Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November 2017 week four

Bryan Talbot, Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss, Thierry Labrosse, Nick Tapalansky, Anissa Espinosa, Benjamin Reiss, Simone Lia, Warren Ellis, Jason Masters.

Grandville vol 5: Force Majeure (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Bryan Talbot.

“Keep clear of the badger: for he bites.”

 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘The Sign Of The Four

“Terrific!” is a singularly British outburst of unequivocal approval triggered by a tremendous accomplishment or experience that is colossally good fun. And this is truly terrific!

Among the series’ most vocal, high-profile fans are Ian Rankin and Philip Pullman.

FORCE MAJEURE is the fifth and final GRANDVILLE graphic novel from Bryan Talbot. Like his equally epic LUTHER ARKWRIGHT, it is steampunk in nature and scathing in its socio-political critiques; but its anthropomorphic execution allows for a great deal of fun and many a pun alongside the visual wit and dexterity that Talbot deploys in combining some of the beasts’ aspects with those of fictional characters or real-life figures. In GRANDVILLE: NOEL, for example, we were presented with the hate-mongering, far-right religious leader and repugnant bigot Nicholas – a boss-eyed gryphon who looked just like Nick Griffin.




On a lighter note, here we have East End mob boss Stanley Cray (a crayfish, yes – and he had a twin) slapping down his deputy Chaz:

“Leave it out, Chaz, you bleedin’ pilchard!”

Chaz is indeed a bipedal pilchard.

Similarly, the police informant is a (stool) pigeon, you’ll briefly spy “Mutton” Jeff and I still haven’t gotten over the first volume’s appearance of Tintin’s innocent and faithful hound Snowy making a cameo appearance as an opium addict.

Like Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, these books are ram-packed with such sly, hidden references to make you chortle upon discovery, from wall-hung paintings as straight forward as Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’ to a subtly satirical Stubbs and an elaborately recreated yet appositely altered version of Millais’ ‘Ophelia’. Top points if you spot a heavily disguised photographic portrait of Sir Winston Churchill. Strictly speaking – this being Victorian England – it’s a daguerreotype, but since the setting is steampunk, Talbot has come up with “pneumail”, “lumierescopes” and in place of public phone boxes there are street-side “voicepipes” to avail yourself of. Wait until you see the sort of fiendish arsenal which this less technologically evolved world’s version of James Bond’s Q invents for LeBrock!



Ummm… that isn’t Q’s!

It’s a furious finale which will come at great personal cost for some of the cast – it is by far the most vicious in the series, so although the first four should be okay for most early teens I would strongly consider caution here – and for it Talbot has pulled out all the stops and many a late hour labouring over a fulsome 160 full-colour pages which took four 10-hour days each to complete… on top of the script. All unfinished threads from previous instalments are woven together and tied up by the end, along with several you’d never realised were still dangling. In addition, substantial chunks of LeBrock’s, Billie’s and ruthless, sadistic, crime-empire builder Tiberius Koenig’s most formative years are finally divulged, informing both what has already happened and what will come to pass.



The foreshadowing is phenomenal.

For Detective Inspector Archie LeBrock the most cherished memories are the years he spent being mentored in observation, quick-thinking and ratiocination by Stamford Hawksmoor (now retired) a Holmesian figure played here to perfection by dear Basil Rathbone.



We – and LeBrock’s pregnant fiancée Billie – are treated to an entire murder mystery investigated in meticulous detail over dozens of pages from start to finish by the pair many moons ago, and not only is it as devious as the main event, it will prove vital to LeBrock’s strategy in extricating himself from the nightmare scenario he soon finds himself trapped in, and confronting the overwhelming odds stacked against him.

At its heart lies this speech by Stamford, delivered with blazing eyes and impassioned eloquence on the subject of chess:

“It will train your mind in concentration, logical consequences and imaginative extrapolation – the ability to think ahead.
“Just imagine! You have to consider every single piece on the board before each and every move – and in as many moves in advance as you can.
“Whenever possible, you can force moves, put your opponent in a position of having no choice. That way you know what the next move is and can plan accordingly.”



LeBrock learned his lessons well; unfortunately Tiberius Koenig, last seen vowing vengeance, plays precisely this way too. Precisely.

We begin late at night in an opulent, art nouveau restaurant called Les Fruits De Mer. It serves fish. No, really, I mean that in both senses: it serves fish to fish. The cooks and waiters are aquatic too. It’s all a bit decadent, don’t you think? Amongst the seafood on offer is lobster, being chowed-down on by other, elderly crustaceans, their pigmentation presented like liver spots.



The very first page is such an impressive eye-popper that you’ll be pining for more A4 efforts but there’s so much story for you here that there seriously isn’t the room. Lobsters sit cramped in a tank, waiting to be boiled, their claws bound: predators suppressed into being prey; violence for now contained but with the threat of being unleashed.



A lobster’s crusher claw can exert the same pressure as a dog’s bite force, just under a half that of a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s jaw…

Violence is immediately unleashed on Les Fruits De Mer from Gatling guns concealed in lorries drawing up on an empty street right outside its shell-shaped front windows, thousands of rounds shattering plate glass then tearing into fish-flesh. Health and Safety will be taking a dim view.




The restaurant belongs to Stanley Cray, four weeks out of prison; small iridescent plumes found at the crime scene suggest rival crime lord Harry Feather’s kingfisher enforcers. Retaliation is inevitable, merciless, personal and swift, but something just doesn’t stack up, including LeBrock’s assignation to the case: he’s too personally involved, for Stanley Cray’s brother killed LeBrock’s wife and witnessed the whole thing himself. Reporters somehow manage to evade the police cordon to witness a murderous LeBrock threatening Stanley Cray with retribution and by morning it’s national front-page news.

Well, that’s not something to get too ruffled about: LeBrock’s upper-class Commander can smooth things over with the press’s publishers – they all went to Eton together – if only LeBrock keeps a low profile for a day or two.

But so far all you’ve seen is but an opening, low-level gambit. Individual pieces are now in all the right places for someone to start making the more serious moves.



No one is above suspicions here: there are so many moles and rats that you’ll never know who’s playing whom. Even LeBrock’s immediate superior, Chief Inspector Stoatson, has personal motives for bringing about LeBrock’s downfall: he’s well aware of how wretchedly feckless and incompetent he is, and was constantly humiliated by Hawksmoor in front of Archie during training. Much is made of class too, for no one is promoted above plod-level if unconnected, and in spite of his exceptional talent and success LeBrock was subjected to an extra, live, on-the-hoof observational and deductive examination by a board stacked with Brigadiers and other assorted aristocrats. It’s designed to discredit and humiliate him, but you will punch the air when our working-class badger doesn’t just pass with colours so flying they’re positively stratospheric, but turns the tables with an alacrity and aplomb that is ingenious.

As well as enormously satisfying, this is all part of the foreshadowing that lends complete credibility to LeBrock’s prowess in the present and the same can be said of Billie.



Speaking of our happy couple – due to be married this coming fortnight – notice how, although they’re both badgers, their fur is markedly different in texture; hers smooth as silk, his coarser, more tufted and whiskered. That might even be a beard. He’s aging a bit too, perhaps a little tired, his eyes more mellow in love.

It’s easy to see how each page could require the equivalent of a full working week from pencils to inks and a digital painting process whose potentially unlimited elaboration could tempt a perfectionist like Talbot to stick at it for even longer. The background details, both line and colour, are frankly ridiculous – he does love his fine art and William Morris wallpaper, does Bryan.

On the other hand, he was brought up on Leo Baxendale cartoon comedy and even in the heat of the most dramatic action he is far from averse to some cross-eyed slapstick reminiscent, like the pun-tastic wordplay, of Ronnie Barker.

