Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week three

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!”


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


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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? **



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?


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


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

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

 – Stephen

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