Posts in the ‘Reviews’ Category

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2018 week two

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

Featuring David B., Luke Pearson. Olivier Kugler, Dan Abnett, I.N.J. Culbard, Ron Regé Jr., Igor Hofbauer, Anna Haifisch, Richard Marazano & Luo Yin, Hannah Berry, Denise Mina, Kathryn Briggs, Sabeena Ahktar, more!

Hasib & The Queen Of Serpents (£21-99, NBM) by David B.

Luxurious hardcover with gold-foil finishes from the creator of EPILEPTIIC.

If you love your epic mythological journeys like THE KING OF THE BIRDS, this will fill your cup right to its brim, and it comes with the same, intricate story baton-passing, for this is all about unexpected encounters in which one revelation leads to another, one complication leads to several more, and there are prices to be paid for love, treachery, deceit, ingratitude, servitude and – what else would you expect? – the dismissal of warnings and the breaking of promises, taboos.

Not only that but, blissfully, I can promise you that however far the meandering narrative, full of digressions, takes us from its initial thread, its path is circular, you will return whence you came, and every single element will be resolved.

Even more satisfyingly, answers which could not and should not have been provided during the diversions are provided later on, and antagonists who appear within them will reappear most unexpectedly but quite, quite, brilliantly during the final furlong to fuck up things further, but not forever.

Why is it so circuitous? This is taken from ‘The Thousand And One Nights’ in which the narrator is essentially telling stories to postpone her execution. It’s one long delaying tactic. For a very cool riff on that, please see Isabel Greenberg’s wit-ridden, glorious graphic novel THE ONE HUNDRED NIGHTS OF HERO.

It begins simply enough with Hâsib, who isn’t half as wise or well versed in the ways of the world as his departed dad, an ancient sage called Daniel. Hâsib’s mother is persuaded to buy him an axe and a donkey so he can join three woodcutters in a forest and learn this new craft. But when they discover a well of honey in a cave, Daniel is abandoned at the bottom on it while his greedy companions make more money from the honey than they’d ever dreamed. They tell his mother that Hâsib was eaten, but they do continue to provide for her from their ill-gained goods.

Well, seemingly trapped at the bottom of the now-empty well beneath the cave, Daniel encounters a talking scorpion – the very constellation of Scorpius in the sky, made flesh, blood and stingy bit! – and so realises that there must be another way out. He claws back rubble to find himself in a chamber with an underground lake at the centre of which is a bed on an island. Lying down, he soon finds himself in the company of the Queen of the Serpents. It’s then that the succession of stories truly begins, from Kabul to Cairo, before they return full circle, then onwards!

You are in for an orgy of opulent spectacle, for David B makes the visual most of every literary opportunity afforded him, and oh the opportunities! There’s an aviary of every bird imaginable in King Solomon’s castle, a mountain-top tree full of faces, and a constellation of stars is illuminated at its most magnificent.

Talking plants communicate in ever such clever picture-clues, a coffin-maker’s enterprise is given a right medieval and morbid rendition, while a battle between apes and djinns is Mesoamerican in nature, coiling round then into the page like a snake.

Demons await in the woods as if to corrupt the woodcutters, a river doesn’t just rage and roar but actually exclaims, anything can happen then actually does and essentially this: it’s like an acid trip without fear of flashbacks or prosecution.

As I’ve written of Jim Woodring’s work: “It’s mind-altering, yet legal!”

Here’s an important component, however, which is easy to overlook: although grave personal betrayals occur, genuine contrition can be rewarded by forgiveness if it’s backed up with restitution and remedial action, especially if unsolicited. By which I mean: you realise you’ve done wrong, you concede you’ve done wrong, you actively apologise and then set things right without being asked to in advance.

The reason this is vital in any morality tale is that it provides hope in its option for action: we all make mistakes, but believing that we are damned forever because of them doesn’t exactly encourage a change of heart.

Or, as ‘The Cock, The Mouse And The Little Red Hen’ would contend: “It’s never too late to mend”.

Although sometimes it is.

SLH

Buy Hasib & The Queen Of Serpents and read the Page 45 review here

Escaping Wars And Waves: Encounters With Syrian Refugees (£19-99, Myriad) by Olivier Kugler.

“Imagine you’ve got a family: a wife, three children… you come home and there is nobody there.”

Two bombs were dropped on their house.

“They all died in the same room. The oldest one was five years old, the next one four… and the little one was three years old.”

This is an album full of spectacularly beautiful, delicate line art: portraits of brave, stoical and astonishingly resourceful individuals who are facing nebulous futures after enduring unimaginable atrocities, so forcing them to flee for their very lives only to enjoy temporary living conditions which are challenging, to say the least.

It won the European Design Awards Jury Prize, 2018.

 

 

It’s coloured with exceptional finesse, an unusual treatment which instinctively selects certain areas of skin and clothing (while leaving others unfilled) so that one’s eyes are drawn to the humanity, warmth and individuality of those telling their stories in very brief bursts, while their current context – their surrounding environment, inside or out, and their few possessions – is largely left white or in lighter tones, with small but important details picked out for emphasis, like all the plastic flowers and vine leaves used to brighten a tent, shack or barber’s shop.

Oh yes, I told you they were resourceful: so many of those who found themselves marooned in the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, 2013, had begun to earn themselves a new if meagre living as barbers, carpenters, electrical appliance repairmen, sound system rental suppliers for weddings, births and birthdays or even, in Djwan’s case, a breakdancing teacher. That’s quite the career change from Syrian Army sniper.

It wasn’t a career choice. In Syria, military service is mandatory, and Djwan was randomly selected to be a sniper, from which vantage point he was able to see his friends blown to smithereens or burn to death in a tank. One of Djwan’s close friends and fellow soldiers who had suffered considerable family loss (outside of the army but very much within the warzone – Syria, basically) committed suicide by shooting himself with a rifle. The authorities decided Djwan had killed him, so he was tortured.

 

 

His saga of suffering is far longer than that, but like every individual whom Kugler met, he was fleeing the war. Plenty were fleeing conscription, many had their homes and livelihoods destroyed, others weren’t sticking around long enough to see that happen within personal blast range. I’m pretty sure you’d flee too. I know I certainly would. It’s worth reiterating:

“Imagine you’ve got a family: a wife, three children… you come home and there is nobody there.”

So many of these stories are the same, whether told in Domiz, Kos (a Greek island where there’s no refugee camp or governmental provision at all) or the “Jungle” in Calais where you really wouldn’t want the sort of provision the local police like to provide.

“Because of the war there is not work in the area. Food, electricity and fuel are scarce and expensive.”
“The economy broke down.”
“This is what is left of the school where I used to give painting lessons. It got hit by an American warplane.”

Some of them have climbed over corpses.

 

 

When Kugler.visited, refugee Ahin was lending her fully qualified services as a postgraduate psychologist to the Mental Health team in the Domiz camp. (You can imagine there’s quite the demand if men in particular feel able to suffer the stigma of needing mental health counselling – and then think of the kids there!) She had to give up her masters is Damascus when the Free Syrian Army began bombing the neighbourhood indiscriminately.

“During my studies I worked in a centre for autistic children. I wanted to do practical treatment and help the children. It wasn’t easy but I enjoyed it.”

The centre’s now being used as a military base.

Meanwhile, of course, dear old Islamic State is destroying all art it can find and even chopped down an orchard because obviously.

 

 

On fleeing, the parties had to negotiate numerous checkpoints in their own country before getting anywhere near another’s borders. Those checkpoints could be manned by the Syrian Army, the Free Syrian Army or even Jihadist groups, which is quite the combination to please or appease. It’s especially tricky if you’re someone who could be shot for desertion or being an ex-enemy combatant.

This is all so thoroughly digestible because Kugler provides snippets of conversations, distilling them to the really important sentences, but never once separating them from the individual in question. There are no anonymous statements.

And, of course, you are surrounded by the physical beauty of the lines and colour on each page, however higgledy-piggledy, wet or freezing cold the actual environs were. Details you wouldn’t necessarily think of are picked out, like the cinder blocks one bloke is standing on to keep his feet out of the mud. The island of Kos stands in marked contrast to Domiz, being comparatively warm, lush and green.

 

 

Originally, to save time, I was simply going to refer you to Kate Evans’s equally excellent first-hand account of her time helping out in Calais which is THREADS, but I found myself so moved by what I learned here, and so impressed with its communicative skills, that I couldn’t. Joe Sacco is a huge fan of this work, of course, because he’s made a career out of giving a voice to those who have none, just like Kugler does here. They’re like megaphones for the otherwise muted.

And while I’m making reference to other works, albeit with a completely different structure and style, may I commend Thi Bui’s THE BEST WE COULD DO? Belle Yang’s FORGET SORROW? Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL, obviously, but also his SKETCHES FROM A NAMELESS LAND which too contains snippets of conversation taken from those seeking refuge, as well as reflecting on THE ARRIVAL, itself.

I’m well past being sick of the demonization of those so desperately seeking sanctuary by the likes of Farage and the Daily Fail, and the betrayal by our own government under Theresa May of the Windrush Generation who were invited here because we do desperately needed them, and they came and they gave of themselves for decades in spite of such loathsome societal racism. Over and over, we are bludgeoned with lies about scrounging when immigrants contribute their skills then boost our economy by paying tax.

 

 

But not only are so many fleeing for their very lives – from wars often of the West’s making in the case of Iraq, or exacerbating in the case of Syria – but in doing so they are sacrificing so much.

Almost always they are leaving family behind, but also their daily joys – the colour and culture in their lives – which we take for granted, obliterated by the outbreak of war: music, singing, art and books. Casual conversation in comfort! One elderly gentleman called Saadwin says “I miss village life… Hanging out with the other old men… We used to sit outside and talk all the time.”

He’s standing, shivering, in mud-strewn Iraqi Kurdistan, in spite of wearing seven jackets.

“I wouldn’t trade living in my village for all the money in the world.”

And yet, he has had to leave.

SLH

Buy Escaping Wars And Waves: Encounters With Syrian Refugees and read the Page 45 review here

Wild’s End vol 3: Journey’s End (£17-99, Boom!) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard…

““Fire doesn’t burn that way.” Your words.
“You said in the incident report several times. And I’ve heard you say it since.”

You may yourselves recall Clive Slipaway telling us more than once about the wartime incident in which his ship was dramatically set aflame and promptly sunk with substantial loss of life, though he himself manage to survive only to be captured by the enemy. Well, it seems there may have been more to the incident than meets the eye… at least according to intelligence officer Major Upton, who you would think might be in the know about that sort of stuff.

Now… where else have we seen strange flaming weapons that instantly incinerate things recently…? Ah yes…

 

 

Our anthropomorphic chums return, well, except for poor old Fawkes, who was last seen getting roasted alive to a degree that a Gruffalo would heartily approve of after finally going against a lifetime of conniving and chicanery and generally surviving just fine and dandy thank you to play the hero! Thanks to a lovely little amusing conceit though, you’ll almost be convinced he managed to survive. It’s like Messrs. Abnett & Culbard weren’t quite ready to let go of the foxy blighter! But local journalist Peter Minks, feline Susan Peardew and Alphie the piglet are all back safe and sound. Well, they’re back.

 

 

So, is there any hope at all of turning the proverbial tide against the global alien invasion of fire-breathing, flexible-limbed, giant streetlights? Indeed is there even anyone else left with the gumption to fight aside from our ragtag bunch of survivors? And even if there were, what on Earth could they possibly do? Or does the answer perhaps… [CENSORED]. Well… again, any chance they do have might be down to information that Major Upton is in possession of… Just how is it that she seems to know so much about this mysterious alien menace and what possibly represents the Earth’s last, incredibly slim hope for survival…?

 

 

Yes, the concluding third of this amusing take on the classic retro-alien invasion theme is finally here! Straight out in graphic novel form this time, no messing about with the penny dreadful periodicals! As before, much interesting between-papers such as diary entries, government announcements, maps etc. flesh out the fun. At least until it’s seared off… For much, much more on this fabulous series see our Stephen’s reviews of WILD’S END VOL 1 and WILD’S END VOL 2.

 

 

JR

Buy Wild’s End vol 3: Journey’s End and read the Page 45 review here

The Weaver Festival Phenomenon h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Ron Regé Jr.

“There was an electric shock between our hearts and the conduit was the sound of the bell.”

Ding dong! What a wonderfully witty and warm-hearted work this is. As the publisher blurb yodels…

“A funny and romantic teenage ghost story that marks a departure from the author’s more abstract and esoteric work, The Weaver Festival Phenomenon is a touching story of love & loss that retains a sense of magic that readers have come to expect from Regé.”

The primary reason for that departure is not mentioned above, oddly enough, which is that this is based on the short story ‘Moonlight Shadow’ by the celebrated Japanese prose author Banana Yoshimoto. Whose sister, is I think, a manga artist, so she’s clearly familiar with comics. But apparently, according to an interview I read, Ron had been wanting to draw this story for over a decade. He had contacted Banana to request permission but hadn’t heard anything back, at least at the time of the interview. Presumably he subsequently did at some point. Now, I am totally unfamiliar with the original source material so I can’t comment how close an adaptation it is. She isn’t formally credited, though, instead there is a note right at the end explaining this is based on said novella.

Anyway, long time Rege Jr. devotees will indeed note that this is radically different to his other works in a number of ways. Visually, whilst it still has his trademark ecstatically psychedelic wavy art style punctuated with the occasional burst of intense geometric activity, instead of the profusion of surrounding white space that normally accompanies his work, here we have stark, if glossy black.

Now, Stephen pointed out this inky backdrop may well be because this story involves a death, well two actually, okay, three thinking about it, though we never find out the identity of the third deceased individual. And the more I think about it, I think he’s absolutely right. Which all sounds rather gloomy. This is, however, precisely as the blurb states, funny and romantic, which aren’t really things I associate with Ron. Though hopefully his significant other, if he has one, would disagree!

But this, whimsical and waggish in tone, this had me chuckling in places at some of the mildly absurd behaviour of the central protagonists. Although the blurb states this is a ghost story, it really isn’t, it’s actually about two people left behind, picking  up the pieces, after a tragic accident that took the lives of their loved ones. Though with that said, there are indeed apparitions…

Right, I’ve danced around the bush like I’ve just had an electric shock quite enough, so I’m off to jangle my bell. If you’re a fan of Japanese prose or an unusual art style I implore you to give Ron a go. You will be delighted by this. Existing Rege Jr. fans will, I believe, see this as another tingling example that he is an underappreciated maestro.

I have absolutely no idea what the cover is a reference to. Anyone know? It seems like it must be a nod to something, because it doesn’t really pertain to the contents at all! Colour me intrigued. Which I’d be quite happy to let Ron do upon my torso with a set of sharpies…

JR

Buy The Weaver Festival Phenomenon h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hilda And The Stone Forest (vol 5) s/c (£7-99, Flying Eye) by Luke Pearson.

Animated series debuting on Netflix on September 21st 2018!

Gorgeous composition of a cover for the fifth HILDA outing, and you may have already spotted a clue to one of this all-ages book’s many marked departures!

We’ve no time to talk of that yet, for Hilda’s hurried home to a less than impressed mother.

“Hey, I’m sorry I’m late!
“I totally lost track of time. I think my watch is broken.
“And I forgot to take it out with me, so that didn’t help, either.
“And then Twig wouldn’t stop chasing this dog…”

That’s a cracking last panel with poor Twig looking round in the background, alarmed at her barefaced lie. With the raised brows and exclamation mark, he looks like George Herriman’s KRAZY KAT after being hit by a brick thrown by Ignatz.

 

 

But if you think Hilda’s excuses are exhausting (they did go on…!), then the pages preceding them will leave you completely out of breath. For our adventure opens immediately with Hilda and Twig giving chase to a long-legged clump of semi-sentient turf which a family of tiny Hidden People from HILDA AND THE MIDNIGHT GIANT has unknowingly built their house on.

Off it gallops across a double-page spread of long, landscape panels accentuating the speed and distance travelled, as Hilda hurtles through a hole in the fence, over the top of a steep, sandy bank and tumbles downhill into a steam train terminus. Instantly then they’re off again, leaping across country in pursuit of the agile and unexpectedly mobile home.

 

 

Ooof! Only when they’ve finally caught up with the critter do they realise how far from the city they’ve strayed, deep into Stone Troll territory. Now, Stone Trolls are sedentary during daylight so that’s reassuring, but overnight the local farmer’s fields have been plundered, his fields ransacked of their juicy crops and his goat stolen too. So that’s new. As are all the fires on the mountain late at night – they haven’t been seen for many years. It seems the Stone Trolls are growing increasingly active…

 

 

Now to the nub of the matter: this isn’t the first time Hilda’s been late or gone AWOL. There’s a glorious, extended montage of past adventures – some of which we haven’t been privy to yet – climaxing in some seriously sorry excuses for the states she comes back in, hilariously contradicted by the action-packed snapshots above them.

“It’s these dusty streets. It just seems to stick to me.”

You’re going to get covered in mud if you’re chased by wild onions underground.

“The puddles around here are outrageous.”

So was that porkie-pie, Miss Bedraggled and Be-drenched!

“Whatever you’re thinking it’s not that.”

Actually true: I doubt her Mum would have imagined a giant white rose splurting her daughter with bright-yellow gloop.

“Yeah, the library was fine.”

It wasn’t.

 

 

Now, Hilda’s Mum is no control freak (she gives her a lot of leeway) but she worries about her daughter’s safety because that’s what Mums do, and she just wants to spend a little quality time with her on a picnic or playing games. And they do have a lovely picnic (after a certain degree of misjudged spot-picking) but I’m afraid things come to a head when Mum denies her one night away and Hilda goes mental. Complete temper-tantrum meltdown, and she says some terrible, terrible things that made me vicariously ashamed.

 

 

But even through Hilda’s mother finally puts her foot down, Hilda’s never been good with temptation and the lure of a good old curiosity quest, and it’s a tug of war which has radical ramifications for both Hilda and her Mum, who will be far from reassured by what follows…

On that, I shall attempt to say as little as possible, but you saw that cover, didn’t you?

There’s so much to relish here, not least the perils of a countryside picnic. Our Jonathan remarked, with great amusement, on how well Luke had observed all the stroppiness and backchat of a right young madam or little man in full flow.

 

 

There are brand-new creatures with fascinating and potentially useful diets to discover, and wait until you get a load of the eerie Stone Forest itself, coloured ever so exotically! There will be “Oooh!”s And there will be “Aaaah!”s when the central cavern is revealed, as vast as the vastest cathedral you’ve never seen.

I will say one thing: the stakes will be raised when it comes to the level of danger, but it will serve to prove that Hilda and her Mum are very much cut from the same cloth in their resilience, resourcefulness and their indefatigability.

Anyone who spoils the ending for you, in any way shape or form, should be sent to bed early and grounded for a fortnight or more.

SLH

Buy Hilda And The Stone Forest (vol 5) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mister Morgen (£21-99, Conundrum) by Igor Hofbauer…

“Igor Hofbauer is the Charles Burns of the Balkans.”

– Nina Bunjevac (creator of ‘Fatherland’)

A little unusual to start a review with someone else’s quote about a work, taken from the front French flap, which in addition to the creepy cover ought to be fair warning of precisely what to expect inside, but I genuinely couldn’t think of a better way to sum this work up. When I read said pull quote before commencing reading I thought to myself, “That’s a very bold statement, we’ll see…”

But do you like Charles BLACK HOLE / LAST LOOK Burns? If, in particular, you are a fan of BLACK HOLE I feel you do need this. The bold, strident artwork is solid blacks paired with stark white backgrounds and dose highlights of red – frequently blood – and has that ever so slightly uneven looseness around the edges stylistically that simultaneously softens it up to the eye, then works on similarly softening up your sanity. It all helps to engender the feel of an early twentieth century period horror film involving characters that manage to come across as both terrifying and pitiful in equal measure.

 

 

This is a collection of shorts, I must add, rather than a single, longer form story, all with disturbing elements of surreal… whether that’s a train full of zombies…

“The situation is beyond our control.”
“Quarantine the train. You know where to direct it.”

… or a man wielding a broom with his eyes, ears and mouth stitched up…

“I am well aware that my appearance scares people but still. It didn’t seem to have an effect on him.”

Or indeed the secret police ferrets who you really don’t want a visit from…

“And we are from social services.”
“Do you have any ID?”
“Of course we do.”

… their ID being straight-edge razors to slash your face open with.

 

 

Like I said, that perturbing cover ought to have given sufficient cause for concern if you are of nervous disposition. The level of phantasmagorical within, combined with the art style, certainly should also appeal heavily to fans of Tim ABANDONED CARS Lane, by the way.

 

 

What the front and also rear cover neatly portrays is a strong element of old school East European design, with the cover title for example channelling a Soviet-era propaganda poster. That specific tone, which gives this work its own distinct flavour is something that continues throughout, particularly with some imposing concrete, Brutalist, monolithic architecture topped with similar angular blocky signage.

 

 

Though as I type I am also conscious that there are strong design elements of what I can only describe ‘60s Floridian Americana with palm trees and beaches, skyscrapers and sunsets, pop art wallpaper and TVs. It’s a frankly hypnopompic blend, the austere East and the wacky West, like the ultimate bad dream in which you know are asleep and fighting frantically to wake from but just can’t manage it…

And then the hooded fizzy pop bottle deliverymen arrive…

JR

Buy Mister Morgen and read the Page 45 review here

The Artist h/c (£12-99, Breakdown Press) by Anna Haifisch…

“When the stone martens in deep Bavaria gather to too their picturesque horns,
“The falcons of Arabia resist the orders of their masters,
“And the foxes of Leipzig congregate for a sexual cult dance,
“The world is about to receive a new artist.
“In the moment of an artist’s birth British scientists succeeded to detect an…
“Atypical phenomenon which came to be known as ‘the sigh of the Universe.”
“For a fraction of a second, a wave of extremely high frequency was measured.
“Which also seems to be the cause of human hiccoughs.
“This insignificant discovery is certainly leading the way for an artist’s life.
“As soon as the embryo hatches,
“The young artist is ready to absorb the sadness of the world.”

 

 

I decided to go with that pull quote rather than my first choice, though, I really did agonise about it. Oh what the hell, here’s this one as well. See what you would have chosen…

“Oh, heyyy Lucy. Hrmm… Sorry I missed you last night at Pat’s show.
“Yeah… no… I left when Carlos shoved acid up his butt and hell broke loose.
“…Alrighty, talk to you soon.”

Anna Haifisch, creator of the utterly bizarre and truly insane VON SPATZ, a fake biography about Walt Disney having a nervous breakdown and going to a very peculiar sanatorium for artistic types to recover, produced this collection of shorts back in 2016. Given you’ve all been studiously ignoring picking VON SPATZ up, despite my best attempts to sell it to you, I thought I’d double down and get this in as well. I think I prefer this, actually.

 

 

The humour on display here, at times hilariously, outrageously crude, in the depiction of the life of the titular aspiring but perennially failing artist, is so satirically on point that I found myself giggling out loud on the bus on several occasions. Always comforting for fellow passengers, that, observing one of their number on the verge of mild hysteria…

I said it about VON SPATZ, and I’ll say it again, fans of Michael STICKS ANGELICA, FOLK HERO DeForge and George GHOSTS, ETC. Wysol need Anna Haifisch’s material. As I commented in my review of that work about all their art styles…

“In fact, if you are a fan of their gloriously incongruent, clashing colour palettes and determinedly unreconstructed illustration styles, you will love this work. It’s a real talent to make such unusual artwork seem perfectly normal and flow pleasingly across the eye, before then smashing your synapses to smithereens once lodged in the grey matter.”

Look, it’s completely weird and stupidly funny. What more do you want?

JR

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

Dressing (£14-99, Koyama Press) by Michael DeForge…

“Can I join you?”
“Sure.”
“What are you doing?”
“Waiting for a flirting fish.”
“What’s that?”
“Just a type of fish. They’re a thing here.”

Ha, do you know, I think Michael DeForge might be the uncrowned king of surreal comics, I really do. Yes, Hans COCHLEA & EUSTACHIA Rickheit is right out there ploughing his own dark furrow of oddness, and Jim FRAN Woodring is always able to upset your mental equilibrium, but Michael can seemingly do every genre of fiction, from contemporary, romantic, speculative, fantasy, you name it. All the whilst maintaining the surrealistic flavour with a nonchalance and breezy ease that makes flirting fish, miniature opticians living inside your eyes, transforming into a Martian lifeform, jumping over one billion miles, and a mermaid dating site seem like mere everyday occurrences.

 

 

Much like Box Brown’s brilliant recent AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS, Michael presents us with a eclectic selection of shorts pulled together from various mini-comics, zines, anthology contributions, each taking a single rum and uncanny conceit as its central premise and just running zig-zag, eyes closed, with it to see where the hell it goes and what walls he bounces off along the way. I’m pretty sure he has absolutely no idea where a story will end up when he starts each one, but boy does it work.

 

 

Often the characters are just trying their darndest to live normal lives amidst the maelstrom of mad that Michael is testing their (and our) mental mettle with, but what always amazes me about his work is how much poignancy he manages to weave in. Now, you would think with a story involving flirting fish, it’s not got much potential to tug on your heartstrings, but you would be completely wrong. It doesn’t end well, not for the piscine playa, and certainly not for the unlucky lady.

 

 

A quick mention also for Koyama Press who are based in Toronto. In the eight or so years since they started, they have done a fantastic job championing and publishing the works of both emerging and more established creators. Unfortunately we can only manage to get hold of a relatively small selection of their wider output, usually via John Porcellino’s excellent Spit And A Half distribution channel, as only the more well known creators’ works like Michael’s are distributed by Diamond.

JR

Buy Dressing and read the Page 45 review here

The Dream Of The Butterfly vol 2: Dreaming A Revolution (£11-99, Cub House) by Richard Marazano & Luo Yin.

It’s still snowing!

“Tutu is trapped in a valley of eternal winter, populated by talking animals and ruled by an oil-sputtering robot Emperor. She’s sick of toiling in the Emperor’s factory, which only hurts the valley with its pollution. If she can band together with a grouchy cat, rabbit spies, and a masked daredevil known as the Flying Bandit, her dreams could have the power to shape the world!”

Please see DREAM OF THE BUTTERLY VOL 1 for a fulsome review with loads of lush interior art which will scream Hayao Miyazaki at you, then mop your brow.

I don’t have a second review in me – and we’d only run into spoiler territory – but that first one is extensive and TBH I’m only trying to type as many words as I can now so that we’ve room in the Page 45 Reviews blog for some more interior art.

 

 

Have I written enough yet?

Please say I have!

SLH

Buy The Dream Of The Butterfly vol 2: Dreaming A Revolution and read the Page 45 review here

We Shall Fight Until We Win: A Century Of Pioneering Political Women (£9-99, 404 Ink / BHP Comics) by various including Hannah Berry, Denise Mina, Kathryn Briggs, Sabeena Ahktar, Maria Stoian, Grace Wilson, Wei Ming Kam, Shazleen Khan, and many more.

