Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2017 week four

Featuring Dilraj Mann, Lizz Lunney, Darryl Cunningham, Tim Bird, Ben Read, Chris Wildgoose, Steve Skroce, Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, Warren Ellis, Jon Davis-Hunt, more!

Porcelain vol 3: Ivory Tower (Signed Bookplate Ed.) (£14-99, Improper Books) by Benjamin Read & Chris Wildgoose.

 

“Absolutely outrageous! You were definitely cheating! Because I was and you still won.”
“Never play cards with an ex-street thief, dear.”

It’s a beautiful, playful scene: Child who became Lady and who is now Mother, wrapped up all warm and sat on a tarpaulin-lined travelling rug, out in the snow among the shattered remains of the cemetery. Her two immediate children, Ariemma and Victorienne – one adopted, the other almost all that is left of the love of her life – have brought her a picnic of secret provisions and there is finally a brief lull or lacuna for laughter.

There’s also Nana, her former lover’s mother who provides nourishment and encouragement without fail.

“Steady on. Things aren’t that bad, are they?”
“I think… they are. It’s all falling down.”

Child came from nothing. Lady built so much. But Mother is another proposition altogether.

 

 

While resolute in her principal of defence not attack, Mother has surrounded her estate full of sentient Porcelain scientists, craftsmen and guardsmen with a vast, impenetrable wall and built therein – and high into the sky – the most enormous, elaborate tower structure which inevitably casts its imposing shadow over the surrounding city, forever drawing attention to its lofty self-seclusion.

She had no choice: the military wanted to use her Porcelain creations as weapons in their war and would not take “No” for an answer. “No” was her answer anyway, but it cost her dearly. Now she has seen everyone and everything she holds dear assaulted and under siege. She has done things in the interest of expediency which she prays that no one will know.

But it’s all coming out now, and it’s all coming down.

“Mother? Your order.”
“Launch the attack.”

 

 

I cannot even begin to tell you what a heart-wrenching tide you are in for. I could try, but your jaw will still hit the floor when turning the pages yourself.

PORCELAIN volume II was our biggest-selling graphic novel in 2015, even though it came out in October that year. Its sales eclipsed everything that was published as far back as January, February and March, and at Page 45 even doubled that of its worthy rival: Neil Gaiman’s return to SANDMAN with SANDMAN: OVERTURE.

Let’s play that again: Neil Gaiman, New York Times best-selling novelist returning to one of DC’s biggest perennial sellers, owned by Time Warner with its multi-million-dollar advertising budget. Its sales were, as expected, stratospheric. PORCELAIN is published from a small British farmhouse with an advertising budget of approximately zero.

 

 

Essentially steampunk, yet effortlessly levitating over any of those more quirky elements which might make it more niche, PORCELAIN is the story of one woman’s trajectory in life from a street-thief who had nothing but bullish friends to a woman who inherited – through assiduous attention and learning – a craftsman’s creative genius and then, in his memory, was inspired to set about building her own principled legacy whilst under pressure from society’s baser instincts and territorial demands. But that’s the funny thing about principles while under restriction and covert or overt attack: you inevitably compromise some, and there was always a dark secret at the heart of their art. Over and again, Mother maintains that if only she’d been left in peace in order to protect, then none of this would have been necessary…

PORCELAIN has also always been about family since volume one when the original Porcelain-maker adopted Child – who had none – as an “Uncle”. Now she too has adopted, and both her girls have become teenagers, eager to learn but restless and testing boundaries when the biggest boundary of all is that impenetrable wall, outside of which they aren’t safe. Nana is part of that family as are her trusted, wealthy advisors, Prosper and his lover Siegfried. But so are Mother’s Porcelain for they are not just sentient, they are each of them unique individuals with desires of their own and lives they might lose.

Ah yes, motherhood: it forms a much broader part of this arc than I’m willing to divulge, but here is a key moment when an option to evacuate is offered by the city, under safe passage aboard a fleet of trading vessels  en route to the Island States.

“Captain, you speak well, but I will not trust my children in another’s hands.”
“Great Alchymic, my reputation… my fleet would stand for you, as though my own children. Sail with us away from this coming war. Please.”
“… No. We leave in our own fleet one day or not at all. I’m sorry your time was wasted.”
“My lady, you must come with us. My future depends on it.”

There’s not one random word in the Captain’s entreaty and, when you read it, watch Chris Wildgoose’s body language carefully, then weep.

So we leave wordsmith Benjamin Read to focus on Chris Wildgoose, letter artist Jim Campbell who accentuates the Porcelains’ individuality through subtle variations within their speech balloons, and colour artist André May whose seasons, weather fluctuations and times of day are eloquently evoked even indoors. It’s a predominantly soft, subtle and complementary palette which May employs so that when the green glows, it does so eerily, ethereally and – in several eye-smacking scenes – as aggressively as if it were red.

As last time, Wildgoose provides nearly a dozen pages of detailed, annotated preparatory work showing just how much thought has gone into each Porcelain’s evolving body structure, red-glass armour, robes or uniforms, limb joints and the “almost ivy-like growth to the Rune patterns”.

I’ll have already slapped you with Chris Wildgoose’s monumental aerial shot of the tower structure which may have required a little more effort on Ben Read’s part than the similarly striking second page in their brilliant book, BRIAR. But I’d have to ask! It manages to combine, harmoniously, elements of the European and the traditional fairy-tale castle with Persian minarets and futurist buttressing, gangways and even gardens. Once more, hats off to André May in lighting each outcrop up against the city beneath it, distinct yet distanced by haze.

Mother’s face is more drawn than Lady’s, increasingly so as she wears herself out in The Link. The Link is where Mother can co-opt an individual Porcelain’s body momentarily or see through the eyes of all her creations at once – which gives one quite the advantage over any other generals when in command of an army.

The lines are crisp and ridiculously rich in detail, but never stiff, never without humanity especially when it comes to the Porcelain, some of which are slender and others ape-like in posture while Alder, the loyalist of the loyal, has a soft, tender gentleness in spite of his hulking body and massive, heavy hands.

As ever at Page 45 each copy of PORCELAIN comes – initially at least – with an exclusive bookplate signed by Ben Read and Chris Wildgoose for which we are profoundly and eternally grateful, just as we were proud to launch this third volume in our very own Georgian Room at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017, much to the surprise of all including ourselves! I heartily love a last-minute surprise!

They never last long, so please snap them up. While stocks last, etc.

So here we go: once more the military will not take “No” for an answer and once more the adamant answer from Mother remains “No”.

The citadel is surrounded on all sides and – with the war over – the army has turned its full attention and all its resources upon Mother, her entourage and their sky-scraping enclave. Please do not think they are stupid. They have stratagems of their own.

Does our commanding ex-street thief having something fresh and unexpected up her sleeve?

She does! Yes, she does!

Oh. I’m very much afraid that she does.

SLH

Buy Porcelain vol 3: Ivory Tower (Signed Bookplate Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Graphic Science: Seven Journeys Of Discovery (£16-99, Myriad) by Darryl Cunningham…

“In my boyhood I suffered from a peculiar affliction due to the appearance of images often accompanied by flashes of light which marred the sight of real objects.
“When a word was spoken to me, the image of the object it designated would present itself vividly to my vision. Then I observed to my delight that I could visualise with the greatest faculty.
“I needed no models, drawings or experiments. I could picture them all as real in my mind. But I never had any control of the flashes of light to which I referred.
“In some instances I have seen all the air around me filled with tongues of flame.
“Their intensity increased with time and seemingly attained a maximum when I was 25 years old.
“During this period I contracted many strange likes, dislikes and habits. I had a violent aversion to the earrings of women but I was fascinated with the glitter of crystalline objects with sharp edges and plane surfaces.
“I would not touch the hair of other people, except at the point of a revolver.
“I would get fever by looking at a peach.
“I counted the steps of my walks.
“And calculated the cubical volume of soup plates, coffee cups and pieces of food.
“Otherwise my meal was unenjoyable.
“All repeated acts or operations I performed had to be divisible by three, and, if I missed, I felt impelled to do them all over again, even if it took hours.”

Can you guess the mad scientist yet from that bonkers introduction?

No? I’ll give you one more clue…

“I was interested in electricity from the very beginning of my educational career.”

Yes, it’s Nicola Tesla!

 

 

Once again, Darryl Cunningham returns to educate and entertain us in equal measure with seven – count ‘em! (not you Tesla, you’ll be here all day!) – biographies of scientists who were just as fascinating in their everyday lives, if not more so, as they were for their discoveries. I would imagine that most people have probably at least heard of Tesla, but the other six will be far less well known to many, particularly if science is not your thing.

But that’s precisely why you should read this work, because not only does Darryl regale us with fun facts about his chosen luminaries, plus considerable detail about their particular privations and hardships that they endured, but he also clearly expounds the hypotheses and theories – some considerably more valid than others – for which his quorum of boffins became… okay, well, not well known to the general public, but certainly celebrated within their preferred fields of science. Though not all within their lifetimes unfortunately.

 

 

So in addition to Tesla we have Antoine Lavoisier who managed to debunk the then held theories about the composition of air and the illusory element Phlogiston before ultimately going to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Mary Anning, who did so much to further our understanding of geology and fossils but went almost completely uncredited purely due to her gender.

 

 

George Washington Carver, one of the last Americans to be born into slavery who fought against racial discrimination throughout his entire life whilst working on modernising agricultural techniques.

 

 

Alfred Wegener, who first put forward the concept of Pangea, though because it was before our understanding of how plate tectonics worked was frustratingly unable to provide a convincing mechanism to support his theory whilst alive.

 

 

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered pulsars and who was denied even a share of the Nobel Prize for her discovery due once again to gender discrimination.

 

 

And finally Fred Hoyle, who whilst he did some sterling work on explaining the abundance of all the various elements in the Universe, wasn’t averse to coming up with outlandish theories on pretty much anything and everything seemingly whenever the fancy took him, which contributed to costing him a Nobel Prize.

 

 

 

Moving forward from the mid 1700s to the modern day with this work, what Darryl so admirably demonstrates is that all of these very different individuals had a really deep compunction and relentless drive to experientially comprehend the world and universe around them, despite the relative paucity of information that was available to them. Their stories, of what they struggled with personally, as well as professionally, undoubtedly helped shape their formidable minds and thus to help advance our collective human understanding.

As we move ever further into the modern era of collaborative big science, with huge teams of people working globally on petabytes of data, often provided purely by computer modelling as much as experimental output, it’s perhaps becoming harder and harder to envisage individuals making such radical leaps in understanding, often against the conventional wisdom of the time, as our learned colleagues here all did.

For as we iterate ever closer to complete intellectual understanding of, well, everything in the Universe, with our rapidly burgeoning computer power, and indeed the advent of artificial intelligence driving virtual research many orders of magnitude faster than a human mind could even conceive of, you also get the sense that there are going to be fewer and fewer opportunities for such intuitive geniuses to help us spontaneously burst out of our currently held intellectual cul-de-sacs.

Fortunately, there will always be a need for comics, particularly ones by Darryl. It just occurs to me, actually, that there is a lovely dual meaning in the title for this work. For not only is Darryl detailing these scientists’ seven individual journeys of discovery, but he’s also very kindly providing us all with seven journeys of discovery of our own to engage upon.

Art-wise it’s the usual comically clinical, wittily engaging style which has served him so well to date with his previous works: PSYCHIATRIC TALES (we’ve more stock on its way!), SCIENCE TALES and SUPERCRASH. Though I am rather sad not to see Darryl’s own talking head this time around! He does however provide a very inspiring foreword, I must say. But I do always manage to spot something different each time, and here I found myself marvelling (no pun intended) at some Jack Kirby-esque moments whilst Darryl was illustrating some mysterious goings-on deep in outer space.

 

 

It also reminded me he did an amazing sequence of cosmically crazy character designs that he put up on social media a few months ago which I really, really hope end up getting used in something!

I will leave you with part of the concluding paragraph of his foreword, which, as I say, I found very rousing. From my perspective, he himself is doing exactly what this call to action exhorts us all to do…

“Be a scientist in your own life. Change things the way these seven people did. They were not superhuman. They struggled much as we do. Yet they have transcended their lives and given much to the world.”

JR

Buy Graphic Science: Seven Journeys Of Discovery and read the Page 45 review here

Dalston Monsterzz h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Dilraj Mann.

“Last time I saw you I predicted you’d meet a new boy… Is this he?”
“No no no. This is another guy.”
“You have two?”
“He’s not another guy. He’s the other one’s friend.”
“You’re seeing two friends? Risky.”

It’s the way that reputed fortune teller Afsa Al Ansari holds up her palm advisedly – along with her doubtful gaze – that makes it so funny.

Lolly and Roshan did not get off to the best start. Lolly started dating Roshan’s best friend Kay and Roshan swiftly grew meanly, inarticulately jealous: she was coming between their bromance.

Thing is, poor Roshan had only just got out of Holloway’s Young Offender Institution after a criminal six-month sentence for idly stealing a £1-50 bottle of water and (one bike ride aside) suave and confident Kay has been far from attentive. He’s been partying away while Roshan’s languished alone in his nagging home in one of the old Brutalist block of concrete flats.

Parenthetically, Rosh was stitched up by an opportunist politician called David Dawes. And if that sounds slightly familiar then, yes, real-life Nicolas Robinson received a six-month sentence for stealing a £3-50 case of water from Lidl in Brixton in August 2011 following the London riots and subsequent looting. It was a £3-50 case of water! That’s something that I’m unlikely to ever forget.

 

 

So be not deceived: within this fashion riot and monster romp there is a great deal of scathing socio-political satire about the gentrification of East London and the corruption that’s come with it – right at the top.

Property developer Conrad Vess is at its epicentre. Oh, he has many a dark secret, does Conrad Vess, not least his family circumstances. He also has connections, from the police head-honcho to his close Confidence, leader of the Teenage Mutant Dalston Bastards. There are many such gangs in East London and you’ll find a handy map and breakdown of these territorial tossers on pages 34 and 35, plus they all have their own monsters outside of Conrad Vess. Monsters…? Giant Monsters! We will get to them in a second, but each gang has its own schtick: its base location, modus operandi and unifying sartorial brand – they are beautifully designed. I particularly liked the t-shirt triangles and their inverted red facial tattoos or face-paint.

 

 

Dilraj has a fine eye for chic urban fashion, be it observed or imagined. It won him a place in the British Comics Awards a few years ago, deservedly so. His body forms are deliciously atypical while his faces can be so grotesque as to make monsters out of everyone. In some ways he reminds me of Dave Cooper. Anyway, it’s all so apposite here.

So: there are monsters – ever so colourful, some of them. They are reckoned to have begun manifesting during the massive property development upheaval when ugly flats were torn down to make way for luxury accommodation for the stinking rich. Not for the many, but for the few. They crawled out of the gaping holes in the housing market and have since started parading around Dalston on stilts (by which I mean their own legs) or bouncing about Lolly’s symbiotic best friend Neana. When her monster rests Lolly grows super-strong, able to punch up a posse or strike down a dude on one go. They can communicate, although wait until you work out how Neana is summoned. Clue: it requires a quick trip into the bushes.

Lolly, I should tell you, is Vess’s step-daughter and she has gone officially missing. This has pissed off Conrad Vess for reasons beyond parental pride or protection for in fact our Lolly was kicked out of home. So he has called on gang leader Confidence to root her out of hiding, but Confidence kidnapped her boyfriend Kay instead in order to lure Lolly to Conrad’s Zag complex from which he operates a brutal underground tournament entertainment for international investors to gather round then bet on.

Did I mention that there might be a smidgeon of socio-politics?

“Let’s get out of her, Neana.
“It’s time for some exposition.”

 

Lolly is probably right: you’re feeling a little lost. We are in desperate need some sort of summary so let’s hear it from Roshan who is riding high on monster Neana with Lolly whom he used to loathe.

“So let me get this straight.
“Your old gang kidnapped Kay.
“We need to get to this Zag place but you don’t know where it is.
“And all the gangs in Dalston are after you?
“Oh, and I need to ask… What is a Bad Bitch and how do I become one?”

You’ll need to level-up, Roshan!

 

 

This is delirious and I am in love, with everything from its design to its sequential-art narrative. There is a flight and fight scene spanning two pages which thrilled me. I’ve not seen anything quite like it. That double-page spread boasts multiple, split but grouped panels within what would normally be a single panel to reflect – I think – the ever-increasing, frantic and bellicose beat of the pursuers and pursued ones’ hearts. Towards its climax the colours do the opposite of flat-line yet flatten to a potentially explosive vital, vivid and cardiac red.

Whooosh! when you turn over the page, however! It’s like an intense compression giving birth to brand-new day and a life-saving opportunity to live yet another!

Everything here is so masterfully connected. It’s only when you ascend this rollercoaster’s climax that you will comprehend exactly how each element mirrors, is distorted by, or was always going to engender the other.

Oh. Now, do you remember where we came in with Lolly asking Afsa Al Ansari for directions only to receive dubious dating advice? It turns out that Afsa’s daughter Aisha has some precognitive skills of her own, advising our Roshan to Google “Falada” or else be consumed during his rescue mission by monsters. You might want to Google that too.

Lastly:

“For your information, it wasn’t parsley…
“It was coriander.”

Haha! You’ll see!

SLH

Buy Dalston Monsterzz h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Street Dawgz: Boxlife (£5-00, self-published) by Lizz Lunney.

“Still I’ll find new accommodation…
“We’ll make plans… from mobile phones.”

 – David Sylvian / Japan

Wait, wait – mobile homes!

It’s mobile homes, Stephen!

But either applies here. You’ll see.

It’s the return of anthropological expert Professor Lizz Lunney for a searing socio-political indictment of poverty, class, and homelessness in the form of the demi-delusional STREET DAWGZ whose last beatnik appearance I treated with equally rigorous academic acumen.

Dingo, Jekyll, Rossetti and Ian (that still makes me laugh) are all living the dream from the confines of their shared cardboard box, and they have everything they need for a fulfilling life of high-brow art-assessment and low-brow, bow-bow begging.

“Apart from food.”
“And water.”
“And intelligent company.”

 

 

Who needs an architect to draw up a costly, intricate extension to bricks and mortar when you are quite literally living in a box? Not these four fools. They can just scavenge for a second, open-plan cardboard cottage and bunk up in pairs. But they will need to put more thought than that into curing dipstick Dingo of his newfound hound-held addiction to social media.

Oh yes, even the homeless pine for a fulfilling life online – and why wouldn’t they when their real one is so deprived? Dingo has acquired a smart phone (I know not from where) and has become utterly absorbed in his daily desire for constant affirmation through BookFace, Bitter and Winstagram:

“If I get a million ‘likes’ for one of my images I win.”
“Win at what?”
“At life, I hope.”

I think that’s unlikely, Dingo, but do please see HELLBOUND LIFESTYLE for similar struggles and potential recognition-box-ticking. Then enjoy Dingo’s wider algorithm blues.

It’s all too, too funny! And true!

I think you’ll enjoy the Lord Of The Rings “Precious” reference.

 

 

If picking this up from our counter or ordering online, please help yourselves to free money. It claims that it’s “worthless” but it’ll set you up right proper in Lizzneyland.

I’d like to live in Lizzneyland. I doubt you can drive there. It’s more of a state of mind, medically referred to as dementia.

SLH

Buy Street Dawgz: Boxlife and read the Page 45 review here

The Rocket (£4-00) by Tim Bird…

 

“I think he’s overdone that slightly.”

On the face of it, a comic about snooker doesn’t seem like the most fascinating topic. Yet for fans of stroking their balls across the green baize, or just larger than life sporting characters such as one Ronnie “The Rocket” O’Sullivan, this will be just like the moment they first heard Captain Sensible sing the Snooker Song. But better. Much better. Though with that said, here’s John Hurt reciting from the Hunting Of The Snark mashed up with the not-so-Sensible one doing the Snooker Song all accompanied by a full orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall. It certainly makes you miss John Hurt…

Anyway, back in 1997 the youthful O’Sullivan achieved an outlandish feat, which to me and many other amateur cue-men, seemed verging on the impossible: hitting a maximum 147 break in a mere 5 minutes 20 seconds. 36 shots of potting perfection at an average of a mere 8.8 seconds per shot.

 

 

Casting my mind further back to watching the moustachioed Cliff Thornburn’s epic 147 at the Sheffield Crucible in 1983, which seemed to take an eon – I can still clearly see the look of fearsome ‘tasche-twitching tension on his face as he took on a long-distance pressure pot on the final yellow – the idea that someone could clear the table whilst making it look like they were simultaneously going for a walk in the park seems utterly preposterous. It still does, frankly.

 

 

Here, Tim Bird provides us with his unique take on this slice of snooker history. I’ve often commented that Tim’s exquisite combination of words and images has a majesty akin to poetry. Here he manages to achieve that feeling with only the barest amount of text, this being mostly silent, aside from the referee racking up the Rocket’s scorching scoring and the odd nod to Ted Lowe’s apposite sublimely understated commentary.

“Four minutes for the century.
“Amazing.”

 

 

Instead Tim conjures up various camera angles and close-ups, makes full use of the classic trajectory-line-on-table BBC special effect, plus throws in one very neat time lapse trick on a full-page spread where we get multiple Rockets (nine!) at the same time, slamming balls in from every conceivable direction that even the master trickster John Virgo would simply have to stop and marvel at.

 

 

It’s a visual feast of intricate page and panel composition throughout that neatly captures the insanely brilliant lunacy of five minutes and twenty seconds of non-stop action from a man in a dinner suit nailing snooker shots with a precision of an expert sniper caressing a chattering, smoking AK47. Or was that just chalk dust? Not even Bond could do it better.

 

 

I genuinely think Tim Bird is as amazing as Whispering Ted Lowe thought Ronnie O’Sullivan was. A neatly framed piece of comics perfection.

JR

Buy The Rocket and read the Page 45 review here

Maestros #1 (£3-25, Image) by Steve Skroce.

Irreverent High Fantasy melded with funny Low Filth, this unsurprisingly appealed enormously to Brian K. Vaughan who gleefully ran a preview in the latest issue of SAGA, although emphatically not the pages which require us to bag every copy so that no eyes younger than sixteen years old stray unexpectedly across the transformational excess of a Personal Legend elixir.

There’s at least one moment like that in every collection of SAGA, reminding you – however lovely Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are – why you thought better of lending the series to your mother, your grand-mother or your youngest nephew or godson.

With detailed blood, guts, gore that will score highly with any Geoff Darrow fan (see SHAOLIN COWBOY), we open with a splendid, skull-crushing, infernal massacre as the wizard Mardok and his minions stage a surprise assault on the reigning Maestro, eviscerating him, his oh so many wives, and the entire royal family to boot. At least, those still residing within the Realms.

 

 

One of his wives, Margaret, divorced the now former Maestro on the grounds of gross depravity and was consigned to a comfy cage for her troubles, but at least she secured the exile of her son. This saved both their souls, but now they are the only members of the royal line left alive so Margaret is dispatched by a walking, talking, bipedal sunflower to rescue fully-grown Willy from his own low-grade, magical, ill-gotten gains before Mardok and his minions (do not forget them!) catch up with him in a strip joint.

 

 

Before you can holler “Too late!” we are treated to an extreme late-night viewing of The Little Shop Of Horrors and a page which I do wish I had for you involving the interior view of a floral gullet which would make a man-eating shark look all gummy and toothless.

Later, we learn about the origins of our planet, as a smaller Willy first discovers that Earth’s creator was in fact his great grand-father…

“We watched your people crawl out of the mud without the help of any magic or gods except what your imagination created. Your will and ingenuity amazed me.”

… And we are presented with a glorious panel of our gradual and deeply impressive evolution, rising up from hunched-over ape to homo erectus thence homo sapiens, to comic-carrying, fizzy-pop-guzzling, puppy-fatted, mid-teen Willy.

 

 

Please ask at the counter if you’d like to see what’s inside, or indeed my resignation.

SLH

Buy Maestros #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Stumptown vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth.

From the writer of LAZARUS, BLACK MAGICK and half of GOTHAM CENTRAL etc, if you like Lark’s art you will love Southworth’s. I’d been looking forward to this for months now when the hardcover came out five years ago, and it did not disappoint!

It’s something more for CRIMINAL and indeed SCALPED readers to get their teeth stuck into; even the art bears a resemblance to Sean Phillips’s, only with a little more light and a few ruled lines.

It’s not noir, but it is fine contemporary crime set around Portland starring a P.I. called Dex who’s smart on a case but dumb in a casino. The truth is she just can’t quit. It’s a trait that’s going to land her in so much trouble tonight when she agrees to look for Charlotte, the granddaughter of the all-seeing owner of the casino who is prepared to write off Dex’s 18K in return for her services. Charlotte’s taken her clothes and toiletries but not her car. And she is still alive but Dex’s investigations are hampered by two additional but very different parties also after Charlotte.

As with GOTHAM CENTRAL, Rucka’s created a cast with more than a little heart – everyone asks after Dex’s younger brother Ansel, no matter which side they’re on.

 

 

The dialogue is a free-flowing, naturalistic joy, clues are dotted all over the place if you care to scan the panels properly and – oh look! – we even have interior art to show off! That is one majestically sweeping piece of inset-panel placement.

SLH

Buy Stumptown vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hookjaw – Classic Collection h/c (£29-99, Titan) by Pat Mills, Ken Armstrong & Ramon Sola, Juan Arrancio, Eric Bradbury, Feliz Carrion, Jim Bleach.

The one that got away!

The Great White Shark returns from the depths of censorship to swim another day and bite another boy in two.

Another classic British strip from the pages of ACTION weekly, which fell foul of ill-informed media outrage rather than anything else, as is always the way. The public was lapping it up.

Ramon Sola drew a voracious, dead-eyed predator which did actually look like a Great White coming at you from all angles, churning the Caribbean seas up with enough lithe ferocity to give you the willies. Alas, once Felix Carrion took over there was barely more than a single head-shot repeated ad nauseam, with rows of cartoon spikes rather than teeth.

Now, unlike Hookjaw himself, I haven’t had time to digest everything in sight, but to an adult’s eyes the writing seems as lame as the lettering: bland capitals not in speech balloons, but in stencilled boxes whose individual lines bulged awkwardly as dialogue required. Each week Armstrong sought another excuse to send his oil rig workers back down underwater to scream “The jaws! The jaws!” as the ecologically driven Hookjaw (he had a hook through his lower jaw, courtesy of episode one) made it his personal mission to sabotage any form of self-sufficiency in the Caribbean oil industry. No wonder Shell handed back their license to Trinidad in 2003.

Another oddity which someone might explain to me is how come a commercial aircraft crashes conveniently beside the oil rig as Hurricane Clara hits in 1970 six pages after the series has been explicitly anchored in 1973.

Okay, I’m expecting too much: it’s just a production line to sate kids’ interest on a weekly basis following the success of the film Jaws. If I’d read it myself back then I’d have been as hooked as the giant haddock here, having spent a childhood with at least one nightmare a week involving sharks to the point where (thanks perhaps to James Bond) I could even make them out circling around the shallow end of an indoor public swimming pool.

 

 

2009 saw a half-hearted attempt to collect the carnage with atrocious reproduction values and the sort of contents page that puts one in mind of a nineteen-year-old-student’s first dissertation before computers were invented. Fortunately this is far more lavish, complete with its original coloured pages and, in any case, is not to be confused with last year’s HOOKJAW by Simon Spurrier & Conor Boyle which our chum Jonathan (who bought the original series as it came out!) reviewed with relish.

SLH

Buy Hookjaw – Classic Collection h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Wild Storm vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & Jon Davis-Hunt.

“Take it from me: there’s no such thing as being alive too long.
“There’s always something new.”

There speaks the futurist in Warren Ellis, constantly scanning the technological, literary and political horizons for what’s coming next.

This time, however, the creator of INJECTION, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, TREES et al is concerned with new iterations, specifically of old Wildstorm characters like those he himself introduced in THE AUTHORITY and its predecessor, STORMWATCH. It was a broader science fiction than its subgenre of superheroes, whilst keeping some of its more prominent trappings – the costumes, HQ and action – right out in front in order to please its readers. It did please its readers including me. I recommend THE AUTHORITY unequivocally.

This veers even further away into purer science fiction with a far more European sensibility aided by Jon Davis-Hunt’s clean detail and spirit of place, and Ivan Plascencia’s cool blue and brown, sky and earth palette slashed with mere traces, tiny trickles of blood which make them all the more painful and worrying.

 

 

You need have read nothing before: Ellis is starting from scratch as if nothing had gone before, although there’s no point in throwing the babies with some potential out along with the cold, dirty bathwater. Deliberately, then, I’ll mention no more of the imprint’s prior incarnation and simply suggest some of what is presented here.

 

 

Covert civic operations seeking to keep gene-spliced blood out of the city’s water supply. Overt economic operations seeking to make big bucks from cleaner energy sources while keeping the alien nature of their corporation’s head under wraps. Covert International Operations seeking to keep quietly running the world while wizened Henry Bendix aboard Skywatch keeps tabs on them suspiciously from above. Miles Craven, director of I.O., seeking to share a street-side citron pressé with his husband Julian without being harassed by a clumsy, scatty and intense scientist / employee called Angela Spica determined to raise the bar on their ambitions exponentially in order to enhance lives worldwide in a whole new way.

Each one of those goals is compromised, in one way or another, by the chain reaction within.

 

 

For a start, Angela’s already experimented on herself.

I’m going to leave it there for fear of spoilers, but I’ll just return, if I may, to Jon Davis-Hunt and that “tiny trickle of blood”. There’s a slash in Angie’s t-shirt suggesting the experiment hurt plenty, but that’s nothing compared to a small sequence of panels after Angie sees a man bursting out of a plate glass window high above the HALO billboards advertising “Solar For Homes”, “A Battery Cell For Life” and “We’re Making The Next New World”. It is excruciating, as jagged shards of cellular meta-metal rearrange themselves and multiply, tearing through tissue then skin. The skin is just under one of Angie’s eyes. Every element there has been designed to emphasise the personal price and pain.

 

 

So:

HALO wants to make the world cleaner.

Angie wants to make the world safer.

International Operations wants to keep the world broken: it’s easier to control that way.

I was going to expand my re-edited review of the first issue to the whole collection but then I read this on the back cover and vomited: “These legendary antiheroes transformed the way superhero stories were told. Their return will rip the system once again”.

Typical hype-monkey lies, through and through.

 

 

Corporate hype-monkeys: you are transparent. How do you even live with yourselves? You’d fit in so well at UKIP and the Tory party.

I bet they sell insurance on the side.

SLH

Buy The Wild Storm vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman / The Flash: The Button Deluxe Edition h/c (£17-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson, Tom King & Jason Fabok, Howard Porter…

“Flash. The bloody button we found in the cave after Wally appeared. I was looking over it again, and it had some sort of reaction to Psycho-Pirate’s mask.”
“Oh, Bruce, hey! So yeah, I’m kind of in the middle of a kind of Samuroid invasion thing. Sorry, can this wait?”
“The radiation we found on the button seems to have spiked. Appeared as if it ripped a hole in the Speed Force. I saw… there was… something wrong at the bottom of the hole.”
“Okay… well, there’s, like, still thirty-seven of these things coming. Should take me… I don’t know…. How about I meet you at the cave in one minute?”
“All right.”
KKRACKK
“You said a minute. Of all people, Flash, didn’t expect you to be early.”
“Flash? No. Quite the reverse, actually.”

Ostensibly this is part two of the ongoing epic that sees the regular DC Multiverse and the Watchmen Universe collide (see DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH for a review of part one to get you up to speed as to why the entire New 52 epoch was a… fabrication)  which will conclude imminently with the forthcoming DOOMSDAY CLOCK penned by Geoff Johns, as was DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH.

 

 

Now… even though Geoff Johns isn’t credited with any writing duties on this particular 4-parter that ran through the regular BATMAN and FLASH titles, I can detect his sticky little paws all over it. Not least because, to my mind, it subtly references (in addition once again to FLASHPOINT) two other previous books by Johns in the form of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA: THE LIGHTNING SAGA and FINAL CRISIS: LEGION OF 3 WORLDS. Make of that what you will… Yes, many loose ends are simultaneously becoming unravelled and others getting tied up as it all becomes a bit timey-wimey in this bridging volume. Maybe we’ll finally find out where that pesky lightning rod came from!

 

 

Once again, this is a very well written piece of fun, with not one, but two, real ocular moisture-inducing moments for the more histrionic of DC fans, as Bruce and Barry set off for a jog on the cosmic treadmill to discover precisely why the Reverse Flash is lying dead in a crispy friend fashion on the Batcave floor. I wonder, can we think of anyone previously accused of irradiating people…? Let me give you a clue… he’s blue and he has a self-inflicted brand on his forehead.

 

 

Just in case you’re really not sure by now, the postscript featuring Dr. Manhattan (well, his arm at least) will only tantalise you further as said clock ticks inexorably towards midnight…

I would probably pre-order DOOMSDAY CLOCK right now in order to avoid becoming the splattered victim of your own Rorschach Test.

 

JR

Buy Batman / The Flash: The Button Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers: Standoff s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer, various & Mark Bagley, various.

