Archive for August, 2017

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2017 week three

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Featuring Joff Winterhart, Seth, Jiro Taniguchi, Yuki Fumino, Elijah Brubaker, Iou Kuroda, Valerie D’Orazio, Rob Williams, Laurence Cambell, more…

Venice (£19-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi.

“Then I discovered my grandfather’s name in the guest book of an old hotel.”

Venice is a city of surprises.

It’s a city of gently lapping water, of dazzling light reflected on its undulating surfaces; of bridges, of sighs, of the Bridge of Sighs; of echoing footsteps and silent facades which are no less impressive when crumbling. But more than anything, Venice is a city of surprises.

If Paris is a city of vistas where everything was re-designed to be seen through, under or over, so that wherever you roam you know where you are, Venice is far more tantalising. You can catch glimpses under and over those pedestrian bridges, be they built of wood or stone, but such are its circuitous and labyrinthine trails within the embrace of its serpentine Grand Canal that all is revealed only gradually and most unexpectedly, as you take one random turn then the next.

It’s magnificent, it’s mysterious and it is coquettish. It is my favourite place in the world.

For Jiro Taniguchi, on his first trip to Venice, the city becomes a deep well of visual inspiration but also personal, familial discovery.

“I hadn’t known that my mother and grandmother had been in Venice.
“My mother never talked about my grandmother.”

Upon the death of his mother, Taniguchi discovers an exquisitely lacquered box containing old photographs and hand-drawn postcards of Venice in the 1920s or 1930s which hint at a family history he never knew and promise further revelations if only he can track down the specific locations and follow the bread crumbs on to bars, hotels and more permanent lodgings. Evidently his mother had also been an exceptionally proficient artist, but so had Jiro’s grandfather.

“A postcard by my grandfather.
“Grandfather, what kind of life did you lead in this city?”

This is non-fiction, but it’s the same searching, quietly contemplative voice one heard in A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD.

Sparsely narrated so as not to intrude on your own perambulations (perhaps forty sentences in total?), we are presented instead with a personalised pencil and wash tour, and I cannot even begin to calculate the time each meticulously rendered, painted panel must have taken. Often there are up to five per page, but there are also dozens of full landscape spreads and one spectacular, double-page aerial panorama looking out over the domed, red-bricked church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo surrounded by smaller cream-coloured domiciles with their bright white chimneys rising up and so standing out against the horizontal planes of terracotta roof tiles. Even the yellow crane to the right is in harmony with the towers of the island beyond.

The album was commissioned by Louis Vuitton as part of its series of deluxe travel books in which artists were invited to bring their sensibilities to bear on cities foreign to them, so I’m sure that Taniguchi was recompensed in full, and it’s a consideration which our favourite Japanese comic creator – both mine and Jonathan’s – rewards with a winking nod towards the finale.

However much it looks like an art book on the first-inspected surface, it is a sequential-art narrative as you wend your way, guided by Jiro, around each corner, down tall, narrow passageways and over the smaller canals in search of the next stunning spectacle or clue as to how his grandfather lived and worked in Venice.

This is the giant responsible for GUARDIANS OF THE LOUVRE, A DISTANT NEIGHBOUROOD, FURARI, QUEST FOR THE MISSING GIRL etcetera, and he will not disappoint.

We begin – as any approach to Venice should – by boat, surging across the expansive blue-green lagoon towards the north of the city which lies low on the horizon, our eyes tantalisingly drawn towards its vanishing-point promise by the wooden bricola. And it is a promise rather than a full revelation, for the real treasures lie within.

Immediately we’re rushed to Piazza San Marco (and if you can resist doing precisely that, I would be very much surprised), the Byzantine Basilica first hinted at in a crystal-clear puddle’s reflection before being revealed in its full glory beyond the Campanile. Ascending the bell tower early on, as he does, is a top-tip for gleaning your first and possibly last sense of overall, topographical context.

 

Taniguchi’s ability to capture not just the intricacies of the ornate cupolas and the magnificence of the golden, winged lion, but also the different skies which may soar above them (dry brush for the upwards shot of the tower / wet brush for the full landscape spread) is thrilling, phenomenal.

His lines are crisp and clean but also more delicate than mere photorealism, his colours softer and oh, when it rains! From under an umbrella our explorer gazes in wonder at yet another blinding facade, this time that of San Giorgio Maggiore, and it is here that his keen judgement on the varied strengths of line for different degrees of semi-relief really comes into play. Its Palladian white marble brilliance, reflected in ripples on the wet stone below, boasts both engaged, structural columns and decorative pilasters, both adorned with Corinthian capitals. If seen straight on it would have seemed far flatter, but the angle allows the artist to accentuate its depth as well as its symmetry, while the three tourists gathered in conversation closer to the church emphasise its scale and weight.

Many of his meanderings are far more relaxed and some of his discoveries more bizarre. Around the Arsenale towards the south-east of the main island, Taniguchi almost does a double-take as he spies a leviathan of a cruise ship passing what appears to be comically close, its contrasting modernity dwarfing the buildings and footbridge in the foreground. So that’s, umm, another way to enter Venice.

 

The page which immediately follows shows him holding his jacket and slightly dumfounded against the more ancient, castellated shipyard area behind him.

Eventually Jiro finds himself back in San Marco, this time in the evening when the colonnades are lit up to glorious, golden effect against a sable-coloured sky while tourists dine at the posher places and Italian residents take their customary pre- or post-prandial passeggiata along the broad quayside under the shining orbs of free-standing lamps.

After that, there’s time for more than a few final flourishes – several statues and two different views of the white, Baroque, grey-domed Santa Maria della Salute before a fond farewell and a solemn promise to return, delivered with customarily Japanese gratitude.

“Oribe Tsugo, where are you now?
“I will come back and find you. Thank you, dear grandfather.”.

Now, Taniguchi didn’t take all this in nor draw it in one day (!), so I don’t advise that you attempt to absorb this in a single sitting, either. Ridiculously, you will become immune, almost inured to its majesty; bloated on its intoxicating beauty rather than drunk on its detail.

This is the advantage of the painted page browsed at your leisure: that you can focus on the intricacies of an individual balustrade or the effect on its surroundings of a trailing window box. Although there is nothing like the first-hand, eye-candy explosion of a city like Venice, a book like this enables one to sit back and appreciate in detail what might be lost in one long weekend’s exhilarating, overwhelming experience. Inevitably your eyes dart all over the place, such are the limitless wealth of monumental distractions vying for your attention, but with a book like this sat on your lap you can smile in remembrance of everything you adored, or in sublime anticipation of a unique experience yet to come.

There are more verdant areas here that I have evidently yet to discover, so I just know I’m going back. Plus I’ve never seen Venice in the rain. I shouldn’t and do not complain, but I want at least once to see Venice from under an umbrella.

Further, unapologetically personal if irreverent notes (you can honestly stop reading now):

All roads led to the Rialto. It doesn’t matter where you think you’re heading, you will wind up on the Rialto Bridge. On my third visit to Venice I effectively short-circuited that mildly amusing inconvenience by booking us a hotel room right on the Rialto. We returned safely and immediately home every evening.

Random turns: they will be random whether you wander map-free or not. Your ability to navigate Venice with any degree of accuracy will prove inversely proportionate to your injudiciously declared confidence. Being lost is one of its many great pleasures.

View from the Campanile. Get your bearings early, however short-lived!

Selected bits of Venice rotate overnight by 90 degrees. This renders any memorised routes unreliable. Honest advice…? Ignore maps, ditch them completely, and go with the flow. You can identify your destination upon arrival using a pocket guidebook. That’s much more satisfying.

If you have found cars, you have lost your way. I mean, really lost your way. There are no cars in Venice. Suggest re-spawning at San Marco then trying again.

Palladian facade of San Giorgio Maggiore reflected in the rain and discussed in the main review. It was actually designed by Palladio himself!

Venice is a working city, which should go without saying, but somehow didn’t in what used to blind me as a fantasy land. But here we are introduced early on to its vegetable, fish and fruit markets which obviously aren’t catering for tourists but residents. So another top-tip is to rise bright and early at least one morning to mix with commuters on their way into work while the city is still quiet enough, tourist-free, so that you can hear their patent leather shoes clap-clop-clap on stone and share their en-route espressos. I love that washing hangs out on lines between some of the residential buildings. Presumably there’s some sort of pulley system. That’s neighbourly cooperation for you.

Do not attempt to open a bottle of wine alongside the Grand Canal with teenage girls watching you. If you do, do not attempt to mitigate your observed failure by rolling your sleeves up and then trying again. Your consequent, compounded, cork-screw failure will result in much vocalised mirth.

You cannot, alas, sleep on Venice’s train-station platform any longer. My mate Ian Marshall and I did during the 1980s when there was no room one Easter season at the proverbial inn. We had a brilliant, convivial night and awoke the next morning to find so many Venetian youths flocking in to wash then blow-dry their hair using the station’s sinks and hand-dryers (twisted upwards for maximum wind-tunnel effect).

There is if not a cul-de-sac on the Grand Canal to the east of the train station, then at least a virtually untrodden path leading nowhere, which you can find by crossing the train-station bridge southwards, heading just a little in-road and left over the first footbridge, then cutting back north to reappear on the Grand Canal with not one single soul passing by to bother you. Sitting together on the canal’s edge, legs dangling and swaying freely, then opening a bottle of Prosecco is an experience what I can only describe as a sustained, shared and spiritual orgasm as you absorb the reflected opulence of the facades opposite, waving gently and colourfully in the water.

I hope this has helped.

SLH

Buy Venice and read the Page 45 review here

Driving Short Distances (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Joff Winterhart…

“Pasties’ll just be a couple of minutes boys. Mary, you met our new Saturday girl yet?”
“No, not yet. What’s she like?”
For all of Keith’s talk of ‘thin ice’ and ‘stern words to be had’ with her employer…
“She’s very quiet, but – between you and me – reckon she might be a bit of a dark horse.”
… this woman continues to work here…
“Yeah… you can just imagine finding her out of the back, taking topless selfies with a couple of cherry danishes…”
… apparently uncensored.
“…strategically placed, if you know what I mean! … AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…”
Keith does not look happy…
“… AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…”
… at all. But I wonder if our fellow customer mistakes his disapproval for just intense consideration of that last vanilla slice.

