Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2017 week one

Featuring Reinhard Kleist, Mathieu Bablet, Jeff Lemire, Alex Alice, Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, Rod Reis, Kevin Sacco, Nick Cave and Jeremy Corbyn!!!

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

“Have you never feared the dark? Or loneliness, sorrow, pain, rejection… or death?
“The great truth that myths have to teach us is not that dragons exist, but that they can be conquered.
“Show me a man who has triumphed over his fears…
“And I will show you a dragon-slayer.”

Top of the range, album-sized, all-ages excellence which had me enraptured: thrilled by its visual majesty, gripped by its power-play, charmed by its adroitly delivered, wholly unexpected comedic notes, then caught anchor, line and balloon-ballast in its steam-punk spell.

I strongly suspect that you’ll weep with wonderment at the Aethership blueprints which herald chapter three. I’ll have those for you shortly.

Meanwhile, let me show you the lovely lilt in the language as young Seraphin Dulac awakens in a guest room of King Ludwig II’s vast Bavarian “Swan’s Rock” castle high above a dense forest of alpine trees and milky lakes:

 

 

“The first note fills the sky from the shores of the lake to the still-starry zenith.
“The next one makes me open my eyes, and yet the dream continues…
“Except it’s not a dream…”

There Alex Alice perfectly captures the dawning realisation when waking up in a strange bed that isn’t your own and throwing open the windows to an unexpected spectacle.

Said spectacle is, of course, the multi-turreted white-stoned “Wow!” that is Neuschwanstein Castle, constructed on such a sheer mountainous outcrop that I’ve always thought not just “Wow!” but “How?!?”

Alice makes the most of the vertigo-inducing terrain over and over again with iron gantries spanning the slopes, cable lifts suspended high up in the sky and the sort of magical, arched glasshouse laboratory that you’d find in computer games like Riven and Myst, buttressed out from the escarpment and over a waterfall!

 

 

There is precise method in all this mechanical madness, I promise you, for there is something under construction.

We begin a year earlier in France with Seraphin’s mother, Claire Dulac, all set to ascend in a hot air balloon much to her engineer husband’s vocal consternation, for he sees a storm coming. Also, Archibald firmly believes that her particular quest is a fool’s errand.

“It’s been more than 2,000 years since the Greeks proposed the idea of aether, and no one has ever proven its existence!”
“Socrates never ascended to 11,000 metres!”
“That’s true – he found another way to kill himself! And he didn’t have a husband and a son!”

 

 

 

Already the tension is tangible, but as Claire rises perilously higher and higher in order to conduct her experiment, through intense cold and ever-thinning oxygen to 11,000 metres, it really racks up. And her mission fails: her instruments detect no aether at all. Rising further to 12,000 metres and the second and third trials still register nothing whatsoever and worse still – as Dulac notes in her logbook – her three-hour supply of oxygen has reached the point of no return!

Desperate to descend, that is exactly when the valves freeze shut. Seraphin’s mother struggles to release the hydrogen manually, but instead the balloon rises further to 12,900 metres… and BOOM! – there it is! – aether at last!

And everything around her explodes.

 

The following full-page spread is such a clever construction. Above we see the thin trail of a small object plummeting through star-lit, blue space towards the hazy surface of the Earth. Within three inset panels, which widen as they close in, the metal cylinder ignites as it enters Earth’s atmosphere. This expansion draws the eyes from the initial tiny white tail of light above to the final, full-page destination below which has been subtly fused with the global view, where the casket lies, cracked-open and fizzing with electrical energy, to reveal Claire Dulac’s logbook sitting precariously on a craggy cliff-edge above that self-same Bavarian Castle.

Now, who do you think recovered it, and what will they do with what lies within? Did Claire Dulac find time to scribble anything else?

 

 

Ah yes, the search is on as a potential source of energy for that elusive aether, the fifth Greek element which was once supposed to permeate the void of space so enabling the travel of light through a vacuum until Einstein finally suggested otherwise. But the Victorians still believed in it, just as they believed that Venus was a jungle-planet populated by dinosaurs and vast, pre-historic dragonflies because it was nearer the sun so hotter and younger than planet Earth. No really, they did! This wasn’t just Jules Verne speculative fiction.

This has all been so meticulously researched both geographically and historically (please note the date), and if you suspect Dulac’s light-bulb aether indicator to be a bit simplistic, you will be in for some far more serious science later on, about the expansion of hydrogen under different atmospheric pressures and the volume that would be required to lift certain weights. Or, I guess, different “masses” under these circumstances.

It is the supposed attributes of the planet Venus which Claire’s son Seraphin delights in expounding upon one year later at school when tasked with a presentation.

