Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2018 week four

Featuring Thi Bui, Sarah McIntyre, Sarah Andersen, Jonathan Hickman, Tomm Coker, Steve Lowes, Chuck Palahniuk, Cameron Stewart, Garth Ennis, Goran Parlov, Reginald Hudlin, John Romita Jr. more!

Black Monday Murders vol 2: The Scales s/c (£17-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Tomm Coker.

“They Will Devour Us Whole.”

Do you know the definition of ‘dominion’?

“Sovereignty; control: God’s eternal dominion over man.”

There have been many gods, but man is fickle and man forgets.

What happens when man forgets is that gods lose their power. But the one true God who has ensured that He will never lose His dominion over man is called Mammon; for Mammon has forged money, so that we will remain forever in His thrall.

In our substantial review of BLACK MONDAY MURDERS VOL 1, so remarkable in its prescience, design and complexity that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, I summarised the series glibly yet succinctly as a “big, fat-cat package of occult crime fiction exposing investment banking as a deal with the devil.” You have already met the banking dynasties who have vied for their own power within this domain. Now you will meet the devil.

 

 

After multiple warnings and hours of earnest dissuasion Dr. Tyler Gaddis, professor of economics, is going to lead Detective Theodore Dumas to the Capitol of all western capital: the Federal Reserve.

The password is this: “We come to trade.”

What they will discover underneath, hidden in the Abyss down a thousand stone steps, each laid one upon the other against only one wall, is akin to a court in session. Gaddis and Dumas are advised thus:

“The face of god is mighty and terrible. His appetite is eternal. His patience is not.”

 

 

What Gaddis offers are Aramaic coins; what they both seek are answers. Detective Dumas wants to know who killed Daniel Rothschild of the Caina-Kankrin Investment Bank. Dr. Gaddis wants to know why his algorithms designed to predict a market crash and mitigate its impact on emerging blue-collar investors don’t always work.

“It should have, but it didn’t. I discovered inconsistencies. Events that fell out of predictable models.”

Soon he will know why, and so will you, and it will all begin to make the most appalling sense.

 

 

Mammon’s proclamations, translated from glyphs, are beautifully written with a stark, impassive eloquence and lettered by Rus Wooton for maximum, echoing chills as they emanate from a skull crowned with antlers.

Tomm Coker has exercised enormous restraint during all the conversational pieces in the boardrooms et al, furnishing them with an intensity born of minimal emotional tells until anger erupts and does so, therefore, with a startling impact. The shadows Coker casts are exquisite, while Michael Garland ensures that every page broods, sometimes breeds, and glows.

But now that we’ve gone subterranean, both line and colour artists take full advantage of the opportunity to be gruesome, not with gore, but with that which truly chills. The descent – the steps leading down into darkness which I don’t have for you here – is truly terrifying in that there is only one wall and in that the drops looks eternal. Oh wait, last-minute find: here it is!

 

 

The design of the immaculately preserved courtroom / library / throne is gloriously gothic in its architectural sense, while its occupants meet every requirement in its other. In particular, I loved the boutonnière, linen jacket and waistcoat worn by ram-skulled Mammon. and the finery of his silent, spider-masked second, holding the antlered skull aloft by its segmented spine.

 

 

“Eternity has two seasons. Day and night. Wake and slumber.
“When I wake, I hunger, and when I hunger, I consume.
“This indulgence upsets the carefully cultivated balance that my schools maintain in this world. The market reacts as I eat – the scales becoming unbalanced – and a correction must be achieved.
“So man pays until my hunger subsides.”

Please don’t think that’s the secret. The secrets lie in the schools.

Please read our review of BLACK MONDAY MURDERS VOL 1 in which I write about the feuding dynasties and their role in our many misfortunes; about the elegance of the art and the hastily photocopied dossier pages which pepper each chapter inviting you to join their dots and do your own detective work within this detective horror fiction. Otherwise I’ll have to repeat myself.

But the two other main threads which weave their way so tightly together here are the wholly unexpected histories of Daniel Rothschild and his former private bodyguard turned Caina-Kankrin security chief… and the return from exile of Daniel Rothschild’s sister Grigoria, initially recalled to take his seat, but now moving swiftly to exact her revenge on her Daniel’s murderer and savage control over Caina-Kankrin in doing so.

Ah, yes, the Rothschilds – now there’s a family that truly consumes. Her normally inscrutable, white-haired femme familiar has quite the appetite too.

 

 

But the other seats in Caina-Kankrin will not let Ria wrestle control without resistance, especially Beatrix Bischoff:

“There are tremors in the Market, Ria. Mammon wakes.”
“It sure feels that way, doesn’t it? What are the words?”
“”The sheep cry and scream – there are beasts in the field.””
“Yes. And I am one of them.”

She surely is. I wonder what she was up to while in exile…?

Now, where did we come in?

Ah, yes, “dominion”. If you’re reading this in our illustrated blog, behold the “full” definition as presented with witty redactions. If you’re reading this in the product page, you’ll find it, seven down, to your right.

 

SLH

Buy Black Monday Murders vol 2: The Scales s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dinosaur Firefighters (s/c £6-99; h/c £12-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre.

There’s a poster pinned to the wall in the staff room, sub-titled ‘A Handy Guide For Firefighters’. It’s quite succinct.

“IS IT ON FIRE?”

Below are depicted two houses, identical but for a single salient feature: one them is bursting with flames (√ On Fire), the other is entirely inert (X Not On Fire).

Glad that’s sorted, then. We wouldn’t want to waste water.

Action stations!

Do your young ones dig dinosaurs? Of course they do! They dream of little else! Are fire engines – lights flashing, their sirens NEE-NAR-ing – the most thrilling way to travel? Yes, indeed they are! Preferably through an indoor shopping centre at lunchtime.

 

 

Behold, then, this Early Learning heaven which wastes no time in charging straight to the rescue of Snookums the cat, stranded on top of a pre-historic fern, the centre-piece of a quiet, cobbled courtyard on the coast. Dipsy the Diplodocus has just joined the crew and knows what to do!

“Her long neck was just right for reaching up to the top branch,” we are told in letters that travel up her long neck to the branch. Neat! Nimbly, she grabs a giant frond in her mouth, pulling the cat closer. “But…”

Can you tell what well-intentioned Dipsy might have done wrong yet? I might have opted for securing Snookums by the scruff of its neck, myself.

It’s already been visually established that friends and families are sitting relaxed around this piazza, sharing a pizza or drinking a cafetiere of coffee. Someone is selling ice creams. All eyes are on dynamic Dipsy! Over the page, however, the mayor is shown, cutlery poised, about to dig in to an enormous pink pudding, all wobbly and covered in cream. I’ll write that again: all wobbly and covered in cream.

 

 

Your eyes cannot help but be drawn to it by the full-page parabolic arch which begins, bottom-left, with Dipsy’s fellow firefighters, eyes wide, mouths gaping agog, all staring diagonally upwards from their lurching red and yellow fire engine; then there is Dipsy herself, long neck also curved round to the right as the frond snaps in two and the fern catapults poor, fluffy Snookums on the same curved trajectory, out towards the reader and the inevitable, jellied destination as the mayor eyes her prize, oblivious.

Both ellipses are invaluable to the comedy. On any second read through I can hear youngsters giggling in anticipation even as early as “But…”, so by the time Snookums is sailing through the air towards its date with the cake they will be squealing, then SPLAT!!

 

 

Snookums seems quite delighted by the final sensation. Mrs. Mayor, maybe not.

More mirth from Sarah McIntyre, then, the creator of THE NEW NEIGHBOURS which wraps its warm heart round the welcoming of strangers, THERE’S A SHARK IN THE BATH which will cure any aversion to immersion, and the co-creator of JAMPIRES, PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, PUG-A-DOODLE-DO! etc, all of which you can find reviewed with gusto in Page 45’s Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre section. Hurrah!

Don’t worry that Dipsy the Diplodocus doesn’t get it right first time round, or even the second time when Trevor the T-Rex gets stuck in the climbing frame… again! The absurdity of that page is a scream. A) What does a T-Rex that large even want with a climbing frame? B) How did such an enormous beast get onto or even into the climbing frame in the first place, let alone then stuck in it and C) … AGAIN?!?!?!?!

 

 

Everyone messes up a fair few times at first, but perseverance is everything and Dipsy will remain determined to do her best, quickly discovering that her individual attributes which made her an awkward fit for fire-fighting at first (the standard uniform jacket barely covered her neck – they have to order an XXXXXXXL especially) will be the very things to save the day when a real emergency strikes and the fire engine breaks down.

She might even make up for her mishap with the mayor. I hope so! Because that dry cleaning bill can’t have been cheap.

 

 

One of the things I love most about McIntyre’s work is that, along with the exuberant, colourful comedy, she so often has something important to impart to impressionable young minds, digging into her own awkward experiences to do so. With THE NEW NEIGHBOURS it was her insight as an American immigrant to England, so often asked when she’s going back (!), which suggested to her that now would be a very good time indeed to create a picture book about welcoming strangers, appreciating the fresh things their individuality brings to any community, and most emphatically not listening to ill-informed gossip nor spreading it about in the first place!

 

 

Now, I’m not sure if you’ve met La McIntyre (she’s so often touring and performing, inspiring young people to create for themselves, so you must!) but she is really rather tall. Amazonian, in fact! And in her online journal she confides that when young she too felt as awkward as Dipsy the Diplodocus when it came to standard-sized kit: https://jabberworks.livejournal.com/803407.html Now Sarah’s stature – and wow factor fashion-wizardry – helps her stand out a mile, drawing excitable kids straight to her. So it is with our pre-historic protagonist, who will discover that her shape and size, while making her feel a little clumsy to begin with, will in fact prove pivotal to saving all and sundry. It’s difficult not to compare yourselves to others, even as adults, but any book that helps improve a vulnerable child’s self-esteem – when we all grow at different rates – is a winner for me!

The forms are truly gorgeous, filling each page to bursting. Dipsy especially can scarcely be contained, doubled over in the confines of the staff room when at her most disheartened. That’s a very clever melding of cause and consequence, of physical discomfort and body-language embarrassment. The eyes there are ever so expressive, the pink flush of her cheeks standing out against her otherwise blue markings as she’s offered a consoling beverage, and that those are so watery makes her stand out from her colleagues.

 

 

Although one of her peers on that very same page made me chortle with his horns fanning out like a punk’s egg-white-stiffened hair.

Other random background observations (there really is so much to spot): I loved the traditional cuckoo clock which is given a bone- and Pteranodon-tweak, and that the fashions are a mix of contemporary and quaint (see mayor once more), with transistor radios sitting alongside laptops. I imagine this is the first time I’ve used the word “crockery” in a review, but that’s worth a glance too.

I also adored that the mayor’s Chain of Office appears to be made out of red- and blue-centred Jammy Dodgers, with a final berried biscuit in the middle. Mine would be too! Do you think that’s a vote-winner?

Lastly I’d add that if your young ones love this, then their next step up the Young Readers ladder should be to Gary Northfield’s TERRIBLE TALES OF THE TEENYTINYSAURS which still makes me chuckle and is reviewed. If memory serves (it does so decreasingly) Gary and Sarah shared a studio once, and now they share shelf space. Hooray!

SLH

Buy Dinosaur Firefighters s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Dinosaur Firefighters h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Best We Could Do s/c (£12-99, Abrams) by Thi Bui.

New softcover edition of a best-selling book so profoundly moving that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month.                                      

So often the best route to true understanding lies in the lives of others.

And no one lives solely in their present.

Every individual is coloured by their experiences which have informed their decisions which have in turn brought them to where they are today. It is in these histories that lies the context, and context is everything.

It is not enough to be aware of the bigger picture if you cannot comprehend it, and the best key to comprehension is through the eyes of those individuals who are living it or have lived through it; or those who subsequently died during it.

So it is with those of us looking in from outside; and so it is within families themselves.

“Travis and I moved to California in 2006 to raise our son near family, trading the life we had built and loved in New York for a notion I had in my head of becoming closer to my parents as an adult.
“I don’t know exactly what it looks like, but I recognise what it is not, and now I understand…
“Proximity and closeness are not the same.”

 

 

This is a story of parenthood, of childhood, of a generation gap which seemed like a chasm, and if you thought Belle Yang’s search for understanding in FORGET SORROW doubled as a fascinating account of one life in early 20th Century, this is an even more involving and personable account of two separate lives in mid 20th Century Vietnam which eventually and improbably converge. Through this Thi Bui begins to know her parents for who they are in greater depth, and so come to terms with her own strange childhood after the family’s terrifying escape in 1978 from Vietnam via Malaysia to America, then feel far more at ease with her own place within it all.

It is rich in detail and extraordinarily articulate, partly because it is so well structured.

It begins with the excruciatingly difficult birth of her own son which her mother flew all the way from New York to attend but then kept her agonised distance. The following hours in hospital aren’t easy, either, the practicalities of motherhood not coming naturally to Bui. She bonds with her mother over the pain of childbirth, then…

“Ma leaves me, but I’m not alone and a terrifying thought creeps into my head.
“Family is now something I have created, and not just something I was born into.
“The responsibility is immense.
“A wave of empathy for my mother washes over me.”

Bui will return to her own motherhood only towards the end because this is not about that, but all which led up to it.

 

 

“My father always said he had no parents. In my twenties, I learned that my grandfather was alive in Vietnam and wanted to meet us.”

Her father refuses to join them. He is adamant. He does not want to see his own father again, but he won’t explain why.

“Soon after that trip back to Vietnam (our first since we escaped in 1978) I began to record our family history, thinking that if I bridged the gap between the past and the present I could fill the void between my parents and me. And that if I could see Vietnam as a real place and not a symbol of something lost, I would see my parents as real people and learn to love them better.”

We will all see her parents as very real people and understand precisely why her father or “Bo” will not return and will have nothing to do with his own father. It is extraordinary, I promise you. You cannot begin to imagine.

 

 

Before we delve fully into the structure, I want to talk about the art which is soft and tender, and full of lyrical flourishes like a boat on the sea behind a quiet conversation, lush landscapes and so much more swirling water at one point doubling as a birth. The page just quoted also depicts the tumultuous oceanic crossing, while beneath it a young Thi stands naked, with her back to us, a map of Vietnam carved out of her body where her heart should be, bleeding out of her, up towards the sea or perhaps bleeding down into her to fill that void with fresh understanding.

“How did we get to such a lonely place?
“We live so close to each other and yet feel so far apart.
“I keep looking toward the past…
“Tracing out journey in reverse… over the ocean… through the war, seeking an origin story that will set everything right.”

The first part of this story – her mother’s six baby births – is indeed told in reverse. None of them are easy. The most recent was in the coastal Malaysian refugee camp, another during war; her mother’s firstborn wasn’t stillborn but she didn’t last long, the first parental shadow falling over the proceedings in the form of her own aloof mother’s advice not to breastfeed. Is that where it all began?

“How does one recover from the loss of a child?” she asks as we stroll down a leafy lane. “How do the others compare to the memory of the lost one?”

This triggers memories of Thi’s early childhood in a dark apartment in California, left with her younger brother in the care of her father while her sisters go to school and her mother takes the only job they can get because their degrees aren’t recognised – assembly-line work on minimum wage – which her father refuses.

“That sounds terrible.”

Instead he just sits there smoking, occasionally erupting, while forbidding them to answer the door. Her brother cowers in the closet when anyone comes knocking.

 

 

But what happened to her father when he was their age? There will be cowering there too. Cowering on an almost unimaginably dark scale; also our first history lesson, post-WWII – of France’s return to Vietnam to take back what they saw as colonially theirs (perhaps out of pride after being occupied by Germany) – after Ho Chi Minh had declared independence on behalf of the Viet Minh. So begins the geographical divide and the first atrocities…

It is there that we leave him for now, aged seven, with few or no prospects.

“And in the dark apartment in San Diego, I grew up with the terrified boy who became my father.”

 

 

This is what I mean by structure: each particular element informs a specific other.

So it is with her mother’s story, which could not be more different and which is brought to bear on Bui’s low self-esteem in comparison to her mother’s beauty. Hers was a much more exotic upbringing, as the youngest daughter of an affluent family and a daddy who doted on her, educated and thriving in French schools. She made friends with an older servant girl who took her to live with her family during the school holidays, sleeping under the moon in the countryside.

 

 

But when the servant is married off and so leaves the household, marriage as a trap begins to form in her mind while education represented freedom instead. She aspired to be a doctor. Evidently that didn’t happen, but why? How did she end up married to Thi’s father? Through education, ironically. It wasn’t supposed to be permanent…

Again, the structure is so well judged, Thi Bui seeking to understand her parents thoroughly and independently, before they even met let alone got married and had children. You will see all those births again, this time in the order they occurred, fleshed out as so many dots are joined and – oh! – there was a brief moment before those children when, against all odds, it all seemed so idyllic: teachers with two incomes in a beautiful small town in the deep southern part of the Mekong Delta.

They’d survived the First Indochina War, the Land Reforms – both with catastrophic casualties – but then came the Americans in 1965, destroying Vietnam’s agriculture with their defoliants and its economy with their imports, the descent of cities into police states, and thirteen more years, fully fleshed out for us all to comprehend just how unlikely they were ever to have escaped, and the toll that mere survival took on both of them. You can even spot almost the exact moment of Bui’s father’s collapse from provider to withdrawn brooder while her mother desperately, indefatigably soldiers on, for what other choice is there for a mother?

That’s not the end of the story, obviously, even after the refugee camp and the flight to America.

Once more there’s the question of provision, assimilation, finding your own place in a strange country and foreign climate, re-education after those degrees aren’t recognised, and the painstaking accumulation of fresh documentation both for the family and each of their children separately. It is so very impressive, yet it is humbly titled THE BEST WE COULD DO.

 

 

Sarah McIntyre’s all-ages THE NEW NEIGHBOURS wraps its warm heart around the welcoming of strangers, and along with Francesca Sanna’s THE JOURNEY, Sean Tan’s THE ARRIVAL, Kate Evans’s THREADS and Sarah Glidden’s ROLLING BLACKOUTS, THE BEST WE COULD DO is another book with which to bang on the head of anyone tempted to think for even one second that seeking asylum is easy or believe the hate-mongering lies of the right-wing press and politicians that refugees are idle, disrespectful, sponging drains on our resources.

In rebuttal Thi Bui could offer you the nightmare of random raids in a police state and the fear of being disbelieved, the horror of a sea crossing when you could be caught at any second, the generosity of Malaysian villagers with so little to give, the values instilled into their children by Thi Bui’s parents and the sheer hard graft of the mother in order to build something from nothing and set her children up to be educated at length, thrive in peace, and so that one of them could be in a position to write and draw this extraordinary graphic memoir over many years – while teaching in a high school for immigrants in Oakland which she helped create – in order to pass it all on to us for a greater understanding of others.

But, of course, this isn’t a rebuttal. This isn’t a polemic.

This is one woman seeking to gain understanding of herself and her relationship with her parents, in order to relax into parenthood herself.

We’re just lucky enough to be privy to this personal story, and so benefit from it ourselves.

SLH

Buy The Best We Could Do s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Herding Cats (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Sarah Andersen.

“This is petty. I need to let it go.
“ANGER, I RELEASE YOU!”

Sarah dispatches her gnawing, pent-up, stress-inducing, self-destructive wrath into the distance with no uncertain force.

“I’M FREE!”

But this is the cleverness in her cartooning: only now do we discover that what she had thrown is in fact a whirling, twirling boomerang.

Three years later: BONK! “That bitch.”

What’s so desperately vital in any book of behavioural one-page comic strips is the crucial recognition factor: do you recognise your own ridiculous yet so often recurring frets and foibles in Sarah’s self-deprecation? For me, they tick every recognition box and I laughed at myself, raucously, right up until the serious section with its warm heart of nurturing gold which we’ll come to in a bit.

 

 

If, however, you want to stand out from the masses, you need ingenuity in your presentation, to see what is commonly observed from an unexpected angle. So it is that we come to workload and procrastination. The first is one of the greatest pressures in my life, the second is one of my greatest of very many flaws: putting off something which I know definitely needs doing, all in the vain hope that it doesn’t. What a buffoon! However, we all know that sharing any workload helps enormously, so Andersen’s split herself in two.

“Present me: “So much work…”
“Future me: “That’s okay! If we divide the work equally, neither of us have to –“

In a blur of instantaneous action ‘present’ Andersen on the left SHOVES both enormous stacks of paper in their entirety at ‘future’ Andersen on the right who flails to the floor, buried under their weight. In the fifth and final panel irresponsible Andersen, still in a frenzied blur, scarpers off gleefully, stage-left, leaving future Andersen to “ – suffer”.

 

 

Like Andersen’s ADULTHOOD IS A MYTH and BIG MUSHY HAPPY LUMP, the comedy is ever so contemporary, full of failure to care for oneself which ensuring one looks after others, anxieties, self-consciousness and self-doubt. It would serve anyone very well who’s looking for more Allie Brosh (HYPERBOLE AND A HALF). Yes, as the purple fur-trimmed cover suggests, there are many, many preferential-treatment cat comics to coo over too, but this is the Age of the Internet and social media with all its abundant resources and so many of its flaming consequences.

“Today’s question!” reads Sarah. “Will people on the Internet argue about anything?”
“YES!” bellows a furious crowd, startling Sarah to her left.
“NO!” screams an indignant, antagonised anger mob to her right.

As you can imagine, what follows is pitchforks at dawn, and they won’t stop waving even after dusk.

 

 

Which is funny! But there’s a darkness discerned too, which Andersen explores in the now traditional extended essay in the back. When Andersen was starting out the accessibility of the internet made it an invaluable vehicle and venue in which to post her comics, gain a following, and grow in craft, confidence and stature. But now nascent artists beginning to explore and hone their creative talents online can be subject to thoughtlessly (or even maliciously) harsh criticism and even outright bullying with seriously deleterious consequences to their self-confidence. Unlike a spider’s this web wasn’t designed as a trap but that, to those vulnerable, is what it can become.

“It turns out, when you give people endless access to a shroud of anonymity and a soapbox, the results might just be disastrous. Whereas users congregated in small pockets before, social media has enable the rise of mass movements that use trolling as a deflection tool for “doing the most damage I can do and then saying it was just a joke.”

 

 

There are plenty of comics – all new, I think – to illustrate her arguments, but Sarah also offers encouraging ways in which to survive criticism which, when offered constructively, is an essential part of self-improvement. And it’s difficult to take even when couched with kindness:

WHAT THEY SAID:
“Good thing, good thing, good thing….
“Bad thing. BUT! Good thing, good thing.”

WHAT YOU HEARD:
“…………………………………
“Bad thing! Only bad thing. YOU are a bad thing.”

Sarah’s suggestions are practical, understanding and supportive, eventually concluding with: do for goodness sake take breaks in the real world, but don’t let the idiots win – keep creating!

 

 

What other topics has Andersen taken up this time? Childhood heroes, doomed to disappoint or disgust you. Self-destructive fandom in-fighting… Ah yes, resolutions: “I will set my alarm for 7:30. And I will wake up at 7:30! No snooze!” Then you sleep blissfully, optimistically in YOUR BED OF LIES.

 

 

Now picture this: you’ve just made the mistake in a shop of holding a folded shirt up against you to see if it will fit or perhaps you’ve tried it on… and then you have to fold it back up with store assistants watching and it’s impossible, it won’t match the others whatever you do!

 “You ruined it.” You begin sweating self-consciously, eyes darting about as all the other shirts start to unravel, turning into big, mushy, unhappy lumps. “You ruined everything.” Now the entire department is on fire… “How?? How did you mess up this badly? “Oh God I’m sorry.””

 

 

Yup, that’s me. Again, I cannot emphasise how much the lateral thinking – of the other shirts unfolding and the clothes store igniting – is vital in its hyperbole to the humour. Below, it’s about the timing. One panel only devoted to merrily holding forth with friends in a pub…

“Contrary to popular belief, being introverted is not about your ability to socialise.”

… a single panel leaving, contentedly…

“It’s about what you do after.”

Three whole panels curled up in a cocoon on your bed or sofa, mind-whirring, paralyzed.

SLH

Buy Herding Cats and read the Page 45 review here

Hard Core Pawn #1 (£4-00, A Heavy Manners Comic) by Steve Lowes…

“I am grateful I live in a democracy where my vote is equal to that of the next persons and that my opinion really counts…”
“… For fuck all. The masters of mankind must maintain an illusion of democracy to remain in control. Thus the need to impose democracy upon those not yet within our power.”

He has a point regarding the illusion of democracy, if you stop and think about it. Well, two to be precise: the illusion of democracy, and the need of those in control to impose it upon others, elsewhere.

Facts that perhaps more and more people are waking up to. Or “getting woke”, as the kids with their annoyingly grammatically inaccurate ways are currently wont to say.

What makes this exchange so striking is that the first statement is from one chess piece, a black pawn, putting a ballot paper into a ballet box, whilst the second, coming from a white king, has shredded paper going directly into a waste bin.

All the characters in the various strips in this work – be they based on existing songs and poems such as ‘Strange Fruit’ made famous by Billie Holiday plus also some original material written by the creator – are chess pieces, frequently pawns and kings, hence the title, HARD CORE PAWN.

 

 

The strips cover a range of pertinent hot topics such as capitalism, gender politics, racism and terrorism, always presented from that black and white gaming-piece perspective. As conceits go, it certainly allows Steve to concentrate on the punchlines, which are hard-hitting and occasionally outrageously amusing.

Art-wise, as you’d imagine, it’s not too testing to draw chess pieces, but that’s not the point. It allows us all to very easily slip into the position of the pieces.

My favourite strip was probably ‘Alcocapitalism’ in which Steve charts the rise of alcohol consumption and its subsequent impact on the global economic structure. The punchline there, a slightly reworked reprise of a repeated beat throughout, had me howling. It just goes perfectly to show that politics and farce go hand-in-hand, but we all knew that right?

JR

Buy Hard Core Pawn #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Fight Club 2 s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart…

“Throughout childhood people tell you to be less sensitive.
“Adulthood begins the moment someone tells you, “You need to be more sensitive”.”

I swear on my psychotherapy couch that you do not need to have read the original prose novel to relish this original comic actually written – not suggested – by Chuck Palahnuik himself. I read the book many moons ago but can barely remember a word.

I seem to recall it was at least partially about smashing the system: rising in up in rebellion against corporate conditioning, financial finagling, governmental authoritarianism and the pervasive mediocrity we can obliviously settle for during our everyday, oh-so-short lives; about waking up from the ubiquitous mass hypnotism of messed-up humanity… whilst enthusiastically submitting to someone else’s indoctrination. If it wasn’t, it should have been.

It’s why Jonathan Hickman’s scathing NIGHTLY NEWS rang such a bell with me. The first paragraph of our NIGHTLY NEWS review reads:

“Terrorism. Communication. Authorative anti-authoritarianism. One man’s enlightenment is the same man’s indoctrination. Stop being a sheep, and be part of my flock instead!”

The cult of personality, eh? Unless it’s mine, I’m always suspicious.

 

 

As I said, however, Fight Club could have been about something else entirely, like hitting people. I imagine that’s why many went to see the film.

Fight Club 2 begins with a similarly iconoclastic personal survey in which you can discover, “Are You Space Monkey Material?” It poses 12 questions with mirth-inducing optional answers. Let’s try a few.

“MY GREATEST REGRET IS…
A. The adverse effect my carbon footprint has on the intricate web of sensate life forms.
B. My past insensitivity to others whose cultural milieu and genetic makeup vary from my own.
C. My unexamined participation in the context of an entrenched capitalistic power hierarchy.
D. Nothing. Sir.”

We’ll leave aside “DO YOU GET OUT OF THE SHOWER TO TAKE A LEAK?” – it is funny, though – and skip straight past the increasingly angry activism of no-nonsense D to question number 12:

“THE GREATEST THREAT FACING OUR CURRENT GOVERNMENT IS…
A. Failure to recognise and reign in the scourge of white privilege.
B. The impending collapse of world oil reserves.
C. Dwindling honeybee populations.
D. Me.”

As you may have gathered — whoops, I was about to tell you what to conclude! Someone really should shoot my autopilot.

Okay, so the graphic novel itself kicks off with the narrator addressing the audience directly.

“Look at him. He calls himself Sebastian these days. Ten years ago he was destined to be another Alexander the Great. A new Genghis Khan. But Sebastian… he calls himself happy.”

Well, with the aid of some tranks, anyway.

 

 

Back home his son is being nannied by a woman wielding a carving knife. But then his young son is having a time-out after being caught synthesising explosive compounds from local debris like dog poo.

His wife Marla is unsatisfied and so dissatisfied, calling for a certain, so-far off-stage Tyler to “deliver me from this bland, boring life”. (First-time readers: you’ll see, you’ll see.) “Please, rescue me from my loving husband…”

By the end of the first issue-worth of material Tyler may just have done that, but in the meantime Marla’s begun to take evasive manoeuvres of her own and Sebastian is swallowing them whole. Chic and suited, she’s quite the self-obsessed piece of work, invading a counselling session for those with Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome (such rapid aging that 10-year-olds appear to be 60) while complaining about her wrinkles – “They’re all on the inside!”

Chain-smoking throughout, she’s drawn by Cameron Stewart with a superb sense of insouciance that puts me in mind of Mrs Quinn, the rich bitch in Nabiel Kanan’s THE DROWNERS, though there’s more than a touch of Sean Murphy in her angular face.

 

 

My favourite pages are those on which pills or petals – rendered to striking contrast with three-dimensional modelling complete with shadows which fall over the panels beneath them – are imposed over what is being said by the narrator or the narrative’s participants. Whereas the dog’s barking merely drowns thoughts out like ASTERIOS POLYP talking over his girlfriend, the effect here is different because you can discern what lies below – with the romantic rose petals at least – suggesting that the bunch of flowers Sebastian has bought his missus is merely a smoke screen hiding the lie of their messed-up marriage.

“Happy Annive -”
“I lo – you -”
“Take your pill.”

There’s no hiding that last line.

Sebastian, meanwhile, is the epitome not so much of exhausted but sedated. Everyone’s more got more life in them than he has. Even his neighbour.

“Studies conducted by the United States Military prove that what women fear most is physical pain… What men fear most is being humiliated, losing social status, public ridicule.”

 

 

Sebastian used to be a fighter once, but he’s fallen asleep. Now it’s time to wake up.

I think I can hear alarm bells ringing.

What you should now be asking yourself, is just who set off said alarm…?

Aficionados of Fight Club, the prose work that is, will absolutely devour this. It does everything they will have ever craved for in a sequel, which they probably never actually expected to happen, and so much more besides. They will learn who Tyler Durden truly is. Chuck Palahniuk will speak to them, and his characters, directly. No really, and their worlds will crumble into dust and ashes around their ears. Okay, maybe not that last bit, at least not for the readers, but I genuinely didn’t see where this was going until the big reveal and even then, armed with that particular piece of knowledge, I couldn’t see precisely how it would all end.

 

 

As exquisitely complex and tortuously dark as the original, I sincerely hope this encourages more prose literary figures to try their hand at comics writing (as William Gibson has just done with the excellent ARCHANGEL). I’m not sure I want a sudden raft of sequels to prose works in comics form, I think there are more than enough sequels generally already thank you, but given the original work was such a distinctive, vicious piece of satire regarding the culture of consumerism and the decay of Western civilisation, that has been proven so acutely accurate in the interim since its release, I think Chuck deserved his opportunity to play Tyler’s story out to its ultimate, nasty unavoidable end-game. In other words: FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT! The nagging question though, is what exactly is Tyler fighting for?

SLH & JR

Buy Fight Club 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max: The Platoon s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov…

Welcome back, Frank!

I have to say, I’ve missed you, buddy. Nobody but nobody writes Frank Castle better than Garth Ennis and the character is never better than when removed from the chaffing restrictions of the capes-and-tights milieu and placed squarely smack bang into a real world of pain.

“FIX BAYONETS!”

“And that is not an order you ever expect to hear. But that was the thing. He had the instinct for it.
“The rest of us knew how to survive, but at the end of the day we were civilians in uniform. A bunch of conscripts, getting short, waiting to go home… which we knew we’d do without a backward glance.
“He’d been in-country a week, but he just knew without having to be told. Him and Dryden.
“There was only one answer to this.
“And not just violence. That’s too simple a word, it doesn’t cover it.
“This was something else, this was forgetting everything else you’d ever been taught about the very idea of civilisation…
“You had to…kind of let the devil in the door.”

 

 

The surviving members – well, all except one – of Fourth Platoon, Kilo Company, Third Battalion of the Twenty-Sixth Marine regiment have gathered in a bar at the behest of writer Michael Goodwin, whose book ‘Valley Forge, Valley Forge’ about the massacre of an entire Marine firebase and the subsequent creation of the Punisher following the loss of his family in Central Park won Goodwin several plaudits. He’s interested in interviewing them about their recollections of their absent comrade, their former commander, one Second Lieutenant Frank Castle…

So, just in case you were in any doubt, we are well and truly back in the brutal world of PUNISHER MAX, and indeed back in ‘Nam, the veritable world of pain I was just referring to.

 

 

So what angle is Michael Goodwin taking this time?

“I guess I was thinking about the innocence we had about ourselves: I’m of that generation too, remember, I was just too young for the draft. But that isn’t… Okay, I wrote a book about Firebase Valley Forge and the Punisher. Castle sees his family killed in front of him, and I don’t think it’s hard to find the roots of what he does next in that third duty of duty.
“But what about his first tour? The one he returns from at the end of ’68 and nothing else happens? The one where – just maybe – he still has a chance.
“You see, it’s not just about the war and what was lost to it. It’s not just about the country, either. It’s about the guys who came home. Well, he came home from his time in Vietnam, the time that changes everything about America. He had a life before the Punisher, and I’ve been thinking about this ever since my book… I…
“The way I see it, all I did was write the ending.
“I never wrote the story.”

He has, though, (thank you Garth!) just pretty much written my review for me. I wouldn’t normally quote so much from a comic, but I think it’s important for you to understand, if you are not already familiar with Garth’s PUNISHER MAX material, that this is not a superhero comic. It’s a war comic, and more importantly – as in the tradition of the very best war comics – it has something important to say about the profound impact combat inevitably has on the people who go through it. Even a fictional character like Frank Castle. How they are changed. For one cannot go through the horrors of war without being transformed. For some it’s only a little, perhaps a shifting they can learn to live with, in time. For others… there is really no way back home ever again. Not in the emotional sense, certainly. Some… well, some perhaps find what they’ve been searching for all along…

 

 

This work is a perfect coda to the Vietnam-based elements, ‘Born’ now found in PUNISHER MAX VOL 1 and ‘Valley Forge, Valley Forge’ now found in PUNISHER MAX VOL 4. Yes, technically it’s a prequel, but it both informs and is informed by those two arcs which bookended Garth’s extended run. Here he’s teamed up once again with Goran STARLIGHT Parlov who illustrated several PUNISHER MAX arcs including the utterly hilarious one starring the demented and depraved lunatic, the Barracuda. There is also plenty of black comedy to be had here.

Parlov brings an angular steeliness to young Frank, whilst still giving him the appearance of a young blue-eyed inexperienced man, almost movie star-like in his statuesque and resolute handsomeness, having not yet been exposed to the tempestuous weathering of war. That comes soon enough, though, as Frank’s platoon, stuck in a forward position with insufficient firepower and some serious bad country to deal with, rapidly begin to realise that whilst the new LT might be a rookie, he certainly isn’t green.

JR

Buy Punisher Max: The Platoon s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Black Panther: Complete Reginald Hudlin Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Reginald Hudlin, Peter Milligan & John Romita Jr., Trevor Hairsine, Salvador Larroca, David Yardin, Scot Eaton, Kaare Andrews.

Very different from Christopher Priest’s sly, winking socio-political approach to BLACK PANTHER, this is more geo-political but just as sassy and sharp.

Quality art from John Romita Jr. depicts one specific instance from the history of Wakanda – the African nation ruled by the Black Panther – oh so elegantly illustrating why it was the only such country that has never been invaded by another.

As Reginald Hudlin has written elsewhere, it has been firmly established that African humans were far more advanced far earlier than their European counterparts, so it stands to reason that if one nation had continued to develop unimpeded then they would have the technology to defend themselves against European imperialism without even breaking a sweat.

There’s an immensely satisfying sequence in which one such arrogant, nineteenth-century would-be conqueror, devoid of any humanity whatsoever, is humiliated then dispatched. The Wakandan chief is the epitome of fearlessness and strength: a warrior of few words which, when delivered, are no idle threats.

 

 

Cut to the present and Wakanda has reacted to America’s current, Iraq-invading neo-imperialism by declaring a no-fly zone over their country.

So, how do you like them apples?

“There is no way a bunch of waffle-makers are going to play us out of position in Wakanda! We need to send in support troops to aid our Wakandan allies right away!”
“And where are those troops coming from? Our troops are spread too thin already. We just don’t have enough bodies.”
“Oh, that’s the one thing we have plenty of.”

Ouch!

“We’ve got more than enough bodies to inva — I mean, assist Wakanda!”

Standing in front of row upon row of coffins, each laid out under the Stars & Stripes flag on a U.S. Aircraft Carrier off the African Coast:

“I think it’s time you found out what kind of special cargo we’ve got on this ship. These brave men and women died for their country. All that training and manpower wasted. The military hates waste.”

The dead rise, cybernetically enhanced.

“We’ve found a solution to our manpower problem. They’re tougher, stronger, fearless, take orders exactly and don’t write sad letters back home.”

 

 

This contains the first story arc of the politically pointed 2005 series before it all went unnecessarily tits-up during a crowbarred-in crossover with The X-Men and readers fled faster than stoats from a boat that’s been set on fire.

Boats are infested with stoats. It’s a modern epidemic. True fact!

Hmmm…. A vastly extended version of Reggie Hudlin and John Romita Jr’s WHO IS THE BLACK PANTHER (which is where my review, above, comes from) this collects BLACK PANTHER (2005) #1-18 and X-MEN (1991) #175-176 so, yes, that crossover I much maligned. Of those subsequent issues Marvel kindly informs us:

“Then, social satire meets all-out action as T’Challa’s adventures continue! The Panther enters the  HOUSE OF M! An outbreak of strange, mutated animals brings Storm and the X-Men to Africa! The Panther teams up with Luke Cage, Blade, Brother Voodoo and Monica Rambeau to take on the undead! But every king needs a queen, and so T’Challa embarks on his most dangerous quest yet: to wed the love of his life! Which of the world’s greatest super hero women will say ‘I do’?”

You pays your money and you takes your choice.

SLH

Buy Black Panther: Complete Reginald Hudlin Collection vol 1 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’.

Blackbird Days (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior

Godhead (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Ho Che Anderson

Land Of The Sons h/c (£24-99, Fantagraphics) by Gipi

Lazarus Sourcebook Collection vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka, various & Michael Lark, others

Crossroad Blues (£13-99, Image) by Ace Atkins & Marco Finnegan

The Pervert (£15-99, Image) by Michelle Perez & Remy Boydell

Please Destroy My Enemies (£8-99, Silver Sprocket) by Michael Sweater

Scarlett Hart – Monster Hunter (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Marcus Sedgwick & Thomas Taylor

The Way Of Tank Girl h/c (£9-99, Titan Comics) by Alan Martin & Jamie Hewlett, various

Batman vol 5: Rules Of Engagement s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & Joëlle Jones, various

Injustice 2 vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Tom Taylor & Bruno Redondo, various

Injustice 2 vol 2 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Tom Taylor & Bruno Redondo, various

Nightwing vol 5: Raptor’s Revenge s/c (Rebirth) (£12-99, DC) by Tim Seeley & Miguel Mendonca, Javi Fernandez, Scot Eaton

Sleeper Book 1 s/c (£26-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Colin Wilson

Stumptown vol 2 s/c (£17-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southwark

Annihilation vol 2: Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Simon Furman, Keith Giffen, Christos N. Gage, Stuart Moore, various & Jorge Lucas, Andrea Di Vito, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mike McKone, Scott Kolins

Darth Vader: Dark Lord Of The Sith vol 2: Legacy’s End s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Jessica Jones vol 3: Return Of The Purple Man s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos

The Superior Spider-Man: The Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, J.M. DeMatteis, Jen Van Meter & Richard Elson, Humberto Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stephanie, Buscema, Ryan Stegman

Battle Angel Alita – Mars Chronicle vol 2 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

One-Punch Man vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

The Art Of The Secret World Of Arrietty h/c (£25-00, Viz) by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

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