Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application is overrated.

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

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

Human behaviour is what’s being satirised, essentially.

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

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

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

BAKING WITH KAFKA is one extended masterclass in pithy iconoclasm.

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


He topples or reverses expectations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Buy Baking With Kafka and read the Page 45 review here

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I exhort you, then, to…

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Guilty in charging, I’m guilty as charged!

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

It wasn’t always this way.

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

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

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

Unsettling: he’s almost unseated.

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

Ha ha, yes, yes, yes!

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

B has turned back to A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are no panel borders.

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


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

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

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

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

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

 – Stephen L. Holland, reviewing CARROT TO THE STARS

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

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

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

Oh how we wall in our worlds!

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

 – Thich Nhat Hanh

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

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

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

 – Miyamoto Musashi

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

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

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

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

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

 – Paramahansa Yogananda.

Which is, I believe, where we came in.

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

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

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

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

No, the other one.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Buy Brink vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Book three:

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

Previously in THE WICKED + THE DIVINE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I certainly wish they would listen.

Book four:

They have been played.

You have been played.

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

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


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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, that’s not many, is it?

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

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

I promise you it is a belter.

See you next week!

 – Stephen

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