Archive for January, 2018

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week three

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Marazano, Luo Yin, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Ales Kot, Andre Araujo, Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, Dean Ormston, McClung, Guerrero

The Wicked + The Divine vol 6: Imperial Phase Part 2 s/c (£14-99 each, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Matt Wilson.

“Mortals have always shown more interest in gods ever have in mortals.
“Generally speaking, gods desire nothing but adoration.”

Every 90 years a Pantheon of a dozen gods is born anew, activated and guided by ancient Ananke who finds them in overwhelmingly young individuals previously oblivious to their potential or fate. This is to be loved and be hated and to shine like stars and – within two years – to be quite, quite dead.

In this modern incarnation one element in that equation has now changed irrevocably, so that none of that sentence remains necessarily true, except this: they were each born anew. They retain none of their previous experience on which to formulate priorities or base a sense of perspective.

 

 

Now a balance has been broken, the trajectory changed. Warnings have gone unheard or unheeded. Those who are left behind are flailing in their newfound freedom, some falling into unthinking, untempered hedonism regardless of the cost to others’ hearts, and fighting each other because they can. And because power.

All of that power is intoxicating and addictive, both to witness and to wield.

Even the mildest among them are flashing their metaphorical teeth.

 

 

Also, can you imagine having been someone else? Perhaps you once were. Perhaps all of us once were, to some extent, after a teenage transmogrification, but few of us have survived this sort of schism.

That is one of the keys to Kieron’s success in making this pantheon of elevated individuals so very familiar and therefore intriguing: they are as emotionally vulnerable as those of us less exalted. Conflicts aren’t just battles you have with other people.

 

 

That is radically different to the way I’ve previously sold THE WICKED + THE DIVINE both on the shop floor and in extensive reviews. Do please check those reviews out if you are new and intrigued, because by this point we are trying our best to avoid spoilers while still luring new readers in to what is already one of our biggest selling series of graphic novels alongside SAGA, LAZARUS and anything by Brubaker & Phillips like CRIMINAL, FATALE, THE FADE OUT or KILL OR BE KILLED (all reviewed too).

Speaking or Rucka and Lark’s LAZARUS, however, that series contains within (I will not say where) the most successful sleight of hand I have ever encountered in comics so that, upon reading the final page of volume four, you will be compelled to re-read everything up to that point. Similarly (similarly – ha!), THE WICKED + THE DIVINE contains a dozen such sleights of hand to this date. Let me elucidate without explaining: there are a good half a dozen sequences which, as you read them, you will take as read; but what you have witnessed is not what occurred. Then there’s the retrospective reveal and each one holds water: hindsight can be a miraculous thing.

 

 

However, let us return to power as “intoxicating and addictive, both to witness and to wield”.

None of this intoxication – of modern mortals relishing gods in their midst, or of these petulant powerhouses getting high on their own supply – would be remotely credible were it not for McKelvie and Wilson delivering on the awe-inspiring wonder front.

Between them they have managed to channel what is chemically psychotropic into its visual equivalent and equal.  I once saw Goldfrapp perform while I was stone-cold sober, yet I could swear that I had necked ecstasy on top of elephantine quantities of speed. So it is here: what McKelvie and Wilson present on the pages is mind-altering and mood-altering, yet legal.

 

 

Almost every volume of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE comes with an extensive back-matter process piece wherein you are given a glimpse as to how the creators between them conjure (and I use that word with precision) effect after effect whose affect is nothing short of alchemical.

It’s far easier to talk of this in terms of adrenaline effect than it is to specifically parse or prise apart its constituent catalysts. Or at least, it is for someone like me: I’m a writer, not an artist. I’m still reeling from the day-glo.

But its day-glo is colour-coded, for example, to each individual’s propensity or power set, subconsciously informing you whence it came: its instance of origin. See Dionysius’s crowd-leap of faith.

 

 

Letter artist Clayton Cowles manages much the same thing in his cuing and so cluing: each individual has a unique signature speech which leaves the combined creators room to keep the free-flow show rolling without having to provide expository asides that would otherwise ruin your immersion.

What I am trying to impress upon you is that this is the most modern of multi-creator comics. It is all-embracing and all-inclusive not only in terms of its protagonists and audience, but in its cooperative cohesion when it comes to sequential-art storytelling: each element is understood as equally important and each uniquely-skilled contributor invited to give of their therefore informed and very best.

This is generous storytelling. It reaps rewards.

 

 

Which would be a fine note on which to finish any review but there’s a couple of action panels that I am particularly fond of this issue, when it is usually the nuanced conversations which I enjoy most, accompanied by equally subtle shifts in expressions which are evidence of an actor/director (the best artists are both) at their peak.

In the first, lightning strikes, in the form of Baal punching down on a bed. A split-second earlier, on it lay Sakhmet and Persephone. Persephone is thrown back by the force, but she wasn’t Baal’s target: his fist was aimed squarely at Sakhmet. Sakhmet is a lion-warrior goddess and I don’t believe that Baal was downwind. Such are her instincts and agility that she is already back-flipping behind Baal like the lithest of Olympic-level athletes on high-jump. That image alone is a triumph of action/reaction kinetic form and balletic grace, never mind its immediate, skin-shredding successor.

 

 

But that’s not actually my point. My point is the contrast between that and a panel in the second, earlier chapter when another woman is discovered by Baal in bed, dressed in tribute to Sakhmet. She is beautiful in her own right, but neither her build nor her poise possess any of the prowess that it would take to elude a similar strike. Nothing needs explaining: the visual is all you need to alert you in an instant to this mistaken identity.

Still, she does have quick enough wits to ask for an autograph.

SLH

Buy The Wicked + The Divine vol 6: Imperial Phase Part 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Descender vol 5: Rise Of The Robots (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen.

“You are a liar, Quon. You are a good liar, but a liar nonetheless.”

TIM-22 is right, of course: Dr. Quon’s entire career has been built upon one key deceit.

“Robots never lied before you created the TIM series… before you gave robotkind the upgrades that made us more human and more like you.”

Dr. Quon’s stellar success followed his creation of the companion machines called TIM, each resembling an angelic human boy. It was a huge advance in robotics which he claimed as his own, but he stole the technology; and when the celestial, planet-sized Harvesters arrived ten years ago to wipe out vast swathes of organic life and so catalyse a war on all robots, it was discovered that they bore the same machine codex – the robotic DNA – of the TIMs.

We still don’t know why.

This is the penultimate volume.

Please see previous reviews of DESCENDER for more. The watercolours on the inside are every bit as beautiful as the covers.

SLH

Buy Descender vol 5: Rise Of The Robots and read the Page 45 review here

The Dream Of The Butterfly vol 1: Rabbits On The Moon (£11-99, Lion Forge) by Richard Marazano & Luo Yin.

“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man…”

 – Zhuangzi

It remains to be seen whether that famous, quizzical, open-minded perspective – quoted halfway through this first beautiful blizzard – carries any pertinence to the proceedings whatsoever, but if in any chaotic doubt, quote someone profound: it looks ever so impressive.

This too looks ever so impressive from cover to cover and the first three sky-bright, green-grass pages will have young eyes hooked. It’s all exceedingly Hayao Miyazaki, isn’t it? Those landscapes are lush!

 

 

It is quite evidently Spring, with pink cherry blossom blowing on the breeze before being buffeted further, almost psycho-kinetically, by Tutu’s first temper tantrum. Upon her second outburst at the position she has found herself in – away from home, her potential return coming only at a cost – those feathery flakes are then joined in the cerulean splendour by a cloud of radiant white butterflies on some elusive, migratory path. This isn’t accidental, but it is all quite, quite magical.

 

 

I love that the three-page sequence begins looking up from the verdant meadow as if kneeling (c.f.  Monet’s ‘Woman With The Parasol’) with majestic, snow-capped mountains rising in the distance under breathless, billowing clouds, and concludes in gazing down into the valley town whither she and her talking cat must evidently, so reluctantly return and such is the delicate detail that it almost demands a double-page spread of its own:

A clean and crisp island citadel surrounded by deep blue water, joined by bridges to its adjacent concentric rings and other outlying areas, all encompassed by more glacial mountains but, in between, similarly sweet Spring pastures.