 

 

“Of course, despite the logical basis for these conclusions, there’s only one way to be absolutely sure… To go there! As soon as an aether-engine has been developed, we must send an expedition!”

Do you think he’s still obsessed much…? Well, he is. He wasn’t supposed to be research the planet Venus but the Roman goddess of love. Quite clearly: his class in question was Latin!

Even his father wants Seraphin to come to terms with his mother’s death by putting away models of her hot air balloon, but then they receive through the post a cryptic summons about her missing logbook, and an assignation to meet in Bavaria at Swan’s Rock.

But when Archibald and Seraphin try to board the train they are assaulted by other Germanic parties seeking to switch them to Berlin. Crucially, only Seraphin spies the sword-stick-wielding assassin at Lille Station, and that will have enormous implications for their future endeavours.

I’ll leave you to encounter the exquisite comedy moments, so well timed, one of which involves an out-of-control airship crashing Seraphin through the castle window only to get an eyeful of what he shouldn’t before being tugged blushing but face-savingly away. You’ll also like the royal architect who’s more of a set designer, determined to accommodate all manner of extravagances into Archibald’s Aethership, like a sitting room, royal suite, chapel and full orchestra pit!

 

 

 

But yes, this is quite, quite brilliant and beautiful with such attention to detail. Contrast the bright-skied Bavarian rustic tranquillity surrounding the mountain-top castle with its Prussian counterpart, the very real and monumentalist Berliner Stadtschloss, over whose dome drifts an oppressive and foreboding smoke while more industrial smog belches from tall chimneys behind the angry Black Eagle of the Prussian flag which is about to be resurrected for 1870’s Franco-Prussian War.

There the Prussian Prime Minister dwarfs his advisor Busch and casts his hand proprietarily over the globe:

“I don’t like war, Busch…
“I will wage it without pity or remorse, but I don’t like it.
“Do you know what aether would enable us to do? In a few short hours, we could travel to any city on the globe, and without ever having been detected by the enemy…
“Bury it under a deluge of bombs.”

I’m afraid his ambitions stretch even further than that.

SLH

Buy Castle In The Stars vol 1: The Space Race Of 1869 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Sometimes I wonder if it was hard growing up in Royal City… just hard growing up.
“I mean, there’s just something different about this place.
“I swear you can feel it late at night, a weirdness creeping around the edges of things.
“Keeping you awake and making you feel even more alone.
“Or maybe that’s it. Maybe I am all alone.
“Maybe I’m the only one who thinks stupid shit like this all the time.”

Oh, I very much doubt that.

Following on from his recent barnstorming original graphic novel ROUGHNECK about a former ice hockey enforcer on a search for redemption, Jeff Lemire is remaining firmly grounded in the realm of straight fiction for this series set in the titular Royal City. Well, that’s if you don’t include the ghost of youngest brother Tommy haunting the remaining Pike family members since his death many years previously, that is… It’s a curious thing, though, how Tommy appears as a completely different age to each of them…

Patrick Pike, nominally our central character, is a successful writer, though he’s rapidly heading into the past tense in that respect, crippled as he is by writer’s block with a frantic agent demanding the whereabouts of his long overdue second novel, plus a failing marriage to a minor movie starlet to boot. The only one of the family to ever make it out of Royal City, Patrick’s back in town to visit their ailing father Peter in hospital following a severe stroke, which was at least partly brought on by his relentlessly browbeating nag of a wife Patti. Patrick’s siblings, hard-nosed developer Tara and drunken layabout Richie, make up the dysfunctional Pike family brood.

Over the course of this first volume I gained the distinct impression that the spectre of Tommy, as comforting a presence as he seems to be for all of the family members, is in fact the very thing that is holding them back from progressing with their current lives. Each are most definitely stuck in very different ways.

It’s most pronounced in the case of Richie, who sees Tommy at a contemporary post-passing age, another strange point in and of itself, and who talks to his late brother about the weekend booze benders and casino trips he want them to go on… future tense… Their mum sees Tommy as an older teenager, Patrick sees him as a young teen, Tara a slightly younger pre-adolescent boy and their father as a very young boy. Each of them converses with him as though it were the most normal thing in the world.

Though there is a very… perturbing… moment where Patrick does appear to momentarily glimpse all five incarnations, having been led by Tommy from the motel where he is staying to Tommy’s graveside. Were seeing the ghost of your dead brother not disturbing enough, surely seeing five different versions of him all stood together like they / he were posing for the oddest family snap ever would have you beginning to doubt your sanity?

Tommy in turn does have his own voice, he’s certainly no silent presence, providing us with some very insightful narrative commentary regarding his family and the nature of their individual attachments to him.

I read an interesting interview recently where Lemire was being quizzed as to the significance of him returning to contemporary fiction and whether, like his career-breakthrough ESSEX COUNTY, there were any autobiographical elements he’d recycled into the ROYAL CITY story. He said he liked to think of the character of Patrick as following his life story up to a point, that of achieving a degree of success with his first publication, then promptly, unlike himself, making every bad life choice he possibly could and having pretty much everything go wrong for him. He is the master of the melancholic, isn’t he, our Jeff?

The entirety of volume one is in many ways simply establishing the characters and setting their various, respective scenes of personal engagement, their familial points of connection but also their very distinct differences, of personality, opinion, pretty much everything. Lemire has commented that he is hoping this series could run from twenty to forty issues, and it’s easy to see how, because he’s given absolutely nothing away as yet, unless I’ve missed some vital clue, as to what is really going on. That is also the reason he chose to do ROYAL CITY as a series, rather than an original graphic novel like ROUGHNECK, to give the story and the characters chance to breathe and develop as he was writing.

Artistically, it’s back to full colour, exactly like the subdued yet surprisingly spectacular colour palette he employed in AFTER DEATH as opposed to the much more emotionally bleak primarily pale blues of ROUGHNECK, albeit dappled as they were with the very occasional splash of highly significant pigmentation.  Also, and it’s something I’ve probably noticed before but not commented on, Lemire’s art style really is perfect for making people look haggard and haunted, both metaphorically and phantasmagorically.  But are they really being haunted…? I genuinely have absolutely no idea. Volume two will, I suspect, bring some answers as to the true status of our deceased Pike, and I fear, considerably more conflict amongst the living ones.

JR

Buy Royal City vol 1: Next Of Kin s/c and read the Page 45 review here

‘Hammering the Anvil’

Quick introduction to avoid a whiplash of culture shock: the following review entitled ‘Hammering the Anvil’ was generously written for us by Dr. Matt Green, Associate Professor of Modern English Literature at Nottingham University (he retains its copyright, obviously). It is exceptional on every level. I have only illustrated it with images supplied by Matthew because to impose others seems to me slightly sacrilegious. Oh, okay, I needed another – Stephen

Nick Cave – Mercy On Me (Bookplate Edition) (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Reinhard Kleist.

I labour day and night, I behold the soft affections
Condense beneath my hammer into forms of cruelty
But still I labour in hope, tho’ still my tears flow down.
That he who will not defend Truth may be compelld to defend
A Lie: that he may be snared and caught and snared and taken
That Enthusiasm and Life may not cease: arise Spectre arise!

— William Blake, Jerusalem, pl. 9.

“Oh please, don’t sell me out”,
Said the man with the hammer,
Hammering the anvil
“I’ve been walking on the road of rocks,
And I keep on hammering,
Keep on hammering,
Keep on hammering,
Hammering the anvil.”

Shovelling the ashes
Chiseling the surface
Firing the furnace
Hammering the anvil.
Keep it on, keep it on, keep it on!
Hammering the anvil.

— The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, ‘Hammer Song’

Those listeners old and brave enough to have attended a bona fide Birthday Party gig might have been surprised when, in a 1996 Radio 3 Religious Services lecture, Nick Cave described the band’s violent interventions in the post-punk landscape by comparing himself to William Blake. But not, perhaps, if they were familiar with Blake’s darker side.

It is to Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that Cave turns: “to loosely paraphrase William Blake: I myself did nothing; I just pointed a damning finger and let the Holy Spirit do the rest”. Blake’s Marriage, a verbal and visual rebellion against economic and intellectual oppression, certainly enjoyed considerable currency in Cave’s own counter-cultural inheritance: Jim Morrison and W.H. Auden, to name but two, both seized upon that text’s celebration of sexual energy and imagination. But if The Marriage identifies the creative artist as a conduit for divine vision and voice, it is in prophecies such as Jerusalem where Blake explores the darker implications of linking the psycho-sexual outpourings of the artist to the creative destruction of biblical prophecy. Los — whose name is an anagram of ‘Sol’ — is for Blake the archetype of the fallen poet: a blacksmith charged with redeeming a fallen world whose guilt he shares. Los with his phallic hammer and fiery workshop becomes a metaphor for the artist who must first subdue his demons before seeking to liberate the world.

“EXPRESS YOURSELF!!! / EXPRESS YOURSELF!!!” Reinhard Kleist’s post-pubescent Cave screams early in this visionary biography, beating a mic stand against the skulls of his anointed “DONK / DONK / DONK”. This first chapter takes its title from ‘The Hammer Song’, released on The Good Son (1990) and, like the other four chapters — ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’, ‘And the Ass Saw the Angel’, ‘The Mercy Seat’ and ‘Higgs Boson blues’ — deploys the fictional world of its namesake as a narrative frame for Kleist’s astute retelling of iconic moments from Cave’s career. Those familiar with Ian Johnston’s Bad Seed (1996) and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s 20,000 Days on Earth (2014) will already be acquainted with the events depicted, while those coming at this material for the first time would do well to equip themselves for the journey by packing these works along with Cave’s extensive musical and literary back-catalogue. A word of warning: you will need a strong back.

Kleist’s choice of ‘The Hammer Song’ for chapter one unfolds into the sort of doubling effect that Blake associates with the two-fold vision of spiritual awakening. You see, Cave’s oeuvre includes not one, but two Hammer Songs. The Good Son version is narrated by a young man who flees his paternal homestead under the cover of darkness, then from the murderous citizens of a nameless city and finally arrives in a river where he drowns amidst visions of an angel who carries handfuls of snakes. Here the hammer is a gavel beating out the shape of the speaker’s doom. But four years earlier, Cave’s audience was treated to a very different ‘Hammer Song’ on Kicking Against the Pricks (1986). Kicking is an album of cover songs, many of which stood at loggerheads with Cave’s public persona and it tells us something about the paradoxical nature of covering  — these are covers that uncover Cave’s own sources— as well as the nature of creative reception. Whereas Harvey’s song establishes a metaphorical link between the songwriter and the blacksmith, the Bad Seed’s covers evoke the image of a balladeer looking back on his — or her — forefathers with an admixture of self-consciousness and rage. The artist seeks to cover the dead, to show them due respect but also to keep them buried, a task bound to failure because the poet in this day and age is not only a thief but a grave-robber.

Kleist’s rendition of Cave’s life and works is a cover in this sense. His Cave is the self-fashioned rock god that we see tramping through 20,000 Days, the man-god fashioned from the dreams of a boy who watches his father transformed by the recitations of Nabokov and Shakespeare. His energetic line whirls us from Cave’s boyhood memories all the way up to Push the Sky Away (2013). On the few occasions where Kleist’s visuals do allow the eye to pause — on a cob-webbed piano or a waiting electric chair — we are offered nothing less than the uncanny respite at the heart of a biblical whirlwind. If Kleist takes from Forsyth and Pollard a certain mythologising approach to biography and if certain panels reproduce iconic scenes from their film (note how the image of Cave at work on ‘Higgs Boson’ draws on the still used for the movie poster), his work foregrounds the extent to which their use of fiction to convey truth effectively replicates Cave’s own artistic practice as he describes it in the final scene of 20,000 Days:      

“What performance and song is to me is finding a way to tempt the monster to the surface. To create a space where the creature can break through what is real and what is known to us.

“This shimmering space, where imagination and reality intersect, this is where all love and tears and joy exist.  

“This is the place. This is where we live.”

Kleist builds upon the mythologising aspect of Cave’s self-presentations, developing the motif of Cave as a malign demiurge out of Cave’s own reflections concerning his relationship to the beings he creates: “And the more I write,” he tells us early in 20,000 Days, “the more detailed and elaborate the world becomes and all the characters that live and die or just fade away, they’re just crooked versions of myself”. One suspects that there might be something a little masochistic in the portrait of divine madness Kleist paints, though it manifests itself in homicidal compulsion. “For the record, I never killed Elisa Day”, Cave declares in the resounding endorsement of Mercy on Me featured on the back cover; but, this says nothing of the other bodies Kleist lays at his feet: the nameless speakers in ‘The Hammer Song’ and ‘The Mercy Seat’, as well as Euchrid Eucrow and Elisa Day.

The front cover, meanwhile, gets the carnival up and running, announcing Kleist’s willingness to launch himself into the danse macabre of Cave-world. The cover image is itself an adaptation of Cave’s public persona, another example of a fictional mask that lays bare the heart of its artificer: Kleist so loves his subject that he cannot help disfiguring him with his own brand of sacralising violence. The image depicts Cave dressed in the dark suit and white shirt characteristic of his stage performances, lurching sightlessly toward the reader. His absent eyes bind him to a romantic trope associating blindness with inner vision that stretches back to Oedipus, Tiresias and Milton, the poet who first deployed the phrase “red right hand” as a satanic metonym for Christ.

While this sense of artistic guilt is one part of Cave’s post-Romantic inheritance, so too is the hope that the material world can be transformed by the artist’s imagination into something that, if not perfect, is at least better. And this overlap between the fictional and the real is an effect well-suited to the comics medium, whose practitioners must delineate their worlds both visually and verbally. The comics artist who strives to depict historical truths in a literal manner, must forever take pains to separate the kernels of the real from the layers of cultural chaff that grow up around them. For those of a more literary bent, however, history’s tendency to bleed into story demonstrates the dialogic relationship between the worlds inside a book’s covers and those beyond them.

Visually — and also in its obsession with a present haunted by the past and vice versa — Mercy on Me bears an affinity to Warren Ellis and Marek Oleksicki’s Frankenstein’s Womb (2009) and to Jeff Lemire’s Essex County (2009). In its rumination on the performative dimension of art, however, as well as in its warren of meta-textual tunnels, Kleist’s Gothic wonderland closely recalls Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland. The first Cave biography in comics, a collaboration between Talbot and Cave that featured in Spin magazine’s, ‘Real Life Rock Tales’ (January 2003), was something of a gothic comedy-romance, complete with cake, a corpse dressed as a Christmas tree and teenage love by the river’s edge. Kleist’s own narrative, with its temporal disjunctions, doppelgängers and spiritual visitations, wears its gothic aesthetics with a straight face, more or less. But there is a dark — and dare I say cheeky — humour lurking in the interstice between Kleist’s work and its broader contexts; see, for example, the depiction of Cave in the grip of addiction coming upon a sheet of paper in his typewriter filled by the incessant repetition of a sentence straight out of the Stanley Hotel: “All work and no play makes Nick a dull boy”.

The appearance of Margaret Thatcher in the story world of ‘Jangling Jack’, gig posters and a Berlin wall decorated with graffiti, together with allusions to Franz Kafka and a shipwreck motif reminiscent of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, draw the reader into an imaginative engagement with wider political and cultural contexts. Kleist here asserts implicitly the bardic power and curse laid down for those contemporary artists bold enough to lay their necks on the line. For first and foremost, Kleist reminds us, these worlds he inks into existence were sung. We see this in the way he interweaves scenes from the recording studio and the stage into the unfolding of the song-stories and legends told by and about Cave; we see it too in the rhythmic tapping of Cave on his typewriter, forty-eight tiny hammers beating Euchrid Eucrow and all others of his kind into existence: “Tac / Tac / Tac”.

And we see it in the velocity of Kleist’s own lines, no more so than when their razor-sharp edges give way to smudges and smears. Indeed, there are pages without dialogue or sound effects where the scrape of pen and the swish of brush harmonise with the sound of imaginary whirlpools, pelting rain and the screams of a rock god dancing with a Charybdis. Spend too much time looking at any one panel and you may get sucked into a vortex that is also a rabbit hole, in which characters dream their creators and no one is in Kansas anymore.

Kleist’s work, like Cave’s, transforms and transports us, removing us to a world in which creativity itself is as addictive and dangerous as heroine: observe the panels in which Cave injects ink into the obsidian network of his veins and arboresces over his Seiko Silverette, hands morphing into roots that draw sustenance from the leaves of typescript strewn across the floor of his Berlin bedroom.

 

The repeated emphasis on the materiality, the fecundity, of novels, of comics, of music and of speech draws us back to the truth that words and pictures are things that have a reciprocal relationship with the world into which they are spawned.

Kleist does well to direct our gaze toward the significant others — the lovers, friends and bandmates who collaborate in Cave’s visionary madness. And that adorns the back cover, which depicts Cave grasping one outstretched palm in a field of upraised hands, evokes something of the tactility with which his audience receives him in concert.

Nevertheless, the final page of Kleist’s narrative presents Cave alone, retreating from the stage, while the endpaper treats us to a gorgeous and atmospheric portrait of Cave traversing an empty street in the snow. These images humanise Cave — for who hasn’t dabbled in the iconography of the lone prophet crying in the wilderness: “I alone, even I”. And yet, what these portraits mask is the way that the universalising aspect of Cave’s work — that bit of it that bites into the heart-flesh of his fans — depends on his attempts to both lose and find himself in the midst of some larger organism: a band, an audience.

The stories of the boy racing toward the thunder of an oncoming locomotive or dancing alone behind a locked door — stories Cave himself has a predilection for recounting — give only part of the picture. What we don’t see in such portraits is the singer who doesn’t simply clasp the hands of a chosen one, but dives into the crowd. What the figure of the blind prophet precludes is the moment of mutual recognition when you are standing in the front row and your eyes meet his, when you see Cave seeing you. Elsewhere in the text, Kleist shows us just enough of the collaborative dimension of Cave’s world-building to suggest that when our demiurge walks offstage alone, this is but one stroke of the pendulum.

The Christian concept of mercy is orientated around the startling idea that God might willingly trade places with human beings — Christ suffers and dies so that we have a shot at immortality. Deification is a collaborative and consensual process; it depends on communion. Kleist has given us a beautiful grotesquery of poetic truths. This is a delightful book that richly complements existing iterations of the Cave mythos. But if you actually want to feel the beat of the hammer in your blood, to partake in the apocalyptic act of god-making that Kleist delineates so masterfully, well, that will require some concert-going.

Ecce homo.

Dr. Matt Green
Associate Professor of Modern English Literature,
Nottingham University

Buy Nick Cave – Mercy On Me (Bookplate Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Edward Madigan is dead, Simon.”
“What happened?”
“There was an accident. He was on an E.V.A. when his space suit… vented.”
“Jesus…”
“The company needs to make sure they have a full understanding of events. With all this unrest between Earth and the colony on Theta… they’re being overly cautious. Between you and me, it’s a formality. A rubber stamp job.”
“Marshall…”
“But it pays one hundred thousand.”
“You gotta find another contractor.”
“Look, I know there are… issues. But like I said… it’s a rubber stamper. We head out, you do a once-over, sign off on how he died…”
“He shot me four times and married my ex-wife. I don’t give a shit why his suit vented.”
“I’m giving you a chance to make a hundred grand off it. Schadenfreude is underrated, Simon. Think about it.”

What Marshall has neglected to mention is that Simon’s ex-wife, Annabelle, is also on the space ship that Simon will shortly be heading for to ‘investigate’ Edward’s death. Both Simon and Edward used to be cops, back in Seattle, in fact Edward was Simon’s boss… Well, at least until he started banging his wife, then he kindly transferred him to another division… In retrospect, though, breaking into their house to look for the engagement ring that used to belong to his mother – which Annabelle wouldn’t give back out of pure spite – wasn’t the smartest thing to do. That’s the sort of behaviour that gives someone the excuse they’ve just been waiting for to shoot you four times. Even if that sort of excessive response can get you pensioned off the force to hush it all quiet…

It is, of course, nowhere near as simple as that, as Simon will find when he joins up with the survey ship Hadrian’s Wall and its crew way out in deep space. For a start, the rapidly heating up new Cold War between Earth and its biggest colony, Theta, has got everyone twitchy, and it’s abundantly clearly to Simon that everyone on board seems to be hiding something from him. If he had any sense he’d do his rubber stamp duty, collect his 100K and head back to Earth to keep popping his painkillers, but the cop in him can’t help but want to get to the bottom of what really happened, not least because he suspects Annabelle is responsible for Edward’s death.

It is, of course, nowhere near as simple as that!

Excellent vacuum-packed piece of police procedural work all wrapped up in lovely shiny science fiction foil. And no, I’m not referring to a particularly bizarre variant cover, thank goodness. Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel have crafted a very tense whodunit here, which even when the culprit has been finally revealed still has secrets galore to give up in rather painful fashion. Simon, grappling with his own not inconsiderable demons from the onset – as are laid excruciatingly bare for us to empathise with, including an extreme dependency on the pain killers he took to after getting shot – rapidly finds his psychological problems accelerating to escape velocity as parties unknown take it upon themselves to flush his stash into space.

 

Once Edward, clad in his battered space suit, starts making hallucinatory appearances, pro-offering advice like Hopkirk, of Randall and Hopkirk (deceased), well, it all starts to make the process of deductive reasoning rather more difficult. Wittering ghosts are somewhat of a distraction whilst trying to crack a case, indeed just avoid cracking up, I would imagine. Still, he’s nothing but persistent our Edward, shame he didn’t try so hard on his marriage years previously… something Annabelle is only too happy to point out to him, repeatedly. You’d have thought being in the frame for her husband’s murder with her ex-husband having the power to send her down might make her tongue somewhat less acerbic, but no. Maybe he wasn’t entirely to blame…

Rod Reis simply excels on art duty. Lovely sharp linework and some great little touches are his trademark. His facial expressions are a real strong point too. He manages to make Annabella look like she has the veritable zero Kelvin perma-frost of a demeanour throughout, particularly where Edward is concerned.

This trio of Higgins, Siegel and Reis has worked together before to excellent effect on the sadly short-lived but rather splendid two book C.O.W.L. non-superhero superhero crime series, also on Image. As Stephen commented in his review of the first volume of that series, there’s a sublime touch of Bill Sienkiewicz in Reis’ work. Complete in one volume, this will chill you right to the end…

JR

Buy Hadrian’s Wall and read the Page 45 review here

The Beautiful Death #1 (£4-99, Titan) by Mathieu Bablet.

Oh, this is ever so French!

It’s not so much the poor lone man with the haunted eyes staring out over the lifeless concrete city, weeping inconsolably. For himself, I suspect.