I had zero intention of reviewing its prologue and little more inclination to read it. But do you know what? It surprised me. What became of the story as a whole I will never know but, for what it’s worth, I wrote this of the first forty pages:

I love Nick Spencer’s THE FIX and THIEF OF THIEVES plus his work at Marvel has been better than most. But the last thing anyone wanted or needed so early into Marvel’s fresh, post-SECRET WARS re-launch was a crossover to which this is the kick-off catalyst.

It will envelope nearly a dozen different Marvel titles – ranging from its multiple AVENGERS series to the non-entity why-do-these-even-exist – written and drawn by completely different individuals, so the quality here is no indication of what is to come. To be clear: this is not an endorsement of the pocket-gouging policy nor an encouragement for you to splash out ridiculous sums of cash  on a corporate crossover when superhero fans could instead be buying the enormously entertaining JESSICA JONES, INFAMOUS IRON MAN or even THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, all of which essentially feature powers without capes.

But this is, nonetheless, an interesting premise whose initial execution sets the stage for a great deal of dramatic irony.

Pleasant Hill is a leafy little town where everyone is idyllically happy and civic-minded. There are restrictions, to be sure: curfews etc, but everyone is exceedingly kind and almost excessively courteous, especially to strangers. Stray upon it by accident and you may not want to leave – which would be fortunate, since you can’t.

 

 

You can’t because it’s a construct, a sham. It’s a prison for supervillains created by S.H.I.E.L.D. which has grown bored shitless of incarcerating super-powered sociopaths only for them to break out and cause billions of dollars of collateral damage (and, incidentally, the loss of lives) to satisfy their psychopathy. If psychopathy is ever satisfied: I don’t think those two words mix, really, do they?

The whole enterprise is understandably way off the books because it involves a complete abandonment of human rights. S.H.I.E.L.D. is using fragments of the reality-altering Cosmic Cube to rewrite the felons’ entire identities. They’re not just brainwashing them, they are refashioning them into new individuals physically and mentally.

Now, let us be clear: I’m all for it. I don’t believe in the real-life death penalty because I don’t have faith in the British or American or almost every other justice system because they have been proved over and over again to be racist and target-driven rather than justice-driven: innocent individuals are locked up every day by those who know they’re not guilty. In the la-la land of superheroes wherein the villains run riot, however, I’m with Maria ‘Pleasant’ Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D. – fuck ‘em.

 

 

The problem lies in my previous paragraph, because S.H.I.E.L.D. has just done precisely that: they have incarcerated a hero who got too close to their truth. What I will not spoil for you who has become trapped there and who they’re been turned into on the very last page. Clever.

I don’t know if it’s Scott Hanna’s inks or a departure for ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN’s Mark Bagley, but the art here is slightly more grounded in reality, ironically enough.

SLH

Buy Avengers: Standoff 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’.

Monograph h/c (£45-00, Rizzoli International Publications) by Chris Ware

The Comic Book Story Of Video Games (£16-99, Ten Speed Press) by Jonathan Hennessey & Jack McGowan

Futchi Perf (£14-50, Uncivilised Books) by Kevin Czap

Now #1 (£8-99, Fantagraphics) by Rebecca Morgan, Sara Corbett, Tobias Schalken, Eleanor Davis, Dash Shaw, Gabrielle Bell, J.C. Menu, Noah Van Sciver, Tommi Parrish, Kaela Graham, Daria Tessler, Conxita Hererro, Malachi Ward, Matt Shean, Antoine Cosse, Sammy Harkham, Nick Thorburn

Present (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Leslie Stein

Redneck vol 1: Deep In The Heart s/c (£14-99, Image) by Donny Cates & Lisandro Estherren

The Secret Loves Of Geek Girls (£12-50, Dark Horse) by various including Mariko Tamaki, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marjorie Liu, Margaret Atwood, Jen Vaughn

Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Geof Darrow

Super Tokyoland (£22-99, Top Shelf) by Benjamin Reiss

Underwinter vol 1: Symphony s/c (£8-99, Image) by Ray Fawkes

Batman: Night Of The Monster Men s/c (£14-99, DC) by James Tynion IV, various & Riley Rossmo, Roge Antonio, Andy MacDonald

Hellblazer vol 2: The Smokeless Fire s/c (£14-99, DC) by Simon Oliver & Philip Tan

Super Sons vol 1: When I Grow Up… s/c (£11-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Jorge Jimenez, Alisson Borges

Wildstorm: A Celebration Of 25 Years h/c (£26-99, DC) by Warren Ellis, Brett Booth, Brandon Choi, J. Scott Campbell, Dan Abnett, Christos Gage & Bryan Hitch, Brett Booth, Jim Lee, Neil Googe, Dustin Nguyen

Weapons Of Mutant Destruction s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Mahmud A. Asrar, Robert Gill, Marc Borstel

Inuyashiki vol 9 (£10-99, Viz) by Hiroya Oku

Tokyo Ghoul re: vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

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