Yes, Keith is most assuredly not happy at this scandalous public display of impropriety in the bakery where he and Sam go to buy their lunchtime pasties every day without fail. But then Keith is a rather peculiar individual in his own right, being that classic British mix of both unashamedly reserved combined with a bucket load of inadvertently endearing eccentricities. There’s his relentless anecdotes about his former boss and mentor, Geoff Crozier, a larger than life character who seemingly filled the surrogate roles of uncle, big brother and father figure in Keith’s early employment, his mild distaste of fame-hungry, local-press-ever-present Councillor Mike Gibbs, an undying love for his King Charles Cavalier Spaniel (Apex Powder Blue Twice-Shy The Third a.k.a. Cleo), plus his encyclopaedic knowledge of the various movers and shakers in the local area.

So why on earth has Keith taken such an interest in our narrator, the shy, gangly Sam? Recently returned home to live with his mum at the ripe old age of 27 after a nervous breakdown, with any interest in his genuine talent for illustration and painting also seemingly shattered by the experience of just dealing with the demanding realities and daily drudgery of post-University life, Sam is in a somewhat fragile state and has come to the conclusion that what he needs to do for the moment is just find a very boring, stress-free job that will allow him to recuperate and get himself back together. So when Keith, apparently a second cousin of his absent father, last seen briefly at his parents’ wedding, appears with an offer to shadow him and teach him the ropes of his ‘distribution and delivery’ business, Sam feels the universe has spoken and decides to accept.

Now, before you get too excited imagining one Keith Lionel Nutt  as some sort of mysterious, shadowy small-town drug dealer, let me stop you right there. Keith sells spare parts for very dull industrial filtration machinery… No, as with his previous work DAYS OF THE BAGNOLD SUMMER, a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, Joff Winterheart once again provides a masterful, absorbing study of the sheer banality of a very typical slice of the British population and their mundane, fairly pointless social interactions. I will however add that Keith is actually a little bit of a minor man of mystery and not just in his own mind, either…

So, as Sam and Keith spend hour after hour in close proximity, mainly driving round and round Keith’s ‘distribution and delivery’ route in his left-hand-drive car (another mystery), punctuated by popping in and out of various works’ receptions encountering receptionists, topping up on meat pasties as their appetites require, Sam finds himself ever more fascinated with Keith and his past. How did Keith end up here in this small town, doing this particular job, still living the bachelor lifestyle? Why do his friends and associates apparently view him behind his back as a figure of mild fun? And why did he really offer Sam a job? The answers, when Sam finally begins to get them, as matters very gradually wind up to the farcical conclusion, are as titteringly amusing as they are sadly poignant.

Joff’s created another very engaging work here. Much like the trials and travails of teenage boredom and partial parental estrangement which he nailed so perfectly in the DAYS OF THE BAGNOLD SUMMER, I think I can safely say we all have known a Keith. Probably more than one. And, if we’ve been particularly fortunate / unfortunate (take your pick) we’ve been a Sam to said Keith, learning more than we ever cared to know about the curious inner workings of their life and mind.

Art-wise, Joff has gone for the same brilliant utterly unglamorous style as before. Weak chins, saggy necks and hairy nostrils abound. I think it perfectly and very humorously captures the everyday man and woman, actually. There are no beautiful leading ladies or handsome hunks here, though Keith mentions he has occasionally been likened to Sean Connery, with a James Bond impersonation thrown in for good measure of course! I know you shouldn’t laugh at people, but you’ll find yourself hard pressed not to, I promise. Joff’s served up a vanilla slice of British comics heaven for us to enjoy. Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure, but aren’t they the best kind..?

JR

Buy Driving Short Distances and read the Page 45 review here

Palookaville #23 (£20-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth…

“Generally, each home was a little worse…
“… than the previous place we lived.
“But Louise Street was the worst yet.”

It wasn’t, however, the worst… We do get to that particular abode on a trailer park eventually, though, in this latest instalment of Seth’s rather heart-rending recollection of his formative years. Not that these reminiscences are without humour, not at all. Ever the master of self-deprecation, he also had me spluttering my tea out when I got to the following bit…

“By then, I was deeply into my “New Wave Guru” phase. A mess of clothing and dyed white hair.”

Now, trust me, if you’re picturing Seth in typical emo goth mode with wild locks and ragged apparel, you would be wrong. Ever a man of style and decorum he’s got the most amazing swept-back bouffant and shoulder length combo hairstyle paired with smart white shirt, black trousers with checked bottoms, a long black Victorian style raincoat, black shades, walking cane and the ever-present cigarette dangling from his lips.

Well, actually, as he embarrassedly admits, he was rather lacking in decorum in this particular instance he illustrates, as he finally <ahem> reaches fourth base after randomly bumping into one of his childhood sweethearts several years later and promptly getting up and leaving without a word after dealing with their “unfinished business.” What a rotter! I hope she posts a proper photograph of this era Seth on social media if she has one, by way of revenge!!

As ever, this PALOOKAVILLE is a work of three parts: a slice of autobiography and a slice of Clyde Fans, neatly sandwiching some deliciously random filing, which this time round is a selection of individual pieces of art, mainly featuring period buildings, in his own inimitable, dapper style, which featured in two different recent gallery exhibitions.

I should add that for CLYDE FANS fans (sorry, couldn’t resist), this PALOOKAVILLE will be a sad, if fulfilling, moment as the epic story of Simon Matchcard draws to a conclusion by coming full circle back to the year 1957 where we left Simon at the end of the first CLYDE FANS volume. Here we see the epiphany which sets him on the course of what will turn out to be his long, lonely life. It’s a rather poignant scene, knowing as we do everything that is to follow. For here, Simon is nothing but full of optimism of what lies ahead, certain of the path he is taking and the rewards it will bring.

Eh dear.

JR

Buy Palookaville #23 and read the Page 45 review here

I Hear The Sunspot (£11-99, One Peace Books) by Yuki Fumino…

Will they?

Won’t they?

Are they?

I don’t know!

Even after finishing I’m not sure! When they talk about a gentle romantic comedy, this is like being oh so teasingly tickled with a feather duster. You don’t know whether you actually like it, but it does feel rather pleasant. Or so they tell me…

Actually, I’ve just read the publisher blurb on the reverse and the line… “More than friends, less than lovers…” is a note-perfect description of the peculiar relationship that develops between Kohei, the withdrawn, misunderstood student with a profound hearing disability and the ridiculously gregarious and irrepressibly happy Taichi, who just so happens to have a voice like a foghorn.

We open with a chance encounter involving Taichi falling through some foliage, shattering Kohei’s tranquil lunchtime in his favourite secluded spot on campus for hiding himself away. Following that dramatic entrance an unlikely friendship blossoms. Kohei offers the starving Taichi his bento box and deciding he needs to return the favour somehow, Taichi offers to be Kohei’s notetaker. Which is basically as it sounds, taking notes for him in class because Kohei can’t always hear the lecturer that well.

I then basically spent the rest of the book, which involves various mild misunderstandings and slightly awkward social situations, trying to work out if either Taichi fancied Kohei, Kohei fancied Taichi, or both. Given by the end I was none the wiser, you can probably correctly surmise this is not full-on Yaoi.

I’m not saying there isn’t a kiss, mind you, though infuriatingly, even the circumstances and camera angle surrounding their one ambiguous display of physical affection, only serves to further intrigue the reader as to precise what is, or isn’t, going on…

This softly-softly approach to the storytelling and also the very delicate art put me in mind a little of 5 CENTIMETRES A SECOND, which I also rather enjoyed for its off-beat approach. I don’t know if non-romance romance is an actual romance sub-genre, but that’s precisely what this is. There is apparently also a film adaptation which very recently opened in Japanese cinemas. I may have to check it out, if only to see if it reveals any answers to my questions!

JR

Buy I Hear The Sunspot and read the Page 45 review here

The Story Of Jezebel (£17-99, Uncivilised Books) by Elijah Brubaker…

“Sir, your new bride is here.”
“Sigh, I don’t even know this chick. It’s a marriage of politics. Convenience.”
“Sir.”
“Fine.”
“What you do in this situation?”
“It’s not for me to say, sir.”
“Yeah. Well, I guess being a palace guard is a little different than being king. No one has problems like I have.”
“Yes, sir.”
“What do I do if she’s fugly?”
“She won’t be fugly, sir.”
“She’s probably gross. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened.”
…….
“You must be Ahab, I’m Jezebel.”
“Awesome.”

Now, it maybe a while since you read the Old Testament – specifically Book Of Kings I and it’s imaginatively named sequel Book Of Kings II, which only goes to show the mass entertainment media has been flogging the proverbial sequel donkey since waaaaay back – but you probably recall the name of Jezebel. Phoenician Princess, wife of the Jewish King Ahab, and worshipper of idols.

Having won his heart with her stunning beauty Jezebel generally caused the King no end of trouble, particularly with the prophet Elijah, whom God was prone to having one-to-ones with about how to sort the current situation, which was usually by slaughtering the rival non-Jewish prophets and performing all manner of strange, inexplicable and thus impressive stunts to the masses. I would say miracles, but of course, even the mysterious ways in which Big G himself moves need a more earthly helping hand or two behind the scenes…

This, then, is basically the story of Jezebel, told as if written as an action comedy with modern dialogue. So, on the one hand, whilst it presents its source material factually (well, okay accurately might be a better word, given it’s mostly utter nonsense) as with Robert Crumb’s GENESIS, it is done as a humorous farce much like Tom Gauld’s (imminently back-in-print) GOLIATH.

If you liked Gauld’s deadpan take on biblical babblings, you’ll love this. I can actually see a bit of Tom in Elijah Brubaker’s art, along with a wee bit of Eric BERA THE ONE-HEADED TROLL Orchard too, particularly in the characters’ facial expressions. I also loved how God is portrayed as a bad-headed genie-like midget floating around on a cloud. Not quite as surreal as how he appears in GOODNIGHT PUNPUN, perhaps, but talking about as much sense, i.e. not a lot. I’d say not one to be taken seriously, therefore, but actually the reverse is true, so you can remember just how nonsensical the original material is…

JR

Buy The Story Of Jezebel and read the Page 45 review here

Appleseed: Alpha h/c (£21-00, Kodansha) by Iou Kuroda…

I remember buying Masamune Shirow’s original APPLESEED run back in the veritable day in the mid to late eighties and absolutely loving it for the beautifully illustrated, comedic cyberpunk instant classic it truly was. And his swiftly following, career-defining, GHOST IN THE SHELL, which alongside Katsuhiro Otomo’s AKIRA set the bench mark for thoughtful, philosophical, yet all-action cyberpunk mayhem and are still very much admired and heavily emulated today.

I have at this point to emphatically state, this is not by Shirow. Iou Kuroda’s style is rather different, considerably looser and, from certain angles, giving the odd glimpse of Paul BATTLING BOY Pope. Who of course, spent considerable time in Japan following his initial rise to fame resulting in practically zero US sequential-art output. Not that Pope has ever been what one would describe as prodigious. A prodigy perhaps. Anyway, I digress.

 

 

This is also not Appleseed. It is, technically, given it features that series two main characters Deunan and her lover combat-cyborg Briareos. But this is a prequel which is set as they arrive in a conflict-ridden New York City and it is an altogether different beast to APPLESEED itself. I found it very, very difficult to read without continuously comparing to, and wanting more of, the original. It is pretty good in its own right though, and fans of APPLESEED should take a look if they are of a mind to have their nostalgia taste buds tantalised. Though this hors d’oeuvre will probably set them off heading up to the loft to rummage around and find the main course. Next stop for your humble reviewer? Yes, you’ve guessed it.

JR

Buy Appleseed: Alpha h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 6 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by various including Jason Aaron, Valerie D’Orazio Rob Williams, David Lapham, Peter Milligan, Jason Latour, Skottie Young & Laurence Campbell, Shawn Martinbrough, more.

Almost certainly the final PUNISHER MAX collection – a series in which the implacable one set his sights on real-world horror – and although it’s not as consistently, viciously and socio-politically satisfying as Garth Ennis’ tenure in the first four volumes, reviewed in depth and more often than not with Goran Parlov in tow, there are still some real, pithy gems.

Two I’d single out, both illustrated by Laurence Campbell, are written by Rob Williams (THE ROYALS – MASTERS OF WAR, ORDINARY, UNFOLLOW) and Valerie D’Orazio.

Williams’s ‘Get Castle’ was exceptionally topical for Britain given the half-hearted investigations by the army into its own severe, malicious and covered-up misconduct following several cadets’ suicides.

It’s set in the Brecon Beacons where the S.A.S. train. One rogue faction, back from Afghanistan, has found something else to do on its remote Welsh mountains and, without knowing how well he was connected, they hung Corporal Dan Mitchell whose father you may well remember from PUNISHER MAX VOL 4. They hung him naked after suspending him naked and for hours. Campbell draws the man naked. This is important, for it is as stark as it is dark, and ‘Max’ for Marvel means adults only. The rain and terrain are terrific.

 

Now there’s a stranger in town, an American. He’s made his intentions brazenly clear in the local pub: he’s come to execute the Corporal’s killers. But he’s also done his homework, he always does a recce, and the S.A.S.officers have no idea who they’re dealing with.

It’s Frank Castle’s intuition and inventiveness I liked there, but in D’Orazio’s ‘Butterfly’ it’s the inventiveness of the storytelling I admired. It’s seen through the eyes of the Butterfly herself, an accomplished career hit-woman with pretensions to being published and whose girlfriend is oblivious to what makes the woman tick or even what set her ticking in the first place. It was decidedly grim, and it’s left her with a pretty bleak outlook.

Not a lot made me laugh there, but this did:

“I hate waiting. It’s not that I’m impatient… but waiting implies a certain degree of optimism about the future only to be found in humans and squirrels.”

SLH

Buy Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 6 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’

Elves vol 2 (£10-99, Insight Comics) by Oliver Peru, Eric Corbeyran & Stephane Bileau, Jean-Paul Bordier

The Legend Of Korra: Turf Wars Part One (£9-50, Dark Horse) by Michael Dante DiMartino & Irene Koh

The Only Living Boy vol 1: Prisoner Of The Patchwork Planet (£7-99, Papercut) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis

Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps vol 3: Quest For Hope s/c (Rebirth) (£17-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Ethan Van Sciver, Rafael Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona, others

Unbelievable Gwenpool vol 3: Totally In Continuity s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Myisha Haynes, Gurihiru, Alti Firmansyah

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 4 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2017 week two

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Featuring Natasha Alterici, Pamela Ribon, Melissa Jane Osborne, Veronica Fish, Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Mark Millar, Greg Capullo plus the WWI anthology returns with Eddie Campbell et al.

The Wendy Project (£11-99, Emet Comics) by Melissa Jane Osborne & Veronica Fish.

“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story but writes another.”

 – J.M. Barrie

“Man” has been crossed out and replaced by “girl”; an ‘s’ has been prefixed to “he”.

Three figures float, silhouetted and suspended underwater. The water is dark and evidently deep, the girl and two boys helpless, unconscious, their arms and legs all akimbo. A full, rippled moon is reflected.

Imagine the worst mistake you could ever make. Then imagine trying to live with it.

16-year-old Wendy Davies is driving her car late one summer’s night in New England. In the back seat sits her younger brother John, immersed. In the passenger seat her other, bespectacled brother Michael is listening to music through headphones, though it’s evidently still loud. Tetchily Wendy shouts at him and, perhaps reaching for his headphones with her right hand, her left pulls hard on the steering wheel and the car careens into the lake.

There is a frantic struggle, breath escaping in bubbles, as the car’s headlights sink from view. They all reach the surface, gasping for air, but Michael doesn’t stop there, flying up into the stormy sky.

“Michael! Where are you going?”
“Wendy, come with us,” the clouds seem to say.
“I can’t… I have to stay.”

Her blue eyes gaze mournfully upwards.

“I know what I saw.
“So I told them.”

This is such an important book, and it’s so deftly done by writer and artist alike. The parallels with Peter Pan – which we later learn Wendy’s read from a book hidden beneath another dust jacket and a Neverland poster affixed to her wall – are very well struck, as are the marked departures. There’s the ever-open window, the ill-fated arrow, the acorn kiss, the jealousy of a fairy, the free-roaming shadow (oh, the shadow!) and especially the loss of memory: the ignorance and the bliss. That particular twist on what was originally written is of primary importance as to why this works so well (it is not Wendy’s, but that’s all I shall say), so into our much-thumbed Mental Health section this goes.

Dealing with any bereavement is difficult, but dealing with the burden of guilt as well…?

Unsurprisingly Wendy doesn’t deal with it at all well. Never once is she blamed by parents or police, yet nor do they believe her story.

“Does your daughter have a history of substance abuse?”

She is assigned a therapist called Dr. Barrie whom Wendy dismisses as far too young to know what she’s talking about, and is depicted by Fish in Wendy’s mind’s eye as sitting in a high-chair. She’s given a sketchbook to write and draw whatever she finds too painful or even too crazy to talk about. She opens it up and a rainbow of colour flickers across her face.

“No thanks.”
“You owe me two pages next week.”

Which brings me to my first observation about the art and production: the graphic novel comes with rare rounded corners (Marc Ellerby’s diary comics collection ELLERBISMS is one of the first I saw) and faux-leather texture reflecting the Moleskine she’s given. It’s more than a neat gimmick; it’s a very clever clue, for Wendy is our narrator.

The art throughout is rendered by SLAM!’s Veronica Fish in exactly the sort of loose pencil sketchwork which Wendy herself eventually, reluctantly then absorbedly, obsessively starts filling her book with. It also adds to the immediacy, intimacy and accessibility which I loved so much in Sina Grace’s NOTHING LASTS FOREVER. But it is Fish’s use of colour which mesmerised me most, reserved for the recurrent, free-standing shadow, very special items (like the book itself which to begin with is ditched on more than one occasion only to magically reappear), and for the illusions which will eventually come to an all-colour crescendo.

Over and over again, Wendy remains recalcitrant, but then we’re given the impression that she always was which is critical to the credibility of her reaction to this abrupt bereavement and torrent of defiantly repressed guilt, redirected towards her parents as judgemental antipathy. It doesn’t hurt that her social observations are so often astute.

“High school is like developmental purgatory.
“It’s a cesspool of hormones and emotion.
“And everyone is looking for a life raft.”

She spies two teenagers flirting by their lockers, depicted as Captain Hook and a mermaid, then a lone Peter Pan figure bathed in a wash of leaf-green, his hair golden yellow, a fellow rebel to her cause…?

“I know you.”

The colour vanishes and his aspect shifts instantly from what she perceives to how he really is. He doesn’t know her and does not respond, but is swept up instead by another girl who wonders “Who’s the weird new girl?” Returning to the life raft:

“And just when you think you’ve found it…
“You’re lost at sea again…”

We’re only on page 11.

Grief manifests itself in so many ways. Individuals, by their very nature, react differently. Some rail angrily against a God whom they once believed in, go into denial or attempt to cauterise the wound immediately. I make no judgements. At first Wendy’s parents refuse to enter, alter or in any way interact with Michael’s room. Later, they bundle all his effects up into the attic.

“They packed up all his things like he didn’t exist.”

Wendy makes plenty of judgements, but I don’t judge Wendy nor does Melissa Jane Osborne. I cannot even begin to tell you how impressive this is: a ridiculously tricky subject handled with compassion, kindness – and surely some considerable knowledge, I’m afraid.

“The worst thing that could’ve possibly happened to you already did.
“These are just drawings.
“Your feelings can’t hurt you, Wendy.”

I beg to differ, but still, without them you are lost. I’m not saying that there isn’t a time or a purpose to walls, but what one builds up must surely come down if you are to remain connected.

I’ve a page of notes devoted to the shadow alone, another to the colour. They give too much away to risk revealing here, but I hope their existence implies how intricately and thoughtfully crafted the whole is.

It’s another of those graphic novels like the Tamaki cousins’ THIS ONE SUMMER which I firmly believe should be taught in schools at a teenage level because so many mistakes are made in a vacuum when discussion could surely avert them; and, as anyone who’s read A MONSTER CALLS already knows, such profound sorrow as that experienced here is too often endured all alone when friends no longer know what to say… and so say nothing.

That behaviour is far from unique to young adults, but education early on might help us improve our open communication later in life too.

Poor Wendy simply doesn’t understand the vital importance of any funeral which is to say – solemnly or otherwise – “good-bye”. It’s not a rejection, for everyone remains ever-present so long as one is fondly remembered, but it is an admission or concession that a great life has passed. Without that, you cannot move on.

Please don’t think I’ve forgotten the other surviving sibling, John. His immediate, post-traumatic reaction is to shut down or at least shut up, refusing to confirm or deny his sister’s account of that evening. But it’s his secondary reaction that proves far more interesting and one that’s given me much pause for thought since my second reading, once the truth has been established during a climax which is no cop-out, I promise.

So we conclude as we began with another quotation from Peter Pan playwright / prose author J.M. Barrie:

“To die would be an awfully big adventure.”

It’s the first line of this book, but “die” has been crossed out and replaced by “live”.

As an opening line, it could not have been better chosen.

SLH

Buy The Wendy Project and read the Page 45 review here

Heathen vol 1 (£14-50, Vault) by Natasha Alterici.

Under a cover as soft to the touch as a horse’s hide resides a tale of love, resilience and fortitude told with lithe beauty, great supple strength and the odd dash of light, bright, unexpected humour when it comes to the wight and the wolves.

“I liked him.”
“Me too. I’m glad we didn’t eat him.”

HEATHEN is born from a deep love of stories and storytelling. Alterici proves exceedingly proficient in that art, and judicious in both her timing and selection, for it is constructed with impressive precision, as you shall see.

“Do not be coy. We immortals live cyclical lives, playing out the same dramas over and over again.
“So when a key plot point changes, it’s bound to be noticed.
“And indeed someone has noticed.”

So speaks Ruadan, trickster god and spy. He may well be immortal, but our protagonist Aydis most certainly isn’t.

She is, however, resourceful, fearless and well versed in the legends of Odin and his female Valkyrie.

“They were strong, beautiful, and struck terror in even the bravest men’s hearts.
“Charged with escorting the souls of fallen warriors to Valhalla, the Valkyrie were given power over death itself.
“But their power is not without limit, for Odin still dictates the fate of every warrior. No warrior lives or dies without Odin’s consent.”

Except that warrior one did: a king whom Odin determined would be victorious in war was struck down by Brynhild of the Valkyrie, for which temerity Odin banished and cursed her, forcing Brynhild to marry a mortal and live out her endless days in exile.

Evidently, however, Brynhild was not without her bargaining power, for although she agreed to this sentence, she did so on her own terms: on the condition that she chose the mortal in question through a test of her own. As so often with these things, it was a test of worthiness. She ascended Mount Hinderfall and encircled herself in fire – magic fire – to await a mate courageous enough to breach the barrier and free her.

Every element of what I have told you is vital for what follows. Writer and artist Alterici has left nothing extraneous in the mix and thought everything through.

There is, for example, a degree of due ceremony both later on in Aydis’s construction of her helmet from fallen stag antlers – which male deer use in combat with each other for dominance in securing their mates – and in her telling of this tale to her horse. Just as a silhouetted Brynhild raises her arms to ignite the blazing curtain and in welcoming wait of whomever should succeed, so Aydis raises her own in front of her fire and welcoming that challenge.

“That story was passed through our clan for hundreds of years…”

Her arms drop down, lank, to her side, in time to a perfect moment of pomposity-puncturing deflation enhanced by a modern colloquialism:

“If it’s true, she’s been waiting an awfully long time.”

Alterici has made everything here look effortless, including Aydis’s hand-to-horn combat with the bull. Oh yes, that’s more male power conquered.

The choreography is exceptionally slick but, in addition, behold the energy in a broken line!

She doesn’t seek to confine her virile steeds, stag or stampeding bull in a rigid outline, so sapping their movement and might; instead she suggests their exterior contours and body mass in relation to their environment with flurries and flashes of instinctive slashes, while her colouring is equally loose and lambent.

 

I promised you that nothing in Aydis’ opening recollection of the Valkyries (and Brynhild in particular) was random. It’s not. For Aydis too is in exile – a self-imposed exile for everyone believes she is dead. Moreover, she is in exile because she dared to break a taboo, and was caught kissing a girl. Her father (not she) was given an ultimatum by the patriarchal Elders: execute his daughter or marry her off against her will to a man.

Thank the gods for one good soul, then, for he chose neither. Instead he pretended to mourn his daughter at her graveside in order to cover her escape.

Two other things you should know about our Aydis in addition to being fearless, resourceful and very well versed: she is determined and ambitious:

“On some mountain top, a Valkyrie waits alone.
“And I intend to free her.”

Should she succeed, there yet remains Odin’s curse and although you may be thinking “Hooray, for Aydis, for she is mortal and will have Brynhild’s hand in marriage!”, Aydis’s ambition is not for herself, but to prove women equal in courage to men. Also, she has had quite enough of marriage being imposed on others by the dictates of males, be they local leaders or the all-father Odin: she would see Brynhild liberated from her curse rather than further confined by it.

In any case, she won’t have been the first.

“All the men who’ve crossed the flames have been brave, but that trait is often coupled with stupidity, recklessness, cruelty. Not Sighurd, though. He was different. And not just because of his unfortunate immortality. He was good.
“Brynhild really loved him.”

What went so wrong that Brynhild once more waits in that circle of fire? With his limited lifespan, did he die like so many others? Not at all: Sighurd The Broken Hearted is very much alive, though lost to a terrible turn of events and a mightily cruel twist.

“Odin’s curse was very specific…”

All this is narrated to Aydis by Freyja, Valkyrie Queen and Goddess of Love, who has taken a shine to Aydis. Bare-breasted, sybaritic and ever so alluring, Freyja overtly offers Aydis a less lonely alternative to her societal ostracism in sexual fulfilment.

Is that what Aydis’s about?

The final page will tell you precisely what Aydis’s about, and it’s delivered with a fierce, unflinching resolve and an eye to the future.

SLH

Buy Heathen vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

SLAM! vol 1 (£13-99, Boom!) by Pamela Ribon & Veronica Fish.

What a fresh and far from obvious start!

One of my favourite moments is when you finally discover what the direct, no-nonsense, not-easily-impressed cannon ball of a competitor, Velvet Coffin, does for a living. I drop that in early in order that you forget it, for SLAM! made me smile from beginning to end at its genuine joy and heart-felt belief in the empowering, bond-building nature of Roller Derby.

This contact sport, as I understand it, involves two opposing teams racing round a roller rink on roller skates but in the same direction, hell-bent on up-ending each other by any means necessary. Oh, I am told there are rules – there are certainly key and keen strategies which you will learn in chapter four – but it’s essentially hockey without the disingenuous excuse of why you really joined up: to knock seven shades of shit out of each other and score top marks in doing so.

“Are you a sportsman, Stephen?”

Clearly not, but I am a convert!

Moreover, its initial, innovative presentation – not so much as an A-to-B narrative, but as an experience and induction to Roller Derby – proved as engrossing and as exhilarating as the real deal itself. Were I of the correct chromosomatic configuration I would run right down to my local arena and sign up on the spot.

“10 Facts about your new Derby life:
“1. You will have fun.
“2. You will get hurt.
“3. You will want to quit this forever. Every time.
“4. You won’t. Because you love it more than you’ve ever loved anything in your life.”

Persuade me.

“5. You will find your voice.
“6. You’ll learn all kinds of new phrases.” Namely:

“Pop a squat! Get in her crotch!”
“Fill those holes!”
“Take up space! Wall it up!”
“Get on her!”
“Hit her, hit her, hit her!”

I rest my hockey-claim case, my lord.

But what I love most of all about my new-found Roller Derby is that this is a sport for women. Wait, wait (and correct me if I’m wrong) but instead of all these boys-only sports like soccer and rugby and especially cricket with its gender-exclusive pavilions, this was originally and initially – and may still be to this day – a sport for women only which, if the lads want a look-in, they will have to apply for thence be looked down upon for decades to come as second-best. Haha! The shoe’s on the other dismissive and disdaining foot, fellas!

If all that wasn’t enough, Ribon delivers a comic which is entirely congruent with this post-patriarchal experience. Men are barely even mentioned within. This is entirely about ladies getting together to rediscover themselves, their confidence and their individuality without comparison points. There’s one. There’s only one, and he is an absolute sweetie called Theo.

One of our two main protagonists, Maisie Huff (Derby-dubbed: ITHINKA CAN), has only just started dating again and has gone for a young artist that “gets it”. He instantly gets Roller Derby and although far from pushy and certainly not seeking to intrude, he won’t be put off by a no-show but turns up to the real show and cheers from the stalls. Only afterwards do they meet up.

“It looks like you’ve got a great team. But maybe don’t let that stop you from dating me? I’m pretty awesome and I like you a whole so much a lot.”

Lovely line.

“Can you do me a favour? Share an Uber to my apartment and get in my pants?”
“Yes, if that would be helpful to you.”

As to Fish, her art is ebullient yet controlled, imaginative and natural, depicting real women as they really are, relaxed in their own space with tall socks, baggy shorts and muscular, much sought-after thighs that are admired for their fearsome Derby downing-power, not frowned upon for their weight.

When the teams tear round the tracks it’s at such a keen speed, and Fish’s ability to choreograph the balletic jumps of the jammers working their way through the packs (or falling flat on their faces) is such that you’re impressed both by her dexterity and by the players’ on account of the evident edge and pin-point precision required for such tricky manoeuvres. Without that, all dramatic tension is lost.

Love the subtle bruises by colour-artist Brittany Peer who brings such warm tones to the Fish’s tender expressions and such rich, vibrant hues to their sports kits.

There is nothing about this that is angry. Everything about this is celebratory.

It’s not ‘Kicking Against The Pricks’, it’s “Hello, here’s all the fun!”

