Archive for May, 2018

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week five

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

Featuring Hartley Lin, Chris Reynolds, Sara Varon, Matt Fitch, Chris Baker, Mike Collins, Zach Worton, Daniel Lieske, Tom Sniegoski, Jeff Smith, Alan Moore and many more.

Young Frances – A Pope Hats Collection h/c (£17-99, AdHouse Books) by Hartley Lin.

“It all feels unreal. I feel like I’m an imposter.”

Strangely, that’s diligent Frances whose burdens are all too real, rather than her flighty friend Vickie who suddenly finds herself acting the lead character in a silly smash TV series in LA. Or is that really so strange? Career success has struck Frances too, far earlier than tends to happen in her lowly position, and it’s threatening to prove unmanageable. Not only that, but the lawyers whom she works for are not without their bizarre and quite extreme quirks.

The signs were there early on, before Vickie moved out.

“When did you get home? What’s all this?”
“Work. I’m finishing a memo for a shipping magnate that could mark the end of my career.”

The end of her career, before it’s even begun: I see what Frances means by “unreal”. Vickie is dazed, having slept through the day.

“I say. I have one fantastic hangover!”
“Gee. No kidding. Mr Kowalksi stopped me on my way in. You threw a bunch of crap into his yard last night?”
“God, so that did happen.”




Funny, bright yet deeply thoughtful, this eminently quotable and exceptionally authoritative fiction about friendship and those dauntingly big choices that determine your future also doubles as a satire about excessive workloads, executive stress and ultra-competitive back-biting office politics; specifically those in a big-time company of corporate lawyers.

It’s softer and more whimsical than Adrian Tomine (though his readers will sure love this too), its content and cartooning a wonderful fusion of Nabiel Kanan, Kevin Huizenga and adult-orientated Andi Watson, right down to the trees.



Vickie and Frances live together in rented accommodation. Frances is so buried at work she has to take a tonne of it home. Vickie is an up-and-coming actress who gets drunk, loses her keys then climbs through Frances’s bedroom window to get in. Oh, and she’s seeing Peter whom Frances has a more than a passing crush on. Here’s more of that conversation.

“Are you angry at me?”
“We can’t afford to get evicted.”
“You don’t even like this apartment.”
“I wish you weren’t so cavalier about everything.”

Or is it that Frances wishes that she could be more cavalier herself?



There’s no room for this in Frances’s life as a Law Clerk at Shultz and Homberg LLP. She’s proven herself popular but even that comes with a price, especially now that her protestant work ethic and reliability has caught the attention of Marcel Castonguay, Head of Bankruptcies. This means even more tasks: almost impossibly last-minute and complex instructions which will make all the difference in winning or losing the most massive multi-million-dollar court cases. Castonguay conducts himself unworriedly with an almost surreal detachment and self-assurance. Others aren’t as lucky as Frances. At lunch:

“Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. You’re Sonja, right?”
“You don’t need to know me.”
“Um… What do you do in Bankruptcies?”
“It’s my last day. You’re replacing me.”



Her seniors fare no better. Chris is constantly frazzled on way too much caffeine, sweating away in his suit, shirt and tie, and swearing by a book called ‘Zen Workspace’.

“It really works…”

Quite evidently, it doesn’t. Nina meanwhile feels constantly threatened by attempts to sabotage her career’s trajectory by a right manipulative bastard called Brian. After returning from running a personal errand for Castonguay late at night (bringing the ingredients for a fruit salad to his hotel suite – yes, he permanently resides in a hotel suite) Frances returns to the office to find Nina stretched out on its desk.

“God. This ceiling is unbelievable.”
“Nina? What are you doing here?”
“Trying to suppress a panic attack. I normally do the floor but I don’t trust the new cleaning crew.”

Frances is reasonably sure that she went to university with one of them, and she knows she went to high school with the lad who sold her the bananas. Isn’t it funny how our job prospects pan out! And you know what I said about this rat race being competitive? Here’s Nina again, still staring upwards.

“Did you know my office only has 28 ceiling tiles?”
“You counted your ceiling tiles?”

“All the Associate Partners do. That ass Brian has 32 tiles. And it’s not because he’s more competent – Castonguay just likes him better. 32 tiles means more window. It signals you’re progressing toward Partnership and profit-sharing. If you’re not displaying your hunger, you’re dead in the water.”



Nina has an air of knowing what she’s doing, but she’s constantly found stress-puking into baskets. The upshot of all this is that you’re never sure whether Frances will survive, either; and, if she doesn’t, whether she will jump or be pushed. The pressures are relentless and she can no longer sleep at night. She scours a shop’s shelves for audio sleeping aids with Vickie. Tropical rainforest and cascading waterfalls sounds good on the surface, but they’ll only make you want to get up and pee. What else is on offer?

“Vermont bonfire… airport waiting area. Country highway with midnight cattle…”
“Gentle psychiatrist,,, crazy lagoon.”

Have you ever considered your relationship with work? It constantly crops up here. Castonguay’s take is typically pompous.

Tempus fugit, mors venit.
“It is a powerful transformation when one realises “work / life balance” is fiction. Our work is our very essence. At least that is what my new life coach asserts.”



Certainly there seems to be no balance at all for young Frances. Peter and Vickie find time to party so early on she asks Peter…

“Do you like what you do?”
“It’s alright… I don’t analyze any of it too deeply. I mean… I spend all day building other people’s dream homes. It’s just a job. It’s not who I am.”

Everyone seems to have a solid take both on life and work, and they find plenty to say on the subject, but Frances feels she has no such claim or clarity. It’s all too fast for any thoughts of her own, and her self-esteem suffers under the shadow of Vickie’s extrovert socialising and career success, however ludicrous the role she’s landed as a fantastical version of Frances’ more serious endeavours. ‘Bad Prosecutor’ is the most massive hit, becoming the legal firm’s water-cooler conversation point – which must be a bit weird when you’re privately best friends with the actor involved. This before Vickie began filming:

“Vickie, this character… she’s a vigilante District Attorney. Does that even make sense?”
“Sure, why not?”
“It really took five people to write this? “When the scales of justice have no teeth…””
“It’s TV, not Hemingway.”
“Here… she basically has sex with the criminal she’s prosecuting… in the courtroom!”
“You need a lot of hooks in a pilot…”

Frances asks if she’s nervous.

“Nah. It’s all a game anyway.”



Is Vickie as equanimous to it all as she seems? Will Peter (whom Vickie’s split from) finally notice Frances instead? More saliently, will repressed and self-doubting Frances finally notice that Peter took note of her yonks ago and actually accept his overtures rather than turn them all down because of the demands of her work? You can only invite someone to share things with you so many times and be rebuffed before it looks like you’re pestering, or begging.

“How many things will Peter invite me to before he realises I’m not worth the effort?”

The book is beautifully balanced between gentle, lilting, playful comedy, outright farce, profound matters of kindness, conscience and soul; solitary paths trodden alone even when cramped in a crowd, and that most difficult thing to avoid – comparing your own life to others’:

“I’ll never measure up to you.”



My last of many scrawled note reads, “The importance of friendship, listening – actually hearing – reciprocation, then finally talking things through”.

It’s possible that you may relate.


Buy Young Frances – A Pope Hats Collection h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The New World – Comics From Mauretania h/c (£24-99, New York Review Comics) by Chris Reynolds…

“I really liked the comics of Chris Reynolds back then and I am happy to report that I still do.”

  • Seth

Classic understated compliment from the most dapper man in comics there! He is actually a huge fan of Chris Reynolds, our Seth. So much so, that he agreed to curate Chris’s material for this collection and design the book, which is a sideline of his. I frequently spot Seth illustrated covers on prose books in Waterstones and then promptly feel cheated that it isn’t also his comics within…

The front and rear covers here are a masterpiece of design, with a subdued mauve background paired with highly reflective cyan and coral shading and lettering, the front cover featuring the head of the helmeted character Monitor – one of the nominal stars of many of the short stories that form this chunky collection of over 250 pages set in the fictional Mauretania – outlined in Reynolds’ trademark thick black line.



I’ll leave you to read Seth’s designer afterword for yourselves, but it very neatly summed up my own thoughts and feelings regarding this material, which I will have to feely confess, I was previously utterly unaware of. I must give therefore also give plaudits to New York Comics Review in that respect, whose mission statement…  “In the tradition of NYRB Classics, NYR Comics presents new editions of out-of-print masterpieces and new translations of books that have never been published in English—from intimate memoirs to absurdist gags, graphic novels to dizzying experiments.” … has seen them publish the likes of Mark Beyer’s AGONY, PEPLUM by Blutch, SOFT CITY by Hariton Pushwagner, PRETENDING IS LYING by Dominique Goblet and YELLOW NEGROES AND OTHER IMAGINARY CREATURES by Yvan Alagbé, which have all graced the Page 45 shelves.

My experience of this work, like Seth, was one of mystery, first and foremost, flavoured with desolation, isolation and ratiocination. That particular train of thought is never quite going to arrive at the station, but I’m entirely sure that is Reynolds’ intent. It is the journey, most definitely not getting there, perhaps not ever actually arriving, which is what this material is about. There are pieces which can be put together across the stories, clues dropped quite deliberately too I suspect, but you’re not going to be able to assemble a whole jigsaw of the obtuse workings of Mauretania and its equally peculiar inhabitants, and so you will be left pondering…



Which is not to say it is downbeat, not at all, though it did also remind me of Jeff Nicholson’s THROUGH THE HABITRAILS in its seemingly, at times, abstract tone. It certainly has a dreamlike quality, some of the most subtly surreal material I have ever read, I think. I can certainly see why it would appeal to Seth, whose IT’S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON’T WEAKEN and pretty much all of his early life autobiographical material published over the years in PALOOKAVILLE has a similar graceful, almost delicate and meandering feel to it.



The quiet, rural landscapes and partially deserted cities of the never actually named country of Mauretania feel and look much like Britain. Perhaps not surprising given Chris Reynolds hails from Wales. The characters are a bemusingly polar bunch, I must say. In addition to various utterly banal workers and families, we have the behelmeted recurring Monitor (who is the closest we get to a lead character), a hardboiled police inspector named Rockwell, alien overlords who seem to have peacefully conquered the Earth through some strange, mystical hypnotic process called the Dial, plus several other one-off oddballs like the random bearded chap with more than a passing resemblance to Peter Suitcliffe. Thus the ostensibly sparse population of Mauretania manages to feel as collectively incongruous and mildly mysterious as the plots of the stories themselves.



The art contributes greatly in that respect. With its substantial, bold black linework it very strongly reminded me of a Jesse Reklaw work, THE NIGHT OF YOUR LIFE, which was a collection of peoples’ dream stories synchronously enough. There is also a dash of Eric COMPULSIVE COMICS Haven, Charles LAST LOOK Burns, Joe HIGHBONE THEATER Daly, Tim ABANDONED CARS Lane in there too. I can see some people initially finding the inking a bit heavy for their tastes but soon you’ll be drawn into the strange goings-on and left suitably perplexed.


Buy The New World – Comics From Mauretania h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Curse Of Charley Butters s/c (£17-99, Conundrum Press) by Zach Worton…

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

This work which collects the entirety of the Charley Butters trilogy really ought to have been at least sub-titled “How Travis Just Keeps Making The Same Mistakes Again And Again And Again…”

Yes, ‘sensitive soul’ Travis, a self-confessed slacker who works in a record shop and has somehow found himself singing in a death metal band with his friends, despite actually liking ‘60s music, garage rock and girl bands is not in a good place and it is only going to get worse. Much worse. The sad thing is… he will only have himself to blame. Though he’ll try and blame Charley Butters, which seems a bit harsh, since Charley Butters was a little-known painter who mysteriously vanished from public sight in the 1950s before making any significant impact on the radar of public consciousness.



Whilst out in the middle of the woods filming a video for their band, the boys and their reluctant director Stuart stumble across an old cabin filled with journals and hundreds of versions of the same painting. They quickly learn it was the hideout of one Charley Butters, and putting the pieces together, they discover that he simply decided to disappear into the woods leaving his old life behind. His reasons for doing so aren’t entirely clear, certainly not to Butters’ then wife, who Travis and Stuart interview for a documentary film about the reclusive artist they decide to make after becoming hooked on his intriguing story through avidly reading his diaries.

So far, so good. Travis even finds the willpower to break up the band much to his friend Mike’s – who really is death metal for life if you’ll pardon the oxymoron – chagrin and finally gets the courage to ask out the girl of his dreams. He even manages to fit in a much overdue haircut! Yes, it starting to seem like Travis has it all. Unfortunately, he also has a burgeoning drink problem. Which he is rapidly beginning to lose control of…



As his addiction continues to spiral out of control, it’s not long before his professional and personal lives are disintegrating faster than a shredded beer mat at the hands of a plastered pint-sinker. Soon it seems to Travis… through the always truthful lens of the bottom of a glass… that his only sensible option is to follow the route of Charley Butters, quite literally, heading to Charley’s cabin to seek solace in solitude. And thus, perhaps, in also trying to track down the absent artist, somehow begin to find himself and thus get his life back in order. Which, on the face of it, if executed properly, with the appropriate degree of restraint on the consumption of alcohol, sounds like a pretty good plan. Unfortunately, self-control is not one of Travis’s strong points…

I won’t regale you with any further plot points, for Travis’s own journey, how it does and also does not mirror that of Charley Butters, is the true story here. Yes, I can promise you will learn the whereabouts of the titular artist, but by that point you’ll be too busy shaking your head at Travis’s continuing further descent into the ethanol-fuelled rabbit hole of his own making…



Strong, clean art black and white art from Zach Worton, like a finer-lined version of Dylan HICKSVILLE Horrocks, with his round faces and pinhole eyes, and also Michel THE SONG OF ROLAND Michel Rabagliati with his pointed noses. If you like a graphic novel that takes its protagonist for a walk on the wild side, then leaves them slumped in a sorry heap, this could be for you!


Buy The Curse Of Charley Butters s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Apollo h/c (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Matt Fitch, Chris Baker & Mike Collins…

“Dick? Shall I put the TV on? See what’s happening?”
“Nixon knows everything worth knowing.”
“Brooding won’t the time pass any quicker, Dick. Can’t you enjoy this with everyone else?
“This war, dead kid on the news. They blame Nixon for all those things, Pat. All of it. Nixon won’t be remembered for the moon.”

Nor even indeed going to China… But how remarkably prescient of old Tricky Dicky! Surely even on the scale of dodgy politicians (i.e. 99% of them), one that constantly referred to himself in the third person ought to have been suspect right from the off?!

Anyway, I’m sure most of you know the story of Apollo 11, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin boldly stepping where no one had stepped before and Mike Collins getting the consolation prize of a trip to the dark side. The story of the moon landing has been covered many times, in many formats, so Matt Fitch and Chris Baker wisely take a different trajectory, focusing on not just our three astronauts and their mission, but also heavily on their families, loved ones and various other characters of the age like Nixon. Even the Spirit of America makes an appearance.

Set against the grounding backdrop of Nixon’s Presidency and the Vietnam War, we thus  gain a little more insight into precisely what Buzz Aldrin’s ultra-overbearing aviator father, who was a friend of Howard Hughes, might have contributed to his personality, how the tragic, untimely death of Neil Armstrong’s infant daughter from a malignant tumour in the base of her brain stem perhaps induced him to focus even more ferociously on his NASA career and err… how Mike Collins apparently had a spacey one hallucinating that the man-in-the-moon was talking to him and also chatting with the denim-wearing, bandana-clad, shade-toting Spirit Of America about how great America could be. I think that Mike’s experiences might well be an example of artistic licence, but I rather liked what they brought to the party!

I also very much enjoyed the dream sequence of a spacesuited Armstrong striding through a sun-kissed field of wheat. The deliberately choppy plotting as we switch back and forth from the mission itself, to various earth-based scenes, both set in the past and the then present, and these surreal vignettes all add to the impression of a time of rapid progress, of huge human potential, but also great global instability. Nothing ever really changes, then, including dodgy politicians. But as the opening quote from no less a luminary than Carl Sagan states, “Once upon a time, we soared into the solar system. For a few years. Then we hurried back. Why? What happened? What was Apollo really all about?”

Well, the short answer is that there was a space race, one that America was desperate to win after the shock to the system that was Sputnik I and then Sputnik II and LAIKA. I do find it sad though, that once the race was won, that the end of serious exploration of the solar system was consequently curtailed for several generations. If there is one thing I’d like to see occur in my lifetime, and hopefully it seems possible, it would be humans landing on Mars. Actually I’d probably prefer us to find evidence of microbial extra-terrestrial life somewhere in our solar system as well, be that Mars or one of Saturn’s moons, but it’s just good to see the pushing of the boundaries of human endeavour with humankind truly looking towards the stars once again.

Art-wise, British comics artist, Mike Collins (no relation to astronaut, I think) breaks out the Letratone effect, which seems to be all the rage recently, to help create a period feel. He really captures an excellent likeness of all the various public figures and his style neatly complements the at times serious, at times utterly whimsical approach of the writers. Unusually for a SelfMadeHero release, this work is presented in hardback format with a very striking dust jacketed cover of a falling astronaut against a Stars and Stripes composed of what seems to be coloured stars in jet-black night sky.


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

Wormworld Saga vol 1: The Journey Begins (£8-99, Cubhouse) by Daniel Lieske.

Full-colour pre-teen fantasy in which a young boy called Jonas, staying at his beloved Grandma’s during the long summer holidays, finds that his father isn’t going to allow him the freedom to roam the idyllic countryside all day long, without some serious commitment to home work. Fortunately an older friend has leant him his old maths notes under the impression they’ll be used for “revision”. They won’t. Instead, Jonas presents them to his dad as maths questions answered each afternoon and, to begin with, this hoodwink pays off.

“Well, I can’t find any mistakes. Very good!”
“Our Jonas is a bright little boy!”

Jonas is pretty pleased with himself. “Man, did I feel smart!”

So it is that the lad enjoys each thrilling morning racing round the ancient woodland with grandma’s dog, Lotti, protected by his trusty wooden sword and enchanted, chain-mail armoured vest (it’s a red woollen pullover knitted by his gran) and imagining the most extreme adventures, as you do!

“Flying monkeys! Quick, we must hide!”



You can see Lotti, excited by Jonas’s infectious energy, thinking, “What?! Where?! Whatever, this is fun!” while of course crossing a brook by footbridge is the most dangerous task imaginable. “Careful! Don’t fall into the abyss!”



If you don’t recognise this as your own imaginative child’s play, I feel awful for you. But if you think that the glorious countryside colours so far are spectacular, with bright summer light streaming through the canopies up above, then, boy, are you in for an eye-popping upgrade!

So what’s Jonas up to in the afternoons instead of all that homework in preparation for whatever new school his dad has arranged for him?



Why, he’s playing more made-up games with his toys or concentrating on drawing the blue butterflies he’s encountered or creatures he conjures up in his head. Not only that, but he’s doing it in his own secret den, a fully furnished room even his grandma’s unaware of, accessed through a hidden panel in his bedroom wall. He’s known about this for years, he’s just never figured out – or even thought to figure out – why it’s there, who built it or what it’s really for. But when one of his insect crayon creations bursts unexpectedly into neon-pink life and buzzes through further passageways entirely new to Jonas, he’s shocked to discover –



His father calls him down to dinner. His dad’s coming up the stairs.

Racing back as fast as he can lest his bolthole be discovered, and grabbing a few sheaths of maths notes from his satchel in a hurry, Jonas fails to notice that these have already been marked by his friend’s teacher, and the poor lad’s holiday is about to come crashing down around him.

The confrontation is brutal. From the start you can tell that Jonas’s dad, with his stuffy moustache, doesn’t really get him and that they’re not close, which is why those annual holidays at his grandma’s are so cherished. But whoa, wait for this!

“I’m very disappointed in you, Jonas.” No, wait. “And your mother would have been too!”

Now, this hyper-real, computer-generated art isn’t my personal thing, but younger readers will adore it, there is no question of the exceptionally communicative craft, and even I found myself so empathising with young Jonas here, as he looks straight at the reader, that I choked at his tears. (And no, this isn’t Jonathan, for once; this is Stephen!) There is little more cruelly hurtful that you can say to someone than “The person you loved most in the world who is now dead would be disappointed in you”.



Oh, and there’s another bombshell detonated alongside: his father’s booked him in to boarding school. Please pass your own moral judgements at that one.

Grounded to his room for the rest of the holidays, and doomed to far worse in the Fall, once Jonas recovers his composure he realises that he still has an escape route, for through the secret passageway then further up ladders he found hours earlier lies that beacon of light which so startled him: a painting. It’s a painting that leads to another world entirely and, as I implied earlier, if you think the colours so far have been radiant, are you in for an eye-dazzling treat!



I wouldn’t normally take you half this far (see PERSEPHONE) but I’m pretty sure that it won’t be pre-teens who’ll be reading this, but those looking to buy for them instead.

Beyond the veil lie landscapes of fluorescent flora, twisted, mossy tree trunks, purple, puffy canopies you can fall through, giant, carnivorous insects… and someone who’s been waiting for Jonas for quite some time. Make that two people, one of whom has been dispatched to find the boy, then keep him safe.

Oh wait – make that three, I’m afraid.

Did I mention that the door shut behind him? Oh dear.



Please note: the interior art I have for you here was screen-grabbed from the original online series. It was a great deal easier than scavenging what little I found of the published graphic novel online, and allowed me to illustrate more precisely what I had written. The lettering has since been changed to lower case, and captions slightly rearranged on the page, but I could discern no discrepancies in the actual script. I’ve done my best to preserve the pages’ actual content, although in one instance, with Jonah in tears, that proved impossible.



There’s certainly nothing here which you won’t find within. It’s all a bit beautiful, isn’t it?


Buy Wormwood Saga vol 1: The Journey Begins and read the Page 45 review here

New Shoes h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Sara Varon.

“Good afternoon, Brother Donkey. I’m here to place an order for my friend, Miss Manatee.”

What?! Miss Manatee, Queen of Calypso…? Brother Donkey’s all-time favourite recording artist…?

“She will be performing in the city and will need shoes for her trip onto land.”

Why, of course she will need shoes! Wait—what?!

“Here are her measurements. Let me know when her shoes are ready.”

Hmmm…. How long do you imagine it will take Brother Donkey, highly respected cobbler, to realise that there’s something slightly impractical about a manatee – that huge, beautiful seacow, so gloriously graceful in the water – clomping about in shoes on dry land? Oooh, I wouldn’t expect that light to start flashing for a full 170 of these 200 pages!



You see, Francis has never travelled outside his village before, so although he may croon enthusiastically alongside her albums, he’s not really sure what a manatee is or does.

He’s going to have to go on a right old expedition now, however, because although his very best shoes are made from wild tiger grass, purchased each week from a squirrel monkey called Nigel who forages it from deep in the jungle, Francis has just run out of grass and his neighbour Nigel’s gone missing! Worst timing ever!



He’s ever so trepidatious about venturing into the South American jungle all alone, but he must somehow locate Nigel’s source of tiger grass and hopefully find Nigel into the bargain. Fortunately Rhoda the macaw offers to escort Nigel – in exchange for some shoes – and together they set off with their wild animal guide books. Those should be useful; or worrying. Some pages will give Nigel much food for thought, the specific thought being that he might prove to be food!



From Sara Varon (creator of the deeply poignant ROBOT DREAMS much loved by all, plus Young Readers ODD DUCK and BAKE SALE) comes a substantially lengthier graphic novel bursting with colour and novelty. Don’t worry, families, you will trot along through it quite quickly if (and it’s a really big “if”!) you can bear to leave each page of vibrant eye-candy behind.



Its commendable emphasis lies in kindness, generosity, cooperation, foraging from locally sourced, sustainable resources, fair trade and exchange (a big slapped wrist for Nigel awaits!), the thrill of exploration, adventure and acquiring new skills, keeping an open mind at all times, gratitude and learning. And if your young ones enjoy the pages of Nigel’s guide book, may I shoehorn in here recommendations for WILD ANIMALS OF THE NORTH and WILD ANIMALS OF THE SOUTH, each reviewed separately? Thanks very much, I have done so!



Perhaps the first clue for Francis that Miss Manatee might require something other than shoes comes when he and Rhoda need to cross a river. It’s no problem for the feathered one, but Francis the donkey has never learned how to swim. Herons, whom they treat to some bread, send the pair upstream to a family of capybara who encourage Francis to get his feet wet. It’s then that he notes that shoes aren’t particularly good for swimming in.





Their journey has only begun, though, and they’re no nearer to finding Nigel until a toucan obliges.

But what they will discover and those whom they encounter at the end of their trek will prove both unexpected and a wee bit frightening, but only because they’ve been wronged. Nigel has been a very bad boy, and it is up to Francis and Rhoda and Nigel to put things right. At which point I’d remind you about the book’s emphases.



But it’s never too late to mend (not strictly true, as our planet may pertinently attest very shortly) and all will be well in the end!

The book has been brilliantly thought through from start to finish, and Varon does finish with a photographic flourish: several pages of research she conducted in Venezuela’s Guayana.



So how do you imagine will Brother Donkey best equip his idol, Miss Manatee, for her gala performance on stage in the city? That, I will not say, but he will succeed in his commission, for a little lateral thinking does go a very long way.


Buy New Shoes h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bone: Tall Tales (£8-50 s/c; £16-99 h/c, Cartoon Books) by Tom Sniegoski with Jeff Smith, Jeff Smith.

Not just a reprint of ‘Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails’, this was a complete overhaul with brand-new material from Jeff linking the stories together in camping scenes reminiscent of Donald Duck replaced as scout leader by Smiley Bone, and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie replaced by Ringo, Bingo and the stubbornly sceptical Todd.

Stories are told round the camp fire about Phone Bone’s and Phoney Bone’s treasure hunt, and about Big Johnson Bone, founder of Boneville – his eventful birth in a log cabin right on the frontier in the middle of a winter storm, and a teenage, gorge-a-thon eating contest and early crush – before a full-colour reprint of the three-part ‘Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails’ which is dreamt up by one of the younger Bones.



Of that Mark wrote:

“Long ago, before the Bone cousins were run out of Boneville, the Rat Creatures had tails and this is how they lost them. This harks back to the earlier BONE stories with cute, big-eyed critters acting all defenceless and lost, and the rat creatures acting vain and stupid.”



In fact, if BONE quickly became a great deal darker and more complex than its jocular cuddliness first suggested, this is definitely an all-ages affair perfectly suitable for readers as young as you like. It’s the story of how an adult Big Johnson Bone, run out of town for cheating at cards and winning a monkey called Pip (addressed variously as Mr. Pop, Poop and Plop – I can already see my ex-house-monkey, Ossian, laughing himself to death) is caught with his ass in a twister and dumped without dignity down in the valley which the Bone cousins later discovered themselves.



So yes, the Stupid, Stupid Rat creatures are back and you’ll then meet their queen plus the queen’s enormous and even hungrier son who swallows Big Johnson and some of his new friends whole, and ends up like the whale in Pinocchio. So much for quiche, eh? After the Rat Creatures, the mice are the funniest, and although I have to concede that Sniegoski doesn’t possess the sustained wit of Smith that had adults enthralled, Jeff’s ebullient cartooning here will have you laughing out loud all the same, and the kids will just lap up the antics.


Buy Bone: Tall Tales and read the Page 45 review here

Nobrow 10: Studio Dreams (£18-00, Nobrow) by various.

Nobrow’s annual anthology this year is – with but one exception I glimpsed – an art book rather than comics, but you’ll be starved of neither beauty nor colour nor diversity.

“To celebrate 10 years of Nobrow we are curating an extra special edition of the Nobrow magazine, featuring 70 artists responding to our theme of ‘Studio Dreams.’ In 2010 we commissioned Jan Van der Veken to illustrate our dream studio and his illustration provided the perfect starting point for this 10th edition. World-renowned creators turn their hand to creating their dream studio spaces (whatever that might mean for each one) in this unique, international showcase containing over 100 pages of illustration.”

Every artist has thrown themselves full-throttle into this challenge, the production values are as exquisite as you’d expect from the publishers of GEIS, HILDA, MARCY AND THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX, GAMAYUN TALES: THE KING OF THE BIRDS etc and I’ve a few photos for you below.






Buy Nobrow 10: Studio Dreams and read the Page 45 review here

Voice Of The Fire new printing (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Alan Moore.

Structurally and linguistically, Moore’s first prose novel preceding JERUSALEM was exceptional.

Alan takes the geographical location which will become Northampton and charts six millennia of its legend and lore – its memory, if you like – through the eyes of its inhabitants, beginning with a narrator for whom concepts of the imagination, from dreaming to lying, are entirely alien. The language is therefore initially pared down to the purely physical so that, for example, instead of “smelling” something, the narrator “sniffs” it. As we move through the centuries each new narrator sees the evolving strata of event and repercussion through the eyes of their time, as events in previous chapters come back – or indeed forwards – to haunt them.

Alan’s wit is as sharp as ever, and black humour abounds. Once instance I’m tempted to refer to as gallows humour, were it not after the fact – you’ll see!

The finest testament I can think of is that every time Moore concludes a chapter and bids farewell to its protagonist, I truly wish he hadn’t, for I fell in love with each and every one of them, including the last.


Buy Voice Of The Fire 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’.

Afterwords (£5-99, self-published) by Gareth Brookes

The Communist Manifesto (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels & Martin Rowson

Motor Crush vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart

I Really Didn’t Think This Through – Tales From My So-Called Adult Life (£12-99, Sphere) by Beth Evans

Rock Steady – Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Ellen Forney

Where We Live: A Benefit For The Survivors In Las Vegas s/c (£17-99, Image) by various

Injustice Ground Zero vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Christopher Sebela & Pop Mhan, various, Mike S. Miller

The Punisher vol 1: War Machine s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & Guiu Vilanova

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week four

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

Featuring Jen Wang, Vera Brosgol, Jon Klassen, Mac Barnett, Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky, Hope Larson, Rebecca Mock, Paul Jenkins, Jae Lee, Scott Snyder, more. It’s a  bit of a Young Adult / Young Readers special!

The Prince And The Dressmaker (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jen Wang…                                   

Well, it happened again… A graphic novel made me cry on public transport… I thought I had it under control and then just as the i4 started ascending Derby Road I could feel the old tear ducts start to tingle… Must have been the altitude…

Jen IN REAL LIFE Wang returns, this time on art and writing duties, just as she did with her excellent KOKO BE GOOD, with another captivating story that as before deep in its bold, beating heart is all about identity. Here she explores the nature of public and also familial prejudice against a particular type of person, plus the intolerable pressures they themselves endure from keeping their secret under wraps. Except, in this instance, it’s that the person in question likes wrapping themselves up in their secret… For Prince Sebastian likes to wear dresses, and indeed makeup, to present himself as a lady.

Which is a tricky one for the lad, because his father is the King of Belgium and determined to marry the Crown Prince off and get him popping out heirs and spares to continue their lineage as soon as unreasonably possible. Which is why he’s brought Sebastian and the family to Paris: to throw a grand ball and introduce him to society, and hopefully a few eligible female members of the European aristocracy. It’s not that Sebastian doesn’t like the ladies, for he does, it’s just that he can’t imagine any future Queens possibly wanting to marry one…

In any event, he’s getting a little fed up wearing the somewhat staid and outdated ball gowns he’s managed to purloin from his mother’s wardrobe and has decided to seek out a seamstress with talent (and, of course, discretion) to design him some killer outfits worthy of a Lady. For Lady Crystallia is the name by which Sebastian chooses to go when dressed up in finery for a covert night out on the tiles. The only person at court who is aware of his liking for court shoes is his trusted aide-de-camp Emile, and it is to Emile he entrusts the task of finding him such a skilled dressmaker.

This is how Frances enters Sebastian’s very small circle of trust. For her, it’s a dream chance to escape her life of drudgery working for a pittance at a local sweatshop and she seizes it with both her talented hands. Before too long Lady Crystallia and her glamorous gowns are the hot topic of the Parisian social scene. Frances doesn’t just hurry Sebastian’s wardrobe up to an à la mode status, soon she’s setting the trend as knock-offs of her creations start to appear on the streets.

But whilst that is as immensely satisfying to her personally as Sebastian’s newfound confidence in his alter ego and her evening appearances, Frances is also a little frustrated that their private arrangement means that no one can ever know she is responsible for the dresses. For Sebastian is convinced that if anyone were to realise that Frances was also Lady Crystallia’s personal seamstresses as well as his own, it wouldn’t be long before someone stitched the pieces together and outed him. As the tension begins to build in their professional affiliation, both start to realise there might be another burgeoning aspect to their relationship which neither of them are prepared to admit to themselves, never mind each other…

And that’s all waaaay before I got to the bit that made me teary!

What a fabulously modern tale this is, dropped into a period class-strictured setting. That conceit actually makes the central theme all more the powerful and relevant, if one takes the view that Sebastian’s parents are also a representation of society at large, in addition to being his mum and dad. Particularly when you get the pay-off… Get your monogrammed hankies at the ready! 

Jen’s art lends itself to gold-leaf encrusted ballrooms just as well as it did to Chinese virtual goldfarms in IN REAL LIFE. And some of the outfits are truly wondrous. The one that brings Frances to the attention of Sebastian early on, which she creates for a Lady Sophia for the grand ball to make her look like “the devil’s wench…” had as genuinely a jaw-dropping effect on me as it does to all the dazed debutantes. My favourite, though, was probably the dappled and dimpled orange creation with which Lady Crystallia makes her own stunning debut and wins the title, and three cases of Maldon’s finest preserves, of Miss Marmalade in a sponsored beauty pageant. I genuinely think Jen could make a living as a dress designer if she ever gets bored of creating comics. Which, I really hope she doesn’t.

Actually… that dress is probably my second favourite. My favourite would have to be the one that made the waterworks start trickling. It’s just not one which Sebastian is wearing…


Buy The Prince And The Dressmaker and read the Page 45 review here

Be Prepared (£9-99, FirstSecond) by Vera Brosgol…

“I knew the party wasn’t right.
“It was too poor. It was too Russian. It was too different.
“I was never going to fit in with American kids.”

Following on from her spooky debut ANYA’S GHOST back in 2011, which is currently being made into a film, Vera Brosgol finally returns with an autobiographical tale all about cultural identity, being the perennial outsider and how you should go about the tricky task of making new friends, with the right people, and courageously showing us how she got it all wrong several times. (For more on that particular subject the brilliant autobiographical REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale & Leuyen Pham is a must-read.)

Growing up, Vera felt different from the other kids. Of Russian heritage, with her single mum studying to be an accountant and struggling for money, she never felt that she and her younger brother were the equals of their American ‘friends’, with their seemingly endless supply of top toys and lavish sleepover birthday parties. She soon began to feel like the tolerated outsider, rather than a central part of the gang, especially after a particularly underwhelming attempt at finally hosting her own sleepover.




Then, every summer, just to exemplify the disparity even more, her ‘friends’ would disappear off for the whole of July to various camps, leaving Vera behind, bored and counting the days until they returned. So, when she hears about a summer camp for kids of Russian extraction, organised by the Orthodox Church she’s forced to attend, she begs and pleads with her mother to let her and her brother go. Her mother reluctant accedes much to Vera’s delight, but insists on the compromise that they can only go for two weeks because that’s all she can possibly afford. It is at this point, autumn…

As another school year tediously rolls by, instead of watching her friends get prepared and packed for their various extended summer excursions, it’s Vera who’s assembling all her necessary implements and accoutrements until finally she’s ready to go. It is, however, at this point only the start of June… Do you think she’s excited about it?!

Finally July comes around and the Brosgols are off. When Vera gets there, though, and is deposited into a tent with fourteen-year-old Sasha & Sasha (no relation), two long-term camp buddies who seem to delight in the fact that they’ve never had to put up with the same third wheel in their tent two years running, she begins to realise that some people are the same negative types wherever you go.


Despite her best attempts to make friends and become part of the ‘in crowd’ it seems likes she’s only ever further exacerbating her social isolation with her continual faux pas. It’s certainly no LUMBERJANES with their exuberant motto “Friendship To The Max!!” Plus, this particular camp… well, let’s just say it feels more like a military boot camp with early rising, onerous chores, Orthodox Russian church services and forced marches. When the two weeks are up and her mum arrives to collect her, Vera is ecstatic, having endured a torrid fortnight, to say the least. And then promptly horrified to discover her mum, presuming she’d be loving her much begged for camp experience, has scraped together the money to sign her and her brother up for the remaining two weeks…

It’s at that tipping point, that Vera finally realises she needs to change her approach, both to camp life and also making friends. Happily for her, the remaining fortnight proves far more fulfilling on both fronts. Sometimes, it really does pay just to be yourself, and let the (wood) chips fall where they may.



I’ve just flicked back through ANYA’S GHOST to see what changes or evolutions there have been in Vera’s storytelling and it’s only served to remind me of how accomplished her art and character development was even back then. I had actually forgotten that Anya was of Russian extraction and had a younger brother, so presumably she modelled Anya and her family on her own, which I never realised. Art-wise the main difference is that there is considerably more background detail here, which actually makes a huge difference in drawing the reader into the story and Vera’s arduous experiences!

Definitely one for fans of Hope Larson’s CHIGGERS due to the exploration of the trials and tribulations of friendship under the open skies, though I think – because this is a much more substantial work which also gets right into the particular rigours and rituals of summer camp life – it also strongly minded me of both Michel Rabagliati’s PAUL JOINS THE SCOUTS and PAUL HAS A SUMMER JOB, which hilariously and very sweetly shows him semi-autobiographically experiencing the delights of life under the canvas from both sides of it, as excitable youngster and also emphatically wet-behind-the-eyes teenage camp counsellor. Consequently I really enjoyed BE PREPARED, and hopefully Vera won’t leave it another seven years before her next work!


Buy Be Prepared and read the Page 45 review here

Square h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen.

The eyes have it. They surely do!

They’re so expressive that the faces don’t need a mouth; that would lessen their impact considerably. They stare out at you, in this case more than a little anxiously, making a contact with yours that is remarkably difficult to break.

And I love that Klassen’s covers can be so iconic that a title’s unnecessary. What else would this book be called, and how on earth could possibly you resist it?

From the creators of the deliciously mischievous SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE – and so much more that you can find in our all-encompassing Page 45’s Jon Klassen section for Young Readers – comes a second helping of shapely shenanigans, this time starring Square and Circle.



Shapes are indeed what this is all about. That, and finding yourself a little out of your depth after compliments are given, based on erroneous assumptions, and you haven’t quite found it within your heart to come clean. Hmmm. Tricky one!

Square is a simple soul whose life is relatively straightforward.

“Every day, Square goes down to his cave and takes a block from the pile below ground.
“He pushes the block up and out of the cave.
“He brings the block to the pile at the top of the hill.
“This is his work.”

I’m sorry?

“This is his work.”



Square stands next to his square blocks of stone, staring out at us, as if to say, “What?”

It’s an exquisite moment of engagement between the reader and the protagonist. “This is his work.” That’s it. That’s what he does. It is his Purpose. Look at Square again! He’s definitely asking you, “What?!”

Anyway, one day while Square is hard at work, Circle floats by.

“Square!” said Circle. “You are a genius! I did not know that you were a sculptor!”
“Ah yes,” said Square. “What is a sculptor?”
“A sculptor shapes blocks into art,” said Circle.
“Ah, yes,” said Square. “I see what you mean.”
But he did not really see what she meant.
“This is a wonderful sculpture,” said Circle. It looks just like you!”



And it does! It’s even the same colour and texture as Square. And Circle, as it happens. Square looks at his block of rock, dubiously.

Now would probably be a good time to come clean, before…

“Now,” said Circle, “you must do one of me.”
“Oh,” said Square.

Yes, before that. Square eyes Circle and his square block of rock quite anxiously. They’re very different shapes.

“I will come back for it tomorrow! Good-bye, genius!”
“Circle,” said Square, “I think I should tell you something.”

But he doesn’t.



Now, I’m not going to take you any further but Square does seem in a right pickle, doesn’t he? He’s in for quite the night.

Aside for Klassen’s laugh-out-loud expressions, part of the comedy lies in the economy of Mac Barnett’s storytelling: simple sentences eschewing contractions, direct and honest, contrasting with the other economy here – that with the truth!

Returning to the expressions, though, there is a final note of exasperation which I deliberately don’t have for you here because I don’t want you to see what becomes of the stone under Square’s ham-fisted administrations. But there he stands in the pouring rain, his arms thrown out in… well, exasperation really is the only word for it… a leafy twig on his lodged on his noggin, looking for all the world like the ultimate in tetchy vexation, Sage the Owl from The Herb Garden.

So, whatever will happen in the morning?



Rarely have I encountered such a successfully sprung surprise which, as with most Klassen creations and collaboration could only be accomplished visually, reflecting Barnett’s extraordinary stroke of lateral thinking for – as so very often, I’ve found – salvation lies in serendipity.


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

Sam & Dave Dig A Hole s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen.

Now out in softcover! Yippee!

Young Readers graphic novel from the headwear-conscious creator of THIS IS NOT MY HAT, I WANT MY HAT BACK and WE FOUND A HAT; but with writer Mac Barnett on board, hats are no longer the issue.

Nothing here is missing, but an awful lot is missed.

On Monday, you see, Sam and Dave dug a hole.

“When should we stop digging?” asked Sam.
“We are on a mission,” said Dave.
“We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.”

And so, dig they do. They dig and dig deep. They dig so deep that their heads disappear underground, and then they dig deeper still. They are, I would remind you, on a mission!



So intent are they on this Important Excavation, what they don’t seem to have noticed is that their dog has embarked on this mission too. Or they’ve forgotten. The dog happened to be standing between them when work first commenced and looked a little dubious from the start. On the cover his eyes are to camera, as if to say, “What a bunch of buffoons”.



Yes, Sam and Dave should probably take a little more notice of their dog. Their dog has already found something spectacular. And oh look, there’s something even more spectacular.

Amazingly, Sam and Dave seem to miss everything spectacular ‘in spite of’ changing direction, splitting up and reconvening.

Still, they do have a lot of digging to do…



Brilliant! As with the HAT trick trilogy the words tell one story while the images reveal the truth! That’s what makes this comics: without the images you wouldn’t understand what was actually happening.

What they also share is a comedic oblivion.

For much more Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen, please see Page 45’s Jon Klassen section for Young Readers.


Buy Sam & Dave Dig A Hole s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Persephone h/c (£17-99, Archaia / Boom!) by Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky.

Far more devious than I initially gave this credit for, with clues scattered throughout in seemingly spurious asides, this tale of two worlds – one above, the other below – plays with the Eleusinian Mysteries, recasting the roles and relationships of Persephone, Demeter and Hades. What I originally thought were plot holes transpired to be omissions intentionally left open so that when the right (or wrong) person finally walks through the doors it all makes a great deal of terribly sad sense.

In a book which will confound preconceptions, the opening and closing of gates, or portals with prove pivotal to the proceedings.

Thirteen years ago there was a war that should never have happened.

It was waged between the realms of fertile Eleusis which prospered in light above ground and cold, dark infernal Hades where nothing green ever grows. The two realms, linked by a magic portal, had had their fair share of misunderstandings, suspicion and strife, but nonetheless conducted a mutually beneficial, thriving trade and prospects for future peace looked bright when the youngest princess of Eleusis was married to Hades, Lord of the Underworld and, truth be told, they did love each other dearly.



Alas, Hades’ happiness was destroyed when his queen died, and the new trust between the two nations was shattered too, a fission only widened by bitter Hades’ increasingly unfathomable behaviour and obsession with what lay behind the forbidden gates of Tartarus in his own realm. From there he gained vast power and you know what they say about power. He craved more magic power, but there was none to be had down below. Only Eleusis had mages. They fought the Lord and his hoards tooth and nail, finally beating him back after two years of carnage and ended his life. Specifically it was sorceress Demeter of Eleusis who killed him, but at a cost, and as the graphic novel begins we find her distraught, holding a bloodied babe in her arms. She seals two vast doors, then crosses the River Styx, carrying the child up hundreds of echoing stone steps, through a vast golden arch and the Eleusinian soldier who tries to stop her will never forget the moment he tried.



The portal between the Hades and Eleusis is closed from above ground forever. Only magic can open it, and there is no magic below.

Thirteen years later and will look at the light!



Centropolis appears to be a prospering European city some half a century ago judging by the cars and fashions, and boasts some lovely Baroque architecture.

I wonder what happened to Hades?

No matter, school’s out for summer and Persephone and her friends have had their exam results back. Botany aside, Persephone is hardly a grade-A student. Remember, if you went on to Sixth Form, when you had start specialising, deciding which subjects to study? Big life decision, and it seems to come earlier in Eleusis.



One of the friends is being pressured by her Dad to go into the family bakery business instead; she assumes Persephone will want to join her mother Demeter in magic, and eventually take over her potion shop.

“You’re lucky you’re a witch’s daughter. My mom says that it’s getting rarer, since it’s hereditary. So it’ll always be in demand!”



Yes, but there you have it: magic is hereditary. Persephone hasn’t told her friends that she is adopted. And Demeter hasn’t told Persephone why.

We’re only a dozen or so pages in, but I’m not going to go that much further. Except… something surely impossible happens. The city square is attacked by Shades. A soldier from Hades has been rumoured to have been roaming Centropolis and here lies the proof. But how could the portal have been breached?




I wonder once more: what has been happening in Hades?

You’ll find out, because that’s where the vast majority of the book’s set, and it won’t be what you expect. Propaganda abounds wherever you roam and do remember that Lord Hades went mad. Don’t believe everything you read about a country: you certainly can’t judge its inhabitants by their rulers. Also, you can’t judge all daughters or sons by their parents.

Damn. I really don’t think I can write much more, and I’ve so many pieces of glorious interior art to show you.



The colours and light are phenomenal and there’s all the contrast you’d expect between above and below, but yet again, don’t imagine Hades will be all gloom and doom and unkindness. If bright summer light falls upon objects upstairs, then it radiates from them below decks. At one point we’re shown some astronomy telescopes down there which did make me laugh.



The art owes a little to Hayao Miyazaki and more to Joann Sfar with lots of GLISTER’s Andi Watson thrown in, especially when it comes to Hades’ architecture and crowd scenes, but I couldn’t stop thinking of Kevin O’Neill, especially when it came to Demeter who does love her hats. There’s a wee bit of manga melodrama and an element of anthropomorphism is Azrael, but however much he looks like a cat, he is human as you’ll discover.



You’ll get plenty of action and fair few more rules will come into play that I don’t want to clutter you up with here. Magic needs its rules or else it’s all hocus pocus, devoid of dramatic tension, and it will all prove very clever, I promise.


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

More softcovers have arrived (h/cs still in stock if you prefer):

Four Points Book 1: Compass South s/c (£11-99, Square Fish) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock.

A cover makes a promise, but only the contents can deliver.

With its energy, its urgency and its two young twins, this fine-line cover promises a period piece of adventure and opposition akin to Tony Cliff’s teen treasures DELILAH DIRK AND THE TURKISH LIEUTENANT and DELILAH DIRK AND THE KING’S SHILLING, both of which have been knock-out successes at Page 45 with teenagers and adults alike.

I had every confidence, but not even the first clue as to how much would be packed into its 225 pages, how complicated the lives of these two individuals would become from so many different factions intent on tracking them down, hampering their progress and taking what little they have left, while consequent repercussions conspire to keep them apart.

Sorry…? No, they’re not both lads; one of them is a lass, disguised for a reason beyond gender impediment or safety’s sake.




What I want to impress upon you above all is that this is no mere A to C while B seems insurmountable, though B does seem a pretty tall order for anyone so short. For a start, this is but Book One of FOUR POINTS so C is far from the final object, but even so I was poleaxed by how many individual threads were so intricately woven within this single volume.

It begins in Manhattan, 1860, with Cleo waiting with Luther, leader of a street-gang of youths, outside an opulent mansion for her brother, Alex, to rob it at night. He fails. Well no, he succeeds in lobbing the silver stash out of the window for Luther to abscond with it, but Alex is caught and sent with his sister to a police station. They’re to be split, Alex remanded to Randall’s Island prison, Cleo dispatched to the nun-run House of Mercy unless they betray Luther’s trust in exchange for a train out of town.




Alex finds an added incentive in the Daily Tribune advertising for information regarding another set of twins, male but both missing after their father’s long absence, which fit their description. There’s a reward of $200 and that’s a sum they both desperately need. The snag is that they’d need to find their way to San Francisco on America’s west coast and New Orleans on its east is as far as their train ride will carry them.

So far, so insurmountable, and Luther won’t be happy. But I lied.

It begins in Manhattan, 1848, with the twins being bequeathed to a man, Mr. Dodge, by their mother whom he loved. Alas, he’d been parted from Hester for a span of five years. They are not his, but he has no hesitation in adopting the babes even though his own prospects are small and he must travel in order to provide. The stranger also bears two objects from which they must never be parted: a pen-knife and a compass.

But in 1860 Mr. Dodge has failed to return from his most recent travels and wind of what he’s inherited has reached far further than a mere gang of youths…



I haven’t. Even. Started.

Okay I’ve finished, but Larson and Mock haven’t.

Cleo and Alex are going to face many dangers and many challenges: practical, geographical, judgemental, legal, nautical and hierarchical. But not least among them is their own outlook on life. There are two key players they will share so much time with whose sense of perspective – of values, of priorities – differs from Alex’s own at least. It’s not all about the money.

Being only twelve, they have a lot of growing up to do and it’s not just the uncharted physical terrain which will prove problematic, but emotional awakenings too.

Mock’s inner art is actually much denser than displayed on the cover, and much thicker of line. It’s closer to Hope Larson’s own. I see she supplies colours also and, combined, there is a rich sense of time and space, and how little there may be of either. The rain outside will be ferocious, the lamp-lit intimacy within will have you willing those trapped together into acts of honesty and confessional confidence which Larson won’t let you off easily with. Always there is this tension. Words unsaid are pretty powerful.

So superb is Mock’s New Orleans seen from a seagull’s point of view that you’ll crave more panoramas. Sorry, you won’t get those, but there’s always Book 2.



Instead you will marvel at how convincing Cleo and Alex are as male twins, without either of them ever losing their individuality. Not once does Mock give the game away, otherwise Cleo’s game would be given away too, both to those around her and to the readers. That’s no mean feat.

This is precisely why I want to tell you about the missing element I’ve so studiously avoided and redacted time after time from this review. It forms at least one whole half of the considerable complications which Cleo and Alex will be forced to deal with directly, each in their own way.

But hey, I had only this cover to go on before I launched in and now so do you.


Buy Four Points Book 1: Compass South s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Four Points Book 2: Knife’s Edge s/c (£11-99, Square Fish) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock.




Even the covers to these FOUR POINTS Young Adult graphic novels are providing some thrilling sequential-art narrative with the identical twins now firmly set sail, for most of book two sees them at sea – though a lot less confused about their true, biological parentage.

COMPASS SOUTH was packed. It was fast, furious and reactive, its cover conveying both energy and urgency as Cleo and Alex escaped across America while attempting to elude the multiple factions intent on tracking them down, hampering their progress and taking what little they have left, while consequent repercussions conspired to keep them apart.

Cleverly, Rebecca Mock enables you to tell the two individuals apart through one of them wearing a waistcoat, and it’s Cleo.



COMPASS SOUTH began in Manhattan, 1848, with the twins being bequeathed to a man, Mr. Dodge, by their mother whom he once loved and in all probability still does. Alas, he’d been parted from Hester for a span of five years. They are not his, but he had no hesitation in adopting the babes even though his own prospects were small and he had to travel in order to provide. The stranger also bore two objects from which, Dodge was told, they must never be parted: a pen-knife and a compass.

But in 1860 Mr. Dodge had failed to return from his most recent travels and wind of what he’d inherited had reached ruthless pirate Felix Worley who had known Alex and Cleo’s mother, Hester, all too well.

Finally the two twelve-year-olds will discover why Dodge failed to return at their key moment in their lives, who Hester really was and what became of their father, as well as the true purpose of that pen-knife and compass.

They’ll also discover why Worley wants what is now theirs and why he’s being so tenacious about it. Everyone has a childhood, you know; some are bleaker than others.



As with Vaughan and Chiang’s PAPER GIRLS, a second instalment reveals a certain structure by its conclusion, but just as I didn’t give away COMPASS SOUTH‘s, so there’ll be no spoilers here – for either volume.

KNIFE’S EDGE is a much brighter, more spacious affair with a lot more open, ocean sky and a lot less confinement below decks to cargo holds. Alex and Cleo are now comparatively in command of their own destinies, even if they need Captain Tarboro and his galleon The Almira to steer them in the right direction. For that Alex will have to agree to take Tarboro’s direction to begin at the bottom, swabbing decks, while Cleo resents being assigned to the cook as a girl and is determined to take what she considers far more practical and potentially life-saving instruction from the Captain on sword-fighting.

It rankles still further when, at a vital moment, Alex is handed a sword without any training simply because he is the lad. Cleo wouldn’t have survived so far if she hadn’t proved perfectly capable of looking after herself. She has grown a lot given that which they have so far endured, and no one is noticing, so there will be tensions, complicated further by the return of… well, quite a few unexpected personages from their past. As I’ve said before, words unsaid are pretty powerful.



Their first stop for supplies is Honolulu, Hawaii, with its submerged reefs, virtually invisible but for the small, gentle breakers, requiring some unusual assistance in navigating. The island itself won’t be easy to negotiate without causing trouble.

Thence it’s the Marshall Islands which Captain Tarboro has had prior experience with, well aware to his cost that the inhabitants are hostile and its seas swarming with sharks. There too lurk reefs…

You’ve lots of the lush to look forward to, all lit to time-specific perfection, and plenty of action too once the puzzles start being solved. Picking up speed will require some extreme measures, while lessons learned early on will prove vital but not necessarily completely successful.



There are some terrific aerial and subaquatic shots and one full-page panel in particular at the end of chapter two had me staring at it for ages, wondering why is was so particularly effective: it managed to be both dramatic and intimate whilst set at a remove.

Lastly, the importance of the oral tradition is explored (see MEZOLITH), once more set up in advance so that when it comes into its own we are reminded that stories, when passed along, do have a way of travelling very long distances indeed.

I do wish I could reveal this book’s punchline!


Buy Four Points Book 2: Knife’s Edge s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Sentry s/c (£20-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee.

“Reed… I’ve got to admit, the hairs are standing up on the back of my neck. I feel as though someone just told me a secret and I’ve forgotten it…”

Yes, Sue, along with key moments from your own wedding.

In which the creative team behind THE INHUMANS, one of the most eloquent graphic novels ever to grace the superhero shelves, play mischievous mind-games both with the lead character and with the Marvel Universe and even its readers to boot.

Is the man waking up in the middle of a thunderstorm an amnesiac? Was he really once, at the very beginning of the Marvel Age, the world’s most powerful superhuman? Or is Bob Reynolds just a sorry excuse for a husband and hopeless drunk?



No one seems to remember The Sentry. Not his friends, his powered peers, nor the million readers who adored his tireless fights against an increasingly powerful Void. Not even Stan Lee, The Sentry’s original writer back in 1961, could remember much about his creation until Marvel’s then-editor-in-chief Joe Quesada unearthed a few rough sketches Artie Rosen had drawn way back in the early ‘60s. Why has everyone forgotten him, and how bad could it get if they all began to remember?

Answer: very bad indeed.



Jenkins and Lee craft a dark and often disturbing tale of mystery and suspense, full of raw, jagged gothic edges, chiaroscuro and penumbral washes juxtaposed against Rosen’s more naïve four-colour pages of the original comicbook which we can no longer recall.

A second reading alerts you early on to Jenkins’s carefully chosen metaphors, but the first read will surely keep you guessing.



This book collects the entire package on top the mini-series including Sienkiewicz’s ‘Hulk / Sentry’ which fits in well, along with the other three extra one-shots which only served to hold up the dénouement for me.

Plus, last but most certainly not least, you can read the whole publicity machine as originally presented to the comicbook press (Joe Quesada supposedly interviewing a befuddled Stan Lee) which formed a very effective and ridiculously witty prank. Clue: Artie Rosen doesn’t exist and definitely never did. If he does sound vaguely familiar, Sam Rosen and Artie Simek were calligraphers for Marvel during the so-called Silver Age.



The Sentry’s story more recently continued in Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato’s DARK AVENGERS.


Buy The Sentry s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Days: The Road To Metal h/c (£24-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Grant Morrison, Tim Seeley & Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr., Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, Chris Sprouse, Rian Hughes, various…

“Oh, Mr. Green Lantern. Are you afraid?”
“I don’t get afraid.”
“Oh, I think you do… I think we all do… it’s all in that moment of discovery…
“When you’re about to learn something you will never be able to unlearn.
“Something that puts all the pieces together, and you finally see the truth, and the world changes.
“And you know it’ll never go back the way it was before.
“But if you’re so very brave, then just open the door.”

Just open the bloody door, Hal!! So we can find out precisely who, and what, is in the secret cave inside the Bat Cave.

“Seriously. Only Batman would have a secret cave inside his secret cave.”

Obviously. Not forgetting the secret Lunar Batcave on the moon…



Bats has actually installed a hidden room in the Fortress Of Solitude as well, just for good measure. I mean, he did have the good grace to ask Clark’s permission first, though he made him promise not to peek inside it at what he’d put there for ultra-safe keeping…

Yes, I can promise you more than a certain degree of mystery in these two intriguing set up one-shot issues of DARK DAYS: THE FORGE and DARK DAYS: THE CASTING that is already a million times better than the execrable mess that was CONVERGENCE. I probably shouldn’t be surprised this was great, given the writers are the long-time Bat-scribes Snyder and Tynion IV, plus the stellar trio of artists Jim Lee, Andy Kubert & John Romita Jr. on the pencils. But still, I’ve been burnt far too often with these big summer events.



Basically, Batman is trying to solve a mystery, one that has disturbed him so much, for so long, that whilst he’s had to call upon the likes of Mr. Terrific, Mister Miracle and of course old blue tights himself for assistance, he’s given precisely nothing away to anyone else whatsoever about the nature of this troubling conundrum. That, however, is all about to change and not entirely through his own choice…

Piece by piece, what little information Batman has acquired is laid out for us, along with some cautionary insights from Carter Hall a.k.a. Hawkman, who has his own particular clandestine parallel interest to Batman’s investigations.



At the time of reading the one-shots, I thought there was a little nod to Grant Morrison’s BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE that had Bats twizzling through time following the climax of FINAL CRISIS, which also seemed to be alluded to. So very kind of DC therefore to bolster these two new issues by including BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE #1, FINAL CRISIS #6-#7, BATMAN (New 52 era) #38-#39, NIGHTWING (again New 52 era) #17 and more!

That concluding exclamation mark being DC’s, I should add. Not mine. No, mine would come at the end of “You’re reprinting FIVE issues of old material in a hardcover collection of TWO new issues? You greedy gits!” Actually, they are reprinting nearly six, because the ‘more!’ is actually merely an excerpt from DETECTIVE COMICS #950 and then they also throw in Morrison’s double-page spread Map Of The Multiverse for ‘added value’…



Just utter corporate greed. There is absolutely no reason why these new two one-shots, which are basically issues #00 and #0 of DARK DAYS METAL could not have been included in one hardcover with the six issues that formed the ‘main’ series. They are printing (nearly) eight issues in this volume after all… It is disappointing because it is exactly the sort of nonsense I would fully expect Marvel to pull, and charge twice as much whilst they are at it, but I had felt in recent years DC were actually about giving readers better value for money than Marvel. Hey ho.

Anyway, the new material is an enjoyably complex and riveting set-up for the impending DARK DAYS METAL HC event that piqued my curiosity sufficiently to want to read the whole shebang.  Not least because of whom Hal finds behind the green door… It’s an old piano, and Shakin’ Stevens is playing it hot… Okay, well, the door isn’t green, and it isn’t Shakey banging out ‘80s classics, but it is a shocker, certainly… Precisely how that person fits into it all, is just another perplexing part of this three pothole problem, Watson… Oh, do stop with the bad jokes…



NOTE: Also forthcoming very shortly are the collection of bad guy one-shot tie-ins DARK NIGHTS METAL: THE NIGHTMARE BATMEN HC which whilst not essential were certainly entertaining and rather decent. Plus there’s the usual utterly spurious sidebar material in various ongoing titles collected in DARK NIGHTS METAL: THE RESISTANCE SC, which despite that all being new material DC obviously realised people wouldn’t be mug enough to buy in a hardcover and have put straight into softcover format…

Can I just add, above grumble aside, I did rather enjoy the Metal event.


Buy Dark Days: The Road To Metal h/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’.

Snotgirl vol 2: California Screaming (£14-50, Image) by Bryan Lee O’Malley & Leslie Hung

Redneck vol 2: Eyes Upon You (£14-99, Image) by Donny Cates & Lisandro Estherren

Coin Op Comics Anthology 1997-2017 h/c (£26-99, Top Shelf) by Peter Hoey & Maria Hoey

Kid Lobotomy vol 1: A Lad Insane (£17-99, IDW) by Peter Milligan & Tess Fowler

The Curse Of Charley Butters s/c (£17-99, Conundrum Press) by Zach Worton

Udon Noodle Soup: Little Tales For Little Things (£11-99, Fanfare Ponent Mon) by Yani Hu

Joe Golem Occult Detective vol 2: Outer Dark h/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Patric Reynolds

Adventure Time x Regular Show s/c (£14-99, Titan) by Conor McCreery & Mattia Di Meo

Misfit City vol 2 (£13-99, BOOM! ) by Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, Kurt Lustgarten & Naomi Franquiz

Sabrina (£16-99, Granta) by Nick Drnaso

Wormwood Saga vol 1: The Journey Begins (£8-99, Cubhouse) by Daniel Lieske

Golosseum vol 1 (£10-99, Kondansha) by Yasushi Baba

Saga Of Tanya Evil vol 2 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Carlo Zen & Chika Tono

Happy s/c (£13-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Darick Robertson

Apollo (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Matt Fitch, Chris Baker & Mike Collins

Bone: Tall Tales (£11-99, Scholastic) by Jeff Smith & Tom Sniegoski

DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test (£12-99, Nobrow) by Hamish Steele

Asterix the Gladiator (£7-99, Orion) by Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

Asterix and the Banquet (£7-99, Orion) by Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

Daredevil: Back In Black vol 4: Identity (£15-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Goran Sudzuka, Mark Laming, various

New Avengers vol 4: A Perfect World (£17-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Valerio Schiti, Kev Walker, various

Venom & X-Men: Poison-X s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Edgar Delgado, Jacopo Camagni

The Wild Storm vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & Jon Davis-Hunt






Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week three

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

Featuring David Lapham, Graham Annable, Inio Asano , Rick Remender, Bengal, Evan Dorkin, Jill Thompson, Christophe Bec, Stefano Raffaele, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Alan Moore, Ian Gibson.

Stray Bullets – Sunshine & Roses vol 1: Kretchmeyer (£17-99, El Capitan) by David Lapham.

“Trust me. You are not going to raise this girl up. She’ll drag you down.”

That’s to Orson, from his sister, about Beth.

And to be fair, on the very first night that he met Beth, naive, clean-living Orson attempted to rob a liquor store at gunpoint (he failed) after being slipped two aspirin (they weren’t) and ended up catching crabs (not the shellfish) (and not from Beth).

Orson’s subsequent attempts to recall that evening, persuade others to elaborate on it and discover from whom he caught pubic lice are mercilessly funny. One can forget that, as well as being one of the most mesmerising and brutal crime comics on the shelves, STRAY BULLETS is run through with a rich seam of verbal and visual comedy. Here it’s more fecund than ever before.

One of the title’s other strengths – and in this it is incomparable – is its improbably complex, cat’s-cradle structure. By this I mean that Lapham has already crafted the most extraordinarily tight timeline, anchoring almost every single episode, its constituent scenes and so their individual protagonists in very specific places on very specific days during the late 1900s. In the original series, Lapham would dart back and forth, filling in gaps, creating brand-new connections and demonstrating cause and effect, action and repercussion, however far in the future or way back in the past.



That Lapham has found space within that cat’s cradle to dovetail all this in too is remarkable, but I promise that new readers need have read nothing before, because David knows what he’s doing. In fact, if were new to STRAY BULLETS I would start here.

For a start, SUNSHINE & ROSES is much more linear, beginning in Baltimore on May 15th 1979 then careening at breakneck speed before its second chapter fast-forwards to the fall-out two years later. But… early on Lapham pulls back to the pivotal party in between those years, which we originally witnessed a thousand pages earlier way back in STRAY BULLETS VOL 1. He does so because it played the single most influential part on where Beth’s best friend Nina is now in 1981: under virtual home arrest to her sugar daddy Harry. Harry rules Baltimore’s crime scene via the services of handsome, long-haired, Hawaiian-shirt-loving Spanish Scott who makes most of the actual play from The Cock’s Crow strip club, with the assistance of the massive, bespectacled enforcer they call Monster.




Monster is usually both impassive and implacable, but has doted on Beth since childhood, which gives her just a little leeway and wiggle room when she needs it the most. It’s not that Beth is a blunderer – she has quite the reputation for capability and cojones – it’s that she lives half within these crime circles and half without, owes money to the wrong people like Dez ‘Finger’, plus her friendship with cocaine-addict Nina, whom she’s no longer allowed to even see, will bring out her decidedly non-compliant streak. It will catalyse so much of what comes next.

KRETCHMEYER kicks off with a masterful opening page, striking in its structural departure and its initial meeting of minds between the two chief protagonists: STRAY BULLETS mainstay Beth and newcomer (both to town and to us), the ever-cautious, ever-suspicious, always observant Kretch. The scenario will be answered, in no uncertain fashion, in the volume’s final few pages.



STRAY BULLETS is traditionally told in crystal-clear variations built around a 4-tier, 8-panel grid, but here we are presented with three equal tiers, each devoted to a single wide panel which together create a symmetry of sorts. At the top and the bottom we’re treated to close-ups of Beth then Kretch, while in the middle we’re shown their actual interaction plus an onlooker evidently in awe: “Holy shit. That’s Beth.” Beth has form, you immediately infer, and indeed she seems fearless. Here’s the full exchange minus the onlooker:

“I saw you pretending not to stare at me from across the room…. I’m Beth, by the way. And your name is…?”

Each facial close-up is on the one hand a character study, on the other a projection or mask, for both will prove consummate actors while each is attempting to read the other and so size them up. Beth is all self-confidence, making the first move with a radiant, smile and seductively sparkling eyes. She’ll often twirl her blonde hair through her fingers like this to create an air of idle lack of guile at the precise point when she’s going to be at her most manipulative.

But Kretch is unflustered by the playful remonstration, by his companion’s quietly voiced concern and indeed by Beth’s proactive challenge. Look at that face! It’s insouciant but beguiling with soft skin, soft mouth (which might or might not be a smile) and soft, hooded eyes: soft, knowing, hooded eyes. He has been patiently waiting for Beth to introduce herself for quite some time…

Boom! Page 2, and Kretchmeyer is suddenly clambering up a staircase, out of breath, some twelve days on. Panting, he pauses to retrieve the rifle with telescopic sights which he’d weeks earlier stashed away. Brushing back the sweat streaming down his eyes, he takes aim at the three men exiting Bobby’s Donuts and pulls the trigger. A man called Lonnie’s head explodes.



With this unauthorised assassination, Kretch has surreptitiously kick-started a turf war. Two pages and two nights later, he’s found his way “in” by seducing Beth.

I wouldn’t underestimate anyone here, if I were you. Not Beth, not Kretchmeyer, nor even young, loyal and fast-thinking Orson who’s hopelessly fallen for Beth and so tries his best to keep up with her drinking and pull her fat out of a fire which he is completely unfamiliar with but not necessarily ill-equipped to deal with. She may drag him down with her, but he’ll love almost every second of it.




Certainly never underestimate Spanish Scott or Monster. Beth loves to believe that she can manipulate Monster, her childhood knight in shining armour, but it’s his clear, cold-logic simplicity that allows him to see through to the truth. I love that his apartment is as clean, uncluttered and austere as his mind is. Monster in some ways (and out of everyone) has the truest moral compass even if it points to Magnetic South, for he boasts a direct sincerity which others apart from Orson don’t.

How you estimate Spanish Scott’s sister Rose or ‘Roses’ with her delinquent son Joey is entirely up to you. Possibly the: worst mother ever and tireless nymphomaniac, it is she who gave an off-his-face Orson the crabs (very funny scene between Orson and his sister, on discovery) and she won’t stop pursuing him. Beth:

“What do you have to offer besides sloppy seconds?”
“I got a lot to offer!”
“Diseases don’t count, Roses.”




Lapham’s eyes and mouths are amongst the most expressive in the business: besotted, disdainful, malicious, dismissive, defiant, charming, flirtatious, cantankerous, conspiratorial, determined, drunk-as-a-skunk and angry as hell. Even the eyelashes set the cast apart: Beth’s are more natural and therefore tinier than Nina’s or Rose’s makeup-enhanced whoppers, doomed as they are to drip kohl, while the men evidence none except Kretch whose upper eyelids come with a sensual, sybaritic flourish which is immensely attractive to both women and men… as he knows full well.



Lapham’s also in complete control of his periods too: even the flashbacks to Beth and Monster’s shared childhood come with the 1970s t-shirts of their time.

His use of spot-blacks is up there with Los Bros Hernandez’seses (I’m not sure where to finish that possession), with shadow on walls used to highlight what’s in front of them, like a car. That instance minded me of EXIT’s and THE DROWNERS’ Nabiel Kanan who kindly supplied our website’s original line art. But it’s softer in both instances: take any single page I’ve gleaned for you here and drink in how much more malleable humanity there is in evidence than, say, Frank Miller’s brutish SIN CITY.



But don’t presume there isn’t a cruel streak to STRAY BULLETS or even David himself. Every single chapter he writes comes with “The End” and a couple here conclude idyllically in a happy-ever-after-fashion for our favourite characters.

Wonderful! They’ve earned it! We’ve earned it too!

But it isn’t.

The End.

Far from it, as you shall see.


Buy Stray Bullets – Sunshine & Roses vol 1: Kretchmeyer and read the Page 45 review here

Beasts Of Burden: Animal Rites s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson.

Considering what our canine and feline friends have to deal with here, a sky full of freefalling frogs feels like a stroll in the Green Thumb organic-produce park.

Pugs says it best:

“Oh crap. Looks like stupid’s back in season.”

But holy heck, this is one hell of a horror comic!

It looks clean and cute enough at a very superficial first glance: dogs, pups, cats, rats, racoons and, err, twelve-foot-tall bloated bullfrogs all beautifully painted by Jill Thompson in verdant watercolour wash and (my guess) gouache.

I particularly loved her Green Thumb garden-nursery splash page, for its fresh and joyous choice of Spring and Summer colours put me so much in mind of Diana Fegredo’s swoonaway prints, cushions and lampshades: You would love to languish there!



So would our gang of growling, gawping and determined defence league of cats and dogs. But that which they are made to endure within is demonically driven by Evan Dorkin.

One chapter, for example, sees a mother frantically searching for her pups which went missing in the scant seconds during which she obediently answered her call to be inside by her owners. When she was finally let out, they were gone.

“My children are missing.”

Dorkin doesn’t miss a linguistic trick – “children” – while Thompson’s greyhound is grief-stricken not melodramatically but penetratingly wide-eyed, almost blank-eyed at the enormity and helpless incomprehensibility of her separation and loss. It’s a fine and well judged line that Thompson travels there and throughout: the anthropomorphism is relatively minimal. When a cat hisses, spits and snarls it is most definitely a cat. There’s no hint of Walt Disney at all.



And then that tale grows darker, because some human beings do not deserve to be classified ‘Sapiens’. Our dog detectives do what they can to track down Hazel’s missing children, but they fail and so fall back instead on their training in the occult to perform a summoning to see if the pups are dead, on the other side, and therefore available to pick up the miasmatic, ectoplasmic phone. But they’re still novices, barely initiated and, without a Wise Dog on hand, it goes hideously, indescribably wrong.

Worse still is when you first find out what really happened. It’s implied through visuals only in a single, haunting panel if you care to look closely for so very many clues – and fuck the teenager’s parents for failing to do so. There is a wealth of storytelling about this family’s history there when you think about it: the shared culpability in the crimes which the kid has committed.



What is reported, after the fact, comes in terms which we associate with loners going postal in American schools. Everything about that episode will make you so sad, so very angry.

Another episode I’ve already touched upon brings a shower of frogs that start gorging on their own kind until they form one massive, carnivorous amphibian. And when you find yourself facing the zombie dogs, let me tell you, they are terrifying but that’s not really the point: it’s more about tragedy instead.



It’s about tragedy because, at its heart, this is a book about courage, kindness and compassion for others – about friendship, honour and loyalty (“After all, dogs are nothing if not loyal”) – and although there are uplifting instances of unexpected redemption through exceptional self-sacrifice, there are moments where, I’m afraid, that proves desperately insufficient.

And it will pull so hard on your heartstrings because Dorkin and Thompson have kindly turned each of our muttley crew into individuals whom you cannot help but care for. My mum tells me I bawled my eyes out during ‘Bambi’, aged 5. This will hit you even harder.



“Big or small…
“Short or tall…
“Here’s what happens to us all…
“We go to sleep, we close our eyes…
“And leave behind a nest of flies.”

In case you’re wondering, that short verse accompanies someone’s dearly beloved best friend / dog turned into hit-and-run road kill.



An improbable collaboration between the creators of MILK & CHEESE, THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB and  WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON, MAGIC TRIXIE (someone please reprint them!), this is entirely other from what you’d expect of its constituent authors. They’ve forged something completely different from either of their individual oeuvres, and that deserves the loudest round of applause.


Buy Beasts Of Burden: Animal Rites s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale Of Two Sloths h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Graham Annable.

Isn’t the sky amazing?

When you look at it properly, really absorb its infinite blue enormity, it’s mind-blowing.

Also, clouds: they’re so unrealistic. I love them!

So it is with Peter and Ernesto, two BFF sloths who are stuck up a tree. They love to wend their way slowly to the top-most branches and pick out animal cloud-shapes in the sky.

Except they’re not “stuck” at all: it’s only their lack of adventure and ambition that’s kept them so sedentary, and Ernesto has had enough – probably of Peter’s singing. I can’t say I blame him. Fancy sharing a tree with someone who thinks they’re in a musical. *shudders*

“In this tree live you and me!
“We always see what we always see!
“Probably will till we’re a hundred and three!
“Nothing ever changes for you and me!”

Those last two lines give Ernesto pause for thought. He glances down, then at Peter, worried about how best to broach his thoughts. He doesn’t want to hurt his friend.

“I like this piece of sky, Peter!”
“Me too!”
“And I like this tree we live in.”
“Me too, Ernesto!”
“But I must go, Peter.”
“This is only one piece of the sky, Peter. I want to see ALL of the sky!”

And so off he trots, just like that, leave poor Peter quaking with worry.



And Ernesto doesn’t just trot, he races fearlessly across a rope bridge which is all “sh-sh-sh-hhak-e-e-ey” and positively relishes it. Then “Wooo…” he’s all “…wobbly!” afterwards, and so tumbles delighted down into the river, SPLOOSH! “Ha! Ha!” Oh, he is having such liberated fun!



“Splish! Splash!
“Splish! Splash!”

Ernesto shakes himself dry.

Does that remind you of your young ones? They’re forever shrieking uninhibitedly away in our Market Square’s accessible water feature without a care in the world for anything other than the thrilling, physical sensation of splishing and splashing in water. They don’t need towels; they’ll race themselves dry! Brilliant!



That it’s a painfully slow sloth prancing gaily around like a fat-furry Dr Seuss creation is, of course, half the humour. Surely never has such a creakingly creeping creature crossed the ocean, either, to take in the wonders of the desert sky, then the Aurora Borealis!



Eventually Peter’s anxiety for Ernesto becomes such that he is determined to find him, distracting himself from his own trepidation with song. Folks, if you’re going to be reading this at bedtime to your dearest sproglets, you’re going to have to burst into song – quite a lot! I’d probably start practising now. Also, how’s your whale song? Watch a documentary like ‘Star Trek IV’ if it’s rusty, because you’ll be needing to wail that too.




Everywhere they go, both friends encounter others who are happy to help. Cooperation garners greater results and experience enriches – I think they’re the things here. Also, it empowers or, as I always say, it takes a little initial courage to acquire further courage.

There’s lots of open white space between thick, fuzzy panel borders and beautiful, complementary colour palettes: first green and blue, then blue, white and blue; purple in the dessert and gorgeous green for the Northern Lights.



Returning to the sky, this time at night, aren’t constellations utterly random? Now, they really are unrealistic: Aries is a very badly drawn ram indeed.


Buy Peter & Ernesto: A Tale Of Two Sloths h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Death Or Glory #1 (£4-25, Image) by Rick Remender & Bengal…

“What did the doctor say?”
“Won’t see us. Owe ‘em too much money.”
“How the hell do we live in a world where some fuckers at an insurance company get to decide who lives and dies?”

Quite. Action and misadventure abounds in this double-length high-octane opener of a crime caper from Rick THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME Remender and artist Bengal. Plus a bit of relevant social commentary too!

So… Glory Owen needs copious amounts of hard cash fast, like yesterday, to get her adoptive father Red a new liver. Red’s lived his life off the grid, free from the system, in fact, not even Glory knows his real name. Just that he looked after her when her mother died and now it is time to repay him in his dying hours of need. Because no paperwork, no social security number and certainly no health insurance means without serious amounts of hard cash to buy a new organ, he’s on his way out. Glory’s pretty sure Red wouldn’t want her to do what she’s about to do, but in her eyes, it’s time to repay the debt of a lifetime of love he’s shown to her.




She’s about to rob her ex-husband and big time drug dealer Toby of a briefcase full of his illicit lolly… Well, not him technically, just his couriers, who happen to be the local sheriff and his deputy. She has a plan, kind of, which mainly seems to involve a wing and a prey and a very fast car. It’s not going to go well, clearly, which of course it doesn’t. Which is pretty much where we finish this first issue: in a state of chaotic flux.

Special mention should also be made of the hitman who has one of the most novel ways of killing people I’ve seen since Javier Bardem went around knocking on doors and nailing people with his pneumatic captive bolt pistol in No Country For Old Men. This lunatic’s weapon of choice is liquid nitrogen…



Fans of car chases are going to enjoy this series, I suspect, if what we’ve seen so far and forthcoming covers are anything to go by. Set out in what feels like the Midwest somewhere, it all has a touch of the Dukes of Hazard about it so far, though the stakes and consequences are clearly somewhat higher.

Artist Bengal, probably best known for the likes of NAJA / MEKA / LUMINAE for Magnetic Press has a lovely crisp style with a cinematically vibrant colour palette. I’ve seen him comment online that he thinks he’s a considerably better inker than penciller but I think he’s being incredibly harsh on himself as it all looks as immaculate and highly polished as a freshly washed, polished and buffed car bonnet.



Remender only ever seems to work with top quality artists who love a clean line: Sean Murphy on TOKYO GHOST, Matteo Scalera on BLACK SCIENCE, Greg Tocchini on LOW, Jerome Opena on FROM SEVEN TO ETERNITY and I think Bengal is right up there with those folks.


Buy Death Or Glory #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Inio Asano…

“I bet you’re thinking… “What’s life all about, anyway?” But it’s fruitless to ask such things.”
“Yeah. I should just do my homework instead.”

Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I’d probably read some comics…

So… much like volume one of Inio Asano’s everyday mind-scrambler GOODBYE PUNPUN, by the time I closed this opener’s front / rear cover (depending on your perspective) I genuinely still had no clue as to what conceivable direction the main story is going in, no matter which way I flipped the pages. I know a fair bit more about our characters, though, with our high school ladies Kadode Koyama and Oran Nakagawa, their cacophonous circle of chums, Kadode’s weird Munchausen’s-afflicted mother and crush-worthy teacher Mr. Watarase leading the cast.



But as to how and why it all intersects with the gigantic, implacable, immovable alien mothership casting shade over several districts of Tokyo, generally depressing the national mood and the perversely, almost comedic, pathetically easily repulsed mini-flying-saucer invasions dispensed from it on a daily basis, I truly have no idea. I suspect we will eventually find out given part of the typically irreverent Asano asides on the rear cover. Other creators need pull quotes; Asano just treats it as an extra bonus page to mess with us even further:

“The Japan Self-Defence Forces are STILL looking for a way to combat the alien threat, but so far conventional weapons have had no effect. Maybe it’s time to try something UNCONVENTIONAL.”



But actually being completely in the dark it does not matter in the slightest because, like me, you’ll be too busy being entertained and occasionally mildly appalled by the gloriously relentless send up of myriad manga tropes such as schoolgirl panties, Yaoi fanatics, inappropriate teacher-pupil behaviour, blaming the American government for everything (surely a nod to Naoki PLUTO / 20th CENTURY BOYS / MONSTER Urasawa, that last one?) and many, many more besides.



The characters clash and collide, verbally joust and jest, in the most delightfully ridiculous of ways that you almost feel an ensemble musical number could spontaneously burst out at any moment. Knowing Asano, that’s not something I would rule out for a future volume, either… But overall it really does feel like Kiyohiko Azuma’s classic high school yarn AZUMANGA DIOH has been taken as the starting point and then sprinkled with some classic high-concept, esoteric Asano lunacy. Make that a lot of it.



There is possibly one clue thrown out about what said ‘unconventional’ methods might be, which I think might have nothing to do with the Japanese Self-Defence Forces and everything to do with Oran, but, again, with Asano, he is the master of faux red herrings. Or just making the reader so deliriously confused they start trying to read something significant into every little thing to attempt to glean some semblance of sense as to what is going on. It’s a very clever trick and a truly unconventional storytelling technique that few can pull off. Personally, I’ve found the best thing to do with Asano is just strap in and enjoy the swirling mental Waltzer ride.


Buy Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Under: Scourge Of The Sewer (£14-99, Titan) by Christophe Bec & Stefano Raffaele.

Stefano Raffaele knows how to do ‘cavernous’.

He can draw a mighty sewer complete with credible stone strength and darkness both in the depths of the distance and the viewer’s immediate confines as those reckless enough to explore or even set up domestic shop in Megalopolis’s sewers approach us. The wisest carry flame throwers or at the very least rifles, for what lurks in its furthest reaches has developed unusual, unsavoury breeding habits and a certain degree of gigantism. And by “a certain degree”, I mean they are bloody enormous.

Christophe Bec is no stranger to bloody enormous. Have you read his CARTHAGO? It featured Megalodons in the modern age, and I might have done a little wee.

Now, Megalopolis is a bloody stupid name for a city, not least because it’s impossible to pronounce without sounding like Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men – either that, or pissed. On the surface – quite literally above ground – it doesn’t seem much more mega than any other city, so I suspect it was named after its sewers which are ridiculously vast not in their sprawl but in their stature. I’ve seen film footage of sewers and most have a diameter twice the height of a human. You could fly the world’s largest jumbo jet down these, leaving ample room for another to pass the other way safely. Blackpool Tower could be relocated here without bending its apex like some wonky Christmas tree.



Why did Megalopolis build such formidably sized sewers?

So it could accommodate crocodilian monstrosities larger than a nuclear submarine and spiders the size of Mount Rushmore. They knew they were coming! (They didn’t.) The first Mayor had evidently studied evolution thoroughly and calculated that most species of animal took no more than a couple of generations to a) lose all their pigmentation and b) expand in size one thousand-fold. It’s basic science, especially when excrement’s involved, and this sewer has sure gone to shit.



I did, however, like the logic of our resident scientist Sandra Yeatman’s explanation for the queen spider’s new egg-laying habits “in a sanitary environment despite the filth and contamination”. There is a genuinely repulsive scene in which they discover babies floating in the effluence which are still moving. They’ve been jettisoned down the toilet by an ethically questionable hospital whose plumbing evidently aspires to the sewer’s in size, because you won’t get that many babies round the average u-bend. Presuming it’s still alive, Dr Sandra Yeatman opts to give it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, because every doctor knows that you don’t just resuscitate the dead (you do).

And it is still alive, after a fashion: it’s alive with baby spiders. Brrrrrr….



Now, our resident scientist is a woman so that she can experience overt chauvinism at the hands of the all-male Sewer Police. Every sewage system has its own police force: this is an historical fact. They’re led by Lieutenant Wilson Jericho whose career took a decidedly downward trajectory after buggering up a hostage situation in a bank which had modelled itself after a funfair Hall of Mirrors.

It’s an unorthodox city, Megalopolis, isn’t it? Most of its urban planning seems to have fallen to Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men.

Don’t worry, though, its Mayor is corrupt (obviously) and he has his own private army led by one Kotzwinkle who, like all self-respecting henchmen is bald (check), burly (check) and is always seen looming from below (check). Plus, although he was born Norman Postlethwaite, his school career advisor saw the signs early on and suggested he try something a little more Germanic.



Once the Mayor is informed that there massive mutations down below he immediately initiates the standard political procedure of a cover up and sends his private army to do what the city already pays the police for and wouldn’t you just know that the city’s Carnival is imminent?

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I was at school in the mid-sixteenth century, our favourite day of the year was the field trip. One year we visited a nuclear reactor, on another we toured a morgue, and the ultimate outing was to an abattoir. So where do you think Megalopolis’s educational authority sends its kiddywinks for their annual jolly…?



Buy Under: Scourge Of The Sewer and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon.

“I can’t believe you’re actually doing this…!”
“You’re a monster and I’m killing you. It’s not complicated.”

The Punisher’s reason for living is to eliminate people he doesn’t like. Not for Frank, the moral vagaries of two wrongs and a right. He’s not here to soliloquise, he’s here to blow people’s heads off, and time wasted weighing the scales of justice is time that could be far more effectively and satisfying spent with an Uzi, a six-pack of hand-grenades and a mortuary full of Mafiosi.

For the creators of PREACHER, this laugh-out-loud burlesque was one long opportunity for some seriously black comedy as deadpan Frank slaughters his way to the top, both disarming and dismembering an increasingly grotesque crime lord, Ma Gnucci. Yes, it’s Ennis’s trademark Loss of Limbs Motif.

His first stint on Frank Castle, this is a far cry from what he went on to accomplish in the far more socio-political PUNISHER MAX, but sometimes you have to eat the hamburger to appreciate the steak* and this is the Linda McCartney Vegetarian Mozzarella quarter pounder of burgers for which product placement I’d appreciate a lifetime’s supply: very, very tasty.

Anything and everything is a weapon to Frank, so imagine what he can do in a zoo.




As with PREACHER, it’s friendship and loyalty which form the heart of the book, coming this time courtesy of the unsuspecting naïfs he’s shacked up with in rented accommodation: punk Spacker Dave, the over-excitable man of so many piercings that he’s become a human curtain rail…

“Doing the town, huh?” he asks, as Frank leaves their home.
“It’s tempting.”



… Mr. Bumpo the balloon-shaped pizza addict constantly stuck in his own doorway, and shy young Joan who brings Frank freshly baked cookies as tokens of her timid affection.

Steve Dillon acts his heart out, playing Frank imperturbably straight in the even most ludicrous circumstances, pulling bloated Mr. Bumpo through his own doorway without breaking his stride, constantly emphasising the man’s efficiency. Dillon is a master of communicating emotion through expression, so that although anger appears to come easily to artists (on the page!), few do pants-wettingly worried as well as Dillon. And there’s plenty to worry the wrong people here.




You’re in for twelve full chapters which I concede I haven’t read for a couple of decades or so, but Jonathan recalls Frank being less than impressed by three copy-cat vigilantes who want to join forces with him and I once referred to this as “the comicbook equivalent of an Arnie film, but with fewer plot holes and a lot less overacting”. Sounds about right.

* Thank you, Marc Almond (‘Ugly Head’)


Buy Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank s/c and read the Page 45 review here

From the Page 45 Archives may we proudly present our beardly beloved Mr Mark Simpson who wrote the following – including a personal revelation you will never see coming! – over a decade and a half ago.

The Ballad Of Halo Jones (Colour Edition) vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Rebellion) by Alan Moore & Ian Gibson –

There are books like this that you’ve got to leave alone for a few years if you’re after the same kiddy rush that you got way back when. Just finished the second book, and I’ve still got the goosebumps. Does that make it any good? Well, Terry Jack’s ‘Seasons In The Sun’ will do the same for me but that’s no real measure of quality either way. It still feels special. 

The story for those who’ve not read it before: far off into the future, Manhattan Island is dominated by the Hoop, a giant floating ring of slum housing for the terminally unemployable. And in this future that’s a lot of people. There’s dream of escape but there are precious few jobs. This is where we find Halo, an ordinary spod who, almost by accident, becomes something else, something legendary. The first chunk covers life on the Hoop, the almost military planning of a simple shopping expedition, the various forms of entertainment, racial tensions and ways of opting out. By the second book she has a waitress job on a ship heading far off into space. And her experiences change her.



The original tagline went thus:

“Where did she go? OUT! What did she do? EVERYTHING!”

The three books (there were ten planned) show her losing her charm and innocence in a similar way to Evey from V FOR VENDETTA. At the end of each book she moves on to the next situation, one quite removed from the last. Such character development was a marked change in the usual 2000 AD stasis.



Ian Gibson’s marvellous clutter and sharp, dark technology were perfect to delineate the shadowy corners of the plot.

It’s early Alan Moore; he probably hates it.


Buy The Ballad Of Halo Jones (Colour Edition) 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’.

Black Magick vol 2: Awakening II (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott

Four Points Book 1: Compass South s/c (£11-99, Square Fish) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock

Four Points Book 2: Knife’s Edge s/c (£11-99, Square Fish) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 6 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

Nobrow 10: Studio Dreams (£18-00, Nobrow) by various

Disquiet (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Noah Van Sciver

Triangle s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnet & Jon Klassen

Square h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnet & Jon Klassen

Sam & Dave Dig A Hole s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnet & Jon Klassen

Paradiso vol 1: Essential Singularity (£8-99, Image) by Ram V. & Dev Pramanik

Persephone h/c (£17-99, Archaia / Boom!) by Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky

The Prince And The Dressmaker (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jen Wang

Young Frances – A Pope Hats Collection h/c (£17-99, AdHouse Books) by Hartley Lin

The Artist Behind Superman – The Joe Schuster Story s/c (£17-99, Super Genius) by Julian Voloj & Thomas Campi

Dark Days: The Road To Metal h/c (£24-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Grant Morrison, Tim Seeley & Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr., Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, Chris Sprouse, Rian Hughes, various

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 3 – Spider-Man No More s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & John Romita Sr. With Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Marie Severin

Moon Knight vol 1: Crazy Runs In The Family s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Max Bemis & Jacen Burrows

The Sentry s/c (£20-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee

Cutie Honey A Go Go! (£10-99, Seven Seas) by Shimpei Itoh & Hideaki Anno

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 6 (£11-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

One Piece vol 86 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week two

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Featuring Jamie Smart, Manuele Fior, Luke Healy, Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill, Marcus Sedgwick, Thomas Taylor, Greg Rucka, Matthew Southwark, Tom King, Clay Mann, Mark Millar, Greg Capullo, Dan Slott, more.

The Interview h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior…

“So there must be something else, right? I mean another reason why you’re here. Something you see sometimes. Something unusual.”
“Do you believe in the existence of extra-terrestrial civilisations?”
“Off the top I’m not sure.”
“What if I told you that I was in contact with them?”
“You don’t believe me.”
“Since you say so, I’m obliged at least to take it into consideration.”
“How are you in contact with them?”
“Telepathy. I think they choose to instruct me.”
“And why would they choose you?”
“Because I can see the signals. Not everybody is able to.”
“When was your last ‘contact’?”
“Last night. It was unbelievable. Do you understand what I am saying?”




Raniero does understand indeed. As a psychologist at the hospital where Dora is being ‘treated’ at her parents’ behest, primarily because they are disgusted / concerned about  her membership of a cult called the New Convention, which is rapidly rising in popularity amongst the youth championing emotional and sexual non-exclusivity, polyamory, he might be inclined to think her somewhat unhinged. But after his late-night car crash and subsequent strange experience in a field involving an inexplicable triangular light show, well, let’s just say his mind is somewhat suddenly open to the possibility that Dora could be telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.



Ahhh… we all adore Fior, the creator of former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month 5000KM PER SECOND and recent collection of shorts BLACKBIRD DAYS. This full-length work, was actually published about a year ago, but we just didn’t get round to reviewing it at the time. Set in 2048, it tells the unlikely proto-romance of Raniero and Dora who are drawn together during a period of intense uncertainty in both their lives. As Raniero’s beloved wife prepares to leave him, primarily for his stubborn, steadfast refusal to move from the tranquil countryside to the bustling city, it seems, the chaos that the arrival of Dora, and the lights, brings into his life precipitates an unexpected transformation of his world. And indeed the world…




With a strong cast of additional characters such as Raniero’s wife Nadia, consultant friend and philanderer Walter, local farmer and fixer Franco and Dora’s odd friend from the New Convention Rossella, I found this work utterly brilliant in every respect. It strongly minded me of the prose work ‘Atomised’ by Michel Houellebecq, for its themes, general tone and its quirky characters. I was absolutely captivated from start to finish, and much like ‘Atomised’, I didn’t see the ending, or endings, for the characters coming at all.



Art-wise, the chameleonic genius is at it again. I commented in my review of BLACKBIRD DAYS about his impressive ability to employ a myriad art styles masterfully. Well, here he is once more with yet another different approach, a black and white treatment that manages to combine ligne claire line work and smudgy black charcoal shading. It gives the most seductive art house cinema feel to it all, and indeed the depiction of Raniero’s wife makes me think of the delightful Italian actress Monica Bellucci.



I think the cover alone manages to sum up practically every aspect of what you are about to experience on the pages within, which is no mean feat in itself. The image of Dora, both simultaneously vulnerable and alluring, looking directly out at the reader, standing in a posture that indicates she is yearning for acceptance yet possessing a deep wisdom, with her sparkling dress and the disorientatingly kaleidoscopically triangular background, is a masterpiece in and of itself.



Another contender for my favourite book I’ve read this year!


Buy The Interview h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Looshkin (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart.


Irrepressible blue cat Looshkin has just scoffed a big wedge of King Mouse’s most prized possession, Firecracker Cheese, offered in truce with humble sincerity and a great big rocket with a fizzing fuse stuffed inside. Now he’s achieved lift-off, blasting round the mice’s tunnels behind the family skirting board. There are a couple of pink-and-purple lightning bolts emanating from Looshkin’s noggin suggesting some degree of alarm but – really? – he’s relishing it!

The role of any decent pull quote is to evoke the distilled essence of what lies within. Sometimes it’s possible to peel back the complex layers of a carefully crafted collection of comics and also strike at its sophisticated thematic core. So let’s hear that again.


Mission accomplished.



Jamie Smart – the creator of FISH HEAD STEVE and four BUNNY VS MONKEY books whose full-colour bombast you can revel in alongside the other all-ages excellence in Page 45’ PHOENIX COMICS collection section – knows exactly what makes kids gurgle with over-excitable, uncontainable, mad-screaming glee and that’s this: fart jokes, toilet references, appalling misbehaviour, unbridled chaos and the most massive collateral damage while raging round a home shouting stupid strings of silly-sounding syllables!

Here’s Looshkin terrorising all and sundry with a frying pan and a few choice words:


Knock-out, smack-down CLANG!

The timing – both verbal and visual – is neither random nor irrelevant to the comedy. It may be instinctive to Smart, but a simple string of words isn’t enough for the anarchy to hit home with maximum skillet-smacking impact. In the last two panels there, Looshkin launches himself back over the arch of a green settee to position himself behind a beleaguered Bear whose default setting throughout these 64 pages is wailing, wide-mouthed terror.



On the subject of timing, the immediate family find themselves on the receiving end of a visit / inspection from perpetually scowling Great Auntie Frank (who could have stropped her way from a Giles cartoon) and all the fun of the riotous fare to follow is laid out with exceptional economy in the three-panel pre-credits prologue:

“Ah, Great (rich) Auntie Frank! I’m so glad you could come around for a morning coffee!”
“Hmph! I HEAR you have recently purchased a CAT.”
“Well, nothing. You keep it away from us. My prize-winning poodle PRINCESS TRIXIBELL has a very delicate constitution. The slightest fright, and her fur begins to fall out.”

“Uh. Oh…” murmurs Mum in a tiny inset panel to herself. Uh-oh indeed.



Prize-winning, pampered poodle Princess Trixibell is presented to the readers on a gold-tasselled burgundy velvet cushion, a shivering and shaking big bag of nerves. Even though nothing has happened yet, it is almost impossible not to start laughing immediately at the oh-so inevitable which Jamie is, of course, smart enough to leave well alone for three more pages because a) anticipation is everything b) instead of dropping a single water balloon on a UKIP member’s head, it is much, much funnier to build up a supply of two dozen water balloons, fill them to bursting point (preferably from a toilet), then carry them five storeys further up before launching the entire barrage down at once.

And that is precisely what Jamie does, upstairs, where the kids and cat have supposedly been locked up safely. My analogy wasn’t random, either: it will involve water – toilet water, obviously – and squirrels.


Key to all this is Looshkin’s insatiable appetite for everything: he cannot help himself and will not be stopped. In his determination to catch a bumblebee in a jam jar to steer it safely out of the window, he fails to notice his own success when the bee buzzes out of the window of its own accord, so he carries on pursuing it right up onto the rooftop because he hasn’t caught it yet!




Utterly oblivious and determinedly in denial, Looshkin doesn’t just refuse to take responsibility for his actions and their consequences, he refuses to acknowledge that his actions have any consequences that can’t be considered tip-top results! There’s a terrific running gag involving “Dial-A-Pig” (it’s… a service) because cats clearly have access to mobile phones, but for once Looshkin opts for something a little more esoteric:

“Ding Dong! Delivery! Here’s that baby shark you ordered.”

He’s holding it, out of water, in his bare hands.

“Looshkin, did you order a SHARK?”
“It’s NOT a shark! It’s an OTTER!”

Is it that Looshkin believes he can change the truth by sheer force of will?

“You’d better not be running through my house with a shark!”
“Nope! Otter!”
“Well, okay then.”

Or is that he simply doesn’t know the difference?



Here’s the son:

Whatever you think it is, what on earth are you planning to do with it?”
“All the things that otters are known to love doing!”

The genius of what follows is that neither a shark nor an otter are known to love dodgems, thick, creamy milkshakes or dressing up like Santa Claus half as much as Looshkin does. He looks particular fine in full Father Christmas ensemble and a winter-white beard.

“But it’s July!”
“Hey! You can’t argue with nature!”

Haha! So clever! Here’s the daughter:

“Did Looshkin get a SHARK?”
“OTT-TTER. You’re all going to give him identity issues.”

Looshkin is the ultimate child running wild, craving action, attention, adventure, brand-new experiences (preferably dangerous), unorthodox experiments (“We can do a science!”) and, above all, delicious, brightly coloured, sugar-coated cereal. What the family craves is peace and quiet; failing that, they’d quite like to comprehend their new cat so they call for an expert, Professor Lionel F. Frumples who has written himself a résumé.

“Cats! What are cats?
“Cats are cats.
“Zat is right, I’m an expert at cats.
“I am brilliant at cats. BRILLIANT at zem.
“I understand everything about cats. If you told me you were a cat, I’d INSTANTLY know you were lying. I don’t recognise your scent. Get out of my office.”

Unfortunately Looshkin has mistaken Professor Frumples for Cap’n Fruitcakes (“inside Looshkin’s brain…” is a frequent refrain here, translating what is into what Looshkin deliriously perceives) whose treasure chest contains delicious, brightly coloured, sugar-coated cereal. To get to the heart of the cat’s psychology, Professor Frumples is determined to discover what Looshkin really wants. What Looshkin really wants is delicious, brightly coloured, sugar-coated cereal. Mum:

“This is a bad idea. Looshkin doesn’t handle sugar very well at all!”
“SILENCE! Who is more likely to know about your cat? You, with your cat? Or me, with my beard?”

He holds up one finger with authority.

“It is ME.”




Smart blasts every panel on every page with energy, exuberance, excitable lettering (emphatically hand-drawn, and old-school in its sound effects and titles, the sort which any child could copy), delicious colouring which sorely tempts you to lick it, and Looshkin’s big, blue head with its pointy ears, cat-narrow eye-slits and that gleefully gaping, manic maw. Irrepressible, as I say, he will not stop even after disaster has struck and then struck again. The strip may come to a close, but Looshkin won’t have that, each catastrophe seen by him as the most thrilling theme-park ride:


I liked the extra anti-deflation device at THE ENNNNDDD.


Buy Looshkin and read the Page 45 review here

Permanent Press (£10-99, Avery Hill) by Luke Healy…

“Look, can I be frank here?”
“S-sure. Of c-course.”
“I’m just worried that…
“I’m just worried the audience won’t know how to react.
“After sitting, watching this thing for hours.
“To have it end just like that?
“I’m worried they might feel ripped off.”

Haha!! There’s a delicious irony at play there, which I will leave you to discover for yourselves… The quote itself is taken from the exceptionally clever extended story, The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion, which forms the main part of this collection. It’s actually one of the most deftly nested set of stories within a story I’ve read for some time, starting with stage notes explaining how we are about to play the role of the Reader. Which apparently can “often attract positive attention from cute boys wearing glasses, sitting across from them on the train, and you can only hope for similarly positive reviews”.



It revolves around our lead of Robin Huang, a stage director whose meteoric rise to superstardom and West End luvviehood was abruptly halted by an ill-received reworking of ‘Macbeth’ focusing almost entirely on Lady Macbeth. She’s been tapped by a rather laissez-faire BBC producer called Benjamin to adapt the equally ill-received titular novel by A.B. Cadbury. Thrown in for good measure is Robin’s mildly delinquent teenage daughter Natalie, whose primary focus seems to be winding up her teacher Mr. King whilst studying said book, which presumably explains the wider title itself.


The Cuckoo’s Nest novel has suddenly made it onto Natalie’s school syllabus due to A.B. Cadbury receiving the annual BBC Fine Fellowship, which in addition to a small stipend means for the period of a year the corporation will focus on promoting the winner’s works in a myriad of ways. Hence the commissioning of the stage play. Oh, and did I mention it is going to be broadcast live on BBC4 and Benjamin wants opening night to be in a mere six weeks time…? Which is not taken well by Wally the set designer, a man obsessed with perfection, and so who is therefore insisting on hand making it all himself. Good job he’s not planning on building a full sized house with various moving and revolving elements… Ah.

As a study in what is, I am sure, a veritable pressure-cooker environment, directing a play, the additional farcical elements Luke squeezes into this situational comedy are absolute gold. (I should add, by the way, that upon finishing this it has made me really want to watch Christopher Guest’s ‘Waiting For Guffman’ again soon.) As Robin begins to feel the pressure rising ever further, convinced everyone is going to hate her adaptation, presuming by some miracle she somehow manages to get it ready by opening night, the last things she needs are her daughter managing to get suspended by pushing poor Mr. King just a wee bit too far this time, and Wally managing to mangle yet another potential leading man with his hazardous over-elaborate set.



When the various story elements begin to overlap and intertwine you will be wondering what on earth is going to happen next. There was one twist I certainly didn’t see coming, which produces a hilarious life-imitating-art moment referencing events in the novel. It’s not the only one either… As I say, very clever.

Fleshing this collection out exquisitely are some of Luke’s auto-biographical woes on the emotional trials and tribulations of being a comics creator and his father’s repeated attempts to persuade him that becoming an accountant and joining the family firm would be a considerably better career option. Interspersed with those mildly excruciating excerpts are a series of fictional strips about two prickly neighbours, and only moderately social misfits, Amir and Mo, who are like ships that pass in the night in their apartment block, barely aware of each other’s existence, their primary interaction being Amir banging on the ceiling to stop Mo playing his trumpet. Except for the time they get stuck in the lift together, which despite finally giving them the time to get to know each other, only serves to eventually end up driving even more of a wedge between them.



It’s like some people just don’t know how to be happy! Luke does. Though he apparently isn’t, judging by his black shadow of doom following him around, but he’s convinced being nominated for another comics awards would help! The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion was very deservedly up for an Ignatz.

Art-wise, this is an equally wonderfully constructed affair, with a rolling mixture of sequences of small panels, excerpts of text á la TAMARA DREWE, borderless panels and various other cheeky conceits such as having the occasional conversation displayed typed-out as if in a script using a classic old-school typewriter font. Plus even the odd photo crafted in for good measure, which actually works perfectly both times it is used as a conceit.



In fact, I suspect the first instance, which is very amusing in its own right, is purely to set up and prepare the reader for the later, much more spectacular use which provokes an entirely appropriate response from Robin that tickled me greatly. The art itself due to the neat and minimal thin line work minded me a little bit of early Chester Brown with a bit less inking and shading. I love to see such apparently simple yet intricately detailed work. Whilst I can’t promise an eventual West End stage adaptation of this for Luke, I think I certainly can guarantee him considerable sales off the shelves of the Page 45 retail theatre.


Buy Permanent Press and read the Page 45 review here

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier s/c (£16-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill.

1958, and Britain has only just rid itself of Big Brother (booting it back to the Netherlands after 43 increasingly excruciating series).

Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain have severed their ties with MI5 and are currently considered rogue agents. Now they are back, sent to steal the Black Dossier secretly stashed in MI5’s Military Intelligence Vauxhall HQ. The Black Dossier, compiled from intelligence records and fragments of fiction, contains every known record of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s various incarnations and its constituent members across the centuries.

Disguised as actress Oodles O’Quim, Miss Murray plays on the vanity of a womanising Secret Service agent licensed to thrill, who can’t keeps his hands off her. Snatch it they do, and from that moment on it’s one long chase up the Thirty-Nine Steps to Greyfriars, the boarded-up boarding school cared for by one William Bunter, then onto Birmingham’s spaceport where Roger The Robot awaits. Unfortunately so do the agents dispatched by the mysterious M. Will you recognise them before they recognise Mina? And what national secrets can the Dossier possibly contain that MI5 is so desperate for it back?



As you’ve probably inferred, like all the other LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN books, everything here is a cut-and-paste collage of previously published fiction, and half the fun is spotting the references. No one other than Alan can be expected to get them all, but merely catching a nod to one of your favourite books like Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies is quite the fuzzy thrill. What is utterly mind-boggling is not only Uncle Alan’s breadth and depth of cultural knowledge, but the ingenuity with which he’s reweaved his unpicked threads into a brand new tapestry which holds so well together. Also, Moore’s ability as a literary chameleon and mimic.

For within THE BLACK DOSSIER lies The Black Dossier containing, amongst many gems, part of a previously undiscovered piece of Shakespearian bawdiness called ‘Faerie’s Fortunes Founded’ starring Masters Shytte and Pysse; ‘What Ho, Gods Of The Abyss’ by Bertie Wooster; the erotic ‘New Adventures of Fanny Hill’; and ‘A Prospectus Of London (1901)’ from which this description of Freemasons Hall, Vauxhall made me laugh:

“While architecturally an acquired taste, this riverside landmark is an undoubted benefit to the community, as the worthy fraternity within are believed to occupy themselves mainly with organising charitable jumble-sales and similar altruistic activities.”

Naturally Orlando is as ubiquitous as he always claimed!



Also included is a set of 3-D glasses for when Alan and Mina reach Ye Blazing Worlde with its extra dimension, and at this point we really do doff our battered top hats to artist Kevin O’Neill whose art on this series has always been riddled with detail worthy of what must be the most gargantuan scripts imaginable. The 3-D sequences, however, with the like of the Effervator (an effervescent elevator travelled on via bubbles) is a triumph on another level entirely.



Finally, big love to Knockabout who finally published this in the UK after DC’s Paul Levitz banned it from our shores to spite Alan Moore, thereby rewarding all DC’s loyal readers – and their loved ones buying presents – with petulant contempt, and depriving Page 45 alone of thousands of pounds worth of Christmas revenue. Oh yes. The book gets pretty pugnacious too:

“What’s that he’s wrestling with?
“I – I think it’s poetry. They must be rehearsing for later. Ooh, look at that! It dazzled him with imagery, then beat him over the head with a blunt metaphor!”

Hmmm… looks like we can now access the DC edition. Here it is!


Buy League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Anyway, I’ve got a plan. It’s very simple. We wait until the monster appears, I throw the bomb, it blows up, you take the photos. Then we put our feet up.
“Leaping lizards!”
“The monster, miss?”
“No! Look! The Count! Come to steal our monster, no doubt!”

Ah, very quickly we are left in no doubt as to whom the real bad guy is! It’s not any of the myriad monsters that fourteen-year-old orphan Scarlett Hart and her trusted butler Napoleon are attempting to bag for bounty to keep hold of the family pile Ravenwood Hall. No, it’s the dastardly Count Stankovic, who once salaciously sought the hand of Scarlett’s mother in her days as a debutante only to be quite rightly slighted, and then publically embarrassed by Scarlett’s father just for good measure. He’s never forgotten it, and since the passing of Scarlett’s parents some four years ago in a monster-hunting-related incident, he’s gunning for revenge against their offspring by bankrupting Scarlett and forcing her to sell the family estate for peanuts. What a cad!



Fortunately, she’s more than capable of looking after herself. Throw in the wily Napoleon and his wife, the redoubtable Mrs White, taking care of matters back at the mansion, including the necessary mechanical upkeep of their monster hunting equipment, and she’s more than a match for stinky old Count Stankovic. She’s still going to have to worry about the monsters, though, and there are rather a lot of them all of a sudden. I wonder if the Count might have something to do with that…?

Acclaimed children’s author Marcus Segdwick turns his hand to writing comics for the first time and it’s a pretty good debut, actually. I thought the characters were well rounded and the overall story entertaining enough. This isn’t anything remotely different or new, indeed I can think of a certain other red-haired young lady monster hunter who really needs to make another appearance soon (hint hint, Mr. Ellerby), but for a first foray into comics I can’t really fault it. This is billed as being for the ‘middle grade’ audience, which is apparently for those age 8 to 12 and I would say that is spot on.



I wasn’t familiar with artist Thomas Taylor, either, who apparently illustrated the original prose edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but he’s pretty good too, minding me of Joan THE RABBI’S CAT Sfar with the pointy chins and large eyes, and indeed perhaps a dash of David THE ENCHANTED CHEST Sala with some of the thin, almost spindly figures and random swooshing curves.


Buy Scarlett Hart – Monster Hunter and read the Page 45 review here

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

“What does that mean!?!?”
“It’s the seconds you have left before every cop in southeast Portland is crawling up your ass in response to this little home invasion of yours. Average response time in this part of town is about three minutes. Which means you got about half that time left to vanish.”
“Brad! We gotta…”
“You… you’re full of shit.”
“Time the time to stab me and you’ll to find out.”
“Get to the truck… deal with them later… especially you, bitch.”
“Uh-oh! Hear that? That sounds like sirens! Bye bye.
“Skinheads. What’re you gonna do?”

Volume two of STUMPTOWN wasn’t what I was expecting at all, either in terms of the story or the art, but I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless. I guess I expected the story to focus much more directly on Dex and her continuing personal and professional travails, particularly with the crooked casino owner / crime boss from first time around, who I presumed was being set up as some sort of arch-nemesis. But this, to start with at least, is much of a straight gumshoe case, revolving about a professional musician and her stolen guitar… until the skinheads turn up looking for their stolen methamphetamine.



I wasn’t remotely disappointed, but something I absolutely loved about STUMPTOWN VOL 1 was its real emotional heart, and this was just different in tone and indeed colour palette. Still, once I’d made the mental shift I got into the story itself, and one thing that was exactly the same this time around, Dex’s ability to irritate just about everyone she meets from skinhead thug to DEA detective, is just a pleasure to behold. And that crooked casino boss, well maybe she’s not quite so absent from this story as I first presumed and Mr. Rucka is just playing the long game. I hope so!



Also STUMPTOWN fans who are not aware, please note, it shares the same continuity as the Rucka prose novel ‘Fistful of Rain’ and also his seven ‘Atticus Kodiak’ prose novels, as apparently several secondary characters crop up in both. For anyone who hasn’t read any Rucka prose, I can highly recommend it, including his ‘Queen & Country’ books, which intertwine with the QUEEN & COUNTRY graphic novels.


Buy Stumptown vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

DC Nation #0 (25p, DC) by Tom King & Clay Mann; Brian Michael Bendis & Jose Luis Garcia Lopez; Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson & Jorge Jimenez.

Attention! This is a superhero readers’ alert, not a review. But still, attention!

1) 25 pence!
2) 3 stories leading into DC’s next big events which will not be reprinted until their respective collected editions i.e.
3) These are prologues, not previews.

“First, find out how The Joker reacts when he discovers Catwoman has turned her back on crime and plans to marry his archnemesis. Can the Clown Prince of Crime stand to see Batman happy? Writer Tom King and artist Clay Mann set up the events that lead to BATMAN #48, BATMAN #49, BATMAN #50!”

It’s genuinely funny, and this is the same team who brought you that which in last week’s Page 45 Reviews blog I declared the best Batman book of all time.

“Then, DARK NIGHTS: METAL shook the DC Universe to its deepest foundations – now it’s time to rejoin legendary writer Scott Snyder, along with all-star artist Jorge Jimenez and co-writers James Tynion IV and Joshua Williamson, for the prelude to JUSTICE LEAGUE: NO JUSTICE #1 of 4! Discover what universe-shattering mysteries have emerged from the most wondrous and chaotic corners of the cosmos to hunt the Justice League in DC’s summer blockbuster event!”

Four themed teams take on the most massive, planet-devouring entities in the hope that they’ll never reach Earth. They reach Earth. Ooops, spoilers! Attention once more: this is a weekly comic beginning this very week! Gasp!



“And get your first glimpse at Superman’s new world in this exclusive preview of the upcoming six-issue miniseries MAN OF STEEL, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by José Luis García-López. With Truth, Justice and the American Way all under attack, both Superman and Clark Kent find there’s never been a more important time to stand up for what they believe in.”

That too will be a weekly comic. Stop it with the weekly comics, corporations! You’re only doing it so retailers can’t reduce their orders for subsequent issues if the first one turns out to be a big ball of cretin.

There was also a prologue to that in ACTION COMICS #1,000, back in stock.


Buy DC Nation #0 and read the Page 45 review here

Reborn s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Greg Capullo.

“Don’t you believe in anything, Mrs. Black?”
“No, Danita. It’s all just fairy tales. I don’t think God would allow us all this suffering and tragedy we endure.
“I only believe what I can see with my eyes, Family and friends. Grandchildren and schoolchildren. Anything promised beyond all this was just made up to get us through the night.
“Do you really think any of us really make a difference?”
“Of course I do, Ma’am. Our lives are a constant series of random interactions, each changing things a million times a day.
“The longer we’re here, the more we have an impact. The world would be a different place, if it hadn’t been for you.”
“You know, that might just be the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Elderly Bonnie Black doesn’t want to die. She’s lived a good life, outliving her beloved husband Harry by fourteen years, who was killed by the infamous Minneapolis sniper along with a number of others, but still has a loving daughter and grown up granddaughter whom she adores. Bonnie’s just not ready to leave this world behind, particularly with no great faith in there being anything whatsoever afterwards. She’s going to die, obviously, very shortly, of a stroke. So it would be fair to say she’s not expecting what happens next: waking up in her twenty-year-old body in a fantasy land locked in a perpetual war between good and evil, being anointed the saviour of the free folk.



Which, when you put it like that, sounds a rather trite premise, I will grant you, but it’s the (re-) appearance of family like her father, high school friends (and enemies), and even her old cat and dog, which take this story in a stranger, altogether more interesting direction. Some, like Bonnie, are in their own youthful forms, whereas others have become more… representative… versions of themselves.

What is certain, though, is that much like in the real world, or at least the pre-death world, there are those who are intent on ruining it for everyone else through the usual megalomaniacal desires for total domination. Remember that pesky Minneapolis sniper? Well, he committed suicide at the end of his killing spree… Plus, if everyone else Bonnie knew is present in this new realm, for whatever strange reason, just where is her hubby Harry? I feel an epic quest coming on…



Speaking of epic, this is storming art from Greg Capullo who really throws absolutely everything at this. The battle sequences particularly are a visual feast of the utterly fantastical. As with a number of Millarworld works, this is merely billed as book one, but it feels complete to me. Still, given your chum Mark has just sold Millarworld to Netflix for a probably not unsubstantial sum, I suspect he’ll be rapidly revisiting more than a few of his properties for another volume or two…

I would quite like it if he started writing more comics with a view to them being adapted for longer form series actually, rather than to be adapted for films, as I sometimes feel the stories are getting wrapped up before they’ve barely got started e.g. CHRONONAUTS and MPH. I just want something with a bit more meat like the JUPITER’S LEGACY and JUPITER’S CIRCLE series, which are really great, and going a little bit further back, WANTED, which despite being self-contained had so much to it in terms of plot and character development.



It’s a lower risk approach, I get that, and it has produced some really great standalone stories like SUPERIOR, SECRET SERVICE and STARLIGHT, so I probably shouldn’t complain. Overall Millar’s quality hit rate is pretty damn good. Plus you can’t fault his commitment to single-handedly enrich the cream of comics artists! I always love hearing who he is going to work with next.


Buy Reborn s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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,

The first thing you should know is that this wasn’t a sideshow spin-off.

This was the main Spider-title replacing AMAZING SPIDER-MAN for approximately three years. The first of two hefty volumes, this repackages AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #698-700 and SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #1-16 previously collected as ‘Dying Wish’, ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ (a very clever title under the circumstances, and you shall see), ‘Troubled Min’ and ‘No Escape’.

Amazing Spider-Man: Dying Wish

Oooooh, the final few issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN* leading up and including #700!

What’s left of mop-topped minger Doc Ock has been knocking on death’s door for quite a few years. Now it looks like it’s about to open up and swallow him whole, tentacles and all. Yes, Doctor Octopus has mere hours to live, but is determined to have the last laugh over the quipping, thwipping pain in the arse who’s been beating his backside for over five decades.



And that’s when he discovers Spider-Man is Peter Parker, nephew of that sweet old woman whom he once had the hots for, and to whom he was briefly engaged. Doc Ock and Aunt May made it as far as the altar, I kid you not! Boy, this new knowledge has sure got to rankle!

Ah, but the man has a plan, and it is a cunning one. He’s going to swap minds with Spider-Man and leave Peter Parker in his old, ravaged shell to face the funereal music instead.

All sorts of ironies abound in this final tussle, and although I was emotionally ejected from the proceedings by Ramos’ plinky plonky artwork, the surprise ending was certainly very different from what anyone could have expected, and set the stage a very new, very different SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN.



*The final few issues, that is, until Marvel inevitably relaunches with a fresh AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 next year, before reinstating the old issue numbers as soon as they approach 750. You mark my words.

[Editor’s note: I was three years out, but that prediction otherwise proved 100% accurate. There was indeed another AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 before Marvel reinstated its old issue numbers. As I type this, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is about to celebrate its 800th issue next week. Then, of course, there will be yet another #1 because Marvel – currently a desperate, clueless, headless chicken – simply cannot help itself.]

Superior Spider-Man: My Own Worst Enemy

“Ahhh! I can’t take this anymore! It’s – It’s crazy-town banana-pants!”

In ‘Dying Wish’ Doctor Octopus side-stepped certain death by swapping minds with Peter Parker as his own sorry, saggy old carcass expired. Now he inhabits Peter’s youthful body and pretty face whilst inheriting his memories, his relatives and acquaintances, including a very confused Mary Jane Watson.



Unexpectedly, this fusion has catalysed a reformation of sorts, for Otto Octavius is now determined to fight crime as Spider-Man but with his own, warped set of priorities and a new, more methodical approach which somehow eluded our Peter.

Doctor Octavius has a very different modus operandi

And this is the delight: some of Otto’s innovations are genuinely clever and infinitely more practical; some of his quick thinking has already paid dividends which poor Peter never saw; some of his strategies risk ruining Spider-Man’s reputation for good; because some of his costume modifications are dangerously diabolical.

Meanwhile, some of the much older man’s moves on Peter’s young loved ones are positively icky. And all Peter Parker can do is float there in some sort of astral plane and watch…



Oh, he is far from gone, I can assure you! There is enormous comedy potential to be had here and Dan Slott has seized it, revelling in the dramatic irony that is everyone’s ignorance except Carlie Cooper’s.

Moreover, the longer this goes on, the more it makes sense that it was Dr. Octopus who finally seized control of Peter Parker’s life, for they share so much in scientific background and acumen. Otto can take full advantage of Peter’s position at Horizon Labs, he’s just far less likely to share. He can be convincingly savvy in all of these spheres and, in addition, his arrogance comes across to those not in the know merely as renewed self-confidence: the diffident ditherer is gone, and some women find that attractive.

Pretty much impressed by the art as well which comes across as Eric Larsen inked by Howard Chaykin on Ryan Stegman’s part, then with Giuseppe Camuncoli it becomes something more akin to mid-John Romita Jr inked by Eric Larsen.

Above all, this is far from assembly-line fisticuffs. It is very well thought-through. The condition which could so easily have been treated as a mere gimmick has instead been thoroughly seized by the horns and ridden as a rodeo, and an opportunity to surprise.

It is bananas, for sure, but it is far from pants. It is instead, crazy-town banana-pants.

And I think that is where we came in.

Superior Spider-Man: Troubled Mind

Above all else, what Doc Ock has brought with him is a lifetime of resentment which began with being bullied at school and which was exacerbated each time he decided to twist tentacles with the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. The end result is a decidedly less friendly Spider-Man whose temper is triggered during almost every confrontation, resulting in the death of one villain so far. The Avengers – initially merely baffled by the sudden mood shift from merry rejoinders to snide superciliousness – have finally taken note that something’s a little off and call him in for a brain scan.



Meanwhile, Peter is beginning to make tiny steps to reassert his own identity: small note-book doodles when the doctor is distracted, and he’s desperately hoping that the brain scan will secure the Avengers’ help. And the brain scan does reveal an anomaly, but who’s best qualified to judge what it is?

There are significant developments here, but not necessarily those you’ll be expecting. The irony of any secret identity is dramatic enough, but it’s substantially heightened by this double deception, and Dan Slott milks this for all that it’s worth. Better still is the gradual reformation, in certain areas at least, of the bitter old whinger; something which I pray isn’t dropped when this has all sorted itself out (which it will the very second another film looms onto the horizon).

I’d also like to single out Edgar Delgado’s colouring which in places is far from obvious. I stared at the second page of issue #9 for quite some time, particularly the bottom right panel where instead of enhancing the curves of the Ryan Stegman’s beautifully drawn nose, Delgado opts to emphasise the shadow of the helmet over Peter’s cheeks.



I like what he chose for the flesh tones there as well. In fact a round of applause for Ryan Stegman generally who melds all the melodrama of Humberto Ramos with a softer, gentler humanity. At dinner with Aunt May, for example, you can see a genuinely appreciative if slightly smug Otto Octavius shine through Peter’s fresh-faced puppy-dom. These little things are important.

Superior Spider-Man: No Escape

The premise for SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN is relatively simple but its execution has proved surprisingly thorough: in ‘Dying Wish’ one of Spider-Man’s oldest, ugliest foes, Otto Octavious (PhD and at death’s door), finally won the day by switching his consciousness with Peter Parker’s just before his own body expired.

For a while Peter’s own memories lingered on as did his spirit, ever so slightly alarmed about what Dr Octopus was doing with his body, to his friends and even his vilest villains. This niggling nuisance was swiftly purged but not before Peter’s psyche had imprinted itself on Otto’s to the extent that, along with the power, he was indeed going to accept the responsibility of fighting on the other side of the law while ignoring even more of its letters.



The villains weren’t just banged up, they were banged about first: the vulture was [redacted], the Scorpion lost his [excised] and J. Jonah Jameson was most impressed. To him this is indeed a far superior Spider-Man. Smug and disdainful as well, I might add, and although some have accepted this as maybe a mid-life crisis, others have since grown suspicious.

Here we return to The Raft (maximum security penitentiary for less than penitent supervillains) which in the process of being decommissioned, but not before the Spider-Slayer, sentenced to death, has been executed.

“Spider-Man. Come to supervise the slaying of the Spider-Slayer, eh? I’m sure you’re thoroughly enjoying the irony of that.”

He’s actually more preoccupied with his own past there, when once locked up as a criminal.

These are the sorts of things this series has dealt with: Octavius’s fresh-found perspective on those he once allied himself with, and the irony of J. Jonah Jameson finally coming round to Spider-Man’s cause based on the actions of someone who isn’t even Peter. Do you think he’s going to regret that?



Now, I’m merely thinking aloud here, but if there was one individual above all who would begin to take counter-measures given Spider-Man’s increasing superior success, it would be a certain brillo-bonced psychopath for whom every day of the year is a lime-green and purple opportunity to trick, never treat.


Buy The Superior Spider-Man: The Complete 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’.

Be Prepared (£9-99, FirstSecond) by Vera Brosgol

Beasts Of Burden: Animal Rites s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson

The Breadwinner: A Graphic Novel (£8-99, Oxford Press) by Deborah Ellis, Nora Twomey & various

Hellboy Omnibus vol 1 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola with John Byrne

The Ballad Of Halo Jones (Colour Edition) vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Rebellion) by Alan Moore & Ian Gibson

New Shoes h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Sara Varon

The New World – Comics From Mauretania h/c (£24-99, New York Review Comics) by Chris Reynolds

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale Of Two Sloths h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Graham Annable

Sherlock Frankenstein And The Legion Of Evil s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & David Rubin

Under: Scourge Of The Sewer (£14-99, Titan) by Christophe Bec & Stefano Raffaele

Amazing Spider-Man: Venom Inc. s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Mike Costa & Ryan Stegman, Gerardo Sandoval

Hawkeye: Kate Bishop vol 3: Family Reunion s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Leonardo Romero, Stefano Raffaele

Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon, Jimmy Palmiotti

Venom: Carnage Unleashed s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Marv Wolfman, Larry Hama, David Micheline & various

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 8 (£11-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

Fire Punch vol 2 (£8-99, Manga) by Tatsuki Fujimoto

The Girl From The Other Side vol 4 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Nagabe

Happiness vol 7 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Shuzo Oshimi

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week one

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Featuring Gipi, Manuele Fior, Michelle Perez & Remy Boydell, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Colin Wilson, Jeff Lemire, Tom King, Joëlle Jones, Clay Mann, Lee Weeks, Michael Lark, Seth Mann, Steve Ditko, Stan Lee.

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

“What does the notebook say?”
“Notebooks don’t say anything. They don’t have mouths.”
“He never taught us to read.”
“I know.”

The man from Pisa returns with his darkest work yet, following two young brothers scavenging and scrabbling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Where they live, on a house in the middle of a lake with their father, would be idyllic, where it not for the poisoned waters, the bloated floating corpses, a paranoid survivalist who is probably the most normal of their neighbours, plus the ever-present threat of the marauding mob of the uberpriest, following the word of God Kool.

The brothers are managing, getting by, just, and growing up on the job under the extremely stern eye of their father, who has decided the best way to make sure they actually hit puberty is to hit them every time they misbehave. Or at least when he catches them, which they’re getting increasingly better at avoiding, unsurprisingly. Avoiding a battering is clearly a great incentive to improve your sneaking around and parent-deception skills.



It’s impossible to decide whether their father does have any affection for them, actually, certainly they no idea whatsoever. What also infuriates them, particularly the hot-headed younger brother Lino, is that their father writes about them in his journal. Given he’s never bothered to teach them to read, and he refuses to tell them what he’s writing, Lino has absolutely no idea what his father’s private thoughts might be. But after his unexpected death, Lino is determined to find out. He just needs to find somebody who can read. And that… obsession… is going to get the brothers into some serious trouble. A whole post-apocalyptical world of it.



Ah, he’s never been one to play it for laughs, our Gipi, and this is certainly no exception. Here, he’s crafted what I reckon is a pretty good approximation of just how bleak life would be if civilisation collapsed. What is different this time around is that this is purely a black and white work. I’ll freely confess, I was a tad disappointed when I opened this up and saw a lack of colour, because I think his watercolour palette is exceptional. But actually, the absence of colour only goes to highlight his excellent line work, minimal as it is.



He’s not even chosen to employ any real shading, either, it’s just perfectly placed thin, scratchy lines that build up to dramatic, powerful panels, often pulsing with palpable tension. It’s quite striking how if you flick through the pages very quickly, the artwork seems like it should feel weak, not least because there seems such an expanse of white, blank space. But once you actually start reading, the illustrations captivate your attention completely.



Also, whereas with many other creators, anything unusual such as seemingly strangely drawn facial details would immediately break my concentration, here I found myself fascinated by the composition and thus drawn deeper into the characters. It’s powerful stuff. He’s clearly a man entirely at ease with his own economy of detail. Most of the characters simply have black pin-sized dots for eyes, for example. Which ought to serve to remove such a degree of connection to the individuals yet somehow instead manages to accentuate every other aspect of their facial emotions. The level of expression he gets into eyebrows in particular would make even Roger Moore proud. So very, very clever.



He might not be particularly prodigious, but when Gipi does get something out, you know it’s probably nailed on to be a masterpiece.


Buy Land Of The Sons h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“The question you’ve gotta ask yourself at this point is:
“Why, of all people, me?”

There are a lot of answers to that question. For Mr. Marcuzzi, that particular query is about to be the least of his worries, as his day is about to get a whole lot weirder.  Mr. Marcuzzi is actually the chap pictured on the front cover, by the way, with his snazzy space age car. He also has a haircut that Mick Miller would be proud of but I’m not sure how many of you will get that demi-hirsute reference. Anyway… he’s off to visit a quarry where, well, let’s just say the laws of physics might just be having a holiday. A very relaxing holiday…

The question I was asking the universe at large when I finished this fabulous collection of ten short stories was what was going to happen next in half of them. Always the sign of a great short story, that, when you are desperate to know what happens next. The only reason the other half didn’t provoke the same response, I should add, is they are they are perfectly self-contained little nuggets.




This top ten are an extremely eclectic collection, both in terms of story and artistically. A couple would certainly immediately identify Fior to anyone who lapped up 5000KM PER SECOND which we made a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, but unfortunately currently remains stubbornly out of print.




But let me take a quick run through what you can expect here! So we have: parental anguish at losing a child in Berlin airport, obnoxious film students on a trip to Paris, an Italian girl visiting a small Norwegian town on an exchange, a couple on a driving holiday in Italy, a French soldier in the Napoleanic era who goes mutilatingly mad, the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin attempting to relax in the thermal baths near Naples, third-generation Laotian immigrants examining cultural self-sequestration versus integration in France, the aforementioned strange goings-on in a quarry including a telepathic deaf mute, a two-page commentary on racial diversity in France, and errr… giant robots fighting outside the Gare de l’Est in Paris. Yep, this collection really does have something for everyone.






With a plethora of differing art styles too, some radically more so than others, Fior more than capably demonstrates he’s as versatile with the pens and brushes as Eleanor HOW TO BE HAPPY Davis. This work would undoubtedly be an ideal way to familiarise yourself with an exceptional Italian creator who is only going to go on to create more fumetti meravigliosi.


Buy Blackbird Days and read the Page 45 review here

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

“I don’t want to do any of this sort of work as a girl.
“No amount of money, okay.”

Oh, this is such a lonely book, however populated.

The pale-coloured panels in their rigid grid are surrounded by so much white space that it echoes, while the snapshot short stories from Felina’s first-person perspective are themselves broken up by monochromatic landscapes, some rural, others suburban, but always eerie and empty. They are cold, often beautiful but bleak.

“Each day of this. I’m just part of someone else’s day.”

There is a huge sense of isolation, for not all conversations can be classed as communication, and Felina has erected barriers or set herself boundaries like the above to protect her. Some things she simply does not want to talk about. We don’t even learn her real name until close to the end: she only lets Tom in while on her way out, waiting on a plane to take her back home to Michigan.




“I came here because you only know what I let you know about me, yeah?
“You don’t know enough to hurt me.”

And Felina is indeed so very vulnerable throughout. Don’t get me wrong, she can take care of herself – physically at least, thank god – but the very fact that she has to eye a lampshade and assess its efficacy as a weapon in case her client gets violent says it all.



Felina, I should probably point out, is a trans woman earning her way in Seattle as a sex worker, and this graphic novel – some of which you might already have come across in the pages of the ISLAND anthology curated by Emma Rios and Brandon Graham – is as explicit as that implies, far more so than OMAHA THE CAT DANCER to which artist Remy Boydell pays tribute in the back.



Thankfully none of Felina’s nightmare scenarios manifest themselves, but you cannot help but fear for her safety because even off work – walking down the pavement, head bowed after being stared at and muttered about in a diner – she receives bigoted abuse from some stupid car mechanic who, like any bully, presumes that they’ll get away with it, almost certainly because he has in the past. This time he doesn’t, but any sense of temporary victory which Felina or the reader may or may not feel from the outburst of violence is both short-lived and pyrrhic, for the damage has been done and the final few panels alone in the shower are devastating.

‘Cut Throat’ is a particularly powerful piece of storytelling, carefully composed from start to finish. It begins so promisingly, so positively in friendship, kind words and sex for pleasure. It’s not all idyllic, as you’ll see, but hey. It’s on the fourth transitional page that Felina finds herself sitting alone, comfortable in her nakedness, reminding us exactly where she is in her own transition. But as she makes her way to that diner – initially through warm, autumnal colours – we’re shown a close-up of her cheek which is very closely shaved but still peppered with tiny flecks of black stubble. The final panel on the page pulls out to reveal the effect of its feel on Felina as she strokes it, gingerly. Thanks to Boydell’s immaculately judged portrait we are left in no doubt as to the severity of the blow, both to her immediate ease and long-term optimism.

It is then that we enter the diner with is whispering clientele, thence the pavement and the malicious mechanic.




It’s not all melancholy, though, I promise. Your expectations will be overturned again and again. Tom’s first encounter with Felina, for example, proves him to be as comically dim-witted as he is later determined to be kind, supportive and attempting to understand Felina’s complexity. People are complicated, relationships are complicated and that argument on holiday hit home. Keeping everyone happy can be difficult. Experiences will be revisited (like that argument on holiday) because the structure of the whole is not necessarily linear.



What Perez and Boydell have crafted is candid, explicit, humane, tender, painful and actually quite deliciously blunt.

I’ve mentioned before the importance of representation (THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS and BINGO LOVE, for example) and why it matters so much, but in addition diverse perspectives are essential if we’re going to understand and so empathise with each other a bit better.


Buy The Pervert and read the Page 45 review here

Royal City vol 2: Sonic Youth s/c (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire…

“I start to feel really weird.
“I start to feel like the colour is being drained out of everything.
“I start to feel like I’m finally really all alone.
“That’s when I hear someone out in the woods…
“That’s when I find her. And for the first time I realise that maybe two people can be all alone together.”

Royal City returns for a mesmerising second arc, transporting us back in time to 1993 to afford young Tommy the luxury of recounting the story of his last few months. The rest of the then teenage Pike brood are as individually and collectively dysfunctional as ever, I should add, though nowhere near as emotionally damaged and inept as their future shelves will become. Just typical, normal teenagers in other words.

As Tommy takes us through the events leading up to his untimely death, what struck me most was how utterly unsuspecting and therefore completely unprepared the family are for the tragic shattering event that is shortly to follow. Which is entirely understandable, particularly given that Tommy seems to be the one that all the others have the most affection for. His passing is going to leave a very big hole in all their lives.



Also absent is the mystery of the opening volume, in that Jeff chooses not to reveal a single iota more regarding precisely how it is that Tommy is acting as our narrator or how his grown up siblings can occasionally see him.  Though… perhaps a sketch in Tommy’s notebook following a doctor’s appointment may reveal a clue of sorts in that respect. A CT scan shows something in Tommy’s brain that the doctor finds puzzling and he’s scheduled him for a follow-up with an out-of-town specialist.

I found Tommy’s drawing, whilst being driven home by his mum – naively assuring him everything would be alright – tantalising for its content… Particularly whilst bearing in mind what his father begins to obsessively collect, something we see the very beginnings of here. Actually, now there’s a scene which upon re-reading I do wonder whether there isn’t a little more to it than first meets the eye. Hmm…



Much like everything he writes, Lemire here is all about the characters and their frequently excruciating interactions. ROYAL CITY is shaping up to be a fascinating character study of the individuals that nominally form this ‘family’, riven by the tragedy of the sudden erosion of their emotional centre.



For some of the Pikes, I have a degree of hope that they can finally overcome this loss and achieve happiness. For one in particular, though, I’m not sure that is ever going to be possible. But then I very much doubt Lemire would let everyone have a happy ending… I really don’t think that’s in his nature! As for the part Tommy will undoubtedly play in directing the course of his siblings’ futures, or at least attempting to, for that, we will have to wait for volume three.


Buy Royal City vol 2: Sonic Youth s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“But just as I’m trying to focus and push my worries about Peter Grimm’s suspicions out of my head, a face in the crowd jumps out at me…
“And then mine jumps out at her.
“And everything falls to pieces.”

Hair-tearingly tense espionage thriller deftly conducted by the creators of CRIMINAL, THE FADE OUT, KILL OR BE KILLED, THE SCENE OF THE CRIME plus the noir-horror hybrid FATALE, this doesn’t just avoid the pothole cop-outs of most superhero tales when it comes to crime and consequence, it pole-vaults over them and plunges the protagonist into a world where there’s no soothing alternative to ruthless expediency.

Field agent Holden Carver was sent deep undercover just before his boss was sent deep into a coma.

Unfortunately a) the cover in question is as hired thuggery for Tao, a ruthless powerbroker who is preternaturally perceptive, b) his comatose boss, John Lynch, was the only one who knew he’d been sent undercover so c) there’s no one around to extract him. With no light at the end of the tunnel that doesn’t turn out to be a train, Carver’s only option is to complete the missions for the slime he now works for without killing his conscience or his former friends who now think he’s defected. Not a lot of recourse, there.



Carver has to convince one of the most astute manipulators on the planet that he has sincerely switched sides and isn’t a double-agent; he has to earn and maintain the trust of his new, vicious and suspicious peers; he cannot forewarn his former cohorts of what’s up to (they’d never believe him anyway), so he must somehow either sabotage some of the assignments whilst making it look like someone else’s fault, or carry them out correctly without killing too many innocents, and hope that the results don’t tip the scales irreversibly in the terrorists’ favour.



How many innocents can Holden kill before the total begins to chime with his moral concept of “too many”?  What happens when he’s sent up against the love of his life and her new husband? And how long can he keep this up before his new boss discovers the truth, Carver gives up completely or – worse still – throws in with the other side? He has, after all, made friends in that camp.



Sean Phillips’s intense, brooding, twilight pages are full of a palpable sense of foreboding, on which anything can come round the corner, and because so many faces are cast in half-shadow, no one’s at all sure what the others are really thinking. This includes the reader. I found myself so successfully immersed in this deadly, murky and often angry arena that I was fretting throughout and trying to peer round corners and up flights of stairs on Carver’s behalf. I actually angled my head!

Best of all, while his visual storytelling is so fluent and fluid, he’s also as brutally solid as anyone else, seen here – 15 years ago – with more jaggedly angular faces than we’re used to by now, perfect for people this raw. He hasn’t yet settled on the three-tiered grid as seen in the books above; instead the panels cascade down over the background, and that contributes a more disorientating, action-driven tension.



Meanwhile, Brubaker’s tour de force here lies not only in the plotting, but in the internal monologues wherein Holden Carver attempts to justify his actions to himself, wriggle his way out of inconsistencies and uncover as much as he can, whilst staying alive – albeit battered – in the process. Wrestling to make the right choices isn’t easy, either, right up until the last minute.

Along the way there are some very funny superhero origin parodies, and you’ll love Ms. Misery for whom happiness is a life-threatening disease.

Lastly, prepare yourself for the most excruciatingly ironic final few pages while you wait for the second half. It should be noted that we were never guaranteed its second season, so it could all have ended here.



Point Blank:

Never argue with the woman serving you at the bar!

“And who said I wasn’t already post-human? You guys always assume just ‘cuz I’m tending bar that I’m normal…”
“Oh really, so what are your powers?”
“Honey, I get better looking every drink.”

The prologue to Brubaker and Phillips’ SLEEPER, I found a second reading of POINT BLANK infinitely more enjoyable for having since relished the nail-biting noir of the main series itself. I own, however, that they are on two completely different levels. SLEEPER is the mature, fully formed Brubaker you know now, operating in his own theatre on creations that are almost all his; POINT BLANK is him negotiating his way there, having to use characters which – other than the lead and chief antagonist – really don’t suit him. It’s good but not great, so DC’s decision to repackage it at the front of this book comes with the warning that you should please not judge the main meal by its entrée.



Cole Cash is drinking at a bar.

He really doesn’t want to be there, but he made his old colleague a promise, so here he is. His old colleague is John Lynch, former head of International Operations, the Wildstorm universe’s covert anti-terrorism organisation. But Lynch is late and something’s not right. For a start, Lynch is never late – that’s usually Cash. But it’s not just that: he hears echoes of a past conversation he can’t place.

It’s as if Cole’s forgotten something…



As Cole tries to recall the last several nights, some bits come back easier than others: Lynch on the trail of someone called Carver, erasing the memories of those he catches up with in case they recall the encounter. But when he finally quits the bar to investigate, he finds Lynch shot and deep in a coma. No one can get the drop on Lynch – probably not even Cash – it’s how he’s survived all these decades in the most dangerous job on the planet.

So who finally did the job, who is this Holden Carver and why was Lynch so desperate to find him? Ah, now you see why I mean about hindsight!

As Cash delves deeper, he gradually realises that he’s running the very real risk of buggering up the biggest subterfuge of them all, but nothing will prepare him for the final blow.



Set on the periphery of the Wildstorm Universe, there are very few capes. Oh wait, there’s The Midnighter from THE AUTHORITY, but then that black leather costume to him is just casual clothing. It’s what Brubaker does better than anyone else: genre-splicing action / espionage with powers.

Colin Wilson provides decidedly European-style art (I know, I know, that’s a sweeping generalisation) which manages to be both exceptionally clean yet rugged at the same time. I’d probably classify it as “cinematic, ne’er do well chic”.


Buy Sleeper Book 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman vol 5: Rules Of Engagement s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & Joëlle Jones, Clay Mann, Lee Weeks, Michael Lark, Seth Mann.

“Shall we?”
“This… could be fun.”
“This will be fun.”

For once I’m going to have a little think now before I write something truly contentious.

While I’m cogitating, please note that should I persuade you to read this book, the fifth in a series, you honestly won’t have to have read the other four. I haven’t.

Okay, I’m done.

This is the best BATMAN book that I have ever read.

It’s also the best SUPERMAN book that I’ve ever read.

You may have enjoyed many for the spectacle of acrobatics and of combat; there have been some boasting extensive, razor-sharp plots realised with beat-perfect timing and thematic hearts which have been eloquently expressed, like IDENTITY CRISIS. But few superhero books – so focussed on fisticuffs – are renowned for being joyful, for being fun.

Whereas this, I swear, is a scream, bursting with character-driven wit, fulsome affection and fun. I’ve long made a joke about how you’re unlikely to see a superhero comic in which everyone settles down in a park for an uninterrupted picnic, but that is almost exactly what happens for the whole of one chapter here when Lois Lane, Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (Catwoman) decide to visit Gotham County Fair in their civvies. It’s taken them a whole hour to agree on this venue and Selina is starving. But there’s a slight problem: it’s superhero cosplay night. Says the spod at the entrance, “And you all ain’t superheroes.”



Back at the car park, Lois observes, “Well, there is a solution, right? It’s not as if you don’t have costumes.”

Bruce: “No.”

Clark’s rather worried that they might look too much like the real things (!!!), so Lois suggests that they switch costumes.

Bruce: “No.”

Selina, one hand on Bruce’s shoulder, the other on his lapel:

“What my kind, patient, fiancé means is that he sees that his kind, patient fiancée is tired and hungry.
“And he’ll do what he needs to do to remedy that situation.
“Isn’t that you mean?

Bruce: “No.”

With all the comedic timing of Gerald Durrell’s family house-moves in Corfu, the very next page shows Bruce having resentfully given in. He’s donning Clark’s red, yellow and blue in a changing room cubicle while Lois slips into Selina’s slinky black (“It stretches.” “It better.”) and Clark contemplates the Kevlar. Selina is going to wear Lois’s sharp purple dress which obviously isn’t a superhero costume, but she has a solution.

“It’s… subtle.”

It isn’t, but it was always going to work.



Which is where we came in, on a magnificent, full-page, Clay and Seth Mann masterpiece of Lois and Selina escorting Bruce, unshaven and so stubbly (clever – I’ve never seen Superman unshaven) striding out, fists as tight as Superman’s often are, and Clark bringing up the rear in Batman’s full cape and cowl with glasses on top: glasses which he does not need.

There is enormous humanity in Clay and Seth Mann’s figures and faces – exceptional stature too, reflecting their capability. The ladies are precisely that: soft-faced and exceptionally attractive but in no way sexualised in their postures. Well, you know, apart from the page in which Lois and Clark then Selina and Bruce react somewhat differently to their times in The Tunnel of Love!



There’s an increasingly tender intimacy between Lois and Selina as the evening progresses, until they’re sneaking a few snifters from a hipflask they share and Lois cracks a joke designed to boost Selina’s sense of identity. Then they collapse to the floor in laughter, Selina nestling her head against the Catwoman mask worn by Lois: two new friends completely at ease, enjoying the moment to its fullest.



If I’ve so far failed to mention that Batman and Catwoman have recently become engaged, I do apologise. That evidently happened in another book. These are the immediate ramifications including Bruce’s current and former wards finding out (not via Bruce but from Alfred the butler, which irks them something chronic) and this evening which is primarily about the girls getting to know each other better by exchanging confidences after meeting for the very first time in the preceding chapter.

It’s also about Superman taking it all as graciously in his stride as he can, because that’s in his nature, and Batman feeling extremely awkward because he’s about as far out of his comfort zone as you can imagine! Haven’t you always wanted to see that? Out of his comfort zone, I would emphasise, without there being any clear or present danger.

In that preceding issue Lois and Clark and Bruce and Selina do approach a clear and present danger from different directions, unknowingly, until they eventually bump into each other after exiting elevators halfway inside a skyscraper. Lois and Clark have taken an elevator up; Bruce and Selina have opted for descending down its twin shaft.



On their way there, the action flips between each party’s perspective in very brief bursts, with one couple’s conversation often being continued by the other. Yes, they are working on their investigative goals, but more interestingly they’re focussed on friendship. Specifically, they are focussed on why Bruce is not picking up the phone to talk to Clark about his engagement to Selina, and why Clark isn’t making the first move, either. Both Lois and Selina take the maternal role in trying to cajole the obstinate ‘children’ into communicative action. It’s not as if either Bruce or Clark is being churlish, they’re just being obdurate, tight-lipped men!

But while describing each other to their loved ones, both display the most moving awe, respect and deep-seated admiration, as well as a far greater understanding of each other than they have of themselves.

I’ve seen this reflective and reflected to-and-fro attempted in a prior series over a decade ago which I will not name and shame even though it was a toe-curling, cringe-inducing, cliché-ridden, heavy-handed and mawkish atrocity. This, by comparison, is light, bright, poignant and beautiful.



The final stroke of genius, however, is that although both Bruce and Clark erroneously conclude by declaring that you cannot possibly be best friends – or any friend at all – with someone like the other (because they’re simply far too remote and impressive), the consequent funfair fiasco proves the exact opposite, while Selina and Lois – curious about each other’s choice in men – hit it off big time.

This is possibly my favourite line, in which Selina Kyle (career criminal now on the rocky road to reform) confides what lies so deep in her heart that she has committed to a man who has made it his partial mission to bring her in. This to Lois Lane, who has spent half her adult life being defenestrated:

“It’s just when I fall, he catches me.
“I know. It’s stupid.
“Does that make any sense at all?”

All of this proves part of a refreshingly new dynamic even during the first three combat chapters after the newly engaged couple encounter Talia Al Ghul, Bruce Wayne’s potentially a-mortal and decidedly lethal ex-lover, mother to his own son, Damian. Once more King eschews the obvious on all counts, so don’t expect petty jealousies: Selina Kyle is far too self-confident.

You can count on Damian for that instead.



It’s called ‘Rules Of Engagement’, one of which, obviously, is that you have to keep your loved one happy, and it’s funny witnessing Batman (very much Batman, rather than Bruce) deferring, back-tracking, almost apologising, and attempting to master the art of flattery when his fiancée can see straight through him.

Bellaire’s colours initially contrast the cool of the study with the heat of the dessert as Batman and Catwoman approach Khadym while Alfred breaks the news of the engagement, artfully preceding this task with a seemingly unrelated “The mansion, like this family, is as large as it needs to be”. He has complete command of every situation in that first chapter, including the seemingly uncontrollable dog. But will you notice, I wonder, Bellaire subtly controlling the oranges then reds of the dessert until the unseen sun finally sets and the fight continues well into the night?



King finds time to further explore the relationship between the current Robin, Damian, and the original, Dick Grayson (now Nightwing but at one point Batman to Damian’s Robin), which is very much as little / big brothers. Damian, aged all of thirteen, has a habit of superciliously chiding others as “children”, and Joëlle Jones provides an exquisite panel of expression when Damian tries it on Grayson, eyes and eyebrow disdainful, but lower lip jutting out with boyish petulance.

I’m going to leave the final story for you to discover for yourselves because you really shouldn’t see it coming especially Michael Lark’s quiet, tender and quite deliberate, crisp-leafed, autumnal contrast to Lee Weeks’ energetic early-days engagements of a completely different nature… although Catwoman is quite clearly flirting from the very beginning.



Weeks pumps the pages to bursting point with cat-and-mouse, catch-me-if-you-can, youthful balletics and such torrential, driving rain that you’ll feel both drenched and exhausted by the time they catch up with each other. Watch out for the wine glass as well.


Buy Batman vol 5: Rules Of Engagement s/c (Rebirth) and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 2 – Great Responsibility s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko.

“I did it! I’m free!”

Quite an iconic moment there as Ditko’s Spider-Man lifts himself from under tonnes of steel fallen into the water of Doc Ock’s subaquatic dome. The willpower comes from the certain knowledge that without the serum he’s stolen, Aunt May will surely die.

The truth is, metaphysically speaking, that poor Peter will never be free, no matter how much he tries to atone for the death of Uncle Ben. And Aunt May has more trips to the hospital bed ahead of her than Florence Nightingale managed in her medical career.

If you look carefully you’ll find some exemplary body language and facial expressions in Steve Ditko’s art.

Just take pages 8 and 9 of #31. Page 8, panel four, shows a college student gesturing over and away from his head with an “I’ve clocked you” hand signal whilst the girl catching up with him reaches out to grab his attention instead. In panel six, meanwhile, Gwen Stacy’s eyelashes are Rimmelled up to the Max Factor, far more of a vamp than John Romita’s imminent swinging-sixties’ doll which is what she needed to be to attract poor Peter later on. Meanwhile, Flash and Harry’s contempt for poor Peter (I’m not sure it’s possible to type “Peter” without “poor”) in the following panel is obvious (Flash’s is a face-palm “D’Oh!” whereas Harry’s sneer is simply withering), but on page 9 panel six shows Peter in a phone booth asking the hospital about his Aunt’s condition, and his expression is one of forlorn, selfless anxiety, no weaker for its puppyish purity.

As a bonus Ditko’s pencils to #31 are reprinted in the back, along with his original cover to #35. Here’s that iconic sequence I mentioned earlier, by the way, in full, after the cover. Note how Peter’s weighted down not just by the machinery (and pressure) but also by the number of panels which gradually give way as he exerts increasing upward pressure.










The Green Goblin becomes a virtual co-star in a substantial subplot which will explode next volume when John Romita Sr. takes over the art.

In the meantime, Peter Parker finds his first love affair swimming swiftly down the swanny when Ned Leeds returns to the arms of Betty Brant who’s always looked a bit weird, no more so than on page 15 of #25 in her frosty face-off with Liz Allan, her blonde twin / clone with a perm.

“Well! Fancy meeting you here, Miss Allan! Do you always travel in a pack like that??”
“Why, no, Miss Brant! But sometimes it’s hard to get rid of all my admirers! I’m sure you don’t have that problem!”

They’ve both come to see Peter and they’re actually fighting over him. And yes, that is indeed the first appearance of Mary Jane Watson, her face hidden behind a drooping dahlia, her hair within a headscarf, introduced to Liz and Betty by Auntie May:

“Mary Jane, this is Betty Brant, and this is Liz Allan! Girls, I’d like you to meet Mary Jane Watson! She just dropped in to visit my nephew!”
“Hel-lo, girls!” she sings, musical notes floating to emphasise her self-confidence.



“She’s a friend of Peter’s??” thinks Betty, incredulously. “She looks like a screen star!”
“He’s been hiding her from us??” puzzles Liz. “Our shy, bashful, studious Peter Parker??!”

No, he’s never met her and won’t for many more issues as Mary Jane continues to “drop in” to visit Aunt May’s nephew while (poor) Peter Parker is otherwise engaged as a metahuman punch-bag. That’s what he’s been hiding from you, ladies. Ooooh, the irony of it all!

Contains AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #18-38 and Annual #2.

The first page of #27 looks a little bit dodgy. I wonder what the title means?



For far more substantial Stan-Lee satire (I was gentle here, but normally I really cannot help myself), please see AMAZING SPIDER-MAN EPIC VOL 1, FANTASTIC FOUR EPIC VOL 1 plus AVENGERS EPIC VOL 1 and VOL 2 which does actually contain a commendable tirade about racism.


Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 2 – Great Responsibility 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’.

The Ghost & The Owl h/c (£8-99, ActionLabComics) by Franco & Sara Richard

The Interview h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior

Permanent Press (£10-99, Avery Hill) by Luke Healy

Stray Bullets – Sunshine & Roses vol 1: Kretchmeyer (£17-99, El Capitan) by David Lapham

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier s/c (£16-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

Norse Myths – Tales Of Odin, Thor And Loki h/c (£18-99, Walker Studio) by Kevin Crossley-Holland & Jeffrey Alan Love

Reborn s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Greg Capullo

Green Arrow vol 5: Hard-Travelling Hero s/c  (£14-99, DC) by Benjamin Percy & various

Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension (£13-99, Titan) by George Mann, Cavan Scott, Nick Abadzis & various

Assassination Classroom vol 21 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Berserk vol 10 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Berserk vol 7 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Berserk vol 8 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Berserk vol 9 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Chi’s Sweet Adventures vol 1 (£10-99, Vertical) by Konami Kanata

Erased vol 4 h/c (£21-99, Yen Press) by Kei Sanabe

My Hero Academica vol 12 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

Platinum End vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

The Promised Neverland vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu

Tokyo Ghoul re: vol 4 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida