Archive for January, 2019

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2019 week four

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

“The perfect primer for those young and old alike wanting to learn more about the mighty Mesoamerican marauders who had it all before some psychopathic Spanish pendejo arrived and promptly took it all away from them.”

 – Jonathan on Discover… the Aztec Empire by Imogen and Isabel Greenberg.

The Collected Toppi vol 1: The Enchanted World h/c (£22-99, Lion Forge) by Sergio Toppi…

“You have only one thing to do: Listen to me!
“That’s it!
“Just do what I say!”

Are you listening? That’s Toppi talking, by the way not me. You tell ‘em, Toppi! If it was me, I’d be telling you to buy this. I am just about to do that shortly, by the way, I feel I have to warn you…

Anyway, it’s not Toppi himself, of course, but one of his creations giving you the hard word. Well, giving another of his creations a stern talking to, but you see what I mean. If you don’t, and I wouldn’t blame you, because I am blathering on rather, just have a look at the amazing art inside this first of seven planned works collecting eleven of his shorts which have appeared in various publications over the years.



I think, given that the subtitle of the second collection due later this year is ‘North America’ and it apparently “contains eleven tales set in historical periods within the early United States, Canada, and Alaska” and judging from the content here, which ranges from a vengeful Celtic god to a mushroom-hating gnome and all manner of magical, fantastical malarkey in-between, usually with a cynically dark, if not deadly, edge going on somewhere, the seven books are all going to have rather different themes.

I must say, as brilliant and stylistically unique an artist as Toppi is, and he truly is, I therefore tend, much like with Paul ESCAPO Pope, to forget just how fabulous a writer he is too. There were many of these shorts which I would have loved him to expand upon. Don’t get me wrong, the pieces here are no throwaway half-formed shorts, even the shortest is ten superlative pages, but each is such a gem of an idea that they could all have easily been expanded / worked into longer-form works. My two favourites were probably ‘Solitudinis Morbus’ about a very, very peculiar sickness that afflicts only lighthouse keepers…



…and ‘Aioranguaq’ about an Inuit who loses his name whilst out hunting and has to earn it back.



As mentioned, I note this volume also contains eleven stories. Now, I have no idea if that is some sort of mystical thematic numerical congruency the editor is trying to achieve, and each of the other five volumes will also contain eleven yarns making a grand total of seventy-seven. Possibly upon completing reading the seventy seventh story, a large portal will open up, Toppi will appear and drag the reader off to the comics underworld. Given how enjoyable reading this particular set was, I’m willing to take that risk…

If you want a more sensible review of some Toppi material, please check out THE COLLECTOR, as unfortunately SHARAZ-DE is seemingly out of print for good now. One more thing… like I said…

Buy this! That’s me telling you.


Buy The Collected Toppi vol 1: The Enchanted World h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Supers: A Little Star Past Cassiopeia (£13-99, Top Shelf) by Frédéric Maupomé and Dawid.

Starting a new school is tough. What with large buildings housing a labyrinth of corridors, confusing timetables, and countless new people – none of whom seem particularly interested in helping you find your way around. Oh, not to mention this is a whole new planet to get used to…

Matt, Lily and Benji spent the early years of their lives on a space station in the asteroid belt surrounding a distant star, but when the local situation got dangerous they were promptly whisked away, out of harm’s reach. Now, they find themselves on planet Earth and the three siblings are the only family they have. So whilst they may have Al, a rather unimaginatively named green, space age A.I. Assistant, it has fallen on Matt’s shoulders to keep them all together.



Benji is headstrong, and Lily is still a little naïve, and neither can see the point in keeping their super powers entirely secret. Did I mention they had superpowers? Little do they know how much danger they could potentially be putting their tiny family unit in, were some unsuspecting human to spot them levitating the shopping away through the kitchen window.



In this first volume we get to follow the three as they settle into their new home and get used to school life. They make a few new friends along the way, but also an enemy or two, for as with every school, there is always the school bully.

Dawid’s artwork glows with an autumnal warmth throughout, whether it’s the chaotic buzz of a school day, or a pensive moment of our three siblings sat nestled on a rooftop, gazing longingly at the night sky. But no place has quite the same exuberant amount of warmth as Matt’s new friend Jeanne’s room does. It glows with shade of orange as a golden sunlight gently touches the clutter and keepsakes decorating her room. It is a space every bit as embracing as Jeanne herself, and I can’t help but get the feeling that she is going to become a wonderfully positive ally to the tiny family unit.



Maupomé has beautifully blended the super with the ordinary to create a relatable and heartfelt story of adolescence, self-discovery, and finding your place in life with a fun, exciting twist.

For another excellent example about the travails but also potential delights of starting a new school, please see FRIENDS WITH BOYS by Faith Erin Hicks.


Buy Supers: A Little Star Past Cassiopeia and read the Page 45 review here

Discover… the Aztec Empire h/c (£8-99, Frances Lincoln) by Imogen Greenberg & Isabel Greenberg…

“On their way, they discovered that the Aztec Empire was made up of many cities, and that there were many rivalries between those cities. The Spaniards began to take advantage of this.”

“We want their money. You want their money. Let’s take their money together. It’s win-win!”
“That sounds suspiciously simple…”
“There’s nothing to it. You do all the fighting, and we’ll split all the profits.”

Which is sadly where it all started to go wrong for the mighty Aztecs, when Hernán Cortés and the good old conquistadors arrived in search of the mythical El Dorado and had to settle for destroying an empire instead. Prior to that, for nigh on two hundred years, the Aztecs managed to conquer most of Central America themselves, establishing grand cities and of course indulging in the odd human sacrifice or two… thousand.



Read all about it from the pen and pencils of Greenberg and Greenberg who also brought you DISCOVER… THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS and DISCOVER… THE ROMAN EMPIRE. (Isabel Greenberg even brought you THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH and THE ONE HUNDRED NIGHTS OF HERO, both of which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month.)

If you need some fun historical learning, then these creators have the low-down on everything you need to know to enjoy an empire: right-uppity royal rulers, grand cities constructed by slave labour, a complicated calendar, a suitably plausible creation story complete with scary gods that need to be obeyed, thereby neatly providing a justification for sacrifice and a rewarding heavenly afterlife, bloody wars that simply had to be fought and the warriors that waged them, plus the basic structures of society and routines of daily life themselves.



Jovially illustrated complete with fold-out map and timeline (because why not?!) this titter-worthy treatise is the perfect primer for those young and old alike wanting to learn more about the mighty Mesoamerican marauders who had it all before some psychopathic Spanish pendejo arrived and promptly took it all away from them.



You win some, you lose some…


Buy Discover… the Aztec Empire h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dungeons & Dragons: Art & Arcana – A Visual History h/c (£35-00, Ten Speed Press) by Michael Winter, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer…

Well, it isn’t comics, but we thought more than a few of you might be interested in this insightful integration of information on the iconic icosahedronic… oh dear, I seem to be suffering from alliteration breakdown…

Anyway, here are the sage words of wisdom from the DM, okay the publisher, to clue you in before you turn the virtual page by scrolling down slightly and start adventuring, I mean, reading…

Dungeons and Dragons is the most iconic and pervasive gaming franchise in the world. This officially licensed illustrated history provides an unprecedented look at the visual evolution of the game, showing its continued influence on the worlds of pop culture and fantasy. It features more than 700 pieces of artwork-from each edition of the game’s core books, supplements, and modules; decades of Dragon and Dungeon magazines; classic advertisements and merchandise; and never-before-seen sketches, large-format canvases, rare photographs, one-of-a-kind drafts, and more from the now-famous designers and artists associated with the game. This is the most comprehensive collection of D&D imagery ever assembled, making this the ultimate collectible for the game’s millions of fans around the world.”

Slightly on the hyperbolic side perhaps, but I have to say that this is a truly epic work. I wholeheartedly applaud the immense amount of research and curative care that has gone into putting this tome together. For anyone with an interest in the back story of what I think we can agree is the RPG daddy of them all, this will more than satisfy. One man’s mountain of minutiae is a treasure trove of tantalising trivia to another. I was certainly in the latter camp with this work. It was darker than a goblin’s privy before I finally managed to stop reading yet another fascinating chapter and close the lid, I mean covers.



Every aspect of the creation and subsequent evolution of the RPG itself and its playing materials and so much more besides is covered in extensive depth, including the nonsensical negative media attention it attracted, foolishly believed by many paranoid parents, following the mysterious disappearance of Michigan State student James Dallas Egbert III <casts spell of bewilderment – 5 common sense> who subsequently re-appeared to rather less media sensationalism a month later. His decision to run away had everything to with academic pressure and nothing to do with Dungeons & Dragons…

It also covers the myriad spin-off merchandise and media tie-ins, such as the much beloved cartoon series that cashed in on the game’s popularity. Though I notice the brief cameo appearance D&D made to much faux-derision in the Grange Hill spin-off Tucker’s Luck somehow escaped the editor’s attention… The perhaps inevitable politics, in-fighting and consequent legal shenanigans that occurred following D&D’s runaway exponential success is also walked through for the record.



If you haven’t got the time to read this, for a brief potted history of the early days of D&D and its DM-in-chief, there is RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX & THE CREATION OF D&D which is indeed comics, but if learning about the lore of the game itself is what you’re after, rather than the characters involved in its inception, this behemoth is the one you need.



If you just want RPG-related fictional comics by the way, then look no further than Kieron Gillen’s magnificent, multifaceted DIE, which after a mere two single issues is already shaping up to be a classic.

If you want comics about people playing RPGs then perhaps THE ADVENTURE ZONE: HERE BE GERBLINS by the Brothers Elroy of apparently some degree of podcast fame may take your fancy.

If you want to play D&D… well, I can’t help you there, just pick up the dice and get rolling…


Buy Dungeons & Dragons: Art & Arcana – A Visual History h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye s/c (£19-99, Epigram) by Sonny Liew…

My Book of the Year 2016, now out in softcover.

“In the beginning, there was Tezuka. They called him the God of manga.”
“I’ve got that book of his over here…
“As for me, I was born in the year of nothing. 1938.
“Well, as far as Singapore’s history is concerned, anyway… 1938… It was before the war, not a year of any particular significance…
But it was the year that The Beano first appeared in the UK…and Superman made his debut in the United States.”

I never knew that. Perhaps someone needs to organise a Dennis The Menace vs. Superman centennial crossover for 2038? I can just imagine the put-upon Clark Kent being best chums with Weedy Walter. It wouldn’t be the weirdest match up, surely; I mean SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMED ALI was pretty odd, though I would contend BJORN BORG VS. PLUG of The Bash Street Kids, with the toothsome teen thrashing the great tennis maestro, is probably more bizarre still.