 

 

Six months earlier, and what Tutu has accidentally tumbled into instead is a city, albeit extraordinary, which lies gripped under a bizarre dictatorship and in an eons-old winter, whose consequent, insatiable demands for heat energy has enslaved so much of its population to a daily grind of, umm… hamster-handling.

I’m not even kidding you.

Earlier that day, on a bright winter’s morning:

“Hurry up, children. Today we’re going to explore outside…”

Out into the snow dash a dozen children lead by their teacher. They are excited! Strangely, they have left Tutu behind. She emerges from her comfy bed in the shared dormitory (evidently this is a boarding school) to dress and discover that the only occupants left are the cooks.

“Yes! Yes! Yes! A whole day of freedom! Finally!”

And out into the snowscape strides Tutu too. Except that an un-forecasted storm suddenly closes in, the teacher finally thinks to do a head-count (because you always do that halfway through your field trip, don’t you?) and Tutu who’s solo is lost in the freezing-cold gale and wanders into that previously undiscovered town.

 

 

It’s an odd place indeed, populated by hostile, anthropomorphic animals which don’t appear to like little girls, not one jot. Ugly little girls aren’t allowed to have names, and they’re certainly not allowed out at night. They aren’t actually allowed, basically. And no one, it seems, likes strangers.

“Just what do you have against people who aren’t from here?”
“Well… they’re not from here, right?”
“Yes, that’s it! They’re not from here!”

 

 

Possibly the finest creation here, these are the Emperor’s Secret Police, initially arriving to arrest her. Ears flopping all over the place, they’re a bumbling bunch of albino rabbits which reappear over and over again to cause chaos wherever they go. Conversational and kindly, but largely clueless, they take her to court whereupon Tutu is billeted with a maternal budgerigar who is immediately on hand to meet and greet her and put her to bed. It is, at least, a very efficient care system!

The next morning she’s promptly pushed out on the street and told to work at The Factory.  What Tutu isn’t told, in this archetypal lost-dream scenario, is how to get there, but it’s here that the Secret Police begin to come into their own because they’re the least Secret Police of all time! Sent by the Emperor to spy on her, they instead break cover continually to help Tutu catch the right bus or boat on her way while trying to keep tabs on what she might be up to.

 

 

Most of the townsfolk remain far from friendly, scattering from the bus in horror, but a giant panda – himself on his way to work – is on hand to introduce Tutu to her new daily routine. Unlike the rest of this candy-like city, the industrial waterways are a grim, smog- and soot-clogged nightmare. This is odd, given that the whole system is powered organically by hamsters running frantically in tiny, treadmill wheels. It’s a bit barbaric, to be sure, but there’s no carbon or coal being burned, so why all the smoke? From an environmental viewpoint, it’s ecologically ideal, while its distribution system seems to be a stream of self-powering, air-borne Chinese lanterns.

If you haven’t yet twigged then, beyond the beauty, I am having a fair few problems here.

In my review of Joe Todd-Stanton’s excellent ARTHUR AND THE GOLDEN ROPE I opined that “In every all-ages / young-readers’ great graphic novel there must be certain things present including wit, rules and exploration for eyes.” Rules can be broken – they almost demand to be broken – but without establishing these boundaries first, dramatic tension quickly dissipates.

 

 

And I can see that the chaos of this city brings with it the most unexpected delights – you never know what to expect in this endless series of odd interventions! – but so much here does not add up. The only rule that seems to apply here is that Tutu needs to sleep every night in her bed (and so dream of Spring) but she doesn’t appear to need to eat: everything offered is so revolting that I don’t think she’s eaten for a week.

I think I’ve figured out the environmental conceit: the lost butterflies which Tutu’s been charged with finding and why this city is in perpetual winter. I think it’s something similar to Daishu Ma’s silent graphic novel LEAF but I could be wrong.

 

 

Look, this is lovely. It’s pretty. There’s certainly no lack of exploration for eyes. I like that the city looks like Bratislava with all its candy-coloured domiciles and exceedingly hostile inhabitants. (Trust me: I’ve been there.) I love that the Budgie’s house is built around a living tree topped with a giant nest, and that bath time at Mrs B’s comes with bog-eyed, sentient suds.  I adore that some of the civilians are automatons – one a bipedal gas lamp in a raincoat and hat.

But in this first of four parts at least, it lacks a certain degree of grist and that vital credibility needed to ground the otherwise fantastical. Still, first of four parts: hopefully the second will give me good cause to eat, then rewrite my words.

SLH

Buy The Dream Of The Butterfly vol 1: Rabbits Of The Moon and read the Page 45 review here

Generation Gone vol 1 (£15-99, Image) by Ales Kot & Andre Lima Araujo.

News headline:

“African American Shot After Offering Help To Lost Driver.
“Driver assumed man was going to rob him.”

Welcome to Generation Gone.

Most of our best comics’ covers contain some narrative element but few exceed snapshots or an elegant, perhaps impassioned distillation of what lies within. Almost all of my favourite graphic novels fall into those categories. I find no fault in that marketing strategy: please give me maximum impact.

But this collection’s cover speaks of so much more if you study it closely, and it contains not one lie.

However, were you to flip through this after a first read then you’d find page after page of unbridled anger, furious displays of once repressed rage; now empowered and unleashed: flashing eyes and screams of injustice bursting from previously gritted teeth.

 

 

“General… with all due respect, I don’t think you understand what I did…
“I know you are like me. You want to succeed at what you do.
“What I do is evolution…
“What you do is war.
“So I built you a perfect war machine.”

Ummm… no, you didn’t, Mr Akio: perfect war machines don’t have minds of their own. Perfect war machines aren’t already embittered towards their governments through acts of police brutality, endemic racism and authorities mismanaging that which they know to be toxic. Perfect war machines don’t already harbour long-standing grudges towards each other as well as the world and, in simple terms, are uncomplicated.

This is going to get complicated.

 

 

We begin on the other side of the Military Science fence with three young friends who have lives and ambitions of their own.

Two of them are a couple, late at night, flat-on-their-backs, and wishing upon stars. Elena wishes that her boyfriend Nick would reciprocate her love for him, vocally. Nick wishes that his “babe” would just shut the fuck up. Actually Elena’s aspirations aren’t even that high: she’s all apologies for her open declaration of unequivocal affection, while Nick insists that she should feel gratitude for his indulgence of (and tolerance towards) her pathetic, needy, cloying emotions. Sadly, she does.

“Are you ready for tomorrow?”
“Born ready. Born to make a mark.”

They’re really not ready for anything that will follow but, yes, Nick wants to make a mark. Delighting in his own ego, he is unable to meaningfully engage with any degree of comprehension; he’s a big fan of the film ‘Taxi Driver’, but I’m not sure that he’s learned the right lessons. I don’t think you’ll like him at all.

Nick, Elena and Baldwin are also consummate code-breaking hackers. They’ve already broken into the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency’s exceptionally well protected website twice and, in a trial run for their real end-goal which is money, they are about to do it a third time.

 

 

Baldwin is alone, organised, disciplined but driven. You may discern what drives him right at the top of this review. He exercises at the crack of dawn then blends nutritious juice to sustain his peak physical and mental acuity. Then he wipes the surfaces clean. He is meticulous.

Elena is loving and doting, not only on dismissive prick Nick to whom she is loyal, but on her mother who is undergoing treatment for cancer. Constantly they cuddle up on the coach. They tease each other too.

Nick eats with what’s left of his family in silence before skulking upstairs – to his childishly door-declared exclusive domain – to draw his own bath. Perched on the toilet and staring into his smart phone while the water runs, his finger is idly pressed between his big toe and second, and you just know that he’ll sniff himself before getting in.

How each behaves during their final trial (but still live) run at code-hacking is telling, excruciating even.

 

 

They think they’ve gone undetected. They haven’t. They’ve been hooked.

So let’s flick back to the military’s perspective:

“Everything in the world is code…
“The human genome. The computers. Your phones. The traffic. The movements of the oceans, the movements between our neurones.
“Everything is code. Including our flesh.
“So how do we rewrite it?”

This is young, bespectacled Mr. Akio, working for S.T.A.R., a subsection of D.A.R.P.A., tasked with helping to re-establish America’s global dominance which, as he perceives it, has been eroded “at an increasingly rapid rate since 1970s”. He has contributed to this military endeavour by building ideas, codes and machines, all part of Project Airstrip. We are shown some very big mechs indeed.

 

 

Now he unveils to the military board his own private ideal, Project Utopia. It is code-based and clever, pertaining to humans. But how do we rewrite that code in humans which generally takes multiple generations of genetic evolution?

“Have you ever read a book that changed your life? I bet you have. The content of the book changed the way you processed information. Then it changed the way your brain processed the information. Then it changed the way you interacted with the world.”

I don’t think the General is much into reading.

Mr Akio is ordered to stand down, but he doesn’t and is discovered. The General is infuriated.

 

 

“Project Utopia is dead.
“Please point out all hard drives containing anything pertaining to Project Utopia to the soldiers. We are confiscating everything related to the project effective immediately. Why the hell would you think, even for a second, that you can do this behind our backs? We own everything you make.
“We own you.”

From the writer of WOLF, ZERO and MATERIAL comes what seems on the surface to be a far more traditional comic about power and powerlessness but it still packs a political punch and has many an unusual angle to explore. You don’t generally associate Generals with powerlessness, do you? Yet over and again – and in spite of his iron-fisted rule – you will find this military man wrong-footed both by those under his immediate command and mere civilians whom he believes he can intimidate.

It begins from the outset, for once more behind his superiors’ backs, Mr. Akio throws the book full of life-changing code at our three hackers. Alter the code, upgrade the human – physically, anyway.

 

 

The immediate transformation at the end of the first chapter – and almost everything that follows born of multiple miscalculations – is a pretty grim ordeal, but the single Araujo image that haunted me most – and does still – is Mr. Akio’s eyes when threatened and dismissed.

SLH

Buy Generation Gone vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Dragonseed h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Kurt McClung & Mateo Guerrero…

“You saved me… you don’t even know me. Be mine, little hero… all mine!”

Steady on, I only recommended you some great comics! This doesn’t quite hit those heights, though it is certainly enjoyable enough, particularly for fans of Euro-fantasy fiction.

It proved a fascinating read, actually, from a reviewing perspective. I started off rather enjoying the story and the setting out of the characters, as we all know that can be the weak point with Euro-fantasy, yet struggling with the art slightly, which is certainly not on the ligne claire levels of other Humanoids output such as THE SWORDS OF GLASS. That soon past, however, although I did find it eventually became somewhat excessive on the Euro-boobage score for my tastes.

 

 

The plot revolves around the denizens of Krath and the uneasy, millennia-old truce that holds between humans and dragons. Our hero Adam Spittleseed, a half-man, half-dragon known as a Dragonseed is charged with finding the teardrop stone, a mythical relic that has the power to stave off the impending conflict by continuing to power a prophecy machine. Such stones are incredibly rare, mind, formed only when a dragon sheds a tear, an event occurring just once in each dragon’s lifetime. I should add, in case you are wondering about the eye-watering improbability of such an inter-species offspring, that dragons, in addition to their various other abilities, are also shape-changers…

 

 

By the end, however, I have to confess I was wearying of the continually over-dramatic language and slightly disjointed story-telling. It all makes sense story-wise, I just found myself having to concentrate a bit harder than I would have liked to follow the flow of the action for some reason, which is a shame, because it is an enjoyable romp with a decent, in-depth plot and some cracking characters. Still, as I say, if you fancy a bit of swords and sorcery with hordes of dwarves, elves, orcs, ogres and of course dragons, or are just likely to be titillated by some <ahem> robust figure-work, this could be for you.

 

 

JR

Buy Dragonseed h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Black Hammer vol 2: The Event s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston…

STOP… HAMMER TIME!!!

So I did just that, and read volume two of Jeff & Dean’s Pindaric ode to superheroes. What a resounding celebration, indeed homage, to many a classic cape ‘n’ tights character it is. It’s just that it is so much better than most of the DC and Marvel output which inspired it!

We pick up with our disparate group of bickering superchums still trapped in the surreal small town in the veritable middle of nowhere that increasingly seems more like a prison constructed to trap them forever than mere alternate reality. Being mangled as they are through Jeff’s trademarked wringer of angst at their temporally testing fate, their collective patience is getting stretched ever-tighter than Mr. Fantastic’s Y-fronts, and someone is about to snap…

 

 

We also learn precisely how Joseph Weber, the headstrong Black Hammer, managed to get himself disintegrated trying to affect an immediate escape to get back to his family. Which blows my own personal theory about precisely where they are totally out of the water… We also get his origin story in a glorious little nod to Jack Kirby.

 

 

Black Hammer’s then ten year old daughter Lucy was one of the few back in Spiral City who never stopped believing her dad and his friends are still out there somewhere. Ten years on, now a young woman who’s spent the last decade desperately missing her hero dad, she’s never stopped searching and her patience is about to be, at least, partially rewarded. That old adage about being careful what you wish for is what springs to mind, though…

Look closely at the single issue covers, by the way, included here in this collection as chapter breaks, and I suspect you may well ‘recognise’ some of them. Reading this title is just such fun, albeit rather punishing for our poor cast. What a double team Lemire and Ormston are! If Jeff is dour and downbeat Bruce, gradually grinding his characters into the proverbial chiropteran guano then Dean is showy and ostentatious Dick, all flashy lines and gaudy colours livening up the show!

For far, far more, please see BLACK HAMMER VOL 1.

JR

Buy Black Hammer vol 2: The Event 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’.

Kill Or Be Killed vol 3 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

The King Of The Birds (£12-99, Nobrow) by Alexander Utkin

Lights Of The Amalou s/c (£35-99, IDW) by Christophe Gibelin & Claire Wendling

Robert Moses – The Master Builder Of New York City s/c (£12-99, Nobrow) by Pierre Christin & Olivier Balez

Sketches From A Nameless Land – The Arrival Companion (£14-99, Lothian) by Shaun Tan

Tales From The Age Of The Cobra (£22-99, IDW) by Enrique Fernandez

The Three Rooms In Valerie’s Head (£17-99, Top Shelf) by David Gaffney & Dan Berry

Nightwing vol 4: Blockbuster s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley & Javier Fernandez, others

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 7 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon

X-Men: Legion – Shadow King Rising s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Fabian Nicieza, Peter David, Jim Lee & Bill Sienkiewicz, Butch Guice, Marco Silvestri, Andy Kubert, Whilce Portacio, others

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 4 (£11-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

There’s A Shark In The Bath (£6-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week two

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

Featuring Neill Cameron, Kate Brown, Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, Nate Powell, Frank Miller, Geof Darrow, Shuzo Oshimi, Jeff Lemire, Mike Deodato.

The Silence Of Our Friends (£8-99, Square Fish) by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos & Nate Powell.

“Men of conscience have got to stick together…
“Or nothing is going to change.”

It may be of use to you to learn, going in, that co-author Mark Long is indeed the son of camera journalist Jack Long depicted on the cover shoulder to shoulder with civil rights activist Larry Thompson. I mention this from the outset to impress upon you that this is a personal recollection of real events surrounding Texas Southern University in 1968 and – with its artist in common – this graphic memoir therefore sits comfortably beside Congressman John Lewis’s MARCH trilogy memoirs, about which we wrote with a passion.