The era is captured with notions of living in sin, closeted homosexuality and its discreet signals for preference and availability still flourishing today if you know your handkerchief dress-code. Then the age is given a steampunk spike with a background gas tower, albeit with a Victorian wrought-iron flourish. Such attention to detail!



More comedy comes in the form of Tiberius Koenig’s contemplation of what would have happened had Napoleon not won the battle of Waterloo on page forty-two, right down to individual decisions that ensured that he did. (He didn’t; he did here!) But perhaps the funniest of all jokes in this fond farewell is the recurrent appearance of easily intimidated and stuttering Byron Turbot, ghost-writer and hack of crime-fiction pap published as Sixty-Centime Dreadfuls.

“Why, don’t you see? I could write yours! Just think! A whole series of Detective Inspector LeBrock stories! They make a lot of dosh, you know.”
“Get out of it! Go on, sod off!”



Turbot scampers away, dignity in tatters, as LeBrock kicks him up the arse.


He’s very persistent, though, is Turbot. He’ll make something of himself one day, you’ll see.


Buy Grandville vol 5: Force Majeure and read the Page 45 review here

Cast No Shadow (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Nick Tapalansky & Anissa Espinosa.

“We only have so much of our youth left. We’re going to make sure it’s misspent.”

Haha! That’s dear Lyla, an early-teen force of nature and Greg’s best friend who isn’t featured on the cover but will instead punch her way to your hearts with her no-nonsense, forthright directness. Her Dad’s a retired boxer, and she likes hitting things. Even shadows – even Greg’s shadow. Only, Greg doesn’t have a shadow – he was born without one.

Sorry…? Greg most definitely has a shadow. He just can’t see it yet.

A haunted (and in places haunting) Young Adult graphic novel, this is highly recommended to those who love Andi Watson for his brilliant, broad-brush and highly expressive cartooning (see YA / Young Readers’ GLISTER etc.) or to any of us who need reminding that self-involved anger can be blind, careless and have consequences for others who so very often do not deserve it.

It doesn’t look like that sort of a book, does it?

In many ways it isn’t: it’s fun, funny and ever so clever when it comes to the ghostly goings-on; and if you are a wee bit puzzled by the dual narrators’ curiously disruptive role over the first dozen pages (seeming to add little but confusion), a second reading – once you realise who they actually are and remembering what you’ve seen transpire over the course of the adventure – will have you grinning your heads off at its new fluidity and sense-making. Clue: one of the argumentative duo speaks in dialogue boxes coloured a luminous grey, the other’s contains white writing on black.

So, wherever were we?

Greg grew up in a town called Lancaster in the US of A. Everyone could see he cast no shadow, but no one minded at all except for deliriously vacuous school mate Jake. Jake decided that Greg was a vampire and tried every trick in the book (and under the blatantly blazing hot sun) to expose him.

“Holy water.
“Garlic. You name it, he used it.
“All I got was wet and smelly.
“And splinters.”

The last panel there is a delicious piece of un-signposted, visual slapstick comedy relying on your knowledge of vampiric folklore and fear of opening strategically stacked school lockers.

That was too much for Layla who sprang angrily and forcefully to Greg’s defence:

“He. Is. A. Beautiful. And. Unique.”

You recall she likes hitting things, right? Poor Jake!

“They both got detention. He got a broken nose. And a concussion, apparently, because after that he wanted to be best buds.”

And Jake does want to be best buddies: he genuinely does. Over and again throughout this graphic novel the otherwise self-regarding, self-aggrandizing, flirtatious, proud and preening (but, to be honest, exceptionally pretty so you can’t really blame him) Jake makes space in his otherwise massive ego to praise, promote and coddle up to Greg, but Greg bears too much of a grudge to forgive and forget.

He’s angry at Jake, so he’s angry at Jake’s Dad who has risen to Lancaster’s mayor, so he’s angry at all the imported gimmicks which Jake’s Dad has so successfully promoted the town with: The World’s Largest Ketchup Bottle, The World’s Largest Wardrobe, The World’s Largest Paper Clip and now The World’s Largest Hairball which is gargantuan and going on improbably coughed-up display right now! He’s even annoyed at Miss Star and her Psychic Sing-Along, even though she’s a veteran resident.

“Do you hear singing? I don’t hear singing.”

Obviously this sweet little old lady is a fraud. Obviously.

No, Greg is immune to Jake’s undoubted charms. But Layla is not. So there’s his best friend now going out with his perceived worst enemy and getting in the way of their friendship, even though both of them invite him in to share their time together. Greg is furious.

Except that it’s Greg who is getting in the way of friendship.

Did I mention that his mother had died? She had a heart attack three years ago, and Greg misses her terribly. His Dad doesn’t appear to: his Dad has fallen in love with local restoration artist and historian Ruth, and she’s about to move in. Ruth is a lovely. She is thoughtful, spirited, easy-going, understanding and solicitous. But Greg is furious.

He’s mean-spirited and furious.

But then Layla takes Greg to a massive old mansion, dilapidated and beyond the outskirts of town. It is said that, eighty or so years ago, its Old Man Turner lost the plot and murdered his wife and child before killing himself. Certainly it is haunted, for those who have sought to steal things from it have found a lingering spirit shaking the whole house from its very foundations.

Instead it is full of its original prized joys like gramophones, music boxes, vases and very best chairs. They’re a bit the worse for wear, but it’s almost as if someone still lives there.

Someone does: the ghost of a young girl called Eleanor. She is bright and beautiful, kind and considerate, but only Jake can see her. Only Jake can hear her. Jake is overjoyed and smitten by a young puppy-love, but Eleanor is trapped in the house and can never leave.

What do you think this all means?

Not one word I have typed is random or extraneous. And that is the joy of this exceptionally clever comic for Young Adults upwards.

Yes, ever-upwards, I hope.


Buy Cast No Shadow and read the Page 45 review here

4 Kids Walk Into A Bank (£13-99, Black Mask) by Matthew Rosenberg & Tyler Boss…

“Maybe he went to make sure they leave you alone.”
“Maybe he went there to kill them!
“I don’t think he went there to kill them.”
“Like your idea makes so much more sense.”
“It does, actually.”

Given this conversation is taking place between Lance Cardinal Death – “a war priest cursed to fight for all of time by Mister Satan” – and Bae K’Won – “the last warrior of his planet for peace, lost in timespace” – whilst Franky Barbarian – “ruler of the bravest gang in Neo-Chernobyl” – and M.A.D.A.M. Destructrix 7 – “a lady robot built to make all humans die” – help deal with the horde of zombie brownshirts causing havoc in the city centre, you could be forgiven for not realising it is actually about precisely why Paige’s dad went of his own volition to have a seemingly civilised conversation in a diner with four bank robbers, fresh out of jail after long stretches, who recently turned up menacingly at their door before being warned off at gunpoint.

When the penny finally drops with Paige, that in fact these are old mates of her dad, who did him a major solid by keeping him out of jail years ago so he could single-handedly raise her, and now they have come to collect by enlisting him for one last big get-out score, she decides to take the only sensible course of action possible to stop him. By robbing the bank first…

So all she needs to do is organise her own very motley crew of kids into a well-drilled heist team, plus keep the not-so-bad guys at bay with a crazy selection of diversionary tactics. Oh, did I forget to mention her uncle is a cop? A very good detective as it happens… Fortunately her friends, after some relentless one-girl peer-group pressuring, decide they are up to the challenge, and what ensues is one of the most hilariously catastrophic crime capers I’ve read in years. Strategy sessions frequently take place during online gaming sessions such as the one above as they try and play out various scenarios through the medium of their favourite video games.

Stylistically and also in terms of the sheer madcap feel of it all, this strongly reminded me of Matt Fraction’s HAWKEYE, possibly not least because the not-so-bad guys made me think of the endless, calamitously incompetent “Bro”s which Clint had to continually contend with. There’s always that sense of not when is it going to go wrong, just how horrifically bad is it going to be?! The art itself has a wonderful slapstick sense of nonsensical fun combined with a colour palette that somehow manages the neat trick of being both simultaneously subdued and garishly lurid.

So… will Paige and her chums pull off their fantastical felony and ensue a happy ending for all concerned? Well, surely there was one thing that was drilled into most of us as kids (well, those that didn’t have a bank robber for a parent) that is about as universal a truth as there is: crime does not pay!

Crime comics on the other hand… KERCHING!


Buy 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank and read the Page 45 review here

Ab Irato h/c (£22-99, Lion Forge) by Thierry Labrosse…

“Now back to the news in Montreal. For three days now, Viger Square has been under rebel occupation. The group calls itself “The Bastards Of God” and their spokesman has claimed that it is just the beginning.”
“What is this crap?! War’s breaking out in the centre of town?!”
“Be quiet! Listen.”
“Their manifesto includes the demand that the Jouvex treatment be made available to all sick children… Ever since the controversy of Little Uji, polls show a growing anger at what is perceived as the authorities’ ineptitude… as there is little question that her death could have been avoided.”
“What more will it take? How many more like Uji will have to die until those assholes do something?! It’s sickening.”
“I know. But that’s life, Leon. We haven’t seen the end of this; there will always be those considered expendable…”

ndeed. But given the Jouvex company, with their bold slogan “Soon, Eternal” is owned by the megalomaniac Norton – who is only interested in selling his lifespan extending vaccine treatment to the very select few of the population that can possibly afford the ridiculous price tag — I can’t see Jouvex indulging in such charitable, compassionate largesse any time soon. Certainly not within the 200 years that the Jouvex treatment is currently allowing people to live, provided they keep up their payments, of course…



No, especially not given Norton had the original inventor Dr. Simon Gomar murdered to have it all to himself. Gomar suspected something was going to happen, though, and managed to destroy his perfected formula, leaving only the early stage research notes for Norton to piece together an inferior version from. Which is the reason why, some twenty-six years later, the efficacy of the commercial Jouvex vaccine is showing some disturbing signs of beginning to fail…



Set against the backdrop of considerable social unrest in what is already a mildly dystopian society, struggling with elevated sea levels, a damaged climate and a staggering wealth gap between the very small number of ‘haves’ and the infinitely more numerous ‘have-nots’, Montreal is the proverbial fizzing powder keg getting ready to blow. Indeed, the Latin title of this work translates as ‘from anger’, which is highly appropriate, though I suspect its usage in civil law is the author’s specific intent, where the meaning is of a gift or bequest given with adverse intentions due to anger felt towards the recipient…



It blows, by the way. The powder keg that is Montreal. Getting caught up in the fisticuffs and fireworks are new boy in town Riel, and his considerably more savvy, burgeoning crush Neve, who takes him under her streetwise wing. There’s also a mysterious lady in trenchcoat and shades, a couple of honest police officers, plus some corporate katana-wielding, star-slinging ninjas and a fair few other oddball characters in this tremendous piece of speculative fiction with its central premise that is very probably going to become reality in the not too distant future.



Ask yourself the question: do you really think if scientists find a way to massively extend the lifespan of a human being it will be made available to all? No, it’ll most likely be used to further tighten the grip that the one percent has on this planet and its resources, including everyone else. In perpetuity. Just a cheery thought for you.



Moving on… given how beautiful the ligne claire artwork is from Québécois creator Theirry Labrosse, there was the slight fear in my mind, as there is with all such gorgeous ‘Euro-books’, that does the quality of the story compare? It does, and Labrosse throws in a nice couple of curve balls – which is très tricky and more than a little bit dangerous with solid steel Boules, let me tell you – and keeps it as gripping as a multinational corporation holding onto their taxes, right up to the eminently satisfying denouement.


Buy Ab Irato vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Without realising it, I started the job making a huge mistake.”

If you’re at all interested in Japanese culture or everyday life, as seen by a gaijin (outsider) but one who lived there for six years, then this may prove fascinating. If you’re interested in the process of making Japanese comics as part of a studio, then this will prove riveting.

I don’t necessarily mean as part of a great big publishing corporation like Kodansha, although Reiss does try to get his foot in that hallowed door, secures an appointment, is given an assessment and later a guided tour round the entire building. All of that you’ll be privy to, so there’s a big bonus, and Reiss never skimps on the visual details while keeping it all uncluttered and crisp, partly through the art of successfully deploying grey tone and yellow ochre. I won’t tell you how the critique goes, but here are some Kodansha Building stats:

“26 floors above ground, 2 floors below ground, directly linked to the subway.”

So that’s a thing. Also: 550,000 square feet, enormous library, vast archives, Japanese garden (inside) and a dormitory with bunk beds. Yes, a dormitory with bunk beds, which brings us back to the studios.



Eddie Campbell has at times produced comics in a studio fashion with the likes of Pete Mullins and Ilya providing inks, backgrounds or full art in ALEC, BACCHUS and FROM HELL with Pete Mullins occasionally providing a little playful, subversive sabotage. It’s not a cheat or a cop-out: studios have been honoured institutions for centuries in the Fine Art world, and all three of those oeuvres are deservedly much cherished classics. In Japan the system is nigh-ubiquitous because the deadlines are punishing, the workload horrific and each studio set-up, process and working environment can prove radically different. This Reiss discovers to his sleep-deprived cost. It is not uncommon to end up crashing out there and then on site – although he could probably have done with a little warning.



But if you imagine that it’s all slog and no slay, one of his mangakas insists on Reiss breaking from creating in order to join in their handheld online game-play for hours and hours… and, oh look, the deadline looms even larger. You’ll encounter some crazy stuff and Reiss is very good at warning you when it’s about to go horribly wrong well in advance, so ramping up the tension.



He also comes a cropper of Japanese work requirements for maintaining his VISA – but finds an ingenious loophole to prolong his stay – meets some other bizarre gaijin, takes up the Taiko, relishes the traditions of the local Sento (Japanese bath house), discovers a nasty streak of overt, unashamed racism there, gets spat on by a kid, finds a job as a coach / janitor / babysitter for foreign high students, does something unbelievably stupid verging on criminal (I’d call it criminal) but refrains throughout from whitewashing his on-page persona so bearing his flaws and foibles alike.



This brings us back to my pull quote which references his first few hours at a manga studio but could equally refer to the first half a dozen pages in France. It’s supposed to be your lead-in but it nearly threw me out. He accepts a lift in a carpool with two other perky passengers and a very generous driver, but Reiss is a right old grumpy-chops, pretending to fall asleep.

“While I was in Japan everyone kept asking me why I was there. When I came back, everyone kept asking me what I did there for so long. Always answering the same questions gets annoying.”

It’s a real bugger when someone expresses an interest in you, isn’t it?



Anyway, they ask the same questions.

“And so, once again I was telling my story but this time I hoped it would be my last. I decided to tell them everything, down to the very last detail, and if it bored them, too bad.”

Top tip: don’t suggest that your next 210 pages could prove boring. They don’t, by the way, but still, you started the job making a huge mistake, mate.


Buy Super Tokyoland and read the Page 45 review here

They Didn’t Teach This In Worm School s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Simone Lia.

Ooooh, finally a softcover!

“It took me ages to learn Mandarin.”

A deliriously illustrated, all-ages read from the creator of FLUFFY and PLEASE GOD, FIND ME A HUSBAND, I gobbled up this deceptively clever 180-page adventure in a single, giggle-filled sitting.

It’s magnificently ridiculous but far from nonsensical, for its howl-inducing comedy is derived from a witty worm logic challenged with deadpan abandon throughout. We all know what a worm is. We all know what a worm can do. We all know what a worm is patently incapable of doing.

Like learning Mandarin.

French, maybe; but Mandarin is ever so tricky.

The first clue comes when Marcus the mud-loving earthworm introduces himself, his hobbies and his habitat in a cross-section of his burrow.



Of course there’s a table tennis room. Of course there is.

The thing is, once you’ve seen that, you can’t help but imagine two worms playing table tennis, and that is Simone Lia’s genius.

The same goes for when you read each piece of seemingly random ridiculousness, like when Laurence the corpulent, gullible bird is packing light for their holiday together, and Marcus encourages him to take more and more.

“Well, it’s just that… it’s a long way and you might get bored. I thought you might need some other things. You know, for entertainment.”
“I see. Well, I could take my yo-yo.”

And off you go again, your mind’s eye agog.

The preparations grow increasingly elaborate / insane given that Laurence is supposed to be flying them there. So why is Marcus intent on Laurence encumbering himself with everything bar the kitchen sink? (He even un-plumbs his own toilet – just in case there aren’t that many en route.)

Well, Marcus woke up that morning – after a dream about flying a spaceship made from potatoes – to find himself inside a cereal bowl sat between a knife and fork, with a scruffy bird who looks a lot like a chicken fixing him hungrily with big, beady eyes.

And that’s not easy to handle; not before your first cup of coffee.



No, when you’re a worm staring down the barrel of a peckish-looking beak, it’s quite discombobulating. But Marcus proves very quick-witted and resourceful throughout and immediately introduces himself AND HIS FAVOURITE COLOUR AND HIS FAVOURITE HOBBY AND ASKS WHAT THE BIRD’S NAME IS AND DOES HE HAVE A HOBBY, PLEASE, SIR? in a very loud voice and as fast as he can because it’s much more difficult to scoff someone up when they’re engaging with you personally and ever so politely in conversation.

It transpires that the big bird’s hobby is travelling. But he hasn’t been anywhere – anywhere at all – because he has no sense of direction and is utterly rubbish at map-reading.

I’ll just leave that one sitting there.

Ideally he’d like to go to Kenya in Africa to visit his fellow flamingos (!) which is rather ambitious for any first flight but Laurence is convinced that Marcus’ subterranean homing instincts will serve them equally well in the air… over the Channel, across Europe, then the Mediterranean and… it’s quite a long journey. Maybe they’ll stop off in Paris on the way and visit the Eiffel Tower which is pictured on the front of Laurence’s guide book.

Anyway, the reason Marcus is setting Laurence up for such a substantial heavy baggage penalty is that he’s not sure if he wants to go, but he’s inspired by the sincerity of the plump bird’s seriously deluded flamingo-fellowship, so they take off for the south.



What follows is a truly epic journey and, if you doubt their combined abilities, there is the most masterful page turn following this:

“As I was pretending to admire the view, I noticed that there actually was a view. And it looked oddly familiar, just like the cover of Laurence’s French guidebook…
“Was it?
“It was…”

The next page’s image is integral to its punchline.

Without that it wouldn’t work, so like Reeve & McIntyre’s all-ages PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH etc, Lia’s illustrated prose often verges on comics. It never quite swerves into that medium as far as Gary Northfield’s profoundly and exuberantly stoopid JULIUS ZEBRA: RUMBLE WITH THE ROMANS and BUNDLE WITH THE BRITONS but there is a scene wherein Laurence has been kindly leant an ice-cream by a fellow non-flamingo called Bernard:

“Instead of taking one lick – which was what Bernard was offering – he slowly ate the whole thing while staring into space.”

The sentence is sandwiched between two sequential images of Laurence’s absent-minded yet quite thorough scoffing as poor Bernard watches woefully and silently, increasingly regretting his instinctive generosity.



The main action’s depicted in black, white and grey – including a phenomenal shot of the British countryside from above – with orange dedicated solely to worms, one central surprise much later on, and Marcus’ self-visualisations and daydreams which elicit extra, absurd, worm-logic laughter.

My favourite example of this double-punchline comes after Marcus (in order to avoid becoming an essential ingredient in worm and chicken stew) fools a mole, a squirrel and crow into believing his uncle was a chef in the hope of sending them out for further essential ingredients which they couldn’t possibly collect. One porkie too far and the ruse is rumbled then the mole is furious to have been taken in by the very idea that any worm’s uncle could possibly be a chef.

“I couldn’t look at the mole. He was right.
“My uncle isn’t really a chef;
“he’s a waiter.”



During any journey there are lessons to be learned, and amongst those on offer are making friends with those you might think are unlikely at first, sticking up for your friends in their hour of need, being proud of who you are and of your friends’ best qualities, and if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again.

I’m afraid they don’t teach those at Worm School. Sometimes you just have to figure these things out for yourselves. Or read a good book.

This is a Good Book.


Buy They Didn’t Teach This In Worm School s/c and read the Page 45 review here

James Bond vol 1: Vargr s/c (£15-99, Dynamite) by Warren Ellis & Jason Masters…

I don’t know what I expected from this really. I’m a huge James Bond fan, though like many people I have eventually come to feel rather weary with the character. There are after all, only so many retreads of the same adventure yarn you can sit through on the big screen or over a nut roast on Christmas Day. I thought perhaps an outing for James in comics, particularly penned by Warren Ellis, whom I am finding on top form with his outstanding TREES and INJECTION recently, might provide me with something fresh, but unfortunately it didn’t. Maybe there’s only so much even Warren can do with a character weighted down by such extensive cinematic baggage.

It’s slickly written for sure, make no mistake, and I did enjoy reading it tucked up in bed late at night as a quick and easy read before lights out, but it could just be another script treatment for a possible film. It’s all-action, absolutely nothing in the way of character development, with the typical interactions you’ve come to expect between Bond and M, Q, Moneypenny, the love interest, the bad guys etc. from the films. I can’t find anything to particularly complain about, but there wasn’t anything to really get excited about either.





I will compliment Warren on the dialogue, which did feel completely in keeping with Bond, and there are some amusing pithy asides, plus I did enjoy the bad guy’s dying monologue but if this is going to capture peoples’ imagination and continue as an ongoing series, it really needs to do something different, quickly. I also found the art from Jason Masters somewhat stilted. Possibly it’s the colour treatment rather than the pencils themselves, just failing to bring the illustrations to life, I’m not sure, it just rather flat and thin. Overall, certainly no Octopussy but decidedly more of a View To A Kill than a Thunderball.


Buy James Bond vol 1: Vargr 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’.

Digby Is A Wizard (£9-99, self-published) by Joe Latham

Getting Out Of Hope (£15-99, Conundrum Press) by James Cadelli

Complete Scarlet Traces vol 2 s/c (£17-99, Rebellion) by Ian Edington &  D’Israeli

Darth Vader: Dark Lord Of The Sith vol 1: Imperial Machine s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Jim Henson’s The Power Of The Dark Crystal vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by Simon Spurrier & Kelly Matthews, Nichole Matthews

Pollquest (£9-99, ) by Luke Hyde

Riverdale vol 1 (£15-99, Archie Comics) by various

Roots (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Tara O’Connor

Wayward vol 4: Threads And Portents (£14-99, Image) by Jim Zub & Steven Cummings

Superman vol 4: Black Dawn s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Michael Moresi & various

Superman: American Alien s/c (£14-99, DC) by Max Landis & Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joelle Jones, Jae Lee, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case, Jock

Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe Again s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Dalibor Talajic

Infamous Iron Man vol 2: The Absolution Of Doom s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev, Matt Hollingsworth

X-Men Blue vol 2: Toil And Trouble s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Cory Smith, Giovanni Valletta, Douglas Franchin

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 3 (£11-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 4 (£11-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

Erased vol 3 h/c (£21-99, Yen Press) by Kei Sanbe

Battle Angel Alita vol 1 Deluxe Edition h/c (£25-00, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

Fairy Tail vol 62 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

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