Hmm… not sure if one can technically have said to digressed before you’ve actually started something, but I’d best get on with the review! Or at least provide some background first…

Singapore, the “Crown Jewel of the British Empire”, is arguably the most successful former colonial territory, of any of the ‘great’ 19th and 20th Century European empires, in terms of its transition to independence. It’s economic prosperity and increased living standards enjoyed by its citizens were the envy of all its Asian neighbours in the latter half of the 20th Century. Most of the plaudits for that progress can be laid at the feet of The People’s Action Party which has formed the democratically elected and re-elected incumbent government since 1959, and its first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who actually held the position until 1990.

That progress, guided by Lee who is regarded as the founding father of modern Singapore, from “third world to first world in a single generation”, is clearly impressive. As ever, of course, along the way, there were certain dissenting voices who were, shall we say, removed as obstacles, by a combination of political chicanery, state abuse of power (particularly in the sphere of silencing dissenting journalists) and a disturbing use of extended internment without charge for radicals. It is probably testament to the relatively small scale and generally bloodless nature of these measures, that the vast majority of Singaporeans regard them as having been a necessary evil.



That moral conundrum, plus the history of this island from colonial trading outpost to fully fledged Asian tiger and much more besides is explored through the eyes, and art, of Singapore’s greatest comics artist: Charlie Chan Hock Chye.  Except… such a person never existed…



Sonny Liew has created a truly fascinating proxy to allow him to take us on the Singaporean independence journey, warts and all. That story in and of itself is immaculately laid out, very objectively, without shying away from any of the darker elements. But it’s the retrospective of the faux career of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, shown in snippets of chapters and sketches, à la mode of Seth’s THE GREAT NORTHERN BROTHERHOOD OF CANADIAN CARTOONISTS, which elevates this to a work of genius. Because Charlie Chan Hock Chye was always a man who expressed himself through his comics, and was someone who had much to say. With the arm’s length remove of anthropomorphic satirical gag strips or a speculative fiction premise about a fascistic future regime of hegemonistic alien overlords, his comics allowed him far more freedom of speech than the oppressed journalistic press itself enjoyed.




Thus Sonny Liew is very neatly able to provide a much more personal and subjective commentary on the never changing political landscape and various tumultuous events as they affected the typical man in the street. As with Seth’s masterpiece, you’ll be left wishing that some of Charlie Chan Hock Chye’s works actually existed because you’ll be wanting to read them in full!



There is an additional comedic level revolving around Charlie Chan Hock Chye’s entirely self-appointed status as “Singapore’s greatest comics artist” and his complete lack of any substantial commercial success, including his attempts to crack America, which is almost certainly a bit of personal commentary on Sonny’s part on working as a comics creator I would imagine, but which only serves to season our appreciation of this fake master even further.



Sonny employs a truly enormous range of art styles throughout this work, which is undoubtedly his magnum opus, demonstrating the various creative twists and turns (and cul-de-sacs) a comics artist might take during such an extensive and varied career. Fake or not, he’s had to draw them all! I seriously hope this work serves as a springboard to greater widespread recognition and rewards for Sonny though, because he truly deserves it. I can’t imagine how he can top this creatively, mind you, but I’m fascinated to see how he’ll try.


Buy The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Proxima Centauri s/c (£14-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple.

“Get behind the blast glass!”

*        *       *

“Don’t freaking lecture me.”

*        *       *

 “Everything’s so stinking annoying today.”

*        *       *

“That thing ate my ride! What a jerk.”

*        *       *

From the creator of THE WRENCHIES, POP GUN WAR VOL 1, both extensively reviewed, plus POP GUN WAR VOL 2, and IT WILL ALL HURT which I also dipped into.

If you enjoyed THE WRENCHIES, then it’s time to rejoin The Scientist and indeed fractious Sherwood, still fretting about his lost brother Orson while frowning and drowning in post-pubescent hormones.

“Don’t forget to drink water, Sherwood.”
“I know.”



Here’s the publisher:

“4.243 light-years from Earth, the teenage wizard adventurer Sherwood Breadcoat is stuck in the confounding spectral zone on the manufactured dimensional sphere, Proxima Centauri, looking for escape and a way back to his brother while dealing with his confusing emotions, alien creatures, and all sorts of unknown, fantastic dangers. The Scientist H. Duke sends Sherwood on a salvage mission and gives counsel to the troubled boy in his charge.

“PROXIMA CENTAURI is six issues of psychedelic science fantasy action comicbook drama starring Sherwood Breadcoat, ‘The Scientist’ Duke Herzog, Dr. EXT the Time Traveler, the ghost M. Parasol, Shakey the Space Wizard, and Dhog Dahog.”



Dalrymple nails Sherwood’s teenage obstreperousness with giant, proclamatory speech balloons and defiant, sword-brandishing impatience to which The Scientist issues sage and scholarly advice without any thought to the certainty that it’ll mean nothing whatsoever to a self-obsessed teenager:

“Why so impatient to grow up? Learn to be present and your anxiety will subside.”



It’s hard to be present while under assault from sewer-swarms of monstrous, sharp-toothed insectoids while racing through gravity-shifting concrete jungles and spectacular, architectural retro-futuristic collisions.

There’s some Basil Wolverton about the bloating of the beasts’ heads, and a big love of Moebius in some of the floating landscapes.



File under “all kinds of crazy” and drink in the varied colour treatments.


Buy Proxima Centauri s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dropped Off Our System / Now Reinstated

The Book Of Mr. Natural h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Robert Crumb.

“You’re just a crazed old man… that’s what you are! And I’m half crazy for ever taking you seriously!”

“Now we’re getting somewhere! Come here, I’ll let ya in on a secret! THE WHOLE UNIVERSE IS COMPLETELY INSANE!”

Meet Mr. Natural, all shoes and beard, finger perpetually raised, poised to pronounce advice to those like Flakey Foont who are too feckless to think for themselves. It’s like some sort of lovers’ battle as Foont oscillates between adoration and desperation to declaring his mentor a fraud; the same goes equally for Mr. Natural as he lectures his acolytes then refuses to say a word, rejecting the fawning Foont as he hops about him maddeningly. Getting back to nature and away from cars, television sets and household appliances is what Mr. Natural is all about – which is odd for someone so fixated on washing the dishes.

It’s all about private meditation, not the ostentation of “Omm”ing on the streets of Sham Francisco. Sex too is a top priority, but not at the cost of commitment which infuriates the insatiably horny Devil Girl (“I want to merge with you!”).

So is Mr. Natural a sage or a charlatan? Absolutely.

He’s also, if you believe one version, an ex-taxi driver from Afghanistan.

Classic underground material from way back then.


Buy The Book Of Mr. Natural h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hippopotamister (£13-50, FirstSecond) by John Patrick Green.

The joy of learning job skills and finding your personal calling!

Packed with wit and delivered with relish, this is a delightful Young Readers surprise told in three acts during which every aspect of the initial decay is, most unexpectedly, dealt with. I love a good structure and this is ever so neat – unlike these entropic enclosures.

“The old City Zoo was falling apart.
“No one was buying tickets.
“No one was managing the office.
“The habitats needed repair.
“The monkeys had no energy.
“The lion’s mane wasn’t very regal.
“The walrus’s smile wasn’t very bright.
“And in the centre of it all lived Red Panda and Hippopotamus.”

To be honest, the whole thing needs relocating and a thorough Gerald Durrell or Chester Zoo make-over. But it’s an old City Zoo and I think we can leave matters of a breeding programme to one side with 3 to 5 year olds.

Red Panda is thoroughly bored of it all and leaves to live amongst humans, returning each season to impress Hippopotamus with a dazzling array of jobs he claims are “awesome”. Indeed they may be, but either Red Panda has the attention span of a bluebottle on Benzedrine or… well, we’ll see shortly, won’t we?

Finally his friend becomes fed up too, and asks Red Panda if he could find him a job too. Ever enthusiastic, Red Panda immediately agrees, for to live amongst humans you must learn to stand on your own two feet. And they do, quite literally, hence Hippopotamister!



Together they try their hands at construction, banking, hairdressing… and it swiftly becomes clear that although Hippopotamister has an aptitude for almost everything, well, here’s what happens when they attempt to cook up something suitable in the kitchen.

Hippopasta Primavera:

Pasta al dente tossed with garlic and olive oil.
Steamed broccoli, crisp bell peppers, and grape tomatoes.
Sprinkling of parmesan over sautéed onions.

Antipasto A La Red Panda:

Critters, insects and assorted bugs.
Twigs, pebbles and burnt rocks.
Lint and mismatched buttons.
Red vine liquorice, mushrooms and car keys.

Car keys! I love that the rocks are burnt.

No matter, what Red Panda lacks in finesse, he more than makes up for with inexhaustible optimism. “This is going to be the best job ever!” he declares each and every time. You too will probably wince when they enter the dental practice. Particularly funny was the accelerated four-page montage during which Red Panda manages to make such a spectacular – and I mean catastrophic – mess of absolutely everything that he turns failure into an extreme sport. I adored their fling at being firemen!




However, if there’s one thing Red Panda excels at, it’s energy and enthusiasm and he doesn’t know how to give up. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

It’s at this point I leave you for fear of having to type “Hippopotamister” again with any accuracy, but it will all fit together – a lot better than Red Panda’s plumbing, anyway.


Buy Hippopotamister and read the Page 45 review here

You Are A Cat Pick A Plot vol 2 Zombie Apocalypse (£13-50, Conundrum Press) by Sherwin Tjia.

What was that sound?!

Imagine you’re a cat curled up on lounge sofa, merrily moulting ginger hair all over your gothic owners’ black cushions after having scratched several shades of shit out of their floor-length, velveteen curtains. It was exhausting – you deserve a nap.

But just as you’d settled down to doze, contemplating the decapitated frog you’d left beside the bed upstairs (exactly where the mother will soon place her naked foot), there’s a jangling of keys and the teenage lady of the house laughs her way through the front door accompanied by her new girlfriend. And that’s okay, but when her father staggers in a few minutes later and slumps like a drunk against the hall wall… that’s when your life changes forever.

Before we launch properly in I should emphasise that, unlike the two self-determining graphic novels we stock (KNIGHT & DRAGON and Jason Shiga’s enormously inventive MEANWHILE), this and YOU ARE A CAT VOL 1 are both illustrated prose brought to our comicbook attention on account of Tija’s magnificent short-story collection HIPLESS BOY which I described as “early Tomine if Adrian was an optimist.” Of the seemingly innocuous YOU ARE A CAT VOL 1 I wrote:

“WARNING: most certainly not suitable for kids! Oh, I know it looks as if it should be: for a start it’s a cat, secondly it’s riffing off and indeed mimicking your childhood favourites where you controlled the narrative by becoming the protagonist, making her or his decision for them, and then turning backwards or forwards to the duly prescribed page.”

What it actually contained was all manner of mischief involving moments of a dysfunctional family that only a cat would witness. This time the warning’s in the title and the cover, but nothing there could possibly prepare you for the true horror within. And we’re not even talking about the zombies: there are worse fates than getting your neck nibbled on by a bunch of hive-minded shamblers.

“The next two hours are awful.”



That, I promise you, is an understatement, for Sherwin Tija has put his thinking cap on sideways and come up with all manner of fucked-up futures for a cat caught in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, several strands involving you being bitten and infected yourself.

I am no expert in zombies, myself, but I consulted with Dominique and it appears that there are indeed very few strains which involve a zombie’s perspective, let alone a zombified cat, and Tija’s take is far from obvious because, to his mind, every animal would react differently. At one point when fresh human flesh is on offer you’re given three options, one of which is “Will you teach them your love?” * Funny.

There are a substantial two hundred and fifty pocket-sized pages here which Sherwin has packed with enormous fight-or-flight variety involving your bit of fluff down the road, her aging owner, a fenced-off enclave surrounded by snipers, a helicopter, outrageously ruthless scientists and some brand-new means of infection which I would never have imagined in a million years. Hint: you may never breast-feed again.

As to the myriad of final fates, they are soooooooooooooo dark that the brightest is almost the opportunity to throw yourself off a roof without having even attempted to negotiate DC’s juddering, advert-stuffed website.

“But, Stephen, is there no hope of happiness?”

Maybe. Define “happiness”. Hahahahaha!


* That was a hand-written note and I can no longer find the relevant page so it may not be verbatim. Also, I made the decapitated frog’s head up from an all-too-true personal, cold, clammy, squelch-crunch experience for which I never forgave my own Mr Bob-San, God rest his perpetually stoned so insatiably hungry but oh so photogenic, fat, feline soul.


Buy You Are A Cat Pick A Plot vol 2 Zombie Apocalypse 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’

Shanghai Red s/c (£14-99, Image) by Christopher Sebela & Josh Hixson

Submerged vol 1 (£13-99, Vault) by Vita Ayala & Lisa Sterle

To Drink & To Eat vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Lion Forge) by Guillaume Long

Bad Machinery vol 7: The Case Of The Forked Road (Pocket Slipcase Edition) (£11-99, Oni) by John Allison

Cicada h/c (US Edition) (£17-99, AAL) by Shaun Tan

Herakles Book 2 h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge) by Edouard Cour

Iron Or The War After s/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Shane-Michael Vidaurri

My Cardboard Life (Signed & Sketched In) (£10-00, ) by Philippa Rice

Courtney Crumrin vol 4 s/c (£11-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh

Darth Vader: Dark Lord Of The Sith vol 4: Fortress Vader s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2019 week three

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

“Perhaps loving someone shouldn’t be confused with understanding them…?”

 – Jonathan on James Sturm’s Off Season

The Lady Doctor (£14-99, Myriad) by Ian Williams…

“So how are things with you? You sounded a bit upset on the phone.”

“I got a letter. From my mother.”
“From Cilla? Jesus Jones!”

Haha, that’s a great curse for those of us of a certain age. I might have to start using that. The good doctor returns – that’s Ian Williams by the way, certainly not any of his creations – to tell us more of the going-ons at and by the practitioners and patients of the Meddygfa Llangandida Health Centre which, with sincere apologies to our Welsh customers, itself sounds like it’s named after a particularly debilitating brain disease. Perhaps from reading too many comics…

We will see Dr. Iwan THE BAD DOCTOR James, still covertly and timidly lusting after his very available titular co-worker, plus the supremely obnoxious Dr. Robert Smith, still just being a complete tosser, but the star of the show this time around is most definitely Lois. And her mum who tries her best to steal every scene she’s in!




They have something in common, our Cilla and Lois, which after not seeing each other for nearly  forty years since her mum simply dropped everything and walked out of Lois’ life as a tiny child is somewhat unexpected. That it is Lois’ liver, well, that falls into the completely totally and utterly variety of unexpected…

With no suitable husband material on the horizon (much to Dr. Robert’s delight who is desperate for Lois not get herself up the duff and inconvenience the practice, well him at any rate…) and a drink habit verging on the cusp of getting out of hand, Lois finds herself at somewhat of a crossroads in life.



Her long-standing crop of patients, including one particularly prescription-mad one, are doing her head in, plus her sideline of sorting people’s bits and bobs out at the nearby genitourinary clinic is, shall we say, not exactly satisfying her professionally, despite its potential for the occasional moment of hilarity. Good job her mum’s about to drop a hepatic hammer blow on her before promptly attempting to bulldoze her way back into her liver, I mean life!

As before, Ian’s art style minded me of Kevin FIELDER Huizenga, and actually this time around Andi THE CITY NEVER SLEEPS Watson. I think I’ve mentioned before he’s exceptionally good at working expression into his characters’ faces, including here one glorious sequence after a particularly bad inebriated life choice from Lois which me made howl with laughter. As before he completely eschews panel borders, frequently using single soft colour backgrounds with rounded corners. There is also a… trying to avoid spoilers… a rather more colourful section which I found mind-blowing. As did Lois.



Once again, I really admire the careful attention paid to the construction of this work. I devoured it with delight and I do hope Ian holds to his original intention to make this a trilogy. One would presume therefore that Dr. Robert might be the final member of our triaging triumvirate to take his comics bow. Given the proverbial (and highly appropriate) bomb that gets dropped on him at the conclusion of this work which I hope is part of said set up, I look forward to watching his misery first hand in the future…


Buy The Lady Doctor and read the Page 45 review here

20th Century Boys Perfect Edition vol 1 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa.


From the creator of PLUTO and MONSTER comes a series so far set in 1997 – with childhood recollections flashing back as far as 1968 – but we have already caught glimpses from the other side of the millennial divide which will make you sit up and think, informing everything which you read within. This is a brand-new review.

It is time to get ominous on your ass.

“You want to know, open your mind!!
“You want to know, surrender your spirit!!
“You want to know, take a leap of faith!!
“You want to know, become a friend.”

The wild-eyed man means a very special sort of friend: a friend of their Friend, an enigmatic man who likes to hold court and answer questions, drawing devoted followers so numerous that they fill a darkened arena as large as the Budokan. They meet under a banner whose sign is an eye within an eye, and the inner eye emanates out from a hand pointing upwards.



An acolyte earnestly raises his hand:

“My Friend, what does it mean to find true tranquillity?”
“Good question,” replies this Friend, silhouetted in shadow.
“To be with me – that is what it means to find tranquillity.”

And who wouldn’t want to find tranquillity? But if you’re hearing intimations of Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’, please think again: Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet never made anything about himself, this holy “me”.

I once had a friend who joined a karate cult which preached “Happiness is belonging”. It was one of many ways intended to dissuade departure and making dependence on one’s membership an emotionally addictive crutch. Think Jehovah’s Witnesses. It also actively taught outright obedience, transgression punishable by humiliation – like being told to strip in front of fellow friends, as my mate was, and did.

But then I’m an intransigent adversary of all forms of indoctrination and authority which is why I created my own comic shop, beholden to no one, so perhaps I’m a little bit biased…

Nope, I’m pretty sure that physical humiliation is wrong.

It is the discovery of (and investigations into) this Japanese cult – which will prove to have tendrils infiltrating all walks of life, and apocalyptic ambitions reaching far wider than one single nation – which forms the bulk of this opening volume. One of these angles is chased by lawyers alerted by members’ parents, another by the police alerted by the disappearance of a local, oddball professor. But that latter investigation is what also alerts lead protagonist Kenji, a local store owner who makes deliveries of produce to that professor, to embark on his own much more personal mission because, daubed like a swastika on that professor’s deserted door, he discovers a symbol: an eye within an eye, the inner eye emanating out from a hand pointing upwards.



It’s exactly the same emblem which he himself helped create back in 1969 with his pre-teen friends upon forming an innocent childhood, den-based, secret society of their own. One of their ambitions: to save the world!

And suddenly, everywhere Kenji looks, he sees that symbol resurfacing: for example, as a baseball team’s t-shirt colours at the university where one of those childhood friends taught until he recently committing suicide. It is at this friend’s funeral and his wake that the rest of those early playmates converge. Naturally, they begin swapping stories and gradually, reluctantly, a few among them start to agree that something about their jejune declaration to save the world has gone disastrously wrong…



What I loved about this is not necessarily what you’d expect, for it has such hidden depths.

Urasawa may not be Japan’s Jiro Taniguchi (A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD, VENICE, GUARDIANS OF THE LOUVRE, FURARI etc) when it comes to tranquil, spiritual introspection or Taiyo Matsumoto when it comes to the evocation of very real, raw and deprived childhood in the likes of SUNNY. But the creator of PLUTO and MONSTER is not going to let you down when it comes to the fleshing out of characters, their socio-political predicaments, or their present and past.



Kenji, for example, is struggling with a present which makes demands of him as a failing shop owner under threat by the remonstrations, castigations and ultimatums of his chain-store boss, and the twin burdens weighing him down of a prune-faced mother dipping her hand into his produce and his potentially psychic baby-niece whom he carries everywhere upon his back now that his sister has deserted her family. But you will discover that she wasn’t once half so flighty (pun and understatement both intended), that she may have had most pressing reasons for this swift departure, and your jaw will be floored when it’s revealed what [REDACTED]. No, it really will.

More than any of that, though, the flashbacks you’ll experience within will tick so many recognition boxes relating to your own childhood: the bullies, the building of dens, the dependence on bikes, the ostracism of that other kid until they prove their true value which you should always have appreciated much to your immediate, red-faced shame then eternal loyalty, the holiday or after-school routines like visiting that local newsagent for bubblegum packets complete with collectible cards, or simply wondering what a wanton (here misunderstood as won-ton) floozy actually was when pinned up on a poster and advertised as such.



It’s also very, very funny in places.

Unlike our Friend who demands to be worshipped (and I like that neither that Friend nor his cult bear a name, only a symbol like The Artist Formerly Known As Prince), there is a so-far minor character (whom I suspect may come to play a much more major role) called Kami who cannot abide his honorific title amongst his fellow vagrants, “Kamisama”, indicating that they regard him as a god. An elderly and homeless man, he is at pains to point out that he is not a god with special powers and so does not deserve their adulation. Although…

“Kamisama dreams something, you know it’s gonna happen. I mean, right after he told Toku-san this would be the year he hits it big…”
“Toku-san got hit by a truck. We oughta visit him in hospital. I think he’s about to die…”

I’m afraid that Kami’s intuitive, science- or god-given knowledge will prove painfully more accurate as worldwide attacks build with ever-increasing urgency.


“This tranquil feeling’s so beyond people who don’t understand it.”

This from the wild-eyed zealot with a man-given mission… and a carving kitchen knife in his hand.

With an art style that I can only describe as Japan’s John Buscema, Ron Garney or Lee Weeks, without even being able to describe what I mean (more melodramatic than photorealistic, but still some sumptuous figure work), I imagine will be treated to more of the hyper-detailed cityscapes so many of you relished in PLUTO as the series progresses. This, from a future volume, for example…



Wow, I almost managed to get through this entire review without referencing my childhood hero, Marc Bolan. It’s relevant, though.


Buy 20th Century Boys Perfect Edition vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Buy 20th Century Boys Perfect Edition vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Off Season h/c (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by James Sturm…



“Mom asks again if I can’t stay another night.
“Part of me feels guilty about taking off but once I’m on the road I know I made the right decision.
“Always better to leave too soon than stay too long.”

I thought James Sturm’s MARKET DAY back in 2010, the first time I became aware of him, was a truly moving work. A timeless piece about an artisan rug maker set in the early 1900s in Eastern Europe who finds himself unable to support his family as the shop that once took his wares now prefers to buy in cheaply manufactured tat. Slowly but surely, this proud creator of exquisite floor coverings begins to unravel faster than the competition’s products as he loses the thread of his hitherto certain life.



As a warning of the seemingly all-powerful forces of ‘the market’, of how people chose to spend their cash and with whom, it obviously holds true today, with seemingly yet another grim year for the high street in prospect. Don’t buy from Amazon et al folks; do frequent your high street instead. Or if you need to shop online, at least support an independent retailer. It may take a few clicks more but often they are just as cheap, trust me. I think we sold one copy of MARKET DAY by the way, which is a real shame, as it was a true high quality labour of love that frankly deserved a rather wider degree of appreciation.

Anyway, I digress… this time around James’s opted for a more contemporary setting for his latest tale of the travails of ‘real’ life, set against the dispiriting backdrop of the last American Presidential election. I’ll let the publisher give their stump speech before I cast my vote…



“James Sturm’s riveting graphic novel charts one couple’s divisive separation through the fall of 2016, during Bernie’s loss to Hillary, Hillary’s loss to Trump, and the disorienting months that followed. We see a father navigating life as a single parent and coping with the disintegration of a life-defining relationship.

Amid the upheaval are tender moments with his kids – a sleeping child being carried in from the car, Christmas morning anticipation, a late-night cookie after a temper tantrum – and fallible humans drenched in palpable feelings of grief, rage, loss, and overwhelming love. Off Season is unaffected and raw, steeped in the specificity of its time while speaking to a larger cultural moment.”



James can be my preferred comics candidate, that’s for sure. This is indeed at times, an emotionally hollowing read. I gradually began to feel quite empty inside indeed as I continued to turn the pages, and not just because Trump won. I… errr… might even have had to wipe my eyes at one point…

I think the key word in the publisher blurb above is “disintegration”. Seen from the position of Mark, struggling to deal with life, both emotionally and financially, as his separated wife Lisa distances herself from him more and more, it’s becoming increasingly impossible for him to feel, and by extension us the readers, any positivity about his situation whatsoever.

He still loves Lisa, and he certainly loves Suzie and Jeremy, their young kids, but he seems utterly powerless to prevent the seemingly permanent divergence of their lives. Perhaps loving someone shouldn’t be confused with understanding them…? At this point, Mark’s bitterness at his apparent inability to repair his marital situation, plus his rapidly dwindling fiscal prospects, is starting to really drag him down.

All of which sounds terribly depressing. And yet it isn’t, actually, which is a testament to James’ writing. You can sense Mark still has some fight left in him, even if he seems to be picking the wrong battles, or at least fighting them in the wrong manner. Lisa, well, Lisa has arrived at the point she’s at for reasons which eventually become clear, rather belatedly, both to Mark and to us. Whether that newfound clarity is going to help anyone is another matter entirely…



Fans of Adrian KILLING AND DYING Tomine’s bleaker material may well find this appeals tonally and content-wise. James has that same ability for all too clearly for comfort illustrating the painful morass that human interactions can quickly descend into. You may find yourself almost wincing and subconsciously shuffling with discomfort as Mark flounders on.

Art-wise, the very washed out palette of pale blues is entirely in keeping with the material. James also decided to make his characters anthropomorphic, specifically dogs. I think Mark might be a beagle actually, almost as if Snoopy were a human-bodied, hunched-shouldered, smoking depressive. I’m not entirely sure why, though it also gave me a slight flavour of Jason (ALMOST SILENT / IF YOU STEAL / LOW MOON), which given he isn’t actually Mr. Laugh-A-Minute himself, probably is also a good point of comparison.

I’m desperate to throw Mark a lifeline (I nearly said bone…) / give you a spoiler, but I won’t. Suffice to say, sometimes turning points can appear unexpectedly even when the road ahead seems only to stretch into the distance. The ending left me pondering…


Buy Off Season h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Farmhand vol 1 (£11-99, Image) by Rob Guillory…

“Your thumb. You broke your own rule. “No live human trials.””
“Yeah, well… someone had to do it. Who better? It was right after you left. Hit a bit of a dark patch. Hard to believe it’s only been seven years. Feels like a lifetime.”
“I’m glad you called. I wish you’d done it sooner.”
“I know, it’s just… you know me. After your mom… and after you left, I busied myself with hard work. And we’ve done a lot of good. We brought healing to people. But what good is it if I can’t even share this with my children? It’s the Jenkins family farm, for God’s sake. I was wrong, Ezekiel. About a lot. You were right to leave. But I’m glad you’re home. I want to start over. I want my family back.”
“Yeah, I’d like that. There’s a lot to work through. But I wanna move forward. All I ask is this: No more secrets. No more surprises. From now on, everything’s aboveboard in this family. Deal?”
“Scout’s honour, everything aboveboard.”

Of course it is Jedidiah, of course it is…



Here’s the publisher’s tasting notes to tantalise us further:

“Jedidiah Jenkins is a simple farmer. But his cash crop isn’t corn or soy. He grows fast-healing, highly-customizable human organs. For years, Jed’s organic transplants have brought healing to many, but deep in the soil of the Jenkins Family Farm something sinister has taken root. Today this dark seed will begin to sprout, and the Jenkins family will be the first to taste its bitter fruit.”



Jedidiah might profess to be a simple farmer, but he’s a wee bit more… devious than that. Not just with the public, but also his family as well. Which is a not inconsiderable part of the reason son Ezekiel was estranged from him for nigh on seven years. Still, he’s been lured back into the family fold by his undoubtedly charismatic father, who has also managed to charm the public with his miracle healing produce. And of course, because everything is above board, what could possibly go wrong? Errr… pretty much everything?



Much like Rob Guillory’s (and John Layman’s) hilarious long running CHEW series, which starred Tony Chu, the cibopathic federal agent with the ability to get psychic impressions from what he ate, this is madcap genetically modified fun right from the off going straight for the joke-jangling juiced-up jugular.



It feels slightly darker in tone than CHEW, which I think is entirely due to the somewhat sinister vibe of the all-too-evangelical Jedidiah, who is a wonderfully ambiguous character, much like Mason Savoy turned out to be in CHEW, but it’s still primarily laughs aplenty hitting the reader’s plate. Several other crackpots, Jenkins and otherwise, are introduced by the end of this first arc, fleshing out our cast nicely, and I’m expecting this to be a highly flavoursome character-driven comedy caper that will satisfy my taste for the farcically absurd. Because, you know, I don’t get enough of that working in a comic shop…


Buy Farmhand vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

DC Universe By Alan Moore (£22-99, DC) by Alan Moore & Curt Swan, Dave Gibbons, Klaus Janson, Kevin O’ Neill, Rick Veitch, more.

Alert! A new edition with a slight change in title, this no longer includes KILLING JOKE (now available as a gloriously recoloured hardcover) but does still contain SUPERMAN: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW about which I wrote in 2009:

“All these years, my greatest nightmare has been that someone would strike at me through my friends. Now it’s come true.”
“Listen, Bizarro’s dead, the others are behind bars. What’s to worry about?”
“I… I don’t know. It isn’t rational — It’s just… Well, if the nuisances from my past are coming back as killers… what happens when the killers come back?”

Originally published in September 1986, this “imaginary” story (that does make me laugh) was commissioned by SUPERMAN editor Julius Schwartz to answer any lingering questions at the end of his run on the book before John Byrne relauched the character. As such it takes place in the future, ten years after Superman’s death, when Lois Lane is married with a son to Jordy Elliot and is interviewed by a Daily Planet journalist for their Memorial Edition.



With clarity and with dignity, she speaks of the last days of the Man Of Steel when, after a lull, the crime suddenly starts escalating again with a murderous rage, threatening everyone associated with a Superman now publicly revealed to be reporter Clark Kent. As a last resort he gathers up as many as will come to his Fortress Of Solitude: even Perry White and his wife, their marriage having descended into awkward bickering, and long-term rivals Lois Lane and Lana Lang. It’s ominous enough that Krypto who’s been roaming the stars for years senses the need to return, but when the Legion Of Superheroes arrive from the 30th Century in order to pay tribute, Superman begins to wonder… why now?



It’s not Alan’s most subtle writing but then it wasn’t written with the most subtle audience in mind, yet what it has in abundance is heart. There’s a key scene in which Superman and Perry White, neither of whom can sleep on the night before the siege, settle down to talk:

“I think I’m going to die, and there’s so much in my life I have to get straight… like me and Lois. Like me and Lana. You see, I’ve messed up both their lives, haven’t I? They’ve wasted their love on me, while I couldn’t let myself love either of them the way they deserved. I wish I’d explained. I wish I hadn’t been such a coward.”

Meanwhile Jimmy Olsen and Lana Lang have been make preparations of their own to earn their privilege as Superman’s friends; he by drinking the Elastic Lad Serum, Lana by bathing in the lake that once gave her all of Superman’s powers, including super-hearing…

“You see,” continues Clarke, “back when I was Superboy, Lana was the only girl I loved. She still represents Smallville to me, that part of my life, and because of that I could never cast her aside. …But since I’ve grown and become a man, there’s only ever been one woman for me. Lois. Beautiful Lois. I love her, Perry. Dear God, I love her so much… But I can’t tell her without hurting Lana. I’d never hurt Lana, so I just walk around with this secret, this weight in my heart… and I’ll carry it with me to my grave… and neither of them will ever know.”

The exchange is made all the more poignant by Alan’s careful timing as to what – or rather who – is represented in each panel and the subtle expressions Curt Swan lends them.

Swan had become pretty much synonymous with Superman by that point, whilst the inking is unmistakably George Pérez. It has none of the explosive carnage of modern photo-realists, but then that’s not why you should be here. You’re here for the humanity yet make no mistake, Swan makes every self-sacrifice count as Krypto does what a dog will do in a final battle with The Kryponite Man, and the rest take on a Lex Luthor hijacked by Brianiac plus one other who’s been responsible for all the recent pain and suffering.



Also included are the two early Alan Moore Superman stories: ‘The Jungle Line’ from 1985’s DC COMICS PRESENTS #85 co-starring The Swamp Thing, and ‘For The Man Who Has Everything’ from SUPERMAN ANNUAL #11 illustrated by Dave Gibbons.

In the latter, Wonder Woman, Batman and his second Robin pay a visit to the Fortress bearing gifts for Superman’s birthday. Unfortunately he’s already opened one: an organism which has latched onto his body and invaded his mind. It’s supposed to seduce Superman with a perfect existence, but interestingly enough although Kal-el is married with children on a Krypton still intact, there’s trouble in paradise. His widowed father Jor-El was expelled from the Science Council for his faulty predictions and, in opposition to drug trafficking, and race riots which he’s doing as much to inflame himself, has taken up with extremist sects like the Sword of Rao who march through the street like the Ku Klux Klan, their burning crosses being up-ended swords.



There’s an early line that still makes me smile when Robin wonders how Wonder Woman can feel no cold in the Arctic Circle given how scantily clothed she is. Gibbons adds substantially to the impact with Batman’s smile, hidden to Robin, and Robin’s crestfallen reaction to being sussed out:

“Think clean thoughts, chum.”




Here’s our Mark on the rest of the original edition, a great deal longer ago:

A baker’s dozen of stories from ’85 to ’87. Only a short period, but it feels like a ‘best of…’ of someone else’s work.

About half of this I’ve never seen before because when came out when Moore was still rising up through the ranks and, once you’d heard about them, they were pretty unobtainable. His Green Lantern Corps was always fun. Even now, if you give him the possibility of an alien race, he’ll come up with an idea so obvious that you wonder why it took so long to be voiced. As with all of his writing, connections are shown. So, a new Green Lantern is needed in a far flung sector and a missionary is sent out. The problem starts when she realises that it’s a light-free planet and all the inhabitants are blind. How do you explain what a lantern is?




One of the other GLC stories has Kevin O’Neill art and got into trouble with the Comics Code Authority because of the foul, dripping artwork which makes you realise how lucky we were to have him on [2000 AD’s] NEMESIS in the UK. As a nostalgic superhero fix, it’s the tops. You get Batman, Superman, Swamp Thing and some very nice Dave Gibbons artwork.



Buy DC Universe By Alan Moore 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 Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye s/c (£19-99, Epigram) by Sonny Liew

The Collected Toppi vol 1: The Enchanted World h/c (£22-99, Lion Forge) by Sergio Toppi

The Aztec Empire h/c (£8-99, Frances Lincoln) by Imogen Greenberg & Isabel Greenberg

Dungeons & Dragons: Art & Arcana – A Visual History h/c (£35-00, Ten Speed Press) by Michael Winter, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer

Proxima Centauri s/c (£14-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple

Dark Nights: Metal s/c (£16-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Greg Capullo, various

Extermination s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Ed Brisson & Pepe Larraz

Barefoot Gen vol 4 (£14-99, Last Gasp) by Keiji Nakazawa

Dragonball Super vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama & Toyotarou

My Hero Academia: Vigilantes vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Hideyuki Furuhashi & Betten Court

One-Punch Man vol 15 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2019 week two

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

“The colouring throughout by Phillips Jr. is particularly striking, being expressionistic, fiery, bruised, bloody, battered, dirty and suitably stained. On the pages I describe immediately above, as the bourbon’s consumed, it’s as if someone’s spilled claret across them.”

  – Stephen on Criminal #1

Criminal #1 (£3-25, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Jacob Phillips.

“He had to admit, the kid had surprised him. Impressed him, even.
“Maybe those three months in juvie had done his son some good after all, Teeg thought…”

Teeg Lawless: father-figure extraordinaire!

He’s straight out of county jail (again) after son Ricky’s sprung for the bail with a stolen diamond necklace.

Apples / trees, trees / apples: learned behaviour, innit?

Thing is, the necklace was stolen before Ricky nicked it, and the original thief he pilfered it from is not someone to be messed with. Certainly not someone you kick the crap out of, so there will be repercussions both for Teeg and more immediately for teenage Ricky: broken bones of his own, courtesy of his clearly doting daddy.



Loyalty and betrayal is a theme that runs like a sorry, impure seam right through this filthy underworld rock face. Teeg isn’t so oblivious that he can’t catch himself in the act of romantic betrayal and feel a pang of guilt, but self-awareness doesn’t necessarily determine self-guidance, and he’s in for a shock when he discovers that he himself has been betrayed for years. Honour amongst thieves…? Do me one!

From the team who recently brought you the brilliant broken romance that is MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES with Page 45’s exclusive bookplate signed by Brubaker, Phillips & Phillips (itself a CRIMINAL graphic novel, though it was never announced as such so as not to spoil a certain surprise inside) comes a brand-new monthly series, some of whose stories will be completely self-contained, like this one. That last piece of good knowledge will make this first issue’s final page almost as arresting as KILL OR BE KILLED’s.

The first five pages which I have for you here attest to Brubaker’s ability to flip with agility between two individuals’ perspectives with mutually mounting tension, and the old man’s broken short-term memory is masterfully, painfully evoked to render him in our eyes all the more vulnerable to Ricky’s guile. This could also be construed an act of betrayal – on the elderly and infirm – regardless of the mistaken identity.






Phillips Sr. pulls a neat stroke of his own in his depiction of Sharon, the ex-wife of Teeg Lawless’s ex-partner-in-crime: she’s glamorous enough on the first page, but on closer inspection and intoxication her face droops and her hooded eyes sag into the bags beneath them. She perks up again shortly, though…

The colouring throughout by Phillips Jr. is particularly striking, being expressionistic, fiery, bruised, bloody, battered, dirty and suitably stained. On the pages I describe immediately above, as the bourbon’s consumed, it’s as if someone’s spilled claret across them.

There are crimes within crimes as you’d expect for a title with this depth and complexity, but for much lengthier analysis of Brubaker and Phillips’ work, please see the series referred to above, plus their FATALE and THE FADE OUT.


Buy Criminal #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Chancellor And The Citadel (£13-99, Iron Circus Comics) by Maria Capelle Frantz ~

“They all trust me too much.
“They think I know the difference between right & wrong.
“Someday I’ll make the wrong call.
“I‘ll mess up.
“And they’ll realise I’m just like them…
“…I need to know if I’m on the right side.”

Standing steadfast in a post-apocalyptic world, dense with magic and bustling with life, is the Citadel. Of which the many residents, safely ensconced inside, depend on the protection of a mysterious being capable of magnificent power: the Chancellor. Tightly wrapped in a lustrous blue cloak, her identity remains a secret to all of the Citadel’s inhabitants. To even her dearest companion, Olive, her identity remains unknown.



The Citadel doesn’t hold the only life in this disparaged world, for beyond the walls the humans lurk in the forests. Humans who are restless, who are fearful, angry, and who only refer to the Chancellor as “Witch”. They plan an ambush, outnumbering her 50 to 1, but it doesn’t matter how hard a fight they are willing to give, they are merely humans, and with a great flash of light it is over. But the Chancellor didn’t want this to happen. She never wanted to hurt anybody. At least not now. All she wants is to do right by all of those that depend on her. But there is a history. One that has become muddied and forgotten over the ages of time. One that has forged fear deep into the humans and has convinced them that what they must do is fight back against her. They need to make her pay for what she has done.

We are given a snapshot view of an intricately detailed world: one of mystery, of unrest, and of fear. There is a lot left unspoken which causes our cast of characters, on both sides of the wall, to begin to question the reality of their situation. This is a story packed with intrigue which will keep you hooked from the very first line. But within all the tension also lies a great deal of tenderness: the gentle moments between Olive and the Chancellor when they share a brief word of encouragement, or the smattering of tiny spirits that huddle together in comfort.



Frantz has achieved such rounded characters and masterfully demonstrates all aspects of their personalities – particularly with the Chancellor – that you gain a full understanding of who they are, and who they are trying to be. Gloriously packed with texture, Frantz creates a very tangible, yet ethereal, world. With intricate line work reminiscent of Aaron THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN Ranier, and an environment so exuberant with magic you will feel like you’ve fallen into a Miyazaki film.



This is an embracing story of acceptance and strength. Strength in courage, in trust, and in knowing ourselves.


Buy The Chancellor And The Citadel and read the Page 45 review here

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

The following review was originally written by my mate Ryz – occasionally known as Bettie Page 45 – when there was a certain degree of fuss in the UK delaying LOST GIRLS’ availability here.

I’ve enormous admiration for her getting into the true spirit of the work by enjoying it precisely in the manner for which it was intended. If you want something more erudite… you’re kidding yourselves. However, I can add that the graphic novel is also a lacerating tract on a war during which hundreds of thousands of young, virile men were sent to end each others’ lives, rather than expending that same potent sexual energy lovingly creating new ones.

I also adore that it was created by a couple who were – and remain – lovers.

It’s no longer a boxed set but a single all-in-one hardcover.

Here we go! – Stephen



OK, let’s get the gloating out of the way first.

I actually got my grubby little mitts on this beautiful boxed set when it was first published in America, past the international comics Gestapo before there was a complete ban on getting the thing through customs. I was very impressed at my cloak and daggeryness, and was very excited to read it.

And after reading some of it, I was very, very excited indeed.



I have to say, it took a while, what with the several unscheduled visits to lock myself in the bathroom, so I didn’t respect myself in the morning and could barely look myself in the eye in the restroom mirror.

Yep, it really is pretty filthy stuff – proper adult comic porno. Actually, my copy isn’t so much just filthy as sporting a rather large fag burn, after a drunken houseguest passed out on the sofa with a lit ciggie dangling over my lovely pristine boxed set. So book one, ‘Older Children’, is slightly battle-scarred, but I believe you can purchase lovely shiny new sets from Page 45 now that the threat of legal action in the UK from the Barrie estate has subsided.



The books themselves tell the various stories of Alice (of ‘Looking Glass’ fame), Wendy (from ‘Peter Pan’) & Dorothy (visitor to Oz) through flashbacks and now as grown women, who have all met each other in an Austrian hotel, pre-WWII. The flashback stories really cleverly and imaginatively (and did I mention, filthily?) re-tell and explain how Wonderland, Neverland, Oz and their well-known characters played a part in their youth / puberty, not always in completely pleasant circumstances, either. Oh it’s all here – incest, male rape, boarding-school shenanigans, non-consensual drugged up party games, bestiality – something for everyone, I’d have thought.

The stories are beautifully crafted and wonderfully erotic at times – just downright dirty at others and often told with great wit and comic timing. The majority of the work is illustrated in an innocent, almost child-like manner (presumably to increase the illusion of reading children’s fairy story books), however there are some really beautiful art deco frames, some fantastically detailed, delicate, black and white pen and ink frames, and some highly stylised art throughout, making these books gorgeously sumptuous to look at.



Yes, definitely picture-books for adults to ‘look at’ rather than ‘read’ I think. I mean, I’ve owned them for over 18 months and still haven’t managed to get past the second half of the second volume (‘Neverlands’). It’s been exhausting, if you know what I mean. So I can’t review what actually happens in the books, how the stories end, or what it’s all about, as I’ve never errm, lasted that long. I mean, I only even saw what the insides of book three (The Great & Terrible’) looked like for the purpose of this review. There are a lot of Nazis at the end.

If you are planning on buying a set of LOST GIRLS – and speaking to the female populous of Page 45’s customers here, I really do think you should – take it from me: buy yourself a couple of drinks and a nice dinner first, then maybe you’ll feel a little classier about the whole affair than I’ve managed to thus far…


Buy Lost Girls Expanded Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

A Million Ways To Die Hard h/c (£12-99, Insight Comics) by Frank Tieri & Mark Texeira…

“For the last time, that badge is no good, sir.”
“And for the last time, asshole… I’m John McClane. Yeah, the guy that fucking nutball with the mask is calling out John McClane. So maybe, just maybe, it’s kinda real fucking important you let me in there.”
“Let him through.”
“Finally, somebody with some goodamn sense.”
“Somebody who knows you actually. I’m officer Cam Powell.”
“As in… Al’s kid?”
“Well, I’ll be a son of a bitch. How’s your old man?”
“Retired. In Florida. It’s the law, ya know?”
“Yeah, well, I don’t do too good with the law these days, I guess.”
“I’d say that’s a good guess. But we’ve got time to catch up later. Building’s evacuated. Go do your thing, man.”

Indeed, go shuffle that zimmer frame and do your thing, pensioner McClane. Which is shooting people and blowing stuff up, rescuing the innocent bystanders – at least the non-expendable ones – and of course taking down the bad guy and saving the day all the whilst cussing like a true badass. Bad words devalue the coinage you say…? Not fucking likely in John McClane’s eyes and from his potty mouth.

Have you ever seen a film that was so incontrovertibly bad but was actually such immensely entertaining nonsense that it somehow transcended it’s many, myriad flaws to come out being ‘good’? I’m not referring to ‘Die Hard’, I should add, which is undoubtedly the best Christmas movie ever made, but if you understand what I’m referring to, well, this is exactly like that. This is excruciatingly awful and yet I absolutely loved it!

There is a point on the sliding scale of diminishing sequel returns, beyond which the films typically begin to become a parody of the original material, the ‘better’ ones quite deliberately so, exaggerating whatever features made the original such a success to the point of lampooning them, with a cheeky knowing wink to the audience as they attempt to extract every last bit of cash from us. Thus the title of this work alone ought to have given me a clue as to the intentions of Frank Tieri in that respect… If you’re keeping track, this is technically the sixth ‘Die Hard’ outing, though in the parody terms I’ve just been referring to, it might as well be the millionth…

So I’m not even going to try and avoid spoilers, after all the ‘plot’ is so wafer-thin there’s really no point. Basically, there is an old villain from McClane’s distant past – 5 cheesy sequel points right there for that – called Moviefone who has decided to call out John on the 30th anniversary of the original shebang at the Nakatomi building, thus immediately scoring another 5 sequel points for timing.




Trapping John’s wife, Mr. Nakatomi’s son and for some reason the penitent sister of Hans Gruber, thus scoring another 5 sequel points for introducing an innocent bystander with an oh so tenuous connection to an original character. Along with original doughnut munching cop Al’s cop son already racking up a further 5 sequel points on that particular score…

The twist… that elevates this from crap(est) sequel to knowing gloriously insane motherBLEEPing parody… is that Moviefone will only attempt to kill John and his captives by the means of classic movies… We therefore start with a 1978 bomb called The Swarm which, you’ve possibly guessed it, involves killer bees thus setting the tone at totally ridiculous right from the off, before swiftly moving onto the rather more traditionally deadly Earthquake, then concluding the opening chapter with the classic Towering Inferno. Yep, that’s just the opening chapter…



At this point, still trying to give it all some semblance of credibility on my initial read, I was struggling. By the time a giant shark was deployed in the basement of a knockoff Bates Motel however… I was hooked.

This doesn’t just jump the shark. It stuff, mounts and surfs it through a tsunami. It makes no sense, truly, but it doesn’t even try. It’s genuinely awful but if you have any affection for the John McClane character and his particular brand of preposterous bad-assery you really won’t care. You’ll just be chuckling away at the sheer stupidity of it all. Hats off to Frank Tieri for managing to pull it off, truly.

On the art front, I had only recently commented to Stephen that I wondered what had ever become of former Marvel <ahem> hotshot Mark GHOST RIDER Texeira whose undoubted prowess on Christopher Priest’s BLACK PANTHER made for much mirthful timing. Well, now we know. I guess his time to be fashionable with the capes ‘n’ tights fanboys might come around again eventually… I can’t see it mind. Still, there’s probably another billion ‘Die Hard’ sequels to keep himself busy with…


Buy A Million Ways To Die Hard h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Days: The Road To Metal s/c (£16-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, various & Andy Kubert, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, 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 collection 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 DARK DAYS METAL 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 available are the collection of bad guy one-shot tie-ins DARK NIGHTS: METAL – DARK KNIGHTS RISING which whilst not essential were certainly entertaining and just as popular as the main DARK DAYS METAL series. Plus there’s the usual utterly spurious sidebar material in various ongoing titles collected in DARK NIGHTS METAL: THE RESISTANCE, which 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 event. It’s probably not that clear.


Buy Dark Days: The Road To Metal 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’

Farmhand vol 1 (£11-99, Image) by Rob Guillory

Off Season h/c (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by James Sturm

Supers: A Little Star Past Cassiopeia (£13-99, Top Shelf) by Frederic Maupome & Dawid

The Life Of Captain Marvel s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Margaret Stohl & Carlos Pacheco, Marguerite Sauvage, others

Hitorijime My Hero vol 1 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Memeco Arii

DC Universe By Alan Moore (£22-99, DC) by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, Klaus Janson, Kevin O’ Neill, Rick Veitch, others

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2019 week one

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

Featuring P. Craig Russell, Roman Muradov, Daniel Clowes, Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev, Paul Dini, Alex Ross, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Dougie Braithwaite

The Ring Of The Nibelung s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by P. Craig Russell adapted from Richard Wagner.

I had four full pages of notes on this, three more than I managed for Chemistry ‘O’ Level which kind of explains my results back then.

This big, thick softcover contains all four operas in Wagner’s Ring sequence: The Rhinegold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried, The Gotterdammerung.

To deliver a truly faithful adaptation – one with even a hope of stirring a reading audience as the original moves a crowd – Craig cannot and does not rely solely on plot and dialogue; a visual interpretation of mere lyrics would omit most of the power and the subtle weave of any opera delivered by the music. ‘O Mio Bambino Caro’ is, on paper, a fine set of poetry, but when sung so tenderly, so majestically in harmonious concert with music so heart-rendingly poignant (plaintive, aspirational, delicate?), it becomes something extraordinary. And that’s just a single aria.



An opera uses many devices to convey ideas and development to cue the audience subconsciously throughout its duration and Russell has thought long and hard about translating these into sequential art. He’s taken musical leitmotifs – signatures denoting individual characters, objects and even concepts such as love, regret, power and choice (sometimes combined in a single sequence, hinting at thoughts, informing the action and even able, I’d imagine, to add therefore a level of dramatic irony) – and turned them into visual cues.

One glimpse at the prelude is enough to prove just how accomplished and ingenious an adaptation this is. The opening sequence is ‘silent’; it begins quietly with a single finger in blue line and pencil, on which a drop of water swells. It falls into its own ocean to form ripples then waves in an expanding aqueous body, from which a fresh green seedling – the first hint of colour – emerges. By the bottom panel on that first page the tree has grown older than the oak, joined to three shrouded women by twine; and from its roots flows a river, reflecting the aurora above.



That’s the creation of the universe on page one. It also sets up three of the four central elements which bind the four operas: water & light, the tree and the sword. Three further pages, reduced to a sandy tone, provide the rest of the background whilst implying consequences for the events to follow. The great god Voton, introduced by his shadow, wanders into picture, stoops to drink then spies, beyond the thread of fate, a woman who will be his wife and goddess of wedlock, Fricka. Three small panels inlayed repeat the earlier sequence, as a drop of water falls from his chin. One of the three hooded women (or Norn) then plucks out Voton’s left eye, leaving behind the gift of inner vision, but suddenly her knowing confidence is shattered as Voton reaches up into the tree and breaks off a branch. He fashions it into a spear, takes Frika by the hand and departs, leaving behind him the tree fast falling into autumn then winter. The final four panels close in ominously on the wound inflicted on the tree, until all we can see is the hollow darkness. 





Several of these images and refrains will be reprised within the major body as the story unfolds. It’s a classic, dynastic tale of love, lust, envy, power, greed, wealth, rejection, duty, treachery, sacrifice and progeny. The dynasty involved is that of the gods of German mythology, and what a familiar pantheon they are! Voton: one-eyed and lustful, as impetuous in love as he is in wrath and for all his supposed wisdom, the perpetual victim of his own stupendously rash promises. He bears the weight of his responsibilities on his own faltering shoulders, and since his wife is goddess of marriage, you just know he’s going to be unfaithful. One of his stormy sons wields a hammer, one of his daughters has been sworn as payment to a couple of giants (none of Voton’s children receive much in the way of paternal care), and although he doesn’t appear to be related as he is in Norse mythology, there’s Logé, the flattering trickster.

The Rhinegold is essentially a fable of power versus love, of the choice between them, catalysed by the theft of said gold from the waters of the Rhine. Alberich the troll, cruelly taunted and scorned by three prick-tease mermaids has nothing to lose in love, so rejects it to steal the metal then fashion it into a ring which gives him absolute power over his race. And love must be rejected to wield that power, that’s the bargain. But news spreads fast of this new poisoned chalice, and when it reaches the heavens (via Logé, of course) the consequences may prove devastating.




The Valkyrie move some of the action back down to Earth where Voton’s been a busy boy. Once more the set up is a combination of familiar themes and plot points: lost siblings, unholy love, the treachery of children, the will of the gods, and the duty of husbands and kings. In the previous opera Voton has been warned about the Twilight of The Gods, the doom that awaits them, and in the sequence which links the two (once more combining water, light, the tree and now the sword, in panels that echo the prelude), Russell shows us Voton’s solution, the creation of a sword. This he hopes will be unsheathed from the tree into which he thrust it, by someone worthy, someone over whom he has no direct influence. But he only goes and shags a mortal to sire this someone! And if that weren’t enough to raise Frika’s ire, that very son soon falls in love with his own twin sister, already married to the man whose house is built round this tree.

None of which is going to go down well with protectress of wedlock. Add in another tragic offspring, Brunhildé, one of the Valkyrie, Voton’s daughter once again and the literal embodiment of his will (his actual will, not his stated position), and you’ve one family circle that’ll never be squared. I can’t tell you how cleverly it all comes together – the whole sword, fate and progeny thing – because there’s a final twist, a ramification of the incest which has yet to be played out, with Craig once more excelling himself in the final panel foreshadowing the next round.

If all of this wasn’t enough, it’s just occurred to me that there may be many as yet unfamiliar with P. Craig Russell as an artist. On the basis of his work on SANDMAN #50 alone he is justly celebrated.


His command of symbolism through design is beautiful to behold, and above all he’s just one of the most flat-out attractive neo-classical craftsmen. If you’ve never seen his pencils you’re in for an additional treat, for some of the preliminary sketchwork is reproduced in the back, bursting with a Renaissance homo-eroticism reminiscent of Donatello, Caravaggio and the less burly examples of Michelangelo.

In some ways it’s not an easy book – it’s only fair to warn you that the language throughout retains the original formality which some may find initially stilted or foreboding – but its appeal is far broader than I initially suspected: we’ve just sold four copies of this softcover edition on its very first day of publication!  I’ll probably receive some flack for this comparison, but the combined scenario and linguistic approach is really not far from a cross between Shakespeare and SANDMAN.

Which should shift a few units.


Buy The Ring Of The Nibelung s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“How to read this book.

  1. With your face.
  2. In given order.
  3. Out of order.
  4. Along with the supplements.
  5. Ignoring the supplements.
  6. More than once.
  7. In one sitting.
  8. At intervals.
  9. While falling asleep.
  10. Two or three acts at once.
  11. Less than once.
  12. As a puzzle.
  13. Enacting each act.”

Initially, I went for 1, 2, 8, 9 and 10… and perhaps also experiencing a little of 12.

I then went for 3, 6 and 7, though obviously still including 1.

I have, however, no idea what 4 & 5 even pertain to. Unless it is the first four pages which includes “How to read this book.” If so, I am therefore guessing most people will have automatically done 4 and practically no one 5… If it isn’t that, perhaps they mean the Sunday newspaper supplements?

Clearly 11 has to be true for some people because dear review reader, aside from the critical cognoscenti such as yourselves, many people are not yet aware of Roman IN A SENSE (LOST AND FOUND) Muradov. Which is a shame, because he is immensely talented.



I would also dearly love to believe there is at least one person who went for option 13, even if it is was just Roman’s extended family, blazing with pride… or at least purely to humour him.

Here is some supplemental information from the publisher to inform us more about what is already a contender for the most complex, convoluted comic I am likely to read in 2019…

“Written and drawn in thirteen styles, from comedy and confession to prophecy and interpretative dance, Vanishing Act is a polyphonic play of interconnected stories, synchronized in time and space on one melancholy evening. A paranoid man rehearses the upcoming party. A dishevelled actor expounds on the conceptual potential of sitcoms. A beloved dog disappears into the Internet and starts a cult. A couple runs their argument in reverse. A bored seagull excretes the entire known universe. Vanishing Act is governed by one looping constraint that unifies all of the disparate threads: each following story starts in the middle of the previous one, overlapping until the end of the night, and back into the beginning of the book.”



Did I mention it was rather brilliant? It is. It won’t appeal to all, mind you, as at times it’s belligerently blasé with the reader’s ability to keep up and bewilderingly brilliant in its individual pieces’ brevity – the dishevelled actor in particular so left me wanting more of his luvvieness – but, if you stay the course (option 7, remember!) or indeed digest it in more than one sitting (psst – option 8) I think you will be suitably impressed.



Artistically, be prepared to be taken for a tour too, as each of the thirteen vignettes is indeed rather different, yet there is more than sufficient stylistic coherence maintained overall, quite deliberately, despite the odd, again entirely intentional, detour or two towards the utterly abstract.



There are some particular points of pure comparison you can pick out here and there such as Dave MR. PUNCH McKean and David ASTERIOS POLYP Mazzucchelli, but that’s by the by, frankly.



If you are a fan of cleverly constructed comics in particular, the deployment of multiple art styles à la BLACKBIRD by Manuele Fior or Eleanor Davis’ HOW TO BE HAPPY, or stylistically much of the Nobrow output – who published Murodov’s IN A SENSE (LOST AND FOUND) – then this will be for you. Either with (option 4) or without (option 5) the supplements…


Buy Vanishing Act h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mister Wonderful h/c (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Daniel Clowes.



“Dear God, could it be? Does she actually not loathe me?”

Almost an antidote to WILSON, this is a work from the great Dan Clowes which will confound your expectations. It’s as funny and acutely observed as ever, but for once it’s also very tender.

A hopelessly romantic, middle-aged divorcee, much out of touch with the dating game, awaits a blind date his mate’s set up for him. The thing is, she’s late… unless it’s that pretty young girl over there…?





Marshall proceeds to wind himself up in advance, trying to guess who in the coffee shop might be his date, planning verbal strategies for retreat in case it’s one of its less attractive denizens. He does that a lot: practising conversational gambits in his head; also thinking when he should be listening because when his improbably attractive date does arrive, he barely hears a word she says, his boxed, internal monologue sitting squarely over Natalie’s speech balloons, obstructing her words so that we can’t hear her either (see also Mazzucchelli’s ASTERIOS POLYP):

“Jesus, I’m plastered! Sober up!
“I really have to urinate, but I don’t dare leave the table. Mustn’t give her the chance to escape!
“My God, look at her. I don’t stand a chance.
“Most beautiful women turn so bitter when the realities of aging set in. Hard to blame them, I suppose. It must be kind of awful. But she seems so cheerful and good-natured and non-judgemental…. I wonder what Tim and Yuki told her about me?”



This is very familiar territory: Marshall spending his time second-guessing, trying so hard to judge how he’s coming across that he’s not necessarily giving the best first impression. He steels himself for her own strategic retreat, but no, it doesn’t come. This might actually be going somewhere…

As I said, this will confound you at almost every juncture, Clowes cleverly steering your expectations one way, playing on his reputation, only to surprise you.



There are a lot of neat tricks, like hiding parts of speech balloons in the panel gutters to reinforce the idea of Marshall operating on automatic pilot; the point in Nathalie’s marriage when she began to feel so alienated that her husband’s hollow, evasive laughter literally grows to fill the house so that she can no longer hear anything else; a moment of disappointment so profound that the world around Marshall on a double-spread landscape is reduced to small blocks of coloured light filtering through the street’s doors and windows in an otherwise total black-out.

So: one eventful evening in the life of a quiet man, as well as the morning after.


Buy Mister Wonderful h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ice Haven h/c (£12-00, Jonathan Cape) by Daniel Clowes –



In the small town of Ice Haven a child has gone missing. A detective, bringing his wife with him, questions local residents and studies the ransom note.

That’s the main story but it’s all the other little incidents that make it one of the best books in the last couple of years [wrote our Mark in June 2005].



Sixteen of the inhabitants are given their own stories. Vida is visiting her grandmother, author of ‘Mauve Begonias’, 1978, and is writing a ‘zine about the town. She becomes infatuated with the guy living next door, another (awful) poet and a master of prevarication despising what he perceives to be the narrow-mindedness of the townsfolk. Charles is lent a copy of ‘Leopold & Loeb’ by a classmate and is convinced that this will link him to the abduction – and possible murder – that he’s sure his friend has arranged. Meanwhile his stepsister is planning to run away with her lover, worrying that he’ll find her unattractive when unclothed.

And it goes on.



Everyone’s given their own strip and each strip has its own style. The detective appears to be in a Bernie Krigstein EC comic, the younger kids in FAMILY CIRCUS. Issues of familial connections, creativity and believability are raised. At the end, the mystery is solved but we’re not told explicitly who took the boy. 



This originally came out a few years back as the 22nd issue of EIGHTBALL. For this edition the art has been jigged about and some new strips added. Clowes’ sometimes tender, often clinical view of his characters is never better than here. Vida’s final words before leaving Ice Haven may even top the last line of GHOST WORLD (comic version). Although, whether we’re supposed to believe her or not is another story.


Buy Ice Haven h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

I don’t think I can better the introduction I wrote to volume one, so here we go again.

Few things anger most people I know more than the abuse of power.

Racism is one of them, so South Africa under Apartheid was a double whammy, and Congressman John Lewis has some arresting history for you in MARCH when it comes to policing in America.

Because when individuals, corporations or entire state institutions abuse their power and successfully get away with it through powerful connections, political indifference, mass-media collusion or wholesale capitulation, most of us get pretty steamed.

Welcome to Scarlet’s world: it’s just come crashing down around her. Her boyfriend was murdered by a corrupt cop in a city of corrupt cops and so not only did he get away with it, he was commended and promoted while the newspapers which displayed zero interest in investigative journalism barefaced printed police lies.



So far Scarlet has [REDACTED] and published film footage of her doing so. She’s successfully galvanised Portland’s public into supporting her at a flash-mob rally into whose crowd the police threw a live grenade. But now she’s really got the Mayor’s attention:

“I have a list.”
“I thought you might.”
“At first blush, I don’t think you’re going to like it. Being that you and I have decidedly different world views.”
“I don’t think that’s necessarily true, actually. We both want the world to be a better place. We both have dedicated our lives to it.”
“What a smarmy politician’s answer.”
“Well, I am a smarmy politician.”
“Can I insult you? Are you insultable?”
“I’m sensitive about my hairline.”

So how did Scarlet secure that face-to-face, one-on-one meeting when she’s the most wanted woman in the state?



From the writer of JESSICA JONES: ALIAS – which is cracking crime fiction – and his artist on DAREDEVIL comes something completely non-genre highly recommended to readers of KILL OR BE KILLED, CRIMINAL etc.

It’s brave stuff, not just in its direct attack on police duplicity but in where Bendis is prepared to take it. When I originally read book one, I wondered whether he’d written himself into a hole he couldn’t possibly climb out of, but that was pretty faithless of me given Bendis’ track record. Don’t expect him to back out or ease off now on the extreme actions both sides are going to take and the irreversible plight that then puts them in.

Maleev throws multiple art angles at the multiple flashbacks which depict the horrific events which tipped Scarlet’s growing inner circle. The most affecting of these is Isis’ appallingly brutal awakening from childhood idyll as a dutiful daughter with a doting Daddy. It’s narrated with a children’s picture-book clarity over three double-page spreads, illustrated by Maleev as fully painted portraits of Isis, close-up. The first, seen from above, depicts Isis delightedly holding her Daddy’s hand on the way to school.

“It was her favourite time of the day.”



The second is so closely framed that it almost crushes her. The third is the most successful rendition of wide-eyed, catatonic shock that I have ever seen in my life.

Maleev doesn’t skimp on the rowdy crowd scenes, either, but at one key moment the sound is effectively muted as the throng disappears to be replaced by an increasingly livid, fiery red when things go spectacularly wrong.

For more, please see SCARLET VOL 1 s/c


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

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

A4-sized reprint of all those huge, floppy Dini and Ross one-shot morality tales (SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH, BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME, WONDER WOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH, SHAZAM!: POWER OF HOPE) in one won’t-droop-over-the-sides-of-your-bookcase volume. Pretty good value for money it is too.

Alex Ross (MARVELS, KINGDOM COME) has a unique take on DC superheroes in that his versions really do show their age. Batman’s coming up to 50, Wonder Woman’s approaching the same age and Superman’s face and physique are those of someone at least 65, if in remarkably buff condition. Why…? I don’t know but it does lend them a weight and a sense of authority – a seniority over their peers – that others’ interpretations seldom convey. This also contains JLA: SECRET ORIGINS, JLA: LIBERTY & JUSTICE, one heck of a lot of sketchwork plus two enormous landscape paintings in the form of a double-sided, four-page fold-out

I’ve dug out some of my original reviews from when the floppies first appeared.



SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH. A first-class seasonal story, convincingly narrated by the being called Superman, who finds that one man’s seemingly limitless capabilities and the best will in the world cannot overcome the politics of men. So instead, you accept your limitations but you don’t throw the towel in: you do what you can, each in her or his humble but determined way.



It’s gorgeously painted, with an exquisite command of light, quiet, thoughtful and dignified.

Rarely for superhero comics, this is also recommended for all ages because it isn’t about punching people.

That was the truncated version from an old Recommended Reading List because I know that originally I also mentioned Ross’ African animals which would have fixated me as a young man. Dieter Braun’s WILD ANIMALS OF THE NORTH and WILD ANIMALS OF THE SOUTH will have a similar effect upon you and your young ones.



BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME I found more problematic: Look, it’s very beautiful. It’s very, very beautiful. It’s also rather disappointing.

What was I expecting? I don’t know; perhaps I hadn’t thought this through in advance. I think this is the first Alex Ross work which has taken superheroes away from an epic background and tried to pop them into contemporary grocery stores. Now, you tell me, how precisely is someone wearing latex and a cape going to ‘sneak’ silently between these pencil-thin aisles to ambush a thief (with what I believe is called a ‘batarang’) without knocking the Twinkies flying? Nor, parenthetically, have I ever seen a grocery store so fully stocked or beautifully arranged, before or after a masked crusader comes squeak-creaking past the chewing gum and prophylactics.



Of course, this doesn’t matter in most superhero comics – design can take care of such silliness and create a dynamic spectacle – but Ross is a photo-realist and the ‘real’ Batman here is patently too bulky for the physical real aisle. Where Ross excels is in the majestic, the epic and indeed, conversely, in a boardroom filled with normal, underpants-on-the-inside, real-estate-dealing speculators. MARVELS worked so well because Kurt cleverly combined for Ross the street perspective of the photographer with the magnificent, other-worldly spectacle he was gazing at from below. So those scenes featuring Bruce are fine; Ross’s interior and exterior scenes where Gotham’s elite network are magnificent.

But, oh no, here we come to the story. It’s an excellent introduction to those who have never encountered Batman before: it’s an everything-you-need-to-know about Bruce, his loss, his tortured existence, the scars on his back (metaphorical and otherwise), his luxury lifestyle and his nightly excursions. For those of us who’ve read a single decent Batbook (I commend to you BATMAN: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT), it’s superfluous. In fact it’s a facile cliché: urban poverty, nasty gunmen, here comes an orphan; Bruce has a flashback, boy turns to crime (must involve drugs), Batman turns him round, then Bruce spends a few pennies and miraculously solves all the ghetto’s problems.




The scene in which we first stumble across this particular orphan is genuinely arresting. The layout of the double-page spread is perfect, the model he chose for the boy can evidently act, and Ross evokes the mutual shock and horror with great pathos. And, if you’ve forgotten after this unexpectedly unfavourable review which I really didn’t want to write, this book is beautiful. So enjoy the pictures. They’re very big.




SHAZAM!: THE POWER OF HOPE. A return to form for Dini and Ross, who seem much more capable in the bright light of day and on a grander scale than on the streets of Gotham or dealing with everyday problems. For those of you unfamiliar with DC’s acquisition, Billy Batson, now working at a radio station, is a young orphan able to swap himself when required with Captain Marvel; they share an innocent outlook on life, and Ross’s triumph here is the evocation of Billy’s features in the broad-set Captain whenever his naivety is exposed. If it’s all a little nicer than nice, well, that works a good deal better for the creators than when they tried to introduce a darker element. When their heroes are setting standards to aspire to (occasionally a little clumsily, but more often than not gently), they’re doing fine, especially when limitations are reached (which is why the Superman volume succeeded). Unfortunately there is one howler in this book which destroys both the subplot and, consequently, the finale. One of the lads in the hospital Batson visits was beaten up by his Father. So what does the Captain do? He threatens him. Physically. Not only is it entirely out of character, but you just don’t bully a bully. It may be one’s immediate, knee-jerk and quite natural instinct or desire (they must certainly be stood up to if at all possible, because a bully thrives in the knowledge that their actions will have no ramifications), but, hey, add to the cycle, why don’t you? I never expected to say this, but even SPAWN handled this better, showing the nasty repercussions which aren’t even suggested as a possibility here.

A tad irresponsible.



WONDERWOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH. Fourth giant-sized annual from painter Alex Ross and, like SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH, the premise is a good one, that there are limits to what the best intentions of a single person can achieve, howsoever good-hearted and empowered they may be. Wonder Woman can help in disasters, take down criminals, but when she ventures into foreign affairs, hoping to stop the practice of using human shields in a war zone, her involvement creates fear amongst those whom she seeks to help.

So she talks to Clark Kent, who has experienced such frustrations and who suggests that the view from street level is substantially different from the perspective of one who can fly; and she might perhaps try working with people rather than above them.

So she does. She goes on protest marches and averts an escalation by snapping a gun in two; she attends a peaceful demonstration against loggers operating in a rain forest which the country’s government has already been paid substantial amounts of money to preserve and secretly sabotages their equipment with her super-strength. And she returns (in disguise) to the country where she met an impasse, joining the human shields as they’re about to be moved to another area where the bombs will be falling… and blows up the truck, freeing the women.




Now, if the idea of the book is to educate young readers about some of the world’s injustices, I think these are great vehicles. They’re beautiful, awe-inspiring, and written with accessible language. I’d certainly recommend the Superman volume to any parent buying it for a youngster.

But more than most superhero stories the Wonder Woman and Shazam tales inadvertently support Dave CEREBUS Sim’s contention that the entire genre is strictly male fantasy fodder. It is merely a flaw of this book that the solutions offered above are, even in this context, no such thing: there would be nothing to stop the dictatorship rounding up and replacing the women the second kindly Diana leaves the stage. But each one of Diana’s little tricks also involves the use of a superpower, the private fantasy of the Mummy’s Boy who’d love to just kick those bullies’ asses if only he had cawwabungium claws. Which he doesn’t.

And – maybe I just got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning – I think this is… distracting. Whenever important issues are brought ‘realistically’ into the superhero genre it is rare that they aren’t trivialised partly because – superheroes not actually existing – the solutions are impossible. We don’t have that magic wand. We’ve got to deal with things as they stand.

Mark Millar is quite often the exception. Initially fearing the worst, I found his treatment of Multiple Sclerosis in SUPERIOR to be surprisingly canny – the very antithesis of the pitfalls I point out above – while his two ULTIMATES books proved to be a lacerating diatribe on America’s duplicitous, geo-political neo-imperialism, cleverly reconceived for the specific sub-genre that is superhero comics.


Buy Justice League: The World’s Greatest Heroes s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

Collects PUNISHER (2000) #1-12, PUNISHER (2001) #1-5 and PUNISHER KILLS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE, which is substantially more than just ‘Welcome Back Frank’. However, this contains that too.

“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.




With ‘Welcome Back Frank’ alone, 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 Marvel Knights Punisher 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’

The Chancellor And The Citadel s/c (£13-99, Iron Circus Comics) by Maria Capelle Frantz

Diosamante (£14-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Jean-Claud Gal

Fence vol 2 (£10-99, Boom) by C.S. Pacat &  Johanna The Mad

Hellblazer vol 20: Systems Of Control s/c (£22-99, DC) by Andy Diggle, Mike Carey & Leonardo Manco, Danijel Zezelj

Jim Henson’s The Power Of The Dark Crystal vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Archaia) by Simon Spurrier & Kelly Matthews, Nichole Matthews

The Lady Doctor (£14-99, Myriad) by Ian Williams

Mega Robo Bros vol 3: Mega Robo Revenge (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron

A Million Ways To Die Hard h/c (£12-99, Insight Comics) by Frank Tieri & Mark Texeira

RASL Colour Edition vol 3 (of 3) The Fire Of St George s/c (£11-99, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith

Black Hammer vol 3: Age of Doom Part 1 s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston, Dave Stewart

Witchfinder vol 5: Gates Of Heaven s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Chris Roberson, Mike Mignola &  D’Israeli

Batman Shadow: The Murder Geniuses s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, Steve Orlando & Riley Rossmo

Dark Days: The Road To Metal s/c (£16-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, various & Andy Kubert, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, various

Hal Jordan And The Green Lantern Corps vol 7: Darkstars Rising s/c (Rebirth) (£16-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Rafael Sandoval, various

Astonishing X-Men vol 3: Until Our Hearts Stop s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & Greg Land, Neil Edwards

Deadpool vol 1: Mercin’ Hard For The Money s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Skottie Young & Nick Klein, Scott Hepburn

Spider-Geddon vol 1: Edge of Spider-Geddon s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jed MacKay, Aaron Kuder, various &Gerardo Sandoval, Aaron Kucer, various

Tony Stark Iron Man vol 1: Self-Made Man s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Valerio Schiti, Max Dunbar, various

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 10: End Of The World s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Ed Brisson & Damian Couceiro, Ibraim Roberson, Simone Di Meo

20th Century Boys Perfect Edition vol 2 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

An Invitation From A Crab (£11-99, Denpa) by Panpanya

Barefoot Gen vol 3 (£14-99, Last Gasp) by Keiji Nakazawa

Gantz Omnibus vol 2 (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2: Battle Tendency h/c vol 2 (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood vol 2 h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood vol 3 h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

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