Archive for July, 2019

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2019 week five

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

Featuring Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Jacob Phillips, George Takei, Harmony Becker, William Gibson, Johnnie Christmas, Tamra, Jim Ottaviani, Leland Myrick, David Lapham, Maria Lapham, Sang Miao, Andy Diggle, Mike Carey, Leonardo Manco, Danijel Zezelj, Jason Aaron, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini, Sean Murphy

Bad Weekend (A Criminal h/c) (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Jacob Phillips.

“So what were those pages you were looking for?”
“Some stuff I drew back when I was working for Archie Lewis… Don’t worry about it… It’s just a mistake I made. One of many, right? But I wanted to keep this one to myself…”

There is a crime committed here. Well, several if you include the odd counterfeit, entry by deception and a felony assault.

But unlike most of CRIMINAL, this self-contained mystery from the creators of KILL OR BE KILLED, THE FADE OUT, FATALE and published in the same format as MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES focuses far more on criminal behaviour, as in shoddy, as in unethical, as in treacherous.

Over the years, the American comics industry has witnessed more than its fair share of corporate malfeasance and personal betrayals – sometimes in the same swoop. Now you’ll be privy to some of those too.

July 1997, and the American comicbook industry is purported to be dying.

“Publishers going bankrupt, distributors imploding, shops closing all over the country.”

But at least the conventions still focussed on comics, and due deference was paid to its veterans.

 

 

One such legend is Hal Crane, who cut his professional teeth inking backgrounds on Archie Lewis’s STAR KING newspaper strips before carving out his own career with deadlines so tight he too needed junior assistants. Oh, and then there was his gig as lead design and storyboard artist for Danny Dagger And The Fantasticals, an animated cartoon which became a cultural sensation for a whole generation back in the ‘70s with a lot of licensed merchandise which Hal saw not a penny from. But Crane had become a chain-smoking, hard-drinking bitter man long before feeling ripped off by that, and his explosive temper was as legendary as his undeniable talent.

“The kind of guy who could ink with a toothbrush or a broken stick and the page would still come out perfect.”

Jacob knows, because straight after high school Jacob became one of Hal’s art assistants, learning from the best while witnessing the worst. He lasted longer than most but it didn’t end well. “Hal ended most of his relationships badly.” They haven’t spoken since.

So Jacob’s more than a little startled when Mindy from the imminent annual Comicfest phones late at night with an urgent request.

“Apparently, Hal Crane was flying in to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award and they needed someone to… uh… basically be his minder for a few days. Make sure he got to the ceremony and his other appearances.”

 

 

That’s minder rather than P.A., Steering Hal clear of the bars is going to be no easy task, but Hal Crane has asked specifically for Jacob. What Jacob isn’t aware of yet is that keeping Crane at the exhibition hall itself is going to be as arduous as smoothing over his bad behaviour, because Hal’s on a mission to recover missing pages of original art that very few others even know exist.

Unusually, I haven’t given you all the information you need to comprehend the exact nature of the mystery yet – I honestly haven’t – because they’re deliberately dropped in the narrative as casually as conversation and the final three pages will be doozies. Which is not a word I’ve ever typed before.

Brubaker builds the relationship between Jacob and Hal in recollections scattered throughout at relevant junctures so that you understand why the former would accept the request of a difficult man who didn’t treat him too well, and why Hal would have the temerity to ask: he’s pretty much oblivious to his past. Well, that part of it, anyway. He certainly doesn’t own it.

“You threw in the towel… really?”
“You’re the one who said I wouldn’t make it.”
“I never said that… And why the hell would you listen to me, anyway?”
“Uh… because I was your assistant?”
“No. You can’t let anyone tell you what you can be or not. I was probably trying to toughen you up… If I said that.”

 

 

Brubaker also demarcates the generational gap between Hal and almost everyone he encounters with aplomb. He doesn’t understand the world he’s re-entering after a long retirement at all. I think you’re going to enjoy the convention itself, and the eight extra pages which there were no room for in the issues of the CRIMINAL which this reprints flesh out the contrasting expectations of a faded and jaded star and the far cruder reality.

The art’s another star turn by Phillips and Phillips (solicitors at large), particularly Hal Crane’s slightly hunched, old-man posture and initially twinkling eyes which are soon clouded then shrouded over as he enters affrays of his own making. Still, there’s nothing like a speedy, cop-avoiding car dash about town to get the adrenaline pumping, and Hal’s eyes perk up again, rather proud of his own naughtiness.

“He’s not calling the cops… I’m his “mentor”, remember?
“Trust me, he’ll be dining out on this story for years.”

 

 

There’s a terrific upwards angle through the windscreen there, conveying the urgency and speed, while the colours are slashed across the panels in delicious tangerine and lemon mousse rippled through with blackcurrant. There’ll be much more cramped interior car shots later on, back-lit by sheets of a very specific red and blue as alternating lights flash outside before we approach those final three pages once the very bad weekend is almost over and Jacob returns home alone.

“Someone once referred to Hal Crane as “a master without a masterpiece” but that wasn’t actually true. There was a masterpiece, it’s just that only a handful of people had ever seen it…
“And only on Hal’s most drunken nights. That’s when he got confessional
“When he told you his secrets.
“Like the real story of Archie Lewis’s death.”

As for my opening quotation, it came with one hell of a haunted eye.

 

 

Post Script:

“Publishers going bankrupt, distributors imploding, shops closing all over the country.”

I didn’t want to bog you down unnecessarily too early on, but in advertising this graphic novel much was made of what looked like comics’ “death spiral” at the time, and I thought you might be curious.

As far as it goes, the above quotation stands true. In the mid-1990s short-sighted retailers had over-ordered insane quantities of superhero comics based on the corporations’ hype in collusion with Wizard Magazine’s self-serving forecasts in the hope of selling them later on at prices much higher than those on their covers. Rather than stack their shelves to sell through as soon as possible, they’d filled their basements with comics which they laid down like wine if not to mature then to appreciate in value.

It’s called speculation. Collectors did it too. They still do. They treat comics not like an entertainment medium, but like the Stock Exchange.

 

 

Amateurs all, what these retailers had failed to understand is that cashflow is key, critical to any business’s day-to-day survival. So when the buyers’ bubble inevitably burst (not least because corporations like Image and Valiant then failed to deliver the over-ordered comics in time before their status as “hot” had evaporated), retailers found themselves with nothing but dead stock and debts. They went bankrupt in droves.

At the same time the two major comics corporations instigated the Distribution Wars, either effectively self-distributing in Marvel’s case or naming Diamond as their exclusive conduit in DC’s. Can you spell “Monopoly”? Without the surviving (and already strapped) retailers’ cash coming in for these dominant publishers’ products, every other distributor in the US imploded, taking with them the orders from independent publishers which they had proactively supported, so guess what happened to those poor publishers? Entirely deliberate on the publishers’ part: wipe out the competition.

 

 

It’s a longer story but that’s the skinny which I witnessed first-hand, having joined the industry circa 1990, working for a chain of comic shops called Fantastic Store. Racked, stacked and packed with comics, those basements were bursting; their owner’s bank account, not so much.

SLH

Buy Bad Weekend (A Criminal h/c) and read the Page 45 review here

They Called Us Enemy s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by George Takei, various & Harmony Becker…

“My father, Takemura Norman Takei, was born in Yamanashi, Japan. He came to America as a teenager and was educated in the Bay area. He later pursued a lucrative dry cleaning business in Los Angeles’ Wilshire corridor.
“My mother, Fumiko Emily Nakamura, was born in Florin, California, but was raised traditionally Japanese. Her father had sent to her to Japan to avoid school segregation in Sacramento.”
“I am the grandson of immigrants from Japan who went to America.
“Boldly going to a strange, new world, seeking new opportunities.

Like many before them and since. But for the burgeoning Japanese American community, the events of Pearl Habour were about to turn their happy lives in the ‘land of the free’ into a living nightmare.

 

 

Here’s the publisher to tell us more about this divisive episode in US history as experienced by the living legend himself. 

“George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In a stunning graphic memoir, Takei revisits his haunting childhood in American concentration camps, as one of over 100,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II.

Experience the forces that shaped an American icon – and America itself – in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.”

I actually learnt about the American internment of its own citizens through comics coincidentally enough. Specifically INVADERS #27 (released in 1978) penned by Roy Thomas where Captain America, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner fly to the location Bucky was last seen (he’s been kidnapped by Agent Axis along with Toro) and are appalled by what they witness at just such an internment camp. It struck a chord with me as a six year old and that page was very much burnt into my mind forevermore.

Anyway, I digress for this is George Takei’s story and very well told it is too, as you might expect. His childhood seems to have been an extremely typical one until everything changed overnight. Effectively stripped of everything they’d ever worked so hard for, his family was shipped off to Rohwer Relocation Centre in Arkansas, thousands of miles away from California.

 

 

I think about the only fortunate thing you can possibly say about the situation is that these were not the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, far from it, but still, people were persecuted and effectively criminalised for nothing other than simply being of Japanese ancestry.

 

 

The historical record is extremely well laid out and explained, alongside the story of George and his family and their time in the camps and then afterwards trying to rebuild their lives once war was over.

 

 

As ever, it’s incredibly worrying to observe how easily the propaganda that politicians spew out and spin to prejudice people allowing them to proceed with their plans is utterly believed by the general populace. 

Extremely clear black and white art from Harmony Becker captures all the emotional lows and occasional highs experienced by the Takeis in a remarkably non-sensationalist matter-of-fact manner. As a snapshot into a fascinating piece of WW2 history that’s all too often overlooked it’s a wonderful piece of documentary. For more about lifetime during WW2 and its aftermath from the perspective of the average person in Japan itself, I highly recommend SHOWA 1939-1944 and SHOWA 1944-1953.

JR

Buy They Called Us Enemy s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hawking h/c (£22-99, FirstSecond) by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Myrick…

“Not long after, we all went to a talk Hoyle gave at the Royal Society about their results. There was much excitement.”

“…The big bang has all the elegance and dignity of a party girl jumping out of a birthday cake.
“What I meant is it has none. As the BBC listeners among you know, I liken our previous position to that of mountain climbers attempting a summit via multiple routes.
“We found out that all of them peter out on hopeless precipices.
“So, many years ago, I proposed a new hypothesis… that matter is created continuously.”

“He went on, presenting his newest ideas and the results he and Jayant had worked on. Results that had not been reviewed by anyone by Jay… and me.”

“…QED. Are there any questions?”

“The conclusion of his talk caused a bit of a stir.”

“Yes, you there.”
“The… the influence of matter in a steady-state universe would… the quantities you’re talking about would diverge.”
“Of course they don’t diverge.”
“Er, yes. The masses would be infinite, which is…”
“Nonsense. Why do think you this?”
“I worked it out. I calculated it.”

“Some people thought I’d done so on the spot.
“I hadn’t, of course. I’d seen the calculations Jayant was working on and had become interested in them myself.
“Regardless, this didn’t hurt my reputation.”

Quite. Just in case you haven’t heard of the most famous scientist of the second half of the 20th century, here’s the presentation from the publisher…

“From his early days at Oxford, Stephen Hawking’s brilliance and good humour were obvious to everyone he met. At twenty-one he was diagnosed with Motor neurone disease, a disease that limited his ability to move and speak, though it did nothing to limit his mind.

He went on to do groundbreaking work in cosmology and theoretical physics for decades after being told he had only a few years to live. Through his 1988 bestseller, A Brief History of Time, and his appearances on shows like Star Trek and The Big Bang Theory, Hawking became a household name and a pop-culture icon.”

That he did. From the graphic biographers behind the brilliant FEYNMAN comes the life story of a truly remarkable man who would not allow his own physical limitations to curtail his insatiable determination to increase our understanding of the universe.

 

 

From his early life and quintessentially British and slightly eccentric upbringing, he was a man with a deep desire to know more, about everything.

 

 

Initially, that thirst for knowledge was unfocused and untrained, perhaps in part because nothing seemed beyond him, but little seemed to retain his interest.

 

 

But once at University, he began to discover scientific questions which would fascinate and motivate him until his dying day. Which was considerably further in the future than any doctor, and probably he himself, could have ever expected when first diagnosed with his condition.

This is an exceptional biography. What I had anticipated was that it would go into considerable detail regarding his life, which it certainly does, with great warmth and humour, reflecting the sprit with which he faced the ever-increasing difficulties arising from his condition.

What I hadn’t appreciated, was just how much I would learn concerning the specific details and minutiae of his work and theories. I possibly should have, actually, because that was a feature of FEYNMAN, but here we get into the physics in much, much more depth.

 

 

 

Consequently, this work is as much as opportunity to learn about his theories and discoveries as it is the man. I am extremely impressed with how Ottoviani and Myrick present all this complex information so clearly.

JR

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

The Immortal Jellyfish h/c (£11-99, Flying Eye Books) by Sang Miao ~

“What about us? Are we immortal?” The boy enquired.
“Not in that way,” replied Grandpa. “But there are other ways of living for ever.”

In THE IMMORTAL JELLYFISH, Sang Miao tells the poignant story of a young boy’s first experience of death. When his beloved grandpa passes away he is left sad and confused that he will no longer be able to see his Grandpa anymore. But that is just the beginning of the tale. When he takes to his bed and succumbs to slumber, he is visited by his Grandpa and taken on a beautiful journey to a magical land filled with all kinds of fantastic creatures, all of whom has recently left the world as we know it and are now getting to experience a new life entirely.

Through a mystical and dreamlike tale, Miao has been able to explain the complex concept of death and mortality to little minds in a way that is magical and embracing. With poetic elegance they explain that our loved ones will always be with us, but now we get to spend time with them in a different way: through memories, imagination and, most wonderfully and tangibly, in our dreams.

 

 

Lashings of watercolour blend and pool, while layers of crayon bring a soft, textured detail to this ethereal world. This is reflected in the design of the book itself, with spot glossed illustrations on a matt, textured cover in warm, comforting blue. As a book that could play a very important part in a young person’s life, the clever tactility of this book acts with embracing familiarity.

It is a book to be cherished and revisited, as a gentle reminder that those we have lost are never really gone, and in their own way will always live on, just like the immortal jellyfish.

JP

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

Lodger s/c (£15-99, IDW) by Maria Lapham, David Lapham…

“… Shows you. I almost half believed you.
“I don’t need psychos in my life…
“… thank you very much.”

Said the psycho to the person he has just forcibly overdosed on heroin and murdered…

There is a safe way to have psychos in your life, though… Read material like this from the Laphams who I am sure are completely lovely in real life and appear not remotely psychotic at all. Though I guess they have to be a little bit psycho to produce material like this, but, you know, just inside their heads…

Sure, perhaps if they weren’t producing comics they’d be out roaming around America offing people for kicks (makes note to investigate disappearances versus their appearances at comic conventions…) but happily for us, and them, it’s easier to write and draw about it instead. Clever psychos, you see…

 

 

Here’s the rap sheet from the publisher to tell you why you shouldn’t be remotely concerned associating yourself with two of the nicest people in comics who love to entertain us with deranged psychopaths and almost certainly really aren’t ones themselves. Promise. Now comics retailers on the other hand…

“Guns and revenge. As American as the wicked west. Ricky Toledo is going to find the man that killed her mother, and revenge is going to be sweet. Ricky was 15 when she fell hard for a handsome drifter who rented a room in her family home. Then he killed her mother and got her father sent to prison for it.

 

 

It’s three years later, and Ricky will stop at nothing to get revenge. A broken young woman and her trusty companion – a gold Smith and Wesson 45 named Golddigger – track a serial killer hiding in plain sight as a travel blogger.

It’s a dark, grimy game of cat and mouse through a tangled American landscape. And, like all the best crime noir, it’s a twisted love story.”

It is! There’s definitely a hint of Mickey and Mallory from Quentin Tarantino’s Natural Born Killers about Ricky and master of disguise Dante, though there’s considerably more hate to go with the lust, which is mostly of the murderous kind, anyway. Still, there’s pure primal obsession at play here that is for sure.

 

 

Fans of STRAY BULLETS will know precisely what to expect from this self-contained piece of sociopathy. Even with its tight anxiety-inducing five-issue confines it manages to take the reader on a wild ride of jumping backwards and forwards in time, deliberately presenting key events in misleading fashion, confusing readers and characters alike with wilful, nay gleeful, obscurification.

 

 

 

And disguises… Lots of disguises…

JR

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

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

Collects Hellblazer: All His Engines original graphic novel by Mike Carey & Leonardo Manco

and #230-238 wherein Andy Diggle kicked off his own blistering run.

Fortunately I wrote a bit about both.

 All His Engines

 Neil Gaiman offers the headline quote, “Mike Carey has written the quintessential Constantine story,” which I was almost positive represented a favour to a friend, until I hit the first dozen pages. What does Gaiman mean by “quintessential”? I can’t tell you that, but I can suggest what I would have meant: British, political, involving what’s left of John’s mates and played like a game of poker. Although there’s merely a smidgeon of politics, excepting those of hell and death, there’s plenty of the rest here even though the majority of the metaphorical car crash takes places in Los Angeles, for it brings Britain with it:

“Fucking hell, Chas! They drive on the right! The right!”
“Don’t panic, John. It’s a learning curve.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t wanna be here when it flattens out!”

 

 

Chas is one of John’s longest-standing and longest-suffering friends, and he’s been chauffeuring the trickster around for years (“See, it’s a cabbie’s license. Means I can drive and give marriage guidance counselling.”). Usually wherever John wants to be is where Chas doesn’t, but when his niece falls into a coma out of the blue, and when it appears she is part of an epidemic with no trace of a viral strain, Chas calls in all his many favours and calls up John Constantine. One more dead acquaintance and a plane flight later, it’s immediately clear to Constantine that things aren’t quite right.

“Something’s dead wrong. A taste in the air, like hot iron. A fingernails-on-blackboard noise, too high even for dogs. Or maybe it’s just that it’s six in the evening on the Santa Monica freeway. And we haven’t had to slow down once.”

Carey is on the toppest form I’ve known of him. I’m no fan of his current run on the main title, and when you go in with such heavy prejudices based on perceived past performance that you don’t even want to pick the book up, it’s only a remarkable composition that changes your mind. The script felt like Ennis, the art like a moodier, more solid John Ridgeway (so that’s the first two eras in one blood-soaked package), and Constantine has to summon up all his powers of baiting and bluff – as well as a prideful Aztec God – to do a better job of saving Chas’ niece than he did with the girl back in Newcastle.

“You forget yourself. I am no upstarting demon, scrabbling in the dirt of the human soul. I am Mictlantecuhtli. I am a God.”
“Great stuff.  I’m John — and I’m a bastard.”

 

 

 Joyride

Scathing and witty, I’ve not relished this series so much since Garth Ennis’s run, and if you’ve never tried it then Andy Diggle’s run would be a very fine place to start. Both the book and John Constantine are back on top, socio-political form after a cathartic return visit to Ravenscar Asylum where Constantine spent much time following that ill-advised outing in Newcastle, whilst Andy brings back the humanity at its heart and reunites the bite with the bark:

“Two years they had me locked up here, off and on. Back before Thatcher sold it off to the private sector and Blair turned it into a super-casino. After all why treat the mentally ill when you can fleece ’em for every penny they’ve got?”

It’s back to being pertinent with property redevelopment and youth gun crime, impertinent with the well-earned laceration of the establishment’s bullying of and cash-ins on the disadvantaged, and genuinely frightening with its painful pincer movement of supernatural horror and physical danger. It kicks off with Constantine being slowly drowned.

 

 

Most of all, it will make you very, very angry, and that’s what this book under Jamie Delano originally set out to do and managed so magnificently.

Comics as political agitation: always of vital importance.

Oh, and the joyriding…? Not just of cars, but of people.

What on earth could possess you to do that?

Continued then wrapped up in HELLBLAZER VOL 21.

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 20: Systems Of Control s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 21: The Laughing Magician (£22-99, Vertigo) by Andy Diggle, Jason Aaron & Leonardo Manco, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini, Sean Murphy.

Contains HELLBLAZER #239-249, and LADY CONSTANTINE #1-4.

As such it contains both the conclusion to Andy Diggle’s wit-ridden run which began in HELLBLAZER VOL 20 (reviewed) and ‘Newcastle Calling’ (#245,246) by Jason Aaron & Sean Murphy from which all the interior art here is taken.

The Roots Of Coincidence

“I’m driving the wrong way up the Synchronicity Highway… And someone’s trying to make damn sure I don’t make it to the other end.”

The finale to Andy Diggle’s masterful performance on John Constantine and – with the aid of Leonardo Manco’s furiously scratched yet classically proportioned art – I hereby declare it the cleverest, truest take on the character since Alan Moore first created him, combining the very best of Ennis and Delano both in style and substance. There are a lot of familiar faces here!

 

 

Previously in Joyride:

Scathing and witty, I’ve not relished this series so much since Garth Ennis’s run, and if you’ve never tried it, this’d be a very fine place to start. Both the book and John Constantine are back on top, socio-political form after a return, cathartic visit to Ravenscar Asylum, whilst Andy brings back the humanity at its heart and reunites the bite with the bark:

“Two years they had me locked up here, off and on. Back before Thatcher sold it off to the private sector and Blair turned it into a super-casino. After all why treat the mentally ill when you can fleece ’em for every penny they’ve got?”

Then in Laughing Magician:

“In the blood-soaked sands of Darfur, a murderous mage called Mako is drawing power from genocide and cannibalism, eating magicians alive to gain their hard-earned powers. His ultimate target: an eternal presence that maintains the world’s mystical balance – the so-called Laughing Magician.”

He’s after John Constantine.

 

 

Now in Roots Of Coincidence:

The trickster is back! Deep in the heart of the Vatican there’s a room set apart from the world by Papal Decree, so whatever takes place in there comes without Judgement. “Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted.” There is no sin. Only two problems: the decree came from Roderic Llancol de Borgia; and if the room is no longer in this world… it means it’s uncomfortably closer to another. With uncharacteristic altruism, Constantine offers to help a priest with his self-inflicted problem, but it’s one giant sleight-of-hand for John’s after something else entirely: The Lost Gospel Of Constantine.

But it’s only when he returns to England where Lord Burman and Mako are patiently waiting that all the threads come to one eminently satisfying head, especially the panels in which John realises exactly who The Laughing Magician really is and the extent of his scheming, for he may never be able to look himself in the mirror again.

Reflection or deflection? I will not say, but there are some cracking one-liners as when John rolls a seasonal card and snorts up his nose the ground, powdered bones of Lycia’s Saint Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus:

“Looks like it’s going to be a White Christmas after all.”

Newcastle Calling

“Impressive member you’ve got there, old boy.
“But you’re forgetting one thing…
“Mine’s bigger.
“Shall we measure?”

He’s talking to a thirty-foot, bipedal wolf.

It’s an awful thing.

 

 

This gruesome two-parter’ by Jason Aaron (SCALPED, SOUTHERN BASTARDS, THE GODDAMED etc) and Sean Murphy (PUNK ROCK JESUS   JOE THE BARBARIAN, THE WAKE etc) bears all the trappings of a perfect HELLBLAZER shudder-thon: British culture in the form of punk rock, a prime piece of Constantine history reprised (the clue’s in the title; see HELLBLAZER VOL 2), and a fractious gang of video journalists over-confident in their crusade to discover the truth behind Constantine’s past which, as we all know, is best left buried.

Instead they break into the dark and derelict Casanova Club where John’s Mucous Membranes angrily snarled out ‘The Venus Of The Hard Sell’. It was also where an over-confident Constantine made the most serious of his five thousand, six-hundred and fifty-eight terrible miscalculations, landing him in the legendary mental asylum called Ravenscar. Now they have woken that which they shouldn’t and what they wind up doing to themselves – and to dead dogs – will make your toes crawl and their bunions bleed.

Sean Murphy shows you just enough to make you wonder what God was thinking when he invented eyes.

 

 

All of this before our John joins us on the first chapter’s final two pages having got wind on the ectoplasmic plains of what the fuck is up, pulling him back so very, very reluctantly to Newcastle.

“Just this once, how grand would it be if this whole dammed mess didn’t somehow turn out to be entirely my bleedin’ fault.”

That would be super.

“Fat fuckin’ chance of that though, aye?”

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 21: The Laughing Magician and read the Page 45 review here

William Gibson’s Alien 3 h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by William Gibson & Johnnie Christmas…

“You caused thefailure, Fox. Deliberately routed the Sulaco through the U.P.P. sector and brought her into Anchorpoint.”
“We’re with Military Sciences.”
“I know that.”
“We’re with Weapons Division.”
“The presence of Weapons Division personnel on Anchorpoint is specifically forbidden by our strategic arms reduction treaty with the United Progressive People. This isn’t a military station.”
“We appreciate your concern.”
“You’re violating treaties that exist to prevent nuclear war! You’ve deliberately caused an armed spacecraft to penetrate their border zone. If they can prove it…”
“They know. Proving it is something else.”
“They boarded Sulaco, We logged a security breach and internal damage. We can certainly prove that if we have to.”
“If that’s true, I think you’re crazy. Someone is crazy…”
“A calculated risk. And believe me, Colonel, the decision was made at the top.”
“The top of what?”
“Sulaco was returning to Gateway with specimens of weapons-related material. The company’s quantum detectors were monitoring data from the ship’s hyper sleep vault. It became evident that the material in question had… become active.”

 


“The decision was made to reroute Sulaco here, to Anchorpoint. Other factors outweighed the risk of entering U.P.P. territory.”
“Status report on the biohazard sweep we requested?”
“We have a crew assembling in docking bay 8… You’ll be going aboard yourselves?”
“We’re in charge.”
“We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Ahhh… there’s nothing like some hubris on behalf of the ‘bad guys’ to really antagonise the viewer / reader into wanting them to get their just desserts. Or in this case, just be dessert. Yeah, I’m pretty sure you can guess how it is going to end for the two Weapons Division suits… even if you’ve never read William Gibson’s legendary never-made screenplay which has been floating around the electronic ether for those of a curious mind.

I hadn’t read it as it happens, but I do remember very well the truly immense disappointment and intense bemusement I experienced upon watching the Alien 3 film which did eventually appear at the cinema in 1992. As did most people… How had this travesty been made? Who could possibly have written such a downbeat movie that starts with two completely pointless off-screen deaths and only gets more dour from there? (Spoiler alert… Hicks and Newt are alive! For now…)

 

 

With hindsight Alien 3 is actually a pretty decent movie, which is more in keeping with the claustrophobic tone of the original Alien film than the all-action sequel. But I think I am on fairly safe ground to state Aliens (1986) is as near perfect an action horror movie as has ever been made and certainly rightly matched the original in terms of acclaim. Anticipation was thus very high about the follow up with the expected trajectory of yet more insane action. When news broke that William Gibson had been tasked to write the screenplay that only made everyone even more excited. Could the man who invented cyperpunk possibly take the franchise to another level altogether?

From Gibson’s foreword, it’s clear he was a massive Alien / Aliens fanboy and set about writing something he felt would be the next logical step in building the trilogy, both in terms of plotline and tone. Reading this adaptation, he clearly succeeded in every respect, producing something completely in keeping with what had gone before in both films but also potentially allowing the franchise to expand in a new logical direction.

 

 

Which then begs the question… why didn’t it get made?

As I’ve commented before, it is a complete mystery to me why so many films that actually do get made have ever been greenlit at all. We are back to the hubris of bad guys aren’t we? Just movie execs this time…

Anyway, the opening quote above is enough of a ‘trailer’ to give you fair warning of the mind (and stomach) rending horror that is to follow.

 

 

Johnny Christmas’ art is clean and crisp yet sufficiently visceral and bloody to convey the terror and carnage that is about to be unleashed on the inhabitants of the unsuspecting space station.

JR

Buy William Gibson’s Alien 3 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

 

 

Bad Machinery vol 8: The Case Of The Modern Men (Pocket Edition)  (£11-99, Other A-Z) by John Allison

Deadly Class vol 8: Never Go Back s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Wes Craig

Handmaids Tale h/c (£20-99, Doubleday) by Margaret Atwood & Renee Nault

Lumberjanes vol 12: Jackalope Springs Eternal (£10-99, Boom!) by Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh

Over The Garden Wall: Hollow Town s/c (£12-99, Kaboom!) by Celia Lowenthal & Jorge Monlongo

Prodigy s/c (£17-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Rafael Albuquerque

Sandman vol 10: The Wake (30th Anniversary Ed’n) (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli, Jon J. Muth, Charles Vess

Scott Pilgrim Colour Collection vol 1 s/c (£26-99, Oni) by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Sky Hawk s/c (£18-99, Fanfare Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi

Stig & Tilde: Vanisher’s Island s/c (£9-99, Nobrow) by Max De Radigues

The Adventure Zone vol 2: Murder On The Rockport Limited! s/c (£17-99, FirstSecond) by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy & Carey Pietsch

Dear Justice League s/c (£8-99, DC Zoom) by Michael Northrop & Gustavo Durate

Daredevil vol 1: Know Fear s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Chip Zdarsky & Marco Checchetto

Elektra: Assassin s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz

Savage Sword Of Conan vol 1: The Cult Of Koga Thun s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Ron Garney

The Invaders vol 1: War Ghosts s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Chip Zdarsky & Carlos Magno, Butch Guice

The Superior Spider-Man vol 1: Full Otto s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Christos Gage & Mike Hawthorne

Wolverine: Long Night s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Ben Percy & Marcio Takara

My Hero Academia: Vigilantes vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Hideyuki Furuhashi & Betten Court

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2019 week four

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

Featuring… well, this lot for a start…

Kramers Ergot vol 10 s/c (£26-99, Fantagraphics) by Sammy Harkham, Robert Crumb, Dash Shaw, David Collier, Anouk Ricard, C.F., Jason Murphy, Blutch, Shary Flenniken, Johnny Ryan, John Pham, Ron Regé Jr., Simon Hanselmann, Anna Haifisch, Naoh Van Sciver, Ivan Brunetti, David Amram, Helge Reumann, Frank King, Steve Weissman, Aisha Franz, Leon Sadler, Adam Buttrick, Archer Prewitt, Connor Willumsen, Bendik Kaltenborn, Will Sweeney, Rick Altergott, Kim Deitch, Marc Bell…

“You skipped school again?! Get out of bed! We’re under attack!”
“What? I don’t hear anything?”
“Stay inside!”
“What are you talking about, Mom?”
“Turn on the news!”

“Fucked up shit.”

One should never really giggle when the 9/11 attacks are involved I suppose, but the sight of a baffled  young Noah Van Sciver looking out of his bedroom window after answering the phone half-asleep to the sound of his panicking mum, did occasion me to chuckle as I read his one-page contribution on the inside front cover.

There’s a fair amount of what one could describe as fucked up shit in this amazing anthology. I would personally describe it as comics of the highest order, but I respect the maxim to each their own. The material within this latest Kramer’s collection as ever ranges from the ribald to the ridiculous, from the straightlaced to the stoopid, from the marvellously mundane to the truly out there. And beyond. It’s certainly not going to be for everyone, far from it, but it hit the spot for me.

As ever, it is curated by the remarkable Sammy CRICKETS Harkham, who also pulls off the neat trick of providing my favourite contribution in the form of an extended Blood Of The Virgin period story covering as ever the slightly seedier side of American B-movie making.

 

 

There’s such a variety of material contained within these gorgeously garishly covered (Lale Westvind) French flaps it is a formidable task to assimilate it in one sitting. For you, though, dear readers, I did just that. There were a lot of highlights. In terms of personal pure hit-rate, for such relatively esoteric material, it was considerably more than I could have genuinely expected, with barely a miss. Which either means that Sammy Harkham has been reading my mind, or just really has his finger on the pulse of cutting edge comicdom. I’m going with the latter.

Dash Shaw’s Policewoman…

 

 

Anouk Ricard’s recurring Ducky Coco one-pagers…

 

 

C.F.’s Liquid On Neutral…

 

 

Ivan Brunetti’s Stay Gold…

 

 

John Pham’s J&K…

 

 

… and Marc Bell’s Slogan Schnauzerpg…

 

 

…were probably my stand out favourites. C.F.’s Liquid On Neutral in particular, about someone planning a script rewrite and then promptly falling down a manhole before undergoing, well, I honestly don’t know what, some sort of reality-warping experience, is definitely a contender for the most surreal contribution. It had me returning to it repeatedly just to marvel at the artistry.

 

 

There is also a surprisingly large amount of well-executed, it must be said, low-brow filth. All humorously done and frequently completely over the top like Johnny Ryan’s Run. Would you expect anything less from Johnny Ryan?

All in all this is as well rounded an avant garde and absurdist anthology as you imagine could be put together. I therefore once again take a Kramer’s Ergot vol 7 sized hat off…

 

 

…to Mr Harkham for his continued commitment towards showcasing the very best of the most wilfully self-indulgent material out there. Happily volume 10 is a ‘normal’ oversize.

Anyway, these are creators who are all making precisely the sort of comics they want to make, damn the consequences and in most cases, lack of sales. These folks would rather have the devout love of a few than compromise their creativity to reach the masses and more power to them for it.

JR

Buy Kramers Ergot vol 10 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Books Of Magic vol 1: Moveable Type s/c (£14-99, DC) by Kat Howard & Tom Fowler…

“Hey, Ellie! Do you want to see some magic?”
“Like a trick?”
“Real magic, of course. I would never trick you.”
“Okay.”
“I hold in my hands nothing but coloured paper. But once I say the magic word, they will become flowers! ABRACADABRA! Er…”
“That was… um. Good try!”

Which probably neatly sums up how I feel about this opener, really…

Part of the recent Sandman Universe material also featuring THE DREAMING VOL 1: PATHWAYS AND EMANATIONS, LUCIFER VOL 1: THE INFERNAL COMEDY and THE HOUSE OF WHISPERS VOL 1: POWERS DIVIDED, I really, really wanted this particular title to be brilliant because I hold the original THE BOOKS OF MAGIC material in the very highest regard. Always difficult to follow absolute perfection though I guess!

So, young Tim is back at school, real school not magical school, but it appears he has seemingly forgotten much of what he has already learnt of the mystic curriculum. Fortunately help is on hand in the form of his teacher Dr. Rose, who is of course half of Dr. Occult along with Richard. Well, technically she was bonded to his soul when he died at some distant point in DC past if memory serves, but you get my drift.

Tim hasn’t forgotten he is seemingly destined to the greatest magician of his age, for good or evil – again see: THE BOOKS OF MAGIC – nor indeed the tumultuous events which occurred in that epic adventure leading him to this point.

 

 

Which is why I am utterly perplexed that he doesn’t seem to recognise Rose when he first sees her. Not sure that is a mystery which is going to get solved, or maybe it will.

 

 

Anyway, he also definitely hasn’t forgotten his mum. His dead mum. Or merely his missing mum, depending on your perspective… That semantic difference is going to ensure Tim gets himself into his first round of fresh trouble, though of course there are darker forces determined to steer Timothy in their direction, or just remove him from play completely.

We also see the return of some other familiar SANDMAN / BOOKS OF MAGIC mythos characters, such as Tim’s perennially glued-to-the-TV deadpan dad, plus a firm favourite of mine, the fabulously bonkers Mad Hettie, who as ever is most definitely not quite so completely hatstand as she appears. Just mostly!

Tom DOOM PATROL Fowler’s vibrant art is considerably different and less gritty than the other three Sandman Universe titles, but actually works well in capturing the restless nature of the somewhat mercurial teenage wizard complete with all his surging hormones and teenage angst.

 

 

I think were it not for the exceptional original material, I would have been sufficiently entertained by this in its own right anyway. Even so, I have persisted with it in single issue form and it is pulling enough rabbits out of the proverbial hat for me to keep reading it. Plus, no spoilers, but there have already been more guest appearances from familiar characters and I am sure that trend will continue.

Particularly given the recent announcement regarding the return of one John Constantine esquire in a forthcoming one-shot and then new ongoing HELLBLAZER series penned by Si Spurrier, which is all apparently going to tie-in directly and follow on from the original BOOKS OF MAGIC

JR

Buy Books Of Magic vol 1: Moveable Type s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Magicians: Alice’s Story h/c (£20-99, Archaia) by Lev Grossman, Lilah Sturges & Pius Bak…

“And with that, Quentin is being rescued from being pinned to the wall by Professor March.
“Everything he does, he by the skin of his teeth. Part of me wants to dislike him so much.
“But another part… a very insistent part… tells me that there’s more to him than I’m seeing.
That part is getting traction. But it’s annoying getting all the other parts in the process.
“And then…
“… Reality slips a gear and starts idling in neutral.
“I can’t move. Nothing moves.
“Out of nowhere he appears.
“No fanfare. One moment not there. The next moment there.
“Hi is in no rush. Time passes.
“How much time I can’t say. I will learn later that it’s hours.
“Whatever he is, he’s not human.
“Or, perhaps, not human anymore.
“Amanda’s voice. Mangling her Cretan Mycenaean dialect. But it gets the job done.
“More time passes. But how to count time when your gaze doesn’t change?
“And just like that… (just like what, Alice? If anything is sui generis, it’s this.)
“… He’s gone.”

And just like that, with that, Alice’s fellow pupil Amanda at the hidden Breakbills University for magicians has been eviscerated and poor Professor March appears to be lying in a puddle of his own piss…

 

 

Where’s young Harry Potter, I mean Timothy Hunter, to save the day when you need him? Well, Potter was last spotted treading the boards and Hunter’s got more than enough of his own academic problems…

Fortunately we don’t need them because we have Alice and Quentin, little more than occult aspirants at this point, but soon about to get involved in some very serious wiz-biz along with their frenemy Penny.

 

 

Actually, whilst there might be a nod to a certain young mage or two with the hidden school, this whole work is an amusing and clever meta-warping twist and very deliberate nod to several fantasy works, not least The Chronicles Of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

In fact, the work itself has also undergone a neat little sleight of hand during adaptation by Lilah LUMBERJANES: INFERNAL COMPASS Sturges from the original prose novel by Lev Grossman. For the original (trilogy, this merely being the first book) tells the story from the viewpoint of Quentin Coldwater, whereas this graphic novel adaptation recounts events as experienced by the other main character Alice Quinn.

 

 

I guess for fans of the hugely popular original material, and indeed TV show adaptation which is now in its fifth series, it is a lovely bit of legerdemain. For people utterly unaware of the source material, or the TV show, like myself, all one can do is judge it on its own mystical merits, and I really rather enjoyed it.

Here’s the publisher to cast a spell on you with their mystical mumblings…

“Alice Quinn is manifestly brilliant, and she has always known that magic is real. During her years at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, she rises to the top of her class, falls in love with Quentin Coldwater, and witnesses a horrifically magical creature invade their dimension.

It’s not soon after graduation when Alice, Quentin, and their friends set their sights on the idyllic setting of Fillory: a place thought to only live in the pages of their favourite children’s books. A land where magic flows like rivers… but in this magical realm nothing is what it seems to be, and something darker lies behind the spellbinding facade.

It is in the darkness where Alice will discover her true calling and her life, and those friends, forever changed.”

This is well crafted fantasy which pays homage to and plays gleefully with its inspirations. I thought Pius Bak was very good too artistically. It wouldn’t look out of place in a Sandman Universe title and there are hints of Peter HIGHEST HOUSE Gross and P. Craig GRAVEYARD BOOK Russell going on in there stylistically and in terms of the colour palette.

JR

Buy The Magicians: Alice’s Story h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bags (Or A Story Thereof) s/c (£9-99, Archaia) by Pat McHale & Gavin Fullerton…

John walked to the policeman’s house.
The policeman lived in a house down the street. John had seen him being there sometimes, but other times he didn’t.

DING DONG

“Oh hello, John.”
“He’s working, John. He’s at the police station. Did something happen?”

John looked at the policeman’s wife for a moment and thought about how anyone could have taken Beth.

“It’s okay, sweetie. You can trust me.”
“Noooo… nothing has happened.”

Why wasn’t the policeman home? What was he doing? Was he really at the station? Was his wife lying? John was very suspicious now. Finding Beth was going to be much more convoluted than he thought.

 

 

Yep, it really was! I’m pretty sure you have some questions of your own now… So here’s the publisher to provide you with a few answers without giving away pretty much anything whatsoever at all…

“This is the tale of John Motts. He is a man who had a dog, but now that dog is gone. John searches his house, his street, and his town, but the dog is nowhere to be found.

 

 

John soon realizes that he must travel further, past the road and into the trees if he’s ever to find out the truth of what happened to his dog.

Bags (or a story thereof) is a journey of love and suspense as John Motts searches through the world he knows, and a world he doesn’t, weaved together beautifully by Pat McHale, creator of the Over The Garden Wall cartoon series and Gavin Fullerton.”

If you seen the beautifully serene and sedately surreal Over The Garden Wall cartoon, or indeed read the subsequent OVER THE GARDEN WALL graphic novels, then you will immediately know what sort of subtle tone, and journey, to expect. The unexpected basically.

 

 

Don’t try and guess where John will end up, you won’t, or indeed if he will ever find his dog. He might. He might not. Just marvel at John’s redoubtable determination and resilience to find Beth in the face of ever-increasing odds and oddity and despite all his obvious shyness and uncertainties.

 

 

The art is equally unusual, with a deliberate four colour-esque letratone period feel. It all adds to the uncertain ambience. Even the John Motts character himself, with his huge potato shaped head and couple of tufts of hair is like some sort of curious hybrid, both visually and somewhat in terms of personality, of a little JIMMY CORRIGAN and more so Charlie Brown from PEANUTS. He’s the sort of character you’ll find yourself rooting for but also shaking your head slightly at.

JR

Buy Bags (Or A Story Thereof) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Murder Falcon s/c (£17-99, Image) by Daniel Warren Johnson & Daniel Warren Johnson, Mike Spicer…

“You… you’re recruiting me to this craziness? To defeat monsters with… MUSIC???
“Me, helping to save the world? No. No. I couldn’t even keep my own band together… after I lost everything!
“I pushed everyone out to protect myself! How can I go back to playing now? For stakes this high?
“I’m worthless to you.”
“Jake… where I come from… there are many like me. Linked to instruments like the one you hold in your hands.
“My coming here was not by accident.
“I chose you, Jake
“You are talented, kind, resilient. There is a spark inside you, even though you try and hide it. And it is that spark, through that guitar, that helps me to…”
“Fight evil?”
“And save the world.”
“This is insane. And what kind of name is Murder Falcon anyways? It’s kind of… intense.”
“Don’t worry, Jake… I only murder monsters.”

Channelling, indeed revelling, in the sheer epic nonsensicalness of the likes of Bill And Ted, the Comic Strip’s ridiculous Bad News spoof plus pretty much everything Tenacious D have ever written, comes a epic story of one very unlikely heavy metal musician stuck in the wrong sort of funk. He’s going to have to fight off an invasion of monsters that even Godzilla in his pomp would have had problems dealing with. Fortunately, he’s not going to have to do it alone…

 

 

Just occasionally, something is so wrong it is right. If you throw shredding guitar into the ear-rending mix I’m talking DETROIT METAL CITY levels of lunacy here. There is just such a gloriously insane sense of fun at work right from the opening notes that suspension of disbelief gets thrown clean out of the window like a smashed TV out of a deranged rocker’s hotel window.

The fight scenes have a touch of the kinetically chaotic precision of Geof Darrow’s SHAOLIN COWBOY though in truth Daniel Warren Johnson’s art style minded me of a slightly more jagged James ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT Stokoe.

But this is no all-out action comedy fest! No, what carries this behemoth careening along in ever more gargantuan fashion like an exploding fireball from the depths of hell gathering everything up before it in a crap music video style is its drum-thumping heart. For Jake is a man badly in need of redemption and rediscovering his musical mojo. What better than the threat of total global annihilation at the hands, well, claws of Magnum Khaos, who is intent on enslaving humanity, to force Jake to pick up his err… pick and start plucking!

 

 

Every time you think Johnson can’t up the proverbial decibel level ante he manages it!

 

 

I did seriously wonder if he was going to be able to pull off the ending, but he manages something appropriately spectacular to bring matters to a pounding conclusion. Then there is the matter of the power ballad encore epilogue… I don’t want to spoil the set list, but suffice to say, the final number brings the house down and draws matters to a very moving conclusion indeed.

There’s no comeback tours planned as far as I am aware. This is a one hit wonder for Jake, Murder Falcon and the rest of the band. But sometimes that’s the way it should be!

JR

Buy Murder Falcon s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Die! Die! Die! vol 1 (£17-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman, Scott M. Gimple & Chris Burnham.

Someone’s not happy.

“She was nineteen.”
“That’s funny. I said that with a different tone as a defence.”

Oh, how I wish I could quote you the three preceding sentences in that exchange, but we don’t use those words around here!

As the first issue’s cover may suggested (“I’m Paul.” “I’m Nate.” “I’m drunk.”) this is all very Warren Ellis (think INJECTION), and  it was indeed a tremendously funny first issue from the writer of THE WALKING DEAD comic, the showrunner of ‘The Walking Dead’ TV series Seasons 4 to 8 who left to co-write this, and the artist on Grant Morrison’s NAMELESS.

It was also a massive surprise because it arrived on our shelves free of charge and entirely unannounced, without us having even ordered it because it was never solicited in PREVIEWS!

 

 

The idea behind that – which I wholeheartedly applaud, along with its successfully clandestine execution – was to make visiting comic shops exciting again. As Kirkman has written, there is so much information on the internet now that a comic series can be announced up to a year before its publication and that’s a long time to sustain any interest. Instead, here you go – BOOM!

We begin in Shrewsbury at the greyhound races, with an elderly man dropping his betting ticket. A younger, pretty bloke picks it up off the floor, handing it back to grateful gentlemen. Only, it isn’t the one which the pensioner dropped. It’s just as well, because he’d have lost his bet, having backed the wrong horse.

Instead he’s won, big-time.

 

 

Believe it or not, that’s merely one nudge in a ridiculously elaborate ruse formulated by the woman at the bottom of the cover, a US Senator, to completely ruin then murder a British Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister without drawing too much attention to it. The murder, I mean. She wants him well ruined first, and in public, for he’s a paedophile. She’s snorting cocaine at midnight after what must have been a most excellent night of sex if the pert pair of bare buttocks on her sofa is anything to go by, and, as she does so, she reveals in the intricacies of her plan in minute, carefully calculated detail, including the permutations which wouldn’t quite work and so were shelved. A key element was that the old codger at the race track, no relation to the MP whatsoever, needed to become exceedingly wealthy.

The Senator, you see, is running an organisation within the United States government which is as covert as the operation required to get the DIE! DIE! DIE! periodicals so secretly onto our shelves.

Unfortunately her plan begins to unravel in the Shropshire countryside on the very second page as the pretty young man speeds through the rural idyll on a motorbike, only to be pursued by a Landrover whose driver displays all the Highway Code courtesy of a BMW tail-gater.

 

 

The breezy self-confidence and acrobatic, pugilistic prowess of our secret agent is such that you know full well how that’s going to pan out, but the writers are no more slacking throughout than the line and colour artist. They deliver a dry-stone English B-road to die for / beside, and some crotch-ripping high kicks to make you thank goodness for stretchable fabrics.

 

 

There followed a cracking final-page cliffhanger, craftily set up well in advance as to provide an immaculate three-beat punchline.

So what does the rest of the series have in store…?

For a start, three identical brothers who will be using their indistinguishable features to bamboozle all and sundry including each other, their wives, their employees and you, the readers. Don’t think the cover’s seriously wonky nose job is going to deter them, either. Lengths, they will be gone to.

Oh, and there’s a great many feuds and a good deal of bloodletting, obviously.

We’ve racked this at the back of the shop with THE WALKING DEAD, right above the horror section and next to the superheroes. That should give you some idea as to who I’m targeting and how I’m marketing this. Could have gone with the comedy next to Hamish Steele’s PANTHEON, I guess.

16+

SLH

Buy Die! Die! Die! vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Havok And Wolverine: Meltdown s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Walter Simonson, Louise Simonson & Jon J. Muth, Kent Williams, Jon J. Muth.

“The atom, General Meltdown, is the heart of the matter.
“Once, it was thought to be indestructible, immutable, eternal.
“We know better now.
“Or worse, depending on your point of view.”

Well, quite.

The above is one Dr. Neutron patiently explaining nuclear physics and, later, fission to a decidedly impatient General Meltdown. It might not just be his temper that’s lost here.

The latter is such inspired nomenclature that I could spend paragraphs riffing off it, but make up your own jokes, why don’t you? But yes, there will be a General Meltdown as well as a very specific one to challenge the regenerative extent of our hirsute mutant’s healing factor.

Thirty years old, this mini-series! Unless I have my maths wrong, that means that as a fully-painted superhero comic it precedes ARKHAM ASYLUM so I’m not sure what precedes this in that category. Jim Starlin’s DREADSTAR was more science fiction, wasn’t it? Not a lot, anyway. There was a while to be waited until Alex Ross turned up to emphasise the awe in “awesome” with MARVELS, KINGDOM COME, JUSTICE (over Doug Braithwaite’s breath-taking pencils) and JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE WORLD’S GREATEST SUPERHEROES.

 

 

Naturally I lapped this up, especially since the painting in question was performed by two of my favourite artists, Jon J. Muth (MOONSHADOW, now back in print) and Kent Williams (BLOOD, SANDMAN: DESTINY etc). I even forked out for Graphitti Design’s hardcover collection, limited to 2000 copies and signed by all four creators, so although I’ve not read it recently that’s an endorsement from past-me at least.

In the back of that edition from 1990, the Simonsons recall that it was the artists themselves who catalysed the project, pitching to the husband-and-wife team their fervour to illustrate, specifically and individually, Havok and Wolverine, so the series was ritten both to satisfying their interest and play to their respective strengths. What they don’t mention is surely the most unusual aspect of this cooperative creation: that Jon J. Muth paints every single appearance of his preferred protagonist Havok (romantically rendering him a lambent James Dean), and that Kent Williams goes expressionistically wild with every growl of a decidedly more feral Wolverine than we’d previously been used to.

Not just on the same page, but often within the same panel!

 

 

The effect is, of course, far more cosmetic than Sean Phillips and John Bolton’s collaboration during Devin Grayson’s USER which utilises the artists’ seeming pass-the-parcel juxtapositions to startlingly successful, structurally wicked effect*, but it’s still really something to behold. I’m looking back through those co-created panels right now and the joins are seamless even though Muth and Williams favoured different colours and densities, textures. Williams went for ruddy cheeks and more wrought musculature, while Muth was all about clean, gleaming white highlights with a crisper delineation but much wetter brush.

God, but I do go on.

Instead, here’s Marvel’s hype-monkey to melodrama you to death:

“Two friends. Two mutants. Two X-Men!”

Dun-dun duuuuuuuuh!

“Havok, gifted with the ability to project devastating plasma bursts. Wolverine, a feral warrior with an uncanny healing factor, an unbreakable Adamantium skeleton and razor-sharp claws. Ambushed by Russian terrorists while on leave in Mexico, the two find themselves caught in a deadly web of international intrigue and betrayal! Can Alex Summers and Logan thwart a plot to bring the Western world to its knees? “Beautifully painted artwork combines with fast-paced prose to create a milestone among graphic albums as Havok and Wolverine star in a landmark X-Men story like no other!”

Imagine if those same hype-monkeys actually cared to clue you in to its craft.

* It wasn’t pass-the-parcel: Sean Phillips doesn’t recall having seen any of Bolton’s contribution until publication – the pages were instead painted concurrently as the script was delivered – which makes the resultant illusions even more improbably outstanding. Go on! Read my review of USER! Thanks!

SLH

Buy Havok And Wolverine: Meltdown 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’.

Bad Gateway h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Simon Hanselmann

Hawking h/c (£22-99, FirstSecond) by Jim Ottavani & Leland Myrick

Hellblazer vol 21: The Laughing Magician (£22-99, Vertigo) by Andy Diggle, Jason Aaron & Leonardo Manco, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini, Sean Murphy

House Of Whispers vol 1: The Powers Divided s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Nalo Hopkinson & Dominike Domo Stanton

The Immortal Jellyfish h/c (£11-99, Flying Eye Books) by Sang Miao

Lodger s/c (£15-99, IDW) by Maria Lapham, David Lapham

The Nao Of Brown h/c (£24-99, SelfMadeHero) by Glyn Dillon

Red Panda & Moon Bear (£13-99, Top Shelf) by Jarod Rosello

Return To Belzagor h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Robert Silverberg, Philippe Thirault & Laura Zuccheri

Scott Pilgrim Colour Collection vol 2 s/c (£26-99, Oni) by Bryan Lee O’ Malley

Scott Pilgrim Colour Collection vol 3 s/c (£26-99, Oni) by Bryan Lee O’ Malley

Tonta h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez

Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by The Oatmeal

William Gibson’s Alien 3 h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by William Gibson, Johnnie Christmas & Tamra Bonvillain

Hulk: World War Hulk s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & John Romita Jr

20th Century Boys Perfect Edition vol 4 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

Mob Psycho 100 vol 3 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by One

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2019 week three

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

Featuring Navie, Carole Maurel, Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins, Kristyna Baczynski , Dave Sim, Gerhard, Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, Simini Blocker, Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo, Grant Morrison, Liam Sharp, Jason Aaron, Mahmud Asrar, Gerardo Zaffino

Horizontal Collaboration h/c (£16-99, Korero Press) by Navie & Carole Maurel…

“Mark… we can’t be friends. It’s too dangerous, too serious. Can’t you see what it would mean?”
“That I’m going to have to marry you? Kidnap you… willingly?”
“…”
“I’m too afraid, Mark.”
“You needn’t be afraid.”
“How?”
“We aren’t friends, Rose.”
“…”

And then Mark kissed Rose passionately on a busy Paris street…

Which would be fine, were it not for the fact that this is occupied Paris, 1942, and whilst Rose is a Parisian through and through, Mark is not. No, Mark is an officer in the German army, specifically tasked with locating Jews hiding amongst the populace…

Unfortunately for both of them they’ve fallen in love at first sight when Mark came to check on an anonymous tip-off regarding Jews hiding in Rose’s block of apartments.

 

 

Rose isn’t Jewish, but one of her dear neighbours is, and whilst she’s strong enough to protect them, it seems she isn’t quite tough enough to save herself from Mark’s ardent advances. Not that she wants to stop them, but given her situation, as a young mother with an unloved husband away at war, she might have been wise to.

Their affair starts off as the clandestine type, of course, just one secret of many amongst our extended cast of Rose’s family, friends and neighbours in wartime Paris, but it doesn’t stay hidden forever. Certainly not with Mark’s carefree public displays of affection.

 

 

But when the tide of the conflict begins to turn and the Allies begin to advance, the reality of their relationship bites hard.

This is a very moving war-torn romance indeed from writer Navie, though Rose and Mark’s tryst is just one of several stories woven into the hardship of daily existence under an oppressive regime.

 

 

 

Thus whilst they may have the main billing there are other tragic heroes, certainly some quite despicable villains, plus one character whose morally ambiguous actions, whilst certainly well-intentioned, are catastrophic to say the least. There is also a particularly painful irony at play there too which makes it even more devastating…

This work concludes with two letters, one of which is actually a separate loose sheaf of folded paper, barely stuck down to the inside rear cover, which could very easily slip out and be lost… One letter may very well confirm your suspicions regarding a certain individual, the other, well, the other might just break your heart completely.

Told in retrospect in modern day, by an elder Rose to her lovestruck granddaughter Virginie, this haunting look back in time is beautifully and tenderly illustrated by Carole Maurel.

 

 

Our leading duo simply cannot contain their love, evident from the expressions on their faces, even whilst apart, and wartime Paris still feels like a vibrant, buzzing city, albeit populated by people aware their every move is being watched and controlled. Still, our cast of characters do mostly try and keep their secrets, some much more successfully than others. Even so, life and love goes on. Until they don’t.

JR

Buy Horizontal Collaboration h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cerebus vol 5: Jaka’s Story (Remastered Edition) (£35-99, Aadvark Vanaheim Inc.) by Dave Sim & Gerhard.

Re-shot and printed on much crisper paper.

A little like this review.

Almost all of our CEREBUS reviews were written from memory in a single sweep, immediately prior to the launch of Page 45’s website in 2010, because the collections had come out long before we’d been writing reviews but I wasn’t going to let such an innovative (albeit occasionally problematic) body of work like this (300 issues plus attendant extras) sit there in a void. But the “single sweep” is important because – even though I’ve embellished this for 2019 – each review relied to some extent for context upon what I’d written of the series so far, while omitting certain elements to avoid repetition.

You might, therefore, want to start reading the reviews from the very first book, but this volume is where I’d recommend you start buying unless you’d prefer something more sensationally satirical in the vein of Black Adder or Yes, Prime Minister, in which case you can hop all the way back to the second book, HIGH SOCIETY.

A complete change of place after the social, political, religious and even cosmic cataclysm of CEREBUS: CHURCH & STATE, and a completely self-contained read recommended as anyone’s starting point so long as it’s not your first-ever comic. By now Sim is experimenting in so many ways with storytelling in this particular medium that novices may find the devices disorientating. But it’s where I started to read CEREBUS, I was hooked in the space of two or three pages, and for the next twenty years until the arrival of ASTERIOS POLYP, THE NAO OF BROWN and the ALEC OMNIBUS et al, I considered the series to be the finest work in comics.

Half the book focuses on the tensions of quiet domesticity, the dancer Jaka living with her new husband Rick halfway up a mountain next to a few other domiciles and a tavern. The other half is about freedom of artistic expression and a woman’s right to choose. But it’s not as straightforward as you might think.

 

 

Cerebus has been away.

As an anthropomorphic aardvark in a pre-industrial world otherwise populated by humans Cerebus is the ultimate outsider, but his seemingly unique physiology (on top of the odd prophecy) has also made him a source of speculation and a magnet for power. He’s already been Prime Minister and Pope.

But in his male papal absence he’s been dethroned, and the matriarchal Cirinists have taken over. Their religious belief in motherhood is absolute, but don’t imagine they’re feminists. A woman only has the right to choose so long as her choice is to become a mother. Dancing, for example, is illegal. Men are regarded as second-class citizens and Cerebus as the former religious leader of men is very much on the run.

 

 

Having materialised by ‘coincidence’ on Rick and Jaka’s doorstep, Cerebus is offered sanctuary there, but given that Cerebus was, is, or perceives himself to be in love with Jaka, it’s hilariously awkward.

In the meantime Oscar Wilde turns up. He’s writing a story – the story within this story about Jaka’s childhood. He’s also eyeing up Rick, but he’s open and honest about it, even if Rick’s too dim to understand those tentative advances.

Far, far more ominous are the constantly revised conversations which tavern owner Pud is having with Jaka in his head. Dancing is illegal and his patrons are few, yet in spite of his poor remuneration Pud still pays her to dance in very revealing outfits. One of the ways I sell JAKA’S STORY on the shop floor goes like this: do you ever try to anticipate conversations in advance? You know, if I say this, they may come back to me with that, so I’ll counter with… Hmmm. But what if I said that instead, how would it steer things? Throughout JAKA’S STORY Pud is secretly and silently obsessing over Jaka, stopping and restarting his premeditated, seemingly innocent overtures, but each new strand of calculated conversation in Pud’s head grows increasingly worrying…

Three-quarters of the way through the rug is pulled out from under everyone’s feet and the rest is even darker. How could it not be? Margaret Thatcher materialises. Her speech is reproduced phonetically, its rhythm and cadence as perfectly rendered as the words are chilling.

 

 

Before even commencing this story, landscape artist Gerhard built a three-dimensional model of Jaka’s house so that he could envisage exactly how each character moved through it, how to ‘shoot’ exterior sequences with consistency, and then how to represent each time of day’s subsequent shadows. Some superhero artists can’t even spell the word ‘background’ let alone draw it. They replace it instead with nominal silhouettes or speed lines: it’s not an artistic decision like Kojima’s in some sequences of LONE WOLF & CUB, but sheer laziness instead. Conversely, the very concept of laziness is an anathema to Gerhard, and his intricate, cross-hatched textures I rate right up there with Gustav Dore.

Our product pages can’t reproduce accents, sorry.

2019’s Stephen Says: Hello! Were I reading then writing about this today then you’d receive a relative epic. But I can’t. I just can’t. There are so many new books every week which demand our full concentration. And with that, I redact twenty-two more imaginary paragraphs of unequivocal praise, but also a couple of qualms involving authorial intention versus actual execution and so readers’ reception, very much in the vein of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’ which was supposed to represent Catholicism in a positive light but which [snip, for which we’re all very grateful – ed.]

SLH

Buy Cerebus vol 5: Jaka’s Story (Remastered Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Grass Kings vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Boom! Studios) by Matt Kindt & Tyler Jenkins.

“Ain’t no law says I can’t be here.”
“There’s written laws, and then there’s the other kind.”

The artist from SNOW BLIND does not disappoint, as you shall see. He’s taken the opportunity to open up with much larger, more focussed panels and their beauty benefits enormously from the paper this is printed on.

I’m generally quite sceptical about publishers’ comparison points in their solicitation blurb: selling their new series in advance to retailers and readers alike by referencing other critically acclaimed comics. But this time SCALPED looks like being on the money, and not just because the land was once more freely roamed by Native Americans before being stolen from them (see Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth’s jaw-dropping INDEH). You will, however, have to infer what you will, for I’ve already tried to tell you exactly what I mean in three different ways, each one explaining far too much for a comic which plays so well with your preconceptions.

 

 

It begins in the Spring of 1450 A.D. by the shores of a vast lake which will prove pivotal throughout.

“The lake holds the whole history of the place.
“Entire generations…
“The lake’s the only witness to all that’s come and gone.
“It cost me a niece… and a sister-in law.”

Clearly the narrator is far more contemporary, but how contemporary and who is it?

“The land… the water…? It sets the toll and takes what it will.”

 

 

 

What we are witnessing at this point back in 1450 A.D., by the sparse, lakeside settlement of animal-skin tipis, is murder for a mate. Not an open, honest, if brutal joust between stags in a thunderous display of virility, but a covert ambush of one man by another with intent to steal. Steal he does, claiming his terrified prize at night as she coddles her baby, pulling open the tipi’s flap and staking his claim.

“This land has been fought for.
“This patch on earth has been earned.
“And lost… over and over again.”

We witness that happening throughout the centuries which follow  until a rudimentary township is established with the arrival of wagons, a small community blossoms  and a church is erected, then more utilitarian, agrarian buildings make their mark along with motorised vehicles which already look a little dilapidated by 1950 A.D..

“And those that paid for it with blood and sweat and tears?
“They ain’t about to give it up.”

 

 

Now, this morning, in that self-same settlement, a young man in a backwards baseball cap is being bundled unceremoniously into a police car by a man in his mid-forties wearing a policeman’s uniform. Apparently the boy isn’t welcome on their land. But apparently the arresting officer isn’t legally a lawman. The boy bullishly protests that – according to the Sheriff in Cargill – they’re all squatters. But all the man called Bruce will concede is that they are a closed community, self-sustained, running off the grid, and that he and his two brothers will protect its borders.

Which is where, I believe, we came in.

“Shelly! How goes it?”
“S’all good. Shot me a couple weasels this morning. Looks like you caught one yerself.”

 

 

We may well return to assumptions and presumptions anon, but let’s first talk about Tyler Jenkins.

There’s such attention to detail throughout and most especially on the evolution of the hamlet, emerging from scratch like Will Eisner’s DROPSIE AVENUE which you’ll also find within Eisner’s A CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY. As the population of Eisner’s town (and then city) swells, so do its domiciles and I loved the coming and going and repurposing, refashioning of buildings to suit shifting needs.

The Grass Kingdom is far more tightly controlled for it remains rustic with grain silos, water towers, a light aircraft hangar, jetties for mooring small fishing boats and a view of the lake which is to die for.

All of this Tyler Jenkins delivers with a double-page flourish of wet washes which had me gasping out loud. It’s akin to an aerial photograph snapped out of a helicopter, and you can identify individual landmarks seen on previous pages and those you’ll encounter as Bruce drives their unwanted intruder way off their land.

 

 

It’s phenomenally well structured too: there’s a horizontal horizon of low-lying, misty blue mountains, but the sandy township itself is held within parallel, diagonal bands of much darker green – trees to the north, the lake to the south – while your eyes are further driven in to its centre from the top, right and bottom-left by the grey asphalt which of course radiates outwards as well. Quite swiftly, in our obdurate young friend’s experience.

Much is made in that car-bound conversation of Robert, Bruce’s older brother, who seems to reign over this closed community like a king – one with a temper and a propensity towards drink. It’s made very clear to the youth that he’s lucky to have been caught by Bruce and not Robert. But all that we see is a tight-lipped man, tired and haggard beyond his years, sat brooding on his porch and staring out to the lake. There follow two free-form pages of quick-fire recollection before three long, comparatively static panels as ochre afternoon becomes a crimson sunset then night.

Then he sees something else.

 

 

I mentioned attention to detail, didn’t I? The distant past and present danger will converge most unexpectedly, at which point you may want to rethink.

For a completely different but equally unexpected take on autonomous communities living off the grid, please see Brian Wood and Mack Chater’s woefully underexposed BRIGGS LAND.

SLH

Buy Grass Kings vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer & Simini Blocker…

“You have released me from the magic lamp. As a reward, I will grant you three wishes.
“Not four or five or six. THREE.
“Those are the rules.
“What is your first wish?”

HOP HOP HOP HOP HOP

“Would you like a treasure chest filled with gold?
“That’s a popular wish.”

In fact, we have been granted four fabulous fairy tales, rather than three or indeed four, five or six wishes. Not that the bemused frog in the opening ‘Hop Hop Wish’ would probably know what to do with those either… Although, he does quickly catch on and come up with an ingenious idea for dealing with the pesky genie.

 

 

In addition to our ambivalent amphibian we also have our titular crooning pebble, a pair of squabbling sorcerers and also a very perturbed portrait artist.

 

 

Each story, scribed by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer is full of joy and snarky humour, as foolish follies are committed aplenty by all and sundry before happy endings finally ensue.

Simini Blocker’s colourful art is equally full of life and frivolity. There’s a real gentle glee and exuberance and most definitely an air of ever-present mischief which contributes to the fun.

I think my favourite story was probably the wiz-biz battle of wits involving the quiet, studious Athesius and the king’s lazy sorcerer Warthius, who being a pretty talentless magician, hatches a nefarious if fairly transparent scheme to steal Athesius’ spells by gifting him a parrot.

