Page 45 Graphic Novel Reviews late February 2020

Featuring Cyril Pedrosa, Roxanne Moreil, Cecil Castellucci, Jim Rugg, Eric Shanowar, Jim Pascoe, Heidi Arnhold & Nicholas Gurewitch.

Golden Age Book 1 h/c  (£26-99, St Martin’s Press) by Cyril Pedrosa & Roxanne Moreil…

“By the Devil’s horns… STAND BACK!!”
“Calm down, sister. Put the dagger down. I’m afraid you’re all alone. And kneel before your King.”
“How dare you?”
“All the vassals in the Kingdom have already pledged their allegiance to me.”
“That’s impossible. Lord Ulrik? Lord Darcelle? Is this true? You too, Ancelin? Have you so little honour?”
“It would have been easy to slit your throat. But I am magnanimous. I’ll settle for exiling you to the Island of Malefosse per the Regent’s counsel.”
“Vaudemont. Of course. Your lust for power has no limits, I see.”

Nothing like a good old-fashioned family bust-up to brighten the (coronation) day. Except… it’s not going to be Princess Tilda’s triumphant accession to the gilded armchair of absolute authority any longer, following the sad dynastic demise of her much loved father.

 

 

Nay, instead her weasely bowl-headed younger brother is about to usurp the unsuspecting Tilda with the aid of the dastardly Lord Vaudemont and ah… her mum! Now that’s a wholly wrongful birthright betrayal which must cut very deep indeed… Maybe Tilda shouldn’t put down that dagger just yet!

 

 

Here’s the publisher to deliver a rousing regal decree regarding Tilda and her (almost) subjects’ malcontent of the state of current affairs in the most definitely not Queendom…

“A medieval saga with political intrigue reminiscent of Game of Thrones, The Golden Age is an epic graphic novel duology about utopia and revolution! In the kingdom of Lantrevers, suffering is a way of life – unless you’re a member of the ruling class. Princess Tilda plans to change all that.

As the rightful heir of late King Ronan, Tilda wants to deliver her people from famine and strife. But on the eve of her coronation, her younger brother, backed by a cabal of power-hungry lords, usurps her throne and casts her into exile.

Now Tilda is on the run. With the help of her last remaining allies, Tankred and Bertil, she travels in secret through the hinterland of her kingdom. Wherever she goes, the common folk whisper of a legendary bygone era when all men lived freely. There are those who want to return to this golden age – at any cost. In the midst of revolution, how can Tilda reclaim her throne?”

I think I will just add at this point… but what is more important to Tilda, her throne or the happiness of the people…?

 

 

For by the end of this opening majestic tome of who knows how many – probably not as many volumes as George Arf Arf Martin will never quite finish penning of the moneymaking musical merrygoround of stately seating – you might be left pondering the idea that personal revenge is considerably more important to Tilda than the rights of her potential subjects, given how stroppy she manages to get with one the very few remaining people still loyal and prepared to help her…

“You’re turning a blind eye and deaf ear to your people’s will for justice!”
“Don’t use that tone with me! You’ve forgotten to whom you speak!”
“Tilda. In the world you would reign over, we will never be equals. I can’t forget that… Your Highness…”

 

 

I guarantee, however, that you will want it to be quite a few volumes after reading this glorious opening salvo resplendent with pageantry and replete with privation alike. I’m guessing two or three in complete candour, but you certainly could twist my arm – preferably not with a medieval torture device – and make it four or five, which would certainly result in screams of pleasure rather than pain!

 

 

But let’s enjoy the era of Golden Age The First… errr first… for in the realm of graphic novels there are some that are destined to rule over all too! At least for a few weeks once crowned Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month anyway! With that said, this is certainly a courtly contender for my most beautiful book of the whole year already.

 

 

A quick glance at the cover, shrouded in mystery and inviting intrigue with a lonesome cloaked Tilda astride a horse, casting a strange mystical armoured reflection in a gently eddying pool of water, deep underneath the canopy of a dark royal blue forest of leaves, surrounded by brilliant pink blossom-filled bushes, is merely the most teasing hint of what wonders lies within the covers.