“100 years of pioneering political women. 404 Ink and BHP Comics have teamed up to bring you WE SHALL FIGHT UNTIL WE WIN, a graphic novel anthology celebrating a century since women gained the right to vote in the UK, and the many pioneering women who are part of the ongoing fight since 1918. We’ll be taking a few women from each decade in the last 100 years and telling their stories in colourful, illustrated snapshots. Some stories are well known, some less so, all worthy of note.”

Agreed!

Jayaben Desai’s entry by Hannah Berry – whose ingenious, wit-riddled and ever so scathing socio-political satire LIVESTOCK comes with our highest recommendation – is succinct without stinting on any detail at all, comes with all the social context you could crave and is astute in its truth that what could be seen as a failure – as a social injustice – at the time, has had a profound impact since.

You might think that a firm whose workforce was 10% Afro-Caribbean and 80% South Asian in the 1970s was the height of positive, progressive, non-discriminatory behaviour, especially during that hideously racist, Enoch Powell era, but “exploitable workforce”, everyone. Big bunch of bullies, backed up in the end by a bunch of Tory politicians undermining the strike led by Desai.

Five perfect pages of storytelling, there.

 

 

Also, I was delighted that the appalling, unimaginable torrent of misogynistic* and racist* abuse Diane Abbott suffered (and almost certainly still suffers) on social media is turned around into ‘The Vindication of Diane Abbott’ when on 9th June 2017 she went on to win 75% of the vote in her constituency, increasing her majority by over 11,000 to 35,000, thereby winning the war and hopefully infuriating the white, thumb-sucking men-children online.

That care package delivered to her, too: so kind!

But I wanted to learn more about Diane!

 

 

And this, I’m afraid, is where some of the stories fail: they’re so painfully short or specific that I was left unsatisfied. You can’t adequately vilify or undermine Margaret Thatcher in four pages. Nice try, though!

Let’s call this a primer, then, a catalyst to send you scurrying to learn more about those you may hear of for the first time in this 60-page booklet!

And you can learn more, for example, in Talbot, Talbot and Charlesworth’s SALLY HEATHCOTE, SUFFRAGETTE and Murphy & Murphy’s CORPSE TALK: GROUND-BREAKING WOMEN, CORPSE TALK: GROUND-BREAKING SCIENTISTS.

Wrong cover design, BTW: for comics, there’s too little art, way too much typography, and even then you have to concentrate to decipher the title.

*Statistics bear that out in full.

SLH

Buy We Shall Fight Until We Win: A Century Of Pioneering Political Women and read the Page 45 review here

Page 45 Speech Balloon Enamel Pin Badge (£4-50) by Stephen L. Holland & Jodie Paterson…

Would you like an inch of pico-sized perfection sat on your shoulder? Sorry, but our Jodie’s not for sale…

But… she has extracted the very essence of Stephen’s original and timeless classic Page 45 logo for this sublime specimen of bespoke costume jewellery which quite literally says it all by itself. Well, it actually says “Page 45”, obviously, but you get my point.

Now it’s time for you to get yours…

With any random birthday / holiday festival / just-because-you-really-should-buy-something-special-for-someone-you-love day fast approaching, don’t miss out on this summer’s MUST HAVE accessory.

Otherwise just imagine how distraught your special one will feel when they see the cognoscenti of comics-associated fashion-wear pass them by, sporting this dazzling number, forcing them to squint in distress at the sheer splendour burning through their optic nerves if they don’t one…

Like Beyoncé never sang (but she would have if she’d seen this pin):

“Cause if you liked it, then you should have put a pin on it.”

 

 

Instead you’ll be able to picture their joy as they give a cheeky wink of recognition to the passing bepinned stranger that, they too, are indeed in the club. But hopefully not that club, unless, you know, that’s what you’re after… Please be aware, though, a Page 45 pin is not a proper alternative to planned parenthood, though the gifting thereof may lead to unintended amorous affection out of a sheer over-vogue of delight, so please, take precautions. Always make sure you place that pin carefully…

But wait! What’s that?!! Then you’d feel left out watching the proverbial apple of your eye swank down the street parading their credentials…? Simple solution, my comics-loving chums. Buy two! Then drive all your graphic novel knowing friends jealous with accesso-rage before pointing them in the direction of this page…

Don’t just wear the trend, be the trend… Just like Bruce Banner single-handedly brought ripped jeans to the forefront of the public consciousness, we can do this!

Even the leaf motif paper backing card is swoonworthy! Our Mark added that, almost immediately after we opened. In fact if you have any miniature picture frames kicking around, I recommend framing yours for posterity. Alternatively, go all-out comics crazy and pin the backing to your lapel as well!

JR

Buy Page 45 Speech Balloon Enamel Pin Badge and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

The Academic Hour (£17-99, Secret Acres) by Keren Ketz

Agency s/c (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Katie Skelly

A Bubble (£9-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Genevieve Castree

Come Again h/c (£22-99, Top Shelf) by Nate Powell

Delilah Dirk And The Pillars Of Hercules (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Tony Cliff

Dull Margaret h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Broadbent & Dix

Francine (£15-99, Secret Acres) by Michiel Budel

Gear (£13-99, Image) by Doug TenNapel

I, Parrot (£16-99, Black Balloon / Catapult) by Deb Olin Unferth & Elizabeth Haidle

Long Red Hair (£14-99, Conundrum Press) by Meags Fitzgerald

Memoirs Of A Very Stable Genius (£17-99, Image) by Shannon Wheeler

Monsters (£17-99, Secret Acres) by Ken Dahl

The Collected Works Of Filler Bunny (£10-99, SLG Publishing) by Jhonen Vasquez

Rick & Morty vol 7: National Rickpoon’s Family Vacation (Titan) (£14-99, Titan) by Kyle Starks, Magdalene Vissagio & CJ Cannon, Marc Ellerby

Scales & Scoundrels vol 2: Treasurehearts s/c (£14-99, Image) by Sebastian Girner &  Galaad

A Study In Emerald h/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & Rafael Albuquerque

Sleepless vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Sarah Vaughn & Leila del Duca

Wasteland Compendium vol 2 (£35-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten, Justin Greenwood, others

Avengers: No Surrender (UK Edition) s/c (£23-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing, Mark Waid, Jim Zub & Pepe Larraz, Kim Jacinto, Mike Perkins, Sean Izaakse, Paco Medina, Joe Bennett, Stefano Caselli

Nova By Abnett & Lanning Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & various

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 7: Scarlet Samurai s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Ed Brisson & Mike Deodato Jr., Ibraim Roberson

Attack On Titan vol 25 (£9-99, Viz) by Hajime Isayama

My Solo Exchange Diary vol 1 (£13-99, Manga) by Kabi Nagata

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2018 week one

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

Featuring Tim Bird, Eva Müller, Georgia Webber, Jim Pascoe, Heidi Arnhold, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Francois Boucq, Matz, Luc Jacamon, Neil Gaiman, J.H. Williams III, Larry Marder, Hiroya Oku, Keita Iizuka, Joe List, more!

The Great North Wood (£9-99, Avery Hill) by Tim Bird.

“Long ago, this was all rock and ice.
“Then the trees began to grow.
“Oak.
“And Ash.
“And Thorn.
“And the trees became a forest.
“And the forest filled with magic.”

It floats in the air like semi-sentient pollen, a collective consciousness, a hive mind of history.

If you stay still, you can hear it calling. For history echoes: it ripples through time.

“Norwood.
“Forest Hill.
“Honor Oak.
“A forest remembered in place names.
“A ghost of the Great North Wood.
“Eldritch mysteries covered by tarmac.”

And barely a tree in sight.

 

 

A stealthy fox forages through South London city suburbs for food found in the discarded boxes of finger-lickin’ chicken, at night.

“The sylvan wildwood stretched from sea to sea.
“England slumbered beneath a canopy of leaves.”

And then it woke up.

 

 

It parcelled out the commons into private ownership, did England. The forest became fields. Settlements were built. These turned into towns and then, oh!

From Tim Bird, creator of GREY AREA – FROM THE CITY TO THE SEA, GREY AREA – OUR TOWN, comes his most eloquent offering yet, a quiet and contemplative lament for a long-lost wood which once covered South-East London, barely blemished from Croydon to Deptford, close to the Thames. The early roads which later ran through were unsafe to travel, for brigands lurked in the cover of darkness.

 

 

Clambering over a plastic wheelie bin then wall, our nocturnal fox strays into the arboreal past then slips back into the far starker present. Back and forth, back and forth, it will be our witness to stories still being told of what once happened in the Great North Wood.

It’s an elegy whose rhythms are masterfully controlled, along with the ebb and flow of time, refrains resonating throughout; its economy focuses us on every carefully constructed sentence, every astutely chosen image, so that you’re likely to linger longer over each.

 

 

Like the last oak left standing, defiantly, at the centre of a suburban roundabout.

Or the one which isn’t, its ancient, deep-ridged bark and natural spread of shelter replaced by a sheer metal traffic light.

As to the architecture of time – those echoes I mentioned earlier – we’re not a million miles from Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s FROM HELL, as you’ll see in who boards the night bus back home. Bird’s geographical and historical interests parallel those of Oliver East’s, while his buildings mind one of Darryl Cunningham.

 

 

Salmon pinks pick out the billowing, cloud-like canopies over cool slate grey and early morning blue, while orange makes the fox and firefly magic glow. It also proves handy for a cameo by Queen Elizabeth I, who gets a little squiffy then knights an oak.

“These days estate agents talk about Honor Oak as a leafy suburb.”

So it’s not without its comedy, either.

“Now only small patches of ancient woodland remain amidst the suburban sprawl of south-east London.
“Oaks lining pathways behind tower blocks.
“Or roundabouts marking forgotten parish boundaries.
“Standing proudly in back gardens.
“Intruding on landed marked for development.
“The subjects of town planning meetings.”

 

 

There’s an ‘X’ cut into its bark, marking the solitary tree for felling.

SLH

Buy The Great North Wood and read the Page 45 review here

In The Future, We Are Dead (£14-99, Birdcage Bottom Books) by Eva Müller.

“Clearly, Catholicism was not a good means of dealing with my fear of dying.”

At which point, like water from a whale’s blow hole, a mouth full of tea gushed through my nose.

Should you be in any doubt at all about Catholicism’s fixation upon all things infernal, Müller will make it perfectly clear – with her multiple, magnificent, open-wounded, blood-streaming, fire-and-brimstone pastiche tableaux – precisely why The Organised Religion of Ultimate Suffering is the least likely of all to allay her fears of death and indeed what is claimed to lie thereafter.

They’re no more gruesome than the originals.

 

 

However, what made me howl with laughter – and this a screamingly funny book in places – was how Buddhism and yoga managed to fit that moribund bill as well.

The Buddhist practice of Sokushinbutsu, or self-mummification, makes Christian monks’ masochistic self-flagellation look like a mild form of exfoliation. It involves three phases of a thousand days each, and an increasingly austere diet plan which begins with nuts and seeds only, then descends into Urushi tea from a tree whose juice is usually used for varnish. This induces vomiting, perspiration and excessive urination (with no extra-glossy coat to show for it) and – oh dear – it all grows so much morbidly worse. You’ll never look at the lotus position in quite the same way. Indeed, should you decide to practise Sokushinbutsu, you’ll never look at anything at all, ever again.

 

 

“Reportedly, Yoga has many benefits,” the chapter begins benignly enough, although that Buddha’s a bit boss-eyed! “It helps me to relax,” she continues, crammed into a train carriage you can almost smell. “Yoga gives me the feeling of being taller…” she reports, straddled over an autobahn like a deutsch dominatrix version of ‘The Attack Of The 50ft Woman’ “… and I don’t know how I was able to lead a life without abdominal muscles before.”

Shame they don’t come covered with a layer of skin. Apparently yoga sessions culminate in the corpse pose, which certainly leaves you with something to meditate upon.

 

 

If the graphic novel’s general gist hasn’t struck you yet, let me elucidate: nine semi-satirical, autobiographical essays in which Eva dwells on death. Unexpectedly, one is narrated by herself as a pensioner (she isn’t), another from her younger brother’s point of view. Their parents are violent, squabbling nightmares.

“Stop eating,” nags her mother (quite quietly for her). “You’re getting fatter and fatter.”

Müller declines to sign-post this, but she’s actually slicing a cucumber.

It’s easy to see why Eva grew up with an obsessive fear of death. Even though Catholicism got its insidiously grim grip on her (through her grandparents; her grandmother collected obituaries, her granddad attended every funeral on offer, regardless of whether he was acquainted with the deceased), this was the era of appalling African famine, broadcast internationally, and Eva began musing on a worldwide food shortage which might extend to Germany. Oh, and her Aunt contracted polio at Eva’s early age and do you remember that grimmest of grim things which we called the Iron Lung AKA Steel Coffin? It instilled in her the certain knowledge that children can die.

 

 

She stopped sleeping, so they took her to a doctor.

“Well, young lady, tell me, what’s going on? Why don’t you want to fall asleep at night? Are you afraid of monsters?”
“No! I’m afraid I won’t wake up again.”

Which is inarguably more rational.

 

 

Eva soon found an expanded wealth of things to fret about, then there’s this:

“As a child, I was very sure I was going to Hell.”

The pre-teen holds her hand out to the horn-ed one:

“Hello, Satan,
“Last week I took a dead mouse out of a mouse-trap and put it into grandpa’s hat…
“I smashed a cellar window with a football…
“I secretly took sweets from Mama’s hiding place without asking her. I gave the cat Papa’s beer. I rode my bike much further than I’m allowed. I bought four cigarettes with my lunch money and smoked them behind the church.”

Satan genially reaches out to shake Eva’s hand. He’s very smart in his Sunday best!

“Hello, nice to meet you. As you know, these are all sins. Please follow me.”

Little details, like his tie matching the red of his hands, hair, face and tail, made me smile.

Same goes for the Terminator eyes of the German Chancellor boring bright red out of his campaign poster preaching “Liberty, Prosperity, Security”.

 

 

I learned words like ‘Angslust’ for when fear becomes exciting. This explains Alton Towers.

But I’m not even going to talk about the teeth episode.

 

 

SLH

Buy In The Future, We Are Dead and read the Page 45 review here

Dumb – Living Without A Voice (£19-99, Fantagraphics) by Georgia Webber…

“So the doctor said you have to stop talking altogether?
“Whoa, really?
“So how long will it be?
“Oh yeah! Are you still hosting New Year’s if you can’t talk?
“Ha ha, of course you are.
“You’re not going to stop doing anything, are you?
“Of course not! Why would you?”

The other half of this conversation, Georgia Webber’s responses, were scribbled down on paper…

I left those out to give you the full effect of how Georgia has to interact with the world at large. For after seemingly straining her voice through over-use, she’s been advised that six months without talking at all is the best remedy to resolve her particular painful issue.

 

 

Here’s the publisher’s own scribblings to oh so quietly tell you a little more…

“Part memoir, part medical cautionary tale, Dumb tells the story of how the author copes with the everyday challenges that come with voicelessness. Webber adroitly uses the comics medium to convey the hurdles she faced as well as the fear and dread that accompanied her journey to regain her life. She learns to lean on the support of her close friends, finds self-expression in creating comics, and comes to understand and appreciate how deeply her voice and identity are intertwined.”

 

 

That she does. Aside from the obvious day-to-day problems not being able to speak would create, which Georgia experienced, not least it necessitating her giving up her job and seeking welfare assistance to be able to survive financially, Georgia also conveys extremely well the deeply unsettling emotional effects of such a malady. From the general anxiety and depression it caused her, to even being plagued by doubts and uncertainties that her voice would ever return to its full functionality, it made her question whether she could be the same person without it.

 

 

Told in bold strokes of black and grey against a white background with additional lashings of bright red, including for all the speech and thought balloons, which was particularly striking, this is an art style which is impressively detailed yet seemingly remarkably casual in nature. You can vividly see Georgia’s tension displayed in the style itself at times, not just in her facial expressions.

A wonderfully candid and affecting first-hand account of a particularly peculiar illness that I suspect no one could possibly begin to imagine how it would feel unless they experienced it themselves.

JR

Buy Dumb – Living Without A Voice and read the Page 45 review here

Cottons Book 1: The Secret Of The Wind h/c (£16-99, FirstSecond) by Jim Pascoe & Heidi Arnhold.

“You’ve weaponized art?”
“Oh, Wampu, all art is a weapon… in the right hands.”

This is entirely true. Here, quite literally so.

A glance under this book’s dustjacket hints at how, and it is breathtakingly beautiful, like a modern stained glass window, as a fox and a rabbit do desperate, whirlwind battle.

A further glance inside the cover itself is rewarded by endpaper maps of the countryside surrounding the rabbits’ warren beside The Blue Heart Lake, in a valley between craggy ridges: Goldenseed Meadow and the Wavering Wood overlooked by Stillbreeze Peak.

You’d be forgiven if by now you’re expecting something akin to ‘Watership Down’ but, prologue aside, it’s actually much closer to MOUSE GUARD, the animals and their habitat more anthropomorphised, their burrows quite habitable to humans.

 

 

While we’re on the subject of MOUSE GUARD, however, if you thought the world-building was impressive there, this is on another level entirely, and you’ll find a rabbit scholar’s notes on Lavender’s known history, industry, religion and magic.

Ah yes, magic.

Magic, art and the potential to weaponize it.

 

 

The rabbits’ industry involves refining their natural source of energy, carrots, into another source of energy entirely, called cha. This heats and lights their warren, but in skilled paws like Bridgebelle’s and her former tutor Thom Crocket’s, can turn sticks and stones into beautiful and intricate glass artefacts called thokchas. To those more pragmatic and less inspired, this is regarded as a frittering waste of raw material. To others, the crystalline thockchas are merely a halfway house, for ‘detonating’ them with a twist causes a dazzling and potentially hallucinogenic display. It’s possible to become addicted. At a pivotal moment, however, Bridgebelle will discover another use for them entirely.

 

 

There’s supposed to be a truce between the rabbits and the foxes, but the bluntest and seemingly most brutal of the foxes breaks that truce almost immediately, by snapping poor Soozie’s neck. However, as Soozie and Bridgebell dash as fast as they can from the threat, Soozie reveals a key secret:

“Help me, Bridgebelle!
“I hid something. Find it before they do. Go where the flow is slow.”

I really do think that’s all you need.

 

 

The rabbits in flight are fluid as you like, and lithe when turning at breakneck speed. The detonated thockcha visions are truly blinding, and you’ll love the skeletal Scapegraces whose feathers are formed from a purple, miasmatic mist.

This is a trilogy and so far it holds together very well indeed, with one full-length, satisfyingly resolved campaign leaving us still in a spine-tinglingly ominous place.

 

 

“Everyone is afraid of something.”

SLH

Buy Cottons Book 1: The Secret Of The Wind h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Moon Face h/c (£29-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Francois Boucq…

“We must reach the Palace Of Pleasures before the doors close!”
“You two go in! I’ll try and stop the Carnival Of Fools before they’re all massacred.”

Cut off from the world and ruled without any dissent whatsoever by the mad dictator Oscar Lazo, absolute head of a quasi-religious order known as the Kondukators and their madcap Ovarian system (whatever that is), complete with his troublesome, aggravating comedy haemorrhoids, the island Damanuestra is about to undergo a tumultuous time under the surging surf courtesy of the mysterious ‘wave tamer’ Moon Face. The established, and ferociously guarded socio-political order is about to be well and truly dunked and disrupted by the arrival of this catalyst of change who will silently foment revolution with some serious white caps that make the Great Wave off Kanagawa look like end of the pier ripples…

 

 

This work is classic Jodorowsky, setting up a world under the influence of an all-controlling, all-perverse, all-most-definitely-unpleasant-and-odious-power and promptly setting about bringing it all crashing down. Originally released in 3 or 5 volumes in French, depending on how you look at it (trust me, it had a bit of an odd publication history…) we are fortunate to get the whole lunar body in this one translated collection.

Another major plus is the incredible artwork. Reunited with his sidekick from his BOUNCER saga, Francois Boucq, you can feel the immense power of Moon Face’s waves and their equally impactful influence on the regime, and by extension, Lazo’s bumhole raisins! Surreal, satirical, utterly preposterous and equally ridiculous, this is an extremely amusing examination of the desperate lengths people will go to hold onto power even when the proverbial tide is turning against them faster than King Canute. So surely it’s no surprise to see what looks like a young Margaret Thatcher depicted as one of the authoritarian figures! I suspect there may well be a few European politicians of that era and religious figures getting lampooned in there too.

 

 

If I had one criticism to make, it would be the same one I level at what is probably my favourite work of Jodorowsky’s (after THE INCAL which stands alone in its near perfection), which is MADWOMAN OF THE SACRED HEART, in that the concluding part is the weakest in terms of the story-telling. Not by much, but it does feel slightly like Jodorowsky’s managed to get his characters and by extension himself so magnificently metaphysically tangled up that he’s concentrating on writing a clever way out rather than being as seemingly spontaneously entertaining as the opening two-thirds is. Which is clearly written with relish and gradually just lets the chaos build and build in a gloriously discordant manner. I guess it’s always harder to rein it all back in than just let it go. It is a most satisfying conclusion however.

JR

Buy Moon Face h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Complete Killer s/c (£35-99, Archaia) by  Matz & Luc Jacamon.

A book so big that you could brain someone with it.

750 pages!

Slick and intense European thriller in which we get inside the head of a hitman who seems so disengaged from humanity that it’s all facts and figures, an endless stream of self-justification for being a cool-hearted killer without a care in the world.

“Don’t talk to me about justice or morals. Even God himself I wouldn’t listen to. Not with His track record. I take orders from no one. I report to no one. I have a single motive for what I’m doing: money… I help rich people kill one another. Poor people, they can’t afford me. They handle it themselves. And they end up in jail for life.”

Normally he researches then executes his assignments calmly, methodically, all around the world. Patience is the one virtue he would own to possessing, but this time his target hasn’t even shown, and it’s starting to unsettle him…

 

 

Like CRIMINAL, this gets right under the skin of the individual in question who makes more than a few valid points about our own culpabilities, whilst the art is lush with jagged jungle leaves, classily coloured and it splinters expressionistically as the pressure builds to force this most dispassionate of men to make a critical blunder. At which point everything unravels, and he’s forced from his natural comfort zone into an environment he does not control.

 

 

Of book two, I wrote:

Welcome to the return of the ruminative assassin. Here he’s particularly preoccupied with the disadvantages of dying in your sleep. And whom it is wise to hang out with.

“The hard part is not the loneliness. The hard part is choosing the right people to have around you, when you finally decide to have people around you. Loneliness offers guarantees that vanish as soon as you try and trust someone. Stepping away from it is running a risk. Especially for me.”

You never do know whom he should trust. It’s a source of suspense which builds and builds.

Previously even the man he’d always placed the greatest trust in, long-time accountant Edward, turned out to be capable of treachery – and pretty stupid into the bargain. Edward had been the conduit in a contract on a man called Martini, and then gone one further and tried to take out The Killer himself. It didn’t really work out for Edward, no.

 

 

Now lying low in luxurious seclusion, our anti-hero is visited by a man called Mariano, god-son to a Columbian drug baron called Padrino. Seems Martini was one of three men Padrino had set up in high society Paris in order to distribute his wares. The way Padrino sees it, taking out Martini has caused him some serious inconvenience even though The Killer saw the man under police surveillance and may have done Padrino a favour in silencing him. Unconvinced, Padrino insists The Killer accepts contracts of his own in exchange for forgiveness. It remains a lucrative deal so although the worryingly talkative and inexperienced Mariano is foisted upon him, The Killer accepts.

From Buenos Aires to New York City things go (sort of) well until, while cruising down the Amazon, there’s a vicious attack back home on his lover. Instinct leads him to question whether it was Padrino, but that simply doesn’t add up and The Killer hates it when things don’t add up. He doesn’t like coincidences, either, like the assassination of a second of those three drug dealers in Paris, or being befriended by a cop who’s being investigated for police brutality. Who’s after him now, and what connection does it have to Martini and Edward?

 

 

There, I think I’ve accurately set the scene whilst leading you all astray! Your turn now to grow as paranoid on The Killer’s behalf as I was this sunny Sunday afternoon.

That you will all fear for this hitman’s safety is a telling testament to Matz’s skills as a writer. The Killer’s cogitations on his career and craft and its implication for life in general play a substantial part in this. They’re well reasoned and betray a heart he denies having, as do his new sentiments towards the woman he’s chosen to trust. I think you’ll like the cop too.

As to Luc Jacamon, his colouring has always impressed me no end, particularly when it comes to the dappled shadows under a boulevard of trees, and I love the way that there’s this constant presence throughout, even outlined in negative on the side of a building, of an Orinoco Crocodile – the very essence of patient, predatory guile. He excels at details others would never think to incorporate like scaffolding, netted in green, supporting the side of already impressive edifices. There’s a gorgeous sense of space no matter what he’s asked to draw, in whichever country, and there’s plenty of globe-trotting to be done here. I’m an enormous fan of the wit-ridden 100 BULLETS, but it can become bogged down by words whereas Matz never allows any self-indulgence to crowd out Luc Jacamon, maintaining a perfect equilibrium for a pleasurable read as smooth as the operator himself.

 

 

Of books three and four, I typed:

“Poor Mexico – so far from God and so close to the USA.”

 – Diaz Ordiz, Mexican President, 1960

And so we start afresh with the titular assassin three years into retirement, lazing on the beaches of Venezuela. Lazing – that really doesn’t sound like him, does it? On the other hand he might well have stayed there had Mariano not sent fresh clients his way. Maybe they were the itch he couldn’t help scratching as they fed him a succession of contracts, one after the other.

The first seemed relatively straightforward: a Spanish oil broker living in Venezuela but thankfully staying in Mexico. Then an assistant manager of the Venezuelan National Bank: a little close to home but another easy target because riding a scooter in Caracas is tantamount to suicide anyway. But it’s the third target which begins to rattle our unflappable killer who hasn’t been as calculating as he should have been. Her name is Madre Luisa, much loved in Latin America as a nun working the shunned slums of Columbia. He’s basically been asked to off Mother Teresa. Why?

 

 

With the help of Mariano and his Padrino, the connections become as clear as they prove crude. This is Venezuela, after all, the third-largest supplier of the USA’s oil. Its President Hugo Chavez is determined to nationalise the industry. Unfortunately that doesn’t change anything except the likely identity of his clients and their potential reach: if he doesn’t kill Madre Luisa someone else will, and then they’ll come looking for him.

As topical right now as I’m afraid it’s likely to prove for quite some time, events spiral out of control on a national level and when Cuba’s interest is revealed the cold cogitations inevitably take a turn for the political. Here’s our man in Havana:

“There were fewer people sleeping outside and dying of hunger in the streets of Havana than in New York or Bombay. Not bad for a country strangled by American embargos for more than forty years. They weren’t rolling in dough and might not eat their fill every day, but they weren’t America’s whore or flunky, or anyone else’s and they knew it.
“Why is Fidel criticised? ‘Cause Cuba isn’t a democracy? What country is? The USA and Europe are in name only. And they impose their so-called superiority on the rest of the world. Easy enough when you rape and pillage, when you grow rich off other men’s work, when you don’t respect the rules you force on them. Bolivar said in 1823: “Providence seems to have destined the United States to rain all sorts of calamities on South America in the name of liberty.” Seeing that far ahead is really something…
“Castro’s funny too. He once said Christ’s sermons would make for good radical socialism, whether or not you were a believer. At the UN, 184 out of 192 countries voted to lift the embargo on Cuba. Only Israel, the US, the Marshall Islands, and Palau voted no… and won. Democracy in action.”

There’s plenty more where that came from in a thriller whose killer has much more to say about foreign intervention and genocide throughout the ages and across the globe. You might say it’s his specialist subject and once more it’s that part of his nature he denies having that lands him in trouble: he can’t help but question everything he’s told, everything he sees around him, and in spite of his protestations he does actually care. In his line of work, nobody likes a troublemaker.

 

 

It’s the light that readers comment on most. Whether it’s the dappled shade at a corner café or looking up from the forest floor to the canopy above, the foliage growing fainter as more sunlight shines through, the colouring’s a joy. Plenty of Cuban sunsets this time, and Miami’s glorious aquamarine coastline is yet another of Jacamon’s flourishes which will have you gasping. His mirrored sunglasses are out of this world – you’d think the paper had been chemically treated. Also, I love the way a puff of dusty sand, kicked up by the Cuban heels of our Killer’s cowboy boots as he strides across the Mexican desert, curls into the clouds on the very next panel.

 

 

Further “negotiations” will eventually take him to London and Paris where, of course, he will bide his time in boulevard bars, musing on human nature.

“Optimism can sometimes seem like naïveté, but pessimism is often a fruitless affectation. I’m all for clear-sightedness. Not wearing blinders, not getting hoodwinked by pretenders and received ideas.
“Meanwhile, I wait and watch. I want to see what’s coming.”

The fifth hardcover is reprinted here too.

SLH

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

Sandman Overture: Absolute Edition (£110-00, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III.

“Everyone kills, little brother.
“They even kill their dreams.
“And you have waited too long.”

Everything is ending: life and afterlife, birth and rebirth. Eternity will be extinguished because Morpheus made a mistake born of compassion. When he failed to cauterise the chaos in time the universe itself went mad.

He has one last Hope and an unexpected ally. But then what greater driving force is there than the will to live?

Neil Gaiman returns to SANDMAN with a prequel which is integral and reminiscent in so many ways of Alan Moore’s PROMETHEA whose metaphysical musings on the nature, power and achievements of the human imagination weren’t just illustrated but illuminated by one of comics’ most inventive artists, J.H. Williams III. Once more Williams brings his very best to bear on a script which would have overwhelmed many others and sheds the most spectacular light on some pretty dark matter.

 

 

SANDMAN Synopsis: Morpheus is the Lord of Dreams, his family are The Endless. Each of them is older than you can comprehend, though some are older than others. They are as gods to mortals, though they can surely die, and they change as we change for they are aspects of our everyday existence. Drawing on so many elements of prior mythologies, this was one of the 20th Century’s very best comics and Neil Gaiman’s prose readers will love it.

In a story which leads straight into the original book, SANDMAN VOL 1: PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES, long-time devotees will discover so many answers to questions they may not have realised existed. For example, if Destiny holds in his hands the book of everything that was, is, and ever will be, then who gave that legacy to him? Who gave birth to the Endless? You will finally meet Morpheus’ mother and you will meet his father. So will Morpheus after such a long time. Their last encounters didn’t necessarily end too well. Parents and their children, eh?

You’ll meet Delirium when she was once known as Delight. Indeed, you’ll meet all of The Endless once again but before you first did so. Including the one they don’t speak of who went away.

 

 

I promise you a complete and satisfying pay-off during the fourth, fifth and sixth chapters regarding the siblings, their relationships with each other, themselves (“Despair is now another aspect of herself”) and with those who gave them birth. Their parents have very specific names and very specific roles and they both make so much sense.

But perhaps most satisfying is the further exploration of Morpheus. Both of his nature as Dream itself…

“It is the nature of Dreams, and only Dreams, to define Reality.”

… and as an individual, and how that impacts, has impacted and will impact on his role both here and hereafter.

“Am I always like this?”
“Like what?”
“Self-satisfied. Irritating. Self-possessed, and unwilling to concede centre stage to anyone but myself.”
“I believe so, yes. In my experience.”

And he of all people should know.

 

 

I’d love to about talk responsibility – which is key both here and throughout SANDMAN – and specifically about someone whom Dream deems his self-serving opposite in that respect. I’d like to talk about promises too which are not unconnected, but I made you a promise and I keep them.

As for this comic’s exquisite beauty, I remind you of the most inspired choice of artists imaginable in J.H. Williams III.

Like Will Eisner, Jim Steranko and Dave Sim, Williams truly experiments when constructing individual pages or sequences of pages from the most unusual, often organic panel compositions which are additionally apposite to the proceedings. As in, you’ll be presented with a defiant predator on the prowl through panels constructed from teeth when teeth are both that protagonist’s signature aspect and the enamelled elements between which he literally perceives what surrounds him. You’ll see!

 

 

Then, like David Mazzucchelli, within and beyond that backbone Williams also ensures that as many constituent components of comics storytelling as possible serve the story itself.

Please don’t think that colour artist Dave Stewart of lettering legend Todd Klein have been slacking, either.

You’ll relish being astonished by Williams’, Stewart’s and Klein’s contributions while immersing yourself in this book. That’s all you could really want. But when you turn to this edition’s considerable back-matter material including  the whole story’s original, uncoloured art by J.H. Williams III in the ABSOLUTE edition, plus interviews with the entire artistic orchestra and composer Neil himself, you will surely need to reacquaint yourself with that misplaced mandible currently residing on your carpet.

Such are the elaborate lengths they all went to achieve specific effects for individual sequences as a team that you will wonder no longer why this series took so long to materialise before you as one of the pinnacles of comics’ construction.

 

 

As I always say on the shop floor when a project’s delayed, quality is worth the wait.

No one wants to read something cobbled together without caring for the sake of a corporate cash-cow. No one wants their treasured dreams diluted by the shoved-out second-best when what we desire above all is a comic which lives up what we once loved.

Prepare to have your expectations exceeded.

You will travel through time and you will travel will space, as will Morpheus himself. If not of his own volition.

That’s how this begins and that’s how it ends, which is where it all began in the first place.

“And I am pulled halfway across the universe in one fraction of forever, with a pain that feels like birth…”

 

 

Don’t miss the epilogue. *shivers*

SLH

Buy Sandman Overture: Absolute Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Beanworld Omnibus vol 1 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Larry Marder.

“The search party departs. The adoration continues.”

The whole of the original series in one massive chunk.

Just occasionally something comes along in the comics medium that is so completely unique and different to anything else you’ve ever read that it makes you stop and just marvel. BEANWORLD is just such a creation.

Mark rated this right next to Jim Woodring’s work (THE FRANK BOOK, WEATHERCRAFT, FRAN, JIM etc) as one of those inspired visions so personal and peculiar that most other creative industries would neither support nor understand its genius. I’m with him on that.

Larry Marder created a unique world with a fully realised, sustainable ecosystem which operated with its own radically viable laws for construction, reproduction and sustenance. Its several species of inhabitants had their own hierarchy, its individuals their own roles, aspirations and priorities. They even had their own terminology/slang. With their passion for play, exploration, art and invention, if I were to try to capture the series in a single word, I’d try “Celebration”. If I were allowed a second word, it would be “Cooperation”.

 

 

Both those concepts lie at the heart of any healthy and fecund friendship or community, so there were lessons to be learned way back then that would have put the human race much further ahead of the game than it currently stands. I’m going to stick my neck out to say something typically stupid too: it’s like a platform game. The Beans’ learning process is like a platform game. “Oh, this is what I need to find/create and fit in there in order to make progress…!”

Many moons ago the far sager Mark wrote this:

“I’ve read this work for a decade now and I find something new each year I try it again. First it was a cute little story of two races in an imaginary world and the antagonistic/symbiotic way they lived with each other. Then I noticed that the three leads were Beanish, an artist, Professor Garbanzo, an inventor, and Mr Spook, a protector, so it lead to their place in society and their growing knowledge about their role and the work of the others. Everyone has a ritual and everything’s there for a reason. When a new element is added we get to see each reaction, either for or against.

 

 

“There are nods to native American art and mythology, Jack Kirby and Marcel Duchamp (sooner or later Beanish is going to hit on The Large Glass although he’s a long way off yet). Both art and writing are pared down to the bare minimum; symbols are one of Marder’s favourite subjects (he once worked in advertising, but forgive him that).”

 

 

More recently the far fitter Jonathan wrote:

“Larry Marder succeeds in creating a whole bizarre new reality, or in fact The Four Realities of Slots, Hoops, Twinks and Chips which you might just fall into if you leap off The Legendary Edge whilst on a chow mission amongst the Hoi-Polloi Ring Herd! He then proceeds to populate it with an ever increasingly weird set of individuals who just happen to be beans such as Beanish, an artist and creator of the Fabulous Look-See Shows, Mr. Spook, hero and leader of the Chow Soljer army, and Professor Garbanzo, problem solver and generally deep thinker. And certainly not forgetting the musical Boom’r Band who try to keep everyone entertained.

 

 

“The only way I can do justice to BEANWORLD is to say reading it feels like you are a spectator to a very different version of Universe creation unfolding before your very eyes, piece by surreal piece. You never guess who or what is going to appear next and what it may mean for the Beans and their reality, and therein lies the beauty of it. All disbelief is suspended, anything is possible, but don’t imagine you’ll ever guess what’s coming next – because you honestly won’t!!

SLH, MAS, JR

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

Gantz G: vol 1 (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku & Keita Iizuka…

“There’s a lot this time.”
“Yeah.”
“Must have been a school trip.”
“Whatever.”
“Shall we get things started?”
“Whatever.”
“OKAY! EVERYONE LISTEN UP!!”
“In a few moments… you will all… be transported somewhere else against your will.
“There you will find yourself in a weird hunting game.
“This black sphere is going to start giving out orders.
“We call this sphere… GANTZ.”
“You are going to hunt… that is, kill… living things called aliens.
“You will continue to be forced to do so unless you kill a bunch and earn points.
“If you are killed by an alien, this time you die for real.”
“Inside Gantz are highly tailored suits for each of you.
“You must put this suit on. If you don’t, you will die.”

 

 

Yep. The confusing and indeed confused, massively entertaining sci-fi killathon returns!! I think the explanation above to the bewildered rookies who died in a bus crash only to find themselves resurrected in a strange room with a large black sphere and a pair of know-it-all teens probably just about covers it. Though, technically, even being killed by an alien needn’t be the end, if someone is altruistic enough to use their hard-won 100 points to bring you back again (again) instead of choosing to be set free, but you know, there’s time for the newbs to find that out. Well, for the small percentage of them who will become our main characters, that is… The majority are just going to be complete and utter cannon fodder…

For those wondering why GANTZ is back, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever. I note with wry amusement that Hiroya Oku is only writing this time around, instead young turk Keita Iizuka has been brought in to handle the pencils. Given how long Oku took to apparently finish GANTZ, with earlier volumes actually going out of print before the final few even came out (good old Dark Horse), this is only a good thing. And if you didn’t know Oku wasn’t illustrating you’d actually have no idea as Iizuka has managed to recreate Oku’s style near perfectly.

 

 

Main point to note is this is apparently a parallel team whose story runs concurrently to the team in GANTZ, meaning that the major apocalyptic alien invasion etc. etc. is in the future, but I suspect this series won’t get into all that. Instead, though, both long-time GANTZ fan Stephen Mortiboy and myself had exactly the same response when we heard about this series.

“Maybe we’ll finally find out what the vampires were all about.”

Omnibus editions of the previous GANTZ series are on their way.

JR

Buy Gantz G: vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection vol 1 (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart, Robert Deas, Laura Ellen Anderson, Dan Boultwood, Joe List, Jess Bradley, Chris Riddell, Mike Smith.

Junior jollity and top-notch action, we’ve had the most monumental success with Page 45’s Phoenix Comic Collection Section comprised of some 24 graphic novels culled from the kids’ weekly comic, plus Neill Cameron’s galvanising, practical entertainment HOW TO MAKE AWESOME COMICS,

Now the publisher is trying something a little different akin to an old-school anthology annual with multiple creators offering up their diverse series for you to get a feel for the overall breadth of The Phoenix Comic Weekly or as springboard for you to try more of their collected wares.

If you already own the likes of LOOSHKIN, I do advise you that you’ll already have all of Jamie Smart’s material here, but I don’t think any of the EVIL EMPEROR PENGUIN stories are in either of those collections.

Moreover, this anthology format has afforded the publisher to present some creative gems which wouldn’t have filled more than a very slim pamphlet of their own.

 

 

Topmost for me are Joe List’s absurdist, wavy-armed, bendy-legged single-page stories starring ’Doug Slugman P.I.’ which – entertaining enough in their own right – benefit substantially from being gathered together so that you can revel in the diverse permutations of Slugman’s increasingly insane then mundane (and quite contradictory) Marvel-style origin / introductions. I shall attempt to explain. Spider-Man comics open with something like:

“Accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker gained the proportional powers of a spider, learned that with great power comes great responsibility, and now fights crime as the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.” I’m not looking it up.

Joe’s begin:

“A normal garden slug found his way into a mystic shoe that gave him crime-solving powers… DOUG SLUGMAN P.I.” Or:

“After an enchanted detective novel was dropped on a slug, it gave him the mystical powers of detection. DOUG SLUGMAN P.I.” Or even:

“After accidentally finding and returning a lost kitten, a slug decided to dedicate his life to detection. DOUG SLUGMAN P.I.”

Hilariously, within these nine stories there is not one single act of detection and no crimes are solved.

 

 

Woes are witnessed, conundrums encountered and in one instance a couple hiking round the hills asks Doug the slug simply to take a picture of them enjoying the pastoral beauty. In each instance the solutions Doug deploys are over-elaborate and, by any stretch of the imagination, bonkers. But please do remember that a) a book was once dropped on his small squidgy, shell-free head, and b) he is just a mollusc, however “enhanced” by eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches for two weeks.

As to “wavy-armed” and “bendy-legged”, gastropods are not renowned for having too many of those.

My favourite experience of the surreal was one which began by being ever so cleverly anchored in logic which is absurdist humour’s antithesis. A magician finds himself floundering in water, his cards all soaking wet. How will he now perform his magic tricks?

“I can fix that!” declares Doug, unexpectedly surfacing above water. “What you need is a waterproof alternative…”

Yes, laminate those suckers!

No.

“Fish!”

Which is a fabulous absurdist echo in and of itself.

They’re all the same size, and blue. What’s he to do for his next trick? Haha! You’ll see!

Each episode ends in “Case closed!” and “Next…” Some of the cases are closed, but “Next” never happens.

Look, he’s a detective, not a psychic.

SLH

Buy The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

The Artist h/c (£12-99, Breakdown Press) by Anna Haifisch

The Dream Of The Butterfly vol 2: Dreaming A Revolution (£11-99, Cub House) by Richard Marazano & Luo Yin

Entropy (£17-99, Secret Acres) by Aaron Costain

Hasib & The Queen Of Serpents (£21-99, NBM) by David B.

Hilda And The Stone Forest (vol 5) s/c (£7-99, Flying Eye) by Luke Pearson

Mister Morgen (£21-99, Conundrum) by Igor Hofbauer

Skin And Earth vol 1: Lights s/c (£22-99, Dynamite) by Lights

The Times I Knew I Was Gay (£9-99, Good Comics) by Eleanor Crewes

The Weaver Festival Phenomenon h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Ron Rege

We Shall Fight Until We Win: A Century Of Pioneering Political Women (£9-99, @404ink / @BHP_Comics) by various

Hellblazer vol 19: Red Right Hand (£22-99, Vertigo) by Denise Mina, Mike Carey & Leonardo Manco, Cristiano Cucina, John Paul Leon

Batman: The Dark Prince Charming vol 2 h/c (£11-99, DC) by Marini

Spider-Gwen vol 5: Gwenom s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jason Latour & Robbi Rodriguez, Veronica Fish, Olivia Margraf

Spider-Man: Miles Morales vol 4 s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Oscar Bazaldua

Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension vol 2 (£13-99, Titan) by Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby, George Mann, Cavan Scott & Ivan Rodriguez, Wellington Diaz, Rachael Stott, Mariano Laclaustra

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

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card vol 4 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Clamp

Devilman: The Classic Collection vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Seven Seas) by Go Nagai

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

So Much Love For You Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Hooray! Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Thank You Kindly (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Most Brilliant Birthday! Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

So Very Proud Of You Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

You Are Loved Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

I Am So Gonna Catch The Bouquet Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

All Of Me Loves All Of You Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Best News Ever! Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

I Am Always Here For You Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

You Give Me Life Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Let’s Get Through This Together Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Go Get ‘Em Tiger! Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Get Drunk Eat Cake Celebrate! Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Over The Moon Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2018 week four

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Includes seven Young Adult / Young Reader graphic beauties, one by Jillian Tamaki, another by the aptly named Jessica Love!

Cloud Hotel (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Julian Hanshaw…

“Happy place. Happy place. Happy place. Happy place.”
“Oh no. Not here. Please.”

Nope, not me having to calm down Stephen after another month of grinding through the PREVIEWS order form, but, poor young Remco, an unwilling repeat patron of the peculiar titular establishment which is most assuredly not a destination that is ever going to make a list of top tourist destinations, despite every room having a spectacular view.

No, after being apparently abducted by a UFO on the 1st March 1981 and promptly returned back to terra firma safely, if not entirely intact, Remco’s having a very specific issue. For he keeps finding himself zoning out and seemingly waking up back in the cloud hotel, a strange morphing building floating gently on the surface of the cumulus, with the vertical stabilisers of passing aeroplanes poking through, and inhabited by other kids who have also been taken.

 

 

At least to start with… For as time passes, one by one the residents answer a phone call from the old-style pay phone in a horrifically retro wallpapered room, receiving their summons to be called through the similarly papered double doors, never to be seen again, until only Remco and the sunglasses-wearing Emma remain. They are fabulous sunglasses actually, I must add, with a magic all of their own that immediately transported me back in time myself to 1982 and a certain Tizer advert, which, I’m quite sure more than a few others of you of a certain age will still have burnt into the back of the brains somewhere. You can keep your Fanta and your Irn Bru, Tizer was always the top of the t-shirt staining pops for me.

 

 

Right, I appear to have digressed… So, there are two burning questions, one each for Emma and Remco. Remco, who having seen people willingly perambulate through those disorientatingly decorated doors and promptly disappear, steadfastedly refuses to answer the phone when the bell tolls for him. That might be why he is the only person who dissipates back to Earth, but also possibly why he keeps re-materialising in the hotel. Walking through that exit might solve his conundrum for him, but he’s not prepared to take the risk that he might end up… somewhere else. Emma, on the other hand, is utterly baffled as to why the phone never rings for her at all… Clearly there is something different about them both, but what?! What they are finding it increasingly hard to ignore, however, is that the hotel is gradually changing and becoming ever more distorted and unstable…

 

 

Back on the ground meanwhile, the one person who is convinced that Remco hasn’t gone a bit doolalley, and believes him completely about the aliens and the cloud hotel, is his Granddad, but sadly he’s about to take a certain, somewhat final, journey of his own… Not that he’s remotely sad about it at all, no. Not least because he has his own theories about Remco’s little excursions…

 

 

Ahhh… the auteur behind one of my favourite graphic novels of all time, TIM GINGER, returns with another unfathomable and perplexing work to beguile us! Yes, Julian Hanshaw has once again produced a story that takes us in entirely unexpected and unsignposted directions which is precisely what great writers do. Inspired by an encounter of his own as a young lad with a UFO on the 26th October 1980 near the implausible named market town of Tring in leafy Hertfordshire (I always knew there was something about the Chiltern Hills…) this tale of blurred states of consciousness vibrating between imagination and reality will make you want to believe!

The fact that Remco during his initial… encounter… manages to bring back a shred of the offending wallpaper only serves to deepen the mystery about precisely where it is that he keeps going. That disconcerting of wallpaper, by the way, is lovingly recreated under the front and rear French flaps for your pleasure… I love to see that, not a single bit of space wasted in transporting the reader somewhere else entirely too!

 

 

As before, Julian’s meticulous attention to detail with his unique style of fine-lined art, combined with the muted yet almost luminous colour palette, plus some ingenious panel and page compositional devices thrown in for good measure make this a strong contender for my top book of the year.

JR

Buy Cloud Hotel and read the Page 45 review here

They Say Blue h/c (£12-99, Abrams) by Jillian Tamaki.

Truly, a book of wonders and of wonderment!

Crows on the cover, seagulls underneath, and throughout the movement, energy and enthusiasm is phenomenal.

Birds whirl in the wind, a field of golden grass billows in waves, and a young girl swirls as she casts off her coat and breathes in the unfettered freedom before wriggling out of her thick, woollen sweater, then bouncing off the page.

That spread reminded me of young Wendy’s jigging in the Tamaki cousins’ bilberry blue THIS ONE SUMMER.

There is swimming and splashing and a sea breeze blowing through her hair, and the bright blue sky swoops up above as far as the eyes can see from a sandy beach promontory, while the choppy, white-horse ocean ripples all around.

 

 

Yellows and reds ripple too, emanating from the infant like a Japanese Zen garden raked in the sand, then rugby, soccer and tennis balls are tossed between friends in the bustling primary school playground.

 

 

Even at rest there is movement in the lines that cocoon the girl just like the blanket in her sleep, or the brushing of hair in the morning.

And oh, how these colours do glow!

 

 

Thick, wet washes of yellow bleed into complementary reds to form orange; blue into red to form purple. Or there’s that early morning contrast in the contact between cool, night-time blue in the bedroom giving way to a burst of yolk-yellow sunrise as “the black crows bob and chatter in the field outside”. Spring is all avocado green and bark brown on crisp white paper during an imagined, celebratory, arborescent page!

 

 

From the creator of adults-orientated BOUNDLESS collection and the co-creator of THIS ONE SUMMER graphic novel, (both of which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month), a young girl wonders at the bounty of life all around and within her, embraces nature and marvels at the majesty of it all.

Seasons cycle and colour is questioned.

“They say blue is the colour of the sky.
“Which is true today!
“They say the sea is blue, too.
“It certainly looks like it from here.
“But when I hold the water in my hands, it’s as clear as glass.
“I toss it up in the air to make diamonds.”

 

 

Wow.

SLH

Buy They Say Blue h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Julian Is A Mermaid h/c (£11-99, Walker Books) by Jessica Love.

Well, this brought a tear to Neil Gaiman’s eye.

Even my own cold, black heart has been warmed thoroughly through, and has burst into every colour of the rainbow.

It’s a very quiet book in which actions speak louder than words.

“This is a boy named Julian. And this is his Nana.
“And those are some mermaids.
“Julian LOVES mermaids.”

Are they mermaids? Look a little closer.

By this very first page I’d already fallen in love, particularly with Nana, firstly because of her body form which fills her voluminous clothes and – along with her hooded eyes and slightly sagging jowls – suggests a weight as well as wealth of experience; also on account of her silent, attentive gaze which is far from cloying but instead watchful and wise.

 

 

But you’re not at all sure what Nana is thinking.

One suspects that she is given to keeping her own counsel.

Julian drifts into an aqueous reverie in which he sinks slowly into water, jettisoning his clothes to swim up and unconstrained with a wave of schooling sea life, thrilling in their vibrant colours and exhilarating diversity! I’m no marine biologist, but I’m pretty sure that only the same species of fish school together in such a coordinated fashion. Here, however, swim are all manner of rays, jellyfish, a rich red and orange octopus then a deep blue eel whose tail suggests that Julian might be a mermaid too.

 

 

Indeed, he tells Nana precisely that, as they walk from the train to Nana’s front door.

“Nana, did you see the mermaids?”
“I saw them, honey.”
“Nana, I am also a mermaid.”

He looks up at his Nana, gingerly, unsure what to expect.

Her eyes look deep into his.

“I’m going to take a bath,” she says when inside. “You be good.”

Will Julian be good…?

 

 

I love the choice of a smooth but subtly pulp-textured cardboard brown as the book’s paper base on which the paint rests and glows, so that the story is permeated with warmth and outright heat in the noon-day streets where an old man is understandably sedentary while a trio of giggling girls plays in the spray of a water hydrant. It’s especially effective for the intricately laced edges of the diaphanous cream curtains which at first billow in the breeze then form a trail like a tail.

 

 

Because no, Julian isn’t going to be good, exactly, and I’m not sure at all what Nana is going to make of her potted fern being cropped, her mirrored dresser’s tulips being redeployed, her lipstick being borrowed and her curtain taken down then repurposed!

 

 

Actually, her initial reaction is quite the picture of quietly controlled, cheek-flushed, scowling indignation!

Without a word, she walks off to dress, leaving Julian to silently contemplate his ceremonial self in the mirror. Still, he does look radiant.

 

 

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand that’s where I’ll leave you.

I’ll also leave you with the promise that the last dozen pages are going to bring big, beaming smiles to your beautiful faces because you are all inclusive wonders with love in your hearts!

As is our Nana, for she has been listening.

SLH

Buy Julian Is A Mermaid h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Day The Crayons Quit s/c (£7-99, Harper Collins) by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers.

In which each of young Duncan’s differently coloured wax crayons takes its turn to petition him for leniency, variety, precedence, fulfilment or, in one instance, a new set of clothes!

You’ll see: a little bit of lateral thinking goes a long way.

Unequivocally excellent, I see exactly how this must make for much merry bedtime discussion after each page, then probably an impatient desire to draw more immediately!

So it’s probably best read to your young ones during daylight instead, just before you want them to entertain themselves for three hours. Oh yes, parental strategy there from someone who doesn’t have a paternal bone in his body. Okay, not remotely true, but from someone who’s never had a kid of his own. I’ll be offering you unsolicited advice on your love life, next!

Let’s return to the picture book’s picket-line protest:

 

 

Some of the crayons crave more work, some would prefer far less: one has been rubbed right down to a nub.  Beige Crayon would very much like to be called by its proper name of which it is proud (not “light brown” or “dark tan”, thank you very much indeed) while another upstart urges Duncan to calm down and be much tidier between the lines or IT WILL COMPLETELY LOSE IT.

Grey Crayon has an issue with being used for all the big beasts like elephants and rhinos and hippos and humpback whales, and suggests more dainty deployment. Green Crayon, on the other hand, is very satisfied indeed:

“Dear Duncan,

“As Green Crayon, I am writing for two reasons. One is to say that I like my work – loads of crocodiles, trees, dinosaurs and frogs.”

Yes, that does sound like fun! Go, Green!

“I have no problems and wish to congratulate you on a very successful “colouring things green” career so far.”

 

 

That’s very kind. So what’s the second reason?

“The second reason I write is for my friends, Yellow Crayon and Orange Crayon, who are no longer speaking to each other. Both crayons feel THEY should be the colour of the sun. Please settle this soon because they’re driving the rest of us CRAZY!”

Guess which two will be writing in next? That argument needs settling, Solomon!

