Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2018 week three

Featuring Paul Duffield, Alejandro Jodorowsky & José Ladrönn, Oliver Schrauwen Daniel Clowes, John Allison, Garth Ennis, Goran Sudžuka, Chris Claremont, John Byrne

The Firelight Isle vol 1: Heavenly Blue h/c (signed) (£19-99, self-published) by Paul Duffield.

I swear that you have never read anything quite like this in your life.

One of the most beautiful books that I have ever beheld, THE FIRELIGHT ISLE’s production values are exquisite.

More pertinently, however, is its thoroughly innovative, highly intelligent, and visually thrilling composition. I have actually seen jaws drop upon showing customers this gorgeous graphic novel.

A series of vertical ribbons woven together quite often by colour from a sequence of tall, interlocking pages that flow freely when read on Paul Duffield’s website – yet which are each, individually, so satisfying to absorb in their own right – the cascade is carefully controlled by the insertion of horizontal sound-effects, embedded panels and the occasional stone hearth, tapestry or carpet.



Crisp blue, clean white and rich, warm terracotta (when arranged with such spacious precision) is ever so striking.

It is especially so when combined with the recurrent motif of circular frames: windows which focus your attention on that which is most important, of what is happening right now or that which once occurred according to ancient lore.



Ah yes, ancient lore! Duffield spent years studying anthropology for this project before embarking on a single panel, artistically satisfying himself instead on attendant, investigative preparatory sketches, and it has paid dividends! If you relish rich world-building – like Antony Johnston and Chris Mitten’s UMBRAL or Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s LAZARUS – which doesn’t attempt to overwhelm you all at once with all the work that’s gone into it in order to prove how clever it is… then you are in for such a subtle treat here.

I say “subtle”, because there’s a couple of elements unique to this specific society of barterers which I spotted for myself but which Duffield refrains from announcing outright. How fortunate it is that Duffield’s a master of midnight constellations and fire! Even the skin oil applied to render hands and forearms water-repellent when dyeing pre-treated white fabric in a sacred ceremony is only touched on after the fact. But it will prove pivotal.



Perhaps the single most important quality in homo sapiens which has defined our history, development and prosperity post-Cognitive Revolution – as Yuval Noah Harari emphasises over and over again – is that we are storytellers. That we can create shared fictions which we tacitly or fervently agree to believe in like religion, law and money has meant that we can cooperate in such vast numbers (or indeed go to war with each other on such an enormous scale when those fictions clash) that make elephant tribes, chimpanzee communities and extended meerkat families look miniscule. This is far from off-topic. From the back of this book:

“In the beginning the nameless dark smothered all. The people of the earth were empty vessels. Lifeless. And then, the stars were lit. Gathering, they kindled heavenly flame, and each star filled each waiting body with breath.

“Anlil and Sen both carry a star of their own. They are childhood friends, their heavenly journeys woven together as Sen takes his first step down the path of priesthood, and Anlil weaves a sacred offering that could save her household.

“But all paths branch, all threads unwind, and all flames die. For ever the nameless dark waits at the shores of The Firelight Isle.”

I don’t know about you, but a shiver just went up my spine.



The very first page, following a sumptuously designed diagrammatical map, opens on teenage Anlil and Sen overlooking their shared city below. And it is most splendid!

Circular suburbs surround and envelope the vertical emphasis of the religious hub’s central towers. Ecclesiastical Gothic architecture, both exterior and interior, also always looked towards the heavens and, further back, stone circles erected to worship our sun were comprised of sky-seeking obelisks.

Then sounds the morning call to worship! It spirals out upon the page in booming, pulsing, rhythmical ripples and echoes which are hypnotic.



But as soon as the second page, our childhood friends have fallen out. They’ve fallen out over Sen’s vocation to undertake a religious ritual which will remove him from wider society, but also her equally sincere and devoted friendship throughout all these years.

“What makes you think I’ll fail?”
“You didn’t even have the courage to tell me you wanted to try.”

She is initially concerned for his safety, because the ritual has proven fatal to those who have failed; he is affronted by her lack of confidence in his direction, devotion and prowess; ultimately, however, Anlil feels betrayed by his failure to confide. And it’s tearing these true friends apart.



This is such potent stuff, set up so early on with extraordinarily distilled concision and precision that it makes room for so many subsequent story strands that can be conveyed predominantly by images instead. As I keep carping on (please do forgive me!): comics is a visual medium and this, to me, is comics at its finest.

The patterns are phenomenal, the masked priesthood suitably intimidating, and the traditional costumes throughout consistent in colour and design. It’s a living, breathing community with a history, both in terms of culture and family, and you’ll be thrust back and forth between the present and the past which will explain and so inform that present. Childhood play can be ever so telling.



You will also be treated to two trials undergone and presented on the page in tense, sweaty parallel.

But you will never suspect where this is heading or foresee the thematically perfect climax coming.

Circles and cycles; tradition and truth; success and failure; loyalties and love.

At the end of any day, what is truly important, what weighs most in your heart?



I don’t know which I admire most in this work: its exceptionally fierce ambition or its flawless execution.


Buy The Firelight Isle vol 1: Heavenly Blue h/c (signed) and read the Page 45 review here

The Sons Of El Topo vol 1: Cain h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & José Ladrönn…

“Oh, father, I cannot kill you, but I can kill your son…”

Which despite Alejandro Jodorowsky being completely bonkers and the original film ‘El Topo’ being the weirdest Western ever made by some considerable distance, is not some suicidal statement of intent – because, let’s face it, that would make for a pretty short sequel – but instead a fraternal threat. Here’s some mumbling mojo from the peyoted-up publisher to confuse us more…

“The sequel to cult film, El Topo, from controversial filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky.

El Topo was a bandit without limits, a man with no moral compass, but when his journey through the arid west brought him face to face with a series of rogue outcasts, he found enlightenment in the unlikeliest place and was forever transformed, becoming a holy vessel imbued with the power to perform miracles. This was a journey that took him far from his first born son, Cain, and brought about the birth of Abel.



Fuelled by resentment, and unable to kill his saintly father, Cain begins the slow pursuit of his half brother in a tale of magic and mayhem worthy of legendary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and virtuosic illustrator José Ladrönn. Together, they deliver an allegorical and surrealist western where the genre is at the service of deeper philosophical and spiritual considerations.”

Right, first things first, to clear up any nonsensical goings-on in the names department… If you are a fan of the film, you might well remember – or not depending on how battered you were when you last watched El Topo – that his son was actually called Hijo, which simply means ‘son’ in Spanish. So, somewhere along the line, he is now known as Cain. Which, given the mock- / mocking Christianity elements to this subsequent story, will all make complete sense* when you read it.



Hardcore fans of the film will probably love this. It’s a well-told engaging yarn which certainly hits its marks (and targets) in terms of Jodorowsky’s usual obsessions …and targets. It’s beautifully illustrated by José Ladrönn too.



I think it is a testament to both Jodorowsky’s story-telling powers and Ladrönn’s artistry that this work also stands up extremely well as a stand-alone story. People who have never seen the original film can enjoy this all by itself as there’s sufficient enough cleverly woven in recapitulation to make total perfect sense** of what has gone before.

* Maybe…

** Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.


Buy The Sons Of El Topo vol 1: Cain h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wilson h/c (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Daniel Clowes.

Originally published early in 2011 when we made this Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, I have no idea when or how this dropped off our system. Perhaps it went out of print when the film came out. I still haven’t seen that.

Anyway, in the days before we had access to interior art to show you, I set the scene thus.

Wilson accosting a stranger trying to type diligently on his laptop in a cafe:

“Hey brother – mind if I sit here?”
“It looks like there’s plenty of empty tables…”
“I know, but I like to sit by the window. You working?”
“Good man. Wife? Kids?”
“That’s beautiful. Living the Dream…”


“Hey, shit-head – I’m talking to you!”

That’s Wilson: philosopher, philanthropist, bon viveur



Actually he’s a case study in self-centred misanthropy and deluded hypocrisy, constantly craving an ear yet too self-involved to lend anyone his own; paying lip-service to self-awareness and comprehending the world around him, but the first to give up if any thought or empathy is required. He’s a man who values a decent day’s work but has never done one himself; a family man without a family.

“I keep forgetting that my father is still alive.”



One of the funniest books I have read in a very long time, it’s composed of 71 single-page gags, their final lines beautifully undercutting the panels that precede them as Wilson begins to pine for an ex-wife he never really loved and, tracking her down, discovers she had a daughter sixteen years ago whom she gave up for fostering. Don’t skip ahead because on attempting to establish contact with his daughter, the whole thing goes monumentally tits up in a way that only Wilson could manage.

Clowes cleverly lays down elements early on that later turn into punchlines, circles back round to characters you thought long-abandoned, and he uses a variety of styles and colour schemes for each fresh page depending upon its contents.



Radically different from any of his previous books (GHOST WORLD, DAVID BORING, THE DEATH-RAY etc. – all in stock), it’s the first graphic novel not culled from the periodical EIGHTBALL, more of which I really don’t think we’ll be seeing under this industry’s current trends.

… I wrote in 2011. Hey, I can do prescience.



Daniel Clowes’ most recent graphic novel was PATIENCE, I mention that because you may have missed it.


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

Parallel Lives (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Oliver Schrauwen…

“Now sing after me: Ski-bi dibby dib yo da dub dub.”
“As soon as she starting singing, Ooh-lee proved up to the task…
“Making one of the worst songs in musical history sound even worse.
“She asked her friends to sing along…
“… and they gleefully obliged…
“…mocking to her face.
“She was singing her heart out…
“… bearing her soul to a crowd of ‘friends’ who felt nothing but contempt for her.
“They were all joined in a hate fest, in which she was the unwitting dupe.
“Luckily she was protected by her ignorance…
“Her inability to comprehend what was going on…
“Her absolute dumbness…”

She is singing “I’m a Scatman,” by Scatman Joe, though, so perhaps we can forgive her ‘friends’ just this once…

Pure genius. It’s extremely difficult to explain just how clever this work is. I’ll let the publisher have a crack at it first…

“This collects six wildly inventive short comics stories that might collectively be dubbed ‘speculative memoir.’ Schrauwen’s deadpan depictions of his and his offspring’s upcoming lives include alien abduction, dialogue with future agents, and coded messages in envelopes at breakfast.”

Speculative memoir, I like that term… I’ll keep that in mind the next time the police are questioning me…



Moving on swiftly… there is also, in addition to his offspring, including Ooh-lee (think about it), his very, very weird father and amateur scientist, Armand, who believes he can communicate with the future. Without wishing to spoil anything whatsoever, well, he can. Sort of… One of the additional fabulous elements to this work, besides the whacked out stories themselves, is realising just how cleverly they fix together to form the most demented jigsaw.

In that time-hopping masterfully mangling-it-all-together respect, this collection has elements in common with Malachi ANCESTOR Ward’s excellent and frequently overlooked FROM NOW ON. All the individual stories here are far, far odder mind you and the overall tone is intentionally very overtly darkly and stupidly humorous. But in terms of precisely how things fit together, it is as brilliantly and deftly done as David Mitchell’s award winning prose work ‘Cloud Atlas’.



Artistically… I am equally struggling to adequately describe this. The cover does offer a fair summation of what you will find within to be fair. It’s… harshly forceful in the way it attacks your retinas… and your mind… and certainly makes a lasting, seared-on impression. It scared me slightly at times, I think, and yet I couldn’t put it down. Our Jodie has just commented to me, when I asked for her artistic assessment, “it’s like a nightmare in Vaporwave.” I get that. But it’s way weirder than even that frankly.

Just be warned too, this is very rude in places and extremely wrong everywhere. All the time.



If you like your comics more than a little bit odd and challenging to one’s senses and sensibilities, then this is for you.


Buy Parallel Lives and read the Page 45 review here

Giant Days: Early Registration s/c (£10-99, Boom!) by John Allison…

All three John Allison self-published issues from the original mini-series together in a book at long last! Although we do also have packs of the GIANT DAYS SELF-PUBLISHED MINI-SERIES if you’d prefer those.

Of Giant Days 1 Tom wrote:

Free from the shackles of school Esther Le Groot thought, like any young goth, that university might be a place to find like-minded people. A place to swap corpse paint-tips and exchange existential banter into the night. Unfortunately being a headgirl in school brings an altogether more sinister clique into play, as the legion of drunken preppies try to steal her away. Now it’s up to sheltered Enya fan Daisy and insomniac beatnik Susan to save her from becoming a bff in the hardcore Freshers crowd.

Be warned, there will be boxing, tutus, and come-uppance. Ah, Esther, the second most beautiful woman in Tackleford comes into her own in this punchy off-shoot from John’s fantastic SCARY-GO-ROUND web comic. If you’ve ever been the new kid in town the empathy rays will be drawing you to this like a student to £1 drinks.



Of Giant Days 2 (at which point the series became full colour) Jonathan wrote:

“Were you CAREFUL?”
“In a prophylactic sense, yes, but… I may have knocked his guitar off the wall and broken it… while trying something.”
“He wasn’t pleased.”

Featuring the return of crazy-haired introvert Daisy Wooton, the phlegmatic and rather blunt Susan Ptolemy, plus the divine man-mesmerising beauty that is Esther de Groot. Readers of the first GIANT DAYS may recall our friends are in their first year of University, having only just made each other’s acquaintance in Fresher’s week. Already firm chums, they’re now settling in nicely to Uni life with all the endless socialising and lack of studying that entails. For Esther this also means pining for her boyfriend Eustace from back home and unwittingly attracting the romantic attentions of the completely harmless and also slightly gormless Ed Gemmell.

The fact that Esther is completely out of his league doesn’t deter Ed from dreaming but he’s going to regret revealing his crush to his streetwise new mate, and budding guitar god – in his own mind at least – Steve Shields. Cue one heated phone call from Eustace, a drinking binge at the rock night for the ladies down the Slag Pit (surely the best name ever for a night club?) , and a rather unwise decision on Esther’s part about who to share a taxi home with. The next day there’s a very forlorn Ed to console, a reputation to repair, and a guitar to… err… repair as well. Note-perfect British comedy from Mr. Allison, illustrated as exquisitely as ever.

Of Giant Days 3 Jonathan wrote:

“Isn’t that Thom from Indie Society?”
“Yeah, with his pride and joy. Hey THOM, what’s going on?”
“Heh, just giving Vetiver a polish.”
“My 1990 Fiat Panda. Once owned by David Gedge of the Wedding Present.”
“Literally the most indie car EVER.”
“Fully restored. My parents got her for my 18th birthday. Great for getting to gigs. We don’t get the good bands here very often.”
“Well, goodnight, Thom. Remember, hands on top of the duvet.”

Ha ha, the University adventures of Susan Ptolemy and Daisy Wooton continue, and they have a new friend in the shape of acid-tongued Erin as they investigate the merits of the Indie music society, whilst their chum Esther de Groot gets further lured to the dark side by the Black Metal Society. Ed Gemmell, meanwhile, is still following Esther around like a lost puppy dog, bless him, even though Black Metal is really absolutely most definitely not his scene at all.


Buy Giant Days: Early Registration s/c and read the Page 45 review here

A Walk Through Hell vol 1: The Warehouse (£13-99, Aftershock) by Garth Ennis & Goran Sudžuka.

…but what you don’t see represented on the cover, right, is the gaping hole of glistening spot-varnish which is the yawning, pitch black chasm of the warehouse entrance. It draws the eye, just as it’s already drawn others physically inside…

Hello! How you doing? Had any decent nightmares recently?

Excellent! Here, have some more!

Just to give you a sense of perspective, I relished Garth Ennis’ socio-political run on HELLBLAZER (volumes 5 to 8) and heartily chuckled my way through PREACHER; I admired his eloquence and unusual, highly personal perspectives in WAR STORIES, I believe his run on PUNISHER MAX – which also included war stories – is unlikely to be surpassed down that particular dark alley, and I roared my head off at his PUNISHER: WELCOME BACK FRANK in no small part due to Steve Dillon’s deadpan. But none of Ennis’ horror since has really done much for me, until now.

Special Agents Shaw and McGregor have been dispatched to a Long Beach warehouse where two fellow agents, Hunzikker and Goss, have gone missing. They ventured inside several hours ago, but haven’t been heard from since.

Shaw and McGregor are greeted by a local police Lieutenant who’s been hovering by its entrance while his SWAT team sit cowering inside their armoured vehicle. They too went inside the warehouse – for all of 30 seconds.



Exasperated, mid-career Shaw leads the much fresher McGregor to see what’s happening inside. Nothing good, I can promise you that.

Now, the reason I’m back on board doesn’t really have anything to do with that. The meat of this first instalment lies in Shaw’s last case, and the lengths she went to secure a result. As the two agents attempt to keep each other sane in the wake of what they are witness to, their recollections make it increasingly clear that their current plight is not unconnected to their previous frustrations in dealing with the abduction of children.

You’re not going to like the fur-trimmed coat hanging on the bird box. You’re not going to like that at all.



There’s plenty of discussion about the current Presidency, the normalisation of hate-speech and hate-crime through Trump’s endorsement of the KKK and its radicalisation of the young into a wider white-supremacist right, plus the dissemination of their message on social media.

Where Sudžuka succeeds is in a normalisation of his own, anchoring this firmly in the real world; in the wearied expressions and sagging body language (at rest) of Shaw contrasted with the forward-leaning earnestness and energy of McGregor, and especially in the blank-faced comportment of their prior prime suspect during interview. I doubt it’s easy to give nuance to neutrality, to impassivity, but Sudžuka manages to do precisely that.

Only towards the end does Ennis reveal how that case finally panned out.

A WALK THROUGH HELL: THE CATHEDRAL begins with #6, running a little late but due any day now.


Buy A Walk Through Hell vol 1: The Warehouse and read the Page 45 review here

X-Men: Days Of Future Past (£14-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne with John Romita Jr.

A much bigger edition than previously issued, this reprints all the final Claremont & Byrne chapters following immediately on from X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX SAGA, drawing a line under the title’s finest era until Grant Morrison, Joss Whedon then Warren Ellis revitalised the property just a few years ago (NEW X-MEN and ASTONISHING X-MEN, respectively, all reviewed).

As such it kicks off with Jean Grey’s funeral on a bleak autumn day, the bitter wind blowing leaves across an empty sky and tugging at the mourners’ black trenchcoats. There her lover, Scott Summers, stands silently at the graveside, churning over the events that led them to this awful moment, at the end of which he will say good-bye. However revised since then, it remains a useful synopsis of the X-Men’s early history, and when first published acted as a fitting way of letting the severity of what just occurred sink in. No fights, no sub-plots, just a group of friends standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, utterly bereft.



All the original X-Men attend but only the Angel stays on, and finds himself both out of practice and a fish out of water. Things have changed. The days are far darker and there’s much worse to come, their one hope lying in their youngest recruit who arrives in a taxi and sits on her suitcases awaiting their return: Kitty Pryde aged 13 ½.

The atmosphere’s broken somewhat by the annual illustrated by a John Romita Jr. far from fully formed as yet, and I’d probably skip that if I were you. Go back and read it later after the Wendigo storyline guest-starring Alpha Flight and the final farewell as Kitty Pryde undergoes a rite of passage, alone in the X-Mansion, single-handedly fending off an intruder Alien-stylee.



In between all that we have ‘Days Of Future Past’ itself, a pivotal X-Men two-parter which will be revisited over and over again but never with the same shocking power.



It kicks off abruptly, right out of nowhere, in a future where Kate Pryde (whom we’ve barely had time to meet) is one of the last surviving members not just of the X-Men but the entire superhero community exterminated alongside most of the mutant species in a cold, methodical pogrom executed by the robotic killing machines known as the Sentinels… initially at the behest of the American government. Now the few mutants left alive subsist in a concentration camp whose endless rows of tombstones pointedly outnumber its inhabitants. She’s on her way to meet Logan, now with the Canadian resistance movement, and the New York she navigates is a bleak, bombed-out and perilous pile of ruins barely populated save for punk-like predators. Logan has what she needs: the final component of a mechanism that will block the inhibitor collars worn by Kate’s few surviving allies: Storm, Colossus, Franklin Richards and his telepathic wife, Rachel Summers. Oh, and a man in a wheelchair, but not necessarily who you think.



Their plan is two-fold: break out and attack the Baxter Building, the nexus of the Sentinels’ genocidal operations before the world retaliates with a nuclear holocaust, and send Kate Pryde back in time to prevent this future from ever happening. Friday October 31st 1980 and Presidential candidate Senator Kelly is about to deliver his address on the Mutant Hearings attended by Moira MacTaggert and Professor Charles Xavier. By the end of the day all three will be dead, murdered by the new Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants, so sparking the future we’ve seen come to pass… unless Kate in young Kitty’s body can convince the X-Men to stop it.

Let me tell you: the final few pages are devastating.

It’s become second-nature these days to criticise John Byrne for his conservatism (and I think we can all consider that a euphemism by now) and Claremont for his long-winded exposition and interminable sub-plots but here they are both at the top of their games on a title I loved dearly. For corporate superhero comics at the time, it was intricate, innovative, disciplined, and paid off in full.

It looked pretty sexy as well.




Buy X-Men: Days Of Future Past and read the Page 45 review here

…Aaaaaand we’re now done on the reviews front for the next two or three weeks! Both you and will be too busy celebrating Christmas and howling in the New Year, anyway!

See you in 2019! (A date which will only take me a month to get used to typing.)

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’

Doom Patrol vol 2: Nada s/c (£12-99, Young Animal) by Gerard Way & Nick Derington, Michael Allred, others

Lost Girls Expanded Edition h/c (£35-99, Knockabout / Top Shelf) by Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie

Memorabilia h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Sergio Ponchione

Rivers Of London: Water Weed (£13-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan

Scarlet vol 2 s/c (£12-99, Jinxworld) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

Vanishing Act h/c (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Roman Muradov

Daredevil: Back In Black vol 7: Mayor Murdock s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Mike Henderson

Marvel Knights Punisher Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon, Doug Braithwaite

Moon Knight Legacy vol 2: Phases s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Max Bemis & Ty Templeton, Paul Davidson, Jacen Burrows, Jeff Lemire, Bill Sienkiewicz

Thor vol 1: God Of Thunder Reborn s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Michael Del Mundo, Christian Ward

Venom: First Host s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Mike Costa & Mark Bagley, Ron Lim, Paco Diaz

Batman vol 8: Cold Days s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & Lee Weeks, Tony S. Daniel, Matt Wagner, Mark Buckingham, others

Batman: Europa s/c (£14-99, DC) by Matteo Casali, Brian Azzarello & Jim Lee, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Diego Latorre, Gerald Parel

Justice League: The World’s Greatest Heroes s/c (£24-99, DC) by Paul Dini & Alex Ross

Wonder Woman vol 7: Amazons Attacked s/c (Rebirth) (£16-99, DC) by James Robinson & Emanuela Lupacchino, various

Black Torch vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsuyoshi Takaki

Devilman Vs. Hades vol 3 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Go Nagai &  Team Moon

Devilman: The Classic Collection vol 2 h/c (£22-99, Seven Seas) by Go Nagai

Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 16: Imbalance Part 1 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Faith Erin Hicks & Peter Wartman

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