 

 

Fans of Cyril EQUINOXES Pedrosa, who previously lorded over it all like the aristocrat of art that he is – well, okay for a month again with former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month PORTUGAL – will already be well aware already of what a prodigious talent he is. But here I feel he has upped his game anew, with a wilfully, dashingly different and at times strikingly contrasting, expansive colour palette, complimenting an intoxicatingly elegant art style, all elevated further still by use of short, staccato linework for shading and texture that I suspect even the master of said technique himself, Signor Toppi (COLLECTED TOPPI), would have had to just pause and admire. Yes, this is a book whose artwork you can radiantly bask in most indulgently indeed.

 

 

The writing, co-scripted by Roxanne Moreil with Pedrosa, is just as imperiously brilliant. You may well find yourself rooting for the underclass even more than Tilda, though, depending on your personal republican vs. regent sensibilities, as the rabble gets ever rowdier and more rambunctious against the backdrop of the increasingly obnoxious Tilda’s unlikely mission to regain, well technically gain I suppose, her throne.

 

 

As mentioned, I genuinely don’t know how many more volumes this epic will run to. I do suspect just one or two, maybe three at a push, rather than attempting to better Louis The XIX reign as the highest ever numbered French ruler. Even though I felt he never really counted, only managing some twenty minutes as King himself, before wisely following his dad’s example who swiftly abdicated during the July Revolution of 1830 when he felt the sharpening winds of change blowing around his suddenly itchy collar… Always better to quit whilst you’re ahead… and you’ve still got yours, I find. Probably not advice that Tilda is likely to follow though…

JR

Buy The Golden Age And Read The Page 45 Review Here

The Plain Janes (£13-99, Little Brown Book) by Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg.

Firstly, I am beyond excited to note that a whole third of this very reasonably priced indeed volume is a brand new Plain Janes story entitled JANES ATTACK BACK!

If that were not enough the previous two stories collected here, the first of which was a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month way back in May 2007, have also been treated to a spectacular new colour scheme.

Right, without further ado, let me present our reviews of the first two instalments!

First up, here’s Stephen with the original THE PLAIN JANES…

“Hopeless is lying in a hospital bed with a ringing in your ear and trying to forget the screaming.
“Loud noises made me jump. Sounds I couldn’t identify made me jump.
“Silence made me nervous.
“But there was hope in that sketchbook.”

Since the bomb blast, life has changed for Jane. Some of it – her hair, for example – she changed herself; other aspects, like being relocated from cool city to staid suburbia, has been thrust upon her by her fearful parents. “Mom doesn’t see the beauty in anything any longer.  She only sees the danger. I want her to stop worrying and love the world again, because if she can, then I can.” Her mum, in fact, is neurotic, incessantly phoning her at all manner of embarrassing moments and as we all know, “It’s hard to be a rebel on a leash.”

PLAIN JANES is packed with such eminently printable quotes, but that’s the young lead lady for you: feisty, defiant, quietly cool, predominantly optimistic yet occasionally sardonic.

“Here we go. Nothing worse than starting the school year six weeks late. Remember, it’s just four years. Om, and all that.”

Jane’s actually well received by the “in” crowd at school, but sees no merit in that, electing instead to sit at a table with three other Janes – one a thespian, one a scientist and one an aspiring soccer player – but they’re simply not interested in Jane, each other, or anything else outside their own insular little worlds until Jane summons all her wit to understand them, then guile to galvanise them. And so begins their inspired campaign of local art attacks as the covert club called P.L.A.I.N – People Living Art In The Neighbourhoods, and Catellucci’s astute observations on adult society’s overwhelming confusion if not outright hostility towards public art.

 

 

I was honestly quite surprised to declare DC’s first salvo in their bid for young-teen female readers such an attractive success. The original cover was horrid (2020’s edition is a vibrant delight!), but the art inside communicates mood and expression successfully and succinctly, whilst there are elements of Jane and her life that are instantly identifiable as nigh-universal, whether it’s the overprotective mum (all mums are perceived as overprotective, regardless of innocence or guilt!), the missed opportunities, frozen in romance’s blinding and gagging headlights, or just the immortal phrase (muttered several times a week, I’ll bet): “Boys suck.”

I like the fact that Jane’s far from perfect, giving way on occasion to unreasonable sulks, and suffering the setbacks we all do in life along with the inevitable, attendant deflation of confidence. But her creativity and her sense of fun are infectious both for the three Janes and for this reader, and I’d have thought there’s nothing more seductive to the book’s target audience than the act and art of rebellion. This is full of it.

