Posts in the ‘Reviews’ Category

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2019 week two

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

Featuring Jiro Taniguchi, Ana Galvan, Tommi Musturi, Bryan Lee O’ Malley.

Sky Hawk s/c (£18-99, Fanfare Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi…

“When I was thirteen… I heard the call of Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit.
“For three days and three nights, with no sleep or food, I prayed on Paha Sapa, the sacred Black Hills.
“Through deep meditation I communed with a holy power… and was able to have a divine vision.
“It was a message which showed me the path which was to lead my life.
“A vision of the future.
“In my dream I saw a figure which was half man, half horse.
“The creature approached and spoke to me.
“Listen well. You must not paint your face when you enter into battle.
“And, at the end of the battle, you must not take any war trophies from the defeated.
“When you follow this path… enemy arrows and bullets… will only graze you.
“When you lead Oglala warriors into battle, no storm will defeat you.
“And then, in the distant sky where the spirit departed… I saw a pair of shooting stars.
“I could never understand… what that meant for all these years.
“But now, at long last… I am able to understand them.
“Hiko. Manzo. They were you two.”

Jiro SUMMIT OF THE GODS / A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD / A ZOO IN WINTER / FURARI / GUARDIANS OF THE LOUVRE Taniguichi had wanted to draw a Western for over twenty years, but seemingly it was felt by publishers that there would be little interest from his domestic audience. Until he hit on the idea of incorporating Japanese central characters. Having discovered the first Japanese migrants to the US included some of the formerly powerful Aizu clan he excitedly began to formulate his story. Here’s the Edict from the publisher to educate us further…

“Defeated samurai Hikosaburo and Manzo are exiled from Japan during the Boshin War in 1868 as the new Meiji government took hold of power in the country. They travel to North America and settle in the mountains of Crow territory.

One day Hikosaburo encounters a young native woman who has just given birth hidden in the scrub. Called Running Deer, she tells of how she escaped from two white traders who had ‘bought’ her, and they soon come looking for their possession.

Taniguchi’s well-researched detail and meticulous artwork reveal an accurate portrayal of the ‘Indian Wars’ of the period, including the infamous Little Big Horn encounter, and present a fascinating view of the daily lives and relationships of the Oglalas, and how the code of honour compares to that of the Samurai.”

 

 

It makes such perfect sense, I’m slightly surprised no one had thought of this particular idea before. Though you could argue it is a riff on the 1988 novella Dances With Wolves which spawned the hit film about an American soldier who goes full Native.

As you might expect, Taniguichi executes this story, both in terms of plot and artistically, with the precision of a swooshing katana cleanly removing an opponent’s head from atop their shoulders. Our two rōnin find themselves adrift both culturally and spiritually in this strange new land until their deeply held Bushidō moral code changes the course of their lives forever during a chance encounter. Taken in by the Oglala tribe and finding much in common with their new hosts, Hiko and Manzo are eventually reborn as the warriors Winds Wolf and Sky Hawk.

Unfortunately for them, the American army forces led by one cocky George Armstrong Custer, ostensibly protecting the ever-advancing railroad workforce teams, are about to completely shatter their new found sense of peace.

 

 

Before too long, it begins to dawn on our displaced duo that perhaps they have ended up in another fight which they can’t possibly win…

 

 

“Many warriors are dead. But… we still can’t drive the whites out of the Black Hills.
“From time to time… I no longer understand just what it is I’m fighting against.
“Actually… I think their numbers are increasing.
“It might be that it’s us that are being driven into a corner.
“I can no longer clearly see the shape of the enemy we’re meant to constantly be striking at.
“Maybe because it’s just too massive?
“I can’t help but feel like we’re going to be swept up in a maelstrom of black clouds.
“Right now… it’s like it was back in the past.
“It feels like the battle of Aizu in the Boshin Civil War…
“When we were forced into a siege… and brought to bay.”

“Are you saying this will be a losing battle too?”

“That… I don’t know. But… no more running away.”
“Of course. I’m resolved to that. My bones will be buried here as an Oglala warrior.”

Near note perfect writing as always from Taniguichi, your heart will bleed for the repeated injustices dispensed to the indigenous population in the name of ‘progress’. Still, despite the inevitable conclusion, he demonstrates their stoic resolute heroism and that of Hiko and Manzo as their comrades-in-arms, in the face of the increasingly insurmountable odds. As a way of life at one with nature and practised for generations was summarily destroyed by the hegemonising newcomers with barely an afterthought.

Still, Custer eventually got what he deserved and the Battle of The Little Bighorn as depicted here will have you practically swinging every tomahawk and katana alongside the real good guys as it gradually begins to dawn upon Custer that his enormous ego might just have got the better of him.

 

 

Indeed, his deep-seated arrogance in underestimating the brave warriors deliciously turned out to be the very cause of his not-so-sad demise. It was of course to no avail in the long run, but I’m pretty sure it felt rather good to those involved massacring him and every last man in his command at the time of his fabled last stand. I enjoyed reading this obviously fictionalised take on it immensely too!

JR

Buy Sky Hawk and read the Page 45 review here

Press Enter To Continue h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Ana Galvan…

“I think it’s an organisation devoted to planting images in human minds.
“They create distinct masters and project into individuals the image that best fits their memories and obsessions.
“Through a visually transmitted computer virus, based on brain-sensitive algorithms, they continue to insert these made-up memories into the minds of certain people.”
“Well, why are they doing this? Why me?”
“Their viruses only manage to alter the minds of people with deterioration in the left hippocampus, which is where memory and delusion meet. This deterioration is usually caused by an injury or a traumatic experience.
“With this they want to make them go crazy and commit suicide.”
“What?”
“My theory is that they want us to disappear a third of the planet’s population without us noticing. No traces or suspicions.
“For the overpopulation problem, you know…?
“And the most incredible part? The government might be behind everything…”
“But that’s madness.”

 

 

Is it though really…? I mean, if the planet was in serious danger of being overpopulated, I am pretty sure certain governments *might* have some crackpot scheme for dealing with it… On that note, here is the publisher to present their theory as to why it is perfectly plausible to believe Ana Galvan’s theory that the powers that be are out to off a third of us. Though as long that third doesn’t include any discerning comics readers we should be okay…

“Like a candy-coloured Black Mirror episode, Spanish cartoonist Ana Galvan’s English language debut utilizes florescent colours to create a series of short stories that intertwine and explore the dehumanizing effects of contemporary society.

 

 

Galvan’s characters navigate a world where government departments brutalize the people, information is mined like gold and suicide is a tool to manage overpopulation. Galvan’s future is a logical extension of the present, where the malice of large corporations manifests itself in everyday ways.”

 

 

I think the Black Mirror analogy is spot on actually as Galvan just gently stretches the bounds of believability with a kaleidoscopic finger probe to the brain of the reader. And I do mean gently. For this is subtle psychic sinkhole suck-you-in surreal which lures you down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole before you realise what’s happening.

 

 

Artistically this is like a fine blend of Roman VANISHING ACT Muradov, Oliver PARALLEL LIVES Schrauwen and George GHOSTS, ETC. Wylesol. The strict geometry, absence of character facial features and the glorious glowing colours and textures make a very strong impression upon the synapses. Almost as though Galvan is trying to brainwash us readers with her imagery… 

JR

Buy Press Enter To Continue h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Anthology Of Mind (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Tommi Musturi…

“The blood of Christ is dripping through my ears.”
“Sit on my face and tell me that you love me.”

“Chess players’ expanded brains are working at top speed.”

Haha, the two pages of ‘Italo Sports’ two panel gag strips had me spluttering my coffee out. Before we go any further, here’s the publisher’s explanation for this bulging bag of mad from one of the most mental minds working in comics today…

“This anthology of short stories looks like the work of many cartoonists but is actually that of Finnish cartoonist Tommi Musturi. The Anthology of Mind is a tour de force of stylistic exploration and a window into the brain of one of the most creatively fearless cartoonists working today.

‘Style is a form of fear – fear of change, fear of loss, and fear of being different,’ according to the author.

In The Anthology of Mind, Musturi confronts this fear head-on with one of the most vital and visually stunning collections of short comics in recent memory.”

I first came across Tommi Musturi thanks to John Porcellino, who was stocking one of the component parts of what would go on to be collected as the superb THE BOOK OF HOPE. I loved his dry wit, absurdist humour, and indeed his artistic style. So much so, then when he subsequently released SIMPLY SAMUEL, I was a little nonplussed by how different it was, both in art and storytelling terms. I guess I had wanted, and expected, more of the same.

So this collection of material spectacularly highlights I genuinely didn’t have a clue just how diverse Tommi’s output is. His quote above clearly demonstrates the reasoning behind why in 38 stories over nearly 120 pages there is barely a single concrete repetition of artistic style. Yes, there are some variations on a theme artistically, but aside from Bryan Talbot, I am hard pushed to think of such a comprehensively chameleonic creator.

 

 

In terms of storytelling, Tommi clearly has a penchant for the surreal and the absurd and definitely excels in combining the two. I wouldn’t necessarily clarify a lot of this material as an easy read but if you are a fan of the experimental, with heavy emphasis on the mental, I think you will find this anthology highly amusing and wryly entertaining.

JR

Buy The Anthology Of Mind and read the Page 45 review here

Scott Pilgrim Colour Collection vol 2 s/c (£26-99, Oni) by Bryan Lee O’ Malley.

Scott Pilgrim lives with his gay housemate, Wallace, for whom dry, sly mockery is a default setting.

Also: taking his pants off.

“Why are your pants off?! Stop taking your pants off all the time!!”
“It’s hot! Also? I’m hot, so enjoy it while you can.”
“Mumble, mumble… scarred for life…”

British readers: ‘pants’ means something different in North America.

SCOTT PILGRIM was the coolest comic on Earth since its very first venture, and if you’ve never tried it, then you need Scott Pilgrim in your life.

There are no exceptions. This means that you’re not one of them.

They don’t exist; you do!

So that’ll be £26-99, please.

Scott is clueless, unemployed and potentially unemployable. For one, his girlfriend’s evil exes are constantly threatening to do Nintendo-style battle with him which can be pretty disruptive to most work schedules.

 

 

Although he’s dated Ramona for three books already, he’s yet to use the “L” word on her.

 

 

Here’s his trouser-less room-mate Wallace again, asking if he’s used it:

“The L-word? You mean… lesbian?”
“Uh… no. The other L-word.”
“…?”
“Okay, uh, it’s “love”. I wasn’t trying to trick you or anything.”
“What? Have I said it? To her? Sort of. Almost. No. Is it important?”
“I don’t know, guy, but your Mom says it to me all the time.”

Wallace takes a big, long slurp from his drink.

 

 

These books have a logic all of their own, for when I say Scott has to battle Ramona’s evil exes in between band practices, he does: using drinks for Level-Ups, gaining Experience Points from work and – if Scott manages to get it together in time – even a flaming sword when he learns The Power Of Love. He’s going to need it as well, as the ominous Gideon sub-plot grows thicker…

O’Malley hasn’t even begun to run out of ideas: Scott’s head poking out from the zip of a small, subspace handbag? Genius! The best book yet, with a joyous and inventive cartooning that gets slicker and slicker.

 

 

Even if Scott doesn’t.

“Where’s Julie tonight?”
“I dunno. She hates me. Where’s Ramona?”
“She’s at home tonight and she likes me very much.”
“Have you said the L-word yet?”
“Why is everyone obsessed with lesbians?!”

Contains SCOTT PILGRIM colour hardcovers 3 & 4.

SLH

Buy Scott Pilgrim Colour Collection vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Fence vol 3 (£10-99, Boom!) by C.S. Pacat & Johanna the Mad

H.P. Lovecraft’s The Hound And Other Stories (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Gou Tanabe

Lightstep s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mirko Topalski & Milos Slavkovic

The Boys Omnibus vol 1 (£26-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson

The Boys Omnibus vol 2 (£26-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson, John Higgins

The Boys Omnibus vol 3 (£26-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson

Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II s/c (£14-99, DC) by James Tynion IV, Ryan Ferrier & Freddie Williams II

Amazing Spider-Man vol 4: Hunted s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Ryan Ottley, various

Guardians Of The Galaxy vol 1: The Final Gauntlet s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Donny Cates & Geoff Shaw

The War Of The Realms s/c (£26-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman

Attack On Titan vol 28 (£6-99, Viz) by Hajime Isayama

Knights Of Sidonia vol 1 (Master Edition) (£29-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Vampire Knight: Memories vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2019 week one

Wednesday, August 7th, 2019

Featuring Kate Charlesworth, John Allison, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Mark Millar, Rafael Albuquerque, Chip Zdarsky, Carlos Magno, Butch Guice

Sensible Footwear, A Girl’s Guide (£17-99, Myriad) by Kate Charlesworth.

“FEMINISM IS THE RADICAL IDEA THAT WOMEN ARE PEOPLE”

What a superbly structured, brilliant but biting history and vital entertainment this is!

Shoes! Shoes! Sensible shoes!

You are hereby ever so warmly invited to walk a mile or twenty-six in somebody else’s – Kate Charlesworth’s and the growing LGBT+ community’s – in a personal insight, education and entertainment spanning 70 years from the 1950s onwards!

All education should be an entertainment and this one comes vibrant in colour, comedy and variety without a po face in sight:

Yes, Cinders!” it proudly proclaims on its title page, “You shall go to the Rugmunchers’ Ball!”

It is laugh! It’s a riot! It is a genuine milestone.

 

 

It is a declaration of unequivocal and inalienable pride and ownership, as well as an acknowledgement of childhood innocence and naivety which is overwhelmingly inclusive because, hey, weren’t we all – gay or straight – utterly baffled and confused aged 5, 7, 9 or 11 either by what others have got going on down there or by increasingly wild, schoolyard hearsay when it came to matters of love and sexual congress? Of course we were!

 

 

You’ll be privy to Kate’s own mystification then awkward, uh-oh education; the disinformation then elucidation; timidity, discovery, further confusion and gradually figuring it out. It’s never a straight learning curve, is it? Now imagine all that… before the age of internet information! Before the love that dared not speak its name spoke its name! Before you might know where to go, or whom you could confide in, ever so carefully even those closest to you!

Because ostracism is a bitch, and its prospect’s pretty daunting; potentially even more so when they’re your friends.

 

 

But this is mischievous, it’s irreverent and I did promise you “variety”. I meant it in both senses for as well as a personal reflection – shared between four fast friends in the present day – of growing up gay in sequences artfully differentiated in both line-style and colour, this is a pageant of past performers who paved our way in one way or another (Divine, Dusty Springfield, David Bowie, Josephine Baker, Tom Robinson, Gay Sweatshop, Rhona Cameron, April Ashley, Dana International, The Pet Shop Boys, Sandi Toksvig, Nancy Spain and so many more) and if you’re a Gilbert & Sullivan fan then Charlesworth pays tribute with her own Three-Act gala performance of several “lost” compositions based on extant tunes which could not be more witty in their word-play, delivery, or in the way that they repurpose each musical play for their larger-than-life stroll down the local dykes’ bar of yore with all its behavioural idiosyncrasies and points or order, characters, customs and politics.

They could take some finding back in the bad old days – and they could be rough!

 

 

Let us be clear, however: there is so much that’s sobering to be learned or recalled about the shit which we’ve been subjected to over these specific decades plus the courageous and enterprising inroads against social adversity and legal persecution / prosecution which pioneering souls far braver than I have turned from vindictiveness, ingratitude or invisibility into official recognition in terms of equality, individuality and outright acclaim.

Take shy Alan Turing, the mathematician who historians now estimate was “personally responsible for shortening the Second World War by two years” with his breaking of the Germans’ Enigma Machine messages. How many millions of lives did he save? Arrested then trawled through the courts simply because he was gay – for being caught having a consensual affair with a 19-year-old man who then robbed him – Turing was sentenced to chemical castration “which made him fat, impotent and, worse, affected his ability to think and concentrate”.

His inability to think and concentrate…

He committed suicide.

“Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologised for Turing’s treatment in 2009, and in 2013 he was granted a Royal Pardon. In 2017 this posthumous pardon was extended to thousands of gay men.”

Trenchantly, one of the Charlesworth’s best friends there interjects: “’Forgiving’ us? We did nothing wrong!”

And I adore all this solidarity: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied, plus, plus, plus we are all in this together.

Alan Turing is about to appear on the next generation of £50 notes.

But if the last 50 years has taught me anything, it’s that progress towards that which is even bog-standard enlightenment can never be taken for granted – just look at today’s news – so we still need to stand up and be counted and embrace diversity in all the joy which it grants us otherwise the bullies on the high street, down the back streets, in the media and in legislature win, and we are all reduced to a powerless, unquestioning, homogenous hole.

 

 

Badges! Don’t you love badges?

I do love badges, and Kate Charlesworth reminds us of so many I’d forgotten by scattering them across the nuggets of history interspersed between the autobiographical narrative (where chronologically or thematically appropriate) in single or double-page info-burst collages, mostly line-drawn from photos so as to maintain the mood.

One of my all-time favourites is “FEMINISM IS THE RADICAL IDEA THAT WOMEN ARE PEOPLE”. It’s not a big ask, is it?

My best friend Anita wore a badge proposing that “9 out of 10 men are bisexual”, knowing full well that so many post-punk lads wouldn’t be able to resist declaring they weren’t. “Ah,” she’d smile quietly, delightedly, “Then you must be one of the ONE in 10”.

Also books, plays and films: you’ll have quite the reading list when you finish this, should you want seminal works to watch out for!

 

 

And so to the story of Kate Charlesworth herself, co-creator with Mary and Bryan Talbot of SALLY HEATHCOTE SUFFRAGETTE and full creator of Aunty Studs, jacket-studded star of the strips which she sold to City Limits then later The Pink Paper, and from which she derives her Twitter handle.

She was born in Barnsley, Easter Sunday 1950, when the nurse was said to say:

“’The child that is born on the Sabbath Day is bonny and blithe, good and gay!’”

Sometime in the 1980s, and her Mum’s leafing somewhat unhappy through the family photo album:

“Oh, well. At least you were good.”

They probably need to have that conversation. Or perhaps it’ll be best if they didn’t.

 

 

Kate’s early years are narrated in soft, grey, pencil-and-wash focus with delicate colours picking out details as she brandishes wooden swords, rakes saws across lawns, admires military parades or bangs nails into planks to fashion a carpentry reproduction of the HMS Birmingham. Mum (Joan) isn’t impressed but Dad (Harold) is much more relaxed.

“Nay, she’ll be reyt!” is his cheerful refrain.

Then there’s the secret stuff you do with in the shed, tent or some other sort of den. You didn’t?! I did! Kate makes Colin scream. “I was always hands-on.”

School years with their inevitable, attendant humiliations are rendered as a girls’ comic complete with their telling Ben-Day dots, her teen wardrobe playfully parodied as a paper-doll page. Gradually, as Charlesworth grows older, the pencils become sharper then delineated in ink, the memories perhaps more permanent, clearer and less fragmented.

 

 

Subtly, this helps differentiate between the time periods as an intriguing, wider, substantial, troubled and at times troubling family history unfurls, going all the way back to Kate’s maternal Grandma, thence forward once more to her Mum. Memories of Dianna Rigg in ‘The Avengers’ catalyse another, much later on, during a visit to see her perform in a musical:

“Love, loss, vaudeville. Pain, angst, tears.”
“Why d’you always have to say something miserable, Kathryn?”
“It’s Stephen Sondheim, Ma! It’s the law! Besides, I’ve already seen it three times.”

During these many mother-and-daughter outings in all kinds of environments, mother Joan can flip swiftly from disapproval to animated enjoyment, depending on what’s distracting her. Of Diana Rigg, strutting her high-heeled, split-dress stuff, she cannot help but declare,  “Well! She’s certainly managed to keep her legs!”

And it seems a puzzle because Joan’s reactions are unpredictable, all over the place, basking in company you’d suspect she’d flinch from, yet at other times growing distant, walling herself off….

Anyway, eventually it’s off to art college in Manchester during the late ‘60s and it’s time for family to take a temporary back seat while fresh friends are made, digs are dug or not dug (and so swiftly swapped), and all the metropolis has to offer is explored along with Kate’s tentatively emerging thoughts and feelings.

 

 

That we begin the graphic novel in Teneriffe, 2016, with Kate hooked up not with Ness but Dianne (and, along with friend Wren, all basking joyfully in the brightest of rainbow-coloured combos) cleverly adds a level of eager anticipation on our parts, as well as the certain knowledge that there is a whole lot yet for Kate to enjoy and endure. Most of life comes with mixed feelings. And yeah, it’s pretty eventful!

 

 

There’s a whole career to come involving design, animation, comic strips… romances and relationships to be cautiously explored in all their up-and-down diversity… movements to emerge including CND, anti-apartheid and gay liberation in all its multiple facets from Stonewall and Sappho magazine (run by the ever-inventive Jackie Forster) to the first times that the love which dare not speak its name nor certainly appear on national television without being cushioned in camp finally did so in the form of soap-opera kisses and Gaytime TV, “a queer take on daytime programming”… and inevitably, unfortunately, the most horrific adversity to be challenged.

Although I’m not at all sure that “adversity” is adequate to describe the detonation of the then-fatal ‘80s AIDS epidemic which ripped through our individual lives and the gay community, robbing so many individuals of dozens of friends. It ignited and renewed an even more vicious, physically violent homophobia whose flames were fanned by opportunist politicians and Christian clergy in collusion with the media, were institutionalised by the likes of Manchester Police Chief James Anderton, and were then legislatively endorsed and enforced by the Tory government of the day in the form of Clause 28 which became Section 28, with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declaring:

“Children who need to be taught traditional moral values are being taught that they have the inalienable right to be gay!”

Which I do, thanks very much.

It’s all documented here, with real headline quotes – so many duplicitous – that will make your skin crawl.

 

 

But you know what? We did stand up and were counted, including the comics community: Alan Moore, Debbie Delano and Phyllis Moore invited all their top-tier comicbook-creator pals to contribute to their Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia anthology. More vitally, the Terrence Higgins Trust was born to educate the public, confidentially test and treat those diagnosed as HIV-positive, the Red Ribbon Project gave everyone the opportunity to show public solidarity against a prejudice so severe that many lost their jobs and – no small act, this – Chief Anderton’s daughter was so ashamed of her father that she outed herself in the News Of The World.

Its headline was not censorious but relieved, even celebratory, iconoclastically co-opting the language of organised religion’s venomous hatred to declare:

“HALLELUJAH! Anderton’s daughter is a dyke” 

That’s surprisingly supportive, isn’t it?

There’s so much more besides inside to surprise!

Most especially this, oh so much this: SENSIBLE FOOTWEAR carries one heck of a personal punchline which – unexpectedly, startlingly – resolves so much of what’s said before. Families can we well-funny things, can’t they?

Posy Simmonds MBE, creator of graphic novels TAMARA DREWE, CASSANDRA DARKE et al declares:

“A stunning achievement – as a graphic study of LGBT history, and as a memoir of growing up gay from the 1950s onwards. Kate’s fluid and tellingly detailed drawing reveals not only the frustrations of and traumas of lesbian life, but also the laughter and camaraderie… and a glorious cavalcade of gay icons.”

For further reading, please see Page 45’s LGBT+ non-fiction and Page 45’s LGBT+ fiction

SLH

Buy Sensible Footwear, A Girl’s Guide and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 8: The Case Of The Modern Men (Pocket Edition) (£11-99, Oni Press) by John Allison…

 

 

“Heh! What a mess! They’re great, these Chinese bikes, until you finally decide to ride them.”
“Can you fix it?”
“Mods, coming around again! Takes me back to my days working at the Kaufman in ’61.
“I’d been a teddy boy, most teds hated mods. But I didn’t care.
“The girls! Pointy bras, hair lacquered just right, paradise for a lad.
“The lads were the purists and snobs, but at least they had manners.
“We’d have all the villains in there too.
“The Wessex Brothers. Bonnie Prince Gordon. Tony Crow and his mother!
“Never any trouble, or if there was, it took place out the back.
“They all loved jazz, see?”
“But can you fix it?

“Grandpa’s in his anecdotage. Stories only stop for toilet breaks.”

Haha! I feel that is how John Allison must work sometimes to put out the amount of material he does. Right around the clock only stopping for the call of nature… And I bet even then he’s plotting whilst plopping… Still, this particularly webbery material is from 2014 I think, and I make it there are still three more collected case volumes to come, I think, so we needn’t panic just yet. Huzzah!

Anyway, the kids are back and so is mod. Yes, all crazes come around again eventually and our gang of sleuths just carry on aging disgracefully, now firmly in the grip of adolescent hormones. Well, all the boys at least, who are now finally starting to display some fashion sense and even a sharp haircut or two in a feeble attempt to attract the attention of the ladies. Just in time for the sophisticated female French exchange students to arrive and turn everyone’s world upside down…

 

 

There’s not so much of the supernatural testing Tackleford in this case, aside from the haunted scooter responsible for decapitating multiple King Mods from the sixties onwards, that is…

 

 

No, causing most of the consternation this time around is sassy Camille Duplass, staying with little Claire of the lisp…

 

 

… who harbours a possibly spurious long time grudge against Mimi…

 

 

… residing with Charlotte Grote, who is of course, more than happy to help, errr insist… that Mimi tries to settle the score with the wannabe upstart Queen who also wants to reine (sic) over the English Mods. Which of course only succeeds in enraging Camille even further…

 

 

As ever, I find myself marvelling at the near continuous stream of wittiness that flows from John’s mind. Every page, nay panel, well in fact pretty much every single speech bubble in BAD MACHINERY is packed with the trademark gently surreal humour that makes this series just such a merrily mirthful delight to read.

 

 

We know the main cast so well by now John is able to get fully freewheelin’ with the dialogue, the in-jokes, frequently going on the most delightful round the back of the bike shed diversions before always bringing it back to a chuckle inducing climax with the pithy punchlines that punctuate practically the end of every page.

He is a comedy genius. Perhaps the very finest in comics. I would happily argue his case there. I will be so, so sad when all this material is finally collected and the series complete. The same as with GIANT DAYS… sob… which is rapidly heading to a conclusion.

But fret ye not, fans of John’s brilliant brand of surreal British farce, because there is a new series entitled STEEPLE about to begin! It is only slated to be a five issue mini-series, mind, but we will take what we can get!

JR

Buy Bad Machinery vol 8: The Case Of The Modern Men (Pocket Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Prodigy s/c (£17-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Rafael Albuquerque…

“Would you be offended if I said this is the most ridiculous stunt you’ve pulled in all the time I’ve worked here, sir?”
“Too late, Candice. I’m afraid the words have already left your lips.”
“Should I run through today’s main requests?”
“Please do.”
“First is from the Australian government, and they want you to investigate a series of weird materialisations they’ve been having.
“Second is from La Folle Journee in Nantes, asking if could compose a new classical overture for their festival in July.
“Third is a brand-new stunt challenge where you drive a car off the roof of our Berlin office, and land on a specific floor on the building opposite. Blindfolded, if you’re feeling brave enough.”
“Is this from that same kid again?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Well, tell him it’s a yes and the others too. I haven’t slept in over a month, and I need something to exercise my brain cells a little.
“I’ve written three plays, designed a new telecommunications system and invented a polymer that keeps food fresh for a century. I also grew the company thirty percent last night, but I’ll slit my wrists if I have to look at another spreadsheet.
“These materialisations sounds interesting. Tell Australia we’re firing up the jet.”

The only thing more annoying than a cocky know-it-all, is a really, really cocky know-it-all. And yet, despite being an immense show-off of the very highest order Edison Crane is actually quite the likeable character. He might even be capable of running a comic shop…

Fortunately for Edison, his primary concern is merely an imminent extra-dimensional invasion aided and abetted by a secret cabal who have been preparing for this very moment for thousands of years. Well, there is also that extinction level asteroid which is going to plough into the Earth that he’s promised to devise a solution for, but that’s seventeen years away so he can just let his subconscious mind keep working on that minor problemette in the meanwhile…

Well, following on from the exceptional MAGIC ORDER, that most relentless of comics writers Mark Millar is back yet again, and once more he has penned a self-contained piece of action comedy gold. You will find Edison Crane as annoying as he is enchanting certainly, he’s like Stephen Hawking crossed with James Bond, as he flits around the globe from glamorous but deadly location to location in search of clues as to how to save the day.

 

 

With panache obviously! Just saving the day in a humdrum run-of-the-mill fashion wouldn’t do at all now would it?!

 

 

Along the way there’ll be idiots who think they can outwit him, of course, for the cabal is well aware that Edison Crane is the only person who could possibly stand any hope of stopping them. He might even let them think they have outwitted him in true cocky know-it-all fashion…

Much like James Bond, certainly circa Roger Moore era, the plot is delightfully preposterous, the stunts truly over-the-top ridiculous, and the one-liners wincingly hilarious. If you enjoyed THE SECRET SERVICE: KINGSMAN you’ll definitely get a spinning, twirling flying head kick out of this.

Rafael AMERICAN VAMPIRE Albuquerque, who has worked with Millar before on the Forrest Gump-esque superhero parody HUCK, provides equally non-stop kinetic, action-packed art.

 

 

I’ve always thought he does a great snidey bad guy face too and here is no exception as Edison Crane’s private school bête noire turns out to be the loony tune in question.

 

 

Albuquerque also does a great snidey bad guy who’s just realised his plans of world domination have been totally thwarted by a cocky know it all face too. With panache…

JR

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

Scott Pilgrim Colour Collection vol 1 s/c (£26-99, Oni) by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Scott is a clot. He really is. He’s a total dumpling, and in terms of a Chinese take-away, dim doesn’t even begin to sum the lad up.

He is kinda cute, though, and as the series kicks off, Scott is living with gay housemate Wallace for whom sly, dry mockery is a default setting. They’re so poor that they even share the same bed. But Scott sleeps soundly until this girl called Ramona comes skating through his dreams. She’s a delivery girl and as you well know the quickest way from A to B is to skate through someone else’s dreams, right…? Then Scott meets Ramona in his waking life, falls head over heels in whatever the hell that thing is (he may figure it out eventually) but is casually informed that if he wants her as a girlfriend he’ll have to defeat her seven evil exes in combat!

 

 

Truly a unique series with a heart of gold, and a wit and a Nintendo logic all of its own, there is not a single comicbook reader who could fail to fall in love with Scott, Wallace, Ramona or Bryan himself. O’Malley’s visual gags, unique to the medium, keep tumbling onto the page.

Unlike the six SCOTT PILGRIM colour hardcovers, these three 2-in-1 editions boast no behind–the-scenes extras, just ALL the comics, their comedy genius, plus an innovative, thick-book spine mechanic which we’ve never encountered before.

Of Scott Pilgrim vol 2 h/c I wrote:

Seminal series about the most sensitive, caring, sharing boy in Christendom.

“Um, listen… I think we should break up or whatever.”

WHAT?! No level-up points you, young Scott!

Nathan Fairbairn has done the impossible: taken Page 45’s all-time favourite black and white series and enhanced it with colour. Oh, the blasphemy of it all! But it looks so good and it feels so right. Witness that rain-soaked night with the puddles on the pavement: you can almost hear the downpour and smell its wet-dog fur! And then there’s the subtle reflection of Ramona’s fuscia leggings!

 

 

Anyway: Kim Pine. She was beautifully portrayed in the film – I don’t think you could have cast a better Miss Mardy glowering over the drum kit – but woefully cut in terms of screen time. Well, it wouldn’t all have gotten too complicated…

 

 

Here: IT GETS COMPLICATED!

Kim Pine, you see, was always a major player in the comicbook series and now you’ll be privy to her full story.

Previously in SCOTT PILGRIM:

To continue dating Ramona, Scott must defeat her seven evil exes in combat, leveling-up Nintendo-stylee as he does so. BUT: Ramona isn’t the only one who’s had a complicated love life, and – Knives Chau aside – they all seem to end up in bands! Plus: is Scott finally going to ditch Knives Chau? And if he does so, did he actually pay attention to her name?

 

 

In fact does Scott pay attention to anyone or anything ever?!

Scott…?!

Oh, good grief. Too busy fussing about his hair, I expect.

SLH

Buy Scott Pilgrim Colour Collection vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Elektra: Assassin s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz –

Deadly but beautiful ninja action from 1987. Bill’s art begins to approach the wild invention of STRAY TOASTERS with lashings to photocopies, splayed paint, collage, stickers and time-saving short cuts.  Frank’s splintered storyline uses multiple voices to give a sense of confusion in both the narrative and their own minds.

We begin with Elektra escaping from the asylum, controlling her memories and trying to keep the ninja training at the forefront. Throughout the book, this discipline is responsible for many great plot twists – mind-swapping, lightning-quick reflexes, mind-control, everyday objects used as weapons. There is a great beast looking to bring the destruction of the world by controlling the mind of the next president of the United States and Elektra must stop him. Although this was published by Epic, it references Miller’s earlier DAREDEVIL storyline but the only Marvel bleed-through we get to see is a big-gun-obsessed Nick Fury along with several disposable S.H.I.E.L.D operatives.

