Posts in the ‘Reviews’ Category

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2017 week three

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Featuring Kaare Andrews, Paloma Dawkins, Santiago García, David Rubín, Pat McHale, Jim Campbell, Rob Williams, Ryan Kelly and more!

Includes much-expanded News Section below!

Beowulf h/c (£26-99, Image) by Santiago García & David Rubín.

“To idlyBeowulf cover live is to wait for death.”

It won’t be long coming.

I give it three pages.

Even the first eerie offering foreshadows the doom. Lit like Charles Burns, an underground river cascades through a bleak, black cavern below jagged stalactites and knotted, invasive roots. Lurking in the darkness, a pair of glowing, inhuman eyes incarnadine the gristly, reptilian, obsidian flesh surrounding them.

Something has already had its fill.

Up above on the snow-swept, pink-dawn plains something hasn’t so much raised a dog’s hackles as left them buffeted weakly by the wind. A deafening murder of blood-stained carrion crows has formed and is feasting, fighting each other for the most prized pickings: the eyes. There appears to be a lot of carrion.

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Behind them still stand the fractured remains of the Danes’ banqueting hall of Heorot, if only barely. Its broad timbers have been shattered like wooden toothpicks and smeared with blood.

“Fortune favours the Danes!
“I, Hrothgar, son of Beow, son of Scyld, arrived on these shores in but a humble driftboat…
“Now I lead the Danes’ most glorious era!”

It’s very well done: Hrothgar’s boastful pride is presented through flashback panels embedded above the very same pages on which he discovers its painfully brutal rebuttal in the form of the corpse-ridden obliteration of the very hall which he hailed at the Danes’ greatest glory. It is a perfect piece of juxtaposition, his face falling between past and present as he comprehends his own hubris.

“Who dared massacre our own?” he demands, post-pyre, while we’re shown a sequence of panels inlaid once more above, showing that self-same, limb-rending massacre with mere glimpses of the intruder: a gigantic arm, eyes and teeth which will prove many and set fast in a crocodilian jaw.

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Welcome to a big book of blood, guts and the shredding of sinews. Sinews will feature prominently, as will cleverly inset panels.

The first known manuscript of Beowulf – following many centuries of being passed down through the oral tradition – is dated roughly around 1000 AD. Even once written it preserved the importance of the oral tradition for sung stories featured prominently. These were how names were remembered, how histories were celebrated and how eternal glory became a goal far more treasured than mere trinkets.

“You’ve no debt to my kingdom. Why would you come to die so far from all you know?”
“Eternal glory, M’lord. After all… gold’s spent, life ends. Only glory remains eternal.”

So speaks Beowulf, more than a decade after Hrothgar commanded his finest warriors to seek out the murderous demon Grendel and exact retribution for the massacre.

“May the fury of Danes rain upon the earth.”

It didn’t. They failed. They have since retreated to a fortified town high up an isle like Mont St Michel, only land-bound. Now Beowulf has learned of this Grendel, has come to slay the beast with his bare hands, and as the stranger leads his men up the steep, icy path through its outskirts more inset panels show their own furtive glances and the reception by bird, beast and man alike.

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The very finest deployment of these “windows”, however, lies within a double-page spread of the Danes’ new banqueting hall, glowing red late at night after the warriors have eaten and drunk their fill and lie sleeping on its thick-planked, bear wooden floor. It is so tight with tension that I stared at its details for a good half an hour. And there’s a lot of subtle detail.

At the far right, furthest from the entrance lies Beowulf, naked on fur. The others are clothed but oblivious to the creature who, having ambushed the sentry with its prehensile tail then bitten him in two, has gained entrance. Now, seen from above, Grendel slithers stealthily and unimpeded across the hall in four movements, its freedom to roam emphasised by the absence of vertical panel borders. Instead, multiple square panels hung in mid-air like free-floating portraits depict close-ups of the demon’s potential victims as its gaze darts left and right, assessing them, sniffing them, its steaming jaws mere inches from their faces. But Garcia and Rubin aren’t done, for there is an additional clutch of panels tangential to each of those already inset, all in bright red and revealing the ribbed, skin-peeled muscles underlying their arms, chests and heads. The beast can see through to their actual prowess: let’s call it Grendel-vision.

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That’s about as far through the story as I’m prepared to take you, except to say that the next few pages come with a slight surprise which has sent this book straight to one of our top shelves. Consider that a Parental Warning for I have known Gareth Hinds’ interpretation of BEOWULF (back in stock and on our site in a fortnight – I’ve found an American edition now that Walker Books have sold out) be bought for the whole family. This gladdens my heart but, if you want to avoid some awkward dinner-table chit-chat, I would probably not be sharing this with your young sons and daughters.

I will also add that the title of this book is BEOWULF, not Grendel, and it is much wider in scope that you might initially imagine.

Comparison points for the art come in form of Becky Cloonan, Paul Pope and Rafael Grampa. It’s not as faithful in its literary nuances as Gareth Hinds’ version but it is absolutely riveting in its own right. There’s no real point in replicating others’ interpretations, and what I can promise you in lieu of the strictest tradition is visual innovation and jaw-dropping, jaw-splitting spectacle.

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This is an over-sized book bursting with page after page of visceral, slice-and-dice conflict and gore as the stakes increase exponentially in line with each successive, monstrous adversary so that the pages, however large, can no longer contain the leviathans that lie within. At this point we reference Jack Kirby, Geof Darrow, Michael Oeming et al. None of those are random.

But it’s not just about the battles. The primal, raw sensuality is maintained by feasts depicting mouths dripping with rare-cooked meat and red-berry juices. And, oh lord, the colouring! I don’t think you could make this much more luminous or lambent if you’d lit it on fire: subterranean, glowing greens poisoned by reds and a dragon’s breath which appears to fill the air not just with cinders but it’s as if every single molecule were a curled piece of combusted paper, blinding and burning your eyes.

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If that weren’t enough, the coup de grace comes in the form of an epilogue so unexpected but also so exceptionally apposite for a tale that’s been passed down through so many generations and translated into so many different languages.

Not quite sure what the end papers mean.

SLH

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

Renato Jones: The One Percent Season 1 s/c (£8-50, Image) by Kaare Kyle Andrews.

TheRenato Jones vol 1 cover ‘Super Rich Are Super F***ed’ declares the front cover in sneaky spot-varnish, if you tilt it a little in light.

The contents are equally mischievous and uncompromising in the many ways they stick it to the man, to the establishment, to those so imperviously entrenched at the top by their obscene wealth and the ethic-free implementation of that wealth in order to amass even more. You know what I mean: tax evasion condoned and preserved by politicians in their pockets; slave-condition sweatshops; purchased immunity from prosecution; deliberately finite functioning of the latest technology to encourage upgrading as often as possible.

Warren Ellis calls this:

“A sort of hallucinatory rage pop ‘PUNISHER from Occupy’. It’s gorgeous and also demented.”

With which he scores a deliciously succinct bullseye.

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However, Kaare’s so cleverly crafted set-up comes with its own wider implications for Renato Jones. His targets are the titular One Percent who own half the world’s wealth, and he’s now ONE of them. So unlike the Punisher who sets his sights on distant targets, these are all connected, up close and personal, and there will be ramifications. Did I say “now one of them”? He hasn’t earned the money nor has he inherited it. Well, he has, but perhaps it wasn’t his to inherit.

Like VELVET, LAZARUS and THE WICKED + THE DIVINE it’s one of those many titles perfect for readers who may want to wean themselves off the more inbred corporate comics, relentlessly eating themselves then regurgitating their same old storylines, increasingly nutrient-free simply to keep filling the shelves for their own One Percent’s benefit. Here you’ll encounter all the action you crave, but with much more besides, creator-owned, creator-controlled and creator-enraged, so it’s all the more blistering. Andrews is utterly enraged and this comic comes infused with a fury both verbal and visual, so you really won’t see what’s coming next.

“Action! Adventure! Affluenza!” screams one cover.

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Then there’s the bludgeoning refrain initially after each opening page against stark black and white:

“They’ve run our economy into the ground, destroying jobs and opportunity.
“They’ve taken homes from families. Turned the middle class into poor and the poor into felons.
“They’ve stolen, thieved, bribed and killed. But the ONEs have brought their way out of judgement and persecution…”

What a bunch of bankers.

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Kaare Andrews has long been one of comics’ greatest chameleons with a new style to suit each project. Here he throws a great many of them into the same series and splashed in photographic advertisements for perfume and cologne for good measure. Calvin Klein’s “Obsession Pour Homme” has become “Oppression – For Everyone (Renato Jones, justicier de luxe)”.

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Full-colour flashbacks nonetheless indicate their age by being seemingly sun-bleached, printed in the old Ben-Day dots you may remember from comics of yore, and slightly scarified as if once folded and put in a pocket or the back of the mind, the memories only now unfolding again, triggered by something that is seen, smelled or overheard. Isn’t that clever?

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You’ll find colour, black and white, and black and white with just a hint of cheek-bruised colour suggesting physical abuse. There’s plenty of that, and as the cover makes clear this isn’t for kids. Ooooh no.

But as well as being filled with invention it is brave to boot. Who would expect three consecutive double-page spreads, none of them used for action? The first two feature full-bleed confrontational close-ups / standoffs of eyes and nose only.

For the main action I perceived elements of Frank Miller circa DK1, especially the teeth, and indeed there’s a brief rooftop reference to its most iconic image in silhouette against lightning immediately following what I recognised – rightly or wrongly – as a Kingpin work-out as seen in Miller’s first DAREDEVIL run. Mostly, however, Andrews is emphatically his own man and master and his overhead depiction of a cul-de-sac in a suburb is exactly as he describes it thus:

“Neighbourhoods were once designed as grids, a simple landscape of left and right turns to get anywhere you wanted. The equality of choice. But modern suburbs are a maze of dead ends and looping roads. When you’re above them, they look like footprints.
“Just another little joke amongst the ONEs.”

I promised you anger, didn’t I? How about this, over a factory tannoy system in China:

“Welcome to Tech-Chi. We manufacture tomorrow today…
“Workers, be happy to have this job. Remember others are waiting to take your place…
“Bathroom breaks are earned, not taken…”

It’s not even hyperbole. When our Dominique sojourned at a certain international delivery firm’s call centre, she had to put her hand up if she wanted to go to the loo.

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One of my favourite sequences occurs at a political rally with a Presidential candidate – one of the ONE – disingenuously stirring up sympathy for the beleaguered with crocodile tears and a rhetoric you may find familiar. The punchline is a such a sweet play on words:

“Hate, REAL HATE has always made us great…
“I HATE not having jobs for this country.
“I HATE watching the ‘everyman’ struggle.
“I HATE the terror that threatens our peace.
“I HATE criminals and rapists who threaten our women and children.
“I’m SCARED at what this world is becoming.
“And I HATE not being able to do anything about it.
“I am asking you to join me. To unite in HATE and FEAR. Because if we hate a thing enough, if we truly fear it, we DESTROY IS BEFORE IT DESTROYS US!”

Wait for it…

“Let’s MAKE AMERICA HATE AGAIN!”

SLH

Buy Renato Jones: The One Percent Season 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Summerland (£7-50, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Paloma Dawkins.

“The world around us is changing colour.
“I am always changing colour.”

Delicious, delirious and drop-dead gorgeous, this is a neon-bright, rainbow, Day-Glo affair.

I don’t use “delirious” idly, either.

Wide-eyed and innocent and fundamentally optimistic, it is light on script and bright on shared experiences: the wonder of nature.

This is one to meditate on.

At one point Dawkins quietly, solemnly and self-promisingly declares:

“I have to remember…
“Every single detail…
“I won’t forget.”

This rings ever so true to me.

Whenever I stroll through the Derbyshire Dales or even cross the River Trent on my way into work on some mist-shrouded morning, I honestly do consciously promise myself that I will remember every single detail. I soak up eye-candy for future reflection and remembrance. It will sustain me, nourish me and reinvigorate me when the city closes in.

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Dawkins captures that aspect – that specific imperative – to perfection.

Santana and Chucho sneak off from a communal Summerland beach party where the seas sparkle with bioluminescent plankton and so do the shores they’re washed up on as well. They kick its wet sand up into the air, and the all-but-invisible plankton gives off radiant evidence of its existence.

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The stuff of stardust in the sand beneath our feet!

They visit the Graveyard of Exoskeletons: limpets and winkles and the dead carapace of a crab whose life lingers on through its extraordinary shape and its compartmentalised intricacies.

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“The sunrise makes the rock cliff glow a brilliant red.
“And it illuminates the yellow leaves of the crab apple orchard.”

Sunlight is brilliant, isn’t it? And stars are heavenly.

Stardom and cities…? Perhaps not so much.

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Many years later and things may have taken a turn for the kohl-crying worse.

SLH

Buy Summerland and read the Page 45 review here

Over The Garden Wall vol 1 (£14-99, Titan) by Pat McHale & Jim Campbell…

“Would anyoneOver The Garden Wall cover like a slice of chocolate cake?”
“Please.”
“Can’t digest it.”
“Hey, that’s not chocolate cake. That’s just air. Air isn’t real.”
“Oh, we’re making believe!”
“Yes, it’s fun playing tea party instead of doing chores all day.”
“ROROP!”
“Shh… I noticed too, detective! First the salt went missing, and now the chocolate cake is gone! Something is very wrong… There must be a food magician among us, making everything invisible!”

Ahhh… how sweet. Not invisible chocolate cake, obviously. For whilst the calorie count might hit the spot, I can’t imagine it would be a tasty treat at all. Unless it really had just been made invisible by a food magician, I suppose. However, if I could do that, I’d be busy putting invisible cream cakes on peoples’ chairs rather than their plates heh heh…

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No, what is sweet, is that this is new material! I had mistakenly thought it was merely an adaptation of the exquisitely dark and dreamy cartoon, of which practically everyone who has ever seen it is forlornly pining for a second season. I suspect, like everyone else, that is not going to happen, which I reluctantly respect, so it is therefore wonderful that we have some excellent additional material.

Regular review readers will know my thoughts on media tie-ins: it only ever goes one of two ways, that being brilliant or dreadful. This is exactly like a lovely big yummy slice of chocolate cake as half-brothers Greg and Wirt stumble into mildly hazardous surreal situation after situation in the vast wood known only as errr… the Unknown. With only sarcastic bluebird Beatrice and the old woodsman to help them, will they ever make it home? Or indeed find any cake?!

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The main reason this is such great material is undoubtedly because it’s penned by the show creator Pat McHale and illustrated by the show storyboard artist Jim Campbell. The fact that they are continuing to collaborate on this property still gives me the faintest shred of hope for a second season. Meanwhile, we have this, plus also a forthcoming ongoing series starring Anna the woodsman’s daughter and of course, Greg. I wonder if he’d like some Baileys in a shoe to wash that chocolate cake down with? Ooops, wrong Greg!

JR

Buy Over The Garden Wall vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Unfollow vol 2: God Is Watching (£13-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, Marguerite Sauvage, Ryan Kelly…

“Someone tell Batman I just stole his boat.”
“This boat is not Batman’s, Dave. Batman is not real.”
“You don’t say.”

Now despite the fact that Dave occasionally has problems with what’s real and what’s not – like the talking leopard only he can see – he’s probably picked the worst possible person to crack such a joke to, given Deacon, the insane mercenary, sees ‘the Dragon’ everywhere and in everyone. Mind you, that leopard is just about to appear on the wing of said plane to inform Dave he’s going to have to kill a whole bunch of foreign people to survive his current situation, that someone he likes very much is going to betray him, and that Deacon the insane mercenary’s imaginary dragon, which is always apparently coming to destroy everything, is… well, already here… Ah.

At this point I should also probably add the 140 apparently random (and apparently lucky) recipients of dead social media entrepreneur Larry Ferrel’s 17 billion dollars are already down to 134… So the original120 million dollars each from UNFOLLOW VOL 1 has gone up somewhat, and will climb considerably more so by the end of this volume as the bodies of ‘the 140’ – as the news cycle has oh so imaginatively christened them – begin to drop / bleed out / combust rather more rapidly. But who is responsible for the increasing concentration of wealth?

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Well, we know Ferrel’s mad aide-de-camp Rubenstein, with his golden Aztec mask that whispers sweet nothings to him, is on the hunt, having managed to inveigle his way onto the magic list at the last minute, but are there other more clandestine players in the game? Oh yes. Plus a few other not-so-subtle ones trying to muscle in on the action by offering their protection at the point of a gun. All for a reasonable price, of course! Which is the situation Dave currently finds himself in, being ‘helped’ by the Russian mafia.

Social butterfly and spoilt sociopath Courtenay, meanwhile, has followed blade-legged, heavily tattooed author Akira to his private island, where he has been gathering as many of the 140 as possible in his high-walled peace commune for their mutual security. Because collecting all those targets in one place is a great idea obviously… Also, how does Akira’s dystopian doomsday novella, seemingly the inspiration for Ferrel’s crazy idea to dispose of his cash, factor into matters?

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Mike Dowling, Marguerite Dowling and Ryan Kelly share the art duties on this second volume. I’m not usually a massive fan of chopping and changing the artist on a title like this, but actually given the large cast of characters we rotate around, it doesn’t particularly bother me, despite their differing styles. They are all great artists anyway.

Rob Williams keeps the mystery factor high, and even manages to throw in one very huge whopping surprise, whilst weaving this tale of social media-inspired madness. Practically every main character seems at least one hinge short of a cupboard and I am happy to report I genuinely have no idea where this is going or what the endgame could possibly be yet. Given the rate at which the 140 are expiring / being pruned, though, I may not have to wait that long to find out!

JR

Buy Unfollow vol 2: God Is Watching and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 15: Highwater (£22-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Marcelo Frusin, Guy Davis, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cameron Stewart.

The second half of Azzarello’s run, finally revealing who landed John in American hot water to begin with, and why.

Lots of grim S&M, and other assorted worries.

Before then we journey back in time to London for a two-chapter instalment illustrated by SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE’S Guy Davis, while Constantine was still lead singer of the punk band Mucous Membranes, in which we learn that even then John was pissing on long-suffering taxi-slave Chas from great heights. At the most inopportune moment imaginable.

I know a few people cancelled their regular order during Brian and Marcelo’s run, but I can’t for the life of me think why. Perhaps because it was a trek across America.

HELLBLAZER hadn’t felt this dangerous since Alan Moore, with some fantastic shadows from Frusin, and ranks right up there for me with Ennis’ main stint, albeit a completely different take.

John’s not your mate here. He’s silent, saturnine and wicked as sin. If you want to hook then reel the trickster in, you’re on a suicide mission. Same if you want to befriend him.

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Please see HELLBLAZER VOL 14 for a much more expansive analysis. What a horrible cover this has.

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 15: Highwater and read the Page 45 review here

Prometheus: Life And Death s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & Andrea Mutti…

“…They’re back.Prometheus cover They’ve God damn well come back.”
“Please, God, tell me you’re joking.
“Sorry, kid. That’s the way it is. I’m looking at one through my scope right now. A God damn Engineer.”
“I can’t… I just… not after everything. I can’t face them again too. We’re screwed.”

No, not Ridley Scott gee-ing himself up for the forthcoming Prometheus film sequel (entitled Alien Covenant, which as it happens, looks more than half decent from the trailer), but one of the surviving grunts left behind on Tartarus (LV-797) after the cataclysmic and rather bloody events of PROMETHEUS: FIRE AND STONE.

Well, the whole FIRE AND STONE storyline was spectacularly brutal actually, running through the ALIENS: FIRE AND STONE, PROMETHEUS: FIRE AND STONE, ALIEN VS PREDATOR: FIRE AND STONE and PREDATOR: FIRE AND STONE trades in that order. Oh, and then the subsequent finale PREDATOR: FIRE AND STONE – OMEGA one-shot which didn’t get collected anywhere except in the massive omnibus hardback that came out later… Righhhht, nice one Dark Horse. Actually, more of a inconsequential coda than a true finale, but still…

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PREDATOR: LIFE AND DEATH actually forms the first part of this new storyline, rather than the last this time around. Events in that, and this volume, basically take place one year on from their respective FIRE AND STONE parts, and, in case you were wondering, which I’m sure you weren’t, forty-three years after the Aliens film. (I’m resisting as hard as I can to control my inner Bill Paxton, even after all these years, but it’s tricky!!)

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What’s also different about this second comics’ merry-go-round is that Dan GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY / WILD’S END Abnett is writing all four parts of it, along with any surprise after-thoughts presumably. This almost certainly explains why this arc feels even tighter and more relentlessly paced. The action does not stop.

If you’re remotely a fan of Aliens, Predators, Aliens fighting Predators and indeed even Engineers wiping the floor with everyone, with lots of soft, squelchy humans getting mashed in the middle, you will love this. The art is from a different artist for each tie-in, and here Andrea REBELS VOL 1 Mutti brings his trademark ultra-fine pencil lines to bear on the inevitable mayhem that ensues from the moment another group of grunts lands on Tartarus. Do these people never learn?!

JR

Buy Prometheus: Life And Death s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

Kill Or Be Killed vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Sister BFFs (£4-00, ) by Philippa Rice

Snow Blind s/c (£13-99, Boom!) by Ollie Masters & Tyler Jenkins

The Goddamned vol 1: The Flood (£8-99, Image) by Jason Aaron & R. M. Guera

Weathercraft h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring

Prophet vol 5: Earth War (£15-99, Image) by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy & Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, others

Abe Sapien vol 8: Desolate Shore (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara

Chew vol 12: Sour Grapes (£14-99, Image) by John Layman & Rob Guillory

Star Wars vol 4: Last Flight Of The Harbinger (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Chris Eliopoulos & Jorge Molina, various

Steven Universe vol 1 (UK Edition) (£10-99, Titan) by Jeremy Sorese & Coleman Engle

Sunstone vol 5 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Stjepan Sejic

Flash vol 1: Lightning Strikes Twice s/c (Rebirth) (£15-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & Carmine Di Giandomenico, others

Harley Quinn vol 5: The Joker’s Last Laugh s/c (£14-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner, Chad Hardin

Justice League vol 1: The Extinction Machines s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Bryan Hitch & Tony S. Daniel

Mighty Thor vol 1: Thunder In Her Veins s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman

Old Man Logan vol 3: The Last Ronin s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino

Scarlet Witch vol 2: World Of Witchcraft s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by James Robinson & Marguerite Sauvage, Annie Wu, Tula Lotay, Joelle Jones, Kei Zama

Blade Of The Immortal Omnibus vol 1 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 8 (£14-99, Yen Press) by Natsuki Takaya

News

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ITEM! Here we go again!

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017 is open to creators, publishers and retailers to come and join Page 45 in making a ridiculous amount of money! Also, having fun.

What an electrifying poster! Please click to enlarge! And please apply now!

LICAF 2017 runs from Friday 13th October to Saturday 16th October with the exhibitors’ Kendal Clock Tower open on the Friday and Saturday. ENTRY REMAINS FREE!

If you’ve any doubts about why you should be there (comics readers, retailers, publishers and creators like), here’s Page 45’s Report on The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 in which we OBLITERATED our all-time biggest weekend sales record!

I’ve seen the Official Comic Creator Guest List for LICAF 2017 – which is all done and dusted – and it will knock your blinkin’ socks off: some enormous international names including two Page 45 customer female favourites (and indeed female customer favourites).

Here’s the latest American National Cartoonists Society Magazine with a massive report on LICAF 2016 beginning on page 9.

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ITEM! There are some absolute beauties in the current edition of PREVIEWS free online at Page 45 for comics and graphic novels shipping from March onwards. Please consider pre-ordering via our website or emailing / phoning in to add to your Page 45 Standing Order Pull List. We’ll have them whizzing off to you worldwide on arrival or pop them straight into your file.

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  1. SOUND OF THE WORLD BY HEART with its New York cityscapes looks astounding. Lots of interior art for SOUND OF THE WORLD BY HEART on the Magnetic Press website.

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  1. Fabrizio Dori totally nails Gauguin for the latest in SelfMadeHero’s Art Masters Series. Its English translation will out on 6th March. I don’t have a pre-order page for you on this one, but there’s plenty to whet your appetite at that link and you can always phone / email. (I have no idea what is up with this numerical formatting!)

Item Grass Kings

  1. GRASS KINGS #1 is the latest series from Matt Kindt & Tyler Jenkins. Tyler Jenkins was the artist on SNOW BLIND whose collected edition is fresh in stock this week and will be reviewed next week. Father / son generation-gap nightmare leading crime-ridden nightmare.

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  1. John Allison’s all-ages BAD MACHINERY VOLUME 7 appears to have undergone a change in format if I’m not much mistaken. You can read Page 45’s reviews of all things John Allison here but why not start with BAD MACHINERY VOL 6 in which I really get into its mechanics.

ITEM Ganges 6 cover   ITEM Crickets 6 cover

  1. Kevin Huizenga’s GANGES #6 and Sammy Harkham’s CRICKETS #6

Well yes, you could wait as usual until the day after they’re published and be disappointed once again as everyone finally descends upon us and we so sell instantly out or – radical idea, this – you could order these things now if you know that you want them, so giving us the confidence to order in greater depth.

Item Terms And Conditions

  1. Finally – and this is frankly insane – Sikoryak is adapting to comics iTunes’ absurdly long and labyrinthine TERMS AND CONDITIONS by illustrating and so mocking it, word for word, in the style of some classic comicbook creators. His Mike Mignola is impeccable and adds just the right level of menace. More full-page examples of Sikoryak’s TERMS AND CONDITIONS here.
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Simone Lia & Hannah Berry at Page 45’s 21st Birthday Party signing.

ITEM! Endearing interview with FLUFFY’s Simone Lia.

It’s mostly on the subject of Simone Lia’s all-ages THEY DIDN’T TEACH THIS AT WORM SCHOOL in stock and reviewed by Page 45. Did you come to her Page 45 21st Birthday Party signing? No? And you call me a buffoon!

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ITEM! Families! The PHOENIX COMIC WEEKLY for kids is celebrating its 5th Anniversary. It is a hallmark of quality which is why we stock almost every single collected edition whose reviews you can read right there at that link.

Here’s hat-tastic Sarah McIntryre’s PHOENIX COMIC launch blog from way back then. Sarah’s blogs are always the best with photos of creators you’ll never find elsewhere.

Pop her into our search engine for her very own all-ages comics and illustrated prose co-created with the ridiculous witty Philip Reeve who once Tweeted me “Rampaging foodstuffs are a bit of a recurring theme in our books…”

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Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntryre’s CAKES IN SPACE

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2017 week two

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Featuring Pushwagner’s Soft City, Sarah Glidden’s rolling blackouts, Shaun Tan, Junjo Ito and explosions.

Rolling Blackouts h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Sarah Glidden.

Sarah Glidden and rolling-blackouts-coverher fellow journalists are on a train travelling through Turkey on its way to Tehran. They’re making friends in its dining car which has become the train’s social hub. One young Iranian who is affable and far from brainwashed (having already disavowed much of what Ahmandinejad proclaimed) shows them his mobile phone.

This isn’t fiction.

“This is my wife.”
“Oh, she’s very pretty! Do you have any kids?”
“Oh no.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t want to bring children into a country that could be bombed by America.”

In his mind the possibility that America could bomb Iran is so strong, and so very real, that he’s forgoing the pleasure of children lest that joy turn into bereavement.

There’s a great deal of bereavement in this level-headed, searching, thought-provoking and richly informative first-hand account of Glidden’s two months in Iraq and Syria in 2010, for most of those whom she meets are in one way or another displaced refugees, all eager to tell their individual stories, previously unheard because no one has cared to listen.

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They’re interviewed by her companions, Sarah Stuteville and Alex Stonehill of the Seattle Globalist independent collective, for what would turn into fourteen different published features – some of them very high profile – even if they weren’t entirely sure what they were looking for initially. Glidden’s role in the form of this substantial graphic novel is to document that journey – geographical, personal and professional – and the crystallization of their ideas and angles through former contacts and chance encounters as they all wrestle with discoveries, self-doubts, set-backs, successes and the very notion of what constitutes ethical journalism.

Invaluably humanising the de-humanised and abandoned (sometimes left for a decade or more in what are always intended to be temporary, transitory refugee camps), this is measured, well researched, but increasingly sobering stuff. However, I believe above all that you’ll be surprised.

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For a start, this is a very beautiful book.

I can quite easily conceive that many may buy it purely for the joy of bathing in Glidden’s delicate but warm, full-colour washes over confident, clean lines. There are so very many striking landscapes with wet-wash horizons, and she captures the spirit of place in extraordinary detail for such compact panels. There’s Damascus both old and new; the epic open road to Kurdistan’s Sulaymaniyah with its golden plains and distant indigo mountains; the extraordinary and unexpected spectacle of vast verdant parks in Sulaymaniyah itself, dense in trees, built on what used to be training grounds for Saddam Hussein’s troops.

But essentially this is 300 hundred pages of talking heads told in that most accessible of structures which is the three-tiered, nine-panel grid. It’s immaculately composed and it is riveting, partly because its subject matter is so fascinating, partly because those whom she meets are so compelling, partly because its editing from hundreds of hours of tapes is so judicious and – to no small extent – because Glidden has made every single page beautiful to behold and utterly clutter-free without demanding you stop, stare and acknowledge that. Instead you move swiftly on to the very next nugget of eye-opening observation and recollection.

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They’re joined on their journey by Dan, one of Sarah Stuteville’s childhood friends and a former Marine who for a year was deployed in Iraq during the aftermath of the invasion whose cataclysmic side-effects – in the rise of the militia – displaced most of the refugees whom they meet later on in Syria. Dan is there to make blogs of his own, but also as part of Stuteville’s project: she interviews him on each stage of their travels to see if – no, in the hope that – his initial equanimity with his role as a soldier might falter.

It’s is an odd thing to want for a friend, but it’s that sort of a warts-and-all account.

Dan was in many ways one of those least likely to sign up. His parents were “classic Seattle hippies”, his mother co-founding an organisation called Families For Peace who campaigned to end the sale of violent toys like plastic guns. Dan even joined the anti-war protests and is still adamant that the invasion should never have occurred. However, Dan joined once he saw the resultant carnage – the militia’s bombings and kidnappings and murders – in order to help put an end to it. He believes he made a concrete, constructive difference, so feels no guilt. He also maintains that he’s suffered no lasting trauma in spite of what he experienced. And that increasingly frustrates Stuteville. I’ll leave you to learn how that pans out.

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One of the party’s main focuses in Sulaymaniyah are the prisons and abandoned barracks now repurposed as residences for poverty-stricken Kurds from Kirkuk who lost their livelihoods, houses and cars when they fled their homes for fear of the killings. They refuse to return because of the violence, but won’t be helped by the KRG government until they do so, because the KRG government wants to use their presence in Kirkuk to lay claim to its oil fields.

Quite.

Their other focus is Sam Malkandi whose full history, once revealed, is extraordinary. They discover the heartbreaking details gradually in a series of interviews for which they’ve only a certain amount of allotted time. One of the chief tensions in ROLLING BLACKOUTS is whether the journalists will ever achieve the breakthrough moments which will turn their investigation into a complete, verifiable or at least credible, sellable story. So I’m going to allow those most of those astonishing details to unfold naturally as you read, but essentially Sam went from carefree drama student in tree-lined Baghdad to fleeing frontline duty in the Iran-Iraq War, to a relatively happy reprieve in his hometown of Sulay with his newly-wedded then pregnant wife… to fleeing Iraq for Iran to escape door-to-door searches for Kurdish deserters… thence Pakistan before finally making it to America. Along the way he experienced destitution, desolation and oh, I can’t even tell you. Awful. But he also made a critical mistake in one of those applications, was visited by ridiculous misfortune while rebuilding his life in America at which point that initial mistake came to light and… unbelievable. Involves terrorism in America.

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Sam’s love of America is undiminished and his English is excellent so there’s no need for translators. When they are employed, Glidden cleverly superimposes the interpreter’s speech balloons over the interviewee’s, leaving just a little ‘shadow’ over the original behind it.

In Syria they need interpreters almost everywhere and the love of America is abruptly lost as we begin to understand exactly what has happened to the two million Iraqis who fled the country following America’s (and Britain’s) illegal invasion of this tyrannically ruled country on deliberately falsified grounds (my statement, not Glidden’s; let’s keep this clean) – on top of the 1 million Iraqi civilians estimated to have been killed because of it.

First, through a former Ba’athist colonel, there are introduced to a sitting room full of teachers, doctors, dentists and lawyers. As Glidden notes:

“Since the invasion 80% of the middles class – precisely those who the US hoped would rebuild a new Iraq – have fled the country.”

They are now stranded in Damascus having escaped the violence between the Sunni and Shia and, in doing so, lost everything:

“I lost my pharmacy, I lost my house, I lost my opinions.
“I lost everything. I lost my life.”

Another woman lost 25 family members in a single day.

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They’re living in city apartments rather than tents and their children receive free education up to secondary school but nothing beyond. In addition they aren’t allowed to work legally, so become increasingly impoverished. They are without hope, especially for their children who cannot finish their education and won’t be allowed to work either. Their disgust at America is so strong they refuse to be resettled there and the final interviewee that night is so blunt that even Dan is unsettled. But wait until you meet those who aren’t middle class.

Glidden captures every nuance in their expressions – their anger, desperation and dignity – and in Sarah Stuteville’s pained receptiveness too. It is delicately done.

I’ve run out of time, which is a shame because I have another page of notes on their discussions about journalism itself, which occur throughout their mission. What one forgets while cheering on these committed investigative reporters – whose ethics are so strict that they will never promise help nor even to spread their subjects’ stories unless they know can – is that the wider industry is held in such contempt. Journalism is apparently the second-most hated profession in the US, just after lawyers but, astonishingly, before politicians. I foresee that being reversed shortly. Stuteville:

“There are so many things that are contributing to the decline of journalism as we know it. And much of that has to do with the internet and economic models and so forth.
“But a lot of it has to do with elitism and arrogance and people losing trust in journalists and news outlets. Obviously the lead-up to the Iraq war didn’t help with that.
“And the rise of cable news and their style of gotcha journalism, and journalism being really politicized so here’s Left outlets and Right outlets…
“There are a lot of reasons it fell apart and most of them don’t reflect particularly well on the industry.”

She concludes with a statement which reflects my own view distinctly separate view of the US/UK comics industry and medium:

“But I feel like that’s the industry, not the profession. It’s hard for people to make that distinction, but it’s important.”

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Like I say, I have another page of notes on journalism alone and what I’ve covered in other areas is but a small fraction of this 300-page graphic novel: things they discover like women reporting domestic violence being consigned to prisons full of criminals because there are no safe refuges for them; the wonderful work of the Iraqi Student Project run out of a couple’s apartment in Damascus, providing further education for a handful of youngsters to gain internationally recognised certificates and then university places outside of Syria.

Nor is this just about their interviewees, but also about the roaming quartet later joined by fellow journalist Jessica, their relationship as it develops over the two months and the practicalities of recording and the not inconsiderable effort that must go in to securing an outlet for any proposed feature.

Glidden is never judgemental except about herself, and that extends to her art. Her visual portraits could so easily have been judgemental, but they’re restrained, almost neutral without ever being bland. Her palette is exquisite on every page: lots of cool-colour backgrounds so often warmed by Alex’s and Sarah S’s auburn hair. But her night scenes are truly extraordinary in their depth and detail, like the one depicting their travel by taxi from Beirut to Damascus, counting the vainglorious portraits of chinless death-dealer President Bashar al-Assad, all spot-lit even all the way out in the rich brown countryside.

The greatest compliment I can perhaps pay to ROLLING BLACKOUTS is that Glidden – along with the Globalist – furthers the work of Will Eisner in fiction and Joe Sacco in reportage, in giving a voice to those otherwise without one and that, like Marjane Satrapi in PERSEPOLIS, Art Spiegleman in MAUS and Belle Yang in FORGET SORROW, Sarah Glidden’s book is decidedly non-didactic for you’re learning as they’re all learning – and I Iearned loads.

Maps provided, you’ll be pleased to hear.

SLH

Buy Rolling Blackouts h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Soft City – The Lost Graphic Novel h/c (£20-00, New York Review Comics) by Hariton Pushwagner.

Life as a drone, a soft-city-coverclone and a cog in the inexorable, daily machine is something of a cliché, but seldom have I witnessed it done with such wit, scale and eye-frazzling detail.

The succession of Metropolitan vanishing points is dazzling, relentless, hypnotic.

All is symmetry in this neat, pristine, hollow, factory-farm existence, both on the page and in the narrative as a whole.

After the grandiose, Apollo-like launch of the sun on this brand-new day with its great sense of expectation, of anticipation, the very first perspective is that of a baby’s; the very first vanishing point, appropriately enough, that of its cot, of its cage.

There are an almost infinite number of cages within this boxed-in existence, whether they are the grid-locked cars or the identikit flats with their nigh-identical furnishings identically arranged. Each identical husband in his uniform suit, tie and bowler hat exits his identikit flat at exactly the same time with exactly the same march, although a woman’s slipped in to the elevator and one man day-dreams of a bodybuilder stripped down to his underpants, admiring himself in the mirror.

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The monumentalism truly begins once outside, although there is no sky to speak of. Instead it’s more windows, more boxes disappearing into the distance as your eyes are sucked out of their sockets and into the succession of vanishing points behind a seemingly infinite number of impossibly long, impossibly broad and impossibly tall sky-scrapers.

If you think your commute’s bad, this one’s a bummer.

Impressive as all that is, the multi-storey car parks are breath-taking: an infinite number of bays for an infinite number of cars seen through the yawning, cavernous entrance. That bit’s more Matrix than Metropolis, the regression into the distance enhanced by each storey’s ceiling strip lights.

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Wish I could have found the next page: seeing is believing.

And what of the women? Well, this work was begun in 1965 and completed in 1975 which was four years before RAW so obviously well ahead of its time, but I can’t help but wonder if the shopping sequence, being three-quarters of the way through, wasn’t inspired by the French hypermarchés which began to emerge in the late 1960s. My first sight of one those blew my tiny little mind. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine that the endless shelves simply sprang from Pushwagner’s singular vision.

At this point I should mention that I can see no evidence whatsoever of a ruler. It don’t think it would work so well if all the lines where actually straight. That they wobble a bit is part of the wonder. Each composed by hand.

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Nevertheless it is, as I say, a regimented existence which makes the proliferation of the word “soft” in this otherwise sparsely scripted graphic novel all the funnier.

The father reads the Soft Times, its harsh news juxtaposed against fluffy-puppy adverts. Soft Electric is the brand of the cacophonous alarm clock which wakes him to hard work and immediately his wife insists he takes a Soft Pill to get through the bitter pill of his clock-in, clock-out life.

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And wouldn’t you just know what “soft” product Soft Inc manufactures?

You won’t be surprised to discover Chris Ware’s a fan and contributes a substantial introduction. Biographical details – a history of this once-lost work and its origins – are provided by Martin Herbert in the back.

SLH

Buy Soft City – The Lost Graphic Novel h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Bird King: An Artists Notebook h/c (£17-99, Arthur A Levine Books) by Shaun Tan.

With the UK edition of this inspirational book now out of print, we’ve found a US version – hurrah!

“Some are exercises to simply keep fit as an artist, where the practice of drawing is about learning to see, a study that never ends.”

“Nevertheless, interesting or profound ideas can emerge of their own accord, not so much in the form of a ‘message’, but rather a strangely articulated question.”

From the creator of THE ARRIVAL and THE SINGING BONES etc. comes a highly illuminating insight into one artist’s driving passions and thought processes. You’ll discover unusual artefacts, sketches and page layouts which eventually found themselves included in some of Shaun’s finished graphic novels, experiments with the language of the sea and curious creatures which themselves suggest stories so far untold. Some of the preliminaries have brief notes jotted in their margins, like the series of interconnected, roofless rooms arranged like a stage set, one evidently a water tank containing an octopus tentatively exploring the next; another, hilariously, on fire. Tiny figures look in on others. “Are we just moving from room to room?” he asks to one side.

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Better still Shaun introduces each segment with some extended, eloquently expressed and inspirational thoughts. On doodling, he writes:

“This always reminds me of fishing – casting loose lines into a random sea, trying to hook something substantial. It’s surprising what sense can emerge from nonsense, and how the juxtaposition of odd images on a page can have a serendipitous effect, catching ideas that might otherwise be hidden by the waves.”

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It’s the perfect cure for ‘artist’s block’: “just start drawing,” he suggests, quoting Paul Klee’s description of “taking a line for a walk”.

“Klee has a second good metaphor: the artist as a tree, drawing from a rich compost of experience – things seen, read, told and dreamt – in order to grow leaves, flowers and fruit… Artists do not create so much as transform.”

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Hence all the observational sketches and the section entitled ‘drawings from life’, a lot of them in colour, where Sean explores “the relationship between individuals and their respective environments”, a theme found throughout the artist’s graphic novels. Likewise “the tensions between natural and manmade forms”. I think ‘tensions’ is underplaying it somewhat! THE RABBITS, THE LOST THING and TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA are all littered with visual and narrative commentaries on what man has made of his natural environment, as a quick glance of any of those reviews will make abundantly clear!

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Rarely have I had as much fun absorbing an art book, or come away so galvanised. It’s a neat little package, and I’d pay good money to see any one of those ‘untold stories’ come to full, expansive life.

SLH

Buy The Bird King: An Artists Notebook h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Tomie Complete h/c (£25-00, Viz) by Junji Ito –

From the creatortomie-cover of UZUMAKI and GYO.

Here’s our Mark:

It’s rare than a comic artist will really turn my stomach as Ito has managed to.

These tales are precursors to UZUMAKI, sharing the same themes of life being poisoned by demonic exaggeration of a human failing. Tomie inspires horrible devotion in all who find her attractive. The attraction turns to fixation, then jealousy ending in her murder. Then she comes back. Some time each hacked piece grows into another Tomie. An organ is transplanted and the host is taken over. Really quite disturbing.

This was our Tom:

Tomie was your usual manipulative two-faced High School girl. Until one day while on a field trip, her class – including the teacher – finally had enough of her seductive scheming, and killed her. Sharing the responsibility of their actions, each class member took a piece of her body to dispose of it. But their actions haunted them in a truly strange way as each piece of Tomie grew into a new Tomie. These new Tomies manipulate their victims into doing anything for her, even kill. Until they finally have enough and kill her again, repeating the vicious cycle, over and over.

Junji constantly finds new and ever more gruesome ways for Tomie to orchestrate her own downfall as this true urban horror spreads like a weed across the country.

MAS / TR

SLH

Buy Tomie Complete h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Star Wars: Han Solo (£14-99, Marvel) by Marjorie Liu & Mark Brooks…

“I only joined the Rebellion to make a quick buck.

“After I’d paid off my mark I kept thinking Chewie and I would get in the Falcon and keep going.
“But I didn’t.
“Maybe I’m as dumb as she says I look.
“Or maybe something’s changed.”

It would take a Sith-like heart not to feel a certain degree of poignancy reading this following the untimely deaths of Carrie Fisher and a certain other fictional character. Or maybe I’m just getting sentimental, a bit like Han in this <ahem> solo romp set shortly after the destruction of the Death Star. Seems like the penny is finally dropping as to why he’s agreeing to undertake yet another suicide mission on behalf of the feisty Princess Leia…

This time all Han needs to do is escort the three surviving Rebel informants from a previously extensive network of spies in a nearby star system back to base. Simple, right? Well, not exactly, as one of them is probably the Imperial mole that’s been bumping all the others off. Also, Han is going to need a cover story as to why he’s visiting that star system. So it’s a good job the Dragon Void race, the oldest, most dangerous race in the galaxy, just so happens to be taking place there!

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Now that sounds like a challenge Solo could get on board with… But as Leia is only too keen to point out, right before punching him in the face, just for good measure you understand, under the auspices of adding to his story about why he’s quitting the Rebellion to go racing, Han had better remember the Dragon Void is his cover, not the objective. Han being Han, though, figures he can probably manage to win the race, blah blah Millennium Falcon… Kessel Run… twelve parsecs… blah blah blah and rescue the spies, plus expose the double agent. All because he’s just a great guy, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with trying to impress a Princess…

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Marjorie MONSTRESS Liu pens this hilarious, hokey yarn, throwing in a hidden smuggling compartment’s worth of trademark sarcastic Solo dialogue, ridiculous bum-twitching seat-of-the-pants flying, seasoned with enough sizzling romantic tension between our loggerheaded leads to fry a Hutt. An entire one… Thus she captures the various characters perfectly and provides us with a very entertaining galactic jaunt. Nice clean and straightforward art from Mark Brooks, which seems to be a pre-requisite for pencilling a STAR WARS comic these days. I’d happily read a second arc from this pair.

JR

Buy Star Wars: Han Solo and read the Page 45 review here

 New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Finch, Alex Maleev various.

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This is the starting point for everything Avengers-related which JESSICA JONES’ Brian Michael Bendis wrote with exceptional wit and verve, and it lasted something like a decade.

Outside of THE ULTIMATES SEASON ONE and THE ULTIMATES SEASON TWO by Millar and Hitch, it represents the very finest run on The Avengers, and this is coming from the wizened remains of what used to be a 12-year-old boy absolutely in awe of Roy Thomas’ 1960s’ run alongside John Buscema and Neal Adams as represented by the AVENGERS KREE/ SKRULL WAR.

It begins with ‘Avengers Disassembled’ during which Bendis and Finch tore the team apart – one of them quite literally – in order to build something brilliant from scratch. It is joined in this bumper edition with those first two volumes of NEW AVENGERS.

Alas, I was so enamoured that I wrote the worst review I’ve ever written.

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For a start I forgot the artist, which is unforgivable, and Finch is unforgettable. His neo-classical figure work is so impressive that I could stare at the sturdy neck muscles for hours; his expressions here are appropriately pained and he executes two successive, 4-tier, 360-degree rotations round a cast of four in conversation which I’ve never seen done before. Lots of neck muscles there.

Additionally, his sense of scale is right up there with Hitch’s – and it needs to be, given the carnage that follows – and his ability to halt you by interrupting a quiet conversation of jaunty, toast-and-marmalade teasing with an explosion which rips through the breakfast room walls is unparalleled thanks in equal amounts to Frank D’Armata’s abrupt switch from blue-sky, verdant to volcanic colouring.

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The review’s eloquent, I hope, but it was an all-too heart-felt, sentimental elegy which gives everything away. Everything.

At Page 45 we pride ourselves on avoiding SPOILERS. If it’s a review of the fourth book of a series we love like LAZARUS we avoid SPOILERS even of volume one. Instead we want to intrigue you to start at the beginning. That said, given that there is a decade of material to follow, perhaps this could be considered a review of its prologue. I leave that to you.

Do you love the SCARLET WITCH? This is where you begin.

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“For every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction.”
 – Stephen, 200 times on a blackboard after falling asleep during Physics.

That, for me, is the key to why this storyline really worked. For all these years one member of this fluctuating team of superhuman powerhouses has been bending the laws of physics with no obviously equal nor opposite reaction. At no seeming cost. When Iron Man flies, fuel is burned. When Hawkeye spends an arrow, he must make another. And when I write a disproportionately long and po-faced superhero fanboy review, I’m punished with a terrible headache and the nagging suspicion that my LOVE AND ROCKETS credibility has finally been depleted.

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Yet all these years, one amongst The Avengers’ ranks has been using her reality-altering powers to break the laws of physics, manipulate probability, and turn a bad situation into good fortune. It wasn’t a magic she had learned, it was a gift she was born with. As she grew older, as she wielded her powers with increasing confidence, so the feats she performed became increasingly spectacular. What, for example, are the chances that a woman could give birth to two baby boys when her husband was an infertile android?

The chances are nil. You’d have to be insane to believe it was possible.

Wanda Maximoff had never had what you might call an easy life. She was brought up by gypsies after being abandoned by her mother. Her father didn’t even know she or her brother existed, which is just as well because he was a mutant terrorist calling himself Magneto – the same mutant terrorist who in her late teens manipulated her into joining his crusade as The Scarlet Witch by preying on her deep fears and past persecution. Throughout her childhood she and her brother Pietro had been hounded by those who hated mutants just because they existed. So any offer of a home was a godsend.

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Her brother was a superior son of a bitch, but he doted on her, fulfilling a paternal as much as a fraternal role. You might say he smothered her. Whatever the case, when fortune suddenly changed and salvation appeared – in the form of an offer of membership on an internationally renowned and domestically adulated, government-sanctioned team of American superheroes – she was, perhaps, a little naive. But then these were the early years, and everyone was a little naive.

Her fellow Avengers (Hawkeye, Captain America and her brother Quicksilver) didn’t question how she performed minor miracles using what she called ‘hexes’, they were just glad to have the gentle soul on their side. They became her new family, and over the years they all came to love her, whilst the archer Clint Barton grew particularly close, always there to lift her spirits with a lame joke or a stupid arrowhead exploding into a bouquet of flowers. He too was a criminal made good, and to a certain extent he understood her perspective. It’s not everyone who’s given a second chance.

The Vision was.

An android created by Ultron (an insane, sentient, almost indestructible robot), the Vision was conceived as the means of the team’s destruction, but his programming was based on the brain patterns of a human, and that flaw proved Ultron’s undoing. It also allowed the Vision to fall in love with Wanda. Well, that didn’t go down well with the public. An android and a mutant…? “Blasphemy!” they cried, and they reacted to their love with hatred. Still, the stoical Vision became a rock to her emotional fragility, and they even got married.

Knowing little more than that that her powers were based in magic, Wanda went looking for help and took training from Franklin Richards’ part-time governess and full-time witch, Agatha Harkness. But soon magic came looking for Wanda, possessing her body, infusing it with a level of power she had never encountered and used the woman against her friends. She recovered, of course, or she seemed to. She had those two little boys I mentioned earlier, delivered by surgeon/sorcerer Doctor Strange. But then her husband was abducted and dismembered by the government, only to be rebuilt with none of his previous empathy, and Agatha Harkness discovered that Wanda’s twin children weren’t even real – just an illusion, a maternal comfort blanket conjured out of thin air by Wanda herself, and she had. A. Nervous. Breakdown.

It was then that a fatal mistake was made. They thought they were doing her a kindness. They thought they were putting the genie back into its bottle. They allowed Agatha Harkness to use her own magical gifts on Wanda to erase the children from her memory. In hindsight it would have been wiser to erase them from everyone’s. Here’s Wanda and the Wasp by the poolside, one day before this kicks off.

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“Wow, did I need this. I am so crazy in my head today.”
“What’s going on, Janet?”
“I — listen, Wanda, I’ll tell you… But you can’t tell anyone.”
“What happened?”
“I had a… bit of a scare.”
“Are you okay?”
“Sshh, I’m fine. It’s just — my little friend came a little late, and I thought I might be — you know…”
“You thought you were pregnant?”
“Sshh! Hey, sshh! I’m not. I just thought I was. I was really freaked out because that is the last thing I need. With all the crap in my life right now… That’s what the world needs… a little Clint Barton walking around.”
[Jan waves at Hawkeye, Hawkeye waves back]
“Are you two still seeing each other?”
“That would entail the two of us having an adult conversation about our feelings, which, clearly, is not either of our strong suits. Ugh, can you imagine? Me with a kid? Like a kid could grow up normal in this environment. Avengers should not have kids. Superheroes should not have kids. That should be the rule. And you thought you could have two?”
“What?”
“What?”
“What does that mean? Two of what?”

* * *

“Agatha?”
“Wanda Maximoff. You gave me a bit of a turn just now. Come sit. We haven’t spoken in a good time.”
“Agatha, I — Why do people think I once had two children?”

* * *

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What are the chances that a dead man could appear out of nowhere and blow up in their faces, immolating Scott Lang? What are the chances that within seconds the Vision would answer their distress call by crashing a plane into the mansion and spawning half a dozen versions of the insane robot that gave birth to him? What are the chances of a rational She-Hulk losing her temper and ripping the Vision clean in two? Smacking Jan into a coma? Slamming a lorry down on Captain America’s head? Of Iron Man being drunk without drinking a drop? Of the alien Kree launching a full-on invasion directly over the spot where everyone’s assembled, and slaughtering another Avenger right in front of them? All in the space of an hour…?!

The chances are nil.

For every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction.

So for all these years, while Wanda’s been warping reality for the good of others… what has been happening to her?

“Do you know what you’ve done?!
“You killed the Vision, Wanda! Your own husband! Do you know that? Do you?!
“You killed Scott Lang! You killed Hawkeye! Janet’s in a coma!
“You’ve destroyed The Avengers!
“All of it, it’s gone!”

* * *
“Stay away from my children.”

* * *

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New Avengers: Breakout

The Avengers no longer exist.

Their centre of operations, their funding, their reputation and their very lives were all torn apart by a broken friend whom they loved very dearly but who didn’t know what she was doing.

Nature may abhor a vacuum, but for the criminal fraternity it’s a singular opportunity.

So I ask you: how many superpowered psychopaths would you deem it safe to house in the same place? And if there was a jailbreak, how many superpowered soldiers or civilians do you think it would take to contain it? You pick your number, go on. It’s not enough.

Welcome to Ryker’s Island, maximum security penitentiary for the supercriminally insane where, on this very nasty night, several dozen of the most homicidal maniacs in the world are about to be let loose on it courtesy of a single C-list electrical villain who’s about to, heh, “discharge” himself.

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With so many of these genetic freaks still on the loose, Captain America attempts to recruit those who happened to be on hand to help out during the jailbreak (Spider-Man, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman and The Sentry) for a fresh team of Avengers that he hesitates from announcing to the world but, with Iron Man’s help, secretly locates them in a vast tower rising above Manhattan. Their first mission is to find out who caused the jailbreak, how they succeeded, and return all the creeps to custody.

And you know, if that’s all they had to contend with, it might have been do-able. Instead, the ubiquitous international espionage agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. appears to be involved in several clandestine operations: enslaving the Savage Land’s indigenous population as slave labour, stockpiling vibranium reserves to make internationally condemned weapons, and detaining supposedly dead supercriminals for their own purposes. Worse still, it looks as if the new team is compromised before they’ve even started.

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Bendis’ unusual choice of team-mates makes for some delicious exchanges, particularly between hard-ass Luke Cage and the dartingly irreverent Spider-Man. There’s a particularly fine scene involving the latter webbing up the former’s fists without quite explaining how long that’ll last, and if you’ve read the four ALIAS books starring Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, there’s a horrible pay-off here involving the Purple Man. Wolverine also finds himself dragged in, but for the moment, and as they regain consciousness in The Savage Land, this unlikely new team of relative strangers find themselves revealing more about themselves than they would perhaps have liked, as Peter Parker explains to Jessica Drew…

“Yep. We’re naked.”
“They couldn’t leave our underwear on?”
“I wasn’t wearing any.”
“Why wouldn’t you be wearing underwear?”
“I chafe.”
“… I want off the team.”

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The Sentry

The New Avengers have coalesced by chance, but one of their new members – who happened to be there when everything kicked off in the superhuman penitentiary – is Robert Reynolds, The Sentry. Possibly the most powerful man on the planet, he’s an emotional wreck with a memory that comes and goes. Captain America and Iron Man attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery with the help of the X-Men’s telepath Emma Frost and the comicbook writer Paul Jenkins who invented The Sentry in the first place.

SLH

Buy New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Superman vol 1: Son Of Superman s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason & Patrick Gleason, Dough Mahnke, Jorge Jimenez, various.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

 – Edmund Burke

Under any circumstances that is a mighty fine sentence and indeed sentiment: stand up and be counted or stay sitting still in the shadows while you wait for the bigots and other assorted bastards to come for you next.

But as an explanation of the altruistic intervention of costumed superheroes at their own peril, it is exceptional. Gold stars to Tomasi and / or Gleason for selecting it to kick off this collection; gravitational black stars for failing to credit the statesman. It’s common courtesy, yes?

Both bigotry and a degree of black-star gravitational pull will be exerting their influence here in the form of a once-familiar irritant from the days of THE RETURN OF SUPERMAN immediately following THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN. Indeed it’s that very era from nearly 25 years ago that is most referenced in the prologue. And it did my head in.

This is the first collection of the brand-new, original DC superhero universe, reborn now that the four-year ‘DC New 52’ sabbatical is no more. Did you understand that sentence? No. That is why superhero comics will never be Mainstream.

Supposedly, this is DC starting once again from scratch so that new readers who may be that way inclined may decide to jump in and jump on. Perhaps this one worked on new readers but I – admittedly only a casual visitor to the DC Universes – was left shaking my head, bewildered. This is a shame because once you’ve skipped the first chapter of mind-frazzling continuity mish-mash there is a brand-new dynamic with plenty of potential.

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Superman is dead. I don’t think it was the original Superman. I think the original Superman is the bloke with the beard hoping that the last one will spring back to life. He doesn’t. We move on.

Clark Kent is now living a quietly concealed, bucolic life on a farm similar to the one Ma and Pa Kent raised him on. He is married to Lois Lane who’s still a journalist but working from home under a pseudonym. Quite how much investigation this investigative journalist can accomplish from the cornfields is uncertain but that need not concern us now. They have a son called Jonathan (half-human, half-Kryptonian) whose existence or at least nature he has concealed from Batman and Wonder Woman. Basically, they are deeper undercover than ever.

The boy is in his very early teens and exhibiting all the lethal powers that his Dad possesses without the fine-tuning to target them with finesse. That is something which both Lois and Clark are determined to teach him in time with due care and attention. But in superhero comics there is never the time, care nor due attention – only emergencies.

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There is a domestic emergency which back-fires on the boy painfully, then there is one bursting inconveniently from their past to scour them: more precisely, to scour the dirty human heritage from their child’s genetic makeup. I told you there was bigotry to behold.

On the plus side: the art by many was surprisingly consistent with a very neat panel in which young Jon, when embarrassed / ashamed, hides most of his face under his sweatshirt, pulling it up over his mouth and nose. It’s a psychological thing, very well observed, which I do, subconsciously, protectively, on occasion: it feels safer when you sink your soul beneath cotton.

I also loved the harrowing image of Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman when congregating in secret on the equivalent of the rustic farm’s stoop, glimpsed by a young Jon through his window at night. The whites of their eyes are like tiny skulls: terrifying, threatening, alien and other.

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And when Superman, Lois and Jonathan weren’t smacking seven shades of shit out of their most rude intruder (oh yes, Lois proves inventive / adaptive) in a surprising environment not of their own making, the family dynamic and its desire to nurture their son’s nature is heart-warming.

It’s just a shame about the repetitive, seven-shades-of-shit-smacking which goes on for eons and interests me not one jot.

More family, please!

SLH

Buy Superman vol 1: Son Of Superman s/c (Rebirth) and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

King-Cat #76 (£3-99, Spit And A Half) by John Porcellino

Beowulf h/c (£26-99, Image) by Santiago Garcia & David Rubin

Renato Jones: The One Percent Season 1 s/c (£8-50, Image) by Kaare Kyle Andrews

Hellblazer vol 15: Highwater (£22-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Marcelo Frusin, Guy Davis, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cameron Stewart

Over The Garden Wall vol 1 (£14-99, Titan) by Pat McHale & Jim Campbell

Prometheus: Life And Death s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & Andrea Mutti

Regular Show vol 1 (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by KC Green & Allison Strejlau

Unfollow vol 2: God Is Watching (£13-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, Marguerite Sauvage, Ryan Kelly

Aquaman vol 1: The Drowning s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Dan Abnett & various

Batman vol 1: I Am Gotham s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King, Scott Snyder & David Finch, various

Injustice Gods Among Us: Year Two Complete Collection s/c (£22-99, DC) by Tom Taylor, Marguerite Bennett & various

Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide vol 4 s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Javi Garron

Black Panther vol 2: A Nation Under Our Feet s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Chris Sprouse

Captain America: Sam Wilson vol 3: Civil War II s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna

Another Year Closer To Bingo And A Blue Rinse Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Congrats On Whatever It Was You Did Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Congrats! It’s Gonna Be Relentless Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Let’s Get Drunk And Pretend We Can Dance Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Mini Lined Notepad – Write That Shit Down (£4-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Party Till You’re Passed Out With Marker On Your Face Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Thanks ‘N’ All That Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Thinking Of You Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

You Make Me So Happy Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

You May Be Old Now But You’re Still Cute Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

News

SOPPY sketched in for sale

ITEM! We were contacted by one Emma Patching, a student at Trent University, asking us for some input on her interview with Philippa Rice who – with typical generosity – had made a point of mentioning us as keen promoters of new comics talent. I thought my response might amuse you.

“Discovering new talent is what keeps Page 45 fresh; nurturing it keeps the medium alive. It’s all very well promoting someone’s work when they’re already thriving; it’s far more important to help them when they need it the most, to introduce their work to a substantial new audience. Page 45 isn’t just local: our reviews’ reach is enormous and We Ship Worldwide.™

Soppy dinner

“Philippa introduced herself to us years ago, we fell in love, promoted her self-published comics like ST. COLIN AND THE DRAGON, begged her to fill our window one year, then she discovered that Page 45 appeared – purely by accident – on page 45 of Philippa’s Nottingham-based photo-comic WE’RE OUT! Once SOPPY went global and stratospheric (hailed by the likes of George Takei) Philippa no longer needed us but, being Philippa, instead of linking to Amazon on her website, she thoughtfully and generously linked to Page 45’s website instead, so we made a fortune. You see, it pays to invest in someone’s talent. You get what you give etcetera.

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“Before that, though, when SOPPY was first published we invited Philippa and her SOPPY co-star Luke Pearson to sign with Page 45 on Valentine’s Day 2015. Luke was already massive thanks to his stellar all-ages graphic novel series HILDA, and the two of them combined pulled such a big crowd… including her own mother! How many mothers queue to get a book signed by their daughter and son-in-law? It was ridiculously cute. So cute that – in order to level out the karmic balance – we had to start culling kittens.

“I had a bag of them under the counter, and every 15 minutes or so I’d whip one out and wring its neck.

“It was a Good Day.”

Thanks ever so much, Emma!

Stephen @pagefortyfive

Soppy carapace

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2017 week one

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

Featuring lots of lovely folk who firmly believe that Love Is Love.

Brigada vol 1 h/c (£17-99, Magnetic Press) by Enrique Fernandez.

“Is this how we’re going to die, Father?”
“No. This is how we’re going to live.”

Epic, full-on fantasy of the ilk which prominently features vast, twisted tree trunks, fortified towns, remote, lofty citadels, very big beasties, dark elves, disgruntled, beardy, armour-wearing dwarves wielding mighty stone mallets, magic, lost legends, misunderstood lore and a great deal of back-stabbing.

Enrique Fernandez is an artist’s artist whose vividly coloured art minded me in places of Kyle Baker once he’d discovered computers. Jostling with each other to sing his praises are STRAY TOASTERS and DAREDEVIL END OF DAYS’ Bill Sienkiewicz, PROMETHEA and SANDMAN: OVERTURE’s J.H. Williams III, and FELL’s Ben Templesmith.

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The dwarves are squat, stocky fellows and with enormous eyes and even more enormous, plumed eyebrows flowering from under their helmets. They’re disgruntled because they are lost and leaderless until Captain Ivro grudgingly agrees to shoulder their command. He does so grudgingly because they’re a bunch of ill-disciplined convicts. They’re lost – like the taller, Oeming-like elves – because on entering battle one morn, they stepped into The Mist and were transported into a patchwork land divided by that Mist through which travel is completely unpredictable: you could end up anywhere.

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At the heart of The Mist is said to lurk The Voiradeer, an entity of enormous destructive power, though no one has ever seen it. All they’ve seen is the terrifying side-effects as The Mist advances, ejecting its flock of vast, panicked beasts ensnared in its chaos which stampede out, crushing everyone in their path.

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Both the black elves and the dwarves and even the human population are being used by three sisters said to be witches who won’t stray far from their palace and its arcane repository of power for fear of losing their closely guarded and coveted magic deep down a central well. They have a Repopulation Plan whose numbers, they claim, will keep The Voirandeer at bay and drive back The Mist.

Meanwhile, with their own special ability to discern the veins of the land, the dwarves are dispatched to map the individual territories divided by The Mist, even though the relationship between those maps is fluid, in a constant state of flux. Think of them as individual patches of a quilt without their binding stitches, floating about freely in a viscous liquid.

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The same could be said about the tenuous treaties between the elves, dwarves and humans, and within each faction to boot.

Only one man has seen fit to conduct extensive research on The Voirandeer and its Mist: the father of human children Loon and Senda. As he did so he gathered the Children of Daurin, named after a mythical hero of folklore. But their father was lost many moons ago and the Children of Daurin have disappeared.

Now the Dwarves’ skills appear to be dissipating and with them their respect for authority.

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The sisters’ artificially extended, pink, moon-faced youth is as ugly as it sounds, while the dark elves’ designs are magnificent in their malevolence. However, the real stars are the landscapes with their stone escarpments and the swollen, serpentine roots, trunks and boughs of trees, some of which seem to be knotted with knuckled hands and wrists, perhaps the occasional facial feature, and there are additional, subtle flourishes like part of a small stone fortress at the top of page 51, ripped from its foundations by the sheer power of an invasive tree’s growth, then borne aloft.

Top left, below:

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This reprints the first two European editions in one album-sized hardcover, the second of which finishes with quite the disorientating twist.

SLH

Buy Brigada vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Love Is Love (£7-50, IDW) by Many & Varied.

Love is a Good Thing. Love is a positive power which spreads joy.

Hatred is a small, nasty thing which festers inside and destroys all those who harbour it. Hatred is short-sighted, self-destructive and so often counter-productive.

Here’s a specific, delicious irony by way of example: there is a gay gene, and that gay gene would not have been passed this far down the human line had organised religion with its co-conspiratorial political and media weaklings not condemned, vilified and so ostracised those of us who are gay to the extent that many gay women and men felt so fearful of being found out or not fitting in that they paired off with those of the other (not opposite) sex and had children. For millennia.

Those preaching hatred under the lame excuse and umbrella of organised religion thereby perpetuated that very same quality which they still desire so fervently, fearfully and vociferously to wipe out.

What a bunch of numptees!

There is no fear here.

Instead, the dearly beloved of the comicbook industry have gathered here today to celebrate and enjoy this thing which we call life in all its caring, compassionate and constructive rather than destructive diversity.

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There is strength in numbers; do not underestimate that.

When we stick up for others unlike ourselves – when you as a straight girl or guy stick up for gay folks; when we as white men or women protest against racism; whenever all of us whether Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Catholic, Atheist or Agnostic confront religious intolerance; when we truly understand the plight and so fight for the rights of those being stigmatised, dismissed and financially cut adrift for being less able-bodied than ourselves – we send out the most massive signals of solidarity which do make a big difference.

There is strength in numbers. There is strength in solidarity, and one of the most resolute, inspirational and galvanising phrases ever invented is this:

Ne touche pas à mon pote!

Don’t touch my friend!

I am deeply, deeply moved by everyone who has so far snapped up a copy of this comic at Page 45 simply because you care. The great news is that this is far from a band-wagon gesture, but instead heart-felt with plenty to say in often witty, well thought-out ways.

We’ll get to that very shortly, but before I dismount from my hobby horse, let me say this: the vast majority of homophobia isn’t even that: it consists of careless slurs which are not even believed by those giving such casual credence to a hatred of those who love… and it is done simply because they seek peer approval. That is why a message like this is important: it says we do not approve, and you will look a complete and utter dick if you continue to be so stupid and small.

Love is love.

Right, I can’t cover everything (this is a surprisingly long read) but let’s crack on with the praise:

One of my favourite pieces – because it made me smile when I needed it the most – was written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir then illustrated by Emma Vieceli. Two proud parents phone their son as he sits alone and aghast at night for the barely comprehensible news is flooding in over the television on June 12th 2016 that 49 individuals have been shot dead in a gay nightclub in Orlando. Tears stream down his face. The phone rings. As they swap the handset between them, sharing their love, concern and pride at their son’s courage in being himself, the mum and dad also swap complementary qualifiers, and that’s what made me smile: and it sounded like a very real conversation to me, you’ll see! There are still tears afterwards, but they are different tears. Parents, eh? Awww.

It’s preceded by a very simple but striking page of “split-screen” contrasts by Daniel Beals and David Lafuente called ‘Hand Me Down’ in which two much younger children are separated from play and taken home, one to a loving him whose father sits with his son as the same news rolls in and explains why some guys are kissing:

“Because they are sad and they love each other, son.”

It’s perfectly simple.

On the opposite side of the street, the son is left alone by this father and grandfather to overhear their reactions.

“Thin the herd. ’Bout time,” says his grandfather.
“Yeah. Faggots.”

“Faggots,” whispers the child, with wide, impressionable eyes, absorbing this learned behaviour.

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Paul Jenkins and Robert Hack made me chuckle with their hate-mongering placards at an incite rally (“God Hates Dogs” “God Hates Cats”), as did Matthew Rosenberg and Amancay Nahuelpan with Matthew’s stream of robust and self-deprecating parenthetical asides fearing that he’s ill-qualified to comment, immediately after which he proves he’s supremely well equipped with a single simple sentence.

Far from obvious in its angle is Eddie Gorodetsky and Jesus Inglesias’ contribution which broke my tiny heart. I’ll leave you to absorb its exact implications for yourself, but it’s about a boy whose dad was murdered in just such a hate crime, leaving behind more than one mourner.

Devon T. Morales and Rags Morales’ love letter clutched in a dead, bloodied hand was as beautiful and tragic as its final embrace, while Dave Justus and Travis Moore prove they have a heart of gold when they play with your expectations in a gun shop. No, they really, really do, especially with the final line “Don’t forget your ammo” and what is being held aloft. It’s that kind of lateral thinking I truly applaud (and am in awe of) within an anthology which could so easily have been one long stream of didactic finger-pointing, just like my introduction.

Instead this is an overwhelmingly positive comic celebrating courage and commitment and the refusal to be cowed. In Bendis & Oeming’s case this takes the form of a silent double-page spread set down a gay nightclub full of love, lust, friendship and the delirium of dance, all of which deserve the loudest of celebrations.

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Oh, and if all that wasn’t enough, this is a benefit book. The publisher’s blurb:

“The comic book industry comes together to honour those killed in Orlando this year. From IDW Publishing, with assistance from DC Entertainment, this oversize comic contains moving and heartfelt material from some of the greatest talents in comics – mourning the victims, supporting the survivors, celebrating the LGBTQ community, and examining love in today’s world. All material has been kindly donated, from the creative to the production, with ALL PROCEEDS going to the victims, survivors and their families via EQUALITY FLORIDA…

“It doesn’t matter who you love. All that matters is that you love.”

The last thing I’d want to do, then, is rain on anyone’s Parade, but I’d just leave you with this sobering historical context from Justin Hall here, who caught up with comicbook creator Howard Cruse and his husband Ed Sedarbaum two days after the Orlando massacre when they recalled that, following an arson attack on a New Orleans gay bar in the 1970s which killed over 30 individual human beings with lives and loved ones, some of the victims were buried in unmarked graves because their families were too ashamed to claim them.

SLH

Buy Love Is Love and read the Page 45 review here

Long Gone Don And The Terror-Cotta Army (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by The Etherington Brothers.

“Yes! Brilliantly gross! You scared them off and taught them a new word!”

As I’ve said so often that it’s almost my trademark, all education should be entertainment.

And vice-versa.

Here you will be starved of neither.

“Are you talking about having an adventure?”
“Nope, it’s much more likely to be a series of horrendous, near-death experiences!”

Well, that’s okay because Don is a dude who’s already dropped dead.

He drowned face-down in bowl of oxtail soup following a split-second chain of Junior School accidents involving custard, a playing card, a not-so-caged hamster, a caretaker, his step-ladder, and a great big puddle of puke.

Our far-from-fortunate schoolboy promptly fell off this mortal coil and into the netherworld now known as Broilerdoom, acquiring a free peroxide into the bargain. In LONG GONE DON AND THE MONSTROUS UNDERWORLD, the first eye-boggling adventure of pun-packed, mirth-making mentalism, Don met many a monster and allies too.

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On the “plus” side was Viktor Rictus, the sentient squid; Safina the thief; Castanet the crow with his fear of fights, flights and heights; deposed ruler Ripley who’s now mayor of The Slums; and a rude dude called Lewd who owns Demon’s Drink, a tavern which (it claims) “Cures What Ales You”.

On the mad, bad and shouty front we have Corpse City’s recent wrongful leader, a demon called Spode; Valush, his right-hand wraith; and now Bone-Dry Henson, a moustachioed Mexican skeleton.

At least, I think he’s Mexican. He might be Spanish. He’s definitely devilish and hell-bent on robbing The Slums’ citizens of their totems and so stealing their sanity – and it wasn’t all there to begin with.

On top of all that, tomb-toothed Thanatos – the gigantic, green lamprey-like creature which may contain the only portal able to propel our young hero home – has become ensnared by General Spode’s moat. He too has been robbed – but of what?!

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Pre-teen excellence like all PHOENIX COMIC COLLECTIONS, this boasts the energy and exuberant cartooning of René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s ASTERIX. I’m not even kidding you: I’m ever so slightly pleased with myself at finding such an apposite comparison. The degree of detail is completely unnecessary and frankly insane, but it’s a testament to how much the Etherington Brothers respect their young readers that they are willing to go those many extra miles to make this such visually thrilling fare, nor do they stint on the script. This is so dense in its best, value-for-money sense that parents can rest assured that their sprogs will be fully absorbed for far longer than almost any comparative comic.

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There is, for example, a single panel in which Thanatos is persuaded to disgorge the considerable contents of its cavernous stomach including an early, experimental tricycle plane and a farmyard tractor. The lettering positively bellows at you and the colouring must have taken forever. Indeed the colouring comes with its own high energy levels, flashed-through as it is with bursts of yellow, pollen-like light.

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For further recommended reading from Los Bros Etherington-os please see the most excellent puzzle adventures VON DOOGAN AND THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN MONKEY and VON DOOGAN AND THE GREAT AIR RACE from Lorenzo, and Robin’s grin-inducing FREAKY & FEARLESS prose.

SLH

Buy Long Gone Don And The Terror-Cotta Army and read the Page 45 review here

Lovers In The Garden (£8-99, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Anya Davidson…

“Hey handsome.lovers-in-the-garden-cover You drinking alone?”
“I know who you are.”
“Oh yeah? Who am I?”
“You’re Elyse Saint-Michel. You write for Chance Magazine. You spent six months riding with the Savage Nomads for a story about black biker gangs. You once snuck onto Henry Kissinger’s yacht disguised as a cleaning lady.”
“Yeah, well, I’m through stunt reporting. I’ve been following a story about the heroin epidemic for over a year now. I’ve got dirt on high-level officials in the DEA and the NYPD. When this story gets printed, the mayor’s gonna shit out of his dick-hole.”

She has a way with words, our Elyse, and she loves her hard liquor. She also happens to have struck up a conversation in this particular divebar with Flashback, a hippie hitman with a huge Afro working for one of the very heroin dealers she’s trying to expose, the dapper art aficionado Mister Dog. Meanwhile, Flashback’s partner Shephard has fallen hard in love with a girl he just met at a strip joint, and wants out. Shame she happens to be an undercover cop.

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Yes… I don’t think it takes any great stretch of imagination to see this semi-farcical crime caper set in the seedy side of 1975 New York City is going to end dramatically. The bullets are going to fly every which way. The only question is who is going to be left standing, or at least crawling mortally wounded along the floor…

It’s a curious mix stylistically, like Jim Rugg’s AFRODISIAC mashed up with Brubaker and Phillips’ CRIMINAL, for make no mistake this is a highly entertaining, violent crime yarn. It’s just one that can’t be taken remotely seriously, partly also, I suppose, due to Anya Davidson’s art style which I found a bit reminiscent of both Jeffrey A MATTER OF LIFE Brown and Noah FANTE BUKOWSKI Van Sciver! It does definitely capture the crazy vibe of classic ‘70s flicks like DIRTY HARRY, though, and actually, the more I think about it, the crazy patter of the hitmen makes me think of the brilliant BULLET TO THE HEAD penned by Matz that was somehow sadly strangulated into a truly turgid film.

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This is exactly the sort of off-the wall-material and creator (apparently Anya Davidson draws comics in the attic of a derelict building full of racoons on Chicago’s South Side if her website is to be believed, and frankly I see no reason why not) that Retrofit and Big Planet Comics specialise in championing, and which, thanks to our friends at Avery Hill, we now have ready access to. Well done all around.

JR

Buy Lovers In The Garden and read the Page 45 review here

Sandman Mystery Theatre Book 2 (£26-99, DC) by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle & Guy Davis, Vince Locke, various.

Previously in the highly recommended SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE BOOK 1:

Troubling period pieces for a very troubled period leading inexorably to the Second World War, this is crime fiction populated by remote or cruel parents, brutal, often sexual sadists, their helpless victims and broken progeny, all in a dark, post-Prohibition America.

Rarely outside of FROM HELL has a comic been so successfully steeped in and anchored to its era. Guy Davis’ slightly flabby faces, drab clothing, gritty textures and impenetrable night are as accomplished as Campbell’s were for Moore’s Victorian graphic novel, and Wagner and Seagle served up mystery after mystery which the reader could actively engage in solving before the main protagonists.

Wesley Dodds is the apparently dry and studious heir to a now deceased businessman, perfectly at home with judges and lawyers. But all is not as it seems, for Wesley’s sleep is troubled by enigmatic nightmares which compel him to rise and follow their elusive leads.

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Far across town Dian Belmont is both a romantic and a deep thinker, something rare in her socialite circle. Fiercely independent, she also has a strong will and a reckless streak which her doting District Attorney father does his kindly but inadequate best to curb. Dian’s life is one of gossip, privilege and parties, but she’s in for a rude awakening – and about to meet the man of her dreams…

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The return of artist Guy Davis makes all the difference for ‘Vamp’ as a young man, womaniser and socialite, is attacked in the act of sex, his mouth, nose and urethra all sewn shut, and his body drained of blood. When Wesley climbs the 1930s fire escapes to dig around at the scene of the crime, he finds a matchbox from a club where his new girlfriend, the worryingly adventurous Dian Belmont, hangs out. Why are more bodies turning up with similar, increasingly brutal wounds, and is there a connection between the victims?

More racial segregation, sexual repression and dark, dirty alleyways, the balance between crime and romance, secrets and slow revelations is perfectly judged, and I love the way that Dian’s determined to be open-minded, yet somehow struggles to live up to her own aspirations – in this instance, as it all grows a little sapphic after smoking some weed.

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Following ‘ The Scorpion’ Vince Locke is the perfect textural match for Davis’ period artwork in ‘Dr.Death’. Further acts of slaughter compel Wesley Dodds to stalk the streets and sewers, whilst both he and his girlfriend Dian adjust to the fact that she now knows what he does, if not quite why.

It’s a series that’s thick with intelligent, internal monologue because that’s the nature of this secretive, self-contained and perpetually soul-searching man, but now that Wesley has someone to talk to, will it prove his salvation or will what he does tear the two apart? That was as much of a hook as any of the crimes, for we’d quickly come to care for this kindly couple in a very unkind world.

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Oh, and if you imagine that Dian is the only who will find herself falling short in her inclusivity, future developments will find Wesley taking a long hard look at himself – and other men – too.

SLH

Buy Sandman Mystery Theatre Book 2 and read the Page 45 review here

The Punisher vol 1: On The Road s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Becky Cloonan & Steve Dillon.

Swift, impeccably choreographed, no-nonsense action thriller starring The Implacable And Efficient One looking a lot leaner, lither and younger than he was in Garth Ennis’ PUNISHER MAX.

But he’s still all frowns and scowls. Disapproval is Frank Castle’s default setting.

Gone are that series’ real-world politics, nor is this the comedy burlesque of Ennis & Dillon’s PUNISHER: WELCOME BACK FRANK, but under SOUTHERN CROSS‘ Becky Cloonan you were never likely to see Frank Castle mixing it up with Marvel’s superheroes. What you will find instead are drugs (more enhancing that recreational – unlike steroids you won’t have to waste time lifting weights to ‘enjoy’ their beefed-up berserker benefits), drug development, drug runners, and the DEA in pursuit of all parties after Castle’s last-minute intervention on their long, drawn-out stake-out with a fast-tracked justice of his own which saved American tax payers a considerable sum of money.

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As I’ve written before, not for Frank are the moral vagaries of two wrongs and a right. He’s not here to soliloquise, he’s here to blow people’s heads off, and you will find a phenomenal number of headshots here. Exploding skulls was one of Dillon’s many fortes, which was odd for such a lovely man. One of his others was quiet conversation which he could make so nuanced and riveting that I would have happily enjoyed a 120-page graphic novel drawn by Steve set entirely down a pub.

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There are very few quiet conversations here, except perhaps that particularly tender scene between a father and his daughter as he lovingly straps her into a vest rigged with dynamite.

Frank Martin’s colours are so rich and warm that he even makes lethal green mists look like something you wouldn’t mind bathing in as a skin tonic / moisturiser.

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The psychopaths are as usual all present and correct. Obviously there’s the Punisher himself, but also a dapper and ever so dishy young man whose grooming regime extends to a particular penchant for facial aftercare which PREACHER fans may find familiar. Admittedly the aftercare is for other people’s faces, and I don’t foresee there being any adequate returns policy under these specific circumstances.

For goodness sake do ignore the back-cover blurb which is so inaccurate in its claims of psychological examination that I can only imagine it to be the result of a long, drawn-out game of Chinese Whispers, whipped together at the last minute by an underpaid, corporate hype-monkey. Enjoy the glorious grotesquery instead.

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R.E. the cover: I never saw a skull. Instead I saw a man with a Max Wall haircut which I cannot un-see. And now, nor can you.

SLH

Buy The Punisher vol 1: On The Road s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rivers Of London: Night Witch (£13-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan…

“We’re the police.
“By definition, we all about systems, procedures, order…
“But the irony is… that what we really like about the job is…
“When you wake up in the morning…
“You literally don’t know what is going to happen next.”

Of volume one, RIVERS OF LONDON: BODY WORK I wrote…

I’ll have to confess I haven’t read the Rivers Of London prose books penned by Ben Aaronovitch, but I have had a fair few customers recommend them, so that probably explains why this series was relatively popular in comics form. So much so in fact, that has been expanded from a mini-series into an ongoing one. In a nutshell it’s basically Inspector Morse meets HELLBLAZER. Dapper, grizzled, humourless, veteran cop Inspector Nightingale and his amusing, hardworking sidekick Peter Grant fight crime in the big smoke. Except the twist is the crimes are all of the supernatural variety. They even have their own division, the Special Assessment Unit, known colloquially within the Met, and viewed with equally measures of suspicion and derision by the rank and file plod, as ‘Falcon’ or ‘The Folly.’ 

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But after enjoying BODY WORK and now this volume immensely, I think I may well have to pick up the prose books. This arc once again involves a relatively complicated plot involving not one, not two, but three kidnappings, and one other attempted one. Well, two I suppose, ostensibly by Russian mobsters intent on extorting hard cash from a London-based former Oligarch. They’ve taken his young daughter, though his wife seems utterly convinced the abduction was perpetuated by a Leshy – a type of woodland Russian spirit akin to the British Green Man and thus not often seen in Kent!

She therefore reaches out to an intriguing new magical character with a familial connection, introduced here in her own very strange circumstances, one Varvara Sidorovna Tamonina, a Russian WW2 female soldier from the mystical Night Witches brigade (not to be confused with the real-life Night Witches pilots) who, much like Inspector Nightingale, shows remarkable powers of longevity. She’s not particularly minded to help find the missing girl, at least not directly, hence Nightingale and Peter Grant are pulled in by the powers that be to help the well connected Russians.

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It is, of course, not remotely as simple as that, with multiple twists and turns provided by the various magical characters and, of course, some good old fashioned detective work from Peter Grant. I shall say no more for the avoidance of spoilers. Lee Sullivan returns on the art, and once again reminds me of Chris Weston.

JR

Buy Rivers Of London: Night Witch and read the Page 45 review here

Hookjaw #1 (£2-99, Titan) by Si Spurrier & Conor Boyle…

“Ship’s minion Mag,hookjaw-1-cover meet Big Bertha. Quite possibly the dominant £$%&in’ member of the world-famous Virgin Brides. Ain’t she a beaut?”
“Think that’s a good contact, Professor. And… what do you mean, possibly dominant? Don’t you know? Over.”
“I mean there’s only so much £$%&in’ social observation you can do with binoculars and fishblood, love.”

I think, given the comic is called HOOKJAW, that might possibly turn out to be untrue by the end of this first issue…

But long before then you’ll probably be enthralled by the antics of Professor Leyland and her merry crew who are looking for evidence of cooperative behaviour in packs of Great Whites. They’ve been tracking their chosen chums, with the aid of chum, monitoring their movements in the Somali coastal region, famed for being one of the most polluted ocean regions on the planet. Now, what else is Somalia renowned for…? Ah yes… pirates.

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Boarded by AK47-wielding buccaneers, you might think Professor Leyland would be a trifle perturbed but no, it’s all old hat to her. There follows a hilarious sequence where the cabin boy, a local lad, is interpreting between the pirates and crew. Well, “interpreting” might be putting a Malcom-Tucker-sized spin on it, given the artistic licence he’s applying to both questions and answers. Very amusing.

But that’s all brought to a rather abrupt halt by the unexpected arrival of a third party. Nope, not Hookjaw yet, though rest assured he is following verrrry closely behind, and it seems this shark already has developed a taste for seal. U.S. Navy Seal, that is…

Penned by Si CROSSED: WISH YOU WERE HERE / THE SPIRE / CRY HAVOC Spurrier, with his usual trademark dark humour accompanying the (fish) guts and gore, I am already as snagged as the titular shark. I’ll admit I was rather sceptical about the need for reviving a forty-year-old classic but then Humanoids’ CARTHAGO with its equally large, jagged teeth has been an instant hit here. I can’t believe it’s truly that long ago I was avidly reading HOOKJAW as a young kid in ACTION, bemused by the fact that humans, rather than the titular, flesh-hungry character, seemed to be the bad guys.

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Conor Boyle’s art wouldn’t look out of place in an arc of CROSSED, actually, and so is perfect for this title. One thing I am a bit puzzled about – and I have had the exact same comment from a customer already – is that Hookjaw himself seems to have had some unnecessary cosmetic dental work. Whereas before the hook projected out of his skin just below his bottom row of teeth, in the middle, hence the name, now what he has is a long, straight harpoon that is stuck through the side of his head protruding directly out of his mouth. It looks as though, were the barb to catch on anything, the harpoon would pull straight out. Odd.

Anyway, it’s not going to spoil my enjoyment of this title, which I suspect will only be a mini-series or two. It was a fairly limited premise forty years ago. I think there were only three story arcs if memory serves and I can’t imagine even a writer as talented as Si Spurrier can come up with too much to keep it going for too long. So I shall enjoy the nostalgia dip whilst it lasts. Now, where did I leave my can of shark repellent…

JR

Buy Hook Jaw #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

Rolling Blackouts h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Sarah Glidden

The Bird King: An Artists Notebook h/c (£17-99, Arthur A Levine Books) by Shaun Tan

Invader Zim vol 3 (£17-99, Oni Press) by Jhonen Vasquez & Various

Catwoman vol 6: Final Jeopardy s/c (£26-99, DC) by Will Pfeifer & Alvaro Lopez, various

Grayson vol 5: Spirals End s/c (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Tom King, various & Roge Antonio, Carmine Di Giandomenico, various

Star Wars: Han Solo (£14-99, Marvel) by Marjorie Liu & Mark Brooks

Green Arrow vol 1: Death & Life Of Oliver Queen s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Benjamin Percy & Otto Schmidt, Juan Ferreyra

Superman vol 1: Son Of Superman s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason & Patrick Gleason, Dough Mahnke, various

Psycho Pass: Inspector Shinya Kogami (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Midori Gotou & Natsuo Sai

Morning Glories vol 10 (£13-99, Image ) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma

New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Finch, Alex Maleev, various

Clean Room vol 2: Exile s/c (£13-99, DC) by Gail Simone & Jon Davis-Hunt

Johnny Red vol 1: The Hurricane (£17-99, Titan) by Garth Ennis & Keith Burns

Attack On Titan vol 20 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Berserk vol 1 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

The Totally Awesome Hulk vol 2: Civil War II s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Alan Davis, Mike Del Mundo, various

Spider-Gwen vol 2: Weapon Of Choice s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jason Latour & Robbi Rodriguez

The Punisher vol 1: On The Road s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Becky Cloonan & Steve Dillon

Deadpool vol 5: Civil War II s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Mike Hawthorne, Terry Pallot

New Avengers: A.I.M vol 3: Civil War II s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Paco Medina, Carlo Barberi

News

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ITEM! In its entirely: ‘Statueque’, a short storm written and directed by Neil Gaiman, starring Bill Nighy and Amanda Palmer with music by Sxip Shirey.

Please scroll down six or seven screens.

Although, you know, Sxip Shirey’s entire site is pretty inspirational.

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ITEM! On shutting up shop for the year on New Year’s Eve, I took a photo of the shop floor with the lights out. Pretty eerie, eh?

Although if we rented out overnight hammocks with reading lights, I suspect we’d see no shortage of swingers.

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– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2016 week three

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Featuring Rob Davis, Sophie Campbell, Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, Kelly Thompson, Leandro Romero, Garth Ennis, Goran Parlov, more.

Page 45 Festive Opening Times in the News Section below!

The Can Opener’s Daughter (Bookplate Edition) (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Rob Davis.

“Making sense is can-openers-daughter-coveroverrated… It’s just confirming what people already think. Making new sense is more important.”

Making eloquent new sense is Rob Davis’ forte; making a nuisance is Vera Pike’s.

“Mum wouldn’t tell me what was going on. She wouldn’t speak to me at all. I tried asking Dad, but she confiscated him and locked him in a kitchen draw.”

We first met Vera in THE MOTHERLESS OVEN, my favourite book of that year, wherein we learned that although it is commonly acknowledged that children are the products of their parents – both by nature and nurture – in The Bear Park the parents are very much the product of their children. They are fashioned by their children before they are five in the Motherless Oven itself. They can be quite complex and caring. Certainly they are sentient.

Scarper Lee’s Mum was a barber-shop hairdryer and ever so maternal. Vera Pike’s Mum is the Weather Clock, Grave Acre’s bipedal, fully mobile, ruthless, dictatorial Prime Minister. She doesn’t do maternal. 

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Her Dad is a can opener. The sort with a bayonet blade you have to thrust in to puncture whatever it is you want opening, then wrangle the lid off by force. He doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

You will find everything here so very familiar, yet looked at anew, askew or turned on its head. Words may have multiple meanings depending on intonation or a minor adjustment. Almost every panel demands a quotation, so dense is the wit on display. Perspectives are important, the fresher the better, so here is the second in Rob Davis’ trilogy, dovetailing precisely into the first to illuminate elements of what went before and leave us gasping desperately for more.

It is a phenomenal work full of surprises which end up making perfect sense.

For a start – just like THE MOTHERLESS OVEN – it explores the generational gap opened up even further by the conceit that all mums and dads are constructs of their children. As mechanical objects, most are dismissively pigeon-holed in their parental role rather than regarded as individuals, then consigned to the scrap head once that role is over.

“Parents are made to make children feel guilt. They exist to deny your freedom so they can make you believe it is theirs to give.”

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That’s Vera’s take, and she has indeed been denied her freedom by being shut away in Grave Acre’s equivalent of Number 10, to be home-schooled initially by the household Ink Gods. These are vocal bottles of indelible ink, and I promise that they’re making sense right from the very first panel they appear in, however random their proclamations might sound. It’s that sort of book.

It’s also the sort of book which presents multiple perspectives. Here’s Vera’s mother:

“They say that parents exist to give children something to rebel against, something that prevents them rebelling against anything that really matters… But what happens when a parent rebels…?”

And it is most definitely a great big book of rebellion. Vera Pike is welcome whirlwind of vital rebellion – a natural impulse in the young – but she’s not alone. Not everyone is content to be constrained by their roles. Most parents choose to have children. As we have seen, that’s not the case in The Bear Park and, without giving too much a way, there is a satisfyingly circular structure to so much history here.

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Time to pull back: THE MOTHERLESS OVEN was set in The Bear Park, a working class area with very specific and absolute boundaries. There was nowhere else. There were plenty of parents, but no brothers or sisters that I can recall. Instead of birthdays, everyone had a deathday. Scarper Lee’s was imminent.

THE CAN OPENER’S DAUGHTER begins in the much more affluent Grave Acre where everyone has a double-barrelled name and we see no such parents. Indeed the reigning (and raining) Weather Clock is terrified of being referred to in public as “Mum”. It may not surprise you to learn that it’s partly a class thing, but I won’t explain why.

In The Bear Park’s schools they teach Circular History and Mythmatics. In St. Sylvia’s School of Bleak Prospects and Suicide, the boarding school to which Vera is banished after a big breach of etiquette, they teach Probable History and Terminal Vertices.

“Everyone paid attention in Terminal Vertices, not because Miss Cavendish-Hole was any less dull, but because your life depended on it.”

In Grave Acre you aren’t assigned a deathday; you plot your own suicide graph using desolation logarithms found in Cullculus. You choose your fate. Vera Pike chooses not to have one. She hides her graph, unplotted, under the mattress.

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It may be by now that those who’ve already read THE MOTHERLESS OVEN are starting to see the connections. They’re ever so clever once revealed, and I’ll just jog them along a little here when Vera speaks up during a class in Hauntology where they’re studying The Bear Park and deathdays.

“Sir, how do we get to Bear Park?”

She’s met with roars of laughter.

“C’mon, Pike. It’s as impossible to travel from Grave Acre to The Bear Park as it is to travel from today to yesterday.”

But Vera’s Mum originally came from Bear Park before she got ideas above her station, as did Vera and her Dad. So what’s up with that?

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The art is deliciously British with nods at St. Sylvia’s to older boarding school comics and if I detected a Gorillaz / Jamie Hewlett vibe in THE MOTHERLESS OVEN, in THE CAN OPENER’S DAUGHTER I’m minded of the likes of Steve Parkhouse in THE BOJEFFRIES SAGA and, while watching the Weather Clock herself – with her spikes, claws, long, curved neck and grotesque in-your-face face – I couldn’t help thinking of Gerald Scarf’s work for Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’.

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It’s partly on those grounds that I couldn’t shake the notion that the Weather Clock and the Can Opener were riffs on a strident Margaret and a cowering Dennis Thatcher, even if it’s the Weather Clock constantly sozzled after using her husband to uncork the bottles. Talk about enabling.

Speaking of ascensions, I loved Vera’s growth in the book from a baby-faced brat with bunches, through uniformed pudding-bowl private-school girl, to chic, commanding rabble-rouser by simply untucking her shirt and ditching the pinafore dress.

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The animation of the Ink Gods – the glass, stoppered jars sat on small pedestals – is exquisite and all the more remarkable for being accomplished purely by the lettering. They don’t move, but they are emphatically alive.

If THE CAN OPENER’S DAUGHTER dovetails as wickedly as I’ve asserted with THE MOTHERLESS OVEN, you may be wondering how. I’ve barely mentioned the latter’s narrator, Scarper Lee, and Castro Smith not once. Castro, you may recall, has Medicated Inference Syndrome kept in check with a surgically implanted Brain Aid which stops all the signals becoming noise.

It is Castro who can see all the connections. He figured out who Vera’s Mum was long before everyone else. He’s writing a Book of Forks.

“Forks are choices, forks are everywhere. My book is a theory of everything.”

As THE MOTHERLESS OVEN concluded we left Vera and Castro alone together on the other side of The Bear Park’s fence, while Scarper’s deathday was still looming large. So how do we get there from here? I’m not telling you.

“My interest is piqued – you are a source of intrigue, Mr. Smith. What is a Book of Forks and what can it offer me?”
“It’s an encyclopedia of all possible histories and a post-mortem of all possible futures. It explains deathdays, how weather works, where Gods came from, why the Immortals died out and how to repair a kettle.”

He can be quite practical, can Castro.

“The forks… three paths into one… one path into three…”

Next: Rob Davis concludes his own Book of Forks.

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At the time of typing, thanks to Sam Humphrey at SelfMadeHero, all our copies come with beautiful, free bookplates signed by Rob Davis.

“This is where the end starts…”

SLH

Buy The Can Opener’s Daughter (Bookplate Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 2: Unseen Feet (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.

“Uneasy friendships between a group of hesitant, second-guessing, slightly paranoid girls at college,” I wrote originally of volume two but, having now read all six WET MOONs so far, I only wish they were more paranoid, for one within them isn’t showing her true, seething colours.

The vulnerabilities are beautifully observed, as are the explorations of sexuality.

For these new editions I only had to adjust my WET MOON VOL 1 a little, while adding a new introduction for this did develop in most unexpected directions, and on re-reading what I wrote here I was delighted to discover that Campbell had continued to fool me and I still wasn’t looking in all the right directions. Before I forget I should mention that there’s a who’s who of WET MOON in the back should you need it to keep up.

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After a quick flashback to High School, the second book picks up almost immediately after the first.

Cleo’s still finding messages left lying around campus saying “Cleo eats it” and one of the chief tensions in this is whether indeed she might be persuaded. She’s just bumped into Myrtle (literally) whilst fleeing a class containing her ex-boyfriend, and their new friendship – though as tentative as any of the others – does seem close with Myrtle appearing to be less judgemental than the rest of the crowd who could all Bitch for Britain. Audrey certainly “eats it”, but her new friendship with Kinzoku (who does actually appear to have a clue when it comes to love and friendships) threatens to unsettle her relationship with Beth. Meanwhile Trilby – the most mean-spirited and spiteful of the cast last book, who did actually try it on with Cleo – has got herself a boyfriend, but he doesn’t seem too confident in the bed department, whilst Cleo herself is disappointed to find out that pretty-boy Glen is [REDACTED].

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I think I’ve just typed “friendship” four times already, so blatantly that’s what this series is about, along with body image and sexuality. The cast are constantly checking themselves out in the mirror and pawing themselves, changing hair styles, and then occasionally changing back based on approval or disapproval or anticipation of either.

Some of them are still getting to know each other so there’s a lot of naturalistic behaviour like languishing about on beds and sofas, exchanging crushes, secrets and scars, metaphorical and otherwise.

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But what about the horror hinted at last time? Yes, that kicks up a notch too, and all those elements seem to meet in Zia, the girl with one arm who photographs herself lying on the ground as if dead, covered in mud and garbage; Fall who wanders around with her mouth open near the swamp, cooking burgers for her mute, scarred and blood-drooling Pa; and fetishist Fern, the uber-rich bald girl whose back bares a butcher’s brace of meat hooks. What is up with all that?

I leave you to see if anything becomes clearer for yourselves, but for me this book just opened things up further and I’m all the happier for that. As I wrote last time, Campbell has an eye for the more interesting female body shape, and relishes big, fleshy pierced lips and scowls. Her lines grow softer as she grows into the series, the eyes widen to become pools of doting and doubt, while her command of tones becomes rich and delicious.

It’s mesmerising, and actually very pretty except when they’re being ugly to each other.

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SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 2: Unseen Feet (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Descender vol 3: Singularities (£13-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen.

Now wedescender-vol-3-cover pause for reflection.

Unfortunately not all the robots’ metallic surfaces are as shiny as they used to be or were intended to be. Good old humans, always tarnishing and sullying stuff with their selfishness, disregard or outright viciousness.

So it’s time for five warped recollections mirroring and marrying the present with the past, linking up with each other in unexpectedly intricate ways, then pushing events forwards far enough to make our wait for the next volume excruciatingly  tantalising.

It’s my favourite instalment so far. At least two of these chapters explore the past of protagonists you won’t have imagined even have a back story, but they do, and one of those is of critical importance to what’s gone before and why they’ve said what they’ve said, when what they said I dismissed  as mere whimsy. It’s not.

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For extensive but non-spoilery analysis of the story and craft so far please see our reviews of DESCENDER VOL 1 and DESCENDER VOL 2.

As I’ve mentioned before, none of this would be half so effective or affecting had Lemire and Nguyen between them not made us care so profoundly for young Tim-21. Developed to be a personal companion to humans, he is compassion personified, his devotion matched only by the family’s robotic dog Bandit, as you’ll discover here. Originally Tim-21 awoke lost and alone, save for said dog, on a mining colony ten years after a disaster which wiped out all the colonists except one who went on to… well… none of it’s pretty.

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Ten years ago a cataclysmic disaster also struck each of the nine Core Planets, in retaliation to which all robotic life forms were outlawed and as many as possible have been hunted down to be thrown into furnaces while still functioning. Not everyone concurs with this, while some of the most passionate anti-bot bounty hunters are those you hope would most be not. These two paragraphs may be related.

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Eventually we met Tim-22 on the cover, as did Tim-21, and they seemed to hit it off immediately until things took a worrying turn for the worst. But to some extent or another we are all the products of our past, humans and androids alike, and once again Nguyen and Lemire have here in these flashbacks imbued Tim-22 with far more tender humanity than those around him. It is very, very, very upsetting.

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Each of the memories flash back as far as ten (or in one telling instance seventeen) years ago, before leaping forwards in jolts until they conjoin with the present and wham, we’re off again. I particularly admired the three almost identical panels which moved forwards first then days, then ten months, then ten years.

That’s all you’re getting. Please see the two previous reviews.

SLH

Buy Descender vol 3: Singularities and read the Page 45 review here

Hawkeye #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Leandro Romero with Jordie Bellaire.

“Five A.M. is my nightmare.
“It shouldn’t even be a time.”

This is a truth, for which I apologise to all our loyal postmen and postwomen (in a trade rather than evolutionary sense) while truly appreciating all your pre-dawn delivery diligence. Too many of us take our Royal Mail maestros for granted, including myself until I typed both those sentences which have no bearing whatsoever on this comic.

It is a bright and beautiful thing. It is refreshingly free from clutter and it clatters on at a right old clop with all the attention span that you’d expect from a teenage narrator who won’t be distracted from her singular mission by anything other than abs. Mmm…. abs.

Kate Bishop is focussed. Kate Bishop can see what few others see. What she sees in her hawk-eyed, instantaneous intuition is presented by Romero and Bellaire in shutter-speed, potential purple targets which Thompson wittily designates as ‘Innocent Bystander’, a car’s ‘Poorly Covered Plate’, ‘Security Alarm’, ‘Smoke Detector’, ‘Glass Jaw’ and ‘More Hot Abs’.

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In righting wrongs master-archer Kate Bishop will take care of business meticulously, efficiently and without warning whilst wearing purple and counting abs.

I am not at all obsessed with abs.

Speaking of business, YOUNG AVENGERS’ Kate Bishop is setting up shop as a private detective in California around Los Angeles’ Venice Beach. Where there are lots of… pecs. She has no license, she has dubious investigative skills, but what she does have on her side is a certain chutzpah and the ability to improvise swiftly.

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I never thought I would type this, but I rate this right up there with her previous appearances in Fraction’s and Aja’s HAWKEYE which remains the only superhero comic which Page 45 has ever allowed into our window, largely because it wasn’t really a superhero comic but – in its true, theatrical sense – a comedy of manners so contemporarily designed by Aja.

This first issue at least is equally contemporary, dealing as it does with the scum who harass women online, for more of which I would refer you to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 3. The art by Romero and coloured by Bellaire is a mischievous dream which is ever so light on extraneous clutter and ever so sharp on sequential-art subtlety which is perfectly apposite for a clue-based drama. I cannot believe it would be intentional but in one panel I even got whiffs of Jack Kirby romance comics (ask me).

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Here’s a good joke. Kate Bishop walks into a bank.

“Excuse me, I’m here to make a deposit. Do you accept… sass?”

We do indeed. This sort of sass is acceptable.

SLH

Buy Hawkeye #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov, others.

“I don’t do redemption.”punisher-max-vol-4-cover

Ennis wraps up his impressive ten-year run on the implacable one with a finale that’s as thoughtful as it is furious and quite possibly the best thing he has ever committed to paper. He has something to say and it’s well worth hearing.

Before we get to ‘Valley Forge, Valley Forge’, however, although the vast majority of his MAX run was serious stuff dealing with real-world horror like sex-slave trafficking, there’s a brief return to the light relief Garth gave us initially in the likes of WELCOME BACK, FRANK.

Being a MAX title, however, we are well into the realms of the outrageous, almost as O.T.T. as THE BOYS. Sticking at least with the geopolitical, it’s a Central American revolutionary romp starring Marvel’s biggest, baddest – and most surprisingly liberal – big black mo-fo, Barracuda. Evidence includes an inference of two of the chapter headings (“A Mouth Is Just A Mouth,” “Curiouser And Bi-Curiouser”) and the fact that Wanda, his co-conspirator with a constant mouthful, is the world’s most lethal transvestite.

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You don’t have to know who actor Christopher Walken is to understand his adversarial role, but make no mistake, it is Christopher Walken. It’s not just his impeccable likeness by Parlov, it’s also in the speech patterns as perfectly presented as any of Dave Sim’s guest stars’ in CEREBUS. Nor do you have to understand the intricacies of haemophilia to grasp that protecting a mobster’s boy with that particular condition in the middle of a gunship assault on the President’s villa is going to be… problematic.

Barracuda, of course, has his own long-game in play which should net him a small fortune, but he may not want to slap his own back – or anyone else’s – too quickly. It’s funny how Barracuda always ends up all at sea, but he usually figures something out.

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By ‘Long Cold Dark’ you can tell that Ennis is wrapping things up by the number of bodies he’s counting. Yes, it’s another bloody massacre with a particularly spectacular claymore trap and its three-storey detonation at the top of a skyscraper. Artist Howard Chaykin done good there.

It’s been thirty years since Frank Castle last knew “the terror of being a parent”:  the wonder yet constant worry for your offspring’s safety. In Frank’s case he had very good cause for worry and now he does so again because Barracuda’s done some digging around and found the ultimate bait. Insane levels of violence precede and succeed a cleverly constructed, tense game of cat and mouse with a young girl’s life at stake.

Goran’s great: under him both brutes are enormous powerhouses. I think I’ve described him before as a sort of John Buscema who takes liberties, and the result is a carnage that charges away at a rapid rate of shots.

So it is we come to ‘Valley Forge, Valley Forge’.

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A book is being written about Vietnam and certain soldiers who served there at the time of the Valley Forge Massacre where Castle was the only man left standing. It’s a book whose interviewees have much to say about race, contemporary social conditions and an army at war, while its writer, Michael Goodwin, reminds his readers about the recent revelations regarding the false premises on which war was declared that time as well when we illegally invaded Iraq.

It also harks back to Ennis’ ‘Born’ now found in PUNISHER MAX COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 1, and it all ties together in the final issue, trust me.

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Meanwhile, those ex-army chiefs who are looking forward to benefiting financially as board members on private construction companies or security firms in future armed conflict, those cowards who’ve hidden behind mercenaries like the Barracuda in their efforts to take Castle out and with him the knowledge of the treason they’ve committed (see ‘Mother Russia’ in PUNISHER MAX COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 2), they know Frank will be coming for them next. But one of them discerns a weakness they can exploit: Frank will never knowingly fire on American soldiers.

I should just add that I’m tempted to transcribe the whole “Buffalo Soldier” excerpt from Michael Goodwin’s book as mentioned above in which he interviews the sister of the black youth his own white brother befriended whilst on their tour of duty in Vietnam. She’s eloquent, stirring and I did type our four paragraphs of keenly observed truth before letting you off.

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The collection is rounded off with three earlier snap-shots of what passes for Frank Castle’s life which were originally collected in ‘From First To Last’, featuring youthful revenge and custodial revenge and post-nuclear revenge. He’ll have his revenge, will our Frank.

‘The End’ was early warning that Ennis had set his sights on having something to say about war in the world: who’s been instigating it, why they’ve been doing it and how far other nations can be bombed into submission before they retaliate with apocalyptic consequences for all but those self-same perpetrators. He fitted the Punisher into the story in a manner which made perfect sense.

Frank Castle is incarcerated when the story opens, and that’s how he survives the nuclear strike: in a purpose-built bunker deep under the penitentiary. Only a few manage to join him, but it’s interesting company which sends Frank back to the surface with one last mission in mind. It’s not a rescue mission.

Richard Corben’s vision of a post-nuclear-holocaust America is the stuff of science fiction nightmares, the very clouds on fire like massive, molten cinders. He is the definition of gritty while Ennis provides the grim.

In ‘The Tyger’ ten-year-old Frank deals with the fall-out of a classmate committing suicide. Veteran Marvel artist John Severin proved that he had not just maintained his power, but improved his craft and was perfect for this piece. I was in awe.

Finally, as to ‘The Cell’ drawn with formidable shadows by Lewis Larosa, you tend to lose track over the years, but until now Frank had apparently failed to bring his family’s killers to justice. I don’t mean they haven’t been locked up, because they have – which is why Frank’s just handed himself in to be sent down.

Because justice to Frank Castle is a very different affair, involving kitchen utensils and a monkey wrench.

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SLH

Buy Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 4 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

Brighter Than You Think 10 Short Works By Alan Moore s/c (£20-99, Uncivilised Books) by Alan Moore, Marc Sobel & Melinda Gebbie, Stephen Bissette, Peter Bagge, Mark Beyer, Rick Veitch, Oscar Zarate, Bill Wray, Don Simpson

Hopeless, Maine vol 1 – The Gathering (£13-99, Sloth Comics) by Nimue Brown & Tom Brown

Long Gone Don And The Terror-Cotta Army (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by The Etherington Brothers

Lovers In The Garden (£8-00, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Anya Davidson

Rivers Of London: Night Witch (£13-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan

Sky Doll: Spaceship h/c (£23-99, Titan) by Alessandro Barbucci, Barbara Canepa & various

Harley Quinn vol 5: The Joker’s Last Laugh h/c (£22-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Chad Hardin, Alex Sinclair

Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat vol 2: Don’t Stop Me-ow s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kate Leth & Brittney Williams

Ultimates: Omniversal vol 2 Civil War 2 s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Kenneth Rocafort, Djibril Morissette, Christian Ward

Blame! Vol 2 (Master Edition) (£26-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Tokyo Ghoul vol 10 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Tomie Complete h/c (£25-00, Viz) by Junji Ito

News

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ITEM! Not long until Christmas now!

I’m not sure any mail order will reach you in time but you may still find this handy for last-minute comicbook Christmas presents from Page 45 or any other outlets wise enough to stock these glorious graphic novels:

Christmas Shopping At Page 45, plus our Top 40 Tips for Comic & Graphic Novel Giving!

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ITEM! Festive Opening Times at Page 45.

Page 45 is closed for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day only.

We close on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve around 4pm

We will be open on Tuesday 27th after Christmas and Monday 2nd January after New Year from 11am to 4pm.

New Comics Day for both those weeks will be Thursday rather than the regular Wednesday.

Other than that, it is wallet-whipping, credit-card-crucifying, sterling-snaffling business as usual!

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ITEM! Lastly, given the way my regular days off / working at home fall this Christmas, it is possible that there won’t be reviews next week, soz!

I’m collecting my parental unit from Chester by car on Thursday, so working at the shop on Friday instead; plus Monday is Boxing Day and – quite understandably – my mother-type-arrangement would not take kindly to me ignoring family in favour of tapping tipsily on the keyboard. That just leaves the Tuesday during which my dearly beloveds won’t have dearly departed until midday or later.

We may work something out, or we’ll be back with a bumper edition in a fortnight’s time! You know, depending on what’s published.

Just in case this is Page 45’s last blog of the year, I’d like to lavish you all with love – whether you shop with us or not – for taking the time and trouble to read our reviews and buy beautiful comics and graphic novels wherever it is you tend to loiter.

I’d also like to hug each and every one of you for following our J45 on Bookface and this twit on our Twitter @pagefortyfive

Your endurance frankly astonishes me.

 – Stephen xxx

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2016 week two

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

The Coldest Winter h/c (Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Steven Perkins.

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Possibly the most beautiful bookplate I have ever beheld, signed by both Antony and Steven, for which we are enormously grateful.

Not only that but once you’ve absorbed this graphic novel of such smile-inducing, head-shaking craftiness, you’ll understand why Page 45 is so honoured to be associated with it.

It’s a prequel to Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s THE COLDEST CITY but, unlike most prequels, you’re encouraged to dive straight in here first for a winter and a war that could not be colder.

“The snow makes leaving Berlin impossible. Planes are not flying, roads are impassable, and almost no trains are operating. Besides, Lubimov is badly injured. He is still in West Berlin, and they cannot hide him forever.”

West Berlin, 1982, and the entire continent of Europe is frozen in the icy grip of the coldest winter for over three decades. Everything has been brought to a standstill, except for the clandestine manoeuvres of the Soviet KGB and Britain’s own Secret Service.

 

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For a single night in January Dr Lubimov has been released by Russia to address a science conference in West Berlin for the first time in ten years and possibly the last, because Kremlin doctors have given him but two years to live. His condition is believed to be a side-effect of very nasty nerve toxins the doctor has developed for Mother Russia and which Britannia would like to get her dirty hands on too under the disingenuous excuse of developing antidotes. Of course he’s not going to be allowed out unaccompanied by armed agents notoriously difficult to deceive even under the easiest of circumstances and these are far from ideal.

 

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For a start there are the crippling weather conditions about which David Perceval, the West Berlin attaché assigned to the case, has protested in the clearest and strongest possible terms. Unfortunately for him he’s in no condition to complain for he’s already about to be sent home by his immediate commanding officer, William Woodford, after a succession of bodged operations. Then there’s West Berlin’s unique geo-political bind in being a fortress back then, but one designed to hem the West in rather than the keep East out. Not only was it cut off by the Berlin Wall from the east side of the city occupied and administered by Soviet Russia, but it was completely surrounded on all its extremities by both the wall and by the communist German Democratic Republic itself.

Difficult, much…? In terms of extraction, we’re talking the worst wisdom teeth ever.

 

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This graphic novel begins in West Berlin on January 20th 1982, nine days after the conference, with a phone call between Dr Lubimov – sequestered but also trapped in a British safe house – and his aged, already defected wife Olga, desperate to see him again. By the end of that prologue Dr Lubimov has a gun to his head. We then retreat to East Berlin on November 25th 1981.

How did it all go so spectacularly wrong?

 

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From the writer of THE COLDEST CITY (obviously, and we had 50 signed bookplates for that too but they sold out almost immediately so, you know…) and the much-adored UMBRAL, THE FUSE, WASTELAND, two of our three DEAD SPACE graphic novels and adaptor-to-comics of Alan Moore’s FASHION BEAST plus Anthony Horowitz’s Young Adults’ Alex Rider graphic novels like SCORPIA drawn by Emma Vieceli and coloured by Kate Brown… *draws breath*… I believe this is his most brilliant book to date.

The class deference, old school ties, the grudges and period tensions are all captured perfectly, with no one trusting anyone – even on the same sides – as are the semi-derogatory dismissals. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Russians referred to as “Ivan”, the French as “Fritz”, Americans as “Yanks” or “Yankees” and the British as “Limeys”.

 

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It is also so wickedly, so deviously clever that although I emphatically will not punch the man in the face the next time I see him (Johnston would see any such angle coming and have pre-prepped for it in multiple ways, decking me 36-hours before I’d even made my first flailing move) I felt when I finished it as if he had just playfully slapped mine – and I enjoyed it.

Unfortunately I cannot possibly tell you why, for I have signed our own Page 45 Official Secrets Act which means spoiler-free reviews.

 

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What I can extol are the extraordinary virtues of Steven Perkins’ art.

You’re on a hiding to nothing if you attempt to illustrate a book called THE COLDEST WINTER – set during a continent-wide blizzard during which political relations are glacial – without being able to convey sub-zero temperatures. I have never seen a starker graphic novel. On turning each page I felt as if I’d accidentally and inadvisably stuck my fingers into a deep freezer and touched its metallic insides. Have you ever done that? You skin sticks, and it is impossible to free it without tearing some tissue away. It’s essentially dangerous, and knife-edge danger is what Perkins delivers.

 

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So much of this is spot-lit from above, casting impenetrable, black brow shadows which make seeing eyes – and so reading minds – impossible. Spectacles are rendered as blank glass screens. Think Sean Phillips’ half-lit art in CRIMINAL which gives you ambivalence and ambiguity, but with the additional effect in this book of poker-faced unguessability. It’s a trick which here renders straight-laced and straight-faced individuals certainly inscrutable and quite possibly implacable.

That is precisely what is required in a graphic novel wherein the dogmatically, diametrically opposed, prideful protagonists are playing dare-you games with each other: games on which real lives so depend.

 

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Then there’s the central car chase prior to Dr Lubimov being stranded hopelessly in the safe house and this is amongst the very best that I have ever clapped my eyes on in comics. With barely any purchase on the compacted snow, you can feel the car tyres skidding in the opposite direction to the steering wheel, and you can experience for yourself the insane adrenaline rush when attempting to lose your murderous pursuit.

 

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Still, doomed David Perceval isn’t without his key moves or parting shots. Here he addresses his opposite, Comrade Aleksander Grigori Bremovych of the KGB, as he leaves a room in which they have both been debriefed by their superiors:

Posli vas, tovarishch.”
“Your German accent was better.”
“So was my driving.”

 

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SLH

Buy The Coldest Winter h/c (Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Paper Girls vol 2 s/c (£11-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson.

“The present is not a gift.”paper-girls-vol-2-cover

I still have absolutely no intention of looking it in the mouth.

“Only time is timeless.”

You may have a point there, however high one’s default nostalgia setting’s dialled up.

Much of my mirth in reading PAPER GIRLS VOL 1 was derived from a recognition of the 1980s which was in equal parts affectionate and embarrassed, for it wasn’t the most enlightened era. Set in 1988, it starred MacKenzie, Tiffany, KJ and Erin, four twelve-year-old paper girls at a time where delivery routes were predominantly the sole province of boys. The first three had banded together a while ago for mutual protection while Erin joined them just in time for time itself to go tits-up.

The power grid failed, the sky went well-wonky, locals began to be disappeared (sic) and their quiet suburban neighbourhood was invaded by cowl-covered, incomprehensible, mutated teenage boys on the run from reactionary futuristic knights in shining white armour, riding giant, prehistoric flying lizards.

As you might imagine, no one received their Evening Edition that night.

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Art from volume one

Lastly for now, Erin found a square, palm-sized metal device with a black screen and familiar (to us) silver Apple logo which looks like someone’s bitten a chunk out of it. It didn’t work for her, but then perhaps it was Forbidden Fruit fallen from the Tree of Knowledge – not something you’re supposed to nibble on. There were lots and lots of apples including an Apple phone which was obviously way ahead of its time even if it was one of those old-skool affairs with a circular dial and cradled handset. In this volume it will start working for Erin, but not our Erin or the space-suited Erin; it will start working for other Erin on the front cover who is forty years old.

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There’s no getting round it: that’s who they met on the very last page of PAPER GIRLS VOL 1 and if that had us amused at how comparatively quaint the ‘80s look to us in retrospect, volume two will see you chortling mightily at the girls’ intense culture shock upon arrival in 2016.

“There are waters in the fridge if you’re thirsty.”
“There’s more than one kind of water now?”

Then there are our impossibly thin, gigantic television sets whose resolution might as well be three-dimensional, entire malls closed down in the wake of Amazon, the politics, profanity and just imagine you’re from 1988 and heard the following news bulletin:

“This just in from our social media department, an extraordinary Vine posted by Twitter user @JoanyFootball2.”
“What language is this?”

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I’ll leave you to discover the circumstances our Erin finds future Erin in – the direction her life has since taken – and how about MacKenzie? Her house has certainly been spruced up.

Cliff Chiang once more provides all the vital grounding a science fiction series like this one needs in order to contrast the temporal disturbances – which are once more substantial, startling, enormous and delightfully ugly – with the everyday, out-of-their depth protagonists attempting to survive them. I adore all those clothes: the shirts and the jackets and the way young Erin’s jeans hang in loose folds while older Erin’s hug her thighs tightly. Similarly her mouth hangs agape naturally, even when not speaking, with a certain degree of weariness.

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So much of the background detail is subtle but makes all the difference, particularly in the closed-down, deserted and dilapidated shopping mall: lots of detritus, particularly cardboard, scattered on benches or blown up against shop windows and doors; the grass between its parking spaces overgrown.

The two Erins are quite credibly the same person and, as you’d expect from the writer of EX MACHINA and SAGA, the characterisation throughout is top-notch too, the relationship between the pair evolves beautifully with an endearing empathy for each other even if things haven’t worked out the way the twelve-year-old would have wanted – perhaps.

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Having given the game away about this instalment’s temporal location I think I’ll refrain from revealing anything more about the plot dynamics, but by its end you’ll have a much clearer indication of the sort of structure Vaughan’s working with here. I’m confident its neatness yet unpredictability will leave you with very satisfied smiles, just like the additional contractions and rearrangements our language has undergone, for the futuristic knights have followed the girls through:

“Bystand a nano, Grand Father. Ograph puts us smackmid of… 002016.”
“Ah, the year my mother was born. Must be right before this nation’s election. Poor bastards have no idea The Problems are about to begin.”

So those two are from verrrrry different time zones, aren’t they?

SLH

Buy Paper Girls vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Samurai vol 1: The Heart Of The Prophet h/c (£22-99, Titan) by Jean-François Di Giorgio & Frédéric Genêt.

“Why did hesamurai-vol-1-cover leave me here ten years ago?”

Ah, the glories of nature, sprightly coloured by Delphine Rieu and as crisp as a Blu-ray disc or a PS4 console screen! It put me more than a little in mind of the old Onimusha games so fondly remembered, and should certainly please fans of BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, VAGABOND, LONEWOLF & CUB and  LEGEND OF THE SCARLET BLADES which boasted wondrous winter paintings, fantastical wolves and an intricately woven story of cause and effect, of nature and nurture.

Absolutely epic landscapes here too: whether it’s autumnal foliage followed by snow-swept Japanese mountains, the low-lit, emerald, subterranean caverns, the lake bearing The Isle With No Name, the scale and perspectives of the hidden tombs glimpsed from above or the intricate wooden panelling on interior ceilings, it all looks like it’s been drawn on boards far bigger than the ones employed as standard then reduced without clutter or any loss of detail.

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It’s to The Isle With No Name (apart from, you know, “The Isle With No Name”) that Takeo journeys in search of his brother. He’s accompanied by his catering servant Shirow, bumbling about and bemoaning his plight like dear Roy Kinnear in the Musketeer films. But as they approach the lakeside hamlet they’re distracted by the villagers’ chilling reaction to a young girl solving the unsolvable puzzle of The Prophet’s Heart.

Tied to an ancient cult led by insurrectionist General Akuma, the puzzle is a prophetic compass, and this single act will bring the Three Shadow Ladies down on their heads and herald the launch of an unstoppable army towards the gates of the Imperial Palace. For something unspeakable lurks in the stygian depths of The Tomb of Sei-I-Otsuka, and it craves the blood of the puzzle-solver most of all…

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I really enjoyed this just for the sheer visual craft, and now that I think about it readers of Frank Miller’s 300 may also be swept away by the later battle scenes including a fold-out, triple-page spread. It’s a refreshing change to get my hamburger fix from something other than a superior superhero book. Because, don’t get me wrong, there’s little more profound beneath these trappings, but it’s tasty all the same.

Note: the next instalment, SAMURAI VOL 2: ISLE WITH NO NAME, has already arrived. Yup, he’s on his way back again.

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Art from volume 2

SLH

Buy Samurai vol 1: The Heart Of The Prophet h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Poe Dameron vol 1: Black Squadron (£17-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule, Chris Eliopoulos & Phil Noto…

“Why, hellopoe-dameron-cover Poe. So nice to see you again.”

Indeed it is, as self-proclaimed best pilot in the galaxy Mr. Dameron was one of the few highlights, for me anyway, of the recent Star Wars film. Like Wedge Antilles with added charisma, oozing chutzpah, he clearly is being positioned to replace a certain cheeky, if irascible, character who apparently didn’t fancy making three sequels… And I don’t mean Wedge…

Speaking of people who weren’t interested in sequels, actor Denis Lawson was apparently asked to reprise Wedge, which makes you wonder if when he said no, they decided to create Poe Dameron in the first place.

Anyway, I have really enjoyed the main STAR WARS comic and the recently concluded DARTH VADER immensely, but have found pretty much all of the character-named minis a bit flat, indeed pedestrian. This, however, has a fresh, exciting feel to it, and thus succeeds in actually adding to the canon rather than just being propped up by it. Penned by Charles Soule, whose current DAREDEVIL run is also pretty decent, with clean-cut Marvel stalwart Phil Noto on art, it’s quite simply action-packed fun.

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Every good hero needs a villainous nemesis to play off against, though, and Soule wastes no time in introducing the dastardly Agent Terex of the First Order, who’s like a passive-aggressive David Niven, all polished accent and impeccable manners combined with a close cropped half-Mohican and sneering, sarcastic turn of phrase. Oh, and he positively loves torturing and killing people, dear boy.

We get two stories for the price of one here, the first of which neatly establishes the characters, involving a strange egg-like artefact and a missing explorer who may know the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, but also allows Poe and Terex to perform the first of no doubt many a deadly pas de deux and competitive verbal one-upmanship.

“Everybody goes home, and we forget this ever happened.”
“Oh, I doubt I will ever forget this happened, Poe Dameron.”

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The second story has Poe and his Black Squadron crew popping along to the most heavily secured prison in the galaxy to have a word with one of the lovely Hutts, who may have a lead on the errant explorer. Guess who else has decided to pay their respects…? Yep, that’s precisely where my first pull quote comes in. What follows is a neat twist on a jail break story as Grakkus the Hutt pits Poe and Terex against each other by offering to reveal his information to the side that can somehow spring him and get him off-world. Let the game begin!

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JR

Buy Poe Dameron vol 1: Black Squadron and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

The Can Opener’s Daughter (Bookplate Edition) (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Rob Davis

Descender vol 3: Singularities (£13-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen

Rumble vol 3: Immortal Coil s/c (£14-99, Image) by John Arcudi & James Harren

The Spire s/c (£26-99, Boom) by Simon Spurrier & Jeff Stokely

Wet Moon vol 2: Unseen Feet (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell

Adventure Time: President Bubblegum s/c (£8-99, Titan) by Josh Trujillo & Phil Murphy

Assassin’s Creed: Templars: Black Cross s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Fred Van Lente & Dennis Calero

Bee And Puppycat vol 3 s/c (£13-99, Kaboom) by Patrick Seery & Ji In Kim

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10 vol 6: Own It (£16-99, Dark Horse) by Christos Gage & Rebekah Isaacs, Juanan Ramirez

Copra Round Four s/c (£17-99, Bergen Street Press) by Michel Fiffe

Dark Souls vol 1: The Breath Of Andolus (£14-99, Titan) by George Mann & Alan Quah

Spectrum vol 23 (£23-99, Flesk) by various

Tank Girl: Two Girls, One Tank (£13-99, Titan) by Alan Martin & Brett Parson

Batman And Robin Adventures vol 1 s/c (£17-99, DC) by Paul Dini & Ty Templeton,others

Batman vol 10: Epilogue h/c (£20-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Greg Capullo

Batman vol 9: Bloom s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Greg Capullo

Deathstroke vol 4: Family Business s/c (£14-99, DC) by James Bonny, Phil Hester & Tyler Kirkham

Guardians Of Galaxy: New Guard vol 1: Emperor Quill s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Valerio Schiti, Arthur Adams

Ms. Marvel vol 6: Civil War II s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by C. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyagawa, Mirka Andolfo

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov, others

Spider-Man: Miles Morales vol 1 s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli

The Uncanny Inhumans vol 3: Civil War II s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Carlos Pacheco, Kev Walker Kim Jacinto

Assassination Classroom vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Blue Exorcist vol 16 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Fairy Tail vol 57 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 7 (£14-99, Yen Press) by Natsuki Takaya

Monster On The Hill (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Rob Harrell

That last one keeps dropping off our website even though it’s permanently in stock. We have no idea why.

News

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ITEM! Christmas Shopping at Page 45! Includes Personal Service Promises and a Top 40 Comics & Books from 2016 with some Christmas Present Classics.

THE COLDEST WINTER with its signed bookplate (reviewed above) would definitely have been included had it appeared any earlier!

 – Stephen

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Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2016 week one

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Antony Johnston & Steven Perkins’ The Coldest Winter has arrived! See News below for free, swoonaway signed Page 45 bookplate!

Bartkira: The Nuclear Edition h/c (£20-00, Floating World Comics) by Ryan Humphrey, various…

“Ralph has awakened!”bartkira-cover

Like The Simpsons? Of course.

Love AKIRA? Obviously.

Well then, this mash-up of manga and Springfield’s <ahem> finest will hit the spot. Conceived by Ryan Humphrey who drew a few scenes of Simpsons characters performing AKIRA that subsequently went viral on the internet, a collaborative online project was then launched to redraw the entirety of Katsuhiro Otomo’s six-volume epic. Which is obviously as crackpot an idea as it sounds, running as AKIRA does to some 500 plus pages!

A vast number of artists are currently drawing the even vaster number of different pages, hence some later bits of the story are finished and other earlier parts still in process. This book takes a selection that also works as a super-condensed ‘complete’ story in its own right. I did like the fact that the ‘correct’ page numbers are used here, so don’t get confused when it suddenly leaps from page 239 to page 300! Fans of AKIRA will still instantly recognise many iconic scenes portrayed here despite the radical re-imaginings.

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The multiple art contributions contained within even this version are eclectic to say the least. Some pages I found amazing, such as those by Tom Neely, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Matias Bergara and Stephen Morrow. My one criticism would be I found myself wanting much more of those and less of a couple of the others, but I can well imagine in the final longer six-volume format, the endless rotating art styles will only add to the mayhem, of which there is plenty in AKIRA anyway, even before Bart and co. get involved! You can actually read all six volumes online (well, all the pages that have been finished so far) and also see the animated trailer at http://www.bartkira.com

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The project’s profits are all going to charity, possibly by their own admission mainly to try and avoid wandering into any legal minefields, but by all accounts Otomo and Matt Groening are amused by the conceit. I was too!

JR

Buy Bartkira: The Nuclear Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Disciples s/c (£11-99, Black Mask) by Steve Niles & Christopher Mitten.

If you likedisciples-cover your science fiction dark and your space shots spectacular, I think you’ve come to the right, inevitably tampered-with cryogenic chamber. This is positively freezing.

That’s not what’s gone awry here, but awry things will go all the same.

From the writer of inky, Arctic fang-fest 30 DAYS OF NIGHT and the artist on the gobsmacking gorgeous UMBRAL, comes a voyage on Venture to Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s largest 62 moons. There a colony has been established by filthy rich, ultra-religious whack-job, McCauley Richmond, and when I write “colony” I mean cult. Rick, Jules and Dagmar have been hired to retrieve a young woman who, her parents claim, has fallen under the influence said whack-job.

“She’s the daughter of a senator and barely eighteen when Richmond… I don’t know, what do you call it? Seduced her?”
“Brainwashed her. Don’t tell Rick but I hope preacher man gives us trouble. I’d love to shoot him right in his Holy Trinity.”

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That is an option under their remit, but it’s the extraction that’s essential. Unfortunately, just before Venture leaves its lunar dock Dagmar has a premonition – which she’s not prone to – of what they might find on arrival: hundreds of cadavers floating in space.

They don’t, of course, that would be far too obvious.

But that which finds them is horrific.

I promised you spectacular and Mitten delivers on the very second and third pages in a landscape spread whose scale is phenomenal. Jupiter’s a big beast. It’s diameter is over 11 times that of Earth’s and 2.5 times more massive than the rest of the planets in ours little solar system combined. What Mitten’s pulled off is, in its truest sense, awesome.

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Firstly, but a sixth of Jupiter’s bright orange, storm-swirled curvature dominates the top-right of the page but cleverly and crucially three of its moons, glowing green, float in front of it, tiny in proportion. On arrival Mitten will up the ante: what’s lost on the skull-and-space-suit front is more than made up for by many more moons whose own size is emphasised by other lunar objects in front of them.

He’s barely started.

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The flight itself comes with some thrilling, electrical, icy effects, and if you’re wondering why our three bounty hunters have super-soft skin, it’ll will serve to contrast striking with what lurks ahead. It’s… a pretty grim first-chapter punchline.

Behind massive and only reluctantly yielding bay doors, the colony’s no less impressive, dominated by its central cathedral which boasts elements both of the ancient and futuristic. And if you’re praying for some of those lovely light effects from UMBRAL, both Mitten and colour artist Jay Fotos have been only too happy to oblige once things go subterranean.

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The script is relatively sparse but free from the false, forced camaraderie that irks me elsewhere. That they enjoy each others’ company is perfectly evident, with enough trust built over previous excursions to tease each other playfully. They’re together voluntarily too, so there are no bitter rivalries or bitching, and their friendship is deftly established in plenty of time everything to go terminally tits-up.

I do hope you don’t choke easily.

THE DISCIPLES falls firmly into the same vein of space-faring science fiction as CALIBAN and OCEAN rather than the more European aesthetic of, say, HABITAT or Moebius’ THE WORLD OF EDENA, and is certainly not as involved as the likes of UNIVERSAL WAR ONE, but I don’t always have time for that. Often I just want my eye-candy, cheers.

SLH

Buy The Disciples s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Diary Comics (£9-99, Koyama Press) by Dustin Harbin…

“In 2010 Idiary-comics-cover started making diary comics on New Year’s Day, in a little 4” x 5” notebook.
“They were hourlies at first.
“I remember thinking at the time…
“It’s hard to have fun when I have to keep pausing…to describe the fun.”
“Which… looking back now… has become a major theme for me.
“Both in my work and my life.
“Maybe the major theme.
“There’s a thing called the ‘Observer Effect’, often confused with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.
“Essentially, you can’t measure some things without changing them.
“You see where I’m going, right?
“Observing the moment changes the moment.
“Not only that, it rounds all the corners and sharpens all the curves.
“It mushes things into a you-shaped shape, fits into a you-shaped spot in your brain, and moves on.
“Is that bad?
“Yeah, probably.”

You might think lettering in comics isn’t that important. It is, however, exactly how Dustin Harbin first came to my attention, by observing some, which had quite the effect on me. I happened to very much like the lettering in Matt Fraction & Fabio Moon’s CASANOVA, both upper case and lower varieties, and made a mental note of who’d done it. Not the butler in this instance. I then read Bryan Lee O’Malley’s awesome SECONDS and thought, hello, I love that lettering, and lo and behold, both were lettered by one Dustin K. Harbin esq.

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We were then due to place a regular order of North American self-published goodness from John KING-CAT Porcellino’s Spit And A Half distribution emporium and I spotted a couple of very slim diary mini-comics by Dustin. I decided to give them a go, absolutely loved them because the guy can really tell a story and draw as well as letter beautifully, and then found out there was a much bigger, albeit pocket-dimensioned compilation with both quality and width.

Unfortunately Koyama Press, who’ve published an excellent selection of titles over the years such as SAFARI HONEYMOON by Jess Jacobs and BURT’S WAY HOME by John Martz, are not readily distributed in the UK, at least not until recently, so I resigned myself to having to wait until we ordered again from John P. In the meantime, I was chatting with Bryan Lee O’Malley (as one does…) at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal this year and mentioned Dustin and his lettering, and instantly Bryan said, “Have you read his DIARY COMICS? It’s brilliant.”

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And that, dear reader, is how I came to be even more determined to get hold of this work. And, happy days, shortly thereafter Koyama Press books became available via one of our regular UK distributors! Having now digested it, I will boldly state that not only is Dustin one of the best letterers in the biz, but also one of the best comic diarists. Oh yes. For whilst he might not actually get up to a great deal out of the ordinary, Dustin successfully makes the ordinary out to be a great deal. Let’s be honest, although other people’s lives are typically fascinating in actuality, it is entirely as the late Frank Carson put it so succinctly, “the way I tell ’em!”, as to whether they are as interesting on the page.

Some autobiographical comics creators know how to spin a yarn, and others merely start a yawn.

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You’ll see Dustin endlessly grapple with making comics and attending the merry-go-round of North American comic festivals such as The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), hobnobbing and schmoozing with the likes of Seth, Chester Brown, Michael DeForge, Kate Beaton, Sammy Harkham and many more besides. He also lays bare his romantic dalliances for our delectation, which he even chivalrously lets his girlfriend have the last word on, with an absolutely brilliant, skewering punchline! Plus he bravely exposes his battles with the black dog of depression. I must say, he seems rather the stoic to me, though, with his ingenious myriad ways of combating, indeed staving off an unexpected, impending dip in the old psychological weather systems, rather than just giving in to it all and retreating under the duvet in a blubbering mess.

There are two threads running through this work which elevate it to its heights: the genuine objective insight he provides us into his inner mental workings, mainly in his solo scenes, and the observational humour he delivers, usually at his own expense, pretty much whenever he’s interacting with another human being.

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I’ll leave you with a two panel conversation with Bryan Lee O’Malley that made me howl with laughter because it’s about a subject Stephen and I comment on to each other every single time we see Bryan…

“Lots of my favourite people either live in Toronto or go to TCAF…”

“Hey Bryan!”
“Hey Dustin.”

“Although I’m still not very good at talking to any of them…”

“Man! You’re tall. Have you always been that tall?”
“Well…”

Bryan really is that tall. Quite why Stephen and I are continually surprised by that fact every time we see him I have no idea, but we’re obviously not alone in our misapprehension on the sheer size of Mt. O’Malley!

JR

Buy Diary Comics and read the Page 45 review here

Young Avengers: Heinberg & Cheung Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung with Michael Gaydos.

“I actually didn’t see that coming.”

You won’t from the cover, and deliberately so. For a start, by the second issue there will be two young ladies on the team, while others will experience… trauma.

This is a story of upheaval and flux because it’s a book about teenagers. This is a book of mysteries, the biggest mystery presented to its readership at the time – long before Gillen & McKelvie’s YOUNG AVENGERS run – being “Who are the Young Avengers?” and because it’s a book starring teenagers, it’s one which some of them don’t know yet the answers to. Which of us knew ourselves, aged 16?

Heinberg created the title at Quesda’s suggestion after two years writing and producing ‘The O.C.’.

“I do love writing teenage characters. Probably because I never got over being a teenager myself. I don’t know if anyone does.”