Peach’s predicament is something else entirely, and if as a child you have never insensitively violated a crayon’s personal modesty in this particular way, then I would be very surprised indeed. Clue: it starts when you’ve used that colour so often that the tip of the wax is in danger of disappearing beneath its paper-band wrapper. So you strip a little off the top at first, but before you know it you have unravelled it all (then probably taken a bite).

 

 

Lastly, however, poor Pink Crayon is feeling that Duncan has perhaps fallen prey to the learned behaviour of gender stereotyping because, unlike his sister, not once has Duncan even used him during the past calendar year. Dinosaurs can be pink, he submits, as can monsters and cowboys. He’s quite right, of course: down with the dogma of literal depiction, and up with the anarchy of self-expression!

 

 

Utterly ingenious, this is sure to spark maximum creativity.

I’d like to congratulate each of the Crayons on their very neat handwriting, with few crossings-out.

Have a gold star, each!

SLH

Buy The Day The Crayons Quit s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Space Boy vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Stephen McCranie.

Amy and Jemmah are teenage best friends who’ve grown up together on a mining colony way out in deep space. They’ve developed special secret signals to confirm they’ll be best friends forever! But when Amy’s dad loses his job, the family are forced to board a spaceship back to Earth to begin a new life. Worse still is this killer catch: they’ll all need to spend 30 years frozen in cryogenic suspension so that when Amy steps out, Jemmah will have grown up without her.

“All I can think about is how, when I arrive on Earth, Jemmah will be thirty years older than me.”

Water wells up in her eye.

And then she is frozen.

When she wakes up, her arms feel heavy because of the increased gravity on Earth compared to the asteroid. Then she discovers something equally unexpected.

“I wipe my eye and a jewel falls out – a cold, sparkling diamond.
“No. Not a diamond. A tear.
“A tear that’s been frozen for thirty years. It melts in my hand.”

Ouch.

 

 

Throughout the book there is exactly that level of attention to detail – it’s been very well thought through. They’re all wheelchair-bound while they adjust to the gravity, exercising in swimming pools which are a novelty for Amy because water was understandably a scarce commodity back home.

Oh wait, this is home now, and the spaceport city the family are initially confined to proves to be a big disappointment. Amy had at least been promised big blue skies, but every long day is smog-ridden instead. Her parents still have each other, which makes any new challenge like moving more manageable, but Amy has now lost her best friend. She can’t bear to call Jemmah because she’s going to be forty-five now and can you imagine the alienation you’d feel yourself? Thirty years of extra experience and perspective – she’ll be an adult, perhaps with a family of her own your age – while you’re still fifteen.

 

 

There’s also this: while Amy’s been asleep, technology’s moved on. When she arrives at her new school she discovers that everyone is on this new “net” – they’re wearing glasses with access to stuff which I’ll leave to surprise you – and at first they look as they’re all living in their own world and sharing experiences Amy simply doesn’t understand. McCranie does a bang-up job of emphasising this extra isolation on the page.

However, there are blue skies ahead and indeed overhead and here too McCranie excels at communicating the almost unimaginable wonder of seeing your first ever wide, blue sky with big white birds matching the train for speed. There the bright-as-a-button art really comes into its own, panels replaced by two double-page eye-poppers which bleed right to their bright blue edges.

 

 

For yes, Amy gets to move to Baltissippi Bay by the water, where she discovers snails (snails! Everything is brand-new!), makes friends far faster than she expected and… she still won’t contact Jemmah…

Now can you imagine being Jemmah, and having waited thirty long years to hear from your best childhood friend again, those days drawing nearer and nearer and then nothing?

 

 

The deepest isolation is yet to come, however, for Amy has synesthesia: she has always associated people with flavours, sensing different flavours “emanating” from different individuals, and for the very first time she encounters someone with none. He’s a silver-haired lad who keeps himself to himself, often skipping class, and his peers are all very wary of him.

Only once does Amy sense anything other than a void, in art class, when the boy begins painting, and then there is something other than a terrible, overwhelming emptiness.

A seven-page prologue (yes, prologue, not epilogue!) hints at a very new direction for the next instalment in this series which, let’s remember, isn’t called AMY but SPACE BOY.

Oh, and there’s a criminal subplot so subtly hinted at that I was forever forgetting it existed.

SLH

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

Bad Machinery vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside (£14-99, Oni) by John Allison…

 

 

Yet another “small-hands” edition. Yay!

“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!

 

 

So, the tween detectives of Griswalds Grammar School return with more musings on life, love and lessons, 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.”

 

 

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!

 

 

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, 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 once again…

 

 

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!

 

 

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 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Giant Days: Extra Credit s/c (£13-99, Boom!) by John Allison & Caanan Grall, Lissa Treiman, Jenn St-Onge…

Collects the Giant Days 2016 & 2017 Holiday Specials and the material featured only in the BOOM! Box 2015 & 2016 Mix Tapes. Result!

But given that all sounds rather prosaic considering the madcap merriment contained within, let’s throw the story titles out there for your titillation: ‘What Would Have Happened If Esther, Daisy & Susan Hadn’t Become Friends (And It Was Christmas)?’, the back-up strip ‘How The Fishman Despoiled Christmas’ and ‘Love? Ack, Shelly!’ all penned John and illustrated by various artists. Plus three shorts written and drawn by the man himself, featuring the intrepid reporter Shelly Winters: ‘Fridge Raider’, ‘Music Is Important’ and ‘Destroy History’.

In fact, Shelly Winters also co-stars in one of the main stories as Esther, Susan and Daisy head down to London for a festive visit to stay with Shelly and Ester takes it upon herself to sort out Shelly’s tangled love life… Given what a car crash De Groot is in the romance stakes herself, should she really actually be playing matchmaker or can she actually somehow manage spark up a romance, or two, for Winters?

 

 

The other main story opens proceedings, and it is a classic What If? yarn, including an all-seeing, all-knowing cosmic Daisy depicted as The Watcher seeing how John’s alternative take on the girls first days at Uni would have panned out if they hadn’t hit it off instantly and become first friends.

If you’ve been picking up GIANT DAYS in trades, make sure you don’t miss out on this bonus material. It should be on everyone’s required reading list, as should All Things John Allison!

 

 

Also, please, please note: this does not contain the additional GIANT DAYS 3-ISSUE SELF-PUBLISHED MINI-SERIES drawn by John Allison himself which has never been collected in book form. Fortunately Page 45 has complete sets for sale. It’s like we’re in love, or something.

JR

Buy Giant Days: Extra Credit s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Courtney Crumrin vol 3 s/c (£11-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh.

“He’ll be lonely without me.”
“He’ll get over it. We all do. There are worse things than loneliness.”

After months spent exploring the inexplicable at her uncle’s house, young Courtney finally revisits her old neighbourhood while her worn-out parents try unsuccessfully to sell their old home. In Courtney’s absence her former best friend Malcolm has fallen under the influence of two house-breaking idiots, because there’s really nothing else for him left. Why, I will keep schtum on, but Malcolm falls out with Courtney painfully as she tries her best to steer him away from the delinquents – again, unsuccessfully.

It’s all very tenderly done, but only the prologue to a tale which will take Courtney on a reluctant journey from the grounds of her school to the Twilight Kingdom in order to find the cure for a curse so carelessly cast on one brother by the other. Now with the benefit of hindsight, I can confirm that it won’t be the last time she ventures there.

 

 

Friendship and responsibility are as ever the key themes on offer, all concealed under a gothic facade of fantasy and danger, and portrayed with the lushest of artwork now in full colour which has drawn, unsurprisingly, the admiration of Charles Vess.

 

 

It’s the third in the series and does touch upon old plot points, but can be read independently and is heartily recommended to the 500+ of you to have already purchased PORCELAIN.

 

 

A quietly touching ending, and a very cool read.

SLH

Buy Courtney Crumrin vol 3 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Multiple Warheads vol 2: Ghost Town s/c (£15-99, Image) by Brandon Graham…

Reprints material originally published in the excellent ISLAND anthology curated by Emma Rios and Brandon Graham himself, along with the MULTIPLE WARHEADS GHOST THRONE one-shot. I had thought Brandon had said he had no intentions of doing any more, but I guess he just couldn’t help himself, which is great news for fans of the series.

The publisher’s sweet whisperings reveal that…

“Black market smuggler of magic organs, Sexica plans to rob the larder of an ancient alligator wizard whose lair hides somewhere within the cliffs of the Waleing wall, while her boyfriend Nikoli searches for clues into the past of the wolf he’s were-bonded to.”

… which sums matters up pretty neatly. This isn’t really a jumping on point for new readers but more of a continuation. If you’re intrigued by how bonkers it all sounds from that one sentence of publisher blurb, you really should read Stephen’s extensive review of MULTIPLE WARHEADS VOLUME ONE which also features some beautiful interior art. Brandon is definitely not trying to be Moebius, but if absurdist, saucy, comedy sci-fi with a distinctive and subtly surreal art style is your thing, this could also be for you!

 

 

I do note with mild bemusement that this volume contains about half the page count of the previous volume for the same price. Page deflation, it’s a terrible thing… But also weirdly this volume is not standard Image trade size, like volume one, but slightly taller and wider. Though, thinking about it, that will be because Island was magazine-sized.

 

 

Still, seems odd to not reduce it by what is a fractional amount for consistency in the trades, but hey ho. Maybe Brandon is going for some sort of multistage rocket design, with a slightly wider, larger second section sitting underneath the first warhead and then the third volume* will be a gigantic over-sized booster which when the three are put together will launch the reader into orbit. Maybe.

*I have no idea whether there ever will be a third volume, but I hope so.

JR

Buy Multiple Warheads vol 2: Ghost Town s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi…

Finally back in print! More Tardi reprints to follow.

“I have just noticed something both extraordinary and troubling which I would prefer to disbelieve… Yesterday, walking through the museum, I paused before this 136-million-year-old pterodactyl egg, which I know as if I had laid it myself, and I realised it had hatched! Yes, hatched! Incredible as it may seem! Scientifically impossible, but the evidence is incontrovertible: it has hatched. Observe the hole in the roof.”

“Heavens! Might this have anything to do with the pterodactyl that is all over the papers? What do you think?”

I’d hazard a guess it’s quite likely, myself. Nice to see Fantagraphics going slightly off the wall with their next tranche of Tardi material. Apparently ADELE BLANC-SEC is one of Tardi’s own favourite creations and you can see just from this first volume, collecting together the first two of the nine published works featuring the character, that he’s really thrown himself into creating some wonderfully complex and bizarre stories for the eponymous and somewhat cynical protagonist Miss Blanc-Sec.

 

 

Indeed the series editor at Fantagraphics has commented that they were deliberately holding back on (re-)translating and releasing this material until after they’d put out what they perceived to be some of the more accessible Tardi material (for the American market) such as IT WAS THE WAR OF THE TRENCHES and WEST COAST BLUES. I can understand why they would have taken that route, but I’m pleased that this material is getting its turn, although that is very probably due to the well received Luc Besson-helmed movie The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec already released across most of Europe this year, and very shortly to be released in the UK and US.

 

 

The Adele Blanc-Sec material has some common themes running throughout with occultism, mysticism, mentalism and pseudo science-fiction of the Houdini-esque type prevalent in the pre-WWI era, frequently being the driving force behind the stories, but Tardi also takes the opportunity to take a few satirical swipes and occasionally make a serious point about themes such as corruption and nationalism. He also continues the great French theme in comics of portraying the police as a bunch of bumbling idiots which, let’s be honest, is always good amusement value when done well.

What is really great about this particular Fantagraphics release is we get Tardi in colour again for the first time, with a rather eclectic palette of colours (I’m not sure pterodactyls really were burgundy) enriching some outstanding fine line penmanship. The ligne claire school of artistry, including the typically detailed backgrounds and slightly cartoonish aspect to the characters, is therefore considerably more evident here than on the more heavily penned black and white material released by Fantagraphics before now.

 

 

I’m not making a statement that one style is better than the other, far from it. What it does demonstrate though is that Tardi is obviously an extremely accomplished artist as well as writer. Still, one could spot his hand at a distance of a thousand yards, irrespective of the particular stylistic approach he has chosen to employ. The nice thing though for those of us who’ve come to appreciate his work, is that we know it to be the hallmark of quality.

JR

Buy The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec vol 2 h/c (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi.

The no-nonsense mademoiselle Blanc-Sec returns for another round or two of occult mentalism and monster-mash madness as first we have the Frankenstein-esque resurrection of a surprisingly suave and well spoken Palaeolithic man demanding vintage cognac and fine cigars upon his wakening, rapidly followed by the escape of all the mummies in the Louvre, plus the one Adele keeps in a display case in her lounge! Don’t expect it to make any sense, you clearly won’t if you read and loved VOLUME ONE of Adele’s extraordinary adventures as I did. Indeed much like, what seems an odd comparison on the face of it I’ll grant you, UMBRELLA ACADEMY you just have to enjoy the ever mounting sense of the ridiculous jammed in page after page, which Tardi is an absolute master at. I also now know why there was no sequel to the ARCTIC MARAUDER as I pondered after reading that fantastic work, as several characters make a brief Benny Hill-style chase reprise here, which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, but did make me chuckle.

 

 

JR

Buy The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hellboy Omnibus vol 2 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola with Gary Gianni & Mike Mignola with Richard Corben.

“The four-volume Omnibus series along with the two volumes of The Complete Short Stories collect all of Mignola’s award-winning HELLBOY stories in chronological order for a definitive reading experience.

“This 416-page volume covers Hellboy’s adventures from 1998 to 2005, reprinting ‘Conqueror Worm’, ‘Strange Places’, ‘Into the Silent Sea’, and ‘The Right Hand of Doom,’ ‘Box Full of Evil,’ and ‘Being Human’.”

HELLBOY: STRANGE PLACES contained ‘The Third Wish’ and ‘The Island’ which I once reviewed thus:

Hellboy is standing at the edge of the ocean, and, he’s told, the crossroads of his life. Five seconds later and he’s many leagues under the sea and assaulted by weremaids. Should have taken a left, dude.

 

 

Try this book if you like portentous dream sequences, demands with consequences and the chill of the ominous, and we haven’t even begun to speak of the art which has, if at all possible, taken another leap. Mike keeps it dark and spooky with the boldest silhouettes in the business, yet opens it up with majestic design and subtle inlay.

 

 

Also [perhaps earlier – it’s over a decade since I read this]:

Hellboy arrives in Africa, but he’s been expected there longer than he’s lived, and although the beasts don’t want him, the ocean does. Three little wishes for three fishes. Who will be leaving alive?

SLH

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

The Adventures Of John Blake: Mystery Of The Ghost Ship s/c (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham…

“I believe you were a member of the 1929 Einstein-Carmichael expedition.”
“Well?”
“There was a scientist in the party.”
“That’s right.”
“What was he investigating?”
“He didn’t talk much. Was only interested in the experiment. And his son. James, was it?”
“No, John. Very bright boy…”

Rip-snorting, high-seas, high-octane, time-travel, all-ages, hyphen-heavy yarn penned originally for The Phoenix Comic by His Dark Materials author (first and second volumes of the first part of that trilogy, NORTHERN LIGHTS, have been adapted for comics) and adeptly illustrated by able seaman Fred Fordham, who I must admit I wasn’t familiar with, but certainly is a talent with his neat and tidy shipshape ligne claire linework.

 

 

I note, actually, it has just been announced Fred is going to adapt Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ as a graphic novel for Harper Collins, who clearly view him as a safe pair of hands on the proverbial tiller for tackling such a heavyweight literary title. I think that is probably more than enough sailing puns now…

 

 

Cast adrift on the oceans of eternity, buffeted by the ever-changing tides of temporal instability, boy genius John Blake is determined to get his millennia-spanning motley crew back home to their respective eras safely. There are others, however, who covet his time-travelling vessel, the Mary Alice, and will stop at nothing to get their dastardly hands on it!

 

 

Ah, this is a great bit of fun, speculative fiction with Bond-style delightfully preposterous ‘espionage’ elements, courtesy of secret agent Roger <ahem> Blake, and the main bad guy, multi-squillionnaire tech giant Carlos Dahlberg and his enormous super yacht and gigantic guided missiles. I would make allusions to him making up for some inadequacy perhaps, but let’s keep this review as all-ages as the work itself!

Adults will undoubtedly love this boy’s and girl’s own adventure, as John teams up with a young lady called Serena whose daft dad managed to dump her in the drink without a life jacket in the middle of the South Pacific. Now she’s part of the ghost ship’s crew, criss-crossing time in search of safe harbour and answers to explain their peculiar odyssey.

 

 

Can John keep his crew, with the assistance of the eponymously named suave naval intelligence officer, out of Dahlberg’s megalomaniacal clutches?! Or will Carlos finally break the maxim that money can’t buy you everything and achieve his tyrannical ambitions of global, and temporal, total domination?! Why am I using a question mark as well as an exclamation mark?! The answer to the last question, dear reader, is that I am an idiot. For a resolution to the other two queries, however, you will have to read the book…

JR

Buy The Adventures Of John Blake: Mystery Of The Ghost Ship s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Nights: Metal – Dark Knights Rising h/c (£24-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Grant Morrison, Dan Abnett, various & Carmine DiGiandomenico, Philip Tan, Tony S. Daniel, Doug Mahnke…

““D.C.” You wondered what it means, but think about it Bobo… brother…
““Detective Chimp.”
“We’ve watched your life. Immortality has its rewards. We got this fixed back in 2067. The 53rd world is here to help. So… ready to save the Universe, Bobo?”

So that’s what DC means… And obviously Bobo is, now he’s not losing his marbles. The concluding issue in this collection, DARK KNIGHTS RISING: THE WILD HUNT #1, is a glorious rip-snorting ruckus of MULTIVERSITY-inspired madness featuring everyone’s favourite simian Sherlock. Errr… what do you mean you’ve never heard of him? You’ll be telling me you thought DC stood for something else next.

As I was reading this, I thought it felt very much like a Morrison-penned portion of malarkey, so wasn’t remotely surprised to find him co-credited on this issue. No idea of precisely how much he was involved, or if it is purely to acknowledge the use of several of his concepts and characters, but it has the feel of being touched by Morrison at least… which is the typically rum and uncanny sensation you would expect.

 

 

The other seven issues: BATMAN: THE RED DEATH #1, BATMAN: THE DEVASTATOR #1, BATMAN: THE MERCILESS #1, BATMAN: THE MURDER MACHINE #1, BATMAN: THE DROWNED #1, BATMAN: THE DAWNBREAKER #1, THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS #1 are essentially mad What If? – or perhaps I should say Evil Elseworld – mash-ups each featuring a Batman, and in one case a Batwoman, from an Earth in the Multiversity already lost to the dark, who has somehow merged or blended or become corrupted with someone else, those unfortunates being: Flash, Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Aqua Woman, Green Lantern and just for good measure, the Joker.

 

 

So, in other words, these are the origin stories of all the bad guys deployed by the demon Barbatos in the main DARK NIGHTS: METAL series. These creation cameos are all, I must add, fabulously good fun and tortuously and frankly quite sadistically well thought out. So whilst you absolutely do not need this volume to help you understand the metallic mayhem, I can certainly recommend it.

JR

Buy Dark Nights: Metal – Dark Knights Rising h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Beanworld Omnibus vol 1 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Larry Marder

Cottons Book 1: The Secret Of The Wind h/c (£16-99, FirstSecond) by Jim Pascoe & Heidi Arnhold

Dressing (£14-99, Koyama) by Michael DeForge

Dumb – Living Without A Voice (£19-99, Fantagraphics) by Georgia Webber

The Complete Future Shocks vol 1 (£19-99, Rebellion) by Alan Moore,  Various & Brian Bolland,  Various

In The Future, We Are Dead (£14-99, Birdcage Bottom Books) by Eva Muller

The Great North Wood (£9-99, Avery Hill) by Tim Bird

The Hypo – The Melancholic Young Lincoln h/c (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Noah Van Sciver

Izuna Book 2 h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Saverio Tenuta & Carita Lupattelli

The Complete Killer s/c (£35-99, Archaia) by  Matz & Luc Jacamon

Moon Face h/c (£29-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Francois Boucq

The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection vol 1 (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart, Robert Deas, Laura Ellen Anderson, Dan Boultwood, Joe List, Jess Bradley, Chris Riddell, Mike Smith

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

Sandman Overture: Absolute Edition (£110-00, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III

Southern Bastards vol 4: Gut Check s/c (£14-99, Image) by Jason Aaron & Jason LaTour

Wild’s End vol 3: Journey’s End (£17-99, Boom!) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard

Bombshells United vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett & Marguerite Sauvage, various

Dark Nights: Metal – The Resistance s/c (£22-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, various & Howard Porter, Liam Sharp, various

Thanos Wins s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Donny Cates & Geoff Shaw

The Flowers of Evil Complete vol 3 (£19-50, Kodansha) by Shuzo Oshimi

Gantz: G vol 1 (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku & Keita Lizuka

My Hero Academica vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

Tokyo Ghoul re: vol 5 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2018 week three

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Featuring Gareth Brookes, Carole Maurel, Mariko Tamaki, Clement Baloup, Farel Dalrymple, Mathieu Bablet, Mairghread Scott, Robin Robinson, Joe Todd-Stanton, Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo, Mark Millar, Olivier Coipel.

Afterwords (£5-99, self-published) by Gareth Brookes.

In which Brookes reprises both THE BLACK PROJECT and A THOUSAND COLOURED CASTLES, neither of which you need read before these deeply satisfying self-contained stories, each delirious in its own different way.

On the other hand, if you have already relished either of those graphic novels then you are in for two wildly witty departures / re-treatments, building on what’s gone before, so let’s call them “sequels of sorts”.

I’m far from surprised because Brookes does love to experiment, not just with style and presentation, but with the very media he employs to produce them. Eschewing both digital art and pen on paper, Gareth has a penchant for selecting the least obvious and seemingly most difficult but fascinatingly physical means of construction, each apposite to what’s going down.

“There are things I leave out of course, because I don’t want the trouble to start again.”

Very wise, Richard, very wise. First dates can be a tentative minefield, can’t they?

 

 

THE BLACK PROJECT (which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month) featured scratchboard panels within often elaborate cloth-embroidered frames. Why cloth-embroidered? Well, teenage Richard was stitching his girlfriends. Not stitched them up, but stitching them together. He was creating them from bits and bobs which he found lying around. And then he, ummm, you know… courted them? Wooed them…? Made love to them…?

It was a black comedy, yes.

Now Richard has grown up, found gainful employment, and he thinks he has a better handle on life. Actually, I think he does. He’s kind and considerate, and has certainly a lot lovelier outlook than his boss’s and his boss’s best mate’s. These are two leering, lager-lout lads of a certain hair-receding age whom he works with, along with his dearest Denise whom Richard has been in love with for four years. She’s presented on the page as a radiant if scowling and quite haggard Madonna; or, on another page, as Medusa. Still, eye of the beholder and each to their own, right? I admire everyone who sees beneath the surface.

 

 

Anyway, they all invite a very reluctant Richard out for birthday drinks. He was right to be reluctant on so many levels, but I’m going to leave that for you to discover yourselves. Let us just say that there are developments. There are multiple developments.

Compared to the original, we’re given a little more colour in the green, blue and tangerine stitching on dowdy beige hessian fabric, while the quite hideous, nightmare-co-worker cast, rendered in block black-and-white, glow with a seam of unsettling, vampiric red, slightly off-set as if you’re looking at 3-D pages without the glasses… or as if you’ve been drugged.

 

 

The self-contained “sequel of sorts” to A THOUSAND COLOURED CASTLES is in some ways even cleverer, for in the original, rubbed out on the page in wax crayon, elderly couple Fred and Myriam were living out their quiet, retirement in tranquil suburbia. Fred was and remains profoundly stick-in-the-mud, constantly complaining conservative whereas Myriam’s life seemed far more colourful if alarming, beset as it was with the most vivid and elaborate hallucinations brought on not by a thankfully rare but very real vision impairment called Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

Now Myriam is seeing things for what they really are – tanks in the tree-lined street, bludgeoning the neighbourhood to bits – whereas Fred’s in a world of his own, deliberately filtering reality through a virtual, rose-tinted one: a headset which you can tweak to your heart’s desire. Fred’s heart’s desire is to be reassured / placated / sedated by the increasingly reactionary, culpably oblivious BBC News embodied here by Fiona Bruce. They both see bombshells, but very different ones.

 

 

When Fred is finally persuaded to take a break from virtual reality he still “sees” what he’s been taught to by our manipulative media:

“Ah, oh dear. What a mess.
“But I’m sure the authorities have it all in hand.
“Must stop terrorism, Myriam.”

There’s nothing like a patriotic Royal Jubilee or Wedding street-party celebration for lifting the embattled spirits, is there? It’s all about the art of distraction.

 

 

Meanwhile, whoops, there goes the neighbourhood – quite literally! – along with this politically apathetic and morally bankrupt, blinkered, blinded, heads-in-the-sand, self-centred and so sad excuse for a country.

SLH

Buy Afterwords and read the Page 45 review here

Luisa: Now And Then (£22-99, Humanoids) by Carole Maurel, adapted by Mariko Tamaki.

Here’s an intriguing hypothetical for you:

“What would you do if your fifteen-year-old self showed up at your door?”

Would you, for a start, recognise them immediately and instinctively realise that, however improbable, there must have been some time / space seepage? Would you wince at their lame sense of fashion, chronic acne and well wonky hair? Would you balk at the very possibility that it could even be you, or welcome their arrival as an opportunity to educate, give them great solace or even a kick up the arse?

Let’s flip that a little:

“What would that teenager think of what you’d become?”

Unless you are a teenager reading this review, of course, in which case: can you imagine meeting your 33-year-old self? Who do you imagine you’d be by that age, and what do you think you’d be doing? I mean: for friendship, self-fulfilment and for a living?

 

 

It’s worth having a good old cogitation upon all that before reading this book or even this review, because creator Carole Maurel is going to propel this in a completely different direction from anything that I’d anticipated other than this: modern technology, socio-political progress on the sexuality front will indeed prove satisfyingly pivotal to the proceedings.

Meanwhile, both perspectives are explored here as 15-year-old Luisa Arambol from Chartres wakes one morning on a bus which she’d boarded the night before back in 1995, and is told in no uncertain terms to dismount. She has absolutely no idea where she is, but quickly discovers she’s in Paris.

 

 

 

She attempts to phone home using a credit card at a public call box, but the card is rejected. She tries to buy a phone card in the nearest tabac / café only to be ridiculed for not being in possession of a smart phone. She earnestly tries to pay for the phone card in Francs.

“Is this a joke?”

This is no joke. Poor young Luisa may now know that she is in Paris, but she still has no clue that it’s 2013, a good ten years after Francs in France were discarded for Euros. She’s at her wit’s end.

Naughtily enough, that’s where I’m going to leave you on that thread.

 

 

33-year-old Luisa Arambol, meanwhile, is living in that self-same city in that self-same time, which is 2013. She has inherited the flat which she lives in from her Aunt Aurelia. Although Luisa once had more fulfilling dreams of being an inventive, arty photographer like 23 Envelope’s Vaughan Oliver, she’s perfectly happy with her paid work, photographing foodstuffs to look fancy with dear friend Farid for glossy magazine advertisements. What she’s disgruntled about is her love life: a succession of men she dates enthusiastically at first, but who prove way too mundane once they’re shacked up with together. To be honest, it’s not just them: it really is her. They’re good for a fling, but the reality is really not pressing her buttons at all.

Now, as my early questions suggest, the two are going to come into contact and everything up to that point is perfect, especially young Luisa’s protracted confusion (no one is going come straight out like Doctor Who and ask “Wait – what year is this?”), what she makes of modern technology (“Crazy, Paris is so high tech.”), and the means by which she discovers the date. Also impressive is how credibly Good Samaritan Sasha, who temporarily adopts Luisa in order to help her track down local relatives, reacts to Luisa’s predicament and the personal possessions she finds in her duffel bag. And finally there’s that search for local relatives which of course would be Aunt Aurelia who was still alive back in 1995, and you already know who’s living in that flat now!

Perfect!

 

 

The colours don’t half glow on the page, and the portraiture throughout is delicious, reminding me of SAGA’s Fiona Staples, particularly the double-page spread when each Luisa finally realises the truth about the other’s identity. The clothes all hang just-so off the bodies, the lines are soft, the skin smooth, and the hair fulsome and silky. Everyone’s conditioning regimen is admirable.

But it quickly becomes clear that the questions should have been “What would you do if your fifteen-year-old self showed up at your door and what would that teenager think of what you’d become if you’d long denied your sexuality partly because of an incident during which your fifteen-year-old self failed to support another girl she had a pash on when that other girl was subjected to some seriously vilifying homophobic abuse and ostracism which was then compounded by your mother?”

That’s a very specific question.

 

 

What’s on the page is pretty powerful stuff – and is cleverly tied in to further family history – but it’s what’s not on the page which left me disappointed, which is everything else. None of the other ever so many questions and answers I’d seek of the other are explored, and I found that so frustrating.

There’s also one hell of a lot of incomprehensible crotchetiness throughout on adult Luisa’s part, and she chastises her younger self unforgivingly for being unsure of her leanings when we all know that a fifteen-year-old’s life is both confusing and restrictive. Okay, we can perhaps put that down to adult guilt, but does everyone in Paris treat waiters like dirt? That really rankled.

However, the good news is that a) you’ll like chic Sasha, and b) there are more surprises to come, for although neither of them realises it at first things are still alarmingly in flux, and there is a stunning scene involving a reflection on a restaurant’s floor.

 

 

By the way, that is indeed Mariko Tamaki, the co-creator with cousin Jillian Tamaki of THIS ONE SUMMER and SKIM, whom you see credited for the book’s “English Language Adaptation”.

For more non-genre time travel (i.e. gentle fiction in which the only science-fiction is that you have returned in time to your childhood, please see also Jiro Taniguchi’s flawlessly contemplative A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD.

Lastly, since I posed those two hypotheticals, I think it’s only fair that I append answers of my own.

“What would you do if your teenage self showed up at your door?”

I’d start by reassuring the poor boy – bewildered by what on earth life might be like beyond school – that it’ll all be all right in the end. I don’t know about you, but aged 15 I could not imagine being capable enough of anything to independently earn a living.

“What would that teenager think of what you’d become?”

I believe he’d say, “That makes perfect sense”.

On all counts.

SLH

Buy Luisa: Now And Then and read the Page 45 review here

Vietnamese Memories Book 1: Leaving Saigon (£14-99, Humanoids) by Clement Baloup…

“There were G.I.s everywhere. We used to collect the cartridges they were always dropping…
“…Then we’d whack them to make them explode. They’d go off like firecrackers.
“When you’re a kid, you never think about the dangers. One of us could have gotten killed!”

When us Anglophones hear the word Vietnam, we are so inculcated to think of the ill-fated US war, that often we forget that the roots of that particular conflict actually began several generations before with the French colonial occupation. Well, occupations plural technically, as having been kicked out of what was then named French Indochina by the Japanese towards the end of WW2, the French had the temerity to then try and reoccupy it. The Viet Minh led by Hồ Chí Minh eventually put paid to that after nearly ten bloody years in 1954, before the Americans decided they could do better, and well, we all know how that turned out…

 

 

Anyway, as a child born in France in 1978, Clément Baloup only heard the story of his father’s life as a youngster back in Vietnam, and his subsequent emigration to France, some twenty years later whilst being taught to cook a traditional prawn curry in his dad’s kitchen. That’s the opening ‘memory’ very touchingly portrayed here and which subsequently set Clément on the path of collecting other such stories of the Vietnamese Diaspora to France.  A process that actually began long before, you might suspect, ahead of the main waves of the pejoratively named ‘boat people’ in the seventies, with several thousand immigrants being torn from their families and forcibly shipped to France to work in munitions factories very shortly after the start of WW2. Whilst some were eventually repatriated back to Vietnam several years after the war ended, after repeated requests to the French government who seemed oblivious or perhaps simply not remotely bothered about their plight, others chose to stay behind and forge new lives for themselves.

 

 

All the stories are illustrated in extremely impressive fashion, some in black and white, and some in watercolour and cover a wide variety of experiences, both good and bad. Frequently they touch on both life in Vietnam and then France for the Vietnamese who made the arduous and often dangerous journey to Europe. For most, there was little choice to their sudden exodus, be it forced, or to avoid the impending change in political regime. But it certainly always caused unimaginable upheaval and suffering which often took years to overcome in the face of poverty and prejudice in the new homeland.

 

 

For more Vietnam history, please see Thi Bui’s profoundly moving story of her parents in THE BEST WE COULD DO.

JR

Buy Vietnamese Memories Book 1: Leaving Saigon and read the Page 45 review here

It Will All Hurt (£16-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple.

“And Almendra feels an ill in the air.”

From the creator of THE WRENCHIES, POP GUN WAR VOL 1, both extensively reviewed, plus POP GUN WAR VOL 2 and – just in – PROXIMA CENTAURI.

The publisher writes:

“A weird, sad, silly, sketchy, and dreamy watercolour fantasy-action quest in which Alemendra Clementine and her crew of anti-social adventurers all come together on a psych-apocalyptic world to take down an evil wizard.

“This Eisner Award-nominated webcomic began as a loose stream-of-consciousness exercise and exploration of the comicbook medium and takes place in the same world as Farel Dalrymple’s THE WRENCHIES. Collects IT WILL ALL HURT #1-3, plus all six chapters of the webcomic.”

 

 

That’s a very fair assessment. There is indeed a loose, sketchbook-like quality to the narrative as likely to drift towards old stones standing round a raised burial mound, the site itself surrounded by the ruins of ancient battlements, as it is to encompass a spherical space capsule whose vulnerable glass viewing screen comes under attack from a long-taloned vampire in a top hat.

 

 

 

And yes, it is indeed the stuff of disorientating nightmares.

“I’m getting that weird feeling again.
“Like watching myself in a bad dream.
“The house is on fire and I am screaming at myself to get out before it’s too late.”

 

 

The crew of anti-social adventurers embark on the sort of fantastical quest you might imagine acting out as seven-year-olds, making it up as you go along. They’re dressed both strange and mundane, brandishing weapons like flaming sticks and heavy iron axes while looking lanky, disconsolate, maybe stoned. Some seem younger and sullen, however belted, booted, suited and caped-up for action. Others practise falconry, magic or martial arts.

 

 

There’s a talking cat (I’ve just doubled the sales), and a rat too.

SLH

Buy It Will All Hurt and read the Page 45 review here

Proxima Centauri #1 of 6 (£3-25, Image) by Farel Dalrymple.

“Get behind the blast glass!”
*
“Don’t freaking lecture me.”
*
“Everything’s so stinking annoying today.”
*
“That thing ate my ride! What a jerk.”

New series from the creator of THE WRENCHIES, POP GUN WAR VOL 1, both extensively reviewed, plus POP GUN WAR VOL 2 and – just in – IT WILL ALL HURT which I also dipped into.

If you enjoyed THE WRENCHIES, then it’s time to rejoin The Scientist and indeed fractious Sherwood, still fretting about his lost brother Orson while frowning and drowning in post-pubescent hormones.

“Don’t forget to drink water, Sherwood.”
“I know.”

 

 

Here’s the publisher:

“4.243 light-years from Earth, the teenage wizard adventurer Sherwood Breadcoat is stuck in the confounding spectral zone on the manufactured dimensional sphere, Proxima Centauri, looking for escape and a way back to his brother while dealing with his confusing emotions, alien creatures, and all sorts of unknown, fantastic dangers. In this issue The Scientist H. Duke sends Sherwood on a salvage mission and gives counsel to the troubled boy in his charge.

“PROXIMA CENTAURI will be six issues of psychedelic science fantasy action comicbook drama starring Sherwood Breadcoat, ‘The Scientist’ Duke Herzog, Dr. EXT the Time Traveler, the ghost M. Parasol, Shakey the Space Wizard, and Dhog Dahog.”

 

 

Dalrymple nails Sherwood’s teenage obstreperousness with giant, proclamatory speech balloons and defiant, sword-brandishing impatience to which The Scientist issues sage and scholarly advice without any thought to the certainty that it’ll mean nothing whatsoever to a self-obsessed teenager:

“Why so impatient to grow up? Learn to be present and your anxiety will subside.”

 

 

It’s hard to be present while under assault from sewer-swarms of monstrous, sharp-toothed insectoids while racing through gravity-shifting concrete jungles and spectacular, architectural retro-futuristic collisions.

There’s some Basil Wolverton about the bloating of the beasts’ heads, and a big love of Moebius in some of the floating landscapes.

 

 

File under “all kinds of crazy” and drink in the varied colour treatments.

SLH

Buy Proxima Centauri #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Beautiful Death h/c (£21-99, Titan) by Mathieu Bablet.

Oh, this is ever so French!

It’s not so much the poor lone man with the haunted eyes staring out over the lifeless concrete city, weeping inconsolably… for himself, I suspect!

I can’t say that I blame him. It’s been four years or so of unbroken solitary… what’s the opposite of confinement? Sometimes four small walls must seem a mercy.

It’s all there before him, stretching endlessly, emptily, dirtily and a bit broken.

What else is there to do other than rock on a chair, mind-numb, or roam the echoing avenues, passing abandoned communal play areas, unattended gardens, crashed cars and lank electricity lines?

It’s as desolate and derelict as an empty outdoor municipal swimming pool – with some of the same, lame, tiny mosaic tiles.

 

 

There are small trails of encroaching vegetation in the cracked concrete. I bet the buddleias got there first – they’re the worst.

Eventually he finds himself back at his equally unpopulated apartment with its lo-tech radio & car battery attached, calling out to anyone else who isn’t there. No reply, obviously.

It wasn’t zombies, by the way. It was the insects.

 

 

“I just can’t get rid of it. That taste of ash in my mouth.
“It reminds me… Reminds me of those Wednesday afternoons.
“My mother would take me over to Mrs. Jones for her madeleines. She was terrifying. So were the madeleines.”

Okay, so that’s pretty French.

“Burnt to ash. Just like any love for my dad still left in my mother’s heart.”

Bit of a downer!

“Sadly, for the culinary world, the gentle Mrs. Jones perished in a tragic mishap at the zoo, determined to save a poor adventurous child from the hands of a rutting orang-utan.”

No, what’s so French about this are the three bickering idiots who “supersede” him.

I don’t want to spoil the moment for you, but even his exit is French. Too funny!

There’s Jeremiah, the shouty one with spiky blonde hair like some escapee from NARUTO; stern leader Wayne who has set rules and demands discipline except from Soham who doesn’t seem to give a shit about anyone or anything anymore. Soham seems to have lost all sense of humanity or connection to it. Although he still looks both ways before crossing a road, even though there hasn’t been any traffic for years.

 

They scour the shops and loot every can that they can. Cans are all that’s left. And even they have their sell-by dates.

“Four years… according to this can that’s all we have left.”
“Say what?”
“We never talk about it, but no matter how you cut it, the days on these cans are our expiration date too.”

There appear to be no viable crops and no edible animals. Although insects are edible, aren’t they? There are an awful lot of those.

It’s very much two against one: they almost abandon Jeremiah at one point.

It’s a very quiet comic to begin with. Even the “incident” is more of a situation, simply presented to us without any preceding narrative or the most obvious dramatic action that would have got us all going.

The rescue goes unacknowledged. Instead they stand there in silence, in the needle-sharp rain under coloured umbrellas – very French.

 

 

Other roof-top, table-top umbrellas blow poetically away in the squall.

That’s some seriously lovely rain, that is.

SLH

Buy The Beautiful Death h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The City On The Other Side (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Mairghread Scott & Robin Robinson…

“War and pain raged in the world of Fairy. On both sides.
“But the fairy world is not the only world. The human world continued… unaware of the war that was destroying them as well.”

The publisher blurb burbles…

“The first decade of the twentieth century is coming to a close, and San Francisco is still recovering from the great earthquake of 1906. Isabel watched the destruction safely from her window, sheltered within her high-society world. Isabel isn’t the kind of girl who goes on adventures.

“But that all changes when she stumbles through the invisible barrier that separates the human world from the fairy world. She quickly finds herself caught up in an age-old war and fighting on the side of the Seelie – the good fairies.”

 

 

You see, Isabel might not be the kind of girl who goes on adventures, but she desperately wants to be. However, between her over-protective snob of a high society mother and her absent workaholic sculptor father, she’s completely ignored and stuck oh-so-safely in her room. So when adventure accidentally beckons, she seizes it with both hands and leaps through the Veil, which separates our world from the Fairy realm. With a Fairy civil war raging and the only hope of stopping it being to return an enchanted necklace to its rightful owner, Isabel will soon be getting all the action-packed antics she could ever wish for.

 

 

Definitely one for fans of the likes of AMULET, with its cast of weird and wonderful characters including a feisty talking mushroom called Button, and NAMELESS CITY, for its relentless breakneck pace and desire to make a few pertinent social comments suitable for any time too, this is a very well-written self-contained slice of all-ages fun.

JR

Buy The City On The Other Side and read the Page 45 review here

Arthur And The Golden Rope s/c (£7-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd-Stanton.

A huge endeavour for a tiny person, this is now out in softcover!

I love a good quest, and this is a most excellent quest involving Thor, Odin and Fenrir, the enormous, sable-coated wolf sired by the trickster god, Loki. It is ever so black and bad tempered!

Rich in the warmest of colours and with a superb sense of scale, HILDA fans are going to lap this up; ZELDA fans too because young Arthur is essentially an Icelandic Link, addicted to exploration and a certain degree of pilfering, forever adding artefacts to his arsenal of treasured possessions.

This includes the Hand of Time, an actual hand (a bit creepy!) which Arthur once discovered high up in an ancient tower, sat on an ancient stone column at the top of some ancient stone steps and bathed from behind in moonlight cascading though a window in the shape of a stopped clock. I imagine Arthur must have successfully interpreted this clue before whipping it away, for the Hand of Time has the power to freeze anyone who touches it – which is a neat piece of self-defence, when you think about it.

It’s probably best to use gloves.

 

 

Arthur’s also adept at making friends in high places, like the mighty red rooster Wind Weaver, nested towards the top of even more ancient, tall, craggy cliffs. Such was Arthur’s fortitude and determination that he managed to climb that nigh-vertical escarpment and return to Wind Weaver her missing egg, against all odds unbroken.

He also once rescued a cat from a tree.

Arthur is going to need to summon all his courage and command his quickest of wits, however, in this daring quest to restore fire to his otherwise frozen town after its gigantic brazier is knocked down and extinguished by Fenrir. I told you it had a bad temper.

To be honest, the townsfolk aren’t that much better, especially the adults. They scowled at Arthur and his adventures, his trophies and trinkets and the little goblin folk who followed him in rootin’, tootin’ celebration after he mediated an end to their war with the fairies. But, battered by Fenrir’s assault, the citizens are sure going to need our young Arthur now, for the only way to restore fire to the town’s brazier is to curry the favour of Thor, and the only way to curry Thor’s favour is to help him defeat the five-hundred-foot Fenrir.

For this meticulous Arthur will need three things: to capture a cat’s footfall, to snip off the roots of a mountain, and remember old lessons learned.

The Asgardians have tried to vanquish the beast by themselves, but Fenrir nearly squished Frejja, barely missed breaking Baldr between its teeth and successfully bit poor Tyr’s arm off. Can frail Arthur triumph where the mighty gods have failed?

 

 

In every all-ages / young-readers’ great graphic novel there must be certain things present including wit, rules and exploration for eyes.

Oh, you tut at the term “rules” but I didn’t write that they couldn’t be broken! What I mean is that a child will see through any gaps in narrative logic just as easily as an adult would, and might even be far less forgiving. They are ever so astute! This is a beauty, so casually foreshadowing whatever will follow so that its pay-off is perfect and caught me completely by surprise. But it’s all there! All of it!

The wit lies both in the background details, the denouement above, and in the keep-them-guessing intrigue which is scattered throughout. How can Arthur possibly capture a cat’s footfall? It’s insane! And a mountain doesn’t have any roots: that had me stumped.

 

 

As to the eye-candy, there are maps – yes, maps! – and so many pages which reward real inspection, from old-duffer Brownstone’s armchair introduction contrasted with his hours-later adieu (look at what’s happened to those bookshelves behind him in the intervening time!) to the mapped-out meandering’s of Arthur’s double-page sea-voyage. There tiny fingers will love to trace the serpentine path of our diminutive hero’s trials and tribulations past pirate ships and old beardy Neptune, through the coils of undulating sea monsters and battling a giant squid which is ever so intent on wrestling Arthur’s oars from him.

Then there’s beardy Brownstone’s initial, proud appearance inside his family vault of exotic heirlooms bathed in a spotlight. Young eyes are immediately invited to scan every shadow-strewn corner for curiosities: there are chests and chalices, a deep-sea diving suit, skulls and statues, a one-eyed owl, things floating in jars, swords, stones, and swords in stones. Oh wait – I think the second one is stuck in a giant eyeball!

 

 

There are swords stuck everywhere in Valhalla’s hall. Can you find them all?

I mentioned Todd-Stanton’s sense of scale – vital for making a quest like this seem as daunting as possible – and it’s everywhere from the fearsome Fenrir who towers over the brazier, and the brazier itself, so vast that it looms large in comparison to the rest of the town when seen from afar. On that very same shot, so high in the sky, you’ll spy that ancient tower which housed The Hand of Time and, on the mountainside opposite, Wind Weaver perched on her nest. Furthermore, Arthur may be small when standing beside adults and smaller still in Thor’s imposing presence, but compared to the goblin folk he’s a giant.

 

 

Finally we come to the gods’ hall library and it is as vast as vast can be. Poor Arthur most read every dusty tome in his research for find the roots of a mountain. You can see him scampering up ladders, balancing books on his head, receiving a nasty surprise, but if you look really, really carefully…

I love it. I love this to bits.

SLH

Buy Arthur And The Golden Rope s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hellboy: The Complete Short Stories vol 1 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben, Duncan Fegredo, Mick McMahon, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, Dave Stewart, Matt Hollingsworth, James Sinclair, Clem Robins, Pat Brosseau.

A whopping 368-page volume which covers Hellboy’s adventures from 1947 to 1961 in chronological order (as do all the HELLBOY omnibus editions) kicking almost immediately off with ‘Midnight Circus’ drawn and painted with enormous panache by Duncan Fegredo.

“But he wanted to be a real boy.”

1948 at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence, it’s late at night and quiet.

Scampering secretly through the sleepy, well appointed HQ, a very young Hellboy, his horns still intact, overhears himself being talked of as a terrible threat. It’s all there in the Visions & Revelations of one Arnot De Falvy:

“I saw a city, silent as a tomb, barren as dry bones, and the angel said, “This is Desolation”. And I went down into it and the only living thing there was the creature… In most ways it had the shape and character of a man and was not terrible to look upon… But then I saw in its right hand it held the key to the bottomless pit.”

 

 

So young Hellboy does what you would do at this covert equivalent of a boarding school: he runs away. And something is there to greet him, to entreat him, to seduce and reduce the poor boy to tears.

When the Midnight Circus first appears, the impact is halting. Young Hellboy crouches overlooking through a dry-stone wall the valley the circus’ gigantic tent has been erected in. He’s inked in Fegredo’s Mingola-inspired trademark stark shadows, whereas the circus itself is swathed in misty, miasmatic watercolours as will be everything that transpires within. It’s mesmerising.

 

 

And, oh, what the young boy discovers inside. Whom the young Hellboy discovers inside!

Have you read Pinnochio?

There is so much to commend this, not least of all Duncan Fegredo’s swoonaway art. Long have I compared his gesticulations, dramatically angled wrists and hefty, heavy, laden hands to the mighty French sculptor Rodin. That’s not something I do lightly. But here it suddenly struck me how similar his women are to that of FATALE’s Sean Phillips.

You wait until you see the sunken Galleon.

 

 

If you’ve never read HELLBOY before in your life, this is the perfect introduction. It will leave you with questions, yes, but then you have a whole library to explore, all in print and in stock right here, right now.

Mignola has built up a legend which is why this works so well. There has been foreshadowing aplenty and this is another key part of the puzzle.

You’re just a young lad. All you want to do is what’s best, especially as you grow up. Okay, you shouldn’t have had that smoke, you shouldn’t have made that joke and maybe you shouldn’t have run away. But they are your decisions, surely? They can’t affect anyone else.

“Oh, my boy… what have you done?”

Brrrr….

 

 

Also included: ‘The Crooked Man’, ‘Double Feature of Evil,’ the complete ‘Hellboy in Mexico’ saga, as well as ‘The Corpse.’ ‘The Iron Shoes’ and more.

SLH

Buy Hellboy: The Complete Short Stories vol 1 s/c  and read the Page 45 review here

The Magic Order #1 (£3-25, Image) by Mark Millar & Olivier Coipel…

“They’ve just finished copulating. He’s dreaming about a train journey from his teenage years. She’s just closed her eyes.”
“Is their home secured with any defences?”
“Yes, but I can work around them. There’s a child sleeping at the end of the corridor, and I think I’ll be able to go through him.”

Mark Millar returns with a story in which a magician with a way with words manages to sell his fêted comics company to a large entertainment giant for megabucks and lives happily ever after. Wait a minute… his autobiography isn’t out yet!

Millar is back, though, with his first ‘Netflix’ comic, featuring a story about five clans of undercover magicians who have protected our world from unseen magical threats for generations who are now about to fall out big style. So, sort of like a mash-up between Doctor Strange and East Enders then?

 

 

Fortunately not, but this is certainly no tale of happy families as one of the prestidigitators boldly begins a power grab and starts bumping off the others in a not-so covert fashion with the aid of a shadowy, sinister figure wearing a highwayman’s hat. Perhaps a cheeky nod to 2000AD’s Brigand Doom?

 

 

Plus, even within the various households, it seems that whilst there are those who embrace the thrill of waving their wands about, both publically and in private, there are some adepts who want to ditch the glamours and live a life more ordinary. Unfortunately, a declaration of being out of the game doesn’t mean there isn’t still going to be a target on your head.

 

 

After this opener, I have to say I’m totally entranced by Millar’s new top hat of tricks. Ah, that hoodoo that you do, Mark, when you’re on top form. There’s sufficient depth to the story and the characters right from the off which convinces me this six issue series will be on the level of the likes of JUPITER’S LEGACY and SUPERIOR. I trust this won’t prove to be an illusion.

 

 

Phenomenally fabulous art from Marvel stalwart Oliver HOUSE OF M Coipel only adds to the spectacle, and either Coipel or colourist Dave Stewart have given it a softer, smudged feel which renders it all suitably ethereal. Bravo gentlemen!

JR

Buy The Magic Order #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Voices Of A Distant Star (£10-99, Vertical) by Makoto Shinkai & Mizu Sahara…

“Award-winning director and author Makoto Shinkai offers a romantic sci-fi tale about young love and space adventure, based on his 2003 animated film. Sixteen-year-old Mikako Nagamine enlists as a pilot to fight in the interstellar war against a force of alien invaders, leaving behind her one true love. Mikako’s only connection to Noboru Terao, who’s living the life of an ordinary high school student, is through cell-phone text messages. As Mikoko travels farther away, it starts to take longer and longer for Noboru to receive her messages, until finally one arrives eight years and seven months after she sent it. When at last the fighting ends, she is left stranded on the spacecraft carrier.”

I’ve actually excised the final couple of sentences of the publisher’s blurb as I felt we were drifting dangerously into spoiler territory faster than Mikoko was last seen drifting into deep space. If you like your romance to smoulder at a low injection burn rather than going straight to escape velocity this could possibly be for you. I haven’t seen the film, which came first, so I can’t comment on the similarities / differences though the artist comments in his “sort of an afterword” that he imagines fans of the film will feel there are some aspects lacking or disappointing.

 

 

I have to say there is very, very little actually going on in terms of plot here. It is, in essence, two people clinging on to the single thread of the teenage romance that they never actually had. Now, separated increasingly by space and time, it seems like they never, ever will. But still they keep in touch, in classically ultra-restrained Japanese fashion, because neither is willing to let go.

 

 

The final chapter or two hint at more to come (again, maybe there is in the film by the sounds of it) and there’s a decision which perhaps really could have been made a lot sooner, if only one of the star-blocked lovers had spent a bit more time thinking about things rationally instead of mooching around aimlessly waiting for angst-ridden interstellar text messages.

JR

Buy Voices Of A Distant Star and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

 

 

Bad Machinery vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside s/c (£11-99, Oni) by John Allison

Giant Days: Extra Credit s/c (£13-99, Boom!) by John Allison & Caanan Grall, Lissa Treiman, Jenn St-Onge

Cerebus vol 10: Minds (Remastered Edition) (£26-99, Aardvark Vanaheim Inc.) by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Courtney Crumrin vol 3 s/c (£11-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh

Cucumber Quest vol 3: The Melody Kingdom s/c (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Gigi D.G.

Escaping Wars And Waves: Encounters With Syrian Refugees (£19-99, Myriad) by Olivier Kugler

Escapo h/c (£22-99, Z2 Comics) by Paul Pope

Hellboy Omnibus vol 2 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Gary Gianni

Hit-Girl vol 1: In Colombia s/c (£13-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Ricardo Lopez Ortiz

Julian Is A Mermaid h/c (£11-99, Walker Books) by Jessica Love

Legend Of Zelda Encyclopedia h/c (£35-50, Dark Horse) by various

Multiple Warheads vol 2: Ghost Town s/c (£15-99, Image) by Brandon Graham

Space Boy vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Stephen McCranie

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec vol 2 h/c (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi

They Say Blue h/c (£12-99, Abrams) by Jillian Tamaki

Batman: Detective Comics vol 6: Fall Of The Batmen s/c (Rebirth) (£16-99, DC) by James Tynion IV & Joe Bennett, various

Dark Nights: Metal – Dark Knights Rising h/c (£24-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Grant Morrison, Dan Abnett, various & Carmine DiGiandomenico, Philip Tan, Tony S. Daniel, Doug Mahnke

Justice League vol 6: People Vs The Justice League s/c (Rebirth) (£12-99, DC) by Christopher Priest & Pete Woods, Philippe Briones, Marco Santucci

Trinity vol 2: Dead Space s/c (£12-99, DC) by Francis Manapul, Cullen Bunn & various

Amazing Spider-Man vol 8: Worldwide s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, David Hein & Stuart Immonen, Cory Smith, Mike Hawthorne, Todd Nauck, Marcus To

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 8: My Best Friend’s Squirrel s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Ryan North & Erica Henderson

Weapon X vol 3: Modern Warfare s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Yildiray Cinar, Roland Boschi, Andrea Sorrentino

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2018 week two

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Featuring Peter Hoey, Maria Hoey, Nick Drnaso, Erin Nations, Vero Cazot, Julie Rocheleau, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Leslie Hung, Sophie Campbell, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Greg Capullo, Mikel Janin, Alvaro Martinez

Coin-Op Comics Anthology h/c 1997-2017 (£26-99, Top Shelf) by Peter Hoey, Maria Hoey.

