Archive for September, 2017

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week three

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Featuring Brigitte Findakly, Louis Throndheim, Emma Vieceli, Malin Ryden, Tom Gauld, Nagata Kabi, Campbell Whyte, Seth M Peck & Jeremy Haun etc

Breaks vol 1 (£15-99, Soaring Penguin Press) by Malin Ryden & Emma Vieceli.

“You are not gay.
“Why can’t you get that into your thick and pimpled head?”

 – Ian Tanner in the mirror, after an exceptionally funny, beautifully timed and very telling toothpaste gag.

Which makes him smile: he can laugh at himself.

How many teens have had precisely that conversation with themselves, only to discover further down the line that they might actually have been a bit wrong? Self-awareness comes to some of us later than others.

And let us be clear, this is aimed squarely at teens. It’s an LGBT Young Adult love story, clean so very Mainstream, and as such we’ve racked it between FOUR POINTS and DELILAH DIRK for the moment.

Ian Tanner, on the left of the cover, is neither insecure nor defensive. He’s easy-going, off-hand, popular, funny, with a beautiful girlfriend called Amilah who doesn’t think he’s quite as clever as Ian does. I think you’ll like Amilah: she’s astute and very much aware that most of her friends are dickheads, including sixth-form bully Spence. I wish she’d do something about that: get better friends.

On the other hand, Ian Tanner isn’t quite as brave as he’d like himself to be. He finds it much easier to appease the physically strong, domineering Spence by being at his beck and call rather than stand up to him. I wish he would do something about that too: simply walk away at the very least.

Transfer student Cortland Hunt, on the other hand, has a fiery temper, doesn’t “do” authority and reacts as if he has nothing to lose. He’ll take Spencer on physically after even the slightest provocation and what he lacks in Spencer’s weight he makes up for in ferocity and possibly something more. But Cortland has two massive disadvantages: he’s an outsider, a loner, with no one to back him up; and – if I infer correctly from his brother Harvey, his best friend Irena and his social worker Zane – he has everything to lose. Perhaps what little’s left of his entire family has everything to lose. He desperately needs to keep a lid on it.

The problem is this: with aggressive bullying, there is almost always no let-up. Bullies thrive on knowing that there will be no repercussions to their actions so face-saving is absolutely imperative. They will coerce others to do what they fear to do alone, and this is going to grow dark.

It’s going to grow very dark indeed.

“So where is the love?!” I hear you cry.

It’s in every line: both those written by Malin Ryden and those drawn by Emma Vieceli.

There is ever so much mischief and tenderness evidenced by and in both. There is a vulnerability to the art and an uncertainty in the dialogue whose speakers (in Ian and occasionally Cortland) seek to cover their tentative tracks. You cannot commit whilst in the closet, especially when you do not yet realise its confines or even acknowledge its existence. Trails of thought are left understandably unfinished and so much is left only half-said, often excruciatingly curtailed from without by what happens next.

The faltering is all so instantly recognisable and the tensions are so very taut.

There’s also some deliciously funny dialogue and I’ve chosen some of the pages based on that.

I liked the distinction between “secret” and “private”. I don’t have that one for you, but you’ll see.

Where this differs considerably from the majority of our yaoi is that this is less fantastical and far more fully grounded in an urban, sixth-form reality which we can all recognise: the rat race, reputations and the power-play provocations; the rivalries, the jealousies, the repercussions at home.

Between the two creators the foreshadowing is very well done, and there is so much of it, right from the prologue narrated with hindsight from some point in the future. The big bit on the second page I’m not going to give away. I want it to startle you first-hand with the book in front of you – and it will.

For it’s even bigger than the accompanying snog during which Vieceli draws Ian wearing a highly distinctive shirt which emphatically isn’t school uniform, so that when it finally (finally!) crops up again you know where you’re heading – if not immediately – and the adrenalin starts pumping in anticipation as to how that scene will come about, then play itself out. Cleverly, what you will not see coming is a revelation just prior to that critical juncture which will complicate matters considerably. 

More foreshadowing with even cleverer re-deployment: at one point Amilah compliments Cortland to her boyfriend Ian’s face. Specifically she says, ““He doesn’t need to talk much, he’s a man of mystery… Besides, he’s totally hot.”

Many pages later and that sentence is echoed over and over again as Ian looks curiously at Cortland’s face and exposed neck, studying them without being spotted for he looks away just in time, while attempting to assess and reassess his own feelings while the words reverberate – as the panels’ only backgrounds – in his beer-fuelled, testosterone-charged mind.

He’s wearing that shirt, yes.

Did I mention that I like Ian? He’s disarmingly honest. Eventually, and in as much as he’s thought things through so far, at least…

I warn you, however: this isn’t all sweetness and light.

It’s there in the tag-line: “A love story… but a bit broken”.

You see, you may think you have begun to know Ian by the end of this volume, and you may have grown to love him in spite of his foibles, faults and misgivings, and because of the exemplary way that he fights through them, recognises them, reconsiders them and then acts with no excuses but with full, unequivocal apologies. But you know nothing of Cortland. He keeps his own counsel.

Oh, Courtland is pretty, he is ever so pretty. He has the sort of permanently, artlessly tousled male hair that Emma Vieceli excels at. She’s also exceptional at eyes that drift off into space. So I’m not astonished for one second that Ian finds himself so self-surprisingly attracted on one level or another to his former rival.

I just wish he would be more wary.

Says Si Si Spurrier, writer of CRY HAVOC et al, so succinctly and eloquently:

“Should be required reading for all teens, and frankly anyone – by which I mean everyone – who’s ever struggled to understand what’s in their own heart.”

Which, as I am inordinately fond of saying… “IS WHERE WE CAME IN, STEPHEN!”

Quite.

Now, it’s time for the innocent tooth-paste gag. That final panel is the clincher!

SLH

Buy Breaks vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Poppies Of Iraq hc (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brigitte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim.

Guy Delisle fans, you will adore this book. So many absurdities encountered!

In the early 1970s the Iraqi government supplied famers with wheat seed coated in red, insect-resistant pesticide, claiming it to be of the highest possible quality, but instructing that it to be used strictly for planting only.

Instead the farmers fed it to their cattle, which died, and ate it themselves, and died. In disgust, they dumped the rest into rivers. The fish all died.

I open with this nugget of information gleaned from Brigitte Findakly’s family memoir about growing up in Iraq during the mid 20th Century because a) I found it funny (sorry, but I did), b) it is exactly the sort of fascinating, recondite history you’ll be treated to, and c) because it so accurately reflects the nature, cameo style and the overall story which Findakly tells so successfully: the gradual extinction of her treasured childhood, recalled and evoked throughout with sunshine, charm and all-embracing individuality.

This we are witness to on the opening two picnic pages as a tiny Brigitte gaily bounces a multi-coloured beach ball between the sandy ruins of Nimrud founded 3,300 years ago, which weren’t actually ruins. Like the equally majestic, ancient archaeological site of Hatra whose statues she also relished clambering over, Nimrud’s antiquities were epic stone monuments of sculptural excellence, proudly preserved throughout the centuries regardless of whoever came later.

Yes, you could clamber (outrageous) and yes you could pick poppies (why not?) but no single stone was allowed to leave. They were sacred, both artistically and historically, as spectacular examples of what humankind could accomplish.

In March 2015, almost overnight, they were both bulldozed and dynamited to death by ISIS.

It’s a prime example of the woefully unnecessary destruction of a once beautiful and culturally phenomenal region of the world by so many successive, revolving-door regimes whose only goal has been not the prosperity of their country, but the consolidation of their personal power along with a seemingly insatiable appetite for revenge.

For example, in July 1958 there was a coup during which Generals Arif and Qasim took power. The King was overthrown and executed, along with his family and servants. Soldiers looted homes.

In 1963 there was a new coup during which exiled General Arif and the Baath party took power. This time General Qasim was executed. Then Arif executed the Baathists too, for good measure.

Side-note: since General Qasim was associated with the Soviet Bloc, the colour red was then banned in public: cars, scarves, hats, signs and presumably poppies. Brilliant! That’s progress!

There are many more fortune-reversing coups, especially when a multi-party democracy is rashly considered, and all of this, especially the ridiculous revolving-door nature, is eloquently illustrated by Louis Trondheim’s cartoon soldiers, coloured by Findakly, trotting first this way, then that, a foot off the ground.

It’s just one indication that POPPIES OF IRAQ is no mere stark, geo-specific history. Like Riad Sattouf’s ARAB OF THE FUTURE 1978-1984 and 1984-1985, it is an engaging and very personal, family-centric and so more vivid and informative account of daily life during a period much neglected.

Everyone talks about Iraq under the egomaniacal, genocidal Saddam Hussein from 1979 and the post-Hussein chaos tantamount to anarchy – let loose by our illegal invasion with no forethought to its social and physical reconstruction – under various so-called religious warring factions, but few have found time like Findakly to proffer a portrait of life before then.

Her family was in a position to experience the period much more safely and more widely than others, not through privilege, but through connections, from their own acts of kindness and a refusal to exclude or be excluded.

Born of an Iraqi Orthodox Christian father and a French Catholic mother, Findakly was christened twice. At school Christians were excused from Quran lessons, but Brigitte felt left out so her dad persuaded the teachers to include her. Her best friend was Nadwa, the daughter of their next door neighbours, their very gardens connected via a door. Since they were Muslim, Brigitte did her Quran homework there. Didn’t make her a believer, nor did her sixth-form school run by nuns. Both made her understanding of others instead.

Quite early on there’s a flash-forward to November 13th 2015, which will be reprised at the end, as cousins call her anxiously following the terror attacks in Paris. By this point they have all finally left Iraq, dispersing to different corners of the globe (Brigitte’s family emigrated to France in 1972 – you’ll understand why), each taking with them the one thing they could, their Christian faith, but also a deep-seated Islamophobia.

“According to an expert here in New Zealand, the Quran says to kill all non-Muslims.”
“But that’s ridiculous. It’s not even about religion. They’re barbarians who are just using religion as a pretext to gain power.”

It’s a rare sense of level-headed perspective that Findakly’s retained but, once again, I attribute that to her – and her family’s – refusal to exclude or be excluded.

Back to school life, then, and the only school trip she can recall was to line up in public to salute the despot of the day. Uniforms were mandatory to encourage a sense of equality, but the state of those uniforms clearly marked out which kids were poor and they gravitated, untold, towards the back of the classroom. The poor kids were the only kids to volunteer for cleaning duty. Why would they even do that? (Probably because they had to do the same at home, or else their mothers would have to work even harder, while the rich kids had maids to pick up after their shit instead.) Typically Brigitte volunteered once, and was considered insane.

Her father was a dentist with both a private city clinic but also a position with the army. It came in very handy when the various rounds of post-coup looting occurred – that, and quick-thinking, afforded them some degree of protection, but at one point her father did buy her pregnant mother a gun. She buried it in the garden.

Censorship was rife. When in Baghdad his phone conversations with his wife would be interrupted by military eavesdroppers and they’d be chastised for speaking in French. Later that same army asked him to read all incoming and outgoing mail in French. He delegated it to his wife who thereby accidentally discovered that a seemingly cordial French couple whom they called friends disliked them both intensely! Photographs of Jewish pop-star were cut out of imported French magazine by customs officials. Such was the institutionalised hatred of Israel that its entry was torn out of the dictionaries even though Iraq, on the opposite page, went with it!

You see what I mean about Guy Delisle…? And Riad Sattouf, as it happens.

Interspersed amongst these more personal anecdotes are ‘In Iraq’ interludes: customs you’ll find curious like refusing second helpings (her mum’s spectacular puddings soon put paid to that), siblings donating a baby to sterile couples (which is a bit weird, but sweet), and highly intimate pre-wedding preparations as dictated by husbands to their prospective wives through intermediaries. That is not sweet.

But they all tend to be funny, drawn by Trondheim as little set pieces or plays. ‘The Good Memories’ which Findakly’s left with towards the end of the book – so far removed from the life she once knew by space, time and the changes regimes have since wrought – are far more poignant full-page cameos.

 

They got out before Saddam Hussein took full power in 1979, but life in Paris was far from fun. Her father found his foreign degree was worth nothing there and her mother was initially refused an ID card at the police station because the officer was adamant she’d lost her French citizenship (she hadn’t) even though she presented him with a French passport. Aged thirteen Brigitte shared a bedroom with her nineteen-year-old brother Dominique; they clashed over politics and pop music. Her brother had a point when it came to Michel Sardou: your eyes will widen when you read those lyrics which I couldn’t possibly repeat.

Also, although she spoke it fluently, Brigitte had never learned to read or write in French so school was a nightmare. Private school was worse with teachers who were proudly racist and peers who refused point-blank to believe that anyone could be both an Arab and a Christian: so much for her old life of inclusion.

Not only that, but return visits to her homeland too became increasingly alienating, with Hussein portraits everywhere including each home, women now required to cover knees and shoulders, children being quizzed daily at school on their parents’ politics, her cousins’ privations following the Iran-Iraq war (plus her cousins’ extraordinary experiences during the Iran-Iraq war!) and, because Findakly and Trondheim have a way of making each instance so personal and far from obvious, one is left in no doubt whatsoever of the loss Findakly feels.

But it’s her resilience I admire the most: her resilience to hatred and her resilience to anger when there is so much she could be angry about if she gave in.

Do you remember her best friend Nadwa, with whom she studied the Quran? Brigitte hasn’t seen her since 1989.

Nadwa had stayed in their beloved hometown of Mosul all those years, and in June 2014 she and husband drove on holiday from Mosul to Iraqi Kurdistan, packing only for a two-week trip.

The next day ISIS invaded Mosul, so they never saw their city again.