Not “stopped” being a teenager but “got over” being a teenager.

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“It’s such a tumultuous, deeply felt period in a person’s life: you’re struggling to define yourself in relation to your friends and family; you’re expected to behave like an adult, but you’re not permitted to enjoy any of the rights and privileges which most adults take for granted; and you’re falling in love for the first time. There’s so much about being a teenager that goes unsaid and so many wounds that never heal.”

He continues:

“Being a teenager is all about the beginning of one’s search for identity. And that question, “Who are the Young Avengers,” haunted me to such a degree that it became the soul of my subsequent pitch.”

Every element Heinberg identifies there finds itself at the core of this book, and although Jimmy Cheung will dazzle you with the shiniest of big-battle superheroics fought by those you will be oh so familiar with and fondly attached to, what sets this apart from random costumed crime-fighting is that it comes with its own internal momentum. They’ll be dealing with their own dynamics determined by their own identities, their friends’ and their families’. Three of the individuals will be startled to learn who their parents actually are. As will you.

On the surface this looked corny, not only to prospective readers but to J. Jonah Jameson, ALIAS’ Jessica Jones and fellow reporter Kat Farrell when the first four of our youths appear in costume saving a dozen residents from a four-alarm fire. They didn’t call themselves Young Avengers – that was Kat Farrell – but each of them looked like fanboys aping their elders: The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America’s former WWII partner Bucky.

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But key to all that is this: they are indeed all connected extraordinarily closely to the Avengers and their history… just not in any of the ways it looked like above.

They emerged on the scene while the Avengers were disbanded immediately following the murder of Hawkeye, Ant-Man and The Vision in AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED (whose self-indulgent, sentimental review is even more spoilery than that sentence, so I really wouldn’t read it, just the book which is blistering). That too is key, for Iron Man is still raw from those deaths while Captain America still feels responsible for Bucky’s. They’re determined to shut this team down before any of them gets hurt, especially when Ant-Man’s daughter joins in.

But these Young Avengers aren’t looking for trouble; trouble comes looking for them… because of who they are.

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Since it’s a book of most excellent mysteries, so satisfyingly sewn together, I’m going to have to leave it there in terms of plottage, but as Captain America himself remarks, “I actually didn’t see that coming.”

Instead, here are a few things that I loved enough to review this book anew:

Heinberg does a mean impression of Bendis on Jessica Jones (who appears throughout and is even illustrated for many pages during the investigative special by ALIAS’ own Michael Gaydos), whilst having his own voice for the determined but less than experienced or adept kids. It’s grounded.

Secondly, during that special Teddy, who’s not a young Hulk but a very gentle shape-shifter, talks about how he wanted to “fit in” at school as do most teenagers, and so he did: he morphed to appeal more to his peers. The problem with changing yourself to suit others – to act or to lie and to pretend to be someone you’re not – is that you make all the wrong friends. So he did.

Things I liked third: by the time the book opens Teddy has already learned to be honest to the extent that he’s boyfriends with Billy. That relationship informs the whole of Gillen and McKelvie’s YOUNG AVENGERS stint – it is its very catalyst – but brilliantly it had nothing to do with them being gay. Similarly here their sexuality a complete non-issue, remarked upon by neither friend nor foe. They simply love each other. Brilliant!

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Also, I adore the art by Jimmy Cheung. Coloured by Justin Ponsor, it’s a gleaming dream with tender, shiny eyes, costumes which are thick enough to feel between your fingers and discern one material from another and the most spectacular aerial fight scenes you could wish for. He’s exceptionally adept at vulnerability, and there will much of that witnessed within.

Oh, and lovers of Fraction and Aja’s HAWKEYE will be delighted to learn that this is where Kate Bishop comes from and quickly establishes herself as the bond that binds them all together and keeps them on course even when families unravel. Families matter.

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For yes, this has a heart of gold. I like Heinberg. Plus, he’s done a great job of balancing the young wilfulness and glee of the star-struck newcomers (or, in one case, the baggage that comes from being the grandson of an unrecognised, underappreciated legend) with the respect they have for their renowned adult counterparts, and he’s done an intelligent job of presenting the converse view of authority. He’s put in some graft, in other words, and there are worse reasons to go out a buy a book than that it’s well written by a warm-hearted man, and gloriously drawn by an undeniable star.

Lastly, I know you can’t tell from the cover, but this is very much an Avengers title not a mere adjunct or a gimmick, firmly rooted as I’ve suggested in its history and co-starring core members.

SLH

Buy Young Avengers: Heinberg & Cheung Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Moon Knight vol 1: Lunatic s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood…

“Well, Marc, I don’t quite know what to say anymore… I had thought we were making some progress these past weeks, but now you say you remember nothing of that? I… I just don’t know what to believe anymore.”
“Doctor Emmet, please… I don’t know what to believe, either. All I know is I woke up this morning in this place, and I have no idea how I got here. I remember bits and pieces of different lives… before this… Moon Knight the vigilante, Jake Lockley the cab driver, Steven Grant the millionaire… I need you to tell me… Which of those really happened? Which one was really me?”
“<SIGH> Marc… none of those were really you. None of it really happened. It is all an elaborate delusion. Fantasies you created to cope with the truth.”
“No… I don’t believe that. I know Moon Knight was real. At least that. I know Khonshu was real.”
“Marc… we have had this conversation dozens of time… you want the truth? Well, here it is… There is a Moon Knight, Marc. But you are not him. You’ve been in this institution since you were twelve years old.”
“No…”

Maybe… though presumably unlikely…

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However, Marc is certainly experiencing rapidly changing perceptions of reality whilst seemingly trapped in a mental hospital populated by old cast favourites like Bertrand Crawley, Jean-Paul Duchamp a.k.a. Frenchie, Marlene Alraune and Stained Glass Scarlet. Oh, and Khonshu, we mustn’t forget Khonshu… The staff aren’t a particularly sympathetic bunch, either, with their penchant for a truncheon beat-down and electroshock charge-up. Then there is the mysterious Doctor Emmet who Marc becomes convinced is Ammut, the God of Judgement and eternal foe of Egyptian God Khonshu… As I say, maybe…

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All I know for certain after the first five issues of Jeff Lemire’s baffle-worthy take on the moon-faced mentalist is that I am as utterly puzzled and perplexed as Marc. Particularly after issue #5 where guest artist James Stokoe takes us for a quick trip to the moon to fight werewolves in spaceships.

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But luckily for us, Khonshu, if it really is Khonshu of course, is able to explain to Marc exactly what is going on, or perhaps tell him a huge pack of whoppers, which either way sounds exactly like the weirdest episode of X-Files ever. Or perhaps Marc is subconsciously using the illusion of Khonshu to construct an ever more implausible explanation to justify his whirlamagig carousel of hallucinations. I honestly have no idea, but this is certainly one of the very few stand-out Marvel titles at the moment in terms of writing, which I personally think is suddenly at its absolute nadir in my living memory following another interminable round of unnecessary reboots post-SECRET WARS.

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Marvel do try and let the odd person do something a bit different and more sophisticated in story-telling terms like Lemire is doing here, I will give them that, such as the recent VISION VOL 1: LITTLE WORSE THAN A MAN S/C and VISION VOL 2: LITTLE BETTER THAN A BEAST S/C penned by Tom King, but frequently these left-field yarns struggle to resonate with sufficient fanboys to maintain an audience and get promptly cancelled, as the Vision just has, sadly.

Consequently I’ll personally be surprised if this incarnation of Moon Knight runs more than 12 issues, which is supervillain-level criminal frankly, but hey ho, as long as Lemire gets chance to explain to me what the hell is actually going on, I’ll be happy with our little dance in the moonlight.

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Main artist Greg Smallwood (who has a bit of form with Moon Knight, illustrating part of the recent Brian Wood run) is a real talent too, he had me at the very first page of nocturnal ambiguity with Marc stood outside a huge temple hearing the voice of Khonshu beckoning him in. I really like his broad linework, use of shading as an illustrative instrument and some very clever page layouts with lack of defined panels and stark white backgrounds. It all adds very nicely to the discombobulated feel.

Finally, most appropriate sub-title for a Marvel title ever? Unless, that is, the next trade of All Nonsense, All Dreadful Avengers is subtitled Complete And Utter Shite…

JR

Buy Moon Knight vol 1: Lunatic s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

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The Coldest Winter h/c (Page 45 Bookplate Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Steven Perkins

Paper Girls vol 2 s/c (£11-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson, Cliff Chiang

Baltimore vol 7: Empty Graves h/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Peter Bergting

Black Science vol 5: True Atonement s/c (£13-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera

The Beauty vol 2 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley & Mike Huddleston, Brett Weldele, Stephen Green

I Hate Fairyland vol 2: Fluff My Life (£13-99, Image) by Skottie Young

Judge Dredd Casefiles 28 (£19-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner & various

Lumberjanes vol 5: Band Together (£13-99, Image) by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh & Brooke Allen, Carolyn Nowak

Star Wars: Poe Dameron vol 1: Black Squadron (£17-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule, Chris Eliopoulos & Phil Noto

Samurai vol 1: The Heart Of The Prophet h/c (£22-99, Titan) by Jean-Francois Di Giorgio & Frederic Genet

The Flash by Mark Waid vol 1 s/c (£22-99, DC) by Mark Waid, others & various

Justice League vol 8: Darkseid War Part 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Jason Fabok, Francis Manapul, others

Captain America: Steve Rogers vol 1: Hail Hydra s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Jesus Saiz, Javier Pina

Neverwhere: A Novel (US Edition) (£14-50, William Morrow) by Neil Gaiman

News

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ITEM! It has arrived!

THE COLDEST WINTER H/C (Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition) by Antony Johnston & Steven Perkins!

I am so, so grateful for every beautiful bookplate designed for Page 45 over the years – they have all of them been exquisite – but Steven Perkins has just shot his to top spot. I am in awe!

There will be a review next week, but for the moment, here’s my review of THE COLDEST CITY drawn by Sam Hart and written by Antony Johnston, scribe of UMBRAL, THE FUSE, WASTELAND, two of our three DEAD SPACE graphic novels and adaptor-to-comics of Alan Moore’s FASHION BEAST and Anthony Horowitz’s Young Adults’ Alex Rider graphic novels like SCORPIA drawn by Emma Vieceli and coloured by Kate Brown.

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ITEM! Speaking of Emma Vieceli, boy can she sing! I’m not one for Christmas songs, but listen to this arrangement of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ sung by Emma Vieceli – I swear you will thank yourself.

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ITEM! This new John Allison BAD MACHINERY interview on Comics Alliance explains exactly what I was describing r.e. Lottie’s fiery pronouncements towards the end of my BAD MACHINERY: THE CASE OF THE UNWELCOME VISITOR review.

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ITEM! STRANGERS IN PARADISE / RACHEL RISING’s Terry Moore has a brand new website full of his graphic novels (obv.) and merchandise you can’t buy elsewhere.

What you can buy here: Terry Moore’s RACHEL RISING, ECHO, STRANGERS IN PARADISE, HOW TO DRAW and TERRY MOORE’S SKETCHBOOK VOL 1.

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 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November 2016 week five

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Posy Simmonds expanded re-release plus new Joe Decie, John Allison, Taiyo Matsumoto, Andy Poyiadgi, Joe Latham, Luke Hyde, more!

Dogs Disco (£5-00) by Joe Decie.

Each copy comes signed and sketched-in, with unique song lyrics.

Come, rifle through, pick those that amuse you greatly!

It’s the return of that cheeky Joe Decie, the pint-sized prankster for whom truth is of paramount importance.

Part of the art of Joe Decie is perfectly exemplified on the cover itself: a portrait of the promenade seen from sea, either of Brighton or his home town of Hove. If you open it up, you’ll discover it’s a wraparound landscape cover. “Observations from home and around town,” it promises, and it does not disappoint. Within you’ll find single-page four-panel comics in black, white and delicate grey washes, about Joe, his family and his surroundings, all astutely observed, endearingly individualistic and effortlessly funny.

But the clue lies in what flies to the left of that promise, which I am not about to show you.

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Joe is ever so adept at finding common ground: for example, the escalation of special school days demanding a ready supply of costumes and kits, and the knack of being an experienced seamstress with the ability to work to a tight deadline at the drop of an historical hat.

“Mummy, Victorian Week starts tomorrow.”
“I’m on it.”
“Dada! We’re late for school! Today’s Nocturnal Animal Day. Knit me a fox onesie?”

How do you spend your nights?

“At about 4am I like to wake up and have a worry.”

What follows is true, each and every word, ticking so many of my recognition boxes, but I love the deft twist: the wry / rueful lie that we “like” to wake up as if it were a matter of choice and indeed personal preference.

“I’ll worry about a leak in the roof or the price of print cartridges.
“And maybe about something embarrassing I said at a party seven years ago.
“Then I’ll worry that I worry too much. Or that I’ll be awake all night.
“Then, minutes before my alarm is due to go off, I’ll drift into a lovely deep sleep…”

Yes, minutes before, I achieve peaceful bliss.

“Daddy! We’re late for school!”

I don’t think the Decies are the best time-keepers in Morningshire.

Here’s another incontrovertible truth, that “There’s nothing more British than fish and chips on the beach”. Except that there’s one, as Decie concedes, and it’s one of my own family’s favourite shared memories. It’d be ever so surprised if it’s not one of yours.

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There’s a heart-warming sense of pride in Joe’s family observations, most of it misplaced, and a delightful whimsy to what he records as emerging local trends, like the increasing lengths people now go to when smuggling alcohol into festivals, and the specialist shop Just Dice, “my ‘go to’ dice shop, really amazing selection. Not to be confused with ‘Just Ice’, the ice shop next door (which isn’t that great).” Then there’s the ultimate irony for a new tattoo trend which he confidently predicts will be in the style of children’s temporary transfers.

What should not be overlooked while soaking in Joe’s unassailable wisdom and admiring his strict adherence to verisimilitude, is his draftsmanship and some of the most attractive lettering in the business. I’ve met the man many times, and every self-portrait is spot-on: he nails the manner in which his glasses perpetually hang halfway down his nose. The way in which he draws arms is particularly satisfying, every subtle curve just-so in single, fluid lines leaving the washes to do all the depth-work. Same goes for his cracked, broken plant-pots, to be honest.

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From the creator of the similarly autobiographical POCKET FULL OF COFFEE, THE LISTENING AGENCY, THERE’S NO BATH IN THIS BATHROOM and I BLAME GRANDMA, then, I give you the prospect of the perfect stocking filler in this small book of big wonders and maximum mirth. 

The biggest wonder of all, however, is that Joe can keep a straight face.

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SLH

Buy Dogs Disco and read the Page 45 review here

Veripathy (£4-00) by Andy Poyiadgi.

Current copies come signed, with a spiffy free badge!

Every copy comes with the sub-title / back-cover caution: “Your feelings are no longer yours.”

The desire to understand others on a deeper level – and projections as to how that may be achieved with future technology – have been themes bubbling away for a while now, most recently in Winston Rowntree’s WATCHING and Matt Sheean & Malachi Ward’s ANCESTOR, both of which have proved very strong lures. This shares elements of both.

In ‘Veripathy Today’ we learn of the process called veripathic imaging, in which a person’s unique veripathic signature is captured and may be preserved in an archive so that visitors to the data bank can “be with loved ones no longer present”. Essentially it captures what could be considered your “self”: your thoughts and your feelings, raw, complete and undiluted by the various editorial processes we use to restrict access to them – the simplest one being by staying shtum.

Judicious discretion is a positive quality which saves hurting others’ feelings, but restricted emotional or expressive mobility can also lead to a sense of isolation. Imagine no longer having to find the right words to adequately express the complexities and nuances of what you’re feeling on any given matter or connected issues.

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The veripathic helmet allows a free exchange of these potentially conflicting thoughts in their entirety. Take a couple who have been trying to synchronise using these devices for months. Suddenly there is success and they learn new things about each other.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.”

Can you imagine the liberation? Similarly, when linking to one or multiple individuals sharing the same veripathic space, the comfort of knowing you’re not alone in your self-doubts or even deeper neuroses must be phenomenal. It’s enormously encouraging to exchange candid verbal confessions with friends or to hear David Sylvian’s ‘Orpheus’ and read graphic novels like Pedrosa’s EQUINOXES which suggest that we do, so many of us, harbour the same deep-felt anxieties… but to actually know that this is true through such direct, technologically telepathic access would be something else entirely.

Of course we might all then implode in one gigantic mental malaise, but even on a small scale Poyiadgi has given the less beneficial implications much thought. I’m not a big one for parties (he says, understatedly), but after an ebullient meal with six or seven friends, although most often I’m high as a kite for days, I’m sometimes left with a come-down once it’s over and my friends have dispersed. Now imagine spending too much time in this prospective, unfiltered emotional mind-space, and then being left alone with your own thoughts and feelings.

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So yes, there’s the recreational use of veripathy, but then there’s the medical applications in which a new breed of mental health doctors – those with the skills to enter your mind-space and manipulate or massage it – could soothe your worries or cure more pronounced problems. What a boon that would be! And how dangerous that could be! Not just for the patient, either.

“How are you able to take so much? I mean, doesn’t it affect you?”
“Good-bye, Mr Cooke.”

VERIPATHY is a neat little comic which thoughtfully poses ever so many questions in a level-headed fashion matched in its visual delivery. The colours are, on the whole, warm and soft, and there are two pages of one-on-one comfort and compassion whose forms are warm and soft too. There’s a domestic living room sequence which is ever so cosy, but there are also two pages where the potential emptiness is explored that are positively wintery. I particularly liked the balance in the doctor’s surgery sequence whereby the patients are colourful but orderly in a very long line and backgrounds clinical, the practitioner unknowable.

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Interspersed between these are the two ‘Veripathy Today’ infomercials I mentioned earlier, scripted with according factual newspeak free from pro-or-con commentary and illustrated with treated photographs, for there would be other professional applications too, when you think about it.

I rather reckon that this comic will be leaving you thinking about it for a long time.

Poyiadgi’s LOST PROPERTY is still on sale and awaiting your discovery.

SLH

Buy Veripathy and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 6: The Case Of The Unwelcome Visitor (£17-99, Oni) by John Allison.

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In which our six sleuths from school have almost got their next mystery licked by the time the book opens.

“I can’t believe we have to stay here and hold the ladder.”
“Safety is important, Linton. The instructions are printed on the side of it, look.”

Sure enough there is a safety message sticker from the British Ladder Council printed in black on bright yellow with an incautious ascendant plummeting to his doom:

“WARNING: DON’T TIT ABOUT ON LADDERS.”

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From the creator of BOBBINS, GIANT DAYS etc comes more of the best of British which we’ve reviewed extensively – and in the case of BOBBINS in great depth as to its mechanics – so I’ll restrict myself to a brief introduction, then a look at two specific elements of its art and craft I’ve not yet covered.

It’s summertime, and Jack, Linton and Charlotte have been left behind in Tackleford while Mildred, Sonny and Shauna swan off abroad.

“Maybe this will be your summer of love,” suggests Shauna.
“I am sorry to report that my skull has just filled up with sick.”

Lottie is having none of it. Her eyes blaze into the distance with a ferocious passion and earnestness:

Mystery is my boyfriend.”

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Lottie’s greatest mystery at the moment is what her Mum sees in her new “special companion” Colin who is as dull as three-day-old dishwater but who has been invited to live with them, leading to incredibly violent toilet visits and incredibly dull conversation.

Linton’s greatest mystery is how his newly promoted police Dad is going to cope with the Gravel Pit estate crime rate whose graph is soaring so stratospherically high that, as Linton says, “I wouldn’t want to ride my bike up that.”

Meanwhile at the Tackleford Cormorant offices, Paula’s unyielding reign of inertia at the local gazette continues to confine its fields of interest – and so interest in it – to the unbridled anarchy that is dog mess. Sales have sunk so low that staff reporters have to buy their own tea bags. Except now Paula has taken an unprecedented leave of absence due to “nervous exhaustion, stress and St Vitus’ Dance”, leaving Mike in charge… to do Erin’s bidding. Erin is… ambitious.

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So when “retired” children’s TV puppeteer Don ‘Gravy’ Wilkins is discovered in a ditch at night, catatonic with a rictus grin on his face, then two yoofs are found similarly afflicted and flung up in a tree, Erin smells headline news, Linton’s Dad sees the writing on the wall, and Jack, Lottie and Linton set about solving the mystery of the Night Stalker / Night Hero with some sense of urgency before Linton’s dear Dad is fired.

Unfortunately they are only thirteen with pre-determined bed times.

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It is the age of cast in BAD MACHINERY which Allison nails over and over again, wringing a seemingly ceaseless stream of liquid comedy gold from their restricted circumstances, behaviour, body language and speech patterns. It will be recognised by adults, young adults, even younger adults alike (for, unlike GIANT DAYS with its recreational drug references, BAD MACHINERY is highly recommended to families and essential to school libraries), and I love that that Jack and co are still just young enough to do some of their most serious thinking on slides.

There is the passion – often inversely proportioned to whatever merits it – the petulance, the pouts and the way everything is taken so personally. Not just serious disagreements but mere differences of opinion on, for example, whether their unwelcome nocturnal visitor is indeed a hero or a villain. Conversely, there’s the love. Jack looks not just worried but potentially heart-broken at his friend Linton’s concern for his Dad:

“Come on, Linton! Punch me in the arm! A free punch! Don’t cry!”

Awww….

“I’m not crying! ALL RIGHT? I’ve just got HOT EYES!”
“Do you know who else has hot eyes? Erin Winters.”
“You sicken me.”

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Again, the passion – the disproportionate outrage – in Linton’s eyes when he states that is too funny for words (it’s a reprise, and grows funnier each time), while Jack is clasping his hands in adulation. Erin Winters, it should be pointed out, has a chequered past with our sleuths and Linton in particular. It might involve the selling of his soul or something. But Jack’s reached that age when he has begun to have certain “thoughts” and certain “feelings”.

This brings us neatly to an episode in which Jack and Linton meet Lottie in a lingerie department because she’s been grounded.

“I only got out of the house by saying I was rude because I was worried about bras. So, me and mum are having a bonding trip. BRAS FOR ALL. We’d better be quick, they’re measurin’ her up and strappin’ her in right now.”

There’s a perfect beat which isn’t even a pause but a reversal of camera angles from Lottie’s physical gesticulation across her chest in both directions to Jack, embarrassedly bursting with barely self-contained steam, whom Linton and Lottie both pat-pat on the shoulders with beautifully expressed, unstated understanding:

“Jack, maybe you should go and sit down in kitchenware for a bit.”

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What you should understand is that – although these printed editions are embellished with extra pages and substantial tweaks – Allison publishes most of his stories initially online, page by page on a daily basis, which means each must tell a little story of its own complete with a comedic punchline which is sometimes verbal, sometimes visual and so often both. I cannot conjure in my admittedly addled mind a single other creator with such a high hit rate in that department except Charles Schultz. And although Schultz often mined a vein of an extended storyline, he wasn’t creating such long-form works as these with beginnings, middles and ends.

The upshot of this is that every solo John Allison work is almost incomparably rich and dense in entertainment while this hard-learned discipline has informed his offline collaborative projects too, regardless of whether each page must obey the same “rules”.

So here’s the other element I was just going to “touch on” before leaving you to read or re-read other John Allison Page 45 reviews (best to read BOBBINS as originally published in our blog so that the meticulously chosen illustrations are in synch: http://www.page45.com/world/2016/11/page-45-comic-graphic-novel-reviews-november-week-one/), and that’s Lottie’s language.

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Her pronouncements are so intense, elaborate and embroidered with emphasis as to be hyperbolic. I’m struggling to analyse Allison’s skill and its effect precisely, but it’s as if they are definitive statements. Example the first:

“Whoa, is Erin Winters prayin’?
“Maybe her heart is not pure evil, Jack.
“Maybe she does not have a TAIL as I have LONG SUSPECTED.”

The additional dropping ‘g’s, the phonetic and the slang compounds the comedy with its contrast to the precociously eloquent. Here’s adult Erin followed by Charlotte, carefully chosen so as not to give the game away.

“His face was flickering on and off with the Creeper’s, like a pirate radio station cutting in and out.”
“Worr you can tell she’s a writer. Well evockertive.”

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I will leave you to discover Jack’s pride in being “BEST AT COMPUTERS” and his more hubristic declaration, with attendant celebratory dance, to be “Best at Google. Best at Google. Best at Google” as well as subtle details like him bearing multiple cups of coffee while pushing door open with his foot (recognition button pushed!) and instead finish on his department-store horror at Linton’s suggestion.

“Let’s try CAMI-KNICKERS.”
“Erk, let’s NOT!”

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 6: The Case Of The Unwelcome Visitor and read the Page 45 review here

The Fox, The Wolf, The Woodsman (£7-00 each) by Joe Latham…

     

A fox, a wolf and a woodsman walk into a comic… You know what, I’m really not going to even try and go with the naff joke metaphor because something as wonderful as these three silent mini-masterpieces deserve so much better. Let me tone it down and start again…

A triple treasure trove of gorgeous artwork and interwoven narrative starring, funnily enough, a fox, a wolf and a woodsman, whose lives overlap in these simultaneously told tales including one extremely significant and particularly dramatic event.

the-fox-1I think if we were to construct a Venn diagram explaining the intersection it would be where cute, deadly and demented collide. Each work takes the viewpoint of its titular character, and is most definitely a complete story in its own right, and could most certainly be enjoy by enjoyed as such. It’s just that each of the three provides a unique insight into the other two, particularly with an understanding at precisely how we arrived at the crushing conclusion…

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So, aside from being extremely cleverly constructed, what else have these comics got going for them? Did I mention they were gorgeous? Absolutely, breath-takingly swooningly so! Joe’s art style and choice of colour palette minds me of Jeff SWEET TOOTH Lemire’s, except Joe’s penmanship and brushwork is a touch deliberately tidier and smoother stylistically. Simply beautiful. There were so many times I unconsciously stopped reading and just naturally paused to admire his handiwork, which is a real rarity for me.

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If Joe continues with this level of skill and craft I suspect he will go on to big things, not that these aren’t a trio of tasty treats in their own right. Also, were that not enough to satisfy even the most ardent comics appetite, he’s thrown in a cow pie, a proper dagnabbit cow pie with horns and everything, that just had me chuckling away merrily! I haven’t seen one of those since back in my diddy Desperate Dan Dandy days!  Try saying that with a mouthful of cow pie!

JR

Buy The Fox and read the Page 45 review here
Buy The Wolf and read the Page 45 review here
Buy The Woodsman and read the Page 45 review here

Losing Sleep (£9-99) by Joe Latham & Luke Hyde…

“You know I can hear them right…?”
“What are you talking about cretin?”
“The ants scream every single time you kill one of them, I can hear it.”
“Shut your face Ashton! Or I’ll shut it for you.”

Definitely one for fans of recent retro telly hit Stranger Things, ohhhh yes. Sensitive younger sibling Ashton regularly gets a beat-down from his obnoxious older brother Cregg, who in Ashton’s own words… “is a real jerk sometimes”. Pretty much all the time, to my mind.

Except… during Cregg’s latest physical assault on their way to school, waterboarding Ashton by holding his head in a massive pile of snow (so perhaps snowboarding rather than waterboarding then!), Ashton appears to partially enter an entirely different reality. Well, at least his head does, anyway.

He’s so excited about what he’s seen, and withheld from Cregg, obviously, that he can’t wait for school to finish, tea to be consumed, so he can get back to ‘the place’ to see whether what he experienced was real, or just some oxygen-deprived, sinus-snow-filled hallucination.

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It was real, very real. A strange, oddly coloured mirror-world, distorted and disturbed by maltreatment from the human realm. Oh, and where a huge, very scary looking creature lurks… Ashton, being Ashton, assumes the creature will be friendly, and promptly offers his assistance to help return the mirror-realm back to normal… I think you can probably surmise where this is going now, right…? Yep, it’s going to be time for Ashton to level up, find his inner hero and save everyone, even Cregg.

Excellent, small but perfectly formed fantasy yarn penned by Joe Latham and then brought to vividly diverse blue and white versus black and red drenched life by Luke Hyde. The contrasting colour schemes for the two worlds are particularly impactful at the moments of transition providing a real juddering schism between Ashton’s reality and the other-world.

JR

Buy Losing Sleep and read the Page 45 review here

Literary Life: Revisited h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Posy Simmonds.

Dear, literary-life-coverdear Posy Simmonds! Such a classy lady and such a class act: literate, erudite, eloquent, posh and not above putting the word ‘penis’ on the cover.

Thanks!

From the creator of the long-form graphic novels TAMARA DREWE and GEMMA BOVERY plus the MRS WEBER’S OMNIBUS of exceptionally well observed 1980s, socially satirical one-page comic-strip wonders, comes a new edition of the 2003 publication with 40 new cartoons and comic strips.

Clipped from the Guardian Review section, these are also one-page comics or cartoons both celebrating and satirising the world of book publishing: writers, readers, book shops and publishers all come under her all-seeing eye as she arches her eyebrow ever so playfully at authors’ egos and their dustjacket photographs, launch parties, creative challenges, publishing peccadilloes, inane and sometimes insane questions during festival panels, and the good-old, in-store author appearances to sign or read extracts.

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There arise matters of expectations, promotional activities and attendances. I’ve a cracking collection of recollections called ‘Mortification’, dripping with tears wept by those invited to make such public appearances only to find themselves humiliated by the lack of turn-out, often on account of zero publicity on the part of the store managers or festival organisers. I personally know of a couple owning a comic shop twenty-five years ago who invited a comicbook creator whose regular readership there numbered precisely three. Nor were they expecting to increase that audience: the couple simply wanted to meet him.

The interior art I’ve found for you isn’t of the highest quality, I’m afraid, and lacks the soft, pale indigo tones of this edition, nor does it adequately reflect Simmonds’ fine, flowing lines. She does ‘chic’ oh so well. I’ve always marvelled at her ability to present so much on the page whilst maintaining a harmonious composition full of space.

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One of my favourite pieces is called ‘Rustic Block’ in which an author sits at her laptop in a warm, cosy, countryside kitchen complete with AGA stove, hanging straw baskets and bunches of dried flowers. Through her rain-lashed window we can see sheep.

“9.05am  Chapter one: It was raining. The sheep were
“9.20am  It was raining. The sheep were in the field.
“10.15am  It was pouring. The sheep languished in the field. The gutters dripped. The clock ticked.”

Already weary when she started, our author is approaching exhausted. Her ashtray is beginning to overflow.

“10.50am  Hannah yawned, “Wish I’d never moved to the country. You feel positively catatonic. You can’t think of any
“11.45am  “Christ,” snarled Hannah. “Wish I’d never moved to effing, sodding Suffolk. Had a brain once. In Kentish Town I used to
“12.30am  Suddenly one of the Jacob ewes ran amok, stabbing, slashing and gouging a bloody path as it”

The trace of a smile appears on her lips.

‘Ask Doctor Derek’ is a fabulous conceit of great lateral thinking: a series starring a man and his stethoscope imparting words of reassuring wisdom to troubled writers who visit his surgery as they might a priest in a confessional.

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Visually there are elements of ‘60s romance comics, especially the dark, feathery, female eyelashes, long blonde hair and utter innocence. Naturally matters of maternity and paternity arise:

“Doctor, is it too soon to try for another?”
“Well, let’s see… You had your first last April… and it sold all right.”

Then there are those “pre-delivery jitters”:

“See, I’m three months overdue! I got my dates wrong! … My editor’s going spare!!”

As to authorial maladies like writers’ block, Doctor Derek diagnoses them with intestinal logic:

“You see, I was so regular, doctor! Eight thousand words a day… every day! But now I sit in that little room for hours and hours… and nothing comes out!”
“You’re on the second of a two-book contract… and you’ve taken a very, very bulky advance, yes? Well, this can weigh heavily on the system…. cause it to seize up!”

Suspecting complications, Doctor Derek digs deeper, suggesting that a second opinion on her synopsis might reveal additional causes behind the blockage. Her plots prove so twisted that the script has become knotted, compacted.

“And it took just another ten minutes to work it out with a pencil!”

Look, I did warn you. Posy is a dame, but the word ‘penis’ is on the cover.

SLH

Buy Literary Life: Revisited h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sunny vol 6 h/c (£19-99, Viz) by Taiyo Matsumoto.

This is the finalsunny-vol-6-cover volume of Taiyo Matsumoto’s unsensationalist SUNNY, set in and around a Japanese orphanage, which has at times had me typing through tears.

The first key is this: few of these kids are without parents, but they’ve been orphaned anyway. They’ve been left in the custodial care of incredibly kind, dedicated individuals by mothers and / or fathers who can’t cope for medical reasons, won’t cope for selfish reasons or don’t cope because they are irresponsible fuckwits without the first clue as to how lucky they are or the first thought as to the seismic impact on their offspring.

To know that you have been rejected, yet still yearn to be taken back and dream of it. To be surrounded in town by other parents and children still together yet at loggerheads over nothing. To have nothing yourself but hand-me-downs like a pencil case inscribed with the name of its previous and owner, and to want so little except love. To feel embarrassed, ashamed and judged for being an orphan.

To see no spark of maternal instinct in your mother when you meet her again, except a token effort and lame excuses.

It’s all here in this as in other volumes.

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Art from a previous volume.

The second key is Matsumoto’s refusal to cute-ify the kids. They can be loud and brash while quietly broken inside, or they can be red-cheeked and dripping with snot. Or, in Kenji’s case, they can display and deep-seated sense of responsibility well beyond the reach and comprehension of their drunken dads.

Kenji is given the opportunity to go on a career path field trip to a refinery but he has a paper round and an inferiority complex to maintain:

“A low-class foster kid like me? No way… Gotta deliver the Evening Editions anyways.”
“You’re not “low class!”” counters Mr Adachi with a genuine passion. “Can’t you jus’ get someone to cover your route for a day?”
Workin’ for a livin’ don’t count as a career path?!”

He’s actually still smarting from his skin mags being confiscated.

Kenji’s dad is actually local, perpetually drunk every time Kenji sees him in public. But for once Mr Ito seems to recognise the importance of doing something for his son, offers to fill in on Kenji’s delivery and together they practise the day before. They have a great time rekindling old memories and there’s a brief glimmer of hope – of recognition in Mr Ito of his failings.

“Maybe s’time for me to turn over a new leaf!
“Runnin’ off and abandonin’ you and Asako…
“Sad excuse for a human being.”

While on the field trip, Kenji even buys his dad a nudie pen as a thank-you. But when he returns, well.,. You’ll see when Kenji impresses me no end: dignity and responsibility in one so young and mistreated. It makes your heart swell even as it is broken.

As the book progresses there is the very real sense of a coming conclusion, and possible tragedy, with ever so many poignant song lyrics coming through the radios.

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Art definitely from this volume, the rest being in black and white.

The loudest and brashest and possibly most broken of all is ash-haired Haruo – whom I’ve dealt with extensively throughout this series but most prominently in SUNNY VOLUME 5 – who’s much younger than he looks. It’s subtly conveyed by his reflective aviator shades being far too wide for his face, and a nose which could not belong to anyone far into their teens.

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Art from a previous volume, and in another language.

Normally all front, he’s now chewing quietly on his fingernails in unsure deliberation because he’s considering something momentous.

From the creator of GOGO MONSTER, TEKKON KINKREET and contributor to Humanoids’ anthology THE TIPPING POINT.

[Please note: all black and white art here is from previous volumes.]

SLH

Buy Sunny vol 6 and read the Page 45 review here

Little Tails In The Forest (£13-99, Magnetic Press) by Frederic Brremaud & Federico Bertolucci.

A companion to LITTLE TAILS IN THE JUNGLE, this is a thoroughly accessible Young Readers’ educational adventure from the creators of the silent, more adult-orientated, thrillingly choreographed and quite stunningly illustrated LOVE: THE TIGER, LOVE: THE FOX, LOVE: THE LION and (in February 2017) LOVE: THE DINOSAUR.

You are, however, on perfectly safe and cuddly ground here as Squizzo the squirrel wakes Chipper the puppy dog up and leads him through the forest to his cousin’s for lunch.

Now when I say forest, I mean American or Canadian forest because although we may have foxes, butterflies, bats, owls, woodpeckers, snakes and deer – and quite possibly stag beetles (I really don’t know: I’ve never seen one) – we’re not so hot any longer on wolves, wild boars or hungry bears in Britain. So I wouldn’t get your kiddywinks’ hopes up on that score.

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As in the other volume, in bright, white and sage-coloured comic strips most often above (but sometimes below) full-colour paintings, the knowledgeable Squizzo leads the initially more tentative Chipper through the forest with unfailing confidence in his sense of direction.

So of course they get lost.

I liked the somewhat circuitous map.

I also liked that Bertolucci has adapted his style from, say, LOVE: THE LION so that the animals’ eyes are of an ilk that you’d expect to see in children’s animation – much more stylised with an added element of the anthropomorphic.

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The emphasis is on adventure and excitement to entertain your young ones and introduce them to the majesty and colourful diversity of the forest, moving ever swiftly on to keep wide eyes shining bright and their own fur free from predators.

In the back of the book, however, time is taken to revisit some of the animals encountered earlier and learn a lot more. I had never thought, for example, about the dual dissuasion of a skunk’s defensive weapon: not only is a squirt of its nauseating perfume going to make any brave or stupid enough to attack feel sick to the stomach, but it will then stain them for days with its malodorous scent, so making their approach conspicuous to other critters they might fancy a bite of.

SLH

Buy Little Tails In The Forest and read the Page 45 review here

Captain Marvel By Jim Starlin – The Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin, others.

Thanos fans, this is a classic companion to Jim Starlin’s WARLOCK (extensively reviewed) wherein your favourite, purple, craggy-chinned Death-doter casts his first considerable shadows. These two books are where the story of Thanos starts and I commend this to you almost as unequivocally as I do Jim Starlin’s WARLOCK which is tragic in its truest, time-twisting sense.

But let us begin at what is most emphatically an end, with The Death Of Captain Marvel.

“You know, I’ve been thinking a lot lately of all the people I’ve met in my lifetime. I’ve made quite a few friends along the way. I also keep remembering Adam Warlock. I was with him when he died. His was a hard and sad life, filled with pain and confusion.
“When death came for him he welcomed it as a friend. I’ll not do so.
“I’ve enjoyed this life. It’s had its bad moments, but it’s had far more good moments. I’m going to miss it.”

Surprisingly haunting, even to this day, this was a landmark publication from Marvel in 1982 for so many reasons: it was its first original graphic novel; it was Jim Starlin’s return to a character we all thought he’d long had his final say on; and it featured the death of one of Marvel’s flagship superhumans not in self-sacrificial battle but quietly, in bed, from the all-too human disease of cancer.

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Like Mark Millar and Leinil Yu’s more recent, magnificent SUPERIOR, it remains the antithesis of everything that all too often irks me when real-life issues like incapacity or bullying enter the arena of superhero comics. All of Marvel’s preternaturally bright scientists turn up when they finally learn of the good Captain’s fight, and they try and they try, but they still can’t save him. Nor should they have. Back in 1982 it would have been a magic-wand insult to all those with incurable strains of the disease which was far less treatable than it is now.

Fighting the disease or lying down and accepting your fate…? Now that is explored here in great depth from all sides of the argument and poor Rick Jones – whose teenage transgression originally compelled Bruce Banner to leap into the detonation zone of his own Gamma Bomb and so become the Incredible Hulk, and who was once bonded to Mar-Vell by those place-switching Negabands – takes it harder than most.

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Seven years ago a supervillain called Nitro (oh, it’s always Nitro – see CIVIL WAR) succeeded in stealing a canister of nerve gas from the United States Army. During his explosive battle with Captain Marvel the canister fractured and its lethal nerve agent began to leak out, threatening to kill thousands of local residents. And Mar-Vell – with his alien physiology providing immunity to so much physical harm – stopped up the proverbial damn with his thumb. And promptly passed out. “Is this the End of Captain Marvel?!” screamed the Next Issue caption with customary alarm. Well, no. The thing about superheroes is that they get knocked down, then they get up again: you’re never going keep them down. And so the Kree soldier soldiered on for many further adventures.

In publication terms, it wasn’t even a sub-plot.

Seven years later, and the Captain is recording his memoirs for posterity. His one unique ability is his Cosmic Awareness, giving him an empathic knowledge of shifts in so much around him. But that power turns itself inwards and, long before he is diagnosed, he already knows he is dying. The photonic nature of his Negabands staved off the carcinogenic effect of the nerve gas for seven whole years, but the period of remission is over and now, gradually, one by one, his friends and family find out.

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I adored Starlin’s art. In so many ways he took after the photo-realists like Neal Adams with some extraordinarily impressive neo-classical figure work. But then he’d give it a more expressionistic edge, making the jaws more jutting and gesticulations more angular. The Death Of Captain Marvel graphic novel boasted plenty of both, along with some striking colour art from Steve Oliff. He forsook the rich, warm colours of the preceding series for something altogether more pallid and nuanced, especially during the deathbed sequence.

Coming back to Starlin, there’s a particularly brave panel which stood out a mile after Mentor asks Mar-Vell if his lover, Elysius, knows of his terminal condition. After a moment’s silence he looks up from a panel over which Starlin has scrawled – literally scrawled – not photo-realistic shadow but thick lines of creeping darkness right emanating from his face whose eye sockets and teeth are emphasised so as to suggest a skull, and says,

“No…
“Not yet”.

Better still is the composition of the page in which he does break the news to Elysius, out in the sunshine of an idyllic cityside park on Titan, each silent panel interspersed by a narrow window as Mentor watches protectively over them, then withdraws respectfully leaving the couple alone and the window empty and black.

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“Meanwhile, on the far side of the royal palace, down a long and quiet corridor and behind oak-panelled doors… a woman sits with her man. The long hard vigil that all lovers fear begins.”

It’s a dignified and respectful book, guest-starring so many of your favourite Marvel characters shown to be unusually uncomfortable: awkward in their impotence and unable to express how they feel. Isn’t that so often the way with cards of condolence? I like this. I still like it a lot. And Starlin wrote a very difficult final few pages very, very well.

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Before then, however, you’re in for 250 pages not just guest-starring but fully featuring the Avengers, Rick Jones and The Thing as they first learn of Thanos. The hard way.

Seriously, if you’ve loved Marvel’s most excellent modern two-parter INFINITY VOL 1 and INFINITY VOL 2 with their shared Page 45 review, and you are intrigued enough to learn how Thanos’ legacy began, it is with the life and strange death of Adam WARLOCK and then here.

Reprints CAPTAIN MARVEL (1968) #25-34, IRON MAN (1968) #55, MARVEL FEATURE (1971) #12, MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #1 and material from DAREDEVIL (1964) #105 and LIFE OF CAPTAIN MARVEL #1-5. Those aren’t the dates they were published in, but the dates those series began in order to distinguish them from Marvel’s more recent titles of the same names.

SLH

Buy Captain Marvel By Jim Starlin – The Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews

Summerland (£7-50, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Paloma Dawkins

The Theory Of The Grain Of Sand s/c (£17-99, IDW) by Benoit Peeters & Francois Schuiten

Diary Comics (£9-99, Koyama Press) by Dustin Harbin

Bartkira: The Nuclear Edition h/c (£20-00, Floating World Comics) by Ryan Humphrey, various

The Disciples s/c (£11-99, Black Mask) by Steve Niles & Christopher Mitten

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor vol 5: The One (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Simon Spurrier, Rob Williams & Simon Fraser, Warren Pleece

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor vol 5: Arena Of Fear (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Nick Abadzis & Elena Casagrande, various

Normal (£11-99, Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Warren Ellis

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 1 (£14-99, Titan) by Zac Gorman & C.J. Cannon with Marc Ellerby

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 2 (£14-99, Titan) by Zac Gorman & C.J. Cannon with Marc Ellerby

Samurai vol 1 (of 2): Isle With No Name s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Jean-Francois Di Giorgio & Frederic Genet

Batman: Detective Comics vol 8: Blood Of Heroes s/c (£15-99, DC) by Francis Manapul, Ray Fawkes, others & Fernando Blanco, Marcio Takara, Francis Manapul, Steve Pugh

Captain Marvel – Earth’s Mightiest Hero vol 1 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by various

Moon Knight vol 1: Lunatic s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood

Vision vol 2: Little Better Than A Beast s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Tom King & Kevin Walsh, Gabriel Hernandez Walta

X-23 Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Marjorie M. Liu, Daniel Way & Phil Noto, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Sana Takeda, Ryan Stegman, others

Young Avengers: Heinberg & Cheung Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung, Michael Gaydos

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Yasuo Ohtagaki

Black Butler vol 23 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Yana Toboso

News

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ITEM! Adventures in Moominland at the South Bank Centre 16 December to 23 April.

More of a family experience than an exhibition, you can clamber through forests, huddle in caves and set sail on the high seas while learning of Tove Jansson. Yes please!

Page 45’s MOOMIN graphic novel collection. Click on any cover for reviews!

Art below is from MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD illustrated prose novel. Spooky!

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ITEM! Alison Bechdel’s Dykes To Watch Out For returns in scathing post-Trump form!

Follow the link for more – this is just the top tier.

Bechdel’s FUN HOME, ARE YOU MY MOTHER? and DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR reviewed!

dykes-to-watch-out-for

ITEM! Haunting animation of Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL. Some seriously good scoring too.

We’ve reviewed every Shaun Tan, so please pop in our search engine. THE ARRIVAL, reviewed.

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ITEM! MARCH Book 3 wins America’s National Book Award!

All three books in MARCH trilogy in stock, reviewed!

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ITEM! You may remember the awful news from Page 45’s Reviews December week four about Nottingham City Library selling Nottingham Central Library’s building with no site confirmed as a replacement. I signed the petition and have received the following:

Read in at Nottingham Central Library
Saturday 10th December, 12-1pm
Angel Row

Hi Stephen,

Our library petition has gathered over 1,500 signatures in a week as news filters through that the City Council have sold the Central Library building. And it’s not just us. Both Derby and Sheffield Councils have announced the sale of their library buildings. Libraries are the heart of our cities and they’re being ripped out as cash-strapped councils look for funds.

On Saturday 10th December we will hold a ‘read-in’ at Nottingham Central Library, and we need a big turn out to show the Council how strongly we feel about this. A read-in is a mostly silent event to show support without disturbing library users. We’ll invite the press and have informed the staff via their union. We’ll be there for one hour, and we’ll also be encouraging people to join the library on the day and borrow a few books!

Share the event on Facebook

Please invite friends, family, workmates and neighbours along to this important event. A big turnout sends a powerful message to the council and the government that libraries shouldn’t close to pay for the bailout of the banks.

Read in at Nottingham Central Library
Saturday 10th December, 12-1pm
Angel Row

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 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November 2016 week four

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Shaun Tan! Roller Derby! More Avery Hill excellence! Young Readers’ educational adventure! News underneath!

Equinoxes h/c (£30-00, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Cyril Pedrosa.

“I’m thirty-one, equinoxes-coverI feel lost, I’ll have but one life, and it’s slipping through my fingers like a torrent.”

Camille is thirty-one. Without an apartment of her own, she’s virtually broke and she feels she’s wasted her ten years since college. Buffeted by wind and rain, she struggles to make progress, and in any case she has lost any sense of direction. She’s rudderless.

“I’ve been here for months and I feel like I haven’t found anything. It’s there, right in front of me, but I can’t see it. I feel myopic…
“What sense does it make to be turning up every stone without knowing what you’re looking for.”

She feels alone, but she‘s not alone.

In this remarkable graphic novel with its complex, intricate structure, we’re introduced to so many seemingly unconnected individuals all of whom – to one extent or another – are missing someone or missing something, awakening to their age and mortality, and watching others go about their business seemingly with purpose while wondering where their own lies.

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There is so much fear and anxiety that they are useless or (worse) mediocre: that they haven’t achieved anything, are failing to achieve anything, and never will achieve anything.

“You think it’s too late?” asks middle-aged Vincent of his much-missed brother turned priest.
“Too late for what?”
“To stop playing Ping-Pong.”

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Like Alessandro Sanna’s THE RIVER, Pedrosa’s EQUINOXES is presented in four seasons beginning in autumn and culminating in summer, each with their distinct colour palettes, textures, line treatment and weather conditions. There is ever such a lot of wind and rain in autumn and winter, drawn and coloured in an impeccable low light. It is difficult to forge through and obscures the vision.

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Each begins with a silent sequence set in the Neolithic Age. Autumn’s depicts a young hunter surviving the curiosity of a predatory tiger by holding her or his breath underwater for lung-burstingly long time. Of course, like the tiger, you don’t know that’s what’s happening; you can only the smallest of ripples on the other side of a partially submerged tree. Eventually the tiger slinks off, and the youngster emergences onto the tree trunk, exhausted but alive.

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The second shows the lone hunter pursuing multiple tracks that have successfully crossed ice, but it proves too thin and cracks, stranding the youngster on one side while the tracks continue on over the horizon. 

Believe it or not, like everything else in this graphic novel, these four sequences will prove connected to each other and to the whole.

Louis lives in a remote rural home where he’s helped out with practicalities like his internet connection by younger lodger Antoine. They share a political past of protest which Louis is now weary of, while former protégée Catherine Vallet is France’s newly appointed Minister of Sustainable Development and the Environment. She hasn’t contacted Louis. Louis visits his son or, more accurately, his son’s graveside (1951-1963), sees fresh flowers and asks him, “Has your mom been by?”

Samir Benjelloun is approaching retirement, but is being dispatched to the east of France to help dig the new Morteuil Airport. Its development is being protested against.

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Vincent is that middle-aged orthodontist, divorced from Christine who does her best to stay friends, but his cantankerousness doesn’t make it easy. At weekends he picks his fifteen-year-old daughter up from Christine’s city apartment and brings her back to his modern coastal villa. They visit a jumble sale. Vincent grumbles that Pauline is a pain, shows no interest in anything important and that her friends have minimal IQs. But actually Pauline is paying attention in a way that will surprise Vincent, and is beginning to make her first tentative steps into the discovery of art and, with it, herself.

We know this because our first real encounter in this entire graphic novel is between Pauline and a charcoal portrait in an art gallery. A woman with a camera snaps a portrait of Pauline, her face a picture of uncertain curiosity.

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The woman with the camera turns out to be Camille. There are dozens more connections which will become clear as the story progresses (I have three A4 sheets of paper covered in scribbles and arrows criss-crossing like a demented cat’s cradle which long went awry), but that’s the last of one I’m giving you for we only discover Camille’s name, let alone anything about her, much later on. She and her camera, however, prove a vital part of the book’s heart and structure, for not only does each season end with an insight into her world – one of painful loss, and a resistance to making contact or opening herself up at all – but also each snapshot she takes comes with its own attendant revelations about her intuitively chosen subjects.

There are three or four per chapter, some more unexpected than others, and together they build up a broader picture of perspectives which share much common ground.

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Pedrosa deploys a dazzling variety of illustrative techniques within each season which affect the level of intimacy we see in front of us. There is, for example, an extended sequence in a log cabin high up in the forested hills at night in similar style to the Jeff Lemire-like cover, in which Vincent continues his deeply troubled exploration with brother Damien about what matters in life. Stripped to this visual minimalism they finally begin to get to the heart of the matter.

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By contrast an early sequence between Louis and Antoine shows a masterful knowledge of body forms, body weight and body balance. Hands hang, clothes hang; shoulders are hunched over with age or are so clearly supported by spine.

With spring comes with a richness of colour after bleak winter, and a waxier treatment. It seems to me that’s where the honesty begins between individuals here. People receive visitors and begin to relax outside.

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“Memory’s not fair, is it?” asks elderly Cecile of Louis.

No, as we shall see, in its erosion over time, memory robs us of what we would wish to remember forever, yet plagues us with the things we cannot forget yet. Our memories and minds can make us so hard on ourselves.

“I’d like to be forgiven for my mistakes,” confesses Camiile, “but nobody can do that. You have to be satisfied with your own forgiveness.”

SLH

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

Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure (with signed bookplate) (£12-99, Avery Hill) by Steven Tillotson.

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There are five things you should know about Untitled Ape’s Adventure: it is epic, it is insane, it is deliciously mischievous, completely unpredictable and mind-bogglingly beautiful.

It is also heart-rendingly poignant.

Do excuse my elementary grasp of geography here.

High above the dense canopy of the Congo jungle, below the craggy peaks of the Ruwenzori range, across the Horn of Africa, then back over the Victoria Falls floats the purple ghost of the Untitled Ape. It hovers over the tree tops before plunging down, deep down into a cold, dark cavern. The ghost of the Untitled Ape solidifies in pain and roars in anger.

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This appears pre-prologue as if on parchment discoloured with age.

Much, much later – later than you can imagine – the Untitled Ape punches through the top soil of a verdant meadow rich in blooming wildflowers. He crawls up and out, pulling himself across the long grass, struggling to raise himself onto his hind legs and knuckles. He topples and falls.

“Oi mate! Big fella! Over ‘ere!
“Blimey! No offence, mate, but you look awful!
“Anyway, do us a favour and get me fags out of this tree will you?”

The cat’s dropped its cigarettes down the hollow of a fallen tree. The Untitled Ape is exhausted but strong, and tears the tree apart with his bare hands. They bond.

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There’s plenty more of this sort of contrast to come, comically juxtaposing the mythical and mysterious with the mundane: names like Garry and Gail, Alan and Kevin belonging to beasts I’ll leave to surprise you.

I adore the form of the Untitled Ape, rising on its knuckles like on any gorilla, its forearms massive, its hind legs spindly, a skull that seems to float where its face should be.

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The colours are gorgeous and the light effects striking as the two friends embark on their journey to find Untitled Ape’s family which he suspects is in danger. Hampered by a flood of biblical proportions and a highly suspect sense of direction, they row their way across the countryside then through a city submerged under water (with the most striking perspective seen from above) then out into the ocean, thence on their way.

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Unfortunately a) it’s the wrong way b) they’re being followed. Why? And how – surrounded on all sides by water, with nothing on the horizon behind them – does the Untitled Ape know?

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It’s going to a be long, arduous and very funny journey as they bump into families and become side-tracked by most unexpected creatures with long-standing friendly feuds. There will be ups (very high ups) and downs. There will be an ice-cream van stranded on top of a column of rock high above the sea.

There will also be sudden bursts of memory.

SLH

Buy Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure (with signed bookplate) and read the Page 45 review here

The Singing Bones h/c (£19-99, Walker Studio) by Shaun Tan.

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Truly this is a work of wonders, with an eloquent introduction by Neil Gaiman and historical context provided by Jack Zipes,

An exquisite and exceedingly lush hardcover from the creator of THE ARRIVAL etc featuring 75 tales from the Brothers Grimm, I strongly suspect that this a gift which you will keep on giving for years.

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For each of these dark, fantastical, folklore fables Shaun Tan has created sculptural stories: miniature tableaux distilling them to their core characteristics. For make no mistake, although Shaun is a prodigious artist in multiple media he is, like many others also at heart, a storyteller and this is no mere art book.

Fashioned from clay – and often adorned with string or surrounded by sand, sugar and salt, and whatever else is deemed appropriate (upended carpet tacks!) – these compositions of animals, faces and figures are painted in contrasting colours then lowly lit, as you might find them in a museum, to create harmonious wholes. And that’s exactly what they are like: finds! Inspired by Inuit art, these are mysteries for you to discover like any ancient artefact and unravel for yourselves.

They are moments of theatre.

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They’re also ever so tactile: the sort of thing you want to hold in your hand, cupping each orange-sized object or objects in your palm and perhaps stroking them in the hope that they’ll sing.

Plate 2 depicts ‘The Companionship Of The Cat And The Mouse’. In the story itself a cat and a mouse decide to hunker down together for the winter, buying a pot of fat which they would share through sparse season and so get them through it. Let’s just say that the terms of their agreement aren’t adhered to by the cat who covets the fat and, when the mouse discovers this betrayal of their friendship and protests at its greed, the cat gobbles the mouse up too. And so it goes.

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What Shaun has sculpted is a tiny white mouse sitting “comfortably” inside the yawning maw of a thoroughly contented, well fed, fat, black cat. It’s ever so satisfying (for the cat, at least) but relatively simple.

However, Plate 7 is a deliciously complex interpretation of ‘The Twelve Brothers’.

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It is spot-lit from the front against a shadowy background receding in focus. The twelve brothers are represented as the coffins they were intended to be confined to by the king, standing like the gravestones which would have been erected in their memory. This reflects their actual transmutation in the tale into ravens. At the forefront cowers their sister, the princess, inadvertently responsible for their current condition – and future fate should she utter a word – her face a mask of silent guilt, hands over her mouth both in horror and lest she speak, so damning her brothers eternally.

That is one complex narrative in a single composition.

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Each visual tale in turn is accompanied by an artfully edited extract to form a specific, evocative vignette like the artworks themselves, while concise and elegant synopses of the stories as a whole are also provided in the back.

This is pretty handy, because if each of these sculptures doesn’t immediately intrigue you into wanting to learn more, then I would be extremely surprised.

In addition, further recommended reading is suggested so that you can track down the stories in full, in various iterations / states of sanitisation.

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On the subject of which, I highly recommend Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti’s HANSEL & GRETEL which could not be less sanitised. Gaiman disinters its original, bleak, morally bankrupt bad parenting, while Mattotti goes to hunger town on its illustrations:

“They are eerie, awful things, crawling with shadows, swirling in darkness, with the thickest of tree-trunks blotting out the sky.
“Stark, dark and black with just a glimpse of white light, they are cold and claustrophobic, evoking all the bleakness of a land ravaged by soldiers to the point of being all but barren, bringing those few inhabitants left to the brink of starvation.”

And while we’re talking fairy tales, try Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell’s THE SLEEPER AND THE SPINDLE and THE GRAPHIC CANON OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE.

Then pop ‘Shaun Tan’ into our search engine, for we have a wealth of storytelling excellence for you there!

SLH

Buy The Singing Bones h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Benson’s Cuckoos (£13-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anouk Ricard…

“Morning! bensont-cuckoos-coverIt would seem you’re two minutes late! That’s not good.”
“I’m sorry. Uh… Happy Birthday, Boss?”
“Oh, this? It’s not my birthday. I just happen to like this hat. So what do you think of the team? Tiptop, huh?”
“Uh yeah!”
“We’re meeting at eleven o’ clock. I hope you bring some good ideas.”
“We are? I didn’t know. I’m just getting settled in.”
“Well, now you are. I don’t see the problem.”
“Well I don’t have anything prepared.”
“So go prepare something then! You’ve got two hours. And if it’s crap, you’re fired.”

I have worked for people as unhinged as new guy Richard’s boss, oh yes. He might be a slightly exaggerated caricature but not by much. I’m reminded of a certain boss in Colchester who, when I attended a sales meeting on my very first day in my capacity as Technical Manager, launched into the most insane blitzkrieg tirade against the sales reps, several of whom were also relatively new and looked utterly shell-shocked (it would be fair to say there was a high turnover of staff, particularly on the sales side), culminating in him screaming that they were a bunch of colossal c*nts who were costing him money. Interesting use of an adjective it struck me at the time, delighted as I was not to be the focus of his sudden ire.

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The flip side of the coin was he insisted the senior management, a group of six of us, go to the pub every single day with him to play cards or pool where you had to drink beer or spirits, no soft drinks allowed. Lunches would routinely extend to a couple of hours and occasionally he would decide we weren’t going back at all and then things got rather messy indeed. Plus he let me stay in a house in the grounds of the business for free. He did fire me ultimately, when he found out I was looking for another job, but just a very strange chap, frankly.

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Anyway, Richard seems utterly bewildered by his new boss’s antics, and the various other shenanigans going on at Benson’s Cuckoos, including the departure of his predecessor George, which he gradually begins to realise was probably more of a disappearance than a voluntary exit.

As we roll through surreal scene after scene of meeting, shaming, team bonding, awkward lift moments, the ribald laughs and head-shaking, wince-worthy, excruciating toe-curlers keep on coming.

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Only adding to the mayhem is the anthropomorphic colourful cartoon style employed by Anouk. I struggled slightly with her previous work, ANNA AND FROGA, purely due to the storytelling which whilst heavy on the surrealism, seemed light on the coherence. This, though, flows seamlessly, keeping the chuckle levels high from silly start to farcical finish.

JR

Buy Benson’s Cuckoos and read the Page 45 review here

Slam #1 (£2-99, Boom Studios) by Pamela Ribon & Veronica Fish.

What a fresh and far from obvious start!

This made me smile from beginning to end at its genuine joy and heart-felt belief in the empowering, bond-building nature of Roller Derby.

This contact sport, as I understand it, involves two opposing teams racing round a roller rink on roller skates but in the same direction, hell-bent on up-ending each other by any means necessary. Oh, I am told there are rules – there are certainly key and keen strategies – but it’s essentially hockey without the disingenuous excuse of why you really joined up: to knock seven shades of shit out of each other and score top marks in doing so.

“Are you a sportsman, Stephen?”

Clearly not, but I am a convert!

Moreover, its innovative presentation – not so much as an A-to-B narrative, but as an experience and induction to Roller Derby – proved as engrossing and as exhilarating as the real deal itself. Were I of the correct chromosomatic configuration I would run right down to my local arena and sign up on the spot.

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“10 Facts about your new Derby life:
“1. You will have fun.
“2. You will get hurt.
“3. You will want to quit this forever. Every time.
“4. You won’t. Because you love it more than you’ve ever loved anything in your life.”

Persuade me.

“5. You will find your voice” and “6. You’ll learn all kinds of new phrases.” Namely:

“Pop a squat! Get in her crotch!”
“Fill those holes!”
“Take up space! Wall it up!”
“Get on her!”
“Hit her, hit her, hit her!”

I rest my hockey-claim case, my lord.

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But what I love most of all about my new-found Roller Derby is that this is a sport for women. Wait, wait (and correct me if I’m wrong) but instead of all these boys-only sports like soccer and rugby and especially cricket with its gender-exclusive pavilions, this was originally and initially – and may still be to this day – a sport for women only which, if the lads want a look-in, they will have to apply for in order to join in, thence be looked down on, for decades to come, as second-best. Haha! The shoe’s on the other dismissive and disdaining foot!

If all that wasn’t enough, Ribon delivers a comic which is entirely congruent with this post-patriarchal experience. Men do not feature and are barely mentioned within. For once, none of this is about you, fellas! This is entirely about ladies getting together to rediscover themselves, their confidence and their individuality without comparison points. There’s one. There’s only one.

As to Fish, her art is ebullient yet controlled, imaginative and natural, depicting real women as they really are, relaxed in their own space with tall socks, baggy shorts and muscular, much sought-after thighs that are admired for their fearsome Derby downing-power, not frowned upon for their weight. Love the subtle bruises by colour-artist Brittany Peer.

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There is nothing about this that is angry. Everything about this is celebratory.

It’s not ‘Kicking Against The Pricks’, it’s “Hello, here’s all the fun!”

We were all a little worried that this would be a banal, band-wagon embarkation because, mark my words, you can see so many comics currently being green-lit simply for their demographic-ticking boxes. No, this is fabulous, and if the cover screams Becky Cloonan meets Jamie Hewlett (a very fine pedigree), then let me assure you that it’s all Veronica Fish who knows exactly what she is doing.

“7. If your life is too busy, Derby will destroy it.
“8. But if your life was destroyed, Derby will fix it.”

Excellent! This is going to be the exhilarating experience of a lifetime. You will meet new friends for life and you will celebrate during the after-party even if you cowered in the toilet at the prospect of your first-day’s performance. You will find those who will hold your hand and never let you down and never let you go. You may try war paint, you may breathe deeply, and you may scream at the full-on, physical excitement!

“Fun fact about Derby life #42:
“It gets complicated.”

Ah. And now I am hooked.

SLH

Buy Slam #1 and read the Page 45 review here

At The Shore (£17-99, Alternative) by Jim Campbell…

A monsterat-the-shore-cover mash of sea monsters, zombies and teenage hormones make this pocket-sized work from Brooklyn based Jim Campbell pack a punch. Which is probably a very dangerous thing for a pocket-sized work to do thinking about it…

Gabi is continually trying to regale her school friends Bernard, Dean and Jorge with her childhood stories of her father’s strange experiences whilst harvesting seaweed. But every time she gets going they either decide it’s all too boring and repeatedly interrupt to tell her so, or all start to collectively swoon over new girl Astrid whenever she enters stage right. To be honest, Bernard, Dean and Jorge seem like a bunch of rude, lecherous idiots. Ah yes, they’re teenage boys aren’t they!

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But when the zombie apocalypse begins during a trip to the beach, the boys fawning over Astrid in her bikini whilst Gabi glowers in her t-shirt, and barnacle covered cadavers are suddenly emerging from the waves wanting more than sushi, they’re unsurprisingly desperate to pay attention to what knowledge Gabi has to impart. For what she knows will prove vital to their survival.

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I really enjoyed this fun-filled fear feature. The coloured art is excellent, a mixture of slightly toned down Joe SPENT Matt and HICKSVILLE-era Dylan Horrocks. The zombies are genuinely spooky with their pointy fish-like fangs. The plot was sufficiently weird and wonderful to keep me entertained right to the end.

JR

Buy At The Shore and read the Page 45 review here

Little Tails In The Jungle (£13-99, Magnetic Press) by Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci.

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Thoroughly accessible Young Readers’ educational adventure from the creators of the silent, more adult-orientated, thrillingly choreographed and quite stunningly illustrated LOVE: THE TIGER, LOVE: THE FOX, LOVE: THE LION and (in February 2017) LOVE: THE DINOSAUR. Please, please make no mistake, however, (as so many have before): those four books may look cute, but include scenes of a natural nature, which involves throats being ripped out left, right and centre. As I wrote quite explicitly of LOVE: THE LION:

“Not so much the Circle Of Life as the constantly turning tides of food-chain fortune and the constant threat of being stalked, surrounded, flattened, clawed, mauled, mangled and otherwise shredded by crocodiles, vultures, spotted hyenas and even other lions.
“I’ve never seen so many carcasses.”

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You are, however, on perfectly safe and cuddly ground here as Squizzo the squirrel takes Chipper the puppy dog up, up and away in his cardboard aeroplane across the globe to visit the jungles of the world in South America, Africa and Asia.

In bright, white and sage-coloured comic strips most often above 9but sometimes below) full-colour paintings, the confident and knowledgeable Squizzo leads the initially more tentative Chipper in search of the jungles’ increasingly rare denizens.

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Investigating at a discreet distance so as not to disturb the shy guys and avoid become part of the food chain, they encounter heat and humidity and insects that bite, but forge on to find jaguars and black panthers, tarantulas, toucans, tapirs and tigers, Asian elephants, gibbons, gorillas, a bright pink Amazon river dolphin, and many more beauties besides.

The emphasis is on adventure and excitement to entertain your young ones and introduce them to the majesty and colourful diversity of the jungle, moving ever swiftly on to keep wide eyes shining bright.

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In the back of the book, however, time is taken to revisit some of the animals encountered earlier and learn a lot more. Why is a toucan’s enormous beak not too heavy for its head, toppling it over and knocking it off its perch? Where does a jaguar hunt and where does its name come from? What is the difference between a black panther and a leopard or jaguar? Answer: only the colour of its fur! They still have spots; you just can’t see them because of their dark pigmentation, a genetic trait which may or may not be passed down to the next generation, so that a black panther can still give birth to a regularly spotted leopard. I knew that once!

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Finally a whole page is devoted to The World Wildlife Fund, Planète Tigre etc (with websites to visit) explaining why and how so alarmingly swiftly the animals’ ecosystems are being obliterated.

Key fact: there are fewer than 4,000 tigers in total left in the wild.

SLH

Buy Little Tails In The Jungle and read the Page 45 review here

2000AD Script Book (£19-99, Rebellion) by various including Peter Milligan, Alan Grant, Rob Williams, Dan Abnett, Pat Mills, Al Ewing, Gordon Rennie, Ian Edginton, Si Spurrier, John Reppion, John Wagner, Leah Moore, I.N.J. Culbard, D’Israeli, Carlos Ezquerra, Henry Flint, Simon Davis, Rufus Dayglo…

Zarjaz. 2000_ad_script_book-1Or in common Earthling parlance, excellent. The number of legendary writers and artists that have graced the pages of 2000AD since its launch in 1977 is simply staggering. It has proven to be an excellent launch pad for a number of British (and overseas) creators, who were given a relatively free hand on established iconic characters and just as importantly, the opportunity to introduce their own.

It’s remained at the forefront of the British comic scene as a viable publication for nigh on forty years in part due to this blend of old fan favourites like Dredd and crazy new characters, and in part due to the continuing shuffling of the stellar cast of creators combined with nurturing surroundings for relative newcomers to hone their craft.

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I will bet more than a fair few of you who’ve picked up the odd Prog or thousand have at some point thought, I could do that, I could write or draw  (or if you’re a particular sort of smartarse both) for 2000AD. It is, however, not as easy as these prodigious talents make it seem. Fortunately for us, though, we have a chance to see how the professionals do it with such apparent ease with these scripts set page by page with the final art. It’s fascinating to observe how each artist has interpreted the writer’s notes and what changes end up getting incorporated into the finished version.

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Inside you’ll find scripts for classic characters like a Judge Dredd tale from the Day Of Chaos arc, Psi-Judge Anderson, Bad Company, Slaine, Durham Red and Zombo. Then there are some more modern works like Brass Sun and Aquila, plus a great selection of the just plain weird like Lobster Random. Altogether there are 15 pieces for aspiring creators to analyse. Alternatively, if like me, you’d rather sit back and relax and peruse the finished product without peaking behind the curtain of creative process, you can find much Mega-City madness and everything else 2000AD related in one section HERE.

JR

Buy 2000AD Script Book and read the Page 45 review here

International Iron Man vol 1 (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

Hallelujah! In this companion title to his INVINCIBLE IRON MAN, Bendis is back off autopilot, a word which Maleev – his partner on SCARLET VOL 1 & 2 – doesn’t even know the meaning of.

Like Michael Gaydos, Maleev brings out the best in Bendis, so it’s time once again to throw away the costumes (for the most part) and enjoy some honest-to-goodness human interaction and humour à la JESSICA JONES: ALIAS which was the very best series ever to be published by Marvel.

Almost as brilliant as Bendis & Maleev’s DAREDEVIL with all of its wit-riddled snappy patter, this catches Iron Man at an inopportune moment under Bulgaria’s Monument To The Soviet Army, dead, paralyzed, or “rethinking his disastrous life choices that led up to this humbling moment”.

Amongst those disastrous decisions was Stark’s determination – twenty years ago while studying at Cambridge – to get to know a mysterious young woman with an overprotective family, famous in some circles at least. She knows exactly who Tony is, but Tony…?

“You really don’t know who I am?”
“Should I? Is your father a big deal or something? Is it – is he Bono?”
“My mother.”
“Is she Bono?”

He’s such a scallywag!

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“What does your Mom do that warrants bodyguards? I only ask because they’re coming this way and I think one of them is about to punch me in the face so hard I probably won’t remember even meeting you.”
“Ugh! You’re going to get tasered.”
“I’d really rather not.”
“I’m not joking.”
“Neither am I. Can you request that they don’t?”

All the while Maleev plays it as deadpan as usual, except with a new energy during irreverence of youth. Tony cannot help throwing his head back and laughing with joy at Cassandra Gillespie’s fantastic name, nor can he resist smiling at his own bravado and wit. It’s perfect characterisation for Marvel’s charming but smuggest git.

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Paul Mounts’ daytime colouring adds a new air of optimism to Maleev’s fresh-faced students meeting for lunch (less of an assignation, more of the-stalked-stalking-stalker scenario) and when you look at those panels, concentrate on the eyebrows and lip-line especially, imagine a moustache, chop the flop of his hair right back… and that really is our Tony Stark.

“You Googled me by now.”
“I did.”
“How’d that go?”
“I found out you’re a world-class trapeze artist.”
“Is there a trapeze artist with my name?”
“Just admit you trapeze. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

New verb: to trapeze.

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What could any of this possibly have to do with Iron Man flat on his back, systems down, in Bulgaria?

Well, first it’s time to meet Cassandra’s family for dinner in not the most awkward and hostile reception by prospective in-laws ever (he lies)… and then there’s the unsolicited postprandial intervention by those oh-so-shouty regenerative ones, Hydra.

But essentially it’s Stark’s modern-day quest to discover the identity of his true parents now that he’s learned that he was adopted as a baby.

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You’ll find out exactly who they are in this volume.

His father’s not whom I strongly suspected – which I think is a missed trick and a shame – but it could certainly make things interesting. I’d tell you right now (you can always ask at the counter so long as I’m not serving), but it may be that Bendis still has a trick up his sleight-of-hand sleeve.

SLH

Buy International Iron Man vol 1 (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews

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Dogs Disco (£5-00) by Joe Decie

Losing Sleep (£9-99) by Joe Latham & Luke Hyde

The Fox (£5-00) by Joe Latham

The Wolf (£5-00) by Joe Latham

The Woodsman (£5-00) by Joe Latham

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Little Tails In The Forest (£13-99, Magnetic Press) by Frederic Brremaud & Federico Bertolucci

A.D. After Death Book 1 (of 3) (£4-50, Image) by Scott Snyder & Jeff Lemire

Soft City – The Lost Graphic Novel h/c (£20-00, New York Review Comics) by Hariton Pushwagner

Black Canary vol 2: New Killer Star s/c (£13-99, DC) by Brendan Fletcher, Matthew Rosenberg & Annie Wu, various

Flash vol 9: Full Stop h/c (£22-99, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen & various

Amazing Spider-Man vol 3: Worldwide s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Captain Marvel By Jim Starlin – The Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin, others

Darth Vader vol 4: End Of Games (£17-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca, Mike Norton, Max Fiumara

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 4: I Kissed A Squirrel And I Liked It s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Ryan North & Erica Henderson, Jacob Chabot

One Piece vol 80 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

News

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ITEM! Annual Auction Of Original Art for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival is go!

Includes Bryan Lee O’Malley’s SCOTT PILGRIM / MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO shout-athon above, and Duncan Fegredo’s HELLBOY below.

Donations come from Bryan Lee O’Malley, Craig Thompson, Duncan Fegredo, Edmond Baudoin, Emma Vieceli, Hunt Emerson, Ian McQue, Jonathan Edwards, Jordi Bernet, Mick McMahon, Petteri Tikkanen, Sean Phillips, Stuart Immonen – and the guys from VIZ.

More on the LICAF Original Art Auction 2016.

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ITEM! Nottingham City Council is selling off the Nottingham Central Library building with no site earmarked for a replacement.

Brilliant.

Because who needs books? A fast buck, yes; books, quite evidently not. And this, in our City of Literature.

Should you give a monkey’s, you can sign this petition to Save Nottingham Central Library.

Thnx

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ITEM! At the time of typing – and I haven’t been in for two days – Oxfam Nottingham, just up our round, has a acquired a complete set of SANDMAN (#1-75 plus the special) in lovely nick and is selling it for £300.

You don’t see many of those around!

Since it was gift-aided, if you stump up the £300 then Oxfam will actually receive £375!

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Claire at Oxfam Nottingham works incredibly hard in her collation and curation of their extensive selection of back-issue comics (there are some beauuuuuties in right now: Vaughn Bode, Robert Crumb – first print of HUP #1 – early Barry Windsor-Smith NICK FURY, early Mignola sword-and-sorcery, SIN CITY one-shots… with early FANTASTIC FOUR, AVENGERS, IRON MAN and Jack Kirby KAMANDI to come as soon as Claire and I have priced them), so please keep your exceptionally generous donations coming and your spending power spending.

Every donation is treated with due diligence and respect, and Oxfam Nottingham makes a huge amount of much-need money from them.

Thanks very much!

 – Stephen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November week three

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

We begin with a brand-new review of Dave McKean’s Cages. News underneath!

Cages (25th Anniversary Edition) (£26-99, Dark Horse) by Dave McKean.

“It’s just paying attention.”cages-cover

In which stories are told, rhythms and patterns are perceived, connections spring forth and sweet music is made.

It’s in conversations that we so often discover these connections – of ideas and experiences and perhaps greater truths. They make themselves known in the to and fro, the ebbs and flows, one observation or recollection sparking another in the other. Without conversations we are locked in our own insular little world. They’re my favourite thing in life.

Communication catalyses creativity – and this is a book about both – juggling what you see, what you’ve experienced, what lies in your head and what you hold in your hands to create these rhythms and patterns and connections. It requires judgement, perception and balance; the courage to get started or start again.

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It is also, unsurprisingly, a book about cages, for not everyone is blessed with freedom or companionship, and there is a singular sort of loneliness experienced between couples who’ve essentially stopped talking to each other about anything that matters, out of fear of hearing or telling the truth.

After a prologue of Beginnings and Ends – of creation and frustration and doubt; of God’s withdrawal and mankind’s rage – we open with the moon high up in the heavens, its full, perfect orb shining in an open, star-lit sky. Across this slinks a lithe silhouette, unmistakably feline.

Under the moon lie many silent spires and ornate cupolas.

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The black cat pauses to survey birds in flight before dropping from the rooftop to the tenement’s fire escape to descend, flight by flight and observe what transpires inside.

A lone, anxious man winds his watch to make sure that it’s ticking. This will become funny later on. His window is remarkably high.

Further down a dreadlocked musician whom we’ll come to know as Angel sits outside his own window, playing a wind instrument. He chats to the cat with a charming lilt.

“Yo! Mr. Cat.
“And how are you this fine, fine night.
“You really are de doziest great supine I hever see, y’know?
“Eh? Mister Cat?
“Nothin’ wrong wit’ that now.
“But surely is a perfect raven of a night, Mr. Cat.
“Don’t it feel like de start o’ sometin’.”

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The cat is curious but keeps its own council. It passes a pigeon, pausing only briefly to inspect, before peering into another room through cracked glass. There is a shift in style from fluid black ink and blue-grey tone to pencil and soft washes: a man with a ponytail stands frustrated in front of his easel; a couple make love; a couple much older embrace; the room is quite empty.

Back in black and another storey down, we see two sinister, burly men in coats and hats menacing another; a finger points threateningly, a hand is raised in resignation and a painting is removed from its wall.

Descending further still, a white cockatoo caws out from its cage. “What a bugger! What a bugger!” An unseen occupant shoos the cat away.

It leaps down to the ground to be greeted by a man in search of an address. The cat can’t help, but Jeffrey believes he can. Jeffrey is a man with a wire constellation round his head and an insight into God’s grand scheme of things. Later he calls it his “consternation” and he happens to be right. He declares the stranger to be lost, but I rather think that’s Jeffrey’s problem. Fortunately our new lodger is greeted by a homeless man who, as they walk, speaks of spiritual identity and the nourishment of the soul, for which he is given the price of a cup of tea.

“Ahh, you’re a saint an’ a saviour, sir. God grants your wishes, my friend, have a good life.”
“I just want to know where Meru House is!”
“Look around you, son… your wish is granted.”

He’s right on its doorstep. This is Leo Sabarsky, an artist with a ponytail starting again from scratch. Under his arm he carries a blank canvas. It’s time to make contact.

But just before he enters, outside the tenement’s front door and below all its scaffolding, Leo finds a paper page torn from a book called ‘Cages’. It is charred.

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The choreography and concept behind this introductory sequence is ever so clever. Although we will wander elsewhere – down narrow side-streets whose lantern-light emanates in white, watery waves, pulsing like music; from the jazz bar where Angel performs; and to one other quite startling, barely possible residence – it firmly establishes the focus on this one particular building and the cages which lie within. To a cat, almost any room must look like a cage. It also poses so many questions which – even if you don’t know quite what they are yet – will all be answered as we encounter each individual again, along with others connected but so far unseen, from different perspectives, in different lights.

It was here that McKean first branched out from the relative photo-realism of BLACK ORCHID, the intense expressionism of ARKHAM  ASYLUM and the dense puppetry, photography and full-colour photo-collage of MR PUNCH to something far sleeker to keep your eyes moving across its pages. This was essential for such a big book (nearly five hundred pages), so much of which concentrates on conversations and monologues, and the discipline of a black which glows, a blue-grey which sheens and the white light which shines casts emphasis on the shapes, the textures, the figure forms and expressions which are deliciously lively and angular and energetic – in short, communicative. They add their own lilt and cadence to the conversations.

However, however, if you think McKean has ditched his customary love of the multi-media approach – carefully selecting what will work best for each constituent element – then there are revelations within.

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There are bursts of full-colour passion which stand out all the more strikingly for their restricted use; though I would remind you that not all human passion is positive.

There’s a haunting reverie rendered in fantastical black and white photography and additional painting then a blaze of iridescent red and electric-blue colour which is sandwiched within a strict nine-panel grid for a desperately sad sequence as delusional old Edie, owner of the cockatoo, busies herself in her husband’s much-missed absence. Afraid to go out without him, her flat may be a cage but so is her head, crammed with a past of herself and her husband, both thwarted.

“KAW! Bill’s not home yet, Bill’s not home yet.”

All the art here is in service to the story. When Angel, on stage, discusses the dissonance of one brother’s music, full of fire but no discipline (as opposed to the other twin’s learning but lack of passion – it’s basically Jane Austen’s ‘Sense And Sensibility’ given a musical context), his words which speak of “a racket” are lost in the visual cacophony.

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But perhaps my favourite chapter lies at the graphic novel’s centre / heart when Karen is first introduced at the jazz cafe-bar. Karen we have only seen from afar. She lives in a building opposite Leo’s room and, searching for any inspiration to free him from the fright of a big, blank canvas, he has sketched her as she waters her plants on her balcony. Angel has taken an interest in that sketchbook, borrowed it, and now returns it via Karen.

“A friend asked me to return your book.”
“Ah a…”
“He would have given it back himself…
“Ahmmm…”
“Only he’s over there, grinning.”

Angel is indeed at the other side of the bar, smiling knowingly.

“Son of a…”
“So, do you spy on your other neighbours too?”

Leo is at first speechless.

“I’m speechless.”

I told you so. He babbles a bit. Okay, he babbles a lot.

“Christ, listen to me. I’ve forgotten all the words I’ve learned since I was six. I’ll get the drinks.”

It’s enormously sweet. It’s all very natural. Then the art does a similar thing to that which Frederik Peeters would pull off later in BLUE PILLS: it pulls back from their table as the music kicks in, then at the same time focuses solely on their shared space as if everyone else in the busy room had disappeared. That’s what happens when you meet minds with somebody new: the outside world evaporates, you lose track of time and you are lost in the music of conversation. We don’t hear what the couple says; we only see them engrossed in each other, their wine glasses floating in the air as their shared table dances across the page in a liberating, free-form flood of images. It is, I kid you not, ecstatic.

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But you wait until you witness Karen’s extraordinary residence. It’s magical, as is Leo’s imaginative line of getting-to-know you questioning which, when I first read this 25 years ago, I swore I would try out on a first or second date. I never did; you certainly should. Take notes, and watch out for waterfalls!

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CAGES – as I may have mentioned more than once – is essentially a book of conversations, some of them rhetorical for we all talk to cats, none of them extraneous and all of them riveting. McKean has Alan Bennett’s ear for dialogue and his own for its exchange: for when someone’s listening and when they are not, for when someone blithely goes off on one while the other may be fixated elsewhere, and for when two people seek to get to the bottom of something important by refining their ideas and interpretations of each other’s ideas, together. In McKean’s hands it’s like music, but then he is a musician and has much to say on that subject through Angel. The two come together here.

“The ‘D’ scales are conversational scales.
“When I listen to someone I listen to de tonal modulation of de speech.
“I listen to de shades and pauses an’ phrasings.
“I listen an’ learn what that person is t’inkin’ t’rough de structure of what dey say… not de fabricated meanin’ of de words dey use…
“De message is in de music.”

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And I don’t know how often this is pointed, but the conversations in CAGES are – so many of them – very, very funny. The breaks and beats between new tenant Leo Sabarsky and deaf-as-a-doorpost Doris, the concierge, are so astutely observed, while the yelling, swearing, doing-the-minimum delivery guy is a scream. Leaving his elderly minion to heave an impossibly heavy crate up steep flights of stairs, he carries the smaller one under his arm (“UP” pointed down), secures his signature and pins a badge to Sabarsky:

“Joe’s Removal’s: Service Is Our Middle Fuckin’ Name.”

The same could be said of the fickle barman, who is not a people person, proffering one his many conflicting opinions of Angel:

“He’s a poet. An immense, creative force. I mean, the man’s a god, really.”
“Mmm.”
“I know I know. I’m a conservative sort of guy. Okay, the man’s a glowing, transcendent ball of light. A pure and all embracing power. An opalescent…”
“Yeah, I get the picture.
“You know, when I first came to work here, I asked him where the toilets were. You know what he said. Do you know what he said?
“I can’t imagine.”
“”Over there.” “Over there,” that’s what he said! “Over there.” Jesus, I cried, you know?”
“Profound.”
“”Over there,” that’s what he said.”

I love the way the thought is still lingering there, the barman stroking his own neck in further contemplation. I like the way McKean minimises “I can’t imagine” so that it’s uttered almost under Leo’s breath.

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There’s an exquisite conversation between Karen, Leo and the first man we met conducted using – ah, that would constitute spoilers, I fear, but trust me: it’s different and delightful and once again funny.

I’ve not mentioned Jonathan Rush and his wife Ellen yet. Well, I have: they’re the ones who receive hostile visitors. They’re also less than pleased to see Leo, but Leo is new and persistent, wrangling his way through their door with the old cup of sugar routine. To begin with they communicate through the door.

“And what would you want with sugar, Mr. Sabarsky?”
“Ahmm… well, I’d like to make some tea. I only have the wine that I packed to bring with me, and I don’t know where the shops are yet, so I’d really like to borrow some sugar so I could have some tea.”
“I see.”
“And some milk.”
“And milk?”
“Well, and some teabags too, but don’t worry, I’ve got the water and cup.”
“Uh huh.”
“Oh hang on, no, I haven’t. I’ll take a cup as well if I could?”

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Strangely, though they have been there a while, Jonathan and Ellen don’t know the area very well. Immediately Leo believes he recognises the man – it’s in his eyes, which are intense, haunting or haunted – and McKean shows a memory of them, then the eyes being sketched, and that’s when Leo remembers, on picking up one of Jonathan’s novels and its author’s photograph on the back.

“I knew I recognised you. I actually drew you once. I remember your eyes. Christ, well, that’s proof that when you draw it’s one of the few times you really concentrate.”

The book is called ‘Cages’.

You’ll discover Jonathan and Ellen’s current predicament during another inventive sequence, as the writer takes one of his own books down from the shelf and reads its dedication, “For my wife Ellen for criticism and hugs, two things I couldn’t live without.” Behind the dedication, then further book spine’s we’re shown Jonathan’s recollections of how each book was received upon publication: happy hugs in the woods, discussions over dinner with friends and peers, delightedly spotting his own books in a with shop window, award nominations, an award ceremony… then the ghosts of the past become stranger, and you may be reminded of what Angel told his audience about illumination. For that, you will have to read the book. It is astonishing how coherent this all is – different elements informing each other – and how many ideas are addressed here.

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From the creator of BLACK DOG, THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH, Page 45’s current Comicbook Of The Month – and so much more; please do pop Dave in our search engine – this is a big book of beliefs, doubts, traps, fears, and new beginnings. Keep moving, keep juggling, keep talking. Keep creating something new.

“Of course, it’s impossible.”
“What is?”
“Trying to make concrete what I can see in my head. It’s impossible.”
“Well, you have to do one or two impossible thing now and again. Otherwise you get complacent.”
“ …”
“…”
“Absolutely right.”

SLH

Buy Cages (25th Anniversary Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

The Return Of The Honey Buzzard (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Aimée De Jongh.

A honey buzzard, return-of-the-honey-buzzard-coverperched on a post and alert to its surroundings, stares up over its back and into the sky.

Its attention darts forward, then down. In the silence it considers its distracted prey.

“BLOODY HELL, LAURA!”

The honey buzzard takes fright and flight.

“Why won’t you listen to me?”

It’s Simon who isn’t listening.

My guess is this’ll grab you on its first three pages. If not, I give it no more than the eighth and ninth as Simon angrily presses his cell phone’s red button, sits there fuming inside his van, then drives over a railway crossing into dense woodland, and darkness. Ancient trees, some spawning fungus, tower over the small van. When Simon stops, it’s outside a sequestered cabin. His face stays in shadow, silhouetted against the sky, as he enters.

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Simon flicks on a switch, and there are books. There are so many books – some in boxes, some scattered across the floor, others stacked high upon shelves. Simon takes one specific book down and sits crossed-legged on the bare wooden floor and is transported back twenty years to when he was at secondary school, happily reading the same bird guide. Almost immediately the cell phone intrudes again. A picture of his wife Laura appears, smiling. Feeling harassed, he rejects the call. In contrast to his younger self he now appears scruffy, weary. Piling boxes of books into the back of the van, his eyes are already wide – no longer angry but harrowed, haunted – and he drives as if in a stupor.

But after what happens at that same railway crossing on his way back – after the gate goes down and he’s left there idling, and the woman appears at edge of the trees – Simon’s state of stupefaction will be close to catatonic.

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Its atmosphere already established, this won’t let you or Simon go until it’s done. De Jongh’s body language is impeccable, very physical, and her expressions maintain an intensity whether vulnerable or fearful or resentful and angry.

Anger, fear and vulnerability rage through this debut graphic on every front presented to us: past and present, personal and professional, increasingly driven by guilt. Inaction is an action in and of itself, and gnawing regret, which can come creeping in waves, rarely recedes forever.

So much about the construction impresses me: Simon’s past and present dual traumas aren’t perfect parallels for that would be lazy. Instead they twist on each other in such clever ways about which I can only confer with you in private once you have read this. One key element is constant, however, and there are additional pressures at play which reduce Simon’s ability to resist unravelling.

Then there are the visual details, un-signposted, like books gradually disappearing from display as Simon’s life empties of hope.

If I hadn’t already doffed my cap to De Jongh, it would be off again in a second for one particular and ever so satisfying sleight of hand which passed over my head exactly as it should have done.

SLH

Buy The Return Of The Honey Buzzard and read the Page 45 review here

Instruction Manual For Lonely Mountains (£14-99, www.silentarmy.org) by Nicola Gunn & M.P. Fikaris…

“Focus group for the Protest Against the Extinction of the Human Race.”

“Do you know we are the first generation that could potentially live forever?”

Two very conflicting sentiments, there, I think you’ll agree. Both, of course, annihilation and immortality, are entirely possible for our current generation. I suspect neither may come to pass in our lifetimes, but I also suspect the threat and promise of each are probably only going to increase.

Happily for us, there’s a very incongruous group of people who have gathered in an utterly nondescript room to discuss such weighty matters, including one person togged up in a fully encapsulated chemical protection suit. They seem, however, far more interested in whether they are likely to get a parking ticket or whether they should be having milk and sugar in the hot beverage of choice…

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In the end, matters of the heart rise to the surface to become the subject of most import for our collective, as perhaps was suggested by the title. For some people are indeed like solitary monoliths in their romantic behaviours, their own worst straight-jacketed emotional enemies. Though there are also some interesting philosophical points interspersed along the way, I have to say.

Captivatingly moving musings, illustrated in stark black and white punctuated with the most amazingly psychedelic multi-colour letratone episodes, which are possibly only visible to the being in the protective suit, I wasn’t entirely sure! If you’re an Anders BIG QUESTIONS Nilsen this may well appeal.

JR

Buy Instruction Manual For Lonely Mountains and read the Page 45 review here

Where Do I Belong? (£9-99, www.silentarmy.org) by various, edited by M.P. Fikaris…

“Hi! I’m Fikaris and I started this project ‘Where Do I Belong’ back in early 2014.
“It began from seeing some refugee art project zines on a table my friend Sam was sitting.
“After asking Sam on the spot if he would be interested in some kind of collaboration on the subject…”
“SURE!”
“… I then wrote to Safdar to see what he thought of doing something together.
“So we came up with this idea & what you are holding is the outcome…
“Comic art & cartoons relating to the idea & question of place, identity & belonging.
“From asking a bunch of people this question whilst helping them to develop the art of storytelling.”

That, in a nutshell sums up this eclectic and very worthy anthology work. A combination of distressingly powerful single-page pieces and some longer strips juxtaposing the realities of life for detained refugees in Australia with the lives of comparative luxury enjoyed by Australians themselves.

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You’ll learn some disturbing facts, such as Australia is the only country in the world to detain refugee children as its very first option, the average length of detention being roughly a year, something which demonstrably has deleterious effects on their mental health.

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There are those who presumably feel Australia’s draconian policy on illegal immigrants – those actually managing to arrive without the correct papers (assuming they weren’t on a boat that was forcibly turned around or towed back to the territorial waters of its country of departure as a matter of course by the Australian navy…) are immediately sent to the likes of Papua New Guinea or The Christmas Islands for processing – is the right way to go about matters, if you want to keep illegal migration to a minimum, regardless of the human cost to those individuals themselves.

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However, as I have commented many times, were I in the position many people in the so-called third world find themselves, would I attempt to get into the ‘promised land’ through illegal economic migration? Of course I would. These, then, are their thoughts, reflections and very moving stories on their successful or otherwise attempts to reach Australia and their subsequent treatment at the hands of the authorities. Don’t expect polished, artistic, comic perfection; do expect raw, powerful, emotive, hard-hitting truth.

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JR

Buy Where Do I Belong? and read the Page 45 review here

Derek The Sheep (£8-99, Bog Eyed Books) by Gary Northfield.

Signed andderek-the-sheep-cover sketched in for free!

“Oi, sheep. How’d you like to eat the juiciest grass in the whole world?”
“I think I already am!”
“Wait till you’ve tried this stuff! Go on… have a nibble…”
“Well… I don’t know…”
“Go on!!”
“Oh, alright! Just a nibble!”

Uh-oh.

What is it with sheep, cows and horses that they can have an entire field full of grass to munch on, but offer them some more of the exactly the same stuff and they’ll waltz right up to the fence and nibble it out of your hands?

You know Derek is going to give in – on anything within – and you just know it’s going to go ridiculously wrong. Give him a momentary advantage and he’ll turn it into a calamity. Give him five more seconds and he’ll compound the calamity into a catastrophe.

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It seems impossible, doesn’t it? It’s a meadow; they are sheep. All they do is eat grass. Outside of barnacles, they are the most sedentary creatures in the animal kingdom. What can possibly go wrong?

Enter Gary Northfield – Lord Lieutenant Stoopid and King of Bog-Eyed Buffoonery ™  – responsible (and I used that word under duress) for GARY’S GARDEN, TERRIBLE TALES OF THE TEENYTINYSAURS, JULIUS ZEBRA: RUMBLE WITH THE ROMANS and JULIUS ZEBRA: BUNDLE WITH THE BRITONS and suddenly the farm animals are wearing galoshes, kicking around footballs and tobogganing down snow slopes on bits of old Farmer Jack’s barn.

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To a substantial extent the comedy is predicated on the abandonment of all shades of sanity in the same way that Simone Lia’s THEY DIDN’T TEACH THIS IN WORM SCHOOL undermines worm logic. We all know what a worm is, what a worm can do. Similarly we all know what a sheep is (stupid) and what a sheep can do (eat grass, run from anything that goes “Ruff!”) and what a sheep patently cannot do (open a can of baked beans). Same goes for cows. I don’t recall the last time I saw a heifer basking on its back outside a barn, sunglass on with the radio at full blast, blaring “Who Let The Dogs Out? Woof! Woof!”

Sheep are already inherently funny. But sheep on a tractor…?

“I’ve been pretending to be old Farmer Jack, trundling around in the mud.”
“WOW! This is so cool!”
“I know! Vrrom! Vroom! Beep-beep!”

Sheep driving a tractor…?

“Pedal faster, Lizzie! Them dogs are gonna catch us!”

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And it’s all illustrated with such wild abandon, such glee! These sheep aren’t just stupid, they’re gormless – all mouth and eyeballs! The colours are those of innocence and nature into which Northfield introduces the unnatural, the preternatural and the stupour-natural.

From the pages of THE BEANO, then, thirteen full-colour short stories running at roughly half a dozen pages each in which Derek the sheep is traumatised by bees, bubblegum, bulls and bulrushes (oh, he finds a way!), forever tempted as he is by that grass which is always greener. “This is a really bad idea, Derek,” could come from any of these disasters waiting to happen wherein he digs himself deeper and deeper into stinky doo-doo. Once, quite literally.

We don’t have the fourth and final page of the sledging fiasco for you, but do you really not know what’s going to happen next?

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“Ooh, I don’t know, Derek. You know how precious Farmer Jack is about his barns.”

Exactly. It’s a good job sheep are famously dab hands with a hammer, isn’t it? Spatial awareness…? Not so much.

Brought to you directly from Gary himself, I can assure you that all our copies now and in the future will have this demented man’s mark left indelibly inside the front cover. So sorry.

SLH

Buy Derek The Sheep and read the Page 45 review here

Now in Softcover!

Sandman Overture s/c (£17-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & J. H. Williams III.

“Everyone kills, little brother.
“They even kill their dreams.
“And you have waited too long.”

Everything is ending: life and afterlife, birth and rebirth. Eternity will be extinguished because Morpheus made a mistake born of compassion. When he failed to cauterise the chaos in time the universe itself went mad.

He has one last Hope and an unexpected ally. But then what greater driving force is there than the will to live?

Neil Gaiman returns to SANDMAN with a prequel which is integral and reminiscent in so many ways of Alan Moore’s PROMETHEA whose metaphysical musings on the nature, power and achievements of the human imagination weren’t just illustrated but illuminated by one of comics’ most inventive artists, J.H. Williams III. Once more Williams brings his very best to bear on a script which would have overwhelmed many others and sheds the most spectacular light on some pretty dark matter.

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SANDMAN Synopsis: Morpheus is the Lord of Dreams, his family are The Endless. Each of them is older than you can comprehend, though some are older than others. They are as gods to mortals, though they can surely die, and they change as we change for they are aspects of our everyday existence. Drawing on so many elements of prior mythologies, this was one of the 20th Century’s very best comics and Neil Gaiman’s prose readers will love it.

In a story which leads straight into the original book, SANDMAN VOL 1: PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES, long-time devotees will discover so many answers to questions they may not have realised existed. For example, if Destiny holds in his hands the book of everything that was, is, and ever will be, then who gave that legacy to him? Who gave birth to the Endless? You will finally meet Morpheus’ mother and you will meet his father. So will Morpheus, after such a long time. Their last encounters didn’t necessarily end too well. Parents and their children, eh?

You’ll meet Delirium when she was once known as Delight. Indeed, you’ll meet all of The Endless once again but before you first did so. Including the one they don’t speak of who went away.

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I promise you a complete and satisfying pay-off during the fourth, fifth and sixth chapters regarding the siblings, their relationships with each other, themselves (“Despair is now another aspect of herself”) and with those who gave birth to them. Their parents have very specific names and very specific roles and they both make so much sense.

But perhaps most satisfying is the further exploration of Morpheus. Both of his nature as Dream itself…

“It is the nature of Dreams, and only Dreams, to define Reality.”

… and as an individual, and how that impacts, has impacted and will impact on his role, both here and hereafter.

“Am I always like this?”
“Like what?”
“Self-satisfied. Irritating. Self-possessed, and unwilling to concede centre stage to anyone but myself.”
“I believe so, yes. In my experience.”

And he of all people should know.

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I’d love to about talk responsibility – which is key both here and throughout SANDMAN – and specifically about someone whom Dream deems his self-serving opposite in that respect. I’d like to talk about promises too which are not unconnected, but I made you a promise and I keep them.

As for this comic’s exquisite beauty, I remind you of the most inspired choice of artists imaginable in J.H. Williams III.

Like Will Eisner, Jim Steranko and Dave Sim, Williams truly experiments when constructing individual pages or sequences of pages from the most unusual, often organic panel compositions which are additionally apposite to the proceedings. As in, you’ll be presented with a defiant predator on the prowl through panels constructed from teeth when teeth are both that protagonist’s signature aspect and the enamelled elements between which he literally perceives what surrounds him. You’ll see!

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Then, like David Mazzucchelli, within and beyond that backbone Williams also ensures that as many constituent components of comics storytelling as possible serve the story itself.

Please don’t think that colour artist Dave Stewart of lettering legend Todd Klein have been slacking, either.

You’ll relish being astonished by Williams’, Stewart’s and Klein’s contributions while immersing yourself in this book. That’s all you could really want. But when you turn to this edition’s considerable back-matter material including interviews with the artistic orchestra and composer Neil himself, you will surely need to reacquaint yourself with that misplaced mandible currently residing on your carpet.

Such are the elaborate lengths they all went to achieve specific effects for individual sequences as a team that you will wonder no longer why this series took so long to materialise before you as one of the pinnacles of comics’ construction.

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As I always say on the shop floor when a project’s delayed, quality is worth the wait. No one wants to read something cobbled together without caring for the sake of a corporate cash-cow. No one wants their treasured dreams diluted by the shoved-out second-best when what we desire above all is a comic which lives up what we once loved.

Prepare to have your expectations exceeded.

You will travel through time and you will travel will space, as will Morpheus himself. If not of his own volition. That’s how this begins and that’s how it ends, which is where it all began in the first place.

“And I am pulled halfway across the universe in one fraction of forever, with a pain that feels like birth…”

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Don’t miss the epilogue. *shivers*

SLH

Buy Sandman Overture s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

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Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure (with signed bookplate) (£12-99, Avery Hill) by Steven Tillotson

Veripathy (£4-00) by Andy Poyiadgi

Bad Machinery vol 6: The Case Of The Unwelcome Visitor (£17-99, Oni) by John Allison

Benson’s Cuckoos (£13-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anouk Ricard

Equinoxes h/c (£30-00, Fanare / Ponent Mon) by Cyril Pedrosa

Literary Life: Revisited h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Posy Simmonds

Little Tails In The Jungle (£13-99, Magnetic Press) by Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci

Seth’s Dominion (£19-99, Drawn & Quarterly / National Film Of Canada) by Seth, Luc Chamberland

The Singing Bones h/c (£19-99, Walker Studio) by Shaun Tan

2000AD Script Book (£19-99, Rebellion) by various including Peter Milligan, Alan Grant, Rob Williams, Dan Abnett, Pat Mills, I.N.J. Culbard, D’Israeli, Carlos Ezquerra

Adventure Time vol 10 (UK Edition) s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Christopher Hastings & Zachary Sterling, Phil Murphy

At The Shore (£17-99, Alternative) by Jim Campbell

Crossed vol 17 s/c (£22-99, Avatar) by Christos Gage & Emiliano Urdinola & Emiliano Urdinola

Dawn Of The Unread (£14-99, Spokeman) by various edited by James Walker

Flash vol 8: Zoom s/c (£15-99, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen & Brett Booth, Bong Dazo, Vicente Cifuentes, Ale Garza

Justice League: Darkseid War – Power Of The Gods s/c (£14-99, DC) by various

Multiversity s/c (£26-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, Ivan Reis, Cameron Stewart, Jim Lee, Doug Mahnke, others

New Suicide Squad vol 4: Kill Anything s/c (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Sean Ryan & Juan Ferreyra, Gus Vazquez, Ronan Cliquet

Civil War II: X-Men s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Andrea Broccardo

International Iron Man vol 1 (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

The Unbelievable Gwenpool vol 1: Believe It s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Gurihiru, Danillo Beyruth, Travis Bonvillain

Uncanny X-Men: Superior vol 2 – Apocalypse Wars s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Ken Lashley, Paco Medina

X-Men: Wolverine / Gambit s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

Art Of Castle In The Sky h/c (£25-00, Viz) by Hayao Miyazaki

Bleach vol 68 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

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

One-Punch Man vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

Sunny vol 6 h/c (£19-99, Viz) by Taiyo Matsumoto

News

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ITEM! Swoonaway Tragic Sunshine website full of gorgeous prints to buy!

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ITEM! Gary Northfield (see DEREK THE SHEEP reviewed above) takes watercolour commissions for his Bog-Eyed Buffoonery ™ tailored to your specific tastes:

Gary Northfield’s Original Watercolour Commissions

Make sure you click on the numbered pages below to give you some ideas, then send Captain Stoopid your own!

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ITEM! RACHEL RISING’s Terry Moore sketching live in Paris: it is a beautiful thing to behold.

Rachel Rising Omnibus 6

ITEM! New and extensive Luke Pearson interview!

Luke Pearson self portrait

ITEM! Finally, to gasps of delight, preview pamphlets of PORCELAIN IVORY TOWER have arrived are waiting for you on our counter. Wait until you get a load of page 2!

Don’t live locally? You can access a preview pdf of PORCELAIN IVORY TOWER from Improper Books here!

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On its initial launch we sold 100 copies of PORCELAIN: A GOTHIC FAIRY TALE by Ben Read & Chris Wildgoose (reviewed) in its first 10 days.

Last year PORCELAIN: BONE CHINA was our biggest-selling book… and it only came out in October!!!

Currently due in Spring 2017, you can pre-order copies of PORCELAIN IVORY TOWER – with a free and exclusive signed bookplate – from Page 45 right now by emailing us at Page45@page45.com

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November 2016 week two

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

Cerebus: Cover Art Treasury h/c (£67-99, IDW & Aardvark-Vanaheim) by Dave Sim, Gerhard.

If the 300-issue, cerebus-cover-art-treasury-cover6,000-page magnum opus that is CEREBUS remains one of the most inventive comics this medium has ever produced, with narrative innovations cascading from its pages at such an astonishing rate as to make Niagara Falls look like a domestic, dripping tap – and it does – then its covers were no less ingenious, iconic and iconoclastic, all at the same time.

What makes this luxurious, full-colour treasury even more of a thirstily devoured “Yes, please!” is that so many of these illustrations don’t just set the tone but actively inform the story within, which most modern readers have had access to only in the form of those whopping, black and white CEREBUS phonebook collections. They never reprinted the colour covers to keep their costs down, but some seen in sequence form comicbook narratives in their own right (#153 & #154) and they are bursting with clues.

The diversity of their approaches and angles – geometric or otherwise – was jaw-dropping, especially when one considers the relative, relentless homogeneity of the corporations’ covers competing for space on retailers’ shelves back then, and even more so to this day.

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You never knew what you’d be startled by next: stark silhouettes, spot-lit close-ups, balletic action shots, quiet reveries, dream-sequence deliria, architecture only, lunar photography, William Morris wallpaper either hung with framed portraits or used to frame pithy, telling snap-shots; typography only (ever so brave and oh so effective), images rotated sideways to reflect what lay within, woodland landscapes, a funereal flower arrangement, glistening bottles of booze placed in the foreground of drunken misdemeanours, film-poster parodies, cosmic chess matches….

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…, or Dave / David Sim drawing the divine Mick / Michael Jagger in precisely the same pose as Michelangelo once sculpted David.

No, I wasn’t perceptive enough to spot that little joke – and, trust me, I studied these long and hard as I acquired each treasured gem.

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The good news is that, thanks to the conversational back-and-forth between Dave Sim and Gerhard’s annotations on almost every page, you’ll be privy to even more process notes and private self-indulgences. Take the cover to #77. Here’s Gerhard:

“Dream covers are always fun. When I was drawing the water pouring from the statue, I thought it might be fun to have the water fill the letters M and T… as in ‘MT is full’. Say it fast, and you’ll get the joke… or not.”

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Dave was joined by landscape artist Gerhard in CEREBUS #65, though not on its cover which was the typography-only effort bearing the truism (which has stuck with me ever since), that “Anything done for the first time unleashes a demon”. There were some very, very fine titles: some portentous, some ripping the piss – out of themselves, readers’ expectations or Marvel’s melodrama – some simply playful yet salient, like “Sane As It Ever Was”.

From #65 onwards Dave continued to write and draw all the characters while Gerhard would render the backgrounds in meticulous detail, providing both textures and colour. The cover to #66 is a ripped-open version of #65, exposing Gerhard’s first cover and colour contribution.

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“It was interesting watching Gerhard tearing art paper carefully so it LOOKED like torn art paper.”

That’s what I mean by meticulous.

“It took me years to figure out that Gerhard LIKED doing precise measurements / vanishing point stuff: that it was his favourite part,” observes Dave of the phenomenal window on #68.

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Of #162’s extraordinary spectacle: “Vanishing point and applied geometry. It was there in front of me the whole time.” And once again of #164’s delicious, crystal-clear, blue-sky winter panorama with its single shattered skylight because we’d been there before.

Neither of the artists is here merely to pat themselves or each on the back, though. They’re both commendably candid about their mistakes, shortcomings and where things didn’t work out the way they had planned. But it was a monthly comic which only once fell behind schedule (towards the end of CHURCH & STATE) so at the end of the day, a) they had to go to print and simply strive to do better next time b) you simply don’t know what it will look like until the printed article appears right in front of you.

Sometimes I found myself shaking my head, bewildered by what one or the other considers a failure. The library cover to #151 with its tumbling book and exceptional sense of space has always struck me as one of the ten best covers ever to grace a comic, but Gerhard was so frustated by its colours that when he hung it on its clip on completion, he did so facing the wall.

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“In these situations,” writes Dave, “you take the hint and just hope it’s still on its hook, face to the wall, when you come in tomorrow. It’s HIS cover.”

Hilariously, however, Dave confesses that during much earlier days – the beginning to HIGH SOCIETY – he tried his hand at watercolours for the covers without comprehending that you were supposed to dilute them. You know, add water. So he used them as you would oil and acrylics, virtually smearing them onto the board. Such is the way of the self-taught artist. I actually liked those covers, but you can’t un-see something once you’ve been shown.

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Successful experimentations are equally well documented, like Gerhard’s discovery that using a toothbrush to flick white or red ink onto the boards was far more effective for snow, stars and blood than an airbrush. There are lots and lots of different space and star effects in evidence. Also, in one instance, a book bearing bloody finger prints. They’re Gerhard’s, if that ever proves forensically relevant.

You may have noticed by now that the covers are presented in different ways. The majority are shot from the originals before some or all of the lettering and extra effects have been added which, with attendant notes, gives extra insight into the process behind them. I find it fascinating to peer behind the curtains to see bits pasted on here and there, and what was entrusted to the printers instead.

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Others are reproductions of the covers as we encountered them complete with the ever-evolving CEREBUS logo and other typography. I learned a new word: “majuscule”. Sim has long been hailed as one of the medium’s all-time greatest letterers, sliding sentences up and down, giving them an extra lilt or cadence (when Thatcher is speaking, for example), and deploying the visual equivalent of onomatopoeia in places. At least one is the result of Sim and Gerhard revisiting a cover, recreating it for a commission.

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They’re reproductions or recreations because some of the originals have been sold, and so many more have been stolen. I’ll leave the introduction to fill you in on that aspect.

So yes, there are practical and commercial considerations as well as artistic ones assessed. From time to time, Dave’s Inner Business Manager retrospectively smacks himself upside the head to much comedic effect when either carelessly or wilfully making design decisions which ran the risk of thwarting his own sales.

When getting it right on #52 he writes: “Cerebus breaking a chair over the head of a barbarian. Yes, Dave, BRANDING. What is it you’re not ‘getting’ about what you’re trying to sell here?” In addition both Cerebus and the logo are found at the top, so easily seen even in shops with semi-tiered shelves which obscure some comics’ bottom halves. Everything is a learning curve including copyright infringement, though Dave did get away with it on satirical grounds.

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“The three ‘Wolveroach’ covers which I really just did to show Frank Miller and Joe Rubenstein how the WOLVERINE mini-series covers SHOULD have been done – more like Neal Adams. Thus overshooting the ‘Branding’ runway and smashing through Marvel’s intellectual property fence and leaving this mixed metaphor jackknifed into their swimming pool with its tail in the air.”

Of the second in the series, #55: “Now that you mention it, it DID look sort of familiar”.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, we finish where Dave Sim and Gerhard concluded, with the final ten issues sub-titled CEREBUS: THE LAST DAY. For this Gerhard supplied a detailed 360-degree view of the room divided into nine covers which conjoin seamlessly with each other and at each end.

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This in itself constitutes sequential art when considering that time passes ever so slowly inside, but the pan is paused with #298 for a halting juxtaposition.

That’s what I meant when I wrote at the start that the exterior art informs what lies within and – at times – creates a narrative all of its own.

This is a gallery we never thought we’d see because of those aforementioned colour costs which would have jeopardised the self-publisher’s finances, so bravo to IDW for enabling this miracle.

I’d only add that to close this book immediately after the final cover is to feel almost as bereft as Mark and I did after reading the very last panel on the final page of CEREBUS itself twelve years ago.

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Although: lo and behold, here comes the brand-new CEREBUS IN HELL? #0, on Page 45’s shelves this very week!

SLH

Buy Cerebus: Cover Art Treasury h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cormorance (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Nick Hayes.

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“This summer I went swimming,
“This summer I might have drowned,
“But I held my breath, and I kicked my feet,
“And I moved my arms around,
“I moved my arms around.”

– ‘Swimming Song’ by Loudon Wainwright III

It’s Nick Hayes himself who chose that epigraph to this otherwise wordless graphic novel, and it could not be more appropriate. It speaks to the heart of the struggle inside the story, both figuratively and otherwise.

I say “wordless” but it’s far from silent. It is bursting with the guttural calls of the cormorants, and on one of its many spectacular double-page spreads the late-night “toowheet” of an owl observing all gives way to the “chip chip” “peep peep” of an early dawn chorus. Framed by foliage, to the left a crescent moon shines over the city and its suburbs, soothing what was a heart-rending, glass-shattering day, while to the right the sun rises over the still of a disused reservoir in the process of being reclaimed by nature, one’s eyes drawn there following the flight path of ever-present cormorants.

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It is a book of staggering beauty told in aquatic shades of blue and green adorned here at there with spots of warm orange, all printed on rich, creamy paper. Maximum use is made of form and textures of wood-grain and water, wings and feathers, or the skeletal shapes of tree trunks and branches beneath so many different leaves. The old-fashioned diving arch of the indoor and outdoor municipal swimming pools looms large in the second section, before the third act wherein the first two conjoin lets loose an orgy of free-flowing nature at its most energetic.

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That whirlwind and flood of movement is heralded by a thrilling format surprise which opens up an oasis within the industrial and a moment of calm in the turbulence – with nature buzzing, nature calling – immediately followed by a plunge whose depth is delivered in a burst of air bubbles and concentric ripples. Then the cormorant dives too.

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Nick Hayes’ THE RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER was an early Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and a ridiculous clever reprise of Coleridge’s ancient original to mourn man’s mismanagement of nature. Here nature’s healing power both over one’s heart and itself is celebrated instead, as long as we take the trouble to connect with it.

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I can’t say much more even of its structure for fear of spoiling your own experience, but it begins with a boy then it begins with a girl. Commemorative photographs taken of the family on each of his birthdays are dear to the boy; soon he will be eight. Badges awarded to the girl on achieving new swimming lengths are lovingly sewn onto her swimsuit by her mother; she’s aiming for 100 metres next. The boy’s mum sends him to school with fresh packed lunches with a heart and kisses drawn on slips of paper each day which he keeps inside his school desk. The girl’s mum teaches her swimming which they both adore; but the boy’s not terribly good at it.

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Each will have reason to break into the disused reservoir surrounded by wooden fencing and wire mesh fencing, and their journeys are not that dissimilar.

SLH

Buy Cormorance and read the Page 45 review here

Saving Grace (£17-99, Jonathan Cape) by Grace Wilson…

You’re here? You better have come to fix the house or you can leave.”
“My girls! You are all so feisty! I love it! RAAARR!
“Well, my darlings… Grace, exuberant Vicky, elegant Jessica and punky rebel Maxine, you’re right, the house is in disrepair, and something needs to be done.
“SO I’M RENOVATING THE ENTIRE HOUSE!
“And then, I shall sell it.
“But, I’m an organised man, so you have four weeks’ notice.
“But hey, if you come across £1,000,000 then call me.
“I’ll see myself out…”

Well, Mr Zanetti, the landlord of Grace and her chums is just the most delightful chap, isn’t he? He drops his little bombshell just after telling Grace the best cure for her spots, which apparently even Anthea Roddick of Body Shop fame swears by, is male semen… Grace is mid-swig of her cuppa and ends up exhaling tea through her nose halfway across the table. Which is when exuberant Vicky, elegant Jessica and punky rebel Maxine arrive to save the day and here we are…

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House hunting seems a rather tedious prospect for our ladies, so when a deluge of rain floods the basement and forces them out of Mr Zanetti’s slimy clutches even sooner than anticipated, a £99 package holiday to sunnier climes seems the most elegant and entertaining solution to their immediate accommodation anxieties.

What it actually does is end up exacerbating tensions between our quartet and pretty soon Grace finds herself hunting for a room in a shared house by herself… It’s even more of a humbling experience than looking for a job… She’s currently working on a zero-hours contract in an art supplies shop, dealing with customers who think asking for a 12” hog hair is a prime opportunity for some unwelcome innuendo…

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Ah, good old London town. Not that I personally think there is anything remotely good about it, and this highly entertaining graphic novel only serves to reinforce my prejudices against the Big Smoke. I just can’t understand how young people can possibly manage to survive, never mind thrive, in such a ludicrously expensive environment, whilst earning so relatively little. It’s like student life forever with a fraction of the fun to me. Simultaneously, meanwhile, there are artisan bakeries and other hipster joints springing up everywhere charging ever higher prices for what are, in essence, the basic essentials revamped and all tarted up. No, give me the marginally lower priced pleasures of the provincial life every time. Well, Nottingham anyway!

Grace, like most young Londoners going nowhere rapidly, doesn’t consider leaving the city an option, and so instead we are able to enjoy her mis-adventures at a mildly smug (on my part at least) remove. Well, unless you are someone in exactly her position I suppose! In which case you will no doubt be nodding sagely and wincing in sympathy in equal measure. Presumably this work draws upon the creator’s own experiences, and for a first graphic novel it is excellent. The slightly untidy art style might not be to everyone’s taste, but it neatly captures the down at heel lifestyle Grace and her friends are living!

JR

Buy Saving Grace and read the Page 45 review here

Motor Girl #1 (£2-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

“Samantha?motor-girl-1-cover
“Are you okay?”

So you think you know what to expect from this comic.

It’s a burlesque starring a hyperactive desert-based, junkyard mechanic who’s tied at the hip to an anthropomorphic wry, dry mountain gorilla who sasses and back-chats, right? You may even have seen Terry Moore’s new avatar on Twitter – of a diminutive, comedy, green alien, so you’re in for those too?

Hmmm. No, that’s okay, you’re not wrong: they’re all here, present and correct, along with Terry’s persistent, consistent campaign against cretins who use cell phones whilst driving. Which is deadly as well as ever so slightly illegal.

But is that all you’d expect from the creator of RACHEL RISING, STRANGERS IN PARADISE and ECHO (and HOW TO DRAW)? Oh ye of little faith!

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All it takes is a single, un-signposted panel (if you’re alert enough to spot it) to suggest that you’re in for a lot more than you first bargained for – either as well or instead.

So yes, new shorter-form series before Terry returns to STRANGERS IN PARADISE – hooray! – starring a hyperactive, desert-based, junkyard mechanic, a highly sardonic anthropomorphic mountain gorilla, diminutive, comedy, green aliens, a sympathetic landlord and a lot less sympathetic, land-grabbing mystery man.

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Fab, flapping hair once flying about on a quad bike, superb use of grey tones at night, and – oh dear, Libby, I’d really get off that cell phone if you want to outlast this series.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you this time.

Hey, after the RACHEL RISING OMNIBUS s/c (just £49-99, half the price of its component parts!), I think I’m allowed a succinct Mr. Moore review!

SLH

Buy Motor Girl #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Muhammad Ali h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Sybille Titeux & Amazing Ameziane…

“And then muhammad-ali-coveryou meet Malcom X…
“All of Harlem is ready to follow him, but you are the one he chooses.
“You like him as much as he likes you, and he knows how to put your thoughts into words. You never leave his side, you are like soulmates finding each other in a sentimental movie.”

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this biography. If you’ve read a few comic biographies you’ll know that much like prose ones, often they can feel rather dry and not really present a fully-formed picture of the individual in question. Perhaps that is even more true with comic biographies actually, given the much more concise amount of time and space the creators have to present their take on an individual.

I’m happy to report to I did really enjoy this work.  It wisely picks some interesting scenes and episodes from Ali’s life that it wants to focus on and then presents those in very detailed fashion, often with quotes from a fixed cast of talking heads. Again, the cast is chosen carefully, a narrow selection of his opponents, (including Henry Cooper who so very nearly beat Ali, then Cassius Clay at Wembley Stadium in June 1968), his inner circle of boxing coaches and people like Malcom X and Elijah Muhammad.

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A relatively small portion is given over to his boxing bouts, just the most famous ones like the bout with Cooper, his two match-ups with Sonny Liston, the Rumble In The Jungle with George Forman and the Thriller In Manila with Joe Frazier, which I think is probably the right choice. And even these are seen mainly from the perspective of his opponents or coaches looking back, which provides an informed, relatively objective viewpoint, rather than Ali’s bombast.

The majority of the book actually focuses on his socio-political awakening and subsequent cultural influence. For some of my generation and younger, especially an ocean away, who only ever knew Ali the hero, it’ll perhaps be surprising to learn how reviled and feared he was by the white American populace at large at the time once he converted to Islam, Malcom X by his side as he rejected Cassius Clay as his slave name, and joined the Nation Of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad. He was already regarded as an obnoxious braggadocio by a lot of people, perhaps not unreasonably so given some of the more unpleasant trash-talking antics he submitted his opponents too.

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But once he embraced Islam it was open season on him, which ultimately culminated with his imprisonment at his refusal to fight in Vietnam. His impassioned speech on that topic, encompassing the inequalities still faced by blacks at the time, was an immensely powerful oration, and it is portrayed superbly across a double-page spread. It also earned him a prison sentence of 5 years, a fine of $10,000 and a ban from boxing of 3 years. He managed to avoid prison whilst the case was appealed, but his boxing licence wasn’t returned for nearly 4 years.

Given the FBI’s then covert COINTELPRO program to engage in covert surveillance against black leaders and groups, with the justification that they were infiltrated by communists, to “increase factionalism, cause disruption” that definitely contributed (at the very least…) to the assassinations of Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. it is perhaps surprising that Ali himself wasn’t the subject of an assassination attempt.

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The work also shows the one act he truly regretted for the rest of his life, turning his back, figuratively and literally on Malcom X. Malcom had already split from the Nation Of Islam, perceiving Elijah Muhummad as someone who wasn’t a true Muslim in heart or practice, and choosing to whole-heartedly embrace traditional Islam, including a pilgrimage to Mecca. Ali, meanwhile, was touring various African countries at the behest of the Nation Of Islam when a chance meeting outside a hotel occurred in Ghana (not Nigeria, as the creators incorrectly suggest here). Malcom called out to Ali, delighted to see him, and Ali simply turned and walked away for the entire world to see. Within a year, Malcom X was dead, and Ali always deeply regretted both the snub itself, and then not ever making amends with his friend.

Ali’s early life and latter post-boxing days bookend the meat of the story, told in sped-up fashion so as to encapsulate his whole life. I thought overall this was a very well presented work. I did struggle slightly with some of the narration at times, purely because much of it is worded in the second person as though it is spoken to Ali himself. It’s a distracting conceit I personally didn’t particularly care for though after a while you do stop noticing it. The art is excellent, with lots of interesting page and panel composition devices, and some nice period touches. In summary, it might not be the greatest biography but it is a very good biography of The Greatest.

JR

Buy Muhammad Ali h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Aleister & Adolf h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Douglas Rushkoff & Michael Avon Oeming…

“Your pathetic sex aleister-adolf-coverrituals don’t stand a chance against the power of the swastika.”
“The symbol isn’t yours, Rudolf.”
“The blood of thousands will make the swastika a Nazi sigil forever. The Jews, they will power it with their lives.”
“Their deaths, you mean. God will forsake you! I will bring such horrors down upon you!”
“We are creating horrors you cannot even imagine. Filling our sigil with the deaths of millions. Death is more powerful than sex.”

So that would be Aleister Crowley interrogating Rudolph Hess with the aid of massive amounts of mind-bending chemicals whilst being observed by (Bond creator) Ian Fleming! This is a fantastically nonsensical, sex-filled, drug-addled black and white romp where we are requested to believe that her Majesty’s government have enlisted the Beast (as Crowley liked to be known) to defeat Adolf Hitler through the power of Magick.

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This is one of those classic take a pinch of truth (Hitler’s obsession with the occult and astrology) and spin a yarn only fractionally more unbelievable than some of the strange secret missions that did actually take place during WW2. Our story is told through the eyes of a young agent called Roberts, entrusted to keep an eye on proceedings and report in to his superiors. He quickly falls under Crowley’s influence, however, becoming an acolyte of the Beast, though he likes to try and convince himself he is merely operating undercover.

We actually first meet Roberts in 1995, dying of cancer in New York City, when a young web designer, utterly baffled by the fact that he can’t prevent the logos on a new webpage for his corporate client from moving around, is sent to speak with him for some arcane reason. I was actually enjoying the ‘40s period part of the story so much I had forgotten about the modern opening by the conclusion! Rest assured, though, the story does come very neatly full chalk drawn magical circle.

Excellent art as ever from Oeming, perfectly capturing the noir tone of Rushkoff’s writing. Nice to read something that is as disturbing as it is amusing. Though I think what perturbed me most is how Aleister Crowley looks more than a little like Brian Michael Bendis!! It only occurred to me due to Oeming’s long collaboration with Bendis but once I had thought the thought, the similarity could not be unseen!

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I do also in fact wonder whether it might not be a little conceit on Oeming’s part, much like Moebius making Jodorowsky the likeness of Professor Alan Mangel in MADWOMEN OF THE SACRED HEART. Not least because there is also a very specific sexy synchronicity between those two works involving three-way action. I would love to believe so, but actually, I think Bendis just does happen to have a remarkable resemblance to the Beast! Still, some would say Bendis is quite the magician in his own right… Marvel certainly would!

JR

Buy Aleister & Adolf h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Northlanders Book vol 2: The Icelandic Saga s/c (£26-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Davide Gianfelice, Becky Cloonan, Paul Azaceta, Declan Shalvey, various, Massimo Carnevale.

“Nothing comes free or easy. northlanders-book-2The good life always requires a turn through the shit from time to time.”

Ain’t that the truth? Some turns are shittier than other, and the good life is not guaranteed.

Each one of these self-contained Viking sagas is as exceptional as it is varied: you never know what you’ll find dug up from its history and hammered into narrative next. Here Brian Wood conjures ten generations of Icelandic family feuding beginning in 871 A.D. when its earliest settlers – a family of three – heaved their scant possessions salvaged from Norway onto its far from fecund soil. Life was hard but at least they were free. Within a year, however, they were followed by others driven out by the land-grabs back home, fleeing the rule of hated King Harald. These were larger families bringing strength in numbers backed up by the weight of their swords.

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So it is that Ulf Hauksson’s merchant father takes it upon himself to toughen his son up in the most brutal of fashions, thereby creating a monster.

“Neither of them could look at me for weeks.
“This was valuable time for me. It allowed me the chance to detail and catalogue my hatred, to fully articulate, in my mind, who deserved what and why.
“That morning my parents had a son. By that evening, as a result of my father’s efforts to teach me cruelty and violence, they had something very different on their hands.”

What follows is that afternoon’s legacy: two centuries of ever-escalating struggles for power as the population expands and sustainable self-governance crumbles under the weight of numbers, the influence of those still in thrall to Norway and corruption in the form of Christianity and its Holy Men with their insidious schemes to divide, conquer and then reap the spoils in the form of hegemony and wealth.

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Marriage plays no small part in this. Indeed it’s all about family and two fathers are going to find out precisely how sharp the serpent’s tooth is before their lives are done.

Structurally, ‘The Icelandic Trilogy’ is stunning. Three chapters each devoted to three separate snapshots spanning two hundred years. The first barely boasts a population to speak of, but by 999 A.D. a port has been established and the Haukssons have built a heavily fortified compound.

It isn’t, however, impervious. Here is a daughter:

“I was taught to keep books when I was six years old. I am literate where Mar is not. The Hauksson men fight, the women administrate.
“And together we dominate. The society of Iceland is balanced on our stacks of silver and gold, our sword at its throat.
“Which makes the attempt on my life unthinkable.”

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The family’s gained ground through guile and good judgement, but it’s not immune to being goaded – and it’s about to meet its match. As for 1260 A.D., it is to despair but then so it goes, eh?

NORTHLANDERS has played host to a magnificently strong set of artists and Azaceta is on glorious form in his tale of innocence bludgeoned to death, while Zezelj’s jagged plains of ice and snow and treacherous, shadow-strewn ravines are freezing. You wouldn’t cross them without a thick pair of boots.

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His hair and beards are as matted as you can imagine and probably crawling with lice. There’s one page which starts out with a lamb so startlingly lovely you wonder what it’s doing there – it’s quite the contrast to what’s gone before. By the time you reach you bottom, though, you’ll be thinking, “Oh, well, that makes sense!”

This volume also includes ‘The Girl In The Ice’ illustrated by Becky Cloonan, Brian Wood’s cohort on DEMO, ‘The Sea Road’ and ‘Sven The Immortal’. There are more of these thicker “books” repackaging the slimmer “volumes” to come, but in the meantime Brian (personal favourite graphic novel being LOCAL with Ryan Kelly) has returned to this era on very fine form with BLACK ROAD illustrated by Garry Brown, whose first collection is out now and reviewed by our Jonathan.

SLH

Buy Northlanders Book vol 2: The Icelandic Saga s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Intercorstal 683 (£4-00, self-published) by Gareth A Hopkins.

I don’t know, is the answer. I don’t know what’s going on except that it’s quite the experience.

Anything this abstract is open to interpretation, and I have no crib sheet to copy from. I never do and never will and I truly wouldn’t want one.

I love experiencing new art for myself. That’s something I touched upon sarcastically in my review of ANCESTOR wherein technology has evolved to render everyone all-informed. That too will give you much pause for thought.

I found this thrilling. In spite of the chaos of the full-colour cover, this black and white orgy of interlocking forms strikes me as highly disciplined. It doesn’t look random at all.

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It’s like a carefully choreographed ballet as performed by crisply delineated yet thoroughly malleable, constantly morphing techno-organic entities whose forms appear to coil round each other, perhaps merge then separate.

None of the images I have for you here are consecutive and, with hindsight, that might have been an error on my part for it’s all about sequence. Nor is each dance brief, so the result is a rightfully indulgent, extended eye-bath and I promise you that seeing is believing: you really do need to pick up a physical copy from our shelves for yourselves and decide what you make of it.

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Are those individuals in space-suit armour crouching in a simian fashion, awaiting orders from the taller one to the left?

I simply don’t know.

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Just over halfway through there appears to be a blinding light eroding these forms during which Hopkins demonstrates a superb sense of negative space before a robed, monocular individual rises and strides, best foot forward into the foreground (possibly).

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After which darkness descends and the formerly stark art is splashed with swathes of sweeping black ink and – to me – a lone survivor emerges to sit on a large cushion tapping into its laptop.

This has no words.

I have no words.

If I was any more egomaniacal than I already am, I would swear blind that this was created purely to make monkeys out of reviewers, Gareth A. Hopkins chortling in private at our flailing public attempts to do justice to what was for me a so-far unique experience. I suspect I have just taken a Rorschach Test.

It’s very beautiful. Let’s leave it at that.

SLH

Buy The Intercorstal 683 and read the Page 45 review here

Mulp: Sceptre Of The Sun #3 of 5 (£4-99, Improper Books) by Matt Gibbs & Sara Dunkerton.

Thrilling foreshortening on this best cover yet, for which I am reliably informed Sara built a model from steel wire and live bees.

It’s possible I may have misheard that last bit.

We’ve so far seen little other than rodents in this all-ages, anthropomorphic, transglobal adventure: lizards for transport and beetles for heavy lifting at the Egyptian archaeological dig, and now bees for the Antarctic sledge race to track down the legendary Sceptre Of The Sun before a less benevolent faction gets its purloining paws on it.

It was the startling discovery of an ancient stone in MULP #1 which catalysed this quest. On it were two remarkably similar accounts of an apocalyptic event in both Egyptian and Greek, albeit seen from their respective mythological perspectives. Most intriguing, however, were the Mesoamerican drawings in between the other two records on that self-same tablet, the most prominent of which is an image reminiscent of Viracocha, creator of the sun, the moon, and the stars, holding two sceptres and surrounded by ferocious, fanged beasts. This Incan myth backs up at least one of the other two in implying that the apocalyptic event may have been, furthermore, an extinction-level event for at least one species of giant. And, hey, for the mice to have evolved now to the level of human Victorians, their natural predators must have surely died out too.

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The legend ends with the creation of a second race divided into groups and taught divergent customs, languages and songs. To guide them Viracocha gave his most favoured son, Manco Capac, one of the two golden sceptres, the Tapac-Yauri.

The search for this led our intrepid band of explorers to Peru, all the way up to Manchu Picchu where, sequestered deep beneath the ruins of a solar observatory, they discovered an engraving which seemed to confirm the links between the three civilisations and imply both beneficial and fiercely destructive uses for that sceptre, all centred on the sun. So now things are really heating up, because if our own mouse mates don’t find the fabled sceptre first then the less altruistic expedition – which was already proved itself ruthless – won’t be using it to light candles or nurture crops.

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For now we’re on ice, as our furry friends attempt to weather the freezing conditions they find themselves in. But will it all end in fire?

I love how so many visual clues have been embedded in the various mythical accounts, along with extra allusions to the likes of Prometheus. It all ties together so satisfyingly.

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Some startling, starry skies and other lovely low-light colouring from Dunkerton, even by day, but otherwise for this third instalment I’m going to leave you to expect the unexpected, especially at night, and to hunt down my own hidden clues.

SLH

Buy Mulp: Sceptre Of The Sun #3 of 5 and read the Page 45 review here

Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Dave Shelton.

“Oh, can we give you a ride back to town, Mr. Wiener? Only it’s awfully draughty in here… now.”

Now that you’ve shot a hole in his roof, McBoo.

“Umm, after we’ve got our car out of the ditch, that is.
“And some of the ditch out of our car.”

That one wasn’t McBoo’s fault, surprisingly. The ditching was down to fellow detective Kirk Bergman’s malfunctioning map-reading skills in the pouring rain, but whatever the weather this dysfunctional duo are a car crash waiting to happen.

If they’re going to solve any case it’s going to be by accident. Fortunately, at those they are specialists.

Here they are summoned to Weiner Bros Studios by a certain Sam Weiner on account of death threats received by Dunstan Bassett, an aging film star whose career has gone to the dogs. Alas, award-winning Sam Weiner seems otherwise engaged; it’s his brusquer brother Jack who greets them just in time for Dunstan’s stunt double to get blown up on set, leaving nothing behind but his boots.

For rapacious Jack this is far from inconvenient: releasing that footage will be a money-making goldmine. But for Bergman and McBoo it’s a sure sign that the danger in Dunstan’s death threats is all too real so they swiftly set about piecing together clues. It’s only when those pieces fall off that the pieces, the clues, and the clue in the glue start sticking together to make sense.

We have only just begun, for what they should be investigating is staring them right in the face. It’s a shame, then, that McBoo’s attention span is shorter than a squirrel’s.

“McBoo, I don’t know what you’re doing… but I really hope you’ll have stopped by the time I turn around.”

From the writer of two of our very few books of illustrated prose, which are commended to you with all my heart – THIRTEEN CHAIRS and A BOY AND A BEAR IN A BOAT – I present you with all-ages pun-tastic, slapstick comicbook crime from The Phoenix for which I can find flip-all usable interior art online. Again.

PUBLISHERS, THIS IS A VISUAL MEDIUM.

Please see Pager 45’s Phoenix Comic Book section for more from this stable.

SLH

Buy Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews

Good grief, there are normally 30-odd here!

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Sandman Overture s/c (£17-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & J. H. Williams III

The Return Of The Honey Buzzard (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Aimee De Jongh

Where Do I Belong? (£9-99, www.silentarmy.org) by various, edited by M.P. Fikaris

Instruction Manual For Lonely Mountains (£14-99, www.silentarmy.org) by Nicola Gunn & M.P. Fikaris

DC Comics / Dark Horse Comics Crossovers: Justice League vol 1 s/c (£22-99, DC / Dark Horse) by various

Deadpool V Gambit: The “V” Is For “Vs.” s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker & Danillo Beyruth

Rocket Raccoon And Groot vol 2: Civil War II s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Kocher & Michael Walsh

The Ghost And The Lady Book 1 (£15-99, Kodansha) by Kazuhiro Fujita

Psycho Pass: Inspector Shinya Kogami vol 1 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Midori Gotou & Natsuo Sai

News

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ITEM! LOST TALES by Adam Murphy wins Young Readers British Comics Award as voted for by Leeds school children. Such a beautiful, witty collection of short stories from around the world – pop it on your Christmas lists!

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ITEM! Matthew Dooley wins this year’s Observer/Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize 2016 with this fabulous piece!

Interview with Matthew Dooley here.

At the time of typing Page 45 still has a limited number of copies of Matthew Dooley’s sold-out MEANDERING in stock and reviewed. Oh, whoops, we sold out overnight. Still, you can read the review!

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ITEM! Watch Jamie Smart a spectacular BUNNY VERSUS MONKEY panel right before your eyes!

You’ll find Jamie Smart’s all-ages books in Page 45’s Phoenix Comics Book section.

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ITEM! Dan Berry (SENT / NOT SENT and COELIFER ATLAS etc – pop him in our search engine!) drew me as a bird, from life, right in front of me. He even drew my eyebrow ring. I’m so totally plucked.

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ITEM! First page from the most recent HELLBLAZER #3 (this isn’t a wind-up. It’s like the old scathing, anti-authoritian HELLBLAZER). Too, too funny:

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ITEM! Primary school in Scotland scraps homework in favour of reading books and comics instead.

  1. Yes, they recommended comics!
  2. Both pupils and parents were balloted and they voted in favour
  3. The whole endeavour was reported by the Daily Mirror factually, with a balanced, level head and not one single sound-effect or careless semi-caustic remark.
  4. Progress!

– Stephen

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Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk & The Turkish Lieutenant. You should be able to click on this image to read our review.