 

 

“They say that the best things in life are free, but being stuck on a videotape isn’t one of them.”

We will return to that anon, but I hope it’s introduced the requisite element of intrigue.

The finest collection of comics that I have seen since BUILDING STORIES, I rate this right up there with Chris Ware for craft, composition and complexity, but the variety of treatments is staggering, and it messes with the medium – with the very possibilities of sequential-art narrative – like nothing at all that I can recall.

 

 

And there are dozens of other contenders, I know, but the Hoeys do it in such depth, over and over again. I recall seeing their ‘Anatomy of a Pratfall’ in BEST AMERICAN COMICS, curated by Alison Bechdel in 2011 when I wrote, not very clearly so I’ve rearranged it a little:

“Six silent pages of a single street seen from the same vantage point, each page is divided into 12 separate grey and peach panels within which something significant is happening. After successive disasters strike in a domino effect you’ll want to go back and laugh yourself senseless at the window cleaner’s seemingly unfinished artistry.”

X marks the spot. And isn’t a piano always involved?

 

 

Time isn’t passing between panels in the traditional way, only between pages: the grid is used instead to focus your attention on the individual elements coming catastrophically into play.

‘Jingle In July’ and ‘The Slippery Lobster’ work in much the same way, the latter being a maritime cross-lane collision-fest which only the dolphins and storks survive, so after a few of these the opening scenarios become akin to a puzzle, a quiz or a question: an opening tableau inviting you to wonder what on earth will happen next.

 

 

Far more mischievous, however, is their most recent iteration and evolution of this game, ‘The Windy Parade’, in which there is a hell of a lot more going on. It bundles together several separate stories, many of which converge, and some of whose protagonists seem to contravene quite defiantly what we in the west consider to be the rules of reading comics (left-to-right, then down a row with a type-writer “ting!” before proceeding left-to-right once more) but it is just an illusion predicated upon the strength of long-ingrained predisposition… (pause)… apart from the very final tier in which time does indeed pass between panels, as the pigeons tell the last of their cumulatively funny jokes and, ridiculously, one of the parade’s human onlookers, oblivious to everything else, gets a good guffaw out of it.

Shall we take an inventory of that six-page story? Two different love affairs, two wallets in diverse jeopardy, two defenestrations, police pursuit, dinner and drinks, a graphic novel first pitched then being pitched out of the window, and a giant, inflatable rabbit being ravished from behind by a blown-up superhero.

 

 

If you’re a cinephile or into jazz, you’ll find this even more up your alley, for the Hoeys too are fixated on both, and are fiercely well informed. They present individual histories and portraits of jazz musicians, but when it comes to the movies they truly triumph. ‘The Trials Of Orson Welles’ features not Orson Welles himself but half a dozen fictional characters, portrayed by Orson Welles in different films, interacting.

Even more impressive, however, ‘The People vs Nicholas Ray’ is a meticulously researched snap-shot documentary of the director of ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. By cross-referencing Ray’s own proclamations with quotes from his peers and protégés like Elia Kazan, François Truggaut and Jim Jarmush, then the films’ various stars like estranged wife Gloria Grahame (why were they estranged? oh good grief!) plus Natalie Wood who went up against a vindictive Joan Crawford in ‘Johnny Guitar’, Peter and Maria form a singularly affecting insight into the director’s personal and professional direction.

“’I’m A Stranger Here Myself’ was the working title for nearly all my films.”

 

 

They also have a rich love of rhymes, and this pairing of clichés is artfully arranged on the page with their ever-present and often concentric circles, here spooling film:

“Double talk, forward leaning,
“Writers block, hidden meaning.

“Split screen, close up smile,
“The way you walk the longest mile.

“Eye line, hand in glove,
“Running time, sea of love.

“Two shot cutaway,
“Look here comes that raining day.”

When reading it, I cannot get out of my head Billy McKenzie’s dead-tone intonation during the Associates’ ‘Fever In The Shadows’ b-side, along with his female co-conspirator. No? Try Grace Jones’s dead-pan instead.

“Conspiracies” is a word I underlined three times in my notes, and although I could not begin to match Josh O’Neill’s exceptionally eloquent introduction to this album, if I were to characterise this collection further I’d choose words like circles and circuits, connections, reflections, control, contradictions and confrontations; that which lurks so substantially beneath the surface, that which lurks unseen without and beyond, collapse into chaos and that dear old chestnut, mortality.

There are two particularly poignant stories involving the extinction of obsolete automata.

 

 

‘I Built You First’, written by C.P. Freund (a journalist with decidedly recondite interests) is infused with a giddy, M.C. Escher sensibility. In it, one robot, above, repeatedly challenges its suicidal predecessor below and is each time rebutted with an insistent reminder of its precedence. Here on the first page, the challenge is issued upside down from a boat being rowed on the watery ceiling:

“You are wrecked, my dear robot (his old friend said),
“And your sensory data’s dispersed!
“What’s the shape of the world that you’ve built in your head?”
Shot the other: “I built you first”.”

As to “shot”, he’s just put a gun to his own head.

Similarly, the last line on the third page, “Snapped the other: “I suspended you first””, is issued as the android breaks its neck by hanging. It’s all pretty tight in COIN-OP.

 

 

‘Valse Mechanique’ is a less formal affair except in its dress code which is strictly black tie. A steampunk waltz as if seen on sepia film footage a century ago, it’s set in a ballroom full of robots so run down that their time has almost run out. Maria sings her final song to the assembled throng, then sacrifices her head and its constituent cogs so that the others can go on a little longer.

You’ve heard of cannibalizing a machine for spare parts…?

 

 

A couple of strips – when this landscape hardcover is folded out, it is hard to think of them in terms other than strips – the Hoeys present parallel narratives (the inner and outer life) layered in tandem along with the accompanying illustrations.

‘The Inter-Office Memo’ is where you will first come in, and it is entirely up to you how you read it: one page at a time in full, or each individual thread at a time from start to finish. The first page is surrounded by old-fashioned city skyscrapers (think Seth), while our protagonist strides through the open-office call centre, each of whose operatives being very specific about the numbers involved. Without, you will find another numbered narrative which starts off all concrete (about the workers, the interconnected office space and the building which houses it), but becomes increasingly and insidiously abstract as we move into the shadowy hidden corporate world or shell companies etc:

“25. Their unseen hands guided and shaped a seemingly disparate group of companies to the completion of their singular intention, one that still remains beyond the prying eyes of the outside world, its limits known only to its creators.”

The final numbers in the circled narrative are 27, then 3¹, 3² and 3³ – which is 27.

 

 

Meanwhile, the city begins to give way to a jungle while the endless corridors become flooded with rising water until a small boat steams by, our protagonist desperately hitches a life-saving lift, only to discover a waterfall ahead…

Please see “if I were to characterise this collection…”

 

 

Before you begin this book, you should probably be aware that the original COIN-OP comics are collected in reverse chronological order, culminating in Peter and Maria’s collaborations within the pages of the old BLAB! anthology. I mention this now, because I don’t want it to be the review’s final sentence, which I’ve already settled upon with a very self-indulgent chortle.

Finally for now, let’s return to where we came in with the recurrent, forever hapless, down-and-out dogs, Saltz & Pepz, who have found themselves trapped in a loop on a videotape. More specifically, they’ve become trapped on one of those two-person handcars you used to see so often in silent black and white films, often involving a chase in which time’s running out.

 

 

It’s called ‘Now Available On VHS’ and time is indeed running out, for although each time the tape is played they become more self-aware, they’re only becoming self-aware because the tape is degrading, and soon it will degrade so far that it snaps.

For the first three pages the top tier of narrative only alternates between two images, Saltz then Pepz pushing down to propel the handcar against a monotonously identical landscape. The endless track is identical in third tier too, obscured only when Saltz’s or Pepz’s heads pop up on the other’s push.

However, the remote appears to be losing control too, and eventually – finally after all this time of being at the mercy of outside forces they have no agency over (they’re homeless throughout the stories) – there is a tiny aperture, an opportunity for action.

 

 

SLH

Buy Coin Op Comics Anthology h/c 1997-2017 and read the Page 45 review here

About Betty’s Boob h/c (£26-99, Archaia) by Vero Cazot & Julie Rocheleau.

An exhilarating, fast-moving, heart-palpitating gala performance, I hereby fill the auditorium with thunderous applause!

Songs sung aside, it’s a largely wordless graphic novel full of exotic sights, dextrous dances and so many sounds in which Elisabeth is adopted by a creative community of burlesque cabaret artists who are as supportive and nurturing off stage as they are flamboyant, inventive and cheeky. Got to love a lyric like this:

“My love button’s poking
“Its head out for a stroking!”

That would be your gently suggested adults-only advisement, for this features a glorious amount of equal-opportunities full-frontal nudity which is absolutely essential to its celebratory message about being proud of your body.

Alas, it’ll take Elisabeth a long and emotionally tumultuous journey to get there, but get there she shall!

 

 

“If you cannot look at me anymore,
“I do not want to see you anymore!”

The beginning is blunt and quite brutal for our protagonist, who wakes up in a hospital bed, clothed in a clinical gown, her head shaved, her energy depleted, and one breast missing post-mastectomy.

 

 

Frantically searching the ward in a flurry of motion, Betty demands her old boob back.  The nipple-ringed breast is retrieved, presented to her in a gift-wrapped, ribboned box and lovingly admired by both patient and nurse. But in the box it stays, and you won’t discover its final fate until late into the graphic novel. Instead, Elisabeth is immediately determined to move on and adjust as best she can, dressing herself up smartly, applying make-up and a wig and marching her frazzled man back home. Yes, her lover has passed out in shock twice already.

 

 

Oh so positively, she dolls herself up further, while he uncorks wine, and dances twirling back into the living room, a rosy red apple popped into the cup of her bra. A tender kiss later and there’s a love-heart and laughter and everything seems to be going so much better…

 

 

But then – although there are ever so many more ups and downs yet to come – the most poignant moment for me is almost immediately afterwards, when the man, after inviting her into the bed with a reassuring pat on the sheets, kisses Elisabeth not on the lovingly presented and puckered lips, but on the forehead. Alarmed, she reaches out, but he lunges for the lamp, switches it off and rolls over, leaving her alone on the very far side of the bed.

 

 

Already the individuals’ moods have been colourfully controlled with lots of rich reds and fresh, healthy creams, but also back in the ward with queasy greens and more sickly yellows for when our male visitor becomes instead the passed-out patient, and needs to have his own blood pressure taken!

 

 

Now the graphic novel grows even more satirical, for where do you suppose she works? Elisabeth is a cashier at a parfumier which is so upmarket that its central chandelier cascades with crystals, spotlit from above. Security cameras are trained on the department floor to search out shoplifters, for sure, but so many are trained on the staff too, with close-ups on their chests, and these screens are overseen by a Cruella Deville-like lady with enormous, dangling, dollar-sign earrings. The shop assistants, meanwhile, are all decked out in t-shirts adorned by the retailer’s logo, which is a symmetrical, stylised heart as if mounted on a pedestal. This, of course, sits over their supposedly symmetrical breasts – wouldn’t you just know it? – that company’s contract stipulates that all employees must have “two boobs” (each of a certain weight!) otherwise it is “termination” time.

I wouldn’t call it too much of stretch to call this corporation somewhat superficial.

 

 

Our obsession with symmetry (I only ever had one dagger earring on the left; now one eyebrow ring instead) is part of the heart of this story. Wait until Liz’s lover returns home, the maid immediately spotting his one-sided parting and correcting it with a comb in a corridor which is improbably symmetrical in its ornaments, before presenting him to his parents! They are not amused (nor are their two dogs) for kerfuffle that causes their mirrored seating arrangements is extreme!

We’ve only just begun – Elisabeth has a lot of chaotic leaping and running round to do, initially after her wig which takes to the wing – but I’m still going to leave it there.

 

 

Golly, but there’s a lot of energy on offer, so much sweeping movement and gay abandon, from arms outstretched and tassled tits a-twisting to robes flying high and flung off, and the gesticulations during the dazzling routines are thrilling (Elisabeth’s contrastingly tentative to begin with, but once her confidence is boosted, she’ll get there). Red wine will be drunk and high heels will be kicked off, for there are far happier times ahead.

“No body is perfect, Elisabeth” is a chapter I loved dearly – if you love female forms in particular in all their diversity, you are in for a spellbinding treat – along with this sentiment towards the end:

“What are you doing now?”
“Whatever I want.”

 

 

Before we conclude, however, I highly recommend Jennifer Hayden’s autobiographical THE STORY OF MY TITS, which in spite of its most excellent title is a lot less glib than it looks. Much considered thought with some considerable scope, Hayden comes to terms with a double-mastectomy, and covers to much that led up to it and what follows.

SLH

Buy About Betty’s Boob h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sabrina (£16-99, Granta) by Nick Drnaso..

“What did you think?”
“There were some interesting ideas, but I felt empty when it was over.”
“Yeah, it was a good kind of empty feeling though, did Teddy read it?”
“Oh no, he’s not much of a reader.”

From the creator of BEVERLY which I loved and seemingly everyone else ignored – okay, it did win an L.A.  Times Book Prize, but despite that prize and my review it didn’t seem to translate into huge sales – comes a work you’re all now falling over yourselves to pick up in store and online. Amazing what a glowing review in Guardian by Chris Ware can do. Just for the record, for what it’s worth, I loved this too. Allow me to elaborate…

 

 

Firstly, that pull quote above sums up exactly how I felt when I finished. Though I don’t know anyone called Teddy, bibliophobe or otherwise. This work is an extraordinary overlapping and blending of so many fascinating ideas, issues and concepts including dealing with loss, being utterly unable to help someone deal with loss, mental illness, conspiracy theories, the seemingly uncontrollable spread of indistinguishable information and misinformation with which the internet is now saturated on mainstream news sites, on social media and in chatrooms, plus so much more besides. It’s a psychologically degrading, powerful mix that may well leave you feeling quite fatigued and perhaps a little more defenceless in face of the seemingly relentless and unpredictable insanity of the modern world. Well, that was my vibe.

 

 

But, despite feeling empty and also slightly emotionally blended myself when it was over, it was indeed a good kind of empty feeling. Though, I will categorically and emphatically restate for the record I don’t know anyone called Teddy. Actually, I do, thinking about it. He plays jazz trumpet professionally, but he doesn’t read comics. As least as far as I am aware. Which is a shame, because I think he might quite like them. Now, only I know at this point whether I am talking complete bullshit or dealing in facts*. Much like the deluge of both one receives when encountering any topic whatsoever on the internet these days. Though anything involving a degree of criminality, politics and medical advice seem particularly prone to, shall we say, wide-ranging opinions.

The empty feeling arose because I was left bemused by the ending. On the bare face of it, it is one of the most anti-climatic and perhaps unresolved endings I think I’ve ever read. The ‘perhaps’ is partly because of an ever-more sneaking suspicion I had building through the entire work was not addressed or resolved in any way. It is entirely possible, though, I had been led right up the proverbial garden path, quite deliberately so by Mr. Drnaso. Possibly paths plural. In fact, maybe even something akin to Hampton Court Maze for all I know. However, the more I reflected on it, the two-page epilogue that concludes this work was highly appropriate and probably note perfect.

 

 

The pull quote, by the way, comes from the last conversation between the titular Sabrina, domiciled in Chicago and shortly about to vanish off the face of the earth, and her younger sister Sandra. The Teddy in question is Sabrina’s boyfriend, who, rendered utterly dysfunctional, well, non-functional pretty much, in the face of her disappearance has decided to take off for Colorado to go stay with marginal childhood school friend Calvin, now in the US Air Force working at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado in some nebulous security position.

 

 

All Teddy does pretty much all day is sit around Calvin’s house whilst he’s at work, listening to talk radio, one particular conspiracy theory slinger in particular being his rabid host of choice. Calvin, meanwhile, puzzled by the placid behaviour of his almost forgotten friend, whom, frankly, he was astonished called him at all, has started surfing the internet to try and get a handle on Sabrina’s disappearance and Teddy’s sudden arrival.

When a disturbing video hits the news and the media finally learn of Teddy’s whereabouts, Calvin finds not only his apartment and online presence being targeted by the legitimate broadcast media, but also those who have already got their minds firmly made up and equally firmly closed about Sabrina’s whereabouts. And those loony tunes aren’t above a few not-so-thinly veiled threats to try and ensure the, sorry their, truth comes to light…

 

 

One of the many clever little tricks to this work, was that alongside the clearly photoshopped / edited / blatantly made-up fake news evidence that finds its way into the wider public, and our own consciousness, is that I’m sure I spotted some odd inconsistencies amongst the supposed verified facts. It set me thinking, and kept me thinking, that I knew what was really happening. Right up until that ending…

In some ways, Calvin, grappling with being apart from his estranged wife and child in Florida and whether to take some covert black ops job he’s apparently a shoe-in for if he wants it, is the main character. He is our appointed representative in this world, with direct insight into Teddy’s very small one. Which is a very strange, and at times, very strained place to be. But once Calvin starts coming under direct electronic attack from the trolls, he finds his own peace of mind rapidly frazzling too. By the time the pre-ending ending rolled around, I was actually far more engaged in hoping Calvin got a happy ending than Teddy. Well, he gets an ending… And this is yours.

JR

Buy Sabrina and read the Page 45 review here

Gumballs s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Erin Nations.

“My face has exploded in zits. I haven’t been this zitty since I was thirteen.”
“Let’s play connect the dots! At least let me drawn some constellations. I think I see Orion on your cheek.”

Helpfully, that playful observation came from the creator’s cat.

Erin Nations is a very funny guy!

He also has that knack for recalling absurd interactions which can only leave you scratching your head.  Sometimes he’s stopped in the middle of the street by complete randos who appear compelled to draw him into the sort of conversations you never asked for, debates you don’t want, and a barrage of personal questions you most certainly didn’t invite. Against all odds, Erin answers with a degree of bemused courtesy and restraint that they don’t deserve.

“The devil…”
“What?”
“The devil knows where you are going.”
“What are you implying?”
“The devil… he knows… prayer helps…”
“Good to know.”

 

 

Often they’re with customers at the grocery store where he’s worked in for 16 years.

“Can I get 24 balloons?”
“Yeah, what colours would you like?”
“Primary colours. Don’t forget orange and green.”

As Erin slightly more wryly observes, the customer always know best. 16 years of 40-hours-a-week experience does not make you an expert – or even 25+. I remember a media student kindly informing me that Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS wasn’t a comic.

“Umm, it honestly is.”
“No, it’s autobiography.”
“I think you’re confused the medium with the genre.”
“Well, I’m studying it, so I should know.”

 

 

Peppered with fictional, speculative portraits of people posting personal ads, and the equally fictional poor, gay Tobias attempting to strike up conversations with dreamboats (badly – his proposed pick-up methods / messages are hilarious!), these are mostly autobiographical musings with clean, sharp lines, invitingly cool, bright, breezy colours and remarkably square jaws. Some of the memories are about being born a triplet (invited to a birthday party, they’re expected to each give a gift; when inviting a friend themselves, they only receive one present between the three of them), others are daily cycling journeys round Portland or trips further afield.

Mostly, however, they’re about anxieties in general like the crippling paralysis before picking up a phone and social awkwardness in a crowd (so into Page 45’s ever-expanding Mental Health Section this so usefully goes; no one need think they’re alone), and about so many of the all-too-real additional difficulties involved in being trans and the process of transitioning itself.

 

 

As such, it’s an invaluable eye-opener about so much that so many of us take for granted including restrooms, obviously, but far less obviously when the best time is to come out to your colleagues when you’ve worked with the same company for so many years. Before you begin? Before they notice? After they’ve noticed? It’s equally invaluable reference for those who’ve yet to begin this process, for in additional Erin is commendably candid about what to expect physically and mentally during Hormone Replacement Therapy, taking you through the first seven weeks, then later the first seven months. Without removing his clothes (“It’s just not gonna happen”).

“How do you feel?”
“I feel like I’m going through menopause and puberty at the same time.”

Ooooh, you get to do spots twice in your life – lovely! Hey, no pain, no gain, and there is everything to gain here, especially decreasing dysphoria. Responsibly, Erin considers the potential long-term effects testosterone could have on his health, but there are enormous benefits too including an almost immediate energy boost and an increased sex drive as well as a gradual surge in self-confidence. I’ll leave all the details to Erin: he’d probably like you to buy his book.

Some people are going to be dicks about it – haters gonna hate – but there’s a glorious short story called ‘Dive Bar’ in a dinner where an old lady with hunched shoulders, serving Erin and his mate, asks for ID. Erin’s is a driving licence still categorically classifying him “sex: F”.

“You cut your hair,” the old lady observes.
“Yeah.”
“So, what can I get you gentlemen?”

 

 

 

She totally got it, but in other instances, not so much: a woman on a bus is just plain weird and spoiling for a fight, while someone wizened, on a walking stick, begins thus:

“You’re not a guy, are you?”
“Why do you ask?”
“That guy was calling you sir.”
“Yeah.”
“I guess it’s none of my business.”

Hmmm…. Maybe you should have had that last thought first.

Other tales include failing to fit in at a comicbook convention simply because you’ve never having seen Star Wars (a fellow comics creator: “You should leave.” “I made sure to not tell them that I’ve never read Harry Potter, I’m clueless about anime, and I’m not a fan of superhero comics.”), plus childhood recollections about the triplets fighting (I had entirely forgotten about carpet burns!) and a seemingly haunted board game called Mall Madness (you’d be pretty spooked too).

There is, understandably, an awful lot of terrible, pained handwringing about using gender-specific public restrooms and indeed workplace restrooms when you’ve yet to come out, and if you’ve not considered how profoundly that would impact on your life, think about how often you urinate every day! Imagine, then, all the worry you’d experience, daily, in anticipation, during and after.

 

 

I want to emphasise, however, that this is no heavy read full of targeted anger but an honest-to-god entertainment along with astute behavioural observations which are seriously worth contemplating. Plus I adore any work which opens windows onto other people’s lives for the greater empathy through understanding they afford me. Lord knows, we need more of that in this world. But also, I’m instinctively curious which is why conversation is right up there for me with the best things on earth.

I won’t lie to you, though: ‘Breakroom’ hit home. As Erin later notes, “I try to call people out when they treat women (or anyone marginalised) as inferior. It’s not easy because it’s uncomfortable, but being silent is just as bad as being compliant”. No, it’s not always easy, especially when you risk compromising yourself in a battle you’re not yet quite fit to fight, so ‘Breakroom’ – when Erin fails to stand up and be counted after a co-worker proves deeply insensitive, not knowing that Erin’s transitioning – will give you much pause for hopefully compassionate thought.

SLH

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

Snotgirl vol 2: California Screaming (£14-50, Image) by Bryan Lee O’Malley & Leslie Hung.

“They don’t trust me to be on my own.”

If you got a slight shiver there, and a lick of whiplash at the arresting end to book one, this pursues this increasingly dark path further; and if you thought that the manipulative Caroline, above, was the real problem, then I’m no longer so sure.

I believe, in that scene, that she’s been sedated. It’s all in Leslie Hung’s art: in normally effusive Caroline’s more languid body language. Plus those particular pages seem to swim in the sort of colour quality you’d find refracted and reflected throughout an aquarium.

Are you wondering who “they” may be?

What I’m attempting to convey is that this series isn’t necessarily all that it appears on the surface.

 

 

Its surface is shiny enough – let’s call it magazine gloss – and vastly entertaining it is too with its up-to-date take on superficial social trends and ridiculous slang which SECONDS, SCOTT PILGRIM and LOST AT SEA’s Bryan Lee O’Malley delights in contributing to. When introducing the various strands of your extracurricular life to each other, for example, you’re practising “friendtegration”, and this is the sort of set who never phone, only text each other (even from the other side of plate glass windows), and proclaim “We have a mutual” rather than “We have a mutual acquaintance”.

They’ll be going to a self-serving convention called Thankstravaganza soon, built on the same site where a fashion blogger was recently murdered. Well, she’s not going to take that lying down.

 

 

I’ll be back on that track in a second. In the meantime, here’s how I introduced SNOTGIRL VOL 1: GREEN HAIR DON’T CARE

This is the sort of comic in which the line “Ok, back to reality” will have you snorting at its delusion. It’s fresh, full of fun, and has more jokes per page than anything other than a John Allison comic.

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

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

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

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

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

OH NO!

“I have allergies.”

Also: huge hang-ups, such a thick catalogue of insecurities that it would need indexing, and a public veneer to sustain which is very high maintenance during any substantial pollen count.

 

 

 

It was (and continues to be) roaringly good fun, but then Caroline crept spellbindingly into her life and Lottie became fixated. There was an accident – which might have had something to do with Lottie’s trial run of a new anti-allergenic medication – and then there was another – which most certainly didn’t. It wasn’t even an accident. Caroline pushed Lottie’s ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, Charlene, off the top of a roof terrace.

TBH she was being ever so annoying, LOLZ.

But someone else was there too on both occasions.

It’s Caroline’s brother or cousin, depending on whom you believe, and in volume two Virgil is positively ubiquitous.

 

 

 

There’s a very funny recurring joke about Virgil scurrying around on the floor to mop up any spilled coffee as if he’s Caroline’s butler…

“I am not!”

She spills coffee once again; Virgil flashes forward to clean.

Caroline, hand cupped around mouth conspiratorially: “His word against mine”.

… but predominantly Virgil’s ministrations are far more sinister, like dipping into a wallet left in a sports hall’s changing locker to acquire Lottie’s ex-boyfriend’s I.D.

 

 

Lottie’s ex-boyfriend is called Sunny. He’s pretty buff. Lottie’s fashion-friend Meg has a new fiancé called Ashley. He’s pretty brash, boastful, loud and lewd. Fidelity score: 1 of out 10 (if you’re being generous). He’s already brandished his zord in front of Lottie at his and Meg’s engagement party; now he’s quite keen, all sweaty post-squash-match, to show off his zord to Sunny. He snaps a cell-phone photo of the two of them together and posts it so swiftly online that a bewildered Sunny doesn’t even have time to draw breath. He does, however, spot Virgil lurking in the photograph’s background.

Sunny: “Was there a delivery guy in here?”
Ashley: “Why? You expecting a package? …Cuz I got one right here! Haha! It’s huge! C’mon, let’s hit the showers.”

 

 

They get into a rough-and-tumble altercation in the sauna during which both their towels fall off, only interrupted at the last minute by another of Lottie’s obsessive stalkers, a cop.( Let’s not get into any of that, but you could file him under “fashion police”.) Catching his breath, Ashley apologises ever so breezily:

“I’m sorry, dude! No hard feelings, man!”
Hard feelings? What’s up with your zord?!?”

Have you worked out what his zord is yet? It’s standing to attention. I couldn’t possibly publish Ashley’s excuse. Virgil might wish he’d lingered longer, however.

 

 

It’s all so deliciously and comically homoerotic, Leslie Hung proving herself to be a master of both priapic pixilation and but also tight buttocks fully on show. I’d have typed “tight, rosy buttocks” but would have looked far too fixated myself. (I was.)

 

 

The question is this, however: who wants what? Not just in the shower or sauna, but throughout:  who is manipulating whom, why, and to what end? Who is in on it? Who is out of it?

Well, almost all of them if you’re talking about their skulls, drugged up in the desert during the cover’s sapphic photo-shoot.

Again, what I am attempting to convey in this review which only dips its tentative toes into the series’ much more substantial and murky waters is that this is no mere comedy of manners. And hey, I love me a comedy of manners! In such a dexterously performed piece such as this, that would be quite enough to satisfy my soul.

But this is a much more open-air theatre with additional, decidedly closed confines which I suspect will only open up its other stalls when [You’re fired – ed.]

SLH

Buy Snotgirl vol 2: California Screaming and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 6: Yesterday’s Gone (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.

The darkest hours aren’t necessarily at midnight.

GHOST WORLD for goths with pvc, piercings and hair dye – that’s how WET MOON started out: an empathic exploration of the uneasy friendships between a group of hesitant, second-guessing, slightly paranoid girls at college, and a celebration of their far-from-standard body forms with the silkiest, most tender of art. Over five previous volumes those friendships have expanded and blossomed or withered and died. Some have shared secrets, as do more here.

But all along there were intimations of heart-ache and horror lurking beneath the surface, as if something was simmering in the swamp all around them, and then someone they never noticed stewing within. In WET MOON VOL 5 she finally erupted, her seething psychosis taken out on one of those friends in act of extreme violence which made everyone I know truly wince.

This is the emotional fall-out, and it’s handled with all the depth it deserves.

 

 

So many other creators would have cut all too quickly to the chase – the pursuit of the culprit concerned – but that’s not what happens in real life. Instead they are left dazed, bewildered by a butchery they could never see coming and still, throughout, oblivious to its source. All they care about is their friend. She’s the only person who knows who did it, and I’m afraid she’s deep in a coma.

 

 

Six volumes in, I have to be ever so careful what I say, but I hope I’ve intrigued potential new readers. I love this series so much that I’ve reviewed every volume and this isn’t my best shot, I know.

Everyone handles grief differently, unpredictably, depending on where they are right then in their lives. Sophie Campbell has entirely understood that. Her humanity and sympathy leaps from every page. No one is judged, and as they struggle to console each other whilst needing consolation themselves, we wait for our woman to wake up. Will she?

 

 

“I hate this waiting, Mara. Waiting an’ waiting for somethin’ to happen. Takes so much energy.”

Lots of lingering silence and exceptional use of clothing…

 

 

Once again, this is far from predictable. Not everyone wears their true hearts on their sleeves.

SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 6: Yesterday’s Gone (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Nights: Metal h/c (£24-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Greg Capullo, Mikel Janin, Alvaro Martinez…

“Whoa. Big door. Vic, I’m sending you over the image…”
“Got it, Barry. I’ve run it over a thousand times already. But it keeps coming up unknown…”

Said big door being on the entrance to the hidden bunker in the centre of the huge mountain that has just materialised in the middle of Gotham City… destroying most of the city centre, sky scrapers and all…

Long-time DC fans will immediately recognise it as the base of the Challengers Of The Unknown, who these days work for… ah, well that would be telling. I enjoyed how Snyder weaved in all sorts of DC history into this tale right from the off, be it references to individual bat-books such as BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE written by Grant Morrison, or lesser-used third-string characters like the C.O.T.U.

 

 

It is a bit weird having to remember in this current version of the DC Universe that the Justice League has no idea who the Challengers are yet (Batman aside, obviously, being his usual know-it-all self). I think there was also a very odd, brief-lived, New 52 incarnation involving reality TV ‘stars’ as the Challengers if the memory serves.

Anyway, DC never particularly worried about re-writing their history with the various Crises and other events over the years. There are also a couple of much more familiar characters who crop up in this issue too, who will be very well known to even casual DC readers. If not the Justice League, yet…

 

 

So… following on from events in the Dark Days: The Forge and Dark Days: The Casting one-shots, now collected with a host of relevant reprinted New 52 issues in DARK DAYS: THE ROAD TO METAL, something not so fun and cuddy from… elsewhere… is on the way, apparently being drawn to this reality in some strange way by Bruce Wayne, who could actually do with a good cuddle, so that’s a shame.

There’s a nifty and amusing explanation involving a certain poster of the New 52 Multiverse (also thrown in DARK DAYS: THE ROAD TO METAL as back matter) that probably graced more than a few comic shop walls a few years back which sheds an absence of light on the situation, and that’s probably all I should really say by way of plot explanation at the moment.

I was, and still am, perplexed by the prologue battle that will titillate fans of enormous, transforming Japanese robots… I’m still oblivious as to precisely what wider purpose that served. I commented in my review of the first issue that this event had the potential to get completely preposterous, but hopefully Snyder could keep it on track. He did, just about, but only just.

 

 

There are a few conceits in there that test the old suspense of disbelief, it must be said. It’s certainly big, convoluted, bombastic fun, though, and truly an infinite number of times better than the crisis of writing that was CONVERGENCE. I think I can safely rank this up there with CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS and FINAL CRISIS in pure madcap superhero event enjoyment terms.

Capullo, meanwhile, continues to dish out his impressive linework. He and Snyder, the team primarily responsible for the BATMAN DC NEW 52 run, are excellent foils for each other. If as a writer you are going to try and cram in that much action, you do need someone that can deliver clean, precise mayhem.

JR

Buy Dark Nights: Metal h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Cloud Hotel (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Julian Hanshaw

The Adventures Of John Blake: Mystery Of The Ghost Ship s/c (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham

Arthur And The Golden Rope s/c (£7-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd-Stanton

The Heart And The Bottle (£6-99, HarperCollins) by Oliver Jeffers

This Moose Belongs To Me (£6-99, HarperCollins) by Oliver Jeffers

It Will All Hurt (£16-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple

Rumble vol 4: Soul Without Pity s/c (£14-99, Image) by John Arcudi & David Rubin

The Beauty vol 4 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley & Matthew Dow Smith, Thomas Nachlik

Luisa: Now And Then (£22-99, Humanoids) by Carole Maurel, adapated by Mariko Tamaki

Madame Cat (£9-99, Humanoids) by Nancy Pena

Vietnamese Memories Book 1: Leaving Saigon (£14-99, Humanoids) by Clement Baloup

Hellboy: The Complete Short Stories vol 1 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben, Duncan Fegredo, Mick McMahon, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, Dave Stewart, Matt Hollingsworth, James Sinclair, Clem Robins, Pat Brosseau

A Quick & Easy Guide To They / Them Pronouns (£6-99, Limerence Press) by Archie Bongiovanni, Tristan Jimerson

Flash vol 6: Cold Day In Hell s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson, Michael Moreci & Howard Porter, Scott Kolins, Mick Gray, Pop Mahn, Christian Duce, Scott McDaniel

DC / Young Animal: Milk Wars s/c (£16-99, DC / Young Animals) by Steve Orlando, Gerard Way, Jody Houser, Cecil Castellucci, Jon Rivera, Magdalene Visaggio &  Aco, Ty Templeton, Mirka Andolfo, Langdon Foss, Dale Eaglesham, Nick Derigton, Sonny Liew

Defenders vol 2: Kingpins Of New York s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez, Micheal Avon Oeming

Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart vol 2: Choices s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stefano Caselli, various

Dark Souls Covers Collection (£26-99, Titan) by various

The Beautiful Death h/c (£21-99, Titan) by Mathieu Bablet

Voices Of A Distant Star (£10-99, Vertical) by Makoto Shinkai & Mizu Sahara

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2018 week one

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Featuring Ellen Forney, Karl Marx (!), Friedrich Engels (!!), Martin Rowson (!!!), JH Williams III, Gary Spencer Millidge, Julian Voloj, Thomas Campi, Grant Morrison, Darick Robertson, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Jeffrey Alan Love and so very many more in such a good cause!

Where We Live: A Benefit For The Survivors In Las Vegas s/c (£17-99, Image) by various, edited by JH Williams III…

“Guns are bad. The world is madness. Being a victim sucks. Conspiracy is strangling the truth.
“How am I supposed to poetically dramatize that in a couple of f%@*! comicbook pages?
“And to people who already know this.
“Everyone buying this book is doing it because they feel the same silent rage.
“It’s not like I’m going to shock and surprise them with my unique take!
“Vegas happened because we’ve tilted off our axis. And we all know it. We know!”

That’s Brian Michael Bendis, there. Please don’t worry, Brian, we are just so very, very grateful that there are people as eloquent and caring as you and the other 100+ writers and artists that gave their time and energy to espouse not just what we all know, but what we all feel.

 

Art by Gabriel Rodriguez

 

Before we go any further, let me give thanks by listing them in full, not least because to put them at the top where we normally do would break both our initial blog and the product page itself:

Rafael Albuquerque, Laura Allred, Michael Allred, Paul Azaceta, Henry Barajas, Jennifer Battisti, Brian Michael Bendis, Deron Bennett, Aditya Bidikar, W. Haden Blackman, Jeff Boison, Tyler Boss, Simon Bowland, Ivan Brandon, Bernardo Brice, John Broglia, Giulia Brusco, Ryan Burton, Kurt Busiek, Aaron Campbell, Mike Cavallaro, Craig Cermak, Cliff Chiang, Janice Chiang, Amy Chu, Sal Cipriano, Jeromy Cox, Christopher Crank, Rachel Crosby, Dee Cunniffe, Andrew Dalhouse, Nelson Daniel, Geof Darrow, Al Davison, Kelly Sue DeConnick, J. M. DeMatteis, Will Dennis, Michael J. DiMotta, Gustavo Duarte, Aaron Duran, Joshua Dysart, Pierce Elliott, Joshua Ellis, Mark Englert, Taylor Esposito, Triano Farrell, Lucia Fasano, Ray Fawkes, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Marco Finnegan, Tim Fish, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Tess Fowler, Tom Fowler, Rachael Fulton, Neil Gaiman, Monica Gallagher, Eric Gapstur, Michael Gaydos, Kieron Gillen, Isaac Goodhart, Sina Grace, Brandon Graham, Justin Gray, Stefano Gaudiano, Lela Gwenn, Brian Haberlin, Jason Harris, Matt Hawkins, Ray-Anthony Height, Daniel Hernandez, Talia Hershewe, Phil Hester, David Hine, Joe Illidge, Van Jensen, Jocks, Scott David Johnson, Joëlle Jones, Justin Jordan, Liana Kangas, Jarret Keene, Ryan Kelly, Eric Kim, Neil Kleid, Todd Klein, Dean Kotz, Ariel Kristiana, R. Eric Lieb, Jeff Lemire, Matt Lesniewski, Greg Lockard, Lee Loughridge, Marissa Louise, Andrew MacLean, Ollie Masters, Mariah McCourt, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Mignola, Mark Millar, Gary Spencer Millidge, Fábio Moon, B. Clay Moore, Moritat, Joe Mulvey, Patricia Mulvihill, Andrea Mutti, Chris O’Halloran, Michael Avon Oeming, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, Richard Pace, Greg Pak, Alex Paknadel, Chas! Pangburn, Tony Parker, Michael Perlman, Pere Perez, Alex Petretich, Sean Phillips, Curt Pires, Nick Pitarra, Vladimir Popov, Javier Pulido, Cardinal Rae, Christina Rice, Jules Rivera, Darick Robertson, James Robinson, Gabriel Rodriguez, Robert Rose, John Roshell, Chris Ryall, Rafael Scavone, Erica Sthultz, Alex Segura, Kelsey Shannon, Alex Sheikman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Casey Silver, Gail Simone, Damon Smith, Matthew Dow Smith, Taki Soma, Matt Sorvillo, Jason Starr, Cameron Stewart, Dave Stewart, Matt Strackbein, Shaun Steven Struble, Ken Syd, Larime Taylor, Sylv Taylor, Paul Tobin, Noel Tuazon, Bryan Valenza, Geirrod Van Dyke, David Walker, Gabriel Hernández Walta, Malachi Ward, Dustin Weaver, Chris Wildgoose, J. H. Williams III, Kelly Williams, Scott Bryan Wilson, Chris Wisnia, Wendy Wright-Williams, Warren Wucinich

 

Art by Chris Wildgoose

 

In addition, J.H. Williams III (PROMETHEA, SANDMAN OVERTURE), resident of Las Vegas, has acted as the curating editor, which must have been quite the task given that the 75 contributions contained within the covers – the front one featuring a logo which is an inspired reworking of the iconic Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada sign combined with a thought-provoking vista – are an extremely varied mixture of eye-witness accounts brought to harrowing life, plus fictional stories and factual works which hauntingly illustrate this tragic shooting, currently the most deadly in modern US history with 58 fatalities and over 500 injured, and also the wider issues, be that the political football of gun control, comparative global statistics on spree-killers, mental and physical health issues for traumatised survivors, and so much more.

For example, Brian Michael Bendis’s contribution from which the pull quote above is taken (illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming, Taki Soma and lettered by Bernardo Brice), covers his own frustration at wishing he had done more personally to overtly oppose the lack of gun control in the US and his admiration for the teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting who are bravely standing up to be counted, and consequently viciously attacked for it by the right-media media, plus clueless vile trolls both online and in the real world.

 

Art by Phil Hester

 

I note for example that the family home of Parkland survivor, and subsequent vocal activist, David Hogg – who has even been accused of being a paid-for actor not even present at the shooting by conspiracy theorists – was recently ‘swatted’. A troubling and highly dangerous new phenomenon whereby someone falsely (and anonymously) reports a serious crime in progress at a particular address hoping that the householders will be hugely inconvenienced, if not indeed fatally shot (as has happened) by the rapid and heavily armed law enforcement response, typically involving SWAT teams, hence the slang term. Fortunately for David and his family, and perhaps not a little ironically, they were in Washington D.C. where David was receiving the Robert F. Kennedy Humanitarian Award. Only in America…

You can do your bit, though, however small that seems, by buying this work as 100% of the net proceeds for the WHERE WE LIVE anthology will be donated to Route 91 Strong, a non-profit organization set up to help survivors of gun violence.

 

Art by Gary Spencer Millidge

 

It is such a diverse selection that it is tricky to put forward a favourite, if that’s the right word to use concerning such material, but Gary STRANGEHAVEN Spencer Millidge’s ‘The Watershed’, really stuck with me. It features a gun-toting action film hero plucked from the big screen to be educated by the ghost of a young girl about the recent history of mass shootings, both in the US and worldwide, including Dunblaine in Scotland, and the widely varying governmental responses and consequent statistical results.

 

Art by Gary Spencer Millidge

 

It also finishes with a couple of very salient observations concerning the Second Amendment, including that the arms which citizens should have the right to bare were of entirely lesser orders of magnitude in terms of killing power when it was originally written. The readily available precision-made modern assault rifle, replete with targeting scopes and bumpstocks for firing up to 120 rounds per minute, bares absolutely no comparison with a muzzle-loaded single-shot ‘long arm’ rifle. Thus, surely, the Second Amendment should be errr… amended?

One day, maybe…

 

Art by Michael Gaydos

 

Actually, just putting my future hat on again, and stepping into 2000AD-esque territory for a minute, what might hopefully ultimately make lethal weaponry irrelevant – aside from better mental health services, improved background checks on people wanting to buy guns, and if we can get carried away for a moment, the demise of the military-industrial complex – is improved non-lethal weaponry.

If cops could actually take down criminals in any and every given situation without needing to employ lethal force, be that through disorientating sonic weapons, ultra-fast acting sedative darts or indeed instantly hardening riot foam or some other crazy futuristic devices, then there is no  excuse whatsoever for private individuals to legally have lethal weapons. Tasers are a start, clearly, but it seems like police, some poorly trained American ones certainly, just think they are there to be used on unarmed people to execute a quick arrest, rather than actually trying to talk to people and understand what the problem is. So true, effective, 100% safe, non-lethal weaponry, meaning guns can be dispensed with by everyone, including the majority of law enforcement – given a certain other burning issue of the day in the US currently – would be a good and helpful thing.

 

Art by Aaron Campbell

 

As I say, one day maybe… Not so fussed about having Judges passing instant sentences and dispensing <ahem> righteous justice, though. But surely at some point, common sense in the US will begin to prevail amongst the majority of the population, even if it takes another generation or two, and then gun crime statistics and spree killings may finally begin to decrease.

JR

Buy Where We Live: A Benefit For The Survivors In Las Vegas s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Artist Behind Superman – The Joe Schuster Story s/c (£17-99, Super Genius) by Julian Voloj & Thomas Campi…

“You look like you haven’t eaten in days.”
“Ah…”
“No worries. My treat.”
“Maybe some soup?”
“Soup it is. What didya do for a living?”
“I did comics.”
“Oh nice. Anything I would know?”
“Well…”

Our opening prologue commences on a beautiful sunny day in a tree-lined park in Queens, New York, in 1975. An elderly man sleeping rough on a bench is taken by a kindly young cop to have some much needed breakfast, only to find to his surprise that he’s eating with one of the creators of Superman. The cop is obviously puzzled as to how Joe Schuster could have possibly ended up like this and when he asks him the question our story proper begins, narrated in the first person, with a subtle shift to a more period art style, right back to when Joe was a lad.

 

 

 

In fact, this starts slightly beforehand as we get the story of how Joe’s mother moved to North America from Russia with her sister. Along the way in Rotterdam they fell in love with the Russian Jewish owners’ sons of the hotel they were staying in and got married, before all heading off to Toronto together. Eventually, Joe and his mother and father would end up in Cleveland, which is where Joe would meet Jerry Siegel at Alexander Hamilton Junior High School where both were contributors to the school paper, The Federalist.

The two chums hit it off instantly and were soon collaborating on stories for the paper, before beginning to dream of finding a wider syndicated circulation for their creations. After some initial trial and error, both in terms of content and carrier, their fledging Superman character was snapped up by Nicholson Publications for inclusion in their Action Comics publication.

 

 

This was when Joe and Jerry made their fatal mistake by signing a contract which waived all future rights to the Superman character in exchange for a cheque for $130. A cheque which had the ignominy of both their names being spelt incorrectly, ensuring much embarrassment at the bank when they went to cash it. That contract proved to be an extremely costly error which haunted Siegel and Schuster for the rest of their lives.

The subsequent chapters of this fascinating work shows their toiling endeavours to eke out a living in the industry, firstly working on ACTION COMICS and SUPERMAN, all the whilst mentally calculating and crucifying themselves over how much the publishers were creaming in, and their unsuccessful efforts to create another winner. Plus, every time another piece of merchandise appeared, or the 1950s TV adaptation and finally the smash 1978 film starring Christopher Reeves, it was like another hammer blow to their hearts and indeed, mental well being.

 

 

Eventually a compromise deal was reached, which provided them with a very belated stipend and credit for their creation, but it took a lot of pressure from within the industry, led by Neal Adams, to make it happen and even then, it was little more than a token nod from Warner Brothers, nervous that the bad press whipped up might affect box-office takings.

If you’re a true fan of comics and are aware of some of the various injustices perpetuated on creators by publishers over the years (and I note with some interest that the name DC Comics never actually appears anywhere in this work, presumably to avoid any litigious issues), you’ll find this a heartbreaking if informative and entertaining read.

 

 

Art-wise, the watercolour style palette and illustrative style reminded me rather of some Kyle Baker, but generally it provides the perfect historical feel for the work. The lack of pencils neatly and dreamily captures the sense of bygone days and a mythical American golden era. When the art shifts back to the pencilled, slightly more focussed style, in the mid-seventies for the wrap-up pages, it only serves as a further jarring reminder that for Siegel and Schuster, their creation, so universally beloved by the public, had been little more than a waking nightmare for them their entire careers, a ubiquitous omnipresent reminder of their youthful moment of naivety.

JR

Buy The Artist Behind Superman – The Joe Schuster Story s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Communist Manifesto (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels & Martin Rowson…

“In this sense, the theory of the communists may be summed up in the single sentence…

… abolition of private property!”

Thereafter follows an intense Q&A discussion with the crowd at the Boojie Nights Kapitalist Komedy Club Open Mic Nite as Karl Marx performs his routine for the assembled Proletariat and Bourgeoisie. This particular line, as you perhaps might expect, provokes a disgruntled reaction from both sides of the crowd as rich and poor alike attempt to justify the continued existence of private property whilst Karl counters their arguments.

The thorny issue of private property, particularly land or dwellings, is something I have pondered myself before, but whilst envisaging a Star Trek-esque future where humankind has hopefully evolved past money completely. Presumably because automation of work has forced us all onto the dole to start with, but then assuming we manage to achieve some sort of utopia where there is a plentiful surplus supply of food and energy for all (through nuclear fission, I would imagine), hopefully currencies will subsequently experience the ultimate devaluation.

 

 

3D printers (basically replicators!) should mean people can produce pretty much anything they need, or indeed want, on the spot. All that would remain for debate in this new world… is who gets to live where… In this glorious new age of equality, if no one has to work, surely everyone is going to want the best weather and views? Unless the private ownership of all land and dwellings is removed and the right to live somewhere decided entirely at random, and perhaps not in perpetuity, people who owned said land are going to want to live on it. Or indeed charge someone else for the privilege. Hmm…

Of course, where the utopian Star-Trek model I referred to earlier will go totally tits up is when the ultra-rich start to hoard life-extending technology at the expense of everyone else, if they haven’t already… Currently they spend their money on maintaining their outward appearances, but once the process of avoiding errors creeping into RNA replication is cracked, near-immortality beckons, and do you seriously believe that will be shared with everyone? Apologies if you have heard me rant on about this before.

 

 

No, of course not, and the excuse will be that the limited resources of our planet couldn’t possibly sustain everybody suddenly not dying. Which is a fair point actually. So, probably the best for all concerned, which is what they will tell us, is if the great and good, the leaders of men, keep said technology for themselves (see LAZARUS), to help humankind steer the tricky course out to colonising the stars. And presumably exporting rapacious capitalism to the rest of the solar system and beyond…

You can make the case, despite Martin Rowson’s assertions in his foreword that at one point in time since Marx’s death in 1883 nearly “half of humanity would be governed nominally according to the ideas and aspirations originally expounded in The Communist Manifesto…” and that “…in the 21st century over a fifth of us, for good or ill, would be still.” that true Communism, in its purest sense as envisaged in this manifesto, has never been practiced. I would personally concur with that, because to my mind, until we have limitless energy, and by extension, thus an abundance of resources of all kinds, and thus need and want are completely eliminated, we can’t evolve past Capitalism. Of course, we should still try to be kind to everyone and practice compassion in the meanwhile. Which could very easily lead me on to a discussion regarding the Venn diagram of Buddhism and Communism, but that’s for another time…

 

 

Wonder what Karl Marx and Engels would have had to say about all that down the pub…? Which is actually where they spent most of their time fomenting and indeed fermenting this document that upon its completion, sat virtually ignored for thirty years, before being rediscovered and championed as a blueprint for egality.

Also, what would Martin Rowson say? I’d be very interested in hearing that actually. He’s done an excellent job adapting what is, in essence, a very dry polemic, for entertainment as well as our education. Marx is our ever-ebullient narrator figuratively and quite literally walking us through numerous full-page spreads with his exuberant overlaid exhortations, along with a handful of more discursive pages of panelled comics, such as in the Komedy Club, when Marx needs an audience to further his lecture. Overall, partly due to Rowson’s choice of spidery handwritten lettering, seemingly done with a quill, it has the feel of an extended political cartoon. Which isn’t remotely surprising, given he’s an editorial cartoonist by trade.

 

 

I think this is a very worthy adaptation, purely because anything which further disseminates important ideas to a hopefully new, as well as knowing and already appreciative audience, in such a satirically amusing manner, is a good thing. As would be pure Communism, if we ever get there.

JR

Buy The Communist Manifesto and read the Page 45 review here

Rock Steady – Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Ellen Forney…

“How are you?”
“I’m okay.”
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. Things are just… overwhelming.”

Following on from her MARBLES: MANIA, DEPRESSION, MICHAELANGELO & ME in which she talked about her experiences with mental illness with remarkable candour, Ellen Forney returns, this time with the aim of providing fellow suffers with an insight into her own personal blueprint for surviving, indeed thriving, in the face of such adversity.

We still get some revealing personal anecdotes in comics form to help illustrate a pertinent painful point or two, often surprisingly humorous in nature, but the accompanying primary body of material here is squarely aimed at directly helping people through analysing Ellen’s own experiences and what has, and hasn’t, worked for her.

Thus, with chapters on therapy, coping tools and strategies, dealing with insomnia, medication, warning signs, where to engage with like-minded people and book-ending chapters covering the basics and some general encouragement, this is effectively Ellen’s own survival guide to Bipolar Disorder, though as she comments in the first chapter, it is also relevant for any mood disturbance.

The physiological wheres and whyfores surrounding the causes of such issues are dealt with just as clearly here as in Steve Haines’ and Sophie Standing’s excellent ANXIETY IS REALLY STRANGE. But where ROCK STEADY really comes into its own is in the practical, often hard-won, insight and advice Ellen is then able to offer on the various topics mentioned above. It’s extensive in scope, and should provide a useful toolkit for anyone needing to tinker under their own proverbial hoods, either independently or under the guidance of an appropriate medical professional – something which Ellen also touches on.

I would heartily concur that, as the sub-title proclaims, this advice is indeed brilliant.

I think that knowing one isn’t alone is an important part of having the confidence to try and deal with one’s mental suffering. Yes, it can be incredibly difficult to even conceive of trying to open up and look forward, go deeper into one’s problems, instead of turning away and hiding from them, but knowing that other people have been where you have been before, and managed to progress towards a degree of stability, is an immensely important fillip. There is indeed an entire chapter devoted to that subject. The whole book will form another very valuable part of the ever burgeoning canon of comics and graphic novels dedicated to helping educate about and support our mental health.

Into Page 45’s Mental Health Section this, therefore, goes.

JR

Buy Rock Steady – Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life and read the Page 45 review here

Happy s/c (£9-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Darick Robertson.

“AS SEEN ON TV!” as hastily repackaged collections are so quick to squeal.

But hey, the middle-aged bloke who served me at Sainsbury’s had seen the series, taken note that it was based on a comic, and he knew who’d written it. Never read a comic before in his adult life. That’s pretty cool, so however shall I sell it to you…?

Profanity, hot bullets and blue Brony action!