SLH

Then here’s JR with  JANES IN LOVE…

“The question is: what are we going to do?”
“We must remind her that as George Bernard Shaw says, ‘Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.’”
“You are so weird.”

A direct follow on to THE PLAIN JANES which if you’ve not read, why not? It was great! On the Minx label so billed as a comic for girls this, like its predecessor, still has appeal for people like me (a middle aged male) that just likes a well written story. The title is also slightly misleading as again the story primarily revolves around the girls’ undercover art attack exploits as P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art In Neighbourhoods). However, this time they very quickly get caught by the wonderfully volcanic crew-cropped and moustachioed Officer Sanchez. Surely exactly what J. Jonah Jameson would have been like had he decided to take up a career in law enforcement instead of publishing!?! So the Janes decide to try and go legit and apply for planning permission with the council for an urban art installation in the local park only to be thwarted by the bristling and seething Officer Sanchez. But will the girls manage to win out in the end?

 

 

And the reference to love in the title of the book? Well, in between being their neighbourhood’s answer to Banksy they all somehow find time to have a look for the man of their dreams in their own inimitable ways for the upcoming school dance, as well as managing to act as matchmakers for two of their favourite local retirees, and deal with various family and friendship problems. I particularly enjoyed the disastrous consequences of Brain Jane’s attempt to manufacture a pheromone potion for herself in chemistry class.

JR

At this juncture it would seem a wee bit churlish not to at least let you have a glorious glimpse of a page from the third story JANES ATTACK BACK! So let’s finish with this belter…

 

 

Buy The Plain Janes And Read The Page 45 Review Here

Cottons Book 1: The Secret Of The Wind s/c (£13-99, First Second) by Jim Pascoe & Heidi Arnhold…

“You’ve weaponized art?”
“Oh, Wampu, all art is a weapon… in the right hands.”

This is entirely true. Here, quite literally so.

A further glance inside the cover itself is rewarded by endpaper maps of the countryside surrounding the rabbits’ warren beside The Blue Heart Lake, in a valley between craggy ridges: Goldenseed Meadow and the Wavering Wood overlooked by Stillbreeze Peak.

You’d be forgiven if by now you’re expecting something akin to ‘Watership Down’ but, prologue aside, it’s actually much closer to MOUSE GUARD, the animals and their habitat more anthropomorphised, their burrows quite habitable to humans.

 

 

While we’re on the subject of MOUSE GUARD, however, if you thought the world-building was impressive there, this is on another level entirely, and you’ll find a rabbit scholar’s notes on Lavender’s known history, industry, religion and magic.

Ah yes, magic.

Magic, art and the potential to weaponize it.

The rabbits’ industry involves refining their natural source of energy, carrots, into another source of energy entirely, called cha. This heats and lights their warren, but in skilled paws like Bridgebelle’s and her former tutor Thom Crocket’s, can turn sticks and stones into beautiful and intricate glass artefacts called thokchas. To those more pragmatic and less inspired, this is regarded as a frittering waste of raw material. To others, the crystalline thockchas are merely a halfway house, for ‘detonating’ them with a twist causes a dazzling and potentially hallucinogenic display. It’s possible to become addicted. At a pivotal moment, however, Bridgebelle will discover another use for them entirely.

 

 

There’s supposed to be a truce between the rabbits and the foxes, but the bluntest and seemingly most brutal of the foxes breaks that truce almost immediately, by snapping poor Soozie’s neck. However, as Soozie and Bridgebell dash as fast as they can from the threat, Soozie reveals a key secret:

“Help me, Bridgebelle!
“I hid something. Find it before they do. Go where the flow is slow.”

I really do think that’s all you need.

 

 

The rabbits in flight are fluid as you like, and lithe when turning at breakneck speed. The detonated thockcha visions are truly blinding, and you’ll love the skeletal Scapegraces whose feathers are formed from a purple, miasmatic mist.

This is a trilogy and so far it holds together very well indeed, with one full-length, satisfyingly resolved campaign leaving us still in a spine-tinglingly ominous place.

 

 

“Everyone is afraid of something.”

SLH

Buy Cottons Book 1: The Secret Of The Wind s/c And Read The Page 45 Review Here

Age Of Bronze vol 2: Sacrifice s/c (£17-99, Image) by Eric Shanowar

Now in full colour.

Projected to run for seven volumes, this epic, in-depth and dramatic retelling of the Trojan War has garnered Eisner Awards as well as praise from outside our industry from the likes of The Washington Post and Publishers Weekly. Booklist said that it “unfolds with heartbreaking determination,” and they’ve pinpointed one of its chief strengths.

If you’re not that well schooled in the classics, this will prove startling and compelling; if you are, then so much of the power lies in the inevitable, for you know just who is doomed, how and why – but it won’t stop you desperately hoping that they somehow avoid their destiny.

 

 

Speaking of destiny, this is a time where the population believed in Fate, believed in prophecy and portent and, unfortunately, sacrifice. It’s amazing what your beliefs will make you do, but that doesn’t make you any less courageous. For some, it will prove the ultimate test: betray your army, or sacrifice your daughter? It’s not so cut-and-dried as it sounds. You have responsibility not just to your kingdom but to thousands of lives under your command. And if it does sound like a no-brainer then Shanower will convince you otherwise, for this is huge enough that everyone is rounded out, given a depth and an individual perspective.

 

 

There are some superb visual devices as well, from the mists that rise to isolate Helen and Paris atop Troy’s tallest tower (“It’s as if we’re the only people left in the entire world.”), to the pages of constant wind, denoted by “SHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHS” between each tier of panels until Agamemnon’s daughter leaves her tent for the final time. It’s a very clear panel structure as well, like Talbot’s THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT or Gary Spencer Millidge’s STRANGEHAVEN, making it effortlessly readable by those unused to comics.

Also there’s a map, for the names have all changed (along with the territorial boundaries), a couple of family trees, and a great big glossary of names including how to pronounce them.

For far, far more, please see my new review of AGE OF BRONZE VOL 1: A THOUSAND SHIPS.

Also, while you’re here, Gareth Hinds’ THE ODYSSEY and THE ILIAD.

SLH

Buy Age Of Bronze vol 2: Sacrifice s/c And Read The Page 45 Review Here

SLH

The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Nicholas Gurewitch.

All the below from 2009 remains true, except that it’s no longer landscape, but portrait…

The 2007 sales sensation considerably expanded and restructured into a landscape hardcover with tactile lettering and a brightly coloured rainbow appealing directly to young minds which must never, ever be allowed to encounter it. (We were racking it with CYANIDE & HAPPINESS at the time, if that gives you a clue).

Jim Woodring and Scott McCloud are both fans of these short gag strips in which innocence is shafted by horror and meanness, or even vice-versa. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong, but very funny indeed.

See the dangers of driving a truck that turns out to be a Transformer! Watch Aubrey Beardsley-like vampires attempting to apply make-up in a mirror! Look at the bunny-love providing a leg-up/over and out of a hole!

Still includes the suicide-bomber chessboard which was wrong, wrong, wrong. And ever so funny.

SLH

Buy The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack And Read The Page 45 Review Here

Wrinkles (£12-99, Knockabout) by Paco Roca…

“The director is busy finishing up your paperwork. She asked me to show you around.”
“Thank you.”
“Uh, she also said that you need to pay a ten-dollar document processing fee. It’s complicated. You wouldn’t understand.”
“I was a bank manager.”

“Oh yeah? Well, it’s a standard charge for all new arrivals. A silly thing.
“Perfecto! If you need anything, let me know. I can get you whatever you want.
“Come on… I’ll show you around.
“There are two floors… here on the first floor are the healthy ones… those of us who can look after ourselves… more or less.
“Almost everyone here still has their wits about them. Maybe not as sharp as before. But we can think a little.”

Multiple-award-winning (including last month’s Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month with THE HOUSE) heartbreak from Spanish creator Paco Roca on the touching subject of descent into dementia. I knew this was going to be a very bitter-sweet read and so it proved.

 

 

I think if there is one way out of this life that I really don’t want to have to endure it is losing my marbles, and thus with it, all semblance of dignity. Extreme physical pain wouldn’t be fun clearly, but at least one would be present. On the other hand, as Paco demonstrates with some beautifully tender daydream sequences, not entirely knowing what’s approaching seems for some a fairly peaceful meander towards expiration…

“Excuse me. Is this seat taken?”
“Are you going to Instanbul also?”
“Yes.”
“The mountains are so beautiful in the springtime.”

Our main character, the distinguished Emilio, finds himself parked in an assisted living facility by his family, caring as they are, and at the tender mercies of his new roommate, the caddish Miguel, who may well have had a career as a conman, given the way he blatantly perpetuates his various cash-collecting schemes on his unsuspecting vulnerable fellow residents. With no family of his own, he professes love and loyalty to no one. Though, as our story progresses and Emilio finds himself becoming gradually more confused, it’s Miguel who steps up to protect Emilio from himself, and the dreaded, inevitable one-way trip up to the second floor…

 

 

I really enjoyed this work and I can well understand why it was made into a critically acclaimed animated film, voiced by Martin Sheen and Matthew Modine, a few years ago. It has a poignancy running throughout that will inevitably get you choked up, particularly a sequence where it’s explained to Emilio precisely why he is in the facility. It’s an absolute revelation to him and shatters the very bedrock of his existence beyond repair. From that point on, as the story focuses more and more on his inevitable decline, and Miguel’s ever more ingenious and crafty means of hiding it from the attentions of the staff, I found myself welling up.

There’s also a subplot which, as the rear cover blurb states, has echoes of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, albeit very mild ones, as some of the inmates plot a dramatic escape. The blurb also draws a comparison to the wonderful mid-eighties, Oscar-winning film Cocoon directed by Ron Howard, but I can’t make that connection myself, as we know there aren’t going to be any little green men whisking Emilio off for an implausible happy ending. But despite that, it’s a surprisingly uplifting read as we gradually see that love of every kind can thrive in even the most unusual and trying of circumstances.

 

 

Paco’s art matches his gentle storytelling, at times making me feel like he’s a softened version of I.N.J. Culbard. It’s a very soothing style, and I could feel myself being lulled into a rather relaxed frame of mind, much like the sedated and sedentary residents, most of whom simply sit around waiting for the inevitable, lost in their own imaginary worlds which Paco brings to life so convincingly for them, and us.

JR

Buy Wrinkles 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’.

Dragman h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Steven Appleby

Gamayun Tales 1: An Anthology of Modern Russian Folk Tales s/c (£12-99, Nobrow) by Alexander Utkin

The Legend Of Korra: Ruins Of The Empire Part Three (£9-50, Dark Horse) by Michael Dante DiMartino & Michelle Wong

Lupus s/c (£26-99, Top Shelf) by Frederik Peeters

Mental Load: A Feminist Comic (£12-99, Seven Stories) by Emma

Nailbiter vol 1: There Will Be Blood s/c (£8-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Mike Henderson

  1. Rodin h/c (£17-99, NBM) by Eddy Simon & Joel Alessandra

Space Boy vol 6 s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Stephen McCranie

The Weatherman vol 2 s/c (£15-99, Image) by Jody LeHeup & Nathan Fox

Batman: Jekyll And Hyde h/c (£11-99, DC) by Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee, Sean Phillips

Tales From The Dark Multiverse h/c (£29-99, DC) by various

Marvel Action Avengers: The New Danger s/c (£8-99, IDW) by Matthew K. Manning & Jon Sommariva

Marvel Action Spider-Man: A New Beginning s/c (£8-99, IDW) by Delilah S. Dawson & Fico Ossio

Marvel Action Spider-Man: Bad Luck s/c (£8-99, IDW) by Delilah S. Dawson & Fico Ossio

Marvel Action Spider-Man: Spider-Chase s/c (£8-99, IDW) by Erik Burnham & Christopher Jones

Star Wars Adventures vol 8: Defend The Republic! (£8-99, IDW) by Delilah S. Dawson & Derek Charm

Hi-Score Girl vol 1 (£10-99, Square Enix) by Rensuke Oshikiri

Blood On The Tracks vol 1 (£10-99, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

Knights Of Sidonia vol 4 (Master Edition) (£31-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Jujutsu Kaisen vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Gege Akutami

Levius est vol 2 (£8-99, Viz) by Haruhisa Nakata

 

 

 

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