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Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2016 week four

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Featuring Jade Sarson, Bryan Lee O’Malley & Leslie Hung, that chap John Milton & Pablo Auladell, Inio Asano, Jeff Lemire & Emi Lennox and more!

For The Love Of God, Marie! (£16-99, Myriad) by Jade Sarson.

This isFor The Love Of God Marie cover a book so bursting with love that it will make your hearts soar!

If understanding and kindness is what you crave, I present you with 225 pages of pure passion initially presented in the most heavenly, cohesive coupling of purples and gold.

There will be many more couplings to come and, as the brilliant Baroness Benjamin once brightly advised, “It might have some sexy scenes”. I can guarantee it, and each one will prove unashamedly joyful.

Just look at the cover with its natural, softly shaded flesh and flowing tresses as resplendent as Sandro Botichelli’s ‘Birth Of Venus’, the innocence of its daisy chain and the rosary beads broken – but why?

“They say what’s most important is loving those around you.
“You must love your neighbour… but not like that.
“Can’t be having that… because it’s wrong… right?”

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It’s mixed messages time for our Marie Lovitt, a girl who instinctively understands what’s most important in life and acts accordingly: she spreads love wherever she goes!

In addition to her nature, there is also her nurture: the lessons she learns from what she is told. Here’s Marie being taught at Catholic school, aged roughly 12, 14 and 16. Everything below is a quote until I speak to you again.

Marie was a very special girl.
She loved to learn.
“Curie was of the opinion that ‘Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.’”
She loved to understand.
“You must love one another as God has loved you.”
And she loved to LOVE.

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“Please copy down the diagram and add the correct labels for the male and female reproductive organs.”
She had a kind soul, dedicated to understanding people.
Unfortunately, most people misunderstood her.

Right, I’m back. Sorry about that – translating such carefully crafted comics to prose isn’t always easy.

So far, so good but I mentioned mixed messages and unfortunately Marie’s Catholic parents perceive things quite differently. To them the emphatically unqualified ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ comes with some pretty specific exceptions.

They’re more concerned with what their neighbours will think – but only about their daughter. To their promiscuous son’s flagrant bedroom antics, right under their noses, they turn a blind eye. “Boys will be boys” is a phrase that will be bandied about all too often here.

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Instead Marie is constantly chastised for not being “presentable” or “ladylike” enough, a superficiality and sexism which will extend to her teacher-trainer once she’s left school, and those propping up the bar where she’ll find herself serving at to make ends meet.

“No one wants a sad pair of tits at the bar, yeah?”

Before we return to all the love I promised you, we should get this out of the way first then I won’t burden you with it to again: if you think the chauvinism’s bad, brace yourself for racist outbursts, some very harsh and hypocritical recriminations, more poisonous, parental words and an abrupt change in colour palette.

The wonderful thing about Marie, though, is her resilience, her complete lack of superficiality, her compassion at school and her unfaltering, unhesitating urge to constantly reach out regardless of what her classmates might think. This extends first to Colin who jumps his own hurdles without the need of much help (they begin in the bed), to the more troubled William who has hidden depths (they convene in the changing rooms, appropriately enough), and to dear Agnes. They end up spending a lot of quality time in the chapel.

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The other wonderful thing about Marie is her complete lack of shame. I don’t mean that she is shameless, for that has come to mean something else entirely – Marie doesn’t even know what a “slut” is. Instead she has a love of luxuriating in both spiritual and physical pleasure of her friends and simply cannot conceive that there is anything wrong with that, especially when it is done with love. Without a sense of shame, the Catholic nuns have nothing to use against her. She disarms them of their best weapon.

And so we come to Prannath whom Marie meets – still early on in the book – after leaving school in 1965 in order to teach, and this is where the colour scheme comes into its own. This is where it truly shines, Marie’s golden hair radiating in both the sun and the rain from which they shelter together under his yellow umbrella. Both hair and umbrella blaze like charms against all adversity including the elements which tower above and rage around them. I cannot conceive a more romantic image.

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The bruised berry purple of the storm clouds and the thrilling sense of movement remind me of the very first page of Alessandro Sanna’s THE RIVER.

It’s in this same park that Prannath courts Marie with twinkling eyes seen through gold-rimmed glasses whose broad frames reflect his openness and honesty; although if you think he’s averse to a little light mischief then you are mistaken! His body language is endearingly coy then increasingly confident as they play chess together in such softly dappled light under a canopy of leaves.

And, oh, Marie, the smile you take away with you along with his treasured umbrella! Utterly smitten but barely daring to hope, she’s biting her lip, eyes gently closed with dreams of a future, even perhaps in prayer.

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Mouths are one of Sarson’s many fortes as an artist. Obviously there’s the body language and oh so many body forms. You wait until you see from behind an old friend bunched over a bedside in a great big, smothering hug! Zero elegance – because who gives a damn about appearances? – but maximum eloquence about what matters more. Obviously there are also the eyes which are ever so expressive. There are so many carefully considered perspectives too, as when reaching up with a helping hand, or looking down over an empty, indifferent, straight-lined, conformist suburb very early on as a heart is broken and someone is left far behind.

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But the contours of the mouths are like nothing I’ve quite seen before, a long way from the many shortcut clichés so-easily absorbed from traditional sources. I strongly suspect that Sarson has been modelling from herself in the mirror, gurning away to achieve her own individualistic grins and grimaces.

I’ve had to be ever so elusive to give you but the flavour of what’s in store, careful to keep the surprises for you. To do that I’ve also virtually ignored the second two-thirds, so what I must emphasise now is the scope of this truly great graphic novel.

It’s a generational saga and its breadth is such that it covers fifty years and encompasses so much that in addition to being a thumping drama of ecstatic highs and gut-wrenching lows, of parental culpability and the determination to do better, of success and failure and reconsideration, it is also a prime slab of British social history which I rank right up there with the triumph that is NELSON and even with the exceptional, historical memory-jog that is Raymond Briggs’ biography of his parents, ETHEL & ERNEST.

It is also exceptionally inclusive and erotic that will be adored by fans of Jess Fink’s CHESTER 5000 XYV and enjoyed on another level entirely.

This is a book so bursting with Jade Sarson’s love that – as I’ve sworn – it will make your hearts soar.

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But, for the love of God, Marie, where will it all end? How could it tie up?

Oh, ever so satisfyingly and ever so pleasurably that you won’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

That’s such a great title.

SLH

Buy For The Love Of God, Marie! and read the Page 45 review here

Paradise Lost h/c (£20-00, Jonathan Cape) by John Milton, Pablo Auladell.

“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

Satan was a silly old sod, wasn’t he?

I’m not saying I’d want to spend eternity in Heaven unless it’s my idea of heaven with Guy Pearce stripped to the waist circa Memento, and Billy MacKenzie and the Cocteau Twins on continual, ethereal rotation, but really…? You’d rather be top dog in an incessant rat race of equally deluded demons in some sort of tortuous cesspit than contribute in some small or even substantial way to something slightly more… azure?

For all the fear Satan so lamentably and so successfully instilled throughout the ages through his veneer of self-confidence, with that single sentence he gives the game away: that he is limited by his ridiculous pride and so self-damned to Hell.

What he does next proves that he’s not half so happy with his lot as he likes to make out, either. Liar!

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Spanish artist Pablo Auladell presents us with a Hell as equally at odds with our traditional view of the fiery pit as Gaiman and Kelley Jones did in SANDMAN: SEASON OF MISTS. It may have been Milton’s vision too, I don’t know; I’ve never attempted to read the original until now. Either way, what we have here is an endless, colourless gloom so dispiriting that I find it far more frightening. That, to me, would be the terror of an eternity: a monotony of unbroken, infinite, soulless grey.

Auladell juxtaposes this with glimpses of Heaven bathed in the copper oxide aquamarine which we know so well from municipal and ecclesiastical roof tops. It’s used in the lettering too, and the graphic novel is printed on such perfectly chosen paper that it shines.

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Back down below, and I love the way in which, as “the Stygian council” disbands, the winged denizens of hell swarm from Satan’s tower like flies from a putrescent corpse or pile of dung.

Belial, Beelezbub and friends have just discussed their next move after being cast down from above. Open warfare won’t work because, you know, “omnipotent”. Guile ain’t going to cut it because also “omniscient”. Recanting would be rubbish on account of subservience and we all know by now that they’re not keen on that.

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No, what they want to do is truly exasperate Him, get under His skin – to hit Him where it Hurts. And Beelzebub has a cunning plan:

“What if we find some easier enterprise?
“There is a place (if ancient prophetic fame in Heaven err not), another world…
“The happy seat of some new race called Man.
“Thither let us bend all our thoughts, to learn what creatures there inhabit, of what mould, or substance, how indued, and what their power…
“And where their weakness.”

Wait for it! Killer move coming!

“Let us seduce them to our party, that God may prove their foe.
“This would interrupt His joy,
“And our joy upraise in his disturbance;
“When his darling sons hurled headlong to partake with us.”

Nice! We can’t beat God, so let’s sully his most cherished creation. That’s going to smart something chronic.

It’s like the Farage of UKIP realising that his party will never win a straightforward General Election or he a seat as an MP himself. Why not gain a vainglorious victory instead, less directly, by corrupting the British public with unwarranted fears about immigration and tempt them to his cause with illusory lies about the benefits of economic independence? Let’s fuck everything up purely for personal self-satisfaction! Destroy Britain to damage Europe! Hooray!

Added bonus: the British population are then left riddled with helpless, hopeless guilt because they as individuals went and pressed that bloody button.

Nice one, Satan, it’s your best one yet. I don’t think I’m stretching things, do you?

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I am completely converted to the art in all its eeriness but I have to confess: my God, but Milton drones on. Repetitive, much…?

I’m sure the language was a tour de force in its day to those that learned, but it’s no fun to read right now and I grew so frustrated at having to decipher its every meaning that, I confess, I jumped ship. I abandoned my post long before the final furlong or Judgement Day. I don’t even know if Judgement Day is referenced but I do spy Adam and Eve.

Honestly, what an ignoramus.

SLH

Buy Paradise Lost and read the Page 45 review here

Snotgirl #1 (£2-25, Image) by Bryan Lee O’Malley & Leslie Hung with Mickey Quinn.

Meet Lottie Person, who seems so serene on the surface.

“I’m fresh.  I’m fun. It’s just who I am.”

A fashion blogger with glossy green hair and a high hit rate, her life is pretty much perfect.

Her fans are devoted (she knows), her blogs are the best (she believes) and that goes without saying (she blasés). New verb.

“Except my friends are all horrible people.
“And my boyfriend decided we’re on a break.
“And oh yeah –“

OH NO!

“I have allergies.”

She has such severe allergies that they rule her life. Under the carefully controlled camera conditions of fashion photography, she radiates, she glistens, she sheens. Hung and colour artist Quinn have her emanating girly-girl, cartoon sparkles and her hair bathed in wavy light as if seen through some sort sub-aquatic prism.

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But a surge in pollen or one moment of stress can render her centre asunder. You carry that knowledge wherever you go. Here’s her new doctor, offering her a brand new medication drug trial:

“So much pain in your eyes. You’re a flower afraid of the sun. Lottie… haven’t you suffered enough?”
“Yes, Dr. Dick,” she wells up to herself, “I have suffered enough. I’m a beautiful flower and I deserve to be extremely happy!”

Lord, but I’m taking liberties with verbs.

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In any case it’s just an illusion. Catch Lottie alone at night – free from prying eyes – with her laptop, her allergies, her issues, her tissues and she is one angry, competitive, social-media mess with raging jealousies.

Lottie has locked herself in to a life and a style that can’t handle criticism or blemishes of any other kind. She reduces her so-called friends or at least peers and even complete strangers to one-word labels, defining them by a single trait: Cutegirl, Trashboy, Normgirl, Sandigirl, Custodialdude. She doesn’t appear to like anyone except herself. Oh wait – she doesn’t like Lottie, either.

As Marc Almond once wrote, “Is it me who’s feeling insecure?”

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Then she meets fluster-free, uninhibited, self-assured Caroline, a start-up blogger of extraordinary natural beauty whom she’s so taken by that she immediately christens her Coolgirl and agrees to meet at a bar. Lottie doesn’t go to bars, but…

“People can change! This selfie proves it!”

Nothing that happens next will you in any way see coming. Nothing! No, it’s not same-sex pash time. No, it’s not brand-new boyfarama, either. But I have told you everything that you need to know. I do hope that no one else has spoiled this for you.

Pick this up quick, before someone does! There is far more going on that I’ve so far intimated. The creator of SECONDS, SCOTT PILGRIM and LOST AT SEA has proved himself over and over again to be a shrewd observer of personal foibles and contemporary interaction. Here each page is packed with both combined in single sentences like inaccurate, emoji-ridden texts sent through a cafe window instead of any meaningful one-to-one communication which could be achieved simply by stepping through a door!

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Hung and Quinn grow better and better with each successive page. I love how everything opens up (from the comparatively confined space) in the two pages where Lottie and Caroline have a meeting of minds over one ridiculously specific coffee. Later in the hot, dark, windowless bar claustrophobia returns, the pressure ramps up, and you can almost feel yourself sweating and spinning thanks to Quinn’s Bourbon colours.

And then you can relax when white space returns in the sanctuary of a toilet cubicle. Can’t you…?

Welcome to my nightmares.

As someone who used to blush or flush at the slightest provocation in public – after which there’d be no recovery for hours – I am ticking the recognition box of wretched self-consciousness and the fear that it could erupt at any second.

Bryan too is writing for experience – and you can tell – in his case with similarly severe allergies. There’s a bit in the back about all of that: a one-page comic drawn by himself.

SLH

Buy Snotgirl #1 Leslie Hung cover and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Snotgirl #1 Bryan Lee O’Malley cover and read the Page 45 review here

Goodnight Punpun vol 2 (£16-99, Vis) by Inio Asano.

Ideally Punpun would like everyone to be happy. He’s quite like to be happier himself.

“Punpun was sick of his own optimism.”

Don’t worry, it won’t last.

From Inio Asano, the most unpredictable Japanese comicbook creator that I’m aware of, comes a second instalment of GOODNIGHT PUNPUN which takes a startling turn for the dark. Although my search for interior art online suggests that we’ve only just begun.

Before we get there, comedy comes in the form of a teacher who has only one expression whatever he says – or doesn’t say – which is boss-eyed and open-mouthed, like a particularly gormless goldfish. There’s a similarly afflicted student who lists slightly as she hovers like a slack-jawed ghost, her back to the others and her hair hanging down in twin, lank bunches like so much pond weed.

“I’m not interested in shallow boys like that,” she pronounces as they discuss teenage Yaguchi’s reputedly prodigious member. I don’t know which is funnier: the delusion or the non sequitur.

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The Onodera family’s an odd one. School student Punpun lives with his excitable, drunken mother and her brother Yuichi who moved in to help out following the father’s… departure. They alone are drawn as stick-limbed, cartoon birds, uncle Yuichi perpetually adorned by a woollen hat. Punpun’s easily flustered timidity is emphasised that throughout he never says a word directly, leaving his friends and relatives to interpret his actions, whereas his uncle never shuts up. Even so, it transpires that he’s been keeping what really lies within tightly bottled up.

Punpun and his uncle are both paralysed by guilt and self-loathing, the first over something he’s not even done yet, the second over a series of events that happened five years ago. It’s a recollection / confession which grows increasingly ominous, even more worrying then finally… good grief!

There’s layer upon layer of I-never-saw-that-coming and it goes a long way in explaining why Punpun’s uncle goes to such enormous, toe-curling lengths to sabotage his own chances of romantic bliss with cafe waitress Midori Okoma.

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Midori is sweet, sincere and both generous and grateful when shown kindness. She’s 25 to Uncle Yuichi’s 33 which is no gap at all, both of them are single, and she is honest and open about her genuine adoration of Yuichi. So what is his problem?

Well, here’s an earlier conversation with a local grocery clerk:

“Yuichi, do you think being alive is fun?”
“Well… what can I say…? It’s not about whether or not it’s fun anymore…”
“Wow… that’s really cool. Then what is it about, Yuichi?”
“Atonement, maybe.”

What happened five years ago is layered and complex and intense – as is Midori and Yuichi’s attempts to work through it and reconcile the past with the present, and I’ve chosen our interior art carefully to hint but not divulge.

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This substantial sequences forms the centre of the book, sandwiched in between Punpun’s own internal self-flagellation on either side, which isn’t helped by the incessant taunts and temptations of a voice in his head whom Punpun has decided is God. He appears to Punpun as a sort of celebrity guru, a hipster with a beard and afro – a grinning, two-dimensional cardboard cut-out.

For all that and more I’d refer you to our review of GOODNIGHT PUNPUN VOL 1, but essentially Punpun’s primary obsession is over a girl called Aiko whom he’s already failed once and who finally reveals one of her fears here:

“You know, I have the same dream over and over. I dream that I’m waiting for someone for a long time.
“In the dark, on a beach, I’m waiting for someone for years and decades.
“But then, at some point, I notice that someone is staring at me. It’s a middle-aged woman I’ve never seen before, but I’m so happy to see her that I pull my feet out of the sand and run over to her.
“But when I get there, it’s just my own reflection in the water.”

Asano’s books take a dozen pages to acclimatise to, after which there’s no leaving them on the table till later. And they’re lengthy. This one comes in at 400 pages long.

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Hands always play a prominent part, and he can draw a tear wobbling on the edge of a lower eyelid with just the right surface tension, transparency and refraction. But the most phenomenal detail is reserved for landscapes, even at night, and the weather – as ever – is going to make itself felt during the climactic scenes.

SLH

Buy Goodnight Punpun vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Plutona s/c (£12-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Emi Lenox.

Deep in the dark, green coniferous forest, a very long way from the bustling Metro City, a woman lies battered and broken and dead. A fly crawls across the black cloth which partially obscures her face. It will be a miracle if anybody finds her.

“Teddy! You’re still not dressed? You better hurry or… “

Teddy’s been studiously logging the morning Metro news. Teddy’s a cape-spotter and there’s been a rare sighting of the reclusive Plutona in combat high over the city’s East end. It’s pretty exciting!

“… You’ll be late for school.”
“Almost ready, Mom.”

That’s Diane, just applying the subtle finishing touches to her light make-up. She can’t wait to wear her grey jacket to school now that it’s been embellished with spiked metal studs. She’s a pretty natty dresser, with a matching, skull-adorned neck chief and olive t-shirt.

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“Yo! That coat looks awesome!”
“You think? Not too much? I did it last night.”
“I want it.”

And what little Mie wants, she usually gets. No “please”, no “thank you”, just “bad ass” once she’s wearing it.

“I get it back at lunchtime.”
“Deal. Awesome!”

She doesn’t get it back at lunchtime.

Then there’s Ray with his black eye. While Teddy, Diane, Mie and her younger brother Mike have been coaxed down to breakfast by their parents, Ray’s been trying to raise his Dad, late for work and passed out on the sofa, beer can still in his hand.

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It won’t be the last time that Lemire contrasts the four households. While Ray sneers and jeers his way to what he hopes is top-dog status in the small pack at school, he’s not just a big man at home. Forced to endure chain-smoked cigarettes and hours of awful television dictated by his dad, he sits there alone and friendless while in the bedrooms Mie texts, Diane plays with her new puppy and Teddy studies Plutona’s history intently.

Because earlier that evening they found the body – Plutona’s body – and they don’t know what to do.

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In a small-scale way it reminded me of Patrick Ness’ ‘The Rest Of Is Just Live Here’ – highly recommended – in that this emphatically not about the action which precedes the main thrust of the tale (I could have done without the flashback at the end of each chapter drawn by Lemire recounting Plutona’s activities the evening before), it’s about what happens to the small-town kids at the periphery.

Lemire’s observation of teenage tensions, strained friendships, loyalties and disloyalties – those tiny, careless betrayals that stack up – is what I enjoyed most about this book, along with Lenox’s fashion sense, subtle, subdued acting and Bellaire’s luminous colours. The teenagers’ eyes are wide and glowing – apart from little Mie’s which are pitch black. The sunrises and sunsets are splendid, with a thrilling spirit of time and place, especially at night under torchlight in the woods.

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Hold on: if they all agreed to keep the secret, who’s out there, alone in the woods, with Plutona’s body? What could they possibly want with it?

I doubt it’s who you’ll expect. Also: they’re not alone.

SLH

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

Huck vol 1 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Rafael Albuquerque.

ThisHuck cover is a book that begins as a very sweet tale about a man with a heart of gold and an earnest desire to help whoever he can, whenever he can. He doesn’t wait to be asked, he dreams up kind deeds for the day: selfless surprises like leaving money that he’s saved up in a library book for a stranger; mowing the lawn for all the old people in his remote seaside hamlet; helping a neighbour clear a space for a new barn; taking out all the trash out for everyone overnight.

It’s a lot of work for one man, but he’s very capable.

Huck’s not what you’d call bright in the academic sense nor is he worldly wise. But he’s exceptionally bright in every other sense, beaming at the prospect of giving pleasure. He seeks no reward except the knowledge that someone’s life is made easier, happier or safer.

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His friends are his family for as a baby Huck was left outside the sleepy town’s orphanage with a note in his basket:

“Please love him.”

And they did. And they do. And he loves them very much back in return.

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All he asks is that they keep his deeds secret because, well, if the rest of the world found out that Huck could uproot a three-foot-wide tree stump with his bare hands, that town wouldn’t be so sleepy no more.

The rest of the world finds out.

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The first chapter is magical in a ‘Forrest Gump’ way. I can’t think that wasn’t its inspiration. And there’s a lot of love left to come.

But there’s also a whole lot of hurt.

Albuquerque manages to convey so much in Huck’s physique and body language beyond his weight and prowess, and there’s an earthiness to Dave McCaig’s colouring right from the beginning so that when the book takes a very sharp turn into unhappier terrain it doesn’t jar one jot. It’s as expressive as Eisner, especially when startled, and while so many of those who surround Huck grow nasty, Huck’s face retains its little-lost-boy look of astonishment under all but the direst circumstances.

SLH

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

Doom Patrol Book 2 (£22-50, DC) by Grant Morrison & Richard Case, many.

“They’re going to… to exterminate imagination and… strangeness…
“They’re building death camps for our dreams…”

A second frazzling feast of Grant’s mind-melting, uber-arty psychohero series which now contains the original, thinner third and fourth volumes and includes litigation-sensitive Flex Mentallo‘s first appearance. You know those Charles Atlas adverts where the beech nerd gets sand kicked in his face? Flex is the end product.

On the whole, though, he reflects the saner side of the spectrum when you consider that the Doom Patrol’s new team member is their own HQ: a sentient stretch of semi-detached housing called Danny The Street. With a penchant for Palare, he’s pretty useful accommodation. Able to do his own dishes, cross-dress his own windows and teleport wherever he fancies, Danny’s going to save a hell of a lot in bus fares. Quite good for rescue missions too.

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If there’s an overall theme to Morrison’s tenure, it’s constant metamorphosis: Rebis’ initial merged state as man, woman and negative energy being, then eventual evolution towards the end; Cliff’s constant robotic body upgrades (which here involves an enormous set of crustacean legs); Rhea’s emergence as if from a cocoon as much as a coma; or indeed Crazy Jane’s abrupt transfigurations as each of her sixty-four personalities with their own unique power vie for control of her body. And that’s just the Patrol itself.

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Then there are supervillains like Agent “!” in search of The Element of Surprise, Number None (“the person who bumps into you when you’re late for the train; the chair that collapses underneath you when you’re trying to make a good impression on your girlfriend’s parents; that man who seems thin but somehow you can’t get past him because he takes up the whole sidewalk…”) and The Beard Hunter, a Punisher parody who’s really a closet case unable to grow his own facial hair:

“You’re thirty-six years old,” scolds his mother. “Don’t you think it’s about time you had a girlfriend?”
“Well, I-I-I’ve got Shu-Sheba. Sheba. What’s wrong with her?”
“Sheba’s a German Shepherd, Ernest. I want grandchildren, not a police investigation.”

One of the most outstanding scenes is a trip to his police station where all the bobbies are shouting “Mee maw mee maw mee maw” and the notices on the walls prove more ambitious that most:

“Wanted: Hope”
“Wanted: The Shape Of Things To Come”
“Wanted: Light At The End Of The Tunnel”.

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The second half kicks off with Flex Mentallo having stumbled upon some unknown horror in the heart of The Pentagon.

“Why is The Pentagon the shape it is?”
“You might as well ask, “Who runs America? Or maybe you just did.”

Also on offer this episode: The Kaleidoscape, the Anathematicians of The Mesh and The Tearoom of Despair.  Meanwhile The Painting That Ate Paris has resurfaced in Venice, Professor Caulder’s building something he probably shouldn’t, Rebis is about to engage in sex with him/her/itself, and Dorothy… Dorothy really should tell the others what price she’s having to pay in order to use her strange abilities.

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Oh yes, there’s also a war on…

“Why are they shouting at each other?”
“Because we have entered the Zone of Words That Kill. Now… Where’s my dictionary?”

SLH

Buy Doom Patrol Book 2 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.

Bone Coda 25th Anniversary s/c (£13-99, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith

Wilds End vol 2: Enemy Within (£14-99, Boom) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard

The Arab Of The Future vol 1: 1978-1984 (£18-99, Two Roads) by Riad Sattouf

Never Goodnight (£14-99, The Friday Project) by Coco Moodysson

DMZ Book vol 2 (£18-99, DC) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli

Red Thorn vol 1: Glasgow Kiss s/c (£10-99, DC) by David Baillie & Meghan Hetrick

Lost Tales (£8-99, Phoenix) by Adam Murphy

Guardians Of The Louvre (US Edition)  (£22-99, NBM) by Jiro Taniguchi

New Suicide Squad vol 3: Freedom s/c (£14-99, DC) by Sean Ryan, Various & Philippe Briones, Various

Batman: Detective Comics vol 7: Anarky s/c (£13-50, DC) by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato

Abc Warriors Return To Ro Busters h/c (£14-99, 2000AD) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor vol 3: Hyperion (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Robbie Morrison, George Mann & Daniel Indro, Mariano Laclaustra, Various

DC Superhero Girls: Final Crisis s/c (£8-99, DC) by Shea Fontana & Yancey Labat

Agents Of SHIELD vol 1: The Coulson Protocols (£13-50, Marvel) by Marc Guggenhein & German Peralta

Uncanny X-Men vol 6: Storyville s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Bachalo

X-23 Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£31.-99, Marvel) by Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Various & Billt Tan, Francis Portela, Various

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

Neon Genesis Evangelion Omnibus vols 13-14 (£12-99, Viz) by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto

Seraph Of The End, Vampire Reign vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Takaya Kagami & Yamato Yamamoto

Seraph Of The End, Vampire Reign vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Takaya Kagami & Yamato Yamamoto

Seraph Of The End, Vampire Reign vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Takaya Kagami & Yamato Yamamoto

Seraph Of The End, Vampire Reign vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Takaya Kagami & Yamato Yamamoto

Seraph Of The End, Vampire Reign vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Takaya Kagami & Yamato Yamamoto

Seraph Of The End, Vampire Reign vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Takaya Kagami & Yamato Yamamoto

Seraph Of The End, Vampire Reign vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Takaya Kagami & Yamato Yamamoto

News!

Not this week. I’ve only had two days off to read and review the above when normally I have three!

“You have three?!”

Yep, ordinarily I serve at the shop four days a week and it is a joy!

But there’s obviously no time to read comics on the shop floor. It’s ordering this, restocking that, paying for all the gorgeous comics we sell while accounting for everything to those lovely tax people while providing ebullient shop-floor recommendations to anyone who asks (and prompting plenty who don’t) and taking your ever so lovely, hard-earned lolly for which we thank you so much!

All my reviews are therefore written well away from that marvellous, Madding Crowd on my days off and during those scant sober hours after six.*

This week I’m flying solo on two days alone and I don’t think I’ve done badly, do you?

– Stephen

* Some reviews blatantly written while steamingly drunk. Sorry etc  But not this week.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2016 week three

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Includes Una’s On Sanity and exciting Page 45 News underneath! *squeals*

You Belong Here h/c (£13-99, Compendium) by M.H. Clark & Isabelle Arsenault.

You belong here.

You really do.

The publication of this quiet poem of profound truth could not be more timely.

For many weeks now we have, all of us, been assaulted by words, images and deeds seeking to divide and to destroy; to alienate individual human beings from one other. The isolationist emphasis has been on expelling and expunging.

Partly because of this ramped-up rhetoric of outright racism – and the long-term homophobia within the UK Independence party and elsewhere – lives have been destroyed, followed by confidence, a sense of security, physical safety and hope.

Here is a brightly shining beacon of hope just when we need it the most, and it is beautiful to behold.

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It is in part a love poem with a gentle lilt whose personal refrain of constancy and commitment is interspersed by an ode to the natural order of things.

Free from fuss, it relies instead on its simplicity, its eloquence and its truth.

Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault with an empathy for both its embracing sentiment and its quiet, comforting tone, the book’s colours glow gently, warmly, whether it’s light emanating from a window on a cold, wintry day or the sandstone shades of senescent leaves blowing past summer to fall.

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You’d expect no less excellence from the artist of the equally tender JANE, THE FOX & ME but this is far more joyful throughout. The landscapes are all fully populated for a start, and not just by single species but by different creatures coexisting in tranquil harmony.

Why the animals are a silvery white will be revealed towards the end, and it’s ever so clever.

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Each line of verse is artfully placed within the images, especially on the very first page whose final promise – and it is a promise – is set apart for maximum impact in a very specific location. It begins thus:

“The stars belong in the deep night sky
and the moon belongs there too,
and the winds belong in each place they blow by…”

we are told

“….and I belong here with you.”

What follows is an assurance that every living creature is in its right place, wherever it happens to be; for we all belong wherever we roam, and you all belong here with me.

SLH

Buy You Belong Here h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scarlet vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

Few thingsScarlet vol 1 cover anger most people I know more than the abuse of power.

Racism is one of them, so South Africa under Apartheid was a double whammy, and Congressman John Lewis has some arresting history for you in MARCH Book 1 and MARCH Book 2 when it comes to policing in America.

Because when individuals, corporations or entire state institutions abuse their power and successfully get away with it through powerful connections, political indifference, mass-media collusion or wholesale capitulation, most of us get pretty steamed.

Welcome to Scarlet’s world: it’s just come crashing down around her.

A bent cop, high on drugs, stops and searches Scarlet and co. who are doing nothing more untoward than laughing and drinking coffee in an urban park in Portland. Wisely they attempt to deflect their own sense of violation and diffuse a volatile situation with humour, until the cop frisks Scarlet way too personally and her boyfriend Gabriel smacks him one.

They run, and it’s the most romantic moment in Scarlet’s life. Unfortunately by that point the cop has Gabriel’s wallet.

“Oh my God. He – he knows your name.”
“I’m in a lot of trouble.”

And that lone cop shoots defenceless Gabriel dead.

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Days later when Scarlet wakes up in hospital, she reads the Portland Press front page. It’s complete fabrication.

“Teen Druglord Gunned Down
“Police Say Bloody Showdown Saved Lives”

A hostage situation…? I don’t think so.

“Deputy Commissioner Ashley offered this statement to the press: “I applaud the outstanding and brave work of the officers involved and promise the people of the city that this is only the first of many moves made by us to keep the city clean from any and all predators that think that this city is their playground.”

Imagine reading that after your boyfriend’s being murdered by a cop in cold blood.

“Everything is broken. Everything.
“Good people are victims. Bad people are heroes. Dumb is virtue, food is poison. Corruption is a national pastime. Rapists rape. The poor are left to rot. Religion is business. No one is safe, and everyone thinks that it’s funny.
“Why is the world allowed to be this way? Why doesn’t anyone do anything? Why don’t we fight back? Why is it like this? Why did it happen?
“And then it hit me. It doesn’t matter why.
“”Why” is the cloud. The redirect. The shell game. “Why” is bullshit. “Why” makes you feel better for just thinking the question. The question is… what am I going to do about it?”

Calmly and methodically Scarlet sets about rectifying the situation.

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We’re not just talking revenge; we’re talking flash-mob revolution, which will indeed be televised.

Public opinion must be courted and won. That public most emphatically includes you, for Scarlet breaks off from time to time to talk directly, conversationally, to camera, with a calm, open honesty which is endearing, evaluating her progress and emotional involvement as she goes along. She won’t be alone in that.

Bendis and Maleev provide some additional, exceptional start-stop, flash-title timing which wrings humour from even the direst of circumstances. The first one focussing on a compressed history of Scarlet is the one I have for you here.

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But there’s also the pivotal moment when she meets up with Brandon, Gabriel’s best friend, for the first time since she left hospital and Gabriel died.

“Now I know everyone has to automatically tolerate their best friend’s girlfriends. That is an unwritten rule of the world,” she confides in us.
“So I’m not entirely sure if Brandon likes me of just tolerated me…. because that’s what you do.
“I’m about to find out.”

The sweet thing is this:

“As for Brandon here, he was in love with Gabriel too.
“Not romantically, or maybe he was a little, who can say…”

What follows is that second compressed history reminding us just how romantic true friendships can be.

The art from Maleev is exceptional. That initial urban park with its pedestrians and skaters throwing long, long shadows is lit and coloured to perfection, whilst the watercolour washes round the Hawthorne highway lift bridge melted my heart. You’ll find that it at the bottom of Scarlet’s three-page bullet-point background.

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The expressions are subtle and subdued, and the faces are full of humanity (or inhumanity) with unexpected, mottled flesh tones both warm and cold. When our bent cop sweats under pressure it’s almost as if he’s submerged in an aquarium.

The urban street fashions are immaculate, which is ever so important because as tensions rise and civilians take to the street it is their very individuality and vulnerability which stands out – even en masse – against the uniform wall of uniformed police in black-Kevlar riot-gear.

You’ll be satisfyingly surprised at the schisms within the system as the vested-interest powers-that-wish-to-perpetually-be wake up to the scale of Scarlet’s challenge and the public’s reaction both to it and to her, and Maleev rises to that challenge with half a dozen eye-dazzling, double-page spreads which celebrate those oh so brave folks opposing the phalanx.

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Actually from what will be SCARLET VOL 2 but you get the picture

For earlier Bendis crime please see JESSICA JONES: ALIAS, my favourite comic ever published by Marvel, each of the four books reviewed without spoilers, as long as you’re over 18. I’m delighted to announce that Brubaker and Phillips now have some serious competition when it comes to crime, and if you crave more CRIMINAL then this one’s for you.

Extras include Bendis’ script to issue #1 with its covering note to Maleev and the script to #2 with Maleev’s exploratory doodles upon it.

Final quote (because who doesn’t love an encore?):

“I’ve been watching so much internet porn I think I learned German.”

SLH

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

On Sanity: One Day In Two Lives (£4-99, Becoming Press) by Una.

Powerful, important, sobering and yet surprisingly uplifting book, never has it been more vital to read both the Afterword and Afterthoughts.

These finally and substantially inform the whole, but before you reach this long, winding road of remarkable recovery which no one expected let alone dared hope for, you’re in for a haltingly stark experience articulated ever so eloquently with complete candour.

Told by both Una – the creator of the widely acclaimed BECOMING UNBECOMING – and her mother, now aged 72, it’s an illuminating, autobiographical aperture onto a very specific aspect of madness and one extraordinary, critical morning, after which the afternoon was all too inevitable.

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On that afternoon we find Una and her mother sitting in the kitchen at the back of her mother’s big house, drinking tea, eating biscuits and reading the day’s newspapers.

“One of us waited anxiously for the medical team that assessed my mother under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act to decide whether to detain her. The other was relaxed in the knowledge that she’d been proved right about the global conspiracy against her (which the doctors were clearly in on), so neither of us was surprised when a doctor’s face appeared round the kitchen door to explain what would happen next.”

This house – originally Una’s grandparents’ – is almost a co-star of this comic. It’s the sole setting for its centrepiece and far more of a prison than the place where she is actually detained once liberated. Specific rooms play key roles, as does its layout and some sequences use its very floor plan as narrative panels. Another uses its staircase with its elaborate, angry red, wrought iron banister for a moment of conflict I suspect was imaginary. Others present full portraits of the hallway seen through doorways or of the rooms themselves and what is seen through a window. What you will find in the billiard room, presented with such sense of scale, will astonish you.

On Sanity 2

“After the brace of doctors had left, we waited for the police and ambulance to arrive. There were still four people in the house, but only one of us did not know that.”

So, what happened that morning?

The sad and unnatural schism between mother and daughter during her mother’s mental illness is quietly emphasised throughout. It’s there on that afternoon when one knows more than the other, but also during the entire main body wherein her mum is recalling that day and the world as she perceived it back then – the one she effectively inhabited.

The entire scenario was painfully familiar to me for reasons I touch on during my review of Darryl Cunningham’s PSYCHIATIC TALES which is an equally honest and important work and which sits proudly in our Mental Health Awareness Section alongside this, Terian Koscik’s WHEN ANXIETY ATTACKS, Allie Brosh’s HYPERBOLE AND A HALF, John Cei Douglas’ SHOW ME THE MAP TO YOUR HEART and so much more. That the section is proving so popular – that our customers care – I find immensely moving.

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This comic is divided into three distinct chapters: the first few pages originally created in 2008 when there was no hope to speak of; her mother’s side of the story based on an oral history recorded over tea and biscuits (never underestimate the palliative power of tea and biscuits); then finally the Afterword and Afterthoughts. In the latter Una’s mother shares her current perspective including an episode which, again, ticked my own recognition box, and in the former Una herself provides context and makes an astute observation on what was not observed that day.

The thing, of course, is to cure mental illness. And if the drugs work then they work (eventually).

But understanding is everything in all aspects of life, and if we had more people in this world like Una who seek to understand, then we’d all be a lot closer too.

SLH

Buy On Sanity: One Day In Two Lives and read the Page 45 review here

Love Addict – Confessions Of A Serial Dater (£18-99, Top Shelf) by Koren Shadmi.

“Fake it till you make it.”Love Addict cover

Outright deceit aside, that’s actually not a bad adage for so many aspects of life.

Long-term facades are high-maintenance and I’ve certainly no time for fakery in friendship otherwise you make all the wrong friends. But if I’m ever feeling a little down in the shop I force myself to smile – which itself releases endorphins – and within minutes a customer’s shared enthusiasm rubs off on me and I’m glowing again.

Slightly trickier is courage, which is only gained after finding some first.

Similarly what we’re talking about here is the chicken-and-the egg confidence conundrum when it comes to success with scoring. And I am specifically talking about scoring. Not love, not romance, not relationships, but picking up men or women and getting beyond second base. The more you succeed, the more confidence you gain, the more likely your chance of a conquest.

But if love is a drug then sex is far more addictive.

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Honestly, it’s in English!

Our narrator, K, is actually quite chipper as this all kicks off. His flatmate Brian is carefree and confident and ridiculously successful at scoring. But on the first few pages without any front or finagling, K manages to turn a casual, earnest enquiry into an honest romance.

They move in together!

It doesn’t work out.

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It’s at this low juncture, on K’s winter birthday, that he’s caught all melancholy, brooding over snapshots of that failed relationship, despairing at remaining single forever, and Brian introduces him to Lovebug. Lovebug is a dating website. Brian schools our reluctant naïf in the art of securing dates not through openness and honesty but by working the system to maximum advantage.

There’s nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward – it’s important to focus on all your positive aspects it’s sometimes difficult for some of us to recall – but there are those pitfalls I touched on in lying: you attract all the wrong people. And, to begin with, K attracts all the wrong women.

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Truly, this is in English. It’s just that others have been ahead of us.

Now wait! This was where I too was worried. I was worried that what I was seeing paraded in front of me, as well as K, were women with fault-lines deeper than San Andreas’. I’m a big fan of the foibles we share which is why I love Adrian Tomine’s OPTIC NERVE so much. We’re none of us perfect. But I have a massive aversion to blanket misanthropy.

But trust in the creator of ABADDON! That’s not what this is about, and everything in my introduction will be addressed here including chauvinism. What this is about is dating sites, addiction, superficiality and self-esteem: because things grow much, much worse when K begins to succeed.

“A new, insatiable greed started growing in me.
“I had already wasted all this time either being single or in monogamous relationships.”

If your eyebrows just arched as antagonistically high as mine at the term “wasted” either in conjunction with the words “monogamous” or “single” then welcome to my ceiling-split world. Sex is fab – I’m reasonably keen – but self-validation through sex alone…?

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“I became arrogant and cocky. My attention span dropped to zero.
“And the weirdest thing was, the more arrogant I became, the more luck I had with women.”

Also: the happier he becomes! He’s finally in a place where he feels he can quit therapy because he doesn’t feel so much of a loser. You can’t begrudge him that! That has to be good, doesn’t it? Yes, it does, if how you treat others is of no consideration to you what so fucking ever.

K’s self-woven web becomes increasingly tangled personally and professionally as an animator – though not necessarily in the ways you might expect.

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There is a glorious physicality to the art which revels in all sorts of female forms including in the more muscular like Robert Crumb did. And this is equally, sexually explicit in places. The forms are soft and round and fleshy – well, the women’s are. K’s a stick insect, and there is a masterful full-page panel when Taylor – who herself falls for Robert Crumb’s work once introduced – reveals herself.

“So, what do you think?” she asks, proudly.

And he sits there, as slack-jawed as he is lank-limbed, timidly on the bed. Better still, the composition is such that the shot is seen from the floor where both Taylor and K’s feet rest horizontally, while she rises up so far above him that his line of sight’s at eleven o’clock, totally dominated by both her confidence and physique. The quadrilateral is completed on the left and right by their vertical bodies.

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It’s possible that I may know stuff.

Joe Matt is a fan and I can see why. K’s eyes behind glasses are never more than a dot, dazzled by almost everything he encounters.

The colours are a warm combination of purples, pinks, browns and terracotta. Structurally this is set up in seasons and when summer arrives, you can sure feel the heat. Whatever the time of year, however, neither the internal nor external environments have been skimped on: where dates take place tends to play a very large role in what transpires, doesn’t it? Brian will provide his own knowledgeable masterclass on that issue too.

Each date is numerically catalogued at the beginning of each chapter, then introduced by one colour-coded text each from K and whoever he’s meeting because that’s how their contact’s been developed after the initial site’s hook-up.

I love the final page’s ellipsis. I think that will make you smile.

SLH

Buy Love Addict – Confessions Of A Serial Dater and read the Page 45 review here

Monstress vol 1: Awakening s/c (£7-50, Image) by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda…

“Be smart. Be obedient. That might keep you alive… but nothing will keep you whole. Not in that place.”

No, not a new Page 45 recruit receiving last-minute instructions before entering the mail order salt mines on the upper floors, but advice offered to Maika as she arrives, bound in chains, at the palatial headquarters of the Cumea, an order of human witch-nuns who seem to like nothing more than vivisecting the Arcanics, magical creatures who are part-human, part-animal, and of which Maika is one.

Once upon a time humans and Arcanics co-existed peacefully, but that was before a bitter war erupted resulting in the deaths of one hundred and forty six thousand Arcanics at the decisive battle of Constantine. Since then the remaining Arcanics have been in hiding, gradually being hunted down and handed over to the Cumea for their vile experiments, but perhaps it’s not too late… Maika certainly thinks so, which is why she has arranged for her own capture.

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She’s convinced it is the only way to get behind the formidable defences of the Cumea headquarters, for she believes there is a mystical artifact the Cumea are looking for and have no idea it is hidden right under their very noses. When she acquires said artifact, though, and goes on the run, well, that’s when her problems really begin bifurcating off in all sorts of unexpected directions. But then, what precisely did she want the artifact for anyway…?

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Well, this was an unexpectedly dark blend of fantasy and horror. Let me make absolutely clear: it’s certainly aimed at a mature audience, not kids. Exceptionally well written, including an intriguing sub-plot about Maika’s late mother, with an extremely broad cast of varied and fantastical characters, but I suppose we should expect no less from a published fantasy author, Majorie Liu, and just as beautifully illustrated by Sana Takeda. They have worked together before these two, on an eminently forgettable few issues of X-23 for Marvel, but they’re clearly both operating well in their respective comfort zones here. This is outstanding work for its particular genre.

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As I say, it’s certainly not one for the squeamish, but both the writing and the exquisitely clean art have the feel of a Humanoids publication. If you liked say THE SWORDS OF GLASS, therefore, I think this would very much appeal.

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JR

Buy Monstress vol 1: Awakening s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Invisible Republic vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Gabriel Hardman, Corinna Bechko.

LifeInvisible Republic cover on the colony-moon of Maidstone isn’t the gleaming, frictionless future which certain science fictions promised us. Grindingly exploited by its mother-colony, it’s a place of food-stamps, indentured servitude, and political unrest. Recovering from its second violent regime change in living memory, no one can agree whether Maidstone’s deposed dictator – Arthur McBride – was an inevitability, a hero, or a monster.

So when journalist Nicholas Babb finds a diary recounting the untold history of McBride’s regime, he thinks it’ll resurrect his career. Especially when he learns it was written by McBride’s own cousin, Maia Reveron: a woman methodically erased from history. But Babb is about to learn that Maidstone’s past is buried in a shallow grave, and it doesn’t intend to rest in peace.

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INVISIBLE REPUBLIC is as much political thriller as it is space opera; part Fatherland, part Star Wars. McBride seems built from secrets. Even Maia, the person who knew him best, has to suppose his motives, and piece together his schemes. Like the best science fiction, INVISIBLE REPUBLIC treats its future like history: intricate, contradictory, defiant.

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Bechko, Hardman and Ponsor are meticulous world-builders, rendering Maidstone with such intimacy that it’s difficult to believe the place is invented. Bechko never allows her rigorous excavation of its daily life to undermine the dense plotting, while Hardman’s compositions are startlingly generous. He can pack an improbable amount of detail and incident into a single, clear panel. Ponsor’s colours conduct the worn, lived-in Maidstone atmosphere, but grow suddenly rich to highlight moments that are genuine and warm. Check out the jars of honey in issue 5, so thickly golden they’ll make you salivate.

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INVISIBLE REPUBLIC is the good stuff: compelling, convincing, and complex. Strongly recommended to anyone who enjoys politics, history, messy science-fiction, or restless, developed characters.

CG

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

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 1: Berzerker s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino with Marcelo Mailo on colours.

A tasty little number deliciously drawn with some relish by Sorrentino, this is actually the third OLD MAN LOGAN but please do not worry for I will explain.

Let’s get my only problems with the book out of the way now, shall we, so I can go out with the prime punchline I’ve already planned: it’s the packaging.

Not the cover – also by Sorrentino – but the chapter breaks which crudely and rudely shatter your immersion which the artists, both line and colour, have gone to considerable, spellbinding trouble to successfully achieve. A black page followed by Sorrentino’s own covers to each subsequent instalment would have saved the day by preserving the atmosphere but instead of the black page Marvel reprints, directly opposite each episode’s cliffhanger… a montage of other artists’ invariably inappropriate variants including, most insultingly, a plastic dolly of Logan because you are aged three.

In addition, the last 30-odd pages are actually a reprint of the finale to the original OLD MAN LOGAN so however thick the book looks, you’re only getting four issues. They just cannot help themselves, these greedy little bean-counters.

On we go, then!

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Third series of this title following Bendis and Sorrentino’s OLD MAN LOGAN: WARZONES which was itself a sequel of sorts to Mark Millar & Steve McNiven’s original OLD MAN LOGAN which is completely self-contained and highly recommended as the finest Wolverine solo series of all time.

The original was set in an arid future when the heroes had lost and the villains have carved up America between them. Something so traumatic had happened to Logan that he’d become a pacifist, refusing to pop his claws for anyone or anything. When you learn what that was, you will completely understand why. Half the fun was wondering – then discovering – what had become of those you once loved. Those few left alive, anyway.

OLD MAN LOGAN: WARZONES saw that same survivor dropped into Marvel’s SECRET WARS world composed of various domains all ruled over by Vicky von Doom, each playing out alternate versions of key Marvel crossovers from the past or whatever else the writers came up with. It’s kind of difficult to explain, sorry.

“AT LEAST YOU TRIED, STEPHEN!” Thank you.

I adored its colours by Marcelo Maiolo which at times made you feel like you were travelling through the nocturnal section of a zoo’s ultra-violet tropical house under the influence of LSD.

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Maiolo is back to colour Sorrentino’s Jay-Lee like art here with suitable gnarled and jaggedy lines as the by-now thoroughly bewildered, battered and indeed naked Old Man Logan surfaces groggily on Marvel’s new post-SECRET WARS Universe which is almost identical to the one left behind but, since that’s years in Logan’s past, it’s going to take some adjusting to. Trust me: when you get to a certain age, your memory isn’t what it used to be. And then there’s the fuzziness that comes with any transdimensional travel of which I also have some considerable experience.

Presumably his old pals are going to need to make some adjustments too given that they thought their friend dead after the DEATH OF WOLVERINE. Will he tell them what becomes of the poor sods in their future? Will they even believe he is who he claims to be?

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Regardless, once he realises where and when he is, Wolverine’s main motivation and most pressing concern is this: changing the present so that the horrific future he lived through in the original OLD MAN LOGAN never comes to pass. Also: avenging some serious slights to his family that haven’t yet happened.

Expect memory flashes which will be new to you, a checklist of those who need to be taken out in order to divert the course of history, spectacular landscapes and a startling double-page homage to Frank Miller’s DARK KNIGHT RETURNS in the present. By “spectacular landscapes” I mean breathtakingly misty-blue, oceanic vistas whose horizons are bleached by the sun and whose crystal-clear waters seem so pure, belying what lies beneath. Contrast that with the rusted, battle-damaged hulk of a vast S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier under whose shadow has sprung and spread a shanty-town market, trading on the gutted carrier’s cargo and technology, all executed in the sort of colours you associate with old, frontier photographs.

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Lemire directs Logan’s trajectory with an impeccable logic derived from the character’s now much longer past which still allows for grin-inducing surprises – for the reader, Wolverine, and those he tracks down – while Sorrentino and Maiolo will make you yearn so hard for the safety of those long since lost. Which is a pretty tall order and massive achievement, I think you’ll agree.

However, there’s one enormous, incontrovertible and insurmountable snag to Logan’s reasoning and for his new-found campaign which lies ahead.

I wonder if you’ve worked it out, already. Either way, it’s quite the moment.

SLH

Buy Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 1: Berzerker s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wonder Woman By Greg Rucka vol 1 s/c (£22-50, DC) by Greg Rucka & various.

Contains WONDERWOMAN: THE HIKETEIA and WONDERWOMAN #195-205.

This is all I’ve got, sorry, from a dozen or so years ago:

Attractive, J.G. Jones-like art accompanies a solid story revolving around the Erinyes, or Furies, and a Greek supplication ritual used by a woman who pledges herself to Wonder Woman, who in turn is then duty-bound to protect her.

In this case from Batman.

Why does he want her? What crimes has she committed, and why was she encouraged in this by the Erinyes? And is Diana prepared to make herself an accessory to murder after the fact?

Yes. Yes, she is.

From the writer of LAZARUS, BLACK MAGICK, GOTHAM CENTRAL and the current WONDER WOMAN post-52 series.

SLH

Buy Wonder Woman By Greg Rucka vol 1 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.

Goodnight Punpun vol 2 (£16-99, Vis) by Inio Asano

Paradise Lost (£20-00, Jonathan Cape) by John Milton, Pablo Auladell

Time Clock (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Leslie Stein

Cloud h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by K. I. Zachopoulos & Vincenzo Balzano

Hip Hop Family Tree vol 4 (£20-99, Fantagraphics) by Ed Piskor

Doom Patrol Book 2 (£22-50, DC) by Grant Morrison & Richard Case

Huck vol 1 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Rafael Albuquerque

Four Eyes vol 2: Hearts Of Fire s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joe Kelly & Max Fiumara

Miami Vice Remix s/c (£9-99, Lionforge) by Joe Casey & Jim Mahfood

Plutona s/c (£12-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Emi Lenox

Green Arrow By Kevin Smith s/c (£18-99, DC) by Kevin Smith & Phil Hestr, Ande Parks

Joe Golem Occult Detective vol 1: Rat Catcher And The Sunken Dead h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Patrick Reynolds

Cursed Earth Uncensored (£25-00, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Matt Wagner, various

Fruits Basket Collectors Ed vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Yen Press) by Natsuki Takaya

Fruits Basket Collectors Ed vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Yen Press) by Natsuki Takaya

Captain Marvel vol 1: Rise Of Alpha Flight s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters & Kris Anka

Star Wars Obi-Wan And Anakin s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Marco Checchetto

Rocket Raccoon And Groot vol 1 :Tricks Of The Trade s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Skottie Young & Filipe Andrade, Various

Spider-Man: Brand New Day vol 2 s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Joe Kelly, Various & Chris Bachalo, Marc Guggenheim, Various

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl And The Great Lakes Avengers s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Steve Ditko, Dan Slott, Various & Will Murray, Matt Haley, Various

X-Men Trial Of Gambit s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Scott Lobdell, Various & Joe Madureira, Various

American Vampire vol 8 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuqerque, Dave McCaig

Injustice Gods Among Us Year Four vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato & Bruno Redondo, Mike S Miller, Juan Albarran

News!

Nottingham Independent Business Awards

ITEM!  Page 45 Makes The Top Ten in the Nottingham Independent Business Awards 2016! THANKS TO YOUR VOTES!

Goodness but I hope they’ve announced that by the time this goes to press! I’ve been bluffing my ignorance of the outcome on Twitter since Monday!

To win the award again, highly cherished by Page 45, we will be assessed along with the other nine qualifiers by the Judges, deep undercover as Secret Shoppers! I love Secret Shoppers! I hope they were given a big budget.

Page 45 won the first-ever award for Best Independent Business in Nottingham 2012

Page 45 won the second-ever award for Best Independent Business in Nottingham in 2013

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Thank you again for your votes!

What may have swung it was my last-minute plea on Twitter declaring that, if you didn’t vote for Page 45, you’d find Boris Johnson at the till and Donald Trump providing shop-floor recommendations!

AND YOU WOULDN’T LIKE THOSE

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ITEM! Craig Thompson joins stellar line-up at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016, October 14-16 in Kendal!

That’s quite the coup, and a perfect match for this relaxed, town-wide festival which is like nothing else in this country and far closer to European model for comics celebrations.

By Craig Thompson:
HABIBI
SPACE DUMPLINS
GOOD-BYE, CHUNKY RICE
BLANKETS
CARNET DE VOYAGE

Craig Thompson is also featured in:
LITTLE NEMO’S BIG NEW DREAMS
FAIRY TALE COMICS

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ITEM! I love these two pages of THE SHORT CON (you can pre-order there – we have to place our own pre-orders by 26th July) by Pete Toms & Aleks Senwald.

Here’s Aleks Senwalds’ website.

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ITEM! Huge thanks to Chris Gardiner for the guest review this week. It’s years since we had a guest review. We don’t encourage guest reviews because this isn’t a democracy and we think trust and consistency is vital – “Jonathan / Stephen loved my last favourite and they’re also recommended this, so I’m definitely in!” – but it was so fine I was tempted to put my own initials on it. Cheers, mate!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2016 week two

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

In which we talk of William Godwin, Mary Shelley and Bernie Wrightson. News from Bryan Talbot and The Lakes International Comic Art Festival underneath!

How To Talk To Girls At Parties (£12-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá.

“You cannot hear a poem without it changing you.”

Reading a short story, a prose novel or a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman is both a transforming and transporting experience.

So often they begin as tales ostensibly set in this world and may well return to this world once more, but only after passing over a metaphorical bridge – or some sequestered, sun-dappled stepping stones – into another.

It’s as though a rarely spotted signpost has popped up, redirecting you down a road less travelled, a side-path to somewhere else, somewhere other.

I’m thinking of DEATH, his BOOKS OF MAGIC, CORALINE, ANANSI BOYS and most especially THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE. That particular signpost was never meant to be glimpsed, I don’t think.

What you see is so rarely what you get. I wouldn’t bet on getting anything you see on the surface in a Gaiman graphic novel. THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS will give almost everyone involved far, far more than they bargained for, including its readers. You should be careful of bargains, always.

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Gaiman’s knack is to present you at first with the familiar, then take a subtle, almost unnoticeably swerve at the transdimensional traffic lights into the far from familiar in order to enlighten, to frighten and to change.

The set-up here is ever so familiar to those of us who, in our teens, didn’t know how to talk to girls at parties.

Vic and Enn are going to a party. The narrator, Enn, is being dragged along in the wake of Vic’s ebullient, carefree enthusiasm. He trails behind physically just as he has always lagged behind emotionally, and he is very much aware of his comparative awkwardness and ineptitude. To be honest, he’s terrified.

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How To Talk To Girls 3His experience of girls is especially limited since he’s attending an all-male school. And then there’s the post-pubescent leap.

“When you start out as kids, you’re just boys and girls, going through time at the same speed. And then one day there’s a lurch and the girls just sort of sprint off into the future ahead on you…  And they know all about everything, and they have periods and breasts and makeup and god-only-knew-what-else… for I certainly didn’t.
“Biology diagrams were no substitute for being, in a very real sense, young adults.
“And the girls of our age were.
“Vic and I weren’t.”

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All of this understandable hand-wringing is presented in the first half a dozen pages as the boys wend their way through London suburbs. And it is all so familiar.

“You just have to talk to them,” says Vic, helpfully.

But remember what I said. I don’t think it’s going to be quite that simple today.

It’s all so familiar because Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, the creators of DAYTRIPPER and TWO BROTHERS have from the very first page established the spirit of place and time so superbly. Yes, time! This is a period piece, set in the early days of punk, and music will play its own part.

Look at the cars, the fashions, the dresses and blouses – and the hallway globe Atlas which I used to take great delight in spinning while studying its demarcations not one jot! African masks were a very big thing when I were a lad.

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I love the late-summer light reflected later on in the conservatory, and the way in which the pavement bends and almost buckles beneath them. It’s all very human, comforting, soft and vulnerable. Anything ruled more strictly would have been way too clinical and far too modern.

There are no straight lines here. Avenues curve tantalisingly out of sight ahead of our teens as the regular, rhythmic pulse calls them ever on before then emanating from the bowed bay windows of the one detached house in the street.

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But have you noticed the stepping stones being crossed?

The seed of doubt which Gaiman has so cleverly planted as quickly as Vic has dismissed it?

Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá are the perfect twin collaborators for this project. In my review of their DE: TALES long, long ago I referenced Neil Gaiman for it felt to me that so many of the short stories there could not only have been originated by but written by Gaiman as well.

This review will take you no further than the first dozen pages of this graphic novella, for this to me is Important. But once you’ve crossed over its yellow-bricked, wooden-fenced threshold both Moon and Bá will make the shadows dance, along with the house’s occupants.

Did you bring your bottle of blanc?

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SLH

Buy How To Talk To Girls At Parties and read the Page 45 review here

Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein h/c (£25-99, Dark Horse) by Mary Shelley & Bernie Wrightson.

“EverywhereFrankenstein cover I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”

I don’t think the chances are great.

A glorious, cloth-bound hardcover, white and silver on black, with crisp reproduction values so superior to its original printings that it’s barely recognisable, we thought we’d seen the last of this but I’ve salvaged some more from abroad.

We’ll come to Wrightson’s outstanding illustrations anon, but between them sits Mary Shelley’s original 19th Century prose, intact, reeking of self-obsessed arrogance, decrying social injustice and delivered in the form of ambulatory, Godwinian chit-chat.

William Godwin was Mary Shelley’s father, author of ‘Political Justice’ then the novel ‘Things As They Are; or The Adventures of Caleb Williams’ whose protagonist isn’t half such an ugly-head but still feels the stick of social stigmatisation after asking too many questions of his landed employer which he really didn’t want to know the answers to. He then promises to keep his boss’ secret but Good Intentions Alley inevitably leads to Destination Hell:

“Here I am, an outcast, destined to perish with hunger and cold. All men desert me. All men hate me… Accursed world! that hates without a cause.”

I’d remind you that’s Godwin’s Caleb Williams, but the similarities are striking.

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Subtitled, ‘The Modern Prometheus’, ‘Frankenstein’s protagonist is – unlike the original Prometheus – no benefactor of mankind, but a vainglorious git who gives not one whit for this fellow man nor for his immediate loved ones. Instead he creates a creature from disinterred human body parts and imbues it with life without any consideration for the quality of it. So repulsive is this cruelly self-aware, intelligent individual to its fellow human beings that he is universally shunned by the very society he craves. Added blows upon this bruise come, for example, when he saves a girl from drowning only to be shot at by a local.

“This then was the reward for my benevolence! …The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave way to a hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance on all mankind.”

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This edition’s reproduction is infinitely clearer, I promise!

Frankenstein is, in fact, the first scientist for whom the question “Just because I can” was in serious need of an Ethical Standards Committee musing on whether he should. Accepting no responsibility for his actions – a huge theme of Godwin’s – Frankenstein refuses to right his wrongs or even mitigate them, failing his creation whose endurance goes beyond stoical and whose sincerity in determining to change is genuine even after repeated rejection.

“How can I move thee? Will no entreaties cause thee to turn a favourable eyes upon thy creature, who implores they goodness and compassion? Believe me, Frankenstein, I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity; but am I not alone, miserably alone?”

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This isolation and sense of self-imposed exile is felt keenly throughout Wrightson’s illustrations, whether the creature is crouched cramped in his “kennel” (Shelley’s own words), filling that solitary space and watching the world turn without him or in the multiple, magnificent landscapes which rarely depict more than one rambler. The weather plays its own substantial part in the emotional charge, and even inside Wrightson brings it to bear along with the further seclusion of Frankenstein himself for whom connection is an anathema and moping about with quill and paper is a default setting.

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It’s all ever so Byronic with its rain-streaked windows, high collars and neck-length, wavy hair. The drapery isn’t just decadent but decayed and appealed to my post-punk teenage angst enormously. If you’ve ever been inside my study you’ll have seen a full-colour, signed and lovingly framed print as the centre-piece above my open fireplace. Pass me the absinthe, why don’t you?

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Astonishingly for such dark, brooding pieces there are very few solid blacks. Instead the art is composed of an eye-frazzling array of intricate, layered lines and subtle feathering, which screams of Gustave Doré via American illustrator Franklin Booth. The compositions are markedly different to Sir Bazza Windsor-Smythe’s, but you won’t be disappointed when it comes to the thousands of individually drawn blades of grass. The figure work is equally phenomenal and when there are two protagonists in a single shot their antagonism is projected by both their posture and lines of sight.

The novel’s more heart-breaking than horrific, but therein lies a horror of its own.

“I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? …I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear.”

Man’s inhumanity to man, with more than a dollop of hubris.

SLH

Buy Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hilda And The Bird Parade s/c (£7-99, Flying Eye Books) by Luke Pearson.

Magical!

Magical, exquisitely coloured, and so beautiful to behold, the third of the four all-ages HILDA graphic novels is now available in softcover.

Young school girl Hilda lives with her mother, a professional artist, out in the wilds of the most majestic countryside with mountains that rise into the crystal-blue skies, their snow-capped peaks enticing you ever upwards to explore!

They’re populated with fantastical creatures which Hilda loves to dash out to document and draw! Armed with a rucksack full of pens, pencils, paper and nature books, Hilda could spend an entire day…

… sitting bored indoors, looking mournfully out of her bedroom window onto the deadly-dull streets of a city suburb she is forbidden to set foot in. Oh dear. They’ve moved.

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To her mother’s mind these city streets are infinitely more dangerous than the troll-troubled hills they once frequented. With no discernible vantage points you could get so easily lost in the maze of seemingly homogenous house fronts, and then there are the people. People ain’t no good. Anything could happen to a young girl, out on her own…

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Bravely Luke Pearson has set his series on a brand-new course and brilliantly he’s played to his loyal readers’ fears. The school children who entice Hilda out know all the cool places, but they are very far from cool. They ring on doorbells and then run away, goading their potentially impressionable new friend to do the same. She doesn’t, for Hilda knows her own mind (thank you very much indeed!) and so stops to chat to the old lady she’s just called upon and takes time to compliment her window box of flowers. And then, just when you think Hilda’s winning, and beginning to bring them round in their search for the best and shiniest of rocks, there is a moment of awful brutality that had my jaw on the floor. Also: she does get lost.

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But oh, Luke Pearson, how well you know your craft! One of his finest skills is the ability to surprise – to make you gasp – and everything you have read so far is designed to do precisely that. Who am I to spoil that pleasure?

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There will be wonder aplenty, discoveries made from true discernment, and a heart-racing climax to get to the annual Bird Parade on time! Then the colours will morph out of all recognition and you will know the glow of an evening on fire. It’s so lambent, so eye-poppingly awesome, with exotic forms that fill every inch of each page.

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I love Hilda’s mouth when she goes “Oooh!” I’m making that face as I type: a projection to a small, rounded mouth to one side that lets out a well-rounded “Oooh!” It’s infectious – the sort of art that encourages you to enact what’s happening and so makes for the very best bed-time reading.

Coming shortly in 2016: HILDA AND STONE FOREST!

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SLH

Buy Hilda And The Bird Parade s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scarlet Witch vol 1: Witches’ Road s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by James Robinson & Vanesa Del Rey, Jordie Bellaire, Marco Rudi, Javier Pulido, Steve Dillon, Chris Visions.

“I’ve had some problems in the past.
“My life has been a minefield of missteps, mistakes and – I’ll be the first to admit – even some mental instability.
“But I am more than the sum of those mistakes and I am better than that.
“And I resolve to put things right.”

A surprisingly spandex-free, site-specific series, its international, geographical locations are stunningly well served by each of the artists with deliciously disparate styles.

Following the films there are flocks of new Scarlet Witch fans actively asking for her key appearances on our shop floor. I’ll be helping you out at the bottom of this review, but rest assured that this is a book itself is a perfectly accessible entry point which wends its own way, free both from convoluted Marvel history and Wanda’s own past, though the ghost of Agatha Harkness, as arch as ever, may well intrigue.

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It’s an occult detective series during the course of which Wanda Maximoff follows a trail of broken or corrupted magic from New York to the Greek island of Santorini, thence to an Ireland whose fallow fields are as beleaguered by arable plague as they were during the mid-19th Century during the Potato Famine. The series is site-specific, as I say, its writer James Robinson focussing on each country’s legend, lore and often all too awful history.

The first volume finishes in the bucolic back roads of Spain, in a vineyard built on the site of an ancient nunnery whose inhabitants had taken a solemn vow of silence. Accused by their own religion of witchcraft during the Spanish Inquisition, their unfaltering devotion to God led not one of them to break their most sacred vow, even in their defence. They were burned or buried underground, chained to walls of their very own crypt. But now it’s been broken into by labourers employed to extend the vineyard’s cellar space and they’ve all become possessed of a fearful madness. The very church which caused this human catastrophe was summoned to perform an exorcism, but an exorcism requires words and anyone who speaks inside the walls suffers the same fate.

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Cue master class in silent storytelling by one Javier Pulido and some elegant forms and impressive spot-blacks worthy of Gilbert Hernandez.

It’s not quite HELLBLAZER but please believe that – as written by Robinson – Wanda is not without her wits, tricking her way to against-all-odds success at least once. Robinson knows that nebulous spell-casting to win the day makes for zero dramatic tension. There has to be a certain degree of logic: there have to laws as well as lores to contend with and be obeyed, bent or broken.

And here is the thing: within Jason Aaron’s equally accessible, current DOCTOR STRANGE it has been established that – just like Newton’s Laws of Physics – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every spell cast there is a price to be paid.

For every spell that Wanda’s now casting a price is being paid. For the moment it’s only glanced in a distorted mirror like a peak into Dorian Gray’s hidden attic, but her soul is aging rapidly. Plus, as long-term readers already know, sanity was never her strong point, either.

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Coloured by Jordie Bellaire, Vanesa Del Rey’s opening chapter in greys, greens and reds is as haunting as you could wish for. Even on the daytime streets of Manhattan it remains ethereal, Maximoff striding between two worlds, the mundane grey of one and the sorcerous scarlet of the other cleverly combined on the page in her garb. New York at night is a dream, lit up not by neon, but by the colour-coded impressions of its denizen’s souls.

Fast-forward to Greece and Marco Rudy’s painting presents you with both midnight hues punctuating once more by blood-red and with majestic daytime vistas of the island’s white-washed walls of its hillside town gleaming and beaming in the full summer sun against the Mediterranean blue of its cool ocean waters. Marco’s maze-like, circular and segmented panels are no random choice for we are in the modern lair of the Minotaur as Wanda strives to puzzle out its nocturnal activities then navigate her way to their core.

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Steve Dillon’s depiction is much more contemporary and chic, especially within the Irish airport, Maximoff striding down its functional thoroughfares in a long-coat/rain-coat affair buttoned at the belly. But it’s abruptly broken when Chris Visions steps in with something a little more… ancestral.

Hahaha SPOILERS! We no longer do spoilers around here, nor have we for years.

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We did once, which makes my AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED review one of the worst I have ever written. Please do not read it if you’re interested in picking up that book. But if you want the ultimate, all-encompassing background on Wanda Maximoff – if you’re not satisfied with this as your entry point – it will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the troubled woman and her oh so chequered past with a passion I poured in, perhaps too liberally! I originally wrote it as an introduction to Bendis’s subsequent NEW AVENGERS run which lasted almost a decade.

I promised you other recommended Scarlet-Witch reading above, and this is it:

AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED and its immediate sequel, HOUSE OF M

MARVEL MASTERWORKS: AVENGERS VOL 2 purely as background

ULTIMATES SEASON ONE and ULTIMATES SEASON TWO which are my two favourite superhero books of all time.

KNIGHTS OF WUNDAGORE and the sequel to AVENGERS: VISION QUEST are, at the time of typing, out of print. Not my fault, I’m not the publisher. Sorrreee!

SLH

Buy Scarlet Witch vol 1: Witches’ Road s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Pope Francis Goes To The Dentist (£2-60) by Paul B. Rainey…

“D’you know what? I’ve been paying National Insurance for decades and there are only three things wrong with me: my hair, my eyesight and my teeth, none of which is covered by the N.H.S!”
“Perhaps you would like to make an appointment to see our specialist to discuss the work?”
“Sigh. Why not? What harm can it do?”
“She has a space free on Monday at three-thirty if you’re available.”
“Yeah, I can make that.”
“Please be aware that there is a charge of one hundred and thirty pounds…”
“WHAT?! A couple of years ago, I had doubleglazing put in! When I saw the man to discuss the possibility of me placing an order, it was free! This is because as an individual operating in a free market economy, he understood that if I placed an order, I would be spending a lot of money with him!”
“So, shall I book you in for Monday?”
“Go on, then.”

Ha, the punchline to this particular instalment of Pope Francis’ saga to find an NHS dentist with reasonable waiting times and affordable prices is that he has second thoughts overnight at the cost and thus decides to cancel his appointment and continue looking. It’s almost like his never-ending, self-perpetuating quest is his personal penance for his sins. Though to him, I’m sure it seems more like purgatory!

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Fresh from his brilliant recent time-travel epic THERE’S NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT, Paul’s rounded up this self-published collection of gag strip material featuring the likes of the dentally delicate Pope Francis, Monsieur Octopus the comics artist, Big Town News featuring a certain oafish mop-haired Mayor, the 14-year-old stand-up comedian, avid console gamers God + Son, plus Doctor Poo and his lovely companion Dara O’Briain in a particularly scatological strip!

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The whole thing reads like some bizarre sketch show whipping from one ridiculous character another, keeping the laugh factor as high as the preposterousness of scenarios our characters find themselves in. This is the most consistently funny, and daft, selection of peculiarly British shorts I’ve read for a while. Though actually, many of these strips are rather slyly satirical, with some choice observations to make about our current socio-political malaise.

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Paul even finds time to include a little autobiographical number “What Dave Gone Did” about his brief adventure to see Depeche Mode play, his favourite band of all time, in which amongst other things he pays homage to the fact that Dave Gahan didn’t succumb to a drugs overdose on May 28th 1996.

Great fun and fantastic value at the cost of less than a tube of toothpaste. The parsimonious Pope Francis would be ecstatic!

JR

Buy Pope Francis Goes To The Dentist and read the Page 45 review here

Boy’s Club (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Matt Furie.

“My bad.”

Rarely have I found a pull quote which sums up the whole so succinctly.

Andy, Bretty, Pepe and Landwolf share a flat and a proud penchant for fast food, slow digestion, regurgitation, other-end excretion, video games and psychotropic ganja. Accidents will happen – except most of these aren’t accidents.

There will be many melting faces as the hit takes hold, and a plenty of trips to the toilet to perform, photograph and then finally freeze one enormous faecal trophy. Never let it be said that I leave you ill-prepared. That’s not the only trousers-down performance, either. Inhibitions are overrated, aren’t they?

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There are no inhibitions here.

I pretty much cracked all my weed jokes when reviewing Simon Hanselmann’s MEGG AND MOSS IN AMSTERDAM set in a similarly transgressive household, and if you lapped that up you’ll love this too, though you may want to wash your tongue afterwards.

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That review was far more fulsome and is a fair reflection of what you’ll find here except there are no dissenting voices – the dudes are as one, revelling in their physical pleasures, although there are limits.

“No pants, no chance.”

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Otherwise it’s pure, undiluted glee.

I wish the back-cover blurb hadn’t referred to the Muppets because I wanted to make that comparison too. It’s especially evident in the mouths and tongues. I would suggest “What if Fozzie Bear was a delinquent” but he was, wasn’t he?

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Please Note: actual printed line art comes in a range of pretty colours. The lines, I mean.

SLH

Buy Boy’s Club and read the Page 45 review here

Ringside vol 1: Kayfabe (£7-50, Image) by Joe Keatinge & Nick Barber…

“You got one fuck up. That’s it. Just one. Normally we don’t care who you hang out with on your own time, but considering the circumstances, if it keeps up I’d be forced to wish you luck in your future endeavours, so to speak. We clear here?”
“Crystal clear. Thank you, sir.”
CLICK.
“Who was that?”
“Talent relations. Don’t worry about it.”
“They mention me?”

Like CRIMINAL meets ANDRE THE GIANT, with a dash of the humour of THIEF OF THIEVES thrown in for good measure, this crime versus wrestling tag team caper mashes up the action and drama to provide more entertainment than Rollerball Rocko receiving an Atomic Splash from Big Daddy. But as we know – well, some of us at least – whilst the violence between the ropes might be entirely make-believe, what brutality takes place outside the ring has rather more devastating and lasting consequences. Not that I would want to have received a Kamikaze Crash from Kendo Nagasaki, you understand, fake or otherwise!

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Daniel Knossos AKA The Minotaur was one of the good guys, a babyface in wrestling parlance if you will. He’s retired now, having finished a stint in Japan after getting himself blacklisted on the US wrestling scene. He’s back in the country though, looking up old friends, but also with a score to settle. Not surprisingly his appearance has ruffled a few feathers, but there’ll be a lot more getting ruffled than that by the time the final bell rings. But for whom will it toll…? Ah, well, that’s where a plot filled with more twists and turns, including a classic heel turn, than a WWF title run comes into play!

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Lovely chunky art from Nick Barber, ably coloured by Simon Gough, which is perfectly suited for a taking a dive into the seedy underbelly of the wrestling circuit.

JR

Buy Ringside vol 1: Kayfabe and read the Page 45 review here

 

Ultimates: Omniversal vol 1 – Start With Impossible s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Kenneth Rocafort, Christian Ward…

In which the newest version of the Ultimates attempt to get the entirety of Page 45’s Tuesday delivery of new comics and graphic novels bagged, taped and ready for Wednesday customer collection and mailing out before the end of play. Once that impossibility has been dealt with our team of Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Ms. America, Spectrum and Blue Marvel move on to dealing with the easier task… Galactus. But, for a change our heroes aren’t suggesting a fisticuffs-enforced calorifically controlled diet for the purple-panted glutton, but instead deploying a game-changing idea worthy of Reed Richards to transform the Mr. Greedy of the Marvel Universe into an altogether more responsible type of cosmic citizen.

It’s a bold stratagem, but precisely the sort of high-level problem-solving our team have set themselves up for a fall over – I mean, to undertake. For, whilst their intentions might be morally sound, and on the face of it completely successful, it’s the unintended additional consequences of their actions which leave us with a very intriguing sub-plot… Cue a mysterious conversation between Galactus and Eternity, the very embodiment of the Marvel Omniverse itself.

“My apologies. One of them managed to achieve a state of hyper-cosmic awareness. Fortunately he will not be believed… and the others saw only what I wished them to. A simplified view of timespace. Seeing the full scope of reality would be too much for them…”
“And are you any different, Galactus? If I show the truth to you.., can you bear the sight?”
“No… Who did this? Who could do this? Who chained the cosmos?”
“If that is your question, Galactus… then that must be your task. Return to me. And find out.”

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I’m betting on Stan Lee, I’ve always had my suspicions about that guy… Meanwhile, cosmic-level fans with find their power palates further sated with a mixture of covert and overt appearances from the likes of Thanos, Owen Reece AKA The Molecule Man, Master Order and Lord Chaos.

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I’ve personally found this title to be easily the best ‘Avengers’ title since the post-SECRET WARS reboot, the ramifications of which get touched on here. Too many of the other Avengers titles feel utterly spurious, lightweight and throwaway currently, to me at least. Al Ewing has imbued this with a science fiction vibe which Jonathan Hickman employed to great effect, particularly in his extended FANTASTIC FOUR / FF run, most of which, baffling enough, is out of print. Also, given the current uncertainty regarding the whereabouts or eventual return of said World’s Greatest bunch of sticking their noses into cosmic matters that don’t concern them bickerers, I suspect this team may well be being set up as the interim substitutes for the time being. So FF fans should definitely take a look too.

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Marvel newcomer Kenneth Rocafort does a sterling job on art with his gritty but clean style for the first five issues, which again, I prefer massively to the relatively cartoonish styles going on in some of the other Avengers titles currently, and he is the ongoing series artist, but his thunder is stolen somewhat by a gorgeous final issue from Christian Ward employing his trademark mesmeric psychedelic touch that will be familiar to readers of his and Matt Fractions’ ODY-C. I think it would be a bit much on an ongoing basis, but what a show-stopper to conclude this opening volume!

JR

Buy Ultimates: Omniversal vol 1 – Start With Impossible s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers Standoff h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer, Mark Waid, Al Ewing, others & various.

Great big crossover whose repercussions are still being felt, whose opening chapter pleasantly surprised me and which I read reviewed thus:

I loved Nick Spencer’s THIEF OF THIEVES, his MORNING GLORIES is complex and clever, Dominique is a worryingly big fan of his BEDLAM, plus his work at Marvel has been funny. But the last thing anyone wanted or needed so early into Marvel’s fresh, post-SECRET WARS relaunch was a crossover.

It will envelope nearly a dozen different Marvel titles – ranging from its multiple AVENGERS series to non-entity why-do-these-even-exists – written and drawn by completely different individuals, so the quality here is no indication of what is to come. To be clear: this is not an endorsement of the policy nor an encouragement for you to splash out ridiculous sums of cash  on a corporate crossover when superhero fans could instead be buying the enormously entertaining DOCTOR STRANGE or even UNCANNY or THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, both of which essentially feature powers without capes.

But this is, nonetheless, an interesting premise whose initial execution sets the stage for a great deal of dramatic irony.

Now, if I were reviewing the collection on completion [which I am now, so don’t worry about it], no one would criticise me for laying its prologue bare, and this is essentially its prologue. But you may consider what follows SPOILERS rather than “Oooh, that’s intriguing!” so it is entirely up to you. What I won’t do is ruin its beginning or end which together constitute the heart of the potential dramatic irony and a great deal of self-recrimination when the Avengers begin to be dragged into this.

Pleasant Hill is a leafy little town where everyone is idyllically happy and civic-minded. There are restrictions, to be sure: curfews etc, but everyone is exceedingly kind and almost excessively courteous, especially to strangers. Stray upon it by accident and you may not want to leave.

Which would be fortunate, since you can’t.

Avengers Standoff Welcome To Pleasant Hill 1

You can’t because it’s a construct, a sham. It’s a prison for supervillains created by S.H.I.E.L.D. which has grown bored shitless of incarcerating super-powered sociopaths only for them to break out and cause billions of dollars of collateral damage (and, incidentally, the loss of lives) to satisfy their psychopathy. If psychopathy is ever satisfied: I don’t think those two words mix, really, do they?

The whole enterprise is understandably way off the books because it involves a complete abandonment of human rights. S.H.I.E.L.D. is using fragments of the reality-altering Cosmic Cube to rewrite the felons’ entire identities. They’re not just brainwashing them, they are refashioning them into new individuals physically and mentally.

Now, let us be clear: I’m all for it. I don’t believe in the real-life death penalty because I don’t have faith in the British or American or almost every other justice system because they have been proved over and over again to be racist and target-driven rather than justice-driven: innocent individuals are locked up every day by those who know they’re not guilty. In the la-la land of superheroes wherein the villains run riot, however, I’m with Maria ‘Pleasant’ Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D. – fuck ‘em.

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The problem lies in my previous paragraph, because S.H.I.E.L.D. has just done precisely that: they have incarcerated a hero who got too close to their truth. What I will not spoil for you who has become trapped there and who they’re been turned into on the very last page. Clever.

I don’t know if it’s Scott Hanna’s inks or a departure for ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN’s Mark Bagley, but the art here is slightly more grounded in reality, ironically enough.

According to Marvel HQ you should be able to pick and choose which titles you read without losing the plot: which you read will give you different perspectives on what goes down. I don’t actually care. I’m not an apologist for these sorts of shenanigans, I’d rather read the latest comic by Sarah Burgess or Dan Berry. I’m just saying, “Hey, I thought this was going to be utter bobbins and it turns out it’s pretty much okay”.

SLH

Buy Avengers Standoff h/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

You Belong Here h/c (£13-99, Compendium) by M.H. Clark & Isabelle Arsenault

Love Addict – Confessions Of A Serial Dater (£18-99, Top Shelf) by Koren Shadmi

Metabarons Genesis: Castaka (£19-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Das Pastoras

Kabuki Library vol 3 h/c (£29-99, Dark Horse) by David Mack

Monstress vol 1: Awakening s/c (£7-50, Image) by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda

On Sanity: One Day In Two Lives (£4-99, Becoming Press) by Una

Southern Bastards vol 3: Homecoming s/c (£10-99, Image) by Jason Aaron & Jason Latour

The Sheriff Of Babylon vol 1: Bang. Bang. Bang. s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Tom King & Mitch Gerads

Usagi Yojimbo vol 30: Thieves And Spies (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10 vol 5: Pieces On The Ground (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Christos N. Gage & Rebekah Isaacs, Megan Levens

Batman: Road To No Man’s Land vol 2 s/c (£25-99, DC) by various

DC Comics: Bombshells vol 2: Allies s/c (£12-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett & various

Wonder Woman By Greg Rucka vol 1 s/c (£22-50, DC) by Greg Rucka & various

Avengers: The Korvac Saga s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim Shooter, Len Wein, Roger Stern, David Micheline, Bill Mantlo & Sal Buscema, Dave Wenzel, George Perez

Scarlet vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

Spider-Women s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by varaious

The Totally Awesome Hulk vol 1: Cho Time s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Frank Cho, Mike Choi

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 1: Berzerker s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino

Fairy Tail Ice Trail vol 2 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Yuusuke Shirato & Hiro Mashima

Fairy Tail vol 54 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth Side: P3 Volume 2 (£8-99, Kodansha) by So Tobita

News!

10 of my fav things to do in Nottingham

ITEM! Gloriously beautiful and tremendously witty one-page comic by Christian Palmer Smith featuring Page 45 and all your other favourite Nottingham hang-outs!

Page 45 still needs your votes to make the Top Ten in this this year’s Nottingham Best Independent Business Award, so please visit itsinnottingham.com/independents, email info@nottinghambid.com, tag @itsinnottingham on Twitter or Facebook, or use the hashtag #independentnottm on Instagram.

Here’s Page 45 winning the first-ever Best Independent Business 2012 Award, cheers! But we do need your votes to qualify, please.

Trophies

Sample tweet:

“@itsinnottingham I have been bludgeoned against my better judgement into voting for Page 45”

That should do the trick.

Luke Pearson self portrait

ITEM! Oh look, I found a beautifully illustrated interview with HILDA’s Luke Pearson from 2013!

You’ll find the latest HILDA softcover reviewed above.

ITEM! Attention Bryan Talbot and steampunk fans!

Someone tweeted Constant Moyaux’s ‘View of Rome from the Artist¹s Room at the Villa Medici’, 1863, the other night, which struck me as startlingly similar to the opening page of Talbot’s HEART OF EMPIRE, currently out of print but contained within the glorious ARKWRIGHT INTEGRAL hardcover (extensively reviewed!) which is very much alive and kicking and sitting on our shelves.

I thought it worth checking with Bryan himself, because if it was the inspiration I couldn’t conceive how he shifted of the POV perspective so substantially. He wrote:

“Yes, I saw it through the link James has to the tweets on my site. I was amazed. The similarity is incredible. I’ve never seen it before.”

Heart Of Empire comparison

“One of the similarities (barring the open window and the Vatican!) is probably because both pictures use the Golden Section. In fact most of the HEART OF EMPIRE illos and panel layouts were based on “the divine proportion”.

Heart Of Empire ripe fruit

“FYI  the notes on that page from the HEART OF EMPIRE CD Rom are copied below. Feel free to quote or paraphrase from them. When I say I made the view up, I did, but based the houses on the type of old buildings still in Rome.”

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I spent days trying to find this view of St. Peter’s, each day going to another bit of high ground in or around Rome. I didn’t find it. It didn’t exist so I had to make it up. Returning to Rome a year later and showing this page to some Italian friends, I was overjoyed by their response: in the world of the story, Mussolini never rose to power and so never had all these foreground houses bulldozed to make way for the huge boulevard that, on our parallel, leads up to the Vatican!

 I drew the pomegranates and figs from life; both represent fertility, (a reference to the twins) the pomegranate with its many seeds also immortality (the Homo Novus) and I personally have a soft spot for it through Rossetti’s inclusion of it as a vulvic symbol in his painting ‘Proserpina’. They are in season at this time of the year.

 Via Bottini is a tip of the hat to the Villa Bottini in the Via Bottini in Lucca, Tuscany, the headquarters of the organisers of the twice-annual Comics Festival. I’ve been several times and one year had an exhibition of the artwork from THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT there and the cracked and dusty frescoes on thewalls and ceilings directly inspired the look of Barberini’s chamber.

The composition is based on the Golden Section.

1 LICAF tickets

 ITEM! Tickets are now on sale for creator events at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016, October 14th to 16th.

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal is FREE EVERY YEAR!

Yup, you can wander into the Comics Clock Tower FOR FREE and meet your favourite creators and buy some glorious graphic novels in Page 45’s very own Georgian Room upstairs (lift access – oh yes!) then get them signed and sketched in FOR FREE! We’ll be hosting SCOTT PILGRIM, LOST AT SEA, SECONDS and SNOT GIRL‘s Bryan Lee O’Malley this year, for example, with other guests and resident creators to be announced imminently. FOR FREE!

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However, some creator events are ticketed so you need to book ASAP, please, including….

YOU ASK, WE TELL! HELPING CREATORS PITCH TO PUBLISHERS, THE PRESS AND COMIC SHOPS

Porecelain Expecting To Fly

We’ll be extolling the virtues and advantages of independent and self-publishing, the relationships that can be built with retailers and reviews sites. Anyway, it’s all there so please click on the link.

I’m ridiculously honoured to be joined on that hand-picked panel by:

Avery Hill

Ricky Miller (Director, Avery Hill Publishing)
Katriona Chapman (self-publisher of KATZINE, freelance for larger publishers and part of Avery Hill)
Andy Oliver (Editor-in-Chief, Broken Frontier, pioneer review site and brand-new self-publisher)
Stephen L. Holland (Festival patron, Page 45, award-winning comicbook retailer and prize buffoon.)

Katzines

Every week I’m asked at the counter, “What’s the best way to get my comic published?” and “How do I get my self-published comic onto your shelves?”

We’re about to answer your questions.

ITEM! Enter The Guardian Young Critics Award 2016!

Come on, you’ve got to be more eloquent to me. Top Tip: avoid my addiction to alliteration and assonance!

Another top tip to reviewers of all ages: avoid reading others’ reviews. Write what you believe, regardless of what others tell you to say. There is a certain sheep mentality in journalism of all areas, waiting for someone to say something first … then everyone falls in line. Don’t be those sheep! Be a shepherd instead, picking out prize lovelies which you like the most, then sticking rosettes all over their eyes!

Below is a comic with enormous potential which knows its own direction. To its right are a gaggle of geese.

Sheep shock

– Stephen

It is entirely possible that I failed my Biology ‘A’ Level, but I know a good book when I read one.

[Editor’s Note: Actuuuuuuuually, Stephen got an A. In Biology! I know! You will notice that Stephen never refers to his French ‘A’ Level efforts or his Chemistry ‘O’ Level. An entire county had to be decontaminated after that.]

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2016 week one

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

Featuring Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock, Emma Rios, Dan Berry, John Cei Douglas, Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples, Jodorowski & Moebius, Ian Larsen, Rob Williams & Henry Flint, Mark Millar & Frank Quitely, more

Static (£4-00) by John Cei Douglas.

Another spot-varnished beauty, whose sheen makes the evening outside glow.

Unfortunately the protagonist is ordering in, and has been doing for quite some time.

Whenever we’re lucky enough to receive a rare new work by John Cei Douglas, my heart leaps with joy. You could call my heart contrary, given the predominantly quiet, contemplative and often bereft nature of John’s short stories, but his empathy is exceptional and he expresses it so well with a gentle, careful consideration and a precision of panels which is the hallmark of a true craftsman.

His work is some of the most poignant in comics without ever playing to an emotional gallery. Instead what he has to say is true. It is honest and open and born of reflection. Days, weeks and months of reflection, I’d wager.

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Both HOLDING PATTERNS and SHOW ME THE MAP TO YOUR HEART which we made a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month are currently standing proud on our Mental Health Awareness counter corner, for they contain eloquent evocations and expressions of anxiety and depression – in far from obvious ways – which have proved familiar and so sympathetic to so many.

What we have here is equally halting. What we have in ‘tick tock’ is mortality.

It’s a two-page comic constructed to be read left-to-right across its breadth but – here’s the clever thing – it’s the central two tiers which form the momentum. Those above and below them present a contiguous context. This is the trajectory; those are cookies crumbling.

And that is what I love about comics: invention.

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Also on offer this time: sedentary sedation, more passage of time, and long, lonely nights while the rain keeps on pouring, indifferent to those both within and without. Call me contrary once again but I love the rain. I love watching it through my window at any hour of the day, but especially at night. I’ll open a window even in winter just to hear the patter and scatter on glass.

Here, appearing briefly between two other women in the same story, one older lady ventures out at Ridiculous O’Clock in the morning in search of company. She’s even brought a means to her end. She is thwarted.

They are thwarted.

What makes you think they’re not the same woman?

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Tick Tock.

There’s more.

SLH

Buy Static and read the Page 45 review here

Compass South s/c (£13-50, Farrar Straus Giroux) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock.

A Compass South covercover makes a promise, but only the contents can deliver.

With its energy, its urgency and its two young twins, this fine-line cover promises a period piece of adventure and opposition akin to Tony Cliff’s teen treasures DELILAH DIRK AND THE TURKISH LIEUTENANT and DELILAH DIRK AND THE KING’S SHILLING, both of which have been knock-out successes at Page 45 with teenagers and adults alike.

I had every confidence, but not even the first clue as to how much would be packed into its 225 pages, how complicated the lives of these two individuals would become from so many different factions intent on tracking them down, hampering their progress and taking what little they have left, while consequent repercussions conspire to keep them apart.

Sorry…? No, they’re not both lads; one of them is a lass, disguised for a reason beyond gender impediment or safety’s sake.

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What I want to impress upon you above all is that this is no mere A to C while B seems insurmountable, though B does seem a pretty tall order for anyone so short. For a start, this is but Book One of FOUR POINTS so C is far from the final objective, but even so I was poleaxed by how many individual threads were so intricately woven within this single volume.

It begins in Manhattan, 1860, with Cleo waiting with Luther, leader of a street-gang of youths, outside an opulent mansion for her brother, Alex, to rob it at night. He fails. Well no, he succeeds in lobbing the silver stash out of the window for Luther to abscond with it, but Alex is caught and sent with his sister to a police station. They’re to be split, Alex remanded to Randall’s Island prison, Cleo dispatched to the nun-run House of Mercy unless they betray Luther’s trust in exchange for a train out of town.

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Alex finds an added incentive in the Daily Tribune advertising for information regarding another set of twins, male but both missing after their father’s long absence, which fit their description. There’s a reward of $200 and that’s a sum they both desperately need. The snag is that they’d need to find their way to San Francisco on America’s west coast and New Orleans on its east is as far as their train ride will carry them.

So far, so insurmountable, and Luther won’t be happy. But I lied.

It begins in Manhattan, 1848, with the twins being bequeathed to a man, Mr. Dodge, by their mother whom he loved. Alas, he’d been parted from Hester for a span of five years. They are not his, but he has no hesitation in adopting the babes even though his own prospects are small and he must travel in order to provide. The stranger also bears two objects from which they must never be parted: a pen-knife and a compass.

But in 1860 Mr. Dodge has failed to return from his most recent travels and wind of what he’s inherited has reached far further than a mere gang of youths…

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I haven’t. Even. Started.

Okay I’ve finished, but Larson and Mock haven’t.

Cleo and Alex are going to face many dangers and many challenges: practical, geographical, judgemental, legal, nautical and hierarchical. But not least among them is their own outlook on life. There are two key players they will share so much time with whose sense of perspective – of values, of priorities – differs from Alex’s own at least. It’s not all about the money.

Being only twelve, they have a lot of growing up to do and it’s not just the unchartered physical terrain which will prove problematic, but emotional awakenings too.

Mock’s inner art is actually much denser than displayed on the cover, and much thicker of line. It’s closer to Hope Larson’s own. I see she supplies colours also and, combined, there is a rich sense of time and space, and how little there may be of either. The rain outside will be ferocious, the lamp-lit intimacy within will have you willing those trapped together into acts of honesty and confessional confidence which Larson won’t let you off easily with. Always there is this tension. Words unsaid are pretty powerful.

So superb is Mock’s New Orleans seen from a seagull’s point of view that you’ll crave more panoramas. Sorry, you won’t get those, but there’s always Book 2.

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Instead you will marvel at how convincing Cleo and Alex are as male twins, without either of them ever losing their individuality. Not once does Mock give the game away, otherwise Cleo’s game would be given away too, both to those around her and to the readers. That’s no mean feat.

This is precisely why I want to tell you about the missing element I’ve so studiously avoided and redacted time after time from this review. It forms at least one whole half of the considerable complications which Cleo and Alex will be forced to deal with directly, each in their own way.

But hey, I had only this cover to go on before I launched in and now so do you.

SLH

Buy Compass South h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Saga vol 6 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples.

“Anyone Saga vol 6 coverwho thinks one book has all the answers hasn’t read enough books.”

This is an indisputable truth.

But it’s also Brian K. Vaughan spreading more than a little authorial love since SAGA is the biggest-selling series of graphic novels on the shelves right now, and he’s suggesting that his readers might like to sample something new too.

Spreading love is what Vaughan and Staples do best. Like THE WICKED + THE DIVINE – equally venerated for its wit, irreverence and beauty – it is one of the most inclusive comics imaginable. Diversity is all, and SAGA’s space setting enables Vaughan and Staples to represent individuals of all shapes, sizes, colours, creeds, sexual orientations, thorax articulations and genital configurations.

And I’m not just saying; I am being a responsible vendor.

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It’s neither prurient nor lurid, but every volume boasts what I now call a ‘Brian & Fiona Moment’ when two of the sweetest creators on the planet remind you that they’re both adults, that you leave these books lying around your grandparents’ bungalow at your own risk and that dragons have solitary sex lives too.

It is, however, deliciously mischievous and iconoclastic, taking every opportunity to turn preconceptions upon their heads. Here’s the always-infuriated Prince Robot – from a race of walking, talking, fornicating television sets – whom we dislike intensely but still adore:

“Why would I degrade myself by putting on a lesser’s uniform? I appear absolutely nothing like the man wearing it.”
“Looks close enough to me.”
“Because you people are filthy racists who think every Robot looks the same.”

Fortunately for this subterfuge, his Coalition partners are equally unenlightened but that’s wilful war / mindless hatred for you.

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Regardless of its superficial setting SAGA is essentially about love instead: love between individuals and for their children. It’s a generational epic which leaps years between volumes, always ending with a WTF moment. Quite often those cliff-hangers are suspended upon separation or reunion. For a book about family, Alana, Marko and their daughter spend a great deal of anxious time apart. Distance makes the heart grow fonder and your heart – as well as theirs – will be left bursting.

Cleverly then, this book begins with three chapters of separated perspectives, each oblivious to what the others parties are up to or how they will eventually converge. Then some begin to converge, always leaving you with a lot of the unknown to forward to.

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This review’s Fiona Staples Life Class for you is eyes. Will you just look at those eyes! Each pair is different, even between lovers. Alana and Marko are not the only two lovers here, though I did love Alana in glasses. No, I’m talking about two others who have very different priorities and outlooks on life, reflected in the bright ambitious glee or softer, soulful solemnity with which takes right from wrong seriously.

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In others’ there is a wide-eyed innocence born, I concede, from a certain lucky ignorance, but just wait until you meet Petrichor! Petrichor’s eyes are constantly trying to discern then evaluate what they’re seeing: attempting to make sense of what they believe they’ve discovered. You can see intellect working in conjunction with instinct behind those two eyes which is a neat visual trick to pull off. But which of the two will win out?

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If I were to sum up SAGA, and the experience of reading it, I would pick this:

Endless, unexpected revelations followed by kindness and truth.

“We’re all aliens to someone.
“Even among our own people, most of us will still feel like complete foreigners from time to time. Usually associated with invasions, abductions, or other hostile acts, the term “alien” gets a bad rap. But over the years, the word has come to mean something very different to me…”

Page-turn for one perfect beat.

“… Future friend material.”

Yes!

SLH

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

I.D. (£7-50, Image) by Emma Rios…

“The ID coverstreets should be burning these days.”
“Sigh. I’m afraid I’m not in the mood for talking politics today. It’s been a pleasure…”
“You too?”
“Yup, it’s a bit late. The meeting was rather intense… and we all have a tough decision to make.”
“But… No! No please, don’t… don’t g…”

My very brief review, well précis really, of the first instalment of I.D. when it appeared in ISLAND #1 described it as a sci-fi ménage à trois bodyswapping yarn set against the backdrop of an unstable society beset by anarchistic riots and domestic terror outrages. Yes, three very different individuals are all so uncomfortable with their own bodies that they’ve decided to take the radical step of having their brains transplanted into a donor’s body.

As our three protagonists weigh up the pros and cons of the physical and mental merry-go-round they are about to embark on with this understandably controversial experimental procedure, they’ve decided to meet their new bodies in the flesh and get to know each other better, to discuss their very distinct reasons for wanting the ultimate of fresh starts.

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It’ll not surprise anyone to learn this existential escapology doesn’t quite go to plan, as anyone who read the concluding second part, which appeared in ISLAND #2, will already know.

Illustrated in a rather unusual palette of red and white, described much more poetically by Stephen as “silky salmon”, the unique feathery penmanship will be immediately familiar to anyone who has seen any of Emma’s previous work such as PRETTY DEADLY, but let me tell you, she’s an incredible writer too.

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Delighted to see she’s included the essay by neurologist Miguel Alberte Woodward which accompanied this work in ISLAND discussing the scientific aspects of her strip and also the current feasibilities of actually performing a brain transplant. I suppose it is probably only a matter of time before this type of procedure is science fact rather than science fiction. With 350 million a week extra post-Brexit being pumped into the NHS I’d imagine we’ll see the first procedure by Christmas… Oh wait, they did say they weren’t in the mood for talking politics today, didn’t they!

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JR

Buy I.D. and read the Page 45 review here

Bear Canyon (Signed & Sketched In) (£6-00) by Dan Berry…

To paraphrase the Beastie Boys from their mid-career classic Sureshot, I do like Dan Berry, he’s very.

And then you can basically insert any suitable superlative you like. I think today I will go with consistently brilliant, but I could equally have employed prodigious, hilarious, enigmatic, and indeed, when the mood takes him, insouciant. But enough of the man, what about his comics, I hear you cry?! Well, they’re bloody good too and this is no exception.

Fashioned from absolute nothingness more empty than the vacuum of interstellar space in the span of a mere 24 hours for the 2015 Lakes International Comics Art Festival 24 Hour Comics Marathon – in addition to running the whole shebang – Dan only went and produced what might actually be my favourite comic of his full stop! (The 2014 LICAF 24 Hour Comics Marathon collected edition 24 BY 7 was nominated for a 2016 Eisner award recently by the way).

This is a visual masterpiece and I’m utterly delighted for this commercial release he’s gone for an enlarged A4 size which only highlights the bravura of his penmanship performance on the day… and the night… and a bit of day again… A mere pamphlet-sized A5 pocket book does not sufficiently display the wonders you will find within. Though being perfectly honest, it did actually look brilliant at that smaller size at the festival, it’s just that this is even more impressive. A grower as well as a shower then, if you will.

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For there are no less than eight glorious full page spreads amongst the 34 pages, featuring gargantuan craggy cliffs, tumultuous cascading waterfalls, desperately flapping fish and one very, very annoyed bear which benefit from this dramatic upscaling in size from the version that made its dramatic entrance at the festival. I can’t remember if there were medals awarded last year to the hardy Nychthemeronauts who scaled the peaks of mild hysteria and ploughed the troughs of caffeine-crutched tiredness to produce such excellence, but they all deserved them regardless, such was the collective quality of the output.

I seem to recall that Dan even had time to endure a heartfibrillating printing disaster upon realising one of the said full-page spreads had been missed from the file that got sent to the printer. Such is the cool, calm collectedness of the man that he merely strode purposefully to the nearest water closet, had but a mere minor emotional breakdown, then marched straight back out and dealt with it like the consummate comics professional he is.

So! Young Ben and his older sister Amy are riding the rippling rapids for a few days whilst at summer camp. Ben’s taken along a little light reading material inspired by events that took place on that very river entitled… The Lost Expedition Of Bear Canyon. Ah… But nothing seems too much amiss, to begin with at least, as our intrepid explorers float along down the frothy foam without a care in the world. Well, other than the fact that whilst boastful junior counsellor Connor has one eye on the rocks ahead the other is very firmly fastened onto Amy…

When Ben, more than a touch spooked from a creepy story round the evening camp fire, disturbs our budding new romantics and receives his marching orders, he storms off in tears. It’s then as much a surprise to him as to us that he finds himself being consoled by a fast-talking beaver, backed up by a glowering bear, who announces that Ben has been selected to be the River Champion! And that’s where the ride starts to get a little more, quite literally, hairy… and wet. As Ben continues to narrate the lost expedition’s descent into madness from his book, the bear suddenly appears to menace our travellers… and the motor-mouthed beaver demands a sacrifice for the river…

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Poor young Ben is about to find his mettle well and truly tested and be given a very difficult decision to make. Will the Lost Expedition of Bear Canyon require a sequel?!! Or can our motley crew possibly escape the capsizing clutches of the greedy gulch unscathed and without the need for a bathyscaphe?!

Note! As he always does, Dan has very kindly sketched and signed in all of our copies, as he has with his Man vs Machine computer catastrophe SENT / NOT SENT, reviewed last week by Stephen.

JR

Buy Bear Canyon (Signed & Sketched In) and read the Page 45 review here

Larsen Around – Niche (£5-00) by Ian Larsen.

“Imagine no possessions
“I wonder if you can…”

– John Lennon, ‘Imagine’

Although its ill-chosen cover resembling a glossy children’s health pamphlet which you might find outside your GP’s surgery doesn’t bode well, what lies within is a side-splittingly subversive series of comics and cartoons which will be spluttered over by devotees of our Lizz Lunney Superstore.

Book-ended by two related cartoons – the first of which will prove infinitely funnier once you’ve read the last – an ‘Inventory of John Lennon’s Possessions’ sits at its centre, requiring just a little more imagination from Ian Larsen than John Lennon evidently mustered when filming the video to ‘Imagine’ in a vast, white, multimillion-dollar mansion.

Still, if you have an enormous number of possessions you do need an enormous possession to house them in, even if the palatial piano room was cleared to fit the film crew. Here are a few:

Piano
Stools
Guitars
Bank Book containing millions of pounds
Table to put drugs and money on
Books on Mao (est. up to 90 million dead during peacetime)

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Some of Larsen’s satirical lancing is equally short and sweet, like his ‘Script Doctors’ subtitled ‘Previously unseen early drafts of movie treasures’, which at their best cut to the quick or make up a memorable moment from which to distil their core essence.

Other objects of disaffection include content-averse TV commissioning editors and producers:

“The thing is, our audience doesn’t understand information so can you replace the information with funny ugly people? Yeah.”

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It’s a running gag which grows cumulatively funnier, just like the Berlin music scene 1976 onwards populated by ‘David And His Friends’ like Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, musing modestly on their place in history:

“Is Lou coming out tonight?”
“No, he’s become increasingly grumpy and difficult lately.”
“Well you have to give him credit, he is a rock legend.”
I’m a rock legend. We all are.”
“You don’t have to be aggressive about it.”
“Sorry, these German beers are quite strong.”
“At least you aren’t out of your mind on cocaine anymore.”

There’s a scathing stab at territorial music devotion coming down on the envious and ill-informed, an alien encounter on Earth, and a cautionary tale about the potential ramifications of changing your worldwide social media profile picture right in the heart of your home.

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Half of the humour is the veneer of childlike glee belying the bloody contents beneath it, but be not deceived: Larsen can do such instantly recognisable portraits of the likes of Bill Murray that the joke doesn’t need signposting.

For me the most successful comic was the six-page ‘Skip Chippington and the Journey Into Disappointment’, specifically London 1665 as visited by a time-traveller. It plays to readers’ preconceptions of what he will find, how he will be received and the language with which he’ll be greeted… before slapping them all upside the head over and over again, along with what a supposedly 17th Century simpleton will make of our own brave new world.

Only such an economy of expression could make the gags work so well, while the silent panels speak volumes.

I may actually leave a copy in my dentist’s waiting room.

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SLH

Buy Larsen Around – Niche and read the Page 45 review here

Madwoman Of The Sacred Heart h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius…

Brand-newMadwoman cover edition from Humanoids! Hurrah!

We can’t wait for Dark Horse’s Moebius Library which kicks off with WORLD OF EDENA!

“Before you pass any further judgement on me, I’ll give you a quote, the author of which you’re not worthy to learn: “There is no good or evil, only the divine presence under this or that trapping.”
“?!!”
“Those are the words of a saint!”
“?”
“Enough, you guys, this is a University not a temple.”
“Yeah, shut up, you ass-kissers.”

Finally Jodorowsky and Moebius’ masterpiece of religious and philosophical satire is available in its complete form in English. When Dark Horse first published this work in the US many years ago, they only collected the first two-thirds (and then only in black and white), which culminated in a rather odd and abrupt ending. Given the nature of the work I personally – like many others at the time having chatted with a few customers about it – just assumed it was a deliberately oblique ending which possibly I hadn’t grasped the full meaning of! However I think the actual reason behind not including the third part at the time was that it simply hadn’t been translated yet!

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Anyway, enough preamble. How best to describe MADWOMAN to those unfamiliar with the work?! Professor Alan Mangel is a charismatic and eminent Professor of Philosophy at Paris’ Sorbonne University. Whilst beloved by his students, some of whom have taken to wearing purple in reverence of him, Mangel’s private life is somewhat less successful, with a rather bitter (very soon to be ex-) wife who berates him for his impotence and inability to impregnate her. He’s somewhat ambivalent about the whole situation preferring to take solace in, and perhaps also hiding behind, his spiritual practice, until she actually leaves him taking every single possession he owns with her. This precipitates a crisis of confidence and his loyal students soon desert him in droves.

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The only student who still believes in Alan in the beautiful Elisabeth, who appears to be completely insane in her belief that she has been chosen for a divine mission, to be impregnated by Alan and thus bring about the reincarnation of John the Baptist. And that’s just the beginning! What follows is a delightfully farcical and satirical romp as Alan, seemingly unable to take control of the situation and sensibly just bring things to a halt, gets himself deeper and deeper into trouble.

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He soon finds himself on the run for a murder he didn’t commit which occurs in the course of helping a local drug dealer spring a girl from a Parisian asylum. Elisabeth is convinced they are the reincarnations of Joseph and Mary respectively, and that they will produce a child who will be the second coming of Jesus. Just to make things a little more complicated for Alan the girl in question is the daughter of a Columbian cocaine baron, who promptly dispatches a hit squad to track down his beloved child and deal with the people responsible for her disappearance. If that weren’t enough to deal with, Alan is also finding himself troubled by a rather lustful inner demon in the shape of his younger self, who chides him for not grasping the moment and making the most of his current situation, whilst continually making some distinctly suggestive suggestions. Oh, and the slightest bit of stress is now causing Alan bouts of uncontrollable, explosive diarrhoea.

I’m not going to go into any analysis of precisely what J & M are satirising with this work. That’s one of the pleasures of reading it in depth for yourself. Not that it is remotely heavy going, and can be enjoyed entirely for its farcical content which comes across in places like a surreal cross-over between Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and a particularly bawdy Carry On film. And I do genuinely mean that in a good way, I really do!!

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The final third of MADWOMAN changes in tone as the humour is reined in considerably and things take an even more metaphysical turn out in the jungles of Colombia. It’s a path Jodorowsky has us taken down before in his various comic and cinematic works, perhaps once too often for it to have the same impact for me in all honesty, and it probably reveals more about himself and his own beliefs than simply continuing to entertain the reader with the same bonhomie as the first two-thirds of the work. Still, it doesn’t spoil the book and the plot is definitely still drawn to a very satisfactory conclusion. I do wonder whether there is a deliberate parallel to be drawn in terms of Mangel’s physical and psychological state at the very end of MADWOMAN and with the ending of THE INCAL material and its main protagonist John Difool, but maybe that’s me reading too much into it. I think I understand the point that’s being made, if there is a point that’s actually being made – and that the great thing about MADWOMAN: it will certainly get you thinking!

And of course we have the unique art style that we’ve come to know and love from Moebius, plus there is the added bonus of the truly wonderful conceit that he’s used Jodorowsky’s likeness for Professor Alan Mangel (unbeknownst to Jodorowsky at the time) which continually adds to the amusement as Alan’s circumstances get ever more ridiculous and fraught with danger. This is a genuine classic that stands reading and re-reading. It never fails to raise a smile for me, and still a quizzical eyebrow or two.

JR

Buy Madwoman Of The Sacred Heart h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Jupiter’s Circle vol 2 s/c (£12-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Wilfredo Torres, Chris Sprouse, Davide Gianfelice.

The prequel to JUPITER’S LEGACY is a book about relationships and politics set in a time when the superhero genre looked at them barely at all.

Certainly no hero left his wife and children for a star-struck teenager then attempted to recommend her as a new superheroine to his teammates. Also, back in 1959 cinema’s greatest heroes were all in the closet – because, umm, public opinion and box office…? But also: illegal. Yes, it was illegal to love if you were a bloke and your loved one happened to shave too.

Insane in the brain – what a bunch of myopic muppets we are when we promote hatred and division over diversity and love.

Millar dealt with all that beautifully, intelligently and unflinchingly in JUPITER’S CIRCLE VOL 1 while here he wonders what would true altruists – respected by the public and with the capacity to intervene – do when faced with the Los Angeles Watts Riots of 1965? When confronted by images on the television of young black men, understandably angry and disenfranchised after years of economic deprivation, being manhandled by white policemen? For example.

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The very motivation for this extended ‘family’ back in JUPITER’S LEGACY VOL 1 was economics following the Wall Street crash when Sheldon Sampson set about giving America something to believe in and people to give them hope: superheroes. A generation later what transpired was disastrous, but even this early on there is duplicity within this family of friends and I really am doing my best to avoid spoilers. It is a very different beast to JUPITER’S LEGACY, but equally deserves your attention because reading one informs your understanding and so appreciation of the other, and it asks imaginative questions of its own.

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What might the love life be like of a kind and considerate man with the ability to fly far out to space, when he is absolutely besotted by and dedicated to his loved one? What mountains might he move? There’s plenty of room for old fashioned romance here – examined thoughtfully from both perspectives – but not necessarily for everyone, so I’m afraid there’s room for much sadness too.

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Also touched on: the balance of power between humans and metahumans Lex Luthor-stylee, questions about what it might mean for future generations (oh, the dramatic irony!) and what might a man do in search of a super-powered son or daughter.

For me both series are Millar’s meatiest works since SUPERIOR, this one sharing its vulnerability and poignancy. I talked about the art in a little more detail in JUPITER’S CIRCLE VOL 1 with was perfect for a piece set in a period where superheroes were seen more innocently and written an emotional naivety. It’s mostly on target here too with Torres depicting the Utopian as a young Ronald Reagan but, in the interests of honesty, there are half a dozen pages by a fill-in artist which jar horribly, unnecessarily.

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Real-life guest appearances this time by Ayn Rand (see SUPERCRASH) and Spencer Tracy!

SLH

Buy Jupiter’s Circle vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Jupiter’s Legacy Vol 2 #1 (£2-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely.

