. There was undoubtedly some degree of catharsis in doing so, indeed there’s a little sequence between Dini and The Joker berating him for exactly that, but he certainly doesn’t spare himself, or attempt to portray himself as some sort of martyr. Quite the opposite really, Dini lays bare the relentless hard time he, directly, and through the proxies of the entire cast of Bat-villains, plus Batman too, gave himself. For events during, after, and indeed before the mugging. Nowhere near as painful to read as what he went through I’m sure, but he does a very good job of giving us a glimpse of what a punishing period of his life it must have been emotionally.

JR

Buy Dark Night: A True Batman Story s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye vol 1: Going  Underground s/c (£14-99, Young Animal) by Gerard Way & Michael Avon Oeming…

“We’re going too fast, hold on! Between my eye, and the Mighty Mole’s sensors, we might just avoid hitting a gas line or a chasm.”
“I love this. I LOVE IT!”
“Why is this happening?! Who are these guys?!”
“Your mother was a princess of an ancient underground civilisation called Muldroog. These guys need you, her descendant, to open up some kind of vault.”
“You care to run that shit past me just one more time, please?!”

Cave Carson safely retired, if not completely unscathed, from the underground adventuring business, after putting in more subterranean miles than even the Mole Man, was all settled down to enjoy the good life with wife Eileen, and daughter Chloe. And life was very good, for a time. But with Chloe now all grown up and away at college, and Eileen sadly recently deceased, Cave suddenly finds himself at somewhat of an emotional loose end. It’s a good job adventuring is going to come a knock-knock-crashing through his proverbial door like a pickaxe, then!

Cave Carson was actually a very obscure ‘60s DC sidebar sci-fi character who never even had his own title until now, so (mine-)props to Gerard Way for excavating a little bit of long buried DC history to work with. I’m not certain whether he had his cybernetic eye back in the day, but that artificial ocular implant, which Cave is not entirely sure where / when / why / how he acquired – hey, he had a lot of adventures, but probably not at his local Specsavers, I suspect – is going to prove very crucial to the plot. I guess that was kind of obvious, though, otherwise why would it be in the title?!

In fact, before long he’s having strange hallucinations which seem to be coming from said eye, rather than his noggin. Bet he wishes he’d kept the receipt… These episodes of sensory overload are certainly going to prove as much hindrance as help to him, as Cave is called upon once more to get out a jam by going underground, this time with Chloe, plus best mate and top mechanic Jack in tow. Their destination? The fabled lost city of Muldroog… which might just have a pivotal connection with his pesky peeper…

This is just a really fun title, utterly absurd escapist adventure nonsense. It’s far more simple and straightforward a read than Way’s excellent, if intense, DOOM PATROL. It’s very nominally in the main DC universe itself, as we enjoy a brief cameo from Doc Magnus and some of his merry Metal Men, for example, plus a Superman reference, but I think that’s probably about as far into capes and tights territory as this is going to get. Which is another plus. It is basically, then, a mildly psychedelic sci-fi romp, with some surprisingly dark elements of suspense and horror spattered in occasionally, which I’ll say no more about as to not spoil the squirming surprises.

Oeming is a great choice of partner for Way here, and I’m delighted he’s got this gig. Nice to see him on something else high profile other than the still barely chugging along POWERS and the now seemingly, sadly, extinct UNITED STATES OF MURDER INC. He choreographs the decoratively deranged and at times mind-bendingly colourful action-packed artwork to perfection.

JR

Buy Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye vol 1: Going  Underground 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’

Alice Isn’t Happy (£10-00) by Spencer Woodcock & Denny Derbyshire

Badger Vs. Tiger! (£5-00) by John Cei Douglas

Beanworld vol 4: Hoka Hoka Burb’l Burb’l h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Larry Marder

Empress Book 1 s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Stuart Immonen

Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge Tardi h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Leo Malet & Jacques Tardi

Glister (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Andi Watson

Loose Ends (£14-99, Image) by Jason Latour & Chris Brunner

Monstress vol 2: The Blood s/c (£14-99, Image) by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda

Songy Of Paradise (£30-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Gary Panter

Star Wars vol 5: Yoda’s Secret War (£15-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Kelly Thompson & Salvador Larroca & Emilio Laiso

DC Universe: Rebirth – The Deluxe Edition h/c (£15-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez

It’s A Bird… s/c (£15-99, DC) by Steven T. Seagle & Teddy H. Kristiansen

Erased vol 2 h/c (£21-99, Yen Press) by Kei Sanbe

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