Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2017 week two

Featuring Julie Maroh, Benji Nate, Alex Potts, Sophie Campbell, Elaine M. Will, Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos, more!

Body Music (£22-99, Arsenal Pulp Press) by Julie Maroh.

Love and relationships in all their diversity:

“If there’s no construction, you’re not on the right road.”

What is delicious about the offering of that eye-opening truth is that it’s uttered offhandedly by a woman who is simply giving directions to a friend or family member over her mobile phone.

“No, no, you must have taken a wrong turn… If there’s no construction, you’re not on the right road.”

It’s certainly borne out here, along with so many other open and honest insights into how we treat each other when in love or in lust, explored over twenty-one vignettes with great subtly and empathy by the creator of BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR who has quite evidently spent a great many years not simply considering but also listening.

 

 

It should all be so straightforward, really, this thing called love: thrilling, empowering, enlightening, giving, supportive, and celebrated for its pure beauty whenever and wherever encountered. But it comes with complications and a myriad of attendant thoughts and feelings – some of them conflicted and therefore confusing – otherwise everyone who has found a soul mate or fuck buddy would be radiant with pleasure, no one would argue and no one would ever break up.

Over and again I recognised so much within this considered and contemplative graphic novel which speaks of the universal, but BODY MUSIC also reflects a far fuller spectrum of desire and circumstances than any other fiction or non-fiction that springs immediately to mind, so it’s refreshingly inclusive in that aspect too. This can only be healthy, even if some of the relationships are far from it.

 

 

 

For by “diversity” I do mean “between women, between men, between women and men and gender non-conformists alike, all varying in age and race” but I also mean relationships at different stages in their development and success or failure: from first confident flirtations conducted with wit and imagination to first-date post-mortems wrestled over wretchedly and separately by both individuals unsure of themselves, their attractiveness, what they said and why they said it, while one of them waits desperately in hope that the other will text as promised in order to set up a second date… just as the other frets that to do so would just be opening himself up to almost certain rejection. That one’s called ‘”Are you sure you want to delete this contact?”’ and it is agonising in its dramatic irony, whereas the courtship in ‘Playing with Fire’ is funny, feisty, and seductive to boot.

“What are you doing?”
“Looking at you.”

The author has her eyes closed, meditating on much more than the single sense of sight could ever ascertain. Slowly one eyebrow draws dreamily upwards as her little finger nail catches between her corner teeth. Pity the poor barman, then, who is given a most excellent, explicit message to deliver a minute or two later!

 

 

 

Other relationships are far older. One is on the cusp of a new crossroads, a fresh movement forwards, towards even greater intimacy but someone has to speak first and trust that they’re on the same mental tracks, heading in the same direction (“on the right road”, as it were) whereas another relationship – or rather a series of same-time, same-place assignations – has reached such a state of intransigence and immobility that nothing new will ever be constructed, while yet another still, which might seem to have sickened on the surface, proves not merely salvageable but in no danger of destruction because one partner loves the other unconditionally.

I am trying to be discreet in my details, for the joy lies in your own discoveries and there is plenty of the unexpected to surprise both the participants and this book’s audience. Such startling injections include a single, strong dash of the fantastical which is beautiful to behold, although I would emphasise that this pretty much applies throughout: winter park wonderlands frolicked in with abandon; a Montreal fully realised both in its monumental buildings and starry-night skies, streetlights calling across still waters; the zip-zip of cell-phone text messages (the vast majority mundane and inconsequential, others of the most urgent importance); beautiful body forms in bed; muscular, hot and sweaty, shirtless gyrations to a pounding club’s heart beat; small, swollen buds patiently waiting out freezing snowfalls on bare, spindly twigs; oh, and that exquisitely embarrassed waiter!

 

 

There is so much to warm your hearts here, including this which I will give away from chapter one:

“You don’t know each other, you haven’t met.
“Yet you’re about to fall in love.
“Soon both of you will be ready, at the same time.
“That will be in a year or two.”

You think you’re listening to an omniscient narrator proclaiming an inevitable, predestined future as a woman on her mobile strolls obliviously past a bearded, back-packed dad busily attending to his young child, the two failing – this time, only this time – to notice each other in a hot, July, municipal park.

You’re not.

You’re being privy to the deeply romantic, entirely speculative thoughts of a woman old enough to have a working-age son who’s been calling her repeatedly to dinner, while said mum has been lost in her own private reverie upon overlooking that park.

If that doesn’t move you as it did me, what will do much later on is her determinedly un-embittered love for what was, a long time ago.

SLH

Buy Body Music and read the Page 45 review here

It’s Cold In The River At Night (£9-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Alex Potts.

Alex A QUIET DISASTER Potts returns with his first full-length slice of his trademark downbeat droll!

Our central protagonist Carl is teetering on the edge of a full-blown existential crisis, probably of the early-onset mid-life variety, in his own mind at least… And it’s only being exacerbated by being cooped up in a small riverside house on stilts in the middle of nowhere in Europe, accessible only by boat, with his girlfriend Rita, who is assiduously trying to get her thesis polished off. Methodical, applied, diligent. She’s everything that Carl is seemingly not. If only he could find something to do with his life?! Or at least occupy him for the next few weeks!

He strikes me as being prone to the odd flight of fancy, and indeed fantasy, does our Carl. So after a failed attempt to catch some sardines for lunch, purely because he’s getting fed up with the helpful (and perhaps a tad nosey) landlord Mr. Beuf popping by on his boat with ham and bread for them, he hits upon his next crackpot scheme. He will track down the last remaining artisan responsible for producing the boat-shaped coffins preferred by the locals for their customary interment rites.

 

 

Having located said skilled coffin-maker by means of asking a few questions of the gossipy old men knocking back the vino in the local bar, Carl’s promptly riding the bus even further out into the back of beyond, to offer his services as an unpaid apprentice. How could the artisan possibly refuse such an offer…? One terse, instant refusal later and he’s swiftly heading home, tail between his legs, feeling more sorry for himself than ever. He’s not one to be easily put off, though, our Carl, I will give him that. And the next day sees him gird his loins and head straight back to the coffin-maker’s compound, determined to make him accept his sworn offer of fealty in exchange for teaching him the ancient skills of woodworking.

 

 

The artisan refuses, of course. Carl, believing his life can’t possibly get any worse starts dejectedly heading back to the bus stop, before realising he has somehow lost his wallet… So he’s left with no other choice but to attempt to throw himself at the mercy of the coffin-maker’s hitherto unforeseen, apparently unbeating, mahogany heart and beg for some change to get home. In fact, when in desperation Carl offers to sell him his watch, the artisan finally, reluctantly acquiesces, invites Carl in and puts him to work.

Carl, ecstatic at being in his eyes apprenticed, is consequently somewhat baffled when he finds he has merely been press-ganged into pulling the nails out of some scrap wood, then planing it smooth by hand. Convincing himself it has to be purely a Mister Miyagi-style master-discipline test, he sets to work with gusto. For hours. And hours. And hours. Then, when after several days work, the artisan casually tosses him a box of matches and tells him to burn all the wood he’s just so carefully prepared, he’s is utterly distraught, but still somehow believes it is all part of his initiation. His grand ceremony, however, is still to come…

 

 

 

Illustrated with a vibrant Mediterranean watercolour-esque platter, alongside some very dour and sour long-faced expressions – mainly on Carl and the coffin-maker’s parts in fairness, everyone else including long-suffering girlfriend Rita and the oily Mr. Beuf seem pretty chipper – this work neatly captures the feel of a man on the edge. A very rough, unplaned, jagged-nail, protruding edge… that’s set to snag and tear at the emotional cloth of Carl’s very soul… He strikes me as exactly the sort of person who is in need of a bit of tough love, mind you! Break out the sandpaper!

JR

Buy It’s Cold In The River At Night and read the Page 45 review here

Catboy (£17-99, Silver Sprocket) by Benji Nate.

Short bursts of infectious, wide-eyed wonder at the way we behave, with sparkles of get-up-and-go.

Olive is an aspiring, out-of-college artist who makes do with a distinct lack of furniture.

“I’ve never needed it. It’s not like I have people over. Plus,” she explains, eyes sanctimoniously closed at her sacred calling, “I’m a minimalist.”
“No you’re not!” pipes back Henry. “I’ve seen your closet!”

Olive has plenty of clothes to spare, which is handy for Henry, because Henry has none. He’s never needed any before: he’s a cat.

But late one night Olive wished on a shooting star that Henry could hang out with her like a real person and so – Alakazam! – he’s now tall, bipedal and ever so communicative, but innocent of the ways of the world. This is the book’s hook: Henry looking at the world and what we do it anew or askew, oblivious to sleights, jealousies or competitive friendships and indifferent to good or bad form.

 

 

 

But he’s still a cat and conforms to type, so a trip to the local furniture store does not come without cost, his dating advice is questionable (have you seen cats courting…?) and he’s still rather partial to the odd kill.

“Oh! I saved you some bird.
“I think your diet is lacking in bird.”

Olive not so much, but Henry’s expressions of both glee and worry put me very much in mind of BOYS CLUB’s Sarah Burghess, I love the way his head pops up unattended by the rest of his body with odd observations / assertions (“You can put anything in a soup!” – you really can’t)…

 

 

… and, as to oblivion and indifference, it matters not one jot to Henry that he’s wearing Olive’s togs. In fact, he rather rocks them, and between each five-page episode there are portraits of the two dressed up together in different get-ups on which cut-out-and-dress-up paper-doll tabs wouldn’t look at all out of place.

One curious conflation, if you like, is that the cast are of an employable age yet act like ten-year-olds. It works so well, and one of my favourite sequences comes during Henry’s unorthodox organisation of a slumber party to which he’s invited a cat called Scrappy, Dixie whom Olive dislikes (it’s fairly mutual) and Fran, a very odd girl who interjects every five seconds at one hundred miles an hour and takes any opportunity – no matter how inappropriate or unsolicited – to gush about her dachshund puppy.

 

 

 

Anyway, Henry has heard that at slumber parties girls talk about boys they have a crush on, so he throws it open to the floor. Fran fixates on her puppy, Henry offers his appreciation for Old Man Billy “because he feeds the birds every day so I always get a midday snack” and then it’s the turn of the cat:

“What about you. Scrappy?”
“Mow.”
“How scandalous!”

Olive: “I don’t like boys.”
Dixie: “I don’t think we’re doing this right.”

SLH

Buy Catboy and read the Page 45 review here

Look Straight Ahead new edition (£17-99, Renegade Arts Entertainment) by Elaine M. Will.

When this first appeared four years ago, it was one of the best and most sensitive explorations of teenage psychosis and mental illness I had read in some considerable time. It still is, and this new edition comes fully endorsed by the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Jeremy is an introverted 17-year-old high school kid with very few friends whose primary passion is illustration. He’s possibly genetically predisposed to seeing the world a little differently than everyone else to start with, and after an extended period of emotional bullying at school from the jocks and the mean girls, this develops into a full-blown psychotic breakdown episode, complete with auditory and visual hallucinations. Cue a period in a hospital for observation and the future of a lifetime on medication. Obviously, this isn’t something that seems particularly appealing to Jeremy, and so begins a period of internal and external struggle, as he begins to come to terms with his condition.

 

 

Elaine writes and illustrates in a manner which perfectly captures many elements of the conundrum faced by those in Jeremy’s position. Often, they feel at their best during the pre-break periods of mania where the delusions are almost intoxicating, rapturous even, before the paranoia well and truly kicks in. Afterwards, they can long to experience those states again, believing that the chemical suppression of their medication, which in reality is helping to balance their brain chemistry, is limiting their state of consciousness and preventing them experiencing reality as it truly is. Jeremy is in just such a position, but fortunately for him he has a supportive, understanding parent who is able to prevent him going too far off the rails and possibly hurting himself or someone else in the meanwhile.

 

 

All of which sounds rather intense, and it is in a way, I suppose, but it’s presented with such sensitivity and understanding, illustrating the inner turmoil people in Jeremy’s position face, that first and foremost it just comes across as an excellent piece of contemporary fiction, irrespective of the subject matter.

Elaine’s art style certainly helps in that regard too, and I can see elements of Terry Moore in her work, which should give you a good idea of what to expect should you decide to give this a try.

 

 

For more on this and similar issues, dealt with in different ways, please see Page 45’s Online Mental Health Section.

JR

Buy Look Straight Ahead and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 5: Where All Stars Fail To Burn (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.

Generation Doubt: late-teen girls of so many shapes, sizes and temperaments navigating sex and uncertain friendships, as one within their midst seethes with psychosis. She’s about to boil over.

Set on and around the Wet Moon College campus perilously close to the swamp, it’s been building steadily for some time now, but this one is nerve-shredding. You’re in constant fear for alone out alone late at night.

It wouldn’t matter so much if Campbell hadn’t mesmerised us into caring so deeply for Mara, Cleo, Audrey, Natalie, and even Trilby whom I singled out in the first volume as the least lovable of the lot. Hey, she’s grown. They’re moon-eyed and vulnerable, wearing their hearts on their sleeves and opening themselves up with wince-worthy candour on their internet blogs. I still don’t know how anyone can live out their lives in so much detail online – even I have an internal editor – but Campbell nails the gaping chasm here between self-knowledge and self-guidance:

“And another thing I can’t brush aside (maybe a private post would be better for this because it involves private stuff and people I know…).”

Yes, maybe it would! I mean, you’re about to out your ex for having sex with a minor you were supposed to be babysitting! As ever, however, Campbell shows her protagonists thinking progressively and there’s some serious contemplation about the issue’s implications.

 

 

Sophie has also created a convincingly familiar (oh too familiar!) malcontent in Myrtle, head and shoulders sagging into her bloated body, lying, scheming, sulking and stewing in the poisonous juices of her own imagination; the single eye that glares so ferociously with self-righteous anger from under her lazy parting, as her poor girlfriend Cleo – always so concerned for everyone else’s feelings – suffers the brunt of Myrtle’s self-destructive rage.
On the other hand, Campbell’s art is a magnificent tribute to the beauty of less conventional body forms when they house a heart of gold, and WET MOON was always streets ahead in her inclusivity of diverse characters of colour.

Also this volume: baseball, being walked in on whilst in / on the toilet, and a series of one-page sequential-art portraits as each member of the cast spends an evening alone. What do they get up to, individually, at night? A couple of eye-openers, there.

 

 

Lastly, against all odds, Trilby and her boyfriend Martin really do seem to have been making a healthy and loving nest for themselves in the most stable relationship here.

SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 5: Where All Stars Fail To Burn (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Jessica Jones Series 2 vol 2: The Secrets Of Maria Hill s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos.

“Sorry about the neurological damage.”
“It could only be an improvement.”

She’s not wrong.

Private Investigator Jessica Jones has been formidably unlucky in almost every aspect of her life, but then she is far from her own best friend. She’s 99% sass, impetuous, anti-authoritarian and inclined towards heavy drinking. I like her a lot.

Jessica does, however, have a loyal husband in Luke Cage, so doting that he’s even given up his prodigious line in swearing so that their baby girl, Dani, learns only Jessica’s fruity cuss words. Luke has been the making of Jessica whom we first met in JESSICA JONES Series 1 wandering around from bar for bar, drinking whatever she could, shagging anyone who would have her then waking up hating herself. It was a bit a cycle, that thing there. Then she met Luke Cage, and I’m not saying it was the easiest or even most obvious of courtships but it made for the finest four books that Marvel have ever published.

Unfortunately even that relationship is now on the rocks on account of… stuff… but Jessica’s working on that. She’s working on that pretty hard.

 

 

 

 

When everything was once good between the two of them, things went bad when Maria Hill – then director of S.H.I.E.L.D. – sent soldiers to their front door and tried to arrest Luke right in front of their baby daughter.

Now Maria Hill – no longer even an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (fired, disgraced) – turns up in Jessica Jones’s bathroom with a bullet in her belly and blood pouring out of her gut. Someone is trying to kill her, but she’s been unable to find out who that is, in spite of her decades of international espionage training. Or maybe because of them:

“I may not have all of my memories. I may have, voluntarily or not, given up memories for national security reasons. Probably so I can sleep at night.”

Against all her better instincts – her complete distrust of this professional liar – Jessica accepts the contract and, about an hour later, finds herself targeted from a rooftop… by Maria Hill.

 

 

Trust is very much at the forefront of all things Jessica Jones. I could write five or six essays on the issue of trust in JESSICA JONES plus her time in Bendis’s SECRET WAR (singular) and NEW AVENGERS books. Oh wait, I already have. Here Bendis builds it brilliantly in one and a half pages of intense, internal monologue as Jessica grits her teeth in full knowledge of Hill’s history of lies, before Maria Hill even starts to speak. Then when she does, she’s immediately disarmed by the truth.

When he’s on top form, Bendis’ dialogue is among the very best in comics, and Bendis is at his best when Alex Maleev or Michael Gaydos comes round to play. I’ve found that some writers flourish when properly partnered, then seem to flounder as soon as some other artist steps in (see PULSE).

Gaydos’s timing, with incremental adjustments to facial expressions between panels, is subtle and flawless and – like Alex Maleev or Michael Lark – it is a shadowy world that he conjures. It’s street-level and dirty and dangerous. Even the Jones’s office is in venetian-blind twilight… until the window gets smashed in, anyway. I hope she has a glazier on retainer.

Even Chinatown fast-food joints become cold, unsafe places to meet under Gaydos – glamour is almost an anathema to him, and not everyone has the looks of a model. Jessica is unsurprisingly permanently tired and weary while Sharon Carter, now sub-director of S.H.I.E.L.D., is looking her not inconsiderable age.

“Where’s Maria Hill? She hire you?”
“I don’t confirm or deny ongoing investigations… But if you want to hire me yourself, you can visit our website and get a look at our rates.”
“I can put you in jail.”
“I am very good at finding people. Is there someone else I can help you find?”

Beat.

“Maybe the person that did that to your hair?”

I did mention that Jessica wasn’t exactly her own best friend, didn’t I? That she was sassy, impulsive and anti-authoritarian.

Famously, Luke Cage spent time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. So that’s something they’ll be able to share in the shower if Jessica Jones ever gets out.

“Where are you going?”
“Um… home.”
“Yeah, to quote the great General Solo: that is not how any of this works.”
“But – “
“We’re S.H.I.E.L.D. This is a major public incident. You’re being uncooperative and hostile.”
“But… so is your hair.”

SLH

Buy Jessica Jones vol 2: The Secrets Of Maria Hill s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Invisibles Book 2 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Phil Jimenez, Jill Thompson, Paul Johnson, Tommy Lee Edwards, Mark Buckingham, Philip Bond.

The Invisibles is a secret cell of anarchists talented in various aspects of what could loosely be described as the occult, determined to see our lives freed from the threat of a trans-temporal, inter-dimensional, pan-sexual straightjacket.

Reality, sexuality, gender, order, chaos, language and control, it’s all here for the decryption. Join Lord Fanny, King Mob, Ragged Robin, Jack Frost, Edith Manning, Jolly Roger and the rest of these mentalists in their fight for your future’s freedom!

I leave you with a guide as to what to expect using the original volumes’ seven-volume titles (this thicker edition reprints #13-15):

Say You Want A Revolution: Did it really all begin here, with a young boy named Dane and a secret world which he suddenly saw lurking behind what passed for reality?

 

 

Apocalipstick: Things go from bad to worse – you can always count on that. You can also count on things not being what they seem.

Entropy In The UK: They say that everyone has their breaking point. But it’s what’s being broken that really matters – and who’s breaking it.

Bloody Hell In America: Secrets are hard to keep, unless they’re too big to be believed. The bigger the government, the bigger the secrets become.

Counting To None: Time is of the essence, it transpires. But the essence of what might surprise you.

 

 

Kissing Mr. Quimper: Learning from history is one thing, but writing the history yourself is another, particularly when it hasn’t happened yet.

The Invisible Kingdom: Who even knows?

For more, please see INVISIBLES BOOK 1.

SLH

Buy Invisibles Book 2 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’.

Motor Girl vol 2: No Man Left Behind (£14-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore

25th Anniversary Sketchbook – 8800 Days Of Blondes, Brunettes And Bozos (£14-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore

Satania h/c (£22-99, NBM) by Fabien Vehlmann &  Kerascoet

Bitch Planet – Triple Feature vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by various

Blood Bowl vol 1: More Guts, More Glory s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Nick Kyme & Jack Jadson

Cyanide & Happiness: Punching Zoo (£13-99, Boom) by Kris, Rob, Matt & Dave

Expansion (£13-99, Adhouse Books) by Malachi Ward, Matt Sheean

Jazz Maynard vol 1: The Barcelona Trilogy h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge) by Raule &  Roge

Lady Killer vol 2 (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Joëlle Jones

Misfit City vol 1  (£13-99, Boom) by Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith, Kurt Lustgarten & Naomi Franquiz

The Forever War s/c (£17-99, Titan) by Joe Haldeman & Marvano

Wired Up Wrong (£10-00, self-published) by Rachael Smith

Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles s/c (£14-99, DC) by James Tynion IV & Freddie E Williams II

Injustice Year Five vol 1 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato & Mike S. Miller, various

Suicide Squad vol 4: Earthlings On Fire s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Rob Williams & Tony S. Daniel, various

Trinity vol 1: Better Together s/c (£14-99, DC) by Francis Manapul & various

Champions vol 2: Freelancer Lifestyle s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Humberto Ramos

Dark Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato, various

Defenders vol 1: Diamonds Are Forever s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez

Hulk: World War Hulk h/c (£19-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Peter David & John Romita Jr., various

Ms. Marvel vol 8: Mecca s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by G. Willow Wilson & Marco Failla, Diego Olortegui

Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man vol 1: Into The Twilight s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Chip Zdarsky & Adam Kubert, Michael Walsh

Rocket vol 1: Blue River Score s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Adam Gorham

Star Wars: Captain Phasma s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Marco Checchetto

Venom vol 2: The Land Before Crime s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Mike Costa & Tradd Moore

Castle In The Sky Picture Book h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hayao Miyazaki & various

Pokemon Adventures vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

Pokemon Adventures vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

Pokemon Adventures vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

Pokemon XY vol 1 (£3-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Satoshi Yanamoto

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