In their AUTHORITY Mark Millar and Frank Quitely asked the question, “Why so super-people never go after the real bastards?” at which point their team of liberal totalitarians did precisely that, deposing despots around the world left, right and centre.

Oh how we cheered, because we agreed wholeheartedly even though The Authority had no mandate whatsoever.

As JUPITER’S LEGACY VOL 1 began it all looked like going a bit Pete Tong in a KINGDOM COME sort of way, with the younger generation of metahumans have jettisoned the altruism of their super-powered parents in favour of fashion contracts, drugs and alcohol.

But it didn’t turn out to be that straightforward by a long way, did it? One amongst the old guard had his sights set firmly on the American economy and – unlike Sheldon Samson’s original dream – not by uplifting it through inspirational deeds of defending the innocent and helping others, but by personal intervention in the White House.

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Then, fearing familial retribution, he made a pre-emptive strike which gave every reader whiplash. Never have I known such an abrupt, truly shocking hand-break turn in superhero comics, executed by Quitely with brutality after lulling us into a juxtaposed sense of security with all things quaint. And everything went to hell in a hand basket.

Then everything went quiet. That next generation of seemingly self-interested loafers and those dismissed as losers – tainted by the supposed sins of their fathers – went to ground, desperate not to be detected and to protect what and whom they had left.

Until, that is [redacted].

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Millar and Quitely display as much skill in the tenderness here as they did in the savagery of that hand-break turn. Watch the dates carefully too. There’s a whole lot of love in the opening flashback. Not tranquillity or delicacy, but stillness and a purity of communications and a sense of what matters at the end or the beginning of the day. It’s quite the torch that’s passed on.

Sunny Gho’s colours leave a lot of white space which is ever so thematically important.

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Every creator is in complete control of their craft and, if you want to involve your readership in a genre which is so often reduced unnecessarily to conveyor-belt bombast – if you want them to invest emotionally in your story – this is crucial. I honestly believe you will care.

Please see the prequels JUPITER’S CIRCLE VOL 1 and indeed VOL 2 for all the dramatic irony you could wish for before embarking on what comes next.

SLH

Buy Jupiter’s Legacy Vol 2 #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Judge Dredd: Titan (£16-99, Rebellion) by Rob Williams & Henry Flint…

“How old are you, dog? Don’ take me wrong now. I realise you legendary and all, and I respect that. But this is space, feel me? I’m just wonderin’ if you the oldest dude to ever go into space. Must be some kinda record.”
“You’re Justice Department’s space marines, right? Some kind of elite. The best we got.”
“Damn straight.”
“They put the oldest man to ever go into space in charge. To make sure you don’t screw up this mission. Respect that.”

Totally irascible yet utterly unflappable. That’s the practically pension-age Judge Joe Dredd in a nutshell. There’s a great little moment shortly after this pull quote where the space marines, preparing for their drop from space to the surface of Titan, the penal colony where corrupt Judges get sent for life that has suddenly ceased all contact with Mega-City One, do a little preparatory chant right before they launch themselves into near-certain death. Dredd, being Dredd, is just irritated, but is completely self-aware enough to know that’s exactly what he is.

“Unconventional. It annoyed him.
“But everything annoyed him these days.”

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Heh, he really has become the veritable Victor Meldrew with attitude and a sidearm. It’s a constant source of fascination to me that right from the get-go, this most unreconstructed of unapologetic fascists is such a comics hero. I think it only works because the man has no ego whatsoever. He upholds the Law because it is the Law, irrespective. To him there is only the Law and if you break the Law you’re getting shot or hauled off to the Cubes. Even attempting to mildly bend or circumvent the Law is, in Dredd’s eyes, breaking the Law. He is simply the immovable object around which events unfold, always affecting them by his very presence with his granite jawed gravitational field of uncompromising authority. He is, as he occasionally observes for additional fear inducing effect, simply, the Law.

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This is a great bit of modern Dredd, I can see why it has been collected separately from the COMPLETE CASEFILES. Titan is a creation that goes back to the very, very early days of 2000AD, when Dredd’s imprisoned clone brother Rico escapes and comes to Earth looking for vengeance. It’s one of the very few strips where over the years you’ve seen Dredd display any sort of emotional, well weakness is far too strong a word for it, but I can probably count on one hand the number of occasions I’ve seen such a… moment.

So the title of this work alone intrigued me enough to pick it up, coupled with the fact the writer was Rob Williams, whose UNFOLLOW I have been enjoyed immensely recently, and the artist was Henry Flint, whose Dredd is the very epitome of the modern version of granite-jawed lawman. I always feel if you tried to punch Flint’s Dredd on that jaw, the only possible outcome would be a full set of broken knuckles.

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Here he’s going to need every annus horribilis of his years of experience and hard-earned, gun-slinging prowess to find out what’s behind the troubling lack of contact from the penal colony that has enough banged-up Judges to easily conquer the Big Meg after its latest near-apocalyptic brush with annihilation. A not inconsiderable number of them have got a grudge against Dredd himself too, given how many he personally sent there! And how do the sneaky Sovs and the murderous Kleggs fit in? Plus what is that strange energy source on the nearby moon of Enceladus? Will Dredd prevail? Obviously, he is the Law, but even Dredd will find himself pushed to the absolute limit this time. As I said, a fantastic fun chunk of modern Dredd.

JR

Buy Judge Dredd: Titan 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

How To Talk To Girls At Parties (£12-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba

Boy’s Club (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Matt Furie

Hilda And The Bird Parade s/c (£7-99, Flying Eye Books) by Luke Pearson

Our Super Adventure (£10-00, Shiny Sword Press) by Sarah Graley

A-Force vol 1: Hypertime s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by G. Willow Wilson, Kelly Thompson & Jorge Molina, Victor Ibanez

Amazing Spider-Man vol 2: Worldwide s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Matteo Buffagni, Giuseppe Camuncoli

Scarlet Witch vol 1: Witches’ Road s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by James Robinson & various

Batman: Arkham Knight vol 2 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Tim Seeley & various

Batman: Arkham Knight vol 3 h/c (£18-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Tim Seeley & various

Green Arrow vol 8: The Night Birds s/c (£12-99, DC) by Benjamin Percy & Patrick Zircher, various

Tiny Titans: Return To The Treehouse s/c (£9-99, DC) by Franco Baltazar & Art Baltazar

Bleach vol 67 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

One-Punch Man vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

Ooh, slimmest week ever! Don’t worry, I’ve already got some other belters lined up for next week’s reviews as well!

News!

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 Voting

ITEM! Please vote for Page 45 in Nottingham’s Independent Business Of The Year Award 2016!

Look, here’s our Jonathan holding up not one but TWO trophies Page 45 won as Nottingham’s Best Independent Business Of The Year 2012 and 2013.

We couldn’t have done it without your votes! Thank you!

Alas, last year Page 45 didn’t even make it into the Top 10 so failed to receive Secret Shopper judges. And I like Secret Shopper judges – we make them BUY stuff – so do please vote!

To make a nomination for Independent Business of the Year, visit itsinnottingham.com/independents, email info@nottinghambid.com, tag @itsinnottingham on Twitter or Facebook, or use the hashtag #independentnottm on Instagram.
Here’s Page 45 winning the first-ever Best Independent Business 2012 Award. Cheers!

I had fun with that one.

Trophies

ITEM! New interview with GIANT DAYS’ John Allison!

You can read all Page 45’s Reviews of John Allison’s BAD MACHINERY, EXPECTING TO FLY, MORDAWA and GIANT DAYS comics (including the self-published GIANT DAYS pack before the Boom! Studios stories!) here.

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ITEM! News just in! GIANT DAYS has been nominated for three Harvey Awards. Yippee!

Full List Of Harvey Awards nominations 2016!

Nominations also include autobiography about the history of America’s Civil Rights Movement by Congressmen John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. Both MARCH BOOK ONE and MARCH BOOK TWO were absolutely arresting.

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– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2016 week five

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

Includes Fight Club 2 h/c by Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart, Mythic by Phil Hester & John McCrea, Northlanders repackaged, Paul Dini & Eduardo Risso, two Dan Berry comics and News of Cerebus’ return underneath!

The Three Rooms In Valerie’s Head (Signed & Sketched In) (£15-00) by David Gaffney & Dan Berry.

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“You can discover everything about your boyfriend by tossing a breakable object at him.”

That’s such a lovely line, lobbed in as effortlessly and unexpectedly as everything else, taking the reader – and Valerie’s boyfriend – completely by surprise. It’s not done in anger but out of calm curiosity, and the trajectory of that particular sequence will prove even more startling and funny than you think.

We will return to that anon.

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Dan Berry’s exceptionally expressive cartooning you may already know from THE END, CARRY ME, THROW YOUR KEYS AWAY, the Eisner-Award-nominated 24 BY 7 or THE SUITCASE, a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, and far, far more. The singularly dextrous David Gaffney will now be shooting to the top of your attention and the forefront of your radar, once the wit in this read has been savoured. It is ever so carefully constructed.

There are three rooms in Valerie’s mind: a front, a back, and a cellar. But if you think that the front room’s a living room, you are very much mistaken. All she does there is obsess.

What should perhaps command her attention is studiously buried and ignored by banishing it into the back room.

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What Valerie takes out to play instead are the ghosts of her former boyfriends, resurrected from the cellar, positioned like a trad-jazz band and articulated by herself. It is they whom she converses with throughout, wondering where it all went wrong.

“The drawback was having no space in the front room for anything else.”

Well, quite.

Before you leap to too many conclusions, I promised you surprises and I don’t break my promises. There may well be a very good reason why Valerie is so retrospective. And before you go blaming Valerie for being so unlucky in love, the individuals who’ll be paraded in front of you will prove to have looked through odd prisms of their own. Ever such odd prisms. One, for example, invents a car windscreen to compensate for his myopia so that he doesn’t have to wear his glasses or corrective lenses while driving. Which is fine for him and it’s a genius foil against car thieves. Unless they possess the same prescription as he does, they won’t be able to see what’s in front of them. On the other hand, it’s a wee bit rubbish for any passengers he’s carrying and his own rear-view mirror may prove something of a blur.

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There’s a lot of allusion and metaphor in this comic, but I swear that it’s sweet and not half as heavy-handed as my own. “Symbols should not be cymbals,” as Edward Albee once wrote.

Music is one of the big ones, specifically Mahler’s 2nd Symphony plus Valerie’s love of accordions and other bellow-based instruments. Don’t think you have to be an all-knowing clever clogs because I’m certainly not. Listen to Gaffney about music instead:

“It’s pure. Music doesn’t imitate, it doesn’t explain, it doesn’t try to be like other things.”

I’d not thought of that before. Most drawings, paintings, prose, poetry and comics all seek to create, recreate, imitate or elucidate on that which they are not: life, real or imagined. Words convey thoughts, actions or occasions as best they can and I adore them for that, leaving me with the freedom to let my imagination roam. Images imply or are otherwise representational. Music may elicit or imply, but otherwise it is its own beast. In the hands of the Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser even songs’ lyrics are left to be similarly ethereal because she left her voice free to be a musical instrument – no real words at all…

But this is a comic with images which do imitate ever so subtly well, and one of its best is the page in which Valerie responds to a former boyfriend’s recollection of their shared, supposedly idyllic past which doesn’t chime favourably enough with her own. The colouring aside, which is mood-specific throughout and beyond this specific page, it’s the body language and expressions which delight. Jake’s finger and closed eyes turn a contradiction – bad enough in Valerie’s eyes – into something close to a rebuke. As to those eyes, narrowed in the fourth panel as she leads challengingly forward, they really do seethe and spit daggers.

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“Valerie,” we learn later, “kept a ball of tissue under her armpit and dropped shreds of it into his food to keep him loyal.”

This is an observational gem, more fanciful and energetic than Tomine’s but no less perceptive and far more engaging in that the reader is enticed into the recollections as an active observer on the spot rather than a witness at a distance. Dan has gone to great lengths to make this so, including a sequence which – I was told in complete confidence – he drew with his left hand in order to accentuate the giddiness which worked all too well on myself, giving me an immediate sense of vertigo while lying flat on my back in bed. That’s no mean feat.

So we return to the where we came in with the opening quotation and its reprise of the vase on the very second page which Valerie’s so intent on remaining oblivious to. I showed you that vase earlier on. Like so many other visual refrains repeated unexpectedly throughout, it’s a fab piece of foreshadowing whose exceptional choreography by Dan Berry is surpassed here as Valerie throws caution to the wind and a bouquet at her boyf. in an act of abandonment which is – to her – delightful spontaneity.

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“You can discover everything about your boyfriend by tossing a breakable object at him.”

As the shining white and blue china hurtles towards him, Brett freeze, recoils and cowers in terror, and the leaves and flowers begin to tumble from their fragile, spinning vessel.

“Is he poised?
“Confident in his judgements?
“Does he seem willing to take responsibility for someone else’s actions?”

David Gaffney has a way with words which dance around and right off the pages to stick with you forever. There’s nothing extraneous or laden. Instead they trill so brightly and lightly like a musical movement that’s subtle and always heading somewhere. As often as not, they’re headed somewhere far from expected.

“You learn the most if the object belongs to someone else.”

SLH

Buy Three Room’s In Valerie’s Head (Signed & Sketched In) and read the Page 45 review here

Sent/Not Sent (Signed & Sketched In) (£5-00) by Dan Berry.

“So basically, it is really easy, everything works first time and you spend your days in satisfied bliss.”

So that’s The Business of Illustration, your career as a creator, and our lives mapped out ahead of us. It all sounds very familiar to me, and I will sleep infinitely easier tonight.

But then there’s the title, isn’t there?

This is a day in the life of Dan Berry, written and illustrated hourly as it unfolded: what could possibly go wrong?

Over the centuries the human race has strived to leave itself decreasingly at risk from the weather. We’ve built houses, bought umbrellas and even erected orange and yellow striped wind-breaks on beaches. (Is that still a thing?) Some days, however, that just doesn’t cut the mustard.

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Over the last few decades, the human race has also strived with all its considerable, intellectual and inventive might to leave itself increasingly at the mercy of machines. There’s barely an institution that can function any longer if its computer systems crash, apart from Mrs Apiary’s Homemade Honey Pot stall in South Swithernshire. They don’t need to rise up en masse and enslave the human race in a post-apocalyptic wasteland to be a cause of never-ending grief. As every one of us knows it is enough for them to sit there in our homes and offices, wilful and recalcitrant on a daily basis.

SENT / NOT SENT. SAVED / NOT SAVED.

These things were sent to thwart us.

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We’ve even brought them alive by imbuing them in our heads with exactly these mean-spirited motivations and emotions. Don’t make them angry; you wouldn’t like them when they’re angry.

Berry brings all this to the fore early on, along with his role as a Dad to both his children and his cat (“I’m not your Dad”) on the very first page. For something so seemingly spontaneous and extemporised there’s an awful lot of serendipitous stage-setting for a killer drive-home dovetailing and an infuriated admonishment most parents will recognise with a grin.

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I’ve approached reviews of Berry’s comics in different ways, be they THE END, THE THREE ROOMS IN VALERIE’S HEAD, CARRY ME, the Eisner-Award-nominated 24 BY 7 or THE SUITCASE, a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, but it is THROW YOUR KEYS AWAY which inspired me to write about the sheer energy and infectiousness of the man’s cartooning and its wild gesticulations. There will be a great deal more flailing and wailing before his day’s done, but since I’ve singled out machines let’s end with another of my favourite pages for its second-panel evocation of recoiling, venomous, looks-could-kill fury.

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“It isn’t going to be one of those days, is it?”

Yes, Dan. Yes, it is.

SLH

Buy Sent/Not Sent (Signed & Sketched In) and read the Page 45 review here

Fight Club 2 h/c (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart…

“ThroughoutFight Club 2 cover childhood people tell you to be less sensitive.
“Adulthood begins the moment someone tells you, “You need to be more sensitive”.”

I swear on my psychotherapy couch that you do not need to have read the original prose novel to relish this original comic actually written – not suggested – by Chuck Palahnuik himself. I read the book many moons ago but can barely remember a word.

I seem to recall it was at least partially about smashing the system: rising in up in rebellion against corporate conditioning, financial finagling, governmental authoritarianism and the pervasive mediocrity we can obliviously settle for during our everyday, oh-so-short lives. About waking up from the ubiquitous mass hypnotism of messed-up humanity… whilst enthusiastically submitting to someone else’s indoctrination. If it wasn’t, it should have been.

It’s why Jonathan Hickman’s scathing NIGHTLY NEWS rang such a bell with me. The first paragraph of my NIGHTLY NEWS review reads:

“Terrorism. Communication. Authorative anti-authoritarianism. One man’s enlightenment is the same man’s indoctrination. Stop being a sheep, and be part of my flock instead!”

The cult of personality, eh? Unless it’s mine, I’m always suspicious.

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As I said, however, Fight Club could have been about something else entirely, like hitting people. I imagine that’s why many went to see the film.

Fight Club 2 begins with a similarly iconoclastic personal survey in which you can discover, “Are You Space Monkey Material?” It poses 12 questions with mirth-inducing optional answers. Let’s try a few.

“MY GREATEST REGRET IS…

  1. The adverse effect my carbon footprint has on the intricate web of sensate life forms.
  2. My past insensitivity to others whose cultural milieu and genetic makeup vary from my own.
  3. My unexamined participation in the context of an entrenched capitalistic power hierarchy.
  4. Nothing. Sir.”

We’ll leave aside “DO YOU GET OUT OF THE SHOWER TO TAKE A LEAK?” – it is funny, though – and skip straight past the increasingly angry activism of no-nonsense D to question number 12:

“THE GREATEST THREAT FACING OUR CURRENT GOVERNMENT IS…

  1. Failure to recognise and reign in the scourge of white privilege.
  2. The impending collapse of world oil reserves.
  3. Dwindling honeybee populations.
  4. Me.”

As you may have gathered — whoops, I was about to tell you what to conclude! Someone really should shoot my autopilot.

Okay, so the graphic novel itself kicks off with the narrator addressing the audience directly.

“Look at him. He calls himself Sebastian these days. Ten years ago he was destined to be another Alexander the Great. A new Genghis Khan. But Sebastian… he calls himself happy.”

Well, with the aid of some tranks, anyway.

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Back home his son is being nannied by a woman wielding a carving knife. But then his young son is having a time-out after being caught synthesising explosive compounds from local debris like dog poo.

His wife Marla is unsatisfying and so dissatisfied, calling for a certain, so-far off-stage Tyler to “deliver me from this bland, boring life”. (First-time readers: you’ll see, you’ll see.) “Please, rescue me from my loving husband…”

By the end of the first issue-worth of material Tyler may just have done that, but in the meantime Marla’s begun to take evasive manoeuvres of her own and Sebastian is swallowing them whole. Chic and suited, she’s quite the self-obsessed piece of work, invading a counselling session for those with Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome (such rapid aging that 10-year-olds appear to be 60) while complaining about her wrinkles – “They’re all on the inside!”

Chain-smoking throughout, she’s drawn by Cameron Stewart with a superb sense of insouciance that puts me in mind of Mrs Quinn, the rich bitch in Nabiel Kanan’s THE DROWNERS, though there’s more than a touch of Sean Murphy in her angular face.

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My favourite pages are those on which pills or petals – rendered to striking contrast with three-dimensional modelling complete with shadows which fall over the panels beneath them – are imposed over what is being said by the narrator or the narrative’s participants. Whereas the dog’s barking merely drowns thoughts out like ASTERIOS POLYP talking over his girlfriend, the effect here is different because you can discern what lies below – with the romantic rose petals at least – suggesting that the bunch of flowers Sebastian has bought his missus is merely a smoke screen hiding the lie of their messed-up marriage.

“Happy Annive –“
“I lo – you –“
“Take your pill.”

There’s no hiding that last line.

Sebastian, meanwhile, is the epitome not so much of exhausted but sedated. Everyone’s more got more life in them than he has. Even his neighbour.

“Studies conducted by the United States Military prove that what women fear most is physical pain… What men fear most is being humiliated, losing social status, public ridicule.”

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Sebastian used to be a fighter once, but he’s fallen asleep. Now it’s time to wake up.

I think I can hear alarm bells ringing.

What you should now be asking yourself, is just who set off said alarm…?

Aficionados of Fight Club, the prose work that is, will absolutely devour this. It does everything they will have ever craved for in a sequel, which they probably never actually expected to happen, and so much more besides. They will learn who Tyler Durden truly is. Chuck Palahniuk will speak to them, and his characters, directly. No really, and their worlds will crumble into dust and ashes around their ears. Okay, maybe not that last bit, at least not for the readers, but I genuinely didn’t see where this was going until the big reveal and even then, armed with that particular piece of knowledge, I couldn’t see precisely how it would all end.

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As exquisitely complex and tortuously dark as the original, I sincerely hope this encourages more prose literary figures to try their hand at comics writing (as William Gibson has just done with the excellent ARCHANGEL #1). I’m not sure I want a sudden raft of sequels to prose works in comics form, I think there are more than enough sequels generally already thank you, but given the original work was such a distinctive, vicious piece of satire regarding the culture of consumerism and the decay of Western civilisation, that has been proven so acutely accurate in the interim since its release, I think Chuck deserved his opportunity to play Tyler’s story out to its ultimate, nasty unavoidable end-game. In other words: FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT! The nagging question though, is what exactly is Tyler fighting for?

SLH & JR

Buy Fight Club 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mythic vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Image) by Phil Hester & John McCrea.

“The bodyMythic vol 1 cover must be cleansed before entering the sacred cave.”
“Words to live by.”

I do love Cassandra, chic yet louche, with a boyish blonde haircut, sunglasses even after dark, consistently smoking and sipping from a glass. McCrea’s art is dainty and deliriously lithe here, quite the sharp contrast to what you might be used to in HITMAN etc.

It’s also thunderously epic for a giant along the craggy Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland. Hints of Walt Simonson there, and if that evokes fond memories of Norse mythology then you’re in for a treat for MYTHIC delivers that and far, far more in abundance.

Phil Hester is positively bursting with ideas: there’s zero let-up as Mythic Lore Services dash across the globe. In addition to Cassandra (yes, that Cassandra but now she is listened to) their members boast Venus (yes, that Venus, even more beautiful and infinitely more approachable than ever), and a two-eyed Cyclops called Anatol.

“He’s very sensitive about that second eye, Waterson. It’s a birth defect. Don’t bring it up.”

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Plus I’m positive this will prove your first experience of ghost candy.

But let’s pull back to the beginning which had me from the very first page which reminded me of Alan Moore & Steve Parkhouse’s hilariously grotesque and grotesquely hilarious BOJEFFRIES SAGA.

On it we’re introduced to a poor young man trapped at a clapped out till in a run-down phone shop who is confronted by a hideously warty old woman whom I swear I last saw cleaning a lavatory sloppier than a cowshed in a Parisian hotel which haunts me to this day. Some of its wooden stairs were missing and our room wouldn’t lock. I don’t want to talk about the lavatory in any more detail. I’m not sure what I saw could have actually existed.

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Anyway, our innocent young salesman Nate is in for a similarly nasty surprise when the harridan plops her mobile phone on his counter with the words “Phone dead”. Then he makes the mistake of touching it. To his fingers sticks a thread attached via the phone to one of the woman’s larger, thumb-sized facial pustules and he probably shouldn’t have pulled on it because what pops out…

You will never squeeze a zit again.

The entire sequence is choreographed by McCrea with such exceptional physicality than I can feel the tension in that thread myself and feel it pulling on a pustule of my own which I haven’t known in over three decades.

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You’re probably wondering what this book is actually about. So is the clerk once those demons are down.

“Nate, I’m not just here to spew cryptic exposition about your newfound destiny. Though I have to admit, I am pretty goddam great at it. I’m her to offer you a job.”

The card says “Mythic Lore Services.”.

Here’s Cassandra confounding a scientist with a much merrier account of the world than the one he once thought he knew, her eyes glowing with the colours of the universe:

“We are told the sun tracking through the sky above is a mass of incandescent gas, our earthly home a randomly formed satellite.
“Of course. A kindergartner knows as much.”
“These facts let you sleep at night, let you pretend to know what the world is all about. When actually the sun is pulled across the heavens by a flaming chariot piloted by a god clad in the dust of comets. Earthquakes are not the shifting of tectonic plates, but the wrestling of massive twin lizard-demons fighting for control of the underworld. The tides themselves rise and fall with the weeping of an immortal princess who sleeps beneath the shore awaiting her drowned lover’s return. In other words, magic makes the world go round. And when it breaks, we fix it.”
“Cass, you’re not really supposed to just come out and say it like that.”
“But I love the look on their faces.”

They begin by curing a persistent valley drought in America which has nothing to do with global warming and everything to do with a sexual standoff between the mountains and the sky. They simply haven’t fucked lately. It’s up to one of them to seduce the mountains and cause a raging romantic jealousy, reigniting their elemental ardour. I’m not even kidding you.

That’s their last easy mission as the various global teams become picked off one by one in a long-planned assault, leaving whoever’s left to regroup and follow whatever legendary leads they can.

Oh, the surprises for Nate especially have only just begun.

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Hester is on very rude form in both senses, upending all your expectations including that of the Midgard Serpent, so vast that it will one day encircle the Earth, thereby bringing about the end of the world.

“That’s the Midgard Serpent? I expected… more.”
“I’m a grower, not a shower, baby.”

It’s currently imprisoned close to the snow-swept South Pole. Now, why do you think that is the stupidest place on the planet to imprison the Midgard Serpent?

You’ll find out. And so will they.

“Someone’s trying to Ragnarok us.”

SLH

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

Northlanders Book 1: The Anglo-Saxon Saga (£22-50, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Marian Churchland, Ryan Kelly, Dean Ormston, Daniel Zezelj, Davide Gianfelice.

“Lindisfarne.Northlanders Book 1 cover
“The Holy Island.
“In this bosom of our Lord, we slowly smother.”

A radical repackaging of what was our fastest selling series of Vertigo collections half a dozen years ago, the stories are presented in a completely different order. Jonathan preferred ‘Sven The Returned’, I ‘The Cross + the Hammer, then also ‘Lindisfarne’ and ‘The Shield Maidens’. What this means is that even though the basic theme is Vikings, Brian Wood is bursting with wildly different and totally unexpected takes on the times, from the role of women in the Viking world and Christianity in a Saxon society. In fact if there is a theme running throughout these disparate stories it is the various different beliefs of the day whether religious, secular or societal:

“Sometimes the Fates favour you. But you never take it for granted, never get complacent, because with a flick of their wrist they can sever the thread that is your life. Fate is relentless.”

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That quote comes from the narrator of ‘The Shield Maidens’, one of three women who take a stand which surprises even them against the Saxons re-taking Mercia from the Danes. After slaughtering a Saxon scout they take shelter from the other fifty-odd warriors in an old Roman fort, abandoned by all because no one understood the craft of masonry enough in order to repair the stonework let alone build another. Surrounded by water, they are protected at high tide, only some are more resolute than others. Yet still they make preparations for the inevitable attack because they’ve just realised something vital about the numbers involved and it may just give them a fighting chance.

That one’s drawn by Zezelj, by the way, and its mists and silhouettes are as haunting as you’d expect, whereas Dean Ormston has gone for something completely different but no less striking in ‘Lindisfarne’ as crows circle and snow falls over the Holy Church. It’s a life made all the bleaker for young boy Edwin by both his father and older brother whose ‘cruel to be kind’ philosophy in showing him how to defend himself with a sword he can barely lift manifests itself in a way we’d term abusive. It does, however, stiffen his resolve. Just not in the way that they’d hoped.

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The Cross + The Hammer

Outrageously clever and like nothing else I’ve read set in the early 11th Century, this is more like an episode of Cracker with bows, beards and bramble than some feuding families riddled with lice. And no, you don’t have to have read the first book: it’s set far from there in the rolling wilds of Ireland, magnificently rendered by Ryan Kelly, Brian’s travelling companion in LOCAL.

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Ragnar Ragnarsson, Lord of lands, Dublin, is heading the chase of a one-man death squad, the seed of an insurgency against King Sigtrygg. For months now Magnus has been slaughtering Ireland’s occupiers and it’s up to Ragnarsson to use all his formidable tracking skills and newfangled theories of human psychology in service to the King to bring the man down. There’s only one problem: he’s wrong.

The man is not alone: he’s travelling with his daughter, sometimes carrying her piggy-back to leave but one set of tracks, and intent only in fleeing those in pursuit to keep her from harm. But Magnus is worried that his impulse towards violence in his daughter’s defence is beginning to overwhelm him. He has rages and blackouts which Ragnar may, if cunning enough, be able to use against him.

It’s swift, bloody and beautiful, with quite the revelation. Just remember my first line, is all I’m saying.

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Sven the Returned

“At least give me a sword.”
“You think you deserve a warrior’s afterlife? I have spent most of my life doubting the existence of Odin’s hall, of the Norse afterlife, and I confess I still do not believe it exists. But do I dare take that chance, that one day when my life comes to an end and it turns out I was wrong… that, after all, I find myself walking through the great doors of that feasting hall… to find you sitting there?”
<KRRUUNCHHHH>

I guess that’ll be a no, then!

Sven, our eponymous hero, is a deeply troubled man on a personal mission, even if he doesn’t really know what that mission is, at least yet. He just knows he needs to do something having heard the shocking news that his father has been killed by his uncle Gorm to take control of the family wealth and the title of tribal leader. Having left his tribe and family behind on the Orkney isles as a young lad to seek adventure and visit far flung places such as the ‘Great City’ Constantinople which was widely regarded as the centre of the civilised world circa 980 A.D., he now feels the inexorable urge to return. Although the reasons behind that emotional pull back to his homeland seem to have far more to do with the manner of his leaving than any immediate need for revenge.

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Wood makes it easy to imagine that this is exactly what life must have been like in Viking times, full of hardships and privation, fears and superstitions, with loyalty to tribe and fealty to a strong leader paramount for survival. His story telling is perfectly paced, the dialogue suitably blunt and strident without ever resorting to Viking cliché. And we are carried along by Sven’s emotional journey, which ultimately is about someone finding their own place in a changing world, not merely fulfilling the role they are born into. Throw in a couple of unexpected and gruesome plot twists, a rather inconveniently timed mini-invasion by a Saxon expeditionary force and we have a great story.

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I really have to congratulate Davide Gianfelice on his artwork too. He demonstrates a fastidious eye for detail throughout and a wonderful sense of spacing and perspective, frequently using a slightly elevated position to great effect, which becomes particularly apparent in his landscapes and especially his battle scenes which flow from panel to panel seamlessly like cinematic pieces, never seeming cluttered or confused as lesser artists often do. His facial expressions are masterful with appropriate emotion rendered into every illustration from merest hints of deception and guile to full-on mouth-foaming berserker rage. And if that were not enough the colouring really brings everything off the page and almost into the third dimension, from choppy, rolling, slate-grey seas capped with white-tipped breakers, and blood-red spattered carnage overlaying a pristine white snowfall, to glimpses of the gaudy hues of Constantinople itself, it is gorgeous stuff.

SLH & JR

Buy Northlanders Book 1: The Anglo-Saxon Saga and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Night: A True Batman Story h/c (£16-99, Vertigo) by Paul Dini & Eduardo Risso…

“Get up. Go back to work.”
“Your bedside manner is lousy.”
“Your attitude is worse. Calling in sick. Moping and feeling sorry for yourself. Wasting your time with this trash. You’ve accomplished nothing.”
“I’ve been having a hard time.”
“And doing nothing to rise above it. Make a new choice.”
“Like what?”
“Mitigate the chance of being attacked again. For a start. Be alert. Be smart. Drop some weight. Tone up. The exercise will nourish both your body and your mind. Soon you’ll be walking with pride and authority. It will take a few months of hard work, but if you want to heal and restore your confidence, there really is no other way.”
“I want to buy a gun.”

That’s Batman, there, dispensing the tough love to the battered Paul Dini. Back in the 1990s, whilst on the up and up and writing for Batman: The Animated Series in Hollywood, Dini was very badly beaten during a mugging. In addition to shattering his face, the assailants shattered his confidence, resulting in a long and difficult recovery process that was as tough, if not considerably tougher, in mental terms, than the physical.

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During that period, having withdrawn nearly completely within himself emotionally, Dini would frequently find himself talking to the Batman, and a whole host of Bat-villains, all the while oscillating between despair and self-loathing. From blaming himself for walking blindly into the situation, to not being able to fend off his attackers, to repeatedly choosing to avoid putting it behind him and moving on with his life, Dini’s internal dialogues with the cast of characters that it had long been second nature writing, would form his psychological crutch whilst simultaneously also being the barrier preventing him regaining his mental health.

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Much like Steven T. Seagle’s (annoyingly out of print) IT’S A BIRD with art by Teddy Kristiansen, about his mental travails around working on Superman (also on Vertigo), this is not your normal Batman book. There are some fascinating little Bat nuggets thrown in here, including a Sandman and Death guest appearance (blessed by Neil himself) whilst Batman was hovering between life and death that Dini pitched for the animated series and sadly never happened, but ultimately this is simply a very painful, very tragic, true crime story. It is all the more excruciating to read when you are watching the blows rain down and enduring Dini’s protracted, emotionally suffocating recovery process, because you know it really happened.

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He certainly picked the right artist to work with him in Eduardo 100 BULLETS Risso too because as soon as I saw the two hoodlums sauntering towards Dini, him having petulantly refused a lift home from his hot actress date for the evening in a vain attempt to induce jealousy, well, any sort of interest in him from her, and him then thinking I don’t want to be that white asshole who crosses over the road just to avoid two black guys, who are probably simply well-to-do Hollywood creative types, I knew just how viscerally brutally the beat down was going to be illustrated. And it was. It’s one thing revelling in that sort of thing whilst enjoying crime fiction like 100 BULLETS, it’s another thing reading it, knowing it was a man’s life on the line.

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I admire his honesty in writing this. There was undoubtedly some degree of catharsis in doing so, indeed there’s a little sequence between Dini and The Joker berating him for exactly that, but he certainly doesn’t spare himself, or attempt to portray himself as some sort of martyr. Quite the opposite really, Dini lays bare the relentless hard time he, directly, and through the proxies of the entire cast of Bat-villains, plus Batman too, gave himself. For events during, after, and indeed before the mugging. Nowhere near as painful to read as what he went through I’m sure, but he does a very good job of giving us a glimpse of what a punishing period of his life it must have been emotionally.

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JR

Buy Dark Night: A True Batman Story h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Clean Room vol 1: Immaculate Conception (£10-99, Vertigo) by Gail Simone & Jon Davis-Hunt…

“Goddammit.
“I let that woman in my goddamn head.
“Now I have nothing.
“I don’t know how she did it.
“Hypnosis. Drugs. Doesn’t matter.
“I don’t care what happens.
“I’m taking that bitch to hell.”

It would be fair to say Astrid Muller is not journalist Chloe Pierce’s favourite person. But then when your fiancé has blown his brains out shortly after reading Ms. Muller’s self help book you can possibly understand why. When you then suspect she might have something to do with why his gruesome half-exploded head keeps popping up out of nowhere and talking to you, well, it’s not the best start to a beautiful friendship, now is it? Some relationships, though, particularly those that get off to such a shocking start, can take a little time to warm up.

And stories too. I read the first issue of this when it came out and was somewhat surprised to find it left me rather cold, unlike some of the other recent Vertigo output such as UNFOLLOW that grabbed me immediately. I like Gail Simone, I think she’s an excellent writer so I’m pleased I persisted because this is an elegantly dark and twisted bit of parapsychological horror that I think would appeal to people enjoying the likes of Scott Snyder’s WYTCHES, Robert Kirkman’s OUTCAST and also given how well  Gail writes strong female protagonists, Terry Moore’s RACHEL RISING.

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For something strange and deeply unpleasant also happened to Astrid Muller herself. A long time ago as an innocent child, she was the victim of a particularly nasty hit and run incident. Which seemingly left her with a rather unusual brain injury resulting in extremely horrific hallucinations. If indeed that’s what they were. Fast forward to the present day and it would seem that Astrid Muller is convinced that in fact she developed the ability to be aware of, and commune with, creatures from another reality or dimension.

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A realm that perhaps humans might colloquially consider to be, shall we say, of a rather hotter temperature and brimstone whiff than our earthly plane… She might be right, though in Chloe Pierce’s eyes Astrid Muller is simply a deluded megalomaniac. However, taking the last line of Chloe’s exhortation from the opening pull quote, well, she might just end up getting exactly what she wants if she’s not careful, metaphorically or otherwise.

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What is certain is that Astrid and her cult-like team of associates have a highly secretive agenda that certainly brooks them no favours in the more serious parts of the media. Chloe’s one lead from someone who seems to have escaped Muller’s svengali-like influence, albeit far from unscathed, is regarding something called the Clean Room and in the best traditions of gung-ho investigative journalism she’s barged straight into Muller’s HQ demanding an interview. One very unsettling discussion with Ms. Muller later, and Chloe’s none the wiser as to what the <ahem> heck is going on.

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There’s raw action aplenty in this first volume too which nicely sets up all the various characters and leaves us with much to chew over regarding the ambiguous nature of Astrid. Very crisp clean art from Jon Davis-Hunt that has slight hints of Frank Quitely and Steve Dillon in places and will certainly have you squirming uncomfortably at the terrifying psychic torments visited upon various unfortunates in this opener.

I will be continuing reading, from behind the sofa!

JR

Buy Clean Room vol 1: Immaculate Conception and read the Page 45 review here

NYX: Complete Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Joe Quesada, Marjorie M. Liu & Joshua Middleton, Robert Teranishi, Sara Pichelli, Kalman Andrasofszky.

Hefty, all-in-one package, I reviewed the first four issues by Quesda and Middleton back in 2013:

The first sequential work from Josh Middleton since the frustratingly brief SKY BETWEEN BRANCHES preview, and those who immersed themselves in that ethereal, IKO-like beauty will be delighted to hear that he’s colouring this himself. If, of course, you care for the subject matter which is a long way from the bucolic fantasy which promised so much and delivered… complete silence.

You might be surprised, however, because wherever it’s going it’s taking its leisurely time establishing the fatherless family of a pretty young, pill-popping, trance-dancing people-user called Kiden. And I for one very much enjoyed its pace, the dialogue, and the strikingly different body language Josh is employing during the urban schoolground confrontations, right up until and including the obligatory “coming out” of the latent superpower. It was unusually eerie, surprisingly brutal, and the first time I found myself sympathising with the consistently obnoxious lead.

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Joe Quesada can write.

It’s not often you can say that about an editor, still less an editor-in-chief. Moreover, he displays a different voice from anyone else in his stable, and if foul-mouthed banter is most definitely “in” these days, Joe is far more convincing at it than most.

It doesn’t hurt that he has Josh on board, who – for those unfamiliar with this most distinctive of UK artists [whom I suspect went on to influence FREAKANGELS‘ Paul Duffield] – is in possession of a whole new vocabulary on “pretty” involving delicate lines, bit lips, and a complete command of the juvenile face, arm, wrist and hand.

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Any clichés – and there are a good half a dozen stock plot-points on display – are entirely forgiven on account of the breath of fresh air breezing right through them. Typically ignored by the superhero fanboys, I think you’ll be perfectly safe in assuming that’s a good sign, and – forgive me if I’m wrong – I wouldn’t expect spandex any time soon. More like nightclubs, street life and homelessness.

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As soon as I’d finished typing that, of course, X-23, otherwise known as the current ALL-NEW WOLVERINE, was introduced. Yup, first appearance, hence the cover.

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SLH

Buy NYX: Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

James Bond vol 1: Vargr h/c (£14-99, Dynamite) by Warren Ellis & Jason Masters…

I don’t James Bond book coverknow what I expected from this really. I’m a huge James Bond fan, though like many people I have eventually come to feel rather weary with the character. There are after all, only so many retreads of the same adventure yarn you can sit through on the big screen or over a nut roast on Christmas Day. I thought perhaps an outing for James in comics, particularly penned by Warren Ellis, whom I am finding on top form with his outstanding TREES and INJECTION recently, might provide me with something fresh, but unfortunately it didn’t. Maybe there’s only so much even Warren can do with a character weighted down by such extensive cinematic baggage.

It’s slickly written for sure, make no mistake, and I did enjoy reading it tucked up in bed late at night as a quick and easy read before lights out, but it could just be another script treatment for a possible film. It’s all-action, absolutely nothing in the way of character development, with the typical interactions you’ve come to expect between Bond and M, Q, Moneypenny, the love interest, the bad guys etc. from the films. I can’t find anything to particularly complain about, but there wasn’t anything to really get excited about either.

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I will compliment Warren on the dialogue, which did feel completely in keeping with Bond, and there are some amusing pithy asides, plus I did enjoy the bad guy’s dying monologue but if this is going to capture peoples’ imagination and continue as an ongoing series, it really needs to do something different, quickly. I also found the art from Jason Masters somewhat stilted. Possibly it’s the colour treatment rather than the pencils themselves, just failing to bring the illustrations to life, I’m not sure, it just rather flat and thin. Overall, certainly no Octopussy but decidedly more of a View To A Kill than a Thunderball. For a rather different take on the entire Bond film canon, check out young Stanley Miller’s THINGS I THINK ABOUT SOMETIMES.

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JR

Buy James Bond vol 1: Vargr h/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.

Static (£4-00) by John Cei Douglas

Beirut 1990: Snapshots Of A Civil War (£22-50, Humanoids) by Sylvain Ricard, Bruno Ricard & Christophe Gaultier

Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein h/c (£25-99, Dark Horse) by Mary Shelley & Bernie Wrightson

Compass South h/c (£13-50, Farrar Straus Giroux) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock

Copperhead vol 1 (£7-50, Image) by Jay Farber & Scott Godlewski

Jupiter’s Circle vol 2 s/c (£12-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Wilfredo Torres, Chris Sprouse

Larsen Around – Niche (£5-00) by Ian Larsen

Pope Francis Goes To The Dentist (£2-60) by Paul B. Rainey

Ringside vol 1: Kayfabe (£7-50, Image) by Joe Keatinge & Nick Barber

Saga vol 6 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

White Sand vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Dynamite) by Brandon Sanderson, Rik Hoskin & Julius Gopez

Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor vol 1: A Matter Of Life And Death (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by George Mann & Emma Vieceli

Fables: The Wolf Among Us vol 2 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Matthew Sturges, Dave Justus & various

Batman And Robin Eternal vol 2 s/c (£25-99, DC) by James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder & various

Supergirl vol 1: The Girl Of Steel s/c (£12-99, DC) by Jeph Loeb, Greg Rucka, Joe Kelly & Ian Churchill, others

Angela: Queen Of Hel vol 1 – Journey To The Funderworld s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Marguerite Bennett & Kim Jacinto, Stephanie Hans

Avengers Standoff h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer, Mark Waid, Al Ewing, others & various

Infinity Entity s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin & Alan Davis, Ron Lim

Ms. Marvel vol 5: Super Famous s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by C. Willow Wilson & Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, Nico Leon

Ultimates: Omniversal vol 1 – Start With Impossible s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Kenneth Rocafort, Christian Ward

Uncanny X-Men vol 1: Superior – Survival Of The Fittest s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Greg Land

Venom: Space Knight vol 1 – Agent Of Cosmos s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Robbie Thompson & Ariel Olivetti

Vision vol 1: Little Worse Than A Man s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Tom King & Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Assassination Classroom vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Black Clover vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Yuki Tabata

Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 37-39 (£9-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

My Hero Academia vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

My Hero Academia vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

My Hero Academia vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

My Hero Academia vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

Tokyo Ghoul vol 7 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Vinland Saga Book 7 h/c (£17-99, Kodansha) by Makoto Yukimura

News!

Cerebus In Hell cover

ITEM! It’s bolt out of the blue time! CEREBUS IN HELL?

I never saw this coming, but CEREBUS will be back later this year, just before Halloween 2016 with CEREBUS IN HELL? #0. I’d make note of that question mark. This will be followed in 2017 with a four-part CEREBUS IN HELL? mini-series to mark CEREBUS’ 40th Anniversary.

Written and drawn by Dave Sim from 1977-2004 and joined by one of comics’ greatest landscape artists Gerhard for over two-thirds of the 300 monthly issues, CEREBUS was one of the most innovative comics the world has ever seen from its creator commitment to its visual storytelling inventiveness, its lettering, and its defiantly independent publishing status, inspiring hundreds of creators to follow suit and push themselves into new creative territories.

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Dave Sim also virtually invented the collected edition / trade paperback in the US / UK without which you’d still be scurrying to find individual back issues of your favourite series at exorbitant prices to fill gaps in your collection and so read those works as a whole.

So there’s a thing.

Plus without Dave Sim and Gerhard there wouldn’t even be a Page 45.

(Scroll down, you’ll see.)

If CEREBUS wasn’t so important I wouldn’t have ensured that the Page 45 website contained reviews for every single volume before it launched, even though most of those books had been published long before Page 45 began writing reviews. And, oh look, Dave’s customised a page especially for us.

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Co-creator Sandeep Atwal writes:

“Even though Dave Sim hasn’t been able to draw since Feb 2015, we’re not letting that stop us from getting a jump on CEREBUS’ 40th ANNIVERSARY (2017) with CEREBUS IN HELL? #0.

“CEREBUS IN HELL #0 [will be] in the July PREVIEWS for items shipping in October – Diamond Order Code: JUL161105.

“There will be a new CEREBUS IN HELL? strip every day at cerebusdownloads.com after the July PREVIEWS street date (starting June 25) and CEREBUS IN HELL #0 shipping near Halloween. Please feel free to post any of the strips on your website and in your social media. Every Friday, all of the previous week’s strips will be posted at amomentofcerebus.com.”

A lot of them are already there. Please make with the clicky then scroll down if necessary.

“None of the online strips will appear in CEREBUS IN HELL? #0 or in the 4-issue CEREBUS IN HELL? mini-series in 2017: they’re strictly to help generate sales (although they will be collected some day!)”

Once CEREBUS IN HELL? #0 is up on our website in the next fortnight, we’ll encourage you to order it there for Worldwide Shipping, but in the meantime you can add it to your Page 45 Standing Order – or, if you don’t have one you can start one up now – by emailing page45@page45.com or asking on the shop floor.

Cerebus In Hell lettering

That’s from CEREBUS: JAKA’S STORY, by the way, a perfect place to start as the review will explain. And yes, that’s Thatcher. See what I mean about the lettering?

Cheers!

–  Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2016 week four

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

New Lisa Hanawalt, finale to Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising, Alexis Deacon’s Geis, Jamie Smart’s Bunny Vs Monkey 3, Sandman Mystery Theatre and Return Of The Dark Knight: Last Crusade with News underneath.

Geis: A Matter of Life and Death (£15-99, Nobrow) by Alexis Deacon.

“Don’t you understand? I have no choice.”

I understand perfectly; you always have a choice.

Whenever I’ve heard “I have no choice” it’s meant, “I don’t fancy the other options I’ve so far considered, so I’m completely abnegating responsibility for what I’m about to do.” Please file with “I’m just following orders”.

Admittedly on the surface the fifty souls sent on a mission here appear to have had their options substantially limited but not curtailed, for where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Before we begin, this is brilliant. Its beauty we’ll come to anon, but I want you to know from the start that this is enthralling and truly startling in places, with curses far more cunning in their detail and execution than you might initially suspect. Underneath the spot-varnish cover we are forewarned thus:

“Geis, pronounced gesh, is a Gaelic word for a taboo or curse. When a geis is placed upon you, it is like a spell that cannot be broken and certain rules must be obeyed. You might be prohibited from calling upon the aid of wolves, for example, or from breaking into someone’s kitchen. If you ignore or break a geis, the consequences are dire.
“But a geis is always broken.
“As soon as it is spoken or written, your fate is set.”

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The matriarch Matarka is dead.

She lies in state in her ceremonial robes on a bed in the centre of a cloister’s courtyard. Around her sit fifty citizens, most of whom seem downright grumpy that they’ve been woken from their beds. The great chief Matarka named no heir but instead proclaimed that there would be contest to select her successor.

“The rich, the strong, the wise, the powerful, many gave their names in the hope of being chosen.
“But when the night came fifty souls were summoned.”

An agreement is being sent round to be signed and a brief squabble breaks out over power, but it’s silenced by the gurgling of Matarka before an ectoplasmic apparition issues from her mouth to settle in a vessel, a body of an old woman sat slouched at the foot of the bed.

“I am Niope, the sorceress. Prepare yourselves for I have come to test you.
“A good chief should know the land. All the land. Like seed on the wind I scatter you.
“Find your way back to me before the light of the next dawn touches the castle door… or no chief will you be!”

That’s it: that’s all they are told before being conjured into the air and summarily dispatched.

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It’s possible that she may have omitted one or two salient items of interest, as at least a couple of the contestants will later find out. The others will remain oblivious to the consequences but I’ve chosen what I’ve written and quoted here carefully, for it’s not just God who’s in the details.

As we focus on a dozen or so individuals attempting to master their environment to make their way back after being dumped in a cave, between columns of rocks, in a wood and by quicksand or being thrust through a kitchen window, some prove more resourceful than others while others have certain skills which may afford them some desperately needed insight. We also discover that the Kite Lord’s daughter never entered her name into the contest, but when she attempts to withdraw, she discovers she can’t. None of them are going to be able to walk away and return to the lives they once knew, and it becomes increasingly clear that these challenges will be tests not just of capability, but of character too.

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That’s the tip of the proverbial iceberg – with carefully concealed depths – for this is the first in a trilogy in which you will begin to glean the differences between Life Magic and Death Magic and their tightly knit relationship, just as it is with Life and Death itself.

There are some spectacular skies on offer at all times of the morning, noon and night. Not least of these is the early shepherd’s warning behind the monumental composite of a castle whose cloisters we first looked down upon. An unfeasibly large, fantastical and positively Tolkien-esque fortress surrounded by minarets sits atop the base of an already gigantic, heavens-headed gothic cathedral, its architectural details bathed in brown shadow as the dawn behind it ignites in flaming reds, oranges, yellows and purples while the cold, spectral-blue shades of the challengers are whisked round and around then away.

A little later we’ll catch another glimpse of this citadel from further afield, surrounded by substantial Tudor terraced houses and mansions whose warped walls will loom over a protagonist or two as improvisations are attempted. There the softer, sandy colours are dry-brushed against bright white clouds which themselves drift idly across the vastness of a pale green sky.

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Then there are midnight flourishes during an unusually direct confrontation between two of the protagonists lest one learn the secrets of the other then disseminate that knowledge. A freezing, miasmatic mist rises like a monochromatic (but little less spectacular) version of the Aurora Borealis partially occluding a star-strewn, nocturnal heaven.

Atmosphere is all, and you won’t find it any less thrilling in a lamp-lit library as ancient Osha attempts to furnish the Kite Lord’s daughter with knowledge only to find that time has taken its toll and knowledge must be carefully kept alive and preserved… lest it be eaten away.

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School library folks, this is equally fine for your teens or early teens section. It’s going to be another of those graphic novels snapped up by all ages for its wide-eyes wonder and harsh revelations.

SLH

Buy Geis: A Matter of Life and Death and read the Page 45 review here

Hot Dog Taste Test h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lisa Hanawalt.

In Conclusion:

“Sprouts are fool’s noodles.
“Don’t trust smooth food.
“I have a hunch about croissants.
“Don’t eat your own eggs.”

Good call! It may seem like recycling – or something equally admirable, ecology-wise – but it probably breaks several HFEA guidelines or mandatory laws. Laws appear to be quite mandatory at the time of typing.

Every other non-mandatory law, rule or regulation of Food or Ablutionary Etiquette has been loudly breached in this ridiculous book and we soundly and roundly applaud! Hooray for throwing caution to the wind, kicking common sense to the curb and good taste into the gutters of genuine good will instead.

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Hanawalt has all the good will in the world and here seeks to disseminate that and her recondite knowledge like our very own, much-loved Professor Lizz Lunney, with true scientific and in-depth analysis as when sacrificing her own personal pleasure to make a thorough investigation of New York’s high-sugar, fat-saturated fast-food street vendors solely for her readers’ edification and long-term biological benefit.

I cannot begin to tell you how funny it is, and that’s my main problem. Hanawalt sets up her jokes so well in advance with relatively po-faced matter-of-factism or equally dead-pan facetiousness that it would take me paragraphs to quote. Plus I no longer have the faintest idea which elements of her exclusive behind-the-scenes, hourly diary, day-in-the-life reportage of Wylie Dufresne’s Lower East Side Restaurant’s operations are true, True, “true” or mere off-the-cuff whimsy.

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All I can do is warn you well in advance not to read this while handling heavy machinery because it’s is a convulsive-laugher liability:

La la laaaa…. (reading with interest)

La la laaaaaaaa… (white wine now spuming like a whale’s exhalation through my nose)

There are Q&As, top tips and food-photography terminology neologisms. If I’ve included that in the interior art here it’s worth clicking on to blow up.

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Lisa does like to travel and has much to impart, like Katriona Chapman’s thrillingly informative KATZINES, These bits I’m more inclined to trust for basic veracity, but my metaphorical pinch of salt has been safely stuffed away into my mental hand-luggage just in case.

When visiting an animal sanctuary, Hanawalt manages to pet a pet sloth, who may or may not mind this attention – who is to tell unless you wait five years and three months for its physical reaction?

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Then she swims with miniature otters which “have been bottle-fed and hand-raised. That means we’ll get to touch the heck out of ‘em!” Their synchronised squeaking gives her an all-time heavenly high which she may never be able equal. I’d like to be covered in wet, furry otters forever, please. They can nibble at my neck as much as they want. I will buy them ice cream and spiders.

But basically, this: Hanawalt appears to be permanently hungry and without any sense of self-control. I infer that her trip to Las Vegas with attendant boyf was paid for either by Lucky Peach Magazine or by the Cosmopolitan Hotel wherein she discovers Total Buffet Abandon (officially endorsed medical syndrome as of this review). Whilst suffering from Total Buffet Abandon you can do any goddamn thing you want. You can pile your plate high with everything on offer, mix ridiculously incongruous, mouth-destined dainties or expect a chef to serve them all up in an omelette and no one will complain. Not even Cosmopolitan’s PR manager Ranata for whom gluttony is either par for the course or a word long-eradicated from her dictionary.

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“Look, I wish I could say we went insane and blew hundreds of dollars and then earned it all back! But in reality we bet low, made modest winnings, and basically broke even. Eating is the only thing I like to do to excess. I choose to gamble with my guts!”

What goes in must come out, and no restaurant meal would be complete without a trip to the toilet. Some are so squeamish about public restrooms that they line the toilet seat with toilet paper. Lisa suggests twigs instead, which you can gather, arrange and then nest on. It’s a subject she returns to, including her fear of being caught nesting. I really cannot show you that page. She also imagines travelling through time to see how they did it in the olden days or what spectacles lie in store for us in the future.

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Best of all are her stabs at new slogans for multinational corporations’ advertising campaigns, like Nike’s “Just Do It”:

“Just fucking goddamned do it and be fucking done with it already”

I can’t quote the next line, crossed out, but it had me howling.

We perversely began at the end with this review, just as we purposefully conclude it with a reference to its origin because I can no longer discern rhyme from reason, a sheep from a cow, or what’s coming out of my brain.

That’s now been clinically diagnosed as The Lisa Hanawalt Effect.

It’s as if she turns the world upside down, gives it a damn good shake and sees what falls out.

SLH

Buy Hot Dog Taste Test h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rachel Rising vol 7: Dust To Dust (£12-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

“Today I’m going to do something terrible to another human being – I’m going to give back the darkness he gave to me.
“It’s not mine to carry.
“It never was.
“The balance is non-negotiable.”

So ends RACHEL RISING, very much as it began.

With a great many shivers, for a start.

It began early one morning in a sequestered glade, with a woman waiting above a dried-up river bed… Until a leaf spontaneous combusts, and our Rachel claws herself slowly, and painfully, from her grave… then stumbles her way back home.

I can promise you two things: Rachel’s no zombie; she’s wide awake and very much aware of everything and everyone around her. But she definitely died.

She just doesn’t know who killed her yet.

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Now, in the final chapter of this finale volume, we’re about to find out.

From the creator of STRANGERS IN PARADISE and ECHO, this has been another tour de force combing comedy and tragedy, mercy and mischief, fury and all the foibles that make human beings the flawed individuals we are. It’s the humanity I love in a Terry Moore comic.

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I adore Rachel’s Aunt Johnny, the mortician who is resolute and unflustered even when out of her depth. And if I care for anyone above all here it is her assistant Earl whose eyes you never see when hidden behind glasses, but who nonetheless wears his great big heart on his equally gargantuan sleeve and doesn’t have a duplicitous or disloyal bone in his body.

This isn’t misdirection. I do that – a lot. But this isn’t it. I don’t think Terry has created a kinder character: the ultimate gentle giant.

I might even have started to love Lilith.

“Wow, Lilith… I never pictured you as a gardener.”
“Really? I was the first.”

Oh, but Mr Moore has a way with deft dialogue.

“You should have more respect for human life.”
“I would if they would.”

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He drops it onto page after page where so many other authors would simply be concentrating on plot mechanics.

The plot mechanics of this resolution are so fiendishly clever, their foundations laid in images whose meanings will only become clear later on. I’d watch what’s pictured, picked up and pocketed very carefully indeed. I love it when comicbook creators don’t necessarily tell you what you want to know, but show you what you need to know instead. This is, after all, a visual medium.

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There’s more nature than ever in RACHEL RISING, both flora and fauna, in open snow-swept landscapes and dense woodland populated by deer and dogs and ever so many crows. Life and death are central to its premise, the natural cycle all too unnaturally broken by Lilith and Rachel and – of course – in a different way, by the man who’s been slaughtering women then burying them, face down with a rope around their necks in shallow graves.

Aunt Johnny thinks she’s finally found a lead: three bodies in the last 18 months, discovered by farmers or utility crews. Forensics may tell them something, but Aunt Johnny knows a shortcut because Rachel’s been able to experience the final moments before death both of living souls and/or their corpses.

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A child, for example, has just been brought into the mortuary after being run over in a hit and run incident. Rachel reaches in.

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It was a busy school mom driving an SUV. On her mobile phone.

But Rachel can’t make contact with the skeletal remains of the one remaining woman. Perhaps it was the passing of too much time or the lack of soft organic tissue. If only to answer that question, Aunt Johnny casually suggests that Rachel try the remains of a recently dredged up floater. There’s plenty of organic tissue there. In fact, there’s barely anything solid.

And if you’re wincing right now, just wait for the recoil.

Almost everyone plays a key role here including young Zoe, who’s neither young nor Zoe. (You’d better see previous, equally spoiler-free reviews.) And I like that. It doesn’t do to build up your characters then give only the lead a satisfying resolution.

The build-up is so gradual and so measured that when the punches stop being pulled without warning they will smack you full in the face, dislocating your jaw.

And all the while Ma Malai, the Angel of Death, circles slowly and silently in wait…

For anyone.

SLH

Buy Rachel Rising vol 7: Dust To Dust and read the Page 45 review here

Bunny vs. Monkey Book Three (£7-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart.

“Hey, Pig! We hear you have an imaginary friend!”
“Lionel, yes.”
“Ha ha. Lionel. If I had an imaginary friend I’d call him… MONSTERTRUCKOTRON 4!”
“Why 4?”
“The previous 3 fought each other to the death!”

Of course they did. Can someone please cut off Skunky’s electricity supply? I don’t even know where he gets it from. It’s time to begin the review-proper.

Oh my days, would you look at these colours! Could they get any juicier? If you want your young ones to devour their comics – to gorge on reading – then this will appeal to their sugar-free frothy fruit cravings. I am salivating!

I demand that the PHOENIX COMIC WEEKLY immediately launches a range of ice lollies. As MEGA ROBO BROS’ Neill Cameron suggested, they could be sellotaped to the front of each paper issue. What could possibly go wrong with that? On this cover alone we have cherry, blueberry and black currant, fizzy lemon, orange and asparagus flavours. Maybe with a cabbage-cream filling. Yum!

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Meanwhile, this is bananas, and the colouring inside is equally lush. The skies on a winter’s morning or early evening are a radiant yellow-below-blue behind purple mountains or peach-beneath-blue against bright white and blue-shadowed snow. It’s beautiful to behold.

But I promised you bananas and it lies in the bombast. Squeals, shrieks and screams fill the forest as Bunny, Weenie and Pig are terrorised by monomaniacal Monkey and too-clever-for-his-own-good Skunky or – in the case of Weenie and Pig – each other. Weenie and Pig are a couple of clots who once played Pass The Brain Cell between them and fumbled it.

The very first strip, ‘Log Off’, has them hiding behind masks. “From what?” asks Bunny.

“Well, I’m hiding from Pig because he’s wearing a scary mask!”
“And I’m hiding from Weenie because he’s wearing a scary mask too!”

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So often it’s a question here of be careful what you ask lest you lose your marbles under a blanket of bafflement, but also: Touch Nothing! This is both, especially true of Action Beaver who is a coiled spring, a self-primed time-bomb waiting to go off with glee. What makes this particular two-pager pure Jamie Smart, however, is that central catastrophe has been carefully sandwiched between Weenie and Pig for a knock-out, domino-effect, double punchline.

Value for money – that’s what I’m saying.

You can read my two previous reviews of the series by hopping over to our PHOENIX GRAPHIC NOVELS emporium in the Younger Readers section. Towards the end of the second volume, Smart started to lay the foundations of a subplot which here begins bearing fruit. Up until then we’d been spending time in this potentially idyllic woodland surrounded only by animals. But the prospect of humans encroaching on their not-so-tranquil repose with roads between cities is forewarned by Le Fox and now they’re all beginning to be spotted.

I think I just sent a shiver up my own spine.

Don’t worry, Pig and Weenie will put paid to that.

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It’s the energy and the expressions which propel these comics. There are teeth, teeth everywhere.

I note of page 34 that some seven-year-old is going to learn the term “synthesise”. I hope they’re more responsible with it than Skunky.

SLH

Buy Bunny vs. Monkey Book Three and read the Page 45 review here

Sandman Mystery Theatre Book 1 (£22-50, Vertigo) by Matt Wagner & Guy Davis, John Watkiss, R.G. Taylor.

Jonathan and I both adored this series, a troubling period piece for a very troubled period leading inexorably to war. This isn’t about that war – though it does increasingly cast its pall as time marches on – nor should it be confused with the fantasy of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN, although there is a link.

Instead it’s crime fiction populated by remote or cruel parents, brutal, often sexual sadists, their helpless victims and broken progeny, all in a dark, pre-war, 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 (with later help from Steven T. 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. As the first story opens 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.

This point in the review is as good a time as any time remind readers that Vertigo is repacking its series into thicker editions they call Books as opposed to Volumes which are their slimmer predecessors. As well as ‘The Tarantula’, then, this includes ‘The Face’ and ‘The Brute’. It was a brief and quickly corrected mistake to let artists other than Guy Davis in, for the second story arc set in Chinatown put a lot of people off – including myself, almost. A huge shame, because virtually everything that followed, including the third four-parter included here, proved gripping.

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Wagner continues to explore the realities of economic hardship, prejudices and dark family secrets. There’s a particularly upsetting sequence involving the sickly young daughter of a professional fighter.  Dian and Wesley’s compassion always provides a stark contrast to the seediness of what they encounter, and it’s their burgeoning romance which creates the momentum that propels the series ever onwards.

Its begins thus in a dream:

“First there is the woman, soft but indistinct. Like words written in darkness or the smell of a ripening peach.
“For soon she is eclipsed… by him.
“The man in black.”

You may recognise the helm, for it belongs to Morpheus.

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Infer what you will, but in all honesty…?  They will not cross paths until much later on in ‘Sandman Midnight Theatre’ found within Gaiman’s MIDNIGHT DAYS. Although The Corinthian will form a clue in a future edition of this series.

SLH

Buy Sandman Mystery Theatre Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade one-shot (£4-99, DC) by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello & John Romita Jr.

“Wolves, sheep… What’s the difference?
“It’s the numbers that count.
“One, two, use your shoe.
“Three, four, bar the door.
“Five, six, teach them tricks.
“Seven, hate…
“Hate
“My favourite number. Turn it on its side and it’s infinite.
“I learned that from a cartoon.”

Deliciously drawn by John Romita Jr, the sequence was perfectly timed as the ticking time bomb that is the Joker detonates his quietly contrived trap and makes his inevitable, unopposed exit through the least secure doors of any Maximum Security Mental Health Hospital in human history.

Arkham Asylum: containment costs little when they cannot contain you.

It’s financially inexpensive, anyway – unlike a new obsession spreading like a virus through Gotham’s wealthiest businessmen. They seem to be losing not just their money but their minds. One’s committed suicide after his bank account’s bled dry. Another’s taken his wife hostage on a bridge at night, holding a gun to her head.

“I need to prove to her that I love her.”
“By shooting her in the head?”
“Yes! I love her. I’ll prove it!”

His finger itches on the trigger.

“To an untrained eyes, it’s imperceptible. The slight twitch of the second knuckle.”

But Robin has been exceptionally well trained, all but taking man’s arm off at the elbow with a razor-sharp batarang.

“Robin – you could have just knocked the gun out of his hand.”
“I suppose.”

Yes, Robin has been exceptionally well trained, but there’s not a great deal of empathy there and he’s growing increasingly sullen, increasingly resentful and increasingly violent. It’s Jason Todd, the second Robin, by the way.

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There’s more to that scene than meets the eye, and it forms the main mystery of this one-shot while the meat on the bone comes in the form of a Joker as vicious and eloquent as he became in Miller’s BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, and Bruce Wayne as bludgeoned and exhausted as well. His retirement – if not on Bruce’s mind – is certainly at the forefront of his friends’.

Those are the only connections I can discern to BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN other than Miller’s involvement, his use of inappropriately flippant or vapid media commentary from televisual dunderheads and Romita’s mimicry of its presentation with rounded, square sets. Perhaps the pallor of the colours, although there was a lot more white space in DKI.

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No, the main thrust of the story is forward through time and straight into the ever so welcoming arms of the green-haired grinning-one in another Batman classic in which a similar surliness and determination to prove himself won Jason a decidedly shorter career than he’d hoped.

This, then, is a parallel prequel to BATMAN: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY.

If you don’t know what happens there, please don’t click on the link; but it’s nigh-universal knowledge to anyone who’d be buying a Bat book and does afford this comic its dramatic irony.

Fabulous final page from Romita and the writers, juxtaposing extreme, silent violence on either side of a singular detachment – both voiced and visualised – and the reprise of a refrain which, when finished, gives it a fierce zoological bite.

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SLH

Buy Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade one-shot 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.

Bear Canyon (Signed & Sketched In) (£4-50) by Dan Berry

Sent/Not Sent (Signed & Sketched In) (£3-50) by Dan Berry

Three Room’s In Valerie’s Head (Signed & Sketched In) (£8-00) by David Gaffney & Dan Berry

For The Love Of God, Marie! (£16-99, Myriad) by Jade Sarson

I.D. (£7-50, Image) by Emma Rios

Indeh- A Story of the Apache Wars (Signed Edition) h/c (£18-99, Grand Central) by Ethan Hawke & Greg Ruth

Screaming Planet s/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & various including J.H. Williams III, Jerome Opena, Adi Granov

Madwoman Of The Sacred Heart h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius

Manifest Destiny vol 1: Flora & Fauna s/c (£7-50, Image) by Chris Dingess & Matthew Roberts

Invisible Republic vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Gabriel Hardman, Corrina Bechko

Midnight Days – The Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman, Matt Wagner & Teddy Kristiansen, Dave McKean, Mike Mignola, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman, Kim DeMulder, Sergio Aragones

Mythic vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Image) by Phil Hester & John Mccrea

Northlanders Book 1: The Anglo-Saxon Saga (£22-50, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Marian Churchland, Ryan Kelly, Dean Ormston, Daniel Zezelj, Davide Gianfelice

18 Days vol 2: Heroes And Legends s/c (£10-99, Graphic India) by Grant Morrison, various & various

Assassin’s Creed vol 1: Trial By Fire s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Anthony Del Col, Conor McCreery & Neil Edwards

James Bond vol 1: Vargr h/c (£14-99, Dynamite) by Warren Ellis & Jason Masters

Judge Dredd: Titan (£16-99, Rebellion) by Rob Williams & Henry Flint

Harley Quinn vol 3: Kiss Kiss Bang Stab s/c (£12-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palimotti & various

Carnage Classic s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by various

Deadpool: Dracula’s Gauntlet s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan & various

Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur vol 1: BFF s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare & Natacha Bustos

NYX: Complete Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Joe Quesada, Marjorie M. Liu & Joshua Middleton, Robert Teranishi, Sara Pichelli, Kalman Andrasofszky

Yotsuba&! vol 13 (£7-99, Yen) by Kiyohiko Azuma

News!

Lowdham

ITEM! FREE! Page 45 will be in conversation at the Lowdham Book Festival this Saturday 25th June for ‘The Literary Art Of Cracking Comics’ with Sally Jane Thompson and Matt Green.. 3-30pm to 4-30pm at the WI Hall, Main Street.

It should be our Jonathan, but it could also be me. We exist in a state of flux!

Which can be exciting.

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ITEM! BREAKING NEWS!

Page 45 presents: Independent & Self-Publishing Century!

Yes, for over 21 years now Page 45 has extolled the virtues of independent publishing, self-publishing and promoted the best-selling comics and graphic novels that this fecund force has produced on a daily basis.

That’s 7,847 days so far!

In this not-new initiative Page 45 has made so many of these glorious story-telling triumphs not-so-small-sellers thus:

1) They are stacked next to our till!

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2) We have forced them into our window, bound and gagged, against their will!

3) They are racked right round our counter – Page 45’s prime selling spot – in a reckless display of warped priorities. Comics by Lizz Lunney, Philippa Rice et al. It is an outrage and I am disgusted!

Lizz Lunney Emporium

4) To redress this atrocity we have thrown John Allison off our counter and into a comicbook column of his own directly facing unsuspecting strangers as they waltz blithely through our doors. It is a veritable gulag or ghetto.

5) We have them Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month because so many of those creators, oblivious to their insignificance, are the best in the business.

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John Allison 2

In 2015 alone Page 45’s two best-selling comics were self-published: John Allison’s EXPECTING TO FLY #1 and EXPECTING TO FLY #2 beating Marvel’s SECRET WARS issues by furlongs, fathoms and miles.

In 2015 alone Page 45’s best-selling graphic novel was Ben Read & Chris Wildgoose’s PORCELAIN: BONE CHINA published by Improper Books, run out of a farmhouse (I kid you not) by Ben Read himself and MULP’s Matt Gibbs.

PORCELAIN: BONE CHINA outsold the NYT best-selling author Neil Gaiman’s exceptional  SANDMAN: OVERTURE illustrated by comicbook legend JH Williams III even though it was published by DC which is owned by Time Warner. You may have heard of them.

Porcelain Bone China bookplates

But wait!

Now, as part of Page 45’s token effort to promote quality and diversity regardless of its publishing status, we promise this: we will continue this endeavour every single day for the next 79 years!

We call this…. Page 45’s Independent & Self-Publishing Century!

Self-Publishing Century

Only one century, mind.

When the clock runs out on October 17th 2094, Page 45 will jettison this quaint campaign of self-defeating, fiscal insanity which has netted us so much more money than could be dreamed of by insular, unadventurous and corporate-compliant comic shops and we will….

Inevitably cease to exist.

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ITEM! Luke Pearson’s glorious all-ages HILDA graphic novels are to be made into an animated Netflix series! New Yorker interview with that Luke Pearson.

You can swoon over all of Luke Pearson’s HILDA graphic novels reviewed by Page 45 here!

HILDA AND THE STONE FOREST is due out on September 1st.

Hilda And The Stone Forest cover

ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Arts Festival 2016 (October 14-16 in Kendal) announces more comicbook creator guests!

In addition to the likes of Bryan Lee O’Malley and Mick McMahon, the new list includes Duncan Fegredo, Leah Moore, John Reppion, Ilya, Rufus Dayglo…

… And a Charlie Adlard vs. Dan Berry smackdown!

Adlard versus Berry smackdown

Page 45 will be there, as always, in our very own Georgian Room up the stairs / lift in the Kendal Clock Tower. Entrance is FREE!

Website: The Lakes International Comic Art Festival

1 Lakes Fest Clock Tower

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2016 week three

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

Featuring Ethan Hawke & Greg Ruth, Alexis Deacon, Jiro Taniguchi, Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci. Darryl Cunningham, Simon Roy, Michael DeForge and more!

Guardians of the Louvre (£17-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi.

“Just look at those lines!”

This gasp is elicited by the sight of the glass Pyramid with its astonishing steel struts which rises within the vast courtyard of the Louvre, not so much taking up space but informing it, redefining it, refining it.

It made me laugh, for my eyes had been wide in similar, awe-struck astonishment for each of the nine previous pages, wondering how Taniguchi could make so much even of railings, diverging with precision from a vanishing point on the Parisian skyline without looking at all clinical but tactile and pocked with pits.

We’ve been admiring Taniguchi’s elegant lines every since the original publication of THE WALKING MAN, but this is the first time the English-speaking world has been blessed with a fully distributed commercial graphic novel of his in full colour. And oh, the colour!

You could spend hours looking at the opening page alone, mesmerised not just by Jiro’s panorama, but what he’s done with the folds of the faun-coloured jacket and the drains of the metal slats beneath the protagonist’s feet and the shadow those legs and feet cast over that walkway.

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When our lone Japanese artist visits Auvers-sur-Oise for a day’s pilgrimage to the final resting place of Vincent Van Gogh we will see what Taniguchi can do with vast, verdant fields transected by dry, sunlit tracks, then big bushy trees, clipped lawns and cornfields. But it is the architecture that amazes the most both there and while wandering both inside and outside the Louvre in Paris.

There are so many panels of delicate detail gazing up or looking down over the rooftops which capture the semi-relief I adore so much in window ledges and eves, casting just so much shadow over the creamy stone. Window boxes boast a dappling of foliage and trees dangle leaves over walls along the banks of the Seine.

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Paris is a city designed so that wherever you are you can see over, under and through it ever since Haussmann raised and rebuilt it in the mid-19th Century, giving any pedestrian a very real sense of where they are, wherever they are. Taniguchi so evidently relishes that sense of space and conveys it so successfully one feels as if one’s wondering a couple of steps behind him, beside him, luxuriating in the early summer light.

Once the cultural traveller’s inside the museum, that space is no less in evidence. The Baroque majesty of some of the grand arches and Corinthian columns towering above white stone steps and organic, wrought iron banisters is evoked with perfectly chosen perspective. So many galleries are drawn in meticulous detail including each individual painting housed within, and without his fellow tourists to block our view, it is enough to make the heart and soul soar. How has Taniguchi contrived that we – and our protagonist – might see it so?

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Ah.

Well, it’s all a little fanciful, to say the least, but that made me smile too.

A Japanese artist arrives in Paris following an international comics festival in Barcelona – since he’d come all that way. But the stress of the festival combined with an inability to get over the initial jetlag has played havoc with his immune system and for a whole day he lies shivering, bed-ridden.

“I come to feel somehow light-headed and strange. Suddenly alarming thoughts go through my head, like maybe I’ll just die here like this.”

He awakes the next morning dripping in sweat but, determined to make the most of even a minor recovery, he saunters out onto the streets. One omelette later and invigorated by caffeine, the man makes his way down narrow streets and broad boulevards to spend the first of three days in the Louvre. It is, of course, pullulating with fellow sight-seers which make him dizzy so, once down the escalators, he decides to split off from the hordes and heads towards the antiquities of Ancient Greece and Rome – the Denon Wing on the lower ground floor – only to suffer a relapse. His head swimming, he falls to the floor, the world around him exploding with colour as the statues dissolve into amorphous, floating shapes…

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When he comes to, the museum is deserted save for a woman dressed in the palest of pinks, her hair tied back into an elaborate bundle of buns. She will be his guide through the Louvre, as the artist experiences some extraordinary visions and even more remarkable encounters along with an unexpected moment of personal closure.

Everything else redacted!

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Yes, this is an English-language graphic novel. I just needed to glean some images from France!

SLH

Buy Guardians of the Louvre and read the Page 45 review here

Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars h/c (£18-99, Grand Central Publishing) by Ethan Hawke & Greg Ruth.

“My grandson was ten years old before he understood that people died in any other way than violence.”

So there’s a sentence to dwell on.

This is a beautiful book.

Its crisp white, satin-sheen pages boast the most fluent storytelling through the most fluid choreography, and the tightest figure work rendered with loose, sweeping brush strokes from the creator of THE LOST BOY.

Horses’ limbs become a blur of motion when galloping. Yet when at rest they have all the weight, along with their flanks, which could carry a man for miles. Their eyes scream with a not-knowing terror as bullets blast into their skulls. When they fail to skitter up vertical hard-rock or scree-slopes which only Apaches and their ponies could conquer, you instinctively understand the skill, momentum and grip required and the gravitational insanity of any such attempt.

These giant mountains rise from the dusty plains like ancient, implacable, geological gods. A testament to time, ‘awe’ is the word we are looking for.

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Faces stare out at you with hardened anger as eyes – which speak volumes and seem older than those who possess them – reflect on what has been seen, what has been done and that which is yet to come. What will be wrought their own hands; and by the White Eyes’.

The fists are very physical, clutching a burning branch to set fire to a pyre, and the hand which reaches out to lift a young girl’s wrist from the palm of her mother’s is unmistakably both flesh and bone. Such is Ruth’s craft that you can feel not only the softness of skin and the tenderness of its touch, but also the emotion behind such a separation.

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In a juxtaposition which drives the cruelty and gaping loss home, Goyahkla’s daughter – alive and well and on the verge of becoming a woman – appears in a ghostly, fleeting flashback, her transition celebrated with due ceremony. Oh, it may delay the Apache in pursuit of their prey, but equally important to them is this: it means that the antelope they are hunting purely for sustenance will enjoy another day of life.

Life.

The balance of life and nature is brought home to you on the very first pages, in a tranquil, pure-water pond in private. It is a private moment, part ceremony, part presentiment, part passing of lore.

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Contrast all that – as both Hawke and Ruth do – with the public, knee-jerk, incendiary actions and reactions of a Bluecoat Colonel whose ego gets the better of him in defending a lie he barely believes in himself, and whose pricked pride then ignites an unnecessary war all in the name of saving face, maintaining authority and his own personal power.

Contrast all that – as both Hawke and Ruth do – with the unnatural, seedy and duplicitous assignations of a prospector called Bruce who boasts of his sexual conquests before throwing them away like Kleenex into an alley of actual excrement. The White Man was always ever so very fond of declaring that his “Civilisation” surpassed the “Savagery” of those whose lands he successively invaded then stole for his own, but which one here stuck scalps up on stakes and boiled heads up in pots?

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This is the crux of the matter: the appropriation of life-giving land, freely roamed by the Apache in harmony with nature, by the White Eyes in order to colonise it, dig out its gold and make money.

“Who are the Bluecoats to give us part of a thing which Usen gave us as whole? It is all our land.”
“Not anymore. None of it is yours but what the White Eyes give you. Understand this.”
“A Bedonkohe does not wait to be given back what was stolen from him!”

There is so much control, vital for a tale this terrible, and it is all too true. It’s just not the one which have been telling in nearly a century of cinema. It is a story of betrayal.

Over and over again, individual trust is rewarded by betrayal.

This is no hagiography whitewashing the extent of the Apaches’ revenge taken in anger. Indeed it begins with the wholesale slaughter of Mexicans including women and children in retribution for the same done to them. But it does redress the balance after years of careless or deliberate, propagandist fiction depicting the Apache people at the time as aggressively and gratuitously vicious, and it does so by presenting the multiple, successive provocations. And I emphatically do not mean provocation by confrontational word; I mean by murderous deed.

Actions and reactions are very different beasts.

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This is in its truest sense a tragedy, for we know what will happen both to individuals like the legendary Geronimo and to the Apache people long after this graphic novel concludes. That is set in all-too-bloodied stone. But Hawke and Ruth compel us – with such passion, compassion and skill – to watch the wretched, hateful and inhuman events unfold before our eyes that we cannot look away. We are simply left to mourn their occurrence.

It’s that historically inevitability which demands I leave you to witness the shameful specifics for yourselves without giving even a hint as to who does what to whom, when and why. At so many junctures so much could have been averted by individuals credited here for their more honourable interventions which are so blithely ignored or thwarted by gang-mentality hatred and flagrant insubordination.

Man’s inhumanity to man. And so it very much goes.

SLH

Buy Indeh A Story of the Apache Wars h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Love vol 3: The Lion h/c (£13-50, Magnetic Press) by Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci.

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.

Circle of Death, then. I’ve never seen so many carcasses.

No wonder the scorpion crawls back under its rock.

Brrémaud and Bertolucci’s LOVE: THE TIGER and LOVE: THE FOX have already claimed more than enough tiny victims as young souls’ eyes widen with recognition and delight at their covers, eagerly anticipating bright Disney doings, but come away streaming with tears at the ferocity they encounter within.

“Errrrm, probably not…” I’ve warned parents in advance on several occasions, but children can be tenacious once they’ve set their sights on things, can’t they?

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Set on the Serengetti, this is on another level of brutality than either of the other two, genuinely upsetting as the lead lion here enjoys little respite during its solitary roaming even if others do. Briefly. For him it’s one long territorial ostracism.

Even for the others it’s death – death everywhere – and often dragged out. Painful, really.

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Also exceedingly beautiful, obviously. Bertolucci’s animals are exquisitely drawn, their habitats radiant with light or drenched in torrential rain. Other Serengetti animals on offer include baboons, armadillos, a particularly petulant cobra, blue wildebeest, black rhinos, gazelles and assorted flying things.

As for the comet that appears from the sky towards the end, well you’re in for a bit of a surprise as are those lying below. Seriously? After everything else, they deserved that?

P.S. It isn’t a comet.

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For far more extensive reviews, please see LOVE: THE TIGER and LOVE: THE FOX and for more adult-orientated animals, please see PRIDE OF BAGHDAD by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon.

SLH

Buy Love vol 3: The Lion h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Psychiatric Tales (US Edition) h/c (£13-50, Bloomsbury) by Darryl Cunningham.

From the creator of SCIENCE TALES and SUPERCRASH, this is the Bloomsbury edition of his first, vitally important graphic novel which blazed the way for what is now a burgeoning array of comics and graphic novels on mental health issues, currently on our counter for maximum exposure, which have been snapped up because people care. Well, some people.

In some parts of this country Talking Therapy can take up to a year’s wait. And if only you knew the hoops that a friend of mine had to jump through – hours and hours of phone calls being tossed from one department to another and then weeks of waiting for an appointment – when she was seriously and immediately at risk: suicidal.

A book like this, then, is absolutely vital. We made the original volume Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month back in October 2010. This is the Bloomsbury edition of the revised, expanded UK edition which contained two brand-new chapters on different dementias and psychosis.

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It’s by no means a common experience, but there are some books one starts bursting to write about a mere twenty pages in. PSYCHIATRIC TALES is one of those: a book of such instinctive, level-headed compassion, communication and education which nearly never saw completion on account of the creator’s own deteriorating mental health. A childhood riddled with self-loathing only grew worse in adulthood as Cunningham withdrew at the very time he most craved connection. It was his artistic talent that finally gave him a sense of belonging, whilst his desire to understand his own condition and his natural empathy for others (so clearly evidenced here) led him into work as a health care assistant before training as a student to qualify as a mental health nurse.

“And this is when I overreached myself. This is when I broke.”

After reading the book you can comprehend why. It’s no easy job for the sturdiest of individuals but for someone as vulnerable and sympathetic as Darryl, well, it was going to get to him eventually.

The book isn’t about Darryl, though: the preceding pages detail his experiences on the ward and what he learned about various debilitating mental conditions as a result. The very opposite of sensationalist, its measured contents will undoubtedly still prove affecting for there can be few of us who haven’t come suffered from some degree of depression or come into contact with other mental illnesses: schizophrenia with its attendant paranoia and hallucinations; bipolar disorder with its peaks and troughs and compulsion to communicate everything at once; violent anti-social personality disorders; the dementia of Alzheimer’s, the disorientation and delusion and reversion to an earlier period in life; suicidal imperatives; self-harming from anger, self-loathing and a desperation to assert any sort of control even if it involves physical pain as a distraction from the mental anguish.

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Each condition is explained through personal observation and with an education that enables Cunningham to detail current treatments, rebalancing the brain’s chemicals whilst providing the most efficacious environment wherever possible. And without meaning to alarm you, Darryl correctly places an emphasis on one particular truth: it can happen to anyone at any time.

At school the brother of my best friend suddenly started pronouncing himself to be the Second Coming and appointed disciples. I’ve met several self-harmers and known them for years. I know at least one bi-polar, my grandmother slid away from us under Alzheimer’s, someone very close to me is suffering with acute depression and, I guess, most disturbingly of all, a young man I thought brilliant and charming abruptly became barely coherent, violent (he tried to kill his mother and girlfriend) and – because he’d already been misdiagnosed as having a behavioural disorder instead – it took his parents a whole year of research and fighting to get the man properly diagnosed with Cannabis Psychosis and therefore properly treated. The jury is out on whether they succeeded in time. I recognise everything I read here. It’s spot-on, including the patient’s delusion, post-recovery, that sustained medication is no longer necessary.

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As to the artwork, it’s deceptively simple just like Satrapi’s in PERSEPOLIS for maximum empathy, black shadows casting faces into silhouette, a warning of potential bleak, black moods. It’s the perfect balance between word and picture, so as sequential art it reads like a dream. Or a nightmare.

“The effects of suicide ripple outward. Damaging family, friends and strangers alike. A suicide will leave an average of six people immediately affected by the death. A parent, a significant other, a sibling, or a child of the deceased person. The people are referred to as the survivors. These are the ones left to suffer. Never knowing why, always wondering if he could have done more.”

Amen.

SLH

Buy Psychiatric Tales (US Edition) h/c and read the Page 45 review here

War Stories vol 4 (£14-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Tomas Aira…

“Did I ever tell yeh me brother’s in the Navy?

“He’s on a destroyer, H.M.S. Harrier.
“He told me he’s spent the last five years escortin’ convoys from America an’ Canada. Food an’ fuel. Supplies for industry.
“It all goes to Britain, but enough of it ends up in Dublin or Rosslare.
“That’s why we’ve not gone hungry, just in case yeh were wonderin’.
“He said the Royal Navy’s lost a lot o’ships to U-Boats. A lot o lads’ve gone down with them.
“He told me that… an’ I didn’t feel very neutral.”

I wasn’t intending to review this volume of WAR STORIES, figuring readers know what they’re getting by now, but exactly as with WAR STORIES VOL 3, I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to. As always with Ennis, in addition to giving us a brilliantly well written piece of action, we get tales that educate as much as inform. They’re always as heavily grounded in reality as a bogged-down infantry patrol taking heavy fire in the muddy lanes and densely packed trees of the Reichwald, the Imperial Forest, a historic woodland since the time of the Holy Roman Empire in the heart of Germany.

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Which not-so-coincidentally, is the backdrop for this story of a rather personal moral conflict amongst two members of the remnants of the 3rd platoon of the Irish Rifles. Having already enjoyed the delights of the bocage in France, life wasn’t getting any easier for the Allied footsoldiers as they headed into the Fatherland itself en route to Berlin. I was well aware that a number of brave men from the Irish Republic, many with long family traditions of fighting for British regiments, had joined up in WW2, despite initially facing arrest from their own government if even they tried to leave the country, including several thousand who deserted from the Irish Defence Forces.

I wasn’t aware, however, that there was no conscription from Northern Ireland, a decision taken by the British government due to the heated political situation at the time, as was the case at the time of WW1 as well, though in both conflicts that didn’t stop a great number of volunteers signing up, around 38,000 Northern Irishmen in the case of WW2. I won’t give you any more information about the tête-à-tête in question here, but suffice to say this particular platoon has some soldiers with, shall we say, rather differing political views…

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Then, as with WAR STORIES VOL 3, this volume is also a double header, and here the second tale features the fighter pilots of a US air squadron stationed on Iwo Jima, escorting bombers on their 660-mile trip to Tokyo. Plus, of course, the equally daunting return over a vast stretch of ocean, where weather conditions and mechanical failures were just as likely to prove fatal as a dogfight with the enemy.

There’s much food for moral thought again here, this time on the absolute opposite statistical end of the scale to the first story. But even so, whilst this is partly a tale about the sheer numbers involved in the war of Pacific attrition as the Americans attempted to sap the Japanese will to fight to the death for their Emperor, for those on the front line, it was still a very personal affair.

Here we see matters through the eyes of the grizzled, war-weary veterans and also the very raw fresh-out-of-flying school recruits. Still, combat in the skies seems a much more survivable option than being a Jarhead tasked with hand-to-hand fighting fervent fanatics intent on defending their divine leader and blessed nation to the very last man…

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“What’s your opinion, Captain? I mean the marines are pretty obviously going to be the first ashore…”
“I think it’s going to be the usual bloodbath, Doctor. Or worse than usual: if you look at how hard they fought for this little pimple, you can imagine what Japan itself will be like. I just hope it’ll be worth it this time.”
“Well… of course it’ll be worth it…”
“I think what the Captain means is Iwo Jima wasn’t.”
“You know, I’m a guest here, Major. I should probably shut up, I don’t mean to repay your hospitality by saying anything out of line…”
“Not a bit of it. We’re all grown-ups here.”
“Well… we lost nearly seven thousand marines taking this place. That’s lost as in killed, not including wounded. My company took eighty-eight percent casualties, and, well, what is it you boys do here again…?”
“What do we do? We escort the bombers knocking hell out of the Japs… which’ll make it a lot easier when you go up on those beaches…”
“I’ve heard that one before, Captain. But say Iwo Jima didn’t exist, or we’d failed to take it: those bombers wouldn’t be sent to Tokyo anyway?”
“Well…”
“Because I happen to know they’ve been sending them out since last summer. We only hit this place in February.”
“They took losses operating without us, don’t forget.”
“Heavy losses? How many men in one of those things?”
“Twelve.”
“So how many aircraft do you have to save to justify the men we left behind on Iwo?”
“I’m not sure it’s quite as simple as that.”
“Forgive me, Doctor. When I said my company, I meant the one I was in charge of. To me it’s twice as simple as that.”

Set against the prospect of a protracted campaign to take the Japanese home islands – with the firebombing of cities with houses made from wood and paper being the targets of choice (due to poor accuracy making well defended industrial targets like refineries nearly impossible to hit) seemingly having little or no effect on Japanese morale or desire to continue to wage war – you can perhaps understand why the US government took the decision to drop two atomic bombs. It undoubtedly greatly shortened the war in the Pacific by forcing the Japanese to capitulate, despite incurring huge civilian casualties in the process. They probably weren’t using the term collateral damage at that point in time, but it’s certainly the most spectacular examples of it still. This, then, is a little glimpse into what was happening at the sharp end of the Pacific theatre that undoubtedly factored heavily into that stark choice.

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It’s a shame BAREFOOT GEN is currently out of print, because as anti-war stories go, Keiji Nakazawa’s loosely auto-biographical opus is a tough, emotionally bruising, but essential read. For more WW2 material from a Japanese point of view in general I can’t recommend highly enough Shigeru Mizuki’s autobiographical inspired ONWARDS TOWARDS OUR NOBLE DEATHS about the defence of the Pacific islands. Also his SHOWA material, SHOWA VOL 2 1939-1944 and SHOWA VOL 3: 1944-1953, detailing the modern history of Japan, again spiced with a dash of autobiography, particularly if you are interested in what was going on in Japan itself during WW2, and its aftermath on the Japanese psyche. If you’re also interested in finding out about just how Japan suddenly started focusing outwards and rose in global prominence to become such a fascistic, military dominated regional powerhouse, I’d suggest starting with SHOWA VOL 1: 1926-1939.

JR

Buy War Stories vol 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Island #8 (£5-99, Image) by Simon Roy, Xulia Vicente, Ben Sears, Michael DeForge…

“This probably seems like a big decision.
“I’m certainly thankful it’s not my decision to make.
“But if it’s helpful, try thinking of it this way instead.
“It’s not a big decision.
“It’s just one decision.
“In a lifetime of others.”

I’m not still going on about the US decision to deploy the atomic bomb in my WAR STORIES VOL 3 review, I promise. (Check me out, getting all meta and mixing my reviews in together like a demented disk jockey!) But, this is the US Vice President, who has been given an impossible conundrum to crack by Michael DeForge. Yes! That Michael DeForge, personal Rigby fave, and he of DRESSING, LOSE, BIG KIDS, FIRST YEAR HEALTHY (and much more besides) fame! I hadn’t realised he was going to be contributing, but it’s just another huge reason for me to continue reading this, to-date excellent, Brandon Graham led anthology.

I note Michael is also slated to contribute to ISLAND #10 as well. Along with Malachi FROM NOW ON Ward, who will be cropping up in ISLAND #9 (which I’m excited about) and considering the other luminaries like Emma PRETTY DEADLY / MIRROR (review of #1 here) Rios and Marian BEAST / FROM UNDER MOUNTAINS (review of #1 here) Churchland who’ve penned and drawn material to date, Brandon’s clearly able to pull in the veritable gamut of heavy hitters in terms of talent, which is why this title has maintained its impetus right from  the get go (review of ISLAND #1 here).

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Well, that was quite the exordium wasn’t it?! I better get on with the actual review now. So, in this extended self-contained yarn, titled ‘Mostly Saturn’, whenever an American citizen dies they are reincarnated as an alien in a Utopian colony on Saturn. Why? No one knows. Just like no one has any idea why these new arrivals reincorporate at the exact age they were at the time of their death before they gradually begin de-ageing, Benjamin Button-fashion, to nothingness. What happens to them then? You’ve guessed it, no one knows. It’s not surprising therefore that more than a few Americans have decided to take matters into their own hands and head off for this brave new world, the President included, leaving the VP up to his neck in it. Where will it all end? Fortunately for us, Michael DeForge does know and if you read this, you will too!

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The other major contribution to this issue which forms just over half of the 70 pages is the chunky conclusion to Simon Roy’s brilliant sci-fi ‘Habitat’ story which is material very akin to PROPHET that he contributed to. I suspect, much like Emma Rios’ forthcoming trade of ID, which was in a couple of the earlier issues of ISLAND, it will get collected separately at some point in the near future.

Filling out the issue are two weird and wonderful silent shorts from Xulia Vicente and Ben Sears of the titillating eye-candy flavour we’ve come to expect from this series. Xulia’s in particular tickled me because I made the fatal error of thinking that her characters looked a bit like Tony Millionaires’ DRINKY CROW (minus the beak, it must be said), and then I couldn’t stop seeing it, which only added to the fun and games!! Keep it up Brandon, keep it up, sir!

JR

Buy Island #8 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. 

Njalla (£8-00) by Rozi Hathaway

Abe Sapien vol 7: The Secret Fire (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara

Clean Room vol 1: Immaculate Conception (£10-99, Vertigo) by Gail Simone & Jon Davis-Hunt

Dark Night: A True Batman Story h/c (£16-99, Vertigo) by Paul Dini & Eduardo Risso

Fight Club 2 h/c (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart

Hot Dog Taste Test h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lisa Hanawalt

Outcast vol 3: This Little Light s/c (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta

Rachel Rising vol 7: Dust To Dust (£12-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Sandman Mystery Theatre Book 1 (£22-50, Vertigo) by Matt Wagner & Guy Davis, John Watkiss, R.G. Taylor

Sex Criminals vol 3: Three The Hard Way (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky

Batman: Earth One vol 2 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank

Hawkeye vol 6: Hawkeyes s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Ramon K. Perez

Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat vol 1: Hooked On A Feline s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Kate Leth & Brittney Williams, Natasha Allegri 

News! 

ITEM! Young poets! Are you aged 16 to 21? Send your poems in to Words For Walls and see them go up around Nottingham in October!

If you’re selected, you can then splurge your £50 prize on absinthe. 

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ITEM! Okay, well in lieu of anything else, Page 45 broke its June website sales record on Saturday 11th June… with 19 days to go! So thank you for that. You do blow my brains out, you lot.

You’re ridiculously kind.

But aren’t our books beautiful? Behold, above! They really are.

– Stephen

P.S. Illustration above by Bernie Wrightson. I do believe I’ve found a few more copies of his jaw-droppingly detailed FRANKENSTEIN so we’ll add that back to the system once they come in.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2016 week two

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

Adam Sarlech Trilogy h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Frédéric Bézian.

One peak inside this substantial, album-sized oeuvre should be enough to convince anyone that Frédéric Bézian is the Francis Bacon of the comic world. What Bacon achieved with swollen, swirling paint, Bézian commits to paper with line and ink.

Both produced distorted grotesques whose faces protrude and implode in places, no more so here than the servant’s with an eye patch which looks as if it’s being sucked into its socket.

In the opening ‘Adam Sarlech’ these marionettes, with utterly mad hair, whirl wildly and gesticulate as if undergoing constant electrotherapy. On methedrine.

They act as if in burlesques, and I’m only half-tempted to qualify that “without the comedy” even though things grow very dark indeed.

The story storms on at a lightning pace, slicing between scenes in the new priest’s church, its graveyard, the moors where a lone orphan called Alba wanders, and the Malherbe family’s château where Doctor Emile Spitzner is their physician in residence, treating widowed matriarch Agathe’s brother, Charles.

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The invalid’s medication has proved ineffectual for Charles has been paralysed for fifteen years, his only actions being the brief cessation of his constant drooling for precisely ninety seconds upon awakening. No one knows if it is a disease or a curse. They do believe in both, especially Agathe’s twin children Ralph and Raphaëlle who have an unhealthy interest in spiritualism – communicating with or even reviving dead spirits. Their younger sister Judith, meanwhile, is as mute as her uncle and a raving nymphomaniac, offering herself even to Raphaëlle’s mannequins. Oh yes, and their servants are zombies who haven’t aged for twenty-five years.

We’ll leave Agathe’s dead husband Raoul alone for now. That’s how he’d want it, anyway. But everything I’ve mentioned is pertinent – including the mannequins – and the astonishing truth behind their past and their present will be revealed in a plot which proves as ridiculously elaborate and intricate as it is extensive.

For who is the titular Adam Sarlech, an infamous spiritualist whose only presence here appears to be through increasingly illegible snatches from his journal which whisper about forbidden love, family ostracism and sexual assignations with ectoplasm? Ah, well, he did once join the family Malherbe for dinner.

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That is the first book in this interconnected trilogy which ends in such a way as to leave everyone left standing completely frazzled. I write “interconnected” but each time a new story started I could not conceive how it would fit into the first one at all. Trust me on this: the connections are far from tangential.

‘The Bridal Chamber’, for example, makes every deliberate effort to persuade you that you’re reading some riff on Bram Stoker’s Dracula: man summoned by stage coach to castle at night, warned by its driver yet greeted genially by a Count who claims to live alone and shuns mirrors. Some succubus appears in his room at night and letters are received from home from children missing their father. The Count continues all calm and courteous as his new employee is driven to distraction.

So what is actually happening here, if not a neo-Nosferatu experience?

Haha! Not telling you! It’s nothing like what you’ve been led to believe, but I will give you this for free: don’t feel you have to read all the satanic ritual dialogue backwards (as I did), for its ‘translation’ is provided during the chapter break. And if you think I’ve given anything away by “satanic ritual” it will only lead your further up that stately home’s substantial, poplar-lined garden path.

The final instalment is called the ‘The Snow-Covered Testament’ in which three former students, now successful professionals, are also summoned, this time by their former lecturer who has become an old, bed-ridden man. That professor is another facial tour de force, the crinkled, wrinkled skin round his eyes resembling that of a chameleon’s.

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Time has elapsed since both previous tales, but you will recognise one of those professionals immediately and then two of the three locations they are dispatched to in search of Emma. Their lecturer claims he is dying and wishes to see “the only woman I ever loved” who left him thirty years ago… around the same time that the four of them were working together on the students’ thesis, ‘Concepts and Definitions of Time in the History of Western Civilisations’ before they too abandoned the lecturer.

He smiles from his voluminous, fluffed-up pillow but there is a bitter bite to his words and as the three stooges embark on their journey they begin to suspect revenge is being wrought. But on whom? By what means? It is all a great deal more diabolical than they could possibly fathom.

The final story is decidedly autumnal, the others more wintry, but in each the scenery is drawn with as much relish as its occupants. The trees rising high above equally jagged bushes along the low, horizontal landscapes are a frenzy of line and colour in orange, ochre and even electric blue. Vast, open skies come slashed in skin-pinks and purples, speaking of gales which have buffeted the birches on higher, more exposed plains over decades.

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It is all quite, quite mad, as are almost all of the players. Some of them have been mad for many more moons than you might initially suspect.

This is in English, by the way. Regardless of which language you see spoken in our interior art, we would make a point of mentioning if any graphic novel was foreign-language!

SLH

Buy Adam Sarlech Trilogy and read the Page 45 review here

Peplum (£15-99, New York Review Comics) by Blutch…

“Well comrades, is she not worthy of Helen, or Venus herself?”
“A goddess among goddesses!”
“Imprisoned in the ice!”
“Ours!”

Hmm… the moment I read that particular panel I had my suspicions there was going to be a fair degree of tragedy, to complement and counterbalance the saucy sexual antics, brutal violence and ribald comedic elements. Laying claim to ownership of gods and goddesses rarely ends well for those concerned. In the case of Publius Cimber, exiled Roman knight, it’s going to be a long, tortuous punishment for coveting the affections of his icy maiden indeed.

Well, it would be if it weren’t for the fact that one of his colleagues had murdered him and assumed his identity. Hmm… pretty sure stealing the identity of a well known knight, brother of a Roman senator, exiled by Julius Caesar himself, is merely compounding one’s already idiotic behaviour, but at least we will have chance to enjoy his travails whilst he is forced to endure them. This opening chapter of rapturous discovery in a wintry corner of the far reaches of the Roman Empire of 44 B.C. gives little away regarding the carnage, chaos and sexcapsades to follow.

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Publius Cimber, by the way, is the brother of Lucius Tillius Cimber, or Metellus, to use the name Shakespeare gave him in his play Julius Caesar. Those of you who know your Classics, or indeed perhaps your Shakespeare, will know that Metellus was one of the conspiring senators involved in the assassination of Caesar. Indeed, his theatrical plea for a fraternal pardon was the successful diversionary tactic employed to get all the conspirators close enough to enact their dastardly regicide. Or liberating decapitation-strike, depending on your point of view. That event, forever framing the 15th of March in infamy, forms this work’s second introductory chapter, before we really get into the meat and drink and various other hedonistic pursuits proper.

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I have seen this work described as a sort of sequel to the Latin work the Satyricon Liber which translates as The Book of Satyrlike Adventures, again giving you a pretty good idea of what to expect. There are those experts who claim the Satyricon as the first true novel, which it may or may not have been, but it certainly provides intriguing, salacious insight into how the chattering classes of Rome lived at the time. With libations and salutations primarily, I think. I’m not entirely sure I agree with the term sequel, though. This work seems to me to serve as more of an homage, appropriating liberally certain plot strands of the Satyricon, but also adding in additional themes and expanding the storyline – encasing it, really – in a very sophisticated comic tragedy. I think a certain young bard from Stratford-upon-Avon would wholeheartedly approve of the treatment, actually.

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The black and white art is the closest thing I have seen to woodcut style recently. The thick black ink penmanship minded me a tiny bit of both Robert Crumb (which I believe is a comparison that has been made by the French press before) and Dylan Horrocks (though a fair degree of that is the lettering, I think). I can think of a number of other random minor points of comparison that surprised me reading through from Joe Daly to Shiguru Mizuki to Craig Thompson, make of that what you will. It is a very bold, stark style, which despite that is immensely engaging.

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Who would like this? Well, anyone who loves a great, sexy, action-packed story punctuated with bawdy laughs, basically. And people who love classics. So really, pretty much anyone. Ah, except people who like a happy ending, I suppose. Unless you count well deserved comeuppances…

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JR

Buy Peplum and read the Page 45 review here

There’s No Time Like The Present (£18-99, Escape Books) by Paul B. Rainey…

“Look at this. ‘Now you too can look like your favourite member of The A Team, B.A. Baracus, with these authentic looking neck chains.’ My favourite member of the The A Team was Mad Murdock.”
“What is that you’re reading? Are you reading G.Q.?”
“It’s a monthly magazine listing all the comics and sci-fi product to be available to specialist shops in two months time.”
“It’s just that I’ve never seen such a thick magazine before. You’ve got to be holding a branch right there.”
“Don’t be fooled. It’s printed on very cheap paper. It’s got to be at least eighty percent air. There’s no B.A. wig. What’s the point of having all the chains if you haven’t got the B.A. wig?”
“I like it when you talk about The A Team.”
“You do?”
“Oh yeah. It means that you’re not rattling on about Dr. Who. Where is your magazine, anyway? Did you leave it in the bus shelter?”
“No… Look. I’ve always tucked my magazines into my sock if I don’t have a bag, ever since I was a boy. It prevents my fingers from making them all grubby and the wind from blowing them out of good condition. Plus it leaves my hands free. Good thinking don’t you think?”
“Leaves your hands free for what?”
“Well, you know… free to deal with any sneak attacks.”

Haha, that really is a Diamond PREVIEWS magazine he has got stuffed down his sock! I can’t imagine his sock will ever be the same after that behemoth has been tucked down it, mind you. I don’t know about sneak attacks, but it certainly does prove useful in getting Cliff out of a tight spot on the bus, when caught in a quandary over whether or not to belatedly offer his seat to one of the gaggle of angry old ladies staring at him accusingly. It’s not that he isn’t willing to, he’s more than happy to, it’s just he hadn’t spotted them gathering and now he can’t decide which one he should proffer it to without causing offence to all the others. How does PREVIEWS help in this tricky social faux pas of a situation, I hear you wonder? Well, rather craftily he pretends it’s a false leg, necessitating he remains seated!

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Paul B. Rainey will always hold a place in my comics heart for his MEMORY MAN, something now lost to the midst of time – much like my own memory – that our Mark showed to me back in the veritable day. In more recent times he’s compiled THE BOOK OF LISTS which did tickle me rather and he has been contributing to Viz with the chortle worthy 14 YEAR OLD STAND UP COMEDIAN (of which you can read a few strips on Paul’s blog HERE). He had obviously also been working on this 350-page wedge of gently whacky very British sci-fi comedy, which I am delighted to report had me chuckling throughout.

The main characters Cliff and Barry are collector nerds of the worst possible kind. Men-children stuck in an obsessive-compulsive world of the acquisition of science fiction merchandise and paraphernalia. Plus the odd comic, to be fair to them. Unlike their adolescent crackpot American cousins in Evan Dorkin’s savagely funny THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB, the rather more sedate Cliff and Barry are already well into the age where they ought to be settling down, buying a house and starting a family. But as Barry rather sagely observes during one of their many amusing self-deprecating conversations (for they know exactly just how socially maladjusted they are) there is precisely zero chance either of them actually managing to meet anyone remotely romantically inclined towards them, let along spawn any offspring.

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Cliff, though, despite, (or maybe because of!) being a Doctor Who-a-holic is a secret romantic at heart, holding a flickering, stuttering torch for his landlord, the dairy product-addicted and highly neurotic Kelly. Barry, well, Barry’s got his own methods of dealing with his desires. Suffice to say, there just so happens to be a massage parlour opposite their local purveyor of sci-fi tat, Ye Old Sci-Fi Shop…

So far, so funny. Where does the sci-fi come into it then? Plastic crap aside. Well, in this world, the future has made contact. Yes, people have time travelled back from generations hence, opening up whole new vistas of knowledge. In fact, there is a whole new branch of the world wide web, known as the Ultranet, where if you’re not careful and start doing searches on yourself, you might well find out the date of your death. Or just how long you’re going to be stuck in that dead-end boring job you hate. Unsurprisingly, though, most people use it for illegal downloading of film and television programmes yet to be broadcast! Here’s Barry trying to tempt the previously temporally pious Cliff to the dark side…

“Why don’t you borrow this episode of Dr. Who? It’s only from next week so, legally, it’s already been made and you’re not cheating the ‘natural order’ of things.”
“Well, if that’s okay…”
“And look, it has the holographic sleeve with it as well, printed by me. Good, eh?”
“It is very alluring.”

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Barry’s hooky material is provided by the third of our triumvirate of social maladroits who goes by the unlikely name of Inspector Jive, or just the Inspector for short. Struggling with agoraphobia, he’s been lured out of the house by Barry to impersonate someone from the future for a crackpot scheme to make Cliff’s landlady fall in love with him. Unsurprisingly it doesn’t quite work out as they’d hoped. Well, not right now, anyway. For as the full version of the proverb goes, at least according to the great 16th Century compiler of proverbs John Trusler (who I’m sure was also quite the barrel of laughs at a party)… “No time like the present, a thousand unforeseen circumstances may interrupt you at a future time.”

And indeed they will for I have barely scraped the surface of the crazy, timey-wimey plots going on here. There’s the mildly sinister mono-horned Admiral Ogmyre from several thousand years in the future (who I am convinced may well be a little nod to H.R. Costigan from LOVE AND ROCKETS) and who also has designs on Kelly. Plus this is a story also told in two (well several, actually, but mainly two) time periods. In addition to seeing Barry, Cliff and the Inspector in their pomp, we also see them as pensioners set against the backdrop of all the world’s governments deciding that the present era of humanity must retain freewill, thus all connections with the Ultranet will be shortly severed and time travel to and from the future must cease completely, to save humanity from itself.

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For people like Barry, the imminent ‘retrograding’ represents a complete disaster, though the three chums set up a club in their community centre to rewatch and discuss historical TV classics like Babylon 5 to help assuage the loss of illicit viewing pleasures. For others, like their care worker Lara, a tourist from the future, pregnant and unable to book herself passage back to her rightful point in time amidst the mad scramble before the retrograding is complete, it’s potentially far more serious than that.

Will it all work out for everyone in the end? Well, wrapping up all the loose ends in time travel yarns is notoriously tricky, but Paul’s mad methodology had me guessing and gasping right up to the end. It all goes a bit gloriously Scooby Doo in a manner somewhat akin to the Tom Cruise film Vanilla Sky, which are two things I never thought I’d squeeze into the same sentence, but it’s very cleverly done. So after restraining himself admirably on the sci-fi front for the first four-fifths of the book, which is really far more a comedy of manners with a dash of Carry On than anything else, Paul lets himself run riot portraying a future – futures, sorry – which makes even the most insane episode of Doctor Who look rather pedestrian.

If I had to sum this up in a single sentence I would have to say it’s like Gilbert Hernandez crossed with VIZ. In other words, utterly brilliant.

JR

Buy There’s No Time Like The Present and read the Page 45 review here

Hole In The Heart: Bringing Up Beth (£16-99, Myriad) by Henny Beaumont…

“Hi Henny, you’ve had your baby! What did you have?”

“Fuck, I’m going to have to tell her.”

“Oooh, look at those lovely little feet. So sweet. What did you have?”
“I had a little girl.”
“Oh, how lovely, three girls!”
“She’s got Downs.”
“That’s so weird! A friend of mine just had a Down’s baby.”
“Wow! Really?”
“Yes, she had an abortion.”

“Shit, why did I tell her that?”

“Why did she have to tell me that?”

I just knew this was going to add to the canon of comics that have made me cry. On the tram as bloody always… It’s a fairly eclectic list, in order of increasing incredulousness: BILLY, ME & YOU, DAYTRIPPER, PLUTO VOL 1, CHOPPER: SURF’S UP and err… the DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH one-shot, but I was pretty sure this one was going to play rhapsodically on the heartstrings like a professional harpist. And so it proved…

It’s from the same publisher, Myriad, as Nicola Streeten’s BILLY, ME & YOU and that is clearly the one from my waterworks list which this has the most in common with. There is an important distinction as Nicola’s work dealt with the devastating, unexpected death of a child, though this work, detailing Henny and her husband Steve’s initial shock, and subsequent reactions, to discovering their new born child has Down’s Syndrome, is just as traumatic a story in its own way.

Though as with Nicola’s work, some of the most painful sequences are where Henny is talking with other adults, who don’t know what to say, or saying the wrong thing, and we are privy to Henny’s thoughts about precisely what she would love to say, shout, even scream, but doesn’t.

But, at the risk of spoilers, what really got me all choked up are the sequences showing precisely how the family overcame their collective difficulties, and just how lovely and loved Beth is. Not just by Henny and Steve, but also her two older sisters, and indeed her younger brother. And there is a sequence where Henny and her husband debate the wisdom, bravery required, and perhaps possible insanity of having another child after what they have just been through. Bravo to them.

 

Whilst it probably won’t surprise you to read about the prejudice and difficulties, particularly in the educational and social spheres, that the family endured, it is still upsetting to see how much people have to fight simply for basic compassion and pastoral care for their child, who just basically needs that little bit more support and understanding from her peers and teachers.

Beth’s just started secondary school as this work concludes, and by the time Henny has taken you along on their emotional rollercoaster from her birth to the present day, you’ll very probably be a blubbering wreck too.

Art-wise, I will make nearly exactly the same observation as I did with BILLY, ME & YOU. In that Henny, who is an accomplished artist and portrait painter, has employed a relatively simplistic art style, which perfectly lets the overpowering emotional content speak directly to us for itself. When dealing with such a serious topic, just as Rosalind Penfold did with DRAGONSLIPPERS, I do think utilising a less ‘serious’ art style really can help get the message across without distraction. As ever, I commend the resolute bravery of people who choose to share their very intimate and personal stories with everyone like this, for the benefit of us all.

JR

Buy Hole In The Heart: Bringing Up Beth and read the Page 45 review here

Hippopotamister (£13-50, FirstSecond) by John Patrick Green.

The joy of learning job skills and finding your personal calling!

Packed with wit and delivered with relish, this is a delightful Young Readers surprise told in three acts during which every aspect of the initial decay is, most unexpectedly, dealt with. I love a good structure and this is ever so neat – unlike these entropic enclosures.

“The old City Zoo was falling apart.
“No one was buying tickets.
“No one was managing the office.
“The habitats needed repair.
“The monkeys had no energy.
“The lion’s mane wasn’t very regal.
“The walrus’s smile wasn’t very bright.
“And in the centre of it all lived Red Panda and Hippopotamus.”

To be honest, the whole thing needs relocating and a thorough Gerald Durrell make-over. But it’s an old City Zoo and I think we can leave matters of a breeding programme to one side with 3 to 5 year olds.

Red Panda is thoroughly bored of it all and leaves to live amongst humans, returning each season to impress Hippopotamus with a dazzling array of jobs he claims are “awesome”. Indeed they may be, but either Red Panda has the attention span of a bluebottle on Benzedrine or… well, we’ll see shortly, won’t we?

Finally his friend becomes fed up too, and asks Red Panda if he could find him a job too. Ever enthusiastic, Red Panda immediately agrees, for to live amongst humans you must learn to stand on your own two feet. And they do, quite literally, hence Hippopotamister!

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Together they try their hands at construction, banking, hairdressing… and it swiftly becomes clear that although Hippopotamister has an aptitude for almost everything, well, here’s what happens when they attempt to cook up something suitable in the kitchen.

Hippopasta Primavera:

Pasta al dente tossed with garlic and olive oil.
Steamed broccoli, crisp bell peppers, and grape tomatoes.
Sprinkling of parmesan over sautéed onions.

Antipasto A La Red Panda:

Critters, insects and assorted bugs.
Twigs, pebbles and burnt rocks.
Lint and mismatched buttons.
Red vine liquorice, mushrooms and car keys.

Car keys! I love that the rocks are burnt!

No matter, what Red Panda lacks in finesse, he more than makes up for with inexhaustible optimism. “This is going to be the best job ever!” he declares each and every time. You too will probably wince when they enter the dental practice. Particularly funny was the accelerated four-page montage during which Red Panda manages to make such a spectacular – and I mean catastrophic – mess of absolutely everything that he turns failure into an extreme sport. I loved their fling at being firemen!

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However, if there’s one thing Red Panda excels at, it’s energy and enthusiasm and he doesn’t know how to give up. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

It’s at this point I leave you for fear of having to type “Hippopotamister” again, but it will all fit together – a lot better than Red Panda’s plumbing, anyway.

SLH

Buy Hippopotamister and read the Page 45 review here

Art Ops vol 1: How To Start A Riot (£10-99, Vertigo) by Shaun Simon & Michael Allred, Matt Brundage.

Let’s play a game of “Can you tell what is yet?”

It’s a heist, but a very specific heist and it’s happening in The Louvre. I’m sure you’ll spot the clues.

“Ms. Del Giocondo, my name is Regina Jones and along with my associates here, we are the Art Ops. I know this may a shock to you, but -”
“Please. You think this is my first time out of frame?”
“Someone’s stealing and destroying famous works of art. You need to come with us. You’ll be safe. I’ve got more experience than you’ve had forgeries.”
“And that homely looking thing is the best you could do as my stand-in? She’ll never pass.”
“Ugly isn’t easy.”
“I heard that.”

Ms Del Giocondo is Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The Art Ops have just extracted her live and bickering from that famous – nay, iconic but teeny-tiny – painting and placed a carefully made-up model in her place.

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Someone is indeed stealing and destroying famous works of art. Someone is about to steal the entire Art Ops organisation including Regina herself, winking it out of reality. Fortunately Regina has a son called Reggie. Unfortunately Reggie considers her a worthless mother.

Oh, and then there was that accident when graffiti came to life and ripped off Reggie’s arm but it’s been ‘surgically’ replaced with animated tubes of vibrantly coloured paint. Time to make a splash!

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Bonkers is a word almost synonymous with MADMAN’s Michael Allred and Shaun Simon provided him with a virtually perfect platform to begin with. My enthusiasm extended into the second chapter’s opening pages set in 1987 during which Gina discovered that CBGB’s basement bathroom (UK translation: toilet) was a forgery and the original – complete with its famously embellished walls, floors and porcelain throne – was potentially sentient and teleporting all over the place.

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Moreover, whatever she was wearing and however her hair was cut, our Mona Lisa now roaming the real world was instantly recognisable on account of Allred’s remarkable reduction of her facial complexities to six or seven lines representing her cheeky, knowing eyes and enigmatic smirk to improbable perfection.

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Alas, however fast, furiously and intriguingly the comicbook ball was initially pitched, it was miss-hit then fumbled in the field, with few follow-throughs. I suspect I’ve mixed or even mangled that metaphor through lack of sports knowledge, but if you want something which absolutely nails the art scene come alive in philosophical, science-fiction combat, I highly recommend Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s fiercely intelligent, mischievous and wit-ridden DOOM PATROL: BOOK 1 whose new, bigger incarnation includes the Brotherhood of Dada in ‘The Painting That Ate Paris.’ Its kick-off is blindsiding, its toe-to-toe tactics so dazzlingly deft, then it scoops up its multiple balls in play and rams each and every one of them right into the back of the net.

[You’re benched – ed.]

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Doom Patrol: The Painting That Ate Paris. Art by Richard Case.

SLH

Buy Art Ops vol 1: How To Start A Riot and read the Page 45 review here

Apocrypha Now (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Mark Russell & Shannon Wheeler.

In which God proves to be a wily old fella, constantly getting one over on a Satan who really should have seen it coming, but falls for it every time.

““Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Satan said.”

By “it” I mean the Deceitful (and Increasingly Exasperated) One is tricked by old Beardy Face in bets whose goal posts God moves in mysterious ways. He cheats, basically.

From the mirth-making miscreants responsible for GOD IS DISAPPOINTED IN YOU come the bits too bonkers even for the Bible, retold in a more modern context and vernacular for maximum incongruity. Both are prose accompanied by cartoons, and both are quite brilliant but I don’t have time for an extensive review today so please see GOD IS DISAPPOINTED IN YOU instead.

The title sold itself, and I gave five copies as Christmas presents the year it came out, one to an ex-Jehovah’s Witness.

Here you can relish the spectacular sexism of Solomon, the Creation of Earth (and the drastic reduction of the Moon in a fit of contrary petulance), the Creation of Man (controversial decision) and the frustration of King Nebuchadnezzar when furnace-flung Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego set their audience on fire with bitchin’ rhymes and snazzy dance moves.

“”Oh, come on,” the king said indignantly. “When did they have time to work on choreography?”

Their performance proves smokin’ but they’re not even singed.

““Poor some lighter fluid on them,” the king said. “See if that helps.””

SLH

Buy Apocrypha Now 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. 

Guardians of the Louvre (£17-99, Ponent Mon Ltd) by Jiro Taniguchi

Indeh A Story of the Apache Wars h/c (£18-99, Grand Central Publishing) by Ethan Hawke & Greg Ruth

Love vol 3: The Lion h/c (£13-50, Magnetic Press) by Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci

Geis : A Matter of Life and Death (£15-99, Nobrow) by Alexis Deacon

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Omnibus Edition Book 4 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Eiji Otsuka & Housui Yamazaki

Nova vol 1: Burn Out s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Sean Ryan & Cory Smith

Deadpool vol 1: End Of An Error s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Scott Koblish, Brian Posehn

No Mercy vol 2 (£10-99, Image) by Alex De Campi & Carla Speed McNeil, Jenn Manley Lee

Black Butler vol 22 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Yana Toboso

News!

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ITEM! Every single copy of Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH (signed, limited edition, natch!) which had been ordered by Friday was dispatched worldwide by our Dee and Jodie on Friday then this Saturday latest. Many were bought by such exceedingly high-profile comicbook creators that I almost squealed.

That turnaround thanks to Dee and Jodie is a phenomenal achievement given that all those books were in Kendal last Bank Holiday Monday, driven over to my place by The Lakes International Comic Art Festival’s Aileen and Roger, then couriered to work by myself on Thursday night. All in pristine condition.

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I’m giving myself a slight pat on the back because have you ever tried finding Page 45’s Market Street by car? Nottingham’s city-centre, post-tram one-way streets are a hilarious, positively intestinal maze of counter-intuitive, serpentine and circuitous routes and it is only through travelling with Jonathan after LICAF to return our few unsold graphic novels that I learned their Arcane Secrets!

But as well as Dee and Jodie’s assiduous organisation and meticulous packaging, the real credit has to go to Aileen and Roger because driving those books from Kendal to Nottingham took every single uncertainty – when would they arrive and in what condition? – out of the equation.

A round of applause to everyone, I think!

We do have a few copies left and they are finally on our shop floor as well for you to peruse at your pleasure, but I’d like to emphasise that they didn’t make it there until all mail orders had been catered for first.

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ITEM! Comicbook creator Geniève Castrée could sure use your help. A little kindness after being diagnosed with cancer.

To give you some sort of context we regard her SUSCEPTIBLE very highly indeed.

ITEM! Video footage of Neil Gaiman being exceedingly funny at the Union Chapel in London.

I probably don’t have to tell you who Neil Gaiman is. Although it does delight me to introduce his work to new readers on our shop floor. Maybe start with SANDMAN, but do pop the poor poppet into our search engine is well for he owns his own throne at Page 45, taking up an entire shelf above our Vertigo wall.

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ITEM! Speaking of Neil Gaiman, here’s Shaun Tan’s new book called THE SINGING STONES due in September. Please click on “more commentary” to read more commentary.

What is the connection to Neil? Well, check out these two covers with contradictory claims. Hilarious!

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PS I have no idea.

We adore Shaun Tan (THE ARRIVAL and THE RABBITS etc), so please pop him in our search engine too! It’s probably quite crowded within there, so at some point or another you might want to let one cat out of the bag at least.

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2016 week one

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

News, as ever, below including Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG shipping info!

Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash (Signed Limited Edition) (£30-00 or £45-00, LICAF/Hourglass) by Dave McKean.

“Art is an empathy machine. Art allows one to look through a fellow human’s eyes.”

Art – when derived from studious and subtle observation – can not only allow one to look through another individual’s eyes but to communicate what you see there, to pass on those perspectives.

In that endeavour as in so many more, BLACK DOG is a clever, profound and eloquent beast.

With sympathetic skill Dave McKean has succeeded not only in communicating to a new audience and a new generation Paul Nash’s vision and visions but, in doing so, furthered Nash’s goal to “bring back words and bitter truths” to remind us of the horrors and insanities of war which show no sign of stopping, and to counter those who would perpetuate them.

“I hope my ochres and umbers and oxides will burn their bitter souls.”

Good luck with that one, the pair of you. But they can instil in the rest of us, prone to forgetfulness, a renewed revulsion in order to speak out against these repugnant warmongers and their godawful obliteration of lives, of individuals, they leave in their wake.

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That was the vocation discovered by Paul Nash, and the whole raison d’être of the commission by 14-18 NOW, the Lakes International Comic Art Festival and On a Marché sur la Bulle: to blast back into our consciousness the very real, specific horrors of World War I during its centenary years.

McKean has delivered on every front, but he has done so in ways that are far from obvious. For a start, it is not just through the queasy deployment of “ochres and umbers and oxides”, much in evidence during the gruelling sequence setting sail from Southampton Docks along with its sea-slick of blood…

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… but in contrasting them with the most spectacular colour: with that which is other and bright and beautiful; with that which is natural and which should be instead.

One of the most vivid chapters is Nash’s dream, whilst convalescing, of a viciously sharp, scarlet-thorned briar which impedes his progress towards the shimmering blue light of a kingfisher, thence its elusive clutch of tiny, fragile, life-giving eggs.

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“How can this delicate perfection exist in the same world as a 14-ton howitzer firing 1,000 kg shells that propel hot metal shrapnel into soft human tissue, into minds protected by perfectly proportioned, frangible shells?”

Three shells, then: the brain’s, the bird’s and the bombs’. It is in gently compelling us to compare this absurd contrast in our own minds that the truth seeps out: the first’s content is creative, the second’s procreative, while the third’s sole goal is destruction and death.

It is the power of the mind – as well as its vulnerability, to be sure – which is evoked as much as anything during this intense graphic novel. Nash sees colour in the unexpected green shoots amidst trenches when few could see through their desolate, limb-numbing, mind-flattening, seemingly never-ending nightmare to any form of future at all. I wouldn’t be able to without McKeans’ help here.

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But once again, it proves part of what Nash wanted for the future: a tsunami, a revolution of thought “breaking over our ossified society, tabula rasa, wiping the cant and lies from English life.” Sure enough, following the juxtaposition of life-giving green and bleak brown trenches bursting with a spray of white butterflies, there rises an almighty tidal wave that is thunderous.

There will be more time spent in the trenches – with Nash’s brother, just once, when they discuss the distraction and abstraction of the artistic process which may go some way to explain Nash’s later, problematic detachment – but this narrative stretches far further thematically, both backwards and forwards, to what else might have made this man, including the “sadistic discipline” of a school “which was ideal training for an infantryman’s life in the trenches.” He continues:

“It taught me nothing worth speaking of, it answered none of my questions, it required only a kind of desperate obedience, and a stoic acceptance of the constant threat of sudden and terrible violence.”

The grotesque, gap-toothed giant of a martinet towers over young Nash, barking out garbled, mathematical commands as nonsensical as those which would follow, and as impossible to answer with any sane response.

The person who does teach him something worth learning is his grandfather who is by contrast “a man of infinite calm and discretion”, nurturing Nash’s love of art. It’s a scene played out against a chessboard, another battle arena around which Nash and his perpetually distant father keep their distance from each other like any pawn and opposing king lest their contact prove fatal.

“The kings checks his position
“As the pawn moves towards promotion
“Hoping not to be seen
“And neither of them comment on the absence of the queen.”

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The first page consists of four square panels; the second of nine; the third expands into that fully fledged chessboard of similarly black and white squares. Across this are drawn multiple, fractured images of Nash’s distressed mother, oscillating between the darkness and light, representing her turbulent, chequered present. Something extraordinary occurs.

“The dog didn’t return to my dreams
“For a very long time.”

Up until this point we’ve said nothing of the titular black dog, as I think is right. But its shadow has haunted him from the beginning and it will hound the painter almost until the end in a very telling sequence. At times it is ferocious, at others a bounding spirit he pursues. But its presence is pervasive and it goes by another name which is just as revealing.

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You need know nothing of Nash before embarking upon this, but his paintings are referenced throughout both in the language and images (‘We Are Making a New World’,’’The Shore (at Dymchurch)’, and I see ‘Wood on the Dawn’ in the boy’s early trees). Often I find engaging in a work like this without prior knowledge a boon. It will surely prompt a wave of its audience to embark on research afterwards and subsequent readings will then spark satisfying flashes of recognition.

Visually the storytelling displays a complete command of dream logic and that “hypnagogic” or indeed hypnopompic state wherein you’re not quite sure what is real and what is imagined. It is in constant flux, morphing from one medium to the next, from light to dark, with subtle sheens, bleeds or explosions of colour. “The fog of war” which drifts over St. Martin-in-the-Fields church to overshadow Nash’s wedding day is terrible to behold, casting a pall over the proceedings: “A confetti of embers and ash approaching the church ahead of the leviathan.” And wait until you see that coelacanth monstrosity.

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But it’s this lyrical deftness I came away admiring the most. McKean manages to find exactly the right word, time after time again, to pair one thought with another, to throw a startling new light on our expectations or twist the natural order of things, as when Nash is advised to “fight to live another day”.

For it’s not just the battles with bayonets and barbed wire and bombs that one fights on the field, but also hunger and disease and madness and memory, both then and thereafter. Nash sought to evoke this in his art and so McKean too seeks to peel back the layers, to get beneath the skin and comprehend the complexities which lie beneath. To examine not just a life but what is ‘lived’ – which is something altogether different.

SLH

Black Dog extra

This graphic novel will be released in two editions – this limited edition in May 2016 then a full publication launched in October 2016 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival (14-16 October 2016).

This is that limited edition of 300 copies, now available worldwide exclusively from  Page 45.

For more Dave McKean graphic novels (MR PUNCH etc) please pop him in our search engine.

Page 45 is a proud Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival.

Page 45 joins LICAF every year, exclusively, with hand-picked creators signing and sketching for free, and the most glorious graphic novels for sale in our Georgian Room within Kendal’s Clock Tower. Entry is free.

Buy Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash (Signed Limited Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Watching (£13-99, Soaring Penguin) by Winston Rowntree.

“On weekends
“We walk out to where the past used to be
“And where its stories remain.”

As opening sentences ago, that one’s a belter.

It’s set aside footprints in the snow, and implies so much so succinctly.

There’s nothing more to be found on that page and that’s as it should be.

It encourages you to pause and to dwell, which is precisely what the narrator will be doing throughout this graphic novella. There will be a great many pauses and a good deal of dwelling.

“On weekends” implies that, wherever or whenever the Watcher comes from, what they will be doing is a pastime. It’s not a scientific endeavour, a studious obligation, but a matter of voluntary, pure fascination. It is the most popular pastime and, if one could look into the past and witness it happening all around you, then but of course it would be.

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The more narcissistic among us might pop back to gaze on ourselves, but we can’t interfere because this isn’t time travel per se. You’re not going anywhere or any when. A window is being opened instead on that which once was, in exactly the spot it occurred.

Do you wonder why someone is physically climbing up into a window on the second page, being pulled up by a friend, so that she or he can sit and wonder at giant, flying reptiles by the sea? It’s because landmasses have since shifted considerably during the intervening eons. What is now snow down below was once buried by just such a landmass which has since been eroded or shifted by massive tectonic movements. I imagine for other such recces you would have to dig deep instead.

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“We are all watching at one point or another
“And the reasons are many
“But they are really only one.
“We watch to understand.”

Understanding is a great deal more worthy than blasting seven shades of shit out of an alien online. I cite bathing my eyes in beauty as motivation for my videogame pursuits – but I’m far from averse to locking and loading, either.

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One can infer from this desire to understand that something has been lost from this future, however much more it has gained: some area of knowledge. The passage of time does that to any society.

“And I am watching the sick girl,”

… our narrator continues…

“And I do not understand.”

There are two refrains throughout the work with variations on their theme. Both work beautifully well.

Re-designed from its original if equally impressive website by Woodrow Phoenix (RUMBLE STRIP, NELSON, SUGAR BUZZ et al), this is quite the immaculate composition and I can only apologise for a couple of our wonky scans made necessary by the virtual absence of any usable interior art online. Please stop being so protective, publishers: it is an own goal.

Both the words and the images are so artfully arranged on the page with a crisp sparseness which is compelling. The pauses are, most of them, beat-perfect, and the vast expanses of silence are eerie but also this: indicative of the Watcher’s tenacity and patience and genuine desire to understand. The light will prove part of its timing.

A panel from Watching, by Winston Rowntree.

A panel from Watching, by Winston Rowntree.

Scenes will repeat themselves. You can always go back and look again. But this particular Watcher at least is mindful that she or he is looking in on a very real life and treats it with the due deference and respect it deserves, sitting outside the sick girl’s room without intruding, for it has many visitors.

It’s a ward in a hospital which is no longer there. It wasn’t on the ground floor which is why the scenes are suspended in space.

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When it was there its walls and its floors and its ceilings come dented or occasionally cracked but more strikingly with thin, broken lines just inside of their boundaries denoting a physical crumbliness with isn’t some clinical futuristic cleanliness, but a reflection in their imperfection of what we can currently do for deteriorations of the flesh as well.

What the Watcher doesn’t understand I will leave for you to discover, but it isn’t as obvious as you might think. I can promise that you too, however, will be doing a great deal of pondering afterwards, lest you do not understand.

SLH

Buy Watching and read the Page 45 review here

The Red Virgin And The Vision Of Utopia h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Mary M. Talbot & Bryan Talbot…

It seemed rather appropriate to me that this work is dedicated to Iain M. Banks who, as the dedication itself rightly states, was a ‘creator of socialist utopias’.

Bryan did very kindly offer to introduce me to Iain when I told him that Banks was one of my favourite ever authors. I gratefully declined because sometimes, I think, it’s better to know one’s heroes through their legacies, be that literary, cultural or social.

Which is in some ways what makes this such a fascinating work, because the titular Red Virgin, Louise Michel, is an unfamiliar figure, to most of us in the UK at least (excluding Jimmy Somerville presumably, who was obviously aware of the 19th century French political scene), but one whose legacy to the causes of equality and feminism, and indeed anarchism, is just as powerful and just as  important from a global perspective, as the rather more familiar to British readers Pankhursts whose contributions Mary and Bryan obliquely touched upon in their SALLY HEATHCOTE SUFFRAGETTE with co-collaborator Kate Charlesworth.

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This, then, could rightly be seen as a companion piece to that work, where they employed the device of looking at the suffrage movement through the eyes of a fictitious working class northerner, and Bryan has indeed employed the same art style to great effect once more.

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This time, we are engaged in a discussion between the American writer and feminist reformer (and speculative fiction aficionado!) Charlotte Perkins Gilman and our primary narrator Monique. Upon her arrival in Paris in January 1905 Miss Gilman is shocked to find that Louise Michel has passed away, and thus over dinner, the two, later joined by Monique’s mother, herself a former revolutionary comrade in the Montmarte region of the Commune of Paris, begin a posthumous dissection of Louise Michel’s life and works.

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I found it personally engaging, as I’m sure many will, to be so entertainingly educated about such an important figure that I knew practically nothing about. Works like this are extremely important in ensuring future generations don’t forget the vital contributions of those who have come before, at such great personal cost. In helping to pave at least a few further steps on the tortuous route towards that socialist utopia we will finally, hopefully, reach one day. Thus Bryan and Mary rightly deserve their due plaudits for undertaking such a herculean task of research and exemplary execution of another sterling piece of biography.

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JR

Buy The Red Virgin And The Vision Of Utopia h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Disquiet s/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Noah Van Sciver…

“Why’d you run away, Dad?”
“Huh?”
“From Mom and me. How could you do that? How could you be so selfish? We needed you.”
“Hold on a minute.”
“Not having you around really fucked me up. Mum had to work at an art store. We were poor. Where were you?”
“Is this what you found me for? To confront me?”
“I’m trying to understand you.”
“If I could go back in time there’s a lot of things I would do differently.”
“You wouldn’t have run out on us? You would’ve stayed with mom?”
“I wouldn’t have married your mom.”
“And where does that leave me? In the same spot?”
“You’re a grown man now, Nathan. I’m sorry for any problems you have, but part of being an adult is to stop blaming your parents for whatever shortcomings you have. That’s pretty basic.”

The Archduke of downbeat returns with a collection of 14 shorts that range from the darkly comedic to just plain dark.

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This selection of historical material showcases both Noah’s prodigious writing talent and evolving artistic capabilities, covering tales such as the black and white ‘Dive Into The Black River’ and also ‘Down In A Hole’ that have that bittersweet impending car crash feel, and look, of his longer form SAINT COLE.

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Then there are the more overtly humorous pieces such as the colour ‘Untitled’ that minded me of the brutally farcical FANTE BUKOWSKI. The second volume of FANTE I am delighted to report is well underway, and I did chuckle to see the not-so-great man of literature himself sat on a bench, note pad in hand, bottle at his feet, as a bonus extra between two stories. Plus Noah also revisits his love of the  yarn a couple of times (as in the sadly out of print THE HYPO: THE MELANCHOLIC YOUNG LINCOLN) with particular period linguistic vigour in ‘The Death Of Elijah Lovejoy’ about a Presbyterian newspaper editor who had dared to take a stand against the lynching of an escaped slave.

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I only see Noah on an upward trajectory, I have a feeling there’s much, much more to come from him. He seems such an unassuming chap as well, even down his recent assertion that he only has the 4th best moustache in comics! It’s a real bushy belter of an ‘80s Tom Selleck Magnum PI number which I suspect and sincerely hope has been grown for entirely comedic effect. I am also intrigued as to who he ranks as 1, 2 and 3! He seems like a real sweetie, he must be because he’s even managed to get his ex-girlfriend to write a very endearing and only mildly revealing foreword for him. Why am I not surprised he’s a Belle and Sebastian fan?

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JR

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

Highbone Theater h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Joe Daly…

“Before there is order there will be more chaos… and there ain’t a thing you can do about it.”

I knew without a shadow of a doubt it would be, but this is easily the weirdest thing I have read so far this year, and I absolutely bloody loved it.

Following on from the hilariously brilliant but currently between-printings DUNGEON QUEST series and the subtly mind-bending THE RED MONKEY DOUBLE HAPPINESS BOOK – which I read with increasing bemusement in the somehow mistaken preconception it was autobiographical before it became really apparent it just couldn’t possibly be – comes a weighty 572-page tome of complete bonkers.

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As the book opens we find ourselves watching the protagonist Palmer performing a reverse Reggie Perrin, striding out of the sea stark bollock naked – be warned, there are a lot of willies in this work – before twirling his beard and slapping a towel around it, then sparking up a big joint. There is also a lot of doobage going on here too.

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Parker is a muscle-bound slacker with a heart of gold who seems to be surrounded by odious, steroid-jacked ‘friends’ with physiques akin to THRUD THE BARBARIAN and insane, conspiracy theory-obsessed work colleagues at the paper mill where he labours away his days. All his spare time is spent caning weed, practising one of the strangest stringed instruments I’ve ever seen, enduring excruciating attempts to chat to the ladies and musing about the Universe whilst getting mildly paranoid about the mysterious hidden forces apparently controlling everything. He might well have some justified concerns on the last point, mind you.

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As Parker ploughs his own unique furrow with his mojo bag of roots to hand at all times to calm his ever-fluctuating emotional state, he’s going to be taken on a very strange journey of shamanic magic, subterranean realms, secret societies and psyops. Oh, and self-discovery. Above all, self-discovery. But let me tell you, before there is any semblance of order there is indeed going to be a whole lot of chaos going on…

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I think anyone who has enjoyed Charles Burns’ X’ED OUT, THE HIVE, SUGAR SKULL trilogy would get a real kick out of this. The main difference is whilst both are as utterly insane the focus here is far more on the humour rather than horror. But in terms of taking the reader on a surreal journey, they are both right out there.

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JR

Buy Highbone Theater h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Harrow County vol 2: Twice Told s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook.

The worst horror lies not in squelching shadows – though you will have plenty of that – but in being deceived and disbelieved.

It lies in someone who spreads lies and bile about you.

The very worst horror lies in someone who spreads hatred in your own name.

Imagine how much worse that would be if they looked like you and they talked like you and everyone believed that it was you – yes, you – who was slurring and slandering those whom you loved, and awakening in others a terrible antipathy you’d long held at bay.

Horror comes in many forms, but never is it so vile and terrifying then when it comes from within.

Bucolic horror set in the American South starring a seventeen-year-old girl called Emmy, raised alone on a farm by her father, Isaac.

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Many moons ago the good folk of Harrow hanged a Healing Woman called Hester from an old oak tree. Then, for good measure, they set fire to her gasoline-soaked corpse. Except it wasn’t a corpse and, as the flesh of her face bubbled away in the conflagration, she hissed out a promise:

“Not the end… never the end for me… I’ll be back…”

Can Emmy, with her strange gifts, persuade the locals that she is not Hester reincarnated or will they add fuel to the fire and perpetuate their crimes? And who is that rich young lady now come to town, so strikingly similar to Emmy that she could be her twin?

Sun-soaked or rain-drenched, the countryside is so rich in colour and texture and detail – you can feel the clammy mud as it is smeared on a petticoat – while the creatures which lurk in the depths of the forest are many, varied and terrifying.

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For more, please see HARROW COUNTY VOL 1 or I will send you additional homework.

SLH

Buy Harrow County vol 2: Twice Told s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War II #0 of 7 (£3-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Olivier Coipel.

Elegantly drawn by Olivier Coipel and deliciously coloured by Justin Ponsor, Bendis really needed to surprise on the script if he was going to shed doubts that this would follow the law of diminishing returns following the original CIVIL WAR and accusations of being a mere cash-in on film.

Mission accomplished.

I have no idea where this is going. Okay, I do have the general gist because we have to order these comics two months in advance and there’s usually some solicitation copy. More accurately, then, I have no idea where two strands have come from, and what impact they’re likely to have on what will ensue.

Bravely, until the final four pages, this is a refreshingly quiet prologue culminating in the mini-series’ catalyst. In that moment a young man and woman – whom he’s been fond of from afar – are transformed by a cloud of Terrigen Mist into something other than they were. Neither transmogrification works well for them and the boy finds himself seeing something he shouldn’t. Or should he?

I’m now quite delighted with myself that I’ve managed to deliver the crux of the series without giving the game away: half of Marvel’s superheroes will come to believe he shouldn’t have seen it; the other half will be bloody delighted that he’s answered their prayers. In what way precisely…? We do not do spoilers around here.

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Thread one: Jennifer Walters, a defence attorney (who is, by the by, preternaturally tall and a gamma shade of green), commands attention in her closing statement not by her appearance but by her eloquence. Her client, a former supervillain, has been slightly stitched up by the local constabulary (NYPD) through entrapment. Worse still, it’s not as if they found anything worth charging him with but, seeking to justify their man-hour expenditure, they threw the book at him anyway and took him to court. For speculating, idly – that’s all he did. He mused about the “good old days”, wondering what he might have done differently when he once wore a mask. Which he hasn’t – for yonks – and didn’t again. He did nothing wrong, this time at least. And yet he was convicted. Jennifer Walters failed and the individual in question is banged up to wrongs.

Later, high up in the sky aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, Maria Hill speculates that he would have done it again:

“They always do.”

So that’s the person in charge of the U.N. Peacekeeping Task Force, then. Which is nice. And if you think that’s got Jennifer’s goat, you wait until you discover what happened during the innocent’s intervening hours.

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I mention all this because I cannot see how this pertains to the coming storm in any way whatsoev – oh wait, now I do. Again, this is wonderfully underplayed by Coipel. There’s a look in Walter’s eyes which is almost an ellipsis. But it has nothing to do with the individual’s identity – only his conviction and Hill’s supposition.

Thread two: Colonel James Rhodes is summoned to the White House. Specifically, he is summoned to its Situation Room. There isn’t a situation. As War Machine (a sort of Iron Man knock-off / stand-in) Colonel James Rhodes has just diffused the most recent situation in Latveria. No, he’s been called to the Situation Room because it’s far more private than the Oval Office, for a one-on-one private consultation with the President who makes Colonel Rhodes a most unexpected offer… as well as a future trajectory Rhodes could never have seen coming.

Ooh, I’m doing rather well in my crypticism, aren’t I? This time I really do not have a clue as to how this might impact on what looks likely to follow. Except… do you know who James’ best friend is? Ah, you won’t need to. Bendis is ever so brilliant and all will be laid clear within.

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Thread three: Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel is back on deck, the deck belonging to The Triskelion, headquarters and home of the Ultimates. She receives a visitor, an old friend who wonders how she’s doing on zero-hours sleep. The thing is, you see, Carol has taken command of three separate superhero entities, co-ordinating them to avoid the disaster she sees as inevitable – the ‘situation’ which the metahumans will finally fail to react to in time.

So many of these so-called near-disasters are only narrowly averted every year in the Marvel Universe lest the company begins to publish one long picnic and Peter Parker porks-out something chronic. Even then, when I type “near-disasters” I mean complete catastrophes. During the recent SECRET WARS, for example, the Marvel Universe ceased to exist. Bit of a lose, really.

“The illusion of control. It’ll eat you alive.”

I know exactly where that one’s going.

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So in addition to its relative tranquillity and the space it has afforded Coipel to turn in a truly nuanced performance with slow, subtle reactions and the thoughts lingering behind the eyes of those in conversation, what I liked was this: relatively minor characters coming to the fore and providing their own current perspectives on their present circumstances and what they infer from them for the future.

Unfortunately as the legendary Leonard Cohen once growled:

“I’ve seen the future, brother: it is murder.”

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SLH

Buy Civil War II # 0 and read the Page 45 review here

Okay, this one has ALL the SPOILERS. ALL of them!

But Jonathan’s right: you can’t seriously have missed them online already.

If you have, just read the pull-quote, know that it’s heartily endorsed, then skip to the pre-ordering instructions for second print beneath the review. The first print at £2-25 is long-gone.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 2nd Ptg (£4-50, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver, Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez and Ivan Reis…

“There’s going to be a war between hope and despair.
“Love and apathy.
“Faith and disbelief.
“When I was outside of time I felt their presence.
“I tried to see who it was.
“I couldn’t, but I know they’re out there.
“And they’re waiting to attack again for some reason.
“I can feel it.
“Even now, Barry…
“… we’re being watched.”

If you’re the one remaining person on Earth-33 (New 52 Multiverse designation) who doesn’t know the twist at the end of this one-shot which, rather neatly to be honest, explains why the entire New 52 Multiverse was a… fabrication… I’m not sure I can actually review this without spoiling it for you so I’m not even going to try. The implication is that Dr. Manhattan, yes he of WATCHMEN fame, was unbeknownst to anyone, responsible for hijacking events during the resolution of FLASHPOINT, and ensuring that reality took a different turn resulting in the creation of the New 52 Multiverse.

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It’s a ballsy move by Geoff Johns, which is sure to antagonise as many people as it delights, but given he’s now moving on to take up the position of co-overlord of the DC Film division it’s up to everyone else to step into his sizeable scribe shoes and follow the blazing path he’s set with this revelatory one-shot. It think that’ll be tricky given this is easily his best bit of writing (possibly his best full stop) since his exemplary extended run on GREEN LANTERN which perhaps co-incidentally, or perhaps not, began with a mini-series entitled GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH

Interestingly that particular rebirth brought back someone the fans had long been clamouring for the return of but which seemed impossible for reasons I really don’t need to elaborate on, in the form of Hal Jordan. And here, Johns performs the same trick again, as the Scarlet, well ginger, speedster Wally West, last seen during Johns’ BLACKEST NIGHT before apparently ceasing to exist when the New 52 came into being post-FLASHPOINT (also penned by Johns), is trying to break back into the DCU. Where has he been for the last several years? Well, Johns’ makes good use of the Flash fact that unlike all the other myriad speedsters Wally couldn’t be separated from the Speed Force, so has merely been lost there for ten years due to the mysterious meddlings of who we now assume to be Doctor Manhattan.

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Wally therefore is the thread quite literally running through this entire issue as he tries desperately to find one of his friends, even one of his enemies, who might, despite their minds – indeed entire reality – being altered, somehow remember him and bring him back. His problem is that to all intents and purposes everyone he has ever known has absolutely no idea he even existed. As he zooms from locale to locale, allowing us readers glimpses of what is to come for all the major characters shortly getting their own rebirth, (see the APRIL DC PREVIEWS and MAY DC PREVIEWS solicitations for more details on what’s coming out each month) his connection to the real world becomes ever more tenuous as he faces the prospect of physical disincorporation and completely merging with the Speed Force to become nothing but fuel for other speedsters to tap into.

Even his beloved Linda, ten years younger than he remembers (as everyone is, again due to the mysterious meddling, conveniently explaining how all the heroes had their ages reset when the New 52 started) simply has no recollection of who he is. That only leaves Uncle Barry, the original Flash. Wally knows not even Barry will be able to rescue him, but he feels he needs to say his thanks to his inspiration and mentor then say goodbye before he disappears forever.

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Which is the point at which I had to reach for my hankie… or to paraphrase a certain well known DC tagline, you will believe a man can cry… Forget the hyperbole of the Watchmen connection, the real heart-wrenching gooey emotional centre of this yarn is Wally, plus the promise of what’s to come for the characters themselves. Even John Constantine, cheerfully calling Swamp Thing a turnip makes a cheeky cameo promising, we hope, a return to HELLBLAZER proper. I came into this Rebirth one-shot full of cynicism and a heavy heart, my DC reading over the last few years having tailed off to simply Scott Snyder’s BATMAN and nothing else, but you know what, I’m actually now rather inspired to give the new slate of titles a try!

JR

To pre-order DC Universe: Rebirth #1 2nd Printing please email page45@page45.com or use your phonicular device pressing 0115 9508045 or that speed-dial facility we are so clearly on.

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.

Art Ops vol 1: How To Start A Riot (£10-99, Vertigo) by Shaun Simon & Michael Allred, Matt Brundage

Birth Of Kitaro (£9-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Shigeru Mizuki

Hole In The Heart: Bringing Up Beth (£16-99, Myriad) by Henny Beaumont

Peplum (£15-99, New York Review Comics) by Blutch

Psychiatric Tales (US Edition) h/c (£13-50, Bloomsbury) by Darrryl Cunningham

Hippoptamister (£13-50, FirstSecond) by John Patrick Green

War Stories vol 4 (£14-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Tomas Aria

The Goon vol 15: Once Upon A Hard Time (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell

There’s No Time Like The Present (£18-99, Escape Books) by Paul B. Rainey

Buffy: The High School Years – Freaks & Geeks s/c (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Faith Erin Hicks & Yishan Li

Bunny vs. Monkey Book Three (£7-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart

Back To The Future vol 1: Untold Tales And Alternate Timelines (£14-99, IDW) by various

Doctor Who: Four Doctors (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Paul Cornell & Neil Edwards

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor vol 4: The Then And The Now (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Si Spurrier, Rob Williams & Simon Fraser, Warren Pleece

The Mighty Thor vol 1: Thunder In Her Veins h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman

A Silent Voice vol 7 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Yoshitoki Oima

News!

Kill Or Be Killed promo

ITEM! Promo teaser for KILL OR BE KILLED by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Elizabeth Breitweiser fresh from the Ed Brubaker newsletter which you can sign up to!

From the creators of THE FADE OUT, FATALE and CRIMINAL, I love the way Sean Phillips has expanded the pages with full bleeds to the edges yet, even with inset panels, has kept the clear three-tier grid which, along with his lettering composition, has made the comics and graphic novels so accessible to newcomers.

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ITEM! Podcast interview with Scott McCloud about comics, composition and the signals we send out. May make you think again not just about comics, but the ways you communicate in real life too.

Highly recommended, Scott’s comics to make you think:

THE SCULPTOR
UNDERSTANDING COMICS
MAKING COMICS
ZOT!

All in stock, reviewed. That last one may be my longest review ever!

Sculptor Kiss

ITEM! Thanks so much for your weekend support for Dave McKean’s live performance of BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH in Kendal – about which I have rarely heard so much gushing from his fellow creators who attended – then on Bank Holiday for the BLACK DOG graphic novel, reviewed above, and distributed worldwide exclusively by Page 45.

We’d sold out of the £45 version by Tuesday morning and for all I know as this goes to press we may have also now sold out of the £30 edition which still has the die-cut dustjacket signed by Dave McKean. If it doesn’t say sold out, it isn’t – we’re very precise about these things. If it does… well, aren’t you amazing?

Black Dog cover image photo

Our copies of the graphic novel – nearly half its entire print run – are all here and will start being dispatched on Friday. Not a bad turn-around given that the books were all still in Kendal on Monday morning! Thanks to LICAF’s Aileen and her husband (Roger? Please let it be Roger!) for driving them down in person so ensuring timely dispatch and perfect condition.

Thanks also to our Jonathan whose birthday it is today!

There wouldn’t even be a Page 45 website without Jonathan. There wouldn’t even be a Page 45 these days without Jonathan as I hope I made clear during Page 45’s 20th Anniversary Blog!

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But, just so you know, Jonathan also gave up a great deal of his family weekend to make sure the BLACK DOG product pages were prepped and ready for action the second I hit ‘publish’ and Tweeted.

Thanks for all your retweets, your orders and your tireless support on this – especially you, Sean Phillips.

Happy Birthday, Jonathan! We all love you soooooo much!

– Stephen

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week four

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Includes Tillie Walden’s A CITY INSIDE, the new BROKEN FRONTIER anthology, David Lapham’s terrifying STRAY BULLETS VOL 5 and Boulet’s autobiographical comedy.

Notes vol 1: Born To Be A Larve (£16-99, Soaring Penguin Press) by Boulet.

YOU BURNED MY MUM?”
“It-it was an accident! She-she was phosphorescent!”

Astutely observed and phenomenally funny, expect much self-mockery!

You may be wondering how the above could possibly form part of these autobiographical entries from Boulet’s online blog, and I’m half-tempted to leave you guessing. However, the incensed is Jesus, for the incinerated is the Holy Virgin Mary – or at least a statuette of the same which glowed in the dark, was tipped into a bin and thence onto a garden bonfire.

Talk about childhood trauma!

If I were to summarise the whole it would be in two lines after Boulet’s successive string of humiliations after posing naked for a life-sized portrait for fellow Fine Art student Wilfried in Dijon, when he thinks his embarrassment is finally at an end.

“BUT: Destiny is the cruel cowboy, and you are the naive Mexican.”

He’s finally set free only for Fate, from afar, to take aim with all time in world and shoot him in the back.

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It’s this sort of lateral thinking which typifies the daily reports or reveries here which can fly off into all sorts of visual fancy, and it’s exactly this sort of toe-curling “There but for the grace of God go I” which you can relish in the privacy of your own home while chuckling in the knowledge that Paris-based Boulet found it within himself to publish them on the worldwide web first.

At which point I should point out that all art here is taken from the website. It’s been reformatted and verbally tweaked for publication.

The stories in this volume in a vast variety of full-colour treatments are from 2004 to 2005, interspersed with black and white postscripts or analyses adding further embellishments, retrospective context and balms to avoid potential litigation or diffuse angry feedback. How could you possibly be irate with someone so charming?

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Incidentally these crisply delineated and comparatively svelte inserts make a feature of Boulet’s strikingly carrot-coloured mop of hair, turning it into an instantly recognisable trademark. If he used the same process as the blog entries then they too were drawn straight onto paper in ink – no pencils – which give them both eras’ pages a vibrancy which immediately put me in mind of Dan Berry, his THROW AWAY YOUR KEYS in particular.

Other comparison points for the general tone include the more episodic recollections from Eddie Campbell’s ALEC; Pascal Girard (REUNION, PETTY THEFT), Joe Decie (THE LISTENING AGENT etc), Liz Prince (ALONE FOREVER et al) with more than a hint of Jeffrey Brown’s cartooning shorthand (FUNNY MISSHAPEN BODY) behind these sleek, graceful lines.

Basically this: you’re going to be entertained.

Deadlines and money matters are a constant concern here, as they are to so many overworked and financially under-rewarded comicbook creators, and there are two early Man Versus Machine anecdotes which once more made me think of dear Eddie Campbell in – amongst so many other instances – THE FATE OF THE ARTIST.

The first involves Boulet’s battle with computers which as we all know have a habit of dying on us just when we need them the most. It is then that we need computer experts the most, and find ourselves at the mercy of rapacious corporations and their jobs-worth employees. You better pray you didn’t bully those nerds back at school. But Boulet is resourceful and Boulet is resilient. He is tenacious. Also: smug at the counter in sunglasses.

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Not so smug or adept is he when it comes to Man Versus Multi-Carriage Machines which should transport you, hitch-free, to your Swiss Comics Festival… so long as you catch them before they set off. Unfortunately Boulet like Campbell is one of the world’s worst travellers, neither adept at catching trains or planes in time. Fail and – although we tend to revere the SNCF from this side of the Channel – it appears to be open-upgrade-surcharge-season and complications like you wouldn’t believe.

Both sets of battles will be revisited many times over, but also the opportunities to make us thoroughly jealous during Festivals in both Switzerland and Korea – specifically Seoul which is six times the size of Paris (who knew?) and where absolutely everything appears to be “an hour away by bus”. In spite of the buckets of booze, Boulet manages to comport himself much better there, is swooned over by teenage school children and delights in accumulating the most highbrow and classy cultural artefacts that the country has to offer. Possibly. In fact much of the comic relief in both Sienne and Sierre comes from his constant companion at comicbook festivals, the seemingly shameless Reno, fearlessly navigating foreign territory – no matter how drunk – populated by his fellow Festival-going and most esteemed creators, on occasion at night in nothing more than his Speedos.

More seriously, we tend to assume in England and American that everything is all love and light when it comes to BD in France, individualistic creators receiving both the recognition and the consequent rewards they so justly deserve, but there is a truly upsetting account of one year at Angoulême where the more serious and significant signals are drowned out by the crass noise of L5 promoting their godawful comicbook, their queue obliterating cartoonist Juju from view. With Boulet in anthropomorphic mode, this isn’t the end of such similar travesties where fame triumphs over talent. It is to weep.

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What else is on offer? Post-Festival come-downs, late-night parties, flat-sharing, cookery, Christmas lights, the curiously conductive properties of Cambert, demonstrations, a little score-settling and a missed opportunity on Valentine’s day which ticked a recognition box for me also – in Paris too!

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‘How To Avoid Having Sex’ comes with a killer phone-centric punchline you might want to take note of lest you be caught out as well, while you may more happily connect with the French maestro rediscovering his childhood in the form of classic Amstrad games, Jet Set Willy, Pyjamarama, Fruity Frank and Boulderdash.

Throughout Boulet experiments both in terms of narrative and style, and there’s a double-page spread of ‘Grimaces’ with more rounded forms and expressions which put me in mind of animator Nick Park.

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To say that the man’s body-conscious would be misleading – he’s more body-comfortable – and there’s an anti-Charles-Atlas advert promoting a less threatening physique and a cuddlier tum which had me giggling away. But he’s certainly in complete command of the human form, presenting page after page of beautiful, beautiful figure drawing with limbs that flap, flop and hang just-so, articulating in all the right directions, at all the right angles.

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Come December this will still rank as one of my favourite books of the year for sheer expressive exuberance as Boulet battles through whatever life throws at him, tears of frustration, terror, self-pity or exhaustion never far from his eyes, cheeks or brow.

Top tip: should you ever want to terrify him at a signing – simply say with a French accent, and preferably while his head’s down in concentration – “Pour Louis…”

That should do it.

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Top tip two: Boulet is a Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival which takes place every year during October in Kendal. At some point or another he’ll be signing. Do not say I sent you.

SLH

Buy Notes vol 1: Born To Be A Larve and read the Page 45 review here

A City Inside (£7-50, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie Walden.

“You gave up the sky for her.”

Another quiet, contemplative and sublime gem from Tillie Walden, creator of I LOVE THIS PART, a recent Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and one of my favourite little books in the shop.

I’ve just found another, with a sense of perspective which no one of Tillie’s relatively tender years should possess. I’m three decades down her timeline and recognised the truth here, finding myself standing at one of the key crossroads in this graphic novella.

Told in the second person singular, a young woman casts her mind across her life. It’s so engrossing, so cleverly done that you won’t notice the switch in tenses the first time around, and as it concludes you’ll have forgotten where you came in so that the final three pages are truly startling.

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The lines are crisp, the shadows deep and the night sky positively glows.

There’s always something truly magical in Walden’s work and at one point, as the pull quote suggests, the woman finds herself suspended in the sky, living in the cup of a hollow sphere, from the top of which billow curtains which are never truly closed. Can you imagine the view? Can you imagine the tranquillity, reading and writing and sleeping with your supine cat?

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“Then one day, you met her.”

Cycling through the sky.

“She was beautiful, wasn’t she?”

Only once is there more than a single sentence per panel – quite often there is silence – and within the recollection itself those panels are bordered only by what lies within.

High in the sky, with the wind tossing the lanterns and tousling her hair, there are no borders at all.

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SLH

Buy A City Inside and read the Page 45 review here

Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 (£6-00, Broken Frontier) by Rozi Hathaway, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino, Adam Vian, Rebecca Bagley, Kim Clements, Gareth Brookes, Gill Hatcher, Jessica Martin, Mike Medaglia, EdieOP, Owen D. Pomery, Alex Potts, Paul B. Rainey, Donya Todd.

“The lines we draw.
“The lines we walk.
“The lines we repeat.
“The lines we hold.”

There’s one more line, and I love it.

From ‘The Lines’ by Owen D. Pomery of BETWEEN THE BILLBOARDS etc.

Top-notch A5 anthology published by Broken Frontier whose website, ringleader Andy Oliver and his equally eloquent cohorts continue to scout out and promote to the heavens the very best emerging British talent, nurturing it as they do so. Truly they are custodians.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the flexible theme is breaking frontiers, be they physical, metaphorical or even metaphysical boundaries. Lord knows but we love to escape, and some are in more need than others.

Others, of course, delight in imposing strictures and Jess Milton’s ‘The Young Marquis De Sade’ finds the rebellious young man’s family attempting to put the fear of God into him through the firm hand of a Christian education. He does learn his lesson but it isn’t the one they intended!

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Delightfully stylish lines, faces and palette which put me in mind of Jess Fink’s CHESTER 5000 XYV which is not remotely inapposite, and I loved the way in which the strict and sedentary composition in class yields upon awakening to something much more turbulent and so thrilling. Not just for the reader, either…

Sticking to the subject of all things edifying, anyone who’s read Gareth Brookes’ THE BLACK PROJECT already knows how naughty he is, wrestling humour into the most macabre and head-shakingly embarrassing constructs then sewing it up so seamlessly you cannot help but laugh, wide-eyed and as quietly as possible lest someone – particularly a Higher Authority – overhear you.

So it is with ‘Dead Things’, the first dead thing being a brother and sister’s grandmother. Their mother impresses upon them the benefits of a Christian burial, after which they take the lesson learned into their garden.

“When we went outside to play we found some dead animals.
“A bee, an ant, and a worm and we gave them Christian funeral.
“But after a while we ran out of dead things.”

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That last line and the silent panels on either side of it constitute perfect sequential-art storytelling, the penultimate paragraph is the sort of the thing that will make you sneeze whatever you’re drinking through your nose, and the story ends with an ellipsis so innocent yet ominous that I couldn’t help but cackle.

BUTTERTUBS’ Donya Todd was never going to behave, but if you thought she might (because her art is every so pretty and… yeah) then this early exchange between a couple is a delicious reminder of why we all love her:

“I like your dog.”
“I like your skull.”

She’s not carrying one.

Refusing to conform too – or being told what she can’t do – is Adam Vian’s fortune teller who demands a window on her world so that she can at least see what lies beyond. The Mapmaker refuses, declares it impossible – that she can’t change a world with drawing or pen. Well, we all know you can – my world’s been changed by both. Before she makes her exit, however, she has this exchange with a customer following her previous prediction:

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“”You’ll meet a beautiful maiden across the ocean.” Wow. Generous. So… you crossed the ocean already?”
“Don’t be silly. Of course not.”

You can’t just sit on your arse waiting for your future to come to you.

Two other escapees are Rozi Hathaway’s young protagonist in ‘Afloat’ and Alice Urbino’s ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, but what they are escaping is very different: abject poverty and loneliness; the sensory overload of society’s non-stop judgementalism.

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The former is a deeply melancholic affair of isolation, neglect, broken windows and threadbare socks until a vision floods onto the page in oceanic colours which are fresher, more healthy and hopeful. What actually happens is open to interpretation but if there’s a whiff of mortality is still as wondrous and magical as a Studio Ghibli or Tillie Walden affair, with the child’s own origami taking on a life it its own and attracting company to boot.

There’s such a lot more to explore including an oh so satisfying page from THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO BEING OUTSIDE’s Gill Hatcher whose nest of bunched-up baby birds debate the pros and cons of flying the coop as full-fledged independent individuals. The colourful birds, the black and white nest and the eaves it’s built under form their own free-floating panels from which speech balloons emanate in perfect union.

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Lastly, for now, the collection is closed by Rebecca Bagley’s ‘Catch’ in deep, rich and pale violets blazing with golden dreams of far more fecund fishing trips than those a child’s father manages to secure in order to feed his family. The landscapes looked down on at night from a three-quarter angle are things of wonder, lit by stars, a full moon, its light caught by clouds and a glow from the home on the hill’s windows.

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SLH

Buy Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 and read the Page 45 review here

Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Lucy Knisley…

“Hooray! They’re coming!”
“Uh-oh.”
“There’s a dead squirrel right here where the truck is going to drive!”
“If they squish it, it’ll be all over the road when the guests arrive! What do we do?”

Cue the mother of bride coming to the rescue by whipping the dead rodent out of the way with her bare hands just in time, much to the awestruck admiration of the bride-to-be! Haha, there is no way in the world my mother-in-law would have done that! This is easily my favourite Knisley work yet, packed with self-deprecating humour relating to the sheer insanity of deciding to plan and execute her own beautifully bespoke and intimately personal wedding down to the most minute detail. Still, it’s probably put her off ever doing it again so there’s one good reason not to get divorced…

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It’s been fascinating to see her improve from book to book in recent years, both in terms of her storytelling and art. I had sometimes felt with her works, increasingly less so, that we were being presented with set pieces and situations rather than a continuous narrative flow, as though perhaps she was working with a paucity of material at times or a touch uncertain how to seamlessly stitch it together. I certainly didn’t get that impression remotely here, this felt like a work of real depth and punch and flowed gloriously from cover to cover. I hope that’s not perceived as a being too critical of her previous works: RADIATOR DAYS, FRENCH MILK, RELISH – MY LIFE IN THE KITCHEN, AGE OF LICENSE: A TRAVELOGUE and DISPLACEMENT, because I am big fan. It’s just lovely to see the ongoing progression.

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After giving new readers a quick recap of her and John’s chequered relationship background (see mainly AGE OF LICENSE: A TRAVELOGUE) she goes on to perfectly capture the emotional rollercoaster of the extended lead up to the nuptials and the big day itself. She shares the many laughs and more than a few tears she experienced whilst gradually realising the full, dawning  horror of just how much is involved with planning your own wedding. You will chuckle, particularly if you’ve been through such torment yourself, just as I also did with Adrian Tomine’s SCENES FROM AN IMPENDING MARRIAGE.

As mentioned, I feel this work is also a big step on for her again art-wise too. I have commented before on her at times sparse style, pages with just characters on, no backgrounds for example. There is far less of that here, with much more in the way of traditional panels and fully fleshed out scenes, and it really helps with the sense of continuity to the overall story. Where we do have the type of page I’m talking about, it’s done much more as an occasional punctuation, usually with some amusing visual gag involving wedding paraphernalia.

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So, what next for Miss Knisley? Assuming she keeps her maiden name for comics, that is! Well, now she’s pretty much caught up chronologically with regaling us with the trials and tribulations of her life, I would dearly love to see her take a crack at some fictional material next. Yes, it might be a stretch for someone who, as she freely admits, sees herself as autobiographical comics maker, but on the basis of this work, I’m sure she’d succeed admirably. Failing that, there’s always a potential career as a wedding planning to fall back on.

JR

Buy Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham.

I’ve had nightmares like this:

For some inexplicable reason you’re back at school. Having escaped its horrors years ago, you’ve returned to the grounds as a pupil and they’re at once all too familiar yet disconcertingly alien. You hardly know anyone anymore and you’re not quite sure where everything is and what’s changed.

The warring cliques and back-stabbing rat race certainly hasn’t.

Virginia Applejack ran away from her horrendous home years ago in STRAY BULLETS and if you’d forgotten why, a single encounter with her malicious mother will remind you instantly. Fortunately her years of freedom – in spite of the atrocities she has witnessed and endured – have given her a sense of distance which will stand her in sanity-saving stead and a capacity for take-no-shit violence which will make anyone standing in her way today rue it something rotten.

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But first, one friendly face in the form of Leon, who’s just got the crap kicked out of him yet again.

“I’m in the duck-and-cover group. We’re like the CIA – we hang together, but if one of us gets caught the others disavow their existence.
“The jocks are probably, like, the biggest assholes, and the most powerful. The burnouts really suck, too. Their leader is Jesse Barret. I wish him dead every Sunday in church.”

The jocks and the burnouts have grown complacent. They’ve begun to imagine themselves invulnerable, immune even to each other’s threats. But Virginia Applejack will prove an unexpected, incendiary new ingredient in their midst.

“Hey, kid. Ginny!”
“It’s your turn to bat.”

It most certainly is.

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I can promise you a great deal of catharsis, but also fear in the form of another wild card, Mike Hussey, and this volume includes that chapter. The chapter which had both Mark and myself wide-eyed a decade ago that Lapham would even go there: a consensual sexual experiment between two teenagers with catastrophic results both for their friendship and for anyone encountering Mike Hussey ever again. Whatever you’re thinking, David Lapham will up the stakes then and thereafter, leaving you cowering away in the corner, wincing.

Based on an eight-panel grid, the storytelling could not be more accessible to newcomers to comics, and its clarity is matched by his attention to detail. His portraits are extraordinarily vivid and individualistic given his economy of line. A single panel of a crowded party can contain more characterisation than you’d believe possible or is remotely necessary. There’s also an intense physicality to the forms. I sat staring at several jaw bones for ages, marvelling at the skull I can could see and almost touch beneath the skin – or rather the contoured line demarking that skin!

Critics harp on about the complexity of Alan Moore’s best plot structures – and rightly so – but it is frankly insane how intricately mapped all the confluent elements are in the whole of STRAY BULLETS and even within this single, stand-alone strand. Ha! I’ve just called a whopping, eleven-chapter chunk “a strand”, but that’s how epic this project is. All of it is connected, skipping backwards and forwards in time – which is how Lapham manages to mine more from characters with a lot of life left in them even after biting the dust yonks ago – but here it’s particularly clear how cleverly cause and effect plays its awful part in every element which builds towards crescendo after crescendo. If there’s a life lesson to be learned here it’s that you reap what you sow: it’s going to come back to bite you in the ass or in the ass of someone you care for.

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And that’s another thing: after everything she’s gone through, Virginia Applejack still cares. So does poor Leon. If nobody cares then nor will you. Everyone else is repugnant.

For far more on Lapham’s actual craft, please see my previous reviews, particularly of the STRAY BULLETS: UBER ALLES edition of which this contains the final eleven issues, otherwise it’s just me repeating myself.

This collection now fills the one remaining gap in the individual STRAY BULLETS softcovers, meaning you can go straight on to STRAY BULLETS VOL 6: THE KILLERS, which was the first in the new series launched the other year.

This is the only crime I rank as highly as Brubaker’s and Phillips’.

SLH

Buy Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Anne Szabla.

A lovely little number for all ages which should appeal to fantasy-loving families including fans of Jeff Smith’s BONE, this is light on text for those whom it frightens.

Not-very-old ones can marvel instead at the beautiful designs like the huge, all-encompassing head-dresses and masks – even the beasts bear masks! – as well as the sheer spectacle of a fellow, spirited youngster who will not be daunted nor nay-said in spite of being tiny, clumsy and a foundling outsider.

Its scope is potentially enormous and I would be far from surprised to discover in a decade’s time that this was but a prologue. Which is to say that this first instalment comes with many more questions than answers.

Ripe with legend and lore, it tells of the Rook Men’s animosity towards light and so love of a “halfway beast” which stole it from the world, hid it in a whelk shell then swallowed that whole.

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Without the sun’s life-giving rays the tribes of the two rivers found themselves hard-pressed to forage and hunt in a perpetual winter and ousted from the forest they’d once made their home. Fortunately they had a champion in the form of Mali Mani who had defeated the monster with a bell and sword, but was swallowed by the forest and kept incarcerated there by the Rook Men.

So it’s still pretty cold.

Tomorrow our tiny Bali should be embarking on The Smokewalk, his adoptive River Tribe’s rite of passage, but his centre of gravity is considered too low to even lift a spear let alone throw it accurately. Lakasi has a point there. But Bali sets off anyway late at night and of his own accord in search of an ancient ruin discovered earlier by accident in that same deep wood. And in doing so, he may be beginning his journey anyway…

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Some small parts of the storytelling I found it difficult to discern – in a largely wordless comic you need maximum clarity – but I’ll put it down to Bali being caught in the heat of the chaotic moments, all of which were still beautiful to behold. Young minds are more dextrous than mine anyway, and will move swiftly, eagerly on, relishing Bali’s fortitude and resourcefulness and refusal to back down or give in when danger rears its multiple clawing, scratching and intimidating heads. Also, I know from experience that I’m no more competent with a javelin, either.

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The pictorial wall paintings and pillar engravings are glorious, as was the elaborately ornamented fireplace. Look around carefully and you may notice a small entrance slashed at by much bigger claws sharp enough to make their carved mark on stone. Visually this world is very well built.

Plus there was an element of Playstation’s Shadow Of The Colossus in one particular encounter and Disney’s Fantasia in another sequence.

HELLBOY’s Mike Mignola’s a fan.

SLH

Buy Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani and read the Page 45 review here

Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c (£29-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark.

One of my favourite current comicbooks, this edition collects the third and fourth LAZARUS softcovers along with all the original issues’ full-page advertisements from the fictional world itself.

Of LAZARUS VOL 3: CONCLAVE, I wrote:

“The weather’s turning. It looks like a storm.”
“Is that why you’re nervous?”
“There’s talk that your Family will go back to Hock.”
“It will not happen.”
“…”
“I would very much like to kiss you. Would you permit me to kiss you, Forever?”
“Please.”

A rare moment of tenderness, that, for the Carlyle family’s youngest daughter, its military commander and pre-eminent soldier, assassin and bodyguard. That’s what being a Lazarus entails.

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If Forever is formal it is because however effective she is in the field, her duties have deprived her of any emotional experience she might call her own. If she is nervous it is because she is finally allowing herself to have the first tentative steps of one with Joacquim Morray, Lazarus of the Morray family which may currently be allied to the Family Carlyle but which looks very likely to switch sides to the Carlyles’ most manipulative and bitter competition, Jakob Hock.

Then it won’t matter how respectful Joacquim is or how much Forever’s heart hurts: if their Families demand they fight, they will do so, if necessary to the death. That hasn’t happened yet but something so similar between others does, and it is heartbreaking.

It wouldn’t be half so affecting if GOTHAM CENTRAL’s Michael Lark couldn’t convey intimate and vulnerable affection as well as he commands the fluid balletics of hand-to-hand combat. Lark is equally adept at an actual dance, the other rare moment of tenderness preceding this scene which Jakob Hock – with his flair for the dramatic, the cruel and humiliating – interrupts to devastating effect.

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Oh, and the environment: Lark is one of my favourite landscape artists. His rain I rate up there with Eisner.

LAZARUS is set in the not-too-far future when the world has gone feudal again. Democracies have imploded, politicians no longer exist and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys people, money buys technology and money buys guns. Money, technology and guns buy power and control.

The strategy Greg Rucka has employed to introduce this grave new world to its readers has been impeccable: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure – the bottom-heavy pyramid of Family at the top, its wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs useful to Family prosperity, then the vast majority deemed and so dismissed as “waste” underneath. This third volume widens its outlook to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. See? Technology does buy power. You’d surely shift your allegiances for such a boon.

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And that’s what this instalment’s about: loyalty and allegiances. During a Conclave hosted by the British Family Armitage on a luxury rig in the North Sea you’ll get to meet twelve of the sixteen Families – or at least their representatives – and by golly their current conflicts form a complex Cat’s Cradle!

But what I relished above all in this chapter was seeing the Lazari interact with each other in their downtime before, during and after a poker game while their heads of Family debate without their feared presence behind closed doors. For if this is a reversion to a feudal society, so the notion of Chivalry has returned too: specifically the etiquette of safe passage and the respect of knights for each other and conduct towards each other regardless of their masters’ aggravations.

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This is evidently something that needs to be learned for there is a new Lazarus in their midst, one Captain Cristof Mueller who is arrogant and Aryan in a Teutonic way and he doesn’t care much for Li Jaolong, Lazarus of the Chinese Family Li, whose skills as a bodyguard he deems slim given that Li is – much like Professor Stephen Hawking – confined to a wheelchair and communicating via a speech synthesizer. Bristling from having been successfully played at poker, Mueller doesn’t mince his words which may include “genetic mistake”.

Yeah. Perhaps he should have considered that Jaolong wouldn’t have been selected as a Lazarus if he didn’t have certain compensatory skills. Cristof’s comeuppance is cathartic, I promise you!

Loyalties, then: Forever’s is to her family above and beyond all. LAZARUS VOL 2 ensured we understood both how and why. But is that loyalty reciprocated?

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While we find out I return you to our opening feature and kiss:

“I hope… I hope that was all right.”
“Yes.”
“I was afraid…. I was afraid I would take of metal and oil.”
“That is not how you taste. Did I do it right?”
“Oh, yes. Very well indeed.
“You’re my first kiss.”
“And second. May I be your third?”
“Joacquim. I may not want to stop.”
“I may not want you to.”

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Of LAZARUS VOL 4: POISON, this:

“I looked on him and I was not assured. I looked on him, and I was afraid.”

That’s Sister Bernard gazing up in contemplation at a dilapidated statue of Saint Christopher in a derelict cathedral in Havana.  He’s not just the patron saint of travellers, but of soldiers too: “A patron of holy death.”

There will plenty of travelling, a great many soldiers and blistering fire-fights in the most freezing conditions because Family Carlyle is about to go to war.

Before that, however, we must walk hundreds of miles in Sister Bernard’s pinching shoes. Nuns are given a degree of leeway by some Families to practise their faith and perform acts of medical charity for those without means – and most have no means – which involves travelling, In exchange for funding, Family Carlyle requests occasional favours from Sister Bernard whose mobility between borders makes her the perfect if petrified spy. She’s had no training and feels she has no aptitude – all she has is her faith, which here is tested to breaking point.

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Previously in LAZARUS:

In the not-too far future the world’s economies imploded, its political systems collapsed and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys technology, money buys guns and money buys people, which together buy power.

It is a feudal system, an archetypal, bottom-heavy pyramid with Family at the top, a wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs selected for their key skills below, then underneath the vast majority dismissed as “waste”.

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Family Carlyle has invested heavily in augmentation technology, bestowing it on youngest daughter Forever who now acts as their ultimate bodyguard, military commander and assassin. She’s been genetically enhanced with regenerative capabilities, trained to the peak of human physical fitness in both armed and unarmed combat and has been indoctrinated to believe that there is only one law: “Family Above All.”

The structure which Greg Rucka’s employed to introduce this grave new world has been impeccable, and it too has been a broadening pyramid: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure and the means by which waste might elevate themselves to serfdom; LAZARUS VOL 3 widened its outlook yet again to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob of Family Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. We met many more Families, each with their own Lazarus / bodyguard, and a play was made which ensured that war was inevitable.

And now… for the shooty bits.

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Michael Lark’s landscapes are phenomenal, and the characters could not be more grounded in their landscapes. That’s vital for depicting urban warfare with its geographical opportunities and obstacles; its cover, its exposure and its range. In addition, he has a complete command of weather conditions – in this case a blizzard of snow – and an eye for carefully judged detail so that readers get a tangible sense of what the terrain feels like and what can and cannot be seen by individuals on the ground. That’s vital for immersion: targets and troop movements cannot be nebulous if you want readers’ blood pressure to rocket alongside the protagonists’.

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The key is in making you care and Rucka is equally adept at making it personal. Forever Carlyle has of course been deployed while the rest of the family desperately struggle with their own problems back at base. But she’s made some discoveries recently causing her to make a decision which could put everything and everyone in jeopardy, not least herself.

Speaking of revelations, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so shocked by a final page. It’s no deus ex machina, but proof of an audacious authorial slight-of-hand much earlier on which was so cleverly played by both writer and artist that I know of nobody who saw this one coming.

“Family Above All.”

SLH

Buy Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Archangel #1 (£3-99, IDW) by William Gibson & Butch Guice…

“Mr. Vice President, please remain still… as I remove the bandages. The final procedure was entirely successful. See for yourself.”
“Granddaddy was a good looking man.”
“They know nothing of D.N.A., so they’ll have no way of knowing you’re not him. You should have no difficulties assuming his identity.”

So why would the Vice President of the United States of America want to travel back in time to February 1945 and replace his relative, one Major Aloysius Henderson of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the C.I.A? Well, given it seems like there has been some sort of catastrophic global nuclear conflict, judging from the scenes of total devastation in Tokyo, Moscow and London that we get a glimpse of on the opening page dated February 2016, I suspect altering the course of history might be high on the VP’s to-do list. A list entitled ‘Archangel’.

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Not that it seems everyone on the experimental Quantum Transfer project is of the same mindset. The chief scientist Torres, who seems to have a pretty good idea of precisely who is to blame for the current highly radioactive state of the environment, has just enough remaining quantum transfer juice to send a stealth fighter and two marines back as well, to try and foil the VP’s plot. Except whilst the first time jump works perfectly, the second, well, let’s just say there are some unexpected complications. The action then shifts to 1945 where the various Allied intelligence services find themselves with a rather perplexing puzzle to solve.

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Fantastic opener from the acclaimed cyberpunk author, I’m certainly very intrigued. This has the serious speculative feel of say, Greg Rucka’s LAZARUS, which I think from the tone of the writing and cast of characters is probably the most obvious comparison to make. There are some great bits of dialogue too, particularly in the WW2 era between various spies who seem just as concerned with getting one over each other as dealing with the situation in hand, which also minded me of Brubaker’s VELVET. Gibson can certainly write comics, I have to say, based on this first issue.

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The art from Butch Guice is excellent, fans of his work on THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA and WINTER SOLDIER will know what to expect. I always feel he’s like a slightly grittier version of Bryan Hitch though here he most reminds me of Michael Lark’s work on LAZARUS, actually.

[Editor’s interference: So true! Wait until you see the opening page’s bomb-blasted buildings. Combined with Tom Palmer’s as ever extraordinary inks, the textures are absolutely Lark. This series gets a triple thumbs-up from me, but then I was never too brilliant at biology. Gibson introduces a great many process pieces in the back, with gorgeous Guice character sketches.]

JR

Buy Archangel #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Unfollow vol 1 (£10-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, R.M. Guera…

“It’s okay Rees, I removed your name from the 140.”
“Okay! You got me! You caught me, all right! I added myself to the 140 list… But you need me, Rubenstein. I programmed the app. You need me… You… Oh Christ… You’re going to do it, aren’t you?”

… CRACK…

“One hundred forty characters. Now it can begin.”

Larry Ferrel is rich. Very rich. To the tune of 17 billion dollars, made through building social media platforms. He is also dying of pancreatic cancer. Which is why he has decided to donate his money. All of it. To 140 lucky people. That’s 120 million dollars each… I should probably add for the benefit of those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, 140 is the number of characters that a single tweet can contain, presumably explaining the conceit of the title.

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But given it all starts with the execution of one of Larry’s loyal – well, not-so-loyal, actually – employees, by his gun-toting right-hand man Rubenstein, wearing an Aztec priest’s golden mask, the 120 million dollars is, one would suspect, going to come with a few strings attached. Such as possibly not living long enough to spend it.

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And indeed once the 140 are all flown to Ferrel’s tropical island by a fleet of private jets the first catch rapidly starts to become painfully clear…

“You have all received an app on your phones and computers. It states the number of you left alive, currently 139…
“If the number shrinks to, say 138, your app will register this… your share will increase.
“And hypothetically, of course, were only one of you to be left alive, that individual would receive all of my money.
“In such a hypothetical scenario, that lone survivor would receive 18.42 billion dollars.
“All he would have to do is kill 138 people.
“But it’s not as if any of you would be willing to do that.
“Is it?”

So, I initially thought, we were going to be in very familiar Battle Royale-style territory, and indeed we are to a degree, especially given Ferrel’s stipulation that once he’s passed on to the great unknown and his loot been divvied up, if one of the 140 dies their money will be automatically returned to Ferrel’s estate and shared out again amongst the remaining survivors. At least that’s what Rubenstein says Ferrel wants… I can’t help getting a strong sense he might have his own deranged agenda going on, though. I mean, anyone wondering around in a terrifying shiny mask waving a weapon around is probably up to no good. But there’s a lot, lot more happening as well, such as the appearance of talking animal spirits to at least two of the ‘winners’. Quite how that factors in is, at this point, a complete mystery.

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Then there’s the fact that the 140 don’t seem to be have been picked entirely at random, if at all. For example there’s a cross-dressing, blade-prosthetic-wearing, facially tattooed Japanese author who has noticed there are startling similarities between the plot of one of his novels and their current predicament. When he challenges Ferrel on this and receives acknowledgement that indeed he took inspiration from the book, it provokes the author to tell Ferrel he will do everything in his power to ensure the actual ending of the book doesn’t happen. Ominous.

My personal favourite, though, is the heavily armed former special forces solider who believes God is speaking to him and the Dragon who needs to be combated is everywhere. And indeed the final issue of this arc is mainly a flashback concerning his chequered history. The phrase wild card certainly springs to mind! This issue was an interesting change of pace and I suspect will be repeated from time to time with different characters. So by the end of this first volume we’ve probably only really been properly introduced to four or five of the 140, and we haven’t, ahem, lost too many yet. Just as well because I’m really enjoying this and I’d like it to run to several volumes! I can also see exactly why it was almost immediately picked up for a television show.

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Art-wise, I can see some hints of Frank Quitely in Michael Dowling’s work, but the person I am mostly strongly minded of is Arthur MAZEWORLD (and sadly currently out of print BUTTONMAN) Ranson. It’s in the black linework, particularly the faces. Great opening volume, and this is exactly the high quality material Vertigo need to get back to putting out consistently if they want to seriously compete with the likes of Image.

JR

Buy Unfollow vol 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.

Incomplete Works (£14-99, Alternative Comics) by Dylan Horrocks

Disquiet s/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Ethan Van Sciver

Watching (£13-99, Soaring Penguin) by Winston Rowntree

Club Life In Moomin Valley (£7-50, Enfant) by Tove Jansson

Adam Sarlech Trilogy h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Frederic Bezian

Harrow County vol 2: Twice Told s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook

They’re Not Like Us vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Eric Stephenson & Simon Gane

Black Science vol 4: Godworld s/c (£10-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera

Wayward vol 3: Out From The Shadows (£12-99, Image) by Jim Zub & Steven Cummings

Octopus Pie vol 4 (£10-99, Image) by Meredith Gran

Daredevil Vs Punisher: Means And Ends s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by David Lapham

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Ryan North, Chip Zdarsky & Erica Henderson

Crossed vol 16 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Max Bemis & Fernando Melek, German Erramouse, Mauro Vargas

Silver Surfer vol 1: New Dawn s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Michael Allred

Rick And Morty vol 2 (£14-99, Oni) by Zac Gorman, Marc Ellerby & CJ Cannon & Andrew Maclean

Steven Universe vol 2 (£14-99, Kaboom) by Jeremy Sorese & Coleman Engle

Superman Adventures vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott McCloud, Mark Millar, others & various

Batgirl vol 2: Family Business s/c (£12-99, DC) by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher &  Babs Tarr, Bengal

Birthright vol 3: Allies s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan

Birthright vol 1: Call To Adventure s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan

Birthright vol 2: Homecoming s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan

News!

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ITEM! Buy Tickets for Dave McKean’s live multimedia performance of BLACK DOG – THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH in Kendal this Saturday 28th May 2016!

I have a copy of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival limited edition of the graphic novel and it is glorious!

If you want a copy of that limited edition (only 300 copies printed), as things stand, you will have to be in Kendal, Cumbria, this weekend. Otherwise you’ll have to wait for the regular edition from Dark Horse which will launched at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, October 14-16 2016.

What? Do you think I’m holding out on you? That’s the only way to guarantee yourself a copy!

But look, you can get it signed! For free!

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ITEM! Dave McKean BLACK DOG – THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH graphic novel talk and book signing is FREE on Sunday May 29th 2016 but you will need to book tickets here.

There will, possibly, be a rather fun and most certainly exclusive news update on this graphic novel this time next week, right here.

So maybe I am holding out on you.

Hahahahahaha!

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– Stephen

Page 45 is a proud Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival. We appear every year, exclusively.