MAS

Buy Elektra: Assassin s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Invaders vol 1: War Ghosts s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Chip Zdarsky & Carlos Magno, Butch Guice…

“But my power is even greater than that. My reach, farther.
“Don’t believe me? Well, listen closely…
“… Because the sea has secrets.
“I’ve lived a long time, Karris.
“I’ve experienced great losses… great victories…
“But I’ve learned from them.
“And now, finally, I have a plan.
“Nobody needs die in battle ever again.
“For why would there be battles if we no longer have enemies?
“Yes, the sea has secrets. And I am the sea…”

Hmm… well, there is a certain way you could take Namor’s monologue. I did, and I was wrong!

Chip Zdarsky, currently one volume in to a so far excellent and pleasingly thoughtful run on Daredevil (DAREDEVIL VOL 1: KNOW FEAR S/C) turns his pen to the heroes that battled and battered the original goosesteppers back in the day.

 

 

With a story told in two time periods, both in the midst of their World War Two comradeship-in-arms and now firmly set against each other in modern day, well, stroppy pants Namor versus everyone else, it is all about the ghosts of the past haunting the present. And Namor losing the plot, again…

 

 

However, like he says, he’s not just throwing his toys out of the pram and blaming it on a bad migraine as per usual, he does have a plan, and surprisingly dastardly it is too. Actually, I say two time periods, it is in fact three, because what does a young Professor X, cropping up before he’d even assembled any X-Men at all, have to do with Namor’s mental maladies…? Lovely bit of Marvel Universe retconning going on there.

Nice, easily distinguishable appropriate art from Butch Guice handling the period material and Carlos Magno handling the modern day matter.

 

 

The latter is decent enough, but Butch Guice as ever is superb. He did some of Ed Brubaker’s DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA run, along with Steve Epting, and it was actually Brubaker and Epting’s very enjoyable MARVELS PROJECT that Guice’s work here made me think of, for reasons of period and tone.

 

 

I’m sure it wouldn’t sell, but on the basis of this I’d love to see Zdarsky and Guice tackle an entirely period Invaders run, or at least a mini-series.

 

 

Or better yet, have a go at something a bit more inventive and imaginative like the MARVELS PROJECT. On that point, the shortly to be offered as a collection SPIDER-MAN: LIFE STORY telling the story of a Peter Parker who actually ages through the decades penned by Zdarsky is really rather good.

JR

Buy The Invaders vol 1: War Ghosts s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

 New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Me, Mikko And Annikki (£22-99, North Atlantic Books) by Tiitu Takalo

Press Enter To Continue h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Ana Galvan

The Anthology Of Mind (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Tommi Musturi

Thief Of Thieves vol 7: Closure (£14-99, Image) by Brett Lewis & Shawn Martinbrough

Walking Dead vol 32: Rest In Peace (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Aliens Resistance s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Robert Carey, Dan Jackson, Roberto De La Torre

The Complete Future Shocks vol 2 (£19-99, Rebellion) by Alan Moore, Alan Grant, John Wagner, more & Dave Gibbons, John Higgins, more

Aquaman vol 1: Unspoken Water h/c (£22-99, DC) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Robson Rocha

Wonder Woman By Greg Rucka vol 2 s/c (£24-99, DC) by Greg Rucka & Cliff Richards, various

Marvels (Monster-Sized) h/c (£67-99, Marvel) by Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross

Old Man Quill vol1: Nobody’s Fault But Mine s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Ethan Sacks &Robert Gill, Ibraim Roberson

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 6 (£9-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

Legend Of Zelda vol 15: Twilight Princess vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Himekawa

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2019 week five

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

Featuring Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Jacob Phillips, George Takei, Harmony Becker, William Gibson, Johnnie Christmas, Tamra, Jim Ottaviani, Leland Myrick, David Lapham, Maria Lapham, Sang Miao, Andy Diggle, Mike Carey, Leonardo Manco, Danijel Zezelj, Jason Aaron, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini, Sean Murphy

Bad Weekend (A Criminal h/c) (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Jacob Phillips.

“So what were those pages you were looking for?”
“Some stuff I drew back when I was working for Archie Lewis… Don’t worry about it… It’s just a mistake I made. One of many, right? But I wanted to keep this one to myself…”

There is a crime committed here. Well, several if you include the odd counterfeit, entry by deception and a felony assault.

But unlike most of CRIMINAL, this self-contained mystery from the creators of KILL OR BE KILLED, THE FADE OUT, FATALE and published in the same format as MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES focuses far more on criminal behaviour, as in shoddy, as in unethical, as in treacherous.

Over the years, the American comics industry has witnessed more than its fair share of corporate malfeasance and personal betrayals – sometimes in the same swoop. Now you’ll be privy to some of those too.

July 1997, and the American comicbook industry is purported to be dying.

“Publishers going bankrupt, distributors imploding, shops closing all over the country.”

But at least the conventions still focussed on comics, and due deference was paid to its veterans.

 

 

One such legend is Hal Crane, who cut his professional teeth inking backgrounds on Archie Lewis’s STAR KING newspaper strips before carving out his own career with deadlines so tight he too needed junior assistants. Oh, and then there was his gig as lead design and storyboard artist for Danny Dagger And The Fantasticals, an animated cartoon which became a cultural sensation for a whole generation back in the ‘70s with a lot of licensed merchandise which Hal saw not a penny from. But Crane had become a chain-smoking, hard-drinking bitter man long before feeling ripped off by that, and his explosive temper was as legendary as his undeniable talent.

“The kind of guy who could ink with a toothbrush or a broken stick and the page would still come out perfect.”

Jacob knows, because straight after high school Jacob became one of Hal’s art assistants, learning from the best while witnessing the worst. He lasted longer than most but it didn’t end well. “Hal ended most of his relationships badly.” They haven’t spoken since.

So Jacob’s more than a little startled when Mindy from the imminent annual Comicfest phones late at night with an urgent request.

“Apparently, Hal Crane was flying in to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award and they needed someone to… uh… basically be his minder for a few days. Make sure he got to the ceremony and his other appearances.”

 

 

That’s minder rather than P.A., Steering Hal clear of the bars is going to be no easy task, but Hal Crane has asked specifically for Jacob. What Jacob isn’t aware of yet is that keeping Crane at the exhibition hall itself is going to be as arduous as smoothing over his bad behaviour, because Hal’s on a mission to recover missing pages of original art that very few others even know exist.

Unusually, I haven’t given you all the information you need to comprehend the exact nature of the mystery yet – I honestly haven’t – because they’re deliberately dropped in the narrative as casually as conversation and the final three pages will be doozies. Which is not a word I’ve ever typed before.

Brubaker builds the relationship between Jacob and Hal in recollections scattered throughout at relevant junctures so that you understand why the former would accept the request of a difficult man who didn’t treat him too well, and why Hal would have the temerity to ask: he’s pretty much oblivious to his past. Well, that part of it, anyway. He certainly doesn’t own it.

“You threw in the towel… really?”
“You’re the one who said I wouldn’t make it.”
“I never said that… And why the hell would you listen to me, anyway?”
“Uh… because I was your assistant?”
“No. You can’t let anyone tell you what you can be or not. I was probably trying to toughen you up… If I said that.”

 

 

Brubaker also demarcates the generational gap between Hal and almost everyone he encounters with aplomb. He doesn’t understand the world he’s re-entering after a long retirement at all. I think you’re going to enjoy the convention itself, and the eight extra pages which there were no room for in the issues of the CRIMINAL which this reprints flesh out the contrasting expectations of a faded and jaded star and the far cruder reality.

The art’s another star turn by Phillips and Phillips (solicitors at large), particularly Hal Crane’s slightly hunched, old-man posture and initially twinkling eyes which are soon clouded then shrouded over as he enters affrays of his own making. Still, there’s nothing like a speedy, cop-avoiding car dash about town to get the adrenaline pumping, and Hal’s eyes perk up again, rather proud of his own naughtiness.

“He’s not calling the cops… I’m his “mentor”, remember?
“Trust me, he’ll be dining out on this story for years.”

 

 

There’s a terrific upwards angle through the windscreen there, conveying the urgency and speed, while the colours are slashed across the panels in delicious tangerine and lemon mousse rippled through with blackcurrant. There’ll be much more cramped interior car shots later on, back-lit by sheets of a very specific red and blue as alternating lights flash outside before we approach those final three pages once the very bad weekend is almost over and Jacob returns home alone.

“Someone once referred to Hal Crane as “a master without a masterpiece” but that wasn’t actually true. There was a masterpiece, it’s just that only a handful of people had ever seen it…
“And only on Hal’s most drunken nights. That’s when he got confessional
“When he told you his secrets.
“Like the real story of Archie Lewis’s death.”

As for my opening quotation, it came with one hell of a haunted eye.

 

 

Post Script:

“Publishers going bankrupt, distributors imploding, shops closing all over the country.”

I didn’t want to bog you down unnecessarily too early on, but in advertising this graphic novel much was made of what looked like comics’ “death spiral” at the time, and I thought you might be curious.

As far as it goes, the above quotation stands true. In the mid-1990s short-sighted retailers had over-ordered insane quantities of superhero comics based on the corporations’ hype in collusion with Wizard Magazine’s self-serving forecasts in the hope of selling them later on at prices much higher than those on their covers. Rather than stack their shelves to sell through as soon as possible, they’d filled their basements with comics which they laid down like wine if not to mature then to appreciate in value.

It’s called speculation. Collectors did it too. They still do. They treat comics not like an entertainment medium, but like the Stock Exchange.

 

 

Amateurs all, what these retailers had failed to understand is that cashflow is key, critical to any business’s day-to-day survival. So when the buyers’ bubble inevitably burst (not least because corporations like Image and Valiant then failed to deliver the over-ordered comics in time before their status as “hot” had evaporated), retailers found themselves with nothing but dead stock and debts. They went bankrupt in droves.

At the same time the two major comics corporations instigated the Distribution Wars, either effectively self-distributing in Marvel’s case or naming Diamond as their exclusive conduit in DC’s. Can you spell “Monopoly”? Without the surviving (and already strapped) retailers’ cash coming in for these dominant publishers’ products, every other distributor in the US imploded, taking with them the orders from independent publishers which they had proactively supported, so guess what happened to those poor publishers? Entirely deliberate on the publishers’ part: wipe out the competition.

 

 

It’s a longer story but that’s the skinny which I witnessed first-hand, having joined the industry circa 1990, working for a chain of comic shops called Fantastic Store. Racked, stacked and packed with comics, those basements were bursting; their owner’s bank account, not so much.

SLH

Buy Bad Weekend (A Criminal h/c) and read the Page 45 review here

They Called Us Enemy s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by George Takei, various & Harmony Becker…

“My father, Takemura Norman Takei, was born in Yamanashi, Japan. He came to America as a teenager and was educated in the Bay area. He later pursued a lucrative dry cleaning business in Los Angeles’ Wilshire corridor.
“My mother, Fumiko Emily Nakamura, was born in Florin, California, but was raised traditionally Japanese. Her father had sent to her to Japan to avoid school segregation in Sacramento.”
“I am the grandson of immigrants from Japan who went to America.
“Boldly going to a strange, new world, seeking new opportunities.

Like many before them and since. But for the burgeoning Japanese American community, the events of Pearl Habour were about to turn their happy lives in the ‘land of the free’ into a living nightmare.

 

 

Here’s the publisher to tell us more about this divisive episode in US history as experienced by the living legend himself. 

“George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In a stunning graphic memoir, Takei revisits his haunting childhood in American concentration camps, as one of over 100,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II.

Experience the forces that shaped an American icon – and America itself – in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.”

I actually learnt about the American internment of its own citizens through comics coincidentally enough. Specifically INVADERS #27 (released in 1978) penned by Roy Thomas where Captain America, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner fly to the location Bucky was last seen (he’s been kidnapped by Agent Axis along with Toro) and are appalled by what they witness at just such an internment camp. It struck a chord with me as a six year old and that page was very much burnt into my mind forevermore.

Anyway, I digress for this is George Takei’s story and very well told it is too, as you might expect. His childhood seems to have been an extremely typical one until everything changed overnight. Effectively stripped of everything they’d ever worked so hard for, his family was shipped off to Rohwer Relocation Centre in Arkansas, thousands of miles away from California.

 

 

I think about the only fortunate thing you can possibly say about the situation is that these were not the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, far from it, but still, people were persecuted and effectively criminalised for nothing other than simply being of Japanese ancestry.

 

 

The historical record is extremely well laid out and explained, alongside the story of George and his family and their time in the camps and then afterwards trying to rebuild their lives once war was over.

 

 

As ever, it’s incredibly worrying to observe how easily the propaganda that politicians spew out and spin to prejudice people allowing them to proceed with their plans is utterly believed by the general populace. 

Extremely clear black and white art from Harmony Becker captures all the emotional lows and occasional highs experienced by the Takeis in a remarkably non-sensationalist matter-of-fact manner. As a snapshot into a fascinating piece of WW2 history that’s all too often overlooked it’s a wonderful piece of documentary. For more about lifetime during WW2 and its aftermath from the perspective of the average person in Japan itself, I highly recommend SHOWA 1939-1944 and SHOWA 1944-1953.

JR

Buy They Called Us Enemy s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hawking h/c (£22-99, FirstSecond) by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Myrick…

“Not long after, we all went to a talk Hoyle gave at the Royal Society about their results. There was much excitement.”

“…The big bang has all the elegance and dignity of a party girl jumping out of a birthday cake.
“What I meant is it has none. As the BBC listeners among you know, I liken our previous position to that of mountain climbers attempting a summit via multiple routes.
“We found out that all of them peter out on hopeless precipices.
“So, many years ago, I proposed a new hypothesis… that matter is created continuously.”

“He went on, presenting his newest ideas and the results he and Jayant had worked on. Results that had not been reviewed by anyone by Jay… and me.”

“…QED. Are there any questions?”

“The conclusion of his talk caused a bit of a stir.”

“Yes, you there.”
“The… the influence of matter in a steady-state universe would… the quantities you’re talking about would diverge.”
“Of course they don’t diverge.”
“Er, yes. The masses would be infinite, which is…”
“Nonsense. Why do think you this?”
“I worked it out. I calculated it.”

“Some people thought I’d done so on the spot.
“I hadn’t, of course. I’d seen the calculations Jayant was working on and had become interested in them myself.
“Regardless, this didn’t hurt my reputation.”

Quite. Just in case you haven’t heard of the most famous scientist of the second half of the 20th century, here’s the presentation from the publisher…

“From his early days at Oxford, Stephen Hawking’s brilliance and good humour were obvious to everyone he met. At twenty-one he was diagnosed with Motor neurone disease, a disease that limited his ability to move and speak, though it did nothing to limit his mind.

He went on to do groundbreaking work in cosmology and theoretical physics for decades after being told he had only a few years to live. Through his 1988 bestseller, A Brief History of Time, and his appearances on shows like Star Trek and The Big Bang Theory, Hawking became a household name and a pop-culture icon.”

That he did. From the graphic biographers behind the brilliant FEYNMAN comes the life story of a truly remarkable man who would not allow his own physical limitations to curtail his insatiable determination to increase our understanding of the universe.

 

 

From his early life and quintessentially British and slightly eccentric upbringing, he was a man with a deep desire to know more, about everything.

 

 

Initially, that thirst for knowledge was unfocused and untrained, perhaps in part because nothing seemed beyond him, but little seemed to retain his interest.

 

 

But once at University, he began to discover scientific questions which would fascinate and motivate him until his dying day. Which was considerably further in the future than any doctor, and probably he himself, could have ever expected when first diagnosed with his condition.

This is an exceptional biography. What I had anticipated was that it would go into considerable detail regarding his life, which it certainly does, with great warmth and humour, reflecting the sprit with which he faced the ever-increasing difficulties arising from his condition.

What I hadn’t appreciated, was just how much I would learn concerning the specific details and minutiae of his work and theories. I possibly should have, actually, because that was a feature of FEYNMAN, but here we get into the physics in much, much more depth.

 

 

 

Consequently, this work is as much as opportunity to learn about his theories and discoveries as it is the man. I am extremely impressed with how Ottoviani and Myrick present all this complex information so clearly.

JR

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

The Immortal Jellyfish h/c (£11-99, Flying Eye Books) by Sang Miao ~

“What about us? Are we immortal?” The boy enquired.
“Not in that way,” replied Grandpa. “But there are other ways of living for ever.”

In THE IMMORTAL JELLYFISH, Sang Miao tells the poignant story of a young boy’s first experience of death. When his beloved grandpa passes away he is left sad and confused that he will no longer be able to see his Grandpa anymore. But that is just the beginning of the tale. When he takes to his bed and succumbs to slumber, he is visited by his Grandpa and taken on a beautiful journey to a magical land filled with all kinds of fantastic creatures, all of whom has recently left the world as we know it and are now getting to experience a new life entirely.

Through a mystical and dreamlike tale, Miao has been able to explain the complex concept of death and mortality to little minds in a way that is magical and embracing. With poetic elegance they explain that our loved ones will always be with us, but now we get to spend time with them in a different way: through memories, imagination and, most wonderfully and tangibly, in our dreams.

 

 

Lashings of watercolour blend and pool, while layers of crayon bring a soft, textured detail to this ethereal world. This is reflected in the design of the book itself, with spot glossed illustrations on a matt, textured cover in warm, comforting blue. As a book that could play a very important part in a young person’s life, the clever tactility of this book acts with embracing familiarity.

It is a book to be cherished and revisited, as a gentle reminder that those we have lost are never really gone, and in their own way will always live on, just like the immortal jellyfish.

JP

Buy The Immortal Jellyfish h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Lodger s/c (£15-99, IDW) by Maria Lapham, David Lapham…

“… Shows you. I almost half believed you.
“I don’t need psychos in my life…
“… thank you very much.”

Said the psycho to the person he has just forcibly overdosed on heroin and murdered…

There is a safe way to have psychos in your life, though… Read material like this from the Laphams who I am sure are completely lovely in real life and appear not remotely psychotic at all. Though I guess they have to be a little bit psycho to produce material like this, but, you know, just inside their heads…

Sure, perhaps if they weren’t producing comics they’d be out roaming around America offing people for kicks (makes note to investigate disappearances versus their appearances at comic conventions…) but happily for us, and them, it’s easier to write and draw about it instead. Clever psychos, you see…

 

 

Here’s the rap sheet from the publisher to tell you why you shouldn’t be remotely concerned associating yourself with two of the nicest people in comics who love to entertain us with deranged psychopaths and almost certainly really aren’t ones themselves. Promise. Now comics retailers on the other hand…

“Guns and revenge. As American as the wicked west. Ricky Toledo is going to find the man that killed her mother, and revenge is going to be sweet. Ricky was 15 when she fell hard for a handsome drifter who rented a room in her family home. Then he killed her mother and got her father sent to prison for it.

 

 

It’s three years later, and Ricky will stop at nothing to get revenge. A broken young woman and her trusty companion – a gold Smith and Wesson 45 named Golddigger – track a serial killer hiding in plain sight as a travel blogger.

It’s a dark, grimy game of cat and mouse through a tangled American landscape. And, like all the best crime noir, it’s a twisted love story.”

It is! There’s definitely a hint of Mickey and Mallory from Quentin Tarantino’s Natural Born Killers about Ricky and master of disguise Dante, though there’s considerably more hate to go with the lust, which is mostly of the murderous kind, anyway. Still, there’s pure primal obsession at play here that is for sure.

 

 

Fans of STRAY BULLETS will know precisely what to expect from this self-contained piece of sociopathy. Even with its tight anxiety-inducing five-issue confines it manages to take the reader on a wild ride of jumping backwards and forwards in time, deliberately presenting key events in misleading fashion, confusing readers and characters alike with wilful, nay gleeful, obscurification.

 

 

 

And disguises… Lots of disguises…

JR

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

Hellblazer vol 20: Systems Of Control s/c (£22-99, Vertigo / DC) by Andy Diggle, Mike Carey & Leonardo Manco, Danijel Zezelj.

Collects Hellblazer: All His Engines original graphic novel by Mike Carey & Leonardo Manco

and #230-238 wherein Andy Diggle kicked off his own blistering run.

Fortunately I wrote a bit about both.

 All His Engines

 Neil Gaiman offers the headline quote, “Mike Carey has written the quintessential Constantine story,” which I was almost positive represented a favour to a friend, until I hit the first dozen pages. What does Gaiman mean by “quintessential”? I can’t tell you that, but I can suggest what I would have meant: British, political, involving what’s left of John’s mates and played like a game of poker. Although there’s merely a smidgeon of politics, excepting those of hell and death, there’s plenty of the rest here even though the majority of the metaphorical car crash takes places in Los Angeles, for it brings Britain with it:

“Fucking hell, Chas! They drive on the right! The right!”
“Don’t panic, John. It’s a learning curve.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t wanna be here when it flattens out!”

 

 

Chas is one of John’s longest-standing and longest-suffering friends, and he’s been chauffeuring the trickster around for years (“See, it’s a cabbie’s license. Means I can drive and give marriage guidance counselling.”). Usually wherever John wants to be is where Chas doesn’t, but when his niece falls into a coma out of the blue, and when it appears she is part of an epidemic with no trace of a viral strain, Chas calls in all his many favours and calls up John Constantine. One more dead acquaintance and a plane flight later, it’s immediately clear to Constantine that things aren’t quite right.

“Something’s dead wrong. A taste in the air, like hot iron. A fingernails-on-blackboard noise, too high even for dogs. Or maybe it’s just that it’s six in the evening on the Santa Monica freeway. And we haven’t had to slow down once.”

Carey is on the toppest form I’ve known of him. I’m no fan of his current run on the main title, and when you go in with such heavy prejudices based on perceived past performance that you don’t even want to pick the book up, it’s only a remarkable composition that changes your mind. The script felt like Ennis, the art like a moodier, more solid John Ridgeway (so that’s the first two eras in one blood-soaked package), and Constantine has to summon up all his powers of baiting and bluff – as well as a prideful Aztec God – to do a better job of saving Chas’ niece than he did with the girl back in Newcastle.

“You forget yourself. I am no upstarting demon, scrabbling in the dirt of the human soul. I am Mictlantecuhtli. I am a God.”
“Great stuff.  I’m John — and I’m a bastard.”

 

 

 Joyride

Scathing and witty, I’ve not relished this series so much since Garth Ennis’s run, and if you’ve never tried it then Andy Diggle’s run would be a very fine place to start. Both the book and John Constantine are back on top, socio-political form after a cathartic return visit to Ravenscar Asylum where Constantine spent much time following that ill-advised outing in Newcastle, whilst Andy brings back the humanity at its heart and reunites the bite with the bark:

“Two years they had me locked up here, off and on. Back before Thatcher sold it off to the private sector and Blair turned it into a super-casino. After all why treat the mentally ill when you can fleece ’em for every penny they’ve got?”

It’s back to being pertinent with property redevelopment and youth gun crime, impertinent with the well-earned laceration of the establishment’s bullying of and cash-ins on the disadvantaged, and genuinely frightening with its painful pincer movement of supernatural horror and physical danger. It kicks off with Constantine being slowly drowned.

 

 

Most of all, it will make you very, very angry, and that’s what this book under Jamie Delano originally set out to do and managed so magnificently.

Comics as political agitation: always of vital importance.

Oh, and the joyriding…? Not just of cars, but of people.

What on earth could possess you to do that?

Continued then wrapped up in HELLBLAZER VOL 21.

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 20: Systems Of Control s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 21: The Laughing Magician (£22-99, Vertigo) by Andy Diggle, Jason Aaron & Leonardo Manco, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini, Sean Murphy.

Contains HELLBLAZER #239-249, and LADY CONSTANTINE #1-4.

As such it contains both the conclusion to Andy Diggle’s wit-ridden run which began in HELLBLAZER VOL 20 (reviewed) and ‘Newcastle Calling’ (#245,246) by Jason Aaron & Sean Murphy from which all the interior art here is taken.

The Roots Of Coincidence

“I’m driving the wrong way up the Synchronicity Highway… And someone’s trying to make damn sure I don’t make it to the other end.”

The finale to Andy Diggle’s masterful performance on John Constantine and – with the aid of Leonardo Manco’s furiously scratched yet classically proportioned art – I hereby declare it the cleverest, truest take on the character since Alan Moore first created him, combining the very best of Ennis and Delano both in style and substance. There are a lot of familiar faces here!

 

 

Previously in Joyride:

Scathing and witty, I’ve not relished this series so much since Garth Ennis’s run, and if you’ve never tried it, this’d be a very fine place to start. Both the book and John Constantine are back on top, socio-political form after a return, cathartic visit to Ravenscar Asylum, whilst Andy brings back the humanity at its heart and reunites the bite with the bark:

“Two years they had me locked up here, off and on. Back before Thatcher sold it off to the private sector and Blair turned it into a super-casino. After all why treat the mentally ill when you can fleece ’em for every penny they’ve got?”

Then in Laughing Magician:

“In the blood-soaked sands of Darfur, a murderous mage called Mako is drawing power from genocide and cannibalism, eating magicians alive to gain their hard-earned powers. His ultimate target: an eternal presence that maintains the world’s mystical balance – the so-called Laughing Magician.”

He’s after John Constantine.

 

 

Now in Roots Of Coincidence:

The trickster is back! Deep in the heart of the Vatican there’s a room set apart from the world by Papal Decree, so whatever takes place in there comes without Judgement. “Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted.” There is no sin. Only two problems: the decree came from Roderic Llancol de Borgia; and if the room is no longer in this world… it means it’s uncomfortably closer to another. With uncharacteristic altruism, Constantine offers to help a priest with his self-inflicted problem, but it’s one giant sleight-of-hand for John’s after something else entirely: The Lost Gospel Of Constantine.

But it’s only when he returns to England where Lord Burman and Mako are patiently waiting that all the threads come to one eminently satisfying head, especially the panels in which John realises exactly who The Laughing Magician really is and the extent of his scheming, for he may never be able to look himself in the mirror again.

Reflection or deflection? I will not say, but there are some cracking one-liners as when John rolls a seasonal card and snorts up his nose the ground, powdered bones of Lycia’s Saint Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus:

“Looks like it’s going to be a White Christmas after all.”

Newcastle Calling

“Impressive member you’ve got there, old boy.
“But you’re forgetting one thing…
“Mine’s bigger.
“Shall we measure?”

He’s talking to a thirty-foot, bipedal wolf.

It’s an awful thing.

 

 

This gruesome two-parter’ by Jason Aaron (SCALPED, SOUTHERN BASTARDS, THE GODDAMED etc) and Sean Murphy (PUNK ROCK JESUS   JOE THE BARBARIAN, THE WAKE etc) bears all the trappings of a perfect HELLBLAZER shudder-thon: British culture in the form of punk rock, a prime piece of Constantine history reprised (the clue’s in the title; see HELLBLAZER VOL 2), and a fractious gang of video journalists over-confident in their crusade to discover the truth behind Constantine’s past which, as we all know, is best left buried.

Instead they break into the dark and derelict Casanova Club where John’s Mucous Membranes angrily snarled out ‘The Venus Of The Hard Sell’. It was also where an over-confident Constantine made the most serious of his five thousand, six-hundred and fifty-eight terrible miscalculations, landing him in the legendary mental asylum called Ravenscar. Now they have woken that which they shouldn’t and what they wind up doing to themselves – and to dead dogs – will make your toes crawl and their bunions bleed.

Sean Murphy shows you just enough to make you wonder what God was thinking when he invented eyes.

 

 

All of this before our John joins us on the first chapter’s final two pages having got wind on the ectoplasmic plains of what the fuck is up, pulling him back so very, very reluctantly to Newcastle.

“Just this once, how grand would it be if this whole dammed mess didn’t somehow turn out to be entirely my bleedin’ fault.”

That would be super.

“Fat fuckin’ chance of that though, aye?”

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 21: The Laughing Magician and read the Page 45 review here

William Gibson’s Alien 3 h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by William Gibson & Johnnie Christmas…

“You caused thefailure, Fox. Deliberately routed the Sulaco through the U.P.P. sector and brought her into Anchorpoint.”
“We’re with Military Sciences.”
“I know that.”
“We’re with Weapons Division.”
“The presence of Weapons Division personnel on Anchorpoint is specifically forbidden by our strategic arms reduction treaty with the United Progressive People. This isn’t a military station.”
“We appreciate your concern.”
“You’re violating treaties that exist to prevent nuclear war! You’ve deliberately caused an armed spacecraft to penetrate their border zone. If they can prove it…”
“They know. Proving it is something else.”
“They boarded Sulaco, We logged a security breach and internal damage. We can certainly prove that if we have to.”
“If that’s true, I think you’re crazy. Someone is crazy…”
“A calculated risk. And believe me, Colonel, the decision was made at the top.”
“The top of what?”
“Sulaco was returning to Gateway with specimens of weapons-related material. The company’s quantum detectors were monitoring data from the ship’s hyper sleep vault. It became evident that the material in question had… become active.”

 


“The decision was made to reroute Sulaco here, to Anchorpoint. Other factors outweighed the risk of entering U.P.P. territory.”
“Status report on the biohazard sweep we requested?”
“We have a crew assembling in docking bay 8… You’ll be going aboard yourselves?”
“We’re in charge.”
“We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Ahhh… there’s nothing like some hubris on behalf of the ‘bad guys’ to really antagonise the viewer / reader into wanting them to get their just desserts. Or in this case, just be dessert. Yeah, I’m pretty sure you can guess how it is going to end for the two Weapons Division suits… even if you’ve never read William Gibson’s legendary never-made screenplay which has been floating around the electronic ether for those of a curious mind.

I hadn’t read it as it happens, but I do remember very well the truly immense disappointment and intense bemusement I experienced upon watching the Alien 3 film which did eventually appear at the cinema in 1992. As did most people… How had this travesty been made? Who could possibly have written such a downbeat movie that starts with two completely pointless off-screen deaths and only gets more dour from there? (Spoiler alert… Hicks and Newt are alive! For now…)

 

 

With hindsight Alien 3 is actually a pretty decent movie, which is more in keeping with the claustrophobic tone of the original Alien film than the all-action sequel. But I think I am on fairly safe ground to state Aliens (1986) is as near perfect an action horror movie as has ever been made and certainly rightly matched the original in terms of acclaim. Anticipation was thus very high about the follow up with the expected trajectory of yet more insane action. When news broke that William Gibson had been tasked to write the screenplay that only made everyone even more excited. Could the man who invented cyperpunk possibly take the franchise to another level altogether?

From Gibson’s foreword, it’s clear he was a massive Alien / Aliens fanboy and set about writing something he felt would be the next logical step in building the trilogy, both in terms of plotline and tone. Reading this adaptation, he clearly succeeded in every respect, producing something completely in keeping with what had gone before in both films but also potentially allowing the franchise to expand in a new logical direction.

 

 

Which then begs the question… why didn’t it get made?

As I’ve commented before, it is a complete mystery to me why so many films that actually do get made have ever been greenlit at all. We are back to the hubris of bad guys aren’t we? Just movie execs this time…

Anyway, the opening quote above is enough of a ‘trailer’ to give you fair warning of the mind (and stomach) rending horror that is to follow.

 

 

Johnny Christmas’ art is clean and crisp yet sufficiently visceral and bloody to convey the terror and carnage that is about to be unleashed on the inhabitants of the unsuspecting space station.