I can’t say that I blame him. It’s been four years or so of unbroken solitary… what’s the opposite of confinement? Sometimes four small walls must seem a mercy.

It’s all there before him, stretching endlessly, emptily, dirtily and a bit broken.

What else is there to do other than rock on a chair, mind-numb, or roam the echoing avenues, passing abandoned communal play areas, unattended gardens, crashed cars and lank electricity lines?

It’s as desolate and derelict as an empty outdoor municipal swimming pool – with some of the same, lame, tiny mosaic tiles.

See tiny tiles on stairwell he’s walking down – swimming pool, no? – Stephen

There are small trails of encroaching vegetation in the cracked concrete. I bet the buddleias got there first – they’re the worst.

Eventually he finds himself back at his equally unpopulated apartment with its lo-tech radio & car battery attached, calling out to anyone else who isn’t there. No reply, obviously.

It wasn’t zombies, by the way. It was the insects.

“I just can’t get rid of it. That taste of ash in my mouth.
“It reminds me… Reminds me of those Wednesday afternoons.
“My mother would take me over to Mrs. Jones for her madeleines. She was terrifying. So were the madeleines.”

Okay, so that’s pretty French.

“Burnt to ash. Just like any love for my dad still left in my mother’s heart.”

Bit of a downer!

“Sadly, for the culinary world, the gentle Mrs. Jones perished in a tragic mishap at the zoo, determined to save a poor adventurous child from the hands of a rutting orang-utan.”

No, what’s so French about this are the three bickering idiots who “supersede” him.

I don’t want to spoil the moment for you, but even his exit is French. Too funny!

There’s Jeremiah, the shouty one with spiky blonde hair like some escapee from NARUTO; stern leader Wayne who has set rules and demands discipline except from Soham who doesn’t seem to give a shit about anyone or anything anymore. Soham seems to have lost all sense of humanity or connection to it. Although he still looks both ways before crossing a road, even though there hasn’t been any traffic for years.

 

They scour the shops and loot every can that they can. Cans are all that’s left. And even they have their sell-by dates.

“Four years… according to this can that’s all we have left.”
“Say what?”
“We never talk about it, but no matter how you cut it, the days on these cans are our expiration date too.”

There appear to be no viable crops and no edible animals. Although insects are edible, aren’t they? There are an awful lot of those.

It’s very much two against one: they almost abandon Jeremiah at one point.

It’s a very quiet comic. Even the “incident” is more of a situation, simply presented to us without any preceding narrative or the most obvious dramatic action that would have got us all going.

The rescue goes unacknowledged. Instead they stand there in silence, in the needle-sharp rain under coloured umbrellas – very French.

Other roof-top, table-top umbrellas blow poetically away in the squall.

That’s some seriously lovely rain, that is.

SLH

Buy The Beautiful Death #1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

That’s a pretty impressive line-up and it’s only scratching the surface. A quick glance down the credits shows 40-odd contributors with one to three pages each.

Anyway, I’ve been on holiday this week, so for once I’ll let the publisher speak before adding a few choice words myself because this was very well written:

“Pollsters called it a foregone conclusion. Columnists said Theresa May’s snap general election wouldn’t just return her a thumping majority in the House of Commons it would plunge the Opposition into existential crisis. For Labour MPs, concerns about job security in an age of zero-hours contracts suddenly felt uncomfortably close to home.

“And then something happened. Momentum got to work. Grime4Corbyn gathered steam. Clicktivists became door-knocking, flag-waving activists. Jezza talked jam on the One Show and opened for the Libertines at Prenton Park. All this while Theresa turned into the Maybot and the Conservatives released a manifesto that looked bad for people and even worse for animals.

“Islington-dwelling socialist, bike-riding pacifist, green-fingered threat to the status quo: this revolutionary anthology captures the qualities and quirks of the Daily Mail’s worst nightmare.”

The Guardian wrote:

“In one incarnation, he is Corbyn the Barbarian, facing off against the Maydusa. In another, Corbynman leaves his ‘mild mannered allotment of solitude’ to take on the ‘inter-dimensional invasion fleet of Daily Mail death drones blasting everything with their Tory food bank rays’ with a rallying battle cry of ‘jam on!’. Just in time for the Labour party conference, an unlikely superhero is preparing to take his place alongside the likes of Spider-Man and Wonder Woman: Jeremy Corbyn.”

SelfMadeHero’s Sam wrote:

“Just back from the Labour Conference, where many people took the comic too seriously (the cult of Corbyn! Infantalisation! Nonsense!) but many more got the joke.”

Sam’s such a lovely!

You’re probably no longer reading this so I’m going to feel free to add my two cents’ worth. Not about Theresa Dismay who’s transparently such a “liar, liar, liar”, but about Corbyn who can be equally disingenuous.

Oh, I’m a huge Corbyn fan. Proudly Socialist, me, and Jezza genuinely cares. He has a heart of gold, the lacerating quick wit of a stand-up comedian and the oratory of an angel when he’s not being an unnecessarily old grumpy-goat. I’d happily vote for every one of his policies… except Brexit.

See, the thing is, Corbyn was always in favour of Brexit, so he “somehow” “inconveniently” lost his voice during the Brexit campaign (mislaid down the back of the sofa where he knew he could find it immediately during the General Election campaign) and has since been all too happy to let this most horrifically expensive, economically disastrous, culturally catastrophic and completely counter-productive grudge go unchecked because dear Wedgie Benn (he is adored!) once wanted to leave Europe too (in this he was flawed!).

And that’s all this is for the Britons who bought into Brexit: a decades-old grudge against Europe based on Daily Mail lies that straight bananas would be mandatory (they never were, were they?) and the Continent wanted to mess about with our cheese or something.

So, you know, that’s what I mean by disingenuous.

I’d quite like an Opposition, please.

Still, always end on a high note and if you think renationalising Fractured Rail is going to be expensive (you cannot have a transport or environmental policy without a nationalised British Rail) then have you even seen the Brexit bills so far? And Europe’s proposed costs for quitting…?

Just think of all the money we could have poured into the NHS hahahahahahaha! *sobs*

Hey, this comic is one long review of Jeremy Corbyn, so I’m only joining in.

[Strips shown by Richard Dearing, Martin Rowson, Louis Netter & Olly Gruner in that order. Brexit Chart not included in comic – ed.]

SLH

Buy The Corbyn Comic Book and read the Page 45 review here

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

No interior art online!

None whatsoever at the time of typing.

This is a visual medium and this is a silent comic.

It’s quite a beautiful silent comic too, told in grey tone and clean, graceful, pencils which don’t seek to hide their initial sketch marks.

But there is no interior art online whatsoever. Brilliant.

Accordingly I will be brief.

Revisiting a modernised New York Upper West Side, a man of a certain age reminisces about his childhood in the 1950s or ‘60s. If his father at first seems to be an affable, respectable and much loved if always-absent suited and booted businessman, his mother is a complete bitch and bully. When she’s not sloshing vodka down her grimacing gullet, she’s out shopping in the most expensive department stores while the family’s black, live-in housemaid looks after the young, bespectacled tyke, lavishing him with love and furnishing him with pocket money from her own meagre wages. She even buys him comics, which his mother delights in tearing to pieces right in front of him. Oh there is glee in her eyes, and a truly wicked smile.

The boy’s nanny takes him to visit her friends and relatives, one of whom is an army veteran. They are all smashing and provide more nurture for the lad in one afternoon than his parents combined over the first ten years of his life.

I’d go on, but I cannot see the point. I’m not going to sell any copies online with no art to show you, am I?

For from the first but final warning: publishers, if there is no interior art online, I won’t even bother with a few cursory paragraphs like this. It should not be up to me to write to you.

PS The father proves himself to be a complete monster too.

SLH

Buy Josephine 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’.

Archangel h/c (£18-99, Other A-Z) by William Gibson & Butch Guice

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

Fred The Clown: The Iron Duchess (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Roger Langridge

Katzine: The Guatemala Issue (£5-50, self-published) by Katriona Chapman

M.F.K. h/c (£16-99, Insight Comics) by Nilah Magruder

Morton: A Cross-Country Rail Journey (£17-99, Conundrum Press) by David Collier

Outcast vol 5: The New Path s/c (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta

Samaris s/c (£17-99, IDW) by Benoit Peeters & Francois Schuiten

Screwed (£5-99, Adhouse Books) by Konstantin Steshenko

The Visitor: How And Why He Stayed (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Paul Grist

Walking Dead: Here’s Negan! (£17-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

We Found A Hat s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Jon Klassen

Batman: Detective Comics vol 3: League Of Shadows s/c (Rebirth) (£17-99, DC) by James Tynion IV & Marcio Takara, various

Poison Ivy: Cycle Of Life And Death s/c (£14-99, DC) by Amy Chu & various

Doctor Strange vol 4: Mr. Misery (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Kathryn Immonen, Robbie Thompson & Frazer Irving, Chris Bachalo, Kevin Nowlan, Leonardo Romero, Jonathan Marks Barravecchia

Thor vol 1: The Goddess Of Thunder s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman, Jorge Molina

Thor vol 2: Who Holds The Hammer? s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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