Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2019 week three

“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…

JR

Buy The Lady Doctor and read the Page 45 review here

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

“TRUE FRIENDS!”
“TRUE FRIENDS!”
“TRUE FRIENDS!”

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.

Meanwhile:

“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.

SLH

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…

JR

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…

JR

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.”

 

 

SLH

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.

MAS

Includes: ACTION COMICS #583, BATMAN ANNUAL #11, DC COMICS PRESENTS #85, DETECTIVE COMICS #549-550, GREEN LANTERN #188, THE OMEGA MEN #26-27, SECRET ORIGINS #10, SUPERMAN #423, GREEN LANTERN CORPS ANNUAL #2 & 3, SUPERMAN ANNUAL #11, VIGILANTE #17-18, WILDCATS #50, WILDSTORM SPOTLIGHT #1, VOODOO #1-4 and DEATHBLOW: BY BLOWS #1-3.

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

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