JR

Buy William Gibson’s Alien 3 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

 

 

Bad Machinery vol 8: The Case Of The Modern Men (Pocket Edition)  (£11-99, Other A-Z) by John Allison

Deadly Class vol 8: Never Go Back s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Wes Craig

Handmaids Tale h/c (£20-99, Doubleday) by Margaret Atwood & Renee Nault

Lumberjanes vol 12: Jackalope Springs Eternal (£10-99, Boom!) by Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh

Over The Garden Wall: Hollow Town s/c (£12-99, Kaboom!) by Celia Lowenthal & Jorge Monlongo

Prodigy s/c (£17-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Rafael Albuquerque

Sandman vol 10: The Wake (30th Anniversary Ed’n) (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli, Jon J. Muth, Charles Vess

Scott Pilgrim Colour Collection vol 1 s/c (£26-99, Oni) by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Sky Hawk s/c (£18-99, Fanfare Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi

Stig & Tilde: Vanisher’s Island s/c (£9-99, Nobrow) by Max De Radigues

The Adventure Zone vol 2: Murder On The Rockport Limited! s/c (£17-99, FirstSecond) by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy & Carey Pietsch

Dear Justice League s/c (£8-99, DC Zoom) by Michael Northrop & Gustavo Durate

Daredevil vol 1: Know Fear s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Chip Zdarsky & Marco Checchetto

Elektra: Assassin s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz

Savage Sword Of Conan vol 1: The Cult Of Koga Thun s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Ron Garney

The Invaders vol 1: War Ghosts s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Chip Zdarsky & Carlos Magno, Butch Guice

The Superior Spider-Man vol 1: Full Otto s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Christos Gage & Mike Hawthorne

Wolverine: Long Night s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Ben Percy & Marcio Takara

My Hero Academia: Vigilantes vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Hideyuki Furuhashi & Betten Court

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2019 week four

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

Featuring… well, this lot for a start…

Kramers Ergot vol 10 s/c (£26-99, Fantagraphics) by Sammy Harkham, Robert Crumb, Dash Shaw, David Collier, Anouk Ricard, C.F., Jason Murphy, Blutch, Shary Flenniken, Johnny Ryan, John Pham, Ron Regé Jr., Simon Hanselmann, Anna Haifisch, Naoh Van Sciver, Ivan Brunetti, David Amram, Helge Reumann, Frank King, Steve Weissman, Aisha Franz, Leon Sadler, Adam Buttrick, Archer Prewitt, Connor Willumsen, Bendik Kaltenborn, Will Sweeney, Rick Altergott, Kim Deitch, Marc Bell…

“You skipped school again?! Get out of bed! We’re under attack!”
“What? I don’t hear anything?”
“Stay inside!”
“What are you talking about, Mom?”
“Turn on the news!”

“Fucked up shit.”

One should never really giggle when the 9/11 attacks are involved I suppose, but the sight of a baffled  young Noah Van Sciver looking out of his bedroom window after answering the phone half-asleep to the sound of his panicking mum, did occasion me to chuckle as I read his one-page contribution on the inside front cover.

There’s a fair amount of what one could describe as fucked up shit in this amazing anthology. I would personally describe it as comics of the highest order, but I respect the maxim to each their own. The material within this latest Kramer’s collection as ever ranges from the ribald to the ridiculous, from the straightlaced to the stoopid, from the marvellously mundane to the truly out there. And beyond. It’s certainly not going to be for everyone, far from it, but it hit the spot for me.

As ever, it is curated by the remarkable Sammy CRICKETS Harkham, who also pulls off the neat trick of providing my favourite contribution in the form of an extended Blood Of The Virgin period story covering as ever the slightly seedier side of American B-movie making.

 

 

There’s such a variety of material contained within these gorgeously garishly covered (Lale Westvind) French flaps it is a formidable task to assimilate it in one sitting. For you, though, dear readers, I did just that. There were a lot of highlights. In terms of personal pure hit-rate, for such relatively esoteric material, it was considerably more than I could have genuinely expected, with barely a miss. Which either means that Sammy Harkham has been reading my mind, or just really has his finger on the pulse of cutting edge comicdom. I’m going with the latter.

Dash Shaw’s Policewoman…

 

 

Anouk Ricard’s recurring Ducky Coco one-pagers…

 

 

C.F.’s Liquid On Neutral…

 

 

Ivan Brunetti’s Stay Gold…

 

 

John Pham’s J&K…

 

 

… and Marc Bell’s Slogan Schnauzerpg…

 

 

…were probably my stand out favourites. C.F.’s Liquid On Neutral in particular, about someone planning a script rewrite and then promptly falling down a manhole before undergoing, well, I honestly don’t know what, some sort of reality-warping experience, is definitely a contender for the most surreal contribution. It had me returning to it repeatedly just to marvel at the artistry.

 

 

There is also a surprisingly large amount of well-executed, it must be said, low-brow filth. All humorously done and frequently completely over the top like Johnny Ryan’s Run. Would you expect anything less from Johnny Ryan?

All in all this is as well rounded an avant garde and absurdist anthology as you imagine could be put together. I therefore once again take a Kramer’s Ergot vol 7 sized hat off…

 

 

…to Mr Harkham for his continued commitment towards showcasing the very best of the most wilfully self-indulgent material out there. Happily volume 10 is a ‘normal’ oversize.

Anyway, these are creators who are all making precisely the sort of comics they want to make, damn the consequences and in most cases, lack of sales. These folks would rather have the devout love of a few than compromise their creativity to reach the masses and more power to them for it.

JR

Buy Kramers Ergot vol 10 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Books Of Magic vol 1: Moveable Type s/c (£14-99, DC) by Kat Howard & Tom Fowler…

“Hey, Ellie! Do you want to see some magic?”
“Like a trick?”
“Real magic, of course. I would never trick you.”
“Okay.”
“I hold in my hands nothing but coloured paper. But once I say the magic word, they will become flowers! ABRACADABRA! Er…”
“That was… um. Good try!”

Which probably neatly sums up how I feel about this opener, really…

Part of the recent Sandman Universe material also featuring THE DREAMING VOL 1: PATHWAYS AND EMANATIONS, LUCIFER VOL 1: THE INFERNAL COMEDY and THE HOUSE OF WHISPERS VOL 1: POWERS DIVIDED, I really, really wanted this particular title to be brilliant because I hold the original THE BOOKS OF MAGIC material in the very highest regard. Always difficult to follow absolute perfection though I guess!

So, young Tim is back at school, real school not magical school, but it appears he has seemingly forgotten much of what he has already learnt of the mystic curriculum. Fortunately help is on hand in the form of his teacher Dr. Rose, who is of course half of Dr. Occult along with Richard. Well, technically she was bonded to his soul when he died at some distant point in DC past if memory serves, but you get my drift.

Tim hasn’t forgotten he is seemingly destined to the greatest magician of his age, for good or evil – again see: THE BOOKS OF MAGIC – nor indeed the tumultuous events which occurred in that epic adventure leading him to this point.

 

 

Which is why I am utterly perplexed that he doesn’t seem to recognise Rose when he first sees her. Not sure that is a mystery which is going to get solved, or maybe it will.

 

 

Anyway, he also definitely hasn’t forgotten his mum. His dead mum. Or merely his missing mum, depending on your perspective… That semantic difference is going to ensure Tim gets himself into his first round of fresh trouble, though of course there are darker forces determined to steer Timothy in their direction, or just remove him from play completely.

We also see the return of some other familiar SANDMAN / BOOKS OF MAGIC mythos characters, such as Tim’s perennially glued-to-the-TV deadpan dad, plus a firm favourite of mine, the fabulously bonkers Mad Hettie, who as ever is most definitely not quite so completely hatstand as she appears. Just mostly!

Tom DOOM PATROL Fowler’s vibrant art is considerably different and less gritty than the other three Sandman Universe titles, but actually works well in capturing the restless nature of the somewhat mercurial teenage wizard complete with all his surging hormones and teenage angst.

 

 

I think were it not for the exceptional original material, I would have been sufficiently entertained by this in its own right anyway. Even so, I have persisted with it in single issue form and it is pulling enough rabbits out of the proverbial hat for me to keep reading it. Plus, no spoilers, but there have already been more guest appearances from familiar characters and I am sure that trend will continue.

Particularly given the recent announcement regarding the return of one John Constantine esquire in a forthcoming one-shot and then new ongoing HELLBLAZER series penned by Si Spurrier, which is all apparently going to tie-in directly and follow on from the original BOOKS OF MAGIC

JR

Buy Books Of Magic vol 1: Moveable Type s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Magicians: Alice’s Story h/c (£20-99, Archaia) by Lev Grossman, Lilah Sturges & Pius Bak…

“And with that, Quentin is being rescued from being pinned to the wall by Professor March.
“Everything he does, he by the skin of his teeth. Part of me wants to dislike him so much.
“But another part… a very insistent part… tells me that there’s more to him than I’m seeing.
That part is getting traction. But it’s annoying getting all the other parts in the process.
“And then…
“… Reality slips a gear and starts idling in neutral.
“I can’t move. Nothing moves.
“Out of nowhere he appears.
“No fanfare. One moment not there. The next moment there.
“Hi is in no rush. Time passes.
“How much time I can’t say. I will learn later that it’s hours.
“Whatever he is, he’s not human.
“Or, perhaps, not human anymore.
“Amanda’s voice. Mangling her Cretan Mycenaean dialect. But it gets the job done.
“More time passes. But how to count time when your gaze doesn’t change?
“And just like that… (just like what, Alice? If anything is sui generis, it’s this.)
“… He’s gone.”

And just like that, with that, Alice’s fellow pupil Amanda at the hidden Breakbills University for magicians has been eviscerated and poor Professor March appears to be lying in a puddle of his own piss…

 

 

Where’s young Harry Potter, I mean Timothy Hunter, to save the day when you need him? Well, Potter was last spotted treading the boards and Hunter’s got more than enough of his own academic problems…

Fortunately we don’t need them because we have Alice and Quentin, little more than occult aspirants at this point, but soon about to get involved in some very serious wiz-biz along with their frenemy Penny.

 

 

Actually, whilst there might be a nod to a certain young mage or two with the hidden school, this whole work is an amusing and clever meta-warping twist and very deliberate nod to several fantasy works, not least The Chronicles Of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

In fact, the work itself has also undergone a neat little sleight of hand during adaptation by Lilah LUMBERJANES: INFERNAL COMPASS Sturges from the original prose novel by Lev Grossman. For the original (trilogy, this merely being the first book) tells the story from the viewpoint of Quentin Coldwater, whereas this graphic novel adaptation recounts events as experienced by the other main character Alice Quinn.

 

 

I guess for fans of the hugely popular original material, and indeed TV show adaptation which is now in its fifth series, it is a lovely bit of legerdemain. For people utterly unaware of the source material, or the TV show, like myself, all one can do is judge it on its own mystical merits, and I really rather enjoyed it.

Here’s the publisher to cast a spell on you with their mystical mumblings…

“Alice Quinn is manifestly brilliant, and she has always known that magic is real. During her years at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, she rises to the top of her class, falls in love with Quentin Coldwater, and witnesses a horrifically magical creature invade their dimension.

It’s not soon after graduation when Alice, Quentin, and their friends set their sights on the idyllic setting of Fillory: a place thought to only live in the pages of their favourite children’s books. A land where magic flows like rivers… but in this magical realm nothing is what it seems to be, and something darker lies behind the spellbinding facade.

It is in the darkness where Alice will discover her true calling and her life, and those friends, forever changed.”

This is well crafted fantasy which pays homage to and plays gleefully with its inspirations. I thought Pius Bak was very good too artistically. It wouldn’t look out of place in a Sandman Universe title and there are hints of Peter HIGHEST HOUSE Gross and P. Craig GRAVEYARD BOOK Russell going on in there stylistically and in terms of the colour palette.

JR

Buy The Magicians: Alice’s Story h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bags (Or A Story Thereof) s/c (£9-99, Archaia) by Pat McHale & Gavin Fullerton…

John walked to the policeman’s house.
The policeman lived in a house down the street. John had seen him being there sometimes, but other times he didn’t.

DING DONG

“Oh hello, John.”
“He’s working, John. He’s at the police station. Did something happen?”

John looked at the policeman’s wife for a moment and thought about how anyone could have taken Beth.

“It’s okay, sweetie. You can trust me.”
“Noooo… nothing has happened.”

Why wasn’t the policeman home? What was he doing? Was he really at the station? Was his wife lying? John was very suspicious now. Finding Beth was going to be much more convoluted than he thought.

 

 

Yep, it really was! I’m pretty sure you have some questions of your own now… So here’s the publisher to provide you with a few answers without giving away pretty much anything whatsoever at all…

“This is the tale of John Motts. He is a man who had a dog, but now that dog is gone. John searches his house, his street, and his town, but the dog is nowhere to be found.

 

 

John soon realizes that he must travel further, past the road and into the trees if he’s ever to find out the truth of what happened to his dog.

Bags (or a story thereof) is a journey of love and suspense as John Motts searches through the world he knows, and a world he doesn’t, weaved together beautifully by Pat McHale, creator of the Over The Garden Wall cartoon series and Gavin Fullerton.”

If you seen the beautifully serene and sedately surreal Over The Garden Wall cartoon, or indeed read the subsequent OVER THE GARDEN WALL graphic novels, then you will immediately know what sort of subtle tone, and journey, to expect. The unexpected basically.

 

 

Don’t try and guess where John will end up, you won’t, or indeed if he will ever find his dog. He might. He might not. Just marvel at John’s redoubtable determination and resilience to find Beth in the face of ever-increasing odds and oddity and despite all his obvious shyness and uncertainties.

 

 

The art is equally unusual, with a deliberate four colour-esque letratone period feel. It all adds to the uncertain ambience. Even the John Motts character himself, with his huge potato shaped head and couple of tufts of hair is like some sort of curious hybrid, both visually and somewhat in terms of personality, of a little JIMMY CORRIGAN and more so Charlie Brown from PEANUTS. He’s the sort of character you’ll find yourself rooting for but also shaking your head slightly at.

JR

Buy Bags (Or A Story Thereof) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Murder Falcon s/c (£17-99, Image) by Daniel Warren Johnson & Daniel Warren Johnson, Mike Spicer…

“You… you’re recruiting me to this craziness? To defeat monsters with… MUSIC???
“Me, helping to save the world? No. No. I couldn’t even keep my own band together… after I lost everything!
“I pushed everyone out to protect myself! How can I go back to playing now? For stakes this high?
“I’m worthless to you.”
“Jake… where I come from… there are many like me. Linked to instruments like the one you hold in your hands.
“My coming here was not by accident.
“I chose you, Jake
“You are talented, kind, resilient. There is a spark inside you, even though you try and hide it. And it is that spark, through that guitar, that helps me to…”
“Fight evil?”
“And save the world.”
“This is insane. And what kind of name is Murder Falcon anyways? It’s kind of… intense.”
“Don’t worry, Jake… I only murder monsters.”

Channelling, indeed revelling, in the sheer epic nonsensicalness of the likes of Bill And Ted, the Comic Strip’s ridiculous Bad News spoof plus pretty much everything Tenacious D have ever written, comes a epic story of one very unlikely heavy metal musician stuck in the wrong sort of funk. He’s going to have to fight off an invasion of monsters that even Godzilla in his pomp would have had problems dealing with. Fortunately, he’s not going to have to do it alone…

 

 

Just occasionally, something is so wrong it is right. If you throw shredding guitar into the ear-rending mix I’m talking DETROIT METAL CITY levels of lunacy here. There is just such a gloriously insane sense of fun at work right from the opening notes that suspension of disbelief gets thrown clean out of the window like a smashed TV out of a deranged rocker’s hotel window.

The fight scenes have a touch of the kinetically chaotic precision of Geof Darrow’s SHAOLIN COWBOY though in truth Daniel Warren Johnson’s art style minded me of a slightly more jagged James ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT Stokoe.

But this is no all-out action comedy fest! No, what carries this behemoth careening along in ever more gargantuan fashion like an exploding fireball from the depths of hell gathering everything up before it in a crap music video style is its drum-thumping heart. For Jake is a man badly in need of redemption and rediscovering his musical mojo. What better than the threat of total global annihilation at the hands, well, claws of Magnum Khaos, who is intent on enslaving humanity, to force Jake to pick up his err… pick and start plucking!

 

 

Every time you think Johnson can’t up the proverbial decibel level ante he manages it!

 

 

I did seriously wonder if he was going to be able to pull off the ending, but he manages something appropriately spectacular to bring matters to a pounding conclusion. Then there is the matter of the power ballad encore epilogue… I don’t want to spoil the set list, but suffice to say, the final number brings the house down and draws matters to a very moving conclusion indeed.

There’s no comeback tours planned as far as I am aware. This is a one hit wonder for Jake, Murder Falcon and the rest of the band. But sometimes that’s the way it should be!

JR

Buy Murder Falcon s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Die! Die! Die! vol 1 (£17-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman, Scott M. Gimple & Chris Burnham.

Someone’s not happy.

“She was nineteen.”
“That’s funny. I said that with a different tone as a defence.”

Oh, how I wish I could quote you the three preceding sentences in that exchange, but we don’t use those words around here!

As the first issue’s cover may suggested (“I’m Paul.” “I’m Nate.” “I’m drunk.”) this is all very Warren Ellis (think INJECTION), and  it was indeed a tremendously funny first issue from the writer of THE WALKING DEAD comic, the showrunner of ‘The Walking Dead’ TV series Seasons 4 to 8 who left to co-write this, and the artist on Grant Morrison’s NAMELESS.

It was also a massive surprise because it arrived on our shelves free of charge and entirely unannounced, without us having even ordered it because it was never solicited in PREVIEWS!

 

 

The idea behind that – which I wholeheartedly applaud, along with its successfully clandestine execution – was to make visiting comic shops exciting again. As Kirkman has written, there is so much information on the internet now that a comic series can be announced up to a year before its publication and that’s a long time to sustain any interest. Instead, here you go – BOOM!

We begin in Shrewsbury at the greyhound races, with an elderly man dropping his betting ticket. A younger, pretty bloke picks it up off the floor, handing it back to grateful gentlemen. Only, it isn’t the one which the pensioner dropped. It’s just as well, because he’d have lost his bet, having backed the wrong horse.

Instead he’s won, big-time.

 

 

Believe it or not, that’s merely one nudge in a ridiculously elaborate ruse formulated by the woman at the bottom of the cover, a US Senator, to completely ruin then murder a British Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister without drawing too much attention to it. The murder, I mean. She wants him well ruined first, and in public, for he’s a paedophile. She’s snorting cocaine at midnight after what must have been a most excellent night of sex if the pert pair of bare buttocks on her sofa is anything to go by, and, as she does so, she reveals in the intricacies of her plan in minute, carefully calculated detail, including the permutations which wouldn’t quite work and so were shelved. A key element was that the old codger at the race track, no relation to the MP whatsoever, needed to become exceedingly wealthy.

The Senator, you see, is running an organisation within the United States government which is as covert as the operation required to get the DIE! DIE! DIE! periodicals so secretly onto our shelves.

Unfortunately her plan begins to unravel in the Shropshire countryside on the very second page as the pretty young man speeds through the rural idyll on a motorbike, only to be pursued by a Landrover whose driver displays all the Highway Code courtesy of a BMW tail-gater.

 

 

The breezy self-confidence and acrobatic, pugilistic prowess of our secret agent is such that you know full well how that’s going to pan out, but the writers are no more slacking throughout than the line and colour artist. They deliver a dry-stone English B-road to die for / beside, and some crotch-ripping high kicks to make you thank goodness for stretchable fabrics.

 

 

There followed a cracking final-page cliffhanger, craftily set up well in advance as to provide an immaculate three-beat punchline.

So what does the rest of the series have in store…?

For a start, three identical brothers who will be using their indistinguishable features to bamboozle all and sundry including each other, their wives, their employees and you, the readers. Don’t think the cover’s seriously wonky nose job is going to deter them, either. Lengths, they will be gone to.

Oh, and there’s a great many feuds and a good deal of bloodletting, obviously.

We’ve racked this at the back of the shop with THE WALKING DEAD, right above the horror section and next to the superheroes. That should give you some idea as to who I’m targeting and how I’m marketing this. Could have gone with the comedy next to Hamish Steele’s PANTHEON, I guess.

16+

SLH

Buy Die! Die! Die! vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Havok And Wolverine: Meltdown s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Walter Simonson, Louise Simonson & Jon J. Muth, Kent Williams, Jon J. Muth.

“The atom, General Meltdown, is the heart of the matter.
“Once, it was thought to be indestructible, immutable, eternal.
“We know better now.
“Or worse, depending on your point of view.”

Well, quite.

The above is one Dr. Neutron patiently explaining nuclear physics and, later, fission to a decidedly impatient General Meltdown. It might not just be his temper that’s lost here.

The latter is such inspired nomenclature that I could spend paragraphs riffing off it, but make up your own jokes, why don’t you? But yes, there will be a General Meltdown as well as a very specific one to challenge the regenerative extent of our hirsute mutant’s healing factor.

Thirty years old, this mini-series! Unless I have my maths wrong, that means that as a fully-painted superhero comic it precedes ARKHAM ASYLUM so I’m not sure what precedes this in that category. Jim Starlin’s DREADSTAR was more science fiction, wasn’t it? Not a lot, anyway. There was a while to be waited until Alex Ross turned up to emphasise the awe in “awesome” with MARVELS, KINGDOM COME, JUSTICE (over Doug Braithwaite’s breath-taking pencils) and JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE WORLD’S GREATEST SUPERHEROES.

 

 

Naturally I lapped this up, especially since the painting in question was performed by two of my favourite artists, Jon J. Muth (MOONSHADOW, now back in print) and Kent Williams (BLOOD, SANDMAN: DESTINY etc). I even forked out for Graphitti Design’s hardcover collection, limited to 2000 copies and signed by all four creators, so although I’ve not read it recently that’s an endorsement from past-me at least.

In the back of that edition from 1990, the Simonsons recall that it was the artists themselves who catalysed the project, pitching to the husband-and-wife team their fervour to illustrate, specifically and individually, Havok and Wolverine, so the series was ritten both to satisfying their interest and play to their respective strengths. What they don’t mention is surely the most unusual aspect of this cooperative creation: that Jon J. Muth paints every single appearance of his preferred protagonist Havok (romantically rendering him a lambent James Dean), and that Kent Williams goes expressionistically wild with every growl of a decidedly more feral Wolverine than we’d previously been used to.

Not just on the same page, but often within the same panel!

 

 

The effect is, of course, far more cosmetic than Sean Phillips and John Bolton’s collaboration during Devin Grayson’s USER which utilises the artists’ seeming pass-the-parcel juxtapositions to startlingly successful, structurally wicked effect*, but it’s still really something to behold. I’m looking back through those co-created panels right now and the joins are seamless even though Muth and Williams favoured different colours and densities, textures. Williams went for ruddy cheeks and more wrought musculature, while Muth was all about clean, gleaming white highlights with a crisper delineation but much wetter brush.

God, but I do go on.

Instead, here’s Marvel’s hype-monkey to melodrama you to death:

“Two friends. Two mutants. Two X-Men!”

Dun-dun duuuuuuuuh!

“Havok, gifted with the ability to project devastating plasma bursts. Wolverine, a feral warrior with an uncanny healing factor, an unbreakable Adamantium skeleton and razor-sharp claws. Ambushed by Russian terrorists while on leave in Mexico, the two find themselves caught in a deadly web of international intrigue and betrayal! Can Alex Summers and Logan thwart a plot to bring the Western world to its knees? “Beautifully painted artwork combines with fast-paced prose to create a milestone among graphic albums as Havok and Wolverine star in a landmark X-Men story like no other!”

Imagine if those same hype-monkeys actually cared to clue you in to its craft.

* It wasn’t pass-the-parcel: Sean Phillips doesn’t recall having seen any of Bolton’s contribution until publication – the pages were instead painted concurrently as the script was delivered – which makes the resultant illusions even more improbably outstanding. Go on! Read my review of USER! Thanks!

SLH

Buy Havok And Wolverine: Meltdown s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

 New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Bad Gateway h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Simon Hanselmann

Hawking h/c (£22-99, FirstSecond) by Jim Ottavani & Leland Myrick

Hellblazer vol 21: The Laughing Magician (£22-99, Vertigo) by Andy Diggle, Jason Aaron & Leonardo Manco, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini, Sean Murphy

House Of Whispers vol 1: The Powers Divided s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Nalo Hopkinson & Dominike Domo Stanton

The Immortal Jellyfish h/c (£11-99, Flying Eye Books) by Sang Miao

Lodger s/c (£15-99, IDW) by Maria Lapham, David Lapham

The Nao Of Brown h/c (£24-99, SelfMadeHero) by Glyn Dillon

Red Panda & Moon Bear (£13-99, Top Shelf) by Jarod Rosello

Return To Belzagor h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Robert Silverberg, Philippe Thirault & Laura Zuccheri

Scott Pilgrim Colour Collection vol 2 s/c (£26-99, Oni) by Bryan Lee O’ Malley

Scott Pilgrim Colour Collection vol 3 s/c (£26-99, Oni) by Bryan Lee O’ Malley

Tonta h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez

Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by The Oatmeal

William Gibson’s Alien 3 h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by William Gibson, Johnnie Christmas & Tamra Bonvillain

Hulk: World War Hulk s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & John Romita Jr

20th Century Boys Perfect Edition vol 4 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

Mob Psycho 100 vol 3 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by One

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2019 week three

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

Featuring Navie, Carole Maurel, Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins, Kristyna Baczynski , Dave Sim, Gerhard, Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, Simini Blocker, Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo, Grant Morrison, Liam Sharp, Jason Aaron, Mahmud Asrar, Gerardo Zaffino

Horizontal Collaboration h/c (£16-99, Korero Press) by Navie & Carole Maurel…

“Mark… we can’t be friends. It’s too dangerous, too serious. Can’t you see what it would mean?”
“That I’m going to have to marry you? Kidnap you… willingly?”
“…”
“I’m too afraid, Mark.”
“You needn’t be afraid.”
“How?”
“We aren’t friends, Rose.”
“…”

And then Mark kissed Rose passionately on a busy Paris street…

Which would be fine, were it not for the fact that this is occupied Paris, 1942, and whilst Rose is a Parisian through and through, Mark is not. No, Mark is an officer in the German army, specifically tasked with locating Jews hiding amongst the populace…

Unfortunately for both of them they’ve fallen in love at first sight when Mark came to check on an anonymous tip-off regarding Jews hiding in Rose’s block of apartments.

 

 

Rose isn’t Jewish, but one of her dear neighbours is, and whilst she’s strong enough to protect them, it seems she isn’t quite tough enough to save herself from Mark’s ardent advances. Not that she wants to stop them, but given her situation, as a young mother with an unloved husband away at war, she might have been wise to.

Their affair starts off as the clandestine type, of course, just one secret of many amongst our extended cast of Rose’s family, friends and neighbours in wartime Paris, but it doesn’t stay hidden forever. Certainly not with Mark’s carefree public displays of affection.

 

 

But when the tide of the conflict begins to turn and the Allies begin to advance, the reality of their relationship bites hard.

This is a very moving war-torn romance indeed from writer Navie, though Rose and Mark’s tryst is just one of several stories woven into the hardship of daily existence under an oppressive regime.

 

 

 

Thus whilst they may have the main billing there are other tragic heroes, certainly some quite despicable villains, plus one character whose morally ambiguous actions, whilst certainly well-intentioned, are catastrophic to say the least. There is also a particularly painful irony at play there too which makes it even more devastating…

This work concludes with two letters, one of which is actually a separate loose sheaf of folded paper, barely stuck down to the inside rear cover, which could very easily slip out and be lost… One letter may very well confirm your suspicions regarding a certain individual, the other, well, the other might just break your heart completely.

Told in retrospect in modern day, by an elder Rose to her lovestruck granddaughter Virginie, this haunting look back in time is beautifully and tenderly illustrated by Carole Maurel.

 

 

Our leading duo simply cannot contain their love, evident from the expressions on their faces, even whilst apart, and wartime Paris still feels like a vibrant, buzzing city, albeit populated by people aware their every move is being watched and controlled. Still, our cast of characters do mostly try and keep their secrets, some much more successfully than others. Even so, life and love goes on. Until they don’t.

JR

Buy Horizontal Collaboration h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cerebus vol 5: Jaka’s Story (Remastered Edition) (£35-99, Aadvark Vanaheim Inc.) by Dave Sim & Gerhard.

Re-shot and printed on much crisper paper.

A little like this review.

Almost all of our CEREBUS reviews were written from memory in a single sweep, immediately prior to the launch of Page 45’s website in 2010, because the collections had come out long before we’d been writing reviews but I wasn’t going to let such an innovative (albeit occasionally problematic) body of work like this (300 issues plus attendant extras) sit there in a void. But the “single sweep” is important because – even though I’ve embellished this for 2019 – each review relied to some extent for context upon what I’d written of the series so far, while omitting certain elements to avoid repetition.

You might, therefore, want to start reading the reviews from the very first book, but this volume is where I’d recommend you start buying unless you’d prefer something more sensationally satirical in the vein of Black Adder or Yes, Prime Minister, in which case you can hop all the way back to the second book, HIGH SOCIETY.

A complete change of place after the social, political, religious and even cosmic cataclysm of CEREBUS: CHURCH & STATE, and a completely self-contained read recommended as anyone’s starting point so long as it’s not your first-ever comic. By now Sim is experimenting in so many ways with storytelling in this particular medium that novices may find the devices disorientating. But it’s where I started to read CEREBUS, I was hooked in the space of two or three pages, and for the next twenty years until the arrival of ASTERIOS POLYP, THE NAO OF BROWN and the ALEC OMNIBUS et al, I considered the series to be the finest work in comics.

Half the book focuses on the tensions of quiet domesticity, the dancer Jaka living with her new husband Rick halfway up a mountain next to a few other domiciles and a tavern. The other half is about freedom of artistic expression and a woman’s right to choose. But it’s not as straightforward as you might think.

 

 

Cerebus has been away.

As an anthropomorphic aardvark in a pre-industrial world otherwise populated by humans Cerebus is the ultimate outsider, but his seemingly unique physiology (on top of the odd prophecy) has also made him a source of speculation and a magnet for power. He’s already been Prime Minister and Pope.

But in his male papal absence he’s been dethroned, and the matriarchal Cirinists have taken over. Their religious belief in motherhood is absolute, but don’t imagine they’re feminists. A woman only has the right to choose so long as her choice is to become a mother. Dancing, for example, is illegal. Men are regarded as second-class citizens and Cerebus as the former religious leader of men is very much on the run.

 

 

Having materialised by ‘coincidence’ on Rick and Jaka’s doorstep, Cerebus is offered sanctuary there, but given that Cerebus was, is, or perceives himself to be in love with Jaka, it’s hilariously awkward.

In the meantime Oscar Wilde turns up. He’s writing a story – the story within this story about Jaka’s childhood. He’s also eyeing up Rick, but he’s open and honest about it, even if Rick’s too dim to understand those tentative advances.

Far, far more ominous are the constantly revised conversations which tavern owner Pud is having with Jaka in his head. Dancing is illegal and his patrons are few, yet in spite of his poor remuneration Pud still pays her to dance in very revealing outfits. One of the ways I sell JAKA’S STORY on the shop floor goes like this: do you ever try to anticipate conversations in advance? You know, if I say this, they may come back to me with that, so I’ll counter with… Hmmm. But what if I said that instead, how would it steer things? Throughout JAKA’S STORY Pud is secretly and silently obsessing over Jaka, stopping and restarting his premeditated, seemingly innocent overtures, but each new strand of calculated conversation in Pud’s head grows increasingly worrying…

Three-quarters of the way through the rug is pulled out from under everyone’s feet and the rest is even darker. How could it not be? Margaret Thatcher materialises. Her speech is reproduced phonetically, its rhythm and cadence as perfectly rendered as the words are chilling.

 

 

Before even commencing this story, landscape artist Gerhard built a three-dimensional model of Jaka’s house so that he could envisage exactly how each character moved through it, how to ‘shoot’ exterior sequences with consistency, and then how to represent each time of day’s subsequent shadows. Some superhero artists can’t even spell the word ‘background’ let alone draw it. They replace it instead with nominal silhouettes or speed lines: it’s not an artistic decision like Kojima’s in some sequences of LONE WOLF & CUB, but sheer laziness instead. Conversely, the very concept of laziness is an anathema to Gerhard, and his intricate, cross-hatched textures I rate right up there with Gustav Dore.

Our product pages can’t reproduce accents, sorry.

2019’s Stephen Says: Hello! Were I reading then writing about this today then you’d receive a relative epic. But I can’t. I just can’t. There are so many new books every week which demand our full concentration. And with that, I redact twenty-two more imaginary paragraphs of unequivocal praise, but also a couple of qualms involving authorial intention versus actual execution and so readers’ reception, very much in the vein of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’ which was supposed to represent Catholicism in a positive light but which [snip, for which we’re all very grateful – ed.]

SLH

Buy Cerebus vol 5: Jaka’s Story (Remastered Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Grass Kings vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Boom! Studios) by Matt Kindt & Tyler Jenkins.

“Ain’t no law says I can’t be here.”
“There’s written laws, and then there’s the other kind.”

The artist from SNOW BLIND does not disappoint, as you shall see. He’s taken the opportunity to open up with much larger, more focussed panels and their beauty benefits enormously from the paper this is printed on.

I’m generally quite sceptical about publishers’ comparison points in their solicitation blurb: selling their new series in advance to retailers and readers alike by referencing other critically acclaimed comics. But this time SCALPED looks like being on the money, and not just because the land was once more freely roamed by Native Americans before being stolen from them (see Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth’s jaw-dropping INDEH). You will, however, have to infer what you will, for I’ve already tried to tell you exactly what I mean in three different ways, each one explaining far too much for a comic which plays so well with your preconceptions.

 

 

It begins in the Spring of 1450 A.D. by the shores of a vast lake which will prove pivotal throughout.

“The lake holds the whole history of the place.
“Entire generations…
“The lake’s the only witness to all that’s come and gone.
“It cost me a niece… and a sister-in law.”

Clearly the narrator is far more contemporary, but how contemporary and who is it?

“The land… the water…? It sets the toll and takes what it will.”

 

 

 

What we are witnessing at this point back in 1450 A.D., by the sparse, lakeside settlement of animal-skin tipis, is murder for a mate. Not an open, honest, if brutal joust between stags in a thunderous display of virility, but a covert ambush of one man by another with intent to steal. Steal he does, claiming his terrified prize at night as she coddles her baby, pulling open the tipi’s flap and staking his claim.

“This land has been fought for.
“This patch on earth has been earned.
“And lost… over and over again.”

We witness that happening throughout the centuries which follow  until a rudimentary township is established with the arrival of wagons, a small community blossoms  and a church is erected, then more utilitarian, agrarian buildings make their mark along with motorised vehicles which already look a little dilapidated by 1950 A.D..

“And those that paid for it with blood and sweat and tears?
“They ain’t about to give it up.”

 

 

Now, this morning, in that self-same settlement, a young man in a backwards baseball cap is being bundled unceremoniously into a police car by a man in his mid-forties wearing a policeman’s uniform. Apparently the boy isn’t welcome on their land. But apparently the arresting officer isn’t legally a lawman. The boy bullishly protests that – according to the Sheriff in Cargill – they’re all squatters. But all the man called Bruce will concede is that they are a closed community, self-sustained, running off the grid, and that he and his two brothers will protect its borders.

Which is where, I believe, we came in.

“Shelly! How goes it?”
“S’all good. Shot me a couple weasels this morning. Looks like you caught one yerself.”

 

 

We may well return to assumptions and presumptions anon, but let’s first talk about Tyler Jenkins.

There’s such attention to detail throughout and most especially on the evolution of the hamlet, emerging from scratch like Will Eisner’s DROPSIE AVENUE which you’ll also find within Eisner’s A CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY. As the population of Eisner’s town (and then city) swells, so do its domiciles and I loved the coming and going and repurposing, refashioning of buildings to suit shifting needs.

The Grass Kingdom is far more tightly controlled for it remains rustic with grain silos, water towers, a light aircraft hangar, jetties for mooring small fishing boats and a view of the lake which is to die for.

All of this Tyler Jenkins delivers with a double-page flourish of wet washes which had me gasping out loud. It’s akin to an aerial photograph snapped out of a helicopter, and you can identify individual landmarks seen on previous pages and those you’ll encounter as Bruce drives their unwanted intruder way off their land.

 

 

It’s phenomenally well structured too: there’s a horizontal horizon of low-lying, misty blue mountains, but the sandy township itself is held within parallel, diagonal bands of much darker green – trees to the north, the lake to the south – while your eyes are further driven in to its centre from the top, right and bottom-left by the grey asphalt which of course radiates outwards as well. Quite swiftly, in our obdurate young friend’s experience.

Much is made in that car-bound conversation of Robert, Bruce’s older brother, who seems to reign over this closed community like a king – one with a temper and a propensity towards drink. It’s made very clear to the youth that he’s lucky to have been caught by Bruce and not Robert. But all that we see is a tight-lipped man, tired and haggard beyond his years, sat brooding on his porch and staring out to the lake. There follow two free-form pages of quick-fire recollection before three long, comparatively static panels as ochre afternoon becomes a crimson sunset then night.

Then he sees something else.

 

 

I mentioned attention to detail, didn’t I? The distant past and present danger will converge most unexpectedly, at which point you may want to rethink.

For a completely different but equally unexpected take on autonomous communities living off the grid, please see Brian Wood and Mack Chater’s woefully underexposed BRIGGS LAND.

SLH

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

The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer & Simini Blocker…

“You have released me from the magic lamp. As a reward, I will grant you three wishes.
“Not four or five or six. THREE.
“Those are the rules.
“What is your first wish?”

HOP HOP HOP HOP HOP

“Would you like a treasure chest filled with gold?
“That’s a popular wish.”

In fact, we have been granted four fabulous fairy tales, rather than three or indeed four, five or six wishes. Not that the bemused frog in the opening ‘Hop Hop Wish’ would probably know what to do with those either… Although, he does quickly catch on and come up with an ingenious idea for dealing with the pesky genie.

 

 

In addition to our ambivalent amphibian we also have our titular crooning pebble, a pair of squabbling sorcerers and also a very perturbed portrait artist.

 

 

Each story, scribed by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer is full of joy and snarky humour, as foolish follies are committed aplenty by all and sundry before happy endings finally ensue.

Simini Blocker’s colourful art is equally full of life and frivolity. There’s a real gentle glee and exuberance and most definitely an air of ever-present mischief which contributes to the fun.

I think my favourite story was probably the wiz-biz battle of wits involving the quiet, studious Athesius and the king’s lazy sorcerer Warthius, who being a pretty talentless magician, hatches a nefarious if fairly transparent scheme to steal Athesius’ spells by gifting him a parrot.

Athesius of course, is not remotely fooled as Warthius gamely blunders on…

“What is it?”
“It’s called a parrot.”
“Isn’t that the tropical bird that can repeat everything that people say?”
“Did I say parrot? It’s… an ostrich.”
“I thought ostriches were supposed to be enormous.”
“It’s a pygmy ostrich.”
“A pygmy ostrich? They must be very rare.”
“They are.”

 

 

I think you can probably guess where this tail is going to go and what the moral of the story might be!

JR

Buy The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Read All About It! (£12-99, King) by Kristyna Baczynski ~

Krystyna Baczynski, the queen of zines, is here to drop some knowledge and ignite imaginations with a gloriously engaging activity book.

With pull out pages and easy to follow instructions, this book is ready and raring to go! Whether you’re out adventuring in the sunshine or stuck on the sofa during a typically British rainy day, all you need is a pen and a bucket load of creativity! Though if we want to get really into it, some scissors and glue would go a long way to making your zines super extra special.

With ten zines on different themes, there is bound to be something to tickle your fancy and spark some imagination. Ranging from a week in the life, to a dream journal, to a magnificently made-up menagerie of monsters.  But as everyday as some of the themes may be at first glance, they really are a fantastic base to have some fun with. Who says the food zine should be about how to make marshmallow topped rice crispy squares? Why shouldn’t it be a how-to of your best recipe for purple flavoured grumwumple cake, filled with Inkleberry Jam and topped with a mountain of chocolate sprinkles so high that you would need a Sherpa to help you scale to the top! Suitable for both the realist and the fantasist, everyone is bound to get a kick out of these colourful zines.

Speaking of colour, Krystyna has gone full on-trend with the contrasting, highlighter colour aesthetics of risograph printing. Combo that with a lavish use of pop-retro stylings, eye-popping patterns and, of course, her charming illustrations and characters, you’re in for playful feast for the eyes so enticingly delicious that you won’t be able to stop those creative juices from flowing.

Off-white, soft textured paper not only adds to the home-made, design-trend look, it’s also particularly great for pencils and crayons! And pretty much everything else, though I maybe wouldn’t go too heavy on the markers.

As a kid, I know that this book would have been an absolute favourite of mine. Packed full of tutorials from lettering (dotty lettering was always a staple), to character creating from old magazines and newspapers (pro-tip, give old birthday cards a try too!), this book is bound to keep any creative entertained for hours, even days on end! And what is great is that this is only a starting point. Once you’re equip with the know-how, you’re encouraged to keep on making, drawing, cutting and sticking, to make the best zines you can think of! And what’s more there’s an option to get collaborative. So for all you parents itching to join in on the fun, you can! Get stuck in! Get the friends involved and really get fun going.

As an adult (lol), I’m gonna get stuck in anyway! Now, if only I can remember where I kept my best jumbo Crayolas…

JP

Buy Read All About It! and read the Page 45 review here

Joker s/c (£13-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo.

Crikey! This originally appeared as a hardcover in 2008. There’s never been a softcover until now. With a few additional, very necessary updates, this was written back then….

“When I was a kid, my scumbag stepfather once — only once — took us camping. I’d never been out in the woods before, and I haven’t been there since, really. But the time with my stepfather I caught a toad, and I took him home in a box. I fed him bugs that I’d catch… roaches mostly, since that’s what we had, mostly.
“After it rained, I’d take him up on the roof of our building too. Seein’ it was outside, I figured he’d like to hop around up there, and I think he really did. I like to think that. But this one time… there were older kids up there, and they saw what I had… And they said they were going to throw my toad off the roof. And I knew they were, I knew it. And also knew I could let them do that. To me.
“So I did it myself.”

And that’s not even The Joker. That’s Johnny Frost, the Joker’s chauffeur and right-hand man. Nice chap, Johnny. Bit of a clot for taking the job, mind: never trust a psychopath.

 

 

 

We have a new top tier Bat-book, ladies and gentlemen, something approaching KILLING JOKE, GOTHAM CENTRAL, RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, Except you’ll only see half a dozen pages with Batman in them. This is squarely and fairly about Johnny and the Joker. They’ve dropped the cartoon features in favour of mouth-slit-with-razor-blade, entirely appropriate for this take on The Joker who doesn’t even attempt to pun his way into your black, black hearts (only ever successfully achieved by Moore in KILLING JOKE and Tom King’s Rebirth run on BATMAN) but keeps everyone perpetually off balance and thoroughly unnerved with his verbal u-turns, intense, unpredictable mood swings and complete disregard for the sanctity of anything including himself.

Under a veneer of charm, he is menace personified, your very worst nightmare and he’s just discharged himself from Arkham Asylum: that’s bad news for you if you carved up his territory and took it for your own in his absence.

 

 

It’s like no other take so far, though I imagine its imitators are waiting in the wings, and the same goes for Killer Croc, Harley Quinn (wisely and thankfully silent entirely throughout), The Riddler and up to a certain extent The Penguin and Two-Face.

Bermejo has excelled himself, as has Mick Gray on inks. They take Joker’s jagged mouth and extend it to everyone else on the page, their features half-shadowed and crinkle-cut like THE INHUMANS and FANTASTIC FOUR 1234’s Jae Lee on a pneumatic drill. What is slightly odd is that Bermejo’s elected to ink himself on his favourite pages, although you may not notice it until the final scene on the bridge where the far softer treatment on alternate pages doesn’t exactly jar but seems unnecessary. His Joker is alternately wild and hooded-eyed, chipped toothed and a mess of scar tissue.

So are some of his victims once he’s finished with them.

 

 

 

Evidently he feels the Injury To Eye Motif is just too limiting… and the Joker’s never been good at self-restraint.

SLH

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

Green Lantern vol 1: Intergalactic Lawman h/c (£22-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Liam Sharp.

Original 2000AD run through with Douglas Adams – that’s how I’d characterise so much of this.

It’s highly inventive and very, very funny. Even mid-mass-arrest, there are so many stop-for-a-moment-to-laughs.

“Ye’ll never catch us now, copper!” boasts an 8-legged fiend.
“I won’t have to. My partner, Green Lantern Floozle Flem, is a super-intelligent all-purpose virus. Replicating in your bloodstream as we speak. Floozle Flem doesn’t catch you… You catch Floozle Flem.”

The police-patrol Green Lantern Corps’ pro-diversity recruitment drive knows no blinkers. You can’t expect to patrol then control the full range of a cosmos’s criminal manifestations if you don’t have an equally unorthodox armoury of agents. So yes, one Green Lantern is a virulent, sentient flu germ; another is a walking, talking, bi-pedal volcano.

No more a superhero series than Hickman and Aja’s HAWKEYE – which was instead a slickly designed, contemporary comedy of manners, therefore infinitely more accessible to a far broader audience – this is cosmic cop-crime whose precinct and jurisdiction are both set in space.

 

 

You can tell by its structure, which begins with a disciplined demand for a sit-rep update from HQ (a great big green-lantern-shaped space station) while at ground-level (somewhere similarly suspended but less lime-coloured) all is barely contained chaos. A spider’s just bitten a Green Lantern’s ring off.

“That was my favourite finger, you savage!
“Arachno-Sapiens! So bitey all the time!”

 

 

So yes, bursting with playful mischief to be sure, but if fingers can be cropped then so can entire individuals as – this being crime an’ all – it also comes with abrupt, contrasting (and so much more arresting) casualties.

You need know nothing of this title’s past to enjoy the opener to this first season (because that is what I sense this is, very much mapped out like a television show), for I’ve read fewer than dozen GREEN LANTERN issues in my life; only enough to recognise this as hilariously faithful yet totally fresh, with Liam Sharp art that is ridiculously detailed and full of authority.

 

 

To tell you more, plot-wise, would be to spoil the surprise, while the same goes for its structure which isn’t above slipping in memories like a meandering and meditative road journey.

Liam Sharp has brought his all – which is considerable – and I do hope he’s on double time for all the detail. The following need mean nothing to you, it is merely an observational self-indulgence based on my own historical comics-history bias:

On different pages yet sometimes in the same panels, I sensed serious amounts of neo-classical Neal Adams in the figure work, forearms and faces, enough Alan Davis to keep me amused in the background Glaswegian gamblers betting on a battle’s outcome, HR Giger – appropriately enough – in the mechanics during the discovery of a crashed spaceship, Jim Starlin rendering attending Hal’s ribcage and stomach muscles, bites of early Sir Bazza Windsor-Smythe in the biceps, Herb Trimpe female faces and forearms, a sizzle of Bill Sienkiewicz during an arm-spread lift-off, and Jim Steranko during what I’d call “assembly”, reciting the customary bright / night / sight / might / light riff.

 

 

I’d only add that if you like your heroes not necessarily anti- but perhaps more ambivalent, then Hal Jordan will prove as pragmatic as he is dogmatic and determined in his Green Lantern role, unintimidated when going up against an entity bearing a suspicious resemblance to the Biblical God (and all cops are inherently suspicious – it’s part of their job description and arsenal), not above some judicious deception of his own, and never comes close to dropping his guard by turning the other cheek.

“Nurse, I’d call a doctor if I were you.
“But tell them this man killed 2.5 billion people.
“Tell them there’s no need to hurry.”

Also, since I did mention 2000AD in my first paragraph, does this ambition and audacity remind you of Judge Dredd?

“Planet Earth – you are gamma-intoxicated and clearly no longer in control of your decisions or actions.
“I’m placing all of you under arrest until you come to your senses.”

Are we all allowed one phone call each?

 

 

SLH

Buy Green Lantern vol 1: Intergalactic Lawman h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Conan The Barbarian vol 1: The Life And Death Of Conan Book One s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Mahmud Asrar, Gerardo Zaffino…

“The mine closed for the day so everyone in Red Tree Hill could be there to watch the Cimmerian die.
“People even came from other towns. Families picnicked on the mountain. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
“Until they brought him out.
“Then things got dark.”

Good old Conan, always getting himself into a right old pickle before promptly slashing his way out of it. Though if there ever were a character basically entirely responsible for every single bit of trouble he gets himself into…

Anyway, this time he is about to be hung for stealing gold. Well, he was going to be hung, but slight problem, he pulled down and pulverised the tree that the villagers had been hanging people from for decades during their first attempt to kill him. So after a brief reprieve they’ve decided to chain him to the fallen trunk and chop him into little pieces with an axe. Because, you know, that’s bound to work.

Here is the publisher soothsayer to sing us the tale of precisely what Conan is up to now he’s rejoined the Merry Marvel Marching Society…

“The greatest sword-and-sorcery hero of all returns… From an age undreamed… hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.

Conan’s travels have brought him to the far reaches of the unknown, from his birthplace in Cimmeria to the kingdom of Aquilonia and all in between. But as his fighting prowess lets him carve his way through life, so too does it attract the forces of death! And few are more deadly than the Crimson Witch.

 

 

Robert E. Howard’s legendary barbarian stars in an all-new ages-spanning saga as the destiny of Conan – and King Conan – are forever changed!”

‘Nuff said? Okay, maybe I do need to add a few thoughts of my own…

Firstly, the Conan comics material that emanated from Marvel first time around set a very high benchmark that wasn’t, to my mind, bettered or even really approached in quality by what followed during his many subsequent Dark Horse wanderings.

The original series ran for 275 issues starting in 1970 through to 1993. Roy Thomas, then Marvel’s associate editor, was the one who was really keen for Marvel to licence the character, seeing the potential unlike Stan Lee, and ended up writing the first 115 issues himself before returning for the final 36.

Thomas ended up offering the Howard estate the princely sum of $200 per issue, rather than the $150 he had been told to budget for it, which meant he then couldn’t justify getting John Buscema on board initially as artist (though Buscema did end up pencilling most of #25-190) thus allowing Barry Windsor-Smith to forge his own legend on the opening 24 issues.

I mention all that because, for me, I hold that material in as high regard and with as much affection as I do much of Marvel’s classic superhero output. So I was sceptical that they could manage to reignite such interest and induce such acclaim in the character’s exploits this time around.

But so far, so bloody good. Jason Aaron, currently still in the midst of his own epoch-length run with the THOR character(s) –  the current volume being THOR VOL 1: GOD OF THUNDER REBORN S/C and they are now recollecting his run in chunkier volumes right from the start with THOR: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION BY JASON AARON VOL 1  – clearly has a strong handle on the somewhat psychotic psyche of the ever-bored barbarous man-child.

 

 

Strong, bold sword-swinging, curse-screaming art from Mahmud Asrar and Gerard Zaffino, who clearly both understand the character too.

 

 

The overarching story in this first volume moves around in time, strung through with the bloody thread of the Crimson Witch, so Asrar handles the first three issues which each tell a different adventure from Conan’s more excitable younger days, before Zaffino tackles a weary King Conan still struggling to make sense of his place in the world once his throne has been claimed.

 

 

It is of course, far too early to say if this run can match the heady errr… head-chopping heights of the original. It is certainly off to a cracking and bone-crunching start though.

 

 

Marvel, being Marvel of course, can’t leave it there. So there is also a companion SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN title, the first volume of which penned by Gerry DEADPOOL Duggan will be out very shortly. Having flicked through the issues for that, I have to say it does look just as intensely brutally carved chaos out as well.

Now Marvel, being Marvel of course, really, really just couldn’t leave it there, could they? So Conan was actually reintroduced into the Marvel Universe with the surprisingly entertaining AVENGERS: NO ROAD HOME by Al Ewing (which was a because-you-didn’t-demand-it follow-up to the utterly insipid (to me) AVENGERS: NO SURRENDER event).

Now, the thing about Marvel is… that they are convinced you just can’t have too much of a good thing, so clearly, they needed to create another Avengers title, just so they could semi-permanently shoehorn Conan into modern day. Thus we have the SAVAGE AVENGERS with Wolverine, Venom, Elektra, Punisher and Doctor Druid… sigh… I have no idea if he is going to stay there…

JR

Buy Conan The Barbarian vol 1: The Life And Death Of Conan Book One s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

 New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

 Kramers Ergot vol 10 s/c (£26-99, Fantagraphics) by Sammy Harkham, Robert Crumb, Dash Shaw, David Collier, Anouk Ricard, C.F., Jason Murphy, Blutch, Shary Flenniken, Johnny Ryan, John Pham, Ron Regé Jr., Simon Hanselmann, Anna Haifisch, Ivan Brunetti, David Amram, Helge Reumann, Frank King, Steve Weissman, Aisha Franz, Leon Sadler, Adam Buttrick, Archer Prewitt, Connor Willumsen, Bendik Kaltenborn, Will Sweeney, Rick Altergott, Kim Deitch, Marc Bell

 That’s honestly added this time!

They Called Us Enemy s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by George Takei, various & Harmony Becker

Bags Or A Story Thereof s/c (£9-99, Archaia) by Pat McHale & Gavin Fullerton

BPRD Devil You Know vol 3 – Ragna Rok (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Laurence Campbell, Christopher Mitten, Dave Stewart

By Night vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Boom!) by John Allison & Christine Larson

Die! Die! Die! vol 1 (£17-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman, Scott M. Gimple & Chris Burnham

Our Super Adventure vol 2: Video Games And Pizza Parties h/c (£17-99, Oni) by Sarah Graley, Stef Purenins

Justice League vol 3: Hawkworld s/c (£15-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Jim Cheung, various

Havok And Wolverine: Meltdown s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Walter Simonson, Louise Simonson & Jon J. Muth, Kent Williams, Jon J. Muth

Miles Morales vol 1: Straight Out Of Brooklyn s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Saladin Ahmed & Javi Garron

Candy Color Paradox vol 2 (£8-99, Sublime) by Isaku Natsume

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2019 week two

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

All-Ages Special featuring Oscar Wilde, P. Craig Russell, Chitra Soundar, Poonam Mistry, Larry Marder, Ted Naifeh, plus we’ve found stock of  Kristyna Baczynski, Dan Berry, Joe Decie, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Sarah McIntyre, Fumio Obata and Jack Teagle’s 24 By 7 for which I’ve shot fresh photographs!

You’re Snug With Me h/c (£11-99, Lantana Publishing) by Chitra Soundar & Poonam Mistry.

Well, would you look at this wonder!

Although painstakingly hand-drawn and coloured on a flat surface, it comes with all the qualities of intricately embroidered cloth.

Like the most magnificent woolly jumper which you could ever imagine, there are distinct rhythms of lines, dots, spots and triangles arranged with an intuitive understanding of the forms that they delineate. Pulling out further, there are shapes within much bolder shapes like those whole animals which you’d so satisfyingly slot in between smaller, interlocking background pieces in a wooden Early Learning jigsaw puzzle.

 

 

Over and again, the geometric is rendered organic while the colours keep it all cosy.

The mother bear’s den is a perfect example, the opening image of the cubs nestled snugly head-to-toe inside her womb. She hugs herself calmly, contentedly, assuredly, while outside we see nature taking its uninterrupted seasonal course. All is as it should be, and all will be well.

So long as we maintain the balance.

Just as the colours inside Mama Bear are overwhelmingly clay-warm and cream-bright but balanced by cooler purples and white, so without the descending, sharp icy blues are complemented, being cushioned by softer masses and sweeping contours below, while the bulrush shapes glimpsed outside offer the hope of something less shivery to come.

 

 

Then, when those cubs are born, there’s a warm welcome tongue too, as the cubs laze, forelegs first, over their rotund mum’s tum. It’s all pretty idyllic…

So long as we respect the balance.

“As winter turned colder, the cubs explored their frozen den. “Mama, what lies beyond here?” they asked.
“Above us is a land of ice and snow,” said Mama Bear.
The cubs shivered.
“Don’t be afraid,” said Mama Bear. “The drifts bring us hard snow, so we can safely walk this land.”

And ordinarily that would be true.

“Can we wander where we please?” asked the cubs.
“Only where the land will let us walk,” Mama Bear replied. “But hush now, you’re snug with me.””

 

 

A poignant picture book that is so desperately timely, this by Chitra Soundar & Poonam Mistry forms a perfect twin to the same creators’ Indian-bound YOU’RE SAFE WITH ME. It boasts the same striking visual emphasis on patterns within shapes but a more sparkly, radiant colour scheme as befits the snow-bound Arctic. It also comes with the same structure of inquisitive youngsters’ fearful questions about their wider surroundings being reassured, but here a new note of caution is introduced by way of the qualifiers.

“As long as the ice stays frozen, we will never go hungry.”
“Will the ice melt?” asked the cubs.
“Only if we don’t take care of it,” Mama Bear replied.

Only on the opposite side of the double-page spread does she repeat her lullaby refrain which goes “But hush now, you’re snug with me.”

Narrative context aside, these caveats are aimed not at the cubs, obviously, but at ourselves. I don’t think we can in all good conscience accuse the Polar Bear community of compromising their Arctic environment, nor rely on them to fix that which we have so royally… endangered.

 

 

Like Tove Jansson’s THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD and Francesca Sanna’s THE JOURNEY, both Soundar and Mistry books pay profound tribute to the sometimes self-sacrificial role of the ideal mother in reassuring her children when perhaps not so sure herself, and they do so with the same lovely lilting refrain which came with M.H. Clark & Isabelle Arsenault’s YOU BELONG HERE (with me).

In summary: we’re never alone but it is not all ours and we should only take what we need.

I’ll only add that if you want to pluck one more all-ages picture book with a heart of gold from our carefully curated stock, then I’d recommend Sarah McIntyre’s THE NEW NEIGHBOURS for its warm welcoming of strangers.

SLH

Buy You’re Snug With Me h/c and read the Page 45 review here

You’re Safe With Me h/c (£11-99, Lantana Publishing) by Chitra Soundar & Poonam Mistry.

“When the moon rose high and the stars twinkled, it was bedtime for baby animals. But that night, when the skies turned dark and the night grew stormy, the little ones couldn’t sleep.”

Well, they can’t sometimes, can they, with gales howling outside or torrential rain hammering on the roof or tree tops? Not without some soothing reassurance.

This offers up all the reassurance and love in the world.

“Mama Elephant was passing by. “Hush,” she whispered, gently rocking the baby animals in her trunk. “You’re safe with me.””

 

 

YOU’RE SAFE WITH ME is a Young Readers picture-book so eye-poppingly opulent that I suspect it will be swept up in equal numbers by adults for adults.

It’s a perfect twin to Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry’s YOU’RE SNUG WITH ME, created with the same emphasis on maternal solace when responding to fearful youngsters’ questions about the more frightening aspects of their environment. It boasts equally striking patterns and shapes within shapes, but a much warmer, darker and earthier colour palette perfect for Indian climes.

Here the patterns are perhaps more like those you might find on painted clay, stone, or even an elephant adorned for religious festivals. There’s one such within!

 

 

Tiny dots in white, cream and rich red are arranged in organic circles, joined by their radial counterparts to fashion whole floral blooms which you’ll find forming the thighs of the tiny loris or tiger cub.

 

 

Foliage abounds! There the dots are configured so as to demark the curved margins and midribs of leaves, while they are thrown out far straighter in tubular veins for extra support.

Wide-eyed whiskered fish with coppery scales float in the river below, its midnight blue surface punctured by monsoon-large raindrops whose ripples echo not out in concentric circles but in spirals instead to denote outward movement, emphasised by triangular teeth in between.

“CRACK-TRACK!
 The sky lit up.
 FLASH-SNAP!
 The night flickered.
 The little animals gasped.”

 

 

Like indigenous masks, the warm-blooded youngsters gaze out of their protective, comparatively cool-coloured undergrowth in awe and wonder and fear. The next double-page spread of the sky splinters in a jagged cacophony of lightning strikes, scattering Mama Elephant’s explanation into a staccato of barely heard words.

Rarely have I seen such clever interaction in a Picture Book of sight, sound, cause and empathic effect!

I’ll also address one more element of that which impressed me the most: sometimes specific fears need allaying as well…

“SWISH-SWISH!
 The trees moved.
 OOH-OOH!
 The wind moaned.
 The little animals woke up and whimpered.”

Here they are responded to not just with a temporary, placatory cure-all balm…

“Don’t worry about the wind,“ whispered Mama Elephant. “He’s an old friend of the forest. He brings us seeds from faraway lands.”

But they are answered instead with a flip-side focussing firmly on the future, the wider balance of nature when understood, and the overwhelmingly positive compensation to any temporary tremors of the head or heart.

We’d all do well to listen to that wisdom, instead of attempting to “best” nature by barricading ourselves up against it and so destroying our oldest friend.

SLH

Buy You’re Safe With Me h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 5: The Happy Prince s/c (£7-99, NBM) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell.

One of the most affecting short stories of all time brought to poignantly pencilled life by one of the true masters of comics: P. Craig Russell who successfully, transcendently adapted Wagner’s opera cycle THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG, Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER and Neil Gaiman’s MURDER MYSTERIES, SANDMAN: DREAM HUNTERS and so much more. I first read the prose in my late teens and it’s stayed in my heart ever since. Here P. Craig Russell has done wonders with the work, his fine, clean line lit with lambent colours. I even love what he’s done with the speech bubbles linked to their square-boxed, qualifying commentary. More than anything, though, his art here is the ultimate essay in tenderness.

 

 

A gilded statue of The Happy Prince stands much admired, a large ruby gleaming on his sword-hilt; his two eyes are clear, bright sapphires. Alive, he enjoyed a life of privileged pleasure and opulence in a rarefied, snowglobe existence entirely detached from the wider world outside the sequestered court. He was indeed very happy. But now as a statue raised high above the city, he can finally see the misery endured by the sick and the impoverished, the industrious yet ill-rewarded, while the rich who have so much think so little of those who serve them. It makes him weep, and his tears fall like pure drops of rain onto a tiny swallow below.

The swallow should have migrated to Africa with his friends many moons ago, but the prince begs him to tarry a while longer and act as his courier. For there are those in dire need – a seamstress with a sick child, a playwright struggling to stay warm and meet his deadline, a matchgirl whose matches have fallen into drain water and will be beaten by her father – and the prince has much of himself to give.

 

 

It’s a story of iniquity and inequality, self-sacrifice and true love, no matter the consequences. It’s about countries and councils who throw so much of their wealth into useless, vainglorious monuments and enterprises, while failing to meet the most basic needs of those they would govern.

Almost every panel has something satirical to say about people’s priorities in life or their position and disposition in society. Even the swallow’s fanciful dalliance with a slender reed says so much when thrown into contrast with its fateful falling in love with The Happy Prince.

This is the same Oscar Wilde of The Importance Of Being Earnest, but here his boisterous wit is quietly contained, concentrated and considered; the tone no less passionate, but the passion – along with his supreme command of the English language – is harnessed to a quiet, dignified indictment of the superficial few who squander so much, a celebration of the redistribution of wealth, and a relevant reminder that as far as poverty goes there is always much more to be done.

It’s also a tribute to true, selfless love and, once again, it made me cry.

 

 

We finally have all of THE FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE in softcover now, each one reviewed. I’d stick to those: some of the hardcovers are out of print.

SLH

Buy The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 5: The Happy Prince s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Beanworld Omnibus vol 2 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Larry Marder.

“’Now’ has turned into ‘then’.”

Pure comics magic which has for over 30 years ignited the imaginations of all and sundry, including wide-eyed infants prepared to spend their own pocket money on its mind-blowing invention. The covers are key, for their spectacle promises a brand-new, otherworldly experience, and the contents will not disappoint.

For a full introduction, please see BEANWORLD OMNIBUS VOL 1 for which Jonathan, Mark (posthumously) and I joined forces in a composite celebration of Larry Marder’s unique vision.

Alternatively, let’s throw you in at the deep end…

A second volume embracing creation, communication, cooperation, discovery and sustainable resources: one man’s junk is another’s treasure if you manage to unravel its mysteries.

 

 

 

There are plenty of mysteries here, like where Beanish goes when he makes his midday “jump” (he’s keeping that a secret) and why the youngest creatures here, the Cuties, start a-snoozin’ whenever they’re left to their own devices. They just don’t talk to each other, and that’s a big worry if they’re going to grow up to become Chow Sol’jers because teamwork for them is a top priority. Without fresh chow for the Chowdown Pool there’ll be no vitamins, nutrients and trace minerals to absorb, so it’s time to think of the future and look to a little learning through the eyes of a child who really just wants to play.

Both the dilemma and the solution were brilliant, with obvious implications for our own educational system.

Over and again, Larry Marder proves he is one of the wisest man in comics, connecting his unique and seemingly outlandish, self-sufficient ecosystem with the very real world around us. Oh, and he practises what he preaches, providing education through entertainment shot all the way through with exuberant joy.

 

 

The language is fabulous, as witnessed here when the Boom’rs first voice their concerns:

“We stumbledunkled into a somethingness we can’t quiff riff into twined idealios!”
“What sort of fact did you discover that doesn’t make sense?”
“The Pod’l’Pool Cuties neversonever do the yaketyklak between themselves.”

And the designs are simply thrilling. Mark made so many models of these for our windows, and he would have loved the giant amoeba with its cytoplasmic contents coming over all Native American / Jim Woodring. It’s flanked with flagella and primed with an angry red eye, assaulting the Beans as they float in their chow. And that makes Mr. Spook angry!

 

 

Not sufficiently mind-frazzled yet? Of the first half Jonathan wrote:

“There are new discoveries aplenty from Professor Garbonzo, such as combining the mystery pods with twinks to produce the mysterious float factor, which the ever-practical Mr. Spook is hoping to use to protect the Beans from aerial invaders – should any ever appear. Mind you, there’s a certain large fish that might be planning to pay a visit. Whereas Beanish is rather hoping Mr. Spook won’t get too interested in what’s happening in the sky as that’s where he goes for his daily meetings with his beautiful and mysterious friend and muse Dreamishness, who promises the ‘secret path of something more’ may reveal itself if he can only bring her a love song. To that end he tries to enlist the help of Boomr Band, Beanworld’s trio of mad musicians, but poor old Beanish is struggling to find his rhythm.”

 

 

It is, as it says, “A Most Peculiar Comic Experience” and it will stay with you for a lifetime.

“Search for the rhythms.
 Reach deep inside.
 Feel the surging pulse.
 Summon the BLISS!”

It is here.

SLH

Buy Beanworld Omnibus vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Courtney Crumrin vol 5 s/c (£11-99, Oni Press) by Ted Naifeh.

“How did you know you could trust me with witchcraft?”
“I didn’t. And I was right, as I recall.”
“What if I used it against you?”
“Why would you do that?”
“I don’t know. But if I did…”
“Maybe I’m a fool, but I think every young witch should have the freedom to make mistakes. Good judgement comes from dealing with the consequences of bad judgement. Besides, there are ways to take magic away if need be…. Just be careful I never need to use them on you.”

Brrrr… That’s Uncle Aloysius to our young Courtney, and by the end of this penultimate volume of COURTNEY CRUMRIN things will have come to a head.

“Good judgement comes from dealing with the consequences of bad judgement.”

 

 

Courtney will have to exercise some seriously swift judgement here following some catastrophically bad judgement in teaching Holly Hart, the new girl in town, witchcraft. Oh, Courtney once made the same initial mistakes that Holly does with spells to make herself popular, but Courtney recognised those for the mistakes they were. The only thing Holly realises is that Courtney may rescind her privileges: Courtney has been a liability, a threat – one best dealt with swiftly.

Ingeniously Ted mirrors the whole of the first book in the second chapter here, right down to the Goblin market, and then in the third chapter you’re witness to Holly’s point of view. In the first chapter you’ll learn far more of the history of warlocks in Hillsborough than has previously been revealed, and in particular an early assault on Uncle Aloysius’ authority via his heart.

Naifeh really let’s rip with the actions and fireworks later on. I think we can safely say that Courtney has “levelled up”. There’s always been a certain steeliness in her eyes, but now she doesn’t even flinch.

 

 

There’s also the reintroduction of many a familiar face most unexpectedly, so for maximum satisfaction I’d make sure you’ve read the previous instalments of COURTNEY CRUMRIN, reviewed quite extensively, first.

“How do you live with knowing what evil you’ve done? Knowing you’ll do more?”
“I feel like a jerk. But then I get on with my life, and try not to screw up so bad the next time. We’re not faeries, Templeton. We don’t have forever.”

No indeed.

Time is now running out.

SLH

Buy Courtney Crumrin vol 5 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

We Found New Stock (No Easy Feat, Folks)!

24 by 7 h/c (£14-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Kristyna Baczynski, Dan Berry, Joe Decie, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Sarah McIntyre, Fumio Obata, Jack Teagle

“Seven comics as diverse as they are witty as they are beautiful to behold, each created within the same 24 hours. An extraordinary accomplishment.”

 – Stephen L. Holland, Page 45

Whoever the hell he is.

What a stellar line-up! What fertile imaginations! What a variety of styles!

What a bunch of cheats.

Or at least that’s what contributor, editor and all-round director Dan Berry would have you believe in his introduction. He’s so funny! All seven comics were indeed created within the same 24 hours then printed within another to go straight on sale in Page 45’s Georgian Room in Kendal’s Clock Tower at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014. Magnificent! Ridiculous! Miraculous!

So they had a little prep time! I made notes for this review. These reviews may all look so randomly free-form with a word lobbed in here and a paragraph casually cauterising one half of a sentence from the next for no very good

Reason. But at least no one is standing over me with a stopwatch.

 

 

Let’s begin our mad dash with Sarah McIntyre ’s ‘Scribble’ in which only the scribble is scribbled and even that scribble is accomplished. It really is! It’s a dab hand at mimicry, posing as a grass stain on one day, a smashed fly on another, a bogey, a spider, then What Will Happen To My Sister If She Doesn’t Give Back My Book. That particular scribble is awfully succinct. I’m not sure which day it attempted to represent Chaos as a two-dimensional piece of graphite gurning but that was pretty existential. Almost certainly a Saturday, don’t you think?

Anyway, Jamie (the scribble’s name is Jamie) began life on a young girl’s napkin, got thrown in the bin then escaped and let out a roar: instant teeth. It began to cry – for which you need eyes. Then
Jamie ran around, ever-so-excited and found itself with legs. Legs! Suddenly it’s darting about like a mad-eyed monster from Michael Bentine’s Potty Time. Next stop: social media frenzy and huge artistic acclaim!

 

 

The cartooning is so exquisite that I will forgive its two pages of mid-70s’ wallpaper because that’s what inevitably happens when you begin to wield orange. Sarah McIntyre has all the best scribbles and if you think Jamie’s a dude then wait until you bump into his best boyf, Bob. Bob is besotted and has flap-flap wings and a wide-eyed innocence and adoration which are beyond adorable.

Here be wit, here be glee. It’s not easy trying to represent philosophy, France or a full English breakfast in scribbles.

 

 

Fumio Obata’s ‘Anywhere Road’ couldn’t be more different in style, in tone, in genre, in subject matter. Fumio created the graphic novel JUST SO HAPPENS in gentle watercolours. Here he brings his familiarly soft and gentle line to a tale of truancy as a woman walking her dog on the beach discovers a young boy in a sleeping bag. She takes him to a seaside cafe to buy him breakfast but the lad is reluctant to open up or own up to having run away from home. At first he tries to run away from his good Samaritan as well but there’s something about the woman that intrigues him and it’s not just her kindness or persistence. Obata had me holding my breath for the entire duration.

 

 

Jack Teagle’s terracotta ‘Witch Cat’ finds a crowd-shy country cat forced to fly into town after running out of ingredients for a potion. Her worst fears are realised when she runs afoul of some particularly bad apples. No really, they’re very bad apples – one has a worm wriggling its way out of his head! Fortunately our anxious feline is befriended by Bananasaurus, a fruit magician and – yeah, crazy indeed and one to read with your young ‘uns at bed time!

So we come to Dan Berry (THE THREE ROOMS IN VALERIE’S HEAD etc) and Joe Decie (COLLECTING STICKS etc).

I love everything about Joe: his mischief, his timing, his otherwise mundane household objects… even his handwriting. Yes, his handwriting! It’s one of the most attractive in comics: capital letters, far from rigid, that dance up and down while remaining as crystal clear as the layout here.

I Blame Grandma’ (also on sale separately tells how his gran invented the paper clip, fashioning it from fuse wire while working as a clerk in Sir Gerald Patten’s War Office around 1940. So that’s several household objects on the very first page. Our Joe draws a perfect pair of pliers, you know.

 

 

Joe’s grandma felt the need to file faster and keep what she filed better organised. The paperclip quickly catches on and before you know it she’s given her own office in the reappropriated Malvern Road Tube Station. She even had access to the station down below where she said she used to eat her sandwiches in the dark.

Fast-forward to the present day and there are repercussions for Decie himself. Well, you have to think of the patent and all that implies. You couldn’t make this up.

I will just add that his gran was given a St Hubbins Cross medal and – typically – kept it in an empty tin of boot polish. Joe draws a mean tin of boot polish too.

In lovely, loose, full-colour washes project director Dan Berry delivers a haunting tale of love, longing and lament.

 

 

In a small village by a vast lake ‘Nicholas and Edith’ are in love. Their parents disapprove of their relationship for no better reason than a petty family feud. To be together they must therefore find sanctuary away from the spying eyes and tattling tongues of the idle-minded villagers. And there is an island, you see, an island on the lake.

It is an object of local superstition involving some so-called spectre of doom but you know what close-knit communities are like. You know how local legends endure. You know how parents keep their children in check: with a little elaboration and fear. But when you’re in love you can see right through these things, so one evening when the waters are calm Nicholas rows Edith to the island. They find a clearing in the trees overshone by the serene, silver light of the moon.

“I love you.
“I want you.
“I need you.”

I will say little more except think Becky Cloonan – BY CHANCE OR BY PROVICENCE in particular. When you’ve read this through once you will want to start again from the beginning immediately. Entreaties are reprised word-for-word like echoes. Reproachful echoes, you could argue.

Visually, interesting things are done with Edith’s hair. Oh, how how I wish I could say what they were!

 

 

We’re all at sea with Warwick Johnson Cadwell’s ‘Tom Hand’ too. Like any good sailor’s yarn it’s set in a tavern where all the tallest of tales are told. There three sea dogs take it turns to show off their tattoos, each dedicated to the old Tom Hand and his watery demise. Each differs in what finally did him in, but the barmaid’s tale trumps them all. She has a tattoo too, you see, but it’s not necessarily where you’d expect to find it.

The forms are big, bold and as burly as the barflies’, the monsters are terrifying and the deep blues are rendered as energetically as the stormy seas themselves. You’ll almost certainly end up soaking wet.

Finally, RETROGRADE ORBIT’s Kristyna Baczynski tells a wordless, anthropomorphic, semi-cyclical tale spanning millions of years which made me smile with enormous satisfaction throughout. Her leaf and timber textures – as well as the bone and stone – are perfectly balanced, never once bogging the page down or cluttering it up but letting the light shine through, while the brightest of sage greens prove to be perfectly placed tones.

 

 

‘Hand Me Down’ begins slightly upsettingly when a three-eyed prehistoric lovely hatches from an egg, grows up, falls for a female, curls up in cave with his beloved then before you know it Junior is hatched. All very idyllic but before you know it (once again), he ages, is exhausted and dies.

Eons pass before the creature’s bones are discovered, his horn is detached and that’s when the repurposing begins as the horn is handed down through history as one ornament then another, whittled away each time through wear and tear and outright vandalism. Where and when it ends up I will not say but there’s a Tom Gauld moment towards the end that had me roaring with laughter.

If you stop to consider for a moment that these 170-odd pages of comicbook magic were all created in the same room within the same 24 hours, I defy you not to shake your head slightly and smile.

This creativity was captured in a collection of colour photographs published at the back of the book which give you a very real sense of the energy involved and the exhaustion staved off by espresso coffees and galvanising visits by Jeff Smith, Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot and the original instigator of the 24 Hour Comic challenge, THE SCULPTOR’s Scott McCloud himself.

 

 

There the creators all stand round their printed pamphlets on sale in the Kendal Clock Tower’s Georgian Room on October 19th 2014, beaming with pride and accomplishment and quite right too. Bravo!

SLH

Buy 24 by 7 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

 

 

Bad Weekend (A Criminal h/c) (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Jacob Phillips

Herakles Book 3 h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge) by Edouard Cour

Sensible Footwear, A Girl’s Guide (£17-99, Myriad) by Kate Charleworth

The Phoenix Colossal Collection vol 2 (£9-99, David Fickling) by Jamie Smart, Neill Cameron, James Turner, Jess Bradley, Faz Choudhury, Benedict Tomczyk-Bowen, Dominika Tomczyk-Bowen

Grass Kings vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Boom! Studios) by Matt Kindt & Tyler Jenkins

The Magicians: Alice’s Story h/c (£20-99, Archaia) by Lev Grossman, Lilah Sturges & Pius Bak

Murder Falcon s/c (£17-99, Image) by Daniel Warren Johnson & Daniel Warren Johnson, Mike Spicer

Books Of Magic vol 1: Moveable Type s/c (£14-99, DC) by Kat Howard with Neil Gaiman, Simon Spurrier, Dan Watters, Nalo Hopkinson & Tom Fowler with Bilquis Evely, Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara, Dominike “DOMO” Stanton

Kramers Ergot vol 10 s/c (26-99, Fantagraphics) by Sammy Harkham, Robert Crumb, Dash Shaw, David Collier, Anouk Ricard, C.F., Jason Murphy, Blutch, Shary Flenniken, Johnny Ryan, John Pham, Ron Regé Jr., Simon Hanselmann, Anna Haifisch, Ivan Brunetti, David Amram, Helge Reumann, Frank King, Steve Weissman, Aisha Franz, Leon Sadler, Adam Buttrick, Archer Prewitt, Connor Willumsen, Bendik Kaltenborn, Will Sweeney, Rick Altergott, Kim Deitch, Marc Bell

Sandman vol 9: The Kindly Ones (30th Anniversary Ed’n) (£14-99, DC) by Neil Gaiman & Marc Hempel, Glyn Dillon, Charles Vess, D’Israeli, Teddy Kristiansen, Dean Ormston, Kevin Nowlan

Green Lantern vol 1: Intergalactic Lawman h/c (£22-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Liam Sharp

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man vol 1: Secrets And Rumor s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & Juann Cabal, Yildiray Cinar, Marcelo Ferreira

Incredible Hulk: Epic Collection – The Leader Lives s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, Gary Friederich with Roy Thomas, Bill Everett, Archie Goodwin & Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe with Frank Giacoia

Today’s Menu For The Emiya Family vol 2 (£11-99, Denpa) by  Type-Moon &  TAa

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2019 week one

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019

Featuring Ryan O’Sullivan, Andrea Mutti, Molly Mendoza, Ryan Andrews, Gou Tanabe, Scott Jason Smith, Patrick Wirbeleit & Uwe Heidschotter, Stan Lee, John Romita Sr

Skip h/c (£16-99, Nobrow) by Molly Mendoza.

“I promised I would be brave.
“I did everything Bee taught me.
“I tended to things just as they would have…
“But they still haven’t come back.”

If this cover of colour swirling and churning in deep slate-blue waters suggests to you that a sensory explosion may lie ahead, then your eyes and imagination have not deceived you. Multiple metamorphoses, here we come!

It conjures memories of playing with plasticine before most of the colours had become so completely merged that the whole was rendered a solid taupe. On the cover bright strains still resonate.

Similarly inside there’s a full-page spread with the consistency of slippery wet clay in which Bloom’s forehead and big, lost eyes are dispersed in an aqueous shimmer, like cutting clean through that same ball of plasticine – much further down the line towards its inevitable mud-brown composite when communally shared at infant school – with a very sharp knife to reveal its remaining, less vivid veins in cross-section. It’s a fluid, silky effect, at any rate.

 

 

Adjust your focus, and it’s actually Bee rowing away, leaving Bloom all alone on the shore of the lake, the ripples in Bee’s wake disquieting Bloom’s young mind.

Bloom has been living on the lake, under Bee’s protection and tutelage, for as long as Bloom can remember. Their simple, tranquil, shared routine is one of fishing by boat and foraging for root vegetables and eggs. Milk and cheese are a thing of the past; Bee remembers them, but Bloom’s never tasted them. It’s possible that they might find some in the city across the water but Bee insists that it’s not worth the risk.

“It’s dangerous that way, and people aren’t going to be as nice as you and me.
“When everything comes apart like it did all those years ago… well, your heart can’t help but come apart too.”

 

 

But what once came apart – a battered old radio in their fire-lit camp – has now been fixed and crackles unexpectedly one night into life. It’s a desperate mayday message speaking of hunger and fear and it comes with specific coordinates. It’s a message which Bee cannot in all good conscience ignore…

The early scenes are rich in comforting warm earth colours, the close bond between the two – one which really should not be broken – borne out by the tenderness with which Bee cups Bloom’s head in strong, huge hands, then clasps their charge closer.

 

 

Yet separate they must, however reluctantly, as in the beginning of Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL, and Bloom’s left alone to stand on the smooth-pebbled shore, watching out across the lake, idly skimming stones, day after day, dusk after dawn, until they can take it no more. In absent-minded frustration, Bloom snatches at the neck-strung amulet with which they were solemnly entrusted, and hurls it after the other stones.

 

 

Aghast in an instant at the terrible mistake, Bloom dives desperately after the prized possession and a new bright red of alarm materialises in the whirlpool depths, fish eyes enlarge impossibly, the amulet is glimpsed, and the pebbles become boulders between which Bloom is lost!

Forms abstract themselves.

Stronger colours coalesce.

Panels within panels emanate ever outwards.

And suddenly we’re somewhere else entirely…

 

 

It’s time to meet Gloopy instead.

Gloopy very much resembles the Addams Family’s Cousin It. Only with eyes, nose, mouth, a baseball cap, and legs you can actually see.

“Who are you? Is that some sort of grass camouflage you’re wearing?”
“No! This just me.”

It’s an easy mistake to make.

Gloopy lives in a sunshine-yellow, rolling rural paradise whose shadows are cast in deep purple. There are gigantic mushrooms, vast, gnarled trees with twisted bases, and the occasional redundant wooden fence. The community of artists are approaching the Great Harvest, celebrated by cultivating their finest crops to create a feast in the Garden in honour of the inspirational moon, under the leadership of Capman.

Gloopy’s happy to help but finds any unauthorised, individual creative efforts irritably dismissed and, distracted, Gloopy’s frustration leads to impetuousness which leads to their whole endeavour going up in smoke.

“It’s been days and they still won’t talk to me!
“I could make a statue out of grass? But they probably wouldn’t like it.
“Or surprise Pip with an aquatic dance? No… Pip hates surprises.
“Maybe offer Oom some mushrooms? But they would never snack on the job.
“The way they all look at me… it’s unbearable.
“I wish I could just disappear.”

At which point Bloom bursts upwards from out of the flowering grassland, as if diving upwards out of water, still grasping for the amulet ahead!

 

 

What follows is a friendship which forms through adversity, but both their friendship and adventure prove as turbulent as the cover and the morphing doorways to different dimensions suggest.

For Bloom and Gloopy are two very different individuals who come from disparate emotional starting points: Gloopy desires above all to escape rejection and leave; Bloom is desperate to return home in order to resume their vigil. It’s partly a matter of promise and honour, partly a worry that Bee may have already returned and found Bloom missing.

After disappearing down the next Carrollian rabbit hole, however, neither will have much choice in the matter.

 

 

This is a feast of colour combos, so many more than I have to show for you because I want their surprise to take your breath away, just as they took mine. Mendoza uses them to evoke individual emotional states and wider moods, one specific time and place if I’m not much mistaken, temperatures, atmospheres, chaos and confusion, conflict and conflagration and even – when Bloom and Gloopy pop up out of the central hole of a six-side die – pace.

There the previously frantic sequence of fear and flight from a war-torn kingdom, culminating in a free-fall tumble through increasingly wide slashes of angry red through yolk yellow and green immediately followed by a dam-busted spew of battlements and metal-clawed machines…. is halted abruptly by a calm of cool violets.

 

 

 

“I feel like my whole life just poured out of my skull!
“How can you be so relaxed?
“Doesn’t anything scare you?”

Gloopy glances away, silently.

Oh, and that specific time and place? The second I saw the spread of sage green, black and red, I was in Nazi Germany – at least Nazi-occupied Europe – during WWII. Black and red constituted the vile swastika, to my mind, sage green the German uniform. I did check with Jonathan; he agreed.

 

 

Fear looms large during this graphic novel – there is one thing that does scare Gloopy – but also balance.

Although Gloopy’s fearless curiosity to the point of recklessness puts them in danger, it also allows for discoveries and new experiences which would otherwise have been missed. Plus, although Bloom claims to be far from brave, it’s so often Bloom’s practical skills learned on the lake coupled with a courage which is instinctive that saves both their souls in the nick of time. As an honest, open and caring friend, Gloopy is quick to compliment Bloom by pointing this out. But being told something is very different to believing something and recognising it in yourself, so it’s going to take time and some seriously harsh experiences for Bloom to feel and acknowledge a new strength.

Balance is also in evidence when it comes to art. At one point Gloopy, already desirous of creating something individualistic of their own but having their work slapped down by companions, is tempted by a consciousness of pure creativity who has a world of blue wonders to share. But it’s come at the cost of a disconnecting from others, and Gloopy’s not convinced that is right.

 

 

 

All of which dovetails neatly into the denouement – after many more environments and challenges – which I won’t share with you. I’ll only confess that Mendoza took me completely by surprise, refreshingly so. I’ve just redacted two further sentences and put my poker face on.

I’ve read this through three times now, each time spotting new details in what I’d describe (without any of its negative connotations) as an orgiastic experience of merging and emerging forms and colours which flow as freely upon the page as the story flows through panels. As such you don’t really want to stop and stare, but head right on through and then start anew.

Lastly, I’ve never seen wetter tears, though they won’t all be sad ones, I swear.

SLH

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

Fearscape vol 1 s/c (£15-99, Vault) by Ryan O’Sullivan & Andrea Mutti.

Oh, oh, irony abounds!

A wit-riddled use of this medium’s unique properties to flagrantly (and comically) expose its own high-handed, immodest, opinionated, egocentric and startlingly ruthless narrator as unreliable from the very start, I’d equate this to some of your favourite fantasies – perhaps from Image Comics – with a more literary history bent.

Pretensions, the protagonist has so very many: both towards authorial success much envied in others (but ostensibly, disdainfully dismissed) and within his own hyper-analytical, self-referential and overwrought purple prose.

Please don’t confuse the narrator and his authorial voice with that of Ryan O’Sullivan, for the latter’s beady eye is very much on the ball.

It’s a wrecking ball.

 

 

Our cad without a conscience is called Henry Henry. His first name is Henry, his second name is Henry, though no one believes this nor much else besides.

He aspires to write a ground-breaking, trend-setting great book of his own, although those who would seek such lofty ambitions are superciliously derided as superficial.  Specifically he covets the reputation and success of his mentor, veteran fantasy author Arthur Proctor, along with his recently completed new manuscript, ‘Terror Forming’. It lies unattended and so far unread in old Arthur’s flat, across the hall, which Henry has access to…

Henry’s only incomes lies instead in translation, wherein most of the original language may be lost because Henry knows best. Also, as he boasts:

“The grammar, the rhythm, sometimes the story, often the characters, places and settings. Even the title, on occasion.”

This is only suffered because Arthur has persuaded his agent to humour Henry. This agent he describes in a parenthetical aside thus:

“A nameless man of little consequence to our tale. You are free to imagine him a name. Wolfgang would be more than sufficient. Please don’t consider this dismissal a sign of my dislike for him. My agent was a dear friend. I’m only refusing to name him for the sake of descriptive brevity.”

They hate each other. And there’ll be plenty more circumlocution to come, plus other Chaucerian sleights of hand, for O’Sullivan has only just become to crack his mischievous knuckles.

 

 

So back to the flat of Arthur Proctor, laid up unresponsive in hospital, whose work Henry claims to hold in contempt with the spitting emphasis on “genre”:

“Twenty-seven novels. All of them fantasy. All of them set in the same trope-ridden dragon-infested world. Yet I am the one lack in originality?”

But if Henry is super-adept at one thing it is self-justification:

“To plagiarize my own benefactor! A wicked idea. How could my agent suggest such a thing?”

It wasn’t a suggestion, it was an accusation.

“Although, I could see his point.
“Arthur was dying. A novel is of no use to a dead man.
“And who was Arthur to claim this story as his own? His influences were my influences. We read the same books and watched the same television programs. I had no intention of stealing my neighbour’s latest manuscript. I merely wanted to glance over it. To see if the secrets of authorship lay hidden within its coffee-stained pages.
“Arthur would have agreed to it, if his health were better.
“I suppose, in a way, I was carrying out his wishes.”

 

 

So it is that he sidles up surreptitiously to Arthur’s door, Andrea Mutti playing the body language here and throughout to perfection – whether Henry’s skulking, aghast, alarmed or outright terrified – completely contradicting the supposed insouciance, confident bravado or the insincere excuses of the captions. Especially when Henry’s interrupted while pilfering the manuscript by its author’s daughter, Jill, a “professional artist, if you believe in such oxymorons”: then he really pulls out all the stops of self-justification in answering to himself her accusations.

“How dare she suspect me of burglary! I only placed the manuscript in my jacket to avoid confrontations… I had no intention of thievery. My hand was forced.”

 

 

If the art is juxtaposed against the captions dictated in order to out all the lies, not so the real-time dialogue which remains as revelatory as what’s seen. Except that the narrator (okay, O’Sullivan and Andworld Design on the lettering and its placement) contrive to make sure that as few of those inconveniently embarrassing speech balloons remain unseen, blocking them behind more protestations or offering alternate versions which reflect far better on Henry while leaving behind just enough of what’s said to expose the fabrication and mendacity. It’s a device similar to that deployed by Mazzuchelli’s deployment in ASTERIOS POLYP and Clowes’s in MISTER WONDERFUL, but to different effect. Either way, only in comics, folks!

 

 

Now, I know I’ve yet to touch on the titular Fearscape itself and so the fantastical element (other than what’s going on inside Henry’s deeply deluded head), but I’ve been a damn sight more helpful than the back-cover blurb which, in keeping with the contents, deliberately omits giving even a hint of the book’s plot points in favour of addressing potential readers directly to tell them it’s doing so.

But let’s just say that the clue’s in the title, and that Henry is in for a very rude, transdimensional awakening – as are the Fearscape’s occupants upon encountering Henry.

 

 

Please don’t imagine that you’re in for something salutary like a re-run of Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ with omniscient spectres and a penitent protagonist.

This is a big book of lies, strained credulity and almost wilful gullibility too on the part of some of the more conceptual entities who really (no, really) should know better. But then Henry is as quick-witted as he is a shameless blusterer and bare-faced liar.

He’s also forgotten something foreshadowed early on, with further clues lobbed oh so casually in later, about his childhood encounters with Arthur Proctor.

 

 

Andrea Mutti is equally at home in the quotidian world of potted plants, bookshelves, hospital bedsides and suburban street scenes as he is in the fantastical realm of the Fearscape which allows him to really let rip with infinite graveyards, craggy caverns and presumably bottom chasms populated by mermaids, minotaurs, assorted ghastly phantoms and a disembodied brain floating silently atop its spinal cord. Plus, as I say, there’s all that character acting. Colourist Vladimir Popov suffuses the stygian Fearscape with the same ethereal, misty glow that Dave Stewart lent to Olivier Coipel’s forms in MAGIC ORDER written by Mark Millar, while keeping the real world relatively clean; yet not so clean that the lines can’t blur between them.

Watch out for the trio of casually homophobic thugs hanging around outside The Blacksmith pub, for example.

There’s so much here that I haven’t had time to type up from the language to all that literature I alluded to, not least a very brief note on James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’:

“For that is the strength of this book, to see a human mind, fully fictional (as all minds are) captured for eternity on the page.”

“Fully fictional (as all minds are)”! This book is bursting with things to make you think, so much so that some of them are merely lobbed in parenthetically like that.

 

 

Then there’s Henry’s resolute refusal to accept responsibility for anything, anything at all, even for his most his most hideous of betrayals. Don’t imagine you’re safe, either, dear reader, for eventually he’ll turn on you too. Initially Henry is assiduous, almost unctuous in his courtship of his readership (albeit with back-handed attacks on others), but when pushed to the shove he’ll attempt to make you complicit in his own culpability.

What a bloody rotter!

Iconoclastic from beginning to end, I’m thinking Laurence Sterne’s ‘The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy’, only with fewer black-dog days, even more pictures and a cube-headed I don’t know what.

SLH

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

This Was Our Pact s/c (£13-99, First Second) by Ryan Andrews…

“Yeah okay, but… what if… what if the lanterns lead us into some cave full of beautiful mermaids?
“You’ll hate yourself FOREVER for missing that. You know you will. Both of you.”
“If it keeps us from getting grounded for all of eternity, I think I can live with hating myself.”
“YEAH, WELL, WHO NEEDS YOU GUYS?!
“I’ll do this MYSELF!”

“Or so I thought.”

So Ben did. But he was wrong. Here’s the publisher to clue us in on his errant thinking…

“Stand by Me meets My Neighbor Totoro in this astonishing, magical-realist adventure story for middle-grade readers. It’s the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, when the town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has it that after drifting out of sight, they’ll soar off to the Milky Way and turn into brilliant stars.

 

 

This year, Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanterns really go, and they made a pact with two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.

 

 

The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes to learn the truth, but it isn’t long before the pact is broken by all except for Ben, and much to Ben’s disappointment, Nathaniel, the one kid who just doesn’t seem to fit in. Together, Nathaniel and Ben will travel down a winding road full of magic, wonder, and unexpected friendship.”

Actually, the film comparison that resonated most strongly with me almost immediately after starting this was, in fact, Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman. I certainly concur with the magical realism adventure story, but just that sense of going on a mysterious journey to a destination unknown, and also because of the nocturnal element, combined with a new and true friendship unexpectedly found, made me think of that abiding Christmas classic.

 

 

I was also surprised just how quickly our furiously pedalling peloton was whittled down to two. I expected it to take a few chapters of attritionally bottling it, one by one, but no, almost immediately we are down to our odd couple of Ben and Nathanial.

 

 

Until our cast begins to magically grow again as their mystery tour rumbles on, that is, beginning with the appearance of a most perplexed polar bear, who is on a mystical mission of his own to catch some fish. Though perhaps the two journeys have more far in common than it first would seem…

“And that’s when we saw him.”

“Good evening.”

“Gulp.
“I quickened my pace.
“Something told me it was a bad idea to strike up a conversation with a bear this late at night.
“Even one wearing such a dashing scarf.
“But clearly I was the only one who got that feeling.”

“Hi! I’m Nathaniel.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance. Where might you be headed this evening?”
“We’re going farther than ANYONE has EVER gone.”
“Is that so? WELL! You’re in luck, then! That’s EXACTLY where this road goes!”

Good old Nathaniel! And so our two boys and their new bear chum commence their epic tandem adventures in earnest, taking in some truly astonishing scenery and engaging in some extraordinarily enjoyable shenanigans en route.

 

 

The copacetic countryside is entirely down to Ryan Andrew’s astonishing art. Again, just like Briggs’ Snowman there is a gentle, almost soft focus to it which captivates and draws you ever deeper further into this unreal odyssey, with the background almost continually melting and rematerialising anew in certain sequences. It provides a never-ending dreamy sense of almost floating motion as the boys try to track the lanterns down the river, yet forever getting side-tracked by some new ever more amusingly implausible development. I think it is his soft pencil shading that produces this effect.

The boys themselves, and the other characters, have an equally substantive degree of emotional life and depth to them as they are drawn. There is a genuinely evocative sense of joy and wonder apparent in their expressions at their remarkable wanderings and exciting encounters. I can definitely see a touch of Gipi (LAND OF THE SONS) here and there, but I was also suddenly struck by some real Charles Schulz’ PEANUTS Charlie Brown-esque facial grimaces. You’ll know exactly what I mean when you spot them!

As a tale about embracing the outsider and throwing oneself into a new friendship for the adventure it truly is, this tale is truly as heart-warming as a million yuletide logs on the proverbial fire. Happily though, you don’t need to wait until Christmas to enjoy this.

JR

Buy This Was Our Pact s/c and read the Page 45 review here

H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness vol 1 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Gou Tanabe…

“Professor Lake! Urgent message from base!
“A massive cold front’s rapidly approaching.
“We’re to return to base camp immediately.
“Before it hits the Ross Island shelf…”

“Tell them…
“We believe the value of these new specimens make any hazard worth taking!
“We are thankful for their advice regarding the weather. Yet our expedition shall proceed without interruption!
“We have 1,500 miles to fly across this unknown continent… and far more to discover. That is all.”

I think Professor Lake might be losing it a wee bit… I mean, it could just appear to his colleagues that he’s getting a tad too excited about his undoubtedly history-making discovery of frozen creatures which appear to defy everything that’s currently known about evolution. Almost as though they were not of this earth… That would be understandable, I suppose. But… it seems somewhat more obsessive than that. In fact, the warning signs were there days earlier back at base camp…

I guess they’re called the mountains of madness for a reason…

 

 

First of two volumes adapting one of Lovecraft’s few long-form stories by renowned manga creator Gou Tanabe, who has a bit of form  with old H.P., having done an Eisner-nominated collection for Dark Horse, H.P. LOVECRAFT’S THE HOUND AND OTHER STORIES back in 2017 that was extremely well received.  

At The Mountains Of Madness (along with The Silver Key) is one of my absolute favourite Lovecraft stories. I’ve commented before whilst reviewing I.N.J Culbard’s adaptation (now collected along with ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’, ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ and ‘The Shadow Out of Time’ in the swanky HP LOVECRAFT FOUR CLASSIC HORROR STORIES hardcover) that this work is in some ways the most straightforward and comprehensible of Lovecraft’s stories, simply because whatever else it is, it’s also a great Boy’s Own period adventure tale.

The ‘whatever else it is’ being most definitely brooding, creeping and finally sanity-shattering psychological horror.

 

 

Tanabe’s fine-lined black and white art style suits a story set in the crisp Antarctic climes, working exceedingly well for the increasingly chilling, figuratively and literally, willpower sapping sequence of events.

 

 

This first volume covers the Miskatonic University expedition out from Arkham, Massachusetts to explore the last great uncharted wilderness, believing their ‘modern age’ equipment of planes and drills will allow them to safely uncover the secrets hidden below the ice cap. They’re going to get a lot more than they bargained for…

 

 

By the end of this volume, our hardy explorers have certainly made some startling discoveries, and been considerably reduced in numbers in return. For the survivors, things are only going to get infinitely more terrifying…

The second and concluding volume is due out in mid-October. Pre-order now to avoid missing manga mania!!

JR

Buy H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Marble Cake (£11-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Scott Jason Smith…

“So I’m really into granola at the minute. It’s delicious! There’s a two for one deal on at the smart mart at the mo. You should get some.”
“Nah. Not for me, mate. I’m more of a bacon and chips kinda guy…”
“Chips! For breakfast, ha!”
“If I wanna eat chips for breakfast in my own home I will! You can order them for breakfast down the cafe can’t you!!”
“Alright mate, keep your hair on!”

I shall have to confess at this point, that the new Page 45 breakfast choice du jour is err… a Greggs vegan sausage roll.

Moving on swiftly, let me allow you to digest Avery Hill’s plugola and decide whether you should cut a slice of this for yourself. I have no idea where I am going with my mixing bowl of food metaphors so I shall just stop right now… But first do pour the publisher milk and pick up your spoon…

“Have you ever wished you could glimpse into the lives of strangers, those anonymous faces passed in the produce aisle of the local supermarket, those shadows lurking behind the closed curtains of their homes? Would you be surprised by the rich mixture of personalities, the strange habits and the unexpected insecurities?

Perhaps like you they’re also baking blind, no recipe to follow. You might produce a perfect cake, or you might end up throwing the mix in the trash and starting again.

Marble Cake, the debut graphic novel from acclaimed British author and artist Scott Jason Smith, cuts a slice through everyday life and takes a bite out of the layers concealed beneath the icing, all told with the acerbic wit and keen eye of a truly exciting new creator.”

It’s a clever title, actually, neatly reflecting the fact that we have a large ensemble cast that overlaps and interacts with each other, either purposefully or coincidentally. For if you cut a Marble cake open you’ll see that lovely random swirling of colour show how the ingredients have been gently folded together but not over-mixed.

 

 

All of our cast’s stories don’t really start, nor do they either stop as such. Indeed we are precisely provided a few ‘glimpses’ into their lives to witness their daily mini-triumphs and tragedies that form lives very much more ordinary.

 

 

It does all have a mildly soap operatic feel to it, probably due to the rather downbeat suburban setting and deliberately quotidian-as-it-gets bunch of locals, but it’s very wittily written and pieced together extremely skilfully thus ensuring this is a far superior recipe for reading.

 

 

Art-wise Scott Jason Smith certainly plays to that sensibility too, with primarily dull grey backgrounds, drab locations such as the supermarket and a grotty local pub, populated by a bunch of characters who you can safely say aren’t going to win any beauty contests.

 

 

You will however nonetheless be utterly fascinated by the minutiae of their mundane lives and when the proverbial twitching curtains of our voyeuristic sojourn are drawn closed for the last time you’ll be straining for one last glimpse to try and guess what is going to happen next.

 

 

Nothing very much probably, but a nosey bugger like myself still wants to know!

JR

Buy and read the Page 45 review here

Box (£8-99, Top Shelf) by Patrick Wirbeleit & Uwe Heidschotter…

“Great! We’ve created a No-See-Saw! We’re inventors!
“Let’s invent something else.
“Come on. Let’s go into the house and build a what-happens-then machine.”
“A what?”

Hmmm… sounds like something that writes spoilers for you! Nobody needs one of those!

Anyway, I don’t know about what happens then, but here’s what happens now. I’m going to let the publisher read you the assembly instructions for this younger readers escapade…

“Matthew likes to build things. And invent things. So, finding a box sitting in front of his house one day is a real stroke of luck. But he has to pinch himself when it suddenly starts talking. A living toolbox!

Even better, Box loves to invent things too, so the two become fast friends. But where did Box come from, and how did he get to be so magical? When his secret comes out and accidentally leaves Matthew’s parents frozen, the two friends will have to race to find the answers and save the day.”

 

 

Unfortunately, Box is completely rubbish at DIY. He might be able to produce all manner of tools from inside himself, which is handy, sure, but he has no clue whatsoever about how to use them properly as evidenced by his complete lack of understanding of how a see-saw works.

 

 

I.e. not frenziedly hammering it down to a tree stump rendering it completely immobile…

 

 

Shame, as a bit of tool handling talent might have proved useful whilst on an epic quest to find the sorcerer who can unfreeze your new chum’s parents.

This is a daft little off-cut of fun that isn’t a great deal more than a couple of running gags, but it is all done rather amusingly well, I must say. The art style is most definitely youngster friendly and Box in particular, with his perpetually silly smile and dozy expression, will certainly make ‘em laff.

For more extensively constructed compressed corrugated capers of the magical variety I would highly recommend Doug TenNapel’s CARDBOARD.

JR

Buy Box and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 4: The Goblin Lives s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, various & John Romita Sr., various.

Late’60s swingin’ collecting AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #53-67, but also SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #1 and 2 which you may well have missed.

The first is in black and white, which was a bit weird for the time, the second in colour and starring the Green Goblin as Osborn regains his memory, loses his sanity and once more threatens to reveal Spider-Man’s secret identity to the perpetually oblivious Aunt May. Other adversaries include the follicularly fabulous Medusa, two Vultures, Mysterio and even the Red Skull.

There’s increasingly more rare, archive material in these editions, here including lots of unused Larry Lieber layout pages and several house advertisements.

For more in-depth assessments of earlier outings, try our more iconoclastic reviews of other AMAZING SPIDER-MAN EPIC COLLECTIONS, FANTASTIC FOUR EPIC COLLECTIONS and AVENGERS EPIC COLLECTIONS.

Cool cover.

SLH

Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 4: The Goblin Lives s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Beanworld Omnibus vol 2 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Larry Marder

Cerebus vol 5: Jaka’s Story (Remastered Edition) (£35-99, Aadvark Vanaheim Inc.) by Dave Sim & Gerhard

The Collected Toppi vol 1: The Enchanted World h/c (£22-99, Magnetic Press) by Sergio Toppi

Conan The Barbarian vol 1: The Life And Death Of Conan Book One s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Mahmud Asrar, Gerardo Zaffino

Courtney Crumrin vol 5 s/c (£11-99, Oni Press) by Ted Naifeh

Crimson Lotus s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by John Arcudi & Mindy Lee

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 5: The Happy Prince s/c (£7-99, NBM) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell

Horizontal Collaboration h/c (£16-99, Korero Press) by Navie & Carole Maurel

Joker s/c (£13-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo

The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer & Simini Blocker

My Hero Academia vol 19 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2019 week four

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

Featuring Paul Pope, Jason, Lizz Lunney Mike Cavallaro, Richard Marazano, Christophe Ferreira, Nick Mandaag, Ryan Andrews Terry Blas, Claudia Aguirre, Dan Watters, Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara

This week we launch proudly with a review written by our beardly beloved Mark Simpson many moons ago. It’s one of his most impassioned and eloquent ever. New edition!

Heavy Liquid s/c (£22-99, Image) by Paul Pope –

Pope creates some of the best near-future cities.

They’re not rank with ‘Bladerunner’ grime, full of Gilliam clutter, overloaded with Alan Moore’s advertising or policed to near perfection like Shirow’s, but they are still recognisable as being lived in, potted with enough landmarks of reality and peppered with little advances and related setbacks. His best work is set through early twenties’ eyes with the good coffee bars and musician friends.

As long-time readers of this journal will possibly remember I was very excited by this series as it came out. Pleased with both Vertigo for publishing something quite removed from their usual programming and Pope for finally producing the kind of work that I knew he was capable of. There had been hints in the small fragments that he’d throw out (‘Smoke Navigator’ springs to mind) and there was always promise in the artwork. I originally attributed this great leap to an editor but I can’t find a mention of one in the book. [Shelly Bond: she’s credited in this new edition – ed.]

 

 

At room temperature, heavy liquid is a dense, lava-like chrome substance, corrosive and poisonous. Boil it up and it transforms into a drug, an inky black milk giving you a clear, clean high with a feeling of invulnerability. No one knows where it came from; most people think it’s a myth. Those that know it exists will pay handsomely for it. S has just scammed a load of it and found that the interested party wants to sculpt it and he must find the one artist to fashion this deadly metal.

Stunning artwork, using the two-colour separations (blue & deep salmon) to their fullest extent, this is more akin to print-making than the usual colour by numbers that passes for mood in these things. The colours help to set up each new passage by switching from a deep night blue to a swift, light salmon wall covering. As ever, his cities are loud and alive with beautiful wide skies. S and other characters are given a swagger that other writers and artists vainly reach for but end up with mere vacuous posturing. It’s New York belief with Tokyo style, under Italian inking.

Re-reading the now-collected story it proves to be cleverer (and trickier) than I previously thought. The central character has to be the elusive substance itself. There are four different groups after it for four different reasons. For S (somewhere, Pope described him as a fish out of water, he wears a jumper with plastic scales and is given a fish-head mask to disguise himself) it’s a drug like no other, part of his life, tho’ it ends relationships and killed a friend.

 

 

Pope seems to side-step the idea of addiction. His friends complain about his ‘habit’ but if there’s danger we’re not told. For the three ‘clowns’, faces mostly hidden by full-head masks (a death face under a Devo hat, a Jack-Kirby-influenced demon and a Picasso collision of the horse and central warning figure from Guernica), it’s a commodity, money in the bank for the unseen Lynchpin. The collector wants it because it is a luxury, the ultimate expense, to be crafted as a trinket and then kept under lock and key. The government might be after it because they know where it’s from but not what it’s for. Only S discovers that piece of the puzzle.

So who is S? There’s something about a government job in his past. S could stand for Stooge, making him Ron Asheton rather than Iggy. He’s a late-twenties drifter finding himself lucky with a haul of the rarest element in the world, a man with the key to the future. The romance from his past is called up to fashion the alloy into solid form while his present threatens to end him.

 

 

Throughout the book the hurried chase across neon-lit cities is tempered by strange chance meetings. A girl appearing in half a chapter is fleshed out enough to surprise you when she doesn’t reappear.

Pope’s love of Picasso comes over not only in the clown’s mask but also on the hood of a car, predating the recent TV adverts. Even with the mask, it would be easy to cook up such an image but the clincher is to make the cape clasp echo Guernica’s baby. At one point the catch is transported in a rat poison canister, bringing up Burrough’s bug powder – an allusion compounded by a cab driver’s mention of Tangiers as a better destination. Sandy Calder is mentioned at one point and certain objects, particularly the insect-like communication device, are highly influenced by his mobiles. As for his own flights of whimsy, Pope manages to rein himself in and show what is needed. No more flying off to deliver us an unnecessary cubist backdrop or pylon structure.

 

 

Here’s a book that refuses to sit in the Vertigo crime/fantasy area by an artist who dares to call up the names of past trailblazers and do them justice with his own rendering: a near future with advancements and slang (‘copper julies and peach pies’) that never flies too far from the possible.

It’s a story that refuses to fall at the last hurdle. 

MAS

Buy Heavy Liquid s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Milo’s World: The Land Under The Lake h/c (£11-99, Magnetic Press) by Richard Marazano & Christophe Ferreira…

“Does this remind you of anything?”

It certainly does. This may well be the closest thing story-wise, combined with the excellent art, I have ever read to something which has immediately me think of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. It is of that finely woven ilk.

Our eponymous independent young hero, Milo, chances across a strange glowing egg whilst fishing for crawdaddies. He seems to live pretty much on his own due to his dad working away practically all the time, but also his mysteriously absent mother. Yes, there are three aunts who absent-mindedly keep half an eye on him, fussing over him frenetically whenever they occasionally call in on him, but otherwise he’s left to his own devices and free to get into all sorts of adventurous trouble.

 

 

So when the egg promptly turns into a goldfish that starts to grow very rapidly indeed – and if that weren’t enough then begins to communicate telepathically with him – well, it’s abundantly clear just such an epic adventure must be right around the corner!

 

 

Well, actually, it’s under the lake and into a neighbouring dimension, after rescuing a girl called Valia who has been kidnapped and tied up in a bag by a strange toad-like creature.

 

 

Mr Toad seems to have a lot on his proverbial plate, actually, or perhaps not enough, as he’s also worriedly looking for the goldfish whilst wondering where his next child-based snack is going to come from.

Throw in the fact there is a very good reason why Milo’s mum hasn’t exactly been hands-on all his life and his three aunts are clearly not quite as batty as they seem, just moderately barking hat-stand, and you have almost all the ingredients for an entertaining escapade.

The rest arrive once on the ‘underside’ of the lake as there’s a gorgeously cute village of tiny people who are under siege from a villainous sorcerer and his rampaging pack of gigantic axolotls. He’s intent on tracking down the psionic cyprinid for his own insidious ends and it’s up to Milo and his unlikely gang to save the day, and their fishy friend, which is going to involve somewhat more than simply remembering to change the water in the bowl occasionally…

 

 

A near note-perfect all-ages adventure, this, penned by Richard Marazano (who is responsible for the THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY fantasy series) and beautifully illustrated by Christophe Ferreira in a manner guaranteed to enchant.

 

 

This is the first of three planned volumes, the second of which, MILO’S WORLD: THE BLACK QUEEN, is due in October. Also, can I just add, this is outrageously good value at £11-99.

JR

Buy Milo’s World: The Land Under The Lake h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Nico Bravo And The Hound Of Hades (£9-99, FirstSecond) by Mike Cavallaro…

“Seriously, Nico, if heroes listened to everyone who told them to turn back, there’d be no heroes!”
“Yeah, but normally they’re trying to solve problems, not cause them!”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind. Now if it’s all the same to you, I‘d really like to get going.”
“You can’t slay Cerberus!”
“I can and I will.”
“But what’s he ever done to you?”
“He’s a monster and I’m a monster slayer.”

Yeah, but maybe Cerberus isn’t just preventing people getting into the Underworld Eowulf, did you perhaps stop and think about that, huh?

Clue: no. Double clue: zombie apocalypse.

Ah, brash Eowulf, descendent of feared non-all-ages monster slayer BEOWULF and customer of Vulcan’s Celestial Supply Shop where Nico Bravo works, is on a mission to live up to the family name and she’s not about to let common sense get in the way! It’s going to be up to Nico and fellow staff members Lula the sphinx and Buck the unicorn to stop this disaster before it starts.

Final clue: ah… maybe they are going to have to try and stop the zombie apocalypse after it starts!

 

 

 

Yes, expect classic all-age laffs aplenty in this mythological mash-up that’s in the same fabulously stoopid vein of USELEUS: A GREEK ODDITY from Alexander Matthews & Wilbur Dawbarn and riffing on the same complete lack of common sense and sensibility as Gary Northfield’s DEREK THE SHEEP / TEENYTINASAURS and indeed stands a fair degree of artistic comparison with both. I have to say that Buck the unicorn did keep making me think of Gary’s JULIUS ZEBRA rumbling away merrily with the Romans!

 

 

 

There’s much you’ll find to chuckle at here, and just so you’re in no absolutely doubt of the tone, let me give you the example of one of Cerberus’s heads being that of a giant snarling pink poodle which simply had me shaking mine! This is also, though, a substantial and sophisticated adventure yarn in story-telling terms which I reckon will appeal greatly to fans of Luke Pearson’s HILDA.

JR

Buy Nico Bravo And The Hound Of Hades and read the Page 45 review here

O Josephine h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason…

“Leonard Cohen, who are you?
“Are you (1934-2016)?
“Are you a monk with dirty mind or a Casanova in an Armani suit?
“Is it true that women can achieve orgasm just by touching one of your record sleeves?
“Can you give me a fraction of your wisdom?
“Leonard Norman Cohen is born on September 21, 1934, in Montreal as foreseen by Nostradamus.
“1943. Cohen’s father, Nathan dies leaving a wife and 2 kids, Leonard and Esther.
“Cohen buries a copy of “Action Comics” #1 in the yard.
“No one knows why.”

Haha, oh Jason, you’re such a wag…

I guess if you’ve read much of Jason’s previous material (ALMOST SILENT / I KILLED ADOLF HITLER / IF YOU STEAL / LEFT BANK GANG / LOST CAT / LOW MOON / WHAT I DID) it is probably no surprise to find he’s a fan of the musical High Priest of Pathos himself. In fact, thinking about it, it would be probably be utterly astonishing were he not!

Here Jason provides a loving, typically dry humoured tribute to Cohen that might well mix a little outright fabrication or two in amongst the many equally implausible truths.

 

 

Thus, those unfamiliar with the life and times of the great man might well be surprised to find some of the events they would guess to be nonsense are in fact completely factually accurate! And indeed vice versa!

I’m pretty sure he never stepped in to replace Bono as the lead singer of U2 though…

Once again Jason provides an eclectic clutch of material for this latest hardback collection. In addition to the titular story which delightfully conflates Josephine Baker as the main squeeze of the Emperor Napoleon in a calamitous rom-com…

 

 

… there is as also a brilliantly and deliberately confusing crime-caper called The Diamonds which cuts rapidly from scene-to-scene leaving the reader to put the pieces together for themselves as to precisely how all the characters are connected. I had no idea where it was going and who it was going to end badly for right up until the last moment.

 

 

But first the collection opens with some perambulating autobiographical material, following on from the excellent ON THE CAMINO. This time Jason is meandering around Ireland, specifically walking the 81-mile Wicklow Way that runs from southern Dublin through the hilly terrain of County Wicklow before concluding in the village of Clonegal in County Carlow.

 

 

I can’t honestly say that this particular trip is as entertaining as his Spanish voyage. I mean, the man orders the exact same thing, a chicken salad sandwich and a Guinness for lunch, every single day. The height of excitement is probably upon finishing his walk when he discovers there isn’t a bus to get back to Dublin until the following morning. But, somehow, in trademark fashion, he still manages to make his anfractuous adventure an enjoyable read.

JR

Buy O Josephine h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Lucifer vol 1: The Infernal Comedy s/c (£14-99, DC) by Dan Watters & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara…

“Bandages! I have never needed bandages. I was the shaper of suns, and the universe bent to my will.”
“I’ll get the iodine. Or this is going to get infected.”
“I am weak. I am weak, and I am trapped.”
“… No, I’ve never seen him like this. I think he’s depressed. Would you mind talking to him?”

“Lucifer. I found your shovel. I thought you might want it.”
“Hello, Bill Blake. I don’t. It does whine so.”
“Everyone misses you out there, Lucifer. You make us laugh. You really do.”

Yes, that really is William Blake, author of ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ – although in this reality he is the scribe of another book with a very similar if appropriately contradictory title – about to give the Devil a pep talk and tell him to get his act together, after softening him up with a few jocular words first, that is.

As to why William Blake is lending Satan a friendly ear, well, here is the word on high from the soon to be extinct publishing imprint to lure you into a fiendish contract to purchase this work. From us obviously…

“This is the one true tale of what befell the Prince of Lies, the Bringer of Light-Lucifer. The blind, destitute old man, who lives in a small boarding house in a quiet little town, where nothing is quite what it seems and no one can leave. He’s trapped, you see?

 

 

Trapped in a bizarre prison with no memory of how he got there or why. He has no recollection of setting out to find his offspring. He also does not remember that if he does not find him it could be the end of all things.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, a cop who may have brain cancer is tasked with a mission: find and kill Lucifer.”

 

Fans of the original LUCIFER material from Mike Carey will enjoy this intricate, intriguing tale of woe. Though it will not surprise you to learn that even in his reduced state Lucifer gradually begins to exert his not inconsiderable influence to ensure that events begin to tip in his favour. That his current malaise is entirely down to previous petulant and undeservedly punitive behaviour towards entirely innocent individuals is of little import, for I doubt Lucifer is ever going to learn the error of his ways. Well… mostly innocent individuals. Still, innocent and guilty parties alike, there’s more than a few with a grudge.

“The end of all things” probably gives us a little hint as to what the overarching storyline might involve, not just what’s happening to Vertigo, for as with the original LUCIFER material, it rather looks like there is a much, much bigger game afoot.

The supporting cast of characters are extremely well realised and fleshed out by Dan Watters, who only reveals the complex nature of the trap he’s snared Lucifer in as the fallen one gradually, belated, works it out for himself. Again… And again… In particular, the side-story of the tormented Detective John Decker and his motivations, both conscious and subconscious, is particularly painful once his own personal final reveal is laid bare.

 

 

Max and Sebastian Fiumara provide suitably atmospheric art, with a subdued colour palette that serves to create a rather creepy, unpleasant feel to proceedings. When you find out precisely where the town in which the decomposing Lucifer is located, the style of art only adds to the claustrophobic sense of his confinement. Sometimes it’s difficult to escape your own head, let alone someone else’s.

JR

Buy Lucifer vol 1: The Infernal Comedy s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Follies Of Richard Wandsworth (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Nick Mandaag…

“So, we meet at last.”
“We do indeed.”
“Quite a thing, isn’t it? To work at the same university as your philosophical rival, your anti-thesis.”
“I’ll say.”
“You know, this is my first time seeing you. I should have guessed you’d be bald.”
“Is that some sort of… yeah, well, I didn’t expect you to… you look like… you’re…”
“Wow, you’re a quick one, aren’t you, Wadsworth? Looks like it’s a wit to match the intellect.”
“Oh, ho ho! You don’t… I hope you realise that your… your intellect is…”
“You have a bit of difficulty with the English language, don’t you? Do you have a helper for that delusional realist tripe you write? Maybe an undergrad looking for extra credit?”
“Do you have… a monkey for your anti-realist…”
“Take your time, Wadsworth. If you manage to come up with some intelligible comebacks by the end of the day, feel free to email them to me. You’ll have some thinking to do anyways. My latest rebuttal in our little war of words will soon be published. I think you’ll have some difficulty worming your way out of my reasoning this time.”
“Scoff! I’m sure it will be easy! To worm out… the holes in your reasoning are that big… one can easily…”
“Well, it was really nice chatting with you, Wadsworth, but I prefer the company of those who speak in complete sentences. Adieu!”
“Just because I’m… just because I don’t… you are just the nastiest… next time I see you I’ll… Just wait till I…”

Ouch… BURN!!!

Here’s the publisher’s hypothesis as to why Nick Maandag is an up-and-coming comics genius worthy of wider recognition…

“THE FOLLIES OF RICHARD WADSWORTH showcases Nick Maandag’s signature blend of deadpan satire and exceedingly unexpected plot twists with a trio of stories.

‘The Follies of Richard Wadsworth’ follows the title character, a professor of philosophy, as he begins work as a contract instructor at yet another university. When Wadsworth finds himself smoking reefer at his student’s party and discovers she works at a rub ‘n’ tug, an off-kilter plan is hatched.

 

 

In ‘Night School’, a Modern Managerial Business Administration and Operational Leadership class goes awry when a fire alarm brings the Chief to school and he decides to stick around to teach the students a thing or two about leadership, and discipline.

 

 

And in ‘The Disciple’, a yarn about a co-ed Buddhist monastery, Brother Bananas, the resident chimpanzee, isn’t the only one having difficulty keeping his lust tucked safely under his robe.

 

 

In Maandag’s hands – hands that love to toy with morally ambiguous characters and flirt with absurdity – troubled men make poor decisions, unlikable characters gain our sympathies through their very haplessness, and riotous laughs ensue.

Maandag has achieved cult acclaim through his self-published and micro-published comics, and THE FOLLIES OF RICHARD WADSWORTH is his debut book. His mechanical, affectless characters and economical artwork efficiently deliver cringes, heightening the awkward silence and stillness of his hilarious comics.”

Case proved, I feel! I’ve been a big fan of Mandaag’s since he started, greatly enjoying his STREAKERS, THE LIBERTARIAN and FACILITY INTEGRITY. His bawdy, absurdist situational humour and yes, absolutely cringe-worthy characters are the perfect mix for ensuring disbelieving laughs.

 

 

You will find yourself wincing and shaking your head at the behaviour of many, well most, of his cast. Fans of Paul THERE’S NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT  / POPE FRANCIS GOES TO THE DENTIST Rainey would get on very well with Nick’s work, both content-wise and artistically, I feel.

JR

Buy The Follies Of Richard Wandsworth and read the Page 45 review here

Hotel Dare s/c (£7-50, Kaboom) by Terry Blas & Claudia Aguirre…

“All right, finish. It’s time to get to work.
“We’ve had fun but there’s cleaning that needs to be done. You’re going to help me by starting with the rooms.
“I’m giving each of you a key. These keys will work for the bathrooms and closets in each. Start with the rooms next to Olive’s.”
“All I ask while I’m gone, is that you don’t go near my office.”

Right, like that is going to happen… Here is the publisher to point out precisely why you should never tell kids NOT to do one specific thing, because, well, duh…

“Open the door. Adventure awaits.

Olive and her adopted siblings, Charlotte and Darwin, are spending the summer with their estranged grandma at her creepy hotel, and it is all work and no play. They’re stuck inside doing boring chores until they stumble upon an incredible secret… behind each door of the hotel lies a portal to a strange and mysterious place.

 

 

The simple turn of a knob transports them to a distant magical world filled with space pirates. Behind the next door are bearded wizards. Down the hall is a doorway to a cotton-candied kingdom. But once the doors are open, worlds start colliding, and only one family can save them before the hotel tears itself apart.

This world-hopping fantasy tale breaks down the door to imagination and dares you to embrace the idea that family is everything.”

Which all sounds a bit too much, but actually, this is a jam-packed, joy-filled romp that works perfectly once the wider conceit behind it all is brought into play. Terry Blas practically rips the kitchen sink off the wall and throws it into the mix as he pens the tale of a very typical untypical family learning the hard way that there’s nothing like bickering relatives, blood or otherwise, to help you deal with the imminent collapse of all the realities in the universe.

 

 

As crazily complex as AMULET – just compacted into one frenetic volume – this does indeed focus on the message that without some good old fashioned teamwork, whether you like each other or not, disaster awaits. Perhaps someone could explain that to our politicians? (See BAD ISLAND by Doug TenNapel by the way for more ‘dysfunctional family that plays together, saves the day together’ fun.)

Artistically, there’s just as much going on! Claudia Aguirre, who truly has a flare for dramatic facial expressions, is clearly relishing switching from sci-fi to fantasy to real world and back again at the swing of a dimensional door. She a lovely light touch on her linework and some of the group action figurework and posing put me in mind of the LUMBERJANES.

Madcap, frenetic fun for all the family. Even the ones you don’t like. Perhaps especially for the ones you don’t like.

JR

Buy Hotel Dare s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Build Your Own Theme Park s/c (£16-99, Andrews McMeel) by Lizz Lunney.

Page 45 celebrates the triumphant return of Professor Lizz Lunney, BSC Engineering (Sturdy Paper & Coloured Cardboard Division), with the release into the wild of this whimsical build-your-own public playpen in all the colours of the rainbow and several shades in between.

In other less nimble or accredited hands (like yours) it could easily become a potential paper death-trap from which you may never recover after being sued for billions of dollars.

But not if you use glue sticks and safety scissors, obviously.

Those familiar with Lizz Lunney’s unique brand of behavioural observation from all her comics which we’ve reviewed in Page 45’s Page 45’s Lizz Lunney Superstore should note that – this being aimed squarely at a wholesome mass mainstream market (it’s published by industry giants Andrews McMeel!) – it focuses much more on Lunney’s equally iconic design work and the boltless stable of instantly recognisable characters which she’s built up for over a decade, and it is they who populate this paper palace, its environs and methods of transport.

 

 

 

Never have mountains looked more serene, beatific, nor bipedal cats so content nor unicorns more sprightly, better groomed. We’re talking bright jaw-dropping spectacle, with an infectious dreaminess that will have young ones creating not just this theme park but also spontaneous stories about all those cool cats bumping into each other via road, river or rail, or indeed drenched to soggy-moggie bits after a dip in the Frog Mayhem log flume.

When Philippa Rice created Page 45’s cardboard window diorama in 2012, I overheard one five-year-old boy breathlessly explaining to his granddad what all the characters were up to, thinking and saying to each other. He was entranced, absorbed in his own little world which was as vividly alive to him as the pedestrians passing by on the pavement. Similarly, when young, I’d spend hours moving Matchbox motorcars back and forth from poll position to sabotaged, quicksand quagmires, narrating the whole as an episode of the Wacky Races.

So it will be here!

 

 

There are no perforated pages – some of the elements are too intricate for that – so you will need a pair of scissors and a steady, perhaps parentally guided hand. But hey, if you end up drunk with joy from all the deliciously coloured mountain cones, battlements, the Carousel of Blissful Content or even on cracked-ice mojitos and so accidently cut off one of Depressed Cat’s ears, he’ll just shrug that off as the price he pays for even getting up of a morning.

You’ll find Depressed Cat manning the entrance’s ticket booth where a moment of trademark mischief aptly surfaces: “Lizzneyland: Fun For Half The Family”.

 

 

Further interaction, creativity and individuality is encouraged towards the back of the book when La Lunney proposes that you venture outside her template to incorporate ideas of your own or start from scratch on multiple new models for theme parks.

Name of Park
Theme
Rides
Characters
Other Attractions

 

 

Like Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre’s PUG-A-DOODLE-DO! A BUMPER BOOK OF FUN!, she leads you in with her own examples then leaves blank areas to be filled in like the above, but also designing a logo for your park, drawing a map of it, and creating your own rides, visitors, special attractions, balloons, gift shops, vending machines, emergency medical vehicles and riot police.

What I love above all about this is that if you take it to its conclusion – actually building your very own theme park – then not only will your imagination be galvanised, but you’ll be able apply a practical understanding of tabs, learned from Lunney’s tutelage. That’s genuinely empowering.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a shot at the first part myself.

Name of Park: Armageddon Outta Here (Not Alive, You’re Not)

Theme: Death by disembowelment, general dismemberment, sundry other injuries, food poisoning etc.

Rides: The Titanic, Submarine of Questionable Buoyancy and Well Worn Rubber Hatch Seals, Midnight Florida Swamp of Racist Residents, Deathtrap 5000AD (Auto-Immolation Edition).

Characters:  Horsemen of the Apocalypse (4), Very Grim Reaper (1), Slightly Stern Preachers (7), Satan (actually Satan – we have him on eternal retainer), Ann Widdecombe.

Other Attractions: dungeon of invisible, hissing snakes; fast-food stall selling choke ices, slush puppies (puppies, post-blender), hot dogs (guess); and an understaffed hospital immediately adjacent to its on-site cemetery.

Should you find yourself, post-assembly, in the sticky situation of being taken to post-park-ride court, then Page 45 is giving away millions if not trillions of Lizzneyland Lunneymoney bank notes. For FREE! We’ve loads of free Lunneymoney at the counter, or you can claim it whenever you order any item for worldwide shipping via page 45.com by simply adding a note in our dispatch instructions saying something like “Give us your Lunneymoney, honey!”

 

 

N.B. Lunneymoney is perfectly legal tender; you just need to visit Lizzneyland to redeem it. I have been asked, wide-eyed, by many a Small Person, “But how do I visit Lizzneyland?” Not by fractured rail, physical aeroplane flight or asphalt acceleration, that’s for sure. Several hard knocks to the skull should do it instead. Then again, now you can create your own.

For comics more in keeping with the last few paragraphs, please visit Page 45’s Lizz Lunney Superstore wherein all has been reviewed for worldwide shipping.

SLH

Buy Build Your Own Theme Park s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Box (£8-99, Top Shelf) by Patrick Wirbeleit & Uwe Heidschotter

Coda vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Boom) by Si Spurrier & Matias Bergara

Fearscape vol 1 s/c (£15-99, Vault) by Ryan O’Sullivan & Andrea Mutti

Hot Comb (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Ebony Flowers

Marble Cake (£11-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Scott Jason Smith

Read All About It! (£12-99, King) by Kristyna Baczynski

Skip h/c (£16-99, Nobrow) by Molly Mendoza

Space Boy vol 4 s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Stephen McCranie

Superman: The Man Of Steel s/c (£15-99, DC) by Brian Michael Bendis & various

Teen Titans: Raven s/c (£14-99, DC) by Kami Garcia & Gabriel Picolo

Tony Stark Iron Man vol 2: Stark Realities s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Jeremy Whitley & Valerio Schiti

Aposimz vol 3 (£11-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Tokyo Ghoul re: vol 11 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness vol 1 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Gou Tanabe

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2019 week three

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

Featuring Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki, Marguerite Abouet, Mathieu Sapin J.M. DeMatteis, Jon J. Muth, Kent Williams, George Pratt, M. K. Reed, Greg Means, Matt Wiegle, Marcos Prior, David Rubin, Evan Dahm, Jessica Martin, Anders Nilsen

Skim s/c (£11-99, Groundwood Books) by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki.

An all-time Page 45 classic about first love during those oh so troubling teenage years – when so much was a mystery to us, especially ourselves – this astutely observed piece of poignancy by the Tamaki cousins was originally reviewed by our Tom in 2010 who finished with the following flourish:

“Keep an eye on these two as they are going to go far.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Together or separately, sometimes with other artists, Mariko and Jillian Tamaki have since been responsible for LAURA DEAN KEEPS BREAKING UP WITH ME, my personal favourite graphic novel of 2019 and Page 45’s Current Comicbook Of The Month, former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Months THIS ONE SUMMER and BOUNDLESS, plus the equally thought-provoking LUISA: NOW AND THEN, the Governor General’s Award-winning all-ages picture book THEY SAY BLUE, and the frankly bonkers collection of comedy shorts SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY

In light of all that exceptional elegance and eloquence, it’s time for a brand-new review of this diary-driven confessional about secrecy, sexuality, suicide, the rumours which subsequently run rampant and what happens to those left behind.

 

 

“Do you think this is a club for people who are going to commit suicide or people who know people who might commit suicide?”
“Why, are you thinking of joining?”
“Ha! I’d rather hang myself!”

Oh yeah, Skim’s cynical best friend Lisa is soooooooooooo very funny. She always has a disdainfully droll line or wry, witty rejoinder, but let’s put this into context:

Teenage John Reddear has just committed suicide. Lisa said he shot himself (he didn’t); others are saying he did it because he was gay and in love with a lad on his volleyball team (possible but unsubstantiated). So yes, John was on St. George’s volleyball team, and I don’t know if that qualifies him as a jock, but success in school sports certainly comes with cachet and he was pretty up-tempo and popular. But obviously he was, privately, profoundly distressed underneath. He was also going out with a blonde beauty called Katie Matthews whom he dumped but a few days earlier.

Katie was devastated. Katie drew broken hearts on her hands. And that was before the suicide.

You may consider drawing broken hearts a little on the look-at-me side, but she’s a teenager, and there’s a full-page portrait of Katie, genuinely distraught, being comforted in a crowd by her best friend, Julie Peters. It’s a high school crowd cluttering up the walkway between lockers, and Lisa is looking back at Julie’s compassion towards Katie’s distress (evidenced by her wilted, imploded form) with judgemental and distanced scepticism.

 

 

To Skim, Lisa pronounces:

“It’s like, please, so you break up with some tenth-grade loser and you get to act like it’s the end of the world or something.”
“Lame.”
“Super lame. I mean, just because you’re in the drama club doesn’t mean you have to ACT all the time.”

But remember that Skim echoed “lame”.

It’s sad, but I get that: it’s easy when young to be influenced by those who are confident, forthright and seemingly worldly-wise yet corrosive. Plus Skim, with troubles at home, is otherwise reclusive, retreating into her diaries and continually doubting herself, while Lisa is her inseparable, very best friend and ally in a sea of so much hormonal competitiveness.

 

 

So John Reddear has committed suicide leaving Katie Matthews wretched, inconsolable (loss, shock… guilt?) and…

“On Monday Mrs Hornet announced in prayers that Katie Matthews “accidentally” fell off her roof and broke both her arms. How do you accidentally fall off a roof?”

Compassionate counselling goes into overdrive but neither that nor the formation of the Girls Celebrate Life club with its own school notice board has the desired effect, especially on Katie Matthews whose arms are in plaster and so is forced to have her books carried around by others wherever she goes. If you think she was looking miserable before…

 

 

The other main thread on top of Skim’s toxic friendship and Katie’s increased isolation, is sparked when Skim skips gym for a secretive smoke behind the proverbial bike shed, and she’s caught red-handed by her English teacher, Ms. Archer.

“I was just leaving.”
“Only if you don’t have a light on you.”

Writes Skim, “It’s a rule that if an adult ask to smoke with you, you have to smoke. So we ended up talking and smoking.”

What they end up talking about is ‘Romeo and Juliet’ which Skim thinks is stupid, a love story not worth studying.

“Maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s the story of rebellion. Maybe it’s a story about two people who fall in love, when falling in love, with your enemy, is the one thing you’re not supposed to do. I’m sorry you don’t like it.”
“Oh no, I mean, it’s fine. I mean, I’m looking forward to talking about it in class.”
“You should try that. That talking-in-class-thing.”

Perhaps partly catalysed by that unexpected act of encouragement, the equally kind interest in Skim’s real name (Kimberly Keiko Cameron – “I’ll assume you prefer Kim”), the shared intimacy of a clandestine cigarette and a moment of physical contact albeit through plaster when Ms Archer draws something specific on Kim’s own cast, Skim tumbles blindly in love for the very first time. And, yes, to complicate matters in an already turbulent heart in a confusing world, it’s with her English teacher, Ms. Archer.

A first love drowns out everything else from lessons to casual conversations with the incessant, thunderous tom-toms pounding in your heart reverberating constantly through your head. Or is that an over-share? Sorry. Plus, this is her English teacher we’re talking about, with all the responsibilities that entails. Oh, the potential repercussions!

I mean, if it’s even reciprocated. What can Skim possibly hope to happen? She becomes a bit of an out-of-school stalker.

 

 

Jillian’s visual storytelling came fully formed even back then. The expressions, whether musing, amused, accusing or cross-patch, convey so much emotion with so very few lines. The body forms are as diverse as they should be for a group of teenagers growing at vastly different rates, and you don’t always see that acknowledged in comics.

Quite a lot of it is surprisingly sedentary (perhaps not so surprising, now that I think back on those years), but there’s also a full panel-less page of serpentine sequential art similar to the dance scene in THIS ONE SUMMER and just as accomplished in its swirling movement when “this herd of ballerinas swooped into the room and chased Hien and me out of the house.”

“Everybody out!” the teenage late-night, party-goers cry, but they only meant Hiem and Skim.
“We waited and waited for them to let us back in.
“After a little while Hien left.
“Hien’s parents adopted her from Vietnam two years earlier and she never got invited to parties. Maybe she thought that’s how people left parties in Canada. Asians first.”

 

 

 

It’s such a sad book with tender, haunting, overwhelmingly solitary art, even when in a crowd. There’s little that’s more lonely than being stuck in a crowd you want out of: glance back and forth at Katie throughout.

 

 

The environments are stunning, whether woodland, snowscapes or Ms. Archer’s eerily lit, three-storey house at night, watched then approached from across the suburban road by Skim.

This exceptionally understanding and grounded graphic novel doesn’t go where you’d expect it to, which is one of the reasons why I’ve always respected it so highly and winced for poor Skim when trying so tentatively – clumsily, oh so clumsily – to imply her affection.

It’s full of the gauche things we do when young, and the diary entries – it is all diary entry, first-person narration – could not be more perfectly written. If one of the key elements of noir is that you must relish spending time in the narrator’s head, so it is here in Skim’s diary.

 

 

It strikes me that so much of this is about the contrasting nature of the public and the private – the things experienced alone in one’s head – none more so than in the Katie’s experience when her ex-boyfriend’s private suicide becomes public property.

SLH

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

Moonshadow Definitive Edition h/c (£26-99, Dark Horse) by J. M. DeMatteis & Jon J. Muth with Kent Williams, George Pratt.

“I blamed myself for Mother’s death, for Ira’s unhappiness, for my poor cat’s misfortune.
“I blamed myself for war, famine, pestilence and disease.
“I blamed myself for blaming myself – then blamed myself again.”

Good old guilt.

I remain immensely fond of this fully painted, coming-of-age fantasy – very much reminiscent of prime Douglas Adams – not least because when young Moonshadow originally grew up on these pages, he turned into David Sylvian, erstwhile singer-songwriter of pop group Japan turned experimental orchestrator of all manner of sonic noodling.

We’ll return to that in a second.

Moonshadow is a strange boy, but then he had strange parentage: his mother was a pacifistic revolutionary hippy who called herself Sunflower, his father a G’l-Dose. The G’l-Doses are large, glowing, spherical objects for whom the only motive is caprice. Makes them somewhat difficult to reason with, let alone learn life lessons from. There’s not much there by way of paternal instincts.

 

 

And so it is that David – sorry, Moonshadow – is thrown out of his home by his father (his father was his captor; the home a galactic zoo) and voyages into life among the stars with his faithless companion Ira, a sex-obsessed big bundle of matted brown fur in a bowler hat with a cigar clenched permanently between his teeth. Also, with his mother and black cat called Frodo.

As the inquisitive dreamer and innocently optimistic Moonshadow gradually learns first-hand about love, sex, war and death, the contrastingly self-centred and cynical Ira insists upon occasionally imparting his own life’s journey, stopping and restarting several times after confessing, “I lied”.

The saga is recollected in a whimsical, iconoclastic fashion by Moonshadow himself as an old artist.

 

 

If you want a taste for its tone, there’s a potentially poignant scene towards the end when a character questions: “Ridiculous, isn’t it? To love someone like that?” To which Moonshadow replies:

“Ridiculous and illogical. I love him, too.”

They exit the stage… to the sound of Ira, asleep, oblivious, farting.

If Ira remains resolutely unimpressed by Moonshadow, the latter ill-advisedly sees the former as the father-figure he never had.

“He was a surly, cynical, lecherous grouch; a horny sensualist who cared for nothing save filling his belly and fondling his genitals. He farted with malice, belched without shame, and offended everyone.
“No wonder he stole my heart.”

Originally billing itself “A Fairy Tale for Adults”  and published in 1985 by Marvel’s aptly titled Epic imprint (it’s a long, improbable story but God bless editor Archie Goodwin), it ran to a full twelve monthly instalments during which punishing schedule Jon J. Muth (SANDMAN: THE WAKE, M etc), found himself floundering. Equally accomplished stablemates Kent Williams and George Pratt were therefore reigned in for a couple of issues. As a youngster I could barely see the join but I can, admittedly, now. They’re still beautiful, every single page.

 

 

It was the very first series I read that had not a cape in sight and its revelatory effect upon me – as to what else I might relish – was almost as transformative as working alongside our beardly beloved Mark. So if you’re a superhero reader teetering on the edge of trying something new, this comes highly recommended with the proven prospect of thirty-five years of branching out further and enjoying this medium in all its diverse glory. You might even open a comic shop some day.

This is also recommended to those who simply enjoy lambent watercolours or a daft old quest full of mischief.

 

 

Muth’s wet-brush washes over his tight, neo-classical pencils evidence the sort of looseness I fervently envy but have never been able to reproduce. It’s aesthetically pleasing enough in fine art, but in sequential art this proves vital, for it encourages the eye to move along at the same jaunty, clipped pace of the narrator. You must surely have stumbled upon some comics rendered in stodgy gouache whose cover may have held promise, but whose interior panels clog up the proceedings with their overwrought detail and density. Not so here, not remotely. I reckon readers of DESCENDER and MIRROR (MIRROR volume 2 out now) will adore this.

 

 

Returning to the book’s visual references to David Sylvian, although for the first collected edition Muth repainted certain pages after he found his heart worn a little too vulnerably upon his sleeve and so pulled his cuffs down a notch (by lessening the likeness to the singer-songwriter repeated voted most swoonaway man in pop by the readers of Smash Hits) when he rejoined J. M. DeMatteis for an additional one-shot of MOONSHADOW illustrated prose (reprinted here with additional back-matter sketches), he reversed his sartorial thrusters and resumed direct portraits.

 

 

If you harbour any further doubts just Google David Sylvian’s ‘Red Guitar’ single from his first solo album and watch Anton Corbijn’s video. Oh, here you go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tTX49CjAgo

Yes, that’s Moonshadow as an old man. There are even balloons if you wait long enough.

 

 

I leave you with an extract from the boy’s earliest contact from outside his spaceship, a distress signal which immediate ignites the “rose-tinted Romantic” in him. Ira’s to the left of him, his mother to the right. He’s stuck in the middle, boo-hoo.

“Someone was in trouble, in the heart of the Kickapoo Cluster. A true Lancelot-in-training, visions of endangered damsels filling my head, I reached for the controls.

“Are you stupider that you look? This whole sector’s infested with plague! We can’t go in there!”

“Sunflower”, rising from a languorous rest below deck, dissented:

“If someone wants our help, Moon, then they should have it. “Show kindness to thy brothers and free them from suffering, right?”

I was utterly confused: To turn my back on a being in need contradicted every belief I held dear. But entering the Cluster was flirting with suicide, and I had no desire to indulge in cosmic wrist-slashing.

I agonized; I theorized; I scrutinized my conscience.

I decided:

“We’re going in!”

… then wet my pants.”

SLH

Buy Moonshadow Definitive Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Penny Nichols s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by M. K. Reed, Greg Means & Matt Wiegle…

“I never wanted to be a teacher or lawyer. I never wanted to be anything, really.”

I think there might be a fair few people out there who can admit to that.

Still at that point, with the true horrors of the reality of what awaits one post-education just beginning to kick in, you just have to get your finger out of your proverbial behind or you’ll end up stuck in a crap job living with a flatmate who totally hates you.

Well, maybe not that last bit, but Penny Nicholls has managed to ‘achieve’ that feat as well! Here is the plot summary from the publisher as to how she’s going to try and clapperboard the second act of her life into action…

“Somehow, cynical Penny Nichols has gotten roped into helping make a ridiculously over-the-top slasher film. With a crew of flakes and oddballs, she’s probably the only one who can save this stupid movie… but maybe it can save her, too. Now can somebody please stop that dog from licking the fake blood?

Stuck working mind-numbing temp jobs, Penny Nichols yearns to break free from the rut she’s found herself in. When, by chance, she falls in with a group of misfits making a no-budget horror movie called Blood Wedding, everything goes sideways.

Soon her days are overrun with gory props, failed Shakespearean actors, a horny cameraman, and a disappearing director. Somehow Penny must hold it all together and keep the production from coming apart at the seams.

This hilarious graphic novel is a loving tribute to the chaos and camaraderie of D.I.Y. filmmaking, and the ways we find our future and our family in the unlikeliest of places.”

Come on; admit this too, we’ve all seen certain films and thought, “I could do that.” In fact it never ceases to amaze me just how many bad films of all budgetary levels get made. I’ll freely admit I’ve thought the same regarding many a comic too, and yet I’ve made neither a film nor a comic, and probably never will. Why? Well, it does seemingly takes a special sort of lunatic to make films and indeed also to make comics*. Which is why a comic about absolute rank amateurs making a low-budget horror film has got high farcical potential written all over it. And so it proves!

* You just have to be a complete lunatic to sell them…

 

 

Fortunately for the hapless duo of directors in question it seems they’ve lucked out by begging and pleading with Penny to come on board to help out as she promptly warms to her task with gusto, taking all the myriad problems – mostly caused by the incompetence and slackassery of her new colleagues – in her stride, as the gang attempt to complete their flick in record time to submit it to Slashercon, where they are convinced the inevitable fortune and glory await. Well, the more deluded of them. And so it…

Ah, ah, no spoilers now! Nowhere worse than a comic shop for someone spouting out a film spoiler without the proprietor managing it too…

M.K. PALEFIRE / AMERICUS Reed returns (in conjunction with co-writer Greg Means) with yet another completely different project having covered crime as well as kids’ works previously. This comedy offering is one of the most wittily entertaining ensemble tales I’ve read in a while, really getting into the characters foibles and fixations, particularly Penny’s, in excruciatingly entertaining depth.

While the cast start to practically bounce off each other as the impending deadline looms ever larger and thus the pressure continues to mount ever further on Penny, can she handle it without cracking, particularly with her snarky snobby sister continually chipping in from the sidelines? Artist Matt Wiegle captures the bonkers nature of the story perfectly with a style that minded me greatly of a slightly toned-down (if that’s even possible!) Evan ELTINGVILLE CLUB Dorkin.

That’s a wrap. Just buy it. And why not?  Trust me, I’m like the Barry Norman of comics reviewing. Or something.

JR

Buy Penny Nichols s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Grand Abyss Hotel h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Marcos Prior & David Rubin…

 

 

“…According to his own statements, health care cuts are inevitable… they’re painful measures for which there is no workable alternative…”
“…Have announced a tax cut to encourage the flow of capital, which is key to economic recovery…”
“…The Minister of Education has reiterated that the cuts to the public school budget will not have a negative impact on teaching quality…”
“…We’ve got to be creative: we’ve got to learn to do more with less…”
“…Starting next month, electricity costs will go up 9.99%…”
“…Businessmen worried about the image and impact abroad of the street cleaners’ strike…”
“…The adoption of Bittercoin will lead to the disappearance of tax havens, there won’t be any need for them…”
“…The government has announced a new reformulation of the right to strike…”
“…Experts warn that the public pension system is unsustainable…”

Sigh. There are another three pages of the first protagonist, the masked activist who adorns the cover of this work, listening to depressingly real incoming snippets of news on various channels as he pumps iron in preparation for his big moment.

 

 

Here is the PR blitz from the publisher to tell us all why it is time to check out…

“Marcos Prior and David BEOWULF Rubín weave a politically satirical look at democracy today through the lens of hyper-violence and explosive action.

Imagine a world overrun by big business and ‘fake news’ via the social media machine…

In The Grand Abyss Hotel neoliberalism has become a state religion, while the citizens quietly and then not-so-quietly rebel, giving way to violence on the streets and sowing chaos. A masked vigilante takes on the role of hero to battle politicians, the erosion of democracy, and social media. After the fires burn low and the dust settles, social order returns. Or does it?”

It really isn’t that hard to imagine is it? “…a world overrun by big business and ‘fake news’ via the social media machine…” and “…neoliberalism has become a state religion…”

For we’re all too sadly living it, it seems to me. I should probably clarify at this point that the Grand Abyss Hotel is the (presumably colloquial) name of the home of the government in this city, which is shortly about to come under direct assault.

 

 

Which raises an interest question, actually. At what point would a full-blown national insurrection be socially acceptable? You would think it could never happen here even in these troubling times. Fast forward another fifty years though and who honestly knows.

Anyway, I digress. Split into four chapters, this work is very much about what is going on in the background, both story-wise and artistically, as it is in the (fist-)in-your-face foreground action. It is relentless brutal, both in the pace of the plot and also the punch it packs. The world Prior and Rubin have created here is rich in satirical depth and sardonic detail.

Prior certainly hasn’t skimped on loading up this power-keg of potential carnage and, of course, Rubin is more than capable of spectacularly lighting the fuse. As with BEOWULF, his portrayal of movement and bursts of intense activity is something to behold for the dramatic flare he manages to embed so gracefully into the action. He’s right up there with Paul HEAVY LIQUID / ESCAPO / BATTLING BOY Pope as one of my personal favourite artists.

It’s nigh-on impossible not to feel at least a tad of visceral excitement at the attacks upon the ‘institution’ of government and also one particular individual who is singled out for some very special fiscally punitive treatment. In fact, that chapter made me smile a lot, and given some of the nonsense some of our politicians have got up on television in recent years to try and portray themselves as sensitive and understanding of the working class, I think it would be a bloody good idea for a reality TV show…

I found the ending, well epilogue, a trifle bemusing, initially at least, though the more I reflected upon it, and I have elucidated in that direction already, it was probably the only ending there could actually be to this particular work. As a piece of distressingly accurate and possibly prescient dystopian speculative fiction, this firmly obliterates the mark to smithereens, let alone hits it.

JR

Buy Grand Abyss Hotel h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Akissi: More Tales Of Mischief (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Marguerite Abouet & Mathieu Sapin…

“I don’t wanna go! He’s too mean and ugly and stinky and he spits when talks to us!!”
“Akissi, enough! It’s the same old song every day!”
“Only because no one believes me! He will kill me one day and you will all finally GET IT!!”

That major maker of mischief herself is back for more merriment and much chaos. For a more extensive review of the madness and mayhem AKISSI brings everywhere she goes please read my review of the first volume HERE.

This time around she’s battling three new foes. I’ll let the first, responsible for Akissi’s outburst above introduce himself…

“My name is Mr. Adama, your new teacher. I won’t beat about the bush… I hate children!”

He really does, and whilst he might not beat around the proverbial shrubbery he certainly likes thwacking the behinds of errant children with a large ruler! Repeatedly… Now, do you think that is going to make Akissi and her friends behave? No, of course not, quite the opposite! In fact, I think Mr. Adama had better watch out…

Further providing a little local cultural context (and hopefully perhaps make us appreciate the NHS even more as well as our education system…) is Akissi’s second source of strife, the local Witch Doctor, who I reckon is even more terrifying than her teacher. But then given he’s decided Akissi is a devil who is stopping her mum conceiving another baby and his means of dealing with it are equally unconventional, well…

Finally we have Akissi’s ultimate nemesis, the new girl Sido, who despite missing a leg, allegedly due to having it eaten by a lion, has all the boys swooning over her due to her prettiness. Akissi, appalled at her rough and tumble chums fawning over this upstart sets about trying to hate her. But, of course, Akissi has got far, far too big a heart for that and promptly ends up best chums with Sido in a way that only Akissi could possibly manage, by thwarting an armed robbery.

Haha, once again Marguerite Abouet & Mathieu Sapin bring Africa to vivid, vibrant life in a way that both appals the sensibilities (seriously Akissi, stop borrowing people’s babies without their permission to play with!) and amuses uproariously in equal amounts.

JR

Buy Akissi: More Tales Of Mischief and read the Page 45 review here

Island Book s/c (£17-99, First Second) by Evan Dahm…

“I should never have left…
“I shouldn’t have…
“What was I thinking?
“How… how did I ever think I could find it out here?”
“Find what?”
“The monster.”
“Th… the monster…
“Some creatures are of the land.
“Some are of the sea.
“The Monster is both.
“The Monster is neither.”

Sounds like it should be a straightforward quest for brave little inquisitive Sola then!

 

 

Here are the prodigious parameters of pursuit being set by the publisher to explain just how sizeable a task she’s about to undertake…

“Sola is cursed. At least, that’s what everyone tells her. It all started the day the Monster came to the island. While others fled, Sola stood before the creature, alone and unafraid. Since then she’s been treated like an outcast.

Shamed and feared for an event she doesn’t understand, Sola sets out to sea looking for answers. In an endless ocean far from home, she discovers that her island isn’t alone and the Monster isn’t the only life to be found in these uncharted waters.

Boundless adventure awaits in Island Book, an epic tale of friendship, teamwork, and the wisdom we gain when we face the unknown with bravery and an open heart.”

I enjoyed this rather askance adventure. I say askance because it is far more a meditation on personal qualities and interpersonal skills than an all-out all-ages romp. This is far more reflective in its nature, much like its main characters themselves. Albeit eventually in some of their cases…

It that sense, of a curious turtle-like creature going on an oceanic odyssey, combined with Sola’s large soulful eyes, it reminded me rather of Craig Thompson’s classic GOODBYE CHUNKY RICE.

 

 

Artistically it also very strongly reminded me of a smoother, softer version of Doug NNEWTS / BAD ISLAND / GHOSTOPOLIS / CARDBOARD TenNapel.

 

 

As Sola starts assembling her motley ragtag crew comprised of outcasts from the islands that she encounters during her search, when taken in conjunction with the ending, I also found myself slightly surprised to be also minded of The Wizard Of Oz.

 

 

Sometimes you find what you are searching for, discover it is completely different to what you expected, but realise you have learnt something much more important about yourself and life along the way. There’s no musical numbers, though, thank goodness…

JR

Buy Island Book s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Life Drawing: A Life Under Lights h/c (£16-99, Unbound) by Jessica Martin…

“Dad and I had a residency at the exclusive St. James’s club in Mayfair.
“Sir John Mills was a patron. I met with him at a West End theatre. Where he endorsed my Equity application.
“As did fellow club patron Michael Caine.
“Not a lot of people know that!”

If you’ve ever wonder just how much hard work it takes to make it in showbiz, and how many names you’ll be able to drop in your biography when you do, then this could be the book for you! Here is the programme as presented by the publisher to inform us of the running order.

“The lure of the spotlight can be intoxicating, and Jessica Martin was captured by it early on. The daughter of a bandleader, she came of age in the jazz clubs of London’s Soho before going on to forge a career as a West End regular, Spitting Image impressionist and Doctor Who actor.

 

 

Now entering a new phase of her performing life, Jessica Martin looks back on the parts and people that contributed to her success in this honest and revealing autobiography, which shows the true grit beneath the greasepaint.

Featuring a cast of diverse characters and guest appearances from some very recognisable personalities, Life Drawing is the story of a woman living a fully creative life.”

It is indeed. Firstly, top hats off and high kicks aplenty to Jessica for being brave enough to write and draw her own story. She’s clearly a multi-talented lady over and above her on-screen and stage accomplishments.

For people of a certain age, like myself, who fondly remember the likes of Spitting Image, Bobby Davro, Gary Wilmot and indeed Sylvester McCoy doing his turn as Doctor Who, there was a great deal of fascination and amusement as to which A- through to Z-lister was going to crop up next, as Jessica seemingly knows, and has worked, with most of them.

 

 

Whether that be a private command performance for Prince Charles at his Highgrove estate or in panto with the likes of Michael Barrymore attempting to chew up the scenery and steal the show.

But first we start with a fairly in-depth exploration of Jessica’s formative and unconventional early years…

 

 

… with her mum holding the family together and being responsible for her subsequent lifelong love of musicals…

 

 

… whilst her errant father was off playing jazz and only really taking an interest when he realised he could use her as singer. There’s even a mystery half-brother who briefly pops up from Iceland before disappearing again just as quickly!

If you’re remotely interested in reading about someone who has led a truly fascinating life, in the very delightfully peculiar cultural corner that is the British world of showbusiness, then this will definitely appeal. Her art style has a certain rawness which one would expect of a non-professional but she certainly has talent and her passion for telling her story – and indeed indulging in a bit of luvvie namedropping whilst knocking out some very amusing anecdotes – shines through like the star she is.

JR

Buy Life Drawing: A Life Under Lights h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Tongues #2 (£10-99, self-published) by Anders Nilsen.

Prometheus and the eagle are playing a long game of chess.

But is it against each other, or another entity?

“History is full of repeating patterns.”
“The world’s chaos can look remarkably like pattern to even the most careful observer. It’s one of the hazards of that mind our Acquaintance has given you. But even real pattern is often punctuated by surprise…. Ah… I can’t believe you got me to take that knight. You are trying to distract me, aren’t you?”

Is there a pattern to be found within the circle panels inset on that double-page spread of the eagle gazing down from the mosque’s minaret, surveying the war-torn city below?

Also, was TONGUES #1 my favourite self-published comic of 2018? My memory’s shot, I don’t know.

Album-sized with French flaps, inserted extra geometrical work, crisp white matt stock under a silky card cover, it certainly had the most lavish production values and the colour reproduction was to die for!

This second instalment is every bit as beautiful, but with a radically different light-set and palette. It’s going to grow dark, on every level. I have taken some photos, for sure.

 

 

From the creator of the mighty BIG QUESTIONS, POETRY IS USELESS  DON’T GO WHERE I CAN’T FOLLOW, THE END and indeed DOGS & WATER which was surprising reprised in the first issue. That’s the answer to a cryptic clue I gave you last time.

This is but a brief reminder which will make little sense without first referring to my review of TONGUES #1 which ran to a full dozen paragraphs. There’s really no point in repeating myself, is there?

Still resting on green moss and lichen, mountain-bound prisoner Prometheus and his appointed eagle remain on most excellent terms (daily liver extraction, aside). Indeed, their conversation may take a more conspiratorial turn here, however reluctantly on the eagle’s part. It’s possible that their Acquaintance’s power is waning, and a note of hope is sounded. Hope is a wonderful thing, but it can also prove terrible if clutched at then dashed.

I love that they won’t use their Acquaintance’s real name for fear that he’ll hear and take action.

 

 

Elsewhere, in the city, there will be strange transformations as a fountain takes on sinister new forms and a young girl is assessed as to her identity, her potential:

“Are you my sister, little mouse? Are you a diamond or just one more shard of broken glass? When the lion swallows you, will you take hold of his tongue and choke him on your way down?”

The girl remains silent. Very wise.

 

 

But most impressive for me is Nilsen’s ability to worry, to chill, within the camp of the renegade soldiers we met last issue. He’s created one motherfucker of a militia man in their self-assured, ostensive leader who loves the sound of his own manipulative voice. But it’s the resolutely silent Niko who you really need to watch out for. Upping the ante – that’s craft.

Terrifying.

SLH

Buy Tongues #2 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

 New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Desolation Wilderness (£7-99, Avery Hill) by Claire Sully

Giant Days vol 10 (£10-99, Boom!) by John Allison & Max Sarin

Heavy Liquid s/c (£22-99, Image) by Paul Pope

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 10 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

John Carpenter’s Tales Of Science Fiction – The Standoff s/c (£17-99, Storm King Comics) by David Schow & Andres Esparza

Milo’s World: The Land Under The Lake h/c (£11-99, Magnetic Press) by Richard Marazano & Christophe Ferreira

Over The Garden Wall: Distillatoria (£13-99, Kaboom) by Jonathan Case & Jim Campbell

The Follies Of Richard Wandsworth (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Nick Mandaag

The October Faction s/c (£17-99, IDW) by Steve Niles & Damien Worm

Batman / The Flash: The Button (International Edition) s/c (£13-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson, Tom King & Jason Fabok, Howard Porter

Lucifer vol 1: The Infernal Comedy s/c (£14-99, DC) by Dan Watters & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara

Titans vol 6: Into The Bleed s/c (£16-99, DC) by Dan Abnett & Bruno Redondo

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 4: The Goblin Lives s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, various & John Romita Sr., various

Dead Man Logan vol 1 s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Ed Brisson & Mike Henderson

Thor by Jason Aaron: The Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£33-50, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Esad Ribic, Ron Garney, others

Thor vol 2: Road To War Of The Realms s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Tony Moore, Michael Del Mundo

Uncanny X-Men vol 2: Cyclops And Wolverine vol 1 s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & Salvador Larroca

Winter Soldier: Second Chances s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Kyle Higgins & Rod Reis

Dragonball Super vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama & Toyotarou

Happiness vol 9 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Shuzo Oshimi

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2019 week two

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

“If the terror of DIE is the annexation of reality by fantasy in the form of five friends trapped there, the genius of its execution lies in the indissoluble bonding between fantasy and reality so that ordinarily consequence-free fantasy – played so as to give one a break from reality – has very real repercussions for both.”

  – Stephen on Die volume 1

Die vol 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker s/c (£8-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans.

 “die, noun:
    singular form of dice”

“die, verb:
    stop living, become extinct, be forgotten”

“We can survive anything but our past.”

This is blinding in its multi-layered brilliance, and our highest selling periodical comic by some substantial score.

Co-creator Kieron Gillen (THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, MERCURY HEAT, UBER, PHONOGRAM etc) describes Stephanie Hans’s visual prowess as “mixing epic romance with operatic intensity”. I’ve stolen that because it is perfect. Hers is a playlist of songs rich in colour, carefully composed around those colours with varying, artfully controlled tempos, all arranged so as to hit you in the heart.

 

 

As with its cast, this will seduce you, startle you, suck you in until you’re helpless, have you sweating emotionally, vicariously, for their sanity as much as safety, and then break your hearts, repeatedly. It will also give you much food for thought, not least about reality, fantasy, actions, consequences, rules and restrictions, friendship, loyalty, the power of persuasion, collaborative creation (as well as cooperative action), what it’s like to be left behind, and the weight of adulthood and its responsibilities plus their potential toll which can resonate with all that we did during earlier years which were more complex in their interactions than we’d originally thought.

On that very subject the new contrasting chapter breaks in less complicated pencil of innocents at idle, carefree play are very clever indeed.

Britain 1991, and five teenage friends are invited over to Solomon’s to celebrate the shared 16th birthdays of Solomon and Dominic, for whom Solomon has created a brand-new role playing game.
He’ll be their Dungeon Master; but he’ll be participating too.

“Yeah, it’s an unusual game. We’re all in this together.”

 

 

Each receives a sheet to develop their imaginary characters. “Guided freedom, selecting abilities and personalising them,” recalls Dominic. “Anything was permissible, if not always advisable.”

Each then in turn describes their character to Sol who accordingly assigns them both a role and a unique die, from the 20-sided die (D20) reserved by Sol for himself down to the 4-sided die (D4) for Dominic, who chooses to play as female Ash. She is the Dictator (spokesperson, negotiator… dictator…)

 

 

And they start to play.

Two hours later, Sol’s mum discovers her son’s bedroom empty.

Two years later five of the six reappear on a roadside near Nottingham, one of them minus an arm, all of them minus Sol.

Obvious questions were asked by the police, by the press, by their friends and relatives. Where had they been? What did they do? And whatever happened to Solomon?

But they couldn’t say. They truly couldn’t say. They physically couldn’t say.

Brilliantly (and all still within what is the prologue), after but two more pages we flash-forward another 25 years to the point where the former 18-year-old survivors are now in their forties. Some have married, some have had kids, some have married and divorced, but one at least has found commercial success as a writer of fantasy which has since gone multi-media massive, netting him a small fortune. That would be Chuck, the individual amongst them who never took any of it seriously. He’s been successful, all right.

Dominic and his younger sister Angela, not so much: she’s the one missing an arm and now a husband whom she left for a woman who almost immediately ditched her, plus she’s fighting a custody battle for her kids which she’s unlikely to win even if she keeps her feet on solid ground. Please remember that after we leave the prologue. The siblings are both exhausted and Hans excels at depicting their depletion, then the varying degrees of trepidation when the remaining five are reluctantly forced to meet up.

They’re forced to meet up because – while drinking down a London pub whose pavement outside is being lashed with rain – Dominic and Angela are presented with a package which the barman found on the doorstep. In it is a box, and within that box, on top of crushed velvet, lies Solomon’s prized D20, gleaming away but covered in blood.

 

 

The subsequent page outside the bar is one of Hans’s most accomplished. The light at night emanating from the street lamps and closed retail outlets still blasting out come-look-at-me-luminosity cascades through the deluge onto the rain-soaked stone, and there is so much red carried over from the previous page’s blood-bathed, twenty-sided die. In spite of all the horrific, war-torn, fantastical spectacle that is delivered so devastatingly later on, it is the most violent page in the comic as Dominic – knowing full well its potential properties – attempts to smash it to pieces.

Both impressionistic and expressionistic, that is a scene which will linger with you forever.

 

 

Likewise, I believe, a panel which will be hitting us ever so shortly once we’re not in Kansas anymore.

That bears all the neo-classical grandeur and majesty of a scene from the PS4’s ‘God Of War’. It’s worth scanning the rich, lambent background for details, because in any other context like animation this glorious landscape would not be just a single-panel scene-setter, but the backdrop to so much more super-imposed art to follow. Again, a reminder that red features prominently.

Teasing aside, we’re nearly done with the expository hand-holding, I promise. It’s lovely to have a lot more leeway than when I wrote the first issue’s review.

Dominic decides that he has no option responsibly but to consult his fellow survivors about the D20’s reappearance. They reconvene at Chuck’s lavish estate and compare notes, not just on what to do with the die, but on where their lives have taken them in the 25 years since they were last… embroiled. It’s a lot like a school reunion. *shudders*

But the D20 was a lure, a trap, and they have gathered together right into it.

And suddenly, as I say, they’re not in Kansas anymore.

 

 

They’re back on Die, the mist-shrouded, 20-faceted world which they barely escaped 25 years ago, and they are all very much altered. They’ve resumed their former identities / roles which they dangerously played out for two whole years: Dominic is Ash the Dictator, Matt is the Grief Knight, Angela is Neo once more with two arms (albeit one cybernetic), and Isabelle’s back in her Godbinder armour. She has gods in her thrall; she may be in thrall to her gods. It all depends upon how they use each other. A god’s the same thing as a demon: discuss.

Chuck is the only one of them who seems remotely happy to be back, but then Chuck is the Fool.

 

 

So that’s where they went. But what did they do that took such a terrible toll on their lives, rendering the rest of them terrified to be back, fractious and full of mutual recriminations? And whatever happened to Solomon?

That’s it, prologue over. No more mere plot points for you!

As you’ve probably gathered, this is a Dungeons & Dragons interactive role playing game made manifest. By which I mean, instead of sitting down together with tea, biscuits or a fridge full of bevies to collaboratively create your own adventure through conversational narrative (isn’t the human mind amazing?), our six participants have – and will yet again – be living it. But this is the key: the rules still apply. It’s still a negotiation in both its physical and bartering sense, for there are prices to be paid and costs to be extracted for every move made or ability utilised.

If the terror of DIE is the annexation of reality by fantasy in the form of five friends trapped there, the genius of its execution lies in the indissoluble bonding between fantasy and reality so that ordinarily consequence-free fantasy – played so as to give one a break from reality – has very real repercussions for both.

 

 

I mean, just for starters in the real world, there’s the not inconsiderable matter of Angela’s arm. Then there’s what’s happened to their heads, to their hearts. But on Die there are, have been (while they were away) and will be more consequences to come. I’ll let Isabelle, the Godbinder, explain their dilemma, in words which will echo for you in your own private reading much later on:

“Before we decide the next move, we need to talk. We play by the old house rules, right?”

I love the use of “play” there. This is no longer a game; and the “house rules” are now more of a moral imperative.

“We have no idea how real Die is. So we have to treat it like it is real.
“If it’s fantasy and we treat it like reality, there’s no loss.
“If it’s reality and we treat it like fantasy, we become monsters.”

I’ll give you an example, spoiler-free on account of where I will leave it. Almost as soon as Isabelle has spoken, the truth of her words is exemplified in the form a formerly cheery knight called Sir Lane who hails Lady Ash with “I am here to fulfil my duty unto thee.”

Ash:

“The past walks up and says hello. I barely remember him…
“He was an Angrian knight of kisses. Joy into power.
“He was an adventurer.
“He was an adventure.
“As he rode off, he said he would not rest until he had gazed upon my perfection once more.”

Ash blows a flattered kiss his way as her knight departs on his white steed.

“He dared me to use my power to make his words binding. I laughed and did so.”

I promised you no spoilers so you’ll have to discover for yourselves how profoundly Dominic / Ash’s innocent teenage overconfidence will prove to have been so fatefully ill thought out. The premise is all there in the words I’ve typed, but where it is taken is a testament to Gillen’s lateral thinking because, remember: Rules and Repercussions. This is, in so many instances, a horror comic. Also: a war comic.

 

 

No more so on both counts than when Gillen wittily, grittily combines WWI with Tolkien in the trenches: Eternal Prussia with its industrial-strength dragons versus Little Englanders caught in a mud-bogged, smoke- and sulphur-stenched conflagration that has ordered them almost as far from home as our five, never to return to their loved ones. The dove-tail is surprisingly seamless. One panel in particular by Hans is pure Elijah Wood.

Again, then again, in the second, third, fourth and fifth chapters, Gillen opens then opens up further the horizons of that which he wants to explore: for example, the history and nature of fantasy writing, and the history and potential of creative game-playing, prising apart his own past experiences of role playing to pare off the rigid crusts of customary codes and well worn modes to reinvigorate its potential for others.

Oh yeah, he’s even recreated and so procreated DIE as an actual RPG: www.diecomic.com/rpg

[Editor’s note: while you’re here, another graphic novel hugely recommended on the subject of creative, collaborative gameplay is USER by Devin Grayson and Sean Phillips, John Bolton. Remember when games were nought but words on the screen? That.]

There’s plenty about all of this (his research, his cogitations and extrapolations) in this DIE collection’s back-matter – along with a new essay by Stephanie Hans on her approach to design and sequential-art storytelling – which I absorbed when originally printed in the periodicals before re-reading each issue. I cannot commend to you strongly enough to do the same for they proved an engrossing, enlightening revelation. By all means read the whole first (rather than individual chapters) before giving yourselves the added gift of extra insight.

Matt as the Grief Knight in the comic is a perfect example of recalibrating an old favourite. The important element is “grief”.

 

 

Chuck the Fool may be as care-free (and, to begin with, as callous) in the present as he was in the past, but Matt endured such substantial trauma as a teenager that it’s a minor miracle that he is now pretty much sanguine to it all and created for himself a loving and stable family unit, from which he has now been torn. But he was and so remains a Grief Knight, his substantial powers on Die activated only upon misery. Evidently, he must have kicked ass 25 years ago. But if he’s to be more use than ornament now, his hard-won optimism or at least equanimity must be stripped bare, destroyed, by not just reminding him of a past during which he was laid so very low, but manipulating his mind so that he feels that same sorrow and suffering.

That would be a vicious thing for any enemy to do. It would be worse if it came from one of your friends.

“We can survive anything but our past.”

DIE is a comic which will threaten to pull both you and its cast apart.

What is your tensile strength?

SLH

Buy Die vol 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cover vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Jinxworld) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Mack, Bill Sienkiewicz, Michael Avon Oeming…

“…Hi.”
“Hi, Julia? HI?! I haven’t heard from you for ages and you come at me with Hi?”
“You’re mad at me?”
“You’re surprised? We’ve been busy. You’re doing so great.”
“Is Julia even your name?”
“What are you talking about?”
“What are you doing here?”
“It’s Angoulême!”
“Okay, what am I doing here?”
“Being the fanciest of fancy comic book persons.”
“This is nuts.”
“Really? You’re mad?”
“Of course I’m mad.”
“You’re mad you’re not hunched over your space paintings in that tinderbox of a house you live in?”
You arranged this.”
“Of course. You wanted it, didn’t you?”
“I wanted them to invite me. I wanted them to want me. Am I a baby for being disappointed that you manipulated all of this instead of me earning it?”
“You are here because of you. Life is who you know and you know me. I’m just here to take advantage of it. Sweetie, the rules remain the same. You are desperately needed. Your cover is needed. That’s why I am here.”
“So…? Am I here because they invited me, or because you got them to invite me?”
“It’s Angoulême. Who gives a shit?”
“I think I do.”

 

 

Haha, Max Field, comics creator and more recently secret undercover agent for an American intelligence agency still so, so very desperately craves the approbation of his industry! Well, perhaps he ought to feel a tad puffed up and important that ‘Julia’ wants to entrust him with a highly important secret mission to try and turn another secret agent working for an unknown foreign power, who just also happens to be, yes, you’ve guessed it, a comics creator. “A really famous comics book artist” in Max’s own words. How hard could that be, right? Go to a swanky dinner with a group of comics colleagues, let the drink start flowing and just have a casual chat.

It’s going to go badly…

 

 

I am now going to make a bold statement, so brace yourselves. This may well be the best thing that Bendis has ever written. It is certainly the best thing he has written since the original JESSICA JONES: ALIAS material (in my humble opinion), and he has written a lot of good material in the meanwhile as I am sure you will know.

From the preposterous, yet upon reflection perfectly plausible premise (I’m sure I saw Bryan Talbot using a dead letter box at the last LICAF outside the Kendal Clock Tower…), the insanely brilliant back-and-forth dialogue which bounces intensely like a demented dodgem car driver between joyfully crackpot to crunchingly hardboiled, through the most genius plot pivot point around which the entire story oh so exquisitely, and actually quite movingly for true old school comic fans, tips, before concluding in one of the most satisfying endings I think I have ever read… well, this simply has it ALL in writing terms.

 

 

You want more…?

It also has David Mack putting in a shift of virtuoso proportions on art duties, movingly seamlessly from style to style like Sherlock Holmes switching disguises on the hoof, all in service to the story.

 

 

Such as showing pages from Max Field’s own work, including the title that made his name, a watercolour on parchment feel epic entitled Ninja Sword Odyssey.

 

 

Our Stephen commented that this work feels like one long comics love letter between Bendis and Mack – long-term friends that are – and I can certainly concur that they seem to have brought hitherto unparalleled levels of comics perfection out of each other here. Do read each of their respective forewords for just how long they have been planning this collaboration.

Here is a quote from Bendis from a recent interview regarding some of what he asked Mack to do:

“I’m trying to give David all of the opportunities to do all of the things that he can do. It works great because with David, we can show the comic book that Max is making. The one you see in the first issue is a beautiful indie comic that you can tell was a hit comic. Later, we’ll see another comic he’s made that’s a soulless piece of shit that he thought was going to be a big hit, but it wasn’t. So, I had to tell David, ‘Now, I want you to make a purposefully bad cash-grab comic.’

There’s a point to that. There’s a point when an artist gets lost and they do something they shouldn’t. We’re having an inordinate amount of fun exorcising demons, revealing truths…”

I’m sure we can all think of a few examples of bad cash-grab comics, albeit perhaps not purposely so… Naming no names whatsoever…

Meanwhile, let’s return to the Mack. There is some exceptional work going on here, both with pen and brush. There are many pages and part-pages composed of composite panels which are assembled so cleverly as to overtly or subtly convey the story, or just astonish artistically in their own right, that I frequently had to simply stop and admire the construction.

 

 

Also if you know where to look, there’s even a cheeky Bendis and Mack cameo… of a fashion…

In terms of colours, I presume the sections with brush are done by Mack himself, but special mention must be also given to the digital colouring done by Zu Orzu. Between them they’ve done a stupendous job here. The primary palette of pale blues is punctuated with intense, firework-like bursts of rich colours. There’s an astonishing sequence involving Julia and Max driving through the countryside which is simply magnificent in its seasonal colouring, capturing perfectly the joy of such a scenic journey. If you’re not busy being debriefed by your slightly sarcastic handler, that is…

 

 

There is also a page heady with the shimmering shades of a hot Brazilian evening later in the book which is so expressive of the delights of a close of day gathering in warmer climes. Plus there’s even two black and white single-page spreads which seem to serve no other function than to perhaps allow Bendis to cleverly muse – not least, because, that cameo – upon how comics fans of the future will perhaps view his work, as well as paying homage to one of the true giants of early twentieth century comics…

 

 

“Like, if I show this to a college kid today would they appreciate this as much as we did in college. Or do they look at it like the way I look at, I don’t know, Winsor McCay?”

“Wins… What? Winsor McCay is genius!”
“It is! DUH!
“But I look at it like I look at a movie from the ‘30s.
“It’s amazing, I appreciate it, but it isn’t really in a language I relate to.
“I see that it’s good, I just don’t… it wasn’t actually made for me.
“I wonder if this is as relatable as I think it is.
“And what I mean is I wonder if my work is going to be relatable?
“I wonder if our work will age well.
“And then I remember how excited I was just to be published, and, maybe, I shouldn’t be worrying about anything but that.”

Hah, what a beautifully self-deprecating finale to that mini-monologue. I wonder if we will ever get to the point where the entire population can’t relate to comics at all anymore. I fervently hope that particular dystopian future never comes to pass…

Anyway, if that were not enough artistically, we also get two quintessential cameos, one portraying the comics work of Max’s chum from Michael UNITED STATES OF MURDER INC Avon Oeming…

 

 

… and the ‘baddie’ secret agent’s rather more… intense material… from Bill DAREDEVIL ULTIMATE COLLECTION BY BENDIS VOL 3 Sienkiewicz…

 

 

…that just act as two perfect pieces of staccato visual plot punctuation.

It’s hard to put into words the sheer amount of joy reading this comic brought to me. Firstly, because after beginning to wonder if Bendis was perhaps starting to lose his mojo a tad with his final frankly run-of-the-mill, by-the-numbers Marvel output and, I have to say, seemingly a little lacklustre initial DC supes output – on that point, for capes ‘n’ tights Bendis true believers I am happy to report that the SUPERMAN LEVIATHAN RISING SPECIAL ONE-SHOT which leads into the summer EVENT LEVIATHAN errr… event (penned by Bendis with Alex Maleev) on art is superb! – I am delighted that between this and also the mesmerising crime caper PEARL with Michael Gaydos, well, he’s right back to the very top of my reading list. That pivotal plot point! That ending!

Brian, I’ll never doubt you again! I’ve no idea whether there will be a second volume of COVER. In one sense, they don’t need to do it because this is absolutely flawless, so neither should they perhaps attempt it, but I do so want them to!

I therefore excitedly noted in David Mack’s foreword that they had asked Tom MISTER MIRACLE King, a former CIA spy bod, to write an introduction, but he wasn’t able to due to the rather prosaic non-espionagey reason of a scheduling conflict. Why is that exciting? Because David Mack then states Tom will have to write the introduction for the next volume! That’s practically a verbal contract!

JR

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

Pope Hats #6 Shapeshifter (£5-99, Adhouse Books) by Hartley Lin.

Self-contained selection of autobiographical musings, highly recommended to fans of Adrian Tomine, Kevin Huizenga, Andi Watson, Joe,Decie etc. There may be a little that’s made up here too!

‘Island’

“I want Top 40 pop song money. I want to be absurdly, confusingly rich so I can buy an island.”

The remote island floats in the middle of an idyllically calm ocean, its dense, tropical foliage barely spoiled but for the single, enormous mansion complex rising up the hill above a jetty.

“And throw a phenomenal party there, bringing together the most courageous thinkers and artists of our time.”

It’s already celebration time as the guests approach the island by boat at night.

“There will be heart-pounding music and relentless, blissed out dancing. And by sunrise, everyone will have surrendered themselves to an all new understanding of L-O-V-E.”

They sure are getting their joyous groove on beneath the bright, roving spotlights!

“I would not go to my party.”

Hartely Lin is out walking his dog, which has stopped to pee in a park.

 

 

That’s your opening single-page salvo, setting the tone perfectly for the short stories to follow, most especially the last one – the third in an interspersed trilogy – which had me chuckling heartily at its deadpan calamity.

All of which is a complete departure for Hartley Lin and his sporadic periodical POPE HATS, some of which were collected in YOUNG FRANCES, the comedic tale of two female friends heading in divergent directions: one to stardom in a ludicrous TV show about a vigilante District Attorney called ‘Bad Prosecutor’, the other climbing ever higher up the ladder in an equally absurd legal corporation whose behavioural quirks smacked satirically of early Evelyn Waugh novels like ‘Scoop’ and ‘Black Mischief’. Highly recommended, all three!

I relished this just as much, but I’m hoping it’ll bring Lin more readers by dint of its difference, except that the comedy’s still here.

We’ve already established that Hartley really isn’t a party guy, but he is now a husband and father. Both of these developments have sparked in him relevant contemplations of the present, recent past, and early childhood, for example, when he was prone to worry. About worms. It was bad enough when his mate Dane would surgically divide their segments in his driveway, declaring with glee “It’s still alive!” Hartley: “Ha. ‘Fun’.” To himself: “God, make it stop.”

The patter of rain drives worms to the surface, so on desultory days it wasn’t just cracks in the paving which the boy had to studiously avoid. (Side-note: a mass movement of stilettos on grass have the same effect. True fact.) This didn’t go unnoticed. “Vulnerability is different between children. It is basically appropriate to exploit any hint of fear.” I think you can imagine…

One English Lit class required the school kids write down a major fear, but “I’m prone to category error” so whilst his peers declared bears, tarantulas and snakes to be terrifying, serious-minded young Lin wrote down – no, not worms, but – “Becoming my parents”. That’s a neatly dodged all-too-obvious repetition of worms. Still, as a father trying to avoid instilling the same fears in his son, he imagines in two years time being gleefully given and handful of slimy, wriggling worms.

“Dada, look!!”
“Ha, that’s right, worms.”
To himself: “God, make it stop.”

There’s plenty more discussion between friends about changes made to your life when you become a parent, plus attendant worries with self-deprecating humour, an adorable memory about his wedding day, recollections of past friends’ unexpected trajectories given their early inclinations, a meditation upon meditation, and one exceptional piece of lateral thinking called ‘Settlers Imagined’ in which a husband lies sleepless at night in bed with his wife, fretting that she might not love him. He asks her point-blank in modern mode, while she replies at length, in pen-and-ink handwriting, archaic language and purely practical concerns specific to the patriarchy of those times. The husband’s unconvinced, the more emotional final line is hilarious.

 

 

The visual delivery is crystal clear, warm and quiet, leaving the thoughts to speak for themselves. But there are also some exquisite scenes in the ‘Driving Through Vermont’ trilogy which I touched on earlier, during which Lin drives either alone at night or with his family by day, along a vast highway through the countryside, and I have never before seen so perfectly represented the effect of snowflake flurries as seen from a first-person perspective when driving through them in the dark, picked out by your car’s headlights. Whoosh!

 

 

SLH

Buy Pope Hats #6 Shapeshifter and read the Page 45 review here

The Dreaming vol 1: Pathways And Emanations s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman, Simon Spurrier, Kat Howard, Nalo Hopkinson, Dan Watters & Bilquis Evely, Tom Fowler, Dominike Stanton, Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara…

“You know the feeling… right? Sure you do.
“Happens every morning, right after you wake.
“The moment you forget your dreams.”

Dream has vanished. Left the Dreaming and gone… well… no one seems sure quite where. All that remains within the disintegrating imaginary edifice at the centre of the Dreaming are a collection of familiar assistants and acolytes such as Lucien the librarian, Matthew the raven, the demi-deranged double act Cain and Abel and the… well, just plain old argumentative arsehole in the case of Mervyn, the cigar-smoking pumpkinhead. It’s good to have them all back!

 

 

It’d be lovely to have Morpheus as well, or Daniel at least, as the reincarnate youthful Lord of Dreams was named. But he’s vanished with nary a trace and now seems unable or perhaps unwilling to answer the call of his sigil in the Gallery of the Endless located within his castle.

 

 

Fortunately, Lucien, if he can remember it – for this mysterious decay is beginning to affect the inhabitants too – has a plan… As a former raven himself – something Matthew, as well as myself had forgotten – he is aware of the psychic tether between the Lord Of Dreams and his atramentous avians. And so Lucien sends Matthew soaring off to roam the realms looking for their master before all of his creation crumbles away completely.

 

 

It’s a stratagem that twangs, sorry hangs, by the proverbial rubber band of a tenuous thread, to say the least, but it certainly forms an excellent conceit for allowing Matthew to pass mostly unawares by the characters who will form the cast of the four cornerstones of this new DC Vertigo Sandman Universe.

Said sound foundations being formed of…

The Dreaming vol 1: Pathways And Emanations s/c  (£14-99) by Si Spurrier & Bliquis Evely

Lucifer vol 1: The Infernal Comedy s/c (£14-99) by Dan Waters & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara out June 25th

The Books Of Magic vol 1: Moveable Type s/c (£14-99) by Kat Howard & Tom Fowler out 16th July

The House Of Whispers vol 1: The Powers Divided s/c (£14-99) by Nalo Hopkinson & Dominike Domo Stanton out 30th July

So, yes, we will see several old favourites return, albeit many filled with the same egotistic notions of grandeur and / or crippling neuroses as before, for example in the form of the likes of the ever <ahem> trustworthy Lucifer Morningstar, still getting worked up about his absent daddy issues, and Timothy Hunter, still grappling with school life whilst wondering which end of his wand is which, plus new characters aplenty, particularly in The House Of Whispers, which looks to open a hitherto unknown corner of the Vertigo mythos by taking us to a bayou where the houseboat of Erzulie Fréda floats, a voodoo goddess who attracts the souls of her followers looking for agony aunt-esque advice on both supernatural and worldly issues.

Matthew does eventually manage to locate Daniel, if not find him, just in case you are wondering. So we catch at least a glimpse of the albino teenage sulkpot at large in the big city and perhaps get half an answer to the question.

 

 

It seems he is there of his own volition, rather than caged against his will, which is where, if you recall, SANDMAN itself began all those years ago, in SANDMAN VOL 1: PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES.

All of which above formed most of my review of the lead-in Sandman Universe one-shot, which DC has wisely decided to include in each of the first collected volumes of the four individual titles, indeed it opens this volume as I presume it will the others. I’m not normally one for publishers recycling material unnecessarily, but here I think it is most definitely a worthwhile exercise. We certainly found people were willing to try the different titles before settling on which they wanted to read (all of them in most cases) after reading the one-shot.

I do however promise not to recycle the above review when each of the subsequent three volumes are released!

Now, whilst Neil himself was involved with the writing of the one-shot, being credited with the story idea, he is not, involved directly as such with the writing of the four ongoing titles. Instead he’s hand-picked the writers, including comics veteran Si Spurrier to helm The Dreaming, who with the likes of GODSHAPER and THE SPIRE has certainly proven he can craft an atypical tale or two.

So… what happens in the first volume of The Dreaming proper then…?

“Naturally the Judge anticipates their hesitation. He observes, after all. He assesses.
“He recognizes instantly that this youthful crop of nightmares takes forms beyond his fathom.
“It follows that to them, he must seem a relic. An anachronism, unfit to be feared.
“That can be changed.
“It has been remarked that the gaze of Judge Gallows is alone sufficient to constrict a dreamer’s throat. This is of course hyperbole.
“It is not rage nor terror that glimmers there… but calculation.
“The simple certainty that within moments the judge has ascertained, by his own cold metric, the precise value of life he observes.
“And that none is worth more to him that two pennies for the reaper.”

“Bring me the Black Chest, Mervyn.”

Yes, it doesn’t take long for Judge Gallows, Nightmare of the Major Arcana, brought to life by the previous Morpheus himself to decide he needs to take charge whilst Daniel is off… galavanting around.

 

 

Of course, His Honour starts off by telling Lucien he’s only turned up to “…advise by consent…” and just to “regard me as an observer… no more..” before he promptly decides some serious gavel bashing and restoration of order is precisely what’s required.

Well, establishing his new world order… I’ll not spoil precisely what is inside the Black Chest for you…

What a great new villain Si Spurrier has created (well recreated if you know your DC history down to the minutiae), straight into the league of the tooth-eyed Corinthian for pure malevolent menace! We get the full back story of his creation and it’s abundantly clear he’s not the type of beak to let a miscreant off with a slap on the wrist and six months community service…

 

 

We do also find out a little more about the nature of the trouble which Daniel is involved in, well, undoubtedly got himself embroiled in, very probably unnecessarily. Oh, did I not mention it was trouble that was responsible for the unexpected jaunt which has induced extreme trepidation and vexation in all of his creations?

Aside from old hang ‘em high himself, who is now having the time of his life. Well, you probably didn’t expect Daniel simply to have sloped off to Skegness for a fortnight, but suffice to say, the Lord of the Dreaming seems not to have lost his penchant for peril, regardless of his incarnation…

Delightfully delicate yet dangerously dirty art from the gloriously named Bilquis Evely, I believe she may be Brazilian and I know she has done various work for DC previously.

 

 

Her fine linework ensures the panels are packed with detail without it ever feeling overcrowded. I loved her facial expressions too, she’s particularly adept at a furrowed brow, and there’s a lot of that going on here let me tell you.

 

 

Combined with the colour palette, I was minded in places of Peter HIGHEST HOUSE Gross, who of course has a fine Vertigo pedigree himself, having combined so successfully with Mike Carey on the original Sandman spin-off LUCIFER material.

Readers new to the SANDMAN mythos will have no problems getting utterly engrossed in this intriguing opener, indeed it will, I suspect, undoubtedly engage them sufficiently as to tantalize them to investigate the original material. Fans from the first time around will, I feel, believe that Si Spurrier has done more than adequate justice to Neil’s creations, the wider Sandman canon and already begun to append some brilliant elements of his own to it. I look forward to seeing the wider story arcs unfold grittily yet gracefully with genuine excitement.

JR

Buy The Dreaming vol 1: Pathways And Emanations s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Plus there’s still time to pre-order the following at the links below…

Lucifer vol 1: The Infernal Comedy s/c (£14-99) by Dan Waters & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara

The Books Of Magic vol 1: Moveable Type s/c (£14-99) by Kat Howard & Tom Fowler

The House Of Whispers vol 1: The Powers Divided s/c (£14-99) by Nalo Hopkinson & Dominike Domo Stanton

Dungeon Fun vol 1: The Adventures Of Fun Mudlifter (£14-99, BHP Comics) by Colin Bell & Neil Slorance…

“What did you do? At least the ghosts weren’t eating us!”
“Get out of the way! He won’t harm me… he only eats the cursed!”
“Are you kidding me? You hold the sword! You’re cursed! I explained this!”
“Riiiiiiiiight.”

It’s just another ordinary day for a most unordinary girl when Stephanie, a human raised by trolls in the muddy moat of a castle, is nearly sliced in two by a sword falling from the sky. In fact, there are a lot of things spontaneously falling into the village of Deepmoat, almost as if people (and bridge trolls) keep deliberately throwing them in there…

So when a knight promptly, and unfortunately for him fatally, drops in as well, immediately rising as a ghost cursed to follow whoever has his sword, generally doing their heads in with smart-arsed running commentary, Stephanie has had enough!

It’s time to look for some answers, seek out adventure, and generally get out of the godforsaken dump that is Deepmoat. Along the way there’ll be monsters aplenty, more than a few dungeons, but most certainly fun. Who’d have thought that risking life and limb swinging steel could be so invigorating?!

 

 

This neatly straddles the divide between ADVENTURE TIME-esque material aimed at teens and adults, and Phoenix-type material like BUNNY VS. MONKEY, FISH HEAD STEVE, STAR CAT BOOK 1 etc. aimed at younger kids. It’s heavy on the laughs and light on the peril without skimping on the danger. Fans of daft fantasy generally will approve. The art style is nice and simple, adding to the cartoony feel.

 

 

JR

Buy Dungeon Fun vol 1: The Adventures Of Fun Mudlifter and read the Page 45 review here

Spider-Man Noir Complete Collection s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by David Hine, Fabrice Sapolsky & Carmine Di Giandomenico, Richard Isanove, Bob McLeod, Paco Diaz.

Long-awaited repacking of all previous series about which we wrote something like a decade ago…

Spider-Man Noir.

Free from the constraints of continuity, Hines and Sapolsky have brought something both fresh and festering – which is a neat trick to pull off – and I think if you enjoyed SPIDER-MAN: REIGN, you’ll very much go for this.

America 1933 is in thrall to the most massive recession and the underworld gangster who sits ruthlessly at the top with the politicians, police and industrialists all in his pocket. The gangster is known as The Goblin and his henchmen I will leave you to discover for yourself, but Hine has done something truly hideous (but clever) with The Vulture. Meanwhile, activists May and Peter Parker are causing a political stir in the shantytown of destitute squatters in spite of the threats to their lives – the same threats that saw Ben Parker savagely mutilated. And where is J. Jonah Jameson in all this?

 

 

Get beyond the first page for some strikingly fresh art from Carmine Di Giandomenico whose Vulture now looks like a ravenous Nosferatu. Hine’s done a fine job of building up the unassailable walls the Parkers and press have to climb / fight against, using Ben Urich as the guide, and I like this new Peter, unembarrassed by his socialist aspirations.

What you have to bear in mind is that in America a “socialist” is akin to being a commie, and we all know how America felt and still feels about commies. In 2008’s Presidential election the word “socialist” was used to undermine Obama whereas over here we liberal-lefties – the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and their voters – consider it a badge of honour, because putting the needs of the many ahead of one’s own is actually kinda selfless.

 

 

This is a much bigger collection than the first, so as well as the original SPIDER-MAN NOIR #1-4, it also includes SPIDER-MAN NOIR: EYES WITHOUT A FACE #1-4, EDGE OF SPIDER-VERSE #1, SPIDER-GEDDON: SPIDER-MAN NOIR VIDEO COMIC and material from SPIDER-VERSE TEAM-UP #1.

Spider-Man Noir: Eyes Without A Face…

“He’s also been looking into the disappearance of dozens of negroes from the streets of Harlem over the past few months.”
“But if that were true, we would have heard about it.”
“If they were white you’d have heard about it. Cops don’t take the disappearance of coloureds too seriously.”
“But what about all the missing people? They couldn’t just disappear. “

So it’s round two for the noir-era Peter Parker and his fight against the criminal elements of New York City circa 1933. And after taking down The Goblin last time around, now he’s pitched into conflict with the mysterious Crime Master who has stepped in to fill the inevitable power vacuum Peter created.

 

 

Again, the completely different use of various well known characters – including this time around Robbie Robertson, the Sandman and Doctor Otto Octavius – is what makes this Marvel Noir book work. There’s unpleasantness of many different types going on, not least Octavius’ disturbing experiments in his U.S. government lab on Ellis Island, which somehow seem connected to a certain political party on the rise in Germany. But how is that linked to the Crime Master and his crime empire of speak easies and cat houses, and the strange disappearance of members of the African American community? Maybe the world-wise and semi-reformed Felicia Hardy knows something that might help, if Peter can get close enough to win her confidence, but at what cost to herself?

Nice writing from Hine, who hasn’t lost sight of the fact that this is supposed to be first and foremost a crime story. He spins a good yarn, throws in some suitably unpleasant twists and turns, and once again, a lot of bad things do happen to a lot of nice people.

SLH & JR

Buy Spider-Man Noir Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Build Your Own Theme Park s/c (£16-99, Andrews McMeel) by Lizz Lunney

Moonshadow Definitive Edition h/c (£26-99, Dark Horse) by J. M. DeMatteis & Jon J. Muth with Kent Williams, George Pratt

O Josephine h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

Island Book s/c (£17-99, First Second) by Evan Dahm

This Was Our Pact s/c (£13-99, First Second) by Ryan Andrews

Lunch Quest s/c (£13-99, Koyama Press) by Chris Kuzma

Kim Reaper vol 2: Vampire Island s/c (£13-99, Oni Press) by Sarah Graley

Penny Nichols s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by M. K. Reed, Greg Means & Matt Wiegle

Life Drawing: A Life Under Lights h/c (£16-99, Unbound) by Jessica Martin

Detective Comics #1000 Deluxe Ed h/c (£16-99, DC) by various

Hulkverines s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Ario Anindito, Guiu Vilanova

Inside Mari vol 4 (£11-99, Denpa) by Shuzo Oshimi

Edens Zero vol 3 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime vol 10 (£11-99, Kodansha) by Fuse & Taiki Kawakami

Blank Canvas So Called Artists Journey vol 1 (£10-99, Seven Seas) by Akiko Higashimura

Our Dreams At Dusk Shimanami Tasogare vol 1 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Yuhki Kamatani

Sorcerous Stabber Orphen vol 1 Heed My Call Pt1 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Yoshinobu Akita & Muraji