Although there is one prick managing the coffee house where Maisie works, who overlooks her promotion in favour of male employee who was there for no more than three months, but asked first. She thinks about this, then won’t take no for an answer.

“And I was like, “If you won’t recognize my worth, then I will work somewhere that does”. And then that man gave me a raise!”
“Yes! I am so proud of you.”
“P.S. though – totally gonna take that money and find somewhere else to work.”
“Okay, good. Thanks for making me not have to tell you that.”

We were all a little worried that this would be a banal, band-wagon embarkation because, mark my words, you can see so many comics currently being green-lit simply for their demographic-ticking boxes. No, this is fabulous, and if the delicious cover screams Becky Cloonan meets Jamie Hewlett (a very fine pedigree), then let me assure you that it’s all THE WENDY PROJECT’s Veronica Fish who knows exactly what she is doing.

“7. If your life is too busy, Derby will destroy it.
“8. But if your life was destroyed, Derby will fix it.”

Excellent! This is going to be the exhilarating experience of a lifetime. You will meet new friends for life and you will celebrate during the after-party even if you cowered in the toilet at the prospect of your first-day’s performance. You will find those who will hold your hand and never let you down and never let you go. You may try war paint, you may breathe deeply, and you may scream at the full-on, physical excitement!

“Fun fact about Derby life #42:
“It gets complicated.”

It does. No life is all plain sailing and friendships as well as those thighs are going to take a battering. No one likes to feel left behind when they were there for you from the beginning, so please mind your manners when texting, especially if you haven’t seen each other for yonks.

“I thought we’d finally watch – “
“She’s so funny.”

Jennifer regards Maisie messaging her new mentor, sadly.

“She must be.”

I leave you with a top tip for blockers hell-bent on bashing opponents to the ground which doubles – as so much of this does – as a life lesson:

“Quit aiming for my butt. You gotta hit here, above my knee. That’s where you want to be. Don’t look where you want to hit – hit where you want to be. Aim for your future.”

SLH

Buy SLAM! Vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Paper Girls vol 3 s/c (£11-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang.

It’s been a while since these ‘80s paper girls last did their rounds.

Last episode it was thirty years ago, which is exceedingly remiss.

This time they won’t be cycling round suburbia for twelve and a half thousand years!

*attempts to assess maths*

*ignores in favour of the getting on with the general gist*

It’s 11,706 BCE (the same thing as 11,706 BC, but a little more secular) right at the end of the Pleistocene era, just before homo sapiens had managed to wipe out most of the megafauna in North America, so expect something very big and shaggy to come shambling out of the woodlands.

One glance at the cover should inform you that our four girls – gradually getting to know each other and themselves better while being tossed through time – aren’t the only anachronistic visitors to this era. Nor, however, is either party the first, for the locals are wearing some interesting items round their necks and sporting some very familiar tattoos or pigmented symbols on their chests.

It’s another hugely entertaining and delightfully unpredictable account of young friends (and you’re reminded just how young they are during one unexpected development) encountering so much to test their powers of deduction and self-preservation while revealing far more of their past and their future than they are comfortable with.

We are also reminded, here, that our understanding of procreative biology has come a long way in the last… well, one hundred years.

Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson deliver a deliciously different world to the last two volumes, full of dappled light under lush canopies and giant, multi-coloured, parrot-beaked flightless birds which one can only wish we hadn’t wiped out so assiduously within moments of the ever-expanding human migration.

The wider subplot ploughs ever onwards towards another shocking climax which is no mere jump to another era, for it seems that something’s unravelling.

Anything else risks spoilers, so please see our previous, extensive reviews on the wit and visual wonder of PAPER GIRLS.

SLH

Buy Paper Girls vol 3 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Reborn h/c (£22-99, Millarworld) by Mark Millar & Greg Capullo…

“Don’t you believe in anything, Mrs. Black?”
“No, Danita. It’s all just fairy tales. I don’t think God would allow us all this suffering and tragedy we endure.
“I only believe what I can see with my eyes, Family and friends. Grandchildren and schoolchildren. Anything promised beyond all this was just made up to get us through the night.
“Do you really think any of us really make a difference?”
“Of course I do, Ma’am. Our lives are a constant series of random interactions, each changing things a million times a day.
“The longer we’re here, the more we have an impact. The world would be a different place, if it hadn’t been for you.”
“You know, that might just be the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Elderly Bonnie Black doesn’t want to die. She’s lived a good life, outliving her beloved husband Harry by fourteen years, who was killed by the infamous Minneapolis sniper along with a number of others, but still has a loving daughter and grown up granddaughter whom she adores. Bonnie’s just not ready to leave this world behind, particularly with no great faith in there being anything whatsoever afterwards. She’s going to die, obviously, very shortly, of a stroke. So it would be fair to say she’s not expecting what happens next: waking up in her twenty-year-old body in a fantasy land locked in a perpetual war between good and evil, being anointed the saviour of the free folk.

Which, when you put it like that, sounds a rather trite premise, I will grant you, but it’s the (re-) appearance of family like her father, high school friends (and enemies), and even her old cat and dog, which take this story in a stranger, altogether more interesting direction. Some, like Bonnie, are in their own youthful forms, whereas others have become more… representative… versions of themselves.

What is certain, though, is that much like in the real world, or at least the pre-death world, there are those who are intent on ruining it for everyone else through the usual megalomaniacal desires for total domination. Remember that pesky Minneapolis sniper? Well, he committed suicide at the end of his killing spree… Plus, if everyone else Bonnie knew is present in this new realm, for whatever strange reason, just where is her hubby Harry? I feel an epic quest coming on…

Speaking of epic, this is storming art from Greg Capullo who really throws absolutely everything at this. The battle sequences particularly are a visual feast of the utterly fantastical. As with a number of Millarworld works, this is merely billed as book one, but it feels complete to me. Still, given your chum Mark has just sold Millarworld to Netflix for a probably not unsubstantial sum, I suspect he’ll be rapidly revisiting more than a few of his properties for another volume or two…

I would quite like it if he started writing more comics with a view to them being adapted for longer form series actually, rather than to be adapted for films, as I sometimes feel the stories are getting wrapped up before they’ve barely got started e.g. CHRONONAUTS and MPH. I just want something with a bit more meat like the JUPITER’S LEGACY and JUPITER’S CIRCLE series, which are really great, and going a little bit further back, WANTED, which despite being self-contained had so much to it in terms of plot and character development.

It’s a lower risk approach, I get that, and it has produced some really great standalone stories like SUPERIOR, SECRET SERVICE and STARLIGHT, so I probably shouldn’t complain. Overall Millar’s quality hit rate is pretty damn good. Plus you can’t fault his commitment to single-handedly enrich the cream of comics artists! I always love hearing who he is going to work with next.

JR

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

Back In Stock / Old Review

Above The Dreamless Dead (£17-99) by Hannah Berry, Stephen R. Bissette, Eddie Campbell, Lilli Carre, Lisbeth De Stercke, Hunt Emerson, Garth Ennis, Simon Gane, Sarah Glidden, Isabel Greenberg, Sammy Harkham, Kevin Huizenga, Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, Peter Kuper, James Lloyd, Pat Mills, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff, George Pratt, Carol Tyler, Phil Winslade.

Eddie Campbell:

“It’s a bit preposterous us thinking we can illustrate this stuff that we know nothing of – sitting here in our air-conditioned rooms trying to imagine the horrors of being knee deep in mud with your feet rotting off.”

Well, quite.

Nevertheless, Eddie does a convincing impression of knowing precisely what it felt, looked and smelled like, at night, and throws it in front of your face. Towards the end there is a close-up of what’s left of a clod-encrusted cadaver, its skull-thin face with opaque eye-jelly being crawled round by maggots.

“A barb had pierced his eye and stuck there, rusting in the socket from which sight was gone.”

It opens with the occasional crack of sniper bullets whipping the sandbags as soldiers stumble about like phantoms in the miasmatic fog, barbed wire lit up in ghostly electric arcs or, later, glistening with spiders’ webs and dew drops as it resists being dragged down and sucked into the mud by the weight of what’s left of a once-living human being. What’s left of Loos church and graveyard is also lit up in a ghastly, bone-strewn son et lumière. The overall effect is like staring into old-school black and white photographic negatives: indistinct, often terrifying.

All interior art from the Simon Gane contribution.

Campbell chose to condense the closing chapter of a novel by Patrick MacGill, The Great Push (1916), but the rest of this black and white book is given over to the World War I Trench Poets – writers on the frontline responsible for breaking through the propaganda with their terrible truths – interpreted by an impressive array of comicbook creators:

Hannah Berry, Stephen R. Bissette, Lilli Carré, Lisbeth De Stercke, Hunt Emerson, Garth Ennis, Simon Gane, Sarah Glidden, Isabel Greenberg, Sammy Harkham, Kevin Huizenga, Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, Peter Kuper, James Lloyd, Pat Mills, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff, George Pratt, Carol Tyler, Phil Winslade.

George Pratt takes on Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est and Greater Love. He notes in the back that, wishing to avoid overshadowing the words, he deliberately used thick tools like paint rollers and knives which wouldn’t allow him to overwork the images with details. It works.

My other favourite is Simon Gane’s second piece here, Osbert Sitwell’s The Next War, using war memorials from Britain and France, trailed with ivy, their age and textures perfectly rendered, each improbably well chosen to match and so evoke what was written. I urge you to hit the internet and gawp at the man’s architecture and landscape sketchwork.

 

Here you go, a rare external link: http://simongane.blogspot.co.uk/

There is an excellent introduction by Editor Chris Duffy, and commentary by the creators bringing up the rear. Kevin Huizenga’s is particularly worth noting.

Further recommended reading: Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH and THE GREAT WAR by Joe Sacco, both reviewed.

SLH

Buy Above The Dreamless Dead 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’

Kill Or Be Killed vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Palookaville #23 (£20-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth

Angel Catbird vol 3: The Catbird Roars h/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Margaret Atwood & Johnnie Christmas

Corpse Talk Ground Breaking Scientists (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy

Dredd / Anderson: The Deep End (£12-99, Rebellion) by Arthur Wyatt, Alec Worley & Ben Willsher, Paul Davidson

Eclipse vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Zack Kaplan & Giovanni Timpano

Rivers Of London: Black Mould (£13-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan

The Story Of Jezebel (£17-99, Uncivilised Books) by Elijah Brubaker

Justice League Of America vol 1: The Extremists s/c (£14-99, DC) by Steve Orlando & Ivan Reis, various

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 6 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by various including Jason Aaron, Rob Williams, David Lapham, Peter Milligan, Jason Latour, Skottie Young

Rocket Raccoon: Grounded s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & Jorge Coelho

Thanos Rising s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Simone Bianchi

Appleseed: Alpha h/c (£21-00, Kodansha) by Iou Kuroda

Attack On Titan vol 22 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

I Hear The Sunspot (£11-99, One Peace Books) by Yuki Fumino

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2017 week one

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Featuring Becky Cloonan, Jonathan Coulton, Matt Fraction, Albert Monteys, Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham, Brian Wood, Garry Brown, Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, Ian Edginton, I.N.J. Culbard and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Real Friends (£9-99, FirstSecond) by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham…

“Let’s make the ‘I hate Shannon’ club.”
“Adrienne…”
“Sorry, we’re the ‘I hate Shannon’ club and you can’t be a member.”
“Well, I don’t want to be anyway! Because I hate you!”

Fortunately the ‘I hate Shannon’ club only lasted one day. Though the ups and down, or rather ins and outs of being one of the friends that formed ‘The Group’ went on considerably longer for young Shannon, engendering an  ongoing state of nervous tension in her that developed into mild OCD and other issues.

At the risk of sounding sexist, I do wonder whether young girls aren’t far worse for this sort of behaviour than boys, which fortuitously for us here, makes for some fascinating reading! As a kid at primary school I only ever remember bickering disputes between boys being settled with a brief exchange of windmilling bunches of fives, then everyone was friends and playing again normally as though nothing had happened!

Meanwhile, I’m already seeing a little bit of the sort of behaviour Shannon details in this intriguing autobiographical work – well, it’s basically an anthropological study of playground behaviour – amongst some of my daughter Whacker’s friends, particularly one otherwise delightful girl who seems utterly incapable of playing with more than one friend at once, and can become very unpleasant and extremely possessive of individual friends in a group situation. I have suggested the bunch of fives solution but fortunately Whackers is more restrained than her father was in that respect, at least as far as girls are concerned. Boys who annoy her on the other hand are fair game as her best friend Edward occasionally finds out when he pushes it too far…

Still, I digress. As gripping as this is, well because of it, it actually makes for a little bit of uncomfortable reading knowing that my child will undoubtedly go through (though hopefully not be the instigator of too much of) the sort of behaviour that not infrequently made young Shannon’s life miserable. Not that this is all doom and gloom, not at all, it focuses just as much on her true ‘real friends’ as the false ones, and it is just as interesting to see how those friendships first took root and then developed over time, standing the test of it, and others calculating attempts to hijack them, as all happened with Shannon’s first real best friend Adrienne.

Then, there is her older sister Wendy, who to the younger Shannon seems to have a mysterious switch that flips her from loving sibling to total bitch for no discernible reason whatsoever, making home life just as testing at times as her school day. It’s not until an impactful conversation with her mum that Shannon starts to realise Wendy might be far more like her than she’d realised…

LeUyen Pham’s artwork, meanwhile, is utterly delightful. She’s absolutely brilliant at drawing kids, with all their myriad facial expressions that can go from ecstatic to devastated and back again in the space of three panels. Plus she also neatly adapts her style for Shannon’s daydream / fantasy sequences, or where she’s illustrating the girls’ elaborate role-playing games, usually involving them being spies or superheroes. Ah, the joys of unbridled childhood imagination and seemingly all the time in the world to just play and have fun with your friends. Assuming they’re not busy making an ‘I hate you’ club that particular day, that is! 

The term all-ages is frequently bandied about, not least by myself, but this is a genuine example of a title that works brilliantly well in very different ways, depending on the age of reader, to equally resounding effect. I will certainly be encouraging Whackers to read it before too long, as an educative, informative but also entertaining piece, whereas older readers will certainly read it with wistful / grimacing reminiscence as they cast their minds back to making their first real friends, and indeed arch-nemeses!

Recommended for voracious readers of Raina Telgemeier (SISTERS, SMILE, DRAMA, GHOSTS), for some young ones far prefer real-life material that they can relate to, rather than the more fantastical thrills which we carry so much of.

JR

Buy Real Friends and read the Page 45 review here

By Chance Or Providence s/c (£14-99, Image) by Becky Cloonan.

Was there ever an artist so in love with an era? I think not.

These three stories are mesmerising in and of themselves but this new edition with colours by Lee Loughbridge also boasts the best selection of back-matter sketches and associated finished art I can recall: page after page of lush, sensual, sexually charged portraits of men and women at one with their natural environment.

There are trees, there are leaves, and aquatic fronds reflected in the reptilian skin of those hiding behind them. There are tresses! Now, “tresses” is a word that evokes not necessarily a singular style of hair but a particular period in which it was worn, bound for courtly consumption. As to the guys, you can almost smell the male musk and taste the built-up grease by the way the thick strands fall heavy and thick over their eyes which glare up through their parted curtains in anger or seduction.

This reprints the three self-published A5 comics WOLVES and THE MIRE originally reviewed by myself and DEMETER reviewed by our Dominique, now out of print.

Wolves

A haunting tale of blood and lust that gives up its secrets slowly.

There is a naked man gone feral in the forest. A skilled hunter, he can down birds with a single stone then feast on them raw. But he is cursed – cursed by his king, cursed by what he has done, and cursed by its memory which won’t go away.

It’s all in the eyes.

The Mire

“Please remember, this letter means the difference between life and death.”

On the eve of battle, Sir Owain dispatches his young squire on an urgent errand. He is to deliver to Castle Ironwood a letter which is sealed with wax and stamped with the knight’s signet ring. The squire protests, for he swore an oath to fight at his master’s side, but when Sir Owain insists that this is a most noble and vital task, the squire promises to be back before the fighting is done.

However, the swiftest route is via the Withering Swamp, a stagnant mire rumoured to be haunted. What will our squire encounter during this treacherous endeavour?

“We all have ghosts that haunt us.”

This is Cloonan at her finest, crafting a tale so clever that you will want to re-read the second you are done, for hindsight is a funny old thing. It’s also beautifully written: I love how Cloonan maintains the metaphor between these two sentences:

“The trees stood guard like a row of immovable sentinels. Any light that managed to break their lines felt old and mouldy.”

She’s also employed a neat little trick which David Mazzucchelli utilised in CITY OF GLASS whereby speech bubbles drifting directly out of the mouth imply that the words aren’t spoken – no lips are moving – so emanate from somewhere much deeper and darker and colder within.

“So I kept moving. You should keep moving too.”

Demeter

Like the previous two comics, DEMETER is a short story which seems at first to be simple but which you know from the outset will have a twist. It’s not so much the surprise of the twist which grabs you, it’s the inevitability. As with a fable, you know the lesson is coming and dues must be paid; the hook lies in watching the protagonist as the moment approaches.

Will they go peacefully or will they refuse to accept what has come calling for them? Are they the victim or did they bring this on themselves? And if so, can their weakness be forgiven; is their eventual sacrifice enough to settle the bill?

In proper Gothic Fiction tradition Cloonan’s setting here is Olde Worlde; a beautiful, pregnant young woman tends house by the sea while she waits for her husband’s boat to return. What should be simple and charming is overlaid from the outset with a tinge of dread; even in her husband’s arms our lady seems tense, watchful, on the edge of panic. She is asking him to recall the time they first met but he can’t seem to remember. He’s lost some of his memories, it’s like there’s a boundary in his mind beyond which he can’t move, some trauma that has disconnected him from his past. Is something about to come home to roost?

I love these comics from Becky Cloonan, I hope she always finds time amongst all her other work to turn them out because they are just so gorgeous and satisfying! Her art is clean and line-perfect, her stories punchy and paced just right. Really handsome slices of comicbook goodness.

SLH & DK

Buy By Chance Or Providence s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Solid State (£17-99, Image) by Jonathan Coulton, Matt Fraction & Albert Monteys.

Protestors’ placards:

“BOO”
“BAD BOOJI”
“I DON’T LIKE THIS”
“SHARE OUR DISCONTENT”
“BOOJI DOESN’T BELIEVE IN PRIVACY”
“YOU CAN’T OWN OUR PRIVACY”
“UNDO!”

I don’t think CTRL+Z is going to do it for you, fellas.

A 10” single of a comedic graphic novel initially conceived by musician Coulton, further fashioned by Fraction (SEX CRIMINALS, ODY-C, HAWKEYE) then orchestrated by Mr. Monteys with ever such subtle tones, I believe this may hit you where it hurts.

Shall we begin with Side B?

Outside the solid steel gates of the sprawling, industrial yet verdant Booji complex, a throng of semi-enraged activists have gathered to protest the usurpation of their user data. They’re clambering all over its ever-so-jolly, brightly coloured logo. They’re quite the gaggle to goggle at.

“Read your Terms And Conditions, losers. You’re already too late.”

So mutters Booji programmer Robert Nowlan, travelling into work on its exclusive overhead monorail. But he’s not unsympathetic to their cause. He’s heading for a meeting with elderly Booji Boss Ray for whom grimace is a default setting, and involuntary, foamy-mouthed spitting an optional extra. Ray’s computer calmly announces:

“Your Buddy Robert Nowlan has confirmed your invitation to chillax.”

But Robert is hardly chillaxed. Bounced up from bed by a bad dream, vision or communication from the future, he’s been typing furiously and loudly into the early hours of the morning much to the irritation of his sleepy missus.

“Bob. Why are you awake? It’s too early.”
“Because. There are dumbies on the internet that are wrong about things.”

I love Montey’s depiction of his intense, in-your-face screen concentration / confrontation as he tap-taps furiously away, then braces backwards while typing ever-onwards, as indignant and pursed-lipped as ever until, victory within his grinning reach, he realises that the sun’s come up.  He takes the protestors’ privacy concerns to Ray, but do you recognise this?

“They all clicked ‘agree’ after pretending to read the rules like the 1.9 billion other users all over the world did.”

That’s even after they began objecting to the securing and sequestration of personal data, and on a recurrent, monthly basis too. We just do, don’t we?

“It’s not too late. We could open the data. Be – maybe not transparent, but at least… I don’t know. Is “translucent” a thing?”
“No and – no. That data is ours, legally and in perpetuity. Having it – access to it – that’s how we do what we do. It’s gonna be worth more than Booji itself one day.”

But code-writer Robert is now on a mission and does something determined or desperate – you take your pick – and I think you may well end up wincing. There are two full pages of public reaction in private, as individuals stare at their screens and cup their mouths in wide-eyed horror. One man in particular quietly sobs. There are diplomas framed proudly on his wall.

I cannot commend Fraction and Montey’s collaboration on this project highly enough for its lack of hand-holding: for Fraction’s judicious decision to let Montey do so much of the storytelling that it’s overwhelmingly implication over explication. The cover itself is one such perfect teaser with the moon shining bright above a citadel of surveillance cameras as Robert’s fingers hover tentatively above a keyboard within a rounded, triangular, toxic-yellow Hazard Sign.

There’s so much more to follow, but shall we regroup on supplementary Side A?

I don’t wish to imply that they are separate entities – they’re interlinked by multiple, trodden tracks which inform the whole – nor that the first half is any way extraneous. It’s just that anti-agapic food supplements play a prominent part.

Ray, for example, is still here, suspended in a colloidal solution at the heart of the futuristic Boojitropoplex surrounded by multiple concentric, impenetrable walls built by its Boojibuddy citizen-drones who constantly rate their own experiences or others’ behaviour using green thumbs-up or red thumbs-down emojis. They’re up-voting or down-voting, and no one likes to be down-voted, do they? Imagine if that were an option on Twitter!

The graphic novel opens with a lyrical invitation to wake up, which reads a bit like ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’.

 

Immediately our Buddy Bob does wake up on rough, grey, rubble-strewn terrain, surrounded by his construction co-workers, each wearing an orange survival suit complete with air-tight dodecahedron-shaped helmet. Bob’s has been breached, his pink visor cracked and perforated, a trickle of blood flowing from his forehead. He’s still breathing remarkably well.

What knocked him on the noggin then rendered him unconscious is another dodecahelmet, only more primitive with tiny eye holes rather than a visor. Inside, they discover a skull.

Back in his apartment, Bob stares in the mirror, evidently designed for maximum flattery, with a tree-lined waterfall cascading soothingly away in the background.

He looks fresh and young, the hole in his helmet pixilated out with any other skin blemishes. Unfortunately his visor won’t open – it’s broken – which will make eating impossible. Necessity being the mother of invention, instead he lobs a food supplement capsule through the breach in his helmet, catching it in his mouth.

He’s not always so successful (much laughter to follow) but, in any case, that’s no long-term solution for healthy well-being. Can the simple malfunction be fixed in this most technologically advanced age? After due consideration our aged, all-knowing leader Ray is optimistic.

“Ah-ha! Science. That’s the ticket. Engineering!”

Excellent!

“We need to get you a really great straw, Buddy.
“Buddy, get our Buddy Bob here a really great straw. Real long, okay? And really great.”

The empty, inarticulate feel-good factor and facile, faux solution put me in mind of successive Republican Presidents like Reagan, W.B. Bush and Trump.

The first half is full of such low-tech farce. Earlier Bob had attempted to requisition a replacement helmet from an Argos-like emporium whose assistant attempts to emulate an automaton by reading scripted questions and responses from a printed paper manual.

“Uh… okay. “Hi Buddy, I’ll be your Helpr today…” Uh… “What is the nature – “ No no, hang on buddy, hang on –“

It takes them ages until they establish that Bob’s original request was sent in 10,699 days ago.

The number of days crossed out on Bob’s several annual calendars provides an intriguing sense of context; and in the background there is an equally telling piece of propagandist encouragement involving the complex’s last major accident…

So where does Earth’s lunar satellite fit into all of this? It is one of Bob’s two jobs to track the trajectory of the moon – to be more precise, its analemma (its pattern of deviancy as seen in the sky over the period of a year from a fixed point in the planet) – by fallible human hand. Yes, but in an age of far more accurate robotics…?

Bob’s best friend is a giant robot called Robo-Grande who seems as out of the loop as he is when it comes to weird workings of the Boojitropoplex, and as perplexed when it comes to the unexplored concepts of dreams and “desire”. Bob’s going to start dreaming more and more, and they are both going to begin to explore the “want” lacking in their lives when something vital up above goes suddenly missing.

That’s it, folks!

Judging by the interior furnishings, the protests outside Booji take place perhaps a decade into our future; how far ahead the first half is I will leave you to discover for yourselves, along with how they’re connected and all the little intricacies in between.

Singer-songwiter Jonathan Coulton provides an invaluable afterword which I would suggest reading first, about the genesis of the project which was originally orientated around an album he was creating around the idea that “the internet sucks now”.   

If you haven’t already figured out what Booji is, I really can’t help you any further, but of course the concerns voiced here spread wider than a single corporation. Fraction has had enormous fun with the satirical elements. Everyone in the Boojitropoplex refers to each other as Buddy. “Bro” is banned; Buddy is the brand.

With Fraction’s welcome insistence that Monteys provide so much of the narrative visually, you are invited to solve its puzzle yourselves, hence my omissions which are many. Albert Monteys does not disappoint.

Unlike Jeff Lemire’s recent SECRET PATH collaboration with musician Gord Downie, there’s no free download code for the Solid State album released in April 2017 so you’re going to have to buy that separately or, you know, Spotify / YouTube it.

I leave you instead with a recurring sentiment or riddle…

“The brain and the mind are two discrete entities.
“Guilt and shame are two discrete entities.
“Yet both are the result of who you are versus what you do.”

… with the promise that all will become clear and give you much pause for thought.

SLH

Buy Solid State and read the Page 45 review here

Black Road vol 2: A Pagan Death (£14-99, Image) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown…

“We’re going to lose this war, Kitta. Why not set terms that we can live with rather than fight and lose everything?”

“Because we’re Norssk? Do I really need to tell you that? People don’t change as fast as you think they do, Magnus. You have rough times ahead of you.”

Indeed. But then it’s all grim up North on the Black Road, where the culture clash between invading Christendom with its one, true God and the old ways of the Norssk and their many Gods, is being settled with steel and blood, not peace and love. And the Norssk are most definitely losing, both hearts and minds as well as limbs and heads.

Magnus the Black knows it; he can see the future all too clearly. But despite being a warrior himself who can only enter Valhalla if he dies with his sword in his hand, he has for various reasons, including still being in mourning for the death of his wife, decided that working with the proselytising Catholic clergy and their heavily armed shock troops is in the best longer-term interests of the Norssk.

Until, that is… well, you’ll need to have read BLACK ROAD VOL 1: THE HOLY NORTH to know all the gory details that led him to this particular cul-de-sac in his new career’s progression, but suffice to say, working with is not the same as kowtowing to. Having reached the vast fortress that the rogue Bishop Oakenfort has been constructing, Colonel Kurtz-style at the end of the Road, in an attempt to overthrow the seat of papal power in Rome with the aid of a certain holy relic, Magnus finally finds himself forced into action against his employers.

This second volume brings the first story arc to a suitably claret-soaked, concussive conclusion. Events are very neatly tied up with such seeming finality, I have no idea whether there will be any future BLACK ROAD stories, featuring Magnus or otherwise. I hope so, because I have enjoyed this just as much as NORTHLANDERS.

Once again, Garry Brown’s brutally minimal art perfectly encapsulates the privations and hardships of the lands and life of the Norssk. He does a very good fight scene too, I must say, having quite the talent for making sequences of extreme violence very fluidly pleasing to the eye. The one that’s not just been stabbed with a dagger, that is.

More, please!

JR

Buy Black Road vol 2: A Pagan Death and read the Page 45 review here

Repackaged Edition / Considerably Embellished Review

Wasteland Compendium vol 1 (£35-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten.

“Mysteries within mysteries and an original mythology to become immersed in.”

 – Warren Ellis

First hefty half of what was originally a ten-volume series and, at the time of typing, we do have some of those slimmer WASTELAND volumes on sale at a mere £5-49.

I know you crave your post-apocalyptic fiction, and this one takes place during the most severe hose-pipe ban in history.
There’s a constant dread of danger in this catastrophically damaged world. The various factions and indeed this whole, barely re-industrialised, mountainous city teeter precariously on the verge of violence, under threat as they are from ruthless political power-play, religious intolerance, and the very terrain which is barren and broken.

Whether it’s the environmental Armageddon we currently face, the exploited lorry loads of refugees smuggled then sold into slavery, the destructive politics of tyrants like chin-less liar and coward Bashar Hafez al-Assad, or the wilfully ignorant racism that doesn’t even have the good grace to lurk beneath the surface of our societies any longer, Johnston has found novel ways of building them into his depraved new world, giving it far more bite than most.

He’s even thought about the language we use, particularly when swearing which traditionally references dogs and religion. Here the dogs are substituted with goats which are the cattle of this future, for there is no grass to graze, and since to those struggling to survive outside citadel limits goats represent their very means of subsistence, it’s no surprise that some of their language revolves around them. As to religion and religious intolerance, an interesting point is made as a crowd gathers round to gawp at the corpse of a murdered sun-worshipper. There may be swears.

“Fuckin’ deserved it. Filthy fuckin’ sun-slaves.”
“How do you know he was a sunner?”
“Look at him. All those freaky fuckin’ tattoos.”
“Weren’t no slave, though.”
“Oughta be. Sun-damned savages.”
“No, why you say that? Why you say “sun-damned” when you don’t believe in no Mother Sun?”

While we’re on the subject of the two religions explored so far here, although there have been tax incentives to encourage marriage, this is the first time I’ve come across the idea of using such incentives to encourage conversion from one religion to another!

This all takes place in the city of Newbegin whose cold, calculating and treacherous leader is referred to in the text of a letter found by the scavenger Michael out in the wilderness, and attached to a machine which speaks in Tongue, a mysterious and (perhaps) lost language.

It’s written by a father to his son, instructing him to follow the machine to A-Ree-Yass-I where, legend says, the Big Wet that destroyed their world began. He brings it to a town thence a woman called Abi, but when their settlement is burned to the ground by marauding Sand-Eaters, the survivors are forced to embark on a punishing journey to Newbegin itself which, if they survive the bandits, slave traffickers and their own tempers, might not be the salvation they hope for.

I so wish I could have found for you images of Christopher Mitten’s soaking storm online. It slashes in front of the ramparts in bright, blinding sheets which erode so much behind or beneath it. There are some spectacular, full-page aerial shots of the astonished multitudes scurrying urgently about below.

In that second of the five chapters within in particular, Mittens remaining women and men are ghostly on the page, radiating light as much as reflecting it, from within or without the partial or total ruins and the opaque, grey, basic accommodation which boasts little-to-no decor which isn’t entirely perfunctory. Implements of torture – that sort of thing. Speaking of which, it’s good to know that we’ve got our priorities as straight as ever with what little electricity we’ve managed to regenerate. There may be the odd, lamp-lit main thoroughfare, but mostly it’s used to shock the living daylights out of prisoners.

If the interior jail cells are fashioned from old iron bars, then the vast, warped exterior cages that resemble those of a zoo seem to be cobbled together from thick bamboo – or perhaps it’s repurposed lead or copper piping.

You’ll enjoy long, jagged blades, protective bandages wrapped around wrists, billowing dustcoats and utilitarian hairstyles ranging from shaven to short-cropped or the I-can’t-be-arsed-to-even-cut-my-hair curtains. Basically this: it’s all been thought through.

You may know Mitten already as Johnston’s cohort on UMBRAL whose first volume we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, an act which reportedly caused the most massive spike of internet interest which Antony charted, and deservedly so. We very much recommend UMBRAL, particularly if you’re partial to purple.

I now return you whence we began to Warren Ellis, renowned grumpy-chops and ever-so-astute writer of PLANETARY, INJECTION, TREES, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, GUN MACHINE and so much more. Why not pop him in our search engine, lock the door then throw away the key? If you do, you’ll find some of his swears are the best.

” Yesterday’s “time off” was spent reading the four extant collections of Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten’s WASTELAND, which can be viewed as Antony’s death metal take on DUNE, given that it’s ultimately about the crisis of the cogs of competing systems clashing against each other on the stage of a world that’s not really geared for supporting life. That there are wheels within wheels and systems unseen by many of the protagonists is part of the work’s developing tragedy.”

SLH

Buy Wasteland Compendium vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions / Old Reviews

The re-release of all four Edginton & Culbard SHERLOCK HOLMES graphic novels in a more palm-pleasing size and pocket-friendly price is the only excuse we need to reprint slightly titivated versions of our original reviews.

I love the new covers with their distressed corners as if already well thumbed-through, much loved and picked up, perhaps, at a car boot sale.

The first two are by Jonathan. Re-reading my third review in this same sitting, even I might convict myself of plagiarism, but I swear they were written years apart without referring to Jonathan’s lead.

Cue unfortunate segue:

A Study In Scarlet (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard.

“What ineffable twaddle! I never read such rubbish in my life. The writer claims by a twitch of a muscle, or a glance of the eye, to fathom a man’s innermost thoughts! Deceit, according to him, is impossible to one trained in such observation and analysis! It’s evidently the theory of some armchair lounger who evolves these neat little paradoxes in the seclusion of his study! I’d like to see him in a third-class carriage in the underground and give the trades of his fellow travellers. I’d lay a thousand to one against him!”
“You would lose your money. I wrote the article myself. I have a trade of my own… I suppose I am the only one in the world, I am a consulting detective.”

This is the second Sherlock Holmes adaptation from Edginton and Culbard, and it’s another masterfully jumbled jigsaw puzzle of investigative theatre laid out on the table for us to bemusedly grapple with.

A STUDY IN SCARLET features the story of how Holmes and Watson first met and began their firm friendship, set of course against the background of a rather puzzling double-murder. Well, puzzling to everyone except Holmes who with his usual trademark arrogance and love of a good denouement strings everybody along, including the Scotland Yard detectives with their own errant theories, to the point where they are virtually threatening to arrest him if he doesn’t tell them whodunit. He, of course, goes one better, contriving a dramatic arrest of the culprit in a manner worthy of the master detective.

Brilliant adaptation from Edginton and Culbard which perfectly captures the sneering arrogance and in turn bewildered astonishment of the younger Holmes and Watson.

JR

Buy Study In Scarlet and read the Page 45 review here

The Hound Of The Baskervilles (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard…

”Hmm… are you armed, LeStrade?”
”As long as I have my trousers I have a hip pocket, and as long as I have a hip pocket I have something in it!”
”Good man.”
A lovely piece of completely unintentional innuendo between Holmes and LeStrade towards the climax of the book that had me sniggering like a schoolboy. What a fantastic adaptation this is from Edginton and Culbard of one of master detective’s best-known adventures. I would actually have to say I prefer this to the original text by some distance.

Edginton’s tight adaptation of the witty verbal interplay between the characters is a joy to read, particular when combined with Culbard’s vivid and luminous artwork, from the assiduously patterned flock wallpaper in Holmes study to the imposing facades of Victorian London.

Here’s a little sequence when Sir Henry, the American inheritor of the Baskervillles’ wealth, is travelling by train to his new estate with Dr. Watson and sees the beauty of the English countryside for the first time. Edginton and Culbard capture the scene perfectly:

”Y’know, I’ve been over a good part of the world, Dr Watson, but I’ve never seen a place that compares to this.”
”Indeed, I never saw a Devonshire man that did not swear by his county.”
”I’m as keen as possible to see the moor.”
”Then your wish is easily granted… for there is your first sight of it.”

The highest possible compliment I can give is that I’m quite sure Conan Doyle would be absolutely delighted with how his creations have been brought to life once again in this work, and remain as relevant, engaging and entertaining over one hundred and thirty years from when he first imagined them.

JR

Buy The Hound Of The Baskervilles and read the Page 45 review here

The Valley Of Fear (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard.

“I have been in the Valley of Fear.
“I am not out of it yet.
“Sometimes I think I never shall be.”

THE VALLEY OF FEAR, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS… It’s all about fucked up geology for I.N.J. Culbard, isn’t it? Don’t you think he should mellow out a little? I’m thinking The Glacier of Gloom, The Estuary of Ennui, or The Meadows of Mild Malaise.

I read this on a sunny Sunday afternoon in my Garden Of Ineffable Joy, and the book matched the setting perfectly. I was thirteen the last time I read Sherlock Holmes and this brought back its brilliance indescribably well. The mere mechanics of the mystery alone are compelling enough – truly it’s a devilish plot with plenty of misdirection and false assumptions – but Edginton has distilled the prose to a gripping perfection whilst abandoning none of its original language. A note is scrawled “rudely” rather than crudely and the murder is reported by a “much excited” Cecil Barker rather than one agitated or alarmed, as we might say now.

Moreover, artist Ian Culbard has choreographed Sherlock Holmes’ confident performance with a quiet intensity, focussing on the eyes and the knowledge behind them, so that he is imbued with as much charisma as any actor I’m aware of that has taken the role to date. Holmes immerses himself in the tiniest details and revels in any mystery that successfully challenges his wits. To Holmes it is the perfect opportunity for a piece of theatre that he can direct, which is why he insists that it plays itself out in front of his captive audience of fellow detectives as they lie in wait for one of the cast to walk on stage and make his telling move:

“Watson insists that I am a dramatist in real life. Some touch of the artist wells up within me and calls insistently for a well-staged performance! Surely our profession would be a drab and sordid one if we did not set the scene so as to glorify the results. The blunt accusation, the tap on the shoulder – what can one make of such a dénouement? But the quick inference, the subtle trap, the clever forecast of events, the triumphant vindication of bold theories – are these not the pride and justification of our life’s work?”

Importantly, throughout that speech, far from gesticulating melodramatically like some self-obsessed luvvie, he stares straight ahead from under hooded eyes watching eagle-eyed for his prey, for it is the prize itself – the solving of the riddle and that way that it plays itself out – which absorbs him.

Similarly I will allow the mystery to present itself to your own good selves in the way it was intended by Mssrs Edginton and Culbard, with but a note that the central murder is framed by Holmes’ earliest insistence on the culpability of Professor Moriarty who lies waiting patiently in the wings without one single line, but with a presence all the same which makes itself felt.

Sherlock Holmes is an enduring creation, part of whose allure is his smiling conceit: he knows he will get there first. Privately, I was amused to find our merchant of mischief employing a phrase I’m inordinately fond of myself:

“Exactly so!”

The wallpaper’s aged well too.

SLH

Buy The Valley Of Fear and read the Page 45 review here

The Sign Of The Four (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard.

OMG! We never reviewed this!

It was indubitably awesome.

Will that do?

SLH

Buy The Sign Of The Four 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’

Venice (£19-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi

Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain) (£12-99, Robinson) by Robert Wells

God Country (£14-99, Image) by Donny Cates & Geoff Shaw

Heathen vol 1 (£14-50, Vault) by Natasha Alterici

Paper Girls vol 3 s/c (£11-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang

Reborn h/c (£22-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Greg Capullo

SLAM! vol 1 (£13-99, Boom!) by Pamela Ribon & Veronica Fish

The Wendy Project (£11-99, Emet Comics) by Melissa Jane Osborne & Veronica Fish

Unfollow vol 3: Turn It Off (£14-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, Simone Gane, Javier Pulido

Green Arrow vol 3: Emerald Outlaw (Rebirth) s/c (£14-99, DC) by Ben Percy & Otto Schmidt

Superman vol 3: Multiplicity (Rebirth) s/c (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason & Ivan Reis

Captain America: Steve Rogers vol 3: Empire Building s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Rod Reis

Fairy Tail vol 61 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Above The Dreamless Dead (£17-99) by Eddie Campbell, Luke Pearson, Simone Gane and more