Archive for March, 2018

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2018 week four

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

Featuring Dave Cooper, Marguerite Abouet & Mathieu Sapin, Lorena Alvarez,  Steve Haines & Sophie Standing, Jeremy Haun, Seth M Peck,  Warren Ellis, John Cassady, Laura Martin, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko

Mudbite (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Dave Cooper.


“This is making me feel queasy!” Alternatively: “Oh my god that’s upsetting.”

How we have missed Dave Cooper in comics! There are few in this medium who can make us all squirm in quite such a spectacular, deep-seated fashion. Not for Dave Cooper, the momentary, transgressive gag: this is far more profoundly unsettling, with the visual craft (and specific, lino-cut textures in places) of Jim Woodring.

Cooper knows his nightmares so well. Come to think of it, he knows mine pretty intimately too. Not the specifics, but the patterns and underlying tone: hopelessness, embarrassment, anxiety; attempts to fix things which only exacerbate the situation; frustration, fear and failure. Guilt.



There are the swift, dream-logic transitions through invisible, intangible doors which will not reopen, so you stray ever further from your intended destination or the path you supposed might keep you on course. Often, there is a clock ticking silently away. Having lost someone or been left behind, you strive to catch up and though you may glimpse them again, fleetingly, perhaps in the distance or in conversation with others, meaningful contact is rarely possible. Elements become icky: I know of at least two other friends who dream of toilets so unbelievably foul that no human being should encounter them.

(I once did, BTW, in a hotel in St. Germaine, Paris, whose inner courtyard had so long lost its glass roof that the wooden stairs leading up to the bedrooms had rotted with rain, taking a couple of the steps clean away and making those that were left feel precarious at best, soggy. The room doors didn’t lock, but the single toilet, the size of a communal shower, was its pièce de résistance, its hole inaccessible by a good few feet, surrounded as it was with – anyway.)



There are no latrines here: I’m trying to describe the underlying elements of Cooper’s narrative without delivering its details. The two tales aren’t presented as dreamscapes, either – or at least not ‘Bug Bite’ – and that makes what transpires even more unsettling.

In ‘Bug Bite’ glossy-eyed, lower-lip-biting Eddy Table flies to a big city – possibly the Big Apple – with his family: rosy-cheeked wife with her quaint, retro rolled-up hair-do, more contemporary, long-haired and baggy-clothed son Zak, and daughter Nico with platted pigtails. Proudly, they are on parade. Mama:

“It’s so nice to be travelling together as a family.”



It’s already a strange environment: an industrialised version of those ancient cities in Jordan et al, hewn into rock faces with dark, gaping, glass-less windows, but fashioned in concrete instead. The traffic is mid-20th Century and anthropomorphic. The resolution of the backgrounds is blurred throughout, as if they’re moving through an aquarium or at least not at one with their environment, and the colours are all khaki and matte, while the family’s wide eyes glisten and gleam.

“Everything’s the same, but different!”
“Yeah, like a reflection in a funhouse mirror.”

On cue, buxom Dave Cooper ladies stride and strut through the streets with fulsome thighs and lots of extra wobbly flesh. Already the ideal of the united, unflustered family outing begins to melt away as Eddie’s eyes become engorged, popping then flopping out of his skull to loll about on the pavement like… you know. And it hurts. We as readers wince: with vicarious embarrassment and anxiety, but also the visceral, physical discomfort we can all recall of having grit in our eyes.



Son Zak attempts to lend a helping hand, to push his dad’s eyes back into their sockets and in so doing becomes innocently complicit, and that’s exactly when a former lady acquaintance called Mimi happens by, while wife and daughter stride on, unsuspectingly.

We have only just begun, but the pattern will be replicated in increasingly anxious and distorted ripples and reflections. I’ve already deployed all the words necessary to describe the most extraordinary, arresting two final panels. So I won’t be using them again.



The graphic novel’s flipside is ‘Mud River’ and the clock’s ticking faster than the first from get-go as a solitary Eddie hot-foots his way through a more overtly hostile countryside environment towards his only means of escape from the titular, impending threat: his parked car. Did I mention that the vehicles here had been imbued with certain human aspects? His car refuses him entry, its doors steadfastly shut. So Eddie gains access another way.




The familiar and the pliable become other and alien. Its scale askew, the car’s controls lie tantalisingly out of reach and its functions are frustratingly altered. It no longer serves its customarily complied-with purpose, so Eddie hitches a very different ride from the mud-slide. I loved its ornamental prow.

The two tales are separated by twin tableaux apposite to each, populated by multiple Eddies and others roaming free from both anxiety and guilt, with glee. He certainly takes full command of the joysticks. I’m trying to be discreet.

There’s a secondary interstitial layer too, but I’ll leave that to you.


Buy Mudbite and read the Page 45 review here

Anxiety Is Really Strange (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Steve Haines & Sophie Standing…

Isn’t it?

It’s also a massive pain in the arse, as anyone who has experienced it can testify, whether it rears its often incapacitating head at its most repetitive and severe, or even on the ad hoc basis which is arguably essential for our survival.

Fortunately Steve Haines and Sophie Standing (PAIN IS REALLY STRANGE and TRAUMA IS REALLY STRANGE) are back once again to give us the low down on the various, often multifaceted, reasons as to why and how anxiety arises within us, and what we can do to ameliorate the symptoms and even prevent it re-occurring.

The good news is that it’s all perfectly normal: it’s primarily just various physiological responses being over-stimulated. As Steve states, “Do not fall into the trap of thinking anxiety is just in your mind.”



As to the reasons why this happens? Well, here’s Steve again, “…the causes of anxiety range from gut bacteria to adverse childhood experiences to existential angst. It’s complex!”



Actually, he details quite a few other reasons over the first few pages and there was one which certainly hit squarely on the head for me…

“Exhaustion and worrying about money can send us into survival mode.”

I certainly recognise that one as a trigger, as I’m sure many of us would. Interestingly, I also recognised a known resulting symptom of OCD, one of several which our duo explain can manifest when one is feeling anxious, even on a relatively mild, primarily subconscious level. Fascinating stuff.



As with their previous works, Haines and Standing very simply and very clearly break down and illustrate precisely what happens within us when anxiety strikes, and the various forms in which it manifests itself to the outside world. Even including the situations where anxiety might, as I say, actually prove to be a positive thing!

You can’t believe that explanations of incredibly complex medical issues can be explained so succinctly and so beautifully! Also, as before, references of papers, studies and books for further reading are provided at the bottom of each page and then also collated together at the end.



Into Page 45’s Mental Health Section this so helpfully goes!


Buy Anxiety Is Really Strange and read the Page 45 review here

Akissi: Tales Of Mischief (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Marguerite Abouet & Mathieu Sapin…

“Akissi! What on earth happened to you!?”
“Er… Mum, Auntie Victo says to thank you but she’s not a fan of fish head. Here you go!”

There is, of course, a very good reason as to why the mischievous, impish Akissi has failed to deliver an intact fish to Auntie Victo who only lives around the corner, as her mother instructed her to do several hours ago. She simply wasn’t paying attention when listening to the directions she was carefully given by her mum, but I don’t think that would be the excuse Akissi would come out with. No, it’s when the stray cat gets in on the action that it all got out of hand, in Akissi’s mind at least…

AYA: LIFE IN YOP CITY and AYA: LOVE IN YOP CITY‘s Marguerite Abouet returns, sadly not with collaborator Clément Oubrérie this time around, though artist Mathieu Sapin manages to capture the madcap goings-on of a vibrant small town in the Ivory Coast with equal aplomb, as feisty Akissi and her bunch of ragtag chums run riot and cause their parents and teachers immense trouble, repeated headaches, and indeed even one epileptic fit!



There’s a joyous rambunctiousness to Sapin’s art which is immensely captivating. You can practically feel the energy these kids are perpetually vibrating at near-light-speed with, imbued by Abouet’s warm and witty writing, and therefore their parents and teachers’ consequent mental and physical fatigue from trying to keeping up with them.

The more I stared at even just at the cover with a wild-eyed, rictus-grin-endowed Akissi, arms thrown wide, seemingly bursting out of the book like a motorcycle stuntman crashing through a paper target ready to start some serious mayhem, I thought, “Yeah, I’ve got a lunatic exactly like that at home…” If Akissi and her chums could be wired up to the grid, they’d solve the world’s energy crisis overnight.



Absolutely everything about this book is lively on the eye! Even the title page background for each story is a different solid block of strong colour which, when I rapidly flicked through the book, gave me a weird childhood flashback to the plastic ribbon curtains you used to see in the entrance to butchers’ shops to keep flies out! Comics, eh?

Often Akissi and her cheeky friends are very well aware that they’re up to no good, such as when she’s craftily charging all her friends to watch the adventures of Spectreman, who is basically Megaman, on her parents’ TV whilst her parents are out. When her Dad comes home from work feeling rather unwell, for some peace and quiet and a much needed lie down, this obviously causes a stampeding exodus of panicking kids heading for any and all possible exits. Except for the idiot who decides to hide under her dad’s bed…

Other tales do feature what the privations of their little lives are all about, though, albeit very comedically, such as Akissi’s horrific issues with lice, and even worse, worms. Which she thinks are quite cute!?! Then, when Akissi’s parents have had just about all can they take of their beloved offspring, she’s shipped off to the bush to cause chaos – I mean stay, with her Nan and her family. But where Akissi goes, madness for her family and merriment for us is sure to follow. So, it’s not long before she’s setting her cousin’s hair on fire and getting bitten by a snake.



Much like the AYA material, these hilarious, frequently uproariously ludicrous tales, are an uplifting breath of fresh air, whilst still managing to shine a light on the cultural peculiarities and wonderful people of the Ivory Coast setting. The happy-go-lucky nature of Akissi and her mates show us that kids can be just as daft the world over, and the less they’ve got materially, the more trouble their hyper-active imaginations can get them into! Especially via the pen of such a talented writer who can bring her creations so vividly to life.


Buy Akissi: Tales Of Mischief and read the Page 45 review here

Nightlights h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Lorena Alvarez.

The cover is a pretty thing in orange, blues and purples, with tactile spot varnish picking out the title, some flowers and Sandy’s sketches. Oh how she loves to draw! But I promise you that this is nothing compared to the wonders within…

Sandy is lying flat on her back on the lounge carpet, as far from her bedroom as possible, positively gluing herself to the ground.

“I’m a heavy, heavy rock…”

Haha! So many kids do love to prolong the day, don’t they? They go to great guileful lengths, first to avoid climbing those stairs to Bedfordshire, then to keep Mummy or Daddy reading to them for as long as possible. When all else fails, and the bedside light looks like going out, our Jonathan’s young Nutjob has been known to clasp her hands studiously, look him in the eyes with a serious expression and say:

“So, Daddy, tell me about your day…”

I don’t quite know why Sandy’s so keen to delay, for her day is far from done.



Once the bedroom is dark, tiny pink baubles of light appear above her head, which – with a whoosh of wide-spread arms – she transforms into the most magical and diverse parade of magnificent space-swimming creatures! Some come from the ocean, like a gigantic red octopus with big bulbous yellow eyes; some seem to float in their own bubbles of water complete with seaweed. One’s like a giant white wolf with huge orange orbs, there’s an owl, a regal lute-strumming monkey and a cat at the back that could be its queen. She might be reading her own bedtime story.



There’s so much for eyes to explore and linger over – those two double-page spreads are actually one long scroll which I’ll show you at the bottom – and Alvarez does aqueous and gelatinous so very well, with pools of light reflected on the membranes. As your eyes drift slowly from left to right, you will see Sandy drifting too – off to a contented sleep.



In the morning it’s time for school. It’s run by nuns, and the Sister supervising the front gate to take attendance is ever so stern.

“Where’s the rest of that skirt, Miss Garcia? This is a sanctuary for learning, not a disco.
“Miss Lopez, are you trying to blind me with that pink hairband?
“You there! Pull those socks up!
“And I don’t want to see you wandering off at break again, Sandy.”

Break seems like fun, and they’ve grass to play on rather than a hard asphalt school yard. It’s just as well, because one of the young ladies is rugby-tackling another to the ground!



Sandy is diligently sketching some of the wonders from the night before when she’s interrupted by a moon-faced girl with lavender-tinted white hair who asks to look at her drawings. She studies them while Sandy waits, worried that she might disappoint and that this newcomer won’t like what she sees, but…

“Your drawings are really good!
“You’ll be famous one day!”

Her name is Morfie, she says, and it’s her first day. But suddenly a storm sets in and Sandy quickly gathers up her school books and hurries inside.

“Bye, Sandy.”

But how did she know Sandy’s name? And why – when Sandy looks out of the window during lessons – is Morfie sitting perched up a tree, with the rain pouring down all around her, her hair blowing like the loose leaves in the squall?



Rain is another element which Alvarez excels at. I can hear all the little droplets’ individual, pitter-patter impacts and splashes on the grass and the trees, and then on the fresh, green heathers and ferns as Sandy cycles back home.

Alvarez incorporates so many of these feathery fronds into the fantastical pages too. But soon the eyes from the nocturnal sequences start to appear in the woods during daylight. Fungi sprout from the tree trunks and the leaf sprays take on a purple, luminous glow.



Morfie’s expressions, already ambiguous, begin to look greedy, her flattering attentions more overtly manipulative, and her demands on Sandy’s creativity become… vampiric.



More than once Sandy uses her drawing skills to create escape routes, and her clever delaying tactic prove that she does at least occasionally pay attention in class.

You will be unsurprised to learn that this gorgeous graphic novel comes from Nobrow. They and their Flying Eye imprint are responsible for a significant sum of our most luxurious Young Readers picture books.



Alvarez has lavished NIGHLIGHTS with so many double-page spreads festooned with such a variety of cute wide-eyed wonders that perhaps your young ones’ imaginative minds will make up adventures of their own. When Philippa Rice once filled Page 45’s window with a vast diorama of colourful paper figures, I saw a five-year-old boy singling some of them out, and I overhead him tell his grandfather the most elaborate stories about them, conjured up on the spot.

There’s certainly plenty to play with here.


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

Planetary Book 2 s/c (£22-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday.

“The game’s afoot.
“We just have to make sure we’re not the game.
“No more time for games at all.”

Elijah Snow has been patient.

He has been terse, grouchy and suspicious, but he has been patient, collecting all the clues he’s needed to exhume his own past: the fragments which he was once robbed of. They spanned the entire 20th Century, for Elijah Snow was born on January 1st 1900 in order to protect it – to gather information and save it. Mostly he succeeded, until he failed and so sacrificed the lot.

Now he knows why he failed, how he lost it, who stole it from him, and the unspeakable horrors which they have wrought in the meantime.

Now Elijah Snow is going to stop them. And then, after that, he is going to do something very clever indeed.



For me this is the work of Warren Ellis’s career to date.

Cassaday’s and Martin’s too.

Science fiction at its most wondrous, inclusive, mysterious and thrilling, it is meticulously composed, vast in scope, broad in appeal and spectacular to look at. It also boasts a mordant wit, with superb cadence in conversation as the three members of Planetary’s field team play verbal sabres at each other’s expense. It’s one way of staying sane.

I told you everything you need to know in PLANETARY BOOK 1 (collecting #1-14) while giving little away.



Each chapter was a relatively self-contained mystery, approached from a different angle, to be solved with lateral thinking, ground-level detective work and the occasional forced entry or fist; each individual investigation also provided a piece to a much larger puzzle which is by now coalescing ever more swiftly, so that if I add too much more I risk clueing new readers in too quickly.

Seriously, read my review of PLANETARY BOOK 1 instead which is infinitely more coherent than this, encompassing form, structure, art, architecture and the fun of each episode being a riff on earlier science-fictions, extrapolated from and repurposed here for their specific roles in Ellis’s own masterplan. While you do so, please remember that there is a vertical scroll bar between the words and interior art, for that review is twenty-four paragraphs long.



Meanwhile, a quick summary as but a flimsy excuse to present you with interior art from Book 2, followed by a few further observations.

Planetary is a covert, private organisation seeking the 20th Century’s secrets. Funded by an unseen Fourth Man, they are archaeologists of the unknown, travelling the globe to unearth all the weird science which has been foisted upon the Earth from other dimensions, or which we have visited upon ourselves. Though some of their discoveries prove breathtaking treasures, few are less than horrific, yet Planetary is determined to salvage as much as they can disinter for the betterment of mankind.




Unfortunately they find themselves up against The Four, astronauts secretly launched into space in 1961 using physics developed by Nazi physicists exported to America and led by a manipulative, scientific genius in “disciplines as long as your arm”. They returned… changed… empowered… and they do not have our best interests at heart.

You may have guessed from the details who they are dark reflections of. If you haven’t, it truly doesn’t matter. The little winks and nudges are but Easter Eggs: this is thoroughly accessible to all.