SLH

Buy Poppies Of Iraq h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Home Time h/c (£22-99, Top Shelf) by Campbell Whyte…

“You’re not going to ring the bell?”
“That clanging piece of junk? No thanks.”
“But aren’t you sad to be leaving?”
“No. I’m not upset. Not in the least, thanks, Amanda.”
“David thinks he’s too good for primary school.”
“Well, he’s not going to high school. He’s gotta repeat the year.”
“That’s not true! Top of science, top of maths, top of geography.”
“Mum and Dad are worried about your social development. They were going to tell you after Christmas.”
“Nice try. Nothing’s going to put a dampener on me blowing this popsicle stand.”
“I can’t believe this is it. We’ll never hear the bell ringing again.”

Prophetic words… School’s out forever. Well, junior school at least. Twins David and Lilly and their friends Ben, Amanda, Nathan and Laurence are free at last to enjoy the burgeoning respite of summer holidays before they make the step up to big school and they’ve got plans to kick proceedings off with a huge splash. A two-day sleepover pool party movie-fest at rich kid Laurence’s house, which will be especially poignant as he’s off to private school at the end of summer which deep down they all know is inevitably going to change the balance of their future friendship.

Except… a sudden thunder storm sends Lily’s dog Pepu idiotically scampering off into the fast flowing river, and one conveniently collapsed bridge later, five of our kids are struggling to keep their heads above water. In fact they don’t… Only Laurence somehow manages to keep his footing atop the pile of now-splintered timbers. I have no idea what the significance of this separation is, but I am sure it will become clearer in time.

Meanwhile, back to our drowning kids… Much to their surprise, and mine, they don’t seem to end up dead at all, I think, instead waking up on the shores of a very strange land, populated by little munchkins known as Peaches who immediately fete our gang as hallowed spirits of the forest whom they are convinced will have much scholarly wizardry to teach them. To them each child represents a different aspect of the divine: will, rising, growth, beasts and skies. The Peaches do seem slightly puzzled but not overly troubled by the absence of the Spirit of Plenty, which is Laurence…

Over several months our kids either settle into the forest and their roles, or become increasingly unsettled and impatient to return home. Precisely how that could be possibly achieved, though, is something no one seems to have any real idea about, with the Peaches being utterly baffled as to why the sprits might even want to leave their leafy paradise. But it’s far from the only mystery they’ll encounter, for this is a very unusual land with its own peculiar ecosystem of bizarre creatures and fantastical fauna. The tree-based architecture is wondrous to behold also, though there are some surprisingly familiar constructions too…

The story is broken down into monthly chapters, each seen from the perspective of a different child, and told in an individual art style, my favourite being the 8-bit pixelated treatment Nathan gets.

Campbell Whyte is clearly a very talented artist and I could draw comparisons with the likes of Farel THE WRENCHIES Dalrymple, Jose ADVENTURES OF A JAPANESE BUSINESSMAN Domingo, Tommi THE BOOK OF HOPE Musturi, Bryan SECONDS Lee O’Malley and several others depending on which of his many styles he’s working in. As a conceit it works well, subtly changing the focus to reflect the differing emotional states of the rotating central protagonists.

As the story develops, tensions build between different members of our gang, and also factions of the Peaches, not all of whom are convinced about the pious provenance of the children. Hidden agendas are gradually revealed and then…  the book ends! Arrrggghhh.

I hadn’t realised this was merely the first volume, of two or perhaps three I think, and consequently I was so that entranced by the expansive milieu which Whyte was weaving – and being perplexed by the puzzle of what was really going on – that I was a little bit devastated to be so forcibly wrenched back to my own reality without any definitive answers!!

I guess you’ve correctly divined I’ll be reading the subsequent volume(s), then!

JR

Buy Home Time h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Goliath s/c (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tom Gauld.

And lo, there came a stand-off of Biblical proportions.

High upon one mountain stood the mighty armies of Israel, massed in the Vale of Elah. Camped upon another, and sore strong in numbers, were the Philistines’ forces for war. Below and between them lay a lifeless valley of stone and sand, and into that valley strode the Philistine Goliath from Gath. He wore a brass helmet and armour weighing five thousand shekels. Almost twice the size of a normal man, he issued a dire challenge which shook and dismayed the Israelites. For Goliath of Gath was a giant of a man, and the king’s chosen champion.

“Are you sure this isn’t a mistake? I mainly do admin.”

Poor old Goliath!

His size has singled him out for a cunning plan devised by an excitable Captain and approved by a king far too preoccupied to read through it carefully. Now Goliath’s been given his instructions, a fine new suit of armour and his very own diminutive shield-bearer. He’s even had his script written for him. It’s pretty incendiary; it might take a little practice. Thankfully no one seems to be biting…

Exceptional work from one of Britain’s finest cartoonists whom you’ll find in The Guardian and New Scientist and on our shelves in the form of BAKING WITH KAFKA, YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK and MOONCOP.

He’s taken one of the world’s most famous confrontations – the triumph of one barely armed lad over seemingly insuperable strength and aggression – and not so much turned it on its head as tossed its coin to show the other side. For the Book of Samuel is seen solely from the Israelites’ perspective. Nothing here contradicts the story. It’s far more of a “Meanwhile, back at the Philistines…” and the comedy lies in confounding your expectations and the silence which surrounds this gentle giant.

It’s all so still.

I love the rhythm and the crisp, white space which surrounds the sand-coloured, meticulously hatched rocks, tents and protagonists. Space equals time in comics and, I would suggest, not just between the panels. Both the silence and the space here stretch the moments. It’s far from a raging arena of testosterone, but a masterpiece of quiet, uncomplaining bewilderment and absurdity.

That a boy aged nine is commanded to lug around a giant’s mighty shield…!

“Are you ok with that?”
“Sort of.”

The story opens one moonlit evening with a thirsty Goliath popping down for a drink from a rippling brook dangerously close to the Israelites’ army. And there he finds a pebble.

“D’you want it?”
“Why would I want it?”

Goliath contemplates the pebble for a moment then tosses it back in the water. “Plop.”

He’ll be seeing that again shortly.

SLH

Buy Goliath and read the Page 45 review here

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness (£12-99, Seven Seas) by Nagata Kabi.

“She was kind to me. But I couldn’t open my heart. I let her feelings spill on the ground, unable to take them in.”

Please do not judge this comic by its cover, its title or that eloquent opening quotation without context.

This is without doubt an exceptionally well articulated graphic novel delving in considerable depth into this young individual’s social anxieties, her developmental dependence upon parental approval – which, in its culpable absence, created the most enormously destabilising and prohibitive hindrance towards autonomy, personal growth and even self-love – as well as the most crippling aversion to any form of physical friendship.

To be emotionally and reactively incapable of giving or receiving a mere hug!

I type “mere” but a hug is ever so important, whether it be between friends or lovers. It bonds and it connects us. We should probably all do more ape- or monkey-like grooming.

No, what Kabi is describing above is not her reaction to a spurned lover (because that is way out of her range right now) but the best she can do when she finally plucks up enough courage to book a date with a professional agency, meet one of their exceedingly kind, considerate and consistently thoughtful companions, and then is left to lead the pair of them (rather than being instructed to do so) to a Japanese love-hotel and choose for them both a room.

She has never kissed, never touched, never loved but – overwhelmed by the crippling occasion and all its new opportunities so sadly denied and thwarted by her ingrained, overriding self-consciousness – Nagata Kabi’s immediate and instinctive reaction is not to feel sorry for herself but consider the feelings of her chosen consort instead, throughout the entire experience.

The very opposite of self-involved, this book may on the surface and in its beginnings test your potential for basic human empathy by seeming overwhelmingly ego-centric. Nagata Kabi was a self-confessed mess. But she didn’t get that way through self-absorbed self-indulgence. I call on Mother Nurture.

It’s autobiography, by the way, and into Page 45’s Mental Health Section it so justifiably goes, not because it has anything inherently to do with sexuality, but because of the monumental strife which Kabi has encountered to get anywhere close to where she is today, which is a phenomenally accomplished creator of manga.

I thought this was so deftly done!

So we come to my opening caveats:

Although touching upon her sexuality as a gay woman – and certainly exploring her relationship with her mother in that specific context in an eye-opening way which I’ve not encountered before but have, strangely, since – Kabi’s wider battle is far more universal and so, I would have thought, of interest to all.

Have you never been in a perpetual state not of flux but of flustered?

I mean that boiling, sweaty, off-kilter wrong-sidedness that can easily up-end any of us? I used to blush terribly in my late teens and wouldn’t recover for hours. If sitting in a pub it would make me excruciatingly self-conscious and render me silent. Kabi evokes that to perfection.

But her own discomfort came with physical pain, debilitation, a vulnerability to temperature and to two diametrically opposed eating disorders including a compulsion to eat while on shift at a supermarket. This is horrific:

“Sometimes there was only instant ramen… And I didn’t have the time to add hot water and wait three minutes (I was already in the middle of a shift)… I’d just bite into them.

“The non-fried noodles are particularly hard, so they’d be speckled with my blood… and if I sprinkled the soup powder on them, it just fell through the cracks and didn’t stick at all.”

She’s open and honest about her naivety.

“I started causing problems for everyone, coming in late, leaving early, calling in sick…
“At that part-time job I was looking for a place that would accept me unconditionally. But, of course, a part-time job isn’t the place for that. It’s a place for receiving wages in compensation for labour. There’s no room for someone who can’t work their wages worth.
“I would have to look elsewhere for unconditional acceptance.”

Unfortunately Nagata looked to her parents, and especially her Mum.

You’d think that would be a pretty safe bet under normal circumstances.

I’m afraid not.

Her mother bares a single mocking mouth line in every panel as, at every turn, Nagata’s incremental achievements are dismissed by the holy trinity of her mother, father and grandmother who throw in her face the sacred mantra of “salaried employee”, undermining her self-confidence still further, which makes her all the more determined to please them.

“Recently, I’ve realised that the times when I’m uncomfortable are related to when I’m trying to make myself look good due to an inferiority complex, or when I don’t understand how I actually feel.”

It is, quite frankly, a minor miracle that Kabi ever clawed her way out of this mental quicksand, but there is the one invaluable helping hand held out to her from a most unexpected source.

A substantial portion of the graphic novel is given over to her encounter in the love hotel, her professional date who is, as I’ve said, kind, considerate and courteous right from the start, but far more than that: confident, unflappable and empowering, leaving Nagata to choose their room from the various screens. Here there are no wrong answers. Instead she is complimented:

“That’s so brave.”

The very opposite of life at home.

But, without wishing to spoil anything, the experience is not quite as transformative as you might hope.

It’s all so respectfully drawn: genuinely sensual but in no way titillating. Remember: any form of touch is a big thing for Nagata.

The choice of pink is perfect. It’s both the colour of the flesh and the colour of the flush – of embarrassment, shame, awkwardness, humiliation. It’s also a healing colour.

Communication is vital for any sort of healing and part of Kabi’s problem was a complete absence of that. Understanding this, she has communicated her experience here with a commendable candour and so small degree of hindsight. And, I’m delighted to say, success, both in its accomplishment and reception.

SLH

Buy My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness and read the Page 45 review here

The Realm #1 (£3-25, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Seth M Peck & Jeremy Haun.

“You do know killing our clients is bad business, don’t you, Will? Dead customers are not repeat customers.”

I’ve kept that in mind throughout my entire career.

The key to any opening issue is that it should intrigue by enticing you to ask yourself questions.

The silent sequence opening Terry Moore’s RACHEL RISING did precisely that, while Nabiel Kanan’s equally eerie early pages of THE DROWNERS were a masterclass in implication.

Similarly, so much of THE REALM’S initial narrative storytelling is visual alone, such is the trust between its co-creators and their shared understanding that inference is far more fun and emotionally involving than being buried under a mountain of mind-bludgeoning exposition. Never show your full hand on a first pass. Lure or you lose.

We have a modern American city sprawl almost entirely deserted and whose infrastructure is down.

It seems utterly inert.

No one is shopping and wrecked cars are abandoned in shopping mall parking lots. There’s no traffic, and no trains are running. The skyscrapers are largely left standing but their windows are mostly blown out, even several storeys up. Electricity appears entirely offline.

We may get to the floating, graphite-like citadels with their glowing, monocular hollows later on or we may not; around them swarm drakes or dragons.

Across this detritus-strewn emptiness – though preferably under its industrial overpasses – two figures cautiously make their way: a woman on horseback being led by a man with a shotgun.

They are late for an assignation with a man on a make-shift throne whom they address as King. Is that his surname? Is he a crime lord? Or has the entire world gone feudal?

“Nolan! I was starting to get a little worried you’d fallen into some kind of trouble!”
“Jesus! I’m not even a day off schedule, King. I’ve got the girl as promised, and you’ve got my money, I’ll gladly be on my way.”

Not much due deference in the language there. There’s not a great deal of courtly oratory in exchange.

“Straight to business! I like it! I hope the job didn’t prove too difficult.”
“It wasn’t easy. Your intel sucked, and there are half a dozen drakes in the air between here and Missouri.”

Part of that lousy intel involved an under-estimation of the girl’s captors’ numbers. Also: the lady in question turned out not to be said King’s daughter. She was traded as skin for antibiotics; antibiotics which proved beyond their sell-by date. So this wasn’t a rescue mission, it was a reprisal. That piece of withheld intelligence is only coming through now.

Can you spell “reciprocation”?

More visual clues planted early on: Nolan appears to have a diseased neck. You can just about see it above his collar in combat. What does that mean? Within or below those floating citadels the architecture appears to be classical, ecclesiastical and very ancient, but then modern. An obedient priest with a red-glowing eye enters a ritual, ringed centre and performs a sacred ceremony at some certain cost, making a solemn exchange and a proclaiming a vow.

I’m choosing my words very carefully.

Words like “early”, after which “later” tends to follow.

Meanwhile exceptionally acrobatic, armoured goblins abound but good golly Miss Molly is exceptionally proficient with a bow and arrow and she doesn’t flinch under pressure. That’s a new member of our cast who seeks to hire Will Nolan to escort two scientists west to Kansas City. But Will has a Rook who knows where to look out for lies.

It really is like a game of chess with only some of the pieces revealed this early on.

That’s good. That keeps the readers, and Will, on their toes.

For example, the goblins or orcs may prove a pursuant pest for some, but for others they appear to constitute blood-thirstily sought-after trophies down in the subway.

The environment is pivotal to all this, setting it apart from more fantastical iterations of dragon-infested action-adventures. It is uncompromisingly modern with no renewed vegetation and sheer, straight-lined girders coloured to perfection by Nick Filardi with those glowing, monocular hollows ominously reprised at different times of day.

Lastly, even used toothbrushes appear to be a cherished commodity. I have no idea whether that will ever come into play, but I noted it all the same, and appreciated Haun’s subtle, bristle-bent emphasis on the used.

SLH

Buy The Realm #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis, John Romita Jr., Gabrielle Dell’Otto.

Three books in one, this reprints the first two softcovers of the 2010 series and AVENGERS PRIME.

Basically, everything that immediately follows SIEGE.

Avengers Vol 1:

Not so much a temporal anomaly as a temporal catastrophe.

Far in the future the Avengers have had children but the world they have inhabited has been devastated first by Hank Pym’s Ultron (an artificial intelligence housed in nigh-impenetrable metal with an Oedipal Complex like you wouldn’t believe) and then by a war between Ultron and Kang. As always Kang The Conqueror lost (obviously: it’s there in his name) but being a time traveler and a really, really sore loser he simply presses the temporal reset, travels back in time and tries again bringing increasingly vast armies with him. Over and over again. But the thing is, everything has an expiry date: carpets wear thin and metal fatigues. And eventually, groaning at the strain of Kang’s relentless, bludgeoning misuse, time… simply… snaps.

That’s what lies at the heart of this devious time-traveling tale with ominous foreshadowing for the life, times and in particular the inventions of Iron Man, the fate of Bucky Barnes and a whole spread of imminent developments if you care to analyze the bizarrely child-like scrawl on the wall as drawn by a future counterpart of one of the Avengers who has already witnessed what Bendis and others have in store for the Marvel Universe.

But it all kicks off on the first day of this central team’s reformation high in Avengers Tower, and it’s a semi-classic line-up as dictated by Commander Steve Rogers and potential sales figures: Thor, Iron Man, Bucky as Captain America, Hawkeye as Hawkeye (at last), Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Wolverine and Kree warrior Nor-Varr all led by ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill. Not the brightest day, you’d have thought, for Kang to show his purple puss, but he has an ace up his sleeve as conceived by Tony Stark.

“But I haven’t even built that yet.”
“But you will.”
“I won’t.”
“You did.”

He did. He went and built a doomsday device and now it belongs to Kang. The how and the why will fall into place later on for Kang is not there to conquer (quite fortunate given his 60-year score card) but to ask for their help. Funny how he doesn’t mention the time fracture.

As I say, this is far more devious that it first appears because there are a whole heap of surprises awaiting them in the eye of the temporal storm: strange alliances whose members aren’t necessarily being straight with each other let alone our assembled Avengers. But then one Avenger doesn’t necessarily end up being straight with the others. Habit of a life-time, really.

Art on a scale of huge from John Romita Jr. as befits a title whose very nature is dealing with the big stuff. That’s what this central book is: the big stuff. Here we have Ultron, Kang, time-travel and Apocalypse whose name I have mentioned just to boost sales. Next we have the Infinity Gems, the Illuminati and a cast of 5,312. Are Tony and Steve going to fall out again?! *

Lastly, there’s one other ex-Avenger Steve Rogers wanted for the team but he’s refused point-blank. In fact he seems determined to do everything he can to thwart the reformation. Do you sense a sub-plot? **

*Yes.

**Yes.

Avengers vol 2:

“I know when someone knows how to fight. This guy didn’t know hand-to-hand combat. He had power but no moves. A guy with a nice car and no license to drive.”

And that’s the very last sort of person you want loose on the roads.

The Infinity Gauntlet: a glove composed of Power Gems affecting space, time and reality, too powerful to be in the possession of any one woman or man. Thanks to Thanos they almost brought about the destruction of the whole wide wibbliverse. Some years ago, therefore, the clandestine Illuminati composed of Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Professor Xavier, Namor, Black Bolt and Reed Richards secretly split the gems up then hid them. One has just been found, it’s the most lethal of the lot, and it will make pilfering the others far easier.

It’s a massive cast for an epic battle including the Red Hulk here written somewhat differently. As in, written well with both rhyme and reason, while Romita excels at such titanic action and big, brutal forms.

Most importantly, however, after Iron Man promised to be on his best behaviour to Steve Rogers with no more secrets, his role in the Illuminati and its clandestine history comes out of a closet so capacious you could fit half the last century’s light entertainment stars in it.

There will be ructions, but also two very clever final pages.

Avengers: Prime

Steve Rogers and Tony Stark:

“Hop on.”
“There’s got to be another horse running around here somewhere.”
“Hop on! Let’s go.”
“Any excuse to get me to hold you.”
“You see right through me.”
“Where’s Thor?”
“Don’t know exactly. I’m following the lightning.”

Not a single tower of the once mighty Asgard is standing. Amongst the stone ruins there are fires ablaze as the timbers and fine linen of the more opulent halls crackle and spit out flaming-hot cinders, and the night sky is clouded with smoke. Steve Rogers in combats and a black, polar-necked sweatshirt comes straight to the point:

“Thor, tell us what you need and you will have it.”
“Just seeing it like this… my Father’s kingdom in complete ruin.”
“Hey, anything can be rebuilt. Anything. Every time I’ve had to rebuild this armour, I’ve always made it better every time. Wait till you see my new stuff.”

Good old Tony look-at-me Stark: Mr. Sensitive 2010. No wonder Steve is pissed off.

“We’ll see.”
“We’ll see what?”
“I’m not convinced letting you keep that armour is in the best interests of the country, Iron Man. I haven’t made up my mind.”

Just in case you’ve been holidaying on the moon these last five years, the three core Avengers – Thor, Iron Man and Captain America – have issues with each other. Or at least Thor and Steve Rogers have issues with Iron Man, and have had ever since CIVIL WAR. Then Tony Stark took the government’s position on the Superhuman Registration Act and endorsed the construction of a cyborg clone from Thor’s cell tissues. It killed one of their friends. Then he had Steve Rogers locked up for good measure.

Anyway, the destruction of Asgard in SIEGE comes with additional hazards like the Rainbow Bridge, a portal to other dimensions, being broken. But before they can contain the gateway, the gateway contains them, sucking them through to three different, otherworldly locations, none of them particularly hospitable. Stark is deprived of his armour and runs around naked, desperately trying to hide his genitals with rejoinders (he has a sympathetic letterer) and trying to wise-crack his way back into his old friends’ hearts.

“Boy, am I glad to see you, Steve. I take back almost everything I have ever said.”
“Why are you naked?”
“It’s the new armour. It’s see-through.”
“Jokes? Really?”
“It’s very high-tech.”

He even finds time to mix up his Shakespeare, holding his helmet in his hand and paraphrasing Richard III.

A very old Avengers villain reappears in a radically different role, there are dragons, elves and ogres which for once don’t rankle with me at all, a romance snatched away at the last minute for Steve, and the most enormous art from the softest of artists, Alan Davis. What’s not to love?

SLH

Buy Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

The Little Red Wolf h/c (£17-99, Cub House) by Amelie Flechais

Geis Book 2: A Game Without Rules (£15-99, Nobrow) by Alexis Deacon

Halloween Tales h/c (£18-99, Humanoids Kids) by O.G. Boiscommun

Cosplayers: Perfect Collection (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Dash Shaw

The Last Days Of American Crime (£15-99, Image) by Rick Remender &Greg Tocchini

East Of West vol 7 (£14-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta

Invincible vol 24: The End Of All Things Part 1 (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley

Parker: The Score s/c (£15-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke

Batman: Dark Knight Master Race h/c (£26-99, DC) by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello & Andy Kubert

Nightwing vol 3: Nightwing Must Die s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Michael Mc Millian & Javi Fernandez, Minkyu Jung, Christian Duce

Captain America: Secret Empire s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer, Donny Cates & Sean Izaakse, Joe Bennett, Joe Pimental

Moon Knight vol 3: Birth And Death s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood

Batman & Robin Adventures vol 1 s/c (£17-99, DC) by Brandon Kruse

One-Punch Man vol 12 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

Whoops!

Still no Tillie Walden SPINNING review! I’m on it, honest!

It’s brilliant – just buy it anyway! Free signed bookplate!

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week two

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Featuring Mike Medaglia, Hope Larson, Rebecca Mock, Tom Gauld, John Allison, Dan Abnett, I.N.J. Culbard, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Cullen Bunn, Luke Ross.

Baking With Kafka (£12-99, Canongate) by Tom Gauld.

‘Last-Minute Changes To The Politician’s Speech’

“How’s your speech coming along, sir?”
“Almost done. I’m just trying to decide whether to end on the misleading statistics, the gross oversimplification, the glib soundbite or the blatant lie.”

The Art of Tom Gauld part one: innocently expressing an almost ubiquitously held derision from the horse’s unusually candid mouth.

Then there are those little home truths we all secretly share, are already vaguely aware of, but recognise instantly upon their exposure. Most of us love to laugh at ourselves!

Take ‘My Library’. Is it yours too? Shop-floor guffaws would suggest so!

Why even read a book before writing your critical essay, Tom suggests elsewhere, when you can studiously avoid studying and absorb all you need to know through Wiki-notes or its film adaptation? I’ve seen film critics do the same: writing their dismissive reviews of COLDEST CITY’s ‘Atomic Blonde’ adaptation without having seen the cinematic experience or read the graphic novel but blatantly plagiarised someone else who hadn’t read the graphic novel, either.

Application is overrated.

So why make the effort to revolt or even pop out to protest when you can sit at your keyboard and sign an on-line petition, neatly cleaning your conscience while soothing any potential urge to actually do anything about anything?

Gauld is also a dab-hand at skewering our polarised and ever so slightly hypocritical biases, as in ‘Our Blessed Homeland And Their Barbarous Wastes’ deftly arranged in a symmetrical, confrontational tableau descending from the lofty, towered, feudal hilltop heights on either side to the seas of separation.

Human behaviour is what’s being satirised, essentially.

As the title suggests, most of these cartoons and comic strips – and even without visible panel borders I would contend that the above was a comic with one hell of a gutter in the middle but also between each “exchange” – are indeed of a literary bent with far more to come from the ‘Guardian Review’ as well as, presumably, an entirely science-based book collected from Tom’s ‘New Scientist’ strips.

‘The Life Of A Memoirist’, for example succinctly shows that they really can’t win.

Many are the result of beholding something customary, traditional, perhaps ancient and so semi-sacrosanct and looking at it anew and askew, often injecting a modern, over-emotional irreverence and need for speed as seen in social media into the formal, long-winded parlance of the past like letters of introduction. Social conventions of etiquette, both past and present, are thus mercilessly mocked in a single sitting as ‘Arabella’ ably demonstrates.

BAKING WITH KAFKA is one extended masterclass in pithy iconoclasm.

“The secret of humour is surprise,” said Aristotle (see CORPSE TALK: GROUND-BREAKING SCIENTISTS) and Gauld achieves this over and over again through juxtaposing the old with the new, the serious with the outlandish, the learned with the clueless, decorum with irreverence, and aspiration with reality.

 

He topples or reverses expectations.

“I thought that being a sci-fi character would be all flying cars, sexy robots and holidays on Alpha Centauri” bemoans a lone man in an oxygen helmet, despondently walking his dog though a flat, desolate, post-apocalyptic, tectonically challenged wilderness.

That’s the entire premise of Gauld’s graphic novel MOONCOP: a future which we presume will be increasingly fast, furious, spectacular, hyper-real and overcrowded in actuality ending up being solitary, slow, mundane and minimalist.

GOLIATH did much the same thing for the legendarily gigantic, combative, ferociously threatening Philistine from Gath. Turns out he’d rather do admin.

Both of those are long-form works, but if you’re in the mood for something similarly hit-and-run as this, don’t forget YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK which featured my favourite short story of all time, told in three panels.

I leave you with something much more drawn out, having a playful stab not only at prevarication but also reliance on hand-holding instruction rather than pen-held inspiration. We’re presented with eight consecutive book release covers and their titles which begin by milking their subject matter as well as their audience before becoming exasperated by both.

‘How To Write A Novel’
‘The Advanced Guide To Writing A Novel’
‘Further Thoughts On Writing A Novel’
‘A Few Last Pointers Before You Start Writing Your Novel’
‘Surely That’s Enough About Writing A Novel’
‘I Have Nothing Else To Say About Writing Your Novel’
‘Seriously, Stop Reading These Books And Just Get On With Writing Your Stupid Novel!”
‘How To Write A Novel: Revised And Expanded Edition’

It wouldn’t work half so well without the final down beat. The key to comedy may well be surprise but timing is everything too.

SLH

Buy Baking With Kafka and read the Page 45 review here

Knife’s Edge (£17-99, FSG) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock.

    

Delicious!

Even the covers to these FOUR POINTS Young Adult graphic novels are providing some thrilling sequential-art narrative with the identical twins now firmly set sail, for most of book two sees them at sea – though a lot less confused about their true, biological parentage.

COMPASS SOUTH was packed. It was fast, furious and reactive, its cover conveying both energy and urgency as Cleo and Alex escaped across America while attempting to elude the multiple factions intent on tracking them down, hampering their progress and taking what little they have left, while consequent repercussions conspired to keep them apart.

Cleverly, Rebecca Mock enables you to tell the two individuals apart through one of them wearing a waistcoat, and it’s Cleo.

COMPASS SOUTH began in Manhattan, 1848, with the twins being bequeathed to a man, Mr. Dodge, by their mother whom he once loved and in all probability still does. Alas, he’d been parted from Hester for a span of five years. They are not his, but he had no hesitation in adopting the babes even though his own prospects were small and he had to travel in order to provide. The stranger also bore two objects from which, Dodge was told, they must never be parted: a pen-knife and a compass.

But in 1860 Mr. Dodge had failed to return from his most recent travels and wind of what he’d inherited had reached ruthless pirate Felix Worley who had known Alex and Cleo’s mother, Hester, all too well.

Finally the two twelve-year-olds will discover why Dodge failed to return at their key moment in their lives, who Hester really was and what became of their father, as well as the true purpose of that pen-knife and compass.

They’ll also discover why Worley wants what is now theirs and why he’s being so tenacious about it. Everyone has a childhood, you know; some are bleaker than others.

As with Vaughan and Chiang’s PAPER GIRLS, a second instalment reveals a certain structure by its conclusion, but just as I didn’t give away COMPASS SOUTH’s, so there’ll be no spoilers here – for either volume.

KNIFE’S EDGE is a much brighter, more spacious affair with a lot more open, ocean sky and a lot less confinement below decks to cargo holds. Alex and Cleo are now comparatively in command of their own destinies, even if they need Captain Tarboro and his galleon The Almira to steer them in the right direction. For that Alex will have to agree to take Tarboro’s direction to begin at the bottom, swabbing decks, while Cleo resents being assigned to the cook as a girl and is determined to take what she considers far more practical and potentially life-saving instruction from the Captain on sword-fighting.

It rankles still further when, at a vital moment, Alex is handed a sword without any training simply because he is the lad. Cleo wouldn’t have survived so far if she hadn’t proved perfectly capable of looking after herself. She has grown a lot given that which they have so far endured, and no one is noticing, so there will be tensions, complicated further by the return of… well, quite a few unexpected personages from their past. As I’ve said before, words unsaid are pretty powerful.

Their first stop for supplies is Honolulu, Hawaii, with its submerged reefs, virtually invisible but for the small, gentle breakers, requiring some unusual assistance in navigating. The island itself won’t be easy to negotiate without causing trouble.

Thence it’s the Marshall Islands which Captain Tarboro has had prior experience with, well aware to his cost that the inhabitants are hostile and its seas swarming with sharks. There too lurk reefs…

You’ve lots of the lush to look forward to, all lit to time-specific perfection, and plenty of action too once the puzzles start being solved. Picking up speed will require some extreme measures, while lessons learned early on will prove vital but not necessarily completely successful.

There are some terrific aerial and subaquatic shots and one full-page panel in particular at the end of chapter two had me staring at it for ages, wondering why is was so particularly effective: it managed to be both dramatic and intimate whilst set at a remove.

Lastly, the importance of the oral tradition is explored (see MEZOLITH), once more set up in advance so that when it comes into its own we are reminded that stories, when passed along, do have a way of travelling very long distances indeed.

I do wish I could reveal this book’s punchline!

SLH

Buy Knife’s Edge and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case of the Good Boy (£11-99, Oni Press) by John Allison.

“Who are you phoning?”
“The dictionary. I want a word for when “ungrateful” isn’t enough.”

Yes! John Allison’s web-comic magnum opus BAD MACHINERY is being recollected in pocket-friendly, small-hands editions but in the same glorious, widescreen technicolour!

John Allison, for me, is the king of British web comics and knave of the UK self-publishing scene. A veteran of both, he is all about the mischief. And the sleuthing. And the astutely observed friendships of contemporary school children. In BAD MACHINERY at least (a folder where you’ll also find GIANT DAYS, BOBBINS etc) Allison is also all-ages.

He’s also one of the finest cartoonists we have, right up there with Dan Berry for acutely drawn movement and energy, supple forms and exuberant gesticulation.

Above we have Jack admonishing young Linton who has been saved from drowning by Archibald, Mildred’s adoptive “dog” who leapt into water like a Jack Kirby hero with suspiciously anthropoid grace. Hmmm. Rather than just lying lifeless on the sandy shore soaking, Linton is scuffling about in circles either through petulance and irritation or in order to dry off his back. I don’t care which: this movement which few others would have thought of brings extra life to the panel and a great big grin to my face.

As to the characters’ expressions, they are priceless: Charlotte’s eyes closed in sanctimonious approval of her family’s month-long moratorium on meatballs out of respect for the removal of her dog Pepper’s bollocks; Sonny, Jack and Linton’s epileptic response to the fair ride Obliterator 500 and its ilk; the boggle-eyed baby Humphrey burbling “Borb Ground Wee” and “Botty”; plus Sonny’s super-serious, fire-lit eyes on getting to grips with a new mystery!

“Beasts intrigue me, Jack. Tell me more about the beasts.”

Although loaded online page by periodical page, John’s stories are long-form so now that they’re being published, case by investigative case, the fluidity of the narrative is far more obvious – as well as their considerable substance and length.

The town is Tackleford and the two sets of twelve-year-old friends are Charlotte, Shauna and Mildred; Linton, Sonny and Jack. They are linked by Shauna’s pash on Jack. She slipped a pink love note into Jack’s pocket complete with two panda stickers, three hearts and a butterfly. Unfortunately Linton found it and teased Jack without let-up (he is very funny!) which is why Linton ended up in the river.

Friends do fall out, you know. Here’s Shauna and Charlotte:

“Fancy fightin’ over a flippin’ “magic pencil”.”
“Ugh. I know. Let’s add it to the list of things we’re not allowed to row about.”
“OK. Licking other people’s yoghurt lids. Best singers.”
“Rules of tennis, “badmington”, marbles, hula hoop. Imaginary… magic… trinkets.”
“Hula hoop defo doesn’t have rules, Lottie.”
“FORFEIT DANCE, NOW.”

Allison packs so much of these “things that kids do” into his series leaving the mystery to percolate gently in the background until its full flavour is ready: the romance, the bullying, the school smokers’ corner, the family squabbling, the embarrassing nightmare which is parents’ evening… and why Mildred’s parents refuse to let her play computer games – in her case wisely. They’re also strict about Mildred’s diet when she goes to stay with cousin Sonny:

“There’s some of her veggie burger mix in there, and an organic berry salad. Don’t let her anywhere near yoghurt.”
“Mum’s got me on a superfoods diet.”
“Superfoods!”
“The name is a trick. It’s basically things from the garden that even slugs aren’t interested in.”

The intertwining mysteries this time involve nine missing babies (the first of which vanished under nursery manager Susan Bovis’ hilariously slapdash care: “Little ones are always wandering off. I’m sure they’ll come back. They’re probably having a wonderful time.”), the Magic Pencil which Mildred won from a fairground con-man with hastily calculated complex mechanics and sheer bloody-mindedness (“Whatever it draws, whatever it writes, comes true!” Will it?) and the Tackleford Beast, a huge bipedal shadow spotted roaming the ‘urbs by the usual suspects whom you would never believe in a month of Mondays. People tend to believe anything on Sundays. Oh yes, and then there’s the surprise find of curiously capable dog ‘Archie’, another of John’s cartooning triumphs.

This is brilliant, this is bonkers and if you are desperate for me to find a comparison point then this is the delightfully parochial UK equivalent of (amongst many other things) SCOTT PILGRIM.

I exhort you, then, to…

Discover the leaf-loving joys of Nature-Craft Folk Club!

Gasp at the wrist action of Jack’s throwing prowess and note down the time it takes for his stick to go under the bridge! (“Fifteen… point six… seconds… heart heart kiss kiss… PANDA STICKER. NEXT!”)

Wonder at the wisdom of deploying the Magic Pencil when you’ve read W.W. Jacobs’ ‘The Monkeys Paw’ and be careful what you wish for!

And finally gawp at the glossary contrived for our American chums, every bit of mirth-making as the contents themselves.

Completely self-contained, this would be a brilliant place to begin your life-long love affair with Mr Allison, but if you want to kick off with BAD MACHINERY VOL 1: THE CASE OF TEAM SPIRIT then that is entirely up to you.

John Allison will be joining over a dozen other comicbook creators signing in Page 45’s Georgian Room At The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017. You’ll find all the times and details there on our permanent, dedicated LICAF page.

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case of the Good Boy and read the Page 45 review here

Rushing From A to A (£3-00, Mike Medaglia) by Mike Medaglia.

Guilty in charging, I’m guilty as charged!

I raise my hands in recognition and have benefited enormously from reading this comic.

It wasn’t always this way.

My original route to any gainful employment was so circuitous that I had to explain it in terms of my preference of driving down A roads and B roads to the mania of motorways which might get you to your destination faster, but what really is the point if you don’t experience anything of interest along the way? Where would have been the beauty, the growth and the sustenance for the soul?

But at least I’d have been rushing from A to B.

“For me, whenever I have been caught in this race it always feels that as soon as I arrive at B…” contends Mike, perched comfortably on top of his prized destination, “… it somehow turns back to A.”

Unsettling: he’s almost unseated.

“Then I find that B has become a new goal, off in the distance.”

Ha ha, yes, yes, yes!

It was with no small degree of amusement that I read that, realising that this mini-comic was coming up for review. Every Wednesday I hand in my weekly assignment which is our Reviews Blog with a huge sigh of relief and hopefully some sense of accomplishment, only to be confronted – on the very same day and usually before I’ve hit “publish” – with yet another huge stack of comics and graphic novels braying for my attention:

B has turned back to A.

And it is therefore with no small degree of irony that I type all this about RUSHING FROM A TO A when I am doing precisely that.

However, at least while I’m reading all these beautiful books with so much to say, I am experiencing beauty and undergoing growth while finding the right words to communicate their excellence. As to sustenance of the soul, there is no more apposite expression to describe the work of Mike Medaglia.

In POVERTY OF THE HEART, ONE YEAR WISER and once again here, Medaglia ever so gently reminds us of those priorities – that we perhaps already know but often forget or let fall by the wayside – which would make our lives and others’ infinitely richer if we just paused for a moment, reflected upon them and re-aligned ourselves with their more giving, forgiving and harmonious wholes. He’s a healer, not a preacher. His writings and art radiate understanding and kindness, not criticism; nor do they sound one single note of holier-than-thou self-aggrandisement. Anyone lecturing you on what to do or (worse) what to think, probably doesn’t have your best interests at heart: they almost certainly have theirs. Mike never lectures; he provides you with possibilities for potential, catalysts for your consideration and opportunities for renewed self-awareness.

Here it is understood that progression is important to our growth and so sense of accomplishment, but so is looking around us while we travel: living in the now.

“Impermanence is a reminder that this life is happening right now.
“Mindfulness is a tool to help us be present and stay present while the world unfolds around us.”

“Now”, I would suggest, is the only opportunity you will ever have to experience the present, first-hand, in all its immediate vibrancy, nuance and splendour. Considering it on reflection later on is of course of great benefit, but those examinations depend entirely on what you took in at the time.

There’s a reason why they put blinkers on race horses: the need for speed with no room for distractions or, as I call them, life.

“Instead, we can step back, take a breath, and observe this process playing out.”

The process of this comic plays out, like POVERTY OF THE HEART, in skilfully balanced opposing pages like the starting flag and the finishing line; the sedentary and the next inevitable journey ahead; two semi-formed, miniature mandalas to help one focus on ‘Impermanence’ and the mitigating art of  ‘Mindfulness’.

The colours are a complementary, calm combination of slight prase green, bright flesh pink and two shades of bilberry blue against a relaxing, mind-expanding emptiness of space except on one key double-page spread which is an utter clutter of detritus we could all do without.

There are no panel borders.

This most ambulatory 100-metre sprint concludes with the quietest, most profound and heart-stirring climax, before a wink and a nod which will leave you beaming for days.

SLH

Buy Rushing From A to A and read the Page 45 review here

One Year Wiser 2018 Art Calendar (£12-00, Mike Medaglia) by Mike Medaglia.

“No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.”

– William Blake, ‘The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell’

“Aspiration should be encouraged. Not even the sky is your limit.”

 – Stephen L. Holland, reviewing CARROT TO THE STARS

Neither of those lines is quoted here, but their sentiments are reflected in this most embracing, engaging and empowering of month-long reminders that living life to the fullest will reward you with the fullest of lives. That may seem on the surface to be the most obvious and so fatuous clause that I’ve ever written, but do we always remember the simplest truths? I know I don’t.

So many of us feel pressured to grind away in order to get through each day that we miss out on its myriad pleasures and possibilities.

What better vehicle could there be, therefore, for life-lifting reminders to live in the now and approach each day with a renewed appreciation of its very existence, than a monthly wall calendar? These are the repositories into and onto which we dot in our future days with things to look forward to and Dates That Must Be Obeyed.

Oh how we wall in our worlds!

“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.”

 – Thich Nhat Hanh

I’m going to a Sparks gig with Jonathan later this month. An evening out with Jonathan…? Yay and Yippee! Hooray and Huzzah! We will have so much fun! Then I’m on the guest list for the new Nick Cave tour. Level-up moment, for sure!

But if you are anything like me, once all these dates start to clutter up your calendar you may begin to become oppressed by them. For sure, we need structure; certainly we need dutiful reminders. But in the midst of these Commitments Which We Have Made that can each and individually (then as an impenetrable mass) come to seem like onerous engagements, how grin-inducingly excellent it is to be elevated from that self-imposed feeling of constriction and appreciate each instance.

“Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.”

 – Miyamoto Musashi

There you go: I for one have been steered onto a better course already!

So it is throughout 2018 that Mike Medaglia will remind you how much you have to look forward to at exactly the right moment: when you come to check your calendar for your daily or weekly assignations or drop in another appointment. Unless it’s with the dentist.

He’ll do that not just with these pithiest of priority-reminding, life-enhancing words of wisdom from those who’ve thought long and hard, but also with the organic beauty of his art which constantly calls upon the majesty of nature.

He’ll summon the simplicity of a single tree or the almost unfathomably grand scale of cloud-encircled mountain ranges; the daring dive from a cliff into stormy seas or the flight of an exotic, purple-plumed bird into the paradise that is our own worldly heavens.

“You can go as far as you want to go, past all limitations and live a supremely victorious existence.”

 – Paramahansa Yogananda.

Which is, I believe, where we came in.

Sometimes Medaglia will combine two, three or more of these elements into an embracing, global whole for us to mediate upon or gaze out from, relishing the complexity and diversity of all that’s on offer if only we care to look beyond what lies immediately in front of us and consider the wonder of it all.

So finally, coming back to the seeming simplicity of a tree, please consider this, perhaps:

“You cannot go against nature, because when you do
“Go against nature, that’s part of nature too.
“Our little lives get complicated. It’s a simple thing:
“Simple as a flower, and that’s a complicated thing.”

 – ‘No New Tale To Tell’, Love And Rockets.

No, the other one.

For more Mike Medaglia, we commend to you the equally contemplative mini-comics POVERTY OF THE HEART and RUSHING FROM A TO A, plus the 365-page ONE YEAR WISER which will keep you refreshed or reinvigorate you on any autumnal or winter morn.

SLH

Buy One Year Wiser 2018 Art Calendar and read the Page 45 review here

Brink vol 1 (£12-99, Rebellion) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard…

“Quit it! You’re under arrest!”
“This ain’t the way! This ain’t the way! The leper heart will see you for what you are! See your disrespect! See your bruises upon my body!”
“Shut up!”
“Promises were made! You’re spoiling it! The leper heart promised! Took the soil and the air and left us in the dark with a promise it would come back for us too!”
“Shut the hell up!”
“Swelling up, swelling up out of the unreach, keeping its whispered promises! Low Theta hanging inside the sun, Melancholema and Pale Chronozon…”

The Earth is dead, destroyed by a toxic mixture of pollution and greed. Yep, that’ll do it. Humanity now lives in various scattered space stations owned by mega-corporations, known as Habitats or on the ‘Brink’ as it’s colloquially known. Crammed into such confines, with security provided by private firms, it’s perhaps not surprising the locals have a tendency to go a wee bit stir crazy from time to time, some more so than others.

In addition to the crime gangs peddling narcotics, running protection and the like – who of course are going to find their niche in any environment as parasites do – there are also a few oddball cults that spontaneously spring up as people start to collectively lose the plot and look for absolutely anything at all to grasp onto with their remaining shreds of sanity, no matter how implausible or nonsensical. The cults hadn’t as yet, reached Odette Habitat, owned by Sugarsurf Pharma, but all that’s about to change as Investigator Bridget Kurtis and her partner Carl “Brink” Brinkmann have just found out…

I absolutely loved this work and I am delighted to hear the third arc has just begun in parent title 2000AD, second arc collection to follow next year. Part speculative fiction, part crime and definitely a huge chunk of mystery, this will massively appeal to anyone who enjoyed Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood’s THE FUSE. This is like that title, procedural crime set on a space station, just with a great deal of added creepy suspense and even a touch of pure horror blended in. You have been warned.

For a weekly 2000AD yarn it’s impressively slow at revealing its hand and even by the very end I was left tantalised and puzzled as to precisely what is really going on. The enormous cliffhanger that we’re left dangling over by our fingertips doesn’t help in that respect, damn you Abnett!! You may well even start to believe some of the craziness the cultists are spouting. It’s certainly starting to cross Kurtis’ mind…

Another point of comparison you might have caught recently would be the excellent TV show The Expanse which is based on James S. A. Corey’s series of novels. That’s a series which has utterly gripped me, to the point I have now bought the novels because I can’t wait for the TV show to catch up, but Brink has grabbed me equally hard. I’ll be black and blue soon! I might even have to start reading 2000AD for a weekly fix…

The cult element even put me in mind of the first season of the True Detective TV show (which of course gives a neat little callback to Ian Culbard’s superlative adaptation of THE KING IN YELLOW) in that there’s a general, lurking sense of unease which only builds and builds as what you are sure couldn’t possibly be real starts to come into question… It couldn’t, right? That sense there might just really be something scary behind the proverbial curtain after all… Or that could all just be drug induced paranoid mass hysteria of course…

Dan and Ian have worked together before to great effect on THE NEW DEADWARDIANS and two volumes of WILD’S END (we need that concluding volume, guys!!) and I enjoyed Abnett’s foreword that rightly credits Ian’s “distinctive art work and brilliant storytelling.” It’s nice to see as accomplished a writer as Abnett giving just plaudits to his artistic cohort for their contribution to the wider creative process and the plotting. There are a further couple of interesting paragraphs talking about how their collaborations work.

Plus Ian’s art is an absolutely vital part of this title.

From the disorientating, mood-setting cover which neatly foreshadows the psychological component, pull-back outer-space shots of the vast, orbiting stations whose crisp exterior beauty belies their squalid interiors, through to the little background details like the neon signs and graffiti (might be a clue or two there!), he is one of the best scene composers in the business. The action scenes are taut and tense and perfectly capture the claustrophobic, cacophonous confines of life in a corporate-owned floating tin can. He’s also utilised the same strong, vivid colour palette he deployed to such good effect in his other brilliant collected 2000AD science fiction epic BRASS SUN with Ian Edginton,  that is also finally returning, huzzah!! Great to see the cream of the galaxy’s best weekly comic making it into collections to reach as wide a terrestrial, and presumably extraterrestrial, audience as possible. All that remains is to say Splundig vur Thrigg. I probably won’t eat a polystyrene cup though.

JR

Buy Brink vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Star Wars Darth Maul s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn, Chris Eliopoulos & Luke Ross…

“I have endured great suffering as part of my training.
“All so I might be an instrument of revenge.
“All so I can kill Jedi.
“But not today.”

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I kill you tomorrow… hmm… pretty sure Darth Maul isn’t a fan of musicals, even if he and Annie are both redheads…

Well, I think we can now all universally agree that the three Star Wars prequels were pretty much bantha dung, right? For me, about the only bright point of that ill-executed trilogy was this attitude-enhanced, double-lightsabre-twirling bad boy himself. By the time we reached his climatic battle with that laugh-a-minute comedy duo Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan, I was so sick of Ewan McGregor’s received pronunciation, in a rather herniated attempt to emulate Alec Guiness, that I was willing Darth Maul to dish out an elocution lesson that involved removing the Padawan’s voice box.

But sadly, we know how that turned out, meaning the subsequent Clone War cartoons (what, you thought Padawan Kenobi actually killed Darth Maul, suckers? Hahaha have a spoiler!) and now these prequel comics are all we have of the snarling Sith.

Cullen Bunn does an excellent job capturing the barely checked blood lust of Darth Sidious’ irascible apprentice and in fact makes that an essential tenet of the story. Here, Darth Maul can’t help disappearing off on a Jedi hunt when he hears a young Padawan has been captured by pirates and is going to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. And if Darth Maul has to go through a fleet of space corsairs, plus various ne’er do wells intent on every conceivable type of Jedi harm and even the galactic equivalent of David Dickinson to get his bargain, I mean, Sith vs. Jedi death duel, well he’s going to do just that. And so he does…

Which I will grant you sounds a remarkably thin premise for a great story, but in fact Bunn fleshes it out thicker than a Hutt’s belly, throwing in some great secondary and tertiary characters, mostly engaged in so much double and triple crossing I thought they might wear the carpet out, which is never advisable when you’re floating in space, so that the whole story really comes to life. Well, ends in death, actually, repeatedly, brutally, and in some quite inventive ways.

Luke Ross is an excellent addition to the Marvel Star Wars artists stable. I’ve commented before that they seem to prefer using people with relatively straightforward but very polished art styles, presumably to enhance rather than potentially distract from the story telling, to provide an almost cinematic flow to proceedings, and Ross certainly succeeds in that respect. Definitely one of the better individual character Star Wars titles to date by some several parsecs.

JR

Buy Star Wars Darth Maul s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Wicked + The Divine vol 2 h/c (£39-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Matt Wilson.

The most contemporary comic imaginable, inclusivity is its middle name.

This beautifully designed hardcover, whose silver complements the first book’s gold, collects the third and fourth softcovers along with a wealth of additional back-matter which I can’t see from my study, so sorry. Here’s what I originally wrote with the occasional tweak. One of my top 5 comics currently being produced periodically.

Book three:

“A documentary about public grief can never show too many crowds of people freaking out about people they’ve never met.”

Previously in THE WICKED + THE DIVINE:

You know how the likes of Bowie and Kylie are referred to as rock gods and pop goddesses? Turns out that some of them really are.

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

Every 90 years a Pantheon of a dozen gods is born anew, activated by ancient Ananke who finds them in young individuals previously oblivious to their fate. She helps them shine brightly for their brief two years. If they’re lucky. Because some of those lights have been snuffed out already.

It’s a brilliant conceit. Of course the Pantheon’s role in this modern age would be as those most worshipped today, and Gillen takes the opportunity to examine journalism, fame, fandom, aspiration, envy, competitive back-biting, fear, mortality and manipulation. Some are putting ideas into other people’s heads.

Please don’t imagine we’re treading water in these six short stories focussing on individual members of the Pantheon. If anything, events are escalating in the hunt for the killer. Prepare to drown in dramatic irony.

Since McKelvie was on sabbatical while he drew PHONOGRAM: IMMATERIAL GIRL, his chapter starring Woden is craftily composed entirely of panels repurposed from THE WICKED + THE DIVINE volumes one and two. Which itself involves a substantial amount of time and no small degree of artful judgement. Enhanced with colour filters by Matt Wilson which partially reflect their original source, it’s so successful that if you have no idea that it’s a collage you’d barely twig. Having this foreknowledge, each page made me smile, and I imagine some soul with enough time on their hands spent an entire afternoon identifying each panel’s specific source.

What’s particularly clever, however, is that the remix / reconstruction is entirely apposite since it’s Woden recalling a side of the story you never saw in volume two after that gun was put to his head and he ran back to Mummy to tell tales. By ‘Mummy’ I mean Ananke, and this may make you want to re-read the whole series with fresh insight and hindsight from the start. There’s a very funny sequence in which Luci and Baal’s actual exchange in volume one is replaced by satirical overdubs. There’s also an awful echo of the previous chapter as Woden comes clean about his sexual proclivities:

“”How can I do it?” It’s easy. You take women and just forget that they’re people. It’s not hard.”

No, it seems appallingly easy given the deluge of mob-mentality male hatred thrown like so much repugnant, foul-smelling shit across the internet at female comics and especially games journalists like Leigh Alexander (the visual model for Laura) simply because they are women. Gillen pulls no punches in reproducing its sexually explicit venom here as social-media men-children bombard pop goddess Tara with a barrage of Tweets whose infinite, incessant, babbling inhumanity is represented by a final full page of these cold, callous rectangles receding into the distance and disappearing off the edges.

I cannot show you any of those pages – as in, I won’t. But, trust me, nothing has been exaggerated for the sake of sensationalism.

They’re presaged by Tara’s treatment by men long before she could sing – the casual sexism and worse which is faced by women walking the street or in bars – and presented in stark contrast to Tara’s softness, vulnerability and individuality as a human being, the flesh on her face drawn so warmly by Tula Lotay along with the pain and tears in her eyes. It’s an individuality no one was ever interested in, only her looks. Her fans hate it when she puts on the mask, depriving them of their pleasure, or sings anything she wrote herself.

“Fucking Tara.” It becomes a mantra of sorts.

Individuality is exactly what every artist offers here, and after you’ve read each chapter you won’t be able to imagine them being drawn by anyone else. For sheer, unbridled fury Kate Brown takes the biscuit and I’m not just talking about the line art, either: there’s a cacophony of colours and you too will see red. What Brandon Graham brings could hardly be more different. His Sakhmet is sexual, sybaritic, reclining like a cat, hunting like a cat and disinterested too. Her performance is phantasmagorical.

Individuality is also what you’ll enjoy more of as we learn a lot more about some of the Pantheon and their lives both post- and pre-activation. Plenty of revelations, all of which make perfect sense, particularly and at times hilariously the Morrigan and Baphomet drawn by Leila Del Duca. Heritage also comes up for combative review before artist Stephanie Hans draws Amaterasu going nuclear in the skies above Hiroshima.

“You are a literal artificial sun above Hiroshima! Fuck! Are you even aware of how offensive this is?”

We’ve not seen much of Minerva until now. She’s the Goddess of Wisdom, aged twelve. Out of the mouths of babes etc, I’d say she’s one to watch.

I certainly wish they would listen.

Book four:

They have been played.

You have been played.

Kieron Gillen has been ever so naughty: he left out key moments in order to mess with your mind.

Here they all are. And doesn’t that make a difference!

SLH

Buy The Wicked + The Divine vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Goliath s/c (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tom Gauld

Breaks vol 1 (£15-99, Soaring Penguin Press) by Malin Ryden & Emma Viecili

Poppies Of Iraq h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brigitte Findakly, Lewis Trondheim

Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis, John Romita Jr., Gabrielle Dell’Otto

Hellblazer vol 17: Out Of Season (£26-99, DC) by Mike Carey & Marcelo Frusin, Leonardo Marco, Chris Brunner, Steve Dillon

Harley Quinn vol 3: Red Meat s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & John Timms, Joseph Michael Linsner, others

Blame! Vol 5 (Master Edition) (£29-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Well, that’s not many, is it?

Fear not, we have a few killer cards up our sleeves!

Don’t forget, we haven’t reviewed Tillie Walden’s SPINNING yet.

I promise you it is a belter.

See you next week!

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week one

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Featuring Pam Smy, Lisa Murphy, Adam Murphy, Sophie Campbell, D.J. Bryant, Katie Skelly, Corey Lewis, Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, Greg Rucka, Leandro Fernández., Antony Jonston, Sam Hart.

Unreal City h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by D.J. Bryant.

“I’d never been in love. Love wasn’t part of my chemical make-up. So why couldn’t I get this boy out of my head?”

Fast-forward four pages and you’ll have a pretty shrewd idea.

Aged anywhere between a precociously self-assured twenty-two and a relaxed twenty-eight, in his pristine slacks and tight, black, concentric-ringed t-shirt, he is a full-lipped, doe-eyed beauty. More importantly, as they glance over at each other then stare fully clothed on his bed, he is strikingly familiar.

“My obsession began a week before.
“I was having breakfast with my husband at this diner called the Topspot. That’s right. I was married.”

She’d felt sorry for him.

Oh, she’d had plenty of suitors throwing themselves at her before – both men and women – and I can’t say I blame them. Markedly more dowdy in the company of her husband (plain dress or diamond-patterned golfing jumper), Nadya, when out and about, is ever so casually chic and alluring, radiating a quiet but commanding confidence.

“I never dreamed the tables would get turned like this.”

You wait until the phone rings, Nadya.

There’s a clue to all this in the third tale, in case you miss it: anadrome.

If I had to summarise the mysteries of UNREAL CITY, tables being turned – both on its protagonists and on its readers – would be very high on my list. Relationships, perception, time, manipulation, reality, fiction… all these will be warped as D.J. Bryant presents you with puzzles to mess with your mind and, once again, with his protagonists’. Control will be sought, control will be lost, and in ‘Objet D’Art’ control may never have been an option in the first instance – whichever instance the first one turns out to be.

It’s all very David Lynch, even down to the sound in ‘Emordana’, but with a fresh inventiveness of its own evidenced most clearly in ‘The Yellowknife Retrospective’ and ‘Objet D’Art’ which wouldn’t work in any medium other than comics.

The five separate stories are presaged by the endpapers which show a man approaching a black opening ahead, one hand holding onto the wall, the other outstretched in front of him; another sat lifeless and despondent in a crowd; a dolled-up dame in black bunny ears; a youth startled outside his ornate brownstone’s front door; a wild drive in the countryside; and the first man, once again, sat in a theatre’s auditorium, resolutely refusing to clap as everyone around him applauds.

Bryant’s art is meticulous and glossy, sexy and hypnotic; Charles Burns with more of an eye for high fashion. It’s also decidedly top-shelf for two of the tales.

There’s an extraordinary amount of detail in ‘Objet D’Art’ both at a pretentious costume party for performing hipsters and within the pages of a science fiction graphic novel which our narrator discovers in a bookshop window after returning to a city he’d left two years earlier, and to an apartment opposite the Zethus Building where he used to live. You can read its very dialogue if you peer closely enough, and it’s well worth the effort for what follows because – its science-fiction setting aside – it echoes uncannily true to the disconcerted former suitor.

We immediately flash back two years earlier to the future graphic novel’s creator and his wife whom he dresses up as his own female protagonist in familiar black bunny ears to attend a fancy dress party they’d been waved over to attend from the window opposite theirs. It proves to be pivotal both to their lives, the plot of the story and the plot of the husband’s graphic novel. But oh, how much stranger are the final few pages several more years down the line…

There’s a complete change in art style for ‘The Yellowknife Retrospective’ which is almost Hannah Barbera and in full colour. It sees artist Jack Yellowknife visit the Igloo Gallery with his far better informed lover, Laura.

“It’s the first structure to incorporate the principles of temporal design.”

Jack is sceptical, aloof and above it all. Until on the top-left hand panel of the very next page within the Igloo Gallery, he sees himself (minus the sunglasses still worn inside) racing up to greet him.

“Yo, Jack! It’s me! Yourself from the immediate future!”
“What the fuck?”
“Hey, where did Laura go?”
“I dunno. What the hell is going on here?”
“It’s this gallery, man! It warps time!”

The second of three tiers on that page begins with Jack and Laura entering through the Igloo door, Jack confident, almost proprietarily.

“Temporal design? I don’t think I’ve heard of that before.”
“Basically,” she explains, “the curvature of the walls and the angle of the floor are constructed in such a way so that time loops back on itself from one end of the building to another.”
“You’re shittin’ me!”
“I shit you not!”

And your eye is led down not to the left-hand panel on the third tier, but to the right-hand one as Jack spies them entering the gallery a few moments earlier then races off to see if he can interact with himself.

Now then: pull back and look at that page again: it’s composed like a simple, dice-rolling board game with “squares” in place of panels in the shape of a 6 and the starting square isn’t the top left-hand panel but – by dint of its being pulled out just a little more than the others to the left – the middle left-hand panel. Follow the shape of the 6 round from there up to the top tier then onto the next page and…

It has only just begun.

Lord, how I love comics!

For a comparison point to that particular page, please see Alan Moore & J.H. Williams III’s PROMETHEA VOLUME 3 and its Möbius Strip, along which the two women can hear each other talking through its alternate side.

One thing I’ve not done yet is properly address or even emphasise clearly enough the sexual content of this collection. The tale we tossed off on, ‘Echoes Into Eternity’ is merely playful. Beautifully playful, and it may make you grin. ‘Evelyn Dalton-Hoyt’ is much darker fare, starring a husband caricatured to my mind to resemble Steve Buscemi. It’s in the lips and the eyes. It’s an orgy of castigation, humiliation and emasculation with a Deathcrawl childhood ditty / refrain on a tricycle. It’s gripping.

But perhaps the most complex of all the pieces here is ‘Emordana: The Inflection Of Nothing On The Visual Cortex’. This is a structural analyst’s dream, revealing the truth behind what you think you’re looking at (on the very first page, for example) only as the proverbial onion is peeled away.

All I will tell you that the tale’s title also doubles as that of a vinyl LP…

“A song keeps skipping and repeating. The same beat; the name of some girl. A feat that keeps your heart beating to the same monotonous rhythm.”

… and a theatrical play being performed tonight by its most reluctant trapped actors. Including the one in the audience.

Expect switches everywhere.

The only table-turning twist we don’t have here is the self-reflexive. Outside of that, everything goes.

Behold a new voice that has been bubbling beneath the surface for quite some time. No single page from the original, abandoned UNREAL CITY serialised endeavour has been retained or incorporated. And there were some terrific pages there, I promise you. But, comparatively speaking, they were mere youthful notions and ideas without the confidence or complete command displayed here, and it was both brave and wise to let go.

SLH

Buy Unreal City h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Thornhill h/c (£14-99, David Fickling Books) by Pam Smy.

“Ahem… Well… I thought I hadn’t seen you and I asked around and thought that maybe you were avoiding coming down because… well… because a certain person is back.”

A certain person is back.

Even Jane, the single carer who seems to care, cannot bring herself to say her name.

Mary thought she might be safe once that certain person had been re-homed. But no, she always ends up back at Thornhill, and then it begins anew: the laughter, the stares, the thump, thump, thump on doors as she passes by.

“Would you, Mary? If I have a word with her and ask her to be friends, would you try too?”

It’s as if nothing had ever happened. Everyone turns a blind eye as far as she’s concerned.

Mary knew she was back without even looking. She could hear her downstairs, and she locked herself away in her room, the top-most in the Institute, the only one with its own sink and bathroom. To get there you have to go up an extra, dark and narrow set of stairs, through a door off the main landing.

“I am going to go down now and have a chat with her, Mary, and tomorrow you can come down and have breakfast with the rest of us. It’ll be much better for everyone here at Thornhill if we can all get along. I’ll come and knock for you in the morning so we can go down together. OK, Mary?”

And then all eyes will be upon Mary as she is brought into the dining room. There will be low whispers or – worse still – voices just loud enough so that they know Mary knows that she is being talked about.

“Well, I am glad that is all sorted out.”

Mary hadn’t said a word.

That was thirty-five years ago…

There’s an old house opposite Ella’s new bedroom window. More of a small mansion, really, large enough to have four tall chimney stacks; old enough to have sets of simple, deep-carved, stone gothic windows; and neglected enough to have buddleias embedded in its brickwork, some windows boarded up, its gardens overgrown and long gone to seed.

The overgrowth is further tangled up in coils of barbed wire.

At night it stands silent and empty, its ridged roof tiles and ornate flashing lit up by the moon.

It used to be the Thornhill Institute for Children – for girls, as it happens – and it has seen better days.

Better days… and much worse nights.

Did a light just go on in its top bedroom window?

Pam Smy has conjured up a chilling Young Adult horror story, shot through with a prickly, cold-sweat tension which will be familiar to anyone who’s been bullied and whose bullies have been so very careful to avoid detection and any sort of censure. To anyone who hasn’t been believed, perhaps endured it alone or, worse still, could not go home: boarders either at school or a less than charitable institution. The horror here is all too real.

She always makes friends again, no matter what she does. They’re all scared of her too.

Set thirty-five years apart, the past is presented to us in the form of unadorned prose diary entries written by Mary, beginning in February 1982 as her pretty tormentor, unnamed throughout the book, returns with a smile and a promise made just loud enough for every other girl to hear: that she wants to be friends and make amends now. And Mary would like a friend. She really would. She finds it difficult. She doesn’t speak; the words won’t come. She finds it difficult to mix, but she doesn’t mind if no one talks to her. There’s less pressure. She actually finds it quite nice to start walking to school with everyone else again, hanging at the back and listening to them natter excitedly about pop stars or TV programmes they’ve enjoyed. Mary doesn’t watch TV with them in the communal lounge: she’d rather be upstairs, fashioning more of her beautiful, ornate dolls.

Kathleen is kind. Kathleen is there at meal times, then cleaning up afterwards in the kitchen. Kathleen gives her winks and the odd extra small packet of biscuits. She seems to understand.

One of the carers, Jane, seems to care too. But she doesn’t understand.

Where this proves a marked departure from anything else I’ve stumbled across before is that the present comes to us as comics. Tellingly, they are silent comics: bleak, black and white double-page spreads of further isolation: of Ella alone at home while her Dad works long hours, leaving her notes on the kitchen table that he’s left early and will be home late. There’s a framed photo of Ella and her mother during happier times, inscribed by hand, “I will always love you, Mum x” There’s another one taped besides Ella’s window.

It’s through that window that Ella thinks she first spies a girl, about her own age, a month after she’s moved in. But the girl is little more than a silhouette amongst the barbed wire, the sorry sea of weeds and the jagged ash staves run rampant.

But then she turns round, and I defy you not to be chilled.

I don’t have that full image here, but one of this book’s most successfully deployed elements is suspense in ambiguity – ambiguity and hope. Hope can be terribly cruel.

Treachery too is a terrible thing, and there are a gutting couple of pages in which Mary overhears Kathleen talking to her carer who cares, Jane, and it transpires that she doesn’t.

“I know, but honestly, it’s her own fault, if you ask me, Kathleen. It’s one thing to have this Selective mutism thing – if it really is a thing and she isn’t just choosing not to speak – that makes her odd in the first place, but then she spends all her time on her own making those damn dolls. It is a bit creepy.”

The very same dolls which Jane made such a fuss about, praising Mary’s craft.

“She doesn’t even try to fit in.”
“Just because she is a bit different doesn’t mean they should pick on her.”
“A bit different! Come on, Kathleen, she’s weird. You say they are picking on her, but we don’t have any proof. She doesn’t ever say anything. She had never made a complaint. How can we help her if she doesn’t help herself? She just tiptoes about with that tight, pinched, sour face of hers. She never smiles. No wonder no family wants her… if her speech thing isn’t problem enough, she is also the least likeable girl we have ever had here…”

Which is nice.

Like Britt Fanny in JANE, THE FOX & ME illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, Pan Smy also understands all the exhausting acting involved in keeping yourself looking busy in a crowd in the hope that you’ll be ignored – and that being ignored is sadly sometimes the best you can hope for.

Meanwhile, Ella finds herself increasingly drawn to the fenced up estate and gains access via a plank dropped down over her back yard. “Suffer The Little Children To Come Unto Me” is carved on the pedestal of an ivy strewn statue, and all the while that barbed wire looks as dangerous as the dilapidated house looks unsafe. Creepy doesn’t begin to cover it. Then she finds a doll’s face, and thinks she’ll give it some loving, tender care back home before returning it to the grounds.

And then she finds a whole doll hung by its neck on a noose.

SLH

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

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

“Woo! Yeah!
“Science!”

 – Charles Darwin on discovering the Galapagos Islands

Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing! It’s a fifth of the battle won.

It probably also requires a lot of studious research, fiercely analytical minds, a wealth of imagination and the odd dollop of genius – but enough about Adam and Lisa, what about the scientists?

However mirth-makingly irreverent it is in its gleeful delivery, this all-ages graphic novel bubbles full to the brim with history and 100% accurate hard science, often explained with a skill, clarity and loads of lateral thinking to match their much lauded (or shamefully side-lined) subjects.

I learned or re-learned so much that had long-since escaped me while securing a far greater sense of context as Lisa and Adam took me chronologically through scientific break-through after break-through, some building on previous discoveries whilst ditching old, untested presumptions.

This was the key to the Scientific Revolution some 500 years ago: the acknowledgement of ignorance coupled with a renewed curiosity to learn rather than simply accept ancient dictums as if they were written in stone. Which, err, some of them were!

Before then the priority was the preservation of the past, even if the past was a load of old bunkum. But not every party was prepared to take off their blinkers to let in new light, as poor Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882) discovered when presenting irrefutable mathematical evidence that the Earth revolved around the Sun or strong collaborative research promoting Natural Selection as the mechanism for evolution when organised religion had already firmly established through painstaking fabrication that the Earth was in fact flat as well as the centre of the universe, and that God had created its myriad creatures in all their glory in a single day over a quiet week, just the other month.

If you’ve yet to become acquainted with the CORPSE TALK format (previous volumes reviewed in our treasured PHOENIX BOOKS section), Adam Murphy takes it upon himself to dig up old fossils – just as Mary Anning (1799-1847) did before establishment beardy blokes went and stole all her credit – reanimating their brittle bones to badger from them as much as he can before their corpses collapse under the weight of his truly awful puns.

Few of these famous faces appear to have rested soundly in their rudely interrupted, not-so-eternal sleep, for they bring to the sprightly discussion the same sort of modern colloquialisms which Adam brought to his LOST TALES:

“OMG!” Geez!” “Good times!” “Nuts!”

“Pretty freakin’ awesome…” boasts Charles Darwin of his beetle collection. Then, when Murphy reveals that his evolutionary explanation of the whale as a descendant of a land mammal gradually adapting to swimming around with its mouth open, scooping up food on the water’s surface – hence the huge mouth and nose on top of its head – was in fact now well established, but so ridiculed at the time that he felt compelled to remove it from later editions of ‘On The Origin Of The Species’, Darwin declares:

“YESS! I KNEW IT! EAT IT, HATERS!”

Even late in the day, a little vindication goes a long way.

Other idiocies of the times include women being banned from schools, universities and of course the military (for a little light catharsis I hugely recommend Jacky Fleming’s THE TROUBLE WITH WOMEN), which is why Margaret Anne Bulkley became famous as Dr James Barry (1790s-1865), toughing it out long enough in a very fetching officer’s jacket to invent modern hygiene.

“I quickly realised that in the army the key thing wasn’t so much looking like a man (I just had to wear the right clothes) as it was acting like a man…
“Most importantly, I had to get used to picking fights, talking over people and generally being insufferably opinionated!”

Unsurprisingly, since the Scientific Revolution occurred a mere 500 years ago, most of our ingenious interviewees come from that same span of time. Three, however, pre-date them quite considerably and each has been selected for that prime, requisite quality of not taking past authorities’ words as gospel, but thinking, observing and experimenting for themselves: Aristotle (384-322 BCE), Archimedes (287-212 BCE) and Al-Haytham (965-1040).

Aristotle was adamant that no theories or contentions should be taken for granted… unfortunately some his own were, like the seeming appearance of insects in animal poop out of nowhere. That took Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) two millennia to disprove by getting her own hands well and truly dirty. The eggs had been laid in or on food and so travelled through animals’ guts. Here’s a selection of Aristotle’s sayings, the first of which is science all over:

“The more you know, the more you don’t know. Y’know?”
“The secret of humour is surprise.”
“Wise men speak when they have something to say, fools speak because they have to say something.”

That neatly anticipates Bookface and Twitter. But the one aphorism I am most delighted the Murphies resurrected is this, in praise of teachers, which has since been corrupted to disparage them:

“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”

Archimedes I found fascinating because although I knew all about the “Eureka” moment and its discovery of water displacement to measure weight, I had no idea until now what the conundrum he was first charged with solving was. Read this and see! He also discovered levers, for which I won’t thank him: mechanics was the bane of my maths exams.

I was equally ignorant of Al-Haytham who invented the old hypothesis. No, not “of” – he actually invented the whole hypothesis / disproval discipline, as well as modern optics upon discovering that light travels in a straight line from the sun then bounces off objects into our eyes (upside down) rather than being emitted from ourselves like ocular laser beams! Yes, he experienced the pinhole camera effect while lying in a darkened room!

This is all beautifully explained in one of the double-page spreads which now follow every interview. Even though the format is slightly smaller than previous publications, there’s a much greater sense of space on each page and within each pane. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is afforded two double-page spreads but then the Murphies do manage to communicate there his entire Theory of Relatively with astonishing concision and lucidity. They are exceptional communicators, using basketball players’ heights, for example, to elucidate on Natural Selection.

More things I learned include the invention of crop rotation by George Washington Carver (1860s-1993). Oh, I’d studied crop rotation at school, but I didn’t know it was him, why it was first invented nor what cotton was rotated with – you will be surprised! You’ll be surprised both by the crop and that no one was into it. Carver had to come up with multiple new uses for the ground-bound fruit which has since become a staple at soirées.  I knew not that Plague Doctors’ “beaks” contained sweet-smelling flowers to protect them from the infectious miasma that never existed, nor that it was Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) who came up with the Periodic Table.

The full modern masterpiece is printed on one of those double-page spreads but value-for-money is what the Murphies are all about and they manage to pack in extra information in the form of an illustrated example of how each element is used in everyday life or where it is found. Your general knowledge quiz team will slap you repeatedly on the back for those prized nuggets, I promise you.

Another spread includes an “AC / DC Grudge-Match from Beyond the Grave” featuring Edison and Tesla (1856-1943) duking it out in an Extreme Science stand-off, just as they did in real life with Edison’s manipulative, bad-science fear-mongering making him the Donald Trump of his day.

As well as the language, kids will love all the visual comedy too, like the 18th Century aristos smothering themselves in powder to hide the after-effects of small pox, then dotting their faces with so many beauty spots to hide each individual pock-mark that they look as if they’ve come down with multi-coloured measles. Yes, I think that entry for Edward Jenner (1749-1823) will prove particularly popular with those sharing my mental age range (single digits, me) for the disgusting depictions of those in full, porridge-like, pustule-ridden small-pox bloom and the very idea that infected cowpox scabs (scabs!) were inserted into healthy wounds as an early from of vaccination.

There are eighteen entries in total to enjoy, and enjoyed they will be! I’ve long contended that all education should be entertainment, and here you will learn as you gawp, gurn and grin with glee.

SLH

Buy Corpse Talk Ground Breaking Scientists  and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 4: Drowned In Evil (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni Press) by Sophie Campbell.

“My new thing is no more secrets.
“All they do is mess shit up.”

Quite right too, and yes they do!

But, oh dear, you’re talking to the wrong person, Cleo. You should be talking to –

Sophie Campbell is a master of the emotional rollercoaster ride; her weapon of choice being subtly deployed and stealthily ramped-up dramatic irony. For there is a shadow falling, and only we can see it.

And I’m not just talking about Glen’s projectile-vomiting morning-after experience in the cafe which Cleo goes to work in, the even worse, unrelated cleaning-up job that Cleo is confronted with or Audrey’s nightmarish babysitting experience.

No, right at the heart of this someone has been seething with the most ferocious, bottled-up anger towards any and all. And not one our cast has a clue.

This fourth volume opens on a much brighter note with what is for some the bonding experience that is softball practice. Even Trilby – previously the most obstinately, wilfully and self-destructively negative of them all – has finally begun to appreciate others and understand the importance of vocalising that admiration and respect.

Meanwhile, there’s a con on: a TV-cult-show and comicbook convention. Let the cosplay commence!

Furthermore, let BY CHANCE OF BY PROVIDENCE’s Becky Cloonan make a guest appearance, sketching away there! She does! Not just in the background, either: Becky becomes embroiled in a prior, physical dispute.

With each of these new WET MOON editions I’ve found myself revisiting much missed friends and found my previous reviews deeply inadequate. That’s hindsight for you. So it was here, for Campbell was always so far ahead of her comicbook peers not just in presenting unique individuals with endearing quirks, understandable foibles and some frustrating flaws, but particularly with beautiful, diverse body forms drawn with relish and lavished with love.

Our ladies on the swamp-side college campus site have had a lot of growing up to do and still more to come, but they are precocious in exploring their sexual identities as fully as they dare, questioning them in private diaries entries and communicating their hopes, fears and doubts to those they trust most.

Some even take to the internet (in relatively closed forums) to question the media proscription when it comes to those body forms and the appalling lack of affirmation (worse still, the actual undermining of pride) when it comes to skin colour.

Campbell is exceptionally astute when it comes to how we can tentatively orbit each other then try as hard as possible to understand each other, over what we might bond: the gives and the takes; or the takes and the takes.

Lastly, I loved Cleo’s attempt to resurrect her childhood pee-pal experience, not necessarily going down so well with an adult Mara. Clue: you both sit on a toilet and pee at the same time.

I can’t imagine guys doing that. *imagines guys doing that* Umm…. Heh.

In summary, then: so well remembered, so well observed and so very well communicated.

“Visually, I can’t think that this creator owes anything to anyone. Nothing out there like this, and highly recommended.”

Those are the only two sentences remaining from my original review many moons ago.

Please see equally rewritten recollections of WET MOON volumes one to three for so much more. All in stock, deeply cherished.

SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 4: Drowned In Evil (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Jupiter’s Legacy vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely.

If I were to recommend any superhero comic published today above all others, then it would be this. It belongs to no long line of convoluted soap-opera shenanigans, but is self-contained, witty and pithy, with so much to socio-politically say. It rises above the genre.

“You know, you’re really quite interesting considering I hate kids. How the hell did that happen?”
“My Dad didn’t abandon me.”

Coruscating!

But it may prove to be the most pivotal sentence uttered in this desperate, dirty, internecine against-all-odds fight to turn the tables and retake the world from its conceited and contemptuous, self-appointed saviours: the superheroes.

That scene will extend far further into the fray. The book begins with a brief moment of paternal bliss and, when priorities are finally relearned, then it will be revisited and there will honestly be moments of “Awww!”

Before then, I’m afraid, there will be moments of awe and gore and a great deal of grievance, with far more to come; for I should warn you right now that this is far from the end.

More considered, meaty and wider in scope than the hugely enjoyable but comparative light entertainments that Mark Millar has produced recently, this epic has been all about family. Family, society and the generation gap – love, jealousy, disappointment and disillusionment giving rise to revulsion, self-seclusion and feuds – but it has been far from obvious in that your elders do not necessarily know better and those regarded as black sheep in youth often have the makings of more compassionate individuals with a more healthy and balanced sense of perspective, free from prejudice and presumption. 

Incorporating first JUPITER’S LEGACY VOL 1 then its prequels JUPITER’S CIRCLE VOL 1 and JUPITER’S CIRCLE VOL 2, it has been so cleverly structured, and that is the order you should read them in before delving in here. The two CIRCLE volumes inform what you’ll find and give it far more emotional weight.

For example, the first to speak above, Skyfox, was merely alluded to in JUPITER’S LEGACY VOL 1 as but a past stain on the family of superheroes’ shared reputation. Read that one book and you might understandably consider him a villain, a sully, because that is how the propagandist media, personal PR and even some families work. Actually he’s the one with the wider and key moral compass:

“I turned because I realised that superheroes were little more than uniformed agents of a corrupt ruling class.”

He tried to help stem the blood loss during the police reaction to the Race Riots.

Although, you know, you could extend that observation to the two real-life superhero comics’ corporations, each attempting to blot out every other genre published to maintain their hegemony over their US and UK’s culpably ill-read, retail co-collaborators. I know I do.

“We were great at throwing the poor in prison, but the real crooks out there were the capitalist elite preying on working men and women.”

Bankers and bought politicians. Millar made the same point from a different angle in THE AUTHORITY.

“You see, the world didn’t like me and in the end I didn’t like it back. I tried my best to fight oppression, but America’s happiest ruled by liars.”

I don’t think I have to spell that one out for you.

America has been overtaken by liars, namely one post-human Walter and his nephew, son of the brother he helped murder along with his sister-in-law. In brazen public, on her suburban lawn, and in a mass beating, Nice!

Walter’s brother’s daughter is still at large, holed up in fear of her life with her pre-teen son Jason and her boyfriend, a ne’er do well son of that ne’er do well father once called Skyfox. Those three fugitive renegades are all that are left of any resistance, and the two parents never amounted to much. One preferred the glamour and financial gain of publicity portfolios and media lights; the other layabout didn’t even impress his prospective father-in-law: useless offal.

*turns to camera and smiles*

I do love an underdog, don’t you?

Artist Frank Quitely (THE AUTHORITY, ALL STAR SUPERMAN etc) owns every single second of this. It wouldn’t work half so well if he didn’t.

For a start, he is a dab-hand at keeping things real with a casual, chic civilian fashion sense right up there with THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Jamie McKelvie, When his figures’ forms are vulnerable then you will know about it. Quitely does it with comparative scale, and with the quality of his line which can become tremulous. In that way I’d compare him to HEATHEN’s Natashi Alterici who comprehends precisely how much difference a broken line means to movement.

But as any reader of WE3 will know, Quitely is also a master craftsman of pin-point, balletic choreography more than a wee bit enhanced by body language.  It’s evidenced at its best here by the improvisational, desperate detour undertaken by Hutch Junior (Skyfox’s son and Jason’s dad) into the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris when his teleportational wand has gone wonky and run out of juice.

Almost a spindly, stick-figure and so vulnerable target upon arms-akimbo-entry, he is buffeted about by superior fire-power, but once Hutch has reached his unexpectedly lo-fi and therefore oh so funny recharging pit-stop, his body language changes dramatically in keeping with his rekindled confidence, and he dishes out his dismissive justice – wham, wham, wham – with erect and equanimous, almost off-hand indifference and efficiency.

Oh, I’m sorry: did I make this out to be a meandering stroll in the park? Expect brutality, but a brutality that will mean something to you involving characters who you will come to care about before they are dispatched, forever, with no hope to follow. 

Also: if you do like superhero plot mechanics – this can only be resolved here after that power proves pivotal there – then you will grin your f***ing heads off. There may be only three of them left, but oh, they got game!

Fatherhood is evidently very dear to Mark Millar’s heart and he’s at his most profound when addressing it. MARVEL 1985 drawn by Tommy Lee Edwards is an understated and underrated gem full of quiet and kind consideration when it comes to step-father and son. Its title suggests something esoteric, requiring prior knowledge of a clumsy corporation’s sprawling universe, but it’s actually quite the reverse: a self-contained one-shot, fully accessible, to the left of the main Marvel Universe, partly about trusting in the younger generation’s perspicacity and perception.

SLH

Buy Jupiter’s Legacy vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

My Pretty Vampire (£17-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Katie Skelly.

The second I laid eyes on that cover it screamed “Gilbert Hernandez!”

Understandably startled, I dropped it in fright, so thank goodness we currently have carpeted floor.

Richard Sala’s old website had an equally alarming introduction involving a trap door, and there’s something of the Sala inside this: creepy but comical and slightly old fashioned (“of an era” sounds better) although not when it comes to sex.

Sala’s Scooby-Doo sensibilities become particularly prominent when Clover click-clacks down the corridor in a black cloak and high-heeled boots, seeking to make her escape, and in surroundings which later prove alien to our protagonist. These have to be negotiated with caution for fear of what lurks round the corner, through that closed door, or down the bordered-up hole in the wall. Needs must, I suppose, but I probably wouldn’t have ventured there myself.

Gilbert’s brother Jaime Hernandez is on hand on the back and I doubt anyone could summarise this book better:

“I’m thirteen years old, up late watching an early ‘70s ‘adult’ horror movie on TV, waiting for the racy parts. The dumb thing doesn’t deliver. Forty-four years later, Katie Skelly delivers with flying colours.”

She does – also with vibrant colours, and exactly that early ‘70s fashion sense, seediness and gloss.

Someone described it as sex-positive, and I like that; I’ll use it myself. See also Jade Sarson’s FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MARIE and Jess Fink’s CHESTER 5000 XYZ etc.

Not so dainty nor sex-positive is Clover’s brother, Marcel. A control freak verging on the abusive, he holds her captive in a remote countryside mansion, perving through peep holes as his sister swims naked in their white-statue-lined Roman-eque baths.

“No one else will take care of you…
“It’s just us.”

Actually there is a housekeeper of eastern origin called Elsa who smuggles in cigarettes (and a book of matches) which our fanged fatale then smokes in a corner, surrounded by teddy bears while planning her daring escape.

Constantly leaking blood as black as bitumen, Clover must evade John, an ex-police Private Eye who’s rarely more than a few tell-tale footsteps behind, constantly puffing away on one cigarette after another. Moustache, eye patch, and butterscotch raincoat: we are still in the seventies. Then there are those parties where the best dressed prove most libidinous.

From the creator of OPERATION MARGARINE (which we will attempt to restock once again shortly via John Porcellino’s Spit and a Half) comes something sensual, suggestive, enigmatic and cursed. There is a cult.

Five years earlier:

“Most people that come to us want money, power… eternal life for themselves.
“Not you.
“You did it for love.
“The one you love will never die.
“(How selfish.)”

SLH

Buy My Pretty Vampire and read the Page 45 review here

Sun Bakery vol 1: Fresh Collection s/c (£14-99, Image) by Corey Lewis.

From the creator of SHARKNIFE comes exactly the sort of comic I wanted to produce aged 12: quick-fire, episodic, multi-saga, idea-driven with bat-shit crazy energy and visuals.

You know, as opposed to long-form, pensive, self-contained, streamlined, narrative-conscious, photo-realistic and world-changing.

And although I began with zero technical skills, between the ages of 10 and 12 I did produce some 15 issues of just such a comic containing superheroes, sci-fi, comedy and even a little politics – school politics, anyway. The comedy, as I recall, centred around the search for the singular of ‘sheep’. (It’s a ‘shoop’, since you ask. I WAS TEN!)

Mine was multi-story and episodic because I’d been brought up on black and white Marvel reprints; in Corey’s case it’s been inspired by Japan’s SHONEN JUMP weekly manga anthology which brought us the likes of DRAGON BALL, NARUTO and DEATH NOTE.

And let us be perfectly clear: this is the comic a 12- to 15-year-old would produce if he had Corey Lewis (Reyyy)’s keen adult technical skills. The key is that Lewis hasn’t let those skills inhibit the storytelling.

“What’s it all about, Stephen? What’s it all abaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!”

‘Bat Rider’ is a thrilling, maximum-contrast, shadow-heavy, skyscraper-silhouette-strewn, black and white, urban challenge starring a chick with a cape, a chap with a Mercury-winged biker’s helmet and his seemingly sentient skateboard. Next!

‘Arem’ appears to be riffing off ‘Beyond Good And Evil’ in that the female protagonist dashes about an alien planet identifying local fauna that occasionally fights back by snapping its photo then loading it onto social media for critical approval, like. Oh yes, she does so in a big, heavily armoured, exo-skeletal bio-hazard fight-suit.

Huge exterior shots of primordial landscapes, the orbiting spaceship and maximum mecha fanfare use up the world’s entire supply of mauve, lilac and indigo for the next fortnight. Also, I loved the structure of one page in particular of our protagonist 1) liking NextiGrams while licking pizza 2) thundering down a treadmill 3) kicking a sack in the same direction before 4) standing before her mighty mech in solemn preparation.

‘Dream Skills’ is Fruit Salad flavoured (Fruit Salad as in the chews) and follows two female friends, one of whom introduces the other to the sacred art of the sword following the discovery of protective “aura circles” owned by everyone. These have suddenly been triggered (we know not how nor why) rendering lead non-lethal, and guns therefore, redundant.

Besides, blades are flashier (discuss). That one looks like it may contain the most mystery, legend and lore and at this early stage, who knows?

Contains 730% of your recommended daily sugar allowance.

SLH

Buy Sun Bakery vol 1: Fresh collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Old Guard vol 1: Opening Fire s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Leandro Fernández.

That is one well equipped modern mercenary: combat boots, flak jacket… ancient, double-bladed battle axe.

Not quite standard issue.

From the writer of LAZARUS and BLACK MAGIC and – with Ed Brubaker – GOTHAM CENTRAL comes another impeccably researched but more action-orientated mystery of military manoeuvres across the globe. Across time too, and Andy is fucking sick of it.

Clue: her full name is Andromache and, if you know your Euripides, she had a pretty shitty time of it every since Achilles went and whopped her husband Hector. I mean, a really shitty time of it. The Greeks tossed her sprog over the Trojan walls then, just to rub it in, made her a slave to Achilles’ own son.

As the opening three pages make brutally clear the intervening centuries haven’t brought much more peace. She appears to have fought her way through them all. Which is one way to trying to work through your understandable anger issues. She hasn’t stopped fighting, either. Andy and her three male colleagues have one key advantage over others engaged in mortal combat: they’re not mortal. They cannot die.

Unfortunately in the 21st Century keeping that quiet is a tad more difficult than it used to be: live footage not recorded onto a drive which could be deleted, but beamed immediately around the globe via satellite to someone who wants a piece of their anti-agapic action. You’ll see.

What you won’t necessarily see immediately – as Andy and co are on their way to South Sudan to rescue seventeen girls from heavily armed abductors – is what relevance there could possibly be in American marine Nile Freeman’s search of a family home in Afghanistan full of very frightened women. But you will, at the end of chapter one.

The initial scene inside the home is beautifully played by both Rucka and Fernández who delivers both day and night, throughout, in a style similar to 100 BULLETS’ Eduardo Risso: lots of silhouettes and shadows.

“We are searching for someone. We believe he is hiding her. This man. He has killed many of my people and many of yours. Have you seen this man?”
“No,” replies the old woman, staring at the photo in terrified recognition.
“No, there are no men here,” she says, glancing to the door behind which they are hidden, “and a man who would cower behind women… who puts them in danger and uses them as shields… he is no man at all.”
“I thank you for your honesty and help. We will leave you in peace… blessings on your house…”

Everyone’s in for some surprises, including you: being immortal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if your family aren’t in on it. And cannot be – Andy is adamant about that and eloquent on the subject.

On the other hand, discovering the love of your life early on, if they are immortal too…

Tenderness and brutality in equal measure.

SLH

Buy Old Guard vol 1: Opening Fire s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Coldest City (Atomic Blonde) s/c (£13-99, Oni Press) by Antony Johnston & Sam Hart.

“Well, old boy, I suppose that’s it for us. I suppose now I’ll have to go home. In a way, I’m glad to see you here. Tonight of all nights. Some of them are saying there’ll be no more secrets, from now on. But you and I both know that’s not true.”

From the fiendish mind of WASTELAND, THE FUSE and UMBRAL‘s Antony Johnston, this espionage thriller is so hypnotic that I read it from cover to virtual cover in one rapt sitting, my mesmerised eyes wide open, my mouth somewhat agape. But to cap it all off, the dénouement proved so satisfying, so staggeringly devious that I just shook my head, rolled my eyes and Tweeted:

“You sly bastard!”

You may have seen much made of the startlingly different action sequences inserted into the film version, but here’s the original to compare and contrast with, and I’d remind you that Johnston then went on to create the self-contained COLDEST WINTER with Steven Perkins which was indeed icily slick and smart. Now that does have action sequences!

October 1989, and Berlin is both bleak and freezing. Protesters are massing by the Berlin Wall separating Allied West from the Communist East where the Stasi have informants installed in every work place, every block of flats. Communism is crumbling, tensions are rising, and old allegiances are so far from certain that MI6 don’t even trust their own officers. Left there too long with no Embassy to watch over them, some are suspected of having gone native. And now… now MI6 have a problem.

Three days ago an undercover agent codename BER-2 suddenly went radio silent; last night he was fished out of the river. He was on his way to deliver a list sourced from an agent called SPYGLASS, a Stasi officer who claimed that list contained every name of every officer in Berlin, be they British, American, French, even Russian. That list has now gone missing. MI6 suspect KGB officer Yuri Bakhtin who left for Moscow the day of BER-2’s death. The thing is, he never arrived. Desperate for the list not to surface on the black market then fall into enemy hands, MI6 dispatch Lorraine Broughton, a fresh pair of eyes, to meet with BER-1 in Berlin. An experienced spy fluent in Russian, Broughton’s German is relatively weak, but that’s because she has no former ties to Berlin: no friends, no family and no former colleagues to muddy her loyalties. Or help her out in a crisis.

To make matters worse BER-1, David Perceval, proves to be an old fashioned chauvinist: haughty, dismissive and barely cooperative. Lorraine Broughton is very much on her own and surrounded by agents on all sides. If she’s going to achieve her mission and survive on either side of the Berlin Wall, she will need to get creative and use the city itself – and the events unfolding within – to her maximum advantage.

The art by Sam Hart is riveting. Reminiscent in places of ZENITH‘s Steve Yeowell at his peak, it is startlingly stark, with huge swathes of black shadow cast across offices and officers alike. His close-ups are intense, while outside in bleakest Berlin his figures drift like ghosts though the municipal parks, and I guess they are ghosts in a way. Sometimes they’re eroded by the blinding light into mere outlines of heads, hats, coats and scarves while the trees in both background and foreground loom large in silhouette. I love the way Broughton’s shoulders and hips cast shadows under the small of her back and down the length of her skirt. His instinct is mighty impressive.

SLH

Buy Coldest City (Atomic Blonde) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Baking With Kafka (£12-99, Canongate) by Tom Gauld

Nick Cave – Mercy On Me (Bookplate Edition) (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Reinhard Kleist

Spinning (Signed Bookplate Edition) (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Tillie Walden

The Wicked + The Divine vol 2 h/c (£39-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Toys Talking (£7-99, Particular Books) by Leanne Shapton

Rushing From A to A (£3-00, Mike Medaglia) by Mike Medaglia

One Year Wiser 2018 Art Calendar (£12-00, Mike Medaglia) by Mike Medaglia

Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case of the Good Boy (£11-99, Oni Press) by John Allison

Home Time h/c (£22-99, Top Shelf) by Campbell Whyte

Brink vol 1 (£12-99, Rebellion) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard

Eightball: Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Daniel Clowes

Extremity vol 1: Artist (£14-99, Image) by Daniel Warren Johnson

Jupiters Legacy vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely

Mercury Heat vol 2 s/c (£17-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Nahuel Lopez

Old Guard vol 1: Opening Fire s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Leandro Fernandez

Providence vol 3 h/c (£19-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

Sun Bakery vol 1: Fresh collection s/c (£14-99, Image) by Corey Lewis

Unreal City h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by D.J. Bryant

Wet Moon vol 4: Drowned In Evil (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni Press) by Sophie Campbell

Knife’s Edge (£17-99, FSG) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock

Our Super American Adventure h/c (£8-00, Shiny Sword Press) by Sarah Graley

Atomic Blonde (£13-99, Oni Press) by Antony Johnston & Sam Hart

Thornhill h/c (£14-99, David Fickling Books) by Pam Smy

The Only Living Boy vol 4: Through The Murky Deep (£7-99, Papercutz) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis

The Only Living Boy vol 3: Once Upon A Time (£7-99, Papercutz) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis

The Only Living Boy vol 2: Beyond Sea And Sky (£7-99, Papercutz) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis

Star Wars Darth Maul s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn, Chris Eliopoulos & Luke Ross

All-Star Batman vol 2: Ends Of The Earth h/c (Rebirth) (£20-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Jock, Francesco Francavilla, Tula Lotay, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mark Morales

All-Star Batman vol 1: My Own Worst Enemy s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & John Romita Jr.

Suicide Squad vol 3: Burning Down The House s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Rob Williams, John Ostrander & John Romita, various

Deadpool Vs. The Punisher s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente & Pere Perez

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 5: Tiny Rick (£14-99, Titan) by Kyle Starks, Marc Ellerby & Cj Cannon, various, Cj Cannon

Batman vol 3: I Am Bane s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & David Finch

That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime vol 1 (£10-99, Kodansha Comics) by Fuse & Taiki Kawakami

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 2 (£10-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 4 (£9-99, Viz) by Yasuo Ohtagaki

My Hero Academia vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi