Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week one

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.


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.


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!

 – 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:


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.)”


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.


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.


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.


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

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