Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2018 week four

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

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