Posts in the ‘Reviews’ Category

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2016 week four

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

New Lisa Hanawalt, finale to Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising, Alexis Deacon’s Geis, Jamie Smart’s Bunny Vs Monkey 3, Sandman Mystery Theatre and Return Of The Dark Knight: Last Crusade with News underneath.

Geis: A Matter of Life and Death (£15-99, Nobrow) by Alexis Deacon.

“Don’t you understand? I have no choice.”

I understand perfectly; you always have a choice.

Whenever I’ve heard “I have no choice” it’s meant, “I don’t fancy the other options I’ve so far considered, so I’m completely abnegating responsibility for what I’m about to do.” Please file with “I’m just following orders”.

Admittedly on the surface the fifty souls sent on a mission here appear to have had their options substantially limited but not curtailed, for where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Before we begin, this is brilliant. Its beauty we’ll come to anon, but I want you to know from the start that this is enthralling and truly startling in places, with curses far more cunning in their detail and execution than you might initially suspect. Underneath the spot-varnish cover we are forewarned thus:

“Geis, pronounced gesh, is a Gaelic word for a taboo or curse. When a geis is placed upon you, it is like a spell that cannot be broken and certain rules must be obeyed. You might be prohibited from calling upon the aid of wolves, for example, or from breaking into someone’s kitchen. If you ignore or break a geis, the consequences are dire.
“But a geis is always broken.
“As soon as it is spoken or written, your fate is set.”

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The matriarch Matarka is dead.

She lies in state in her ceremonial robes on a bed in the centre of a cloister’s courtyard. Around her sit fifty citizens, most of whom seem downright grumpy that they’ve been woken from their beds. The great chief Matarka named no heir but instead proclaimed that there would be contest to select her successor.

“The rich, the strong, the wise, the powerful, many gave their names in the hope of being chosen.
“But when the night came fifty souls were summoned.”

An agreement is being sent round to be signed and a brief squabble breaks out over power, but it’s silenced by the gurgling of Matarka before an ectoplasmic apparition issues from her mouth to settle in a vessel, a body of an old woman sat slouched at the foot of the bed.

“I am Niope, the sorceress. Prepare yourselves for I have come to test you.
“A good chief should know the land. All the land. Like seed on the wind I scatter you.
“Find your way back to me before the light of the next dawn touches the castle door… or no chief will you be!”

That’s it: that’s all they are told before being conjured into the air and summarily dispatched.

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It’s possible that she may have omitted one or two salient items of interest, as at least a couple of the contestants will later find out. The others will remain oblivious to the consequences but I’ve chosen what I’ve written and quoted here carefully, for it’s not just God who’s in the details.

As we focus on a dozen or so individuals attempting to master their environment to make their way back after being dumped in a cave, between columns of rocks, in a wood and by quicksand or being thrust through a kitchen window, some prove more resourceful than others while others have certain skills which may afford them some desperately needed insight. We also discover that the Kite Lord’s daughter never entered her name into the contest, but when she attempts to withdraw, she discovers she can’t. None of them are going to be able to walk away and return to the lives they once knew, and it becomes increasingly clear that these challenges will be tests not just of capability, but of character too.

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That’s the tip of the proverbial iceberg – with carefully concealed depths – for this is the first in a trilogy in which you will begin to glean the differences between Life Magic and Death Magic and their tightly knit relationship, just as it is with Life and Death itself.

There are some spectacular skies on offer at all times of the morning, noon and night. Not least of these is the early shepherd’s warning behind the monumental composite of a castle whose cloisters we first looked down upon. An unfeasibly large, fantastical and positively Tolkien-esque fortress surrounded by minarets sits atop the base of an already gigantic, heavens-headed gothic cathedral, its architectural details bathed in brown shadow as the dawn behind it ignites in flaming reds, oranges, yellows and purples while the cold, spectral-blue shades of the challengers are whisked round and around then away.

A little later we’ll catch another glimpse of this citadel from further afield, surrounded by substantial Tudor terraced houses and mansions whose warped walls will loom over a protagonist or two as improvisations are attempted. There the softer, sandy colours are dry-brushed against bright white clouds which themselves drift idly across the vastness of a pale green sky.

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Then there are midnight flourishes during an unusually direct confrontation between two of the protagonists lest one learn the secrets of the other then disseminate that knowledge. A freezing, miasmatic mist rises like a monochromatic (but little less spectacular) version of the Aurora Borealis partially occluding a star-strewn, nocturnal heaven.

Atmosphere is all, and you won’t find it any less thrilling in a lamp-lit library as ancient Osha attempts to furnish the Kite Lord’s daughter with knowledge only to find that time has taken its toll and knowledge must be carefully kept alive and preserved… lest it be eaten away.

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School library folks, this is equally fine for your teens or early teens section. It’s going to be another of those graphic novels snapped up by all ages for its wide-eyes wonder and harsh revelations.

SLH

Buy Geis: A Matter of Life and Death and read the Page 45 review here

Hot Dog Taste Test h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lisa Hanawalt.

In Conclusion:

“Sprouts are fool’s noodles.
“Don’t trust smooth food.
“I have a hunch about croissants.
“Don’t eat your own eggs.”

Good call! It may seem like recycling – or something equally admirable, ecology-wise – but it probably breaks several HFEA guidelines or mandatory laws. Laws appear to be quite mandatory at the time of typing.

Every other non-mandatory law, rule or regulation of Food or Ablutionary Etiquette has been loudly breached in this ridiculous book and we soundly and roundly applaud! Hooray for throwing caution to the wind, kicking common sense to the curb and good taste into the gutters of genuine good will instead.

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Hanawalt has all the good will in the world and here seeks to disseminate that and her recondite knowledge like our very own, much-loved Professor Lizz Lunney, with true scientific and in-depth analysis as when sacrificing her own personal pleasure to make a thorough investigation of New York’s high-sugar, fat-saturated fast-food street vendors solely for her readers’ edification and long-term biological benefit.

I cannot begin to tell you how funny it is, and that’s my main problem. Hanawalt sets up her jokes so well in advance with relatively po-faced matter-of-factism or equally dead-pan facetiousness that it would take me paragraphs to quote. Plus I no longer have the faintest idea which elements of her exclusive behind-the-scenes, hourly diary, day-in-the-life reportage of Wylie Dufresne’s Lower East Side Restaurant’s operations are true, True, “true” or mere off-the-cuff whimsy.

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All I can do is warn you well in advance not to read this while handling heavy machinery because it’s is a convulsive-laugher liability:

La la laaaa…. (reading with interest)

La la laaaaaaaa… (white wine now spuming like a whale’s exhalation through my nose)

There are Q&As, top tips and food-photography terminology neologisms. If I’ve included that in the interior art here it’s worth clicking on to blow up.

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Lisa does like to travel and has much to impart, like Katriona Chapman’s thrillingly informative KATZINES, These bits I’m more inclined to trust for basic veracity, but my metaphorical pinch of salt has been safely stuffed away into my mental hand-luggage just in case.

When visiting an animal sanctuary, Hanawalt manages to pet a pet sloth, who may or may not mind this attention – who is to tell unless you wait five years and three months for its physical reaction?

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Then she swims with miniature otters which “have been bottle-fed and hand-raised. That means we’ll get to touch the heck out of ‘em!” Their synchronised squeaking gives her an all-time heavenly high which she may never be able equal. I’d like to be covered in wet, furry otters forever, please. They can nibble at my neck as much as they want. I will buy them ice cream and spiders.

But basically, this: Hanawalt appears to be permanently hungry and without any sense of self-control. I infer that her trip to Las Vegas with attendant boyf was paid for either by Lucky Peach Magazine or by the Cosmopolitan Hotel wherein she discovers Total Buffet Abandon (officially endorsed medical syndrome as of this review). Whilst suffering from Total Buffet Abandon you can do any goddamn thing you want. You can pile your plate high with everything on offer, mix ridiculously incongruous, mouth-destined dainties or expect a chef to serve them all up in an omelette and no one will complain. Not even Cosmopolitan’s PR manager Ranata for whom gluttony is either par for the course or a word long-eradicated from her dictionary.

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“Look, I wish I could say we went insane and blew hundreds of dollars and then earned it all back! But in reality we bet low, made modest winnings, and basically broke even. Eating is the only thing I like to do to excess. I choose to gamble with my guts!”

What goes in must come out, and no restaurant meal would be complete without a trip to the toilet. Some are so squeamish about public restrooms that they line the toilet seat with toilet paper. Lisa suggests twigs instead, which you can gather, arrange and then nest on. It’s a subject she returns to, including her fear of being caught nesting. I really cannot show you that page. She also imagines travelling through time to see how they did it in the olden days or what spectacles lie in store for us in the future.

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Best of all are her stabs at new slogans for multinational corporations’ advertising campaigns, like Nike’s “Just Do It”:

“Just fucking goddamned do it and be fucking done with it already”

I can’t quote the next line, crossed out, but it had me howling.

We perversely began at the end with this review, just as we purposefully conclude it with a reference to its origin because I can no longer discern rhyme from reason, a sheep from a cow, or what’s coming out of my brain.

That’s now been clinically diagnosed as The Lisa Hanawalt Effect.

It’s as if she turns the world upside down, gives it a damn good shake and sees what falls out.

SLH

Buy Hot Dog Taste Test h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rachel Rising vol 7: Dust To Dust (£12-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

“Today I’m going to do something terrible to another human being – I’m going to give back the darkness he gave to me.
“It’s not mine to carry.
“It never was.
“The balance is non-negotiable.”

So ends RACHEL RISING, very much as it began.

With a great many shivers, for a start.

It began early one morning in a sequestered glade, with a woman waiting above a dried-up river bed… Until a leaf spontaneous combusts, and our Rachel claws herself slowly, and painfully, from her grave… then stumbles her way back home.

I can promise you two things: Rachel’s no zombie; she’s wide awake and very much aware of everything and everyone around her. But she definitely died.

She just doesn’t know who killed her yet.

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Now, in the final chapter of this finale volume, we’re about to find out.

From the creator of STRANGERS IN PARADISE and ECHO, this has been another tour de force combing comedy and tragedy, mercy and mischief, fury and all the foibles that make human beings the flawed individuals we are. It’s the humanity I love in a Terry Moore comic.

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I adore Rachel’s Aunt Johnny, the mortician who is resolute and unflustered even when out of her depth. And if I care for anyone above all here it is her assistant Earl whose eyes you never see when hidden behind glasses, but who nonetheless wears his great big heart on his equally gargantuan sleeve and doesn’t have a duplicitous or disloyal bone in his body.

This isn’t misdirection. I do that – a lot. But this isn’t it. I don’t think Terry has created a kinder character: the ultimate gentle giant.

I might even have started to love Lilith.

“Wow, Lilith… I never pictured you as a gardener.”
“Really? I was the first.”

Oh, but Mr Moore has a way with deft dialogue.

“You should have more respect for human life.”
“I would if they would.”

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He drops it onto page after page where so many other authors would simply be concentrating on plot mechanics.

The plot mechanics of this resolution are so fiendishly clever, their foundations laid in images whose meanings will only become clear later on. I’d watch what’s pictured, picked up and pocketed very carefully indeed. I love it when comicbook creators don’t necessarily tell you what you want to know, but show you what you need to know instead. This is, after all, a visual medium.

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There’s more nature than ever in RACHEL RISING, both flora and fauna, in open snow-swept landscapes and dense woodland populated by deer and dogs and ever so many crows. Life and death are central to its premise, the natural cycle all too unnaturally broken by Lilith and Rachel and – of course – in a different way, by the man who’s been slaughtering women then burying them, face down with a rope around their necks in shallow graves.

Aunt Johnny thinks she’s finally found a lead: three bodies in the last 18 months, discovered by farmers or utility crews. Forensics may tell them something, but Aunt Johnny knows a shortcut because Rachel’s been able to experience the final moments before death both of living souls and/or their corpses.

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A child, for example, has just been brought into the mortuary after being run over in a hit and run incident. Rachel reaches in.

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It was a busy school mom driving an SUV. On her mobile phone.

But Rachel can’t make contact with the skeletal remains of the one remaining woman. Perhaps it was the passing of too much time or the lack of soft organic tissue. If only to answer that question, Aunt Johnny casually suggests that Rachel try the remains of a recently dredged up floater. There’s plenty of organic tissue there. In fact, there’s barely anything solid.

And if you’re wincing right now, just wait for the recoil.

Almost everyone plays a key role here including young Zoe, who’s neither young nor Zoe. (You’d better see previous, equally spoiler-free reviews.) And I like that. It doesn’t do to build up your characters then give only the lead a satisfying resolution.

The build-up is so gradual and so measured that when the punches stop being pulled without warning they will smack you full in the face, dislocating your jaw.

And all the while Ma Malai, the Angel of Death, circles slowly and silently in wait…

For anyone.

SLH

Buy Rachel Rising vol 7: Dust To Dust and read the Page 45 review here

Bunny vs. Monkey Book Three (£7-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart.

“Hey, Pig! We hear you have an imaginary friend!”
“Lionel, yes.”
“Ha ha. Lionel. If I had an imaginary friend I’d call him… MONSTERTRUCKOTRON 4!”
“Why 4?”
“The previous 3 fought each other to the death!”

Of course they did. Can someone please cut off Skunky’s electricity supply? I don’t even know where he gets it from. It’s time to begin the review-proper.

Oh my days, would you look at these colours! Could they get any juicier? If you want your young ones to devour their comics – to gorge on reading – then this will appeal to their sugar-free frothy fruit cravings. I am salivating!

I demand that the PHOENIX COMIC WEEKLY immediately launches a range of ice lollies. As MEGA ROBO BROS’ Neill Cameron suggested, they could be sellotaped to the front of each paper issue. What could possibly go wrong with that? On this cover alone we have cherry, blueberry and black currant, fizzy lemon, orange and asparagus flavours. Maybe with a cabbage-cream filling. Yum!

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Meanwhile, this is bananas, and the colouring inside is equally lush. The skies on a winter’s morning or early evening are a radiant yellow-below-blue behind purple mountains or peach-beneath-blue against bright white and blue-shadowed snow. It’s beautiful to behold.

But I promised you bananas and it lies in the bombast. Squeals, shrieks and screams fill the forest as Bunny, Weenie and Pig are terrorised by monomaniacal Monkey and too-clever-for-his-own-good Skunky or – in the case of Weenie and Pig – each other. Weenie and Pig are a couple of clots who once played Pass The Brain Cell between them and fumbled it.

The very first strip, ‘Log Off’, has them hiding behind masks. “From what?” asks Bunny.

“Well, I’m hiding from Pig because he’s wearing a scary mask!”
“And I’m hiding from Weenie because he’s wearing a scary mask too!”

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So often it’s a question here of be careful what you ask lest you lose your marbles under a blanket of bafflement, but also: Touch Nothing! This is both, especially true of Action Beaver who is a coiled spring, a self-primed time-bomb waiting to go off with glee. What makes this particular two-pager pure Jamie Smart, however, is that central catastrophe has been carefully sandwiched between Weenie and Pig for a knock-out, domino-effect, double punchline.

Value for money – that’s what I’m saying.

You can read my two previous reviews of the series by hopping over to our PHOENIX GRAPHIC NOVELS emporium in the Younger Readers section. Towards the end of the second volume, Smart started to lay the foundations of a subplot which here begins bearing fruit. Up until then we’d been spending time in this potentially idyllic woodland surrounded only by animals. But the prospect of humans encroaching on their not-so-tranquil repose with roads between cities is forewarned by Le Fox and now they’re all beginning to be spotted.

I think I just sent a shiver up my own spine.

Don’t worry, Pig and Weenie will put paid to that.

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It’s the energy and the expressions which propel these comics. There are teeth, teeth everywhere.

I note of page 34 that some seven-year-old is going to learn the term “synthesise”. I hope they’re more responsible with it than Skunky.

SLH

Buy Bunny vs. Monkey Book Three and read the Page 45 review here

Sandman Mystery Theatre Book 1 (£22-50, Vertigo) by Matt Wagner & Guy Davis, John Watkiss, R.G. Taylor.

Jonathan and I both adored this series, a troubling period piece for a very troubled period leading inexorably to war. This isn’t about that war – though it does increasingly cast its pall as time marches on – nor should it be confused with the fantasy of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN, although there is a link.

Instead it’s crime fiction populated by remote or cruel parents, brutal, often sexual sadists, their helpless victims and broken progeny, all in a dark, pre-war, post-Prohibition America.

Rarely outside of FROM HELL has a comic been so successfully steeped in and anchored to its era. Guy Davis’ slightly flabby faces, drab clothing, gritty textures and impenetrable night are as accomplished as Campbell’s were for Moore’s Victorian graphic novel and Wagner (with later help from Steven T. Seagle) served up mystery after mystery which the reader could actively engage in solving before the main protagonists.

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

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

This point in the review is as good a time as any time remind readers that Vertigo is repacking its series into thicker editions they call Books as opposed to Volumes which are their slimmer predecessors. As well as ‘The Tarantula’, then, this includes ‘The Face’ and ‘The Brute’. It was a brief and quickly corrected mistake to let artists other than Guy Davis in, for the second story arc set in Chinatown put a lot of people off – including myself, almost. A huge shame, because virtually everything that followed, including the third four-parter included here, proved gripping.

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Wagner continues to explore the realities of economic hardship, prejudices and dark family secrets. There’s a particularly upsetting sequence involving the sickly young daughter of a professional fighter.  Dian and Wesley’s compassion always provides a stark contrast to the seediness of what they encounter, and it’s their burgeoning romance which creates the momentum that propels the series ever onwards.

Its begins thus in a dream:

“First there is the woman, soft but indistinct. Like words written in darkness or the smell of a ripening peach.
“For soon she is eclipsed… by him.
“The man in black.”

You may recognise the helm, for it belongs to Morpheus.

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Infer what you will, but in all honesty…?  They will not cross paths until much later on in ‘Sandman Midnight Theatre’ found within Gaiman’s MIDNIGHT DAYS. Although The Corinthian will form a clue in a future edition of this series.

SLH

Buy Sandman Mystery Theatre Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade one-shot (£4-99, DC) by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello & John Romita Jr.

“Wolves, sheep… What’s the difference?
“It’s the numbers that count.
“One, two, use your shoe.
“Three, four, bar the door.
“Five, six, teach them tricks.
“Seven, hate…
“Hate
“My favourite number. Turn it on its side and it’s infinite.
“I learned that from a cartoon.”

Deliciously drawn by John Romita Jr, the sequence was perfectly timed as the ticking time bomb that is the Joker detonates his quietly contrived trap and makes his inevitable, unopposed exit through the least secure doors of any Maximum Security Mental Health Hospital in human history.

Arkham Asylum: containment costs little when they cannot contain you.

It’s financially inexpensive, anyway – unlike a new obsession spreading like a virus through Gotham’s wealthiest businessmen. They seem to be losing not just their money but their minds. One’s committed suicide after his bank account’s bled dry. Another’s taken his wife hostage on a bridge at night, holding a gun to her head.

“I need to prove to her that I love her.”
“By shooting her in the head?”
“Yes! I love her. I’ll prove it!”

His finger itches on the trigger.

“To an untrained eyes, it’s imperceptible. The slight twitch of the second knuckle.”

But Robin has been exceptionally well trained, all but taking man’s arm off at the elbow with a razor-sharp batarang.

“Robin – you could have just knocked the gun out of his hand.”
“I suppose.”

Yes, Robin has been exceptionally well trained, but there’s not a great deal of empathy there and he’s growing increasingly sullen, increasingly resentful and increasingly violent. It’s Jason Todd, the second Robin, by the way.

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There’s more to that scene than meets the eye, and it forms the main mystery of this one-shot while the meat on the bone comes in the form of a Joker as vicious and eloquent as he became in Miller’s BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, and Bruce Wayne as bludgeoned and exhausted as well. His retirement – if not on Bruce’s mind – is certainly at the forefront of his friends’.

Those are the only connections I can discern to BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN other than Miller’s involvement, his use of inappropriately flippant or vapid media commentary from televisual dunderheads and Romita’s mimicry of its presentation with rounded, square sets. Perhaps the pallor of the colours, although there was a lot more white space in DKI.

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No, the main thrust of the story is forward through time and straight into the ever so welcoming arms of the green-haired grinning-one in another Batman classic in which a similar surliness and determination to prove himself won Jason a decidedly shorter career than he’d hoped.

This, then, is a parallel prequel to BATMAN: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY.

If you don’t know what happens there, please don’t click on the link; but it’s nigh-universal knowledge to anyone who’d be buying a Bat book and does afford this comic its dramatic irony.

Fabulous final page from Romita and the writers, juxtaposing extreme, silent violence on either side of a singular detachment – both voiced and visualised – and the reprise of a refrain which, when finished, gives it a fierce zoological bite.

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SLH

Buy Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade one-shot and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Bear Canyon (Signed & Sketched In) (£4-50) by Dan Berry

Sent/Not Sent (Signed & Sketched In) (£3-50) by Dan Berry

Three Room’s In Valerie’s Head (Signed & Sketched In) (£8-00) by David Gaffney & Dan Berry

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

I.D. (£7-50, Image) by Emma Rios

Indeh- A Story of the Apache Wars (Signed Edition) h/c (£18-99, Grand Central) by Ethan Hawke & Greg Ruth

Screaming Planet s/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & various including J.H. Williams III, Jerome Opena, Adi Granov

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

Manifest Destiny vol 1: Flora & Fauna s/c (£7-50, Image) by Chris Dingess & Matthew Roberts

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

Midnight Days – The Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman, Matt Wagner & Teddy Kristiansen, Dave McKean, Mike Mignola, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman, Kim DeMulder, Sergio Aragones

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

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

18 Days vol 2: Heroes And Legends s/c (£10-99, Graphic India) by Grant Morrison, various & various

Assassin’s Creed vol 1: Trial By Fire s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Anthony Del Col, Conor McCreery & Neil Edwards

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

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

Harley Quinn vol 3: Kiss Kiss Bang Stab s/c (£12-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palimotti & various

Carnage Classic s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by various

Deadpool: Dracula’s Gauntlet s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan & various

Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur vol 1: BFF s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare & Natacha Bustos

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

Yotsuba&! vol 13 (£7-99, Yen) by Kiyohiko Azuma

News!

Lowdham

ITEM! FREE! Page 45 will be in conversation at the Lowdham Book Festival this Saturday 25th June for ‘The Literary Art Of Cracking Comics’ with Sally Jane Thompson and Matt Green.. 3-30pm to 4-30pm at the WI Hall, Main Street.

It should be our Jonathan, but it could also be me. We exist in a state of flux!

Which can be exciting.

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ITEM! BREAKING NEWS!

Page 45 presents: Independent & Self-Publishing Century!

Yes, for over 21 years now Page 45 has extolled the virtues of independent publishing, self-publishing and promoted the best-selling comics and graphic novels that this fecund force has produced on a daily basis.

That’s 7,847 days so far!

In this not-new initiative Page 45 has made so many of these glorious story-telling triumphs not-so-small-sellers thus:

1) They are stacked next to our till!

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2) We have forced them into our window, bound and gagged, against their will!

3) They are racked right round our counter – Page 45’s prime selling spot – in a reckless display of warped priorities. Comics by Lizz Lunney, Philippa Rice et al. It is an outrage and I am disgusted!

Lizz Lunney Emporium

4) To redress this atrocity we have thrown John Allison off our counter and into a comicbook column of his own directly facing unsuspecting strangers as they waltz blithely through our doors. It is a veritable gulag or ghetto.

5) We have them Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month because so many of those creators, oblivious to their insignificance, are the best in the business.

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In 2015 alone Page 45’s two best-selling comics were self-published: John Allison’s EXPECTING TO FLY #1 and EXPECTING TO FLY #2 beating Marvel’s SECRET WARS issues by furlongs, fathoms and miles.

In 2015 alone Page 45’s best-selling graphic novel was Ben Read & Chris Wildgoose’s PORCELAIN: BONE CHINA published by Improper Books, run out of a farmhouse (I kid you not) by Ben Read himself and MULP’s Matt Gibbs.

PORCELAIN: BONE CHINA outsold the NYT best-selling author Neil Gaiman’s exceptional  SANDMAN: OVERTURE illustrated by comicbook legend JH Williams III even though it was published by DC which is owned by Time Warner. You may have heard of them.

Porcelain Bone China bookplates

But wait!

Now, as part of Page 45’s token effort to promote quality and diversity regardless of its publishing status, we promise this: we will continue this endeavour every single day for the next 79 years!

We call this…. Page 45’s Independent & Self-Publishing Century!

Self-Publishing Century

Only one century, mind.

When the clock runs out on October 17th 2094, Page 45 will jettison this quaint campaign of self-defeating, fiscal insanity which has netted us so much more money than could be dreamed of by insular, unadventurous and corporate-compliant comic shops and we will….

Inevitably cease to exist.

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ITEM! Luke Pearson’s glorious all-ages HILDA graphic novels are to be made into an animated Netflix series! New Yorker interview with that Luke Pearson.

You can swoon over all of Luke Pearson’s HILDA graphic novels reviewed by Page 45 here!

HILDA AND THE STONE FOREST is due out on September 1st.

Hilda And The Stone Forest cover

ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Arts Festival 2016 (October 14-16 in Kendal) announces more comicbook creator guests!

In addition to the likes of Bryan Lee O’Malley and Mick McMahon, the new list includes Duncan Fegredo, Leah Moore, John Reppion, Ilya, Rufus Dayglo…

… And a Charlie Adlard vs. Dan Berry smackdown!

Adlard versus Berry smackdown

Page 45 will be there, as always, in our very own Georgian Room up the stairs / lift in the Kendal Clock Tower. Entrance is FREE!

Website: The Lakes International Comic Art Festival

1 Lakes Fest Clock Tower

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2016 week three

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

Featuring Ethan Hawke & Greg Ruth, Alexis Deacon, Jiro Taniguchi, Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci. Darryl Cunningham, Simon Roy, Michael DeForge and more!

Guardians of the Louvre (£17-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi.

“Just look at those lines!”

This gasp is elicited by the sight of the glass Pyramid with its astonishing steel struts which rises within the vast courtyard of the Louvre, not so much taking up space but informing it, redefining it, refining it.

It made me laugh, for my eyes had been wide in similar, awe-struck astonishment for each of the nine previous pages, wondering how Taniguchi could make so much even of railings, diverging with precision from a vanishing point on the Parisian skyline without looking at all clinical but tactile and pocked with pits.

We’ve been admiring Taniguchi’s elegant lines every since the original publication of THE WALKING MAN, but this is the first time the English-speaking world has been blessed with a fully distributed commercial graphic novel of his in full colour. And oh, the colour!

You could spend hours looking at the opening page alone, mesmerised not just by Jiro’s panorama, but what he’s done with the folds of the faun-coloured jacket and the drains of the metal slats beneath the protagonist’s feet and the shadow those legs and feet cast over that walkway.

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When our lone Japanese artist visits Auvers-sur-Oise for a day’s pilgrimage to the final resting place of Vincent Van Gogh we will see what Taniguchi can do with vast, verdant fields transected by dry, sunlit tracks, then big bushy trees, clipped lawns and cornfields. But it is the architecture that amazes the most both there and while wandering both inside and outside the Louvre in Paris.

There are so many panels of delicate detail gazing up or looking down over the rooftops which capture the semi-relief I adore so much in window ledges and eves, casting just so much shadow over the creamy stone. Window boxes boast a dappling of foliage and trees dangle leaves over walls along the banks of the Seine.

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Paris is a city designed so that wherever you are you can see over, under and through it ever since Haussmann raised and rebuilt it in the mid-19th Century, giving any pedestrian a very real sense of where they are, wherever they are. Taniguchi so evidently relishes that sense of space and conveys it so successfully one feels as if one’s wondering a couple of steps behind him, beside him, luxuriating in the early summer light.

Once the cultural traveller’s inside the museum, that space is no less in evidence. The Baroque majesty of some of the grand arches and Corinthian columns towering above white stone steps and organic, wrought iron banisters is evoked with perfectly chosen perspective. So many galleries are drawn in meticulous detail including each individual painting housed within, and without his fellow tourists to block our view, it is enough to make the heart and soul soar. How has Taniguchi contrived that we – and our protagonist – might see it so?

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Ah.

Well, it’s all a little fanciful, to say the least, but that made me smile too.

A Japanese artist arrives in Paris following an international comics festival in Barcelona – since he’d come all that way. But the stress of the festival combined with an inability to get over the initial jetlag has played havoc with his immune system and for a whole day he lies shivering, bed-ridden.

“I come to feel somehow light-headed and strange. Suddenly alarming thoughts go through my head, like maybe I’ll just die here like this.”

He awakes the next morning dripping in sweat but, determined to make the most of even a minor recovery, he saunters out onto the streets. One omelette later and invigorated by caffeine, the man makes his way down narrow streets and broad boulevards to spend the first of three days in the Louvre. It is, of course, pullulating with fellow sight-seers which make him dizzy so, once down the escalators, he decides to split off from the hordes and heads towards the antiquities of Ancient Greece and Rome – the Denon Wing on the lower ground floor – only to suffer a relapse. His head swimming, he falls to the floor, the world around him exploding with colour as the statues dissolve into amorphous, floating shapes…

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When he comes to, the museum is deserted save for a woman dressed in the palest of pinks, her hair tied back into an elaborate bundle of buns. She will be his guide through the Louvre, as the artist experiences some extraordinary visions and even more remarkable encounters along with an unexpected moment of personal closure.

Everything else redacted!

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Yes, this is an English-language graphic novel. I just needed to glean some images from France!

SLH

Buy Guardians of the Louvre and read the Page 45 review here

Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars h/c (£18-99, Grand Central Publishing) by Ethan Hawke & Greg Ruth.

“My grandson was ten years old before he understood that people died in any other way than violence.”

So there’s a sentence to dwell on.

This is a beautiful book.

Its crisp white, satin-sheen pages boast the most fluent storytelling through the most fluid choreography, and the tightest figure work rendered with loose, sweeping brush strokes from the creator of THE LOST BOY.

Horses’ limbs become a blur of motion when galloping. Yet when at rest they have all the weight, along with their flanks, which could carry a man for miles. Their eyes scream with a not-knowing terror as bullets blast into their skulls. When they fail to skitter up vertical hard-rock or scree-slopes which only Apaches and their ponies could conquer, you instinctively understand the skill, momentum and grip required and the gravitational insanity of any such attempt.

These giant mountains rise from the dusty plains like ancient, implacable, geological gods. A testament to time, ‘awe’ is the word we are looking for.

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Faces stare out at you with hardened anger as eyes – which speak volumes and seem older than those who possess them – reflect on what has been seen, what has been done and that which is yet to come. What will be wrought their own hands; and by the White Eyes’.

The fists are very physical, clutching a burning branch to set fire to a pyre, and the hand which reaches out to lift a young girl’s wrist from the palm of her mother’s is unmistakably both flesh and bone. Such is Ruth’s craft that you can feel not only the softness of skin and the tenderness of its touch, but also the emotion behind such a separation.

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In a juxtaposition which drives the cruelty and gaping loss home, Goyahkla’s daughter – alive and well and on the verge of becoming a woman – appears in a ghostly, fleeting flashback, her transition celebrated with due ceremony. Oh, it may delay the Apache in pursuit of their prey, but equally important to them is this: it means that the antelope they are hunting purely for sustenance will enjoy another day of life.

Life.

The balance of life and nature is brought home to you on the very first pages, in a tranquil, pure-water pond in private. It is a private moment, part ceremony, part presentiment, part passing of lore.

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Contrast all that – as both Hawke and Ruth do – with the public, knee-jerk, incendiary actions and reactions of a Bluecoat Colonel whose ego gets the better of him in defending a lie he barely believes in himself, and whose pricked pride then ignites an unnecessary war all in the name of saving face, maintaining authority and his own personal power.

Contrast all that – as both Hawke and Ruth do – with the unnatural, seedy and duplicitous assignations of a prospector called Bruce who boasts of his sexual conquests before throwing them away like Kleenex into an alley of actual excrement. The White Man was always ever so very fond of declaring that his “Civilisation” surpassed the “Savagery” of those whose lands he successively invaded then stole for his own, but which one here stuck scalps up on stakes and boiled heads up in pots?

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This is the crux of the matter: the appropriation of life-giving land, freely roamed by the Apache in harmony with nature, by the White Eyes in order to colonise it, dig out its gold and make money.

“Who are the Bluecoats to give us part of a thing which Usen gave us as whole? It is all our land.”
“Not anymore. None of it is yours but what the White Eyes give you. Understand this.”
“A Bedonkohe does not wait to be given back what was stolen from him!”

There is so much control, vital for a tale this terrible, and it is all too true. It’s just not the one which have been telling in nearly a century of cinema. It is a story of betrayal.

Over and over again, individual trust is rewarded by betrayal.

This is no hagiography whitewashing the extent of the Apaches’ revenge taken in anger. Indeed it begins with the wholesale slaughter of Mexicans including women and children in retribution for the same done to them. But it does redress the balance after years of careless or deliberate, propagandist fiction depicting the Apache people at the time as aggressively and gratuitously vicious, and it does so by presenting the multiple, successive provocations. And I emphatically do not mean provocation by confrontational word; I mean by murderous deed.

Actions and reactions are very different beasts.

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This is in its truest sense a tragedy, for we know what will happen both to individuals like the legendary Geronimo and to the Apache people long after this graphic novel concludes. That is set in all-too-bloodied stone. But Hawke and Ruth compel us – with such passion, compassion and skill – to watch the wretched, hateful and inhuman events unfold before our eyes that we cannot look away. We are simply left to mourn their occurrence.

It’s that historically inevitability which demands I leave you to witness the shameful specifics for yourselves without giving even a hint as to who does what to whom, when and why. At so many junctures so much could have been averted by individuals credited here for their more honourable interventions which are so blithely ignored or thwarted by gang-mentality hatred and flagrant insubordination.

Man’s inhumanity to man. And so it very much goes.

SLH

Buy Indeh A Story of the Apache Wars h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Love vol 3: The Lion h/c (£13-50, Magnetic Press) by Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci.

Not so much the Circle Of Life as the constantly turning tides of food-chain fortune and the constant threat of being stalked, surrounded, flattened, clawed, mauled, mangled and otherwise shredded by crocodiles, vultures, spotted hyenas and even other lions.

Circle of Death, then. I’ve never seen so many carcasses.

No wonder the scorpion crawls back under its rock.

Brrémaud and Bertolucci’s LOVE: THE TIGER and LOVE: THE FOX have already claimed more than enough tiny victims as young souls’ eyes widen with recognition and delight at their covers, eagerly anticipating bright Disney doings, but come away streaming with tears at the ferocity they encounter within.

“Errrrm, probably not…” I’ve warned parents in advance on several occasions, but children can be tenacious once they’ve set their sights on things, can’t they?

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Set on the Serengetti, this is on another level of brutality than either of the other two, genuinely upsetting as the lead lion here enjoys little respite during its solitary roaming even if others do. Briefly. For him it’s one long territorial ostracism.

Even for the others it’s death – death everywhere – and often dragged out. Painful, really.

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Also exceedingly beautiful, obviously. Bertolucci’s animals are exquisitely drawn, their habitats radiant with light or drenched in torrential rain. Other Serengetti animals on offer include baboons, armadillos, a particularly petulant cobra, blue wildebeest, black rhinos, gazelles and assorted flying things.

As for the comet that appears from the sky towards the end, well you’re in for a bit of a surprise as are those lying below. Seriously? After everything else, they deserved that?

P.S. It isn’t a comet.

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For far more extensive reviews, please see LOVE: THE TIGER and LOVE: THE FOX and for more adult-orientated animals, please see PRIDE OF BAGHDAD by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon.

SLH

Buy Love vol 3: The Lion h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Psychiatric Tales (US Edition) h/c (£13-50, Bloomsbury) by Darryl Cunningham.

From the creator of SCIENCE TALES and SUPERCRASH, this is the Bloomsbury edition of his first, vitally important graphic novel which blazed the way for what is now a burgeoning array of comics and graphic novels on mental health issues, currently on our counter for maximum exposure, which have been snapped up because people care. Well, some people.

In some parts of this country Talking Therapy can take up to a year’s wait. And if only you knew the hoops that a friend of mine had to jump through – hours and hours of phone calls being tossed from one department to another and then weeks of waiting for an appointment – when she was seriously and immediately at risk: suicidal.

A book like this, then, is absolutely vital. We made the original volume Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month back in October 2010. This is the Bloomsbury edition of the revised, expanded UK edition which contained two brand-new chapters on different dementias and psychosis.

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It’s by no means a common experience, but there are some books one starts bursting to write about a mere twenty pages in. PSYCHIATRIC TALES is one of those: a book of such instinctive, level-headed compassion, communication and education which nearly never saw completion on account of the creator’s own deteriorating mental health. A childhood riddled with self-loathing only grew worse in adulthood as Cunningham withdrew at the very time he most craved connection. It was his artistic talent that finally gave him a sense of belonging, whilst his desire to understand his own condition and his natural empathy for others (so clearly evidenced here) led him into work as a health care assistant before training as a student to qualify as a mental health nurse.

“And this is when I overreached myself. This is when I broke.”

After reading the book you can comprehend why. It’s no easy job for the sturdiest of individuals but for someone as vulnerable and sympathetic as Darryl, well, it was going to get to him eventually.

The book isn’t about Darryl, though: the preceding pages detail his experiences on the ward and what he learned about various debilitating mental conditions as a result. The very opposite of sensationalist, its measured contents will undoubtedly still prove affecting for there can be few of us who haven’t come suffered from some degree of depression or come into contact with other mental illnesses: schizophrenia with its attendant paranoia and hallucinations; bipolar disorder with its peaks and troughs and compulsion to communicate everything at once; violent anti-social personality disorders; the dementia of Alzheimer’s, the disorientation and delusion and reversion to an earlier period in life; suicidal imperatives; self-harming from anger, self-loathing and a desperation to assert any sort of control even if it involves physical pain as a distraction from the mental anguish.

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Each condition is explained through personal observation and with an education that enables Cunningham to detail current treatments, rebalancing the brain’s chemicals whilst providing the most efficacious environment wherever possible. And without meaning to alarm you, Darryl correctly places an emphasis on one particular truth: it can happen to anyone at any time.

At school the brother of my best friend suddenly started pronouncing himself to be the Second Coming and appointed disciples. I’ve met several self-harmers and known them for years. I know at least one bi-polar, my grandmother slid away from us under Alzheimer’s, someone very close to me is suffering with acute depression and, I guess, most disturbingly of all, a young man I thought brilliant and charming abruptly became barely coherent, violent (he tried to kill his mother and girlfriend) and – because he’d already been misdiagnosed as having a behavioural disorder instead – it took his parents a whole year of research and fighting to get the man properly diagnosed with Cannabis Psychosis and therefore properly treated. The jury is out on whether they succeeded in time. I recognise everything I read here. It’s spot-on, including the patient’s delusion, post-recovery, that sustained medication is no longer necessary.

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As to the artwork, it’s deceptively simple just like Satrapi’s in PERSEPOLIS for maximum empathy, black shadows casting faces into silhouette, a warning of potential bleak, black moods. It’s the perfect balance between word and picture, so as sequential art it reads like a dream. Or a nightmare.

“The effects of suicide ripple outward. Damaging family, friends and strangers alike. A suicide will leave an average of six people immediately affected by the death. A parent, a significant other, a sibling, or a child of the deceased person. The people are referred to as the survivors. These are the ones left to suffer. Never knowing why, always wondering if he could have done more.”

Amen.

SLH

Buy Psychiatric Tales (US Edition) h/c and read the Page 45 review here

War Stories vol 4 (£14-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Tomas Aira…

“Did I ever tell yeh me brother’s in the Navy?

“He’s on a destroyer, H.M.S. Harrier.
“He told me he’s spent the last five years escortin’ convoys from America an’ Canada. Food an’ fuel. Supplies for industry.
“It all goes to Britain, but enough of it ends up in Dublin or Rosslare.
“That’s why we’ve not gone hungry, just in case yeh were wonderin’.
“He said the Royal Navy’s lost a lot o’ships to U-Boats. A lot o lads’ve gone down with them.
“He told me that… an’ I didn’t feel very neutral.”

I wasn’t intending to review this volume of WAR STORIES, figuring readers know what they’re getting by now, but exactly as with WAR STORIES VOL 3, I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to. As always with Ennis, in addition to giving us a brilliantly well written piece of action, we get tales that educate as much as inform. They’re always as heavily grounded in reality as a bogged-down infantry patrol taking heavy fire in the muddy lanes and densely packed trees of the Reichwald, the Imperial Forest, a historic woodland since the time of the Holy Roman Empire in the heart of Germany.

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Which not-so-coincidentally, is the backdrop for this story of a rather personal moral conflict amongst two members of the remnants of the 3rd platoon of the Irish Rifles. Having already enjoyed the delights of the bocage in France, life wasn’t getting any easier for the Allied footsoldiers as they headed into the Fatherland itself en route to Berlin. I was well aware that a number of brave men from the Irish Republic, many with long family traditions of fighting for British regiments, had joined up in WW2, despite initially facing arrest from their own government if even they tried to leave the country, including several thousand who deserted from the Irish Defence Forces.

I wasn’t aware, however, that there was no conscription from Northern Ireland, a decision taken by the British government due to the heated political situation at the time, as was the case at the time of WW1 as well, though in both conflicts that didn’t stop a great number of volunteers signing up, around 38,000 Northern Irishmen in the case of WW2. I won’t give you any more information about the tête-à-tête in question here, but suffice to say this particular platoon has some soldiers with, shall we say, rather differing political views…

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Then, as with WAR STORIES VOL 3, this volume is also a double header, and here the second tale features the fighter pilots of a US air squadron stationed on Iwo Jima, escorting bombers on their 660-mile trip to Tokyo. Plus, of course, the equally daunting return over a vast stretch of ocean, where weather conditions and mechanical failures were just as likely to prove fatal as a dogfight with the enemy.

There’s much food for moral thought again here, this time on the absolute opposite statistical end of the scale to the first story. But even so, whilst this is partly a tale about the sheer numbers involved in the war of Pacific attrition as the Americans attempted to sap the Japanese will to fight to the death for their Emperor, for those on the front line, it was still a very personal affair.

Here we see matters through the eyes of the grizzled, war-weary veterans and also the very raw fresh-out-of-flying school recruits. Still, combat in the skies seems a much more survivable option than being a Jarhead tasked with hand-to-hand fighting fervent fanatics intent on defending their divine leader and blessed nation to the very last man…

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“What’s your opinion, Captain? I mean the marines are pretty obviously going to be the first ashore…”
“I think it’s going to be the usual bloodbath, Doctor. Or worse than usual: if you look at how hard they fought for this little pimple, you can imagine what Japan itself will be like. I just hope it’ll be worth it this time.”
“Well… of course it’ll be worth it…”
“I think what the Captain means is Iwo Jima wasn’t.”
“You know, I’m a guest here, Major. I should probably shut up, I don’t mean to repay your hospitality by saying anything out of line…”
“Not a bit of it. We’re all grown-ups here.”
“Well… we lost nearly seven thousand marines taking this place. That’s lost as in killed, not including wounded. My company took eighty-eight percent casualties, and, well, what is it you boys do here again…?”
“What do we do? We escort the bombers knocking hell out of the Japs… which’ll make it a lot easier when you go up on those beaches…”
“I’ve heard that one before, Captain. But say Iwo Jima didn’t exist, or we’d failed to take it: those bombers wouldn’t be sent to Tokyo anyway?”
“Well…”
“Because I happen to know they’ve been sending them out since last summer. We only hit this place in February.”
“They took losses operating without us, don’t forget.”
“Heavy losses? How many men in one of those things?”
“Twelve.”
“So how many aircraft do you have to save to justify the men we left behind on Iwo?”
“I’m not sure it’s quite as simple as that.”
“Forgive me, Doctor. When I said my company, I meant the one I was in charge of. To me it’s twice as simple as that.”

Set against the prospect of a protracted campaign to take the Japanese home islands – with the firebombing of cities with houses made from wood and paper being the targets of choice (due to poor accuracy making well defended industrial targets like refineries nearly impossible to hit) seemingly having little or no effect on Japanese morale or desire to continue to wage war – you can perhaps understand why the US government took the decision to drop two atomic bombs. It undoubtedly greatly shortened the war in the Pacific by forcing the Japanese to capitulate, despite incurring huge civilian casualties in the process. They probably weren’t using the term collateral damage at that point in time, but it’s certainly the most spectacular examples of it still. This, then, is a little glimpse into what was happening at the sharp end of the Pacific theatre that undoubtedly factored heavily into that stark choice.

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It’s a shame BAREFOOT GEN is currently out of print, because as anti-war stories go, Keiji Nakazawa’s loosely auto-biographical opus is a tough, emotionally bruising, but essential read. For more WW2 material from a Japanese point of view in general I can’t recommend highly enough Shigeru Mizuki’s autobiographical inspired ONWARDS TOWARDS OUR NOBLE DEATHS about the defence of the Pacific islands. Also his SHOWA material, SHOWA VOL 2 1939-1944 and SHOWA VOL 3: 1944-1953, detailing the modern history of Japan, again spiced with a dash of autobiography, particularly if you are interested in what was going on in Japan itself during WW2, and its aftermath on the Japanese psyche. If you’re also interested in finding out about just how Japan suddenly started focusing outwards and rose in global prominence to become such a fascistic, military dominated regional powerhouse, I’d suggest starting with SHOWA VOL 1: 1926-1939.

JR

Buy War Stories vol 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Island #8 (£5-99, Image) by Simon Roy, Xulia Vicente, Ben Sears, Michael DeForge…

“This probably seems like a big decision.
“I’m certainly thankful it’s not my decision to make.
“But if it’s helpful, try thinking of it this way instead.
“It’s not a big decision.
“It’s just one decision.
“In a lifetime of others.”

I’m not still going on about the US decision to deploy the atomic bomb in my WAR STORIES VOL 3 review, I promise. (Check me out, getting all meta and mixing my reviews in together like a demented disk jockey!) But, this is the US Vice President, who has been given an impossible conundrum to crack by Michael DeForge. Yes! That Michael DeForge, personal Rigby fave, and he of DRESSING, LOSE, BIG KIDS, FIRST YEAR HEALTHY (and much more besides) fame! I hadn’t realised he was going to be contributing, but it’s just another huge reason for me to continue reading this, to-date excellent, Brandon Graham led anthology.

I note Michael is also slated to contribute to ISLAND #10 as well. Along with Malachi FROM NOW ON Ward, who will be cropping up in ISLAND #9 (which I’m excited about) and considering the other luminaries like Emma PRETTY DEADLY / MIRROR (review of #1 here) Rios and Marian BEAST / FROM UNDER MOUNTAINS (review of #1 here) Churchland who’ve penned and drawn material to date, Brandon’s clearly able to pull in the veritable gamut of heavy hitters in terms of talent, which is why this title has maintained its impetus right from  the get go (review of ISLAND #1 here).

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Well, that was quite the exordium wasn’t it?! I better get on with the actual review now. So, in this extended self-contained yarn, titled ‘Mostly Saturn’, whenever an American citizen dies they are reincarnated as an alien in a Utopian colony on Saturn. Why? No one knows. Just like no one has any idea why these new arrivals reincorporate at the exact age they were at the time of their death before they gradually begin de-ageing, Benjamin Button-fashion, to nothingness. What happens to them then? You’ve guessed it, no one knows. It’s not surprising therefore that more than a few Americans have decided to take matters into their own hands and head off for this brave new world, the President included, leaving the VP up to his neck in it. Where will it all end? Fortunately for us, Michael DeForge does know and if you read this, you will too!

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The other major contribution to this issue which forms just over half of the 70 pages is the chunky conclusion to Simon Roy’s brilliant sci-fi ‘Habitat’ story which is material very akin to PROPHET that he contributed to. I suspect, much like Emma Rios’ forthcoming trade of ID, which was in a couple of the earlier issues of ISLAND, it will get collected separately at some point in the near future.

Filling out the issue are two weird and wonderful silent shorts from Xulia Vicente and Ben Sears of the titillating eye-candy flavour we’ve come to expect from this series. Xulia’s in particular tickled me because I made the fatal error of thinking that her characters looked a bit like Tony Millionaires’ DRINKY CROW (minus the beak, it must be said), and then I couldn’t stop seeing it, which only added to the fun and games!! Keep it up Brandon, keep it up, sir!

JR

Buy Island #8 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Njalla (£8-00) by Rozi Hathaway

Abe Sapien vol 7: The Secret Fire (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara

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

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

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

Hot Dog Taste Test h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lisa Hanawalt

Outcast vol 3: This Little Light s/c (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta

Rachel Rising vol 7: Dust To Dust (£12-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Sandman Mystery Theatre Book 1 (£22-50, Vertigo) by Matt Wagner & Guy Davis, John Watkiss, R.G. Taylor

Sex Criminals vol 3: Three The Hard Way (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky

Batman: Earth One vol 2 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank

Hawkeye vol 6: Hawkeyes s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Ramon K. Perez

Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat vol 1: Hooked On A Feline s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Kate Leth & Brittney Williams, Natasha Allegri 

News! 

ITEM! Young poets! Are you aged 16 to 21? Send your poems in to Words For Walls and see them go up around Nottingham in October!

If you’re selected, you can then splurge your £50 prize on absinthe. 

Frankenstein by Bernie Wrightson 5

ITEM! Okay, well in lieu of anything else, Page 45 broke its June website sales record on Saturday 11th June… with 19 days to go! So thank you for that. You do blow my brains out, you lot.

You’re ridiculously kind.

But aren’t our books beautiful? Behold, above! They really are.

– Stephen

P.S. Illustration above by Bernie Wrightson. I do believe I’ve found a few more copies of his jaw-droppingly detailed FRANKENSTEIN so we’ll add that back to the system once they come in.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2016 week two

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

Adam Sarlech Trilogy h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Frédéric Bézian.

One peak inside this substantial, album-sized oeuvre should be enough to convince anyone that Frédéric Bézian is the Francis Bacon of the comic world. What Bacon achieved with swollen, swirling paint, Bézian commits to paper with line and ink.

Both produced distorted grotesques whose faces protrude and implode in places, no more so here than the servant’s with an eye patch which looks as if it’s being sucked into its socket.

In the opening ‘Adam Sarlech’ these marionettes, with utterly mad hair, whirl wildly and gesticulate as if undergoing constant electrotherapy. On methedrine.

They act as if in burlesques, and I’m only half-tempted to qualify that “without the comedy” even though things grow very dark indeed.

The story storms on at a lightning pace, slicing between scenes in the new priest’s church, its graveyard, the moors where a lone orphan called Alba wanders, and the Malherbe family’s château where Doctor Emile Spitzner is their physician in residence, treating widowed matriarch Agathe’s brother, Charles.

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The invalid’s medication has proved ineffectual for Charles has been paralysed for fifteen years, his only actions being the brief cessation of his constant drooling for precisely ninety seconds upon awakening. No one knows if it is a disease or a curse. They do believe in both, especially Agathe’s twin children Ralph and Raphaëlle who have an unhealthy interest in spiritualism – communicating with or even reviving dead spirits. Their younger sister Judith, meanwhile, is as mute as her uncle and a raving nymphomaniac, offering herself even to Raphaëlle’s mannequins. Oh yes, and their servants are zombies who haven’t aged for twenty-five years.

We’ll leave Agathe’s dead husband Raoul alone for now. That’s how he’d want it, anyway. But everything I’ve mentioned is pertinent – including the mannequins – and the astonishing truth behind their past and their present will be revealed in a plot which proves as ridiculously elaborate and intricate as it is extensive.

For who is the titular Adam Sarlech, an infamous spiritualist whose only presence here appears to be through increasingly illegible snatches from his journal which whisper about forbidden love, family ostracism and sexual assignations with ectoplasm? Ah, well, he did once join the family Malherbe for dinner.

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That is the first book in this interconnected trilogy which ends in such a way as to leave everyone left standing completely frazzled. I write “interconnected” but each time a new story started I could not conceive how it would fit into the first one at all. Trust me on this: the connections are far from tangential.

‘The Bridal Chamber’, for example, makes every deliberate effort to persuade you that you’re reading some riff on Bram Stoker’s Dracula: man summoned by stage coach to castle at night, warned by its driver yet greeted genially by a Count who claims to live alone and shuns mirrors. Some succubus appears in his room at night and letters are received from home from children missing their father. The Count continues all calm and courteous as his new employee is driven to distraction.

So what is actually happening here, if not a neo-Nosferatu experience?

Haha! Not telling you! It’s nothing like what you’ve been led to believe, but I will give you this for free: don’t feel you have to read all the satanic ritual dialogue backwards (as I did), for its ‘translation’ is provided during the chapter break. And if you think I’ve given anything away by “satanic ritual” it will only lead your further up that stately home’s substantial, poplar-lined garden path.

The final instalment is called the ‘The Snow-Covered Testament’ in which three former students, now successful professionals, are also summoned, this time by their former lecturer who has become an old, bed-ridden man. That professor is another facial tour de force, the crinkled, wrinkled skin round his eyes resembling that of a chameleon’s.

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Time has elapsed since both previous tales, but you will recognise one of those professionals immediately and then two of the three locations they are dispatched to in search of Emma. Their lecturer claims he is dying and wishes to see “the only woman I ever loved” who left him thirty years ago… around the same time that the four of them were working together on the students’ thesis, ‘Concepts and Definitions of Time in the History of Western Civilisations’ before they too abandoned the lecturer.

He smiles from his voluminous, fluffed-up pillow but there is a bitter bite to his words and as the three stooges embark on their journey they begin to suspect revenge is being wrought. But on whom? By what means? It is all a great deal more diabolical than they could possibly fathom.

The final story is decidedly autumnal, the others more wintry, but in each the scenery is drawn with as much relish as its occupants. The trees rising high above equally jagged bushes along the low, horizontal landscapes are a frenzy of line and colour in orange, ochre and even electric blue. Vast, open skies come slashed in skin-pinks and purples, speaking of gales which have buffeted the birches on higher, more exposed plains over decades.

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It is all quite, quite mad, as are almost all of the players. Some of them have been mad for many more moons than you might initially suspect.

This is in English, by the way. Regardless of which language you see spoken in our interior art, we would make a point of mentioning if any graphic novel was foreign-language!

SLH

Buy Adam Sarlech Trilogy and read the Page 45 review here

Peplum (£15-99, New York Review Comics) by Blutch…

“Well comrades, is she not worthy of Helen, or Venus herself?”
“A goddess among goddesses!”
“Imprisoned in the ice!”
“Ours!”

Hmm… the moment I read that particular panel I had my suspicions there was going to be a fair degree of tragedy, to complement and counterbalance the saucy sexual antics, brutal violence and ribald comedic elements. Laying claim to ownership of gods and goddesses rarely ends well for those concerned. In the case of Publius Cimber, exiled Roman knight, it’s going to be a long, tortuous punishment for coveting the affections of his icy maiden indeed.

Well, it would be if it weren’t for the fact that one of his colleagues had murdered him and assumed his identity. Hmm… pretty sure stealing the identity of a well known knight, brother of a Roman senator, exiled by Julius Caesar himself, is merely compounding one’s already idiotic behaviour, but at least we will have chance to enjoy his travails whilst he is forced to endure them. This opening chapter of rapturous discovery in a wintry corner of the far reaches of the Roman Empire of 44 B.C. gives little away regarding the carnage, chaos and sexcapsades to follow.

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Publius Cimber, by the way, is the brother of Lucius Tillius Cimber, or Metellus, to use the name Shakespeare gave him in his play Julius Caesar. Those of you who know your Classics, or indeed perhaps your Shakespeare, will know that Metellus was one of the conspiring senators involved in the assassination of Caesar. Indeed, his theatrical plea for a fraternal pardon was the successful diversionary tactic employed to get all the conspirators close enough to enact their dastardly regicide. Or liberating decapitation-strike, depending on your point of view. That event, forever framing the 15th of March in infamy, forms this work’s second introductory chapter, before we really get into the meat and drink and various other hedonistic pursuits proper.

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I have seen this work described as a sort of sequel to the Latin work the Satyricon Liber which translates as The Book of Satyrlike Adventures, again giving you a pretty good idea of what to expect. There are those experts who claim the Satyricon as the first true novel, which it may or may not have been, but it certainly provides intriguing, salacious insight into how the chattering classes of Rome lived at the time. With libations and salutations primarily, I think. I’m not entirely sure I agree with the term sequel, though. This work seems to me to serve as more of an homage, appropriating liberally certain plot strands of the Satyricon, but also adding in additional themes and expanding the storyline – encasing it, really – in a very sophisticated comic tragedy. I think a certain young bard from Stratford-upon-Avon would wholeheartedly approve of the treatment, actually.

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The black and white art is the closest thing I have seen to woodcut style recently. The thick black ink penmanship minded me a tiny bit of both Robert Crumb (which I believe is a comparison that has been made by the French press before) and Dylan Horrocks (though a fair degree of that is the lettering, I think). I can think of a number of other random minor points of comparison that surprised me reading through from Joe Daly to Shiguru Mizuki to Craig Thompson, make of that what you will. It is a very bold, stark style, which despite that is immensely engaging.

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Who would like this? Well, anyone who loves a great, sexy, action-packed story punctuated with bawdy laughs, basically. And people who love classics. So really, pretty much anyone. Ah, except people who like a happy ending, I suppose. Unless you count well deserved comeuppances…

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JR

Buy Peplum and read the Page 45 review here

There’s No Time Like The Present (£18-99, Escape Books) by Paul B. Rainey…

“Look at this. ‘Now you too can look like your favourite member of The A Team, B.A. Baracus, with these authentic looking neck chains.’ My favourite member of the The A Team was Mad Murdock.”
“What is that you’re reading? Are you reading G.Q.?”
“It’s a monthly magazine listing all the comics and sci-fi product to be available to specialist shops in two months time.”
“It’s just that I’ve never seen such a thick magazine before. You’ve got to be holding a branch right there.”
“Don’t be fooled. It’s printed on very cheap paper. It’s got to be at least eighty percent air. There’s no B.A. wig. What’s the point of having all the chains if you haven’t got the B.A. wig?”
“I like it when you talk about The A Team.”
“You do?”
“Oh yeah. It means that you’re not rattling on about Dr. Who. Where is your magazine, anyway? Did you leave it in the bus shelter?”
“No… Look. I’ve always tucked my magazines into my sock if I don’t have a bag, ever since I was a boy. It prevents my fingers from making them all grubby and the wind from blowing them out of good condition. Plus it leaves my hands free. Good thinking don’t you think?”
“Leaves your hands free for what?”
“Well, you know… free to deal with any sneak attacks.”

Haha, that really is a Diamond PREVIEWS magazine he has got stuffed down his sock! I can’t imagine his sock will ever be the same after that behemoth has been tucked down it, mind you. I don’t know about sneak attacks, but it certainly does prove useful in getting Cliff out of a tight spot on the bus, when caught in a quandary over whether or not to belatedly offer his seat to one of the gaggle of angry old ladies staring at him accusingly. It’s not that he isn’t willing to, he’s more than happy to, it’s just he hadn’t spotted them gathering and now he can’t decide which one he should proffer it to without causing offence to all the others. How does PREVIEWS help in this tricky social faux pas of a situation, I hear you wonder? Well, rather craftily he pretends it’s a false leg, necessitating he remains seated!

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Paul B. Rainey will always hold a place in my comics heart for his MEMORY MAN, something now lost to the midst of time – much like my own memory – that our Mark showed to me back in the veritable day. In more recent times he’s compiled THE BOOK OF LISTS which did tickle me rather and he has been contributing to Viz with the chortle worthy 14 YEAR OLD STAND UP COMEDIAN (of which you can read a few strips on Paul’s blog HERE). He had obviously also been working on this 350-page wedge of gently whacky very British sci-fi comedy, which I am delighted to report had me chuckling throughout.

The main characters Cliff and Barry are collector nerds of the worst possible kind. Men-children stuck in an obsessive-compulsive world of the acquisition of science fiction merchandise and paraphernalia. Plus the odd comic, to be fair to them. Unlike their adolescent crackpot American cousins in Evan Dorkin’s savagely funny THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB, the rather more sedate Cliff and Barry are already well into the age where they ought to be settling down, buying a house and starting a family. But as Barry rather sagely observes during one of their many amusing self-deprecating conversations (for they know exactly just how socially maladjusted they are) there is precisely zero chance either of them actually managing to meet anyone remotely romantically inclined towards them, let along spawn any offspring.

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Cliff, though, despite, (or maybe because of!) being a Doctor Who-a-holic is a secret romantic at heart, holding a flickering, stuttering torch for his landlord, the dairy product-addicted and highly neurotic Kelly. Barry, well, Barry’s got his own methods of dealing with his desires. Suffice to say, there just so happens to be a massage parlour opposite their local purveyor of sci-fi tat, Ye Old Sci-Fi Shop…

So far, so funny. Where does the sci-fi come into it then? Plastic crap aside. Well, in this world, the future has made contact. Yes, people have time travelled back from generations hence, opening up whole new vistas of knowledge. In fact, there is a whole new branch of the world wide web, known as the Ultranet, where if you’re not careful and start doing searches on yourself, you might well find out the date of your death. Or just how long you’re going to be stuck in that dead-end boring job you hate. Unsurprisingly, though, most people use it for illegal downloading of film and television programmes yet to be broadcast! Here’s Barry trying to tempt the previously temporally pious Cliff to the dark side…

“Why don’t you borrow this episode of Dr. Who? It’s only from next week so, legally, it’s already been made and you’re not cheating the ‘natural order’ of things.”
“Well, if that’s okay…”
“And look, it has the holographic sleeve with it as well, printed by me. Good, eh?”
“It is very alluring.”

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Barry’s hooky material is provided by the third of our triumvirate of social maladroits who goes by the unlikely name of Inspector Jive, or just the Inspector for short. Struggling with agoraphobia, he’s been lured out of the house by Barry to impersonate someone from the future for a crackpot scheme to make Cliff’s landlady fall in love with him. Unsurprisingly it doesn’t quite work out as they’d hoped. Well, not right now, anyway. For as the full version of the proverb goes, at least according to the great 16th Century compiler of proverbs John Trusler (who I’m sure was also quite the barrel of laughs at a party)… “No time like the present, a thousand unforeseen circumstances may interrupt you at a future time.”

And indeed they will for I have barely scraped the surface of the crazy, timey-wimey plots going on here. There’s the mildly sinister mono-horned Admiral Ogmyre from several thousand years in the future (who I am convinced may well be a little nod to H.R. Costigan from LOVE AND ROCKETS) and who also has designs on Kelly. Plus this is a story also told in two (well several, actually, but mainly two) time periods. In addition to seeing Barry, Cliff and the Inspector in their pomp, we also see them as pensioners set against the backdrop of all the world’s governments deciding that the present era of humanity must retain freewill, thus all connections with the Ultranet will be shortly severed and time travel to and from the future must cease completely, to save humanity from itself.

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For people like Barry, the imminent ‘retrograding’ represents a complete disaster, though the three chums set up a club in their community centre to rewatch and discuss historical TV classics like Babylon 5 to help assuage the loss of illicit viewing pleasures. For others, like their care worker Lara, a tourist from the future, pregnant and unable to book herself passage back to her rightful point in time amidst the mad scramble before the retrograding is complete, it’s potentially far more serious than that.

Will it all work out for everyone in the end? Well, wrapping up all the loose ends in time travel yarns is notoriously tricky, but Paul’s mad methodology had me guessing and gasping right up to the end. It all goes a bit gloriously Scooby Doo in a manner somewhat akin to the Tom Cruise film Vanilla Sky, which are two things I never thought I’d squeeze into the same sentence, but it’s very cleverly done. So after restraining himself admirably on the sci-fi front for the first four-fifths of the book, which is really far more a comedy of manners with a dash of Carry On than anything else, Paul lets himself run riot portraying a future – futures, sorry – which makes even the most insane episode of Doctor Who look rather pedestrian.

If I had to sum this up in a single sentence I would have to say it’s like Gilbert Hernandez crossed with VIZ. In other words, utterly brilliant.

JR

Buy There’s No Time Like The Present and read the Page 45 review here

Hole In The Heart: Bringing Up Beth (£16-99, Myriad) by Henny Beaumont…

“Hi Henny, you’ve had your baby! What did you have?”

“Fuck, I’m going to have to tell her.”

“Oooh, look at those lovely little feet. So sweet. What did you have?”
“I had a little girl.”
“Oh, how lovely, three girls!”
“She’s got Downs.”
“That’s so weird! A friend of mine just had a Down’s baby.”
“Wow! Really?”
“Yes, she had an abortion.”

“Shit, why did I tell her that?”

“Why did she have to tell me that?”

I just knew this was going to add to the canon of comics that have made me cry. On the tram as bloody always… It’s a fairly eclectic list, in order of increasing incredulousness: BILLY, ME & YOU, DAYTRIPPER, PLUTO VOL 1, CHOPPER: SURF’S UP and err… the DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH one-shot, but I was pretty sure this one was going to play rhapsodically on the heartstrings like a professional harpist. And so it proved…

It’s from the same publisher, Myriad, as Nicola Streeten’s BILLY, ME & YOU and that is clearly the one from my waterworks list which this has the most in common with. There is an important distinction as Nicola’s work dealt with the devastating, unexpected death of a child, though this work, detailing Henny and her husband Steve’s initial shock, and subsequent reactions, to discovering their new born child has Down’s Syndrome, is just as traumatic a story in its own way.

Though as with Nicola’s work, some of the most painful sequences are where Henny is talking with other adults, who don’t know what to say, or saying the wrong thing, and we are privy to Henny’s thoughts about precisely what she would love to say, shout, even scream, but doesn’t.

But, at the risk of spoilers, what really got me all choked up are the sequences showing precisely how the family overcame their collective difficulties, and just how lovely and loved Beth is. Not just by Henny and Steve, but also her two older sisters, and indeed her younger brother. And there is a sequence where Henny and her husband debate the wisdom, bravery required, and perhaps possible insanity of having another child after what they have just been through. Bravo to them.

 

Whilst it probably won’t surprise you to read about the prejudice and difficulties, particularly in the educational and social spheres, that the family endured, it is still upsetting to see how much people have to fight simply for basic compassion and pastoral care for their child, who just basically needs that little bit more support and understanding from her peers and teachers.

Beth’s just started secondary school as this work concludes, and by the time Henny has taken you along on their emotional rollercoaster from her birth to the present day, you’ll very probably be a blubbering wreck too.

Art-wise, I will make nearly exactly the same observation as I did with BILLY, ME & YOU. In that Henny, who is an accomplished artist and portrait painter, has employed a relatively simplistic art style, which perfectly lets the overpowering emotional content speak directly to us for itself. When dealing with such a serious topic, just as Rosalind Penfold did with DRAGONSLIPPERS, I do think utilising a less ‘serious’ art style really can help get the message across without distraction. As ever, I commend the resolute bravery of people who choose to share their very intimate and personal stories with everyone like this, for the benefit of us all.

JR

Buy Hole In The Heart: Bringing Up Beth and read the Page 45 review here

Hippopotamister (£13-50, FirstSecond) by John Patrick Green.

The joy of learning job skills and finding your personal calling!

Packed with wit and delivered with relish, this is a delightful Young Readers surprise told in three acts during which every aspect of the initial decay is, most unexpectedly, dealt with. I love a good structure and this is ever so neat – unlike these entropic enclosures.

“The old City Zoo was falling apart.
“No one was buying tickets.
“No one was managing the office.
“The habitats needed repair.
“The monkeys had no energy.
“The lion’s mane wasn’t very regal.
“The walrus’s smile wasn’t very bright.
“And in the centre of it all lived Red Panda and Hippopotamus.”

To be honest, the whole thing needs relocating and a thorough Gerald Durrell make-over. But it’s an old City Zoo and I think we can leave matters of a breeding programme to one side with 3 to 5 year olds.

Red Panda is thoroughly bored of it all and leaves to live amongst humans, returning each season to impress Hippopotamus with a dazzling array of jobs he claims are “awesome”. Indeed they may be, but either Red Panda has the attention span of a bluebottle on Benzedrine or… well, we’ll see shortly, won’t we?

Finally his friend becomes fed up too, and asks Red Panda if he could find him a job too. Ever enthusiastic, Red Panda immediately agrees, for to live amongst humans you must learn to stand on your own two feet. And they do, quite literally, hence Hippopotamister!

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Together they try their hands at construction, banking, hairdressing… and it swiftly becomes clear that although Hippopotamister has an aptitude for almost everything, well, here’s what happens when they attempt to cook up something suitable in the kitchen.

Hippopasta Primavera:

Pasta al dente tossed with garlic and olive oil.
Steamed broccoli, crisp bell peppers, and grape tomatoes.
Sprinkling of parmesan over sautéed onions.

Antipasto A La Red Panda:

Critters, insects and assorted bugs.
Twigs, pebbles and burnt rocks.
Lint and mismatched buttons.
Red vine liquorice, mushrooms and car keys.

Car keys! I love that the rocks are burnt!

No matter, what Red Panda lacks in finesse, he more than makes up for with inexhaustible optimism. “This is going to be the best job ever!” he declares each and every time. You too will probably wince when they enter the dental practice. Particularly funny was the accelerated four-page montage during which Red Panda manages to make such a spectacular – and I mean catastrophic – mess of absolutely everything that he turns failure into an extreme sport. I loved their fling at being firemen!

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However, if there’s one thing Red Panda excels at, it’s energy and enthusiasm and he doesn’t know how to give up. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

It’s at this point I leave you for fear of having to type “Hippopotamister” again, but it will all fit together – a lot better than Red Panda’s plumbing, anyway.

SLH

Buy Hippopotamister and read the Page 45 review here

Art Ops vol 1: How To Start A Riot (£10-99, Vertigo) by Shaun Simon & Michael Allred, Matt Brundage.

Let’s play a game of “Can you tell what is yet?”

It’s a heist, but a very specific heist and it’s happening in The Louvre. I’m sure you’ll spot the clues.

“Ms. Del Giocondo, my name is Regina Jones and along with my associates here, we are the Art Ops. I know this may a shock to you, but -”
“Please. You think this is my first time out of frame?”
“Someone’s stealing and destroying famous works of art. You need to come with us. You’ll be safe. I’ve got more experience than you’ve had forgeries.”
“And that homely looking thing is the best you could do as my stand-in? She’ll never pass.”
“Ugly isn’t easy.”
“I heard that.”

Ms Del Giocondo is Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The Art Ops have just extracted her live and bickering from that famous – nay, iconic but teeny-tiny – painting and placed a carefully made-up model in her place.

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Someone is indeed stealing and destroying famous works of art. Someone is about to steal the entire Art Ops organisation including Regina herself, winking it out of reality. Fortunately Regina has a son called Reggie. Unfortunately Reggie considers her a worthless mother.

Oh, and then there was that accident when graffiti came to life and ripped off Reggie’s arm but it’s been ‘surgically’ replaced with animated tubes of vibrantly coloured paint. Time to make a splash!

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Bonkers is a word almost synonymous with MADMAN’s Michael Allred and Shaun Simon provided him with a virtually perfect platform to begin with. My enthusiasm extended into the second chapter’s opening pages set in 1987 during which Gina discovered that CBGB’s basement bathroom (UK translation: toilet) was a forgery and the original – complete with its famously embellished walls, floors and porcelain throne – was potentially sentient and teleporting all over the place.

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Moreover, whatever she was wearing and however her hair was cut, our Mona Lisa now roaming the real world was instantly recognisable on account of Allred’s remarkable reduction of her facial complexities to six or seven lines representing her cheeky, knowing eyes and enigmatic smirk to improbable perfection.

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Alas, however fast, furiously and intriguingly the comicbook ball was initially pitched, it was miss-hit then fumbled in the field, with few follow-throughs. I suspect I’ve mixed or even mangled that metaphor through lack of sports knowledge, but if you want something which absolutely nails the art scene come alive in philosophical, science-fiction combat, I highly recommend Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s fiercely intelligent, mischievous and wit-ridden DOOM PATROL: BOOK 1 whose new, bigger incarnation includes the Brotherhood of Dada in ‘The Painting That Ate Paris.’ Its kick-off is blindsiding, its toe-to-toe tactics so dazzlingly deft, then it scoops up its multiple balls in play and rams each and every one of them right into the back of the net.

[You’re benched – ed.]

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Doom Patrol: The Painting That Ate Paris. Art by Richard Case.

SLH

Buy Art Ops vol 1: How To Start A Riot and read the Page 45 review here

Apocrypha Now (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Mark Russell & Shannon Wheeler.

In which God proves to be a wily old fella, constantly getting one over on a Satan who really should have seen it coming, but falls for it every time.

““Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Satan said.”

By “it” I mean the Deceitful (and Increasingly Exasperated) One is tricked by old Beardy Face in bets whose goal posts God moves in mysterious ways. He cheats, basically.

From the mirth-making miscreants responsible for GOD IS DISAPPOINTED IN YOU come the bits too bonkers even for the Bible, retold in a more modern context and vernacular for maximum incongruity. Both are prose accompanied by cartoons, and both are quite brilliant but I don’t have time for an extensive review today so please see GOD IS DISAPPOINTED IN YOU instead.

The title sold itself, and I gave five copies as Christmas presents the year it came out, one to an ex-Jehovah’s Witness.

Here you can relish the spectacular sexism of Solomon, the Creation of Earth (and the drastic reduction of the Moon in a fit of contrary petulance), the Creation of Man (controversial decision) and the frustration of King Nebuchadnezzar when furnace-flung Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego set their audience on fire with bitchin’ rhymes and snazzy dance moves.

“”Oh, come on,” the king said indignantly. “When did they have time to work on choreography?”

Their performance proves smokin’ but they’re not even singed.

““Poor some lighter fluid on them,” the king said. “See if that helps.””

SLH

Buy Apocrypha Now and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Guardians of the Louvre (£17-99, Ponent Mon Ltd) by Jiro Taniguchi

Indeh A Story of the Apache Wars h/c (£18-99, Grand Central Publishing) by Ethan Hawke & Greg Ruth

Love vol 3: The Lion h/c (£13-50, Magnetic Press) by Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci

Geis : A Matter of Life and Death (£15-99, Nobrow) by Alexis Deacon

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Omnibus Edition Book 4 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Eiji Otsuka & Housui Yamazaki

Nova vol 1: Burn Out s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Sean Ryan & Cory Smith

Deadpool vol 1: End Of An Error s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Scott Koblish, Brian Posehn

No Mercy vol 2 (£10-99, Image) by Alex De Campi & Carla Speed McNeil, Jenn Manley Lee

Black Butler vol 22 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Yana Toboso

News!

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ITEM! Every single copy of Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH (signed, limited edition, natch!) which had been ordered by Friday was dispatched worldwide by our Dee and Jodie on Friday then this Saturday latest. Many were bought by such exceedingly high-profile comicbook creators that I almost squealed.

That turnaround thanks to Dee and Jodie is a phenomenal achievement given that all those books were in Kendal last Bank Holiday Monday, driven over to my place by The Lakes International Comic Art Festival’s Aileen and Roger, then couriered to work by myself on Thursday night. All in pristine condition.

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I’m giving myself a slight pat on the back because have you ever tried finding Page 45’s Market Street by car? Nottingham’s city-centre, post-tram one-way streets are a hilarious, positively intestinal maze of counter-intuitive, serpentine and circuitous routes and it is only through travelling with Jonathan after LICAF to return our few unsold graphic novels that I learned their Arcane Secrets!

But as well as Dee and Jodie’s assiduous organisation and meticulous packaging, the real credit has to go to Aileen and Roger because driving those books from Kendal to Nottingham took every single uncertainty – when would they arrive and in what condition? – out of the equation.

A round of applause to everyone, I think!

We do have a few copies left and they are finally on our shop floor as well for you to peruse at your pleasure, but I’d like to emphasise that they didn’t make it there until all mail orders had been catered for first.

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ITEM! Comicbook creator Geniève Castrée could sure use your help. A little kindness after being diagnosed with cancer.

To give you some sort of context we regard her SUSCEPTIBLE very highly indeed.

ITEM! Video footage of Neil Gaiman being exceedingly funny at the Union Chapel in London.

I probably don’t have to tell you who Neil Gaiman is. Although it does delight me to introduce his work to new readers on our shop floor. Maybe start with SANDMAN, but do pop the poor poppet into our search engine is well for he owns his own throne at Page 45, taking up an entire shelf above our Vertigo wall.

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ITEM! Speaking of Neil Gaiman, here’s Shaun Tan’s new book called THE SINGING STONES due in September. Please click on “more commentary” to read more commentary.

What is the connection to Neil? Well, check out these two covers with contradictory claims. Hilarious!

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PS I have no idea.

We adore Shaun Tan (THE ARRIVAL and THE RABBITS etc), so please pop him in our search engine too! It’s probably quite crowded within there, so at some point or another you might want to let one cat out of the bag at least.

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2016 week one

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

News, as ever, below including Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG shipping info!

Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash (Signed Limited Edition) (£30-00 or £45-00, LICAF/Hourglass) by Dave McKean.

“Art is an empathy machine. Art allows one to look through a fellow human’s eyes.”

Art – when derived from studious and subtle observation – can not only allow one to look through another individual’s eyes but to communicate what you see there, to pass on those perspectives.

In that endeavour as in so many more, BLACK DOG is a clever, profound and eloquent beast.

With sympathetic skill Dave McKean has succeeded not only in communicating to a new audience and a new generation Paul Nash’s vision and visions but, in doing so, furthered Nash’s goal to “bring back words and bitter truths” to remind us of the horrors and insanities of war which show no sign of stopping, and to counter those who would perpetuate them.

“I hope my ochres and umbers and oxides will burn their bitter souls.”

Good luck with that one, the pair of you. But they can instil in the rest of us, prone to forgetfulness, a renewed revulsion in order to speak out against these repugnant warmongers and their godawful obliteration of lives, of individuals, they leave in their wake.

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That was the vocation discovered by Paul Nash, and the whole raison d’être of the commission by 14-18 NOW, the Lakes International Comic Art Festival and On a Marché sur la Bulle: to blast back into our consciousness the very real, specific horrors of World War I during its centenary years.

McKean has delivered on every front, but he has done so in ways that are far from obvious. For a start, it is not just through the queasy deployment of “ochres and umbers and oxides”, much in evidence during the gruelling sequence setting sail from Southampton Docks along with its sea-slick of blood…

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… but in contrasting them with the most spectacular colour: with that which is other and bright and beautiful; with that which is natural and which should be instead.

One of the most vivid chapters is Nash’s dream, whilst convalescing, of a viciously sharp, scarlet-thorned briar which impedes his progress towards the shimmering blue light of a kingfisher, thence its elusive clutch of tiny, fragile, life-giving eggs.

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“How can this delicate perfection exist in the same world as a 14-ton howitzer firing 1,000 kg shells that propel hot metal shrapnel into soft human tissue, into minds protected by perfectly proportioned, frangible shells?”

Three shells, then: the brain’s, the bird’s and the bombs’. It is in gently compelling us to compare this absurd contrast in our own minds that the truth seeps out: the first’s content is creative, the second’s procreative, while the third’s sole goal is destruction and death.

It is the power of the mind – as well as its vulnerability, to be sure – which is evoked as much as anything during this intense graphic novel. Nash sees colour in the unexpected green shoots amidst trenches when few could see through their desolate, limb-numbing, mind-flattening, seemingly never-ending nightmare to any form of future at all. I wouldn’t be able to without McKeans’ help here.

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But once again, it proves part of what Nash wanted for the future: a tsunami, a revolution of thought “breaking over our ossified society, tabula rasa, wiping the cant and lies from English life.” Sure enough, following the juxtaposition of life-giving green and bleak brown trenches bursting with a spray of white butterflies, there rises an almighty tidal wave that is thunderous.

There will be more time spent in the trenches – with Nash’s brother, just once, when they discuss the distraction and abstraction of the artistic process which may go some way to explain Nash’s later, problematic detachment – but this narrative stretches far further thematically, both backwards and forwards, to what else might have made this man, including the “sadistic discipline” of a school “which was ideal training for an infantryman’s life in the trenches.” He continues:

“It taught me nothing worth speaking of, it answered none of my questions, it required only a kind of desperate obedience, and a stoic acceptance of the constant threat of sudden and terrible violence.”

The grotesque, gap-toothed giant of a martinet towers over young Nash, barking out garbled, mathematical commands as nonsensical as those which would follow, and as impossible to answer with any sane response.

The person who does teach him something worth learning is his grandfather who is by contrast “a man of infinite calm and discretion”, nurturing Nash’s love of art. It’s a scene played out against a chessboard, another battle arena around which Nash and his perpetually distant father keep their distance from each other like any pawn and opposing king lest their contact prove fatal.

“The kings checks his position
“As the pawn moves towards promotion
“Hoping not to be seen
“And neither of them comment on the absence of the queen.”

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The first page consists of four square panels; the second of nine; the third expands into that fully fledged chessboard of similarly black and white squares. Across this are drawn multiple, fractured images of Nash’s distressed mother, oscillating between the darkness and light, representing her turbulent, chequered present. Something extraordinary occurs.

“The dog didn’t return to my dreams
“For a very long time.”

Up until this point we’ve said nothing of the titular black dog, as I think is right. But its shadow has haunted him from the beginning and it will hound the painter almost until the end in a very telling sequence. At times it is ferocious, at others a bounding spirit he pursues. But its presence is pervasive and it goes by another name which is just as revealing.

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You need know nothing of Nash before embarking upon this, but his paintings are referenced throughout both in the language and images (‘We Are Making a New World’,’’The Shore (at Dymchurch)’, and I see ‘Wood on the Dawn’ in the boy’s early trees). Often I find engaging in a work like this without prior knowledge a boon. It will surely prompt a wave of its audience to embark on research afterwards and subsequent readings will then spark satisfying flashes of recognition.

Visually the storytelling displays a complete command of dream logic and that “hypnagogic” or indeed hypnopompic state wherein you’re not quite sure what is real and what is imagined. It is in constant flux, morphing from one medium to the next, from light to dark, with subtle sheens, bleeds or explosions of colour. “The fog of war” which drifts over St. Martin-in-the-Fields church to overshadow Nash’s wedding day is terrible to behold, casting a pall over the proceedings: “A confetti of embers and ash approaching the church ahead of the leviathan.” And wait until you see that coelacanth monstrosity.

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But it’s this lyrical deftness I came away admiring the most. McKean manages to find exactly the right word, time after time again, to pair one thought with another, to throw a startling new light on our expectations or twist the natural order of things, as when Nash is advised to “fight to live another day”.

For it’s not just the battles with bayonets and barbed wire and bombs that one fights on the field, but also hunger and disease and madness and memory, both then and thereafter. Nash sought to evoke this in his art and so McKean too seeks to peel back the layers, to get beneath the skin and comprehend the complexities which lie beneath. To examine not just a life but what is ‘lived’ – which is something altogether different.

SLH

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This graphic novel will be released in two editions – this limited edition in May 2016 then a full publication launched in October 2016 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival (14-16 October 2016).

This is that limited edition of 300 copies, now available worldwide exclusively from  Page 45.

For more Dave McKean graphic novels (MR PUNCH etc) please pop him in our search engine.

Page 45 is a proud Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival.

Page 45 joins LICAF every year, exclusively, with hand-picked creators signing and sketching for free, and the most glorious graphic novels for sale in our Georgian Room within Kendal’s Clock Tower. Entry is free.

Buy Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash (Signed Limited Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Watching (£13-99, Soaring Penguin) by Winston Rowntree.

“On weekends
“We walk out to where the past used to be
“And where its stories remain.”

As opening sentences ago, that one’s a belter.

It’s set aside footprints in the snow, and implies so much so succinctly.

There’s nothing more to be found on that page and that’s as it should be.

It encourages you to pause and to dwell, which is precisely what the narrator will be doing throughout this graphic novella. There will be a great many pauses and a good deal of dwelling.

“On weekends” implies that, wherever or whenever the Watcher comes from, what they will be doing is a pastime. It’s not a scientific endeavour, a studious obligation, but a matter of voluntary, pure fascination. It is the most popular pastime and, if one could look into the past and witness it happening all around you, then but of course it would be.

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The more narcissistic among us might pop back to gaze on ourselves, but we can’t interfere because this isn’t time travel per se. You’re not going anywhere or any when. A window is being opened instead on that which once was, in exactly the spot it occurred.

Do you wonder why someone is physically climbing up into a window on the second page, being pulled up by a friend, so that she or he can sit and wonder at giant, flying reptiles by the sea? It’s because landmasses have since shifted considerably during the intervening eons. What is now snow down below was once buried by just such a landmass which has since been eroded or shifted by massive tectonic movements. I imagine for other such recces you would have to dig deep instead.

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“We are all watching at one point or another
“And the reasons are many
“But they are really only one.
“We watch to understand.”

Understanding is a great deal more worthy than blasting seven shades of shit out of an alien online. I cite bathing my eyes in beauty as motivation for my videogame pursuits – but I’m far from averse to locking and loading, either.

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One can infer from this desire to understand that something has been lost from this future, however much more it has gained: some area of knowledge. The passage of time does that to any society.

“And I am watching the sick girl,”

… our narrator continues…

“And I do not understand.”

There are two refrains throughout the work with variations on their theme. Both work beautifully well.

Re-designed from its original if equally impressive website by Woodrow Phoenix (RUMBLE STRIP, NELSON, SUGAR BUZZ et al), this is quite the immaculate composition and I can only apologise for a couple of our wonky scans made necessary by the virtual absence of any usable interior art online. Please stop being so protective, publishers: it is an own goal.

Both the words and the images are so artfully arranged on the page with a crisp sparseness which is compelling. The pauses are, most of them, beat-perfect, and the vast expanses of silence are eerie but also this: indicative of the Watcher’s tenacity and patience and genuine desire to understand. The light will prove part of its timing.

A panel from Watching, by Winston Rowntree.

A panel from Watching, by Winston Rowntree.

Scenes will repeat themselves. You can always go back and look again. But this particular Watcher at least is mindful that she or he is looking in on a very real life and treats it with the due deference and respect it deserves, sitting outside the sick girl’s room without intruding, for it has many visitors.

It’s a ward in a hospital which is no longer there. It wasn’t on the ground floor which is why the scenes are suspended in space.

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When it was there its walls and its floors and its ceilings come dented or occasionally cracked but more strikingly with thin, broken lines just inside of their boundaries denoting a physical crumbliness with isn’t some clinical futuristic cleanliness, but a reflection in their imperfection of what we can currently do for deteriorations of the flesh as well.

What the Watcher doesn’t understand I will leave for you to discover, but it isn’t as obvious as you might think. I can promise that you too, however, will be doing a great deal of pondering afterwards, lest you do not understand.

SLH

Buy Watching and read the Page 45 review here

The Red Virgin And The Vision Of Utopia h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Mary M. Talbot & Bryan Talbot…

It seemed rather appropriate to me that this work is dedicated to Iain M. Banks who, as the dedication itself rightly states, was a ‘creator of socialist utopias’.

Bryan did very kindly offer to introduce me to Iain when I told him that Banks was one of my favourite ever authors. I gratefully declined because sometimes, I think, it’s better to know one’s heroes through their legacies, be that literary, cultural or social.

Which is in some ways what makes this such a fascinating work, because the titular Red Virgin, Louise Michel, is an unfamiliar figure, to most of us in the UK at least (excluding Jimmy Somerville presumably, who was obviously aware of the 19th century French political scene), but one whose legacy to the causes of equality and feminism, and indeed anarchism, is just as powerful and just as  important from a global perspective, as the rather more familiar to British readers Pankhursts whose contributions Mary and Bryan obliquely touched upon in their SALLY HEATHCOTE SUFFRAGETTE with co-collaborator Kate Charlesworth.

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This, then, could rightly be seen as a companion piece to that work, where they employed the device of looking at the suffrage movement through the eyes of a fictitious working class northerner, and Bryan has indeed employed the same art style to great effect once more.

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This time, we are engaged in a discussion between the American writer and feminist reformer (and speculative fiction aficionado!) Charlotte Perkins Gilman and our primary narrator Monique. Upon her arrival in Paris in January 1905 Miss Gilman is shocked to find that Louise Michel has passed away, and thus over dinner, the two, later joined by Monique’s mother, herself a former revolutionary comrade in the Montmarte region of the Commune of Paris, begin a posthumous dissection of Louise Michel’s life and works.

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I found it personally engaging, as I’m sure many will, to be so entertainingly educated about such an important figure that I knew practically nothing about. Works like this are extremely important in ensuring future generations don’t forget the vital contributions of those who have come before, at such great personal cost. In helping to pave at least a few further steps on the tortuous route towards that socialist utopia we will finally, hopefully, reach one day. Thus Bryan and Mary rightly deserve their due plaudits for undertaking such a herculean task of research and exemplary execution of another sterling piece of biography.

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JR

Buy The Red Virgin And The Vision Of Utopia h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Disquiet s/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Noah Van Sciver…

“Why’d you run away, Dad?”
“Huh?”
“From Mom and me. How could you do that? How could you be so selfish? We needed you.”
“Hold on a minute.”
“Not having you around really fucked me up. Mum had to work at an art store. We were poor. Where were you?”
“Is this what you found me for? To confront me?”
“I’m trying to understand you.”
“If I could go back in time there’s a lot of things I would do differently.”
“You wouldn’t have run out on us? You would’ve stayed with mom?”
“I wouldn’t have married your mom.”
“And where does that leave me? In the same spot?”
“You’re a grown man now, Nathan. I’m sorry for any problems you have, but part of being an adult is to stop blaming your parents for whatever shortcomings you have. That’s pretty basic.”

The Archduke of downbeat returns with a collection of 14 shorts that range from the darkly comedic to just plain dark.

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This selection of historical material showcases both Noah’s prodigious writing talent and evolving artistic capabilities, covering tales such as the black and white ‘Dive Into The Black River’ and also ‘Down In A Hole’ that have that bittersweet impending car crash feel, and look, of his longer form SAINT COLE.

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Then there are the more overtly humorous pieces such as the colour ‘Untitled’ that minded me of the brutally farcical FANTE BUKOWSKI. The second volume of FANTE I am delighted to report is well underway, and I did chuckle to see the not-so-great man of literature himself sat on a bench, note pad in hand, bottle at his feet, as a bonus extra between two stories. Plus Noah also revisits his love of the  yarn a couple of times (as in the sadly out of print THE HYPO: THE MELANCHOLIC YOUNG LINCOLN) with particular period linguistic vigour in ‘The Death Of Elijah Lovejoy’ about a Presbyterian newspaper editor who had dared to take a stand against the lynching of an escaped slave.

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I only see Noah on an upward trajectory, I have a feeling there’s much, much more to come from him. He seems such an unassuming chap as well, even down his recent assertion that he only has the 4th best moustache in comics! It’s a real bushy belter of an ‘80s Tom Selleck Magnum PI number which I suspect and sincerely hope has been grown for entirely comedic effect. I am also intrigued as to who he ranks as 1, 2 and 3! He seems like a real sweetie, he must be because he’s even managed to get his ex-girlfriend to write a very endearing and only mildly revealing foreword for him. Why am I not surprised he’s a Belle and Sebastian fan?

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JR

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

Highbone Theater h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Joe Daly…

“Before there is order there will be more chaos… and there ain’t a thing you can do about it.”

I knew without a shadow of a doubt it would be, but this is easily the weirdest thing I have read so far this year, and I absolutely bloody loved it.

Following on from the hilariously brilliant but currently between-printings DUNGEON QUEST series and the subtly mind-bending THE RED MONKEY DOUBLE HAPPINESS BOOK – which I read with increasing bemusement in the somehow mistaken preconception it was autobiographical before it became really apparent it just couldn’t possibly be – comes a weighty 572-page tome of complete bonkers.

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As the book opens we find ourselves watching the protagonist Palmer performing a reverse Reggie Perrin, striding out of the sea stark bollock naked – be warned, there are a lot of willies in this work – before twirling his beard and slapping a towel around it, then sparking up a big joint. There is also a lot of doobage going on here too.

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Parker is a muscle-bound slacker with a heart of gold who seems to be surrounded by odious, steroid-jacked ‘friends’ with physiques akin to THRUD THE BARBARIAN and insane, conspiracy theory-obsessed work colleagues at the paper mill where he labours away his days. All his spare time is spent caning weed, practising one of the strangest stringed instruments I’ve ever seen, enduring excruciating attempts to chat to the ladies and musing about the Universe whilst getting mildly paranoid about the mysterious hidden forces apparently controlling everything. He might well have some justified concerns on the last point, mind you.

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As Parker ploughs his own unique furrow with his mojo bag of roots to hand at all times to calm his ever-fluctuating emotional state, he’s going to be taken on a very strange journey of shamanic magic, subterranean realms, secret societies and psyops. Oh, and self-discovery. Above all, self-discovery. But let me tell you, before there is any semblance of order there is indeed going to be a whole lot of chaos going on…

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I think anyone who has enjoyed Charles Burns’ X’ED OUT, THE HIVE, SUGAR SKULL trilogy would get a real kick out of this. The main difference is whilst both are as utterly insane the focus here is far more on the humour rather than horror. But in terms of taking the reader on a surreal journey, they are both right out there.

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JR

Buy Highbone Theater h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Harrow County vol 2: Twice Told s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook.

The worst horror lies not in squelching shadows – though you will have plenty of that – but in being deceived and disbelieved.

It lies in someone who spreads lies and bile about you.

The very worst horror lies in someone who spreads hatred in your own name.

Imagine how much worse that would be if they looked like you and they talked like you and everyone believed that it was you – yes, you – who was slurring and slandering those whom you loved, and awakening in others a terrible antipathy you’d long held at bay.

Horror comes in many forms, but never is it so vile and terrifying then when it comes from within.

Bucolic horror set in the American South starring a seventeen-year-old girl called Emmy, raised alone on a farm by her father, Isaac.

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Many moons ago the good folk of Harrow hanged a Healing Woman called Hester from an old oak tree. Then, for good measure, they set fire to her gasoline-soaked corpse. Except it wasn’t a corpse and, as the flesh of her face bubbled away in the conflagration, she hissed out a promise:

“Not the end… never the end for me… I’ll be back…”

Can Emmy, with her strange gifts, persuade the locals that she is not Hester reincarnated or will they add fuel to the fire and perpetuate their crimes? And who is that rich young lady now come to town, so strikingly similar to Emmy that she could be her twin?

Sun-soaked or rain-drenched, the countryside is so rich in colour and texture and detail – you can feel the clammy mud as it is smeared on a petticoat – while the creatures which lurk in the depths of the forest are many, varied and terrifying.

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For more, please see HARROW COUNTY VOL 1 or I will send you additional homework.

SLH

Buy Harrow County vol 2: Twice Told s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War II #0 of 7 (£3-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Olivier Coipel.

Elegantly drawn by Olivier Coipel and deliciously coloured by Justin Ponsor, Bendis really needed to surprise on the script if he was going to shed doubts that this would follow the law of diminishing returns following the original CIVIL WAR and accusations of being a mere cash-in on film.

Mission accomplished.

I have no idea where this is going. Okay, I do have the general gist because we have to order these comics two months in advance and there’s usually some solicitation copy. More accurately, then, I have no idea where two strands have come from, and what impact they’re likely to have on what will ensue.

Bravely, until the final four pages, this is a refreshingly quiet prologue culminating in the mini-series’ catalyst. In that moment a young man and woman – whom he’s been fond of from afar – are transformed by a cloud of Terrigen Mist into something other than they were. Neither transmogrification works well for them and the boy finds himself seeing something he shouldn’t. Or should he?

I’m now quite delighted with myself that I’ve managed to deliver the crux of the series without giving the game away: half of Marvel’s superheroes will come to believe he shouldn’t have seen it; the other half will be bloody delighted that he’s answered their prayers. In what way precisely…? We do not do spoilers around here.

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Thread one: Jennifer Walters, a defence attorney (who is, by the by, preternaturally tall and a gamma shade of green), commands attention in her closing statement not by her appearance but by her eloquence. Her client, a former supervillain, has been slightly stitched up by the local constabulary (NYPD) through entrapment. Worse still, it’s not as if they found anything worth charging him with but, seeking to justify their man-hour expenditure, they threw the book at him anyway and took him to court. For speculating, idly – that’s all he did. He mused about the “good old days”, wondering what he might have done differently when he once wore a mask. Which he hasn’t – for yonks – and didn’t again. He did nothing wrong, this time at least. And yet he was convicted. Jennifer Walters failed and the individual in question is banged up to wrongs.

Later, high up in the sky aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, Maria Hill speculates that he would have done it again:

“They always do.”

So that’s the person in charge of the U.N. Peacekeeping Task Force, then. Which is nice. And if you think that’s got Jennifer’s goat, you wait until you discover what happened during the innocent’s intervening hours.

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I mention all this because I cannot see how this pertains to the coming storm in any way whatsoev – oh wait, now I do. Again, this is wonderfully underplayed by Coipel. There’s a look in Walter’s eyes which is almost an ellipsis. But it has nothing to do with the individual’s identity – only his conviction and Hill’s supposition.

Thread two: Colonel James Rhodes is summoned to the White House. Specifically, he is summoned to its Situation Room. There isn’t a situation. As War Machine (a sort of Iron Man knock-off / stand-in) Colonel James Rhodes has just diffused the most recent situation in Latveria. No, he’s been called to the Situation Room because it’s far more private than the Oval Office, for a one-on-one private consultation with the President who makes Colonel Rhodes a most unexpected offer… as well as a future trajectory Rhodes could never have seen coming.

Ooh, I’m doing rather well in my crypticism, aren’t I? This time I really do not have a clue as to how this might impact on what looks likely to follow. Except… do you know who James’ best friend is? Ah, you won’t need to. Bendis is ever so brilliant and all will be laid clear within.

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Thread three: Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel is back on deck, the deck belonging to The Triskelion, headquarters and home of the Ultimates. She receives a visitor, an old friend who wonders how she’s doing on zero-hours sleep. The thing is, you see, Carol has taken command of three separate superhero entities, co-ordinating them to avoid the disaster she sees as inevitable – the ‘situation’ which the metahumans will finally fail to react to in time.

So many of these so-called near-disasters are only narrowly averted every year in the Marvel Universe lest the company begins to publish one long picnic and Peter Parker porks-out something chronic. Even then, when I type “near-disasters” I mean complete catastrophes. During the recent SECRET WARS, for example, the Marvel Universe ceased to exist. Bit of a lose, really.

“The illusion of control. It’ll eat you alive.”

I know exactly where that one’s going.

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So in addition to its relative tranquillity and the space it has afforded Coipel to turn in a truly nuanced performance with slow, subtle reactions and the thoughts lingering behind the eyes of those in conversation, what I liked was this: relatively minor characters coming to the fore and providing their own current perspectives on their present circumstances and what they infer from them for the future.

Unfortunately as the legendary Leonard Cohen once growled:

“I’ve seen the future, brother: it is murder.”

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SLH

Buy Civil War II # 0 and read the Page 45 review here

Okay, this one has ALL the SPOILERS. ALL of them!

But Jonathan’s right: you can’t seriously have missed them online already.

If you have, just read the pull-quote, know that it’s heartily endorsed, then skip to the pre-ordering instructions for second print beneath the review. The first print at £2-25 is long-gone.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 2nd Ptg (£4-50, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver, Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez and Ivan Reis…

“There’s going to be a war between hope and despair.
“Love and apathy.
“Faith and disbelief.
“When I was outside of time I felt their presence.
“I tried to see who it was.
“I couldn’t, but I know they’re out there.
“And they’re waiting to attack again for some reason.
“I can feel it.
“Even now, Barry…
“… we’re being watched.”

If you’re the one remaining person on Earth-33 (New 52 Multiverse designation) who doesn’t know the twist at the end of this one-shot which, rather neatly to be honest, explains why the entire New 52 Multiverse was a… fabrication… I’m not sure I can actually review this without spoiling it for you so I’m not even going to try. The implication is that Dr. Manhattan, yes he of WATCHMEN fame, was unbeknownst to anyone, responsible for hijacking events during the resolution of FLASHPOINT, and ensuring that reality took a different turn resulting in the creation of the New 52 Multiverse.

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It’s a ballsy move by Geoff Johns, which is sure to antagonise as many people as it delights, but given he’s now moving on to take up the position of co-overlord of the DC Film division it’s up to everyone else to step into his sizeable scribe shoes and follow the blazing path he’s set with this revelatory one-shot. It think that’ll be tricky given this is easily his best bit of writing (possibly his best full stop) since his exemplary extended run on GREEN LANTERN which perhaps co-incidentally, or perhaps not, began with a mini-series entitled GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH

Interestingly that particular rebirth brought back someone the fans had long been clamouring for the return of but which seemed impossible for reasons I really don’t need to elaborate on, in the form of Hal Jordan. And here, Johns performs the same trick again, as the Scarlet, well ginger, speedster Wally West, last seen during Johns’ BLACKEST NIGHT before apparently ceasing to exist when the New 52 came into being post-FLASHPOINT (also penned by Johns), is trying to break back into the DCU. Where has he been for the last several years? Well, Johns’ makes good use of the Flash fact that unlike all the other myriad speedsters Wally couldn’t be separated from the Speed Force, so has merely been lost there for ten years due to the mysterious meddlings of who we now assume to be Doctor Manhattan.

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Wally therefore is the thread quite literally running through this entire issue as he tries desperately to find one of his friends, even one of his enemies, who might, despite their minds – indeed entire reality – being altered, somehow remember him and bring him back. His problem is that to all intents and purposes everyone he has ever known has absolutely no idea he even existed. As he zooms from locale to locale, allowing us readers glimpses of what is to come for all the major characters shortly getting their own rebirth, (see the APRIL DC PREVIEWS and MAY DC PREVIEWS solicitations for more details on what’s coming out each month) his connection to the real world becomes ever more tenuous as he faces the prospect of physical disincorporation and completely merging with the Speed Force to become nothing but fuel for other speedsters to tap into.

Even his beloved Linda, ten years younger than he remembers (as everyone is, again due to the mysterious meddling, conveniently explaining how all the heroes had their ages reset when the New 52 started) simply has no recollection of who he is. That only leaves Uncle Barry, the original Flash. Wally knows not even Barry will be able to rescue him, but he feels he needs to say his thanks to his inspiration and mentor then say goodbye before he disappears forever.

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Which is the point at which I had to reach for my hankie… or to paraphrase a certain well known DC tagline, you will believe a man can cry… Forget the hyperbole of the Watchmen connection, the real heart-wrenching gooey emotional centre of this yarn is Wally, plus the promise of what’s to come for the characters themselves. Even John Constantine, cheerfully calling Swamp Thing a turnip makes a cheeky cameo promising, we hope, a return to HELLBLAZER proper. I came into this Rebirth one-shot full of cynicism and a heavy heart, my DC reading over the last few years having tailed off to simply Scott Snyder’s BATMAN and nothing else, but you know what, I’m actually now rather inspired to give the new slate of titles a try!

JR

To pre-order DC Universe: Rebirth #1 2nd Printing please email page45@page45.com or use your phonicular device pressing 0115 9508045 or that speed-dial facility we are so clearly on.

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Art Ops vol 1: How To Start A Riot (£10-99, Vertigo) by Shaun Simon & Michael Allred, Matt Brundage

Birth Of Kitaro (£9-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Shigeru Mizuki

Hole In The Heart: Bringing Up Beth (£16-99, Myriad) by Henny Beaumont

Peplum (£15-99, New York Review Comics) by Blutch

Psychiatric Tales (US Edition) h/c (£13-50, Bloomsbury) by Darrryl Cunningham

Hippoptamister (£13-50, FirstSecond) by John Patrick Green

War Stories vol 4 (£14-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Tomas Aria

The Goon vol 15: Once Upon A Hard Time (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell

There’s No Time Like The Present (£18-99, Escape Books) by Paul B. Rainey

Buffy: The High School Years – Freaks & Geeks s/c (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Faith Erin Hicks & Yishan Li

Bunny vs. Monkey Book Three (£7-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart

Back To The Future vol 1: Untold Tales And Alternate Timelines (£14-99, IDW) by various

Doctor Who: Four Doctors (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Paul Cornell & Neil Edwards

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor vol 4: The Then And The Now (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Si Spurrier, Rob Williams & Simon Fraser, Warren Pleece

The Mighty Thor vol 1: Thunder In Her Veins h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman

A Silent Voice vol 7 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Yoshitoki Oima

News!

Kill Or Be Killed promo

ITEM! Promo teaser for KILL OR BE KILLED by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Elizabeth Breitweiser fresh from the Ed Brubaker newsletter which you can sign up to!

From the creators of THE FADE OUT, FATALE and CRIMINAL, I love the way Sean Phillips has expanded the pages with full bleeds to the edges yet, even with inset panels, has kept the clear three-tier grid which, along with his lettering composition, has made the comics and graphic novels so accessible to newcomers.

Fade Out vol 3 1

ITEM! Podcast interview with Scott McCloud about comics, composition and the signals we send out. May make you think again not just about comics, but the ways you communicate in real life too.

Highly recommended, Scott’s comics to make you think:

THE SCULPTOR
UNDERSTANDING COMICS
MAKING COMICS
ZOT!

All in stock, reviewed. That last one may be my longest review ever!

Sculptor Kiss

ITEM! Thanks so much for your weekend support for Dave McKean’s live performance of BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH in Kendal – about which I have rarely heard so much gushing from his fellow creators who attended – then on Bank Holiday for the BLACK DOG graphic novel, reviewed above, and distributed worldwide exclusively by Page 45.

We’d sold out of the £45 version by Tuesday morning and for all I know as this goes to press we may have also now sold out of the £30 edition which still has the die-cut dustjacket signed by Dave McKean. If it doesn’t say sold out, it isn’t – we’re very precise about these things. If it does… well, aren’t you amazing?

Black Dog cover image photo

Our copies of the graphic novel – nearly half its entire print run – are all here and will start being dispatched on Friday. Not a bad turn-around given that the books were all still in Kendal on Monday morning! Thanks to LICAF’s Aileen and her husband (Roger? Please let it be Roger!) for driving them down in person so ensuring timely dispatch and perfect condition.

Thanks also to our Jonathan whose birthday it is today!

There wouldn’t even be a Page 45 website without Jonathan. There wouldn’t even be a Page 45 these days without Jonathan as I hope I made clear during Page 45’s 20th Anniversary Blog!

Jonathan Nottm Independents Award 2013MSC_4064

But, just so you know, Jonathan also gave up a great deal of his family weekend to make sure the BLACK DOG product pages were prepped and ready for action the second I hit ‘publish’ and Tweeted.

Thanks for all your retweets, your orders and your tireless support on this – especially you, Sean Phillips.

Happy Birthday, Jonathan! We all love you soooooo much!

– Stephen

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week four

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Includes Tillie Walden’s A CITY INSIDE, the new BROKEN FRONTIER anthology, David Lapham’s terrifying STRAY BULLETS VOL 5 and Boulet’s autobiographical comedy.

Notes vol 1: Born To Be A Larve (£16-99, Soaring Penguin Press) by Boulet.

YOU BURNED MY MUM?”
“It-it was an accident! She-she was phosphorescent!”

Astutely observed and phenomenally funny, expect much self-mockery!

You may be wondering how the above could possibly form part of these autobiographical entries from Boulet’s online blog, and I’m half-tempted to leave you guessing. However, the incensed is Jesus, for the incinerated is the Holy Virgin Mary – or at least a statuette of the same which glowed in the dark, was tipped into a bin and thence onto a garden bonfire.

Talk about childhood trauma!

If I were to summarise the whole it would be in two lines after Boulet’s successive string of humiliations after posing naked for a life-sized portrait for fellow Fine Art student Wilfried in Dijon, when he thinks his embarrassment is finally at an end.

“BUT: Destiny is the cruel cowboy, and you are the naive Mexican.”

He’s finally set free only for Fate, from afar, to take aim with all time in world and shoot him in the back.

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It’s this sort of lateral thinking which typifies the daily reports or reveries here which can fly off into all sorts of visual fancy, and it’s exactly this sort of toe-curling “There but for the grace of God go I” which you can relish in the privacy of your own home while chuckling in the knowledge that Paris-based Boulet found it within himself to publish them on the worldwide web first.

At which point I should point out that all art here is taken from the website. It’s been reformatted and verbally tweaked for publication.

The stories in this volume in a vast variety of full-colour treatments are from 2004 to 2005, interspersed with black and white postscripts or analyses adding further embellishments, retrospective context and balms to avoid potential litigation or diffuse angry feedback. How could you possibly be irate with someone so charming?

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Incidentally these crisply delineated and comparatively svelte inserts make a feature of Boulet’s strikingly carrot-coloured mop of hair, turning it into an instantly recognisable trademark. If he used the same process as the blog entries then they too were drawn straight onto paper in ink – no pencils – which give them both eras’ pages a vibrancy which immediately put me in mind of Dan Berry, his THROW AWAY YOUR KEYS in particular.

Other comparison points for the general tone include the more episodic recollections from Eddie Campbell’s ALEC; Pascal Girard (REUNION, PETTY THEFT), Joe Decie (THE LISTENING AGENT etc), Liz Prince (ALONE FOREVER et al) with more than a hint of Jeffrey Brown’s cartooning shorthand (FUNNY MISSHAPEN BODY) behind these sleek, graceful lines.

Basically this: you’re going to be entertained.

Deadlines and money matters are a constant concern here, as they are to so many overworked and financially under-rewarded comicbook creators, and there are two early Man Versus Machine anecdotes which once more made me think of dear Eddie Campbell in – amongst so many other instances – THE FATE OF THE ARTIST.

The first involves Boulet’s battle with computers which as we all know have a habit of dying on us just when we need them the most. It is then that we need computer experts the most, and find ourselves at the mercy of rapacious corporations and their jobs-worth employees. You better pray you didn’t bully those nerds back at school. But Boulet is resourceful and Boulet is resilient. He is tenacious. Also: smug at the counter in sunglasses.

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Not so smug or adept is he when it comes to Man Versus Multi-Carriage Machines which should transport you, hitch-free, to your Swiss Comics Festival… so long as you catch them before they set off. Unfortunately Boulet like Campbell is one of the world’s worst travellers, neither adept at catching trains or planes in time. Fail and – although we tend to revere the SNCF from this side of the Channel – it appears to be open-upgrade-surcharge-season and complications like you wouldn’t believe.

Both sets of battles will be revisited many times over, but also the opportunities to make us thoroughly jealous during Festivals in both Switzerland and Korea – specifically Seoul which is six times the size of Paris (who knew?) and where absolutely everything appears to be “an hour away by bus”. In spite of the buckets of booze, Boulet manages to comport himself much better there, is swooned over by teenage school children and delights in accumulating the most highbrow and classy cultural artefacts that the country has to offer. Possibly. In fact much of the comic relief in both Sienne and Sierre comes from his constant companion at comicbook festivals, the seemingly shameless Reno, fearlessly navigating foreign territory – no matter how drunk – populated by his fellow Festival-going and most esteemed creators, on occasion at night in nothing more than his Speedos.

More seriously, we tend to assume in England and American that everything is all love and light when it comes to BD in France, individualistic creators receiving both the recognition and the consequent rewards they so justly deserve, but there is a truly upsetting account of one year at Angoulême where the more serious and significant signals are drowned out by the crass noise of L5 promoting their godawful comicbook, their queue obliterating cartoonist Juju from view. With Boulet in anthropomorphic mode, this isn’t the end of such similar travesties where fame triumphs over talent. It is to weep.

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What else is on offer? Post-Festival come-downs, late-night parties, flat-sharing, cookery, Christmas lights, the curiously conductive properties of Cambert, demonstrations, a little score-settling and a missed opportunity on Valentine’s day which ticked a recognition box for me also – in Paris too!

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‘How To Avoid Having Sex’ comes with a killer phone-centric punchline you might want to take note of lest you be caught out as well, while you may more happily connect with the French maestro rediscovering his childhood in the form of classic Amstrad games, Jet Set Willy, Pyjamarama, Fruity Frank and Boulderdash.

Throughout Boulet experiments both in terms of narrative and style, and there’s a double-page spread of ‘Grimaces’ with more rounded forms and expressions which put me in mind of animator Nick Park.

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To say that the man’s body-conscious would be misleading – he’s more body-comfortable – and there’s an anti-Charles-Atlas advert promoting a less threatening physique and a cuddlier tum which had me giggling away. But he’s certainly in complete command of the human form, presenting page after page of beautiful, beautiful figure drawing with limbs that flap, flop and hang just-so, articulating in all the right directions, at all the right angles.

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Come December this will still rank as one of my favourite books of the year for sheer expressive exuberance as Boulet battles through whatever life throws at him, tears of frustration, terror, self-pity or exhaustion never far from his eyes, cheeks or brow.

Top tip: should you ever want to terrify him at a signing – simply say with a French accent, and preferably while his head’s down in concentration – “Pour Louis…”

That should do it.

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Top tip two: Boulet is a Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival which takes place every year during October in Kendal. At some point or another he’ll be signing. Do not say I sent you.

SLH

Buy Notes vol 1: Born To Be A Larve and read the Page 45 review here

A City Inside (£7-50, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie Walden.

“You gave up the sky for her.”

Another quiet, contemplative and sublime gem from Tillie Walden, creator of I LOVE THIS PART, a recent Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and one of my favourite little books in the shop.

I’ve just found another, with a sense of perspective which no one of Tillie’s relatively tender years should possess. I’m three decades down her timeline and recognised the truth here, finding myself standing at one of the key crossroads in this graphic novella.

Told in the second person singular, a young woman casts her mind across her life. It’s so engrossing, so cleverly done that you won’t notice the switch in tenses the first time around, and as it concludes you’ll have forgotten where you came in so that the final three pages are truly startling.

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The lines are crisp, the shadows deep and the night sky positively glows.

There’s always something truly magical in Walden’s work and at one point, as the pull quote suggests, the woman finds herself suspended in the sky, living in the cup of a hollow sphere, from the top of which billow curtains which are never truly closed. Can you imagine the view? Can you imagine the tranquillity, reading and writing and sleeping with your supine cat?

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“Then one day, you met her.”

Cycling through the sky.

“She was beautiful, wasn’t she?”

Only once is there more than a single sentence per panel – quite often there is silence – and within the recollection itself those panels are bordered only by what lies within.

High in the sky, with the wind tossing the lanterns and tousling her hair, there are no borders at all.

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SLH

Buy A City Inside and read the Page 45 review here

Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 (£6-00, Broken Frontier) by Rozi Hathaway, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino, Adam Vian, Rebecca Bagley, Kim Clements, Gareth Brookes, Gill Hatcher, Jessica Martin, Mike Medaglia, EdieOP, Owen D. Pomery, Alex Potts, Paul B. Rainey, Donya Todd.

“The lines we draw.
“The lines we walk.
“The lines we repeat.
“The lines we hold.”

There’s one more line, and I love it.

From ‘The Lines’ by Owen D. Pomery of BETWEEN THE BILLBOARDS etc.

Top-notch A5 anthology published by Broken Frontier whose website, ringleader Andy Oliver and his equally eloquent cohorts continue to scout out and promote to the heavens the very best emerging British talent, nurturing it as they do so. Truly they are custodians.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the flexible theme is breaking frontiers, be they physical, metaphorical or even metaphysical boundaries. Lord knows but we love to escape, and some are in more need than others.

Others, of course, delight in imposing strictures and Jess Milton’s ‘The Young Marquis De Sade’ finds the rebellious young man’s family attempting to put the fear of God into him through the firm hand of a Christian education. He does learn his lesson but it isn’t the one they intended!

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Delightfully stylish lines, faces and palette which put me in mind of Jess Fink’s CHESTER 5000 XYV which is not remotely inapposite, and I loved the way in which the strict and sedentary composition in class yields upon awakening to something much more turbulent and so thrilling. Not just for the reader, either…

Sticking to the subject of all things edifying, anyone who’s read Gareth Brookes’ THE BLACK PROJECT already knows how naughty he is, wrestling humour into the most macabre and head-shakingly embarrassing constructs then sewing it up so seamlessly you cannot help but laugh, wide-eyed and as quietly as possible lest someone – particularly a Higher Authority – overhear you.

So it is with ‘Dead Things’, the first dead thing being a brother and sister’s grandmother. Their mother impresses upon them the benefits of a Christian burial, after which they take the lesson learned into their garden.

“When we went outside to play we found some dead animals.
“A bee, an ant, and a worm and we gave them Christian funeral.
“But after a while we ran out of dead things.”

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That last line and the silent panels on either side of it constitute perfect sequential-art storytelling, the penultimate paragraph is the sort of the thing that will make you sneeze whatever you’re drinking through your nose, and the story ends with an ellipsis so innocent yet ominous that I couldn’t help but cackle.

BUTTERTUBS’ Donya Todd was never going to behave, but if you thought she might (because her art is every so pretty and… yeah) then this early exchange between a couple is a delicious reminder of why we all love her:

“I like your dog.”
“I like your skull.”

She’s not carrying one.

Refusing to conform too – or being told what she can’t do – is Adam Vian’s fortune teller who demands a window on her world so that she can at least see what lies beyond. The Mapmaker refuses, declares it impossible – that she can’t change a world with drawing or pen. Well, we all know you can – my world’s been changed by both. Before she makes her exit, however, she has this exchange with a customer following her previous prediction:

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“”You’ll meet a beautiful maiden across the ocean.” Wow. Generous. So… you crossed the ocean already?”
“Don’t be silly. Of course not.”

You can’t just sit on your arse waiting for your future to come to you.

Two other escapees are Rozi Hathaway’s young protagonist in ‘Afloat’ and Alice Urbino’s ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, but what they are escaping is very different: abject poverty and loneliness; the sensory overload of society’s non-stop judgementalism.

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The former is a deeply melancholic affair of isolation, neglect, broken windows and threadbare socks until a vision floods onto the page in oceanic colours which are fresher, more healthy and hopeful. What actually happens is open to interpretation but if there’s a whiff of mortality is still as wondrous and magical as a Studio Ghibli or Tillie Walden affair, with the child’s own origami taking on a life it its own and attracting company to boot.

There’s such a lot more to explore including an oh so satisfying page from THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO BEING OUTSIDE’s Gill Hatcher whose nest of bunched-up baby birds debate the pros and cons of flying the coop as full-fledged independent individuals. The colourful birds, the black and white nest and the eaves it’s built under form their own free-floating panels from which speech balloons emanate in perfect union.

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Lastly, for now, the collection is closed by Rebecca Bagley’s ‘Catch’ in deep, rich and pale violets blazing with golden dreams of far more fecund fishing trips than those a child’s father manages to secure in order to feed his family. The landscapes looked down on at night from a three-quarter angle are things of wonder, lit by stars, a full moon, its light caught by clouds and a glow from the home on the hill’s windows.

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SLH

Buy Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 and read the Page 45 review here

Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Lucy Knisley…

“Hooray! They’re coming!”
“Uh-oh.”
“There’s a dead squirrel right here where the truck is going to drive!”
“If they squish it, it’ll be all over the road when the guests arrive! What do we do?”

Cue the mother of bride coming to the rescue by whipping the dead rodent out of the way with her bare hands just in time, much to the awestruck admiration of the bride-to-be! Haha, there is no way in the world my mother-in-law would have done that! This is easily my favourite Knisley work yet, packed with self-deprecating humour relating to the sheer insanity of deciding to plan and execute her own beautifully bespoke and intimately personal wedding down to the most minute detail. Still, it’s probably put her off ever doing it again so there’s one good reason not to get divorced…

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It’s been fascinating to see her improve from book to book in recent years, both in terms of her storytelling and art. I had sometimes felt with her works, increasingly less so, that we were being presented with set pieces and situations rather than a continuous narrative flow, as though perhaps she was working with a paucity of material at times or a touch uncertain how to seamlessly stitch it together. I certainly didn’t get that impression remotely here, this felt like a work of real depth and punch and flowed gloriously from cover to cover. I hope that’s not perceived as a being too critical of her previous works: RADIATOR DAYS, FRENCH MILK, RELISH – MY LIFE IN THE KITCHEN, AGE OF LICENSE: A TRAVELOGUE and DISPLACEMENT, because I am big fan. It’s just lovely to see the ongoing progression.

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After giving new readers a quick recap of her and John’s chequered relationship background (see mainly AGE OF LICENSE: A TRAVELOGUE) she goes on to perfectly capture the emotional rollercoaster of the extended lead up to the nuptials and the big day itself. She shares the many laughs and more than a few tears she experienced whilst gradually realising the full, dawning  horror of just how much is involved with planning your own wedding. You will chuckle, particularly if you’ve been through such torment yourself, just as I also did with Adrian Tomine’s SCENES FROM AN IMPENDING MARRIAGE.

As mentioned, I feel this work is also a big step on for her again art-wise too. I have commented before on her at times sparse style, pages with just characters on, no backgrounds for example. There is far less of that here, with much more in the way of traditional panels and fully fleshed out scenes, and it really helps with the sense of continuity to the overall story. Where we do have the type of page I’m talking about, it’s done much more as an occasional punctuation, usually with some amusing visual gag involving wedding paraphernalia.

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So, what next for Miss Knisley? Assuming she keeps her maiden name for comics, that is! Well, now she’s pretty much caught up chronologically with regaling us with the trials and tribulations of her life, I would dearly love to see her take a crack at some fictional material next. Yes, it might be a stretch for someone who, as she freely admits, sees herself as autobiographical comics maker, but on the basis of this work, I’m sure she’d succeed admirably. Failing that, there’s always a potential career as a wedding planning to fall back on.

JR

Buy Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham.

I’ve had nightmares like this:

For some inexplicable reason you’re back at school. Having escaped its horrors years ago, you’ve returned to the grounds as a pupil and they’re at once all too familiar yet disconcertingly alien. You hardly know anyone anymore and you’re not quite sure where everything is and what’s changed.

The warring cliques and back-stabbing rat race certainly hasn’t.

Virginia Applejack ran away from her horrendous home years ago in STRAY BULLETS and if you’d forgotten why, a single encounter with her malicious mother will remind you instantly. Fortunately her years of freedom – in spite of the atrocities she has witnessed and endured – have given her a sense of distance which will stand her in sanity-saving stead and a capacity for take-no-shit violence which will make anyone standing in her way today rue it something rotten.

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But first, one friendly face in the form of Leon, who’s just got the crap kicked out of him yet again.

“I’m in the duck-and-cover group. We’re like the CIA – we hang together, but if one of us gets caught the others disavow their existence.
“The jocks are probably, like, the biggest assholes, and the most powerful. The burnouts really suck, too. Their leader is Jesse Barret. I wish him dead every Sunday in church.”

The jocks and the burnouts have grown complacent. They’ve begun to imagine themselves invulnerable, immune even to each other’s threats. But Virginia Applejack will prove an unexpected, incendiary new ingredient in their midst.

“Hey, kid. Ginny!”
“It’s your turn to bat.”

It most certainly is.

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I can promise you a great deal of catharsis, but also fear in the form of another wild card, Mike Hussey, and this volume includes that chapter. The chapter which had both Mark and myself wide-eyed a decade ago that Lapham would even go there: a consensual sexual experiment between two teenagers with catastrophic results both for their friendship and for anyone encountering Mike Hussey ever again. Whatever you’re thinking, David Lapham will up the stakes then and thereafter, leaving you cowering away in the corner, wincing.

Based on an eight-panel grid, the storytelling could not be more accessible to newcomers to comics, and its clarity is matched by his attention to detail. His portraits are extraordinarily vivid and individualistic given his economy of line. A single panel of a crowded party can contain more characterisation than you’d believe possible or is remotely necessary. There’s also an intense physicality to the forms. I sat staring at several jaw bones for ages, marvelling at the skull I can could see and almost touch beneath the skin – or rather the contoured line demarking that skin!

Critics harp on about the complexity of Alan Moore’s best plot structures – and rightly so – but it is frankly insane how intricately mapped all the confluent elements are in the whole of STRAY BULLETS and even within this single, stand-alone strand. Ha! I’ve just called a whopping, eleven-chapter chunk “a strand”, but that’s how epic this project is. All of it is connected, skipping backwards and forwards in time – which is how Lapham manages to mine more from characters with a lot of life left in them even after biting the dust yonks ago – but here it’s particularly clear how cleverly cause and effect plays its awful part in every element which builds towards crescendo after crescendo. If there’s a life lesson to be learned here it’s that you reap what you sow: it’s going to come back to bite you in the ass or in the ass of someone you care for.

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And that’s another thing: after everything she’s gone through, Virginia Applejack still cares. So does poor Leon. If nobody cares then nor will you. Everyone else is repugnant.

For far more on Lapham’s actual craft, please see my previous reviews, particularly of the STRAY BULLETS: UBER ALLES edition of which this contains the final eleven issues, otherwise it’s just me repeating myself.

This collection now fills the one remaining gap in the individual STRAY BULLETS softcovers, meaning you can go straight on to STRAY BULLETS VOL 6: THE KILLERS, which was the first in the new series launched the other year.

This is the only crime I rank as highly as Brubaker’s and Phillips’.

SLH

Buy Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Anne Szabla.

A lovely little number for all ages which should appeal to fantasy-loving families including fans of Jeff Smith’s BONE, this is light on text for those whom it frightens.

Not-very-old ones can marvel instead at the beautiful designs like the huge, all-encompassing head-dresses and masks – even the beasts bear masks! – as well as the sheer spectacle of a fellow, spirited youngster who will not be daunted nor nay-said in spite of being tiny, clumsy and a foundling outsider.

Its scope is potentially enormous and I would be far from surprised to discover in a decade’s time that this was but a prologue. Which is to say that this first instalment comes with many more questions than answers.

Ripe with legend and lore, it tells of the Rook Men’s animosity towards light and so love of a “halfway beast” which stole it from the world, hid it in a whelk shell then swallowed that whole.

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Without the sun’s life-giving rays the tribes of the two rivers found themselves hard-pressed to forage and hunt in a perpetual winter and ousted from the forest they’d once made their home. Fortunately they had a champion in the form of Mali Mani who had defeated the monster with a bell and sword, but was swallowed by the forest and kept incarcerated there by the Rook Men.

So it’s still pretty cold.

Tomorrow our tiny Bali should be embarking on The Smokewalk, his adoptive River Tribe’s rite of passage, but his centre of gravity is considered too low to even lift a spear let alone throw it accurately. Lakasi has a point there. But Bali sets off anyway late at night and of his own accord in search of an ancient ruin discovered earlier by accident in that same deep wood. And in doing so, he may be beginning his journey anyway…

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Some small parts of the storytelling I found it difficult to discern – in a largely wordless comic you need maximum clarity – but I’ll put it down to Bali being caught in the heat of the chaotic moments, all of which were still beautiful to behold. Young minds are more dextrous than mine anyway, and will move swiftly, eagerly on, relishing Bali’s fortitude and resourcefulness and refusal to back down or give in when danger rears its multiple clawing, scratching and intimidating heads. Also, I know from experience that I’m no more competent with a javelin, either.

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The pictorial wall paintings and pillar engravings are glorious, as was the elaborately ornamented fireplace. Look around carefully and you may notice a small entrance slashed at by much bigger claws sharp enough to make their carved mark on stone. Visually this world is very well built.

Plus there was an element of Playstation’s Shadow Of The Colossus in one particular encounter and Disney’s Fantasia in another sequence.

HELLBOY’s Mike Mignola’s a fan.

SLH

Buy Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani and read the Page 45 review here

Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c (£29-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark.

One of my favourite current comicbooks, this edition collects the third and fourth LAZARUS softcovers along with all the original issues’ full-page advertisements from the fictional world itself.

Of LAZARUS VOL 3: CONCLAVE, I wrote:

“The weather’s turning. It looks like a storm.”
“Is that why you’re nervous?”
“There’s talk that your Family will go back to Hock.”
“It will not happen.”
“…”
“I would very much like to kiss you. Would you permit me to kiss you, Forever?”
“Please.”

A rare moment of tenderness, that, for the Carlyle family’s youngest daughter, its military commander and pre-eminent soldier, assassin and bodyguard. That’s what being a Lazarus entails.

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If Forever is formal it is because however effective she is in the field, her duties have deprived her of any emotional experience she might call her own. If she is nervous it is because she is finally allowing herself to have the first tentative steps of one with Joacquim Morray, Lazarus of the Morray family which may currently be allied to the Family Carlyle but which looks very likely to switch sides to the Carlyles’ most manipulative and bitter competition, Jakob Hock.

Then it won’t matter how respectful Joacquim is or how much Forever’s heart hurts: if their Families demand they fight, they will do so, if necessary to the death. That hasn’t happened yet but something so similar between others does, and it is heartbreaking.

It wouldn’t be half so affecting if GOTHAM CENTRAL’s Michael Lark couldn’t convey intimate and vulnerable affection as well as he commands the fluid balletics of hand-to-hand combat. Lark is equally adept at an actual dance, the other rare moment of tenderness preceding this scene which Jakob Hock – with his flair for the dramatic, the cruel and humiliating – interrupts to devastating effect.

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Oh, and the environment: Lark is one of my favourite landscape artists. His rain I rate up there with Eisner.

LAZARUS is set in the not-too-far future when the world has gone feudal again. Democracies have imploded, politicians no longer exist and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys people, money buys technology and money buys guns. Money, technology and guns buy power and control.

The strategy Greg Rucka has employed to introduce this grave new world to its readers has been impeccable: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure – the bottom-heavy pyramid of Family at the top, its wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs useful to Family prosperity, then the vast majority deemed and so dismissed as “waste” underneath. This third volume widens its outlook to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. See? Technology does buy power. You’d surely shift your allegiances for such a boon.

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And that’s what this instalment’s about: loyalty and allegiances. During a Conclave hosted by the British Family Armitage on a luxury rig in the North Sea you’ll get to meet twelve of the sixteen Families – or at least their representatives – and by golly their current conflicts form a complex Cat’s Cradle!

But what I relished above all in this chapter was seeing the Lazari interact with each other in their downtime before, during and after a poker game while their heads of Family debate without their feared presence behind closed doors. For if this is a reversion to a feudal society, so the notion of Chivalry has returned too: specifically the etiquette of safe passage and the respect of knights for each other and conduct towards each other regardless of their masters’ aggravations.

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This is evidently something that needs to be learned for there is a new Lazarus in their midst, one Captain Cristof Mueller who is arrogant and Aryan in a Teutonic way and he doesn’t care much for Li Jaolong, Lazarus of the Chinese Family Li, whose skills as a bodyguard he deems slim given that Li is – much like Professor Stephen Hawking – confined to a wheelchair and communicating via a speech synthesizer. Bristling from having been successfully played at poker, Mueller doesn’t mince his words which may include “genetic mistake”.

Yeah. Perhaps he should have considered that Jaolong wouldn’t have been selected as a Lazarus if he didn’t have certain compensatory skills. Cristof’s comeuppance is cathartic, I promise you!

Loyalties, then: Forever’s is to her family above and beyond all. LAZARUS VOL 2 ensured we understood both how and why. But is that loyalty reciprocated?

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While we find out I return you to our opening feature and kiss:

“I hope… I hope that was all right.”
“Yes.”
“I was afraid…. I was afraid I would take of metal and oil.”
“That is not how you taste. Did I do it right?”
“Oh, yes. Very well indeed.
“You’re my first kiss.”
“And second. May I be your third?”
“Joacquim. I may not want to stop.”
“I may not want you to.”

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Of LAZARUS VOL 4: POISON, this:

“I looked on him and I was not assured. I looked on him, and I was afraid.”

That’s Sister Bernard gazing up in contemplation at a dilapidated statue of Saint Christopher in a derelict cathedral in Havana.  He’s not just the patron saint of travellers, but of soldiers too: “A patron of holy death.”

There will plenty of travelling, a great many soldiers and blistering fire-fights in the most freezing conditions because Family Carlyle is about to go to war.

Before that, however, we must walk hundreds of miles in Sister Bernard’s pinching shoes. Nuns are given a degree of leeway by some Families to practise their faith and perform acts of medical charity for those without means – and most have no means – which involves travelling, In exchange for funding, Family Carlyle requests occasional favours from Sister Bernard whose mobility between borders makes her the perfect if petrified spy. She’s had no training and feels she has no aptitude – all she has is her faith, which here is tested to breaking point.

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Previously in LAZARUS:

In the not-too far future the world’s economies imploded, its political systems collapsed and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys technology, money buys guns and money buys people, which together buy power.

It is a feudal system, an archetypal, bottom-heavy pyramid with Family at the top, a wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs selected for their key skills below, then underneath the vast majority dismissed as “waste”.

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Family Carlyle has invested heavily in augmentation technology, bestowing it on youngest daughter Forever who now acts as their ultimate bodyguard, military commander and assassin. She’s been genetically enhanced with regenerative capabilities, trained to the peak of human physical fitness in both armed and unarmed combat and has been indoctrinated to believe that there is only one law: “Family Above All.”

The structure which Greg Rucka’s employed to introduce this grave new world has been impeccable, and it too has been a broadening pyramid: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure and the means by which waste might elevate themselves to serfdom; LAZARUS VOL 3 widened its outlook yet again to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob of Family Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. We met many more Families, each with their own Lazarus / bodyguard, and a play was made which ensured that war was inevitable.

And now… for the shooty bits.

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Michael Lark’s landscapes are phenomenal, and the characters could not be more grounded in their landscapes. That’s vital for depicting urban warfare with its geographical opportunities and obstacles; its cover, its exposure and its range. In addition, he has a complete command of weather conditions – in this case a blizzard of snow – and an eye for carefully judged detail so that readers get a tangible sense of what the terrain feels like and what can and cannot be seen by individuals on the ground. That’s vital for immersion: targets and troop movements cannot be nebulous if you want readers’ blood pressure to rocket alongside the protagonists’.

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The key is in making you care and Rucka is equally adept at making it personal. Forever Carlyle has of course been deployed while the rest of the family desperately struggle with their own problems back at base. But she’s made some discoveries recently causing her to make a decision which could put everything and everyone in jeopardy, not least herself.

Speaking of revelations, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so shocked by a final page. It’s no deus ex machina, but proof of an audacious authorial slight-of-hand much earlier on which was so cleverly played by both writer and artist that I know of nobody who saw this one coming.

“Family Above All.”

SLH

Buy Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Archangel #1 (£3-99, IDW) by William Gibson & Butch Guice…

“Mr. Vice President, please remain still… as I remove the bandages. The final procedure was entirely successful. See for yourself.”
“Granddaddy was a good looking man.”
“They know nothing of D.N.A., so they’ll have no way of knowing you’re not him. You should have no difficulties assuming his identity.”

So why would the Vice President of the United States of America want to travel back in time to February 1945 and replace his relative, one Major Aloysius Henderson of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the C.I.A? Well, given it seems like there has been some sort of catastrophic global nuclear conflict, judging from the scenes of total devastation in Tokyo, Moscow and London that we get a glimpse of on the opening page dated February 2016, I suspect altering the course of history might be high on the VP’s to-do list. A list entitled ‘Archangel’.

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Not that it seems everyone on the experimental Quantum Transfer project is of the same mindset. The chief scientist Torres, who seems to have a pretty good idea of precisely who is to blame for the current highly radioactive state of the environment, has just enough remaining quantum transfer juice to send a stealth fighter and two marines back as well, to try and foil the VP’s plot. Except whilst the first time jump works perfectly, the second, well, let’s just say there are some unexpected complications. The action then shifts to 1945 where the various Allied intelligence services find themselves with a rather perplexing puzzle to solve.

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Fantastic opener from the acclaimed cyberpunk author, I’m certainly very intrigued. This has the serious speculative feel of say, Greg Rucka’s LAZARUS, which I think from the tone of the writing and cast of characters is probably the most obvious comparison to make. There are some great bits of dialogue too, particularly in the WW2 era between various spies who seem just as concerned with getting one over each other as dealing with the situation in hand, which also minded me of Brubaker’s VELVET. Gibson can certainly write comics, I have to say, based on this first issue.

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The art from Butch Guice is excellent, fans of his work on THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA and WINTER SOLDIER will know what to expect. I always feel he’s like a slightly grittier version of Bryan Hitch though here he most reminds me of Michael Lark’s work on LAZARUS, actually.

[Editor’s interference: So true! Wait until you see the opening page’s bomb-blasted buildings. Combined with Tom Palmer’s as ever extraordinary inks, the textures are absolutely Lark. This series gets a triple thumbs-up from me, but then I was never too brilliant at biology. Gibson introduces a great many process pieces in the back, with gorgeous Guice character sketches.]

JR

Buy Archangel #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Unfollow vol 1 (£10-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, R.M. Guera…

“It’s okay Rees, I removed your name from the 140.”
“Okay! You got me! You caught me, all right! I added myself to the 140 list… But you need me, Rubenstein. I programmed the app. You need me… You… Oh Christ… You’re going to do it, aren’t you?”

… CRACK…

“One hundred forty characters. Now it can begin.”

Larry Ferrel is rich. Very rich. To the tune of 17 billion dollars, made through building social media platforms. He is also dying of pancreatic cancer. Which is why he has decided to donate his money. All of it. To 140 lucky people. That’s 120 million dollars each… I should probably add for the benefit of those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, 140 is the number of characters that a single tweet can contain, presumably explaining the conceit of the title.

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But given it all starts with the execution of one of Larry’s loyal – well, not-so-loyal, actually – employees, by his gun-toting right-hand man Rubenstein, wearing an Aztec priest’s golden mask, the 120 million dollars is, one would suspect, going to come with a few strings attached. Such as possibly not living long enough to spend it.

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And indeed once the 140 are all flown to Ferrel’s tropical island by a fleet of private jets the first catch rapidly starts to become painfully clear…

“You have all received an app on your phones and computers. It states the number of you left alive, currently 139…
“If the number shrinks to, say 138, your app will register this… your share will increase.
“And hypothetically, of course, were only one of you to be left alive, that individual would receive all of my money.
“In such a hypothetical scenario, that lone survivor would receive 18.42 billion dollars.
“All he would have to do is kill 138 people.
“But it’s not as if any of you would be willing to do that.
“Is it?”

So, I initially thought, we were going to be in very familiar Battle Royale-style territory, and indeed we are to a degree, especially given Ferrel’s stipulation that once he’s passed on to the great unknown and his loot been divvied up, if one of the 140 dies their money will be automatically returned to Ferrel’s estate and shared out again amongst the remaining survivors. At least that’s what Rubenstein says Ferrel wants… I can’t help getting a strong sense he might have his own deranged agenda going on, though. I mean, anyone wondering around in a terrifying shiny mask waving a weapon around is probably up to no good. But there’s a lot, lot more happening as well, such as the appearance of talking animal spirits to at least two of the ‘winners’. Quite how that factors in is, at this point, a complete mystery.

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Then there’s the fact that the 140 don’t seem to be have been picked entirely at random, if at all. For example there’s a cross-dressing, blade-prosthetic-wearing, facially tattooed Japanese author who has noticed there are startling similarities between the plot of one of his novels and their current predicament. When he challenges Ferrel on this and receives acknowledgement that indeed he took inspiration from the book, it provokes the author to tell Ferrel he will do everything in his power to ensure the actual ending of the book doesn’t happen. Ominous.

My personal favourite, though, is the heavily armed former special forces solider who believes God is speaking to him and the Dragon who needs to be combated is everywhere. And indeed the final issue of this arc is mainly a flashback concerning his chequered history. The phrase wild card certainly springs to mind! This issue was an interesting change of pace and I suspect will be repeated from time to time with different characters. So by the end of this first volume we’ve probably only really been properly introduced to four or five of the 140, and we haven’t, ahem, lost too many yet. Just as well because I’m really enjoying this and I’d like it to run to several volumes! I can also see exactly why it was almost immediately picked up for a television show.

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Art-wise, I can see some hints of Frank Quitely in Michael Dowling’s work, but the person I am mostly strongly minded of is Arthur MAZEWORLD (and sadly currently out of print BUTTONMAN) Ranson. It’s in the black linework, particularly the faces. Great opening volume, and this is exactly the high quality material Vertigo need to get back to putting out consistently if they want to seriously compete with the likes of Image.

JR

Buy Unfollow vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Incomplete Works (£14-99, Alternative Comics) by Dylan Horrocks

Disquiet s/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Ethan Van Sciver

Watching (£13-99, Soaring Penguin) by Winston Rowntree

Club Life In Moomin Valley (£7-50, Enfant) by Tove Jansson

Adam Sarlech Trilogy h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Frederic Bezian

Harrow County vol 2: Twice Told s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook

They’re Not Like Us vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Eric Stephenson & Simon Gane

Black Science vol 4: Godworld s/c (£10-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera

Wayward vol 3: Out From The Shadows (£12-99, Image) by Jim Zub & Steven Cummings

Octopus Pie vol 4 (£10-99, Image) by Meredith Gran

Daredevil Vs Punisher: Means And Ends s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by David Lapham

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Ryan North, Chip Zdarsky & Erica Henderson

Crossed vol 16 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Max Bemis & Fernando Melek, German Erramouse, Mauro Vargas

Silver Surfer vol 1: New Dawn s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Michael Allred

Rick And Morty vol 2 (£14-99, Oni) by Zac Gorman, Marc Ellerby & CJ Cannon & Andrew Maclean

Steven Universe vol 2 (£14-99, Kaboom) by Jeremy Sorese & Coleman Engle

Superman Adventures vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott McCloud, Mark Millar, others & various

Batgirl vol 2: Family Business s/c (£12-99, DC) by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher &  Babs Tarr, Bengal

Birthright vol 3: Allies s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan

Birthright vol 1: Call To Adventure s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan

Birthright vol 2: Homecoming s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan

News!

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ITEM! Buy Tickets for Dave McKean’s live multimedia performance of BLACK DOG – THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH in Kendal this Saturday 28th May 2016!

I have a copy of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival limited edition of the graphic novel and it is glorious!

If you want a copy of that limited edition (only 300 copies printed), as things stand, you will have to be in Kendal, Cumbria, this weekend. Otherwise you’ll have to wait for the regular edition from Dark Horse which will launched at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, October 14-16 2016.

What? Do you think I’m holding out on you? That’s the only way to guarantee yourself a copy!

But look, you can get it signed! For free!

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ITEM! Dave McKean BLACK DOG – THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH graphic novel talk and book signing is FREE on Sunday May 29th 2016 but you will need to book tickets here.

There will, possibly, be a rather fun and most certainly exclusive news update on this graphic novel this time next week, right here.

So maybe I am holding out on you.

Hahahahahaha!

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– Stephen

Page 45 is a proud Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival. We appear every year, exclusively.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week three

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Gilbert Hernandez & Darwyn Cooke, Farel Dalrymple, Neill Cameron, Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo, Malachi Ward, Michel Rabagliati, Antony Johnston & Shari Chankhamma, Ellis, Ennis, Gibbons & John Higgins, Phil Jimenez, Tim Bradstreet, Marcelo Frusin, Gary Erskine, Paul Pope, more!

Pop Gun War: Gift (£10-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple.

“No bird soars too high if he soars on his own wings.”

 – William Blake, from The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell

Glorious!

An inspired and inspirational black and white classic from 2003 – with some pages coloured for the Italian edition by Fazi Editore – which proudly proclaims freedom, individuality and self-expression.

It comes with a double-barrelled defiance towards those who would dilute, control or own others including the young outright.

Here is the sinister, manipulative and disingenuous Mr Grimshaw from “a magnificent corporation” who has already ruined the dreams of those with long-term, creative goals by appealing to their immediate gratification. One of them is now living on the street. Another, I infer, is so bitter that he seeks to spite others while wearing a ball and chain.

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“Gentleman, really listen to what your heart is saying. Give her your time.”

In front of the children – whom he has weaned away from someone with something to say – he produces the head of Medusa:

“Try to be rock and roll
“Throw trash on the ground.
“You will look cool.
“Walk slow. Act tough.
“Don’t think too much.”

For that would be inconvenient.

“Maybe even smoke a cigarette.”

The ultimate in poisonous, corporate indoctrination.

Please don’t think this is heavy. It is as light as an air-born feather and full of space, although its images do allude to that very space between buildings and the light which is lost under their sun-blocking edifices.

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Down below, the grottiness is seen from ground-level. Ground-level…? Dumpster-level from which the trashed are lucky to escape.

There are so many moments, however, when the protagonists rise above it in ways which will make you wonder, and the collected edition is introduced by the sort of detailed three-dimensional, illustrative map of the city island, full of architectural detail and surrounding geographical features, which makes the imagination soar. How many more stories are left to be told?

Here’s what our Mark wrote back in 2003:

“No pop, no guns and no war, but a dreamy meandering through an urban landscape. An angel falls to earth and asks for his wings to be chain-sawed off, leaving stumps behind to remind him of his former life. Little Sinclair, smart and out of place in the city with his sharp shirt and bow-tie, adopts the wings and ties them to his back. It’s not every day that you manage to scavenge such fine quarry. Fleeing from a gang of kids he finds himself on a precipice and finds that the wings still work, even when borrowed.

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“That’s just one of the magical touches of this book. You get a roaming mad monk, a huge flying fish (with glasses) and Emily, Sinclair’s little sister, who is becoming a local star with her band, The Emilies.

“The art captures the grit and grime of a big, impersonal city, managing to strike a balance of realism and magic that stops the characters being lifeless illustrations. For a first major work it’s impressive if rambling but marks Dalrymple as one to watch out for.”

As prescient as ever, our Mark. Since then I give you:

THE WRENCHIES, IT WILL ALL HURT (which I thought we’d reviewed), DELUSIONAL and so much more.

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Throughout I was put in mind of Eddie Campbell, specifically in this case BACCHUS.

It’s not just names like Sunshine Montana, but the sight of pint-sized, debonair Sunshine Montana in his old-fashioned top hat and tails wandering around a contemporary city in search of his errant friend, Percy the floating, bespectacled goldfish. When Sunshine Montana opens the basement door oh so dubiously he is a spitting image of Campbell’s Eyeball Kid – albeit with but the regular requisite complement of eyes. And they have a reputation which seems to precede them.

“Hello, Sunny,” says The Rich Kid.
“May I?” asks Sunny, opening The Kid’s car door.
“Not if you’re going to make fun of me.”
“I would rather make fun of someone who has a sense of humour.”

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If you think that Montana is hitching a lift, I’d remind you of the more famous SUNNY in comics, the stranded Sunny Datsun which fuels the kids imagination. Here too the car is suspended on breeze blocks, going nowhere. It’s the perfect final panel to any page, neatly undercutting everything you’d supposed that far.

I’m delighted to report that it’s that sort of graphic novel.

SLH

Buy Pop Gun War: Gift and read the Page 45 review here

Twilight Children s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Gilbert Hernandez & Darwyn Cooke…

“I knew it, I knew it.”
“Bundo’s not in his house.”
“Maybe the big ball took him away with it.”
“If we’re lucky. Or maybe Bundo’s a complete idiot.”
“Call the Institute and tell them to cancel their visit.”
“I did, but they still want to send someone. A scientist, at least.”
“I still want people to stay away from the spot where the ball sat. We don’t know what this scientist will find out.”
“Yes, sheriff.”

Well, little did we all know that this was to be Darwyn Cooke’s swansong, but what a glorious and triumphant swansong it is. When I heard that Vertigo, amongst the many new titles, were putting out a mini-series penned by Gilbert Hernandez and drawn by Darwyn Cooke, I knew it was inevitably going to be something wonderful and so it proved.

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The story, featuring a strange glowing orb that appears and vanishes in a remote coastal South American village – apparently at random, sometimes seemingly taking people with it – is a humorous, quirky take on the classic alien invasion theme. Or hopefully the prevention thereof… In addition to the vanishing locals, the orb is also prone to the odd explosion and has blinded a group of children. They don’t seem to be remotely distressed though, strangely enough…

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Meanwhile, how does the sudden appearance of a mysterious beautiful woman tie in with the orb? Everyone seems very willing to help her, perhaps a little too willing. Well, except for the local femme fatale who’s none too happy to see someone with even greater powers of persuasion pop up on her pitch! Sure, it could be the classic small town good manners at work, but it seems like there might be a little more to it than that. Throw in a very bizarre pair of not-so-undercover CIA agents and a smooth young scientist sent to investigate for good measure and it’s a curious scenario indeed.

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Gilbert is on top form here, you can tell he is having great fun writing the various characters and their tangled, titillating parochial lives. That’s his stock in trade, mind you! Darwyn Cooke, meanwhile, is simply on fire artistically. It’s the slightly softer style he applied when working on his non-PARKER material, such as CATWOMAN with Ed Brubaker or the annoyingly currently out of print DC: THE NEW FRONTIER, (softcover reprint coming in July!) that you always felt was full of such fun.

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A mention for colourist Dave Stewart, who along with Elizabeth Breitweiser, is the best in the business. Between them they perfectly capture that sunshine filled, sleepy backwater feel. It made me want to go mix myself a margarita! The sort of place where nothing of any great significance ever happens, so every little bit of intrigue and gossip, true or otherwise, is salaciously devoured, before being promptly forgotten. The perfect place for an alien invasion beachhead to establish itself perhaps…

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JR

Buy Twilight Children s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mega Robo Bros vol 1 (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron…

Published June 2nd!

“ALEX! FREDDY! COME ON! We should have left five minutes ago!”
“But Dad! Freddy tore my comic!”
“It’s my comic!”
“No, you swapped it me for my Ankylosaurus!”
“That was for a lend, not for keeps!”
“Well then I want my Ankylosaurus back!”
“BOYS! We’re going to be late! Never mind about the comic!”
“But what about the Ankylosaurus?”
“JUST GET DOWN HERE!”
“Jeez, Dad, you don’t have to shout.”
“Robot hearing, remember?”

First day back at school for a new term and after the comic capers, of course Mega Robo Bros Alex and his younger brother Freddy miss the bus. Dad knows he’s going to be in deep trouble with Mum, a government scientist, as the boys are only too happy to remind him. The only alternative is letting the boys fly there unsupervised, after a stern talking-to about not fighting on the way… It couldn’t go that wrong surely?

“… Three hours late, and completely soaking wet when they got here. It’s not a great start to term, is it?”
“I really am terribly sorry, Headteacher. I had to, um, go and fish them out of the Thames. There was an incident.”
“Sorry, miss. You see Freddy tore my comic…”
“It’s my comic!”

Haha, that comic gag is a great running joke that keeps on giving throughout.

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Well, this might just be my favourite PHOENIX PRESENTS story so far. It has all the requisite ridiculous humour that the kids demand, but it’s a really great story as well. I would actually put this on a par with the likes of THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN as an exceptional all-ages read.

Alex and Freddy are robots: the only sentient ones in existence, created by the late Doctor Roboticus. After his mysterious passing they were adopted by Doctor Sharma and her husband. But just like every single set of new parents, Doctor and Mr. Sharma had absolutely no idea just what they were letting themselves in for…

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Neil has captured the essence of two continually bickering, mischievous brothers perfectly here. It just so happens these battling boys can shoot lasers beams from their hands, punch through walls and fly through the sky! Mainly whilst arguing with each other! They’ll need those skills to rescue the public from sky trains plunging towards the pavement, rampaging robotic dinosaurs roaming the National History Museums and much more besides. For it seems someone, or something, with an ulterior motive is testing them… and it’s not just the bullies at their school who are determined to verbally torment them for being different. It does take great restraint not to zap a bully with your in-built laser, mind you…

I continually found myself chuckling at Neill’s dialogue, particularly the ever exuberant Freddy with his ridiculous made-up songs involving poo. He is quite the expert at picking the most inopportune moment to debut them to his parents. And I can completely understand exactly how his brother Alex spends half his time protectively looking out for Freddy then the other half wanting to exasperatedly atomise him. A typical annoying younger sibling, then! Together though, when engaged in their dynamic duelling against all and sundry they make a most formidable team, with Freddy prolifically popping out pithy punchlines in a manner a certain Peter Parker would approve of! The interior cover sums it up perfectly with the pair of them stood outside their front door, Freddy excitedly blasting a couple of feet into the air, heels clicking, fists pumping, Alex just staring at him, hands in pockets, irritated.

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This is brilliant fun, a supremely well written romp, that also has much to say about tolerance for our fellow man, and err… robot, and it’s just as fantastically and vibrantly illustrated. The action sequences are a joy to behold with about as much carefully choreographed mechanical mayhem as I think I’ve ever seen on page after page of comics. Neill’s future London with lanes of flying, red double-decker buses and robotic Coldstream guards replete with bearskin hats looks a fabulously crazy place. Oh, and his take on the future Royal Family made me grin very broadly indeed. I look forward to the next volume!

JR

Buy Mega Robo Bros vol 1  and read the Page 45 review here

Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird h/c (£10-99 UK s/c, 18-99 US h/c, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo.

Have you ever had trouble with your scalp? Itchy? Nits? Dandruff, perhaps?

“It started a few weeks ago. I thought it was just a rash, but then it grew teeth and bit my hairbrush. I went to the Emergency Ward, but they screamed and threw bedpans at me.”

Poor Zelma Stanton! She’s a librarian from the Bronx and, after hesitating on its threshold, she appears to have brought quite the infestation to Doctor Strange’s architecturally outré mansion. But then it was never very safe in the first place.

“The Sanctum Sanctorum is the greatest concentration of occult esoteric and mystical phenomena in existence.
“It should go without saying, but do not touch anything you see, except the floor. And be careful where you step.
“In this house, simply opening the wrong door could literally unleash Hell on Earth.
“And then there’s the refrigerator. Seriously, don’t get anywhere near my refrigerator.”

Fruity and flamboyant, this is a comedy accessible to all. Like Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee’s self-contained INHUMANS graphic novel, it has a tried and tested appeal well beyond its Marvel Comics confines and you need know nothing before its Sanctum Sanctorum.

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But since we are in the business of beginnings: here, let me help you.

Doctor Stephen Strange was once a surgeon.

In a way he still is. It’s just that the cancers he cuts from infested individuals are now more mystical in nature and often come with a great deal of grumpy attitude, several sets of serrated teeth and breath that stinks of sulphur. But I believe we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

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As a highly skilled and sought-after medical doctor Stephen had an ego like nobody’s business until an accident crippled the nerves in his hands. He searched the furthest and most inaccessible corners of the globe for a miracle cure – which is an odd thing to do for a man of science or even basic geometry – and found instead The Ancient One, after which he earned his place as Master Of The Mystic Arts and the Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.

“The nerve damage never healed properly.
“My hands still ache and tremble most of the time.
“Which is why my handwriting is beyond atrocious, even for a doctor.”

Anyway, as our story opens, instead of an ego he now has a libido, even when confronted by an insectoid laydee sucking away at the soul of a comatose boy. What does our Stephen Strange do?

“Quietly casting a spell of romantic divination to confirm my suspicions. I think she’s into me.”

Hmmm. I think the ego’s intact.

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He cures this poor lad but is then set upon by a gigantic, transdimensional lamprey. Easily dispatched. Easily, but messily.

So there’s the soul eaters, the leech and now those ravenous mouths growing out of Zelma Stanton’s head, wreaking havoc all over the mansion. His grimoires are dying, his magic is failing. Something is seriously wrong.

What is wrong is this: Stephen has forgotten a very important lesson taught by the Ancient One long, long, ago. The laws of physics apply equally to magic: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

“The harder you punch, the more it hurts you.
“If a normal punch takes a physical toll on the one who throws it, what do you imagine the price of casting a spell to be?”

For years now Doctor Strange has been casting defensive and offensive spells willy-nilly. In the back of his mind he’s known there is a price to be paid but he’s brushed all that under the mystical carpet and buried his head in the sand. And now it is far too late.

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From the writer of SCALPED and SOUTHERN BASTARDS, this is by far the best book of DOCTOR STRANGE I’ve ever read. Aaron has learned Matt Fraction’s HAWKEYE lessons well: if you want to make superhero comics more mainstream with a much wider appeal, then sever them from extraneous continuity no one can keep up with, make them fun, full of foibles and a humanity we can all comprehend.

It is also breath-takingly beautiful. How could it be otherwise from the artist of Neil Gaiman’s DEATH?

Chris Bachalo brings you exquisitely crisp if not brittle, late-summer leaves and colours them to senescent perfection. Yes, even the season is in synch with the story. They’re being tugged from the trees opposite a mansion which you might malinger outside as well.

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Within you’ll find precarious towers of leather-bound books, stacked like a spiral staircase free-floating in space. The actual staircases have been designed by Escher.

The dying realms are truly ashen. It might be nuclear but it’s certainly not a natural winter, more like a volcano erupted across the void, its particles dispersed on invisible, cosmic currents to smother all colour in dust.

Something or someone has harboured a long-festering grudge against magic and is now taking revenge. Across the dimensions it has travelled, executing Sorcerer Supremes, sending waves of pathogenic pestilence ahead of itself, eating away at the fabric of hyper-reality and bleeding its energies dry.

“When all the birds fly away in a hurry, get ready for a storm.
“So if these are still just the birds…. what the hell is that storm going to look like?”

Unpleasant.

“Some days it sucks to be Strange.”

SLH

Buy Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird h/c and read the Page 45 review here

From Now On (£10-99, Alternative Comics) by Malachi Ward…

Thirteen stylishly illustrated time-twisting science fiction tales from Brandon Graham’s PROPHET and ISLAND contributor and cohort. This is much more understated material than the mentalism that is PROPHET. Each yarn here is more of a vignette, though I did start to realise with great delight that a few of the stories do… overlap (I think might be the right choice of word) even if the protagonists don’t remotely realise it. It’s relatively gently told stuff, but I do mean that in a positive sense. Both in terms of the overall feel of the collection and some of the art, I was actually minded of Ethan Reilly’s POPE HATS much more than, say, Box Brown’s equally enjoyable AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS, which is actually the sort of sanity shaking shenanigans I was expecting.

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So whilst the stories are ostensibly science fiction, they are all really character pieces, set against the backdrop of timey-wimey weirdness. In more than a few cases, it has all gone horribly pear-shaped and the characters are somewhere on the sliding scale of trying to pick up the pieces / make the best of a bad situation / desperately avoid a rather painful demise. Some of the stories are definitely more convoluted than others in terms of plot, but overall it’s an excellent eclectic spread of different things you can do with a loose conceit.

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There are some substantial variations on the art style from story to story too which was a nice touch. Half the tales are black and white, the other half are coloured. A couple reminded me of Chester Brown, some of Joe Daly, also Ethan Reilly as mentioned, plus a bit of Matt Kindt here and there, especially on the coloured strips, and even Ray Fawkes. Malachi is clearly a very versatile and talented artist. Highly recommended.

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JR

Buy From Now On and read the Page 45 review here

Paul Goes Fishing (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michel Rabagliati.

An ancient review from when this was first published, this particular graphic novel keeps disappearing off our website, we know not why! Honestly: if you see it, snag it, before it slips our hooks again.

I’ve never read any of the previous PAUL books but Mark was deeply enamoured, and now I know why: Rabagliati is a French-Canadian Andi Watson in thought and word and visual deed. Indeed this could almost be a prequel to LITTLE STAR, with Paul and Lucie expecting a baby, along with their friends Peter and France.

I know the titles sound as if they’re from some early-learning Ladybird range (PAUL JOINS THE SCOUTS, PAUL HAS A SUMMER JOB etc.), but nothing could be further from these considered musings, memories and affectionate tributes to those Paul knows and loves. It’s all about how we interact with one another and – as it is with Watson in BREAKFAST AFTERNOON, LITTLE STAR and SLOW NEWS DAY – work is high on the agenda, which is only natural given that we spend so much of our lives hard at it.

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Paul’s brother-in-law, Clément, for example, works in the aviation industry which used to be about a whole team of enthusiastic specialists using their innovative nous to design and build new Canadian aircraft. But then the Production Specialists – bean counters with no knowledge of or interest in the aviation industry – were brought in from outside, and the layoffs began in their hundreds, followed by further mechanisation, just-in-time production, inventory reduction and subcontracting abroad. Sound familiar?*

Similarly, Paul has seen his own work as a designer change dramatically over the last twenty years following the rise of the multipurpose Mac during the late ’80s and ’90s, with the consequent loss of jobs in the different disciplines of colour separation, typography etc. The production office would be somewhere for the exuberant exchange of ideas, knowledge, projects or just human chit-chat. Now Paul works alone in his studio on his Apple Mackintosh. He doesn’t even have to venture out for research: he can do it all online.

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These little histories of himself and his friends are sprinkled throughout the main narrative as Paul takes a break from work and leaves Montreal for the pastoral pleasures of fishing, where he and Lucie find Lucie’s sister Monique, her husband Clément (quite the expert angler) and their two daughters already relaxing on the lakeside. Even here, however, it’s surprisingly artificial, and the tranquillity is occasionally rocked by a lack of basic consideration or – in the case of a couple of young delinquents overindulged by their parents – by acts of shocking barbarity. Even the rain halts play for a while (though I have to disagree here – rain on water? I’ve been in heaven!), but none of this prepared me for what suddenly happens next. In hindsight it’s foreshadowed, but I won’t say with what, although I’ve done a little of it myself in this review.

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What I will say is that within pages of beginning the book I had completely forgotten the existence of any prologue, let alone what it was (it centres around a church collection box), and it was only with the last two or three pages that I remembered…

So, very highly recommended and a new discovery for me. I shall have to go back and read the other PAUL books now.

*Immigration, historically, has never been the cause of mass unemployment. It’s mechanisation – technology – and always has been since the Industrial Revolution.

SLH

Buy Paul Goes Fishing and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 13: Haunted (£18-99, Vertigo) by Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Darko Macan, Paul Jenkins, Dave Gibbons & John Higgins, Phil Jimenez, Tim Bradstreet, Marcelo Frusin, Gary Erskine, Paul Pope, Andy Lanning, Javier Pulido, James Romberger, Frank Teran, Dave Gibbons.

Once upon a time – when DC was cherry-picking, reprinting bits and bobs rather than the whole series in order – there was a HELLBLAZER book called HAUNTED which reprinted the first slither here by Ellis and Higgins, but this is much meatier and grows increasingly rank. So sordid are some of these additional tales that one can only shake one’s head at DC’s decision initially to spike the short story ‘Shoot’ by Ellis & Jimenez which has since seen publication and does so once again.

It was at the time a long overdue return to the roots of a very British, anti-establishment title which mixed occult horror with the very real and repugnant nightmares of racism, homophobia, homelessness, other assorted social deprivations, callousness, cruelty and cover-ups. Ellis immediately stamped upon it a recognisable spirit of place.

“And all over London the sirens start and the cries go out and the tears don’t dry and everyone looks up to find that the sky’s so stained with streetlight that you can’t see the stars anymore.”

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John Constantine, working class wide-boy and ruthless manipulator – a middle-aged trouble-magnet in a mustard-coloured trenchcoat – returns to London to find that an ex-girlfriend has made the headlines… as the victim of a particularly gruesome, sexually charged murder. Her ghost haunts the playground where she was happiest, before she’d met John, before he gave her the first taste of magic which may have led her to down the road to her death. Pulling in favours from Scotland Yard (for which there is always a price to be paid) Constantine comes into possession of her diary which details her seduction by an Aleister Crowley aficionado who began manipulating her perception, alienating her from her friends and using her for his own occult purposes.

For someone with John’s esoteric knowledge it’s not hard to figure out how, what or why. He even knows the who. But he’s going to have to call in a lot of favours and get his own and others’ hands dirty before he can lay Isabel to rest.

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Ellis evokes a London whose very foundations are soaked in spilled blood, and populates the city with a fresh cast of supporting characters or – as regular HELLBLAZER readers refer to them – victims-in-waiting, for hanging around with Constantine is lethal. Nor does he waste any time in shoving the boot into Labour’s successively right-wing Home Secretaries through the mouth of dodgy copper Watford:

“Things get worse every bleedin’ day. It’s like Maggie never left office. Lovely jubbly.”

It’s this string of friendship fatalities which PREACHER’s Garth Ennis and THE NAO OF BROWN’s Glyn Dillon exhume in the back of this collection when Constantine reflects on the sorry circumstances that led Gary Lester, Emma, Nigel and Rick The Vic into John’s poisonous path. If anyone can ill-afford to become sentimental now, it’s Constantine. Thank goodness his Kit got away.

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Before that Ellis further examines the power of storytelling and depths of credulity: with artist Tim Bradstreet when John interrupts a writer’s account of how he came into contact with the crib of the anti-Christ stillborn a year before baby Jesus popped unopposed onto the scene; and with Marcelo Frusin as another scribe seeks a scoop on the serpentine heritage of our beloved royal family. Oh, and I mentioned a price to be paid, didn’t I? In a bedroom in Hackney a man has taken eight days to kill two low-level thieves in very imaginative ways. Landlords, eh?

The other chief attraction is, as I say, the reprint of Warren Ellis & Phil Jimenez’s ‘Shoot’ which tackled child-on-child gun crime. Written and drawn before whichever the bloody massacre was back then, it was deemed too topical to print, which is precisely why it should have been printed in the first place. Heaven forefend that DC ever grows balls and proves topical.

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A woman is reviewing video tapes of school shootings in order to address a Senate Committee with her judgement as to why they are happening. But she just can’t see it and keeps going back to the audio tape on which Reverend Jim Jones persuades his congregation, all nine hundred and fourteen men, women and children, to commit mass suicide.

“It’s deciding what to blame, you know? Blame the parents for keeping a gun in the house? Not without blaming the constitution and pulling the NRA’s chain.”
“The movies, the video games, the comicbooks…”
“More killers fixate and draw inspiration from the Bible than any other piece of culture.”
“So if I did a Nintendo thing called “Flying Chainsaw Jesus” I’d be rich?”
“Ew. And you’ve got kids.”
“And that’s how I oughta know. You oughta see the little bastards playing their video games. Eyes bright, teeth bared, like wolves tearing up a sheep.”
“It’s not the games that do it, Brian.”

No, it’s not. Nor, I can assure you, does this have anything to do with our John or any hocus pocus whatsoever. That would have made this an awful Constantine story, and a complete cop-out on what it is another very real, real-world horror.

The only uncanny thing about John’s involvement is that he’s there at the site of every recent child-child slaying, but he’s only there to see for himself why they are doing it as a favour to a friend whose own boy got blown away, and I believe both John and Warren are absolutely on the nail.

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Jimenez owns this story as much as Ellis: without his pitch-perfect expressions, particularly the last one, it couldn’t have worked. Now please see Andrew Vachss’ HEART TRANSPLANT (at a mere £4-99) if you want to learn the truth about early self-esteem and bullying.

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 13: Haunted and read the Page 45 review here

Codename Baboushka vol 1: Conclave Of Death s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Shari Chankhamma.

“Baboushka:
“You might think she’s a hero.
“That would be a mistake.”

The back and interior covers screamed James Bond title sequence. We’ll return to that in a minute. I thought it was terrific marketing but prefer the honesty of cover art like this which reflects what lies within.

From the writer of UMBRAL, WASTELAND, THE FUSE and its colourist on full art duties here, this a marked departure from Johnston’s other espionage outings like THE COLDEST CITY. As Antony mentioned a few months ago THE COLDEST CITY’s star “pulls a gun precisely three times, only shoots once, and doesn’t hit a thing”. Baboushka will be shooting, hitting, poisoning and blowing many, many things – and by ‘things’ I mean people.

“I promise you, these earrings are dynamite.”

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She’ll be doing so swiftly, methodically and effectively without the art once losing its femininity. Chankhamma’s faces put me in mind of Kate Brown (FISH + CHOCOLATE, TAMSIN AND THE DEEP, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE etc) and she luxuriates in the Contessa’s scarlet high heels, tiered pearl necklace and flesh-coloured dress then throws everything she’s got – just like the security guards – at Baboushka in the field.

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What might take a moment to drop like the proverbial penny is that the first chapter’s 80-mile-an-hour action sequence isn’t part of the main event – it isn’t the titular Conclave of Death which Contessa Annika Malikova is being blackmailed to infiltrate by the American government. That will come later on a luxury liner which the general public – innocent, pleasure-seeking holiday makers – are going to rue boarding. There the instructions issued by her man-handlers from EON (Extrajudicial Operations Network) are not to assassinate the retiring ex-CIA gun-runner called Felton, but persuade him to sell her his secrets.

“You’ll have all my routes and contacts, across the whole world. Names and details of every politician I ever squeezed, every government I ever sold to or blackmailed.”

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All these are very much on the table for the highest bidder – including a sub-Saharan warlord, a European gang chief, a member of the Yazuka and a certain Scottish master thief whom the Contessa’s bumped into before – but Felton would never sell to the Americans. He might, however, sell them to the notorious mafiya boss Baboushka if she came out of retirement. Guess which guise Contessa Annika Malikova used to go by back in Russia?

The prologue, then, is a signature move designed to attract Felton’s attention, working precisely like those James Bond opening action-fests leading straight into the films’ title sequences as Codename Baboushka comes out of retirement in spectacular fashion.

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So far, so good. Unfortunately no one’s prepared for piracy – and that’s pretty prevalent right now. I hope the Contessa can keep Felton alive…

As a young-teen-orientated thriller akin to Antony’s Alex Rider graphic novels with elements of a blazing Tomb Raider adventure, this works very well. It’s emphatically not Brubaker & Epting’s VELVET – there’s far too much melodrama and explication in the dialogue for that – but it could very tempt some of the action-orientated manga merchants to look west.

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SLH

Buy Codename Baboushka vol 1: Conclave Of Death s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

A City Inside (£7-50, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie Walden

Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham

Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 (£6-00, Broken Frontier) by Rozi Hathaway, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino, Adam Vian, Rebecca Bagley, Kim Clements, Gareth Brookes, Gill Hatcher, Jessica Martin, Mike Medaglia, EdieOP, Owen D. Pomery, Alex Potts, Paul B. Rainey, Donya Todd

Highbone Theater h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Joe Daly

Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c (£29-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark

ODY-C vol 2: Sons Of The Wolf s/c (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Christian Ward

Apocrypha Now h/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Jun Maeda & Yuriko Asami

Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Anne Szabla

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 13 – End Of Days (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Laurence Campbell

Parsley Girl: Carrots (£6-00, Avery Hill Publishing) by Matthew Swan

Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Lucy Knisley

Star Wars: Kanan vol 2 – First Blood (£13-50, Marvel) by Greg Weisman & Pepe Larraz, Mark Brooks

Unfollow vol 1  (£10-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, R.M. Guera

Artificial Flowers (£9-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Rachael Smith

Zodiac Starforce: By The Power Of Astra s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Kevin Panetta & Paulina Ganucheau

Batman War Games vol 2 s/c (£25-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker, Bill Willingham, Dylan Horrocks, Bruce Jones, Andersen Gabrych & various

The Flash By Geoff Johns vol 2 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins

The Joker: Endgame s/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Greg Capullo, various

Wonder Woman vol 7: War Torn s/c (£12-99, DC) by Meredith Finch & David Finch, Goran Sudzuka

All New Inhumans vol 1: Global Outreach s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule, James Asmus & Stefano Casselli

Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo

The Tick: The Complete Edlund (£26-99, NEC) by Ben Edlund

Blue Exorcist vol 15 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2: Battle Tendency h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

One Piece vol 78 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

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

News!

Philip Pullman

ITEM! Philip Pullman on Why I Love Comics including excerpts from his series in THE PHOENIX COMIC WEEKLY!

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ITEM! Diversity in comics featuring GIANT DAYS, LUMBERJANES, THE BACKSTAGERS etc in The New York Times!

That’s not some token article, either, it addresses women and LGBT content in comics not just for adults. Hooray!

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ITEM! Comicbook creators! Hiveworks is now accepting submissions until 15th June!

“Hiveworks is a creator owned publisher and studio that helps webcomic and online media creators turn their creative endeavors into sustainable businesses. We serve as mentors and as a home for many comics.”

Opportunity knocks etcetera!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week two

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Featuring Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, Kieron Gillen & Ignacio Calero, Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott, Sarah Andersen, Simon Hanselmann, Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen, Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood, Pierre Maurel, Sylviane Corgiat & Corrado Mastantuono, Brian K Vaughn & Steve Skroce and more!

Black Magick vol 1: Awakening (£7-50, Image) by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott with Chiara Arena.

“You going to invite me in?”
“That’s vampires, Alex… Besides, the house knows you.”
“You might’ve set wards.”
“Not yet.”
“That didn’t sound like a joke… Ro? Are you serious?”
“I’m being targeted. Someone… someone is coming for me.”

There’s something about the way that Detective Rowan Black announces her presence at the hostage scene. As she settles into the headphones and mike, her eyes become hooded, staring into a distance measured not just in metres, but in years. Many, many years.

“I’m here” comes with far more weight than a mere “I can hear you.”

Less than an hour ago, she wasn’t anywhere near hostages in the burger bar on McKenna.

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Less than an hour ago Detective Rowan Black was celebrating the balance of the spirit and the flesh, the cycle of death and rebirth, “The Lady and the Lord entwined and entranced, beloved and belonging…” with her the rest of her coven, sequestered in a forest under the crisp light of a full white moon…

Then her mobile phone went off.

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From the writer of LAZARUS. Had I not known, then I would never have guessed it. I don’t mean to impugn the quality here; I mean to commend a writer’s refreshing versatility. I can perceive little connection between the two in style or content, only in the depth of research involved.

For fans of RACHEL RISING we are once more in the realms of witches. Witches who historically have not been well received, so obvious Rowan’s department hasn’t the first fucking clue.

This deliberately, specifically, seeks to juxtapose the contemporary, the clinical, the procedural and the professional with the personal, the spiritual, the historical and arcane which may seem completely at odds or, if not merely at odds then worse: dangerously misaligned.

And now these worlds will collide.

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Oh, you may think on first reading that Nicola Scott’s painted art with its deep motorcycle tyre treads and perfect pelvises is monochromatic, but look again! For a start it’s certainly not black and white, but the softest of warm, natural colours like sable, rabbit pelt and antler grey. The architecture’s very plush. Nobody’s short of a few bob here, not least our Rowan – wait until you witness Rowan’s cubbyhole of grimoires and other esoteric objects! – who probably couldn’t afford all that on a Portsmouth Police pay packet, no.

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Yes, the colouring is restrained, reserved for maximum impact during moments of magic and sudden conflagration when Chiara Arena really lets rip. When that protective ward is finally cast it is breath-taking, sublime. When Rowan glamours a blank silver zippo lighter – freshly engraved with a distracting sigil to disguise it as the police evidence she’s about to purloin – it glows a feint turquoise which only the reader and Rowan can see. Nichole certainly can’t even though she’s looking straight at it. I love implication and inference, don’t you?

But when the hostage taker has secured Rowan alone at the beginning of the book and drops that damned zippo, lit, into the kerosene, the result is truly incandescent.

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“There’s something off with this guy.”
“I think taking hostages was the first clue.”

No, there’s something very seriously off with that guy, and the third clue was kerosene. The second was asking for Detective Rowan Black by name.

His own was Rowan White, by the way, and none of this did he do voluntarily.

“Alex? It’s me.
“It’s starting again.”

SLH

Buy Black Magick vol 1: Awakening and read the Page 45 review here

Descender vol 2: Machine Moon (£10-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen.

“This is so… weird. I’ve never seen a book on paper. Why do you like reading them like this? Feels so… fake.”
“I don’t know. Mom used to read them to Andy and me before bed. I grew to enjoy it.”

Any science fiction worth its salty credit chips will not only make you think of the future ahead but ponder the present right in front of you. Different perspectives can be so useful in making you reconsider your own or appreciate it in greater depth.

I’m of an age where reading anything other than printed paper still seems artificially, tinny, awkward and fake: even reviews on a computer screen but most certainly prose or comics on a tablet! To our two robotic boys fashioned to mimic as closely as possible ten-year-olds in order to become perfect companions for humans, young or old, anything other than a straight digital download is going to seem clumsy and impure.

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But of course the Tim series’ emotive abilities were enhanced to adapt and expand, and Tim-21’s experience as a brother to human colonist Andy has left him missing his absent friend terribly. The picture book Tim-21 salvaged from his former colony stars Trinket Tocket And His Tin Rocket, a nod towards another young android, Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy. As Tim-22 excitably dashes off leaving his new companion alone, Tim-21’s artificial fingers trace the wobbly, handwritten inscription below the printed “This book belongs to”:

“Andy Tavers and Tim-21”.

Their friendship bonded in a book for all to see, like some proud, legally binding document.

It is that childhood friendship seen from both perspectives after so many years apart which will form the heart of this second volume, along with the nascent relationship between the two Tim bots which will prove far from obvious (they’ve had different experiences, after all) and that between Tim-21 and Bandit, the artificial dog he’s been forced to abandon on a hostile planet.

Can you imagine what that must feel like?

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The key to this title’s success is that Lemire and Nguyen have both imbued Tim-21 with more humanity than anyone else in this series which now seems set of a cycle of destruction. They only way you can tell Tim-21 and Tim-22 apart – and indeed Tim-22 from a human child – is that latter’s lack of speech contractions and perhaps an overly analytical interest in what’s prepossessing him. Tim-21’s ditched that in favour of something simple, more intuitive: a core response to his own feelings.

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For a detailed analysis of the catastrophic events leading to a universe if which our treasured robotic servants have become outlawed and hunted down in the hope extinction through no fault of their own, please see my extensive review of DESCENDER VOL 1: TIN STARS. The plot is ridiculously clever with a great big lie revealed right at the climax which makes a re-read almost obligatory, and I stick to my guns comparing Nguyen’s delicate, lambent watercolour washes here – loose enough to let lots of white-paper light shine through – to Jon J. Muth’s in the much-missed MOONSHADOW collection. Blugger even reminds me of Ira.

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Now you will meet not only The Hardwire robots, rebelling against the universal cull (designated terrorists, obviously) but also The Between whose queen has a personal past with one of our cast. They’re technologically augmented humans. Quite how they’ll fit into the big picture I’ve no idea, but The Hardwire won’t necessarily respond in kind to their cull because – remember – they are not human and we shouldn’t judge them by our own lack of standards. Although one of them’s quickly catching up, obviously…

Now, what about Tim-21’s dream about a robotic afterlife, like some heavenly data-dump up in the clouds…?

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SLH

Buy Descender vol 2: Machine Moon and read the Page 45 review here

The Fuse vol 3: Perihelion s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood…

“This is not so bad. I expected chaos.”
“Hold that thought, Marlene. After today’s done, then come talk to me about chaos.”
“I find the entire concept fascinating. Five million kilometres closer to the Sun may sound a lot, but our total distance is still 147 million kilometres. On a stellar scale the difference is negligible.”
“And yet, enough to drive people crazy.”
“But I wonder, how much of it is cultural? A self-perpetuating social construct. What if people go crazy on Perihelion day precisely because everyone expects them to?”
“That’s amazing, Marlene. I can’t believe nobody ever suggested that before. Maybe you should write a book, do the talk-show circuit.”
“Your mockery is unnecessary, Sergeant. I realise I am not the first to consider the theory, but it remains interesting.”
“Yeah, well, like the old Chinese curse says… May you live in interesting times.”

Ah, she’s quite the wag, our grey-haired, grizzled Sergeant Klementina ‘Klem’ Ristovych! When she’s not cracking cases, she’s keeping herself busy by busting her partner’s chops, the relatively new arrival Detective Ralph ‘Marlene’ Dietrich. I think it’s done out of affectionate respect as much as anything, but still, it’s good to see the time-honoured tradition of taking the piss out of the rookie is alive and well, even in the futuristic confines of a cop drama on the orbiting energy-generating platform known somewhat prosaically as The Fuse. Klem clearly has no idea that Marlene is keeping secrets from her…

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It’s perhaps not surprising, mind you, missing what’s right under her nose. Firstly, because Marlene is being very, very careful. Secondly, Klem’s got the busiest beat of them all, 22,000 miles up in space with half a million people stuffed into a five-mile tube, and today just so happens to be the busiest day of the year, Perihelion…

You can postulate theories all you like as to why a bit of extra sunshine might send people round the bend, like mad dogs and Englishmen swilling lager and getting all leery in the oh-so-brief summer rays, but between a knees-up that makes the Notting Hill Carnival look like a sedate affair, a hair-snipping serial killer, a political rally threatened by a terrorist group claiming to have a bomb, a mob boss with a dodgy ticker trapped while a nutter holds an entire hospital hostage, an artificial farm food worker seeing visions of the Devil, an escaped prisoner and oh, a mysterious murder of an apparently devoted husband… well, you can see how Klem might not spot anything shady about her partner. Yet.

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We, the readers, finally find a little more out about what he’s up to though… maybe. I’m not entirely convinced whether the big reveal at the end of this arc is exactly what it seems or merely misdirection, so that particular little mystery continues unabated. Oh, Antony, you are a tease! As ever, Justin Greenwood’s art is note-perfect for this unique blend of cop drama and speculative fiction. He does the best sneaky sideways glances of which there are more than a few in this arc!

JR

Buy The Fuse vol 3: Perihelion s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Elias The Cursed h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Sylviane Corgiat & Corrado Mastantuono…

“Those pieces of The Game Of Celestial Beings make you a great Magus.”
“What do you know of this game?”
“During my travels I never stopped reading the fables and legends of these talismans coveted by fools. They say that this game comes from an era so ancient that it has been forgotten. They say that its power is so great that a lifetime is not sufficient to reunite the 32 pieces that are scattered throughout the world…”
“They say that the 32 pieces represent 32 stars in the sky and that each one imparts its special power to a talisman…”
“… And especially he who reunites the game in its entirety. They will then have access to a 33rd power. That is what you wish, is it not?”
“What more do you know, little man? And what is the power in question?”
“He who possesses the game in its entirety has the power to change his destiny, to travel back in time and start anew wherever he chooses…”

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Which would be very handy for someone who has been cursed. Someone, say, who used to be a mighty and feared tyrannical ruler, having conquered most of the known world by the age of twenty before losing his entire army during a catastrophic 128-day siege and climatic final battle with the magician Melchior, who just for good measure then stole Elias’ youthful body for his own. Now, believed to be dead, Elias wanders the earth looking for a way out of his plight, and perhaps also reflecting on the foolishness of youth, desiring world domination and indeed coveting talismans. Although, perhaps he’s not entirely realised the latter just yet…

Another action-packed, exquisitely decorative slice of high fantasy from Humanoids. The French writer Sylviane Corgiat came to my attention with the brilliant THE SWORDS OF GLASS and here has come up with a yarn that’s even more intricately crafted and just downright epic. Well, it was originally published in 2004 through 2007 in three parts in France, though wasn’t translated into English until now as this complete collection. Italian artist Corrado Mastantuono is new to me I have to admit but it’s the typical beautiful ligne claire illustration you hope for in a Humanoids publication.

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I actually wrote of THE SWORDS OF GLASS that it was ‘The best slab of Euro-fantasy I have read for some considerable time.’ I think this is even better actually in terms of story-telling. Corgiat puts Elias through the veritable wringer plus assorted other medieval torture/plot devices on his quest to obtain the 32 talismans, and of course obtain his reckoning with Melchior, in a tale told with as much humour as there is gore.

JR

Buy Elias The Cursed h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cinema Purgatorio #1 (£4-50, Avatar) by Alan Moore, Kieron Gillen, Garth Ennis, Max Brooks, Christos Gage & Kevin O’Neill, Ignacio Calero, Raulo Caceres, Michael DiPascale, Gabriel Andrade.

“Let’s get back to the station. A little child’s gone missing.”

Quick! Back into the truck!

“Ten to one the parents did it, eh?”

Ouch.

What’s so arresting is that the above comes in the form of one of those ornate white-on-black caption cards from silent, black and white comedy capers like the Keystone Cops which we all associate with hilarity. Within panels – or frames – here, the violence no longer seems quite so “cartoon”, their mass incompetence not half so funny or innocent.

Was it ever really so when one of their stars, Fatty Arbuckle, was framed with a smear his career never recovered from?

Oh look, there’s Charlie Chaplin distracting the paying public with a card trick while booting a bag of the robbed bank’s lolly into the back of the van! Now turn back to the movie’s title: silence is golden, they say.

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That’s the first self-contained story from the Moore and O’Neill, creators of the equally acquisitive and satirical THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and O’Neill gives it all the energy you associate with the stunt-centric buffoonery.

It’s joined in this not overly horrific horror anthology by the first chapters of four serialised stories: a Godzilla monster-movie riff; something involving the American Civil War which is explained in an afterward; a piece of vampirical whimsy and – my other favourite – a sort of post-apocalyptic Pokemon written by THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Kieron Gillen in which the cutest daemon imaginable – a doting, Alsatian-sized dog with butterfly wings and long, lolling tongue who won’t bark but “Yip! Yip”s instead – is coveted by a Daemonatrix who’s gotta catch ‘em all.

“You know the rules. Fight or just hand her over.”

It’s not Fluffbumble’s owner who has to do battle, it’s Fluffbumble herself who quite obviously doesn’t have a bellicose bone in her body. Nevertheless she is forced to fight something that looks like a mechanised, weaponised Judge Death.

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Full marks to Ignacio Calero for a Fluffbumble that’s a gentle giant, loyal and stoical but far from effete – anything camper would have rendered this into crude, two-dimensional comedy. Instead the pep talk and aftermath are both genuinely affecting.

SLH

Buy Cinema Purgatorio #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Megg & Mogg In Amsterdam And Other Stories (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Simon Hanselmann.

T is for Transgression!

Hurray for Transgression!

But also for Tales so Toxic your skin might start itching and skunk so soporific that you run the risk of suffocation. It billows in pungent green clouds from almost every one of these pages so that if you’re not properly ventilated your mind might grow light and your stomach may turn.

Megg is a witch, Mogg is her monged-up moggie and this will be so, so familiar to anyone who is – or ever has been – so drug-dependent that you’ll do almost anything or anyone to get more, after which your decision-making processes are even further impaired.

Whatever I have found in the way of interior art above, below or to your right is infinitely cleaner than almost every page. Clue: Megg and Mogg are in a relationship. A sexual relationships. Pray, do not go there – unlike Megg.

The sordid sequel to Hanselmann’s MEGAHEX, this is empathically not the FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS who, for all their derring-doobage, at least kept it amicable and none of them interfered with FAT FREDDY’S CAT.

This is far from amicable, for Mogg and Megg share a flat with Owl who wants a clean, quiet house, secure from burglars, so he can sleep soundly. He is going to get none of those.

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Neither Megg nor Mogg are disposed to give a fuck, nor is their neighbouring drug-dealer called Werewolf Jones who – over and over again – manages to wangle his way into their home along with his delinquent ten-year-old kids whom he’s brought up as personal slave-labour and public performers on webcam. Those sorts of performers, yes – as a rule of thumb, if you want to infer the worst from whatever I write about this, you would not be far wrong.

At home the kids are content to shit all over their lawn because it’s their turf and they are wolves. At Megg, Mogg and Owl’s they’re still left to run amok, one of them shattering Owl’s beak with an ashtray. Twice. So well drawn is this that if you don’t immediately think of and fear for your own teeth then I’d be very much surprised. Parental supervision?

“I blame the school system.”

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To be fair, Owl is an uptight, judgemental prick. On the other hand it must be hard to find your clean white towels strewn all over the bathroom, shit smeared all over the toilet, junk all over the floor, a naked, jaundice-skinned witch passed out next to a stinking bucket bong, a dildo on your kitchen table, crumbs in your best butter (crumbs in your best butter!) and a cat in your kitchen sink:

“Quit whining, Owl.
“Nothing matters. Everything is meaningless.
“Stop trying so hard.”

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A triumph of injustice, I present you with the unhealthiest comic ever committed to paper, a dire warning never to share a flat nor invite any guests over ever, and the most careless, callous and often mean-spirited miscreants ever to spoil your party / meal / gig / camping trip / holiday abroad / quiet, private time / underwear / appetite / fondest memories imprinted on photographs.

All of the above actually included.

SLH

Buy Megg & Mogg In Amsterdam And Other Stories and read the Page 45 review here

Adulthood Is A Myth (£10-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Sarah Andersen.

Of course it is! I’m still playing videogames into the early hours of the morning, and do you know how old I am now? No…? Good!

Even parents are merely playing at being adults. Responsible…? Knowledgeable…? They haven’t got the first flippin’ clue. The whole rearing thing is done on a wing and a prayer, the prayer predominantly being “Why did I ever have children?”

Now along comes Sarah Andersen with a big book of comic strips designed primarily to make you feel so much better about your lives – your own insecurities and perceived inadequacies when compared the rest of the right-thinking world which doesn’t actually exist.

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This will tick almost every recognition box except those possessed by ridiculously high achievers who would be hard pressed to pass for human anyway.

Delivered in the Matt Groening school of cartooning, even the Groening failed to achieve such a high hit/miss hilarity ratio in his LIFE IS HELL series, as Anderson addresses the following with admirable confessional candour:

Nightmares for introverts, written communication versus verbal communication, oh so clammy hands; comfort dressing, heels, clothing sizes in general; over-think on dates, over-prepping for dates, and how to know that your loved one is here for the long haul; gorging, guilt and the making of friends (sort of – neuroses neutralising all hope of progress); good relationships / bad relationships, new relationships / old relationships; internet comment threads, internet search histories (yours!) and the barely controllable desire to defenestrate your laptop each and every time some twerp tags you in a Facebook photo.

Adulthood Is A Myth 3I feel Sarah’s frustration at slow walkers ahead of me, five-abreast families scoring 10,000 bonus points for being inconsiderate oblivo-bots! I demand the right to complain without someone soothing me with mitigating plus-points or stress-relieving advice; but I have to confess I had no idea about when to wash bras versus when most women truthfully wash them. Is this a thing? Admittedly I cannot recall any lad at school washing his groin-protecting cricket box out during an entire year of dashing sweatily between creases, but nor do I remember any of them still wearing that box out of a date.

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Throughout Anderson bravely hangs her mental underwear out on the metaphorical line in order to demystify our oh so common neuroses whilst praying you don’t laugh at her bloomers.

Basically this, then: you are not alone.

And you never listen to your own sage advice.

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SLH

Buy Adulthood Is A Myth and read the Page 45 review here

Blackbird (£12-99, Conundrum International) by Pierre Maurel…

“And now, closer to home: parliament today adopted a law that repeals the fixed price on books. It includes a clause that prohibits self-publishing. All published works are now required to pass through the hands of accredited certified publishers. The new law is intended to crack down on contentious content and improve distribution for all authors.”

Whatever would Dave Sim say?!!!

Where does suppression of public discourse really begin? What would be the thinnest leading edge of that particular wedge? You might believe that freedom of speech is something we in our country are entitled to without any strictures or consequences. But if the government were going to attempt to begin to crackdown on those with dissenting views, or indeed any views, what form would it take…? Here Pierre Maurel looks at a world where the diminishing of such liberties begins with the removal of the right to self-publish. The criminalising of the independent proliferation of ideas on paper if you will.

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Unsurprisingly, there are those amongst us who aren’t going to just take such injustice without fighting back and this is their story. The makers of the Blackbird zine are a rag-tag bunch of libertarians, anarchists, political thinkers, pissheads and skate punks. They don’t have much, but the loss of their right to be heard, irrespective of what they’ve got to say, doesn’t sit well with them at all.

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Clearly they’re not going to be able to act with impunity, though. No, covert guerrilla tactics and more than a few kickflips and emergency ollies are going to be required to escape the ever more encircling arms of the law, as their campaign escalates from initial amusing and seemingly harmless protests against politicians to rather more serious tactics. But can they really fight the encroaching evil of authoritarianism, or is it just a matter of time before the law wins? But if they do fall, who, if anyone, will step forward to take their place?

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Very salient piece of social commentary wrapped in an incredibly engaging and believable story, much like Ant Sang’s THE DHARMA PUNKS. Just as Ant did, Maurel has also captured the essence of his characters perfectly. I have no doubt such a group would be composed of the bickering dilettantes he depicts, and he extrudes the various clashing personalities out into fully fleshed-out individuals with their own stories, plus the sacrifices that they are prepared to make for the cause. Some considerably more than others…

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I can see various different creators in his black and white art. Early Chester Brown, Dylan Horrocks, Jessica Abel, even a bit of Jeffrey Brown and possibly even a bit of Jacques Tardi, actually. This will appeal to anyone who appreciates the power of protest and absolutely loves the idea of someone sticking it to the man. So me at least, then!

JR

Buy Blackbird and read the Page 45 review here

Rebels vol 1: A Well-Regulated Militia s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Andrea Mutti, Matthew Woodson, Ariela Kristantina, Tristan Jones…

“Hold still, or I’ll shoot.”
“My father told you about crossing our fields, you spook the cows and the milk comes spoilt.”
“Come off it, Mercy Tucker. That’s just famers’ superstition.”
“So, what? We’re famers, ain’t we? We’d know, wouldn’t we? You two just gonna stand there like a pair of jackanapes?”
“Mercy, your Pa knows what’s at stake. He knows the militia is what’s keeping this farm out of the hands of the thieves down in Albany. Your Pa would let us pass freely. Your Pa wouldn’t point a musket in our faces.”
“Redcoats came up the big house three days ago, Ezekiel. Pa signed the grant papers over to the Sheriff. Made us tenants, didn’t they? I’ve been out in these fields since, ashamed to see my Pa, knowing he’d be ashamed to by seen by me.”
“Mercy… tell your Pa, we’ll be back with those papers.”

Young Seth Abbott has a lot to learn about the different ways war can be waged. He might be a member of the local militia sworn to achieve independence from the British and their hated occupying armies of Redcoats, but not all battles are fought with a gun.

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I suspect this is going to be a fascinating series for anyone interested in history, and particularly this period, which I will fully admit is not one I know much about, partly because, given the British ultimately got booted out, it doesn’t get taught much in UK schools!

I do, however, clearly remember inadvertently instigating a full-on cowboy-style barroom brawl in Alabama one 4th of July, when asked by a smartarse local what we called Independence Day in the UK. My somewhat alcohol-aided throwaway riposte of it being known as the Good Riddance To Bad Rubbish Day provoked a wild swing from my outraged non-compadre which I fortunately dodged.

Unfortunately for him, it smashed the orneriest nutter in the bar squarely on the back of the head, whom, delightedly taking offense with the idiot in question, after eyeing the pair of us up and deciding my best “it wasn’t me, honest guvnor” face was clearly one to be trusted, went at the haymaker like an out-of-control combine harvester. Suffice to say, before you could utter “Four score and seven years ago…” there were Stetsons being knocked jauntily askew left, right and centre as a group of about thirty locals started going at it en masse, settling old scores. I just inched my way through to the edge of the melee somehow unscathed, picked up my Heineken which was perched on the bar and propped myself up to enjoy the scene. Good times.

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Anyway… digression done with, Brian Wood has commented he intends this to be a NORTHLANDERS-style title. By which he means that each arc will be self-contained thus allowing him to tell various different colonists’ stories, not just the famous figures of the time. For let’s not forget that ultimately this is what all the non-indigenous inhabitants of North America were at that time really: not natives, but relatively recently arrived pioneers who, for the most part, actually didn’t wanted to secede from British rule until the British government caused such dissent and consternation with their taxation policies. Then their rather heavy-handed attempts to crush any dissent didn’t help.

This everyman concept – which I think worked extremely well in NORTHLANDERS in allowing him to explore the very diverse elements and traditions, plus the varied political and social structures of the Viking world, in addition to some major events of course – could translate very nicely to this milieu, even though it was of course considerably briefer and more geographically condensed. Because actually, that’s what I’m interested in: what was life like for the settlers during this incredible period of upheaval? Inevitably sides had to be chosen, stands taken, and many a heavy price paid. Just not tea taxes…

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This first arc, then, deals mainly with young militia man Seth Abbott and his bride Mercy Tucker. Actually, it’s mainly about their dual lives, during the long, seven-year separation the war causes them. In truth, though, it’s as much choice for Seth as duty, something his wife, bringing up their son and protecting their homestead alone, does not appreciate one iota, even if she intends to remain faithful and true to her wedding vows. Then there are also some individual issues featuring very different characters: a wife fighting alongside the soldiers including her husband on the front lines, a Native American Indian who finds conflicting friendship and tribal loyalties impossible to resolve, and a freed black slave fighting on behalf of the Crown. I think Brian Wood certainly delivers and then some on his intentions to show the individual human stories of the war.

Lovely delicate art from Andrea Mutti on three of the six issues in this volume (#1, #4 & #5), he does like his line shading, very ably supported by Matthew Woodson, Ariela Kristiantina, Tristan Jones, who take an issue each. The changes in art style neatly accompany the changes in character or focus of the storyline.

JR

Buy Rebels vol 1: A Well-Regulated Militia s/c and read the Page 45 review here

DMZ Book 1 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli.

Manhattan is no longer the thriving hub of culture and commerce it once was.

It is a wreck ravaged by all, caught in the crossfire between the U.S. Army and America’s own home-grown, anti-establishment militias which rose up while all the eyes and soldiers’ feet were abroad in Afghanistan and Iraq, and did a little insurging of their own.

A supposedly demilitarized zone, Manhattan is prone to be bombed with a moment’s notice and has become a no-go zone for everyone but the most intrepid or reckless reporters.

Matty Roth is neither of those. He’s an inexperienced rich kid whose dad called in a favour and bought him a ticket to shadow a veteran war journalist on an expedition into the heartland of the DMZ. They had a military escort but that lasted all of five seconds before an ambush left Roth scuttling for cover, alone and ill-equipped to survive this alien, inhospitable and virtually lawless environment.

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Roth tries to report what he sees, but it’s not long, of course, before he begins being used by the military and media alike, whose mendacity is not to be underestimated.

Gruelling but gripping. Warren Ellis raved about the final issue reprinted here, ‘New York Times’, as the most ground-breaking comic of year in which it was originally published. It wasn’t, but it was a clever collage, with Brian Wood himself (or rather, the protagonist) assembling snapshots of life and culture into a “year-one report” for Independent World News.

Other than that, Burchielli’s art reminded me a little of Mike McMahon’s on THE LAST AMERICAN. It was craggy that way, with a lot of chin. Also, it was the shell-shocked and pocked environment.

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Like Brian K. Vaughan in Y – THE LAST MAN, Wood soon begins to examine other practical ramifications of his chosen scenario, in this case the island’s isolation, the lack of sustainable firewood and the fate of the zoo whose custodians turn out to be a lot less cuddly than David Attenborough or dear old Johnny Morris.

The best is yet to come, however, when the series whose premise is the result of America’s illegal invasion of Iraq becomes the perfect vehicle to damn so much that occurred there including the deployment of private military corporations like Blackwater, the deadly, indiscriminate, gun-ho actions of its mercenaries, and oh so much more.

SLH

Buy DMZ Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

We Stand On Guard h/c (£18-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce.

The writer of SAGA, PAPER GIRLS, EX MACHINA, Y – THE LAST MAN, THE PRIVATE EYE and THE ESCAPISTS needs no introduction, so I was going to write that you can consider this a re-introduction, then I looked back and realised that politics play a substantial role in almost all of those, while PRIDE OF BAGHDAD is overtly critical of the American military’s conduct and indeed very presence in Iraq.

Here, in a century’s time, America invades Canada in retaliation for what it perceives to be – or claims to perceive to be – its drone strike on The Whitehouse. We don’t even know if it was Canada that was responsible. It seems pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? But Canada does have a lot of lovely clean water much wanted over the border so that’s convenient, eh?

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Disproportionate response is nothing new when it comes to the US military – nor a deliberate mis-identification of any clear and present danger – so I think you can consider Ottawa obliterated in the first few pages of chapter one. During this almost instantaneous assault without any evidence of investigation Tommy and Amber’s parent’s limbs blown are off in front of them, their dad’s dying words being…

“Tommy… you listen to me… you… look after… your baby sister… whatever happens… you never… leave her side…”

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Twelve years later, on the very next page, Tommy has left Amber’s side.

She’s all alone in the Canadian snow-swept wilds, armed with a crossbow, hunting for her supper.

But she’s about to have company and not necessarily any of it good.

I was uncertain about Steve Skroce’s art to begin with. I certainly found no fault with his sense of scale: the American military’s four-legged All-Terrain Tanks towering above the tallest of the trees in the Northwest Territories are monumental, terrifying, their armour so evidently impregnable.

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But there’s something inescapably toy-doll about the figures, their arrangements on the page and how they sit in their environment.

What won me over was the second issue’s invasion of the cosy, well-appointed home of a couple of pensioners quietly sitting on their suburban settee. The clarity verging on the clinical elevates the incongruity of what you’re witnessing, and that’s the genius of the series itself.

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Somehow (somehow) it’s one thing for American soldiers to bust down so many domestic doors in Baghdad and brutally manhandle their occupants without any hope of being reasoned with, but setting this in Canada where the tree-lined avenues look so similar to our own and, of course, America’s… Well, it brings the horror all home, hopefully.

So what happened to Amber’s brother, Tommy? Well, we do know he was captured by the Americans and presumably taken to one of their camps. Probably to what is ominously being termed “the basement”.

What you’ll find there will be unflinchingly brutal, come with complete deniability, zero qualms and no hesitation whatsoever.

SLH

Buy We Stand On Guard h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Spider-Man: Brand New Day s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Bob Gale, Zeb Wells, Marc Guggenheim & Phil Jimenez, Steve McNiven, Greg Land, Phil Winslade, Mike Deodato, Salvador Larroca, Chris Bachalo, Barry Kitson, Marcos Martin, Mike McKone, Paulo Siqueira.

Omnibus reprint of what – in many ways – was that start of whichever SPIDER-MAN series you’re reading now.

Following Jo Quesada’s intervention at the end of Straczynski’s run, “Brand New Day” should have been a very hard sell. The clock hadn’t just been turned back, it had been thrown against the wall, smashed to pieces and put together again with some missing parts replaced. Some of the cogs were new, some were very old, and some had simply been given a different coloured varnish. But guess what? The clock still ticked at a fine, steady pace – it was just a different clock.

Peter had never married Mary Jane – in fact, they broke up, though why was a mystery they let linger for a while. Harry Osborne – the son of the original Green Goblin and his successor – was still alive and suddenly no one knew who Spider-Man was, not even those who saw him unmask during CIVIL WAR.

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“Oh no!” the men-children cried. “That means that the last twenty years of stories I’ve enjoyed never happened!”

“No,” I replied, “they never did happen. They never happened because this is fiction and they are stories! But you enjoyed reading those stories, so what are you complaining about?! Here are some more stories. If sales here are anything to go by, you’re enjoying those as well, aren’t you?”

Anyway, as I say, something happened to prevent Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane. You won’t find out what yet because they’re avoiding each other. In the meantime, Harry Osborn’s back from Europe with a sexy entourage and determined to slide his way into politics, Aunt May is doing voluntary work with someone a lot shadier than she knows, Peter’s given Jameson a coronary, and Jonah’s wife’s solution to his stress levels is to sell his shares in The Daily Bugle!

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Oh yes, all-new villains, even if one of their rides looks a lot like the Goblins’. Do you think all their cackling, monomaniacal ways will cross? I suspect so!

Dan Slott absolutely nailed the tone, the characters, the humour and the pace, whilst McNiven’s camera angles, even during conversations, were unusual and fun. Not only that but throughout the run which eventually culminated in Doc Ock’s tenure as SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN (after a few more books yet to be repacked into these new, giant-sized editions) Slott managed to corral its multiple contributors into creating a surprisingly consistent series.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Chris Bachalo came on board with all the blizzard scenes I’ve found as your interior art here, but it began round the breakfast table in the New Avengers’ hideout with Wolverine drinking beer, Dr. Strange walking air and Spider-Man stealing the toy from the cereal box. *sigh*

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It’s freezing outside.

Dr. Strange: If you’re sure my assistance isn’t required…
Spider-Man: Well, I’ve got twenty blocks to go in this blizzard. If you can make it stop snowing, I’d appreciate it.
Dr. Strange: Hmmm. I will not stop the snow, but perhaps I can tell you when it will cease.
Wolverine: Yeah, this is a good use of his time.
Spider-Man: I was kind of joking…
Dr. Strange: Verium, equinu, helerium….
Wolverine: You’re using our Sorcerer Supreme as a weatherman…
Spider-Man: I have a lot to do today…
Dr. Strange: The storm comes not from the north, east, west or south… But from the void, from darkness’ mouth. There is no time, the end is near, in blackness dies all we hold dear. From the snow a threat emerges, eyes of red, with murderous urges. A protector fights to seal the lock… Right here tonight… at four o’clock
[Dr. Strange collapses: THUNK!]
Wolverine: Anything else?

SLH

http://www.page45.com/store/Spider-Man-Brand-New-Day-sc.html

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

From Now On (£10-99, Alternative Comics) by Malachi Ward

Lou (£10-99, Alternative Comics) by Melissa Mendes

Mega Robo Bros vol 1 (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron

Pop Gun War: Gift (£10-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple

Secretimes s/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Keith Jones

Invader Zim vol 1 (£14-99, Oni) by Jhonen Vasquez, Eric Trueheart & Aaron Alexovich

The Red Virgin And The Vision Of Utopia h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Mary M. Talbot & Bryan Talbot

Why Would You Do That? (£7-50, Hic & Hoc) by Andrea Tsurumi

Chew vol 11: The Last Suppers (£10-99, Image) by John Layman & Rob Guillory

Codename Baboushka vol 1: Conclave Of Death s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Shari Chankhamma

Complete Peanuts: 1999 – 2000 (£16-99, Canongate) by Charles M. Schulz

Hellblazer vol 13: Haunted (£18-99, Vertigo) by Warren Ellis, Darko Macan & John Higgins, various, Francis Manapul

Judge Dredd Casefiles 27 (£19-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner & Henry Flint, Peter Doherty, Greg Staples, Ian Gibson

Stan And Nan h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Sarah Lippett

Twilight Children s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Gilbert Hernandez & Darwyn Cooke

Batman And Robin vol 7: Robin Rises s/c (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, Andy Kubert, Juan Jose Ryp, Ian Bertram

Injustice Year Four vol 1 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato & Bruno Redondo, Mike S. Miller, various

All New X-Men: Inevitable vol 1: Ghosts Of Cyclops s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Dennis Hopeless & Mark Bagley

Catwoman vol 5: Backward Masking s/c (£18-99, DC) by Will Pfeifer & Pete Woods, David Lopez

Grayson vol 3: Nemesis s/c (£12-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Tom King & Mikel Janin, various

All New Wolverine vol 1: Four Sisters s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & David Lopez, David Navarrot

Daredevil: Back In Black vol 1: Chinatown s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Ron Garney, Goran Sudzuka

Spider-Gwen vol 1: Greater Power s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Jason Latour & Robbi Rodriguez, Chris Visions

Spider-Man / Deadpool vol 00: Don’t Call It A Team-Up s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Fabian Nicieza, Joe Kelly, Daniel Way & various

Web Warriors Of The Spider-Verse vol 1: Electroverse s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Mike Costa, Robbie Thompson & David Baldeon, Denis Medri

Monster Perfect Edition vol 8 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

Tokyo Ghoul vol 6 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Paul Goes Fishing (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michel Rabagliati. Again?!?!

News!

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ITEM! The debate rages on!

Article on print versus digital reading in schools, who prefers which and what makes all the difference in the world: choice!

Young, male, reluctant readers make good use of the iPad, probably because it turns reading into something that feels similar to a computer game, but the preference for print is encouraging and here’s some things you might not have thought of:

1) A book is more likely to be read, finished and enjoyed if the child has had an active role in selecting that prose book or graphic novel
2) iPads give very few clues as to form or content of any prose book or graphic novel
3) To successfully select, you first need a wide range to choose from.

Can’t wait to expand the space we give teen comics too, but in the meantime, yes, Young Readers, we have choice!

Librarian posters by Sarah McIntyre

Librarian posters by Sarah McIntyre

ITEM! Interview with MEGG & MOGG’s Simon Hanselmann (see review above) who you might remember getting married to comics (yes, comics) during the Ignatz Awards at SPX 2014 and snogging Fantagraphics’ Gary Groth.

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It is an exceptionally fine and fun interview about Simon’s creativity, cross-dressing and drug-addled mother. Simon makes a much prettier Megg than Megg does.

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– Stephen

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week one

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Reviewed: Inio Asano, John Allison, Brecht Evens, Sophie Campbell, Samuel C. Williams, Francesca Sanna, Mark Crilley, Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay, Neil Gaiman & Mike Zulli, Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette, Nick Spencer & more!

Panther h/c (£19-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brecht Evens…

Panther cover

“ROOAARR…. Oh! Are you the little girl I heard crying?”
“Um… yes.”
“What’s troubling your heart, my child?”
“Lucy… my kitty… she’s dead.”
“Rooaarr, how dreadful! Was it some kind of automobile?”
“Sniff. No. The vet…”
“Those quacks! I am so sorry… Here, take my handkerchief.”
“Sniff. Who are you?”
“Ah! Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Octavianus Abracadolphus Pantherius, Crown Prince of Pantherland! But you can call me Panther!”
“How did you get into my dresser?”
“Rooaarr! We Panthers go wherever we please!”
“But Pantherland… That’s not a real country, is it?”
“Not a real country? Christine, how dare you?”
“How do you know my name? I didn’t tell you my name.”
“Mmm?”

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Well… this wasn’t what I expected… and yet reflecting back to Brecht’s first work, the now-out-of-print NIGHT ANIMALS, it makes much sense. I was expecting something hilariously farcical akin to his two most recent works, THE WRONG PLACE and THE MAKING OF. This does have a lot of ridiculous humour in places, but there’s a very dark undercurrent here that left me feeling rather unsettled and uneasy upon its conclusion. Which, I should add, will be entirely what Brecht Evens intended.

Casting my mind back to NIGHT ANIMALS, where a young girl suddenly spontaneously matures physically, experiences her first period, and is whisked away from her soft toy strewn bed by the Devil to a wild orgy full of terrifying creatures in a forest, before she vanishes forever inside a strange birdman, there are clearly some parallels here. Askance ones at least.

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For whilst the titular Panther may on the surface appear to be a captivating, charismatic, magical creature, who only appears to a young girl called Christine, living alone with just her father, her mother having left for reasons unknown and mourning the recent loss of her dead cat Lucy, by the time you finish this work, you’ll have a hard time not concluding that in fact the Panther is a sexual predator, grooming Christine. You might also find it difficult not to conclude that the Panther is her father… I have on the other hand heard it suggested that this is a story of initial sexual awakening, emergence from adolescence, and the Panther is indeed merely an internal representative figure. Much like NIGHT ANIMALS, then. But, as I say, it’s all very ambiguous, right to the very end…

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What isn’t in doubt is that this is another Evens masterpiece, both in terms of storytelling and the art. You will find yourself squirming in your seat as Panther ingratiates himself further into Christine’s life, appearing as he only does in her bedroom, presenting himself as an understanding ear to bend and furry friend to play with. You can always tell, though, that he is being somewhat parsimonious with the truth. When not being downright evasive…

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Art-wise, well, wow! The cover is an extremely accurate representation of the kaleidoscopic illustrations you will find within. Already one of the most unique and inventive artists out there, Brecht has taken it to new levels here. What also furthers the discomfort regarding the identity of the Panther is his amorphous features, indeed his entire head, and also sometimes even his body. They are constantly changing, transforming completely, to perfectly fit the moment in terms of expression and emotion, usually to evoke a reaction from Christine, and sometimes slipping quite perturbingly when he knows she can’t see. Occasionally it’s even three or four times within a single illustration in a kind of time lapse movement that’s quite the accomplished visual treat.

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Once again Brecht also eschews the need for panel or page borders, indeed even pencils, just getting his watercolours straight down on the page. It adds a certain fairytale quality here in places. Overall, between the psychedelic art and the frenetic, fluid, false showman that is the Panther, there is a real Alice In Wonderland feel to this work. I closed the book feeling disturbed and delighted in equal measure. I have no idea what drove Brecht to write this particular work, but I can’t deny it’s a compellingly cruel story.

JR

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

Bad Machinery vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside (£14-99, Oni) by John Allison…

Bad Mach 5 cover

“Lottie, put that yogurt away.”
“Street yogurt’s the best Shauna, well nang.”
“You’re not even using a spoon? You’re using the lid?”
“Yum.”

Hahahaha, I read that page very shortly after a quick lunch on the hoof in Market Square, where upon discovering I hadn’t picked up a disposable spoon for my coconut milk yogurt, I was forced to fashion a makeshift one from the foil lid… It was, indeed, well nang! Not sure what it says about me that the BAD MACHINERY character I seem to have most in common with is Charlotte Grote, though!

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So, the tween detectives of Griswalds Grammar School return with more musings on life, love and lessons, all the whilst attempting to crack another confounding case. This time around Sonny is besotted with a mysterious new girl who has just arrived at school, and possibly on land… Mildred, meanwhile, is falling for the charms of bad boy Lee Chaplin, though there’s the slight problem of a not-quite-yet-ex who is ready to fight Mildred to the death for her man! Good job Grandpa Joe is on hand to dispense some pearls of hard-won pensioner wisdom on the subject of romance and ill-advised beachcombing…

“Mildred, if the first thing a lad tells you is a lie, you’ve no reason to ever trust him.”
“But he’s so handsome and strong.”
“Lies are like a flower, the truth’s like a brick.”
“Eh?”
“What about you Sonny?”
“I saw a girl swimming in the sea one day. I couldn’t stop dreaming about her. Think she… I think she… turned up at school and sat next to me.”
“You’ve flummoxed him. “Girls who come out of the sea are like… are like a… like…””
“Sonny, listen to me carefully. Did you take anything from the beach?”
“An… unshakeable sense of melancholy?”
“That wasn’t what I was thinking of.”

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This is British farce at its finest. John sets up verbal punchline after punchline, page after page. I think possibly the episodic nature of BAD MACHINERY’s initial release in webcomic form, one page at a time, has finely honed John’s ability to be able to deliver pugilistic punctuation to world heavyweight championship standards. Not sure if that makes him the Rocky Balboa of British humour comics, but I do know that there are at least three more rounds of BAD MACHINERY material already out there on t’interweb for Oni to collect. Knockout!

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What really makes BAD MACHINERY (and John’s university-based GIANT DAYS) such a gleeful pleasure to read, though, over and above the bonkers Scooby Doo-style sleuthery, is it will transport you back in time, to when all you really had to worry about was the sheer terror of working out just how to talk to the object of your erupting adolescent desires without dying of shame, avoiding flailing fisticuffs and torment at the hands of psychotic bullies who are probably now practising corporate law, and coming up with ever more imaginative excuses as to precisely why your homework seemed to have mysteriously not accompanied you to your seat of learning yet again…

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John must have an eidetic memory of his formative years, though, because there’s so much I had forgotten about that comes flooding back every time I read BAD MACHINERY. Truly was life ever once so simple but simultaneously so fantastically complicated in such an emotionally jumbled up hormone infused manner? Indeed it was and what a pleasure it is to vicariously read all about it without actually having to go through it all again!

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In terms of his art, I continue to marvel at how deceptively simple it looks. He’s refined it to an amazing degree now, it’s so smooth on the eye, yet packed with expression and detail, plus random hilarious visual background gags. (I truly want to believe there is an arcade game called King Beaver in which it is possible to enter Beavergeddon Mode!) It would be fair to say his style has attracted more than a few imitators in recent years, yet they are mere contenders compared to John. Whereas his art feels seamlessly put together, the wannabes are going to need to put in a lot more hours in the illustrative ring before they’re ready to take him on. Cue training montage. Or not.

JR

Buy Bad Machinery vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside and read the Page 45 review here

Goodnight Punpun vol 1 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano.

“I don’t get it!
“I don’t understand!!”

He really doesn’t. He doesn’t understand any of it: God, girls, crushes, friendship, promises, life, death by environmental disaster, dreams… Why his father decided to smack his mother into the middle of next week and then blame a burglar… That was particularly flimsy.

He doesn’t understand and it makes him so anxious that he frets and sweats and his little legs go jiggling about, nineteen to the dozen. Also, it renders him mute. He doesn’t say a word directly throughout the entire graphic novel. His friends and relatives tend to interpret how tongue-tied Punpun is coping with the world by asking him questions for him to respond to with vigorous nodding, timorous, alarmed eyes, a hastily beaten retreat or full-on floods of tears.

On the other hand, the world as presented to him is all kinds of crackers.

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His melodramatic teacher’s down-with-the kids “Psych!” winks are wince-worthy and his headmaster and principal, also rendered in terrifying detail, appear to be engaged in a Vitally Important if childlike game of hide and seek. In addition, his uncle taught him an infantile rhyme about God in order to bolster the boy’s confidence, but now God appears to Punpun as a sort of celebrity guru, a hipster with a beard and afro – a gormless, grinning, two-dimensional cardboard cut-out that’s sod-all use to anyone. In any case, his uncle doesn’t even believe in God.

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“Dream big, everyone!” commands his teacher. “Because dreams are free!”

He then adds, “But don’t forget to be realistic about your abilities and financial needs. Otherwise you’re in for some serious disappointments in life!”

There’s no shortage of disappointment here, but from this mixed message Punpun draws enough encouragement to write in his homework about studying space, becoming a professor and discovering a planet on which everyone can live once this one’s resources have been drained dry. His inspiration comes from a telescope his Dad won while gambling – a bribe to distract Punpun from the family breakdown in front of him – while his motivation is to impress school newcomer Aiko whose first words to Punpun are “In a few years we’ll run out of oil, the environment will be destroyed and Earth will be uninhabitable” right after “Why are you following me? I’ll call the cops!”

So there’s a right one to develop the most almighty crush on.

The essay would have impressed Aiko, except that at the last minute Punpun must have remembered his teacher’s more cautionary note and baulked, replacing ambition with the mediocrity of “My dream is to work in an average office and have an average family”. Then he ran away.

Did I mention that Punpun is drawn as a sort of cartoon bird-ghost with little stick legs..?

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Strangely enough you’ll get used to it quite quickly, but it emphasises Punpun’s timidity, fragility, distance and alienation from the world which baffles him, and the surreality of it all. His entire family’s drawn like that. Perhaps it’s because they’re all living in a shared cloud-cuckoo-land – including his uncle whose eyes behind his glasses on occasion widen from black dots to the photorealistic when shit, as they say, gets real. However much he strives to keep it at bay. (“Whatever! I’m taking a nap! I’m napping!”)

Different things seem real or credible to a kid than to an adult. At one point Aiko declares:

“If you break this promise…
“If you betray me again…
“Next time I’ll kill you.”

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And he believes her. It doesn’t dilute his adoration or his desperation to please her, but he fully believes she will kill him. Worse still, he cannot bear to disappoint her and that’s largely what’s running through his mind even when the kids are off to an abandoned miso-making factory in search of corpses and cash as alluded to by a murderer confessing his fratricidal, matricidal and patricidal sins on some doctored porn video-cassette they found in the street.

Sorry…? Which bit about “all kinds of crackers” did you not understand?

From the creator of A GIRL ON THE SHORE, NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH, SOLANIN, and WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD comes a new series I cannot compare to any of the above, each of Asano’s projects being a marked departure from the last.

In many ways it put me more in mind of SUNNY for, beyond the messed up family, the “Yup yup!” lawyer and Punpun’s internalised infatuation and stress, it’s another astute portrait of how twelve-year-olds operate: how they behave towards each other in a group and behind each other’s backs, their body language on meeting in the street, and even how they sit or kneel on public transport, a sandal dangling loosely from one boy’s foot.

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I loved the way some marched from time to time just to heighten the adventure of a journey as you do (or did), and the boys’ expressions when caught with porn by a gang of girls is absolutely priceless!

Shimi, Seki, Komatsu and Harumi are as individualistic as you like. Seki’s family fortunes are connected to those of the miso factory, Shimi’s snot streams as freely as any of the orphans’ in SUNNY, Asano correctly observing that within any group of similarly aged children some will still look older than others. One of the lads – not named as far as I could spot – is drawn, hilariously, with exactly the same expression in every single panel no matter what the context, snake-like eyebrows frowning away, his permanently shocked gap-toothed mouth agape.

As you may have inferred by now like A GIRL ON THE SHORE there is a certain degree of sexual exploration in evidence – albeit entirely solo, but then it’s only the first volume – and like NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH there is a sequence of such protracted terror that I’m still not sure how Asano recovered from it except by deploying some Terry Gilliam collages as absurd as hipster God’s disembodied solo manifestations. It’s a trigger for an extended sequence of flashbacks to things Punpun never understood, particularly his parents’ marital breakdown, culminating in gormless God “looking unusually serious” declaring:

“Humans, as long as they live, have an emptiness inside them that can never be filled. If, no matter how much people need each other and hurt each other, there’s still no such thing as perfect understanding, then what on earth can you believe in? Just kidding – lighten up!”

I have no idea where this is going – to be fair, I’ve no idea where some of this went – but it kept me wide-eyed in wonder at all the traumas, bottom-of-the-same-steps accidents, and complete confusion.

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I think as much as anything this is indeed about isolation, for Punpun experiences everything at a remove by dint of his appearance, his reticence and his silence. Every dozen or so pages there’s a single small panel set apart at the far end of a blank page depicting two-dimensional Punpun small and alone in a detailed suburban city scene.

Isolation and family as a disappointment, perhaps – one’s stable refuge proving to be otherwise. There’s a heartbreaking scene against a sunset later on followed by a legal manoeuvre that’s cold. But don’t think that cassette-tape confession is irrelevant, either.

“The suspect further testified, “We argued about work and I lost control and I killed them”.”

SLH

Buy Goodnight Punpun vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 1: Feeble Wanderings (New Edition) (£14-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.

Cleo Lovedrop! Wet Moon vol 1 coverPossibly the best-named protagonist ever!

“If you can’t judge a comic by its cover, then it’s not the right cover,” I began ten years ago. “This is the right cover.”

It was a different cover!

“Framed in black, a young, tubby gothstress with a fag in her mouth, looks up uncertainly over her black-rimmed glasses… The cover says GHOST WORLD with piercings and pvc, and that’s pretty much what the contents deliver.”

Do you know what? They still do to a certain extent. That WET MOON developed into something far more chilling in its six volumes (so far) obviously colours a re-read but I saw some of that coming too. I simply failed to spot its simmering source. As, I’m afraid, do the cast.

I like the new cover. It speaks of a more profound melancholy, a deeper malaise than the comparatively fashionable original. This is someone alone with the thoughts while nobody’s watching, rather than someone perhaps being photographed.

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The forms inside will become a great deal softer, kinder, plumper, doe-eyed, love-struck and a lot less abrasive and tired over the six books, but that note aside, I’ll leave the original review pretty much as it stood…

Term’s about to kick off for a cast of young college girls, all unsure of themselves and their relationships, most of them awkward.

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Audrey – black, pretty and gay – is the exception, but Trilby – pale, freckled, Tank-Girl hair falling over a nose-ring and braces – provides a weighty counterbalance to Audrey by being hideously ugly, both inside and out. It’s not that she’s intent on turning her face into a human curtain rail – so many others are too – it’s that she’s relentlessly and remorselessly selfish, callous, moody, bitchy, and disloyal, dismissing anyone’s misgivings with “Who cares?” and “Whatever” while caring very much that no one walks in her watching Star Trek: Next Generation. She’s so two-faced she can be briefing against a friend five seconds before flashing a smile in their very direction.

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Fortunately the focus of this first book (and it does look as if it will be quite the saga) is Trilby’s friend Cleo Lovedrop, the girl on the front who is far more honest and open and therefore vulnerable and seems fascinatingly complex to me. Ross gives her pages and pages of silent panels, and you’re never quite sure what’s going on in her head, even though diary pages full of insecurity verging on paranoia are provided, as she stares at the moon, vulnerable and troubled, her hand over her belly. What’s going on when she turns tail in terror each time she bumps into a particular, tall fellow student called Vincent? (Have they had a relationship? a bad meeting? or is she just being weird?)

While working on Antony Johnston’s SPOOKED, Campbell proved she was one of those rare artists who, refreshingly, refrain from making everyone and everything LCD-perfect i.e. bland. It’s obvious she relishes more individualistic body forms. Here, however, she has managed to make some seductive art of it. The lines are far cleaner, the forms bolder and the grey tones reproduce the balmy atmosphere of the bayou. There’s some real subtlety in the expressions, and I don’t know if it was intentional, but I loved the way that it wasn’t until later on I realised that Cleo was so remarkably short.

I mentioned the bayou, and there’s an awful lot of water here, most of it decidedly ominous. As yet I haven’t decided whether the ‘Wet Moon’ in question is the reflection of the lunar sphere on the lapping lakes, or has more to do with the menstrual cycle, mentioned throughout, perhaps tying in with those belly rubs and Vincent.

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What I do suspect is that this will end up containing an element of horror, because there’s a brooding Charles Burns something-or-other going on with slack-jawed, drooling residents.

[For the record, that wasn’t where the horror ended up coming from! You could try to cheat by clicking ahead to my reviews of the other volumes but even there you’ll find me tantalisingly evasive.]

SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 1: Feeble Wanderings (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

At War With Yourself (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Samuel C. Williams…

“Are thereAt War cover any other things like that? Things you may have ignored that you now know were part of your PTSD?”

“Well there definitely things I identified as triggers later on. (Sit!) But I didn’t understand what was happening at the time.”

That was Matt, a former soldier, answering a question from the creator Samuel C. Williams whilst they take a walk in the park together. I should probably add the command to assume a recumbent position wasn’t aimed at Samuel, but Matt’s dog!

Okay, that’s my one jokey aside regarding PTSD, which clearly isn’t a laughing matter for sufferers. This work, the latest in the series of excellent medicinal prescriptions from Singing Dragon publishers, aims to prime people regarding PTSD’s causes and symptoms.

Samuel, as he strolls with Matt, talks us through what the medical profession currently know regarding PTSD. As a member of the military, Matt is clearly amongst the most well known demographic of PTSD sufferers, along with people working in emergency response, but the general public is gradually beginning to realise the causes of PTSD, from both one-off events and also cumulative trauma, and therefore those who can suffer from it, are considerably more widespread and varied than initially appreciated.

As they perambulate along peacefully Matt also gradually takes Samuel though his own diagnosis to the treatment he received and at the same time recounts his own harrowing trauma, plus some unintentionally humorous experiences that occurred at unexpected and inconvenient moments. As someone trained in counter surveillance, Matt would occasionally become convinced a car was following him and his wife whilst out driving, resulting in some awkward instances when he suddenly took a few random turns to try and shake them off! There are only so many times you can pull the old “I’ve just taken a wrong turn, darling…” excuse whilst trying to covertly evade pursuit!

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Matt makes the very salient point that his experiences are always going to be with him, so it was necessary to learn how to live with them, and how to manage his PTSD. It’s nice to see there’s been a happy outcome for him and his family, and he rightly pays tribute to his wife for her part in that. Though as we clearly know, that’s sadly not the case for everyone because frequently people are too scared or self-conscious to seek help. Often with ultimately tragic consequences.

I have commented before with Singing Dragon publications that this is exactly the sort of material that should be sat in GPs’ waiting rooms for potential patients to read. It’s far more inviting, and dare I say it, informative, for someone who is already experiencing extreme trepidation about talking to a medical professional, than some glossy prose pamphlet filled with jargon. I think the relatively simple illustration style, just as with Alex Demetris’ DAD’S NOT ALL THERE ANY MORE, will work to great advantage in appealing to the non-comic public. These works looks intriguing and most importantly feel like something that is extremely accessible to everyone. They would definitely be picked up and absorbed.

JR

Buy At War With Yourself and read the Page 45 review here

The Journey h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Francesca Sanna.

“The further we go…
“The more we leave behind.”

Much has been made recently about teaching empathy in the classroom – promoting kindness and compassion through understanding. Quite right too, and to further that goal, this has just shot to the top of my list.

A carefully weighted cross between Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL and Tove Jansson’s THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD, the images do so much of the heavy lifting that you can certainly consider it comics.

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It begins on the pristine sands of an enormous, open beach, mother in her modest swimsuit reading away, son exploring the shore and a tiny, tentative fish nearby, father and daughter building sandcastles so ornate that they are indistinguishable from the exotic city close to the sea. Then on the very next page war breaks out, the ocean becoming an enormous black leviathan of chaos and cruelty sweeping lives and all those castles so carefully constructed aside.

“And one day the war took my father.” It is a very stark page.
“Since that day everything has become darker and my mother has become more and more worried.”

The mother envelopes her children, one of whom is weeping, protecting them from the multiple, encroaching, black hands of danger and despair. Drawing a book from their extensive bookcase, the mother she shows her children pictures of “strange cities, strange forests and strange animals”, reassuring them that is a safe place, that they will go there and not be frightened anymore.

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“We don’t want to leave but our mother tells us it will be a great adventure. We put everything we have in suitcases and say goodbye to everyone we know.”

Everything. Everyone. Devastating enough but there is much worse to come.

At first they journey under their own steam in the family car, suitcases strapped on top. They still have a certain degree of control over their lives. Almost immediately, however, they find themselves in the back of a man’s van, squeezed between urns of olive oil…

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…Then amongst the produce of a fruit seller, with no room for the possessions they have had to jettison along the way. Then, with nothing left, they arrive at the border, its enormous wall, and an angry guard who demands they turn back.

Where? They have nowhere to go.

And it’s here that we come to the pages which most put me in mind of Tove Jansson’s THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD in which Moominmamma is the ultimate mother, reassuring Moomintroll in their journey through the dark forest even when worried herself. The mother has already done plenty of this, of course, proclaiming that their migration will be “a great adventure” and protecting them from the shadowy hands of her own dark fears. It is here, however, at their most vulnerable that the mother surpasses herself and the art comes into its own, entirely at odds with the narrator’s knowledge.

“In the darkness the noises of the forest scare me.”

Once again the mother embraces her children, nestling them in her thick, black hair amongst the forest’s foliage.

“But mother is with us and she is never scared. We close our eyes and finally fall asleep.”

 

“Never scared…”? She is petrified.  While they’re awake she meets her children’ wide-eyed gazes; once they’re asleep she cries her eyes out. And there is a long, long way to go yet.

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That this is told in the present tense keeps the future uncertain – as it is for this family every step of the way – right up to and beyond the conclusion. This is vital to keep readers walking every exhausting mile in their shoes, and to avoid the falsehood that endings are easily attained. This doesn’t have a “happily ever after”, but it does have the aspiration for one.

It is perfectly pitched.

Equally I wondered for a while whether this book with all its warm colours wasn’t too beautiful, but then I slapped myself for being so silly. Terrifying children out of their tiny minds is no use to anyone, and the beauty and fantasy of this book acts as the mother within, turning it into an adventure which will keep their shiny eyes utterly engrossed while they learn how the other half lives.

Which is obviously where Shaun Tan comes in, and so very often.

Also recommended when teaching empathy to young ones: LITTLE ROBOT by Ben Hatke, the creator of ZITA SPACEGIRL. Friendship, basically.

SLH

Buy The Journey and read the Page 45 review here

Brody’s Ghost: Collected Edition (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley.

Big fat, omnibus edition of the little pocketbooks of joy from the creator of all-ages AKIKO and the seasonal MIKI FALLS. This collects all six slimmer black and white volumes and some full-colour short stories which I imagine originally appeared in DARK HORSE PRESENTS, online or otherwise.

It also collects the various annotations which were substantial and will be of enormous use to nascent creators, being considerable and considered process pieces involving the development of certain looks, concepts, characters and confrontations – particularly the confrontations! Vitally Crilley supplies the alternative art which was later ditched in favour of what was finally printed so you can compare and contrast. When you get to it, the observation that rounded corners turned what looked inescapably like a dull function room into a dramatically extended tunnel is spot-on.

There’s a shift in art style since MIKI FALLS (and obviously AKIKO!) for he’s gone all Chynna Clugston on us. The hair is feathery and brightly grey-toned art is crisp as crisp can be. Space, there is aplenty.

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Crilley’s always had an epic sense of space and texture, and the dilapidated city – whose sky is snaked with girdered monorails and concrete overpasses that are mossed-over with shops and hoardings – is no exception. There’ll be plenty more where that came from. The equally decrepit Japanese temple is a wonder as well but, apart from that, Crilley keeps the pages free from clutter for maximum action and turning.

Brody is broke. A part-time busker, he’s taken being a slob to a professional extreme. And maybe the hunger’s got to him because after a game of blink with a pretty young lady in the ramen noodle van opposite him, the girl makes her move… right through its roof!

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I cannot tell you how well weighted that extended, silent sequence is: immaculate choreography, immaculate timing. It has to be: it’s the entire hook for the following five hundred and fifty + pages. That, and his dumbstruck disbelief and her dumbfounded disappointment that – having waited for over five years – Brody is what she’s been lumbered with.

So it’s match postponed until Brody can pick his jaw off the floor. It may take some time because so far he’s run a mile, and even tried to lock Talia out of a staff room.

“I go through stuff, Brody. I thought we’d established that.”

 

In some ways the dry disdain put me in mind of Terry Moore, some of whose characters secrete sass through their skin. Add in Talia’s lapsed relationship with the land of the living and RACHEL RISING is a very fine fit.

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“Let’s get this over with. I’m Talia. I’ve been dead for about five years now.
“Leukaemia.
“Very depressing story. Don’t make me go into it.
“All you need to know is this.
“I’m locked out of heaven.
“They say I can’t move on to the afterlife until I’ve done, like, a super good deed.”

The mission she has chosen to accept for herself is to identify, track town and stop the Penny Murders serial killer, but for one thing physically disabling someone isn’t so easy when your hands are intangible. That’s where Brody comes in if he can stop freaking out. Not only can do the physical stuff, but he’s evidently something of a psychic given what he’s witnessing right now. And that’s what Talia needs:

“Someone who’s capable of seeing ghosts… hearing ghosts… and talking to ghosts.”
“….”
“Obviously we’re still working on the “talking” part.”

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With five hundred and fifty pages still to go, what have I failed to fill you in on?

Well, when the truth about the Penny Murders Serial Killer is finally revealed hundreds of pages later – the initial catalyst followed by her or his subsequent (consequent?) motivations – it makes a chilling sort of sick sense.

Talia may look like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth but you try being disembodied for five years and being unable to affect or effect anything. This is her one chance and what she’ll be prepared to put Brody through you will not believe. I can promise you this: she doesn’t bluff.

Also, Brody’s mourning a death of his own – that of his two-year-relationship with Nicole. It’s been over for six months but Brody, like Talia, cannot move on and with Nicole dating again I’m afraid Brody’s in very great danger of making matters worse.

His psychic skills will need honing, hence the haunted Japanese temple, as will his aptitude for combat because he’s just has his ass kicked by a gang’s pet twelve-year-old.

Oh, and his morals will almost certainly need diluting because Talia is lying to his face about many things. Here’s one for a start:

Talia emphatically did not die of leukaemia.

SLH

Buy Brody’s Ghost: Collected Edition and read the Page 45 review here

The Last Dragon (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay.

At Page 45 we have dragons for all from the sublime (IN SEARCH OF LOST DRAGONS) to the ridiculous (ST. COLIN AND THE DRAGON) with the hunted and the harried in between. If you despise cockfighting and the setting of mastiffs upon one another, the recently reprinted FOUR EYES will get you proper riled. Poor dragons! It rarely goes well for them, does it?

This is a much more traditional setting for our scaly serpents / ancient wyrms and here they are more of a threat long thought dead, hunted through the islands to extinction.

But there were once many dragons and so many eggs, buried in the ground between the roots of ancient trees; trees which will one day, inevitably, give up the ghost and their secrets. And a dragon’s egg – like a dragon itself – can be patient, waiting for fortune to free it, waiting for the moment to strike.

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Jane Yolen tells the tale of one such resurrection, its divisive impact on an agricultural village and a family of five whose father and one of three daughters are herbalists. Like all fine fantasies there is an emphasis on knowledge, history and tradition; a quest taking a young band of the villagers way out their comfort zone; an element of deceit; an exploration of what makes a hero; the making of a woman or even a man, and a big bag of faith, ingenuity and improvisation.

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That it’s filed by Dark Horse itself under Young Adult explains a lot of its narrative stylings, and I can see this being prized by that specific audience enormously.

Also Rebecca Guay – famous for her contributions to Magic The Gathering – renders some startling double-page spreads of our dragon in action and, even more impressively, one as it quietly bides its time early on and so seen only reflected in a shower-dimpled river or lake. That I don’t “do” opaque is merely a personal preference. As a hardcover this went down a storm.

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Heart-warming autobiographical introduction / tribute by Neil Gaiman.

SLH

Buy The Last Dragon and read the Page 45 review here

The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch h/c (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli.

Good lord, Sir Neil has a beard here!

And it is most definitely Neil, just as it’s Jonathan Ross and his wife Jane sitting down with him over sushi to recall the events leading up to the strange disappearance of Miss Finch – which was not her real name. No one would believe them if recounted, but recount them Neil does.

It begins when Neil holes himself up in a London hotel to finish off a script that’s been eluding him. No one should have known he was there, but Jonathan Ross has his ways and means and off they all go out to the theatre with Miss Finch, if only to dilute the horror that is Miss Finch – which was not her real name.

That Miss Finch is a horror as becomes immediately apparent when she arrives at Jonathan’s door to his elaborate home. An austere and pedantic bio-geologist, Miss Finch is an abrupt, humourless, supercilious and sanctimonious cow.

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What, then, will they as a party make of the pseudo-phantasmagorical freak-show down in the warren of cellars that stretches under the train tracks of London’s rainy night? Is it really a fake? And what becomes of the stone-cold-hearted Miss Finch? It’s quite the transformation.

Neil keeps the tension racked, whilst Zulli (PUMA BLUES COMPLETE SAGA, SANDMAN: THE WAKE etc.) provides rich watercolour art which to begin with is overly busy, but burst out halfway though with cleaner ink lines before the lushest of light in the final tropical jungle scenes.

Oh, and Ross is depicted as a slim Oscar Wilde, which I imagine went down well with the fop!

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SLH

Buy The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette…

“Slave queen of a nation of slaves. Your children will live and they will die by the fist of man.”
“That’s better. Tell me. Tell them. It’s all play, remember?”
“Tell them all what you are. Say it. Tell us all what Hercules has made you.”

“Hercules… Hercules has made me patient!
“Hercules has taught me life is a privilege.
“And no more.
“NO MORE!”

So much for Hercules… Or not, perhaps…

Grant Morrison returns to DC with an evocative, indeed provocative, reworking of the origins of Wonder Woman. Much like J. Michael Straczynski’s SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE trilogy and Geoff Johns’ BATMAN: EARTH ONE (two books so far, presumably a third at some point), this won’t in some ways feel like a radical departure from the mainstream DCU version (whatever that actually means as we careen towards yet another reboot, sorry, REBIRTH) unlike TEEN TITANS: EARTH VOL 1 which was quite the reshaping.

On the other hand, this is quite unlike any other WONDER WOMAN you’ll have ever read.

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No, this is more Morrison paying to tribute to the true feminist roots, as he perceives it, of the character, and also her original creator, William Moulton Marston, making maximum use of the additional creative freedom that the non-continuity EARTH ONE series provides. Whilst also having some fun and games deconstructing and retooling other familiar supporting characters like Steve Trevor, here portrayed as African American, and Beth ‘Etta’ Candy who is restored to all her buxom Golden Age ultra-confident sorority girl glory.

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Considering that this is undoubtedly an all-action story, it is wonderful to see so much emphasis put on the Woman rather than the Wonder. Also, despite the presence of Hercules, Morrison has very deliberately stepped away from the overarching Greek mythology influences that defined Brian Azzarello’s excellent New 52 run which started with WONDER WOMAN VOL 1: BLOOD S/C.

You probably need to know a bit about Martson to understand Morrison’s approach here. He was a psychologist (and lawyer) who lived with two women, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and their lover Olive Byrne. He wrote a lot about dominant-submissive relationships and posited the theory that “there is a masculine notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing feminine notion based on “Love Allure” that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority.”

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It’s probably thus no surprise to find that Martson believed that women should run the world, and was a great champion of the early feminists. It’s pretty obvious therefore to also make the connection with a pair of bracelets that can repel any attack and a golden lasso that compels people to tell the truth. After the sword-wielding New 52 version, I liked this return to the more traditional version of the Warrior Princess.

Grant also can’t resist throwing in a bit of kink bondage for good measure, but it’s done in a way that made me laugh uproariously rather than feeling it was salacious, which it isn’t remotely, but again, it’s clearly another nod to Martson. Suffice to say Steve Trevor’s eyebrows disappear somewhere off the top of his head, and when Beth is explaining the, shall we say, cultural misunderstanding, to Diana whilst they’re propping up the bar afterwards, it provides a superb double punchline that had me wiping a tear of mirth away.

So there was much I really enjoyed about this retelling. The plot is extremely well thought through including a rather naughty bit of parental misdirection which well and truly comes home to roost. This version of Steve Trevor’s motivations for betraying his country to protect Diana and Paradise Island, being based not just on infatuation but also very understandable personal ideals based on  experienced prejudices, is I think the most depth I’ve seen given the character.

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And Beth, my oh my, what a woman. Of all the various incarnations Diana’s bestie has had over the years, I think this brassy, bolshie blonde really does take the biscuit. Well, she probably takes the whole packet given half the chance judging by her girdle size, but she’s no shrinking violet that’s for sure. She’s certainly not going to let any stroppy, statuesque stunner whose been sent to bring Diana back for trial get the best of her!

“These are women of man’s world? Deformed, shrunken, bloated… domesticated cattle.”
“Amazonia has class bitches, too? That’s a bummer. Kinda spoiled my fantasy.”

Yanick Paquette is the perfect artistic foil for Morrison here too. His Amazons are joyous creations, and his exotically detailed Paradise Island truly does look like heaven on earth. There are some lovely page composition devices, including the recurring theme of golden rope as a panel separator, which greatly minded me of J.H. Williams III work on the pages of PROMETHEA. I’ll have to confess historically I’ve not been the biggest Wonder Woman fan (though certainly I’ll be having a look at the Greg Rucka / Liam Sharp WONDER WOMAN REBIRTH reboot), but more tales like this could definitely win me over.

JR

Buy Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Captain America: Sam Wilson: Not My Captain America vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna, Paul Renaud, Joe Bennett.

Wall Street.

“The first thing I’d like to tell you is this: you are not bad people.
“I read the same headlines you do. The greed of the one percent. Corporate bailouts, corporate handouts, corporate welfare, Malfeasance. Corruption.
“We’re sure not in the eighties anymore, are we?”
Hahahahaha!

This isn’t the first collection with former Falcon Sam Wilson as Captain America – that was Rick Remender and Stuart Immonen’s ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA VO 1: HYDRA ASCENDANT whose review will stand you in good stead for context – but it is a fresh new satirical start.

Gone is the straight white male Steve Rogers who believes that when the chips are down his country will do what’s right; here instead is African American Sam Wilson who just hopes it will because he’s seen it do the opposite so very often.

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As America faces a Presidential Election in which Barrack Obama could very easily be replaced by Donald Trump – a disingenuous, racist, corporation-friendly, multi-millionaire fuckwit who wants to wall off Mexico – THIEF OF THIEVES’ and THE FIX’s Nick Spencer throws immigration and that specific border crossing unflinchingly in your face along with post-SNOWDEN whistle-blowing and post-SUPERCRASH continued corporate greed, its complicit media collaborators and political enablers.

If this were British I would have expected Tory darling Sir Philip Green to have made a personal appearance, so direct is this.

We’re back in the boardroom again, with captive audience and socialist Sam Wilson being given a grilling.

“You think you’re helping – with your coddling, your welfare state, your demands for equality.
“Whatever happened to exceptionalism? Whatever happened to rewarding hard work? Instead we punish success!
“Today’s businesses face unfair and oppressive regulation at the hands of an overreaching government. I mean, where in the Constitution is anyone promised clean air, anyhow? Sounds to me like free market demand for filtration systems and gas masks.
“Someone has to stand for the job creators and innovators that we’ve bound up in red tape. Someone has to make America marvellous again…
“And I say I’m just the super villain in a snake suit to do it.”

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The live media coverage endorsing the Viper and his Serpent Solutions as pro-profit pioneers even as they’re attempting to murder Sam Wilson outside the Stock Exchange as is as outlandish as Grand Theft Auto’s Weasel News. Except of course that Weasel News barely constituted satire: it was Fox news with barely a tweak and by any other name!

Somehow each of the artists manages to keep a straight superheroic face, even on the golf course, but to give you an additional indication of where to place this in the scale of po-faced punch-em’-ups and comedies like HAWKEYE, Sam spends most of his time here on a plane in passenger class sandwiched between two Twitter-obsessed idiots… or as a bipedal wolf, licking plates, scratching fleas and barking territorially at anyone attempting to read the metre.

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SLH

Buy Captain America: Sam Wilson: Not My Captain America vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Oh wait, it was a Bank Holiday! Books to follow!

News!

How To Make A Quill

ITEM! Comics! How To Make A Quill Pen by Tom Morgan-Jones. Instructional and hysterical!

ITEM! $30,000 grant open to comicbook creators. It’s not a scam. Rules very clear. Apply!

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ITEM! Excellent article on Shaun Tan’s RULES OF SUMMER.

Here’s Page 45’s review of Shaun Tan’s RULES OF SUMMER written two years earlier. Relieved to read I was on the right tracks!

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ITEM! An eye-opening read for anyone interested in this creative industry. ‘Can you illustrate my book?’ Some tips for writers approaching illustrators by Sarah McIntyre is well worth a read before you start sending out unsolicited emails. Illustrators, I feel for you all!

ITEM!  STRANGEHAVEN’s Gary Spencer Millidge reviews The Great British Graphic Novel exhibition at the Cartoon Museum open right now and including work by Gary, Nabiel Kanan, Posy Simmonds, Eddie Campbell, Woodrow Phoenix, David Lloyd, Dave Gibbons and – ooh, look! – here’s a map by Hunt Emerson! Fabulous!

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– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2016 week four

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Includes FOUR all-ages books from historical education to historical action-adventure and historical hysteria!

Also: Corey Lewis, Alan Moore does Lovecraft and brrrrr….

Mordawwa #666 one-shot (£3-00, ScaryGoRound) by John Allison.

“Please stop calling me “Archduke Horns”, your Majesty. Everybody’s started doing it.”
“Your real name is 15 V’s in a row. I don’t consider that acceptable nomenclature.”

She does have a point. Also: an expansive vocabulary and a waspish tongue with which to dispense it.

From the creator of GIANT DAYS, BAD MACHINERY and EXPECTING TO FLY, welcome to something equally mysterious but a little less institution-of-education-orientated. Allison has for once abandoned the small towns of Great Britain and dug deep – infernally deep – to come up with Mordawwa, Queen of Hell, resplendent in red-lined cape, pin-stripe troos, twin, twisted horns and a tie that disappears ‘neath her bodice.

All is not well as we join the story 666 issues in, for Mordawwa is throwing a party and the only thing she’s pleased with is the sound of her own voice.

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Her greatest friend, ally and guest of honour – the black-winged shadow that’s The Sheriff – is running late and a metatronic call comes in from envious info-entity Ba’Al about a blockage in the River Styx. It’s causing Lucifer to run dry of souls, both pre-tormented and to-be-tormented, and to-be-continued is what he’s counting on.

“Lucifer considers restoration of flow to be mission critical.”
“By mission critical, does he mean “important”?”

It’s an odd assortment she consorts with. The most intelligent amongst them is a sentient blue horse called Scientist whose assistance is impeded by the unfortunate shortcoming of being slightly unable to speak. Barbed Amanita is far from impressed at Scientist’s intricate scuffing of hooves:

“What are you doing, pony? Drawing a map of your favourite places to drop piles of ordure? It must be hard to draw a map that encompasses “everywhere”.”
“Oh Scientist. That is a beautiful solution. There is poetry in your use of compound gears.”
“I’ve trod in Scientist’s “poetry”. Not actually all that great.”

Love, love, love Scientist’s frowny brow, furious at Amanita’s ingratitude and belittling torment.

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So what’s the problem to which Scientist’s solution is so poetic?

“Well,” as Vvvvvvvvvvvvvvv observes, “this isn’t going to be popular.”

Prepare to enter… The Age of Endless Grief!

The subterranean setting gives John an opportunity to have fun with both body forms and architecture uncommon around towns like Tackleford, but you can even see him relishing the full-on curves of his two suited and booted vamps. There’s an exquisite panel in which Amanita drop-kicks her yellow pet at demonic rock throwers who are really going to regret it. Her long, thin legs – muscles in all the right places – are like a black beetle’s body.

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Also amusing: how the shadows thrown totally fail to match those throwing them. Or are there others throwing them, unseen?

I suspect John was the most enormous fan of Marvel’s NEW MUTANTS (Mordawwa’s Illyana; the Sheriff is Lockheed the dragon), and I’m reasonably sure Archduke Horns’ teeth is a Maxx reference. But these are mere fancies, irrelevant to your enjoyment of this underworld absurdity which, like EXPECTING TO FLY, comes with a pastiche of 1980s Marvel Comics’ Checklists, Hype Boxes and Pro Files along with a mail order offer cheap enough to make any bricks-and-mortar comic shop weep.

I might subscribe to Marvel’s SCOTT WALKER, and read it on Mordawwa’s Bone Throne.

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SLH

Buy Mordawwa one-shot and read the Page 45 review here

Providence vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows…

“Say, weren’t you planning on writing a book, I heard?”
“Huh. Lot of planning, no writing. Don’t even have a subject yet, to be truthful.
“I want something big, something that cuts to the heart of this country and these times.
“That talks about things nobody’s dared talk about before.
“You know? Not just another slice of life in the city of bachelors.”

If you Google providence, the two definitions you are offered are “timely preparation for future eventualities” and “the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power”. However, I suspect no amount of preparation, nor indeed the care of God, is likely to provide much protection for what is to come for some of the characters in Alan’s return to the Lovecraft mythos in conjunction with artist Jaden Burrows after their grisly but gripping NEONOMICON

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It’s initially set in Providence, Rhode Island, which itself has interesting origins, founded in 1636 by a man called Roger Williams, recently exiled from Massachusetts, to provide a refuge for religious minorities. The year is 1919 and the world, emerging from the carnage of WW1, has undoubtedly changed, yet also much has not. There are people still living double lives due to their sexuality, of which of our main character Robert Black is one.

Now, apparently there is an irony here, as I have read that Alan likes the idea of having a gay character in a period Lovecraftian yarn given that H.P. Lovecraft was, apparently, immensely homophobic.

Whatever the reason it immediately helps creates a state of suspense as he sets about establishing Robert’s back story, his reasons for being in Providence, and the ongoing emotional anguish he endures in trying to maintain a covert relationship, all the whilst endeavouring to appear to his co-workers at the Tribune newspaper as just another everyday Joe.

With the journos all desperate to fill half a page in the next edition at short notice with something a trifle titillating, Robert mentions a French book, Sous Le Monde, which apparently sent people mad if they read it. It is the scandal surrounding this which Robert Chambers apparently based THE KING IN YELLOW on.

Being a bookish sort of cove, Robert knows of a professor nearby who wrote an article on Sous Le Monde, and so is dispatched to interview him. Which is where events start to creep into more Lovecraftian, paranormal territory, as the good doctor has an exceptionally powerful air conditioning system in his apartment, a medical requirement due to an, as yet, unspecified illness… I’m pretty sure, however, it won’t be a malaise covered in any great detail at medical school, not even at Miskatonic University…

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There’s much to admire in Alan’s writing in this volume. I certainly suspect it’s a project he’s greatly enjoying. I like the subtle little points of connection which he weaves in, almost as asides, including one a character makes to Tannhäuser which proves particularly apposite indeed. One of the biggest nods to THE KING IN YELLOW comes in the form of the Exit Gardens, which in truth are state-sponsored suicide chambers, dressed up in art deco buildings in beautiful, floral surroundings. Where, once you check in, you are gently put to sleep forever whilst listening to the music of your choice. A posh version of Dignitas, basically. But because you don’t need to jump through myriad bureaucratic hoops first, anyone can simply walk in, sit down and rest in peace forevermore.

I’m intrigued to see how Robert picks up the pieces emotionally after an early heartbreak and precisely where his investigations lead him. I found myself engaged completely, connected emotionally with the characters, and left wanting more, my curiosity piqued up to piquant levels! Plus having read several issues ahead of the four in this volume I can assure you the horror factor is going to be ramped up gradually until readers’ states of mental wellbeing are in tatters too.

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This limited edition hardcover, of a print run of 6666, will apparently not be reprinted, nor will any soft covers be released until all twelve issues of the series are out and the two further hardcovers released. In any event, both the hardcovers and softcovers will collect all the extensive prose material that follows each individual issue. It’s ostensibly Robert’s journal and it does further and flesh-out the already comprehensive plot substantially. I certainly cannot fault Alan for giving value for money with this series. To my mind, it’s the best thing he has written for several years.

JR

[Editor’s note: for, umm, alternative art which I didn’t feel we could run in the blog, please here click here…]

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

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa…

“Cool.
“Good.
“I’m good.
“It’s all good.
“I am a hero.”

If I had to sum this up in one sentence it would be… “Mentally ill, second-rate manga creator prone to hallucinations finds himself caught up in the zombie apocalypse.’

If I had to sum it up in two sentences, my second would be… “I loved it.”

Hideo Suzuki is many things, but a hero he is not. Yet, at least. As he neatly observes as his life starts sliding even further out of control than he believed possible… “How can I be a hero when I’m not even the main character in my own life?”

It’s just such a lack of characterisation that various editors and sub-editors and sub-sub-editors in the cut-throat world of manga publishing have accused him of, whilst endlessly turning down his latest pitch. Even his one brief hit floundered spectacularly after the second meandering volume for precisely those reasons. He had his fans, including his girlfriend Tetsuko, who works as a manga assistant. Sadly, being a studio assistant is all the manga work Hideo can get now too.

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Poor old Hideo’s tormented to sanity-testing levels by a number of things on a near-continuous basis, but not least these: his lack of success, his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend (an up-and-coming superhot manga creator who ironically is the one person who thinks Hideo’s work is utterly brilliant), whether his girlfriend and said superhot creator might still be having a little something on the side, plus his hallucinations of various odd characters who pop up and start conversations with him at seemingly random moments.

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So when the decaying faeces really starts hitting the proverbial fan and his newly zombiefied girlfriend attacks Hideo whilst he’s letting himself into her apartment, he’s actually convinced he’s merely having a serious mental meltdown! Eventually it becomes apparent even to him, if not to the rest of the manga studio holed up frantically trying to make the next ridiculous deadline, that that the end of the world is nigh. Cue a comedy chase across town (comedy value for viewers only) that’s ended by possibly one of the finest zombie decapitations I have ever seen, caused by the undercarriage of a crashing jumbo jet!

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Oh, I think Hideo might just have unwittingly become the lead character in something. Just not any sort of story you would ever want to star in…

This is such a peculiarly brilliant mash-up mix taking, as it does, the complete piss out of the whole frenetic manga industry treadmill and all its attendant emotionally maladjusted and downright antisocial members, and scaring the bejeebers, or whatever the equivalent Japanese colloquialism is, out of us all while it is at it. For make no mistake, these zombies are horrific, far more akin to Junji Ito-style distorted, bloated, twisted terrors than shambling WALKING DEAD.

So I guess if I had to sum it up in three sentences my third would, as unlikely as it seems, be… “It’s BAKUMAN meets UZAMAKI…”

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JR

Buy I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Nameless City vol 1 (£10-99, First Second) by Faith Erin Hicks with Jordie Bellaire on colour art.

An all-ages epic which stole my heart and took my breath away. Prepare to be dazzled, enraged and ever so proud in equal measure.

Sprawled out at the base of a vast mountain range, and surrounded on all sides by enemies with eyes set on conquest, The Nameless City straddles the River of Lives at the bottom of an unnatural gorge.

The Northern People who first built the city also carved that improbable passage through those enormous mountains, but no one knows how for their language is lost. However, in joining the river to the sea they ensured that the city through which all commerce now passes controls the flow of wealth.

It is a city of a thousand names for everyone envies its strategic position and it has been conquered and re-conquered, named and re-named except by its native inhabitants to whom it is Nameless. Instead they watch silently, resentfully – and hungrily – as wave after wave of invaders steal their natural resources.

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All of this is set out succinctly in the first five pages, Hicks and Bellaire establishing both an epic tone and landscape, emphasising what is at stake. Now they begin to make it personal…

Young Kaidu has travelled from the provinces to meet his father, General Andren, for the very first time. First, however, he must begin training in combat under Erzi, son of the General Of All Blades who conquered the city for the Dao three decades ago. Erzi is determined to ensure that the Dao don’t go soft and sets the fifteen cadets up against his bodyguard Mura, a native from the city below.

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They don’t fare at all well but behind Erzi’s back they disparage Mura sneeringly as “skral” (think “pleb”, “scum” or any outsider you like to look down on and dehumanise). That Kaidu won’t stand for such small-mindedness impresses Erzi (Mura, not so much – not much impresses Mura – I think you’ll like her!) but don’t be deceived: Erzi’s in an odd place mentally and his affinity for the native inhabitants who have begun to call themselves The Named only stretches so far.

“When I was your age, if I went into the city, the children I met there would throw rocks at me. I was born here, but to them I was a Dao invader. When my father began bringing Dao children from the homelands to the city, they thought I was strange. They avoided me.
“The city is my home, and the Dao are my people. I belong to both, and because of that it’s hard for either to truly accept me. “Maybe it will always be this way for me. But when I become the General Of All Blades after my father, it will be the first time the city is ruled by someone who was born here.”

Hmm. By “here” he means within the safety of the fortress, not in the city below. I think he’s missing the point somewhat, especially with Mura standing right behind him!

The cadets are forbidden from exploring the city on their own but Kaidu’s Dad is far from the regimented soldier Erzi aspires to be and the first thing he does is take his son on a field trip to sample the street life and delicious cooked meats outside the walled confines above. They bond easily, swiftly, Kaidu’s father emanating a kindly warmth which fails only on a girl Andren calls out to on a rooftop, offering her some of their food.

“I see her at the market sometimes. She always looks hungry.”

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Seen with fresh eyes, everyone around them looks hungry.

Kaidu’s Dad offers to take him back to the city the next night but in the end trade negotiations keep him away. It is then that Mura steps in, perhaps seeing some hope in the boy after all:

“You should go on your own. You don’t need your father to hold your hand.”
“I thought we weren’t supposed to go into the city alone.”
“Everyone should go alone into the city once in their life. To see how it truly is.”

What I hope I’m establishing is that no one here is a two-dimensional cipher with singular loyalties or intransigent dogma because that never ends well. Come to think of it that doesn’t begin well, either, and the bit in the middle’s a bore. Everyone can see that the situation is untenable – no one has held onto the city for long; you might as well invade Afghanistan – but no one agrees on the proposed solutions.

While that discussion evolves and generals are summoned for a meeting, Kaidu does sneak out of the fortress but quickly becomes lost and his reception is bordering on hostile. No one will speak to this Dao except rooftop-racing Rat, the girl from yesterday, and even she’s not going to easy to win over.

What it really needs is someone to reach out: an act of friendship; an act of trust.

A leap of faith, as it were, right over the River of Lives!

And that is one arresting spread, isn’t it?

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From the creator of FRIENDS WITH BOYS and the colourist of INJECTION etc, I am convinced that this will prove massive for fans of AMULET, DELILAH DIRK, PORCELAIN, COURTNEY CRUMRIN and all those Doug TenNapel graphic novels constantly erupting from our shelves.

It’s so well crafted with elements which later prove pivotal presaged well ahead in the game. I don’t think I’ve turned the final forty pages of any book so fast – and then gone back for re-gawp, obv. Love what both Bellaire and Hicks did with the Festival of Ruins at night. It’s not easy upping the exotic on a city already established as so spectacular, but when I first clapped eyes on the festival I thought immediately of Venice.

I like all the design elements which are convincingly coherent and must have taken some time to coalesce. There are early explorations of Rat’s possible garb in the back and, although I enjoyed them all, some were less “indigenous” and a great deal more contemporary than others. What was settled on was perfect for a poverty-stricken child for whom jewellery of any sort would be out of the question.

Not only that, but if you stripped out all the speech bubbles and were compelled to read this “silently”, you’d still understand the import of every sequence and enjoy the actors’ priceless expressions in doing do.

Round of applause for the most unexpected yet very well judged piece of slapstick on page 112.

“Uh-oh” indeed.

SLH

Buy The Nameless City vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Julius Zebra – Bundle With The Britons h/c (£9-99, Walker Books) by Gary Northfield.

Hot on the hooves of JULIUS ZEBRA – RUMBLE WITH THE ROMANS clops another instant classic of cack-handed combat and bog-eyed buffoonery as Julius Zebra attempts to win over the hearts and minds of a cruel Britannia.

Yes, not content with becoming a gladiatorial superstar at the Colosseum, Julius Zebra (don’t call him Debra) is hoping to repeat his Roman success while being sent off on his jolly holibobs by Hadrian himself!

Not only that, but all his equally inept friends will be coming with him. Bang that bucket! Spank that spade! Pack your favourite pebble collection!

Slight problems:

1) It is no holibob
2) It is to Britain
3) So it will be cold and it will be wet, for there will be rain.

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There will be so much rain that artist Gary Northfield will need to buy himself an extra pot of ink.

And it’s not as if central heating had been invented.

[Editor’s Note: Errr, it had, by the Romans and they exported it to Britain.]

Well it’s not as if our chums are going to benefit. They’re all still slaves so the only stars of their accommodation will be the ones they can see through the gigantic hole in its leaking roof, they’ll have to swab the ship’s deck on their way over and these animal crackers couldn’t survive in the wild, let alone in a deadly arena.

“I hate running!” spluttered Felix. “I’ve got flat hooves.”

Felix is an antelope.

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Why has Hadrian really bundled these bozos off to Britain? Which bad-ass beasties will be breathing down the numpties’ necks? What lurks in the spooky old shack and why did she spit in the cauldron? (“Needs more salt.”)

As the clots trot up the gangplank at the start of their voyage they have idea of the traumas in store on our shore. Let’s hope they learn to tut loudly while queuing.

I love this hybrid of comics and prose which slip in and out of each other effortlessly. I couldn’t bear to part with Julius all dubious about the bowl of broth he’s been offered (see “Needs more salt”!)…

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… and the former often delivers a punchline to the latter which could not be replicated with words alone. So integral are the illustrations that if you attempted to remove these visual and verbal gags you’d be left wondering which pages were missing.

Like GARY’S GARDEN and THE TERRIBLE TALES OF THE TEENYTINYSAURS this is in part about animals attempting to make sense of the world around them – which, when we’ve constructed it, rarely has their best interests at heart – specifically animals with barely a brain cell between them.

It’s essentially CCLXXV pages of mad-eyed, exuberant high camp. Gary Northfield has turned gormless into an art form and a hugely enjoyable spectator sport – just like gladiatorial combat. The two probably shouldn’t be mixed…

Back at the gate Julius put his head in his hooves.
“This isn’t going to end well.”

You sense that, don’t you?

SLH

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Buy Julius Zebra – Bundle With The Britons h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Discover… The Ancient Egyptians / Discover… The Roman Empire (£8-99 each, Frances Lincoln) by Imogen Greenberg & Isabel Greenberg.

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First two fabulous and – important, this! – fun books in what I hope will be a sprawling series of history lessons, excitedly received by those who love works which wink. All education should be entertainment and this balanced both so beautifully that at the end of each I was holding out my begging bowl for more.

Instead of feeling like illustrated prose, the Mediterranean-coloured, image-orientated pages read like info-splattered illustration into which is injected the illusion of comics. The illusion of comics! So clever!

The illusion’s achieved by assigning mischievous môts and satirical side-swipes in speech balloons to the guides, guest-stars and bystanders commentating on the institutions, inventions and initiatives being explored.

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I particularly enjoyed the third and fourth page instructing us on Egyptian gods: Osiris of the underworld, Isis (both his sister and wife – don’t try that at home, kids!), their son Horus of the sky and… oh, there’s always one in every family, isn’t there?

“This is Seth. He’s Osiris’ brother, and he was the god of chaos… He’s trouble!”
“Heh heh heh,”

… Pants jackal-headed Seth, a barely suppressed smile playing across his mouth. I suspect he knows what’s coming next, and I fear “trouble” might be understating it slightly.

“Seth brutally murdered his brother Osiris….”

What I did I tell you?

Fortunately Isis resurrected Osiris long enough to have that child Horus so that this could all this symbolically represent the death and regrowth of crops which is nice.

“Heh heh heh” smirks once Seth again but Horus won’t let it lie:
“I declare you shall be banished, Uncle Seth!”
“Ugh. Whatever.”

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If all this seems so very Lizz Lunney it’s actually the result of the Greenberg sisters, Isabel of course being responsible for the enormously playful ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH which was my favourite graphic novel of its year. It was Epic and Awesome, a story about Stories, but brilliantly it poked fun at itself, the Epic and the Awesome.

As to the other tome, did you know that as well as their own gods the Romans were such big-hearted / open-minded / conquest-crazy fickle thieves that they worshipped gods from other countries and religions as well? See Isis above, but also Pan, the Greek god of mountains it says here but also field-friendly discos.

Books like these should always surprise and this certainly throws in a few googlies down its timeline. You’d get a Q.I. alarm bell, for example, if you buzzed in with “Emperor Julius Caesar” for he was nothing of the sort. Caesar was a genius general who declared himself dictator only to be ousted before so very long by his adopted son Augustus who did become the first Emperor of Rome. “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth” etcetera.

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Before we return to Ancient Egypt, here’s another one: not only did Emperor Constantine (pronounced ‘wine’, just like the star of HELLBLAZER – they are related!) convert to Christianity, taking much of the empire with him, but he built a new capital to rule from which he called Constantinople. Which was just as well because – believe it or not – the Roman Empire kind of lost Rome in 410 AD to the Visigoths and, umm, never recaptured it!

Coming back to how well visual aspects like the River Nile are incorporated and utilised within the page, I loved how the Egyptians’ pyramid-shaped, feudal society, is explained within a pyramid. Apposite in every way.

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Surprises from thereabouts come in the form of our 365-day calendar which they invented (although it fell to the Romans to add the twelve months and seven-day weeks), a three-season year revolving around the condition of the Nile (and therefore the crops), and the surprising news that Upper Egypt was down south and Lower Egypt was oop north because the Nile ran south to north and the Egyptians rulers were all a bunch of elitist Tory bastards.

Lastly, the Ankh…? It’s a hieroglyph meaning life, not DEATH, which was Neil Gaiman’s point all along. So I imagine that’s sent a whiplash round what’s left of the gothic community.

Heh heh heh.

SLH

Buy Discover… The Ancient Egyptians and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Discover… The Roman Empire and read the Page 45 review here

Take Me Back To Manchester (£12-00, self-published) by Oliver East.

In April 1872 a man called Lorenzo Lawrence walked a seven-year-old Asian Elephant called Maharajah 200 miles south from Edinburgh to Manchester in 10 days.

Why? Entertainingly, it depends on who you believe, but here are some facts:

On April 9th,1872, an auction was being held at Waverly Market in Edinburgh to dispose of the animal assets of Wombwell’s Menagerie – some at such knock-down prices one might suspect the knackers yard was their next destination. Many including Maharajah were scooped up by one James Jennison, co-owner of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens (as they were all called then) back in Manchesterland.

As the animals were being loaded onto wagons at Waverley Street Station two days later the normally placid Maharajah, quite used to being transported, threw a strop, thrust his head through the front of the horse box then backed through its rear, causing quite a commotion as he did so. Wombwell Menagerie’s resident lion tamer, one Lorenzo Lawrence, bravely stepped in to quell the bellicose beast’s ire… almost immediately after which it resumed its regular, docile demeanour.

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It was then that Lorenzo offered to lead Maharajah to Manchester, thereby neatly postponing his penury by prolonging his employment. I don’t want to sound cynical – though I wouldn’t be the first – so instead I will congratulate Lorenzo on yet another sterling performance: in agitating the elephant in the first place!

As the graphic novel proceeds we follow Lorenzo – as loquacious as The Good Old Days’ Leonard Sachs – as he barters his way down south, earning extra money by giving rides and seeking what lodgings he can for himself and a steaming elephant. It’s quite the pantomime and no trick is lost in maximising publicity including an increasingly exaggerated account of Maharajah’s dismissive disdain for the route’s multiple toll gates.

Very clever, that: these seemingly ubiquitous toll gates must have been as unpopular with a poor public as the Poll Tax, and the pachyderm’s trash-and-dash reputation must have made it a people’s champion.

What do I love about this graphic novel?

The story itself, the colours and its forms!

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I’ve not seen magnolia and walnut brown dominate a comic so boldly as here and it works so well in a scene, for example, framing the elephant sleeping in peace outside an inn, the courtyard viewed from inside a stable which almost certainly failed to accommodate the animal.

I also adored the corrugated aspect of the beast’s furrowed forehead and trunk – viewed both in profile and face-on – demarked by a brush or nib (virtual or otherwise) which doesn’t once leave the page. The ridges are so deep you can almost fit your fingers in and maybe use them as handholds to scale onto the beast’s back.

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Again I would return to the brown and the cream and their sheen on glossy white paper. I’ve stared at some of those pages for ages.

There’s another couple opposite each other which deploy a tempestuous purple along with cream which to me streams from the heavens like sunbeams through thunderous clouds – possibly the most dramatic of any weather conditions – the left-hand page emphasising the wide-open space of the British countryside as well as the distance travelled each day, the right at rest and under shelter being positively cosy by comparison!

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Set pieces like those genuinely took my breath away but this isn’t a gallery of images, it’s a comic. It’s a sequence of images supposed to tell a story and I have to tell you that there were so many instances – quite important ones– during which I did not have the first clue as to what was going on, such was the lack of defined or precise visual information.

It may sound as if I did, but I had to do research. Flashbacks were unheralded and that’s fine if you’re Greg Ruth or Hwei Lim and at least giving clues for the reader to latch onto. Here I was utterly lost. Sometimes I felt as if I was trying to peer through a dense, form-eroding mist for the slightest hint of context.

Also, I hate to sound like a martinet but there’s organic lettering and then there is scrappy and scruffy. This was in places unnecessarily scruffy.

Nevertheless I’m convinced that the images reproduced here will impress you enough to embrace once again an old favourite – your travelling companion on TRAINS ARE… MINT and PROPER WELL GO HIGH etc – who himself undertook the arduous walk from Edinburgh to Manchester to get a proper feel for the trek. Whether he talked to himself in the same affectionate manner Lorenzo chatted with Maharajah (as we do with pets, supplying each purported reply in our head), I don’t know; but I suspect so, don’t you?

This is Lorenzo at the start of his journey but you just know that it’s Oliver East all the way.

“What did you buy?”
“Um, maps. I bought maps.”
“Maps? But it’s just two roads. South to Carlisle then the old Roman Road to Manchester.”
“What can I say? I like to know where I’m walking. Might as well learn while I’m on the road.”

SLH

Buy Take Me Back To Manchester and read the Page 45 review here

Sun Bakery #1 (£4-50, Press Gang) by Corey Lewis.

From the creator of SHARKNIFE comes exactly the sort of comic I wanted to produce aged 12: quick-fire, episodic, multi-saga, idea-driven with bat-shit crazy energy and visuals.

You know, as opposed to long-form, pensive, self-contained, streamlined, narrative-conscious, photo-realistic and world-changing.

And although I began with zero technical skills, between the ages of 10 and 12 I did produce some 15 issues of just such a comic containing superheroes, sci-fi, comedy and even a little politics – school politics, anyway. The comedy, as I recall, centred around the search for the singular of ‘sheep’. (It’s a ‘shoop’, since you ask. I WAS TEN!)

Mine was multi-story and episodic because I’d been brought up on black and white Marvel reprints; in Corey’s case it’s been inspired by Japan’s SHONEN JUMP weekly manga anthology which brought us the likes of DRAGON BALL, NARUTO and DEATH NOTE.

And let us be perfectly clear: this is the comic a 12- to 15-year-old would produce if he had Corey Lewis (Reyyy)’s keen adult technical skills. The key is that Lewis hasn’t let those skills inhibit the storytelling.

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What’s it all abaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!

‘Bat Rider’ is a thrilling, maximum-contrast, shadow-heavy, skyscraper-silhouette-strewn, black and white, urban challenge starring a chick with a cape, a chap with a Mercury-winged biker’s helmet and his seemingly sentient skateboard. Next!

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‘Arem’ appears to be riffing off ‘Beyond Good And Evil’ in that the female protagonist dashes about an alien planet identifying local fauna that occasionally fights back by snapping its photo then loading it onto social media for critical approval, like. Oh yes, she does so in a big, bio-hazard, heavily armoured exo-skeletal fight-suit.

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Huge exterior shots of primordial landscapes, the orbiting spaceship and maximum mecha fanfare use up the world’s entire supply of mauve, lilac and indigo for the next fortnight. Also, I loved the structure of one page in particular of our protagonist 1) liking NextiGrams while licking pizza 2) thundering down a treadmill 3) kicking a sack in the same direction before 4) standing before her mighty mech in solemn preparation.

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‘Dream Skills is Fruit Salad flavoured (Fruit Salad as in the chews) and follows two female friends, one of whom introduces the other to the sacred art of the sword following the discovery of protective “aura circles” owned by everyone. These have suddenly been triggered (we know not how nor why) rendering lead non-lethal and guns therefore redundant. Besides, blades are flashier (discuss). That one looks like it may contain the most mystery, legend and lore and at this early stage, who knows?

Contains 730% of your recommended daily sugar allowance.

SLH

Buy Sun Bakery #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Star Wars: Vader Down s/c (£9-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen & Mike Deodato, Salvador Larroca…

“The boy cannot hide from his destiny.

“Or from me.”

It’s time for a STAR WARS / DARTH VADER crossover party, as Daddy Darth indulges in some hide and seek with Luke, whilst Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen play pass the writing parcel and Mike Deodata and Salvador Larroca swat the goodie-filled pictorial piñata to and fro. Technically this is volume three of both series, though Marvel will no doubt number the next individual volume of each as the third, being the party poopers they are…

Anyway, Darth is hot on the hyperspace heels of Death Star destroyer Skywalker, and he’s tracked his wayward progeny down to the planet Vrogas Vas, where Luke is visiting the remains of an old Jedi temple searching for some answers of his own. Cue one unfortunate encounter with a Rebel Squadron later and we’re crash-landing our way into a little father son tête-a-… errr… helmet… on the surface.

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But, it’s not all about father / son time! Rest assured Princess Leia plus C3P0, Han and Chewie are soon en route to the knees-up, despite not being invited. Plus everyone’s favourite new characters Professor Aphra and her psychotic robotic entertainers Triple-Zero and BeeTee are gate-crashing too. That trio alone are guaranteed to make sure any party goes with a bang, and the guests with a blood-curdling scream… In fact, I’ll leave it to them to explain precisely what mayhem is going to ensue during the course of this particular reunion celebration…

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“This is officially not good. I’ve intercepted Rebel communications that say Vader was definitely shot down over Vrogas Vas. No word yet if he’s alive or dead. At this point… I’m not sure if which would be worse. But either way, we’ve got to go after him. And if he’s dead…”
“We could always simply murder everyone we encounter. No matter the problem, I usually find that to be the most elegant solution. BeeTee rather excitedly agrees.”
“ We’re flying right into a nest of Rebel troops, Triple-Zero. I expect you’ll get your wish.”
“How splendid! Did you hear that, BeeTee? We get to torture and exterminate indiscriminately!”
“BLEEP!”

JR

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Buy Star Wars: Vader Down s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Panther h/c (£19-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brecht Evens

At War With Yourself (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Samuel C. Williams

Black Magick vol 1: Awakening (£7-50, Image) by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott

Brodys Ghost: Collected Edition (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley

The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch h/c (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli

The Last Dragon (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay

Octopus Pie vol 3 (£10-99, Image) by Meredith Gran

Rumble vol 2: A Woe That Is Madness s/c (£12-99, Image) by John Arcudi & James Harren

Usagi Yojimbo Saga vol 6 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

Wet Moon vol 1: Feeble Wanderings (New Edition) (£14-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell

Wood: The Of Art Of Tomorrow Kings h/c (£39-99, IDW) by Ashley Wood

Adventure Time vol 8 (UK Edition) s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Ryan North, Christopher Hastings & Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb, Zachary Sterling

Adventure Time: Fist-Bump Cavalcade (£9-99, Titan) by various

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

Astonishing Ant-Man vol 1: Everybody Loves Team-Ups s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Ramon Rosanas

Carnage vol 1: The One That Got Away s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Gerry Conway & Mike Perkins

Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo

Extraordinary X-Men vol 1: X-Haven s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Humberto Ramos

Spider-Man 2099 vol 1: Smack To The Future s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Will Sliney

X-Men: The Age Of Apocalypse vol 4 – Twilight s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by various

Assassination Classroom vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Goodnight Punpun vol 1 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

Shuriken And Pleats vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet vol 2 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Koutarou Yamada

News!

How fabulous to find Page 45 on a billboard! An Etherington Bros billboard with a pull quote from 5,000-STAR review of VON DOOGAN AND THE GREAT AIR RACE which you’ll find with all our other PHOENIX WEEKLY COMIC favourites!

Von Doogan Page 45 Billboard

Other than that you’ll have to wait till next week, I ran out of time! Reviews! Life! Etc!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2016 week three

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

New John Allison GIANT DAYS, graphic biographies of Munch and an Olympic athlete we’ve never heard of; Chester Brown, God, Jesus, Mary and Vikings!

Hello, what’s this?! A brand-new CRIMINAL reviewed on its very day of release with interior art you’ve never seen before thanks to Sean Phillips?! Hurrah!

Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Edition (comic-size £3-99, magazine-size £4-50; Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Elizabeth Breitweiser.

CRIMINAL is the best crime comic in the business.

I have without fail reviewed every single edition, and relished doing so. This is its brand-new, 10th Anniversary, self-contained one-shot and a perfect introduction to these imperfect individuals in their less than ideal worlds.

How was your childhood?

“It’s easier to be a fictional character.
“How sad is that?”

Not as sad as the ending, as an almost unheard of act of kindness in twelve-year-old Tracy Lawless’ bleak young life is flushed down the pan, along with all its potential, out of fear.

Looked at from another angle, however, it is perhaps the one ray of hope that Tracy might turn out okay against all nature and nurture odds, because it’s not for himself that he fears. It’s for a local girl who’s befriended him on the streets of a small town where, as a stranger, he sticks out like a sore thumb.

“I’m not supposed to be doing this. Mike Johnson isn’t supposed to have fun.
“And he doesn’t get to make friends. Friends get remembered.”

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Oh dear. We’ve already discovered what happens to those might remember Tracy. Brubaker deliberately sets this up on the very first pages so that it informs everything else that follows, throwing a terrible pall over anyone who comes near the boy.

This includes Lana, one of the individuals that Tracy’s Dad is out searching for. Because of this looming threat one fears, rightly or wrongly, that Tracy may have doomed the smiling shop assistant simply by identifying her. Tracy himself recognises this almost immediately afterwards. It’s not exactly a Judas moment, but it’s certainly made all the more poignant by their mutual, momentary affection which elicits the other act of kindness and their eyes light up. So it might as well have been a kiss.

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Mike Johnson, by the way, is that fictional identity Tracy is forced to adopt whenever he’s travelling on the run (or otherwise undercover) with his career-criminal dad. He shouldn’t have been roaming the streets, he should have stayed safely shut away in the motel reading the comic which his father Teeg stole for him (which is nice), but Teeg hadn’t come back in the evening nor in the morning, and that’s pretty much par for the course. The boy’s got to eat.

What follows is a rough scrap of a friendship scraped from the car crash of Tracy’s neglected childhood before he witnesses that which a twelve-year-old son never should.

There’s a telling line early on from Tracy himself, referring to himself being taught to drive his dad’s getaway car last year as “just a kid” as if he considers himself an adult now. But he’s neither one thing nor the other: he’s not his father’s adult accomplice because he’s not been let in on what the mission is; yet if he’s still a child what on earth is he doing behind the wheel and changing number plates? What is he doing – worst of all – understanding his father’s fucked up priorities?

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Sean draws the boy all droopy-mouthed and saggy-shouldered – weighted, weary beyond his years, far from care-free and truly troll-like. His eyes would be scathing if they could summon the energy but are instead so heavy, so sceptical, expecting nothing – which is just as well. It’s what makes the brief burst of reignited hope and rekindled vivacity in the shop with Lana so unexpected and arresting. The boy can actually smile – he can beam – if engaged with at all.

But that’s as nothing to the central panel in a single page which is one of the finest I’ve seen in comics.

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It is the epitome of wide-eyed, awe-struck enchantment as Tracy’s face comes electrically alive, spellbound by the DEADLY HANDS OF comic which straddles the same worlds he does between adult and child.

“This comic is weird…
“It kind of reminds me of the ones my dad gets some times…
“But those have naked ladies and stuff in them.
“And this one, you just feel like it’s about to have naked ladies all the time.
“Like it’s a comic for kids pretending to be a comic for grown-ups.”

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Of course it is. It’s a mischievous tribute to a Marvel Comics combo of SHANG-CHI, MASTER OF KUNG-FU and WEREWOLF BY NIGHT – very seventies indeed, Daddio – pages of which are paraded in front of you in all their tanned, aged-paper glory by Sean Phillips in immaculate impressions of expressionist Paul Gulacy the for sub-lunar werewolf sequences and of the far more conservative Sal Buscema inked by the likes of Mike Esposito when the angst-ridden protagonist reverts to puny Peter Parker-like form. It’s all in the eyebrows.

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Tracy’s father, of course, was reading the equivalent of macho, alpha-male CONAN in the previous CRIMINAL SPECIAL EDITION #1 (also available as CRIMINAL SPECIAL EDITION #1 MAGAZINE SIZED; both still in stock at the time of typing) whilst biding his time and trying to stay off the radar in jail. I like that they share an interest in something, but I still don’t think Teeg’s going to be winning many parental awards any time soon.

I like what Breitweiser’s done with both the daytime and evening colours here: it’s something completely different to FATALE or THE FADE OUT for this is set is in such a small town it’s virtually deserted after dark. There are no fancy-schmancy multicoloured neon bar signs projecting onto the street: in the evening the only monochromatic glow comes from the few sickly sodium lights and they don’t light anything up properly. In the daytime the colours may be muted and mundane but they do at least look relatively healthy and safe by contrast.

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I don’t know whether Brubaker of Phillips decided which comics would be racked in the grocery store’s spinners but whichever it was we evidently shared similar summer holiday experiences. Speaking of similar summer holiday experiences, hats off to both for the kids’ visit to the second-hand bookshop – the only place you’d find old comics back then. Phillips has almost beaten Bernie Wrightson at his own game for internal clutter. I could feel the binding of every single book on those shelves, but of course Tracy’s not interested.

“I’m just looking for comics.”

We’re all just looking for comics.

Criminal 10th Anniv screenshot

SLH

Buy Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Edition and read the Page 45 review here

The last magazine-sized edition came with a faux letter column for the CONAN-like comic. This one signs off with the latest DEADLY HANDS movie machinations and hints to its “female-type readers” that they might soon find themselves represented in the form of QUEEN LAO, the She-Fighter!!! Bonus black-and-white painted pin-up!

Buy Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Deadly Hands Of Magazine Ed and read the Page 45 review here

An Olympic Dream: The Story Of Samia Yusuf Omar (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Reinhard Kleist…

“Training at Coni Stadium in Mogadishu is a bit different than at the Beijing Olympic Games. Here you have to be careful not to trip. There are holes all over the track from the bombs.”

The German comics biographer Meister returns with another intriguing choice of subject. Following on from the likes of CASTRO, ELVIS and JOHNNY CASH, his previous work – his best for me – was on a considerably more obscure figure in the form of THE BOXER: THE TRUE STORY OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR HARRY HAFT. Much of its appeal was the fact its subject was someone I knew absolutely nothing about, but whom had lived a long, difficult and utterly fascinating life.

This time it’s the story of an equally obscure athlete, Samia Yusuf Omar, who represented her country of Somalia at the Beijing Olympics with great pride and whose great dream was of competing at London 2012. Sadly, that aspiration was cruelly dashed as she drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Italy along with several other migrants. But in her short life she achieved, and endured, far more than most of us pack into a lifetime.

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It’s a very clever work, this. Yes, it’s Samia’s story, but it’s also the stories of the multitudes who attempt to seek a better life in Europe, regardless of their reasons. For whatever one’s opinions, informed or otherwise, regarding the rights or wrongs of ‘illegal’ economic migration, there is one simple fact which remains true. Would the vast majority of EU member state citizens, if we found ourselves in the same position as those people in Eastern Europe and Africa, do exactly the same as they are doing? I know I would.

Anyway, Samia’s heart-wrenching decision to leave her mother and the rest of her family was simply in order to be able to train. For the main problem she faced in Mogadishu was not simply the lack of facilities in her war torn country, but the fact that the ruling Islamist militia Al-Shabaab had deemed running unacceptable for women under their repugnant version of Sharia law. After the summary execution of her father in the market place a few years previously Samia had learnt to keep her head down and try to avoid trouble, but she was still determined to pursue her training.

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However, the daily harassment from the local armed goons eventually turned more serious, with texted threats informing her they knew where she lived and that she would be killed, finally convincing her she had to leave. Initially she moved to Ethiopia to train there, but the usual official corruption and also misogyny, albeit not on the levels of Al-Shabaab, forced her to decide to try to get to Italy in the belief she would be able to pursue her athletics there in freedom. Her story ended, like so many others attempting similar journeys, in tragedy, and not before experiencing incredible trauma and hardship along the way.

Putting a very human face on migration, as Kleist does here with Samia’s story, undoubtedly helps people to understand precisely why people do leave their homes and attempt these odysseys in search of a better future. Her conversations along the way with fellow travellers attempting the journey for far less prosaic reasons are extremely illuminating. When we talk about social inequalities between the haves and have-nots in our own rather more comfortable country, it’s easy for us to forget that as tough as many do have it in the UK, it’s absolutely nothing in comparison to the suffering and utter destitute poverty some people experience day in, day out elsewhere in the world.

So again, I return to the fact that were I in their situation, would I attempt to get into the EU no matter what it took? Of course I would. Economic migration has been going on since time immemorial and whilst the rewards might not be quite what they believe, à la Dick Whittington and his streets paved with gold, when their lives are so deprived and so hard, I can completely understand their motivations to try. Would Samia have ever won a medal at an Olympics? It’s extremely unlikely. But did she deserve the opportunity to be able to try and achieve her dreams? Of course.

JR

Buy An Olympic Dream: The Story Of Samia Yusuf Omar and read the Page 45 review here

Munch (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Steffen Kvernland…

“Munch is the perfect comic book character! Almost everything he created was autobiographical, so I can use his letters, diaries, notes, drawings, graphic works and even his paintings. He called some of his diaries ‘literary journals’, so they should be taken with a pinch of salt. But what the hell, it’s great stuff!”
“Yeah, it’ll actually be Munch on Munch! And all of the diaries are pretty much literary dramatisations.”
“Will you keep the spelling mistakes or outdated language?”
“Yup, everything stays! The language will be totally uneven with lots of the sources and historical periods all jumbled together. But a quote is a quote! My contribution will be my subjective perception of Munch, and that’ll mostly be determined by the visual interpretations of, and what will be included or not. It’s going to be a monumental puzzle to figure out. I’ve read kilometres of books on Munch and there’s more to come.”
“It’ll take years to draw everything!”
“Huh! A year at the most!”

‘…Seven years later…’

Ha, I really did enjoy the prefacing six-page autobiographical introduction explaining just how Steffen Kvernland convinced himself over a very boozy lunch that it would be a great idea to do a graphic biography of Munch. Little did he suspect what he was letting himself in for! I’ll say this for him, though: he stuck the course over those seven long years and ended up producing a masterpiece.

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Speaking of liquid heavy repasts, Edvard Munch was undoubtedly, besides being a great artist, a true hellraiser, surrounded as he was for most of his early career by a coterie of artists and intellectuals who were, of course, all massive pissheads. So by the time he reached his mid-forties, with his most celebrated works long behind him, his lifestyle of hard drinking and love of brawling was close to tipping him over the edge, necessitating some chill-out time in rehab.

However, I love the fact that as part of his ongoing treatment his doctor advised Munch “to only socialize with good friends and avoid drinking in public.” After that episode he became extremely reclusive, but still immensely prodigious, even if none of the output achieved the recognition of early paintings such as The Scream series. It was as though, to quote the final two pages of this work…

“Munch had become a monk whose life was devoted to art.
“Art was his religion.”

Quite so. What is so impressive about this work is just how comprehensive it is. Yes, Munch was undoubtedly a real character, but it’s delightful to read a graphic biography by someone who is a true aficionado on their subject. Not only does Kvernland have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Munch, both the man and his art, but you can tell he has a real passion for him. It’s this enthusiasm, combined with a compelling art style that makes this such a pleasure to read, or indeed just look at.

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The stroke of genius, though, is making Munch himself the main narrator. Mainly it’s a wiser, more sanguine Munch looking back at his capricious, youthful self, but it imbues the book with a sense of truthfulness that might otherwise give way to mild disbelief at the appalling antics and emotional eruptions Munch was prone to. It allows Kvernland to walk us through Munch’s careening career and louche life without passing comment, but merely act as our educated museum guide, adding in some judicious hard facts.

The art though was a revelation. I can see exactly why it took him seven years. Munch famously advocated painting not what he saw, but what he felt, and you can see Kvernland has adopted this process to a degree. The artist’s early life is portrayed in really quite jocular caricature, entirely befitting Munch’s absurd behaviour, with vibrant colours and dashes of cubist flourish. Also, Munch’s haunted eyes occasionally minded me of a Richard Sala creation! The elder Munch, in his rare ‘on camera’ appearances, is portrayed much more statesmen-like in black and white, Victorian plumbago-style portraits.

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Sitting alongside PABLO and VINCENT as part of Self Made Hero’s Art Masters range, this exquisite picture of a most peculiar man and highly talented artist should help inform new generations that The Scream was first and foremost a series of paintings and not merely an internet meme

JR

Buy Munch and read the Page 45 review here

Giant Days vol 2 (£10-99, Boom) by John Allison & Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin.

“This next place is great. It’s the ultimate. It has the answers we seek.”
“Please no more boutiques, Esther. I can’t take my clothes off again today.”
“All these fancy shops. There are so many clothes. So many garments. And they’re all… they’re all made of stars.”

That’s a perfect opening page, neatly encapsulating one aspect each of Esther, Susan and Daisy: up for adventure, bewildered by fashion, and away with the fairies, respectively.

It also kicks off the first chapter’s challenge immediately: prep for, then survive a university ball. Survive means 1) not snog your best mate’s face off, 2) not cop off with your ex and 3) not make a fool of yourself in front of the beau of the ball. Umm… that’d be a great big whoops, then.

But first they need to dress for the occasion and Lissa Treiman does each of them proud, although Susan was always going to be traumatised now matter what she ended up in.

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“You look amazing!” gasps Daisy, hands clasped with rapture as is tradition. “Esther is like a wizard.”
“First she squeezed my blackheads. Then she trussed me up like a turkey. Then she aggressively blow-dried me for twenty minutes.”

One of Allison’s many seemingly simple skills is lobbing in one extra word like “aggressively” and making it work for him like a ‘Q’ tile in Scrabble placed on a Triple Word square, maximising the comedic value of entire paragraphs.

“She said she worked out I was the exact same shape and height as Bette Midler.”
“Ohh!”
“After that, she looked at me the way Stephen Hawking looks at a Black Hole. She knew too much.”

Both Treiman and Sarin succeed in squeezing out the maximum drama from every line, whether it’s Susan staring into the distance there as if having undergone some profound Lovecraftian trauma, Esther’s gleeful self-satisfaction at building then delivering a kidney-kicking pun, or Daisy’s wide-eyed worry at where it will all end. Here’s Susan’s ultra-practical ex, McGraw, bypassing some bouncers and flourishing his gadget like Zelda levelling up:

“I had to get in… with this 12-in-1 multi-tool. I pried the beading off a uPVC window casing and removed the sealed unit.”
“What if you used those powers… for evil?”

This is the thing that daunts me about BAD MACHINERY’s John Allison: how does he even know about uPVC beading? How did “meniscus” end up in his vocabulary? And what does this even mean?

“Lovely use of the flat felled stitch on Susan’s seams, by the way.”
“Sir, you’re making me blush.”

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Esoteric is inherently funny, I think. Of course there’s also room for slapstick and I for one wholeheartedly side with Susan, having lived on top of Nottingham’s tallest knoll above the Arboretum Park, and attempted to scale its glacial 3-in-1 winter summit wearing Cuban heels.

“There’s nothing wrong with my shoes! It’s this hill that’s wrong. They built this city wrong!”

There follows the suicide slide I know oh so well right back down to the bottom of the hill.

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Previously in GIANT DAYS SELF-PUBLISHED PACK and then in GIANT DAYS VOL 1: Susan, Esther and Daisy experience the joys of communal kitchens etc at university for the very first time.

Now it’s the Student Ball, Christmas Break, Exams and Bad Boyfriend Decisions. Susan has a secret! Daisy becomes a Life Coach! Ed Gemmell bears his soul – then quickly covers it up again but is he in time?!?!

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John Allison knows exactly how old couples rekindle their flame, loudly, arms flailing:

“Best record! Best songs!
“I agree completely!”

All three panels are too, too funny.

Also, watch what Treiman does when Esther hits the dance floor in Northampton to attract / distract every boy in sight. She succeeds, of course, but as anyone who’s seen such a show will know, half the lads are checking out each others’ moves, not the luring lady’s.

SLH

Buy Giant Days vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus h/c (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown.

“Simon.”
“Yes, Jesus?”
“If you consider Mary to be a sinner, you don’t understand my teachings.”

Quite.

Love, love, love the format unique to comics, emulating the shape and weight of a prayer book.

Within you’ll find nearly 200 pages of Biblical comics with a very strict theme and 75 pages of afterword / annotation. Even the afterword has been annotated, as have a couple of the annotations!

But one man’s onerously self-referential is another man’s thorough and I found this fascinating. I was transfixed throughout, and if you have any interest in stories – in their evolution, censorship and other sleights-of-hand – then I think you will be too.

For a start, intentionally or otherwise, they are delivered with all the droll deadpan of IF YOU STEAL and LOW MOON’s Jason. Here’s King David who’s been availing himself of Bathsheba, wife of one of David’ most loyal and committed soldiers, Uriah.

“David sends Bathsheba home before the sun rises. Weeks later, one of her servants delivers a message to him.”
““I’m pregnant. – B””

Given his sincerity I’m not sure Chester was intending to be this comedic throughout, but the modern economy of that note put me in mind of Tom Gauld’s GOLIATH (nothing to do with its subject, everything to do with its execution) and even the iconoclastic satire of anti-atheist Evelyn Waugh. Indeed it is that very economy and stripped-down clarity of storytelling throughout which makes much of this so laugh-out-loud funny.

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Now, I’ve heard some of Chester Brown’s peers saying that they enjoyed the comics in their own right and have zero interest in reading the annotations. Normally I might be tempted to side with them but I was curious enough about what Chester was up to (it struck me as far from clear as why these specific stories had been selected: what themes or thought processes linked them), and it took no more than three of four paragraphs to have me hooked.

The afterword and annotations in this instance are for me the absolute heart of this book and its riveting joy. A couple of Brown’s arguments struck me as a bit of a leap but overwhelmingly – 98% of the time – I was as surprised by his observations as Jesus’ followers were by the big man’s radical rule-breaking and bowled over both by the thoroughness of Brown’s scholarship and the persuasive logic of his analysis.

There is a lot to analyse: not just the stories as published in the current, compromised editions of the Bible, but previous versions like ‘The Gospel of the Nazareans’ which has a very different, infinitely more likely take on the parable of the Talents and was written in Aramaic (Jesus’ own language) before being translated into Greek then presented as the Gospel we now know as Matthew’s.

And let’s face it, it’s all thoroughly compromised whether through oral inaccuracies, accidental translation errors, deliberate tampering for political propagandist reasons, physical manuscript loss, omissions, misrepresentations, misinterpretations, and the slight fact that not only was no one standing next to Jesus H Christ with a microphone as he spoke, but the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were highly unlikely to have been written by anyone called Matthew, Mark, Luke or John in the first place!

And that’s just the New Testament. Anyone entering into the Old Testament unaware that it’s out-and-out fiction should have their heads examined. What’s more I’ve always considered it reactionary fiction designed to intimidate, control and make subservient as opposed to liberating radicalism of JHC but what Chester Brown has succeeded in doing is marrying the Old to the New in a way that is mutually illuminating especially when it comes to the ostensibly odd tales like God’s seemingly incomprehensible reaction to Cain and Abel’s sacrifices.

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He’s done this by altering some of the stories as he sees fit, but why shouldn’t he after they’ve all been “tweaked” so spectacularly already? It’s always done with well reasoned insight, expounded upon in the back, in order to bring some consistency and coherence to the proceedings.

Context – because context is always important: Chester Brown considers himself a Christian. However, “It’s a version of Christianity that’s not at all concerned with imposing “moral” values or religious laws on others; its focus is inward. As Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within”. I’m interested in personally connecting with God, not in imposing my beliefs on anyone else. While I accept that Jesus was a genuine historical figure, I don’t think he was God or “The Son Of God”… rather, Jesus was a spiritually advanced man.”

I’ll say! Basically, Chester believes in the central tenant of love rather than the hypocritical hate-mongering which too many deeply flawed, self-serving human beings within organised religions spread in God’s Name without His Permission. You know, the sort of thing that Jesus himself exposed and condemned as abhorrent.

This is all vitally important because, as I say, above all else Chester succeeds in tallying the teachings of Christ with the old tales of God in a way that shows them both to be contemptuous of man-made religious law when it gets in the way of what is truly important like helping people (see ‘Good Samaritan’). Moreover, his carefully considered reinvestigations of the stories strongly suggest that God was very fond of rule-breakers – those who thought for themselves utilising their God-given Talent of Free-Will – rather than simply followed subserviently like the Good Son in ‘The Prodigal Son’ who ended up sulking sullenly, blinded by resentment. That’s never going to do you any favours.

This is where Cain and Abel come in, I promise you, along with Chester’s restoration of the ‘Parable of the Talents’ and I say “restoration” because it is there that his arguments hold most persuasive water. Remember ‘The Gospel Of The Nazareans’? Eusebius, the first Christian historian (circa 240-340) recalls the Talent contest thus:

“[The master] had three slaves, one who used up his fortune with whores and flute-players, one who invested the money and increased its value, and one who hid it. The first was welcomed with open arms, the second was blamed, and only the third was locked up in prison.”

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Firstly, the parable as currently represented celebrates financial investment which Jesus emphatically didn’t; it fails to reflect the nature of Jesus’ parables which always clash with “traditional views of justice” and “challenge conventional thinking by containing an element of surprise”; and thirdly, makes no storytelling sense in that it lacks the natural, three-stage progression – two of the slaves do the same thing with the same result – whereas the Nazarean version contains three slaves, three different approaches, three different results. Oh, and there’s also the question of the circular tendency which works rather well in the older version.

I suspect I know what you’re thinking. It’s about the sex-workers, isn’t it? You don’t think Jesus would approve of blowing your wad – or someone else’s – on sex workers. Well, boy, does Chester Brown have some meticulously researched and impeccably well argued news for you!

It involves the rabbis of the Talmud’s teachings on the three levels of charity; attitudes towards sex workers – at no time outlawed in ancient Israel – during both periods of the Bible (as I say, context is so important: try reading Jane Austen’s ‘Mansfield Park’ without its socio-historical context and you might mistake Fanny for a wimp when she is in fact quite the proto-feminist); and extensive research into various translations of the words for prostitute and their appearances in the Bible aaaand….

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Once you’ve read all that and about Matthew’s inclusion of women in his gospel’s genealogy (and some very specific biblical women at that) which was so unheard-of as to be pointed, everything else about this book, its narrative as a whole and Chester’s interest in its elements falls into place. It’s at this point, perhaps, that I should reference Chester Brown’s PAYING FOR IT.

As I say, I am completely won over, even to the idea that Jesus’ mum was a sex-worker. Yup, that Mary, but wait until you read the research. And if part of your reaction to that is assertion is, “Eww, sex-worker,” well, shame on you because that’s what Jesus’ enemies used too. Hope you enjoy the other ironies.

I don’t think it’ll come as any surprise to anyone that the titular Mary (Magdalene / of Bethany) was a prostitute but Brown delves deep into the traditions of hair in conjunction of the specific scenario in order to shore up the argument while reminding you that her specific act of anointing Jesus is what made him a “messiah”, a “Christ” (translation: “anointed one”). “That’s a point worth emphasising: a prostitute made Jesus a christ.” It is indeed a pretty big deal, entirely in keeping with the man constantly demanding his followers rethink their priorities and reject superficial and groundless prejudice.

Umm… guess what the Hebrew for feet was often a euphemism for? I’m probably not going to go there.

Anyway, love verses piety, taking the sexual initiative, employment versus charity, Christ the questioner – and Chester too – and stop pointing your finger lest fingers point back to you, Judah!

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I think the story of Tamar and Judah, as told here, may be my favourite apart from the parables. It’s where onanism comes from.

There is so, so much to discover or perhaps rediscover here and I’m certainly going to enjoy re-reading this in a newly informed light.

I began with Chester’s deadpan delivery which I personally cannot unsee, but more objectively it’s a side-effect of Brown wisely playing down the emotional and the emotive in order to present the tales as honestly as possible in spite of him making bits up! There’s a little anger in evidence from the slave master and a panel of merriment at the Prodigal’s return but on the whole the cast of characters remain implacable – even Job under considerable provocation. In addition the strict four-panel grid maintains an even equally even keel free from distractions.

As to Jesus, you’re only shown him only in silhouette. Another wise decision.

SLH

Buy Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Black Road #1 (£2-99, Image) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown…

“Fuck off. I’m eating.”
“Take it easy.”
“This is business. You are Magnus, yes?”
“I only arrived in town this morning. No one should know me.”
“Perhaps your reputation precedes you?”
“Reputations kill. I prefer to be alone and unknown.”
“How much privacy, Magnus, would this buy you?”
“What’s that for? You want someone killed?”
“Not at all! Good heavens. I’m not talking about murder. I’m talking about an escort job. Taking a church official up the Northern Road to Hammaruskk Coast.”
“The Northern Road. We call it the Black Road, and had you spent more than two fucking minutes in this land, you’d have known that. And a voyage up the Black Road most likely is a murder trip.”

Finally! For those of us who have been waiting patiently since the flaming longboat burial afforded to Brian Wood’s NORTHLANDERS saga on the Vertigo imprint, our patience has been rewarded, and how! Magnus the Black is a man with much on his mind. He’s had the emotional bedrock of his life shattered with the loss of his wife and seen the presumed sovereignty of Odin and the old gods smashed by the one true God of Christianity.

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It’s the latter which probably causes him to take the escort job, at four times the original price of course, because it gives Magnus the chance to ask the Cardinal some burning questions. About how a man born a heathen can get into Heaven, for example… He’s hoping the answers will give some structure to the rest of his life, one way or the other. Not that he believes a life of piety and forgiveness will be required in either eventuality…

“… I wanted to be closer to the Christians. They talk in riddles. They preach peace and love in the midst of performing incredible violence.
“There’s a structure, a purpose to what they do that is beyond my ken. They’re changing Norskk, changing it with words and with iron and with blood. I need to understand them better.
“I have yet to determine if I will go to war for the Christians, or against them.”

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It won’t surprise you to learn that the trip up North isn’t without its challenges. Of the head meets hammer variety, that is… The Cardinal’s not worried, though, he says he’s got a guardian angel. Which is where the mystery really begins…

What a wonderfully dark opener! It’s like NORTHLANDERS never went away (please note, the re-collected bigger editions of NORTHLANDERS will be starting to come out in about four months). And whilst Garry Brown never worked with Brian Wood on that title, fans of THE MASSIVE will be more than familiar with his work. It’s a gritty, flinty style that’s perfect for this title and as with NORTHLANDERS, the colours, provided here by Dave McCaig are suitably understated and restrained.

JR

Buy Black Road #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Superman: The Men Of Tomorrow (£12-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & John Romita Jr…

“Oh. Oh, I get it. You almost got me, Clark. I have to admit, without the glasses, you’re actually a dead ringer. How did I ever not notice it before?”

That takes some brassneck as a writer, does that, bringing up possibly the most ridiculous secret identity conceit in all of comicdom! It works, though, because actually the concluding issue, well more of a coda really as the potentially world shattering action is all done and dusted by the penultimate slice, is a lovely little Jimmy & Clark buddy-buddy piece. It is one of the sweetest chunks of SUPERMAN you’re ever likely to read. After all the recent hoopla regarding the recent dark cinematic depiction of the world’s greatest boy scout, this is Big Blue back to doing what he does best.

It begins with Clark professing his true identity to a disbelieving Jimmy before our duo simply go for a quiet stroll in the park together… I was fully expecting there to be a cat stuck up a tree that needed rescuing – actually it was a child falling out of one – before there’s a half-hearted mugger to talk down. There’s a twist to it all, of course, which I’m not going to spoil, but after the maximum peril level dimensional invasion of the preceding eight issues, it was just the perfect wind-down.

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The main event is great fun too. It’s not the most original story, with a benevolent Superman-like character called Ulysses returning as an adult from another dimension, having been sent there as an infant by his scientist parents when they believed their research site was about to explode. Again, there’s a twist, obviously – several, as it happens – but it’s well written. What increased my enjoyment of it considerably, though (well okay, made me bothered enough to read it in the first place) was Romita Jr.’s art. I do like Romita Jr. He’s the first superhero artist whose style struck me, when young, as really different to the norm with his work on IRON MAN: ARMOUR WARS II back in 1990, and it’s nice to see he’s still on absolute top form.

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I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to recommend Superman comics, normally because they’re utter bobbins – classic exceptions like Morrison’s ALL STAR SUPERMAN and Millar’s SUPERMAN: RED SON aside – and whilst this is nowhere near the level of those, it’s still a significant cut above the run of the mill if you’re desperate for a fix of Big Blue.

JR

Buy Superman: The Men Of Tomorrow and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Mordawwa #666 (£3-00, Scary Go Round Comics) by John Allison

Angel Claws Deluxe Coffee Table Edition h/c (£59-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Moebius

Kramers Ergot vol 9 (£33-99, Fantagraphics) by various including Michael DeForge, Johnny Ryan, Gabrielle Bell, Al Columbia, Dash Shaw, Kim Deitch, Marc Bell, Antoine Cosse

Providence vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

Bad Machinery vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside (£14-99, Oni) by John Allison

Criminal 10th Anniversary Special (£3-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Deadly Edition Magazine Sized (£4-50, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Death Sentence vol 2: London s/c (£14-99, Titan) by Montynero & Martin Simmonds

I Hate Fairyland vol 1: Madly Ever After (£7-50, Image) by Skottie Young

Julius Zebra – Bundle With The Britons h/c (£9-99, Walker Books) by Gary Northfield

The Nameless City (£10-99, First Second) by Faith Erin Hicks

Novo vol 1: The Birth Of Novo Extended Edition (£14-99, Alterna) by Michael S. Bracco

Retroworld s/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Patrick Galliano & Cedric Peyravernay, Bazal

Star Wars: Vader Down s/c (£9-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen & Mike Deodato, Salvador Larroca

Astro City: Lovers Quarrel s/c (£12-99, DC) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Eric Anderson

Flash By Grant Morrison And Mark Millar s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Ron Marz, Chuck Dixon & various

Justice League: Darskeid War – Power Of The Gods h/c (£22-50, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Francis Manapul & Fernando Pasarin, various

All New, All Different Avengers vol 1: The Magnificent Seven s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Mahmud Asrar, Adam Kubert

Captain America: Sam Wilson: Not My Captain America vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna, Paul Renaud, Joe Bennett

Deadpool And Cable: Split Second s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Fabian Nicieza & Reilly Brown

Deadpool: World’s Greatest vol 1: Millionaire With A Mouth s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Mike Hawthorne

New Avengers: A.I.M. vol 1: Everything Is New s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Gerardo Sandoval

A Silent Voice vol 6 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Yoshitoki Oima

Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosario s/c (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Tsubasa Haduki

News!

Step Aside Pops 0

ITEM! This had me howling with laughter: Kate Beaton takes on the twerps who designed Dagger’s breast-baring costume plus porno-pose artists with… Tit Windows!

I’m not posting a single one here. You *will* have to click on that link and go to Kate’s website.

Love, love, love Kate Beaton: try STEP ASIDE, POPS!

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ITEM! Teachers! Schools! Families! Sarah McIntyre introduces four Book Trust videos on making comics in the classroom, and does so with tremendous enthusiasm, and empathy for others.

Pop Sarah into our search engine to discover where the Sea Monkeys came from (OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS) and so much more besides!

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ITEM! Una unveils her new comics project, a very personal insight into mental health

 

ITEM! And the Eisner Awards 2106 Nominations are in! Congratulations to all! Pop any of those puppies in our search engine to read our reviews!

Superfab congrats to Kristyna Baczynski, Dan Berry, Joe Decie, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Sarah McIntyre, Fumio Obata, Jack Teagle for their Eisner nominations for 24 BY 7 collection of comics created at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal.

24 Hour Comic Crew

Photos of the 24 Hour Comics Marathon comics & creators 4/5ths of the way down this extensive account of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014!

24 Hour Comic

All the news so far for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016, October 14th-16th. We will be there – will you?

Stephen