As PLANETARY kicks off, its surviving field operatives Jakita Wagner and The Drummer invite Elijah Snow to fill their recently ‘vacated’ third place, leaving Elijah is entirely unaware that he has been a key member for years. During the years that Snow was… incapacitated… they lost a fellow field operative, Ambrose Chase, during an assault on an experiment to create new fictional worlds. While using his abilities to create localised bubbles which manipulate universal laws of physics, Ambrose was shot and disappeared, leaving no informational trail behind him.

Here, have some suppositional science written a decade and a half ago:

“There’s a theory that the universe’s underpinning is information, no matter and energy. Matter and energy move in volume, but the informational capacity of the universe has been found to rely solely on surface area.
“That means that the universe is two-dimensional. Matter, energy, time, you, me and the floor are holograms. Everything in volumes is an expression of a two-dimensional plane of information.”



Ah, it’s all about information and coding these days, isn’t it? Elsewhere and elsewhen:

“The old Aboriginal Dreamtime stories say that their ancient ancestors sang the world into being. The gate seemed to be on the same operating system.”
“It’s all operating systems. But you don’t just shoot wild information into operating systems that big just to see what happens.”
“Sure you do. I’ve read all about it. It’s called a “virus”.”

A few extra notes:

This reprints PLANETARY #15-27 plus JLA / PLANETARY and BATMAN / PLANETARY at the back. Both the add-ons are much earlier, inferior works than the rest of the material and should be read first, if at all.  In all honesty I suspect that they were but corporate commercials for the more accessible central series. The latter at least boasted the benefit of Cassady art, and a reminder that Batman once looked much more like a bat.



Later iterations / variations of Batman only resembled Batman. If you read those last, you will only feel anticlimactically let down, so keep glancing at the covers for each chapter as you read through to note how near you are to the real finale, #27.

John Cassady and Laura Martin:

I had far more to say in PLANETARY BOOK 1 but JLA / PLANETARY proves beyond doubt that any other interloper could only cause you to cry. Cassady and Martin are indispensible, and their never left the main series once.

The sheer range of their keen, clean excellence is unquestionable: spectacular sunrises and sunsets; quiet, one-on-one conversations while quaffing coffee, sat outside a cafe, eyes locked; digging deeper, sinking down, for something far more profound during drug-induced discourses on underlying micro-universes; then the sheer scale of an alien object passing through our solar system whose interior architecture is revealed to encompass an entire ecology as vast as any country’s in merely one of its multiple chambers.



They bring some of their very best to bear on the chapter which seems to me to be a tribute both to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s ‘Tarzan’ but also Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart Of Darkness’ with its own twist, as always, as well as a surprising link to another member’s past. The vegetation is lush and science is shiny.



Yes, the sheer wonder of it all, reflecting the so often reprised and emphasised Elijah adage that this is a very strange world and we must all keep it that way.

Snow, as I say, was born at midnight at the very beginning on the 20th Century. That’s now come to a close, but although it has left behind its scars it has also left behind surgeons.

Surgeons determined to cut out the rot, like The Four, and save the seemingly unsalvageable.

“Some Century Babies are defenders. Some are pioneers.
“Elijah saves things.
“I think he wants to save Ambrose Chase.”




Buy Planetary Book 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Realm vol 1 (£8-99, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Seth M Peck & Jeremy Haun.

“You do know killing our clients is bad business, don’t you, Will? Dead customers are not repeat customers.”

I’ve tried to keep that in mind throughout my career.

There may have been the odd lapse, but our basement’s been rebuilt since then.

The key to any cover is to intrigue. The same goes for early pages: they should entice you to ask yourself questions.

The silent sequence opening Terry Moore’s RACHEL RISING and Nabiel Kanan’s equally eerie introduction to THE DROWNERS did precisely that.

Similarly, so much of THE REALM’S initial narrative storytelling is visual alone, such is the shared understanding between its co-creators that implication is far more fun and emotionally involving than being buried under a mountain of mind-bludgeoning exposition. Leave us to pick it up and work it out for ourselves – and even fend for ourselves in video games – and we’re more likely to invest early on.

Never show your full hand on a first pass. Lure or you lose.



We have a modern American city-sprawl, almost entirely deserted and whose infrastructure is down.

It seems utterly inert.

No one is shopping and wrecked cars are abandoned in shopping mall parking lots. There’s no traffic, and no trains are running. The skyscrapers are largely left standing but their windows are mostly blown out, even several storeys up. Electricity appears entirely offline.



Instead, crystalline-graphite-like citadels with glowing, monocular hollows float overheard; around them swarm dragons or “drakes”. Within those floating citadels the architecture appears to be classical, ecclesiastical and very ancient, but then abruptly clinical. An obedient priest with a red-glowing eye enters a ritual, ringed centre and performs a sacred ceremony at some certain cost, making a solemn exchange and a proclaiming a vow.

From all this I think we can infer that an invasion or at least an incursion has occurred, and since there’s no renewed vegetation thrusting its way through the asphalt or creeping over the sheer, straight-lined girders (coloured to iron-oxide perfection by Nick Filardi) it’s evidently happened relatively recently, within living memory.



Across this detritus-strewn emptiness – though preferably under its industrial overpasses – two figures cautiously make their way: a woman on horseback being led by a man with a shotgun. They are late for an assignation with a man on a make-shift throne whom they address as King. Is that his surname? Is he a crime lord? Or has the entire world gone feudal?

“Nolan! I was starting to get a little worried you’d fallen into some kind of trouble!”
“Jesus! I’m not even a day off schedule, King. I’ve got the girl as promised, and you’ve got my money, I’ll gladly be on my way.”

Not much due deference in the language there. There’s not a great deal of courtly oratory in exchange.

“Straight to business! I like it! I hope the job didn’t prove too difficult.”
“It wasn’t easy. Your intel sucked, and there are half a dozen drakes in the air between here and Missouri.”

Part of that lousy intel involved an under-estimation of the girl’s captors’ numbers. Also: the lady in question turned out not to be said King’s daughter. She was traded as skin for antibiotics; antibiotics which proved beyond their sell-by date. So this wasn’t a rescue mission, it was a reprisal. That piece of withheld intelligence is only coming through now.

Can you spell “reciprocation”?



So yes, everything appears to be in short supply now, scavenging a necessity: even used toothbrushes appear to be a cherished commodity and I appreciated Haun’s subtle, bristle-bent emphasis on the ‘used’.

The most immediately alarming transformation which the environment has undergone, however, lies within its general population. Gone are the mad commuters bustling down avenues, talking to themselves loudly while pretending to be on their cell phones; instead there are hoards of marauding, opportunist orcs and exceptionally acrobatic, armoured goblins. I liked the grit in their speech balloons.

This is the lie of the land and tradition dictates, almost universally under such adverse circumstances, that the protagonists must set off on a journey. Barricading yourself in, then sitting tight, doesn’t make for good comics, film, television or prose.



So it is that a certain Miss Molly – exceptionally proficient with a bow and arrow and she sure doesn’t flinch under pressure – hires Will Nolan and his helmeted scout Rook to help her and Laszlo escort two scientists across open country, west to Kansas City. We still don’t know why, five chapters in, though the elder Doctor Burke does carry some sort of cargo, perhaps a flask, which Miss Molly at least is aware of. Younger David also harbours a secret, about which I’ll stay shtum. Neither wants to carry a gun, but as Laszlo reminds them:

“Hey, Doctor Burke, remember when we got attacked by those orcs outside Springfield and you science them to death?”

They’re going to need those guns.



The main focus is on the immediate impediments thrown up in our travellers’ path as they cross a much-altered country. Also, on a waif and then a stray they pick up along the way: Eli, then Zach. Eli at least appears to have survived through holing himself up amongst tunnels, but Zach they found wandering the ruins unmolested, unscathed, in a daze. His memory is hazy.

It’s there that I’ll leave you with an intransigently suspicious Rook on the look-out, above. They’ll be glad that she is, for there aren’t just opportunists on the prowl; there are unorthodox armies with specific agendas, when you think about it, almost every invasion carries with it other, unforeseen ramifications for the land’s indigenous population.


Buy The Realm vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 1 – Great Power s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko with Jack Kirby.

“Unfortunately, if something is shouted loud enough, there are always those who will believe it.”

That’s the quote which everyone should take from this tome.

It protects us from those with great power and no sense of responsibility other than to themselves: Donald Trump, the Daily Fail and all those Brexiteers lying through their teeth forever and a day, just like Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson who besmirches the reputation of young, altruistic Peter Parker’s alias in print long before he’s had chance to even do anything. From there Jonah persistently and deliberately misreports everything we witness, successfully creating and sustaining not only the most massive dramatic irony but also readers’ sympathetic frustration and so empathy and emotional investment in poor Peter Parker’s young plight. It’s brilliant!



Top marks to Stan Lee, then, for writing that cautionary line and the extended campaign which reflects so much still at large in more modern scaremongering; minus 5,555 points for taking full advantage of its lamentable truth by shouting his own self-serving lies so very loudly and for so long that so many believe them to this day.



Flick through a copy of MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY (in stock and reviewed at length) then all will become clear including Stan’s oh-so-jokey public smear campaign against Spider-Man’s co-creator, Steve Ditko. Its author wasn’t sued, so you know he’s on the money, honey. Brilliantly, at the back of this volume, the ‘Meet The Gang In The Merry Marvel Bullpen!” photo gallery is reprinted from which Ditko is pointedly missing.

Hello! Did I tread on your dreams? Sorry etc! Let’s try to rekindle your fond memories instead!

This collects AMAZING FANTASY #15, then AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1-17 plus Annual #1, all in full colour and complete with Ditko’s spindly, joint-popping which that made it all so genuinely freakish.

You’d demand instant reconstructive surgery if you woke up looking like this. Spider-Man doesn’t move so much like a spider, but leaps, clasps and crawls like a tree-climbing frog.



Steve Ditko commands a spectacular sense of space in spite of Lee’s incessant, unobservant, ham-fisted and unnecessary interventions, making the most of every panel that he’s allowed, bringing you eye-poppingly imaginative and creepy forms.

From the get-go Ditko understood that everything red and webbed which he created for the iconic costume should be left untouched by shadow, leaving Spider-Man’s blue calves, thighs, bum, biceps and outer abs to display physical strength. It’s not an artist’s obvious choice to differentiate between the two areas, but it’s one which John Byrne amongst many later picked up on and, while, we’re talking about influence, there are two Doctor Octopus panels here which scream Frank Miller’s early efforts on DAREDEVIL with their front-lit – nay, spot-lit – faces casting shadow to the hair and either side of the brows.


Ditko, Amazing Spider-Man #3


Ditko, Amazing Spider-Man #3


Early Frank Miller, decades later. It’s the lighting I’m looking at.


For those not yet in the know:

Bespectacled high school science nerd Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, and consequently finds private solace from his public ostracism in being able to climb up walls and fight egomaniacal mop-topped losers with way too many appendages, thereby providing an empathic shot of wish-fulfilment for all boys bullied at school. Hooray!

He dances with Doom (Victor von Esq.), sambas with the Sandman, la cucarachas with the Lizard, thwips Electro therapy-quips, and… I have no idea what pun to make of the Vulture. Definitely not “violates the Vulture”. That’d be ewww. Eventually, as the cover suggests, they all gang up on Peter, along with the can-canned Kraven, in order to teach him their own lessons in lambada and give him a right Brazilian biffing.

The Vulture is approximately 99 years old, so you cannot accuse Stan Lee of age-ism. He’s as bald, pink and wrinkly-faced as the more turkey-like of vultures, but curiously costumed in cactus-green. He’s pretty buff for an OAP but given the limb-twisting acrobatics which Ditko puts the old codger through, you can’t help but worry that some ligaments or tendons may start snapping.



Cleverly, none of this changes (poor) Peter’s plight on campus so that we sympathise still. Plus the (poor) boy screws up big-time in a fit of pique when he fails to apprehend a thief stealing money from a boxing promoter who’d diddled young Peter out of dosh.*

* WRONG! No dosh was diddled: Peter was paid fair and square. This was a later invention so successful that it’s taken as original gospel.



That thief, of course, goes on to kill his doting surrogate father, Uncle Ben. Surely that can’t be a spoiler? It’s possibly the best sequence in any superhero origin outside of SLEEPER’s satirical asides, no matter how many times poor Ma Wayne’s pearls get scattered o’er the pavement, coming with a quotation that deserves less repetition in print – because by doing so it’s already become an unnecessarily mawkish cliché – but which merits far more observation in real life:

“With great power comes great responsibility”.

(Parenthetically WRONG! #2: Uncle Ben never uttered this. He’d been lying on a slab for hours by then.)



Now, consider this: you’re the publisher of New York’s leading newspapers The Daily Bugle. You not only covertly but overtly introduce your truth-seeking staff to one Mr. Mysterio as the masked man you insist on employing to beat up Spider-Man because, ummm, he wears a mask. Hypocrisies aside, the salient point is this: you are paying a man money in order to breach the peace and cause grievous bodily harm to another, yet you consider it not unwise for your investigative, justice-driven journalists to be tipped off to this premeditated crime by you, J. Jonah Jameson.

But let us attend to Doctor Otto Octopus:

“He’s the most brilliant atomic-researcher in our country today!”

Okay, but —

“Let us watch as he conducts a nuclear experiment…”

With test tubes! He’s conducting a nuclear experiment with test tubes!



“My artificial extra arms permit me to work safely with volatile chemicals which are far too dangerous to touch without protection! Though others fear radiation, I alone am able to make it my servant!”

… With no radiation shielding whatsoever – just five feet of thin air.

“Sound the alarm!” shrieks a scientist one panel later and I can’t say I blame him. Physics and chemistry are two very different disciplines. Thankfully we are told in #11 that Doc Ock serves his “full prison term” for breaking into an Atomic Research Centre causing various bits and bobs to overload and explode. Unfortunately that amounts to six weeks.



What you have to remember is that creating a comic in the Mighty Marvel Manner means Stan shoots off a general story, the artist draws it, then Stan scripts it based on what he perceives on the page.

“Wha –? A plexi-glass cage! Dropped from the ceiling!”

… observes Spider-Man using his Spider-Brain, for the cage is clearly coming out of the walls.

Returning to the ugliest critter in comics outside of Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown, (dear) Aunt May announces an early preference for Otto Octavius over her own nephew by declaring:

“So, that’s Spider-Man! What a perfectly ghastly outfit! He’s so villainous-looking! Not at all as pleasant as that well-mannered Dr. Octopus! I’m sure Dr. Octopus would never have entered that way without knocking!”

Well, no. He’d have probably torn down the walls with his extra appendages. She’ll try to marry him in a few years’ time, I promise.



And just look at the state of the wizened old bat! What miracle of science could possibly have made (dear) May a 16-year-old’s Aunt?! A grandmother at a stretch, though she looks more like my great-grandmother did when I was ten.



In the last sixty years Aunt May has grown thirty years younger, plus a good deal hipper and saucier. She was seen relatively recently rolling over for J. Jonah Jameson’s father. But then so would I, if you could promise that in 2048 that I would look thirty years younger than I do now. Under those circumstances I might even do Jonah himself if I could gag the bastard and be blind-folded.

“My name is Mephastophilis.”
“Do I know you?”
“Hmmm. Back in March 2018 you wrote…”



Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 1 – Great Power s/c and read the Page 45 review here

X-Men: Mutant Massacre s/c (£29-50, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, Ann Nocenti & John Romita Jr., Walter Simonson, Alan Davis, Barry Windsor-Smith, others

The Marauders decide to wipe out the underground Morlocks.

I can’t recall why.

They didn’t even ruin our lawns.


Buy X-Men: Mutant Massacre 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’.

Bad Machinery vol 4: The Case Of The Lonely One s/c (£11-99, Oni) by John Allison

It Don’t Come Easy (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Dupuy & Berberian

Von Spatz (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anna Haifisch

What I Did h/c (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

The Lost Path h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge Cub House) by Amelie Flechais

Lumberjanes: Bonus Tracks s/c (£13-99, Boom!) by Faith Erin Hicks, Jen Wang, Holly Black, Gabby Rivera, Kelly Thompson & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Christine Norrie, Gaby Epstein, Savanna Ganucheau

The Book Case – An Emily Lime Mystery h/c (£10-99, David Fickling Books) by Dave Shelton

The Drunken Sailor – The Life Of The Poet Arthur Rimbaud In His Own Words h/c (£20-00, Jonathan Cape) by Nick Hayes

Warhammer 40,000 vol 2: Revelations s/c (£13-99, Titan) by George Mann & Tazio Bettin

Asterix The Gaul (£7-99, Orton) by Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

Asterix And The Golden Sickle (£7-99, Orton) by Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

Asterix And The Goths (£7-99, Orton) by Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

Batgirl vol 3: Summer Of Lies s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Hope Larson & Chris Wildgoose, various

DC Comics: Bombshells vol 6: War Stories s/c (£14-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett &  Aneke, Mirka Andolfo, Laura Braga, Carmen Carneo, Sandy Jarrell, Richard Ortiz

Annihilation vol 1: Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Mitch Breitweiser, Kev Walker, Scott Kolins, Greg Titus

Mighty Thor vol 3: Asgard Shi’ar War s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Steve Epting, Russell Dauterman

Assassination Classroom vol 20 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

One Piece vol 85 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

The Promised Neverland vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu

Tokyo Ghoul re: vol 3 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2018 week three

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

Featuring Sophie Burrows, Chris Forsman, Pornsak Pichetshote, Aaron Campbell, José Villarrubia, Rich Tommaso, Jason Aaron, R. M. Guera, Davide Furno, John Paul Leno, James Kochalka, more.

Infidel #1 (£3-25, Image) by Pornsak Pichetshote & Aaron Campbell with José Villarrubia.

“My mother’s all about obsessing over shadows in a room full of light. We’re not doing that to Leslie.”

There’s so much humanity and individuality in Aisha’s face, there. Her mouth lies slightly open and gentle, but her eyes gaze into the distance, the future, determined. On the previous page – in recollection of her mother – Aisha’s shoulders were slumped while leaning forward, with the weight of having been rejected. But she will not give up on her mother-in-law.

One of the many wonders of this – one of my two favourite new series of 2018 – is that the evidence remains deeply ambiguous as to whether Aisha’s being too trusting and optimistic, or whether her fiancé Tom knows his own mum better than she does.

What could any of this possibly have to do with a horror comic?



Well, there are so many more horrors other than the occult or the alien. There is uncertainty and vulnerability, not knowing if you can trust someone: the threat of harm, physical or otherwise, can be just as frightening as its actuality. Ask anyone who’s ever worried about being bullied at school the next day. Aisha is confident that Leslie’s no threat, either to herself or to her step-daughter, Kris, even in the knowledge of what’s gone before, but her university friend also has substantial doubts and we, the audience, are privy to some extra moments which they are not.

Secondly, there’s the very real and all too current horror of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia: ignorance voiced with pride, spread sheep-like by osmosis or deliberately through disinformation as a virus which currently culminates increasingly not decreasingly in America, England and some parts of wider Europe in extreme intimidation and outright violence: beatings, acid attacks, murder and mass terrorism.

But equally there is the horror for Aisha of being rejected by her mother simply for becoming engaged to a non-Muslim, Tom, no matter how devout she’s remained.

What’s this series called again?



Then, of course, there is absolutely the horror of the creeping, the intangible and supernatural against which we have no defence. Worse still, if only you see it, feel it or smell it, no one may believe you. If no one else experiences what you do, then you go through it alone. That, I would suggest, is the ultimate horror.

Aisha is experiencing nightmares. They’re growing increasingly vivid and intense. A corpse-white cadaver wraps itself around her, draining her sleep and suffocating what’s left with its cloying stench of rotting meat. Ghastly grey hands creep over her shoulders and thighs, an intimacy of the unknown, invading her like an incubus with cold hands, cold fingers, cold heart.



Ah yes, that which cannot be fought or reasoned with. With that we come back again to real-life horror: those who are violent that cannot be reasoned with on the street, at work, in your home. It’s chilling.

Aisha, Tom and Kris have relatively recently moved into Tom’s mother’s apartment on the top floor of a tenement building on the Lower East Side which was the target of a bombing attack. I spotted the smoke stains on the very first page past the prologue, rising from the top of the fourth-storey windows.



It’s there on the metal shutters on the ground floor too. The bomber was verified by law enforcement as a lone wolf, but they had once glanced at an ISIS website, so you know how that goes…  Now the tenement has few tenants left for it is far from repaired, and some of those that remain, well, they don’t like seeing a brown Muslim of Pakistani origin climbing their rickety stairs. There is still so much anger, and even if hatred is suppressed then it will usually out somewhere, somehow.

I swear to whatever (if any) god you believe in that INFIDEL has been ridiculously well thought through and comes with a sophisticated balance and so many unexpected perspectives, for the final irony is that it is non-Muslim Tom, Aisha’s fiancé, who is so determined to protect Aisha and respect her faith along with its sacred traditions that he is the one fighting her corner against his own mother, Leslie. He was reluctant to move his family in because Leslie used to poison his daughter with sweeping Islamophobic slurs, as if all Muslims obeyed barbaric laws, condoned or actively encouraged terrorism. For example when Kris once played with Aisha’s hijab:

“Women who wear this let people get killed for drawing cartoons. They let men throw rocks at girls like you!”



But to Aisha that was two years ago, she believes Leslie has learned and that it’s vital that Kris know her grandmother because her biological mother died so early that Kris can’t even remember her.

The first chapter begins in paranormal terror and it climaxes in paranormal terror, before an even more awful real-world ellipsis of a cliff-hanger which could go any number of ways that I am so very desperate to read next month’s instalment.



HELLBLAZER used to combine occult and socio-political horror to successful, cathartic effect, but it was always a little bit burlesque because its star, John Constantine was a dabbler in diabolism et al. This is a very different beast, being grounded firmly in the street-level, down in the subway or on the park bench: on what we see all around us right now. I would suggest that the exceptionally uncomfortable paranormal aspect is merely a symptom, side-effect or result of the rot, not its cause.

It doesn’t make it any less pants-wettingly terrifying or grotesque.

I’m sure that I read somewhere that artists and co-collaborators on all aspects of the comic, Campbell and Villarrubia, chose to illustrate all the everyday elements in digital while pulling back to the traditional, more physical art process for the psychically parasitic. They rendered that on Bristol board.



It may seem perverse, but I’ve seen so many other offerings where the purportedly real has been rendered in pen and ink and the preternatural given a computer-driven day-glo and gloss. The result has always been a distancing disassociation between the two elements: here is the real world, but the other is freaky, immaterial so won’t matter to you – they’re special effects, so you don’t empathise.

What Campbell and Villarrubia have achieved, by contrast, is an unholy marriage which makes what would otherwise be ethereal all too sensually and so immediately repugnant, overwhelming and nasty.

So, you know, thanks for that.


Buy Infidel #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Crushing (£7-50, self-published) by Sophie Burrows.

I adore the little love heart which adorns the cover, replacing the diacritic dot above the ‘i’ (true fact: it’s called a “tittle”).

Behold! This silent, A4-sized comic set up on top of a summer’s Hampstead Heath, the London Tube system, then somewhere within the Capital’s sprawling outer conurbation, is an astutely observed, tender joy!

CRUSHING could not have been more aptly titled, for within the rich blue, early evening covers you will discover vast landscapes to swoon over, crowded commuters all crammed together, and telltale little blushes and flushes that give our game away when we’re a wee bit, briefly smitten.

Yes, this is all about crushing.

Oh, but we’re British! So what do we do?



Do we receive such often involuntarily leaked, sweet signals as an opportunity to return the kindly meant compliment, perhaps strike up a conversation or at least smile, maybe wave? Oh, how much happier this world would be, were we all to give a little light love back!

But we do not: we react by looking embarrassedly away or hiding behind newspapers in annoyance.

The poor love has already been snubbed up on Hampstead Heath. Yes, she has: by a pigeon!

Pigeons aren’t backwards in coming forth and strutting themselves as close as possible in the hope of being thrown a stale crumb. One alights on the back of her park bench, so she generously offers it a whole triangle of fresh, tasty goodness…

Glossy magazines are equally insulting.



Lord, but this is so rich and clever. It will speak volumes to those who are single and seeking love, however inactively.

It will also remind those who have been lucky enough to find it of what it was once like to so solitarily stare from a park bench at a beautiful view which you wished you could share. Maybe you saw other couples, perhaps even their progeny, and wondered what you were missing out on and why? Have you ever felt awkwardly, self-consciously alone in a crowd?



Burrows nails that particular isolation on a double-page spread while waiting for the train to arrive. For a start, there are a hundred-odd commuters as equally crammed together as they will be in the carriage, but there is a markedly massive, empty gap between them and the edge of the platform (mind it!), after which loom the tracks down below. Everyone else is depicted, individualistically to be sure, but in soft grey shading; not so, our solo single lady.

There is a blindingly clever use of colour throughout: each panel bears examining to see what it says.

Later that day (which has since turned to night), our pretty-in-pink protagonist becomes hungry but finds her Hubbard cupboards all bare. She fancies a slice of pizza or two, so ventures out to the local takeaway. Beautifully set up by Sophie in advance, what happens next?

I’ve just scratched the surface: underneath you will find all sorts of wistful, alone-at-home pining for love.



Top Tip: if you’d like to give a little love back but – like silly old me – become dazed, confused and so discombobulated by compliments, why not carry a copy of CRUSHING around with you? That way, whenever you find yourself the lucky recipient of such affection but cannot quite bring yourself to accept the attention, you could open up its A4 covers and hide behind its sheets, so suggesting by the title that you too may be crushing!

Advanced Skills Option: open up CRUSHING, inside out, to display the pages on which this exact behavioural exchange is occurring. Then look up again, with a bashful smile.



Buy Crushing and read the Page 45 review here

Dry County #1 (£3-25, Image) by Rich Tommaso.

“I could hear the yells and curses coming from the roof, but couldn’t stop myself hurling into the hydrangea.”

Hilarious! It wouldn’t have been half so funny had it not been a hydrangea.

Set in the Sunshine State’s boat-floating playground that glows neon at night, this is the most colourful noir that you’ll ever know. By day – as Lou Rossi cycles home from the Miami Herald where he works part-time as a comic strip artist – the city bridge gleams a lemon yellow while the bright white clouds blow below a fresh blue sky and leafy green trees stand out against pale pink hotels.

There is so much light and so much space, with lines as clean as the waterfronts themselves.

And yes, by night, there will be that oh-so familiar neon on the balconied apartment buildings in contrasting pink and mint green.

But what possible crimes could a comic artist bear witness to? Apart from blaring House Music, I mean?



Ah, well, it’s all in embracing ‘Everyman Crime Series’ to which DRY COUNTY belongs: quotidian crimes you stumble upon occasionally in conversation with someone you may have just met, like abusive boyfriends, perchance. Although there is the possibility that a potential drive-by alluded to briefly by Lou’s raucous mate Robert might tie in somewhere. And where might you meet someone new…? In an apartment block’s communal laundry room!

It’s there, after despairing at the lack of potential pulls at a nightclub which he cannot abide (“seething pit of vipers”), that Lou Rossi finds Janet reading alone while waiting for her spin cycle to end. Alas, she is not a new tenant. She’s only staying over at a friend’s flat for the night… or for the weekend… “I’m not sure yet”, but she does at least work in town, gives him her business card and proffers the possibility of having lunch one afternoon.



From there it only gets better: her employers turn out to be brothers, the rental firm like a family, and at lunch they make plans for dinner later that very same week. Finally, after six solitary months in Miami, things are looking up for Lou, and there’s more fresh air and open skies and passenger planes flying overhead as he strolls home, a spring in his step, allowing himself to feel jaunty.

Oh dear.

I’m going to stop there while noting only that what I loved most about what is revealed is that so often we escape from one thing by a route which only turns out to be the very same thing. Is that vague enough for you? That’s what Tommaso’s come up with, giving the blow so much more of a punch.



Whereas most noir slinks about in an environment alien to most of us, in circumstances most of us would never encounter, Tommaso sticks to his promise of filling Rossi’s account with the familiar routines of walks round town, showers, settling down to basic meal from whatever we find in our fridge, perhaps a few beers and so TV. Then there’s the not wanting to look like you’re trying too hard by dressing to impress and making that first phone call too early.

“Man, I couldn’t wait… But then later, once I got home, I decided I should wait, possibly a week…
“This was based on advice that my old friends in high school gave me: “Don’t ever call a girl up right away, you gotta wait like, a week or so, or else she’ll think you’re a desperate loser!” …So, I decided to wait at least a week…”


“Two days later, I called.”



What makes the pages even more visually brilliant is that the first-person narration is hand-written on blue-lined, yellow legal pad paper like a story you might stumble upon rather than one being told directly to you. It’s not that big a drama. He’s not a professional P.I. typing up his notes to keep on file, either.

As to the title, nowhere I know of in Florida is a Dry County – certainly not Miami, and Lou doesn’t half neck beers throughout, hence the well deserved fate of those hideous hydrangeas – nor is El Paso, whence Janet hails and where all her troubles first began. My off-the-cuff guess, therefore, is it’s somewhere we’re headed or a direction from which trouble’s coming.


Buy Dry County #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Scalped Book 2 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R. M. Guera, Davide Furno, John Paul Leno.

I’ve plenty more to say about SCALPED below, which was the first series from Vertigo, I believe, to reduce me to tears, and within this very volume. However, for the moment from SCALPED BOOK 1:

“Yet, here we are, still forgotten, still a third world nation in the heart of America.”

Crime and grime on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, South Dakota, “where the great Sioux Nation came to die”.

Gone is the majesty, the beauty, the health, the wealth and the freedom to roam. They’ve been replaced by grinding poverty enforced by unyielding societal shackles, dilapidated housing patched up with corrugated iron, refuse-strewn streets, gutted car wrecks abandoned on pock-marked asphalt and a burned-out people deprived of any opportunity but to drink themselves to death.

That’s all that we – the colonising, genocidal White Eyes – have given back to them, in lieu of their true heritage and of the bounty which was already their own. For more of that history, please see the great graphic novel INDEH by Ewan Hawke and Greg Ruth: it will tear your heart out.

What ripped mine to shreds here wasn’t the strange death of main protagonist Dashiell Bad Horse’s campaigning mother, Gina, which hangs over this volume like an enigmatic shroud, challenging the degenerate Dashiell to actually give a fuck about his own mother. (You will be surprised to learn that it is the ostensible central villain of series, Chief Red Crow, who is most devastated by her murder, unexpectedly prepared to risk all to find out who did it.)



No, it’s the reaction of Shelton, the eldest of five children of another murdered mother, which got to me, several times.

It also gets to Dashiell who swears blind that he will bring the perpetrator to justice until he takes its news to his FBI boss – whose sole dogmatic focus lies in the discrediting of Chief Red Crow – and in so doing learns the full and sometimes ugly meaning of the word ‘compromise’.

Young Dashiell, you see, is undercover for the FBI, posing as a cop in the pocket of crooked casino-owner Red Crow in order to bring him down. What he doesn’t know is that another FBI agent has been assigned undercover to the Reservation, and how much of a callous, ruthless bastard their shared boss is.

But then Dashiell was by no means the perfect son, as you’ll learn in flashback. In fact, rearing the ungrateful little brat was a particularly thankless task, something brought home to him only too clearly by Shelton’s unwavering fidelity, and the realisation that it’s now way too late to make amends.



R.M. Guera is fast becoming a favourite illustrator of mine: fully fleshed-out figures in relentless (yet not murky) shadow, even if it’s cast at high noon. There is tremendous humanity in the faces, and his mouths are particularly expressive, whether they’re old and pursed in barely controlled anger, or young and trembling with barely controlled grief.

As always with SCALPED, for me it’s the combination of the story structure and the art in its telling. The opening scene in the third story, ‘The Gravel In Your Gurs’ takes place in three weeks time, at night, as Chief Red Crow pulls up outside the Badlands Cafe.







He apologises to the cloth bag on the back seat, then enters under the bar’s distinctive neon sign before there’s a final, four-panel page as the sign goes out, shots are fired, and the neon reignites. It’s so visually distinctive that it will lurk in your head throughout the next several issues until – having since witnessed the events leading up to that scene and knowing now exactly who’s in the cafe – the bar front reappears, when your heart will sink.



This is a key turning point in the Indian Reservation power struggle, but it’s also the story of how silk-haired Dino, father to a toddler, through a single encounter with a speeding ticket, descends into running with bent cops, selling drugs, collecting debts and inadvertently stabbing an old man through his lower jaw. There’s an arresting panel after he’s dropped off at home, the house owned by Granny, from which she has sworn to eject him if ever he once again got into trouble with the police. Having snuck past his baby, his forearms splattered with blood, he makes it back to his own room… and it’s still full of remote-controlled cars and Tonker Toys, reminding you just how young he still is.

I love 100 BULLETS but the characters here are more than albeit blindingly directed ciphers for Azzarello’s witty wordplay: they’re living, breathing individual and fallible human beings broken by their environment then damned by their decisions. Very highly recommended.

This larger “book 2” takes you up to end of the old, smaller “volume 4” exactly.


Buy Scalped Book 2 and read the Page 45 review here

The End Of The Fucking World (s/c £12-99; h/c, £17-99) by Charles Forsman.

“At 15, I stuck my hand into the garbage disposal.”

James is not like other boys.

Curiosity is one of the few traits he shares with other people. Other than that he is an emotional void.

He discovers a porn magazine in a draw, opens it open, sees a naked woman, and after a few seconds tosses it over his shoulder. There’s no connection; nothing there.

He and Alyssa have adopted each other after James decided to pretend to fall in love with her. Alyssa’s more direct. She is very direct.

“God I want you.”

He considers strangling her. But he doesn’t.


“James and I still haven’t done it all the way.
“I want to, but it’s complicated.
“He seems so far away.”

Later, in the passenger seat of a car which he and Alyssa have flagged down, James allows an old man, the driver, to grope him: to slide his hand under James’s jeans and let it lie there. Alyssa is dumbfounded.

“What’s wrong with you?”

To himself:

“I guess I thought I might feel something. Something other than nothing.”



Bonnie and Clyde, Thelma and Louise, James and Alyssa: you’re in for a very different sort of road trip.

Dispassionately told in eight-page instalments alternating between James’s and Alyssa’s point of view (originally published as individual mini-comics), this clusterfuck of a journey also alternates between the mundane and abrupt, sometimes comical violence. It is exceptionally well controlled, especially James’s blank face, registering nothing, and his minimal responses when prodded.

“Alyssa, that man – he was a bad man.”



It also defies expectations. The first chapter climaxes before they set off with James punching his dad in the face and stealing his car. They’re off! No, they’re not: the opening page of chapter two finds the car upside down in a dried-up gorge after being run off the road. Above, the crash barrier stands broken. Huge economy: we’ve no need to see the crash. It’s not that sort of comic, as you’d anticipate if you’ve read Forsman’s CELEBRATED SUMMER.



If you’re coming to this from the Channel 4 series now on Netflix, I’m not sure what you’ll make of this. You’re going to have to do your best to blank Alex Lawther’s commanding performance as James right out of your head. Just remember that this is the source material without which none of what you loved would have been possible: the ideas were all conceived and first executed to perfection right here.

“Did you do it inside of me?”
“I’m not sure.”


Buy The End Of The Fucking World s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy The End Of The Fucking World h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mechaboys (£17-99, Top Shelf) by James Kochalka…

“I’m sorry, Zachery.”
“Don’t call me that. My name is Zeus now. I told you to call me Zeus.”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry, Zeus. But in this part Spider-Man is just about to…”
“WHAT?! Spider-Manchild. You should read a comic about ME. I’m the damn Thunder God. I mean, listen. Who owns Spider-Man?”
“Well, Disney owns Marvel, but Sony owns the…”
“Exactly. No one owns ME.”
“Well no one owns me either, Zachery.”
“Bullsugar. Spider-Man owns you. Now stop being a slave to your corporate overlords and help me take apart your dead dad’s stupid lawnmower.”

Haha, there’s a great reprise of this conversation later on where Zachery, sorry Zeus, takes Jamie’s collection of Marvel and DC comics – “all corporate crap” – as he kindly refers to them, and… well… I’m not going to spoil that little scene for you, but suffice to say, it had me giggling for a good few minutes.



I should explain they’re taking apart Jamie’s late father’s lawnmower to build a ‘mecha battle suit’. To their great surprise, as much as anyone else’s, they succeed, which is where the chaos really begins. Bullied at school by the jocks and ignored by the girls, they hatch a crackpot scheme to crash a keg party in the woods and astound everyone with their cool armour.

I probably needn’t add it goes badly wrong, particularly for Zachery. Sorry! Zeus. Soon, he’s heading well and truly for the dark side with a plan to crash the forthcoming prom and annihilate everyone. Just one teeny-weeny problem, he’s in traction and needs Jamie to carry out his dastardly plan. Jamie, having managed to sneak in his first kiss at the party before it all kicked off, just kind of likes the idea of going and having a dance, maybe squeezing in a bit more romancing. And then there’s Mr. B, the recently fired teacher covertly stalking our duo. How does he figure into all this?!

Ah, there’s so much delightfully ridiculous humour going on in this work, which is like a glorious mash-up of many a high school movie, with added mecha battle suit, of course. I’ve not even touched upon the trio of ladies who Jamie has the hots for. They’re equally nutty in their own right, most uproariously in a scene that manages to reference the Bechdel-Wallace test before ending in a rather politically incorrect manner.



But, before you think Kochalka is having a sly dig at Alison Bechdel, I must add she’s one of the big names pullquoted on the inside front French flap lauding James as her ‘autobiographical icon’. Frank Miller, meanwhile, states of James “He brings the joy back to comics” and I really can’t argue with that. Quite the incongruous pair, there, Alison and Frank! But Kochalka has his ardent comics fans and for me, the former cartoonist laureate of Vermont has made a triumphant return with his finest work since MONKEY VS. ROBOT and the original run of SUPERF*CKERS.

Art-wise, James seemingly hasn’t changed his style one iota since he began either. He still looks like he effortlessly dashes his creations off with a sharpie. I’m sure it’s nowhere near as straightforward as that but I admire the seeming economy of effort and big fat chunky line that he employs. There might not be a surfeit of detail, but it’s all placed to perfection. Here, I continually found myself shaking my head at Zeus’ resplendent bumfluff. All six tufts of it!

Long-term Kolchalka devotees will adore this return to top form and for anyone looking to try something new that is, in its own way, as delightful daft and titter-worthy a parody of and homage to school days and all that attendant angst, as John Allison’s BAD MACHINERY, why not give this a try? Now, if I could just get Teenage Dirtbag by Weezer out of my head…


Buy Mechaboys and read the Page 45 review here

Archival Quality (£17-99, Oni Press) by Ivy Noelle Weir &  Steenz.

“I loved it. I loved the quiet. The order. Everything in its right place. There’s a system, y’know? And you can always count on the system.”

Usually, yes, but not if there’s something else – something “other” – messing around with the material world.

A deliciously drawn Young Adult graphic novel, this has thrilling colours, fabulous hair and a big heart of gold. Both its main cast and background characters sat around cafes are casually, naturally and fully diverse without shouting about the inclusivity, so normalising it. It also deals with the vital issue of Mental Health with great understanding to begin with, and the nightmare of not being believed, drawing a very clever parallel with Celeste’s new co-workers’ repeated scepticism about her experiences with supernatural forces and some of society’s often dismissive or disbelieving attitude towards depression, extreme agoraphobia etc.



There’s plenty of comedy in the form of museum curator Abayomi Abiola super-serious hyper-formality which, when combined with the odd arched eyebrow, put me in mind of Star Trek: Voyager’s Tuvok. After which, I couldn’t stop hearing his voice. I never saw Tuvok tending a flowerbed in full uniform / pristine 3-piece suit while wearing purple gardening gloves, though. Top marks.



My problems lie in the limping lack of momentum (50 pages of repetition could have been culled), the cringe-inducingly stiff, right-on speeches instead of conversation about choosing to believe Celeste, the confused (not conflicted) motivations, and finally the massive plot credibility chasms. For example, you won’t know what I mean when I mention the acquisition of the key to the boardroom, but there is no way one of the board members would surrender it voluntarily under these circumstances to anyone, not even [redacted].

It’s a huge shame, because there are moments which are genuinely chilling, especially as the past starts seeping through to the present, plus her boyfriend successfully rendered as is a suffocating idiot.



Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

“After losing her job at the library, Celeste Walden starts working at the haunting Logan Museum as an archivist. But the job may not be the second chance she was hoping for, and she finds herself confronting her mental health, her relationships, and before long, her grasp on reality as she begins to dream of a young woman she’s never met, but feels strangely drawn to. Especially after she asks Cel for help… As Cel attempts to learn more about the woman, she begins losing time, misplacing things, passing out-the job is becoming dangerous, but she can’t let go of this mysterious woman. Who is she? Why is she so fixated on Cel? And does Cel have the power to save her when she’s still trying to save herself?”

Finally, you are sure to feel Celeste’s frustration with ancient computer equipment taking an eon to scan a single photo.


Buy Archival Quality and read the Page 45 review here

Green Lantern: Earth One vol 1 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman…

Ah… finally, another decent Green Lantern story. No, let me rephrase that, finally an excellent GREEN LANTERN story. After the peerless Geoff Johns ‘rainbow run’ that dazzled us with the entire spectrum of ring-slinging, I have to say I’ve found what followed more a little lacklustre and, dare I say, low on charge. And actually, even the Johns run was fading slightly towards the very end.

Consequently all the various associated Lantern titles have long since dropped off my DC reading list, so my expectations were somewhat low for this Earth One spin-off that seemed somewhat late to the other-dimensional party. Surely the time for this was at peak illumination when the dazzling light show from the DC shelves and kerchinging of Lantern-related comics through the till made it seem like a continual trip to Blackpool Illuminations, all hyped up on candy floss.



We even had people desperate to load up their mitts with coloured plastic rings that were about as tasteful as a chav’s full set of sovereigns, such was the allure of Johns’ story-telling. If they’d got something out back then, it would have sold more copies than Guy Gardner’s had temper tantrums. Which, let me tell you, if you’re not familiar with the man who still holds the record for worst-ever superhero haircut with his classic original bowl, is quite a few.

So, following on as this does from the excellent J. Michael Straczynski penned SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE trilogy, the rather disappointing BATMAN: EARTH ONE duology (a rare miss from Geoff Johns though Gary Franks’s art, as always, was exceptional), the very different  TEEN TITANS: EARTH ONE jaunt from Jeff Lemire & Terry Dodson and last but not least the fabulously indulgent WONDER WOMAN: EARTH ONE offering from Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette, I did kind of think, is there really any point to a GREEN LANTERN: EARTH ONE offering?

Well, I was completely wrong, wasn’t I? Husband and wife team Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman, probably best known for their sci-fi epic INVISIBLE REPUBLIC published by Image have nailed it. This is therefore, as you might expect, a yarn that relies heavily on the sci-fi angle. In this alternate universe, Hal Jordan is a former disgraced NASA employee now working for the Ferris Galactic mining corporation out in the asteroid belt, chasing the dwindling supply of elements needed to meet our ever-burgeoning demand for smartphones. It’s not quite the reaching for the stars an idealistic young Harold had in mind when he joined NASA all those years ago, but at least he’s out in space not stuck on an Earth that’s run by a virtual dictatorship.



Unfortunately he’s just had his contract pulled and been told to head back to Earth after eight long years when he finally strikes paydirt and finds an alien ship and a certain piece of jewellery… So: all good, right? Nope. In this universe the Manhunters have entirely eliminated the Green Lantern Corps, the Guardians themselves, and turned what remains of Oa into a slave world. All that remains are a few scattered rings across the various galaxies. Just the sort of doomsday scenario all Hal Jordans in all dimensions everywhere would relish: assemble a ragtag new corps, overthrow the Manhunters, save the universe. But is that realistically possible? Maybe not.

Hardmans’ hard-edged artwork neatly compliments the gritty storyline. His style reminds me of Mack BRIGGS LAND Chater. It’s note-perfect for this bleak, dystopian yarn. As ever, when these alternate reality tales are done well, they are excellent. A few plot points are neatly left open for a second volume, of course, which, on this showing, I’m looking forward to.

Buy Green Lantern: Earth One vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Inking Woman: 250 Years Of Women Cartoon And Comic Artists In Britain h/c (£19-99, Myriad) by Nicola Streeten & Cath Tate.

Out 29th March.

Hands up, who knew that Rupert the Bear was created by a woman?

Okay, I see half a dozen of you there; and five of you are comicbook creators.

Can you name her? Rupert the Bear was created by Mary Tourtel in 1920, and drawn by Tourtel for fifteen years. Originally Rupert was brown, but the Daily Express cut back on printing expenses, hence the iconic white fur.

See? You will learn stuff. Oh, how you will learn stuff!

The publisher’s blurb in this instance is fulsome in both senses, so for once I will leave you in their more than capable hands. All you really need to know is are they singing their own praises louder than they ought? Nope.

It’s embracing, engaging, lavishly illustrated, clearly and cleverly structured with a commendable sense of context.



“For many years, the world of cartoons and comics was seen as a male preserve. The reality is that women have been drawing and publishing cartoons for longer than most people realise. In the early 1760s, Mary Darly illustrated, wrote and published the first book on caricature drawing published in England, A Book of Caricaturas.



“In the nineteenth century, Britain’s first comic character, Ally Sloper, was developed by the actress and cartoonist Marie Duval (1847-1890). Cartoons were used by the suffragettes, and, during the “Great War, artists such as Flora White and Agnes Richardson produced light-hearted propaganda comic postcards.; From the 1920s, a few women cartoonists began to appear regularly in newspapers. The practice was for artists to sign with their surname, so most readers were unaware of the cartoonist’s gender.



“In 1920, Mary Tourtel created Rupert Bear for the Daily Express, and nearly a hundred years later her character is still going strong. From the 1960s, feminism inspired cartoonists to question the roles assigned to them and address subjects such as patriarchy, equal rights, sexuality and child rearing, previously unseen in cartoons. Over the last thirty years, women have come increasingly to the fore in comics, zines and particularly graphic novels; This wide-ranging curation of women’s comics work includes prints, caricatures, joke, editorial and strip cartoons, postcards, comics, zines, graphic novels and digital comics, covering all genres and topics.



“It addresses inclusion of art by women of underrepresented backgrounds. Based on an exhibition of the same name, held at the Cartoon Museum in 2017, this book demonstrates that women have always had a wicked sense of humour and a perceptive view of the world.”


Buy The Inking Woman: 250 Years Of Women Cartoon And Comic Artists In Britain h/ 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’.

Akissi: Tales Of Mischief (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Marguerite Abouet & Mathieu Sapin

Mudbite (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Dave Cooper

Aliens: Dead Orbit s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by James Stokoe

Anxiety Is Really Strange (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Steve Haines & Sophie Standing

Black Science vol 7: Extinction Is The Rule s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera

Cucumber Quest vol 2: The Ripple Kingdom s/c (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Gigi Dee

The End Of The F***ing World s/c (£12-99, Faber & Faber) by Charles Forsman

Fukushima Devil Fish: Critical & Biographical Essays (£24-99, Breakdown Press) by Katsumata Susumu

Giant Days vol 7 (£13-99, Boom!) by John Allison & Max Sarin

Harrow County vol 7: Dark Times A Coming s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook

Mean Girls Club: Pink Dawn h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Ryan Heshka

Moonstruck vol 1 (£8-99, Image) by Grace Ellis & Shae Beagle

The Realm vol 1 (£8-99, Image) by Seth Peck & Jeremy Haun

Warhammer 40,000 vol 3: Dawn Of War s/c (£14-99, Titan) by Ryan O’Sullivan & Daniel Indro, Kevin Enhart

Flash vol 5: Negative Rebirth s/c (£12-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & Carmine Di Giandomenico, Christian Duce, Neil Googe

Planetary Book 2 s/c (£22-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday

Spider-Men II s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli

X-Men Blue vol 3: Cross Time Capers s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Thony Silas

X-Men Gold vol 4: Negative War Zone s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Marc Guggenheim & Luke Ross

X-Men: Mutant Massacre s/c (£29-50, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, Ann Nocenti & John Romita Jr., Walter Simonson, Alan Davis, Barry Windsor-Smith, others

Invincible vol 25: End Of All Things Part 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2018 week two

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

Featuring Eleanor Davis, Anneli Furmark, Moebius, Etgar Keret, Asaf Hanuka, Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, Robert Kirkman, Lorenzo De Felici, Terry Moore, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and more!

Gideon Falls #1 (£3-25, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino, Dave Stewart…

“Actually, Mrs. Tremblay… there is one thing.”
“Of course, Father. Anything.”
“In all the rush to get to Gideon Falls, I don’t think the Bishop ever told me… how did Father Tom die?”
“Oh. I… I had thought you would have known.”
“No. Was it his heart?”
“I… I’d rather not talk about it.”

Hmm… I have a sneaking suspicion that wasn’t an accidental omission on the Bishop’s part, the lack of details on the sudden demise of Father Tom. Still, Father Wilfred has now arrived in the rural, backwater town of Gideon Falls, against his wishes, to take up the suddenly vacant position of their pastor. He’d have preferred to remain in the seminary, teaching, but the Bishop felt he was the man to answer the call so off he went.



What precisely Father Fred, as he likes to be known, or indeed Gideon Falls, has to do with the lunatic Norton obsessively cataloguing and cross-referencing specific pieces of garbage across the distant, big city remains to be seen. We see Norton interacting with, and deceiving his therapist, in a bid to avoid being sectioned again, but it would seem, to him at least, that he senses the presence of something or someone he regards as evil incarnate in the vicinity.



Norton’s collection of disparate refuse is not remotely random, either, to him, for he senses a common source to his slivers of wood, rusty nails, shards of glass and bent hinges, which he unerringly homes in on, however implausible that seems. The thought occurs as I type, and I have absolutely no way of knowing whether this is correct or not for it is pure supposition on my part,  that he is finding all the components you might expect to compose a door…


Yes, mystery, murder and suspense abound, both in the urban environment and the dusty countryside, plus most certainly within the pages of this comic book. And horror, genuine blood-curdling horror too, by the end of this first issue. For Father Tom’s death isn’t the only one in Gideon Falls by the time this opener concludes.

So, what are we, the readers left with? An absolute mystery. What is the connection or connections, between the places and / or the protagonists? I very much doubt Jeff is going to give too much away too soon either.


Andrea Sorrentino, probably best known for his gritty, fine linework on Lemire’s OLD MAN LOGAN is an ideal foil for such a tense, taut story that slides straight into psychologically perturbing territory right from the off like the veritable knife between the ribs. His panel and page composition in the Norton sequences particularly – complete with two spectacular double-page spreads, one featuring a mind-bending fish-eye lens effect and the other a collage of scattered Polaroids over a time-lapsed, anguished Norton rocking in a chair against a cityscape – plus inverted pages and crafty use of symmetry contribute immensely to the disorientating, fractured feel and a very rapidly building sense of unease.


Then, when the spine goes from mild tingling to collapsing in complete terror back in Gideon Falls, with immense amounts of the colour red involved, I had a strong suspicion I recognised the exact shade from BPRD and BALTIMORE, and yes indeed, it is Dave Stewart providing the colour palette in his own inimitable fashion. It’s a sure sign you’ve probably read too many comics when you can identify a colourist from just one colour… He also seems to have employed a vertical texturing technique on practically every section of black shading which is also cumulatively… troubling… to the eye, and mind… in an artistically positive sense, as if something is persistently scratching away at what you are experiencing. Spooky.

I now eagerly wait to see how messers. Lemire, Sorrentino and Stewart will continue to torment and disturb us further in the next issue. In the meantime, I’m left to ponder my door theory…


Buy Gideon Falls #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Why Art? (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Eleanor Davis.

“If you don’t mind my asking, what are you reading?”

I’ve never been stopped like this on the bus before, but the first dozen pages of WHY ART? had so intrigued a middle-aged man peering over my shoulder from behind and above, that he needed to know. My explanation then so intrigued the passenger immediately to my right that she, too, needed to know.

So what do you need to know?

Well, eventually the cover’s Shadowbox miniature art object / working world – which contains the same flowers as those on the cover to Davis’ HOW TO BE HAPPY, and whose sense of scale is emphasised by the hands which are exactly the same size as yours (try matching them on a physical copy!) – will come into play in a deliciously recursive narrative via the most extraordinary act of escapology. Into the Shadowbox itself!

However, the initial pages which had so amused their admirer bear Davis’s helpful hints for amateur art critics so that each individual expression can be classified and so catalogued by its most essential qualities for a more profound understanding. It begins thus:

“Why Art?

“Before we can answer that question, let’s explore some examples of different kinds of artworks. The most basic category of artwork is, of course, Colour.”

Of course it is.

That her “orange artworks” and “blue ones” are presented in black and white is priceless.

We are then treated to ‘Big’ artworks and ‘Small’ artworks, with the human form in attendance for sense of scale, anticipating what is to come. Do you feel that you are learning the language that will enable you to talk authoritatively about art? Excellent! Then we come to explore those objects which involve “the intent of the artist or the response of the audience” which is eloquently summarised thus: “MAKES YA THINK”.

The masks are amusing, the warped mirrors are funny, but the ‘Ordinary Mirror’ is even funnier: “continues to fascinate both artist and audience alike”.

Like the sense of scale between creator and creation, this pre-amble too is far from irrelevant.


After we witness different audiences responding rather powerfully (!) to various works of art, we meet Dolores, a performance artist who is by definition both artist and the art itself, and who incorporates her audience too for good measure. She stands very still then tells them “I love you”.

“Some responses get very intense.”

I don’t have those pages for you, but that’s just as well, for I like to imagine you all guffawing out loud on your buses instead, then we will each of us create a self-sustaining chain reaction of sales which will ensure that WHY ART? becomes this year’s Page 45 chart-topper.


Note: this particular Davis image *doesn’t* appear in WHY ART? but is so similar to some which do, later on.


It is Davis’s cartooning which contributes so substantially to the comedy. I adore her forms which are so satisfying physical, and so sleekly drawn in smooth, extended lines which dip at the necks, blossom out at the shoulders, bloom round curved hips, then the slide down the thighs to be pinched together with immaculate, dainty feet. Arms hang heavy or flop like flippers, but always there is poise and harmony. There was a phenomenal use of space inside a tent within Davis’s YOU & A BIKE & A ROAD, and there’s an exquisite page here of one of Dolores’ most ardent admirers reciprocating her performance with a love letter posted through the letter box of her front door. She is crouched on her haunches to do so (in high heels!) and the single sweep incorporating her back, buttocks and thighs, before another line projects diagonally back down her calves with perfect balance, is magnificent.

Doroles looks down through the door’s window, probably on the phone to the police.

A little earlier we are introduced to a group of artists, which includes Dolores, specialising in different disciplines from papier mâché and fabrics to talismans and massive multi-media. José specialises in concrete and fondant. It’s Richard who’s into papier mâché which can be prone to water damage. As can Richard: he has an oversized fibreglass head and oversized papier mâché body and hands.

Together they will be presenting their very latest triumphs in a joint exhibition. “They’re pushing boundaries and breaking barriers – psychological, physical, metaphysical and temporal.” They’re blithely unaware, however, at just how successful they will be.

We were warned about the type of art which can terrify, presented as an abyss of solid black. Now, another abyss beckons. The creators have completed their creations…

“But there’s a storm raging outside.”



It is raging and it is roaring and there is shouting and wailing and it is so deafening and suddenly the outside seeps in.

Now, about those Shadowboxes…


Buy Why Art? and read the Page 45 review here

Pizzeria Kamikaze h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by Etgar Keret & Asaf Hanuka with Dan Jackson.

“Two days after I killed myself, I found a job at some pizza joint called Kamikaze.”

What an exceptional opening sentence.

Unfortunately it’s the ninth, so I made it my own first instead.

Pizzas are not important to this weird and wonderful twilight tale. Unless I’m missing something, they’re incidental. The fact that Mordy committed suicide is not.

Our man Mordy offed himself a short while ago, and has since been reborn into a world which is much like our own, with two key differences: everyone here committed suicide; but the pressure is all gone.

No one seems to be in actual need of a job or its income, nor do they harbour the same worries or insecurities which might have catalysed their crises in the first place, or the sort of judgemental prejudices which could have once been redirected at them. Oh, Mordy has more than a passing curiosity in spotting any tell-tale scars which might denote how others killed themselves, but that really is the extent of it. No one is blaming each other; and nobody cares… about anything, really. Apart from musing on who may have made it to his funeral and what they’d have thought, Mordy is fairly equanimous to it all.



It’s just a bit dull and disappointing, to be honest.

“Whenever people used to talk about life after death and go through the “is-there-isn’t-there” routine, I’d always imagine beeping sounds and people floating around in space and stuff. But now that I’m here, it reminds me of Tel Aviv.
“My German roommate says the place could just as well be Frankfurt. I guess Frankfurt’s a dump too.”

Uzi Gelfand has a great big bullet hole in his head, but he’s much happier now, having found his parents reincarnated in this shared limbo because they’d reacted similarly to the anxieties that life had in store for them. Plus his little brother is newly arrived, having offed himself during Basic Training in the conscriptive Israeli army, so now they’re all living together, bonded in the afterlife as never before through their shared exiting option.

I think the bullet through the brain must have taken his internal editor with it, because Uzi isn’t half the opinionated, contrarian bore.



So yes, it’s a life of dark bars (one’s called Stiff Drinks!), playing at pool, and perhaps pulling if you care to. But Mordy shares none of Uzi’s interest in girls, for his libido’s been lost in this limbo too. Until Mordy discovers, via a previous room-mate, that the girlfriend Desirée – whom he adored and who survived him in life to mourn at his graveside – has arrived in this afterlife too. Now, there is a new, unexpected impetus: locating Desirée and discovering why she committed suicide. Clue: it wasn’t over Mordy.

So it is that Mordy persuades a reluctant Uzi to join him on a journey in a car with no headlights into a countryside which could well be endless, in a world without maps. It’s not just topography that’s absent; it may well be topologically unstable too.



Along the way they pick up young Leehee, a woman who shows no overt evidence of having offed herself at all. Unlike the others, she misses everything about her prior existence and is on a hunt of her own – for whoever’s in charge – and with very good reason.

When Leehee takes her turn to drive the headlights start working.

Eventually, in the middle of nowhere, they meet a man called Kneller who does show some sort of impetus – to entertain – and this draws its itinerant crowd. But then, in search of Kneller’s cat, they discover an extravagant, plush mansion bathed in sunshine, with a swimming pool. There, even larger crowds have gathered, permanently round a pied-piper-like figure and self-proclaimed Messiah. But in a world in which no one else feels the need to repeat their suicide, why does this bloke want to give it a second ceremonial go?

You may be familiar with Etgar Keret now from ‘The Seven Good Years’ and ‘Jellyfish’. Connoisseurs of comics are more likely to have relished Asaf Hanuka’s solo explosions of fierce creativity and wit-ridden lateral thinking within THE REALIST and THE REALIST: PLUG AND PLAY as well as his work with Tomer Hanuka on THE DIVINE. If so, you will take the most enormous delight in seeing that most accomplished of comicbook creators evolving as a young artist on the pages right in front of you, for this work originally appeared in the periodical BI-POLAR some 15 years ago prior to reappearing in a collection in 2006.



Compare the first chapter with the third, then the fourth: it’s illuminating! The lines become cleaner, the light brighter, no longer bogged down by extraneous, haggard texture. The colours become lambent thanks to Dan Jackson (the original printings were black and white) and the space opens up, figures better framed in their environment. Or maybe everyone’s having more fun!

It’s a privilege to witness this sort of personal evolution, and artists new to this medium should take note: never refrain from publishing until you believe you have achieved perfection, because you – in your own mind – never will; also, never go back and waste time on fixing too much earlier material which you could otherwise employ to create your next work. Martin Wagner did precisely that on his anthropomorphic HEPCATS, and we have never heard from him since.

The logic of this particular afterlife isn’t watertight (I’ve no idea why condoms might be deployed when you’re already dead, no one seems to become pregnant or suffer from disease; then Kurt Cobain makes a cameo appearance, face intact) but, jeepers, this is an afterlife, so it’s all up for grabs, and there’s almost a perverse pleasure in mulling over what Etgar Keret has come up with and wondering what you might substitute instead. What matters is this: does Keret come up with ideas that make you think, and does his world serve its specific story?

It does.

Thought For Day / Review Addendum

You can probably stop reading now.



We often hear of the “afterlife” as some carrot dangled before us – with its attendant, punitive stick habitually waiting in the sermonic wings – in order to make us behave ourselves better on this mortal coil. Not just in authoritarian religions organised to control us through brainwashing, but also in the infinitely more liberating Buddhist teachings too.

For, yes, you will be reincarnated so watch what you do, otherwise options include returning as cat, bat, rat, stoat or snail, or even another human being.

Heaven forfend that we should love, comfort, enable and empower each other because it’s A Good Thing To Do, which will make us all quantifiably happier ourselves right here, right now, along with those whom we’ve helped.

Buddhists, I’m curious: can you be reincarnated backwards in time? Could I be reincarnated as a medieval monk? Related: has any enlightened Buddhist found themselves in possession of memories from the future rather than a past life? I ask, because what happens when someone like Trump pushes the big red button and there are no more human beings to look forward to in our abruptly curtailed timeline?

This ‘Thought For Today’ was presented by Stephen L. Holland. Now make yourself a hot mug of Horlicks and pop off to bed! We’ll see you in the morning.

Sweet dreams!


Buy Pizzeria Kamikaze h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Red Winter (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anneli Furmark.

“I have to go. It’s late.”
“Siv, when can I see you again? We’re not done talking.”
“I’ll call you when I can.”

That won’t be easy.

Siv and Ulrik are in love.

Ulrik is single and only twenty-four, but Siv is thirty-eight, married, with a son of fourteen called Peter and two younger children, Lars and Marita. They live in big, squat concrete block of flats in subarctic Sweden.

Ulrik lodges with Ralf, his local Communist party leader. Such a dalliance as Ulrik and Siv’s would be looked down on sternly, especially given Siv’s status as Social Democrat.

There would be repercussions.



“Hello, comrades!”
“Hi, Ralf!”
“No, no. You answer, Hello, comrade!
“Hello, comrade!”
“Ha ha can’t you tell I’m joking?”

Not really.

“New sweater? Did your mom knit it?”



Calling each other isn’t easy; the opportunities to meet, few and far between. The secretive couple’s current options and future prospects are limited and bleak. Instead Siv pours her heart out in a badly hidden journal; Ulrik professes his passion in love letters he never sends.



Peter spends too much time in the back of a car owned and driven by delinquents, one of whom doesn’t really like him.

Lars is often out at practice and Dad works long hours, so when Siv sneaks out for her assignations, Marita is left alone to experiment with adult toiletries and Tampax. She may rummage through drawers, but she probably won’t understand what she finds there.



Poor Siv.

This is a quiet book; a sad, dark, stark mid-winter book as cold as its climate and Ulrik’s humourless, intransigent, dogmatic, revolutionary associates. I’m guessing from the fashions – and in particular from a knitting pattern for a jumper with stripes the colours of a Zoom ice lolly – that this is set in the seventies; it’s certainly before the dissolution of the U.S.S.R..

But – and this is vital – the sense of both time and place are enveloping, and the colours emanating from the perfunctory, concrete blocks of flats glow with a yolk-yellow warmth against the black and pale blue night.



The same light illuminates the family table from under a central shade, and burgundies are deployed on that table’s cloth, the occasional skirt, shirt and jumper, and Marita’s woollen hat and jeans.

For maximum immersion, I heartily recommend you read it after dark.



“What do we do now? When can I see you again?”
“I’ll call you when I can.”


Buy Red Winter and read the Page 45 review here

Oblivion Song #1 (£3-25, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Lorenzo De Felici…

“It’s okay, it’s okay… I know it’s disorientating, but you’re safe now. You hear me? You’re safe.”
“Him! What did you do to him?!”
“He’s asleep. He’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. Just calm d…”


“Sedative! Hurry! Bridget! I can’t hold her much longer!”
“I can’t believe she scratched you.”
“She was over there almost a decade. She’s scared… how could she not be?”
“Still… I need to look at those scratches… there’s no telling what’s under those fingernails.”

I don’t know what Bridget is worried about. It’s not like the lady they’ve just rescued is a zombie…

I should probably clarify that she really isn’t a zombie. Or indeed possessed. Sorry, I was always going to try and get at least one WALKING DEAD gag in there. And then I had to go and over-egg matters even further with an OUTCAST rejoinder… I really can’t be arsed to try and shoehorn an INVINCIBLE gag in, though…

Moving on… yes, Robert Kirkman returns to terrify us once more, this time with a science-fiction / horror hybrid that owes as much to Quantum Leap as it does to Alien. Well, technically it’s more like Sliders rather than Quantum Leap, but let’s be honest, you’d probably forgotten all about that particular show until I mentioned it.



Anyway… Mr. Kirkman very kindly printed an advance copy of the first four issues or so, in a not-for-sale advance copy trade for retailers, and let me tell you, it was all utterly brilliant. What it actually reminded me of most in comics terms would be Jeff Smith’s RASL with its dimensional hopping, but with lots of added monsters and intrigue. Also because of Lorenzo de Felici’s exceptional art which definitely has a touch of Mr. Smith about it too.

Fabulous colouring from Annalisa Leoni also, who manages to combine an astonishing variety of shades and hues in a remarkably understated, subtle way. Quite the masterclass in the use of contrasting and complimentary colours to spot highlight and draw attention to detail and so take the illustrations to another level altogether. Very clever.



Very unusual for me to get this far into a review without rambling on about the plot, so I’d better get on with it, I guess! A decade ago there was an… incident. The city centre of Philadelphia was wiped out in an instant, replaced in the blink of an eye with 30 square miles of a huge vegetative ecosystem and its incumbent voracious predators. Almost 20,000 people were seemingly wiped out of existence in a moment.

Eventually, once the ‘invasion’ was brought under control after a not inconsiderable number of additional casualties and the area quarantined, a scientist named Nathan Cole worked out what had happened. The 30 square miles of Philadelphia which vanished, had in fact, merely swapped places with the new terrain. Suddenly hope was raised that somewhere on an alien world, that promptly became named Oblivion, there were possibly thousands of presumably terrified survivors.


Technology was quickly developed to allow incursions to Oblivion and search and rescue missions launched to retrieve many of the missing Philadelphians cowering in the ruins of their city, which itself was rapidly being assailed and assimilated by the native fauna and flora. After ten years, however, the last few of which proved completely fruitless in finding any remaining survivors, government funding inevitably dried up and public interest waned. A monument to the remaining lost souls was built, inscribed with each of their names, and a museum built in their honour.


Nathan Cole, however, remains convinced further humans remain on Oblivion, including his brother. In fact, he believes that there is a whole community hidden away somewhere, possibly even thriving. And so, he continues to make unauthorised, dangerous solo excursions with his own technology. When he manages to find a husband and wife and successfully retrieves them, to much understandable public fanfare, he consequently expects to be given a new remit and improved budget to conduct further missions. To his surprise and anger, he finds all the government really wants is to move on and draw a line under the whole Transference as it ultimately became known. Lest the public continue to fret the mysterious, spontaneous occurrence could suddenly happen again. Nathan, of course, has got other ideas…


Buy Oblivion Song #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Inside Moebius Part 1 h/c (£33-50, Dark Horse) by Moebius…

“Arzak! The Major! And Blueberry! They’re all against me. Only John DiFool has left me alone. I hope he doesn’t have it in for Jodorowsky…”

Haha. INSIDE MOEBIUS is precisely that as Jean Giraud takes himself, and us, on an inner journey through his soul desert, simply known as “Desert B”, where he documents his final attempt to quit smoking weed once and for all, whilst being continually harangued by many of his creations such as Major Grubert of The Airtight Garage fame, but also the likes of Osama Bin Laden, all of whom seem determined to convince him to keep toking away.

Probably the worst offender he’ll encounter in his attempt to defeat his recidivistic behaviour is his younger self, replete with flowing black, wavy hair and moustache. Plus ever-present spliff! As Moebius continues to rationalise his desires to knock off the pot, his characters talk about him disparagingly behind his back and, in the case of Jean Giraud Jr., to his face. Moebius Prime, meanwhile, continues to torture himself both existentially, and also artistically, as we see him grapple with his creative process on the likes of Blueberry.



And that, really, in a nutshell is it. If you are expecting fantastical megalopolis cityscapes and weird colourful alien worlds in the style of THE INCAL, you are likely to be disappointed. The backdrop for virtually all the conversations that take place is quite literally a barren desert. On the other hand it’s a fantastic conceit for what is by turns insightful and hilarious biographical jaunt through the psyche of one of comics’ greatest ever creators. In that respect, the psychodrama that unfolds is closer to the likes of (Jodorowsky’s and) his MADWOMAN OF THE SACRED HEART. But it is all quite, quite real. At least inside Moebius…


Buy Inside Moebius Part 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Motor Girl Omnibus s/c (s/c £24-99; h/c £35-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

Complete, twelve-chapter collection available in hardcover and softcover, originally reviewed in two halves.

“Are you okay?”

She really isn’t.

So you think you know what to expect from this comic: a burlesque comedy starring a hyperactive desert-based, junkyard mechanic who’s tied at the hip to an anthropomorphic wry, dry mountain gorilla who sasses and back-chats, right? And there were diminutive, comedy, green aliens on the first chapter’s cover, so we knew we were in for those too. Sure enough, they were all present and correct, along with Terry’s persistent, consistent campaign against cretins who use cell phones whilst driving, which is deadly and ever so slightly illegal.



But is that really all you’d expect from the creator of RACHEL RISING, STRANGERS IN PARADISE and ECHO? The man who’s made a career out of juxtaposing comedy with hard-hitting trauma?  All it takes is a single, early, un-signposted panel to suggest that you’re in for a lot more than you first bargained for. This would fit comfortably on Page 45’s Mental Health Awareness Counter: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

“What happened here?
“Iraqi prison.”
“You were in the military?”
“I was in the navy. Six years. Did you suffer any head injuries?”
“I guess. They hit me every day for ten months.”

Sam’s recurring headaches are excruciating, and when you finally begin to witness the flashbacks, they will flatten you.

Now former Sergeant Samantha Locklear works virtually alone in a desert junkyard owned by ancient but far from frail Libby who is determined Sam should at least wear a hat and shades. It’s almost unbearably hot, but its isolation and practical purpose provides Sam with the stability she needs not to stay sane, but to survive.



Walking that tightrope alongside her is Mike the mountain gorilla, her constant companion who is more than just a figment of Sam’s imagination, but a coping mechanism, a projection she knows isn’t real. So if Mike isn’t real, what about the UFO and the comedy green aliens who crash-land on the doorstep? Only Sam and Mike see those, late at night, fixing up their stereotypical flying-saucer’s engine, to be thanked by an almighty embrace, the alien’s antennae bending into the shape of a heart, his oil-stained hands planted firmly on Sam’s boxer-shorted buttocks. The stain’s still there in the morning, as plain as plain can be… unless Sam’s imagining that too?



Nope. There’s a very real reason why Mr Walden is prepared to pay a ridiculous sum of money to purchase the land, then up the ante with intimidation. Nice visual reference to Hergé’s TINTIN: DESTINATION MOON.

I love that Libby, the direct, gum-flapping old-age pensioner is even less likely to “do” intimidation than Sam; that she understands Sam’s needs and treats her like a daughter. She won’t sell unless Sam’s ready to move on, and she isn’t. She has a family that worries about her, but she’s simply not ready.

I can hear Libby’s “Ooo dogey!” drawl distinctly in my head which, weirdly enough, I am positive is partly due to the cartooning.



As well as wearing a hat and shades, Libby’s also determined that Sam, to stave off dehydration, should drink more.

DRINK!” Drink or you’re going straight to bed with no supper!
“That’s what Momma used to say, she could really bring the pain.
“Now I drink a Martini every day at five…
“And toast to Momma.”

Fab, flapping hair once flying about on a quad bike, suitably matted and ill-conditioned when not, superb use of grey tones at night, and there’s an exquisite slow-motion scene in which a certain party’s launch through the air is virtually halted as Sam and Mike weigh up the situation calmly, unhurriedly, before Sam demonstrates quite ably why ex-Marines don’t need to carry firearms.



Part Two

“She just wants to help.”
“I don’t need any help! Okay?
“I carry my own load! No one has to help me!
“I help them!
“I’m the strongest person in the room! That’s how it works!”
“Damn straight!”
“Then why am I here?”

In which you will learn precisely why Mike’s in Sam’s mind, and why he is specifically a mountain gorilla.

It involves a young boy in Iraq who was chained with steel braid to a big bundle of explosives, then left in an upstairs window to lure in someone just like Sergeant Samantha Locklear. It worked. The sequences in Iraq are halting and horrific, rendered without any of the cartoon galumphing exhibited by Walden’s paid goons.




The stark contrast is bridged by the quiet solemnity of Sam’s current, consequent medical condition when Libby goes silent and Sam and Mike finally begin to address each other seriously. And I found the sincere respect due to veterans so deftly done, for example paid here by a barman after yet another drunken altercation between Sam and Mike – or, to any observer, thin air.

“What’s her problem?”
“Sam? She did three tours in Iraq. Captured, tortured, survived two bomb attacks.”
“If she wants to come in here and yell at the back wall, I say yes ma’am, thank you for your service and would you like a beer for your ‘friend’.”



I don’t have any of the Iraqi pages to show you, but perhaps that’s for the best: they should come out of the blue and blow you to bits. But even during its comedic confrontations MOTOR GIRL is more than just mouth and mania: it’s about the little guys getting trampled on by the big boys with money and clout; about those under threat looking out for each other. Eh, it’s also about slapstick, soap-sudded aliens in your bath.

“I know how the military works, Libby.”
“I know you do. I’m just saying…”
“There’s more to it than duty.”
“Like what?”
“Like caring what happens to people who can’t defend themselves.”



STRANGERS IN PARADISE has now returned for its 25th Anniversary with STRANGERS IN PARADISE XXV #1  and SiP XXV #2.


Buy Motor Girl Omnibus s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Motor Girl Omnibus h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Fantastic Four: Epic Collection vol 1 – The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Saying “No, sir!” to NASA, four thieves steal a space rocket, and strangely we applaud.

“No time for official clearance!”

Or a countdown – I used to love pre-launch NASA countdowns.

“Conditions are right tonight!”

You can see stars! So at least they’ll know which way to go.

There’s a single guard on duty. I’m not even kidding you.

We even sympathise, then respect this delinquent family of anarchists (“property is theft” – but then so is theft) as they’re bombarded with cosmic rays, crash, and are transformed into earth (the lumpy orange Thing – rocks to follow), wind (as Invisible as a Woman in those days) and fire (car-driving dreamboat Johnny ‘clueless’ Storm). Oh, and I guess water too, if you consider Mr. Fantastic’s ability to flow. But maybe that’s stretching it.

These arm-crossing Four Musketeers then proceed to fight off invading shape-shifting Skrulls, a time-travelling tyrant (Victor von Doom, again and again) and the Moleman, a mop-topped minger with no sense of hygiene and a terrible pair of sunglasses ill-equipped to deal properly with the modern menace of U.V. rays.



As well as a blatant disregard for federal property, feminism and his fiancée in particular, Reed Richards also demonstrates a surprisingly strange sense of humour in using Skrulls’ shape-shifting ability against them by hypnotising them into believing they’re cows. He’s essentially immigrant-averse Donald Trump, six decades early, and this is a legacy which will lead to upset stomachs around fast food chains everywhere once Grant Morrison and Mark Millar find out.

Hot-headed and easily bedded Johnny Storm quits quite early on so that he no longer has to moonlight as a mechanic, but can show-off fool time (sic) by using his powers as the Human Torch to weld random bits of metal together which he claims are car components.



The Full Frontal Lobotomy then burns the beard off an already bullied bum with deep-seated amnesia to see if it’s really Prince Namor, Marvel’s Golden Age Sub-Mariner.

It’s Namor, Marvel’s Golden Age Sub-Mariner!

Now, Namor (Marvel’s Golden Age Sub-Mariner) had two temperaments back in 1939 – tetchy and very tetchy indeed – and wasn’t particularly disposed towards due care and consideration when it came to collateral damage whilst on an anti-land-dweller rampage. Fortunately, his memory loss holds after this initial close shave and he has in any case been out of his beloved, strength-sustaining sea-water for decades. So far, so phew!

But Johnny “I Can’t Even Spell Health & Safety” Storm has a very cunning plan: he drops Prince Namor into the ocean.

“If he is the Sub-Mariner, the water will bring back his memory and his full powers! If not, I’ll dive in and save him!”

It may or may not surprise you to learn that Johnny Storm also flunked history.



Cue immediate memory and full-power restoration, plus subsequent anti-land-dweller rampage with absolutely colossal property damage throughout Manhattan courtesy of Giganto, a 70-storey-high, amphibious, bipedal Sperm Whale, summoned by a sea shell. Okay, a sea-shell horn.

An invisible Sue Storm grabs the horn, but then Namor grabs Sue Storm. Instantly the high tide is turned, for Namor has Sue Storm, the horn and the horn for Sue Storm.

That mess will play itself out for decades.



This collection reprints all the clever little cross-pollination marketing teasers that used to run underneath Marvel Comics’ pages:


To his own comic, obviously, but also to next volume’s titanic pages of FANTASTIC FOUR, ‘The World’s Most Chauvinist Comic Magazine Until We Invented The Avengers’.



Next volume, I’ll actually be talking about the excellence of artist Jack Kirby, including yet another Caravaggio rhombus composition. I know this because I wrote those paragraphs over a decade ago.

But really, I’ll still be ripping the piss out of Stan Lee’s truly awful storytelling logic and utterly outrageous sexism.

You wait until Reed and Sue get married and then have a kid: they’re the worst parents ever. I’ve written all that too.


Buy Fantastic Four: Epic Collection vol 1 – The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers: Epic Collection vol 1 – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Larry Ivie & Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers.

A review of the first 20 issues told in two 45-minute halves, with an interlude so you can suck oranges before switching sides.

Part, The First:

Welcome to the very first adventures of Earth’s Most Mightiest of Heroes!

Iron Man, the Golden Avenger!
Thor, the Norse God of Thunder!
Captain America, WWII Super-Soldier!
Hulk: Incredible, but a Bit Mardy!
Giant-Man / Ant-Man / Amazing Identity Crisis Man!

Janet van Dyne, the “winsome” Wasp, whose only job here appears to be flirting outrageously with everyone in sight, and calling everything else “silly”.

Suspect I’m being a bit hard on super-sexist Stan ‘The Man’ Lee? All these utterances are real:

“Know something, handsome? You look like the poor man’s Ben Hur on that silly ant!”
“Personally, I think it’s silly not to have a permanent leader!”
“Couldn’t you have made these silly things taste better while you were inventing them?”
“I’m as all right as any girl could be who had her make-up smudged by a silly ol’ collapsing ant hill!”
“You, sir, are about as romantic as the rotor blade on this silly ol’ plane.”

It’s a helicopter, Jan!



“Did anyone ever tell you that you have the most deliciously blue eyes, Henry Pym?”
“I’ll bet he’s not bad-looking under that silly head-gear he’s wearing!”
“Hmm… he’d be real dreamy if he was a little huskier!”
“Look! An intruder is coming! Hmmm… he’s not bad looking!”

OMG, she wants to hump the intruder! Nevertheless, it’s team-mate Thor she’s truly stuck on:

“He sounds like a burlesque of a comic hero in MAD Magazine! But with those shoulders… those eyes — who cares how corny he talks!!!”

All this swooning comes right in front of her boyfriend, Hank Pym / Giant-Man / Ant-Man. No wonder he has size issues. But then that’s what happens when the world’s most sophisticated biochemist dates a flying clothes horse with a brain the size of a butterfly’s.

“That whirling shield of yours is a like an all-purpose detergent, Cap!!”

Janet, in what possible way…?!?



A feminist tract, this is not. Covers aside, it’s not much to look at, either (it honestly isn’t): tiny figures all boxed in, largely by Stan Lee’s insane over-writing. There’s a scene wherein the duplicitous Wonder Man swats a boulder back at Giant-Man, and you can just tell from the art (drawn before Stan’s written his script) that it’s intended to back-fire on the traitor by smashing into his leader’s machinery, yet Stan feels the need to append this off-panel bobbins:

“But, though wracked with pain, the valiant Giant-Man again lifts the boulder and, before Wonder Man can stop him, sends it smashing into Zemo’s Magnet Mechanism!”

That’s not what happened! You’ve ruined a perfectly decent irony, Stan!

So yes, villains include Wonder Man, Zemo, The Enchantress, The Executioner, Kang The Conqueror (himself conquered here by the ludicrous, Rick Jones-led Teen Brigade of random ruffians), The Hulk (conflicted), The Space Ghost, The Radioactive Man, The Black Knight, Immortus, Namor The Sub-Mariner, some Lava Men, Janet Van Dyne’s sex drive and the chap what unwittingly brought them all together in the first place: Loki, Norse God of unbelievably half-assed cock-ups.

Phenomenal, really. I love it to bits.





From the age of seven or so, I grew up on Marvel Comics. No others would do. I lapped them up, one and all.

But THE AVENGERS had a colourful, iconoclastic, rough-and-tumble cast whereas the FF and original X-Men wore homogenous uniforms and were each lead by a fun-free, dominating patriarch. I thrilled seeing Iron Man’s armour evolve early on, and totally geeked-out each time Hank Pym / Ant-Man / Giant-Man / Amazing Identity Crisis Man (coming soon: Goliath and Yellow Jacket plus multiple mental breakdowns) changed his costume.

My favourite eras as a kid were the early adventures drawn by John Buscema (coming shortly) then Neal Adams (KREE-SKRULL WAR), plus George Perez and John Byrne’s 50-odd issues. Later, as an adult, my kiddie thrills all paid off during writer Brian Michael Bendis’s NEW AVENGERS run which I recommend to any modern sensibility seriously interested in superheroes with all my heart and none of this naughty nit-picking.

Have you finished your oranges? Excellent!

Part, The Second:



Another pulse-pounding pageant of pugilism, but also the end of an era as the Wasp runs out of compact, so opts to resign. Thor and Iron Man follow suit (as does her boyfriend Giant-Man, somewhat defensively) leaving no one for the recently resurrected Captain America to bark orders at. Handily Hawkeye the marksman offers his services, as do siblings Quicksilver (Pietro) and Wanda, The Scarlet Witch, which gives Stan Lee a fresh opportunity to demonstrate his sterling credentials as a forward-thinking feminist:

“You are the oldest, Pietro, and I shall so as you say!”

Obviously the outgoing Avengers must first ascertain how qualified each applicant is to take over by judging their strength, stamina and skill-set with a rigorous and impartial eye, beginning with Hawkeye who ties up their butler in order to play William Tell.

“I’m sold! How about you, Wasp?”
Va va voom! Oh  >eh<  I mean — he ought to do fine!”

Left to their own devices, the boys begin bickering immediately, each one jockeying for position of leader in a tidal wave of testosterone that would threaten to drown poor Wanda if she wasn’t perpetually falling through trap-doors. It’s funny how the lads start walking on opposite sides of the street.

Fortunately statesman Captain America is above it all:

“Stay out of this, Wanda! It’s between Hawkeye and myself!”
“You’re blamed right it is! I’m sick of the way you try to push your weight around all the time! Do ya read me?”
“Loud and clear, feather-brain! And get your finger out of my face before you lose it!”

Well, almost above it all.



What they can unite behind is their righteous disgust towards evil foreigners like The Mandarin and The Commissar of the Communist-ruled puppet state of Sin-Cong. One which Captain America invades (without so much as a phone call to the United Nations, let alone a Resolution), overthrows those squalid Commie bastards, then issues this stern warning to all right-minded Marvel readers:

“Be always on your guard! Their goal is nothing less than total world conquest, and world enslavement! Only constant vigilance and devotion to freedom can stop them! And remember — The Avengers always stand ready to do their part!”
“Cap, did you take lessons on how to be a cornball, or does it come natural?”
“Sorry, Hawkeye! Guess I got carried away by my own convictions!”
“With convictions such as those, one has a right to be carried away!”

Yes, right away.



Some terrific covers, though, including this exceptional Jack Kirby composition, its perspective and narrative enhanced by an upright triangle, its base the row of heads, gazing up on both sides at the Swordsman and his sword (further emphasised by Wanda and Hawkeye’s gesticulations), on the left via Cap & the plank from which he jumped. (He did actually jump.)


Buy Avengers: Epic Collection vol 1 – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes 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’.

Crushing (£7-50, self-published ) by Sophie Burrows

Archival Quality (£17-99, Oni Press) by Ivy Noelle Weir &  Steenz

It’s All Absolutely Fine: Life Is Complicated So I’ve Drawn It Instead (£14-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Ruby Elliot

Mechaboys (£17-99, Top Shelf) by James Kochalka

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 5 (£11-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

Port Of Earth vol 1 (£8-99, Image) by Zack Kaplan & Andrea Mutti

Puerto Rico Strong: A Comics Anthology Supporting Puerto Rico Disaster Relief And Recovery (£11-99, Lion Forge) by various

Scalped Book 2 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R. M. Guera, Davide Furno, John Paul Leno

The End Of The Fucking World h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Charles Forsman

Vague Tales h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Eric Haven

We Ate Wonder Bread (£20-99, Fantagraphics) by Nicole Hollander

White Sand vol 1 s/c (£17-99, Dynamite) by Brandon Sanderson, Rik Hoskin & Julius Gopez

All-Star Batman vol 2: Ends Of The Earth s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Scott Snyder &  Jock, Francesco Francavilla, Tula Lotay, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mark Morales

Green Lantern: Earth One vol 1 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman

X-Men: X-Cutioner’s Song s/c (£33-50, Marvel) by Peter David, Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza & Greg Capullo, Andy Kubert, Jae Lee, Brandon Peterson, Larry Stroman

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2018 week one

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

Featuring Audrey Niffenegger, Eddie Campbell, Tommi Parrish, Eric Haven, Jerry Frissen, Philippe Scoffoni, Reinhard Kleist, more.

Bizarre Romance h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Audrey Niffenegger & Eddie Campbell.

“The attic was infested with angels again. I could hear them bumping around above the ceiling. Plus, the harp music made it pretty obvious.”

If my name were Jacob, I probably wouldn’t go climbing any ladders. You never know what you’ll encounter.

What Jakob Wywialowski discovers, once he’s stuck his head over the proverbial parapet and up through the attic hatch, is a small orchestra of Byzantine angels sat on the floorboards or upon the carved antique chairs belonging to his great-aunt Rachel. Now, harp music would probably prove soothing to most, but there’s a lute, a lyre and some sort of trumpet. That’s sure going to carry. And although they stop strumming the second they see Jakob (and stare him down coldly), they strike right up again the second he’s popped the lid back.

Have you ever had noisy neighbours? Plus, you know, if you don’t take action, things can escalate.

“One thing leads to another, and before you know it, you’ve got Seraphim.”




The angels are rendered, as per Byzantine tradition, faces turned but in bodily profile, even when all hell breaks loose later on. There’s an exquisitely funny, ornately framed, two-dimensional tableau of this (wherein the angels remain coloured in flat olive hues in contrast to their contemporary assailants) which can be viewed from all angles, as you might a church ceiling from the same period. For the same effect, hold the book above your head then turn it round.

The tale takes a truly upsetting twist (which is sadly familiar if you transpose it), but the punchline is perfectly judged for maximum, serves-you-right mirth.

So, twelve short stories and a sermon (!), some of which have seen the light of day before but in different ways, some of which haven’t except as one-off performance pieces, with one which is brand-new to the public. Apart from a couple which were co-created by the couple for comics, all are written by Audrey Niffenegger (‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’, ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ etc), and each has been transformed into illustrated prose or full-blown comics by Eddie Campbell of ALEC OMNIBUS, BACCHUS, FROM HELL, FROM HELL COMPANION, THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS, THE PLAYWRIGHT etc, all reviewed.



Kicking a piece of prose fiction off with a double-page illustration is a risky business, but the specific shimmering imagery preceding ‘Secret Life, with Cats’ (note the exact title including punctuation) could not anticipate and complement what follows better and Campbell’s contribution to ‘The Composite Boyfriend’ is a stroke of mischievous genius. It’s a paper-doll dress-up of a naked, bald man with slots through which you can stick the tabs attached to the various mix-and-match head gear, shirts, jackets, boots, high-heeled shoes, pants and panties. There’s additional lateral thinking I’ll leave you to discover yourself, but only Eddie Campbell would think to include a variety of genitalia for preferences’ sake or a fig leaf for the prudish, deeply religious or asexual.

The short story itself is a free-flowing composite too:

“I met him at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where he worked as a guard. I met him in a class I was taking. I met him at a school where we both taught. I met him at a party; we smiled at each other across a crowded room. We were introduced to each other by our mutual friend Paula, an Austrian immigrant who had escaped from the Nazis as a young girl.”

“…I gave him my phone number but accidentally transposed two digits because I had just changed it. He managed to call anyway.”

The sex was largely problematic.




So, what are you in for thematically? The title would suggest bizarre romances, and there are plenty of relationships here (romances, family, friendships) which either begin bizarrely or take quite the startling turn at the transdimensional traffic lights. There are initial connections, strange transformations and passages through mirrors, hatches and doors, whether you can see all of them or not. Offers, for examples, are doorways; agreements are you stepping through.

There are also a great many cats, some living, some dead, one dead-and-buried and about-to-be-exhumed, while others were never alive. See juggled ocelots. That they were specifically ocelots is funny in its own right.



Originally written between 2003 and 2014, I note that ‘Secret Life, with Cats’ was originally published in 2006, three years prior to Niffenegger’s novel ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ and I wonder which more informed the other, for they share more than a few of the same elements. It’s a story about houses, one of which is bequeathed to the narrator by a friend called Ruth whom she met while they worked together at a cat rescue, rehabilitation and re-housing centre after Ruth disappears. The narrator finds that she too would like to disappear and does so, twice – the first time in order to escape life with a neglectful husband by moving into her new house; the second time in order to escape what she finds there. After an extended, predominantly tender tale, the narrator abruptly signs off, over and out with a shockingly ruthless expediency which is so completely in keeping with her quiet, resigned pragmatism that it is comical.

Ever and always, throughout this collection, you can see the creators’ eyes twinkle.

As well as the humour, there’s an unworldly eeriness to some of Eddie’s art here, not least in ‘The Ruin of Grant Lowery’ which begins in the very fixed and concrete location of “the Village Tap on Rancine” before some of those dangerous doors begin beckoning. At that bar an imperious-looking lady accosts him, her face a too perfectly beautiful, impassive mask. She asks Grant Lowery to settle a bet between her friends, but that invitation too is a mask for what she really wants. It’s a clever approach, to offer alternatives. One of her friends has a facade which exhibits slightly feral features; the other’s smile is so asymmetrical that “Grant wondered if she had been in some sort of accident”. I liked this: “Migly, as he looked at her, seemed to become subtly more asymmetrical, until she was almost cubist.” Wait until you see what Campbell does with that! Wait until you learn what Grant Lowery doesn’t: he doesn’t run away.



The eeriness is in evidence too in ‘Backwards in Seville’. There the pages open right up with vacuums of white: silent space in which only five sentences are actually uttered and upon which each panel seems to hang as if suspended in space, but more accurately time.

The effect is that within fluid prose – as the narrator talks herself out of an existence she no longer cherishes in favour of her frail, aging father – each solitary reflection is given its due. It’s difficult not to linger. It also divorces a blur-faced Helene from the world she perceives and the life she has led which she reflects upon remotely, dispassionately and disappointedly as their boat backs away from Seville.

“She had met Evan when she was twenty-eight and he was thirty-six. He’s always seemed on the verge of marrying her; she was patient.
“When he broke up with her fourteen years later and married a girl half her age, she understood that she’d been gullible and that he was a jerk, but, oh, well, and so she had lapsed into a quiet, permanent rage.”

Helene’s father has been recently widowed, you see, and she has taken her mother’s place on their traditional Mediterranean cruise holiday. Slowly but surely as Helene reflects upon what little she has made of her own life, she comes to the conclusion that her more interactive, proactive, still-smiling father could make far better use of her extra time which she – being too timid and ineffectual to date – wouldn’t have the first clue what to do with. Almost anyone other than Audrey Niffenegger would have then turned this into a cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for. But such proscriptive stifling is really not her style.




So we come, appropriately enough, to the ‘Gaeia Manchester Sermon’ which Niffenegger originally delivered in a cathedral to a congregation celebrating the Manchester Literary Festival in October 2014. Yes, it was a real sermon delivered in a real cathedral to a real congregation, even though the writer had long abandoned organised religion in favour of Art, and all of their interests lay firmly and fervently focussed thataway!

She is diplomatic.

“The thing that makes us want God is the same thing that makes us want Art – we want meaning. We want there to be more than meets the eye.”

She is honest.

“I am an inappropriate person to be giving a sermon. I have spent thirty-six years of my life avoiding sermons. I might even be allergic to sermons; they make me itch.”

Not rich. Her mother left the Catholic Church shortly after Audrey left art school upon graduation. Her Mum realised that she didn’t like the way the church treated women, and more. Her local church’s pastor wrote her a letter in which he said he was sorry she was leaving, but that he prayed that she would please still continue to give them the same stipend of money. That was his priority.

What is so very clever about the sermon is that does address the ecclesiastical, marries rather than divorces it from the history of art, argues with evidence that its scriptures and strictures are contradictory, hypocritical with respect to said art, and then humbly enounces a far more inspiring, communicative and so constructive potential focus for our shared devotion.


As has now become laughably traditional at Page 45 – but never once regretted or rescinded – I now pronounce this my book of the year, once again as early as March. Hahahahahaha!


Buy Bizarre Romance h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Lie And How We Told It h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Tommi Parrish.

“That friendship was my whole world once.”
“People change.”

Oh how they do!

Bar-staff wisdom, there: never underestimate it. They observe everything and everyone – except me when I’m attempting to buy a round on a heaving Saturday night. It’s those propping up that bar whose advice you should be wary of.

Cleary and Tim haven’t seen each other in years, but bump into each other again because Cleary is working at the local supermarket’s check-out and Tim has brought some produce to buy.


Uncommitted small talk ensues then Tim signals his intention to leave, but Cleary thinks she should give it a go: she finishes in 5, and she says they should catch up. Tim’s caught, as startled as a deer in her headlights, and automatically agrees. Outside, he waits for her. Reveries or perhaps memories seep in.

And then, when they walk and talk, it’s far from a meeting of minds.



Yes, it’s going to be awkward. Parrish does “awkward” ever so well, as you shall see. In fact, why don’t we start again?

THE LIE AND HOW WE TOLD IT is an essay in awkward: awkward bodies, uncomfortable environments, and a mis-meeting of minds engaged elsewhere or else-when; they’re certainly no longer on the same wavelength, if they ever were.

The figures are hulking, extended, exceptionally physical and when one pushes someone else away literally or metaphorically, they do with a palpable, tangible physicality.

The bar scenes are visually, colourfully crowd-loud, dense and intense.



Have you ever been led to a new pub, bar or club by someone totally used and inured to its charms: someone at least familiar with its regular denizens and accustomed to its customs? But you find it oppressive, overwhelming and so hostile, even if it isn’t? If the music or chatter is so loud that you cannot communicate with the one who brought you there and so find solace in their familiarity amongst this alien environment, then that’s even worse. They stand there, relaxed, beaming and proud of themselves, while you shudder silently inside.

But Parrish takes this one step further, for although Tim leads Cleary to a bar he perhaps honestly believes she’ll enjoy because of its sexuality diverse population (alternatively, to prove he’s so very cool), in spite of all his ostensible equanimity, he’s about to squirm too in its toilets.

There’s nothing awful or untoward going on in its toilets. Everyone there is perfectly friendly; it is Tim who imperfectly is not.



Cleary finds a book along their way, and we are privy to its text.

“How can someone learn so little in all those years?”

Distance, it seems to me, is not only a matter of miles.




Buy The Lie And How We Told It h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Compulsive Comics s/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Eric Haven…

“Hell-ooo! Helloo-HUH? DAN?”
“Wow! I can’t believe it!”
“ADRIAN?! It’s great to see you, lad! Although I wish our circumstances were different… I think we’re dead.”

They are. Dead, that is. Yes, EIGHTBALL’s Dan Clowes and OPTIC NERVE’s Adrian Tomine are conversing in the afterlife and discover to their mutual outrage that the same blithering idiot has managed to knock them both down in rapid succession in his black VW bug! The idiot in question being the creator of Compulsive Comics, Eric Haven, who is now having a complete meltdown over how to dispose of their bodies because he doesn’t want to go to prison…

Meanwhile, the dynamic duo of Dan and Adrian are about to negotiate with the Creator – capital C, note – to get sent back on a mission of vengeance to deal with the lower-case one… Quite why Eric Haven felt the need to bump those two off, only he knows, but he does have the manners to apologise to both of them at the end of the strip, and thank them in the credits at the back of the collection, in addition to letting them gain their revenge with the pages of his comic as well. So he can’t be all bad! Also, his conceit of having Dan call Adrian “lad’ totally cracked me up. I’d love to know where that came from.



It is as bizarre as it sounds, not least because God is not quite what you’d expect, neither in appearance nor in fashion sensibilities, as He insists Dan and Adrian get dressed as superheroes before their resurrection. Dan’s a little concerned the outfits look a bit “sheer” but God insists they’ll hit the spot in striking terror into mortal men… As I say, at least Eric had the good grace to say sorry to them!

That surreal short is but one of eleven strips of varying levels of insane that make up this collection drawn from various sources penned between 1996 to 2006. Some are little more than one or two page gag strips, in a nervous laughter sense that is, whereas others are psychotic, surreal affairs that just seem to ramble dangerously on in a random fashion over several pages. I think my favourite is possibly ‘It’s Okay… I’m Wearing A Tie’ which as you can probably guess features Eric in a number of… situations… that no normal person would remotely consider okay, whether one was fully suited and booted or not. It’s all very deadpan humour throughout and wonderfully absurd.



Content-wise and artistically I can make comparisons with Charles LAST LOOK Burns, Joe HIGHBONE THEATER Daly, Tim LONESOME GO Lane and I’m even going to throw Fletcher Hanks in there on the basis of the one strip that is in colour entitled Mammology, featuring Eric slumped in an armchair watching a TV show starring a deliberately period superhero called the Mongoose. Also, there’s more than a touch of Joe SPENT Matt in how Eric draws himself, which is probably somewhat revealing!

On the basis of this excellent selection of shorts I’d love to have a look at Eric’s longer form work. Apparently he did one last year, also for Fantagraphics, entitled VAGUE TALES about a man (presumably Eric!) telepathically visiting other worlds whilst sitting in his apartment. I can certainly identify with that… but that’s the power of comics for you!!


Buy Compulsive Comics s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Secret Loves Of Geeks (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Margaret Atwood, Hope Larson, Cecil Castellucci, Gerard Way, Levi Hasting, Jamie McKelvie, Katie West, JP Laroque, Marley Zarcone and more.

Unexpectedly enormous fun! Apart from the bits that will tear your heart in two.

But, predominantly, this is unexpectedly enormous fun in which comicbook creators are generous enough to have a good old laugh at themselves, and in doing so go some not inconsiderable way to demonstrate that we’re far from alone if we act a bit wonky in love, lust or dear old infatuation.

But first a few words about the collection’s inclusivity so that none of you feel you’re being left on the shelf. *sobs*

“Representation matters, and people find it easier to become who they are when they see themselves reflected in media and stories.”

 – Chris Roberson, from the foreward.

If you’re still not sure whether representation matters, Roberson’s own history is almost certain to convince you, and you may end up researching demisexual and indeed graysexual which, sadly, isn’t an attraction to crumblies like me. Terms like that aren’t about pigeon-holing and labels, but about a vocabulary that allows greater understanding of others and more communicative self-expression in conversation. Hooray!


Absolutely no art I’ve found online corresponds to the stories I’m about to introduce you to. Never mind, they’re all somewhere in the book!


As suggested on the cover by Becky Cloonan, there’s a full spectrum of representation here “of diverse genders, orientations and cultural backgrounds” – also of art styles and narrative approaches from the era-spanning and the era-straddling to a weekend whirlwind romance.

As the word ‘Geek’ might suggest, unusually fervent obsessions are also very much to the fore, whether it’s Katie West’s collection of Vampire Lestat editions (not different books in the series, but different editions of the same book; and you for the punchline!!!) or Marley Zarcone’s startling moment of waking disassociation from reality in front of boyfriend James Stokoe following waaaaaaaaaaaay too much video-game bingeing. Hello? Yes, I saw a lot of hands going up there. Me too! Unfortunately, however much Bryan Lee O’Malley might suggest it in SECONDS, most of us can’t simply reload an old save.



Other contributors manage to combine tales of their obsessions with stories of their love lives in extraordinarily powerful, extremely elaborate or completely ridiculous ways, two of the very best being Levi Hastings’s sequential-art heartbreak and JP Laroque’s pun-tastically titled ‘Love In Alderaan Places’.

It’s a Star Wars reference, and a surprisingly clever one at that, for Laroque once had a boyf for whom Star Wars was sacrosanct. It was sacred to the point that even the suggestion that a single celluloid frame might be imperfect was a relationship deal-breaker, let alone all the prequels. And Mr Laroque, he held no love for the Star Wars franchise whatsoever; indeed, he hated it all.

So he lied. Oh, how he lied! Such was his love / lust / infatuation that he willingly subjected himself to entire evenings and repeated sittings of wall-to-wall Star Wars to please his boyfriend and then, to earn extra points, extolled the virtues of what he had seen at length, in depth and with a passion. I can’t recall whether this lasted weeks or for months, but I am slightly in awe. The key to all this is how Laroque sets it up – the crash, burn and inevitable, cataclysmic parting of ways when the truth comes out, after which he goes Solo – for Laroque is not without his own passions including the Alien franchise, he’s a great deal more candid than he was during this pantomime, and he’s a very funny writer with immaculate timing.



On an infinitely more poignant note, Levi Hastings fell for a guy while sojourning in a small, remote town which was thinly populated by those with even smaller minds. No matter. He still fell for this guy who loved the socio-political remake of Battlestar Galactica, so on their weekends, they watched it together and Levi found himself hooked on both fronts.

“The show became our date-night ritual, and I started to equate the drumbeats of the opening credits to the thumping of my eager heart.”

Awwww. The couple are all cuddled up on the sofa (this one’s comics). But here’s where it gets really interesting:

“I soon began to draw parallels between our progress in the show and the stages of our relationship.”

And parallels he draws, season to season, are absolutely remarkable and ever so telling. Or, as our own Battlestar expert Dee put it when I told her of this trajectory: “Uh-oh!” Uh-oh indeed! I’m not going to go any further, but that one’s a poignant must-read.



What else did I make notes on? Oh yes, Hope Larson’s ‘Cosplay’. A bit disappointed that it was prose, for I love Larson’s art, but the prose itself does not disappoint. She’s meeting someone at a bar for the first time:

“I got there early, like I always do, to buy my own drink and avoid the dance over the check. I call this move the Conflict-Averse Feminist. I moved around the bar trying out different seating options, like one of Goldilocks’s bears, until I located a spot that would allow for close conversation but didn’t invite too much coziness.”

Actually it was Goldilocks who tried out all the furniture and the bears who discovered her, but it’s a terrific analogy. Anyway, the convention-break date goes swimmingly well and Larson is exceptionally self-aware.

“I trotted out my best material: my most charming stories, my greatest hits.” It’s at this point I’m usually either tongue-tied or self-deprecating; I find the latter charming, but I might as well just stick a post-it note to my forehead with “LOSER” scrawled across it. “There was no rationing it out, or worrying that I’d built myself up to a sum greater than my parts. I’m not the type to dress up like Wonder Woman and trot about conventions, slipping into character for every amateur photographer, but I understand the impulse. This was my own brand of cosplay, and I was in disguise as myself.”

Everything that follows is equally eloquent with a superb sense of stock-taking when it comes to the stage in her life she had found herself at, and he in his. It’s the sort of thing you can gauge by your living conditions, love life or work responsibilities.

I count 37 pieces and I haven’t read all of them, but I will over time.

One last piece of wit is the 8-bit love hearts between each prose story’s chapter break. Neat!


Buy The Secret Loves Of Geeks and read the Page 45 review here

Exo h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Jerry Frissen & Philippe Scoffoni…

“We’re nearly there.”
“What?! “We’re nearly there?” Does the lieutenant come here a lot?”
“Maybe he knows some cool bar behind that big boulder over there?”

I’d be up for visiting a bar on the moon…

It’s not a bar, obviously…

Jerry Frisson, who collaborated on writing duties with Alexandro Jodorowsky on the recent new METABARON material returns solo here with a hard sci-fi yarn about a covert alien invasion of Earth, and all manner of other lunar-based malarky.

In the best tradition of covert alien invasions of Earth, the extraterrestrial excursionists are bodysnatchers, but it’s not long before the visitors come to the attention of NASA. Partly because an orbital space station gets attacked by a mysterious weapon fired from the dark side of the moon, thus requiring a cadre of marines to be dispatched to investigate, setting everyone on high alert for anything unusual. Like, you know, a covert alien invasion. How are the two events connected? And what on Earth, and the Moon, is going on?



Can it all possibly have anything to do with NASA’s recent announcement that they’ve discovered an exoplanet so likely to harbour life they’ve named it Darwin II? By reprogramming an existing probe already out in the big beyond since 1996 to get there within a mere 2 years, rather than the 40 years it would take a new mission, they are utterly convinced they will finally discover alien life. Too late, it’s already here!!

It’s up to John Koenig (surely a cheeky nod to Walter?), the ‘bad boy of NASA himself’ to puzzle it all out! I should probably add that John didn’t award himself that particular honorific, it was in fact his daughter Io’s ex-boyfriend, the fabulously bemulleted Peter, just before he medicined John good and proper with some peyote tea, to prevent him from retrieving his daughter. This stupid, seemingly random action will in fact prove to be a pivotal plot point…



John’s subsequent intuitive flashbacks are probably where my suspension of disbelief was most tested during this work, which is saying something given the epic journey Frisson takes us on, but overall it’s an fabulously entertaining romp which is in the best traditions of a huge (good) Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, so I guess I can forgive the odd tenuous plot device that makes all the crazy stuff hang together.

The parallel strands of tension on terra firma – and then underwater just for a bit of additional Abyss-style alien action – and the moon that develop, kept me completely intrigued before they dovetailed neatly, as we get the big reveals piling up rapidly during the conclusion. Though, the final few pages did feel slightly rushed, almost as though a couple of key explicative scenes were missing. I’m not one for unnecessary exposition, but we really could have done with a touch more here right at the death. I actually checked to see whether I hadn’t turned over a few pages at the same time by mistake in my excitement. A case of rapidly diminishing page count, I suspect! Anyway, a very minor gripe.



The art from Phillippe Scoffoni, who is new to me, I must confess, is truly excellent, exactly what you’d want and expect from a Humanoids book. Precise ligne claire, really detailed linework, with a wonderfully natural colour palette. I’m probably most minded of François BOUNCER Boucq as a point of comparison, but I really hope Scoffoni does more for Humanoids, his art is an absolute pleasure to look at.


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

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: An Art Book h/c (£24-99, SelfMadeHero) by Reinhard Kleist.

“Closer to the truth than any biography, that’s for sure!”

 – Nick Cave on Reinhard Kleist’s graphic novel, NICK CAVE: MERCY ON ME.

We have sold a shed load of those at Page 45.

It’s a dilapidated shed, to be sure, half-hidden by undergrowth, with a rusted padlock and a suspicious smell seeping through the cracks in one of its windows. Betty Coltrane no longer lives here; we strongly suggest you stop looking for her.

You might already know Kleist from his JOHNNY CASH graphic novel. Kleist doesn’t do straight biographies. How boring would that be? He tells stories instead, weaving mythologies from already twined thread, and that’s what Cave relished so much in Kleist’s approach.



Reinhard also enjoys storyboarding songs and here, amongst all the glorious, liberated, free-form art that didn’t have to be saddled to his story but was drawn simply for pleasure, you will find ‘Deanna’, ‘The Good Son’ and ‘Stagger Lee’ given a decidedly different treatment to – well, in the case of ‘Deanna’, different to what would have been technically possible with a camera.

I’m not that fussed about those. I have a turbulent, piping-hot / ice-cold relationship with pop promo videos; I’ve always sensed from the resultant emissions that so has Cave. I used to have 60+ hours of pop promos on VHS cassette (including all of Nick Cave’s) but they can kill a song dead. All that ethereal imagery and associations which you, individually, connect to a song that makes it your own is overwritten by someone other than you, then set in concrete.

You cannot un-see stuff; un-learning it is barely more practicable without the onset of age.



With Cave, the clue is probably in the word “promotional”: a necessary evil, like interviews. Oh, Cave does love to tell stories, so give him an interesting subject (i.e. interviewer – they really are not in control) and he’ll have him some dry, laconic or ironic, arched-eyebrow fun; give him an inspired storyboard and up-for-it co-star like Kylie Minogue and Blixa Bargeld and he will act his Australian socks off or mess about with glee. Otherwise, he’s bored. You just know that he’d rather be on stage, doing what he does best: performing the stories which he’s already written, direct to his audience.

Yes, I’m writing whatever comes into my head so that I have enough paragraphs of prose to justify showing you a few delicious photographs snapped from this beautiful art book.



Along with preparatory material for the graphic novel itself, this is Kleist breathing out from all the hard work and letting his brush have some fun: portrait after portrait of Nick Cave strutting his stuff from sixteen to sixty with or without his Bad Seeds, his Antipodean Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party, Grinderman etc.

It is at its best when it’s at its loosest, capturing all the energy and swaggering staggering movement of Cave on stage. He nails Warren Ellis (the other one) with all his furrow-browed intensity, dedication, inspiration and throw-it-forward drive which transformed a live performance of ‘The Weeping Song’ from something I could only associate with Blixa Bargeld into an almost military yet eerie drummer-boy assault / defiant lament.



Anyway, in order to impress upon you that St Nick wasn’t merely being flippant about NICK CAVE: MERCY ON ME (reviewed for us by Dr Matt Green with infinitely more erudition), here is Cave’s full assessment:

“Reinhard Kleist, master graphic novelist and myth-maker has – yet again – blown apart the conventions of the graphic novel by concocting a terrifying conflation of Cave songs, biographical half-truths and complete fabulations and creating a complex, chilling and completely bizarre journey into Cave World. Closer to the truth than any biography, that’s for sure! But for the record, I never killed Elisa Day.”

I wouldn’t bet on that.



This comes with Kleist’s account of the projects. Out March 15th 2018.


Buy Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: An Art Book h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Fire Punch vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Tatsuki Fujimoto.

“You’re delicious, brother.”

All things are relative, including repugnance and (arf!) appetite, but it’s not quite as bad it seems.

Almost, but not quite.

Those born with the ability to perform miracles are called “The Blessed”. Everyone else might as well be called “The Cursed” because one of “The Blessed” has turned the entire planet into a spherical ice cube. I’m not quite sure how long that’s been going on, but teenage Agni remembers summer days in a flowering wood and flowing streams, even if his younger sister Luna doesn’t.

They were found outside the village three years ago and cared for using already scarce resources, since when Agni has been providing the village with sustenance of his own making.

The second page shows Luna wielding an axe above Agni’s arm; the third depicts its downswing and “Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh!” she’s gone and chopped her own brother’s arm off! Does it have frostbite or gangrene? No, it does not! It’s perfectly healthy for a little light broth or stew, then.



Don’t worry, there’s plenty more where that came from – he has an entire village to feed, after all – because Agni is one of “The Blessed”, able to re-grow a limb or fully regenerate after being reduced a cinder. It doesn’t half smart, though.

Yes, the entire village consists of cannibals now, ever so grateful for Agni’s tender flesh. It’s okay, they don’t tend to receive visitors, so – ah, they have visitors!  A military plane has landed while Agni was shooting a deer (?) and out steps Doma who’s disappointed to find only pensioners. He was kind of hoping to find children, so when Agni arrives he is offered citizenship in Behemborg, a new “city of freedom” – except for the slaves. Unfortunately the villagers’ breakfast, lunch and dinner menu slips out during casual conversation and Doma is so horrified that he immolates the entire settlement and its population using his own power as one of “The Blessed”, which is a fire that will not die until its fuel has completely perished.

Now, remember Agni’s own regenerative abilities? Remember the cover too? Correct: Agni is the fuel that will never completely perish, so he is now a walking, talking, human firebrand. That smarts too. And he is determined to have his revenge.



I’ve no idea why this is one Viz’s ‘Signature’ imprint which is supposed to denote quality (Inio Asano, Junji Ito, SUNNY etc), because it’s mindless, sensationalist gubbins with excruciatingly incoherent visual storytelling in places and science / logic / plot holes wide enough so that even I could putt a golf ball into the them. And by sensationalist, I mean that children are under constant threat of rape.

Also, Luna does find Agni delicious in exactly that way:

“Will you make a baby with me?”

I’m not making this up.


Buy Fire Punch vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Baccano! vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Ryohgo Narita & Shinta Fujimoto…

“Let the crazy ruckus begin!”

No, not the Page 45 refit! The more observant of you will have noticed it hasn’t. Begun, that is. As it was supposed to, the other weekend… Suffice to say (to mangle the old military adage), no plan ever survives contact with a builder! We’ll keep you advised. Having had a sneak preview of the plans (what, you haven’t read Stephen’s Page 45 Refit Blog Special?) I’m sure you know it’ll be worth the wait.

Right, digression over, what’s BACCANO! all about? Well, the presence of the exclamation mark in the title might give you a clue, if you know your manga titular fetishes, for it’s the new acclaimed series by the creator of the surprisingly difficult to type DURARARA!! Now, obviously, Ryohgo Narita has restrained himself to a mere one dramatic punctuation stopper this time around but, fret ye not, he’s managed to shoo-in his trademark dashes of random oddball plot devices that make this not just a mere period mafia knockabout, but something else entirely.



I should probably add for the organised crime pedants amongst you it’s actually the Camorra that feature in this work rather than the Mafia, the Camorra originating from the Naples along with thin-crust pizzas, rather than Sicily where the Mafiosi originated chewing away on their inch-thick pizza crusts, but let’s not be picky. Except in the case of pizzas, where anything other than thin and crispy is a crime against humanity. Or I’ll measure you up for a concrete comic box… Baccano, by the way, just in case you were wondering, is Italian for ruckus…

So… I really have finished waffling on now, I think…



Set in 1927 New York City, our central protagonist, pretty boy pugilist Firo Prochainezo is determined to make his mark and move up the ranks in the Martillo family. The Martillo’s are a small outfit, but they’ve got certain… advantages… which they use to great effect. Like their accountant seems to possess a healing factor Logan would be proud of. Nope, he’s not a mutant, there’s a more alchemical reason for his prodigious coagulative powers, thus providing a nice side plot involving a mysterious group including a similarly robust priest. And errr… clearly, he’s not your typical accountant, though he does seem quite good at racking up a body count…



Yes, just like DURARARA!! what starts off seemingly like a straightforward premise ends up being something far more entertaining entirely, though that series did end up have more tangents than hedgehogs have spines. The modern day headless horseman equivalent who rode a motorcycle being my favourite. Anyway, this also seems like it’s going to be a heap of bonkers fun, so indeed, why not pick up a copy and let the ruckus begin?


Buy Baccano! vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Demon vol 4 (£15-99, FirstSecond) by Jason Shiga.

This is the fourth and final volume of DEMON in which you will see no ostensible demons, because it’s not that sort book, but they’re there both in spirit (increasingly more people are behaving in a diabolical fashion – this book comes with a higher corpse count than PREACHER) and in their more Biblical sense, I guess.

For three volumes now I have attempted to review a series whose biggest selling point is its secret, and the way in which Shiga extrapolates from that, which is more than a little problematic given that the first half of book one is one big puzzle for you – and the protagonist – to figure out for yourselves.

I therefore refer you to the spoiler-free review of DEMON VOL 1 which begins thus:

“Wickedly crafty, the extent of Shiga’s ingenuity will only begin to become clear during chapter four, and then it will blow your brains out. Which is apposite enough.
“Up until then, you’re going to have trust him.”

And me.

I’ll only add that unlike most books from First Second this is most sincerely 16+ or parents will experience some very awkward conversations around the kitchen table.

I would strongly suggest that First Second inaugurates the opposite of Nobrow in its Young Readers’ Flying Eye imprint, and gets itself a Mature Readers label.


Buy Demon vol 4 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’.

Why Art? (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Eleanor Davis

Chimichanga: The Sorrow Of The World’s Worst Face h/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell & Stephanie Buscema

Firebug s/c (£14-99, Image) by Johnnie Christmas

Hellblazer vol 3: The Inspiration Game (Rebirth) s/c (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Richard Kadrey & Jesus Merino, Davide Fabbri, Jose Marzan Jr

Inside Moebius Part 1 h/c (£33-50, Dark Horse) by Moebius

Motor Girl Omnibus h/c (£35-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Nightlights h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Lorena Alvarez

Walking Dead vol 29: Lines We Cross (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Fantastic Four: Epic Collection vol 1 – The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Fantastic Four: Epic Collection vol 2 – The Master Plan Of Doctor Doom s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Marvel Legacy (UK Edition) s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Robbie Thompson & various

Planet Hulk Omnibus (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Carlo Pagulayan, Aaron Lopresti

The Flowers of Evil Complete vol 2 (£19-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

Battle Angel Alita – Mars Chronicle vol 1 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

Battle Angel Alita vol 2 Deluxe Edition h/c (£25-00, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card vol 2 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Clamp