I say “comfortably”, but of course it is far from comfortable watching any of man’s many and ever so varied inhumanities towards man, and it is particularly painful to watch peaceful protesters sitting on the ground and therefore at their least offensive let alone defensive, being brutally beaten by police from behind with batons and gun butts, then framed for crimes which they were transparently incapable of committing by those decrying the very violence that they themselves had overtly, officially sanctioned.

 

 

 

Nonetheless – and in spite of so much more within, from venomously spat neighbourly racism and so much subsequently learned behaviour manifesting itself in their susceptible children, to hit-and-run truck drivers targeting black children on Wheeler Avenue – this is an overwhelmingly uplifting book about solidarity with a final few pages to make your hearts soar at the proven potential in all of us to do some much better by standing up for others, not just ourselves, overcoming the odds and effecting that change.

 

 

On the subject of solidarity, here’s something that made me stop and think: a scene in which families pull up in cars on a hillock overlooking a shore so that some of them can go coastal crabbing. Nate Powell has a way with song, both here and in MARCH, so that it swirls through the air in old-school ecclesiastical ribbons from singers or speakers and, once elsewhere here, into the very camera / microphone by which Jack Long records it. On this afternoon the sound emanates through the open doors from each car radio: the very same tune playing at the same time in the same wide, open space in harmony and unison.

Now, I ask you: when is that ever likely to happen these days when we choose our own soundtracks with stereo CD-players? It won’t even necessarily happen in a shop like ours, when so many choose to wear their own private headphones and so fail to hear our gently welcoming interaction, “If you have any questions, just shout”.

 

 

Music bonds elsewhere when Jack Long reciprocates Larry Thompson’s initial invitation to cross his threshold (virtually unheard of and far from approved) by inviting his entire family (wife Barbara, children Danny and Cecilia) to his Sharpstown residence much to the slack-jawed shock of his curtain-twitching neighbours, but also to the almost immediately inquisitive delight of his son Mark and daughters Michelle and Julie who’d never before met any children of colour, let alone ruffled through their hair and vice-versa.

Not everyone will react as you’ll fear here, because the courage of some emboldens others. But you’ll find disappointment aplenty too, for racism was rampant and America in the late 1960s came with another obsession and fall-out: The Vietnam War.

 

 

The era is later than the majority of MARCH and it’s evoked ever so well through furnishings and technology and play.

It’s a different perspective from MARCH’s because it’s predominantly white and middle class at that. But it comes with its own lessons and aspirations never to be forgotten, and if the risks to the likes of the Longs are comparatively slight (comparatively, but not necessarily negligible, as you will see), it’s a story which comes with its own fortitudes too.

 

 

Once last time in the spirit of encouraging support and solidarity, I leave you with this, by one of the most eloquent individuals of any century, who knows exactly of what he speaks.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

 – Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

SLH

Buy The Silence Of Our Friends and read the Page 45 review here

Tamsin And The Dark (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron & Kate Brown.

“What are you doing?! Someone lives there!”
“They don’t, though. That’s the point. People used to live here. Fishermen and their sons. But one by one, all the houses got bought up by… rich bankers from Surrey. They come here for two weeks in the summer, and the rest of the year it’s just empty.
“Uncared-for, deserted.
“Dark.”

Poor Tamsin!

The neighbour’s baby boy has been snatched from its cot, she’s out searching at night amongst all the posh houses, her older brother’s just angrily smashed his way into one of them and is now proceeding to deliver a National Housing Federation report. She’s only 11, and she’s missing Coronation Street!

From the creators of TAMSIN AND THE DEEP comes the first follow-up which I’d consider a transition piece – preparatory work and the gathering of forces for what lies ahead – if its ominous epilogue is anything to go by.

 

 

What lies here is a shift from underwater to underground, for if Cornwall is famous for its rugged rocks and mighty waves, it’s equally renowned for its clotted cream teas. Mmmm… Clotted cream teas… No, wait! It’s equally renowned for its ancient tin mines where they dug up the ore called cassiterite, as we discover on a school field trip.

“It’s a fascinating mineral. This area in particular is known for its pseudomorphs, where the tin actually replaces and takes the shape of another mineral.”

Are you paying attention at the back? This is hard science!

It’s also a subplot.

Oh, I’m not taking you any further down that route – the props have come loose. You’ll have to negotiate that for yourselves; don’t take your hardhats off, for it’s not the faint- hearted.

 

 

Instead I’d point you in the direction of the introductory legend about the chief of the indigenous giants being bested and cast underground, and the tradition of mine workers to give a little back to the land, be it a lump of iron ore or the final portion of their lunchtime pasties (true!). Now, admittedly, little is being removed any longer – except affordable housing for the local population – but nothing’s being given back, either, to the Small Folk, the Buccas who looked out for the miners. The natural balance is off-kilter. Babies don’t go missing on their own…

I covered TAMSIN AND THE DEEP in depth (you’ll find it in Page 45’s Phoenix Books Section) so I heartily encourage you to look that way for an exploration of all the neat little devices that Cameron and Brown make much use of, as well as Tamsin Thomas’s role as last in the line of Pellars, and wielder of ancient thought-power through the psychic operating interface that is her stick.

She’s getting a bit cocky as this kicks off, but there’s no one like a big brother to bring you back down to earth.

“He’s always “out” these days. What’s he doing?”
“He’s a teenage boy, Tamsin. So basically, I dread to think.”

 

Morgan is beautifully portrayed. He’s getting gangly now, and watching him writhe on the settee in front of a console game, wrestling the controller up and across, then down to the ground with emergency reflexes and zero dignity (while Tamsin keeps herself centred) is hilarious.

What does register as a danger to his dignity is delivering baby clothes next door to young Sharon or doing research for his sister on Small Folk and Fairies. That isn’t going to happen – not this time, anyway – but thankfully some families are better than others at the oral tradition of storytelling.

 

I also love that Morgan desperately needs a haircut in the way that a lot of early teens do, and his face is still slightly shy of full-on adult masculine. It’s a bit pudgy, the more chiselled bits very much in the making, and when either sibling gets grumpy or frets you can tell immediately that they are cut from the same genetic cloth.

In Sesame Street terms, this episode is brought to your by the colour purple, but the condition called red eye, when you finally encounter it, will not be a bout of conjunctivitis. Brrr…..

SLH

Buy Tamsin And The Dark and read the Page 45 review here

Hard Boiled h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Frank Miller & Geof Darrow, Dave Stewart.

The Darrow is in the detail!

Carl Seltz is a devoted family man with a loving wife and two angelic children. Carl Seltz is a traditionalist who drives out of his quiet suburban neighbourhood every morning in an American classic to a car-congested, smog-ridden city of consumerist hell. Carl Seltz is an insurance fraud investigator.

Nixon, on the other hand, is an enthusiastic, pro-active tax man who aims to collect.  Have you seen what he aims with? He has a license for that.

Actually both Nixon and Carl Seltz are para-personalities encoded into the same, deranged, homicidal robot who’s being both covertly and overtly goaded into destroying everything that built him by a girl pretending to have been kidnapped by a homely old lady who bears a striking similarity to Mary Whitehouse.

Mary Whitehouse was the UK wizened sourpuss who took it upon herself to be the nation’s moral guardian, insisting there be no bare bottoms or boobage before bedtime on British TV. I cannot imagine that her impact was felt across The Pond, but then I cannot believe that this is a coincidence given that HARD BOILED is one great big book of nudity, copulation and carnage.

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme carnage, relentless carnage, car-crash carnage: comedic carnage, meted out on the motorway and crashing through supermarket aisles where the shoppers are so intent on shopping that they remain oblivious.

The first is a masterpiece of scene-setting:

The first panel introduces all the dirt where we would expect instead clinical, futuristic cleanliness; a robotic dog with a surely redundant male lower carriage; an overweight technician in a lab coat and jumper bearing a barcode. Then there are the two armed guards with 3 holstered pistols on either padded shoulder saddle, grenades strapped onto each, a further pair pinned on either side of their night-vision helmets, gloves with finger-tip razorblades and phalange-mounted missiles… “Nuke” Nike patches and a CND logo!

 

 

This first landed on our shelves long before Geof Darrow’s SHAOLIN COWBOY: SHEMP BUFFET and SHAOLIN COWBOY: WHO’LL STOP THE REIGN and you can file this too under social satire, toxic excess and consumerist dystopia. Look at all the litter!

At the end of the cybernetic industry stands Mr. Willeford. Ummm, no he doesn’t! His repulsive, flabby form floats pink and naked in a bath, his waste automatically removed through tubes while his body is pumped by Body Buddy 2000 with the pulverised soup of Cola, 7-Up, frankfurters, fries and there are even a few naked babies lined up for processing.

 

 

Details, details, details: you cab pick any page and stare at it for hours!

Even at all the earrings are ridiculous.

SLH

Buy Hard Boiled h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Thanos vol 1: Thanos Returns s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Mike Deodato Jr.

I am reliably informed that old craggy-chops is destined to become the next villain in the Avengers film franchise.

If you want a Recommended Reading List concerning Thanos to date then I am more than happy to oblige at the tail end of this review. You lucky things!

If you want a quick history lesson, however, this will serve you well for within Thanos’s opponents reminisce on what fun he was at school (they don’t; he wasn’t) before taking advantage of the fact that he is, for once, feeling a wee bit peaky. After slamming seven shades of shit out of the Titan (he literally does come from Saturn’s moon Titan), they lock Thanos up in the most secure prison in the universe.

Yes, I laughed when I read that line too.

 

 

Also intent on taking advantage of Thanos feeling under the weather are: his thankless child Thane, his bacchanalian brother Eros, spaceship burglar Nebula, a big bloke I’ve never heard of… and Death. Thanos and Death have had a complicated relationship over the years. Oh yes, all the jokes!

Unfortunately one of them is being Donald Trump about their true objective, and Theresa May about the truth.

There is one excellent sequence of storytelling which opens chapter two following an exquisite cover by Deodato. The cover is of an ancient tree under starlight, at the base of which stands the squat powerhouse that is Thanos, holding up his thick mitt towards a flame-coloured butterfly.

 

 

 

Inside we hear of the planet Nulla which has an unbroken history of tranquillity and – rich in natural, medicinal resources – has long been a haven for the ill and the needy: serene and majestic etc. Inside we see the planet Nulla, first from space, then from ground-level as an Arcadian idyll, its pastures bathed in an early sunset haze as less familiar, more exotic winged insects  with translucent sapphire-blue wings dart amongst its feathered fronds. Only gradually and gently does a single dissonant note start to appear in the art which otherwise maintains its hazy, golden glow through crinkled leaves.

In other words, the pictures and the script subtly stop agreeing. Ever so Jon Klassen, that.

Otherwise, Mike Deodato’s art is always a joy to behold when you need something sturdy, sombre and ominous (see Ellis’s THUNDERBOLTS and Bendis’ DARK AVENGERS), and Thanos at his best is all three. Deodato also does pulverised wear and tear very well, and there is plenty of that on offer, from first-to-face impact to white-hot-laser-beam prison-wall endurance. Lots and lots of Letratone (or its computerised equivalent) too: very bold!

 

 

Eros is played like a British aristocratic (“my dear”) which works well for me – he was ever the self-pampering sybarite – but Lemire fails to convey his fabled powers of persuasion at a crucial juncture. Yes, I can quite see that suspicions need be aroused eventually when delays deplete his dwindling options, but before he runs out of steam surely we should first hear such eloquent oratory designed to distract, fitting that renowned reputation? Nope…? Okay, just a lazily offered, broken-promise plot point, then. No need to actually deliver. Lastly, I doubt there is a single comicbook collection in any genre during which protagonists address each other more often as this in the familial terms “Father!” “Brother!” “Nephew!” “Uncle!”

“Ah, Uncle, you do make sport of me!”
“Why, Nephew, you don’t half deserve it!”
“But, Uncle, your Brother, my Father, he is bloody rubbish, you know!”
“Yes, Nephew, your Father, my Brother is bad. This dialogue’s a bit dodgy too.”

Not actual dialogue, although it swings close.

 

 

For prospective friends of Thanos I personally and emphatically recommend his first appearances when created by drug-addled Jim Starlin in the COMPLETE CAPTAIN MARVEL and COMPLETE WARLOCK way back in the ‘70s. Then I implore you to fast-forward to Hickman’s NEW AVENGERS whose storyline leads directly into the two exceptional, modern INFINITY books and you’re done!

There’s much more you can buy in between and we cannot stop you. In fact we implore you to buy far more product. See, therefore, AVENGERS VS. THANOS, SILVER SURFER: THE REBIRTH OF THANOS, INFINITY GAUNTLET plus its ever diminishing returns should you fancy. We’re just ever so careful about what we personally hand-on-heart recommend so that your trust in us is maintained undiminished.

[Now that we’re done, I will just add that Hickman’s NEW AVENGERS and INFINITY books do lead directly into the endgame that was Marvel’s second SECRET WARS. Nothing to do with Thanos, but clear directions are always handy in negotiating Marvel’s ever meandering maze. Happy to help!]

SLH

Buy Thanos vol 1: Thanos Returns s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Flowers of Evil Complete vol 1 (£19-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi…

Collects the original first three volumes.

Of volume one, our Jonathan wrote:

“You perv.”

I was somewhat intrigued by the synopsis for this manga, wondering how the French poet Charles Baudelaire could possibly fit in with a high school romance / coming of age tale which might well also have some mild sado-masochistic elements. After reading this first volume I see exactly how so now, and it proved a mildly titillating read, I must say!

Our story begins as the hero, on the face of it just a very typical high school student, Takao, flunks his maths test. However, he then already begins to prove himself slightly deviated from the standard norm as his deep obsession with literature becomes clear and – at this particular moment – his utterly rapt absorption with Charles Beaudelaire’s ‘The Flowers Of Evil’.

 

 

(At this point, in a typically pointless, rambling aside, can I just add that whilst by no means being a connoisseur of poetry – in fact finding much of it rather dreary except from a good slap to the head style haiku – Beaudelaire’s The Flowers Of Evil is one of the few ‘worthy’ traditional works of poetry I did enjoy reading at school. Beaudelaire was a bit of a louche character, it must be said, loving his opium, drink and loose women, but what made his work interesting was much of his output revolved around the rapidly changing pace of life taking place in the ‘modern’ urban world of the big cities like Paris at the time, and how an individual was inevitably no more than merely a tiny fleeting part of that. It was probably the first poetry I was exposed to that didn’t involve copious amount of vales, hills and daffodils etc. etc. and thus was of infinitely more interest to myself. Right, digression over.)

So, after demonstrating his complete lack of interest in long division, Takao, possibly moved by Beaudelaire’s heady words, has a moment of madness and pinches the gym kit of his attractive classmate Nanako, whom he secretly has the hots for, of course! Unfortunately for him, his perverted pilfering is observed by the class outsider Nakamura, who begins to blackmail him into a distinctly one-sided friendship, which also appears to have some as yet unclear sexual element to it, culminating in making Takao wear the gym kit under his clothes when he takes the demure Nanako out on a date.

 

 

It’s well written stuff and rather slyly amusing in places as Takao is increasingly put through the wringer by the delightfully devious Nakamura, when all he wants to do is forget his indiscretion ever happened; particularly now it appears he might actually be able to start a relationship with the girl of his dreams.

Guaranteed to remind anyone of what their early teenage years were probably like when it comes to the often excruciating subject of burgeoning sexual attraction. I’ll definitely be reading the next volume as I’m keen to find out exactly what nightmares Nakamura has got lined up next for Takao – if he actually makes it through his first date with Nanako – unscathed and unexposed, that is!

You can carry straight on after this with the original FLOWERS OF EVIL vols 4, 5 and 6.

JR

Buy Flowers of Evil Complete vol 1 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’.

Descender vol 5: Rise Of The Robots (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen

The Wicked + The Divine vol 6: Imperial Phase Part 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Cowboy Ninja Viking s/c (£17-99, Image) by A. J. Lieberman & Riley Rossmo

The Dream Of The Butterfly vol 1: Rabbits Of The Moon (£11-99, Lion Forge) by Richard Marazano & Luo Yin

Hellboy And The BPRD – 1954 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Stephen Green, Patric Reynolds, Brian Churilla, Richard Corben

Injustice Gods Among Us: Year Three Complete Collection s/c (£22-99, DC) by Tom Taylor, Brian Buccellato, Ray Fawkes & various

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 5 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

A Strange & Mystifying Story vol 1 (£8-99, Sublime) by Tsuta Suzuki

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week one

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

Featuring Rian Hughes, Jaime Hernandez, Liz Prince, Warren Ellis, more!

I Am A Number h/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Rian Hughes.

Riddled with wit and bursting with as much mischief and behavioural insight as any Kyle Baker book, this collection of short strips and cartoons is exactly the sort of the masterclass in style and colour that you’d expect from the king of comics-orientated logo design.

You’re not a number, of course.

But even the most anti-authoritarian among you might be surprised at how quick we are to fall into line, and how disconcerted many become when the boundaries by which we seemingly seek to define ourselves blur, such is our obsession with hierarchy: how we rank others, how we rate ourselves, how we conform and kowtow to this constriction – consciously or subconsciously – and the ways in which we might choose to hop ahead of our given lot by making the most of what we’ve got.

 

 

Before really getting to satirical grips with our social ticks, Hughes begins with a relatively simple, linear demonstration with passengers sat on a bus, each wearing a brightly coloured, numbered onesie. The bloke bearing the highest ranking Number 4 demands the front seat, pushing poor 25 towards the back. Number 25 takes it out on Number 27 and so on. After all this upheaval, the story ends on an ellipsis as a bus stop is approached where waits Number 3.

I suspect that Number 37 will shortly be roused roughly from his sleep in order to stand, and while we don’t see the driver’s number, I bet you anything you like that it’s a long one.

 

 

This is immediately followed by a cartoon of a clothes rack hanging with similarly numbered garments, emphasising the implication, in case you missed it, that this hierarchy is by no means a natural order and can be subject to change if we have the means and / or a mind to. Plenty of that will follow in the form of literary allusions, a burning of bras, and a wealthy Starlet being fitted out in a glamorous green frock adorned with a snazzy 29 by Assistant 189 and photographed by Paparazzi 311 and 512, before we flash back to the garment being fashioned by a tired and fretful 13029 in a rat-infested sweatshop.

 

 

There’s one particularly poignant piece in which three kids splash happily in the mud together as naked and equal as the day they were born. Once clothes are imposed with their attendant numbers by a parent, however…

Speaking of equality, what a noble sentiment and disastrous social experiment was communism! And how rank with hypocrisy it was from the very beginning! No numbers there: instead the despot du jour proudly presides over a parade of minions obediently marching below, all of them decked out in uniforms “=” and identical to their beneficent Chairman’s. No numbers, he proclaims from on high, because everyone is is “=”!

On the next page he is seen waited on, hand and foot, while he watches Starlet 29 on widescreen TV. Outside the palace the clothes remain the same, but the circumstances are not so similar.

Entirely silent except for symbols, the economy of communication matches its universality, at least to those who understand Western Arabic numerals. Hughes has studied them in such depth that he has even found multiple ways to surprise us with their physical properties – their lines of symmetry, for example – when holding a mirror up to our self-esteem or the calculated connivances of those who would pull the woollen jumper over our eyes.

 

 

 

 

It always boils down to the numbers but, with a whole lot of lateral thinking, Hughes has managed to mine them for all their worth by deploying them in such different contexts that a trip to the beauty parlour results in a very different sort of make-over, and even a man in meditation, startled to hit the Buddhist jackpot, finds himself embarking on a subsequent search for further answers which may enlighten you both.

SLH

Buy I Am A Number h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Love And Rockets (Locas vol 6): Angels And Magpies (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez.

Poor, poor, wonderful Maggie…

“You should know by now that if you’ve spent one fleeting moment with her, it can last with you forever.”

I think Maggie may be the most thoroughly realised character in comics. So much has happened to her over the years, yet Jaime appears to have no trouble in unearthing more history still, while moving her stoically endured, arduous journey forward.

Moreover she remains a beautiful, graceful woman in what I imagine to be her mid-to-late forties. It’s a soft, vulnerable and everyday beauty. Her hair is more conservative now but it still billows in any breeze, and there is a slight bulge under the chin, yet she carries it all off far more effortlessly than she imagines she does.

I love her comfortable party shirt which Hernandez checks without any account as to its folds, just like our Mark used to.

 

 

She has no shortage of suitors – here Reno and Ray – but it never quite works out for her. Indeed she is oblivious to Reno’s repeated references to his very first kiss which came from Maggie and which has stayed blazed into his brain forever.

The opening dream sequence is a perfect piece of psychology. In it Maggie finds herself lying face up and naked on a waxy leaf as broad as her outstretched body, exposed to the sun thousands of feet above an endless ocean.

 

 

Initially her expression is blissful until she becomes conscious of her precarious situation and vertigo kicks in. She tries to hug the leaf with her back, too fearful at first to risk a fall by finding the better purchase which being on her front would afford her. Gradually she gains enough courage to ease herself onto her stomach and that’s all she can manage for a while.

“Then I figure I must have had the courage to get myself up there, so I should be able to get down. Slowly, I move my way backwards to the stem. At least on the stem I feel like I have something to hold onto.”

She wraps her legs as well as her arms round the stem.

“The stem feels spongy, yet sturdy so I start to feel more confident as I inch my way down. Even if it takes a lifetime to reach bottom, at least I won’t fall to my death.”

Of course, the further she slides down, the broader the stem, until its radius is wider than her outstretched arms…

 

 

So, ‘The Love Bunglers’ itself takes place in the present with Maggie making a play to get back into the mechanics business and Ray wondering if he wants to get back into the Maggie business while Reno watches protectively over her. Unsettlingly there is also a stranger whose interest in Maggie borders on stalking.

Within the main body, however, lie two gut-punching flashbacks to a period in Maggie’s childhood when her difficult mother moved the family from Hoppers to Cadezza in order to be nearer to Maggie’s father whom they were only seeing one weekend a fortnight. Cadezza is where her Dad works. Maggie imparts her gloom at his upheaval by letter to Letty, the friend she left back in Hoppers.

 

 

We don’t actually see Letty, though we will in the second flashback seen from Letty’s point of view entitled ‘Return For Me’ when Maggie has indeed returned to Hoppers, becomes a mechanics prodigy, and Letty is trying to rekindle their friendship – an effort frustrated by Maggie’s mother. It ends with an unfinished sentence and one of the most arresting final panels in comics which rendered me speechless for hours.

This is as nothing however, to what happened in Cadezza; specifically events which Maggie remains ignorant of even to this day. When reviewing that sequence which originally appeared in LOVE AND ROCKETS: NEW STORIES #3 our Tom very wisely eschewed giving you any details at all.

 

 

“Suffice to say“ he wrote, “that once you have got to the end, you’ll go back looking for – and finding – the subtle connections Jaime weaves into the panels. It’s in the body language of the characters, and in their facial expressions… You just need to look at how he has his characters interacting, how he subtly directs the reader’s eye using the direction the characters are looking in.”

Also, I would suggest, what one is wearing and how he is wearing it.

“Any aspiring comic creator would do well just to study his panel composition [and] how he foreshadows events without hitting the reader over the head with it. There’s a great example with Maggie’s little brother Calvin watching a marching band with the baton-twirling leader, then a full seven pages later playing on his own at being the baton-twirler before a fairly significant event happens; and the baton still has a leading role to play.”

Wow. I spot a scrying pool of prescience and at least two major understatements there.

 

 

So that’s THE LOVE BUNGLERS – almost certainly my favourite LOVE AND ROCKETS material of all time – which you can buy as a separate hardcover and is as good an introduction as anything else. To considering a body of work this vast “daunting” is entirely understandable. Entirely! But it is as accessible and completely self-contained as, say, Gilbert Hernandez’s MARBLE SEASON which was an original graphic novel rather than a collected edition.

In addition, this collection includes ‘Gods and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls’ (Jaime’s unique, ever so quirky take on the superhero genre of yore which, TBH, isn’t my thing) but also, far more interestingly, his 2006 New York Times serials ‘La Maggie La Loca’ / ‘Gold Diggers of 1969’ in which Maggie is, respectively, independent, approaching forty and in single digits, living under the rule of her somewhat ill-tempered pregnant mum. The latter is a straightforward black and white comic, each page told in two tiers of three panels each and not a million miles from Charles Schulz in aspect. The latter’s pages are told in three tiers with narration introducing each silent panel, and tone which I think was originally colour. It has all the trappings of an exotic mystery adventure story – with nocturnal excursions on a sequestered island inhabited by a former acquaintance who in some circles is regarded as a peerless superstar, and reached only through covert clues and assignations – all grounded by the calm and colloquial recollections of a comparatively mundane Maggie.

As if Maggie, or Maggie’s life, could ever be mundane! Oh, the many worlds which Maggie has inhabited…

SLH

Buy Love And Rockets (Locas vol 6): Angels And Magpies and read the Page 45 review here

Alone Forever: The Singles Collection (£8-99, Top Shelf) by Liz Prince. 

Brief bursts of autobiographical self-denigration as Liz Prince plays the dating game, pitching woo at boys with beards and losing 13-nil.

Comedic gold, she mines both her disasters and non-starters for all their considerable worth, whether it’s online with OK Cupid or hanging out in bars with male mate Farhad, effectively cock-blocking each other. Of course people think they’re a couple. It seems she can’t win, even when approached by one of her readers – one of her bearded readers! – in an art store while obsessing over sketchbooks and pens with one of her female friends who has a flash-thought:

“Oh no! Do you think I’m dyking this up?”
“Hmm.”

That’s a beautiful piece of cartooning, Liz frowning, fingers on chin, giving the matter the most careful consideration. So is this, with poor Liz left lank at the bar, shouting after a woman who’s already made her mind up:

“You remind me of my gay friend Jess: she’s short, has glasses, dresses like you… She only falls for straight girls, though.”
“Oh, then she’d probably love me.”
“No, I said she likes straight girls.
“I… but I am… HEY! CAN’T YOU AT LEAST HAVE THE DECENCY TO STAND HERE WHILE I WEAKLY DEFEND MY SEXUALITY?!”

Men, of course, prove utterly useless, either full of their own self-importance, utterly unable to make decisions, conversation or even the first move. Actually that first move thing seems more like a power-play.

Here, however, is the shocking truth: Liz Prince actually gets some! She gets quite a lot! She gets, dates, snogs and shags! And they make take six minutes of hilarious, hair-tearing wait, but she also gets knock-out replies to flirty texts. Every second of that sequence is emotionally infectious for Prince’s lines are as expressive as anyone’s in the business, her body language adorable whether she’s feeling foolish, deflated or glowing with girly glee.

She doesn’t give up, either. There’s an absolute champion of a strip in which she appropriates Charles Schulz’s famous American football routine whose humour grows cumulatively on each reprise. In it Lucy cajoles a reluctant Charlie Brown into kicking the ball she’s holding up for him. He’s reluctant because he remembers that each time he gives in to her temptation and has a go against his better judgement, Lucy whips the ball away like someone pulling the rug from under you. Here the roles are reversed, for it is Liz being goaded by Charlie Brown as Cupid.

“Don’t you want a chance at love?”
“Every time I take a kick at love you pull it out from under me!”
“Eventually you’ll make contact. Everyone does. Odds are this next kick will be the one. I’ll do my part and hold it down.”
“He’s right. This has to be the time I kick that old ball. Lucky at love! SO HERE I GO!”

Hahahaha! Yup.

What cements this book (from the creator of TOMBOY, WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME IF I WET THE BED?), BE YOUR OWN BACKING BAND and writer on COADY AND THE CREEPIES) is that there is, of course, a great deal of truth behind all this mirth – the recognition factor. But also it’s the wit in its deployment as above, and so below.

After yet another unsatisfactory – and this time quite protracted courtship crushed by unanswered emails and texts – Liz Prince is reading The Book of Love while considering her options.

“It is hard to say “Bye” when someone asks you to give them a second chance. But part of growing up is learning to remove yourself from undesirable situations.”

At the same time her bleating heart is far from still, fighting the wastrel’s corner by reminding Liz of how good it once was. She snaps the book shut on it, silencing it, then opens it up to reveal her heart, dead as a doornail.

“When you’re not on the same page, it’s best to just tear that page out and move on.”

As she tears that page out there is a sound effect that doubles as a death knell:

“RIP”

And that’s why I love Liz Prince

SLH

Buy Alone Forever: The Singles Collection and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Avengers.
“It’s time for your meds.”

I believe that sums up this beautifully.

With plenty of dark humour to relieve the edge-of-your-seat tension – and two particularly furrowed, perspiring brows – it’s like watching the runaway train heading for the collapsed bridge over a very deep canyon whilst impending-calamity piano music plays at ever-increasing speed and volume.

It’s a book about manipulation, sanity and power, starring the most sociopathic individuals in the Marvel Universe, all led by the least stable of the lot.

It’s a direct follow-on from Warren Ellis & Mike Deodato’s THUNDERBOLTS (recommended for its claustrophobic, subterranean sweatiness) which itself was an immediate result of Marvel’s original, catastrophic CIVIL WAR.

 

 

Traditionally THE AVENGERS is Marvel’s flagship title, its lofty, squeaky-clean team consisting of the most altruistic available and closely vetted to answer that vocational call. This is its juicy, perverse antithesis, its ultimate corruption, successfully defiling all that should be dignified, honourable, above board and working towards the public’s best interest. The closest equivalent I can offer you is America’s real-life White House 2017 commanded by its blatantly lying Loony-In-Chief. He’s added a new meaning to the term “self-service”.

Behold the precognitive powers of Ellis and Bendis, for the parallels are striking!

Norman Osborn – the monomaniacal Brillo-bonced businessman, nightmare and seething cauldron of insanity also known as the Green Goblin (who once murdered a woman called Gwen Stacy) – has risen to the socio-political top. Media-savvy, he’s duped the world with an entirely unexpected conquest and gone on to persuade the public that he is reformed, so all his sins have been not only forgiven but officially pardoned. He’s currently and legitimately in charge of US national security plus all things superhuman. He has even created his own team of fiercely formidable Avengers.

 

 

They’re both fierce and formidable because they are walking, talking monstrosities for whom shoot-to-kill is not just a default setting, it’s a pastime and a pleasure.

These criminals – lascivious, devious super-criminals – are all seemingly in thrall to Norman Osborn, although some of them may be making their own predatory moves.

We have Venom posing as Spider-Man, Bullseye posing as Hawkeye, Moonstone as Ms. Marvel, Logan’s son as Wolverine, and Ares the god of war simply because there is fighting involved.

 

 

The Sentry remains because the Sentry is mentally and emotionally vulnerable and Osborn has been ‘courting’ him, for want of a better word. They’re both in possession of split personalities so Norman understands. Norman can reach him. Norman has him under control. Norman has the ultimate weapon at his side for Bob Reynolds, the Sentry, could black out the sun.

 

 

It’s not your normal exchange of super-powered fisticuffs by any stretch of the imagination. There are blistering battles and pyrotechnics aplenty during which Deodato excels with a grim, visceral splendour, but they aren’t the traditional stand-offs of power sets for we veer into the Biblical and far, far beyond. The curved hips which Deodato likes to emphasise (c.f. Michelangelo’s s-shaped teenage lads unfathomably cavorting naked behind ‘The Doni Madonna’, 1503) are actually apposite here, for Ms. Moonstone is sexually objectifying herself in order to secure her own nocturnal power base within the ranks.

 

 

I believe this is where S.H.I.E.L.D.’s former accountant Victoria Hand first appeared, here promoted to the equivalent of Norman Osborn’s Chief Of Staff, determined to keep a lid on the multiple bubbling cauldrons and – to her credit (and Bendis’s) – doing a commendable job of it under the intimidating circumstances. She doesn’t fluster, she doesn’t panic; she stands her ground and is not without resources of her own. Again to Bendis’s credit, her ultimate fate at the end of this day is far from predictable.

For we all know Norman’s machinations are going to implode spectacularly at some point, and we all know that hubris will be his undoing; it’s merely a question of just how much chaos and misery he can cause in the meantime. SPOILER: the answer is plenty.

This book mirrors Bendis’s NEW AVENGERS VOL 4 and dovetails directly into his seven-year endgame called SIEGE

SLH

Buy Dark Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Frankenstein’s Womb (£4-99, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Marek Oleksicki.

1816, and Europe is shrouded under a volcanic winter caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora. On their way to meet Lord Byron at Lake Geneva are Mary Wollestonecraft Godwin, her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her step-sister, Claire Clairmont, who is pregnant with Byron’s child. Thanks to Shelley’s peculiar line in conversation, the carriage is feeling quite cramped.

Still in Germany they pass by the ruins of Castle Frankenstein where Mary persuades them to stop. Supposedly abandoned, she finds there a creature born of her own fertile imagination who shows her the past, tells of her future, talks of love, live, death, and introduces her to a modern defibrillator.

It’s a neat way of providing a little history lesson à la CRECY, for they were an incestuous lot, utterly fascinating and pretty much doomed.

There’s some atmospheric art too, where you get your money’s worth of ink in the form of heavy shadows and good old-fashioned texture on the castle’s bare stone walls or on the shore under a tempestuous sky.

SLH

Buy Frankenstein’s Womb and read the Page 45 review here

Aetheric Mechanics (£4-99, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Gianluca Pagliarani.

A 44-page comic with no more than five separate scenes, but what five scenes they are!

With his crisp, intricate art, Gianluca Pagliarani’s has nailed each environment asked of him from the Royal Hospital Chelsea to high above the Thames, down in the old brick terraces and inside a meticulously appointed English drawing room with its ornate tables, chairs and bookcases on a period carpet.

The period being 1907, as Captain Doctor Robert Watcham demobilises after barely surviving a stint across the Channel on the warfront in Ruritania with its monstrous, humanoid war engines, and returns to his digs in a house shared with a certain Sax Raker, gentleman detective and loquacious stickler for detail. He’s ruminating on his current case of The Man Who Wasn’t There, a man seen by scientists flickering in and out of vision like a faulty transmission as he murders an expert in Aetheric Mechanics. But who is The Man Who Wasn’t There? And why do those chasing him seem strangely familiar?

 

 

Concise and clever, it’s a cool little number with a very different voice for Ellis as he affects an upper crust Queen’s English so convincing you’ll be hearing it in your head.

With additional WWI connotations, this is another slice of steampunk to set alongside Ellis’ CAPTAIN SWING, or indeed the lush, album-sized CASTLE IN THE STARS VOL 1  by Alex Alice which also involves that fabled fifth Greek element, aether.

Our second image here isn’t included (a similar shot “taken” 10 minutes later is, instead) but I thought you’d like to see it.

 

 

SLH

Buy Aetheric Mechanics and read the Page 45 review here

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon s/c (£14-99, DC) by Jill Thompson…

“Diana grew from adorable baby to lovely girl as if overnight.
“The tears of the Gods had enchanted this girl and she possessed beauty, intelligence, strength and wondrous powers.
“Handsome and graceful with thick flowing hair, she mesmerised all who met her.
“Weavers spun ethereal threads and tailors stitched night and day to design her the most delicate of robes.
“Clever thinkers invented machines to amuse her.
“Sweet delights were served to her on golden platters at every meal.
“Musicians composed melodies to serenade her as she played or slept.
“Gardeners grew the flowers that were most pleasing to her nose.
“Theatrical performances were created in her honour…
“… and no one ever told her “no.””

Oh dear.

“So the beautiful princess who was so doted upon not only was striking and elegant, but also conceited and arrogant, as well.”

Yes, before the Amazonian Wonder Woman who – as Jill so eloquently puts it towards the conclusion of this exquisitely beautiful exploration of Diana’s early years – ‘wanders the world, defending the weak, righting wrongs and fighting evil’, there was a right over-indulged spoilt little madam. Which in a small child is perhaps mildly amusing, at times at least (especially if they’re not your own), but not in a full-grown woman.

 

 

No, such character traits, if unchecked or unameliorated by adulthood, are obviously going to lead to the tears of many a person, not just the brat themselves when their every whim isn’t catered for instantly.  And so it proves here with disastrous consequences for the delightful denizens of the hidden isle of Themyscira, as there are some very valuable life lessons which are belatedly going to have to be learnt the hard way…

 

 

But first Jill recounts just how the Queen Hippolyta and her Amazons came to sequester themselves away from mankind, Hippolyta’s poignant longing for a child, and the Gods’ answer to that fervent clarion call of desire. It’s a version that will satisfy the comic purists and the scholars of classics alike, told as it is with an elegance and grace to match Jill’s glorious watercolour painted artwork, particularly the Mediterranean palette of olive, terracota and aquamarine divinely invoking the heady sensations of an endless summer in paradise. Why would anyone leave such a veritable heaven on earth to brave the base outside world with all its sins and suffering…?

 

 

Fans of Jill’s SCARY GODMOTHER and BEAST OF BURDEN material, and also her take another comics classic, the Sandman and his family, with the hilarious THE LITTLE ENDLESS STORYBOOK and DELIRIUM’S PARTY, will know precisely what to expect. But for people, perhaps Wonder Woman fans, new to Jill’s majestic touch with the brushes and indeed lyrical weaving of words, I think it will be quite the revelation. There’s a fantastic few extra pages of process (I would have loved more!) at the end where she takes us through from pencils to finished colours on a few pages, and it’s quite the visual feast.

JR

Buy Wonder Woman: The True Amazon 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’.

Saga vol 8 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Dragonseed h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Kurt McClung & Mateo Guerrero

Tamsin And The Dark (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron & Kate Brown

The Silence Of Our Friends (£8-99, Square Fish) by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos & Nate Powell

Injustice Ground Zero vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Christopher Sebela, Brian Buccellato & Pop Mhan, various

Black Bolt vol 1 (£15-99, Marvel) by Saladin Ahmed & Christian Ward, Frazer Irving

Iceman vol 1: Thawing Out s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Sina Grace & Alessandro Vitti, Edgar Salazar, Ibraim Roberson

Venomverse s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Iban Coello

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

Spider-Man Deadpool vol 4: Serious Business s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Joshua Corin & Will Robson

Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps vol 4: Fracture s/c (£17-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Ethan Van Sciver, Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona

Generation Gone vol 1 (£15-99, Image) by Ales Kot & Andre Araujo

Kill 6 Billion Demons vol 2 (£13-99, Image) by Tom Parkinson-Morgan

Flowers of Evil Complete vol 1 (£19-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

Thanos vol 1: Thanos Returns s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Mike Deodato Jr.

Thanos vol 2: The God Guarry s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Germen Peralta

Hard Boiled h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Frank Miller & Geof Darrow, Dave Stewart

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 5: Tiny Rick (£17-99, Oni Press) by Kyle Starks & C J Cannon, Marc Ellerby

Judge Dredd Classics: The Dark Judges (£17-99, IDW) by John Wagner, Alan Grant & Brian Bolland, various

First Year Out: A Transition Story (£15-99, Singing Dragon) by Sabrina Symington

Dark Judges Book 1: Fall of Deadworld h/c (£18-99, Rebellion) by Kek-W & Dave Kendall