Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2019 week one

Featuring Carolyn Nowak, Carles Porta, Tadd Galusha, Fabien Nury, Bruno, Evan Dorkin, Benjamin Dewey, Julian Glander and more.

Girl Town (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Carolyn Nowak ~

“When we moved in here my dad bought me a housewarming gift – a huge print of Rembrandt’s ‘Abduction of Europa’.
“I sort of think he wanted me to see the anxiety in Europa’s soft face as Jupiter in his bull suit carries her away from land.
“Two days after I hung the poster up I saw Betsy for the first time.
“Loud.
“Fearless.
“And angry.”

This is Betsy adorning the cover; climbing out of a sewer, manhole cover askew, half dressed with arms braced in an aggressive posture, shouting something angrily at the viewer. This is Girl Town, and this is her turf.

It’s a fantastic cover and a great choice of opening story, with its unconventional cast of bitches who despite their ongoing turf war (culminating in the sacrifice of a beloved sock puppet) are all best friends beneath it all. But don’t be fooled, as this is also a clever moment of misdirection, for within the pages of GIRL TOWN are five tender stories of crushes, infatuations, broken hearts and self-discovery.

‘Radishes’ features best friends Kelly, confident and boisterous, and Beth, soft and shy, having a fun day out at the market that will stay with both of them for many years to come. Diana has been badly hurt in ‘Diana’s Electric Tongue’ and decides to invest in a life-size human robot to help cope with a broken heart. But my favourite, as difficult as it was to pick from these cleverly constructed tales of intimacy, is the ending story ‘Please Sleep Over, in which Jess is simply trying to understand her place within life.

 

 

GIRL TOWN is a triumph of stories centred round the complexities of relationships and the intimacy of self-discovery. Above all, these are girls searching for understanding and connection, and if you’re anything like me, you will find yourself connecting with each and every one of them. As I finished the stories in turn, I wanted to gently embrace each of the girls with a familiar knowing hug, for these are girls in places we have all found ourselves at some point or other in our lives.

 

 

Nowak’s cast of characters come with the same level of variety and tenderness as Mariko and Jillian THIS ONE SUMMER Tamaki and Jen PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER Wang, while her stories embrace the slightly absurdist fantasy humour of Noelle NIMONA Stevenson – hardly surprising that she has also worked on LUMBERJANES (!) Her art reminded me very much of the rounded cartooning of Ben YOUR BLACK FRIEND Passmore, with added softness, enveloped in pastel colours.

JP

Buy Girl Town and read the Page 45 review here

Tales From The Hidden Valley vol 2: Hello, Mister Cold (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Carles Porta…

“Maximillian Cold was a child of the richest, most ambitious, coldest family in town. To his family’s horror, young Maxi wanted to be a musician. He adored playing the trumpet.

“Driven away by his father and his siblings, he joined The Band. It was all going quite well until he decided to play a bit of TINC-BLIN-TUT.

“The band leader didn’t think this was a good idea at all, and Maxi was fired on the spot.”

Clearly the band leader needs to broaden his musical horizons! I love me some TINC-BLIN-TUT! And TUT-FANN-BOO and even a bit of TEEP-BOON-KISH! But poor young Max’s penchant for striking syncopated sounds is going to cause him to wander even deeper astray into the musical wilds than he could possibly ever imagine, on a weird, wintery adventure that will feature a most peculiar and petrified audience indeed.

 

 

Let’s hear the publisher plinky plonk some scored notes out that will enchant all those of you who have been avidly waiting for this second seasonal composition, following on from the opening sonata that was the leaf-sweepingly autumnal THE TALES FROM THE HIDDEN VALLEY VOL 1: THE ARTISTS.

“Bundle up and get ready to spend the long winter with the charming creatures in Carles Porta’s enchanting Hidden Valley. It’s winter now in the hidden valley, and Maximus Cold has fallen into the valley, completely by mistake. Everyone thinks he’s a strange, trumpet-playing monster who has kidnapped our wolf friend Yula!

One can only hope that the gang of friends, including the rabbits, Reindeer, the pixie onion-headed ballerina, and Yula’s best friend Sara can save the day with some trumpeting of their own.

 

 

Dive into Carles Porta’s elaborate world of enchanting, snowy forests and mysterious music and meet all the charming creatures of the Valley along the way.”

First off, yes, Yula is back! Our lupine loonytune once again manages to clumsily collide herself into a comedic situation that’s going to cause much consternation in the Valley. Happily for Yula, and indeed Mr. Maximillian Cold, the denizens of the disguised dale are on hand to confuse matters further… I mean help sort the situation out and ensure a happy ending!

As with the first volume, whilst the offbeat story certainly greatly amuses and enchants with its curious setup and quirky characters, the art then gracefully elevates this to another level entirely. The sense of movement Carles Porta engenders in his exquisite illustrations is just remarkable. And even though this time around everyone is well wrapped up against the grey and white chilly weather he’s not spared the colour palette, going to town on everyone’s scarves and jackets! There’s some seriously flashy winter fashion on show in the Valley!

 

 

I think that Carles Porta must somehow have direct access to the fertile imaginations of small children because these works seem to capture the riotously fun madness that lies within their little heads just so perfectly. I think he’s an extremely talented creator and all I can say is roll on spring time with HAPPY VALLEY VOL 3, sub-titled THE BAND, which might just give a teensy-weeny little clue away as to what the note-perfect happy ending in question to this volume might be…

JR

Buy Tales From The Hidden Valley vol 2: Hello, Mister Cold and read the Page 45 review here

Tyler Cross: Angola h/c (£21-99, Titan) by Fabien Nury & Bruno…

“Tyler Cross regains consciousness in the dark. Right where he wanted to be – safe in the sweatbox.
“His wounds will heal. The Sicilians will back off for now.
“He has time to sleep, to think.
“All is good.”

Not entirely sure I would call having just narrowly escaped assassination by plucking a Mafia’s boss’s eyes out with a spoon, getting battered by guards, receiving thirty lashes from a lunatic insanely angry at the fact you’re not going to be bribing him anymore, before getting thrown in the sweatbox for several days ‘good’.

But then fortunately I’m not Tyler Cross…

 

 

Here is the rap sheet from the publisher to tell you why Tyler’s doing seriously hard, dangerous time in one of America’s most infamous prisons…

“Nury and Brüno (TYLER CROSS: BLACK ROCK) return to their noir antihero Tyler Cross in this ongoing European import series. In 1947, professional criminal Cross ends up on the wrong end of a supposedly risk-free job and finds himself a prisoner in Louisiana’s Angola State Farms.

The festering hellhole is mercilessly dictated over by sadistic warden Captain Kroeker and his small army of brutal guards, bolstered by a quartet of man-eating attack dogs – “Anyone thinking about running… me and my babies love hunting”.

 

 

The inmates’ days are a back-breaking tapestry of chain gang slave labour, where the slightest infraction results in torturous beatings and sometimes outright murder. Tough guy Cross stands a better chance than most, but among the inmates are Sicilian mafiosi whose boss has a hit out on him for a mysterious past betrayal.

While enduring ongoing trials and many plot twists, including the prisoners’ sexual exploitation by the warden’s wife with taciturn grit, Cross begins to plot an escape, made seemingly impossible by the prison’s remote location.

 

 

Nury and Brüno deliver a taut script and stark, moody artwork rendered in black, blue, and searchlight yellows. As intricately woven as the first instalment, this brutal, cool series remains recommended reading for crime thriller enthusiasts.”

That’s actually a really great synopsis and brief summation of the merits of the book. Perhaps the blurb writer has missed his calling as a trial lawyer. But seriously, nice to see a hype writer nailing it down so perfectly for us like a mafia stooge hammering someone’s tootsies into schnitzel.

I absolutely loved this pulpy lump of period noir crime. I’ll have to confess I haven’t read the first volume, but I’m certainly going to now. The blurb for that volume states “operating in a similar vein to Richard Stark’s classic Parker crime novels, the reader roots for the bad guy while being kept aware that he’s a vicious piece of work” and again, that sums up perfectly how I feel about Tyler Cross.

 

 

As a massive fan of Darwyn Cooke’s PARKER adaptations I can truly say that Tyler Crook is a stand up guy who more than measures up to the Don of master criminals himself in Parker. Story-wise Fabien Nury ensures you will indeed find yourself rooting for the hardass with a heart, not least because nearly everyone else in the story is such a complete unmitigated bastard!

Art-wise, whilst it would be nigh-on impossible for someone to match Cooke’s PARKER work, which is just utterly exquisite in every conceivable way, I have to say Bruno is bloody brilliant. He also captures that period feel perfectly, and the point of comparison style-wise I’m going to make, which given the dapper nature of the creator himself is not entirely inappropriate, would be Seth. Though this further benefits from a limited but intensely menacing colour palette. In fact, I had to check the silhouetted head on the front endpapers wasn’t drawn by Seth. Why it would be I have no idea, but anyway.

Let’s be honest, everyone likes seeing a bad guy trapped in an impossible situation. Just look at how much fun it is watching Theresa May having the ultimate bad one day in, day out right now! The only difference being that whilst I’d happily see Theresa May rot in a hell hole forever, I was desperate for Tyler Cross to escape…

JR

Buy Tyler Cross: Angola h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cretaceous (£13-99, Oni Press Inc.) by Tadd Galusha…

“When a Tyrannosaurus Rex is separated from its family unit, it embarks on a harrowing journey to reunite with them before the raw, real dangers of the Cretaceous Era separate them for good. This heart-wrenching story takes to the skies and dives into the sea-and explores everywhere in between in this research-based, fictional account written and illustrated by Tadd Galusha.”

Readers of a certain age – practically the Jurassic, it was that long ago – may well remember Ricardo Delgado’s hugely imaginative and impressively illustrated AGE OF REPTILES, a wordless feeding frenzy of T Rex and Velociraptors working their way down the frightened food chain like someone offered free happy meals for life at the local burger joint. If you’re not entirely fossilised by now under the weight of much collapsed Cambrian canopy and do happen to vaguely remember loving that, well, look no further, you will love this.

 

 

Actually, you should also look at the excellent fourth instalment of Frederic Brremaud & Federico Bertolucci’s wordless wildlife watch that is LOVE: THE DINOSAUR.

Artistically, though, this has much more in common with Ricardo Delgado’s material, even down to the startled expressions on the panicky dino-faces as a huge predator comes crashing through the bushes not remotely fussed about their side-order of fries and milk shake.

 

 

I’m pleased the publisher clarified this was a fictional account, though, as I was starting to wonder whether Tadd had access to a time machine like the classic dinosaur farming catastrophe from the pages of 2000AD that was simply titled FLESH.

Anyway… in terms of showcasing the livestock of the epoch we really do get an up close and personal tour of practically all the animals alive at the time. I think even David Attenborough would be impressed at how many Tadd manages to fit in! Though there certainly aren’t quite so many left alive by the end…

 

 

The silent storytelling is excellent, again certainly comparable to AGE OF REPTILES, you have a real sense of being the proverbial prehistoric fly on the wall watching in. Though obviously there were no walls at the time and even if there were the flies would have been so huge they would have probably knocked them straight over…

So if, in summary, you fancy a second course of dinosaur dietary delights or indeed simply wish to sample a degustation of dinosaur dainties for the very first time please just tuck in. Even vegetarians like myself are certain to enjoy…

JR

Buy Cretaceous and read the Page 45 review here

Beasts Of Burden: Wise Dogs & Eldritch Men h/c (£20-99, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin & Benjamin Dewey…

“Don’t puff your chest out too far. We knew Tommy was an imposter. Just like we knew we walking into a trap.”
“That true, Tommy? Did they know that?”
“We are called wise dogs, you know. Not daft dogs.”

The conjuring canines return in their most stressfully horrific adventure yet as Evan Dorkin once again puts our favourite pack of man’s best friends – and protectors from mystic malfeasance – through their paces before awarding the top prizes for perilous prestidigitation.

Or something like that… I think I might have eaten one too many dog biscuits…

 

Here is the pedigree from the publisher to bark out a more balanced breeding report…

“This eight-time Eisner Award-winning comic book series blending fantasy and humour features the adventures of paranormal pets investigating the horrors of Burden Hill. A heroic pack of canines known as the Wise Dogs sets off on a mission to clean up a Pennsylvania corridor plagued by seemingly unrelated occult disturbances that include a fire salamander and a horde of mutant lurkers.

 

 

A link is found among the various disturbances, leading our heroes to a mountain village inhabited by a survivalist witch-cult who have discovered the existence of a ‘Blood Lure’ attracting occult forces, creatures, and many more terrors to Burden Hill!”

 

 

As genuinely horrific as the likes of Mike Mignola’s HELLBOY and BPRD material to my mind, and certainly just as well written, this verges on truly psychologically disturbing terror in places, but also has many moments of canine-based charm and black humour that won’t come as any surprise to fans of Evan’s other works such as DORK and THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB.

Benjamin Dewey picks up the paints this time around, and perhaps one of the biggest compliments I can give him is that I didn’t actually realise it wasn’t Jill Thompson for ages.

 

 

For a much more in-depth review of the first volume – which you don’t have to read before this one, but you really ought to read it anyway as it is utterly brilliant – please see Stephen going the full Barbara Woodhouse on BEASTS OF BURDEN: ANIMALS RITES which is now out in softcover.

WALKIES!!! To the till of course!

JR

Buy Beasts Of Burden: Wise Dogs & Eldritch Men h/c and read the Page 45 review here

3D Sweeties h/c (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Julian Glander…

“Listen… I have a confession… I’m not actually a dog. I just have a weird face.”
“You… you lied to me?”
“I didn’t have the heart to tell you the truth. You were having such a good time.”
“That’s… the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”

Purple slime mold “A” (let’s call them “A” because I don’t know their name, or indeed very much about them, other than they seem a bit dim) has clearly had a tough life, if that’s truly the nicest thing anyone has ever done for them. But then, I don’t really know much about the life of slime molds of any colour… Although I can’t imagine it is a particularly pleasant existence perpetually having chemicals poured into you before having them forcibly popped out of you again.

Anyway… why don’t we let the publisher see if they can plop something out which will make more sense of this squidgy-coated manic mess of mirthful material.

“Hilariously absurd stories set in a digital, pastel-hued universe, crafted by one of the most original artists working in animation, video games, and gifs. Glander’s debut collection of comics assembles the best of his thoroughly original short stories, which originally appeared online on sites such as VICE.

Set on a three-dimensional plane, Glander’s stories feature cute, emoji-like characters who deal with twenty-first-century (and beyond!) problems like interior decorating woes, amorous microbiology, and where to find the absolute most aspirational succulents.

 

 

Fall in love with ‘America’s favorite mug,’ Cuppy.

 

 

Hear the familial bickering of sentient purple slime molds. Encounter Susan Something and her unusual attitudes about gaming culture and conceptual art. But most of all, marvel at the playful, absurd look into our online lives that is 3D Sweeties, a book that looks and reads like no comic ever created before.”

Bit hyperbolic, that last clause, but I’ll let it slide over me like a slippery slime surprise as this is indeed rather good fun. It is certainly hilariously absurd, by which I mean the humour is certainly not straightforward gag material and I don’t believe it will appeal to everyone.

 

 

Some of the stories have considerable nuance, depth and satirical social commentary going on, but you will also need to appreciate completely pointless stupidity to get the most out of this, otherwise it might leave you slightly cold, like a bucket of slime tipped down your trousers…

Okay, I will stop with the slime gags now.

Once you’ve opened the satisfyingly squashy, spongy cover, the art, which takes bright and vibrant to whole new levels, will punch you straight in the face. Clearly produced on a computer, which I guess if you are one of “the most original artists working in animation” shouldn’t be a total surprise, this has the madcap feel of the likes of the Gumball cartoon, though weirdly it also reminded me of dear old plasticine Morph as well. You almost feel like the characters are going to start moving inside the panels. Well, I did, anyway! Meanwhile the colour palette is like a smashed up packet of Refreshers. I’ll just leave you with that image… <slime drop>

JR

Buy 3D Sweeties h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Defenders: The Best Defense s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing, Chip Zdarsky, Gerry Duggan, Jason Latour & Simone Di Meo, Carlos Magno, Greg Smallwood…

“And NOW… knock, knock.”
“Hnh. Who’s there?”

I’ll let the publisher answer that question!

“Doctor Strange! The Hulk! Namor the Sub-Mariner! The Silver Surfer! An unsolvable murder. An aquatic doorway to nothingness. A wanderer at the end of time. And a cosmic train of planetary proportions. Four seemingly unrelated events that will require the powers and insights of the greatest non-team of all.

Only they can connect the dots and challenge the strange power behind these disconnected happenings before all of reality pays the price! But Doctor Strange is…dead? Namor has declared war on the surface world! The Surfer once more serves Galactus! And the Hulk is…Immortal! Estranged and distressed can these former allies come together in time to stave off a crisis of cosmic proportions? Don’t call them a team – call them the Defenders! Collecting IMMORTAL HULK: DEFENDERS, NAMOR: DEFENDERS, DOCTOR STRANGE: DEFENDERS, SILVER SURFER: DEFENDERS and DEFENDERS: THE BEST DEFENSE.”

Well, good to see the hype writer can connect the full stops and exclamation marks, if not actually use any commas. That was all a bit breathless, wasn’t it? I wonder if the Hulk was sitting on them?

 

 

Anyway, a rare-ish review for a supes book purely because I really rather enjoyed this. I can still remember the “Whaddya Mean, Non-Team?” proclamation on the front cover of my Marvel UK Weekly reprint of THE DEFENDERS #1. I must have read that issue a million times. That original run of THE DEFENDERS which went on to feature various other characters and get pretty weird in places indeed (the elf with a gun, anyone…?) was a genuine classic run.

So it was with my nostalgia head on that I gave this a whirl and whilst it is certainly no HAWKEYE or MISTER MIRACLE, the talented team of writers and artists involved such as Al Ewing who’s IMMORTAL HULK is my pick of the current Marvel books, make this self-contained yarn a real fun romp that will appeal to old school fans and new ones alike.

 

 

It’s a relay race of a story that passes from character to character rather than a traditional collective team-up, I guess staying true to the original non-team ethos that thus allows each writer to give their particular character their full turn in the (Marvel) spotlight.

 

 

Yes, of course, things start to overlap and intertwine with the obligatory bickering that was also a hallmark of the early Defenders material but as a whole it is perfectly well written tights-and-capes tomfoolery that tickled my nostalgia funny bone in just the right way.

JR

Buy Defenders: The Best Defense 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’.

A Mouse Called Julian h/c (£11-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd-Stanton

Gamayun Tales vol 3: Tanya Of The Lake (£12-99, Nobrow) by Alexander Utkin

Stray Bullets – Sunshine & Roses vol 4: The Salad Days (£17-99, Image) by David Lapham

Love & Rockets: Is This How You See Me? h/c  (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez

Deconstructing The Metabarons h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Christophe Quillien & Juan Gimenez

Egg Cream vol 1 s/c (£10-99, Czap Books / Silver Sprocket) by Liz Suburbia

Guardians Of The Louvre h/c (UK Edition) (£17-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi

Jesusfreak h/c (£15-99, Image) by Joe Casey & Benjamin Marra

Sandman vol 6: Fables & Reflections (30th Anniversary Ed’n) (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Bryan Talbot, P. Craig Russell, Kent Williams, Jill Thompson, Stan Woch, Shawn McManus, John Watkiss, Duncan Eagleson

Tyler Cross: Black Rock h/c (£21-99, Titan) by Fabien Nury & Bruno

Ye s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Guilherme Petreca

Batman: Detective Comics vol 9: Deface The Face s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by James Robinson & Stephen Segovia, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Stephen Segovia

Teen Titans vol 1 (actually vol 4): Full Throttle s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Adam Glass & Bernard Chang, Robson Rocha with Scott Hanna

Marvel Universe: The End s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin

Bloodborne vol 2: Healing Thirst s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Ales Kot & Piotr Kowalski

20th Century Boys Perfect Edition vol 3 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

Blame! – The Electrofishers’ Escape (Movie Edition) (£11-99, Vertical Comics) by Tsutomu Nihei & Koutarou Sekine

Goblin Slayer vol 3 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Kumo Kagyu & Kousuke Kurose

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