Athesius of course, is not remotely fooled as Warthius gamely blunders on…

“What is it?”
“It’s called a parrot.”
“Isn’t that the tropical bird that can repeat everything that people say?”
“Did I say parrot? It’s… an ostrich.”
“I thought ostriches were supposed to be enormous.”
“It’s a pygmy ostrich.”
“A pygmy ostrich? They must be very rare.”
“They are.”

 

 

I think you can probably guess where this tail is going to go and what the moral of the story might be!

JR

Buy The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Read All About It! (£12-99, King) by Kristyna Baczynski ~

Krystyna Baczynski, the queen of zines, is here to drop some knowledge and ignite imaginations with a gloriously engaging activity book.

With pull out pages and easy to follow instructions, this book is ready and raring to go! Whether you’re out adventuring in the sunshine or stuck on the sofa during a typically British rainy day, all you need is a pen and a bucket load of creativity! Though if we want to get really into it, some scissors and glue would go a long way to making your zines super extra special.

With ten zines on different themes, there is bound to be something to tickle your fancy and spark some imagination. Ranging from a week in the life, to a dream journal, to a magnificently made-up menagerie of monsters.  But as everyday as some of the themes may be at first glance, they really are a fantastic base to have some fun with. Who says the food zine should be about how to make marshmallow topped rice crispy squares? Why shouldn’t it be a how-to of your best recipe for purple flavoured grumwumple cake, filled with Inkleberry Jam and topped with a mountain of chocolate sprinkles so high that you would need a Sherpa to help you scale to the top! Suitable for both the realist and the fantasist, everyone is bound to get a kick out of these colourful zines.

Speaking of colour, Krystyna has gone full on-trend with the contrasting, highlighter colour aesthetics of risograph printing. Combo that with a lavish use of pop-retro stylings, eye-popping patterns and, of course, her charming illustrations and characters, you’re in for playful feast for the eyes so enticingly delicious that you won’t be able to stop those creative juices from flowing.

Off-white, soft textured paper not only adds to the home-made, design-trend look, it’s also particularly great for pencils and crayons! And pretty much everything else, though I maybe wouldn’t go too heavy on the markers.

As a kid, I know that this book would have been an absolute favourite of mine. Packed full of tutorials from lettering (dotty lettering was always a staple), to character creating from old magazines and newspapers (pro-tip, give old birthday cards a try too!), this book is bound to keep any creative entertained for hours, even days on end! And what is great is that this is only a starting point. Once you’re equip with the know-how, you’re encouraged to keep on making, drawing, cutting and sticking, to make the best zines you can think of! And what’s more there’s an option to get collaborative. So for all you parents itching to join in on the fun, you can! Get stuck in! Get the friends involved and really get fun going.

As an adult (lol), I’m gonna get stuck in anyway! Now, if only I can remember where I kept my best jumbo Crayolas…

JP

Buy Read All About It! and read the Page 45 review here

Joker s/c (£13-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo.

Crikey! This originally appeared as a hardcover in 2008. There’s never been a softcover until now. With a few additional, very necessary updates, this was written back then….

“When I was a kid, my scumbag stepfather once — only once — took us camping. I’d never been out in the woods before, and I haven’t been there since, really. But the time with my stepfather I caught a toad, and I took him home in a box. I fed him bugs that I’d catch… roaches mostly, since that’s what we had, mostly.
“After it rained, I’d take him up on the roof of our building too. Seein’ it was outside, I figured he’d like to hop around up there, and I think he really did. I like to think that. But this one time… there were older kids up there, and they saw what I had… And they said they were going to throw my toad off the roof. And I knew they were, I knew it. And also knew I could let them do that. To me.
“So I did it myself.”

And that’s not even The Joker. That’s Johnny Frost, the Joker’s chauffeur and right-hand man. Nice chap, Johnny. Bit of a clot for taking the job, mind: never trust a psychopath.

 

 

 

We have a new top tier Bat-book, ladies and gentlemen, something approaching KILLING JOKE, GOTHAM CENTRAL, RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, Except you’ll only see half a dozen pages with Batman in them. This is squarely and fairly about Johnny and the Joker. They’ve dropped the cartoon features in favour of mouth-slit-with-razor-blade, entirely appropriate for this take on The Joker who doesn’t even attempt to pun his way into your black, black hearts (only ever successfully achieved by Moore in KILLING JOKE and Tom King’s Rebirth run on BATMAN) but keeps everyone perpetually off balance and thoroughly unnerved with his verbal u-turns, intense, unpredictable mood swings and complete disregard for the sanctity of anything including himself.

Under a veneer of charm, he is menace personified, your very worst nightmare and he’s just discharged himself from Arkham Asylum: that’s bad news for you if you carved up his territory and took it for your own in his absence.

 

 

It’s like no other take so far, though I imagine its imitators are waiting in the wings, and the same goes for Killer Croc, Harley Quinn (wisely and thankfully silent entirely throughout), The Riddler and up to a certain extent The Penguin and Two-Face.

Bermejo has excelled himself, as has Mick Gray on inks. They take Joker’s jagged mouth and extend it to everyone else on the page, their features half-shadowed and crinkle-cut like THE INHUMANS and FANTASTIC FOUR 1234’s Jae Lee on a pneumatic drill. What is slightly odd is that Bermejo’s elected to ink himself on his favourite pages, although you may not notice it until the final scene on the bridge where the far softer treatment on alternate pages doesn’t exactly jar but seems unnecessary. His Joker is alternately wild and hooded-eyed, chipped toothed and a mess of scar tissue.

So are some of his victims once he’s finished with them.

 

 

 

Evidently he feels the Injury To Eye Motif is just too limiting… and the Joker’s never been good at self-restraint.

SLH

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

Green Lantern vol 1: Intergalactic Lawman h/c (£22-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Liam Sharp.

Original 2000AD run through with Douglas Adams – that’s how I’d characterise so much of this.

It’s highly inventive and very, very funny. Even mid-mass-arrest, there are so many stop-for-a-moment-to-laughs.

“Ye’ll never catch us now, copper!” boasts an 8-legged fiend.
“I won’t have to. My partner, Green Lantern Floozle Flem, is a super-intelligent all-purpose virus. Replicating in your bloodstream as we speak. Floozle Flem doesn’t catch you… You catch Floozle Flem.”

The police-patrol Green Lantern Corps’ pro-diversity recruitment drive knows no blinkers. You can’t expect to patrol then control the full range of a cosmos’s criminal manifestations if you don’t have an equally unorthodox armoury of agents. So yes, one Green Lantern is a virulent, sentient flu germ; another is a walking, talking, bi-pedal volcano.

No more a superhero series than Hickman and Aja’s HAWKEYE – which was instead a slickly designed, contemporary comedy of manners, therefore infinitely more accessible to a far broader audience – this is cosmic cop-crime whose precinct and jurisdiction are both set in space.

 

 

You can tell by its structure, which begins with a disciplined demand for a sit-rep update from HQ (a great big green-lantern-shaped space station) while at ground-level (somewhere similarly suspended but less lime-coloured) all is barely contained chaos. A spider’s just bitten a Green Lantern’s ring off.

“That was my favourite finger, you savage!
“Arachno-Sapiens! So bitey all the time!”

 

 

So yes, bursting with playful mischief to be sure, but if fingers can be cropped then so can entire individuals as – this being crime an’ all – it also comes with abrupt, contrasting (and so much more arresting) casualties.

You need know nothing of this title’s past to enjoy the opener to this first season (because that is what I sense this is, very much mapped out like a television show), for I’ve read fewer than dozen GREEN LANTERN issues in my life; only enough to recognise this as hilariously faithful yet totally fresh, with Liam Sharp art that is ridiculously detailed and full of authority.

 

 

To tell you more, plot-wise, would be to spoil the surprise, while the same goes for its structure which isn’t above slipping in memories like a meandering and meditative road journey.

Liam Sharp has brought his all – which is considerable – and I do hope he’s on double time for all the detail. The following need mean nothing to you, it is merely an observational self-indulgence based on my own historical comics-history bias:

On different pages yet sometimes in the same panels, I sensed serious amounts of neo-classical Neal Adams in the figure work, forearms and faces, enough Alan Davis to keep me amused in the background Glaswegian gamblers betting on a battle’s outcome, HR Giger – appropriately enough – in the mechanics during the discovery of a crashed spaceship, Jim Starlin rendering attending Hal’s ribcage and stomach muscles, bites of early Sir Bazza Windsor-Smythe in the biceps, Herb Trimpe female faces and forearms, a sizzle of Bill Sienkiewicz during an arm-spread lift-off, and Jim Steranko during what I’d call “assembly”, reciting the customary bright / night / sight / might / light riff.

 

 

I’d only add that if you like your heroes not necessarily anti- but perhaps more ambivalent, then Hal Jordan will prove as pragmatic as he is dogmatic and determined in his Green Lantern role, unintimidated when going up against an entity bearing a suspicious resemblance to the Biblical God (and all cops are inherently suspicious – it’s part of their job description and arsenal), not above some judicious deception of his own, and never comes close to dropping his guard by turning the other cheek.

“Nurse, I’d call a doctor if I were you.
“But tell them this man killed 2.5 billion people.
“Tell them there’s no need to hurry.”

Also, since I did mention 2000AD in my first paragraph, does this ambition and audacity remind you of Judge Dredd?

“Planet Earth – you are gamma-intoxicated and clearly no longer in control of your decisions or actions.
“I’m placing all of you under arrest until you come to your senses.”

Are we all allowed one phone call each?

 

 

SLH

Buy Green Lantern vol 1: Intergalactic Lawman h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Conan The Barbarian vol 1: The Life And Death Of Conan Book One s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Mahmud Asrar, Gerardo Zaffino…

“The mine closed for the day so everyone in Red Tree Hill could be there to watch the Cimmerian die.
“People even came from other towns. Families picnicked on the mountain. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
“Until they brought him out.
“Then things got dark.”

Good old Conan, always getting himself into a right old pickle before promptly slashing his way out of it. Though if there ever were a character basically entirely responsible for every single bit of trouble he gets himself into…

Anyway, this time he is about to be hung for stealing gold. Well, he was going to be hung, but slight problem, he pulled down and pulverised the tree that the villagers had been hanging people from for decades during their first attempt to kill him. So after a brief reprieve they’ve decided to chain him to the fallen trunk and chop him into little pieces with an axe. Because, you know, that’s bound to work.

Here is the publisher soothsayer to sing us the tale of precisely what Conan is up to now he’s rejoined the Merry Marvel Marching Society…

“The greatest sword-and-sorcery hero of all returns… From an age undreamed… hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.

Conan’s travels have brought him to the far reaches of the unknown, from his birthplace in Cimmeria to the kingdom of Aquilonia and all in between. But as his fighting prowess lets him carve his way through life, so too does it attract the forces of death! And few are more deadly than the Crimson Witch.

 

 

Robert E. Howard’s legendary barbarian stars in an all-new ages-spanning saga as the destiny of Conan – and King Conan – are forever changed!”

‘Nuff said? Okay, maybe I do need to add a few thoughts of my own…

Firstly, the Conan comics material that emanated from Marvel first time around set a very high benchmark that wasn’t, to my mind, bettered or even really approached in quality by what followed during his many subsequent Dark Horse wanderings.

The original series ran for 275 issues starting in 1970 through to 1993. Roy Thomas, then Marvel’s associate editor, was the one who was really keen for Marvel to licence the character, seeing the potential unlike Stan Lee, and ended up writing the first 115 issues himself before returning for the final 36.

Thomas ended up offering the Howard estate the princely sum of $200 per issue, rather than the $150 he had been told to budget for it, which meant he then couldn’t justify getting John Buscema on board initially as artist (though Buscema did end up pencilling most of #25-190) thus allowing Barry Windsor-Smith to forge his own legend on the opening 24 issues.

I mention all that because, for me, I hold that material in as high regard and with as much affection as I do much of Marvel’s classic superhero output. So I was sceptical that they could manage to reignite such interest and induce such acclaim in the character’s exploits this time around.

But so far, so bloody good. Jason Aaron, currently still in the midst of his own epoch-length run with the THOR character(s) –  the current volume being THOR VOL 1: GOD OF THUNDER REBORN S/C and they are now recollecting his run in chunkier volumes right from the start with THOR: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION BY JASON AARON VOL 1  – clearly has a strong handle on the somewhat psychotic psyche of the ever-bored barbarous man-child.

 

 

Strong, bold sword-swinging, curse-screaming art from Mahmud Asrar and Gerard Zaffino, who clearly both understand the character too.

 

 

The overarching story in this first volume moves around in time, strung through with the bloody thread of the Crimson Witch, so Asrar handles the first three issues which each tell a different adventure from Conan’s more excitable younger days, before Zaffino tackles a weary King Conan still struggling to make sense of his place in the world once his throne has been claimed.

 

 

It is of course, far too early to say if this run can match the heady errr… head-chopping heights of the original. It is certainly off to a cracking and bone-crunching start though.

 

 

Marvel, being Marvel of course, can’t leave it there. So there is also a companion SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN title, the first volume of which penned by Gerry DEADPOOL Duggan will be out very shortly. Having flicked through the issues for that, I have to say it does look just as intensely brutally carved chaos out as well.

Now Marvel, being Marvel of course, really, really just couldn’t leave it there, could they? So Conan was actually reintroduced into the Marvel Universe with the surprisingly entertaining AVENGERS: NO ROAD HOME by Al Ewing (which was a because-you-didn’t-demand-it follow-up to the utterly insipid (to me) AVENGERS: NO SURRENDER event).

Now, the thing about Marvel is… that they are convinced you just can’t have too much of a good thing, so clearly, they needed to create another Avengers title, just so they could semi-permanently shoehorn Conan into modern day. Thus we have the SAVAGE AVENGERS with Wolverine, Venom, Elektra, Punisher and Doctor Druid… sigh… I have no idea if he is going to stay there…

JR

Buy Conan The Barbarian vol 1: The Life And Death Of Conan Book One 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’.

 Kramers Ergot vol 10 s/c (£26-99, Fantagraphics) by Sammy Harkham, Robert Crumb, Dash Shaw, David Collier, Anouk Ricard, C.F., Jason Murphy, Blutch, Shary Flenniken, Johnny Ryan, John Pham, Ron Regé Jr., Simon Hanselmann, Anna Haifisch, Ivan Brunetti, David Amram, Helge Reumann, Frank King, Steve Weissman, Aisha Franz, Leon Sadler, Adam Buttrick, Archer Prewitt, Connor Willumsen, Bendik Kaltenborn, Will Sweeney, Rick Altergott, Kim Deitch, Marc Bell

 That’s honestly added this time!

They Called Us Enemy s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by George Takei, various & Harmony Becker

Bags Or A Story Thereof s/c (£9-99, Archaia) by Pat McHale & Gavin Fullerton

BPRD Devil You Know vol 3 – Ragna Rok (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Laurence Campbell, Christopher Mitten, Dave Stewart

By Night vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Boom!) by John Allison & Christine Larson

Die! Die! Die! vol 1 (£17-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman, Scott M. Gimple & Chris Burnham

Our Super Adventure vol 2: Video Games And Pizza Parties h/c (£17-99, Oni) by Sarah Graley, Stef Purenins

Justice League vol 3: Hawkworld s/c (£15-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Jim Cheung, various

Havok And Wolverine: Meltdown s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Walter Simonson, Louise Simonson & Jon J. Muth, Kent Williams, Jon J. Muth

Miles Morales vol 1: Straight Out Of Brooklyn s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Saladin Ahmed & Javi Garron

Candy Color Paradox vol 2 (£8-99, Sublime) by Isaku Natsume

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2019 week two

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

All-Ages Special featuring Oscar Wilde, P. Craig Russell, Chitra Soundar, Poonam Mistry, Larry Marder, Ted Naifeh, plus we’ve found stock of  Kristyna Baczynski, Dan Berry, Joe Decie, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Sarah McIntyre, Fumio Obata and Jack Teagle’s 24 By 7 for which I’ve shot fresh photographs!

You’re Snug With Me h/c (£11-99, Lantana Publishing) by Chitra Soundar & Poonam Mistry.

Well, would you look at this wonder!

Although painstakingly hand-drawn and coloured on a flat surface, it comes with all the qualities of intricately embroidered cloth.

Like the most magnificent woolly jumper which you could ever imagine, there are distinct rhythms of lines, dots, spots and triangles arranged with an intuitive understanding of the forms that they delineate. Pulling out further, there are shapes within much bolder shapes like those whole animals which you’d so satisfyingly slot in between smaller, interlocking background pieces in a wooden Early Learning jigsaw puzzle.

 

 

Over and again, the geometric is rendered organic while the colours keep it all cosy.

The mother bear’s den is a perfect example, the opening image of the cubs nestled snugly head-to-toe inside her womb. She hugs herself calmly, contentedly, assuredly, while outside we see nature taking its uninterrupted seasonal course. All is as it should be, and all will be well.

So long as we maintain the balance.

Just as the colours inside Mama Bear are overwhelmingly clay-warm and cream-bright but balanced by cooler purples and white, so without the descending, sharp icy blues are complemented, being cushioned by softer masses and sweeping contours below, while the bulrush shapes glimpsed outside offer the hope of something less shivery to come.

 

 

Then, when those cubs are born, there’s a warm welcome tongue too, as the cubs laze, forelegs first, over their rotund mum’s tum. It’s all pretty idyllic…

So long as we respect the balance.

“As winter turned colder, the cubs explored their frozen den. “Mama, what lies beyond here?” they asked.
“Above us is a land of ice and snow,” said Mama Bear.
The cubs shivered.
“Don’t be afraid,” said Mama Bear. “The drifts bring us hard snow, so we can safely walk this land.”

And ordinarily that would be true.

“Can we wander where we please?” asked the cubs.
“Only where the land will let us walk,” Mama Bear replied. “But hush now, you’re snug with me.””

 

 

A poignant picture book that is so desperately timely, this by Chitra Soundar & Poonam Mistry forms a perfect twin to the same creators’ Indian-bound YOU’RE SAFE WITH ME. It boasts the same striking visual emphasis on patterns within shapes but a more sparkly, radiant colour scheme as befits the snow-bound Arctic. It also comes with the same structure of inquisitive youngsters’ fearful questions about their wider surroundings being reassured, but here a new note of caution is introduced by way of the qualifiers.

“As long as the ice stays frozen, we will never go hungry.”
“Will the ice melt?” asked the cubs.
“Only if we don’t take care of it,” Mama Bear replied.

Only on the opposite side of the double-page spread does she repeat her lullaby refrain which goes “But hush now, you’re snug with me.”

Narrative context aside, these caveats are aimed not at the cubs, obviously, but at ourselves. I don’t think we can in all good conscience accuse the Polar Bear community of compromising their Arctic environment, nor rely on them to fix that which we have so royally… endangered.

 

 

Like Tove Jansson’s THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD and Francesca Sanna’s THE JOURNEY, both Soundar and Mistry books pay profound tribute to the sometimes self-sacrificial role of the ideal mother in reassuring her children when perhaps not so sure herself, and they do so with the same lovely lilting refrain which came with M.H. Clark & Isabelle Arsenault’s YOU BELONG HERE (with me).

In summary: we’re never alone but it is not all ours and we should only take what we need.

I’ll only add that if you want to pluck one more all-ages picture book with a heart of gold from our carefully curated stock, then I’d recommend Sarah McIntyre’s THE NEW NEIGHBOURS for its warm welcoming of strangers.

SLH

Buy You’re Snug With Me h/c and read the Page 45 review here

You’re Safe With Me h/c (£11-99, Lantana Publishing) by Chitra Soundar & Poonam Mistry.

“When the moon rose high and the stars twinkled, it was bedtime for baby animals. But that night, when the skies turned dark and the night grew stormy, the little ones couldn’t sleep.”

Well, they can’t sometimes, can they, with gales howling outside or torrential rain hammering on the roof or tree tops? Not without some soothing reassurance.

This offers up all the reassurance and love in the world.

“Mama Elephant was passing by. “Hush,” she whispered, gently rocking the baby animals in her trunk. “You’re safe with me.””

 

 

YOU’RE SAFE WITH ME is a Young Readers picture-book so eye-poppingly opulent that I suspect it will be swept up in equal numbers by adults for adults.

It’s a perfect twin to Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry’s YOU’RE SNUG WITH ME, created with the same emphasis on maternal solace when responding to fearful youngsters’ questions about the more frightening aspects of their environment. It boasts equally striking patterns and shapes within shapes, but a much warmer, darker and earthier colour palette perfect for Indian climes.

Here the patterns are perhaps more like those you might find on painted clay, stone, or even an elephant adorned for religious festivals. There’s one such within!

 

 

Tiny dots in white, cream and rich red are arranged in organic circles, joined by their radial counterparts to fashion whole floral blooms which you’ll find forming the thighs of the tiny loris or tiger cub.

 

 

Foliage abounds! There the dots are configured so as to demark the curved margins and midribs of leaves, while they are thrown out far straighter in tubular veins for extra support.

Wide-eyed whiskered fish with coppery scales float in the river below, its midnight blue surface punctured by monsoon-large raindrops whose ripples echo not out in concentric circles but in spirals instead to denote outward movement, emphasised by triangular teeth in between.

“CRACK-TRACK!
 The sky lit up.
 FLASH-SNAP!
 The night flickered.
 The little animals gasped.”

 

 

Like indigenous masks, the warm-blooded youngsters gaze out of their protective, comparatively cool-coloured undergrowth in awe and wonder and fear. The next double-page spread of the sky splinters in a jagged cacophony of lightning strikes, scattering Mama Elephant’s explanation into a staccato of barely heard words.

Rarely have I seen such clever interaction in a Picture Book of sight, sound, cause and empathic effect!

I’ll also address one more element of that which impressed me the most: sometimes specific fears need allaying as well…

“SWISH-SWISH!
 The trees moved.
 OOH-OOH!
 The wind moaned.
 The little animals woke up and whimpered.”

Here they are responded to not just with a temporary, placatory cure-all balm…

“Don’t worry about the wind,“ whispered Mama Elephant. “He’s an old friend of the forest. He brings us seeds from faraway lands.”

But they are answered instead with a flip-side focussing firmly on the future, the wider balance of nature when understood, and the overwhelmingly positive compensation to any temporary tremors of the head or heart.

We’d all do well to listen to that wisdom, instead of attempting to “best” nature by barricading ourselves up against it and so destroying our oldest friend.

SLH

Buy You’re Safe With Me h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 5: The Happy Prince s/c (£7-99, NBM) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell.

One of the most affecting short stories of all time brought to poignantly pencilled life by one of the true masters of comics: P. Craig Russell who successfully, transcendently adapted Wagner’s opera cycle THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG, Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER and Neil Gaiman’s MURDER MYSTERIES, SANDMAN: DREAM HUNTERS and so much more. I first read the prose in my late teens and it’s stayed in my heart ever since. Here P. Craig Russell has done wonders with the work, his fine, clean line lit with lambent colours. I even love what he’s done with the speech bubbles linked to their square-boxed, qualifying commentary. More than anything, though, his art here is the ultimate essay in tenderness.

 

 

A gilded statue of The Happy Prince stands much admired, a large ruby gleaming on his sword-hilt; his two eyes are clear, bright sapphires. Alive, he enjoyed a life of privileged pleasure and opulence in a rarefied, snowglobe existence entirely detached from the wider world outside the sequestered court. He was indeed very happy. But now as a statue raised high above the city, he can finally see the misery endured by the sick and the impoverished, the industrious yet ill-rewarded, while the rich who have so much think so little of those who serve them. It makes him weep, and his tears fall like pure drops of rain onto a tiny swallow below.

The swallow should have migrated to Africa with his friends many moons ago, but the prince begs him to tarry a while longer and act as his courier. For there are those in dire need – a seamstress with a sick child, a playwright struggling to stay warm and meet his deadline, a matchgirl whose matches have fallen into drain water and will be beaten by her father – and the prince has much of himself to give.

 

 

It’s a story of iniquity and inequality, self-sacrifice and true love, no matter the consequences. It’s about countries and councils who throw so much of their wealth into useless, vainglorious monuments and enterprises, while failing to meet the most basic needs of those they would govern.

Almost every panel has something satirical to say about people’s priorities in life or their position and disposition in society. Even the swallow’s fanciful dalliance with a slender reed says so much when thrown into contrast with its fateful falling in love with The Happy Prince.

This is the same Oscar Wilde of The Importance Of Being Earnest, but here his boisterous wit is quietly contained, concentrated and considered; the tone no less passionate, but the passion – along with his supreme command of the English language – is harnessed to a quiet, dignified indictment of the superficial few who squander so much, a celebration of the redistribution of wealth, and a relevant reminder that as far as poverty goes there is always much more to be done.

It’s also a tribute to true, selfless love and, once again, it made me cry.

 

 

We finally have all of THE FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE in softcover now, each one reviewed. I’d stick to those: some of the hardcovers are out of print.

SLH

Buy The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 5: The Happy Prince s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Beanworld Omnibus vol 2 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Larry Marder.

“’Now’ has turned into ‘then’.”

Pure comics magic which has for over 30 years ignited the imaginations of all and sundry, including wide-eyed infants prepared to spend their own pocket money on its mind-blowing invention. The covers are key, for their spectacle promises a brand-new, otherworldly experience, and the contents will not disappoint.

For a full introduction, please see BEANWORLD OMNIBUS VOL 1 for which Jonathan, Mark (posthumously) and I joined forces in a composite celebration of Larry Marder’s unique vision.

Alternatively, let’s throw you in at the deep end…

A second volume embracing creation, communication, cooperation, discovery and sustainable resources: one man’s junk is another’s treasure if you manage to unravel its mysteries.

 

 

 

There are plenty of mysteries here, like where Beanish goes when he makes his midday “jump” (he’s keeping that a secret) and why the youngest creatures here, the Cuties, start a-snoozin’ whenever they’re left to their own devices. They just don’t talk to each other, and that’s a big worry if they’re going to grow up to become Chow Sol’jers because teamwork for them is a top priority. Without fresh chow for the Chowdown Pool there’ll be no vitamins, nutrients and trace minerals to absorb, so it’s time to think of the future and look to a little learning through the eyes of a child who really just wants to play.

Both the dilemma and the solution were brilliant, with obvious implications for our own educational system.

Over and again, Larry Marder proves he is one of the wisest man in comics, connecting his unique and seemingly outlandish, self-sufficient ecosystem with the very real world around us. Oh, and he practises what he preaches, providing education through entertainment shot all the way through with exuberant joy.

 

 

The language is fabulous, as witnessed here when the Boom’rs first voice their concerns:

“We stumbledunkled into a somethingness we can’t quiff riff into twined idealios!”
“What sort of fact did you discover that doesn’t make sense?”
“The Pod’l’Pool Cuties neversonever do the yaketyklak between themselves.”

And the designs are simply thrilling. Mark made so many models of these for our windows, and he would have loved the giant amoeba with its cytoplasmic contents coming over all Native American / Jim Woodring. It’s flanked with flagella and primed with an angry red eye, assaulting the Beans as they float in their chow. And that makes Mr. Spook angry!

 

 

Not sufficiently mind-frazzled yet? Of the first half Jonathan wrote:

“There are new discoveries aplenty from Professor Garbonzo, such as combining the mystery pods with twinks to produce the mysterious float factor, which the ever-practical Mr. Spook is hoping to use to protect the Beans from aerial invaders – should any ever appear. Mind you, there’s a certain large fish that might be planning to pay a visit. Whereas Beanish is rather hoping Mr. Spook won’t get too interested in what’s happening in the sky as that’s where he goes for his daily meetings with his beautiful and mysterious friend and muse Dreamishness, who promises the ‘secret path of something more’ may reveal itself if he can only bring her a love song. To that end he tries to enlist the help of Boomr Band, Beanworld’s trio of mad musicians, but poor old Beanish is struggling to find his rhythm.”

 

 

It is, as it says, “A Most Peculiar Comic Experience” and it will stay with you for a lifetime.

“Search for the rhythms.
 Reach deep inside.
 Feel the surging pulse.
 Summon the BLISS!”

It is here.

SLH

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

Courtney Crumrin vol 5 s/c (£11-99, Oni Press) by Ted Naifeh.

“How did you know you could trust me with witchcraft?”
“I didn’t. And I was right, as I recall.”
“What if I used it against you?”
“Why would you do that?”
“I don’t know. But if I did…”
“Maybe I’m a fool, but I think every young witch should have the freedom to make mistakes. Good judgement comes from dealing with the consequences of bad judgement. Besides, there are ways to take magic away if need be…. Just be careful I never need to use them on you.”

Brrrr… That’s Uncle Aloysius to our young Courtney, and by the end of this penultimate volume of COURTNEY CRUMRIN things will have come to a head.

“Good judgement comes from dealing with the consequences of bad judgement.”

 

 

Courtney will have to exercise some seriously swift judgement here following some catastrophically bad judgement in teaching Holly Hart, the new girl in town, witchcraft. Oh, Courtney once made the same initial mistakes that Holly does with spells to make herself popular, but Courtney recognised those for the mistakes they were. The only thing Holly realises is that Courtney may rescind her privileges: Courtney has been a liability, a threat – one best dealt with swiftly.

Ingeniously Ted mirrors the whole of the first book in the second chapter here, right down to the Goblin market, and then in the third chapter you’re witness to Holly’s point of view. In the first chapter you’ll learn far more of the history of warlocks in Hillsborough than has previously been revealed, and in particular an early assault on Uncle Aloysius’ authority via his heart.

Naifeh really let’s rip with the actions and fireworks later on. I think we can safely say that Courtney has “levelled up”. There’s always been a certain steeliness in her eyes, but now she doesn’t even flinch.

 

 

There’s also the reintroduction of many a familiar face most unexpectedly, so for maximum satisfaction I’d make sure you’ve read the previous instalments of COURTNEY CRUMRIN, reviewed quite extensively, first.

“How do you live with knowing what evil you’ve done? Knowing you’ll do more?”
“I feel like a jerk. But then I get on with my life, and try not to screw up so bad the next time. We’re not faeries, Templeton. We don’t have forever.”

No indeed.

Time is now running out.

SLH

Buy Courtney Crumrin vol 5 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

We Found New Stock (No Easy Feat, Folks)!

24 by 7 h/c (£14-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Kristyna Baczynski, Dan Berry, Joe Decie, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Sarah McIntyre, Fumio Obata, Jack Teagle

“Seven comics as diverse as they are witty as they are beautiful to behold, each created within the same 24 hours. An extraordinary accomplishment.”

 – Stephen L. Holland, Page 45

Whoever the hell he is.

What a stellar line-up! What fertile imaginations! What a variety of styles!

What a bunch of cheats.

Or at least that’s what contributor, editor and all-round director Dan Berry would have you believe in his introduction. He’s so funny! All seven comics were indeed created within the same 24 hours then printed within another to go straight on sale in Page 45’s Georgian Room in Kendal’s Clock Tower at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014. Magnificent! Ridiculous! Miraculous!

So they had a little prep time! I made notes for this review. These reviews may all look so randomly free-form with a word lobbed in here and a paragraph casually cauterising one half of a sentence from the next for no very good

Reason. But at least no one is standing over me with a stopwatch.

 

 

Let’s begin our mad dash with Sarah McIntyre ’s ‘Scribble’ in which only the scribble is scribbled and even that scribble is accomplished. It really is! It’s a dab hand at mimicry, posing as a grass stain on one day, a smashed fly on another, a bogey, a spider, then What Will Happen To My Sister If She Doesn’t Give Back My Book. That particular scribble is awfully succinct. I’m not sure which day it attempted to represent Chaos as a two-dimensional piece of graphite gurning but that was pretty existential. Almost certainly a Saturday, don’t you think?

Anyway, Jamie (the scribble’s name is Jamie) began life on a young girl’s napkin, got thrown in the bin then escaped and let out a roar: instant teeth. It began to cry – for which you need eyes. Then
Jamie ran around, ever-so-excited and found itself with legs. Legs! Suddenly it’s darting about like a mad-eyed monster from Michael Bentine’s Potty Time. Next stop: social media frenzy and huge artistic acclaim!

 

 

The cartooning is so exquisite that I will forgive its two pages of mid-70s’ wallpaper because that’s what inevitably happens when you begin to wield orange. Sarah McIntyre has all the best scribbles and if you think Jamie’s a dude then wait until you bump into his best boyf, Bob. Bob is besotted and has flap-flap wings and a wide-eyed innocence and adoration which are beyond adorable.

Here be wit, here be glee. It’s not easy trying to represent philosophy, France or a full English breakfast in scribbles.

 

 

Fumio Obata’s ‘Anywhere Road’ couldn’t be more different in style, in tone, in genre, in subject matter. Fumio created the graphic novel JUST SO HAPPENS in gentle watercolours. Here he brings his familiarly soft and gentle line to a tale of truancy as a woman walking her dog on the beach discovers a young boy in a sleeping bag. She takes him to a seaside cafe to buy him breakfast but the lad is reluctant to open up or own up to having run away from home. At first he tries to run away from his good Samaritan as well but there’s something about the woman that intrigues him and it’s not just her kindness or persistence. Obata had me holding my breath for the entire duration.

 

 

Jack Teagle’s terracotta ‘Witch Cat’ finds a crowd-shy country cat forced to fly into town after running out of ingredients for a potion. Her worst fears are realised when she runs afoul of some particularly bad apples. No really, they’re very bad apples – one has a worm wriggling its way out of his head! Fortunately our anxious feline is befriended by Bananasaurus, a fruit magician and – yeah, crazy indeed and one to read with your young ‘uns at bed time!

So we come to Dan Berry (THE THREE ROOMS IN VALERIE’S HEAD etc) and Joe Decie (COLLECTING STICKS etc).

I love everything about Joe: his mischief, his timing, his otherwise mundane household objects… even his handwriting. Yes, his handwriting! It’s one of the most attractive in comics: capital letters, far from rigid, that dance up and down while remaining as crystal clear as the layout here.

I Blame Grandma’ (also on sale separately tells how his gran invented the paper clip, fashioning it from fuse wire while working as a clerk in Sir Gerald Patten’s War Office around 1940. So that’s several household objects on the very first page. Our Joe draws a perfect pair of pliers, you know.

 

 

Joe’s grandma felt the need to file faster and keep what she filed better organised. The paperclip quickly catches on and before you know it she’s given her own office in the reappropriated Malvern Road Tube Station. She even had access to the station down below where she said she used to eat her sandwiches in the dark.

Fast-forward to the present day and there are repercussions for Decie himself. Well, you have to think of the patent and all that implies. You couldn’t make this up.

I will just add that his gran was given a St Hubbins Cross medal and – typically – kept it in an empty tin of boot polish. Joe draws a mean tin of boot polish too.

In lovely, loose, full-colour washes project director Dan Berry delivers a haunting tale of love, longing and lament.

 

 

In a small village by a vast lake ‘Nicholas and Edith’ are in love. Their parents disapprove of their relationship for no better reason than a petty family feud. To be together they must therefore find sanctuary away from the spying eyes and tattling tongues of the idle-minded villagers. And there is an island, you see, an island on the lake.

It is an object of local superstition involving some so-called spectre of doom but you know what close-knit communities are like. You know how local legends endure. You know how parents keep their children in check: with a little elaboration and fear. But when you’re in love you can see right through these things, so one evening when the waters are calm Nicholas rows Edith to the island. They find a clearing in the trees overshone by the serene, silver light of the moon.

“I love you.
“I want you.
“I need you.”

I will say little more except think Becky Cloonan – BY CHANCE OR BY PROVICENCE in particular. When you’ve read this through once you will want to start again from the beginning immediately. Entreaties are reprised word-for-word like echoes. Reproachful echoes, you could argue.

Visually, interesting things are done with Edith’s hair. Oh, how how I wish I could say what they were!

 

 

We’re all at sea with Warwick Johnson Cadwell’s ‘Tom Hand’ too. Like any good sailor’s yarn it’s set in a tavern where all the tallest of tales are told. There three sea dogs take it turns to show off their tattoos, each dedicated to the old Tom Hand and his watery demise. Each differs in what finally did him in, but the barmaid’s tale trumps them all. She has a tattoo too, you see, but it’s not necessarily where you’d expect to find it.

The forms are big, bold and as burly as the barflies’, the monsters are terrifying and the deep blues are rendered as energetically as the stormy seas themselves. You’ll almost certainly end up soaking wet.

Finally, RETROGRADE ORBIT’s Kristyna Baczynski tells a wordless, anthropomorphic, semi-cyclical tale spanning millions of years which made me smile with enormous satisfaction throughout. Her leaf and timber textures – as well as the bone and stone – are perfectly balanced, never once bogging the page down or cluttering it up but letting the light shine through, while the brightest of sage greens prove to be perfectly placed tones.

 

 

‘Hand Me Down’ begins slightly upsettingly when a three-eyed prehistoric lovely hatches from an egg, grows up, falls for a female, curls up in cave with his beloved then before you know it Junior is hatched. All very idyllic but before you know it (once again), he ages, is exhausted and dies.

Eons pass before the creature’s bones are discovered, his horn is detached and that’s when the repurposing begins as the horn is handed down through history as one ornament then another, whittled away each time through wear and tear and outright vandalism. Where and when it ends up I will not say but there’s a Tom Gauld moment towards the end that had me roaring with laughter.

If you stop to consider for a moment that these 170-odd pages of comicbook magic were all created in the same room within the same 24 hours, I defy you not to shake your head slightly and smile.

This creativity was captured in a collection of colour photographs published at the back of the book which give you a very real sense of the energy involved and the exhaustion staved off by espresso coffees and galvanising visits by Jeff Smith, Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot and the original instigator of the 24 Hour Comic challenge, THE SCULPTOR’s Scott McCloud himself.

 

 

There the creators all stand round their printed pamphlets on sale in the Kendal Clock Tower’s Georgian Room on October 19th 2014, beaming with pride and accomplishment and quite right too. Bravo!

SLH

Buy 24 by 7 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

 

 

Bad Weekend (A Criminal h/c) (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Jacob Phillips

Herakles Book 3 h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge) by Edouard Cour

Sensible Footwear, A Girl’s Guide (£17-99, Myriad) by Kate Charleworth

The Phoenix Colossal Collection vol 2 (£9-99, David Fickling) by Jamie Smart, Neill Cameron, James Turner, Jess Bradley, Faz Choudhury, Benedict Tomczyk-Bowen, Dominika Tomczyk-Bowen

Grass Kings vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Boom! Studios) by Matt Kindt & Tyler Jenkins

The Magicians: Alice’s Story h/c (£20-99, Archaia) by Lev Grossman, Lilah Sturges & Pius Bak

Murder Falcon s/c (£17-99, Image) by Daniel Warren Johnson & Daniel Warren Johnson, Mike Spicer

Books Of Magic vol 1: Moveable Type s/c (£14-99, DC) by Kat Howard with Neil Gaiman, Simon Spurrier, Dan Watters, Nalo Hopkinson & Tom Fowler with Bilquis Evely, Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara, Dominike “DOMO” Stanton

Kramers Ergot vol 10 s/c (26-99, Fantagraphics) by Sammy Harkham, Robert Crumb, Dash Shaw, David Collier, Anouk Ricard, C.F., Jason Murphy, Blutch, Shary Flenniken, Johnny Ryan, John Pham, Ron Regé Jr., Simon Hanselmann, Anna Haifisch, Ivan Brunetti, David Amram, Helge Reumann, Frank King, Steve Weissman, Aisha Franz, Leon Sadler, Adam Buttrick, Archer Prewitt, Connor Willumsen, Bendik Kaltenborn, Will Sweeney, Rick Altergott, Kim Deitch, Marc Bell

Sandman vol 9: The Kindly Ones (30th Anniversary Ed’n) (£14-99, DC) by Neil Gaiman & Marc Hempel, Glyn Dillon, Charles Vess, D’Israeli, Teddy Kristiansen, Dean Ormston, Kevin Nowlan

Green Lantern vol 1: Intergalactic Lawman h/c (£22-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Liam Sharp

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man vol 1: Secrets And Rumor s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & Juann Cabal, Yildiray Cinar, Marcelo Ferreira

Incredible Hulk: Epic Collection – The Leader Lives s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, Gary Friederich with Roy Thomas, Bill Everett, Archie Goodwin & Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe with Frank Giacoia

Today’s Menu For The Emiya Family vol 2 (£11-99, Denpa) by  Type-Moon &  TAa

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2019 week one

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019

Featuring Ryan O’Sullivan, Andrea Mutti, Molly Mendoza, Ryan Andrews, Gou Tanabe, Scott Jason Smith, Patrick Wirbeleit & Uwe Heidschotter, Stan Lee, John Romita Sr

Skip h/c (£16-99, Nobrow) by Molly Mendoza.

“I promised I would be brave.
“I did everything Bee taught me.
“I tended to things just as they would have…
“But they still haven’t come back.”

If this cover of colour swirling and churning in deep slate-blue waters suggests to you that a sensory explosion may lie ahead, then your eyes and imagination have not deceived you. Multiple metamorphoses, here we come!

It conjures memories of playing with plasticine before most of the colours had become so completely merged that the whole was rendered a solid taupe. On the cover bright strains still resonate.

Similarly inside there’s a full-page spread with the consistency of slippery wet clay in which Bloom’s forehead and big, lost eyes are dispersed in an aqueous shimmer, like cutting clean through that same ball of plasticine – much further down the line towards its inevitable mud-brown composite when communally shared at infant school – with a very sharp knife to reveal its remaining, less vivid veins in cross-section. It’s a fluid, silky effect, at any rate.

 

 

Adjust your focus, and it’s actually Bee rowing away, leaving Bloom all alone on the shore of the lake, the ripples in Bee’s wake disquieting Bloom’s young mind.

Bloom has been living on the lake, under Bee’s protection and tutelage, for as long as Bloom can remember. Their simple, tranquil, shared routine is one of fishing by boat and foraging for root vegetables and eggs. Milk and cheese are a thing of the past; Bee remembers them, but Bloom’s never tasted them. It’s possible that they might find some in the city across the water but Bee insists that it’s not worth the risk.

“It’s dangerous that way, and people aren’t going to be as nice as you and me.
“When everything comes apart like it did all those years ago… well, your heart can’t help but come apart too.”

 

 

But what once came apart – a battered old radio in their fire-lit camp – has now been fixed and crackles unexpectedly one night into life. It’s a desperate mayday message speaking of hunger and fear and it comes with specific coordinates. It’s a message which Bee cannot in all good conscience ignore…

The early scenes are rich in comforting warm earth colours, the close bond between the two – one which really should not be broken – borne out by the tenderness with which Bee cups Bloom’s head in strong, huge hands, then clasps their charge closer.

 

 

Yet separate they must, however reluctantly, as in the beginning of Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL, and Bloom’s left alone to stand on the smooth-pebbled shore, watching out across the lake, idly skimming stones, day after day, dusk after dawn, until they can take it no more. In absent-minded frustration, Bloom snatches at the neck-strung amulet with which they were solemnly entrusted, and hurls it after the other stones.

 

 

Aghast in an instant at the terrible mistake, Bloom dives desperately after the prized possession and a new bright red of alarm materialises in the whirlpool depths, fish eyes enlarge impossibly, the amulet is glimpsed, and the pebbles become boulders between which Bloom is lost!

Forms abstract themselves.

Stronger colours coalesce.

Panels within panels emanate ever outwards.

And suddenly we’re somewhere else entirely…

 

 

It’s time to meet Gloopy instead.

Gloopy very much resembles the Addams Family’s Cousin It. Only with eyes, nose, mouth, a baseball cap, and legs you can actually see.

“Who are you? Is that some sort of grass camouflage you’re wearing?”
“No! This just me.”

It’s an easy mistake to make.

Gloopy lives in a sunshine-yellow, rolling rural paradise whose shadows are cast in deep purple. There are gigantic mushrooms, vast, gnarled trees with twisted bases, and the occasional redundant wooden fence. The community of artists are approaching the Great Harvest, celebrated by cultivating their finest crops to create a feast in the Garden in honour of the inspirational moon, under the leadership of Capman.

Gloopy’s happy to help but finds any unauthorised, individual creative efforts irritably dismissed and, distracted, Gloopy’s frustration leads to impetuousness which leads to their whole endeavour going up in smoke.

“It’s been days and they still won’t talk to me!
“I could make a statue out of grass? But they probably wouldn’t like it.
“Or surprise Pip with an aquatic dance? No… Pip hates surprises.
“Maybe offer Oom some mushrooms? But they would never snack on the job.
“The way they all look at me… it’s unbearable.
“I wish I could just disappear.”

At which point Bloom bursts upwards from out of the flowering grassland, as if diving upwards out of water, still grasping for the amulet ahead!

 

 

What follows is a friendship which forms through adversity, but both their friendship and adventure prove as turbulent as the cover and the morphing doorways to different dimensions suggest.

For Bloom and Gloopy are two very different individuals who come from disparate emotional starting points: Gloopy desires above all to escape rejection and leave; Bloom is desperate to return home in order to resume their vigil. It’s partly a matter of promise and honour, partly a worry that Bee may have already returned and found Bloom missing.

After disappearing down the next Carrollian rabbit hole, however, neither will have much choice in the matter.

 

 

This is a feast of colour combos, so many more than I have to show for you because I want their surprise to take your breath away, just as they took mine. Mendoza uses them to evoke individual emotional states and wider moods, one specific time and place if I’m not much mistaken, temperatures, atmospheres, chaos and confusion, conflict and conflagration and even – when Bloom and Gloopy pop up out of the central hole of a six-side die – pace.

There the previously frantic sequence of fear and flight from a war-torn kingdom, culminating in a free-fall tumble through increasingly wide slashes of angry red through yolk yellow and green immediately followed by a dam-busted spew of battlements and metal-clawed machines…. is halted abruptly by a calm of cool violets.

 

 

 

“I feel like my whole life just poured out of my skull!
“How can you be so relaxed?
“Doesn’t anything scare you?”

Gloopy glances away, silently.

Oh, and that specific time and place? The second I saw the spread of sage green, black and red, I was in Nazi Germany – at least Nazi-occupied Europe – during WWII. Black and red constituted the vile swastika, to my mind, sage green the German uniform. I did check with Jonathan; he agreed.

 

 

Fear looms large during this graphic novel – there is one thing that does scare Gloopy – but also balance.

Although Gloopy’s fearless curiosity to the point of recklessness puts them in danger, it also allows for discoveries and new experiences which would otherwise have been missed. Plus, although Bloom claims to be far from brave, it’s so often Bloom’s practical skills learned on the lake coupled with a courage which is instinctive that saves both their souls in the nick of time. As an honest, open and caring friend, Gloopy is quick to compliment Bloom by pointing this out. But being told something is very different to believing something and recognising it in yourself, so it’s going to take time and some seriously harsh experiences for Bloom to feel and acknowledge a new strength.

Balance is also in evidence when it comes to art. At one point Gloopy, already desirous of creating something individualistic of their own but having their work slapped down by companions, is tempted by a consciousness of pure creativity who has a world of blue wonders to share. But it’s come at the cost of a disconnecting from others, and Gloopy’s not convinced that is right.

 

 

 

All of which dovetails neatly into the denouement – after many more environments and challenges – which I won’t share with you. I’ll only confess that Mendoza took me completely by surprise, refreshingly so. I’ve just redacted two further sentences and put my poker face on.

I’ve read this through three times now, each time spotting new details in what I’d describe (without any of its negative connotations) as an orgiastic experience of merging and emerging forms and colours which flow as freely upon the page as the story flows through panels. As such you don’t really want to stop and stare, but head right on through and then start anew.

Lastly, I’ve never seen wetter tears, though they won’t all be sad ones, I swear.

SLH

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

Fearscape vol 1 s/c (£15-99, Vault) by Ryan O’Sullivan & Andrea Mutti.

Oh, oh, irony abounds!

A wit-riddled use of this medium’s unique properties to flagrantly (and comically) expose its own high-handed, immodest, opinionated, egocentric and startlingly ruthless narrator as unreliable from the very start, I’d equate this to some of your favourite fantasies – perhaps from Image Comics – with a more literary history bent.

Pretensions, the protagonist has so very many: both towards authorial success much envied in others (but ostensibly, disdainfully dismissed) and within his own hyper-analytical, self-referential and overwrought purple prose.

Please don’t confuse the narrator and his authorial voice with that of Ryan O’Sullivan, for the latter’s beady eye is very much on the ball.

It’s a wrecking ball.

 

 

Our cad without a conscience is called Henry Henry. His first name is Henry, his second name is Henry, though no one believes this nor much else besides.

He aspires to write a ground-breaking, trend-setting great book of his own, although those who would seek such lofty ambitions are superciliously derided as superficial.  Specifically he covets the reputation and success of his mentor, veteran fantasy author Arthur Proctor, along with his recently completed new manuscript, ‘Terror Forming’. It lies unattended and so far unread in old Arthur’s flat, across the hall, which Henry has access to…

Henry’s only incomes lies instead in translation, wherein most of the original language may be lost because Henry knows best. Also, as he boasts:

“The grammar, the rhythm, sometimes the story, often the characters, places and settings. Even the title, on occasion.”

This is only suffered because Arthur has persuaded his agent to humour Henry. This agent he describes in a parenthetical aside thus:

“A nameless man of little consequence to our tale. You are free to imagine him a name. Wolfgang would be more than sufficient. Please don’t consider this dismissal a sign of my dislike for him. My agent was a dear friend. I’m only refusing to name him for the sake of descriptive brevity.”

They hate each other. And there’ll be plenty more circumlocution to come, plus other Chaucerian sleights of hand, for O’Sullivan has only just become to crack his mischievous knuckles.

 

 

So back to the flat of Arthur Proctor, laid up unresponsive in hospital, whose work Henry claims to hold in contempt with the spitting emphasis on “genre”:

“Twenty-seven novels. All of them fantasy. All of them set in the same trope-ridden dragon-infested world. Yet I am the one lack in originality?”

But if Henry is super-adept at one thing it is self-justification:

“To plagiarize my own benefactor! A wicked idea. How could my agent suggest such a thing?”

It wasn’t a suggestion, it was an accusation.

“Although, I could see his point.
“Arthur was dying. A novel is of no use to a dead man.
“And who was Arthur to claim this story as his own? His influences were my influences. We read the same books and watched the same television programs. I had no intention of stealing my neighbour’s latest manuscript. I merely wanted to glance over it. To see if the secrets of authorship lay hidden within its coffee-stained pages.
“Arthur would have agreed to it, if his health were better.
“I suppose, in a way, I was carrying out his wishes.”

 

 

So it is that he sidles up surreptitiously to Arthur’s door, Andrea Mutti playing the body language here and throughout to perfection – whether Henry’s skulking, aghast, alarmed or outright terrified – completely contradicting the supposed insouciance, confident bravado or the insincere excuses of the captions. Especially when Henry’s interrupted while pilfering the manuscript by its author’s daughter, Jill, a “professional artist, if you believe in such oxymorons”: then he really pulls out all the stops of self-justification in answering to himself her accusations.

“How dare she suspect me of burglary! I only placed the manuscript in my jacket to avoid confrontations… I had no intention of thievery. My hand was forced.”

 

 

If the art is juxtaposed against the captions dictated in order to out all the lies, not so the real-time dialogue which remains as revelatory as what’s seen. Except that the narrator (okay, O’Sullivan and Andworld Design on the lettering and its placement) contrive to make sure that as few of those inconveniently embarrassing speech balloons remain unseen, blocking them behind more protestations or offering alternate versions which reflect far better on Henry while leaving behind just enough of what’s said to expose the fabrication and mendacity. It’s a device similar to that deployed by Mazzuchelli’s deployment in ASTERIOS POLYP and Clowes’s in MISTER WONDERFUL, but to different effect. Either way, only in comics, folks!

 

 

Now, I know I’ve yet to touch on the titular Fearscape itself and so the fantastical element (other than what’s going on inside Henry’s deeply deluded head), but I’ve been a damn sight more helpful than the back-cover blurb which, in keeping with the contents, deliberately omits giving even a hint of the book’s plot points in favour of addressing potential readers directly to tell them it’s doing so.

But let’s just say that the clue’s in the title, and that Henry is in for a very rude, transdimensional awakening – as are the Fearscape’s occupants upon encountering Henry.

 

 

Please don’t imagine that you’re in for something salutary like a re-run of Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ with omniscient spectres and a penitent protagonist.

This is a big book of lies, strained credulity and almost wilful gullibility too on the part of some of the more conceptual entities who really (no, really) should know better. But then Henry is as quick-witted as he is a shameless blusterer and bare-faced liar.

He’s also forgotten something foreshadowed early on, with further clues lobbed oh so casually in later, about his childhood encounters with Arthur Proctor.

 

 

Andrea Mutti is equally at home in the quotidian world of potted plants, bookshelves, hospital bedsides and suburban street scenes as he is in the fantastical realm of the Fearscape which allows him to really let rip with infinite graveyards, craggy caverns and presumably bottom chasms populated by mermaids, minotaurs, assorted ghastly phantoms and a disembodied brain floating silently atop its spinal cord. Plus, as I say, there’s all that character acting. Colourist Vladimir Popov suffuses the stygian Fearscape with the same ethereal, misty glow that Dave Stewart lent to Olivier Coipel’s forms in MAGIC ORDER written by Mark Millar, while keeping the real world relatively clean; yet not so clean that the lines can’t blur between them.

Watch out for the trio of casually homophobic thugs hanging around outside The Blacksmith pub, for example.

There’s so much here that I haven’t had time to type up from the language to all that literature I alluded to, not least a very brief note on James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’:

“For that is the strength of this book, to see a human mind, fully fictional (as all minds are) captured for eternity on the page.”

“Fully fictional (as all minds are)”! This book is bursting with things to make you think, so much so that some of them are merely lobbed in parenthetically like that.

 

 

Then there’s Henry’s resolute refusal to accept responsibility for anything, anything at all, even for his most his most hideous of betrayals. Don’t imagine you’re safe, either, dear reader, for eventually he’ll turn on you too. Initially Henry is assiduous, almost unctuous in his courtship of his readership (albeit with back-handed attacks on others), but when pushed to the shove he’ll attempt to make you complicit in his own culpability.

What a bloody rotter!

Iconoclastic from beginning to end, I’m thinking Laurence Sterne’s ‘The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy’, only with fewer black-dog days, even more pictures and a cube-headed I don’t know what.

SLH

Buy Fearscape vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

This Was Our Pact s/c (£13-99, First Second) by Ryan Andrews…

“Yeah okay, but… what if… what if the lanterns lead us into some cave full of beautiful mermaids?
“You’ll hate yourself FOREVER for missing that. You know you will. Both of you.”
“If it keeps us from getting grounded for all of eternity, I think I can live with hating myself.”
“YEAH, WELL, WHO NEEDS YOU GUYS?!
“I’ll do this MYSELF!”

“Or so I thought.”

So Ben did. But he was wrong. Here’s the publisher to clue us in on his errant thinking…

“Stand by Me meets My Neighbor Totoro in this astonishing, magical-realist adventure story for middle-grade readers. It’s the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, when the town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has it that after drifting out of sight, they’ll soar off to the Milky Way and turn into brilliant stars.

 

 

This year, Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanterns really go, and they made a pact with two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.

 

 

The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes to learn the truth, but it isn’t long before the pact is broken by all except for Ben, and much to Ben’s disappointment, Nathaniel, the one kid who just doesn’t seem to fit in. Together, Nathaniel and Ben will travel down a winding road full of magic, wonder, and unexpected friendship.”

Actually, the film comparison that resonated most strongly with me almost immediately after starting this was, in fact, Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman. I certainly concur with the magical realism adventure story, but just that sense of going on a mysterious journey to a destination unknown, and also because of the nocturnal element, combined with a new and true friendship unexpectedly found, made me think of that abiding Christmas classic.

 

 

I was also surprised just how quickly our furiously pedalling peloton was whittled down to two. I expected it to take a few chapters of attritionally bottling it, one by one, but no, almost immediately we are down to our odd couple of Ben and Nathanial.

 

 

Until our cast begins to magically grow again as their mystery tour rumbles on, that is, beginning with the appearance of a most perplexed polar bear, who is on a mystical mission of his own to catch some fish. Though perhaps the two journeys have more far in common than it first would seem…

“And that’s when we saw him.”

“Good evening.”

“Gulp.
“I quickened my pace.
“Something told me it was a bad idea to strike up a conversation with a bear this late at night.
“Even one wearing such a dashing scarf.
“But clearly I was the only one who got that feeling.”

“Hi! I’m Nathaniel.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance. Where might you be headed this evening?”
“We’re going farther than ANYONE has EVER gone.”
“Is that so? WELL! You’re in luck, then! That’s EXACTLY where this road goes!”

Good old Nathaniel! And so our two boys and their new bear chum commence their epic tandem adventures in earnest, taking in some truly astonishing scenery and engaging in some extraordinarily enjoyable shenanigans en route.

 

 

The copacetic countryside is entirely down to Ryan Andrew’s astonishing art. Again, just like Briggs’ Snowman there is a gentle, almost soft focus to it which captivates and draws you ever deeper further into this unreal odyssey, with the background almost continually melting and rematerialising anew in certain sequences. It provides a never-ending dreamy sense of almost floating motion as the boys try to track the lanterns down the river, yet forever getting side-tracked by some new ever more amusingly implausible development. I think it is his soft pencil shading that produces this effect.

The boys themselves, and the other characters, have an equally substantive degree of emotional life and depth to them as they are drawn. There is a genuinely evocative sense of joy and wonder apparent in their expressions at their remarkable wanderings and exciting encounters. I can definitely see a touch of Gipi (LAND OF THE SONS) here and there, but I was also suddenly struck by some real Charles Schulz’ PEANUTS Charlie Brown-esque facial grimaces. You’ll know exactly what I mean when you spot them!

As a tale about embracing the outsider and throwing oneself into a new friendship for the adventure it truly is, this tale is truly as heart-warming as a million yuletide logs on the proverbial fire. Happily though, you don’t need to wait until Christmas to enjoy this.

JR

Buy This Was Our Pact s/c and read the Page 45 review here

H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness vol 1 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Gou Tanabe…

“Professor Lake! Urgent message from base!
“A massive cold front’s rapidly approaching.
“We’re to return to base camp immediately.
“Before it hits the Ross Island shelf…”

“Tell them…
“We believe the value of these new specimens make any hazard worth taking!
“We are thankful for their advice regarding the weather. Yet our expedition shall proceed without interruption!
“We have 1,500 miles to fly across this unknown continent… and far more to discover. That is all.”

I think Professor Lake might be losing it a wee bit… I mean, it could just appear to his colleagues that he’s getting a tad too excited about his undoubtedly history-making discovery of frozen creatures which appear to defy everything that’s currently known about evolution. Almost as though they were not of this earth… That would be understandable, I suppose. But… it seems somewhat more obsessive than that. In fact, the warning signs were there days earlier back at base camp…

I guess they’re called the mountains of madness for a reason…

 

 

First of two volumes adapting one of Lovecraft’s few long-form stories by renowned manga creator Gou Tanabe, who has a bit of form  with old H.P., having done an Eisner-nominated collection for Dark Horse, H.P. LOVECRAFT’S THE HOUND AND OTHER STORIES back in 2017 that was extremely well received.  

At The Mountains Of Madness (along with The Silver Key) is one of my absolute favourite Lovecraft stories. I’ve commented before whilst reviewing I.N.J Culbard’s adaptation (now collected along with ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’, ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ and ‘The Shadow Out of Time’ in the swanky HP LOVECRAFT FOUR CLASSIC HORROR STORIES hardcover) that this work is in some ways the most straightforward and comprehensible of Lovecraft’s stories, simply because whatever else it is, it’s also a great Boy’s Own period adventure tale.

The ‘whatever else it is’ being most definitely brooding, creeping and finally sanity-shattering psychological horror.

 

 

Tanabe’s fine-lined black and white art style suits a story set in the crisp Antarctic climes, working exceedingly well for the increasingly chilling, figuratively and literally, willpower sapping sequence of events.

 

 

This first volume covers the Miskatonic University expedition out from Arkham, Massachusetts to explore the last great uncharted wilderness, believing their ‘modern age’ equipment of planes and drills will allow them to safely uncover the secrets hidden below the ice cap. They’re going to get a lot more than they bargained for…

 

 

By the end of this volume, our hardy explorers have certainly made some startling discoveries, and been considerably reduced in numbers in return. For the survivors, things are only going to get infinitely more terrifying…

The second and concluding volume is due out in mid-October. Pre-order now to avoid missing manga mania!!

JR

Buy H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Marble Cake (£11-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Scott Jason Smith…

“So I’m really into granola at the minute. It’s delicious! There’s a two for one deal on at the smart mart at the mo. You should get some.”
“Nah. Not for me, mate. I’m more of a bacon and chips kinda guy…”
“Chips! For breakfast, ha!”
“If I wanna eat chips for breakfast in my own home I will! You can order them for breakfast down the cafe can’t you!!”
“Alright mate, keep your hair on!”

I shall have to confess at this point, that the new Page 45 breakfast choice du jour is err… a Greggs vegan sausage roll.

Moving on swiftly, let me allow you to digest Avery Hill’s plugola and decide whether you should cut a slice of this for yourself. I have no idea where I am going with my mixing bowl of food metaphors so I shall just stop right now… But first do pour the publisher milk and pick up your spoon…

“Have you ever wished you could glimpse into the lives of strangers, those anonymous faces passed in the produce aisle of the local supermarket, those shadows lurking behind the closed curtains of their homes? Would you be surprised by the rich mixture of personalities, the strange habits and the unexpected insecurities?

Perhaps like you they’re also baking blind, no recipe to follow. You might produce a perfect cake, or you might end up throwing the mix in the trash and starting again.

Marble Cake, the debut graphic novel from acclaimed British author and artist Scott Jason Smith, cuts a slice through everyday life and takes a bite out of the layers concealed beneath the icing, all told with the acerbic wit and keen eye of a truly exciting new creator.”

It’s a clever title, actually, neatly reflecting the fact that we have a large ensemble cast that overlaps and interacts with each other, either purposefully or coincidentally. For if you cut a Marble cake open you’ll see that lovely random swirling of colour show how the ingredients have been gently folded together but not over-mixed.

 

 

All of our cast’s stories don’t really start, nor do they either stop as such. Indeed we are precisely provided a few ‘glimpses’ into their lives to witness their daily mini-triumphs and tragedies that form lives very much more ordinary.

 

 

It does all have a mildly soap operatic feel to it, probably due to the rather downbeat suburban setting and deliberately quotidian-as-it-gets bunch of locals, but it’s very wittily written and pieced together extremely skilfully thus ensuring this is a far superior recipe for reading.

 

 

Art-wise Scott Jason Smith certainly plays to that sensibility too, with primarily dull grey backgrounds, drab locations such as the supermarket and a grotty local pub, populated by a bunch of characters who you can safely say aren’t going to win any beauty contests.

 

 

You will however nonetheless be utterly fascinated by the minutiae of their mundane lives and when the proverbial twitching curtains of our voyeuristic sojourn are drawn closed for the last time you’ll be straining for one last glimpse to try and guess what is going to happen next.

 

 

Nothing very much probably, but a nosey bugger like myself still wants to know!

JR

Buy and read the Page 45 review here

Box (£8-99, Top Shelf) by Patrick Wirbeleit & Uwe Heidschotter…

“Great! We’ve created a No-See-Saw! We’re inventors!
“Let’s invent something else.
“Come on. Let’s go into the house and build a what-happens-then machine.”
“A what?”

Hmmm… sounds like something that writes spoilers for you! Nobody needs one of those!

Anyway, I don’t know about what happens then, but here’s what happens now. I’m going to let the publisher read you the assembly instructions for this younger readers escapade…

“Matthew likes to build things. And invent things. So, finding a box sitting in front of his house one day is a real stroke of luck. But he has to pinch himself when it suddenly starts talking. A living toolbox!

Even better, Box loves to invent things too, so the two become fast friends. But where did Box come from, and how did he get to be so magical? When his secret comes out and accidentally leaves Matthew’s parents frozen, the two friends will have to race to find the answers and save the day.”

 

 

Unfortunately, Box is completely rubbish at DIY. He might be able to produce all manner of tools from inside himself, which is handy, sure, but he has no clue whatsoever about how to use them properly as evidenced by his complete lack of understanding of how a see-saw works.

 

 

I.e. not frenziedly hammering it down to a tree stump rendering it completely immobile…

 

 

Shame, as a bit of tool handling talent might have proved useful whilst on an epic quest to find the sorcerer who can unfreeze your new chum’s parents.

This is a daft little off-cut of fun that isn’t a great deal more than a couple of running gags, but it is all done rather amusingly well, I must say. The art style is most definitely youngster friendly and Box in particular, with his perpetually silly smile and dozy expression, will certainly make ‘em laff.

For more extensively constructed compressed corrugated capers of the magical variety I would highly recommend Doug TenNapel’s CARDBOARD.

JR

Buy Box and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 4: The Goblin Lives s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, various & John Romita Sr., various.

Late’60s swingin’ collecting AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #53-67, but also SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #1 and 2 which you may well have missed.

The first is in black and white, which was a bit weird for the time, the second in colour and starring the Green Goblin as Osborn regains his memory, loses his sanity and once more threatens to reveal Spider-Man’s secret identity to the perpetually oblivious Aunt May. Other adversaries include the follicularly fabulous Medusa, two Vultures, Mysterio and even the Red Skull.

There’s increasingly more rare, archive material in these editions, here including lots of unused Larry Lieber layout pages and several house advertisements.

For more in-depth assessments of earlier outings, try our more iconoclastic reviews of other AMAZING SPIDER-MAN EPIC COLLECTIONS, FANTASTIC FOUR EPIC COLLECTIONS and AVENGERS EPIC COLLECTIONS.

Cool cover.

SLH

Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 4: The Goblin Lives 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’.

Beanworld Omnibus vol 2 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Larry Marder

Cerebus vol 5: Jaka’s Story (Remastered Edition) (£35-99, Aadvark Vanaheim Inc.) by Dave Sim & Gerhard

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

Conan The Barbarian vol 1: The Life And Death Of Conan Book One s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Mahmud Asrar, Gerardo Zaffino

Courtney Crumrin vol 5 s/c (£11-99, Oni Press) by Ted Naifeh

Crimson Lotus s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by John Arcudi & Mindy Lee

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 5: The Happy Prince s/c (£7-99, NBM) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell

Horizontal Collaboration h/c (£16-99, Korero Press) by Navie & Carole Maurel

Joker s/c (£13-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo

The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer & Simini Blocker

My Hero Academia vol 19 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi