Archive for April, 2020

Page 45 Graphic Novel Reviews early April 2020

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

Featuring Frederick Peeters, Rensuke Oshikiri, Alexander Utkin, Katie O’Neill, Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Joshua Dysart, Paul Azaceta, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Max Fiumara, Dave Stewart…

Lupus (£26-99, Top Shelf) by Frederick Peeters…

“And so that’s how a girl from nowhere managed, in a handful of days, to turn my whole life upside down, making it an inconceivable mess.”

It had all started out so simply, as these things always do… just an interplanetary fishing trip with his oldest friend Tony and loads of drugs.

Well, perhaps more precisely an interplanetary drug trip with his oldest friend Tony and loads of fishing…

But then Sanaa came into Lupus Lablennorre’s life and everything changed in a heartbeat.

Not least because three’s a crowd…

Because let’s face it, meeting a lonely, mysterious girl with the saddest eyes and a complicated back story in a seedy bar is going to upset the dynamic of any duo, drug-addled or otherwise, right? Especially given Lupus and Tony’s friendship, as old and storied as it is, has started to feel rather… strained… recently, as their inherent differences seem to be serving to push them further apart these days, rather than bonding them together like they used to.



So throw a femme fatale into the mix and it’s bound to be deadly for someone…



But just what or who is Sanaa so desperate to run away from? Will Lupus and Tony ever be able to actually talk about the strange, unspoken tension between them? Are the fish biting? All these questions and many more will be danced and danced around in this not-quite-crime, not-quite-romance on-the-road odyssey around the stars as our trio look for somewhere off the galactic grid to hide out.



I’m a huge fan of Frederick AAMA / BLUE PILLS Peeters. AAMA is one of my favourite science fiction graphic novel stories ever, and BLUE PILLS is an incredibly moving love story in the widest possible, most touching of ways, not just the typical romantic sense. Here he has managed to interweave both of these aspects into a beguiling, compelling and very frequently moving epic.

All three main characters – and well pretty much all of the secondary ones too for that matter – are deeply, deeply flawed, and thus their interactions, and lack of them, are full of conflicting and mismatched emotions that cause conflict aplenty.



I think Peeters puts on a masterful display of pathos here, as in turn I felt such pity for Sanaa, Tony and most definitely Lupus, for their collective inabilities to simply be the people who they really want to be. Though frequently, of course, that is also down to the actions, and indeed also inactions, of other highly culpable parties.



In this dysfunctional scenario can Lupus ensure they stay one step ahead of those who are hunting them? Possibly… But probably the biggest question of all is what will happen if they actually do manage to get away…? For Lupus, already fundamentally questioning his own sense of identity and purpose, this increasingly unsettling sequence of events might just be the unmaking and thus making of him.

Reverting to a black and white art style after the glorious colours of AAMA allows Peeters to deploy a lustrously thick brushstroke style of line. At times he uses it sparingly, often depending on the environment I feel, to create intensely stark and brutal surroundings leaving his protagonists completely emotionally exposed, yet at others there is a plethora of detail which is almost hypnotic in its intensity both to us and his characters.

If you want to read something which will challenge your idea of what a science fiction work can be, then this will certainly do it like a long, slow course-correcting re-entry burn. A character study first and foremost, I feel, about how the possibilities for personal change can be seemingly and terrifyingly infinite when suddenly faced with complete and total uncertainty about your future. It might just even change your ideas about yourself. It didn’t make me decide to take up fishing though…


Buy Lupus and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Argh… crap…!! I’ve lost to this guy seven times in a row now…
“I used up my 500 Yen snack money before I knew it!
“He’s got a 27-win streak! Who the heck is this gu… HER…?!!
“She’s in… my sixth grade class… Akira Oono…
“She’s not s’posed to be the type of girl who’d come to a place like this.
“She lives in a totally different world…
“She’s a top student beloved by everyone, and I’ve heard her family’s loaded too!!
“She’s like the polar opposite of me… someone who holes up in an arcade filled with the stench of cigarettes and gets lost in games!!”

The year is 1991, the Gulf War has just broken out and arcades – proper arcades chock-full of glorious single-game stand-up cabinets rather than endless rows of misery-inducing money-gobbling fruit machines – still existed. Hardcore gamer Haruo Yaguchi, who fancies himself as a local legend of arcade action, is about to have his idyllic avoidance-of-existence bubble well and truly bobbled, I mean popped. Sorry, classic old school arcade game in-joke there… If you never frantically chased a level-warping umbrella around the screen on Bubble Bobble then you’ve never truly lived I reckon…



I guess, though, you have to be of a certain age to remember the sheer visceral pleasure of discovering an arcade machine, let alone a whole arcade’s worth, often in the most random of locations, and then playing it to death, hammering your ten pences in one after another in a bid to be the best. Or at least not die very quickly! I mean when your pocket money for the week was a mere fifty pence, you soon get the knack of zapping those aliens trust me.



Thus as a young lad in the eighties I learnt to beat Scramble on a machine randomly plonked behind the checkouts in a Morrison’s supermarket in Morley, used to do battle with the barrel-rolling Donkey Kong in the video shop near my Gran’s, plus I would beg my dad to arrive early at the ABC cinema in Leeds to be able to play Space Invaders, Asteroids AND Missile Command in the foyer. Gorf (certainly the first speaking arcade machine I remember) taunting the space cadets at Richard Dunn Sports Centre meant it was only ever the trigger finger getting any exercise there! Even the local golf club in Batley had a table-top Moon Cresta…

There were also two excellent arcades in Leeds city centre that myself and my best mate Savage would frequent pretty much every Saturday during our excursions into town when we were a little older. An hour or two spent on classics such as Gauntlet and Outrun were an essential part of whiling away the weekend. Trips to random seaside towns or better yet a visiting funfare offered the pleasure of discovering an array of little known machines such as Section Z.



Good times, as they say. Yes, I had my Atari VCS console and my ZX Spectrum, but an arcade machine was its own particular bundle of electronic joy that was just that little bit different, more exciting, somehow. Whether it was the fact that you had to pay to play which immediately sharpened your concentration a little, or that there could be a random audience of people to applaud or take the piss accordingly, well that was very probably a huge part of part of it too.

And yes, I have to admit, back in the eighties, you really didn’t see that many girls in arcades. If you did, they were probably in tow with their boyfriend looking utterly bored wishing they could be off to Woolworths to get their pick and mix, so my teenage self can well understand Haruo Yaguchi’s total astonishment at first getting completely battered on Street Fighter II, then repeatedly bested on pretty much every other machine by a girl… And not just any girl either, but as he points out basically a total swot! Huzzah for the ladies!!



Of course, fast forward to current times and my eight year old avid gamer daughter would be completely baffled by this one-sided sexist scenario. As she mows down the opposition on Fortnite there’s complete sexual equality in being her cannon fodder! She can’t beat me on Street Fighter II yet though… Yep, there’s nothing like repeated Guile knee drops to the death dispensed by a cackling parent to induce a tantrum!



Anyway, I realise I have written virtually nothing about this manga! The joy here is two-fold, firstly listening to Haruo dribble on excitedly about the games of yesteryear making me slightly misty-eyed for the days of my misspent youth, but also the unexpected friendship that develops between our two player team of misfits as Haruo rapidly begins to learn respect for his opponent the hard way.


Buy Hi Score Girl vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

Collects The King Of Birds, The Water Spirit and Tanya Of The Lake into one complete story.

The King Of Birds:

“Now then, best beloved, I will tell you an amazing tale: The King Of Birds.
“It all started with an apple.
“No ordinary apple, but a golden apple that grew on a magic tree in the garden of a warrior princess…
“Anyone who ate a golden apple would become young and mighty again.”

Ooh, that sounds fab – I’ll take two!

It’s a beautiful opening to a beautiful book, o’er-brimming with opulence and mesmerising from cover to cover.

Its narrator is Gamayun, a magical, human-faced bird from Slavic mythology, whose blue face, golden tresses and wide, glowing eyes emerge theatrically from behind fanned, feathered wings, all with more than a hint of the Egyptian.



Almost immediately a knight on his steed gallops over the roofed walls and steals an armful of the ripe, restorative fruit in order to cure his ailing father. But Gamayun is a tease, for she will not reveal what happens next; not of the knight and his father, at least.

No, it is the apple which was dropped which proves so pivotal. It’s one small accident with collateral consequences whose wide-spanning repercussions are enormous.

For, where once was harmony throughout the realms of the birds and the beasts there will be soon be a battle and blood loss, all because one small bird and one tiny beast break their firm friendship over this fallen treasure. Everything, they shared until now: every morsel of scavenged food. But the mouse is too taken by this golden apple to care, whips it away for herself, and is discovered!



The sparrow is aggrieved and flies far south, thousands and thousands of miles, to the kingdom of animals in search of justice. Had the Lion King only considered the complaint, then that might have been the end of it (yet, admittedly, the end of the mouse), but no! And so the ripples of cause and effect continue to emanate as the bird seeks restitution and revenge from the Bird King not only for the mouse’s misdemeanour, but now for the King of Beasts’ haughty snub.

And this, best beloved, is but the beginning of a tale that will take you over vast oceans to three sequestered citadels housing great treasure and, within each, a royal relative. It will transform the fortunes of one lowly merchant who finds within him the compassion to forego harming his natural enemies and prey and, if only he can keep his promises, he will reap rewards for his generosity – as well as a fright for an earlier slight.



I promise you the unpredictable.

Where there are temptations they are generally given into – just look at the mouse and the sparrow! – and when dire warnings are issued you know that almost always they will be disobeyed. But don’t be so sure. Retaliations will be other than what you expect. Anything could happen. So much of it will!

Always remember not just your manners but, forever more importantly, good will and gratitude!

Well, as you’ve probably gathered by now, this is all a bit gorgeous. It’s one of the most luxurious graphic novels I’ve ever laid eyes on. The colours don’t simply glow, in Africa they radiate heat. While on the wing, you can feel the cool sea breezes that help keep the eagle aloft.



The initial battle is ferocious, full of sharp edges from the lion king’s crown of sharpened bones to the talons that scatter them. The eagle’s mighty wings are whipped with colour, slashes of it fanned out in feathers: green, blue and black on fire-burning brown. It’s all teeth and beak, while all-seeing Gamayun stares you straight in the eye: all because of an apple.

Even more majestic is the first of the three citadels, rising from the deepest blue sea like a gigantic, earthen eyrie. Its copper colour is complemented by clouds billowing above the horizon while the ocean is reflected in the eagle king’s wings, just as it reflects the brighter blue sky up above. This is exactly the sort of spectacle of monumental, fantastical antiquity which has lit my imagination since first encountering the films of Ray Harryhausen. Even Gamayun cannot help but gaze in wonder, turning her head to direct your own eyes to its apex, its external “throne”.



And this, best beloved, is still just the beginning!

No, really it is. Even this graphic novel is just the beginning, a first instalment to whet your appetite for what is to come. I did warn you that Gamayun is a tease. Over and again she promises to pick a thread up later – and she will, but not yet. No single tale is completed: not the thief’s nor the merchant’s; not the King of the Beasts’ nor the King of the Birds’ – although the eagle may believe that his is.

Oh, you will be thoroughly dangled! But you will relish every second!

What is up for discussion here? Loyalty, harmony, generosity; patience and priorities; retribution, to be sure, and the real risks of war. Gratitude is always a good thing.



But, best beloved, I will keep you no longer, for I see that you are eager to begin. So I only add this: make sure you keep turning the pages right unto the very end, and remember that blue-skinned is beautiful. Hmmmm….

The Water Spirit:

Ah, best beloveds, now sit yourselves down!

I see you’ve returned to learn what became of the humble merchant who found and rescued a wounded eagle, then nursed it back to health. It transpired that this mighty raptor was none other than the King of the Birds, a blue-skinned being with three regal sisters, one of whom rewarded her brother’s saviour with her most prized possession, a heavy, gleaming gold chest.

Having soaked up the spectacle of three stunning palaces, our lowly merchant now wends his way home, for he has been gone from the wife whom he loves with all his heart for almost a year, and he is desperate to see her once more. Alas, even as he draws near – to within but a few days’ walk of his house – the foulest of weather descends: snow, icy rain and hailstones as big as his fist. And he does have two very big fists.

With nowhere to shelter, he opens the treasure chest, perhaps seeking to snuggle up inside, even though the King of the Birds commanded that it be left locked until the merchant was safely home. But that’s the thing with any such strictures: they’re begging to be broken, aren’t they?

Well, wonders of wonders, my best beloveds, for the merchant will not have to struggle!



Instead the casket transforms itself into a vast, golden palace. Structured for maximum strength, it’s a little bit Soviet, but with windows that shimmer with banded ocean-blue, sea green and salmon pink, as if aspects of another dimension. Indeed, it proves even bigger on the inside than on the outside, and surprisingly homely, with a feast laid out and candles all welcomingly lit. Wine is poured as if by an invisible servant and, after dessert plucked from a bowl of fruit, a candlestick hovers then shows the traveller to bed. A four-poster bed! And, oh, what a glorious view!

The winter weather has blown over to reveal the most tranquil of lakes, a crescent moon’s reflection streaming over the still, midnight blue waters. The merchant does not recall a lake in this region, but no matter. He bites into the rosy-red apple he’d saved for later and pfft – there’s a worm wriggling inside – so he tosses the apple out of the window and PLOP into the water below.

“A foolish mistake,” notes our narrator.

And so it seems, for there’s something slumbering in the shadowy depths, about to be woken, and about to take umbrage at our merchant’s distinct lack of manners and complete disregard for Local Authority Planning Permission. (Article 11 Notice, if you don’t own all the site).

Still, one lucky fish gets a free worm-supper.



GAMAYUN TAKES VOL 1: THE KING OF THE BIRDS began with an apple at its core too. They’re so often the seed of a story. Ask Eve!

I urge you to get a gander at that, for it dealt with the premise and artwork in depth, whereas I am on holiday – can you tell?

We are far from done in this second instalment, for even more potential tales are opened up with promises to be told, and there are more oaths exchanged with the alarming repercussions. Top tip: never shake hands on an agreement without knowing what you’re agreeing to; never make a deal without knowing its details. If you’ve been away from home for nearly a year, there’s quite a good chance that there have been changes. Hopefully the bed linen, for one.

If you relished David B’s HASIB & THE QUEEN OF SERPENTS, then I recommend this wholeheartedly, with only the caveat that David B delivered an entire epic, each of whose threads, however digressive, was woven together to form a complete tapestry. Here we conclude with an even more intriguing, whiplash, OMG cliff-hanger than book one!



It’s equally luxurious, though. The treasure-chest transmogrification aside, I spent an entire hour staring at a single image of the lake when revisited at first light, marvelling at the flatness of its waters. They’re the flattest thing in the world, are lakes – liquid does find its own level – and it’s a very clever artist who can render such a sheer surface in perfect contrast to the vertical thrust of that which emerges from, in front or behind it.

I also liked the different visual treatments of what we are witnessing and what we are listening to. Golden-tressed Gamayun appears in occasional asides, either addressing us directly or commenting on what she has just watched replayed herself, glancing in the panels’ direction. Gamayun is all sleek and smooth; what we watch has a certain rugged texture to it.

“I wish I could help you somehow, poor boy,” mourns the invisible golden palace’s inhabitant.

Says Gamayun, “Oh, darling, you will”.



Finally, like HASIB & THE QUEEN OF SERPENTS, this mythological excursion also offers broken-promise offenders the opportunity of redemption – second chances, if you will – although there appears to be a far greater price to be paid.

“Nine years has passed joyfully, but even the longest day must have an end.”

Oh dear. The holiday’s over. I’m being sent back to boarding school, aren’t I?


Buy Gamayun Tales 1: An Anthology of Modern Russian Folk Tales s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Princess Princess Ever After s/c (£8-99, Oni Press Inc.) by Katie O’Neill…

“You heard what she said… and she means it. I thought the tower was the only place for me. But then you came. Somehow, seeing how excited you were made me want to escape. But now…”
“I’ll protect you, Sadie! I have a sword, a unicorn, and kick-butt hair!”
“It’s true, your hair is kick-butt. And I trust you.”

A new printing of the first work from Katie O’Neill who has since gone from strength to strength, particularly in terms of her story-telling and dialogue but also her art, which has got lighter of touch, with AQUICORN COVE, THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY and THE TEA DRAGON FESTIVAL, since I wrote this review.

Who better to rescue a princess in distress than a princess not in a dress? Katie O’Neill’s very sweet take on how a princess can be just as capable and daring-do when it comes to staging a rescue and helping another princess overthrow her villainous sibling, finding true love with each other in the process, certainly has its heart in the right place, but I couldn’t get completely past the thin storyline and stilted dialogue. Nice, clean, colourful art though, again a very cartoony style that’s obviously influenced by many a current TV show.



If the aim of this is purely in helping educate teeny-tinies about sexuality, then I think it hits the mark perfectly, job done. As the delightful John Allison has insightfully written on the back cover (not on each one obviously, that would take forever) “… a big-hearted fable where the boxes we’re expected to fit into are simply dragons to be slain.”



Beyond that, whilst it is lovely, and fun, it’s basically a very simple story and that dialogue is so badly in need of loosening up. It’s all a bit Emma Watson’s enunciation in the first Harry Potter film…




Buy Princess Princess Ever After and read the Page 45 review here

BPRD: 1946 – 1948 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Joshua Dysart, Paul Azaceta, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Max Fiumara, Dave Stewart…

Of the concluding part of this collected trilogy I wrote…

“During the war, the Germans were attempting to break through a barrier between worlds, to access some power that they could use against the allies. They failed… and yet they didn’t fail.”
“I’ve never heard anything about this. How is that possible?”
“You never had the clearance, Anna. But I checked Colonel Betz, and the State Department, and you have it now. As I said, they failed to win the war, but a gateway was opened… and a creature did come through.”
“My God, it’s just like a little devil. Looks like we got it instead of the Nazis, huh? Is it still in custody?”
“Er, actually I’m raising him.”
“RAISING HIM?!! Raising him to be what?!”

Third part of the 1940s’ arc starring the founder of the BPRD Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, revealing cases from the bureau’s earliest days, and of course the adventures of young Hellboy. Not quite as action-packed as the two preceding volumes, 1946 and 1947, but still great fun, as Trevor is invited by the US military to investigate the strange monsters popping up at a remote nuclear test facility. Positively utopian days compared to the HELL ON EARTH the bureau is having to deal with in the modern day, frankly.



Hellboy, meanwhile, is going through a sensitive phase, which is going to require a hacksaw to resolve, and in the process finally clear up one of the great Hellboy mysteries. Also, everyone’s favourite demon in a Russian child’s body returns, although it seems the only person who can see her, aside from us, of course, is the Professor. Spooky. Which is the point obviously. Given her current… status… in modern times BRPD I am intrigued to see how her pandemonius story is going to play out…



[NOTE: now modern era BPRD has completely wrapped up, I think the word badly would sum it up…]


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’.

Cayrels Ring h/c (£22-99, A Wave Blue World) by Shannon Lenz &  Marian Churchland, Alchemichael, Simon Roy, Brandon Graham, Grim Wilkins, Faryl Dalrymple, Filya Bratukhn, Aaron Conley, Aaron Petovello, Dustin Weaver, John Le, Francois Vigneault, Pablo Clark, Cassie Hart

Chrononauts vol 2 (£13-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Eric Canete

Claire: Justice Ninja vol 1 (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Joe Brady & Kate Ashwin

Corpse Talk Ground-Breaking Rebels (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy

I Am Brown h/c (£11-99, Lantana Publishing) by Ashok Banker & Sandhya Prabhat

Iron Maiden: Legacy Of The Beast vol 1 s/c (£8-99, IDW) by Llexi Leon, Ian Edginton & Kevin West

Money Shot s/c (£15-99, Vault) by Sarah Beattie, Tim Seeley & Rebekah Isaacs

The Naughtiest Unicorn (£5-99, Egmont) by Pip Bird & David O’Connell

The Naughtiest Unicorn On A School Trip (£5-99, Egmont) by Pip Bird & David O’Connell

Oblivion Song vol 4 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Lorenzo De Felici

Pretty Deadly vol 3: The Rat s/c (£13-99, Image) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios

The Rise And Fall Of The Trigan Empire vol 1 (£19-99, Rebellion) by Mike Butterworth & Don Lawrence

Trees vol 3 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard

Batman Allies: Alfred Pennyworth s/c (£16-99, DC) by various

Superman: The Unity Saga vol 2: House Of El s/c (£16-99, DC) by Brian Michael Bendis & Ivan Reis, various

Conan The Barbarian vol 2: The Life And Death Of Conan Book Two s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Mahmud A. Asrar,  Gerardo Zaffino

Immortal Hulk vol 6: We Believe In Bruce Banner s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Joe Bennett

X-Men / Avengers: Onslaught s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by various

Mob Psycho 100 vol 4 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by One

One-Punch Man vol 19 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata