Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 15th 2020

Featuring Owen Pomery, Osamu Dazai, Junji Ito, Ted Naifeh and Suehiro Maruo.

British Ice s/c (£13-99, Top Shelf) by Owen Pomery…

“What about you, why do you stay? I mean, you seem pretty smart too.”
“Ha! Very kind of you. I came to one of the neighbouring remote communities as a nurse. After the term was up, I moved here, which is under British governance, not Canadian, and doesn’t have the same initiative, so I found people who needed help, not provided by your country. There are always people in need, and that shouldn’t be decided by where you are born. Plus I still don’t feel ready to leave. I’ve come to like it here.”
“You know, psychologists might say you’re avoiding the real world.”
“The real world? If you’d said modern world you might’ve had a point, but it doesn’t get much more real than this.”
“Fair point. Also, modern world or real, it’s all the same world anyway.”
“Netherton is still far too responsible for how this part of the world is now.”
“Despite being long gone, I still feel his shadow casting darkness over everything here.”
“But how do you kill a man who is already dead?”
“Not becoming him is a good start.”
“I’m here to defend British interests, not to preach.”
“Patriotism is just as dangerous as religion. It’s all blind faith.”

Indeed. Here’s some harpoon-rattling jingoism from the Foreign Office, I mean publisher, to explain why and how our man up North, and I don’t mean Yorkshire, is attempting to deal with the glacial pressures of the weight of history bearing squarely down on him. Not to mention the frosty attitude of the locals towards a Queen and country that doesn’t care one snowflake about them, and her Majesty’s man on the ground, well ice, who presents a rather convenient new target for their ire.

 

 

“Working for the British High Commission, Harrison Fleet is posted to a remote arctic island which is still, inexplicably, under British rule. As he struggles to understand why, and what interests he is protecting, Harrison learns just how much of the land and its community lies in the shadow cast by the outpost’s founder.

Caught between hostile locals, the British Government, and an unforgiving physical environment, he begins dragging dark secrets into the light, unaware of the tragic repercussions they will cause. And help is very, very far away. Part noir, part historical mystery, British Ice explores the consequences of colonialism and the legacy of empire.”

Poor Harrison Fleet, mild-mannered offspring of the highly regarded and decorated gunboat diplomat Sir Jonathan Fleet, whose many achievements included overseeing the forcible eviction of all the local inhabitants of an atoll in the Indian Ocean whilst Commissioner there. (Which of course reflective of actually happened to the Chagossians who were unceremoniously booted off Diego Garcia and the other islands of the Chagos Archipelago in the late 60s and early 70s, purely to provide the Americans with an uninhabited island for an air base as per an agreement signed in 1966…) How can he possibly be expected to measure up?

Harrison’s been dispatched to the markedly unglamorous British Arctic Territories to take care of Her Majesty’s interests after the disturbing disappearance of the previous Commissioner, but in fact the far flung frozen colony has a chequered past with diplomats going right back to the very first one who tried to bring the area under control. A certain cut-throat Captain Netherton, whose untimely death, along with all of his men and more than a fair few of the indigenous male population was put down to the legend of the Wendigo. At least that’s what the locals are telling Harrison. The ones that will even speak to him that is…

What a magnificent slow-melting mystery Owen BETWEEN THE BILLBOARDS & THE AUTHORING OF ARCHITECTURE Pomery has sculpted for us here! Is Harrison merely just another authoritarian flunky flailing about in the slippery social conditions he encounters or is he sufficiently his own man to attempt to escape his father’s long wintery shadow and see what truths might finally be thawed out if he can just get someone, anyone, to warm to him even a little?

There’s much excruciatingly accurate and pithy socio-political commentary to be found here, along with some very witty and also poignantly insightful dialogue, as whilst the persons, locales and events are noted to be nominally fictitious, it’s all feels far too entirely credible and painfully plausible, even down to the braying public school civil service buffoon who has dispatched Harrison on his lonely mission…

“Ah! Harrison, marvellous to see you. How was the Congo? Still an interesting little country?”
“It’s a huge country, sir, with a huge amount of problems and…”
“Quite, quite. But you’re fully recuperated and ready for your next assignment, I trust? The British Arctic Territories! I know, I know, it’s not a glamorous assignment, but everyone has to do their stint and it’s good to get it out of the way now, it’s no place for an old chap like me. I promise you Bermuda or better next time!”
“That’s not necessary. But I’m anxious about the rumours regarding the disappearance of the previous Commissioner and reports of unrest in the local community.”
“It’s nothing Harrison. Roberts was a good man, but he couldn’t take the pace, simple as that. It’s not for everyone this job. But you, you are made of sterner stuff. It’s in the blood, son of the late great Sir Jonathan Fleet. One of the greatest ambassadors this country has ever seen, how can you fail with such lineage?
“Ha! You know what they used to say whenever there was trouble in one of the colonies, don’t you?
““You don’t need to send a single ship, you need to send a Fleet.” Hahaha! Your father could certainly get things done.”
“It came at a cost.”
“It’s a free market economy, son, and in the more remote parts of the world, you set your own rates, just like your father did. I’ll see you in four years. Don’t let us down now.”

Artistically, this is perhaps a touch more delicate and detailed than his previous work BETWEEN THE BILLBOARDS & THE AUTHORING OF ARCHITECTURE but it is still very distinctly and magnificently Pomery, such as the vertical black parallel lines striated here and there for additional depth and shading to layer further texture onto the understandably muted and subdued atmospheric colour palette of pale blues and greys.

 

 

A very thoughtfully conceived and extremely well executed and also highly entertaining work, this neatly exposes certain distasteful aspects of the legacy of empire, whilst also providing a few necessary comforting crumbs of hope that there could possibly be some small caring cogs of individuals working for the greater good within and against Her Majesty’s mighty machine.

JR

Buy British Ice and read the Page 45 review here

No Longer Human h/c (£25-00, Viz) by Osamu Dazai & Junji Ito…

“I realised that I was dying… and that I was going to go to hell.
“The bottom of the abyss, the one place I wished not to go.
“My body felt heavy.
“It was no doubt because of this weight that my body was descending.
“I understood the cause of the heaviness.
“The ten misfortunes had always been packed away inside of me.
“If only I could vomit up these misfortunes, my body would become lighter… and I would be able to ascend to paradise.
“I had to hurry…
“The first was the misfortunate of society. At most society was the individual… it was not worth fearing. I believed this, but when a crowd of individuals formed, the pressure increased tenfold, a hundredfold.”

I found myself grimly fascinated by this disturbing tale of one man’s gradual descent into madness and his astonishing ability to cause so much terminal collateral damage to others along the way, particularly to those many women that almost magnetically fell in love with him.

 

 

It was actually made even more unsettling when I read a little about the original prose novel and the author himself.

Firstly, I find it somewhat astonishing, but perhaps not entirely surprising upon reflection, that the original book is Japan’s second highest ever selling novel. For when you consider the apparent social strictures and seeming emotional claustrophobia of daily Japanese life, it is really so surprising that a work about an individual, albeit one undoubtedly substantially damaged in childhood by sexual abuse, entirely unable to feel at ease or fit in with even his family never mind anyone else, should prove so popular?

 

 

It’s for good reason that one of the most common sayings in Japan is, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Similarly, I therefore mention as a curious aside, that the highest selling Japanese book is Kokoro by Natsume Sōseki, primarily dealing with themes of isolation and guilt.

Anyway, what really perturbed me was that the work is seen very much as containing several autobiographical aspects, not least an obsession with suicide. In fact, Dazai took his own life shortly after the publication of the final part of the initially serialised work. Consequently it is viewed by many scholars as an attempt at justifying his life, and indeed I suppose, choice to die by his own hands.

 

 

There have, of course, been several other adaptations over the years, both on screen and also in manga form, some more faithful to the source material than others. Here, as far as I am aware, the only real twist (perhaps that should be spiral!) of his own that Ito has added is to introduce the main character Ōba Yōzō to the author Osamu Dazai himself in an asylum, whilst in the depths of Yōzō’s eventual, inevitable psychotic break.

They converse at length during Yōzō’s recovery over how their lives are so similar and indeed how there is even a character called Ōba Yōzō in the book (this book) which Dazai has already started. This meta conceit also allows Ito to include Dazai’s subsequent suicide, further adding to the strangeness of it all. I guess that’s classic Ito actually, based on his own horror works (for that is precisely what this is: pure horror), always finding a way to take the already odd to a deeper, even more bizarre level. It works actually, all too well…

But before the asylum sequence, the tragic, terrifying story of Ōba Yōzō gradually unfolds, page by ever more devastating page, first from the confused child, through troubled adolescent, into seemingly helpless destroyer of others. If much, or indeed just some, of what is contained in this work is autobiographical, I can understand why the author was burdened with guilt and shame over his actions to the point of suicide.

 

 

I think what in part makes this such a compelling read is that Ōba Yōzō never sets out intending to hurt someone, but even when it becomes manifestly apparent that his actions, or frequently inactions, are doing so, he is utterly incapable of stopping or changing his behaviour. He doesn’t even really try, primarily attempting to wilfully ignore situations that are becoming ever more precarious to people he apparently cares deeply about, simply to avoid any sort of emotional confrontation.

He does appear to believe in love, and can at times demonstrate it himself, but he himself is never able to be happy for anything more than the most fleeting of occasional moments, thus inevitably sowing the seeds of the demise of another relationship, and individual, and another little part of his own soul which is then subsequently shredded and gone forever. Combined with an addictive personality and voracious appetite for drink and then drugs, it is a path that you would presume has only one possible destination. The only question being how many casualties will Ōba Yōzō cause en route. At least, that’s what you would presume…

I can’t comment on how good an adaptation this is, due to not being familiar with the source material, I can only state it is an absolutely brilliant work in its own right. As someone who whilst enjoying Ito’s work immensely (UZAMAKI, GYO, TOMIE, SHIVER, SMASHED, FRAGMENTS OF HORROR, DISSOLVING CLASSROOM, FRANKENSTEIN) can find my enjoyment at times tempered by his tendency to amusing absurdism in his writing (entirely a personal thing, I appreciate that is the precise draw for others) the fact his enthusiasm is that particular direction is constrained by the source material here is a good thing. For me at least anyway, others may very well disagree.

However, there is certainly plenty in the material for Ito to express himself fully visually, with Ōba Yōzō’s frequent visions of demons and apparitions of his ‘victims’, plus that truly mind-bending extended descent into hell sequence, the opening of which I began this review with, which is as close as Ōba Yōzō ever comes to truly confronting his own demons.

 

 

Yes, the master of body horror certainly doesn’t hold back with his artistic endeavours here… Although… I think perhaps it is the depiction of the real life individuals in their deranged states which are the most disturbing of all and therefore, although I realise it probably refers to Ōba Yōzō alone, it must be said that the book is perfectly titled…

 

 

Buy No Longer Human and read the Page 45 review here

JR

Courtney Crumrin vol 6 s/c (£11-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh…

“They’re the most powerful beings on Earth, and they’re dying of boredom.”

If that doesn’t send a shiver up your spine, then it should.

I’m afraid it’s the end of the road for COURTNEY CRUMRIN – and Courtney Crumrin herself. I had no idea this would be so severe.

Its origins stretch through the whole of the series, reprising elements and plot points I thought long left-behind, but no. Obviously the last volume’s sheer, severe cliff-hanger must inevitably be played out, but what about the set-up in COURTNEY CRUMRIN VOL 2, eh? And I do mean set-up.

A faction within The Coven Of Mystics has grown weary with the restraints placed on them by Ravanna’s Law, forbidding their witches and warlocks to interfere or mingle with regular folk. Its Council still holds with the law but a council is rarely at rest; there is always a struggle for power.

Meanwhile, time is running out for Great Uncle Aloysius: he’s dying. Sustained only by an elixir withheld by the Council until he returns his niece for what it promises will be a fair trial, he must surely imagine that Courtney will come quietly. She won’t.

 

 

Courtney is on the run with her former teacher Calpurnia Crisp, the Council’s marshals mere metres behind. They’re racing round mountain roads, the ocean waves breaking beneath them and they cannot afford to be caught. Calpurnia knows there will be no fair trial and the fate that awaits them is much worse than death: they will be banished, all knowledge of magic and their memories of wielding it erased. They will become hollow shells, ghosts of their former selves, destined only to wonder what on earth could be missing, dimly in the back of their minds. As to Aloysius, Calpurnia knows something few others do, and that changes everything.

Oh my god, girls! Oh my god, guys! When I first realised what [redacted, redacted] was actually showing, my jaw hit the floor. Suffice to say that there is not a second’s preamble; it kicks straight into gear. Rarely have I read a series’ conclusion that wraps everything up not just neatly but nastily with a final confrontation foreshadowed by the words of the hermit Cerridean Olds and the early actions of another who wields far more magic than anyone suspected. If you are as ancient as I am, the words ‘Dark Phoenix’ will mean something. Really mean something, and Naifeh has out-burned John Byrne: if that blistering image swirling in purple above Aloysius isn’t a direct homage then I would be so, so surprised.

 

 

Ted’s design work has always been delicious. It manifests itself not just in this new full-colour incarnation with its silver inks, but in the enemies themselves: the Rawhead And Bloody-Bones of COURTNEY CRUMRIN VOL 2 with which I am always at pains to frighten young readers along with their parents during shop-floor show-and-tells, and here the various skeletal Golems animated by Cerridean.

 

 

I love that there are electricity pylons straddling the cliff tops of the introductory breakneck car chase.

But I wondered why the colours were so studiously muted in purples and blues, pale lemon-yellow and deep olive-green. Well, let’s just say that the bright light of day would be a boon to some if deprived for so long of its beauty, yet to others it could be the worst thing in the world.

“Have you ever awoken out of a deep sleep and found yourself in a place you don’t recognise, forgetting for a moment how you got there? Sometimes, when you remember at last, it’s a relief.
“And sometimes it’s not.”

I am so, so sorry.

Still to come: COURTNEY CRUMRIN TALES.

Buy Courtney Crumrin vol 6 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

The Strange Tale Of Panorama Island h/c (£22-99, Last Gasp) by Suehiro Maruo…

Quite the revelation, this is a breath-takingly beautiful book whose exotic, erotic island will have you gasping over and again as each new, sweeping panorama is unveiled to startling and spectacular effect just as it is to the wife of phenomenally rich industrialist Genzaburo Komoda.

Truly it is a pleasure paradise sequestered in the middle of a remote island and accessed only via transparent tunnels which snake over the tropical seabed before bursting into the open air and dazzling sunshine to reveal the first of so many set pieces: waterfalls the size of Niagara’s, ornamental edifices, a multi-tiered Indian-themed acropolis and botanical vistas which make the formal French gardens of Loire Châteaux like Villandry and Chambord look tame and restrained. Each of these is populated both by monumental sculptures of dragons and snakes and satyrs and a hundreds of performers paid to be naked at play. And I do mean play – frolicking through meadows – but also at play with each other, yes. Eighteens and over, please.

All of which put me much in mind of Milo Manara but inked with a detailed ligne claire more akin to Jiro Taniguchi’s. It’s gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. And I love a good orgy.

 

 

This, then, was constructed as the dream of a lifetime, but here is the rub for Genzaburo Komoda: the dream wasn’t his. The dream was that of failing novelist Hitomi Hirosuke whose manuscript containing this elaborate fantasy was repeatedly rejected. He went to college with Genzaburo Komoda and looked so alike that they were nicknamed twins. So when Hitomi learns of Genzaburo Komoda’s death he hatches a plan fake his own death then to exhume the multi-millionaire’s corpse and take his place, not raised from the dead as a miracle but recovering from a medically well documented cataleptic episode.

Now all he has to do to fool Komoda’s entourage: his managers, his servants, his family… his wife.

SLH

Buy The Strange Tale Of Panorama Island h/c and read the Page 45 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’.

Baby: A Soppy Story h/c (Exclusive Signed Page 45 Bookplate Edition) (£10-99, Square Peg / Vintage) by Philippa Rice

Bad Machinery vol 9: The Case Of The Missing Piece (Pocket Edition) (£11-99, Oni Press Inc.) by John Allison

Black Hammer vol 4: Age of Doom Part 2 s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston, Rich Tomasso

Book Love h/c (£9-99, Andrews McMeel) by Debbie Tung

Consantly s/c (£8-99, Koyama Press) by gg

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor vol 3: Old Friends s/c (£14-99, Titan) by Jody Houser & Rachael Stott, Rachael Stott

The Dreaming vol 2: Empty Shells s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Si Spurrier & Bilquis Evely, Abigail Larson

The Sculptor h/c (US Edition) (£26-99, FirstSecond) by Scott McCloud

Taxi! Stories From The Back Seat (£12-99, Conundrum) by Aimee De Jongh

The Witcher Omnibus s/c (£20-99, Dark Horse) by Paul Tobin & various

All Star Superman s/c (£24-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely

Diana: Princess Of The Amazons s/c (£8-99, DC) by Dean Hale, Shannon Hale & Victoria Ying

Absolute Carnage s/c (£26-99, Marvel) by Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman

Amazing Spider-Man vol 6: Absolute Carnage s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer, others & Ryan Ottley, various

Black Widow: Welcome To The Game s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Richard K. Morgan & Bill Sienkiewicz, Goran Parlov, Sean Phillips

Loki: The God Who Fell To Earth s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Daniel Kibblesmith & Oscar Bazaldua, Andy MacDonald

Miles Morales vol 2: Bring On The Bad Guys s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Saladin Ahmed & Ron Ackins, others

Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur: Full Moon s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder & Natacha Bustos, Ray-Anthony Height

New Mutants: Epic Collection – The Demon Bear Saga s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont & Sal Buscema, Bill Sienkiewicz, Bob McLeod

Demon Slayer vol 4 (£8-99, Viz) by Koyoharu Gotouge

Happiness vol 10 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Shuzo Oshimi

Tokyo Ghoul re: vol 14 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Courtney Crumrin vol 6 s/c (£11-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh

Hellblazer vol 22: Regeneration (£24-99, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan, various & Giuseppe Camuncoli, various

Lazarus vol 6: Fracture s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 25 – Maximum Carnage s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Tom DeFalco, Terry Kavanagh, David Michelinie, J.M. DeMatteis & Ron Lim, Alex Saviuk, Mark Bagley, Tom Lyle, Sal Buscema, Scott McDaniel

Captain Marvel vol 2: Falling Star s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Annapaola Martello, Carmen Carnero

Doctor Strange vol 4: The Choice s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Jesus Saiz, Javier Pina

Demon Slayer vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Koyoharu Gotouge

Demon Slayer vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Koyoharu Gotouge

Fullmetal Alchemist 3-in-1 Edition vols 1-3 (£9-99, Viz) by Hiromu Arakawa

Howl’s Moving Castle Picture Book h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Diana Wynne Jones & Hayao Miyazaki

Levius est vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Haruhisa Nakata

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

spacer
spacer
spacer