Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week four

Spirit Centenary Newspaper (Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017) (£5-00, LICAF) by Sean Phillips (editor), Ed Brubaker, Brendan McCarthy, Graham Dury, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragones, Peter Milligan, Seth, Jason Latour, Jonathan Ross & Sean Phillips, Becky Cloonan, Brendan McCarthy, Simon Thorp, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragones, Duncan Fegredo, Seth, Jason Latour, Bryan Hitch, Michael Cho…

… is now available for pre-order exclusively from Page 45. Details below! We Ship Worldwide!

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

Keenly observed, discerning and wise, this eloquent autobiography comes with a mind-bogglingly well balanced sense of perspective which understandably eludes almost all of us aged a mere 21.

Or 31 or 41 or 51.

Even more remarkable for someone in her earliest twenties, it is Walden’s fifth published graphic novel so far.

Shall I let that sink in?

In addition to Walden’s exceptionally precocious talent, compulsive creative drive and evidently ferocious work ethic, the most enormous credit must go to Avery Hill Publishing who saw in Walden something so spectacular that they snapped her up in her mid-teens, took a courageous but astute editorial punt and nurtured Walden through her first four graphic novels.

They are, in reverse order, ON A SUNBEAM which for the moment you can read for free online here http://www.onasunbeam.com/ (please don’t tell me that web-comics aren’t “published” – they are self-published and a massive chunk of the greatest comics ever created are and have been self-published),  the dreamy and so slyly structured A CITY INSIDE, then the both epic and intimate I LOVE THIS PART with its Winsor McCay sense of scale which almost two years ago we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, and finally (or firstly) THE END OF SUMMER.

We have reached the point of referring to creators like Tillie Walden and Mike Medaglia as Avery Hill Alumnae or Alumni.  I urge you to pay rapt attention to all things Avery Hill, for there will be so many more stellar rises from there to come, and Avery Hill will be joining Page 45 in our Georgian Room at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017.

“A first love is important to anyone…”

It’s a beautiful page: Tillie’s first tender, tentative kiss with beautiful Rae, her one sunshine-saviour whilst trapped under the inescapable, savage shadow of school bully, Grace.

Rae has come for a sleepover in the room above Tillie’s garage. They’ve locked the door and together learned the secrets behind the common childhood mystery known as ‘How To Kiss A Girl” by watching a filmed, top-tip demonstration on a laptop. Their wide-eyed faces glow in its balmy light.

They are fourteen years old and, during their kiss, the purple darkness of the room bursts with an incandescent canary yellow behind them. But it is overwhelmingly a tranquil scene with Tillie quietly smiling with a blush afterwards, Rae looking a little unsure; wrapping her arms around Tillie’s neck, hugging her hard and burying her head behind Tillie’s shoulder.

“But when you’re both young and gay and in the closet, it’s something else entirely.
“It wasn’t the thrill of freedom I felt that I remember…
“It was the fear.”

And that is another page entirely.

The tiny, vulnerable couple recede into the back of the room, surrounded by so much darkness, the light now beaming through a curtainless window, exposing them in its spotlight.

Do you want to know what really happened towards the end of Tillie Walden’s I LOVE THIS PART? To the two seemingly inseparable, confidence-swapping best friends so cosily cocooned in shared and sublime romantic affection?

It is here, it is terrible, and it will break your heart clean in two.

I’ve been relatively lucky, but I would so humbly submit that if you haven’t experienced growing up gay in an overwhelmingly hostile environment (almost anywhere in the world still but Austin, Texas, seems particularly homophobic both when it comes to Walden’s young peers and their parents), then you really have no idea.

A straight, white, Liverpudlian male once attempted to express to me a deep understanding of those of us who’ve endured homophobia – the slurs, the bullying, the beatings, the social ostracism and pack-animal persecution; the legal discouragement and discrimination when the age of consent was unequal, the criminalisation when we were completely illegal, the death-threats and the death sentences in countries where being gay is punishable by execution – by casually comparing all of that to an anti-Scouse sentiment he’d occasionally encountered.

I’m not sure that this evidenced a particularly profound understanding.

Growing up gay can be terrifying, and Walden does an exceptional job of conveying the remove which maintaining such a secret puts one at: something that cannot be shared is endured alone, and Tillie had been travelling with this knowledge solo since she was five. Here she is watching her peers from the sidelines, her shoulders hunched, breath as ever freezing in the ice-rink air:

“The other girls always seemed so much more confident, so much more grown-up.
“I never ignored the fact that I was attracted to them, I had known I was gay since I was 5. Now I was almost 12.
“A teacher’s aide had shown me how to hold your sleeve when you put your jacket on. I still remember her hands on my shoulders. I didn’t have a word to describe it yet, but in that moment I knew.”

It’s very telling that this knowledge was imparted from a teacher’s aide rather than her ever-absent mother. She was the only one disinclined to attend the huge national championships which Tillie competed in – more often than not successfully – both as individual performances and as part of a synchronised team, for which she trained separately, travelling in the dark at 6am and after school.

To these she would journey with Lindsay, the girl who rescued her from pre-teen hell by inviting her up to the older girls’ table, at last replacing her earlier childhood companion Molly whom she squabbled with but missed terribly upon moving to Texas. Lindsay’s Mom came too, of course, driving them such long distances and offering to record Tillie’s performance for her parents to watch later.

“Nah, it’s cool… No really, it’s fine.”

But she’d be the only one there without a proud parent, almost all of them mothers.

Just as Ribon and Fish conveyed so thrillingly the edge-of-your-seat competitive challenges of Roller Derby in SLAM!, so Walden here will have you gripped as the glitter-glam, heavily made-up, hair-scrunched, sequin-strewn synchronised skating team threatens to be torn apart by their own momentum, the close-up of those tiny, pressured fingers a hair’s breadth from becoming unlocked and so undone.

The solitary level-testing outside of competitions was another matter entirely.

“I tested about once a year and always passed.
“But it was a perpetually nerve-wracking experience.
“No music was allowed. The only sound in the whole rink was my blades sweeping the ice.
“I’d perform five-six moves, pausing between each one.
“The pauses killed me. Silence would fill the rink.
“The judges would have their heads down, scribbling their comments.
“My coach, blurry and far away…
“I’d feel my lungs swallowing frigid air, trying to keep up, and my face and arms would prickle with cold sweat.”

Walden’s tiny, fragile form, however graceful, is shown red-hot-cheek-blushing away with self-consciousness even as her puffed-out breath escapes to freeze as cold clouds in the empty environment. In training she would understandably wear a thermally insulating track suit, but while tested she was squeezed into a tight, skimpy costume with so much skin on show and it all looks thoroughly uncomfortable.

She then takes us through the intricacies of the moves in curling, sweeping, reversing diagrammatical detail, her glasses fogging up.

“Skating presented a strange debacle. I disliked the femininity of it all, yet was attracted to it nonetheless. I always tried not to stare too much, but – “

There are signs early on that Austin, Texas, was going to be a far from friendly environment for anyone different – and especially gay – particularly among the pre-teens for whom conformity was a pre-requisite, prize-winning element of synchronised skating. It’s right there in Tillie’s early induction to the jejune game of ‘Never Have I Ever…’

“Never have I ever…”
“Met a homo!
“haha”
“good one”
“haha WHAT EVEN”
“No – Tillie, don’t put a finger down yet.”
“haha”
“omg”
“That means you have met one.”
“Oh –“

It made me feel queasy, so lord knows how Tillie felt right there when put on the spot.

But I really began to worry for Tillie’s well-being when the mothers started to grow silent and give her oblique, funny looks about something unspoken – at least to Tillie – particularly when communing around a closed, tight-knit single table which Walden dubs “Mom Island”.

I was right to be worried.

But you wait until you finally learn the full extent of Grace’s bullying (not unrelated), witness the attempted sexual assault by her male tutor and then get hit like brick by the car accident outside her cello teacher’s house while waiting to be picked up.

“I didn’t see it coming.
“I just felt my body fly
“and then I felt my face on the ground.”

What has any of this to do with competitive ice skating? It has everything to do with it. From the Author’s Note at the end:

“I charged into this story armed with memories of hair gel and screaming mothers, ready to do my tell-all of the seedy world of glittering young ice skaters. But with each memory that I started to put on the page, a new narrative emerged. I realised that more than just ability goes into being an ice skater.

“Your life outside the rink shapes how you skate. Landing a jump was never about whether or not I knew how to do it – I did. It was about whether I was ready to, whether I felt like I had enough control to land it. And what was going on in my life shaped the answers to those questions…

“When you perform you have to put a version of yourself forward for the audience to see. And that becomes a hard task when your idea of yourself is constantly changing and being made anew.”

At a whopping 400 pages you’ll understand that there is far more ground I could cover – I haven’t even touched on her twin brother, with whom she has a close relationship. That story comes with an unexpected twist, and it is ever so sad.

Walden’s development as a visual artist comes later than you’d imagine and, if I’m not much mistaken, you’ll be treated to actual early squiggles in a very fine line, developing into the giants at one with their cityscape environment which made such an impact in  I LOVE THIS PART.

The body language throughout is beautiful – even the way two girls will stand and crouch in relationship to each other – and she’s an expert in conveying confidence, or lack of it, through shoulders and arms.

And if I were to attempt a summary of the book’s heart then it would be about the growth in confidence of a young individual from one who consistently kept their own counsel and repressed desires to their own disadvantage – to quit ice-skating, above all – to someone who finally begins to speak up quite dramatically, and who clears out their cluttered cupboard, metaphorically or otherwise.

“This is an unhealthy amount of medals.”

SLH

Buy Spinning (Signed Bookplate Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

The Little Red Wolf h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge) by Amélie Fléchais.

Whenever I rootle through the monthly PREVIEWS order form, snuffling out gorgeous new graphic novels for our shelves two months later, I do a lot of research online. I tweet a lot of my findings as I go, in an effort to entertain with the art and generate pre-orders which are golden.

You couldn’t do either of those twenty years ago: it was largely guesswork based on past performances, so new creators were both difficult to discover and risky to take a punt on since comic shops – unlike bookstores – cannot return any unsold books.

Oh, but Amélie Fléchais’ luxurious landscapes stood out a mile! The black-furred anthropomorphic forms were delightful, the rich colours delicious and their harmony with a magically enhanced nature immediately reminded me of Isabelle Arsenault’s YOU BELONG HERE which has been absolutely enormous at Page 45. There’s also a hint of dear Gustav Klimt.

So I tweeted like crazy and dug deep with my orders.

But still, it remains a worry: will the actual story and storytelling be any cop? Many have the riffs been on Little Red Riding Hood and I do not “do” trite nor twee.

Rejoice, for this is neither!

There is a grandmother but she is a wolf; there is a red hood, but that is worn by a wolf; there are some sprawling woods and their navigation may indeed prove quite treacherous but… the similarities to previous iterations pretty much end right there. So many wicked surprises and a very real reason why the wolves you’ll encounter are wearing such fine, woven threads.

It is dark, it is witty and although it is pretty, it has quite the lupine bite to it.

Are you sitting comfortably, my kitty-kins…? Then we’ll begin!

“Once upon a time, there was a family of wolves who lived in a deep and mysterious forest.
“In this family there lived a little wolf pup who was always dressed in red. Everyone called him the ‘Little Red Wolf’.
“Sheltered by the roots of the forest’s trees, the little wolf and his family led a quiet and peaceful life.”

Already, in those opening three double-page spreads, there is so much for all eyes to relish: details to seek out and savour!

Mother wolf – her eyes alert – glides purposefully home through bountiful, fern-and-fungi-strewn woodlands lit up by a lime and golden, gleaming light. Traditional bluebirds take flight and flit about before morphing on the next to more cartoon creations which perch on cobwebs, sat not on their clawed toes, but their bottoms! A hollow tree-trunk bowl collects drinking rain water dripping from a frond of a fir.

The third spread, however, is ridiculously rich in extras, pulling back to reveal a cross-section of domesticated dens: primarily that which belongs to the wolves, nestled within the protective, cosy confines of the tree base itself, but also a warren of populated burrows below, interconnected by ladders or safely secure and entered elsewhere! Fish swim in underwater caverns watched over by proud, crowned parents; bunnies take tea while puffing on pipes in their exceedingly learned library!

It is indeed a “quiet and peaceful life” for all. However:

Today Little Red Wolf’s mother brings home a batch of fresh, juicy rabbits to feed her hungry family, but not all of her relatives live at home. Everyone must be provided for, especially those who once provided.

“Bring this nice rabbit to your grandmother wolf. She’s lost her teeth and can no longer hunt.”

Dutifully and even eagerly the little wolf nods assent, taking the big bundle of long-eared fluff from his mother, but he does tremble a bit when warned of the dangers in the dead wood – the dark depths of the forest where the huntsman and his daughter live – which must be avoided at all costs.

[Parenthetically, parents, I adore how the soon-to-be-consumed dead bunnies all look blissful, as if sound asleep.]

And so our little red wolf cub sets out, immediately forgetting the dire warnings, for there is so much to be distracted by!

“First he followed a little beetle…
“And then he chased a gently flowing cloud of pollen.”

Pollen!

“And then he made his way underground following a bold little mouse.”

What a majestic piece of sequential art storytelling that is! It snakes across the page, diagonally to the right then deep down below and – yes! – once more there are so many additional narratives to spot, explore and then absorb if only you care to dilly-dally just as our so easily diverted wolf cub does!

When he finally emerges back into the stark light of day, he is lost. However, hand on hip, he is undaunted.

”I am a wolf, the forest is my home, I’m sure I can find my own way, even without the dumb trail!”

Hmmm, I’m afraid that a great big dose of the bad-news-blues is imminent!

We have only just begun. First there comes the cub’s own hunger and a cumulatively funny sequence of self-justification as he satisfies it, after which his real worries will begin.

How to explain without spoilers?

You’ve read my warning. Also:

Songs when sung – being originally from the oral tradition – have a way of warping like Chinese Whispers when handed across or down from one generation to another. They also have a weakness to being warped, especially if shame is involved.

Not everyone who stops singing halfway through has forgotten the words.

I suspect that this will be snapped and then lapped up largely by adults, but it is also perfectly safe for your young ones. If you don’t mind a nightmare or two! Kids adore scary but also resolve, surprises and justice. This has the perfect balance.

Now, where did the wolves get their fine, woven cloaks from, do you think?

SLH

Buy The Little Red Wolf h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“A good comic looks good even when nobody is looking at it.”
“Right…”
“These are all things that a merely “good” comic must do…”
“But some comics are truly “great”, understand?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Some comics are a leap forward in the evolutionary sense.”
“Yes sir.”

Ha. Dash Shaw being Dash Shaw why am I not remotely surprised that a comic by him entitled Cosplayers is in fact about far, far more than that? Yes, Annie and Verti, our two stars of their own show, quite literally, do like to dress up in homemade costumes and attend <ahem> comic conventions, but what they really like to do is make films. Often covertly co-starring people who have absolutely no idea whatsoever that they are involved as unsolicited extras in a work of cinematic, well Youtube, fiction… It leads to some extremely unusual moments as you might imagine particularly when Verti goes on a blind date with the most socially awkward lad the ladies can find for their big romantic scene… and promptly falls in love with him!

 

 

There are some great set pieces here, particularly the one in the comic shop with the proprietor who had his mind blown years previously by the cosmic power of Jack “King” Kirby’s comicbook adaptation of the 2001: A Space Odyssey film. Which was a genuine thing! Now sadly out of print. It was such a profound kenshō that his life was transformed and he subsequently achieved the pinnacle of career success… becoming a comics retailer. Annie and Verti, having popped in for some cheap throwaway comics just to pass the time are rather less moved, being much more keen simply to move themselves out of the shop as fast as politely possible!

 

This is easily Dash Shaw’s most accessible work to date, a wise choice I feel after such surrealist kaleidoscopic delights, both structurally and visually, as the former Page 45 Comicbook of the Month THE UNCLOTHED MAN IN THE 35TH CENTURY A.D. and NEW SCHOOL, brilliant as they both were. To my mind, his closest contemporaries in comics in that sense, despite fanatically ploughing his own furrow of fun, would be the likes of Michael STICKS ANGELICA, FOLK HERO DeForge, and, when he is on one of his own many out-there trips, Box AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS Brown. This is moving much more in the direction of the farcical, not-so-sensibilities of Brecht THE MAKING OF Evens.

There is, of course, cosplay in there too, which Dash manages to make just as wince-worthy as I find it in real life. One set piece does indeed take place at a convention and makes me more eminently grateful than ever that the sum total of people dressing to impress at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I’m sure it’s all great fun if you are into it, I’m truly sure it is, but it really just isn’t my thing. I’m all about reading comics, not living them out. My life is dramatic enough as it is without the need for repeated costume changes. Particularly ones made of stretchy material… Dash, though, perfectly manages to capture the fervent lycra-worshipping  lunacy and backstabbing bitchiness of cosplay devotees that I am quite sure takes place at <ahem> comics conventions. Which is also perfect for me, because I can read about it rather than having to experience it!

JR

Buy Cosplayers: Perfect Collection and read the Page 45 review here

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

“… before you know… avoidin’ pain governs every choice.
“Do anythin’ to keep it at bay. Lie. Steal. Cheat…
Inflict it on others.
“An’ why the hell not?
“Just gotta convince yourself o’ one thing.
“Put in a bad spot…
“… they’d do the same to you.

Not that inflicting it on others might be a choice for much longer… If the intended American Peace Initiative of a nationwide broadcasted neuro-inhibitor stopping all unlawful behaviour is a) not just total propaganda and somehow actually real, and b) is technically even possible and does work precisely as intended, then well, everyone is shortly going to just be playing nicey-nice with each other. No crime. Sounds great right?

Not exactly. In fact in the weeks leading up to the broadcast, emigration is at an all-time high as people frantically try to flee the onset of state-sanctioned mind control and of the population that remains, many normally well-behaved citizens are urgently trying to tick all manner of illegal activities off their bucket list, before having a sex- and-drugs orgy of Sodom and Gomorrah levels is no longer possible. To their shortly-to-be controlled minds, the API also represents the arrival of the fun police.

Criminals, obviously, they’re not too happy about it either, seeing their preferred career choice being rendered obsolete by technology overnight. Progress, eh? Which is why Graham Bricke is planning one last cash-out score of unimaginable proportions before hopping over the border to the spend the rest of his days relaxing on the sunny beaches of Mexico… Plus paying for some advanced stem cell treatment which he hopes is going to cure his mother’s Alzheimer’s, bless him. What a good son! With a crafty, well frankly insane, plan to use the night of the initial broadcast itself as cover for his ultra-high-risk scheme, he’s going to need an equally unhinged crew to pull off this crazy caper.

This is a great crime joint by Rick DEADLY CLASS Remender that mixes in some minor elements of comedy and speculative fiction, much like in his frantic cyberpunk calamity TOKYO GHOST. It also has that same sense of society dancing precariously round the toilet-bowl edge of disintegration. It could all so easily fall apart completely with just one more mis-step. In fact, I can also add his LOW, with artist Greg Tocchini to that list, as that too focuses on a pre-apocalyptic society and a crew of characters under siege from all directions as they try to get theirs, which is mainly just some degree of personal safety.

If you’ve read LOW, you’ll also know that Tocchini produces truly beautiful artwork, but also, he does do sexy, dare I say it, sleazy, femme fatales very, very well, and here, in Shelby Dupree, we have a leading lady who seems primarily to be intent on leading Graham right up the garden path. She’s supposed to be part of his crew, along with her boyfriend Kevin Cash. But whose side is she actually on? Does she even know herself? As the night of the broadcast approaches, assailed on all sides from jealous criminals who’ve caught a whiff of their heist, is there really any chance of them pulling off the crime of the century?

If you don’t mind your crime somewhat on the preposterous side, you will absolutely love this. Straight noir fans probably will struggle with it in that respect, but absolutely everyone should love Tocchini’s art. If not, check yourself in immediately for some mind control aka the Page 45 comic show-and-tell recommendation service! You will buy comics…

JR

Buy The Last Days Of American Crime and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Hey, good-looking!”
“What?”
“You make a pretty convincing Batman.”
“You think so?”
“You got mad game. Did he train you?”
“Who?”
“Bruce Wayne. What’s your name?”
“Bruce Wayne.”
“Bruce Wayne?”
“Bruce Wayne is dead! BRUCE WAYNE IS DEAD! BRUCE…WAYNE… IS…”

“Dead. That’s what you said. How?”

Sequels. Whether it be film or comics, it’s very rare that a sequel matches or even surpasses the original. You might actually wonder why they bother, but I’m not going to pop open that particular can of shark repellent… I mean worms…

BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, from way back in 1986, I hope we can all agree, is a classic of the modern superhero sub-genre. Along with Miller’s DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN also from 1986, (soon to be completely bastardised no doubt for the third season of Marvel’s Netflix Daredevil… sigh…), and that other book with the blue person with the funny tattooed forehead in, from yes you guessed it, 1986 (wasn’t that a rather pivotal year in superhero comics?), who will be popping up again shortly in the forthcoming DOOMSDAY CLOCK, they helped shatter the paradigm of what people expected from superhero comics. And thus instantly redefined what people wanted. Shame we’ve had so relatively little of that level of quality since in this niche comics sub-genre.

Its loose sequel, BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, from 2001, I would argue, falls into the mis-understood classic category. People wanted more of the same, and Frank dared to give them something different. Thus many people didn’t get it initially, like myself I will very freely admit, but then upon a second read I loved it, because it had something very distinct of its own to say.

Fast forward to 2011 and the Threequel that wasn’t, when we had HOLY TERROR, originally intended to be Holy Terror, Batman! Frank had something else to get off his chest post-9/11, it was just that DC wasn’t comfortable with it being a Dark Knight Bat-book, so Batman became The Fixer, taking out Al Qaeda wholesale in New York City. I found it a bit one-dimensional, frankly, veering dangerously towards crypto-fascism and possibly even a teeny-weeny bit racist (just a personal opinion…) and I think the safest thing I can say about it… is that probably absolutely no one regards it as a classic… Given Frank’s well-documented wider health struggles over recent years, I genuinely wonder how he himself regards it now.

So, here we are. 2017. What has Frank got to say this time? Well… interestingly he’s paired up with Brian Azzarello for the storytelling. I have absolutely no idea who has done precisely what but I’m guessing Frank came up with the plot outline and Brian helped whip the script into shape. Probably like Ben Hur riding a chariot… Before we go any further on that score, I will say Andy Kubert on pencils, Klaus Janson on inks and indeed Brad Anderson on colours are all superb, hitting the heights you want on a book as much anticipated as this. Right, back to the writing…

I read this initially as it was coming out in issues and my thoughts at the time were it got off to an exceptionally strong start in the first couple of issues, neatly reprising certain conceits from BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT RETURNS like the talk show hosts providing their own one-eyed politicised commentaries, plus updating neat little devices like the television-framed footage to mobile hand-held devices so indicative of our modern social-media sharing society. It then seemed to sag somewhat in the middle, but that was in part definitely due to the delays in release, before seeming to finish strongly enough. It definitely benefitted hugely from being re-read in one go.

In terms of the story, Superman and Wonder Woman now have two children, the teenage Lara and the infant Jonathan, neatly paying a sweet nomenclaturical tribute to both Clark’s Kryptonian and human roots. Though old Big Blue himself has skulked off the Fortress of Solitude to wallow in self-pity, partly due to the events of BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, entirely encasing himself in ice, leaving Diana to take on the parenting duties alone! Consequently she’s struggling with rebellious teen Lara, who definitely sees herself as old-school Kryptonian and not remotely compassionate towards humanity. Carrie Kelly, meanwhile, Robin from the previous two Dark Knight works you may recall, seems to have replaced the late Bruce Wayne, finally killed in action three years previously, as Batman. He’s not dead, obviously.

“This mean you’re not dead anymore, Boss?”

‘This’ being the thousand Kandorians, let loose entirely due to the good intentions of Dr. Ray Palmer aka The Atom and rather less so of Lara, who led by the murderous Quar have decided to take over the Earth and if mankind doesn’t start worshipping them and doing exactly what Quar wants, be wiped off the face of the globe. If only Bruce Wayne wasn’t dead, if only someone could persuade Clark out of his self-imposed isolation, if only Diana wasn’t too busy looking after the baby to help… The rest of the Justice League might be useful too, I reckon… If only someone could do some additional tie-in mini-comics about them…

This is definitely a more straightforward work than either of its two predecessors. It does however have some distinctly on-point things to say about the current state of the world we live in. And the current President makes a typically excruciating appearance. For the most part, it says them very eloquently, often rather amusingly and with some considerable degree of wit, and rather even-handedly. There are only a couple things I wish had been done differently. I wish Quar had had a less Arabic sounding name. And that his ‘wives’ weren’t wearing garb akin to that you would see a Saudi prince dressed in. Those two points just made me slightly uncomfortable.

Miller obviously wishes to very overtly draw the analogy with ISIS and their insane desire for hegemony at all costs. He clearly does, and actually, I suppose that is fine, but it just felt slightly unnecessary for those two strident embellishments to make it so obvious. If it weren’t for HOLY TERROR, and also some of his previous statements, they might not have bothered me at all, but because of that, I was probably subconsciously looking for something of that ilk, which I consequently found. I am aware he still feels very strongly about the events of 9/11, which is understandable as someone living in New York, and he clearly still wants to express that in his comics, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising.

Where any such imbalance, real or not, is entirely redressed, at least in comics terms, is in that which was entirely lacking in HOLY TERROR, for this work has humanity and heart by the bucket load. There are some big emotional swings and profound personal journeys for various characters in this work, not least one stinging betrayal and dramatic redemption in particular, but this book also feels like Frank Miller’s redemption, partial or whole depending on your viewpoint, to me, in comics terms anyway. He can still clearly write good comics, even with the unquantifiable assistance of Brian Azarello, which for all I know was something DC insisted upon for editorial control reasons. Anyway, as a team they certainly worked very well together.

This delightfully chunky dust-jacketed hardcover collects all nine issues of the main Master Race series, plus the additional very enjoyable mini-comics that came stapled into the middle of the issues, featuring all the various major old school Justice League members in a full set of cameos, with art from Eduardo Risso and John Romita Jr. How’s that for two fill-in artists?! There are also a few sketch pages and pin-ups chucked in for good measure. Shame they didn’t include the 57-page DARK KNIGHT RETURNS prequel one-shot THE LAST CRUSADE, also co-written with Azarello, with its delightfully twisted, exquisitely painful ending, that came out in the middle of this run of issues. Still, at £26-99 for all that material, which Marvel would no doubt have been trying to charge at least another fifteen quid for, it’s very good value indeed.

Will this go down as a classic? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly an extremely good sequel well worth the price of admission.

JR

Buy Batman: Dark Knight Master Race h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Up For Pre-Order Now!

Spirit Centenary Newspaper (LICAF, £5-00) by Sean Phillips (editor), Ed Brubaker, Brendan McCarthy, Graham Dury, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragones, Peter Milligan, Seth, Jason Latour, Jonathan Ross & Sean Phillips, Becky Cloonan, Brendan McCarthy, Simon Thorp, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragones, Duncan Fegredo, Seth, Jason Latour, Bryan Hitch, Michael Cho.

Publication date: October 14th

Celebrating the Centenary of the Birth of Will Eisner (1917-2017), this newspaper-sized comicbook collection of self-contained one-page stories was instigated by LICAF, then directed and edited by Sean Phillips (KILL OR BE KILLED, CRIMINAL, USER, THE FADE OUT, FATALE etc) and features a stunning array of top-tier international creators.

It goes on sale at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017 on Saturday October 14th and 15th in Page 45’s Georgian Room upstairs in the Kendal Comics Clock Tower (entry is free; access by lift), with all proceeds helping to fund LICAF’s Creators’ Development Fund.

If you would like to pre-order a copy to collect in Kendal, postage-free (and indeed any of our other graphic novels on this website), then please select that option at the check-out. 100% of the proceeds will still go to LICAF, as do the proceeds of all sales on the day of this and all other exclusive LICAF merchandise on sale in Page 45’s Georgian Room.

If you would like to pre-order a copy for Worldwide Shipping post-LICAF, then you can do so right here, EXCLUSIVELY through Page 45. We Ship Worldwide! Hooray!

Please Note 1): decamping from the Lakes Festival each year is quite a time-consuming logistical “thing” so copies of the SPIRIT NEWSPAPER will not be available from Page 45 until Wednesday 18th October (Wednesday is the regular New Comics Day in the US and UK), which is when copies will begin to be dispatched by mail.

Please Note 2): in the interests of honesty we would point out that Page 45 will be taking its regular retailer cut of all these post-LICAF sales, but the rest will still go to LICAF’s Creators’ Development Fund.

Basically this: we recommend you come to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.

We do! Every year!

You can find details on our website’s front page by clicking on the LICAF logo, bottom-left.

Page 45 is a proud Patron of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.

P.S. This not the review. This is a preview. Review to follow Wednesday after LICAF, I’d have thought.

SLH

Buy Spirit Centenary Newspaper and read the Page 45 review here

New Edition / Old Review

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

“Well, hey, Parker. C’mon in.”
“The deal’s off.”
“What?”
“Someone was following me.”
“Oh that. That don’t mean anything.”
“He’s dead.”
“You killed him? For Christ’s sake, why?”
“He pulled a knife.”
“I don’t know, Parker, that’s a hell of a thing.”
“Tell me, Paulus, how did you know I was followed?”
“It was Edgars, he thought it was a good idea.”
“Who the hell is Edgars?”
“You don’t know him. He’s never worked an operation like this before.”
“Then what is he doing here?”
“He set this up.”
“An amateur? Goodbye Paulus.”
“Paulus! What’s the hold-up here?”

And so we, and Parker, meet Edgars. He’s got a plan, a plan so crazy that Parker immediately wants to walk away for a second time. And yet, it’s such a bold audacious scheme, he can’t help but find himself getting drawn in, responding to the challenge. Edgars’ plan is, quite simply, to knock over an entire town, a town called Copper Canyon, a very small self-contained copper mining settlement located in a box canyon, complete with its own tiny police department.

With a dozen good men, and the right leadership and precision planning (which is where Parker comes in), then robbing the mining payroll, the two banks and even three jewellery stores on the main street just for good measure, all seems eminently possible.

Certainly a less complex story than the previous two volumes, PARKER: THE HUNTER and PARKER: THE OUTFIT, this is very much just an out and out classic heist story. The ensemble cast of experienced villains Parker puts together are all consummate professionals who know their roles inside out and play them to perfection, entertaining both themselves and us alike, plus of course terrifying the locals, with a virtuoso performance of menacing armed robbery, all of which means that nothing should possibly go wrong then…? Well, let’s not forget there is an amateur on board…

Superb pulpy period art from Darwyn Cooke once again, who also handles the adaptation duties with aplomb. After picking blue as his primary colour to complement his pencils last time around, this time Darwyn goes for a dusty yellow, which gets you right into the gritty mood for a good dust up in the sandy, sulphurous hills. As before, you really do you just have to pause and marvel at his artwork, with Parker’s demeanour and mannerisms in particular just a delight to behold, with him barking orders and generally acting the alpha male hard-ass extraordinaire to keep everyone focused and most definitely not on the straight and narrow.

I would think this is probably the most accessible adaptation so far, actually, completely independent of the other two books, which are emphatically linked if not truly two volumes of the same story, just because it’s such a perfect, self-contained crash, bang, wallop of its own. What all Parker adaptations do go to show, though, is just exactly what the right artwork can do to bring a story to life and grip you with just as much intensity as any cinematic experience, thus setting my forthcoming conclusion up nicely.

Ultimately, the other reason all these Parker graphic novels have been brilliant is Donald Westlake’s writing (Richard Stark being his pen name) and I’m sure I have read somewhere that Cooke was in correspondence with Westlake before his passing telling him he intended to leave as much of his writing intact as possible. Sadly something that hasn’t really happened with any of the Parker film adaptations to date, of which I thought there had been six. It’s an odd fact but the main character in every Parker film adaptation has never been called Parker, at Donald Westlake’s request, as he insisted that it could only be used if someone did a series of Parker films, rather than loose individual adaptations.

Now the more astute of you will have noticed my comment that I had thought there had been six film Parker adaptations. Given that The Score is such a brilliantly simple idea, I was genuinely surprised it had never been made into a Hollywood film over the years as it seems perfect for one, so I decided to double-check and found it was actually pretty faithfully adapted in France in 1967 and entitled Mise à Sac (which translates as ‘pillaged’) though once again, the main character is called Georges rather than Parker! Apparently it was never released internationally, so I’ll probably never get to see it, but I am intrigued! It would have to be extremely good to be better than yet another peerless Darwyn Cooke adaptation, though.

JR

Buy Parker: The Score 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’

Castle In The Stars vol 1: The Space Race Of 1869 h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Alex Alice

The Corbyn Comic Book (£4-99, SelfMadeHero) by various including Hanna Berry, Stephen Collins, Steven Appleby, Dix, Steve Bell, Karrie Fransman, Kate Evans, Paul Rainey

The Good News Bible – The Complete Deadline Strips Of Shaky Kane (£24-99, Breakdown Press) by Shaky Kane

Hadrian’s Wall (£17-99, Image) by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel & Rod Reis

Josephine (£11-99, SLG Publishing) by Kevin Sacco

One Year Wiser: An Illustrated Guide To Mindfulness (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Mike Medaglia

Royal City vol 1: Next Of Kin s/c (£8-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire

Sex Criminals vol 4: Fourgy (£14-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky

Showtime (£14-99, Breakdown Press) by Antoine Cosse

Walking Dead vol 28: A Certain Doom (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

DC Super Hero Girls vol 4: Past Times At Super Hero High s/c (£8-99, DC) by Shea Fontana & Agnes Garbowska, Yancy Labat, Marcelo DiChiara

DC Universe Rebirth #1 4th Printing (£4-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank, others

Titans vol 2: Made In Manhattan s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Dan Abnett, James Asmus & Brett Booth

Spider-Man / Deadpool vol 3: Itsy Bitsy s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Joe Kelly & Ed McGuinness

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 6: Who Run The World? Squirrels s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Ryan North & Erica Henderson

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 5: Past Lives s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Filipe Andrade, Eric Nguyen

 

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