Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2017 week three

Featuring Sarah Burgess, Laura Kenins, Mike Medaglia, Steven T. Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen, Warren Ellis, John Cassady, Laura Martin.

Planetary Book 1 s/c (£26-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday with Laura Martin.

“They killed an entire world…
“So that they had somewhere to store their weapons.”

For me this is the work of Warren Ellis’s career to date.

Cassaday’s and Martin’s too.

Science fiction at its most wondrous, inclusive, mysterious and thrilling, it is meticulously composed, vast in scope, broad in appeal and spectacular to look at.

It also boasts a mordant wit, with superb cadence in conversation as the three members of Planetary’s field team play verbal sabres at each other’s expense. It’s one way of staying sane.

The 20th Century is coming to a close, but it has left scars behind in its wake.

Planetary is a covert, private organisation seeking its extraordinary secrets. Funded by an unseen Fourth Man, they are archaeologists of the unknown, travelling the globe to unearth all the weird science which has been foisted upon the Earth from other dimensions, or which we have visited upon ourselves. Though some of their discoveries prove breathtaking treasures, few are less than horrific, yet Planetary is determined to repurpose as much as they can disinter for the betterment of mankind.

Unfortunately they find themselves up against The Four, astronauts secretly launched into space in 1961 using physics developed by Nazi physicists exported to America and led by a scientific genius in “disciplines as long as your arm”. They returned… changed… and they do not have our best interests at heart.

As Planetary kicks off, its surviving field team members Jakita Wagner and The Drummer invite Elijah Snow to fill their recently ‘vacated’ third place. Elijah Snow is terse, grouchy, suspicious but exceptionally experienced in the arcane and trained by the best in deductive reasoning. Why, then, is he unaware that he has been a member of Planetary for years?

Warren Ellis proves himself to be something of an archaeologist himself, for as PLANETARY proceeds you’ll begin to discover that he is digging up science fiction history too. Like THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, half the fun is in spotting the sly references, though you will lose nothing whatsoever if they elude you. Pulp fiction prose, British gothic fiction prose, American horror prose, Godzilla and other giant monster movies, the more iconic superhero comics (see a previous, precisely-worded paragraph for but one example) and even DC’s Vertigo imprint are all referenced and warped to Ellis’s own goals. There will be many a smile upon recognition. That last one comes under a mock McKean SANDMAN cover, and includes a certain grumpy and garrulous, uniquely tattooed bald bloke, with a red cigarette lighter held on top a green pack of twenty.

The specifics I leave for you to identify yourselves (I have an extensive list to expound upon if you ever want to swap notes) apart perhaps from Doc Brass (Doc Savage, Man of Bronze) for he appears very early and will prove pivotal to the plot. Like Elijah Snow he is dressed all in white and was born on 1st January 1900. Readers of Ellis & Hitch’s THE AUTHORITY might recall another individual with a penchant for white and the same birth date, and you’ll be delighted to hear that not only does this massive first half of PLANETARY contain issues #1 to 14, but also PLANETARY / AUTHORITY one-shot and many an appearance by the inter-dimensional Bleed. Here’s The Drummer on those auspicious birth dates:

“I got theory about that. I think you’re humanity’s immune system.”
“You want to run that by me again?”
“I think the world grew you all as its defence system for the 20th Century… Without Doc Brass, Edison might still have built their Super Computer. But also without Doc Brass, there never would’ve been a team in place to stop what came through the Multiversal Gate it created. Therefore, without Doc Brass, humanity would be extinct. Without Jenny Sparks, no Authority. Without you… ah. I see the flaw in my master plan. You don’t do much other than use up good oxygen.”

Elijah Snow and The Drummer do not get on.

The recurring Snowflake effect of the Multiversal Gate is just one of a myriad of visual triumphs by Cassady and Martin contributing to the series’ eye-popping opulence.

Cassady loves to embellish with exquisitely intricate gold, whether it be Flash Gordon’s rocket, a certain mythological mallet, a futuristic, altruistic knight’s shining armour or the beyond-Baroque bridges, arches, cupolas and columns which rise out of sight to the heavens inside a crystalline, sentient shift-ship buried beneath a city ever since it crash-landed right at the very end of the Cretaceous period.

Through Laura Martin’s lambent colours it glows like the ornate stained-glass windows which enhance the sense of awe that any such cathedral induces.

There’s a lot of light, a lot of white and a lot of pale blue and gold throughout, but a Hong Kong night might glow purple with neon where you’ll find Geof Darrow in the detail of a charging car exploding under the impact of a boot.

The Planetary members have not escaped such sharp design, either. Elijah Snow is dapper in his pristine, loose-fitting, all-white three-piece suit and tie, no-nonsense Jakita strikes a contrasting figure in a red-rimmed, black leather impact-resistance ensemble, while The Drummer provides all the colour.

Even the lettering is used to indicate different languages, and Snow’s own speech patterns and vernacular differ dramatically in his less couth youth. There’s a lot of ground to cover in 100 years and the series flashes back and forth as Snow searches his past and thinks through his present to uncover what’s buried deep within his mind.

It’s tightly structured stuff, beginning with self-contained episodes, each ending in a pithy 3- or 4-line reaction before the multiple threads gradually appear and begin to make their weave known. Similarly each team members’ preternatural capabilities are only made manifest as each mission dictates their deployment before proving life-savers later on. One chapter flickers on opposing pages between immediate past and reactive present. A conversation may take place between two individuals while action is undertaken by a third. Visual cues and clues are subtle in the form of a previously broken window or a background street sign to denote a telling location.

You’ll encounter the most horrific experimental human concentration camp, a German castle in a 1919 lightning storm, a 1969 inter-spy fire-fight with attendant Steranko-riffed cover, a very familiar British study, and the most unusual cross-dimensional weapons-storage facility accessed through the release of kinetic energy, like the bang of stick on stone.

But of all the experiments, this takes the proverbial biscuit.

“We’ve a strange relationship with our fiction, you see. Sometimes we fears it’s taking us over, sometimes we beg to be taken over by it… sometimes we want to see what’s inside it.
“That was the initial project profile. To create a fictional world, and then to land on it. A sample return mission.
“To bring back someone from a fictional reality.”

Will marvels ever cease? I do hope not.

“It’s a strange world.”
“Let’s keep it that way.”

SLH

Buy Planetary Book 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Boys Club (£5-00) by Sarah Burgess.

“I’m not as shallow as I had hoped.”

Oh, that would make life so much easier, wouldn’t it? To let knock-backs roll off your slippery, polished surface; to not care about others’ feelings as much as your own; to be happy-go-lucky, remaining unfazed under all circumstances.

It would certainly soothe Sarah’s stress in social situations, and relieve her bewilderment when it comes to all the awkward intricacies of friendship levels within love, sex and romance.

What Burgess wants above all is to learn about herself, so she started to think aloud on paper by drawing diary comics, observing her thoughts and reactions in some considerable depth and with astonishing clarity, even when it comes to confusion.

But the best thing about this entire enterprise is that in bravely publishing them first online and now in this joyously colourful, printed pamphlet – at the risk of exacerbating her already considerable vulnerability – Burgess achieves her other heart’s desire of helping others who might recognise themselves, to some degree or other, in what they read here and so find sympathy, solace and, better still, succour. That’s why you’ll find this in Page 45’s online Mental Health section.

What Burgess learns eventually, snuggling under a floral duvet with a sleepy friend is:

“I want to be quiet, with someone.”

It’s a tranquil page in purple and early-morning sunshine gold, with the potential for well earned contentment and hope.

It is, however, but a brief respite, for the series titled ‘The Truth Is…” returns with ‘The Truth Is… I Worry. (A lot.)’ And she does.

Particularly anxious in social situations, so often the conflicting, debilitating and often escalating voices raging in her head allow Burgess little peace and virtually no quiet except in those rare moments when she manages to quash her insecurities, self-doubts and second-guessing of others’ opinions with a little level-headed observation and logic… before another stray thought once more blows her precarious house of cards down.

Burgess is especially adept at these circular mental maps. I’ve seen so many more, each of which deserves publication for they have all made perfect, powerful sense to me.

Quite often her layouts have this same organic, wavy, serpentine or circular flow with a lot of free-floating. Most of the short stories come in two contrasting or complementary colours, ‘The Jungle’ being beautiful in purple and green. The fronds are thick as Sarah seeks to navigate this jungle of dating, pushing through the dense undergrowth, attempting to identify what she and others want by slapping on labels, before being ambushed by an unexpectedly blunt and alarmingly hungry offer which changes her own hand-held signs from “Casual” and “Open-Minded” to “Meat”.

“For whatever reason, I decided the best way to get through this jungle was just being honest.”

More signs spring up, as during the opening to ‘The Herb Garden’: “Open”, “Awkward”, “Scared”, “Selfish”, “Love”.

“Mostly I felt like that just give me more trouble” in the form of question marks all round, “Then I meet a friend.”

Delightfully at this point, the jungle of delicately delineated, veined leaves moves inside the couple as they dance round each other leaving their surroundings full of space, sparkling with light. Inevitably Sarah soon starts to over-think things, desperate for clarification, and the jungle creeps outside again, threatening to smother them, but oh what a punchline of promise!

What I’m attempting to convey here is the fierce thought that Burgess – creator of THE SUMMER OF BLAKE SINCLAIR and BROTHER’S STORY – throws into how she can most imaginatively and accurately represent her complex predicaments and evoke the thoughts, feelings and sensations they induce in her; and that progress so often isn’t straight forward and free from struggle with a linear trajectory ever-upwards. It ebbs and flows with waves of uncertainty and self-reassurance.

Reading others and reading their signs – the signals they’re putting out – is never easy, especially when it comes to the often blurred boundaries between friendship, romance and sex. Are they flirting with you or merely being polite? Do they want to frolic once more or will you ruin that friendship by hugging too intimately and suggesting that you do? Essentially, does somebody want what you want too?

In this instance, perhaps, telepathy might for once be a boon. Or it could lead to even more self-consciousness.

There are much lighter notes, like the disappointment in discovering that a new crush is already taken – and it was going so well!

Self-perception is a big problem here, trust and intimacy, plus the masochism of over-thinking things very much like Sarah Andersen does in BIG MUSHY HAPPY LUMP. Oh yes, and then there’s rejection and validation, even more of an issue in this age of social media.

“People keep saying, keep saying, Validate yourself, Validate yourself.”

Burgess pushes her head deep inside her chest.

“Oh my god!! There’s just a big hole in here, what if I just need constant validation???”

We’re only human! Jeez, if you only knew the deflation and worry whenever I hit ‘publish’ on these weekly reviews and Twitter is nothing but tumbleweed!

Speaking of human (and indeed self-perception), everyone here is depicted as human except Sarah. Her self-portrait is as a Morph-like, alien creature with twin horns or animal ears: the outsider.

As to dependency and independence, BOYS CLUB begins with ‘The Road That We Could Take’, created shortly after “coming out of a big relationship”.

The first six pages in deep red and pine green are entirely silent. Miserable, sat lost and alone, wounded by the side a rural track, a young woman is helped to her feet by a handsome lad with a smile on his face. Together they begin to explore a mountain range of stunning vistas. He heaves her up steeper slopes or carries her on piggy-back. Gradually the wound heals, then in a moment of shared self-awareness they both realise, joyfully then bashfully, the love that they hold in their hearts for each other. They travel on, hand in hand, following unmarked signs to enjoy stunning views down below.

Then comes a direction which the woman wants to take and she eagerly rushes forward, but he holds her back, quite forcibly, before hugging her close. She looks sadly back over her shoulder and the route untraveled, denied her. She tries once again to suggest they take that road, but he is adamant.

I wonder if you know where that is going.

“I don’t know what’s right for me anymore.”

And so Sarah’s journey begins.

SLH

Buy Boys Club and read the Page 45 review here

Poverty Of The Heart (£3-00) by Mike Medaglia.

I defy you not to beam broadly every time this cover meets and greets you in your home.

My reaction, time and again, has been both immediate and instinctive and joyful.

Its composition and colours are elevating!

It is organic, embracing and radiating affection from its strong centre whilst cleverly clasping you at its outer edges with a more soothing balm. The cover is a tonic for tired eyes just as its contents will prove healing for your heart and sustenance for your soul.

The cover is, of course, a mandala, so it is time for some quiet contemplation.

“It’s funny how we have two meanings for the word – HEART.
“The one that beats inside us.
“And the heart that is less tangible. Less noisy. But just as important.
“We certainly cannot live without the function of the one.
“But without the other we cannot fully experience life.”

There is no preaching here, no holier than thou, but instead a huge kindness, gently reminding us all of which priorities actually make us happiest when sometimes we forget.

We’re not on this planet to receive: we are here to give and in giving we all receive so much more back in return.

We are not here to crave, for in craving lies dissatisfaction and discontent. And I should know: I still smoke 40 a day. So that’s at least one of my hearts in jeopardy.

True happiness lies instead in appreciating what you already have, if you have it. Not everyone has it, as I’m keenly aware, so it is all the more important that we open our hearts to others: important not just for them, but for us as well.

“Any time we close off our hearts to any being we close off our hearts to ourselves.
“It is impossible to cage our hearts off to the world and still have access to it ourselves.”

There is a balance here. There is a balance between opposing pages, both verbally and visually. Surrounded by so much white space which leaves our thoughts free to roam, the outlines are simple and distinct, the colours cool and natural in pinks, blues, greens and cream.

Hands reach out lovingly and tenderly in all shapes, colours and sizes, the wrists adorned to all individual tastes. Some are a bit grabby on the coinage front, but true wealth so often eludes them.

This quiet comic is all about patience: patience with yourself, forgiveness of yourself and so love of yourself. If you’re anything like me, you may focus too hard and too long on what you think you’ve said or done wrong. Mike humbly suggests that you give yourself a break, and begin anew.

“Allow yourself to be warmed.”

Free from the distracting clutter of self-regarding cleverness or long-winded, pompous verbosity, POVERY OF THE HEART is instead slim and succinct. It gets to the point; yet what it has to say is plenty.

If you want more words of wisdom from Mike Medaglia then we all recommend his ONE YEAR WISER which I imagine is at least 365 pages long. I can’t check from home.

SLH

Buy Poverty Of The Heart and read the Page 45 review here

Steam Clean (£8-00, Retrofit) by Laura Kenins…

“Sara just wants everyone to be victims of the patriarchy.
“Or some nonsense like that.”

Actually, Maija has some interesting and very valid points to make, particularly about sexist discrimination in the workplace, but not everyone at this women-only sauna evening on a dark autumnal night somewhere in very northern Europe has come for a socio-political discussion. Sara in particular. No, they’ve mostly just come to kick back, have a few beers, escape the world for a while, maybe even flirt a bit, and perhaps meet somebody. Kaisa, recently single and now perpetually perusing dating apps certainly has an eye on some steamy goings-on.

Others were anxious about coming at all for rather different reasons. Miika, for example, feels extremely uncomfortable, almost fraudulent, going to a women-only event as a non-binary gender person, despite her friend’s protestations that they would be welcome. And then there’s Laima, who is the physical embodiment of the goddess of women but is finding herself conflicted about her sexual orientation. Apparently even goddesses have to deal with emotional angst.

 

So, as the temperature rises inside the sauna, our characters shed their clothes and begin to tell their stories, aided by a beer or two. Old friendships are tested, new friendships are formed and a certain goddess gradually comes to the realisation that it’s perfectly alright to just be who she actually is.

It’s truly wonderful how this comic manages to deal with some extremely serious issues and yet also be such wryly amusing good fun at the same time. Laura Kenins makes all the characters with their various woes and anxieties entirely believable and powerfully demonstrates the positive benefits of just having a good chat about how you’re feeling, no matter the circumstances, whether that’s to a close friend, or a complete stranger.

She has previous form actually, in this respect; as her MINI-KUS!: ALIEN BEINGS packs a very powerful emotional punch with a story about divorcing parents whilst simultaneously managing to be hilariously ridiculous at the same time, as it’s seen through the eyes of the daughter who is convinced the strange lights they saw driving home one night has everything to do with her parents sudden inability to love each other.

Both are told in a very colourful art style that I am reasonably sure is entirely coloured pencils, along with grey pencil hand-lettering that looks like it’s been done with a very fine hard-wearing propelling-pencil-style lead. The sort that has the leads mounted in the pop-out bits of plastic, that when you wear one down, you just pop in the back of the pencil and a new pointy one pops out of the front. At least that’s what I’m imagining…

There’s a sophisticated blend of fine lines filled out with shading that looks like it’s been done with the side of the pencil on top of a wooden desk which gives additional texture. It’s similar to what the stylish polyglot (in art terms) herself Eleanor HOW TO BE HAPPY Davis employed to great effect on the joyful sleepover joint LIBBY’S DAD, which I just adored and didn’t half make me chuckle too.

I do a lot of drawing with precisely this type of coloured instrument with Whackers and it’s fantastic to see the levels to which professionals can elevate the humble coloured pencil. And six year olds too, for that matter, as young Whackers is actually already far better at drawing than I ever managed… Her current speciality is rabbits, having devoured FLUFFY recently – let’s be honest, anything where the main character is continuously doing daddy’s head in was bound to be a winner with my daughter – so Simone Lia had better watch out as I think she might have some competition soon!

JR

Buy Steam Clean and read the Page 45 review here

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

Brilliant.

Yes, that is Superman’s back on the front cover, rendered with all the stockiness of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN’s Frank Quitely, but this isn’t a superhero comic.

It’s semi-autobiography and cultural analysis, exceptionally astute and poignant as anything.

Originally published in 2004, it was a firm favourite of all three of us who have co-owned Page 45 over the years and comes with the mighty Teddy Kristiansen on phenomenal form, proving that he is as versatile an artist as Jillian Tamaki, Bryan Talbot, Eleanor Davis, Stuart Immonen or Mark Buckingham… all within the confines of this single sustained narrative.

The plot: Steven’s writing career has been firmly Vertiginous in nature. Not for him, the aspiration to write brightly-coloured spandex. Now he’s just landed the SUPERMAN title – many a comicbook creator’s wet-dream job, I’m sure – but he has absolutely nothing to say. He simply cannot relate.

He’s moved away from his mother, grown apart from his father and brother, and has a beautiful, mature and understanding girlfriend called Lisa. But every time he experiences an inadvertent twitch, an innocent, involuntary spasm, he’s haunted by a family secret which emerged during a childhood hospital visit and is about to erupt once more. Now Steven’s father’s gone missing, his mother’s beside herself, his editor demands to know if he’ll take the gig and he cannot bring himself to let his girlfriend in on what’s troubling him. What exactly is troubling him?

My first thoughts on breaking into this original graphic novel thirteen years ago were “Eddie Campbell”. This reads so much like Eddie Campbell (see ALEC) and, believe it or not, it’s just as good.

It’s full of wit, charm, meandering excursions and calm considerations of ideas that might never occur to you. It’s also absolutely devastating. Moreover, if you’ve ever held an interest in Superman as an American icon or just as a character, this will give you much pause for thought. And if you’re interested in writing, you’ll both empathise with and perhaps even learn from this, especially if your objective is comics.

Whereas some works sadly fall straight through the cracks between conflicting, incompatible areas of appeal, this bridges so many interests and as Grant Morrison wrote:

“It defies genre categories and poses questions about the relationship between man and superman which are hard to answer but important to consider here at the dawn of the 21st century. It’s also about as mordantly accurate a description of what it feels like to write superhero comics for a living as anything I’ve ever read.”

As Seagle searches for his father he delves through his memories, and begins to ponder Superman. He thinks about secrets and vulnerability, about solitude, symbolism through colour, our history of power, about being an outsider (Superman is the ultimate immigrant) and who the real outsiders are. He considers his school days, his own personal demons, and – most uncomfortably of all – how some genes don’t provide potential or powers as manifested by Marvel’s mutants, they take them away. They can wreck a healthy body, often irreversibly.

Apart from a superb supporting cast in the form of Lisa…

“It’s your boyfriend.”
“Which one?”
“Funny. Buzz me in before I drop your lunch.”
“Then it would be your lunch.”

… kind editor Jeremy and his Puerto Rican fan-boy taxi mechanic (who aids, abets and interrogates during his search), Seagle also lucked into the perfect art partner here: Teddy Kristiansen.

You might know Teddy from THE RE[A]D DIARY precisely one half of which was also written by Seagle (you’ll see!) which was a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month or from SANDMAN MIDNIGHT THEATRE now included in Neil Gaiman’s MIDNIGHT DAYS, but you have never seen him in quite such fine, chameleon-like form.

I count twenty-one distinct art styles are on show here: one from the central narrative, another for the flashbacks, and the rest to complement the individual diversions, each of which is entirely apposite for illuminating its respective proceedings.

One of them which Teddy emailed us ahead so long ago is all Kent Williams in its sombre silhouette while Seagle contemplates The Death Of Superman.

The school episode sees Kristiansen erasing individual identities by withdrawing facial features, leaving the cape to make its statement of standing out from the crowd as one kid, habitually ignored, receives a single day of undivided attention whilst dressing up as Superman during a Halloween celebration. Then, after reverting to invisibility when wearing regular clothing, the lad makes the mistake of repeating the performance the next week…

And one of the most powerful pieces, ‘The Outsider’ sees a complete change of pace both in the script and visuals which I can only describe to you as utterly Seth.

(See GEORGE SPROTT etc.)

SLH

Buy It’s A Bird… 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’.

Black Eyed Peas Presents Masters Of The Sun – The Zombie Chronicles (£22-99, Marvel) by will.i.am, Benjamin Jackendoff & Damion Scott

Black Science vol 6: Forbidden Realms And Hidden Truths s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera

Scalped Book 1 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R. M. Guera

Southern Cross vol 2 (£14-99, Image) by Becky Cloonan & Andy Belanger

Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles s/c (£17-99, DC / IDW) by James Tynion IV & Freddie E. Williams II

Amazing Spider-Man vol 6: Worldwide s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Stuart Immonen

Inhumans Vs. X-Men (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule & Leinil Francis Yu, Javier Garron, Kenneth Rocafort

Ms. Marvel vol 7: Damage Per Second s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by G. Willow Wilson & Mirka Andolfo, Takeshi Miyaza, Francesco Gaston

The Punisher vol 2: End Of The Line s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Becky Cloonan & Steve Dillon, various

Blame! Vol 4 (Master Edition) (£29-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 1 (£11-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

Princess Decomposia And Count Spatula (£10-99, FirstSecond) by Andi Watson

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