Many sarcastic thanks to whichever of my sympathisers on Twitter explained the term ‘Brony’ to me before the launch of MY LITTLE PONY comics, following a flock of five adult fellows in a single swoop pre-ordering the MY LITTLE PONY #1 COMPLETE BOXED SET at £18-99 each. I cannot unlearn what I now know to be true, so I may never fully recover. What I learned was this:

There has been a surge of what could loosely be called man-love for that saccharine pink pony, and those enjoying such a wayward cultural misalignment are called Bronies. Now, I’m hardly the butchest boy in the box and obviously Page 45 is an all-inclusive, non-judgemental love-in for all manner of diverse penchants and pleasures… but there are fucking limits.

 

 

By which I mean: “That’ll be £18-99, please. Thank you very much! You are so loved!”

And honestly, you are.

I’m just being cheap and I deserve any / all flack that I get.

But how could this possibly be of any relevance to a Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson comic?

 

 

Well, Happy here is a feathered blue pony with big, bulbous, bright shiny eyes, a purple unicorn horn and accentuated, goofy front teeth. Knowing Grant Morrison you may seriously doubt this, but potentially he’s the product of a delirious imagination as ex-Detective Nick Sax is sped across town in an ambulance after receiving several gunshot wounds in part-exchange for having murdered the four Fratelli brothers. They thought they were on a mission to axe our Sax, but it was no-nonsense Nick who hired them in the first place. The police are swift to the scene but that’s good news for no one except the Fratellis’ Uncle Stefano who’s determined to keep it all in the family – “it” being the Fratelli fortune. Unfortunately no one bothered to tell him the password and the only person still alive who knows that now is Nick. 

Corruption is the order of the day on the snowy streets of God Only Knows and torture/interrogation will follow, all kindly overseen and endorsed by New Jersey’s Finest in the form of Maireadh McCarthy who’s firmly in Uncle Stefano’s pockets. Time to send in arch-information extractor Mr. Smoothie:

“I feel like the ghost of a hard-on that will not die.”

 

 

Along the way we meet a drunken paedophile dressed up as Santa (you’ll meet him again – and, after Nick knows where, you’ll know when), while Sax quite casually and coincidentally dispatches a serial murderer in a prawn costume smoking a spliff from a back end of a hammer which was five seconds away from coming down on the head of a prostitute blowing him to blissful oblivion. Did I mention it’s Christmas?

From the writer of WE3, NAMELESS, JOE THE BARBARIAN, THE INVISIBLES and DOOM PATROL etc. comes something akin to THE FILTH only without the giant, flying spermatozoa. Profanity abounds and he’s set out to sully the holiday season whilst lobbing in the incongruity of bright-eyed chirpy-pants Happy The Horse who claims to be Hailey’s imaginary friend sent to Sax to rescue her from the plastered paedo. 

 

 

TRANSMETROPOLITAN’s Darick Robertson is on his best form ever with masterfully slick choreography, the sturdiest of figure work and eye-popping street scenes all beautifully lit and then coloured to perfection by Richard P. Clark.

SLH

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

Fantastic Four: Epic Collection vol 2 – The Master Plan Of Doctor Doom s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Welcome back to sixteen more issues of very weird science!

See the Fantastic Four fly the Fantasti-car without first deciding on a designated driver… straight into a giant milk bottle!

Gasp as Mr. Fantastic stretches high in the sky to pluck a couple of missiles off the bottom of a fighter plane going at, oh I don’t know, a thousand miles an hour!! He doesn’t even have to unlock them!

Laugh as poor Johnny – the Human Torch whose flame can melt through rock and metal – is put out by a single vase of water!

“Put out of action by a plant pot!” he gasps.

It’s a vase, you dimwit.

“I’ll never live it down!” he wails. And he won’t.

 

It really *is* a vase.

 

It’s key material, with all the regulars from The Mole Man, Doctor Doom and Diablo to Namor the Submariner making another of his oh so many seductive moves on Susan Storm. You may want to read about his first foray in FANTASTIC FOUR EPIC COLLECTION VOL 1 during which I had a field day because, honestly, distil their origin:

Saying “No, sir!” to NASA, four thieves steal a space rocket, and strangely we applaud.

 

And I really *wasn’t* making that up.

 

The X-Men guest-star as does Dr. Strange, and even Nick Fury in what might be his first appearance as Colonel as opposed to Sergeant. He’s working for the C.I.A. rather than S.H.I.E.L.D. which hadn’t yet formed, and is mightily concerned about America’s investment in San Gusto, a “showplace of democracy” surrounded by commies into which the US has sunk billions. Apparently the citizens are revolting, so Fury enlists the Fantastic Four’s aid to interfere with yet another nation’s affairs because, as he so righteously pronounces, “We couldn’t interfere in another nation’s affairs!”

Not until the C.I.A. or George Bush Jr. told him to, anyway.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that this is all the result of the Hate Monger who has set up shop in San Gusto before travelling to New York to spread his racial hatred in mass rallies that incite the crowd to violence. This was Stan Lee’s first full issue tackling that most “un-American” of American sentiments upon which the country was virtually founded and which it has systematically practised or endorsed ever since (in an overt nod to the KKK, the Hate Monger is wearing a purple version of their cowardly cowl).

 

 

[Oh dear god, I wrote all of the above, verbatim, over a decade ago, and now we have Donald Trump as American President, praising white supremacists as “fine people”, while Nazi swastikas were ignited, just the other night, in Georgia without any arrests that I’m aware of.]

Lee is, of course, to be unequivocally commended for this first and his future attempts to liberate his readers from the predominant social attitudes around them by having his heroes vocally reject racism for the poison that it is, as he went on to do in AVENGERS EPIC VOL 2. It’s just a shame that it had to involve a fictional hypnotic Hate Ray, for the human race is perfectly capable of being swept away by the likes of Moseley, Trump and Hitler, the BNP, UKIP and the British Tory Party as it stands, without anything more conducive to racism than its own ignorance, ill-founded fear and desperate desire for conformity.

Where Stan Lee hasn’t yet seen the light, however, is with Women’s Lib. For although for the first time here Sue Storm begins to discover and experiment with turning objects other than herself invisible and utilising an extended invisible force field, she is overwhelmingly still in thrall to wigs and dresses and, well…

“You know, Reed, this measuring device to test my invisibility would make the kookiest hat!”
“Just as I thought! You have greater powers of vapidity than you suspect, Sue!”

Sorry, what he actually says is “invisibility” not “vapidity”, although you can see what he’s thinking. In fact you can read what he’s thinking half a dozen pages later when he snaps at his go-to girlfriend:

“Just like a woman!! Everything I do is for your own good, but you’re too scatterbrained to realise it!”

 

Hmmm…

But wait, perhaps Stan is having a go at the dismissive male by condemning him, Jane Austen-stylee, through words from his own mouth?! Ummm… no.

“That man!!” she seethes. “I know he’s right… and that’s why I’m angry!”

The undoubted highlight, however, is when the Hulk hits New York in a rage of rejected jealousy when he discovers a newspaper clipping Dr. Bob Banner has left crumpled in his giant purple pants: news that The Avengers have replaced him with Captain America for whom he’s been forsaken by BFF Rick Jones. If memory serves, the Hulk had actually told The Avengers to fuck off in no uncertain terms, but that Rick thing’s sure gotta sting.

Unfortunately The Avengers are hunting the Hulk down in New Mexico, and as the Hulk hits town (and the town’s subway system, its subway trains, its skyscrapers, its news vendors, water hydrants and anything else that gets in his way) Reed Richards succumbs to a bout of man-flu. Neither the Human Torch nor the Invisible Girl survive long under the viridian vandal’s relentless assault, so the way is paved for the biggest one-on-one slug-athon so far to determine the answer to that immortalised question:

“Who is stronger, the Thing or The Hulk?”

 

 

 

 

And it is truly epic. There’s a speedboat chase, a battle on top of the Washington Bridge, plus buses, buildings and electric cables all play their part as improvised hand-weapons while Ben Grimm (The Thing) valiantly soldiers on well into the second issue without a hope in hell of winning. It is, however, when The Avengers finally show up… that they get in each others’ way. Of course they do!

Except Captain America who’s smart on tactics, quick on his wits and, unlike the pill-popping Ant-Man / Giant Man / Amazing Identity Crisis Man, totally drug-free. Here’s the Hulk:

“Try to lecture me will ya?? I’ll — Hey!! How can you move so fast??”
“Clean livin’ does it, Sonny!”

Yes, the Captain is Straight Edge!

I was so impressed with that pronouncement aged 6 that I used it everywhere: in the playground, right round The Rough with my mates… even when my Mum wondered how I could possibly eat so much ice-cream: “Clean livin’ does it, Sonny!”

 

 

Better still is the cover to that second issue (#26) set high on a nascent skyscraper’s skeletal girders, the Hulk at its apex and Rick holding on precariously to a corner, while all nine of our colourful combatants fly or climb towards them both. Structurally, it is magnificent, Giant Man no more than twice the size of the others for fear of tipping the balance of the composition too far in his favour and destroying the framing rhomboid which moves your eye around the piece in exactly the same way as the most famous of Caravaggio’s three ‘David With The Head Of Goliath’ paintings.

I’m not making this shit up.

Nor for once am I making this up when the raging hormone that is Johnny Storm, zapped by the Hate Ray mentioned earlier, gets his emotions confused after his sister Sue Storm douses his flame:

“Try that again, and I’ll forget you’re my sister — which would be a pleasure!

Johnny!

Bonus Jack Kirby cover / Caravaggio comparison point:

 

 

Follow the Torch’s fiery trail from left to right, then right to left as he turns towards the Hulk; your eye then moves a little further along the girder the Hulk’s holding up before dropping down towards Rick Jones then further left along the girder falling diagonally towards the street; finally Thor completes the loop as your eye moves back towards the Torch’s trail and the artfully placed yellow-on-green caption at the bottom. Repeat: you won’t be able to help yourself.

With Caravaggio, it’s not quite a rhombus but certainly a right-angled quadrilateral similarly pitched. Follow the slant of the left-hand side of David’s head down to his shoulder and thence through the shadow to the shine of the sword at its hilt; then down the length of the sword, tellingly, to the crotch; up and to the right is the object of his victory and desire, Goliath’s head, then the shape is completed back up to the head via the length of the boy’s visible, outstretched arm.

 

Yes, it’s that old chestnut.

 

You’re welcome.

Contains FANTASTIC FOUR #19-32 and Annual 1-2

SLH

Buy Fantastic Four: Epic Collection vol 2 – The Master Plan Of Doctor Doom s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Norse Myths – Tales Of Odin, Thor And Loki h/c (£18-99, Walker Studio) by Kevin Crossley-Holland & Jeffrey Alan Love.

“Kevin Crossley-Holland is the master.”

 – Neil Gaiman

I don’t have any evaluation for you here, so sorry, because it’s illustrated prose, and I’m currently addicted to Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Homo Deus’, his sequel to ‘Sapiens’ which was so stunning that I read it twice, back-to-back in order to assimilate its revelations. Eloquent and entertaining, the books thoroughly and thoughtfully contextualise the history (then potential trajectory) of human life over the last 70,000 years ever since our Cognitive Revolution. Expect to be mind-blown every other page.

We can order prose in for you too, if you like. It’s as easy as pie, and all available within the week as one-off requests or to pop in your Page 45 Standing Orders.

Anyway, every spread here is strikingly illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love and if today’s Young Adults are anything like me, they’ll still be lapping up epic mythologies. The photos I have for you are Love’s own from home, taken from Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

While reminding you of what Neil ‘Norse Mythology’ Himself wrote, above, here’s the publisher instead:

“An extraordinary and enthralling illustrated anthology of Norse Myths from a Carnegie-Medal winning author. The gods of the Vikings come to life as never before in this extraordinary illustrated anthology by Carnegie Medal-winning author Kevin Crossley-Holland and artist Jeffrey Alan Love. These dramatic, enthralling and atmospheric tales are based on the Scandinavian myth cycle – one of the greatest and most culturally significant stories in the world – and tell of Odin with his one eye, Thor with his mighty hammer and Loki, the red-haired, shape-shifting trickster.

“In this stunning collection of myths, the strange world of ancient magic, giants, dwarfs and monsters is unforgettably imagined.”

SLH

Buy Norse Myths – Tales Of Odin, Thor And Loki h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

About Betty’s Boob h/c (£26-99, Archaia) by Vero Cazot & Julie Rocheleau

The City On The Other Side (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Mairghread Scott & Robin Robinson

The Day The Crayons Quit s/c (£7-99, Harper Collins) by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers

The Day The Crayons Came Home s/c (£7-99, Harper Collins) by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers

Gumballs s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Erin Nations

Hellboy And The BPRD – 1955 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Shawn Martinbrough, Brian Churilla, Paolo Rivera

John Carpenter’s Tales Of Science Fiction – Vault (£8-99, Storm King Productions) by James Ninness & Andres Esparza

Tomorrow (£7-99, BHP Comics) by Jack Lothian & Garry Mac

Wet Moon vol 6: Yesterday’s Gone (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell

Dark Nights: Metal h/c (£24-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Greg Capullo, Mikel Janin, Alvaro Martinez

Hal Jordan And The Green Lantern Corps vol 5: Twilight Of The Guardians s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Patrick Zircher, various

Tales Of Suspense: Hawkeye And The Winter Soldier s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & Travel Foreman

Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152 h/c (US Edition) (£18-99, Archaia) by David Petersen

Battle Angel Alita – Mars Chronicle vol 3 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week five

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

Featuring Hartley Lin, Chris Reynolds, Sara Varon, Matt Fitch, Chris Baker, Mike Collins, Zach Worton, Daniel Lieske, Tom Sniegoski, Jeff Smith, Alan Moore and many more.

Young Frances – A Pope Hats Collection h/c (£17-99, AdHouse Books) by Hartley Lin.

“It all feels unreal. I feel like I’m an imposter.”

Strangely, that’s diligent Frances whose burdens are all too real, rather than her flighty friend Vickie who suddenly finds herself acting the lead character in a silly smash TV series in LA. Or is that really so strange? Career success has struck Frances too, far earlier than tends to happen in her lowly position, and it’s threatening to prove unmanageable. Not only that, but the lawyers whom she works for are not without their bizarre and quite extreme quirks.

The signs were there early on, before Vickie moved out.

“When did you get home? What’s all this?”
“Work. I’m finishing a memo for a shipping magnate that could mark the end of my career.”

The end of her career, before it’s even begun: I see what Frances means by “unreal”. Vickie is dazed, having slept through the day.

“I say. I have one fantastic hangover!”
“Gee. No kidding. Mr Kowalksi stopped me on my way in. You threw a bunch of crap into his yard last night?”
“God, so that did happen.”

 

 

 

Funny, bright yet deeply thoughtful, this eminently quotable and exceptionally authoritative fiction about friendship and those dauntingly big choices that determine your future also doubles as a satire about excessive workloads, executive stress and ultra-competitive back-biting office politics; specifically those in a big-time company of corporate lawyers.

It’s softer and more whimsical than Adrian Tomine (though his readers will sure love this too), its content and cartooning a wonderful fusion of Nabiel Kanan, Kevin Huizenga and adult-orientated Andi Watson, right down to the trees.

 

 

Vickie and Frances live together in rented accommodation. Frances is so buried at work she has to take a tonne of it home. Vickie is an up-and-coming actress who gets drunk, loses her keys then climbs through Frances’s bedroom window to get in. Oh, and she’s seeing Peter whom Frances has a more than a passing crush on. Here’s more of that conversation.

“Are you angry at me?”
“We can’t afford to get evicted.”
“You don’t even like this apartment.”
“I wish you weren’t so cavalier about everything.”

Or is it that Frances wishes that she could be more cavalier herself?

 

 

There’s no room for this in Frances’s life as a Law Clerk at Shultz and Homberg LLP. She’s proven herself popular but even that comes with a price, especially now that her protestant work ethic and reliability has caught the attention of Marcel Castonguay, Head of Bankruptcies. This means even more tasks: almost impossibly last-minute and complex instructions which will make all the difference in winning or losing the most massive multi-million-dollar court cases. Castonguay conducts himself unworriedly with an almost surreal detachment and self-assurance. Others aren’t as lucky as Frances. At lunch:

“Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. You’re Sonja, right?”
“You don’t need to know me.”
“Um… What do you do in Bankruptcies?”
“It’s my last day. You’re replacing me.”
“Oh.”

 

 

Her seniors fare no better. Chris is constantly frazzled on way too much caffeine, sweating away in his suit, shirt and tie, and swearing by a book called ‘Zen Workspace’.

“It really works…”

Quite evidently, it doesn’t. Nina meanwhile feels constantly threatened by attempts to sabotage her career’s trajectory by a right manipulative bastard called Brian. After returning from running a personal errand for Castonguay late at night (bringing the ingredients for a fruit salad to his hotel suite – yes, he permanently resides in a hotel suite) Frances returns to the office to find Nina stretched out on its desk.

“God. This ceiling is unbelievable.”
“Nina? What are you doing here?”
“Trying to suppress a panic attack. I normally do the floor but I don’t trust the new cleaning crew.”

Frances is reasonably sure that she went to university with one of them, and she knows she went to high school with the lad who sold her the bananas. Isn’t it funny how our job prospects pan out! And you know what I said about this rat race being competitive? Here’s Nina again, still staring upwards.

“Did you know my office only has 28 ceiling tiles?”
“You counted your ceiling tiles?”

“All the Associate Partners do. That ass Brian has 32 tiles. And it’s not because he’s more competent – Castonguay just likes him better. 32 tiles means more window. It signals you’re progressing toward Partnership and profit-sharing. If you’re not displaying your hunger, you’re dead in the water.”

 

 

Nina has an air of knowing what she’s doing, but she’s constantly found stress-puking into baskets. The upshot of all this is that you’re never sure whether Frances will survive, either; and, if she doesn’t, whether she will jump or be pushed. The pressures are relentless and she can no longer sleep at night. She scours a shop’s shelves for audio sleeping aids with Vickie. Tropical rainforest and cascading waterfalls sounds good on the surface, but they’ll only make you want to get up and pee. What else is on offer?

“Vermont bonfire… airport waiting area. Country highway with midnight cattle…”
“Gentle psychiatrist,,, crazy lagoon.”

Have you ever considered your relationship with work? It constantly crops up here. Castonguay’s take is typically pompous.

Tempus fugit, mors venit.
“It is a powerful transformation when one realises “work / life balance” is fiction. Our work is our very essence. At least that is what my new life coach asserts.”

 

 

Certainly there seems to be no balance at all for young Frances. Peter and Vickie find time to party so early on she asks Peter…

“Do you like what you do?”
“It’s alright… I don’t analyze any of it too deeply. I mean… I spend all day building other people’s dream homes. It’s just a job. It’s not who I am.”

Everyone seems to have a solid take both on life and work, and they find plenty to say on the subject, but Frances feels she has no such claim or clarity. It’s all too fast for any thoughts of her own, and her self-esteem suffers under the shadow of Vickie’s extrovert socialising and career success, however ludicrous the role she’s landed as a fantastical version of Frances’ more serious endeavours. ‘Bad Prosecutor’ is the most massive hit, becoming the legal firm’s water-cooler conversation point – which must be a bit weird when you’re privately best friends with the actor involved. This before Vickie began filming:

“Vickie, this character… she’s a vigilante District Attorney. Does that even make sense?”
“Sure, why not?”
“It really took five people to write this? “When the scales of justice have no teeth…””
“It’s TV, not Hemingway.”
“Here… she basically has sex with the criminal she’s prosecuting… in the courtroom!”
“You need a lot of hooks in a pilot…”

Frances asks if she’s nervous.

“Nah. It’s all a game anyway.”

 

 

Is Vickie as equanimous to it all as she seems? Will Peter (whom Vickie’s split from) finally notice Frances instead? More saliently, will repressed and self-doubting Frances finally notice that Peter took note of her yonks ago and actually accept his overtures rather than turn them all down because of the demands of her work? You can only invite someone to share things with you so many times and be rebuffed before it looks like you’re pestering, or begging.

“How many things will Peter invite me to before he realises I’m not worth the effort?”

The book is beautifully balanced between gentle, lilting, playful comedy, outright farce, profound matters of kindness, conscience and soul; solitary paths trodden alone even when cramped in a crowd, and that most difficult thing to avoid – comparing your own life to others’:

“I’ll never measure up to you.”

 

 

My last of many scrawled note reads, “The importance of friendship, listening – actually hearing – reciprocation, then finally talking things through”.

It’s possible that you may relate.

SLH

Buy Young Frances – A Pope Hats Collection h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The New World – Comics From Mauretania h/c (£24-99, New York Review Comics) by Chris Reynolds…

“I really liked the comics of Chris Reynolds back then and I am happy to report that I still do.”

  • Seth

Classic understated compliment from the most dapper man in comics there! He is actually a huge fan of Chris Reynolds, our Seth. So much so, that he agreed to curate Chris’s material for this collection and design the book, which is a sideline of his. I frequently spot Seth illustrated covers on prose books in Waterstones and then promptly feel cheated that it isn’t also his comics within…

The front and rear covers here are a masterpiece of design, with a subdued mauve background paired with highly reflective cyan and coral shading and lettering, the front cover featuring the head of the helmeted character Monitor – one of the nominal stars of many of the short stories that form this chunky collection of over 250 pages set in the fictional Mauretania – outlined in Reynolds’ trademark thick black line.

 

 

I’ll leave you to read Seth’s designer afterword for yourselves, but it very neatly summed up my own thoughts and feelings regarding this material, which I will have to feely confess, I was previously utterly unaware of. I must give therefore also give plaudits to New York Comics Review in that respect, whose mission statement…  “In the tradition of NYRB Classics, NYR Comics presents new editions of out-of-print masterpieces and new translations of books that have never been published in English—from intimate memoirs to absurdist gags, graphic novels to dizzying experiments.” … has seen them publish the likes of Mark Beyer’s AGONY, PEPLUM by Blutch, SOFT CITY by Hariton Pushwagner, PRETENDING IS LYING by Dominique Goblet and YELLOW NEGROES AND OTHER IMAGINARY CREATURES by Yvan Alagbé, which have all graced the Page 45 shelves.

My experience of this work, like Seth, was one of mystery, first and foremost, flavoured with desolation, isolation and ratiocination. That particular train of thought is never quite going to arrive at the station, but I’m entirely sure that is Reynolds’ intent. It is the journey, most definitely not getting there, perhaps not ever actually arriving, which is what this material is about. There are pieces which can be put together across the stories, clues dropped quite deliberately too I suspect, but you’re not going to be able to assemble a whole jigsaw of the obtuse workings of Mauretania and its equally peculiar inhabitants, and so you will be left pondering…

 

 

Which is not to say it is downbeat, not at all, though it did also remind me of Jeff Nicholson’s THROUGH THE HABITRAILS in its seemingly, at times, abstract tone. It certainly has a dreamlike quality, some of the most subtly surreal material I have ever read, I think. I can certainly see why it would appeal to Seth, whose IT’S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON’T WEAKEN and pretty much all of his early life autobiographical material published over the years in PALOOKAVILLE has a similar graceful, almost delicate and meandering feel to it.

 

 

The quiet, rural landscapes and partially deserted cities of the never actually named country of Mauretania feel and look much like Britain. Perhaps not surprising given Chris Reynolds hails from Wales. The characters are a bemusingly polar bunch, I must say. In addition to various utterly banal workers and families, we have the behelmeted recurring Monitor (who is the closest we get to a lead character), a hardboiled police inspector named Rockwell, alien overlords who seem to have peacefully conquered the Earth through some strange, mystical hypnotic process called the Dial, plus several other one-off oddballs like the random bearded chap with more than a passing resemblance to Peter Suitcliffe. Thus the ostensibly sparse population of Mauretania manages to feel as collectively incongruous and mildly mysterious as the plots of the stories themselves.

 

 

The art contributes greatly in that respect. With its substantial, bold black linework it very strongly reminded me of a Jesse Reklaw work, THE NIGHT OF YOUR LIFE, which was a collection of peoples’ dream stories synchronously enough. There is also a dash of Eric COMPULSIVE COMICS Haven, Charles LAST LOOK Burns, Joe HIGHBONE THEATER Daly, Tim ABANDONED CARS Lane in there too. I can see some people initially finding the inking a bit heavy for their tastes but soon you’ll be drawn into the strange goings-on and left suitably perplexed.

JR

Buy The New World – Comics From Mauretania h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Curse Of Charley Butters s/c (£17-99, Conundrum Press) by Zach Worton…

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

This work which collects the entirety of the Charley Butters trilogy really ought to have been at least sub-titled “How Travis Just Keeps Making The Same Mistakes Again And Again And Again…”

Yes, ‘sensitive soul’ Travis, a self-confessed slacker who works in a record shop and has somehow found himself singing in a death metal band with his friends, despite actually liking ‘60s music, garage rock and girl bands is not in a good place and it is only going to get worse. Much worse. The sad thing is… he will only have himself to blame. Though he’ll try and blame Charley Butters, which seems a bit harsh, since Charley Butters was a little-known painter who mysteriously vanished from public sight in the 1950s before making any significant impact on the radar of public consciousness.

 

 

Whilst out in the middle of the woods filming a video for their band, the boys and their reluctant director Stuart stumble across an old cabin filled with journals and hundreds of versions of the same painting. They quickly learn it was the hideout of one Charley Butters, and putting the pieces together, they discover that he simply decided to disappear into the woods leaving his old life behind. His reasons for doing so aren’t entirely clear, certainly not to Butters’ then wife, who Travis and Stuart interview for a documentary film about the reclusive artist they decide to make after becoming hooked on his intriguing story through avidly reading his diaries.

So far, so good. Travis even finds the willpower to break up the band much to his friend Mike’s – who really is death metal for life if you’ll pardon the oxymoron – chagrin and finally gets the courage to ask out the girl of his dreams. He even manages to fit in a much overdue haircut! Yes, it starting to seem like Travis has it all. Unfortunately, he also has a burgeoning drink problem. Which he is rapidly beginning to lose control of…

 

 

As his addiction continues to spiral out of control, it’s not long before his professional and personal lives are disintegrating faster than a shredded beer mat at the hands of a plastered pint-sinker. Soon it seems to Travis… through the always truthful lens of the bottom of a glass… that his only sensible option is to follow the route of Charley Butters, quite literally, heading to Charley’s cabin to seek solace in solitude. And thus, perhaps, in also trying to track down the absent artist, somehow begin to find himself and thus get his life back in order. Which, on the face of it, if executed properly, with the appropriate degree of restraint on the consumption of alcohol, sounds like a pretty good plan. Unfortunately, self-control is not one of Travis’s strong points…

I won’t regale you with any further plot points, for Travis’s own journey, how it does and also does not mirror that of Charley Butters, is the true story here. Yes, I can promise you will learn the whereabouts of the titular artist, but by that point you’ll be too busy shaking your head at Travis’s continuing further descent into the ethanol-fuelled rabbit hole of his own making…

 

 

Strong, clean art black and white art from Zach Worton, like a finer-lined version of Dylan HICKSVILLE Horrocks, with his round faces and pinhole eyes, and also Michel THE SONG OF ROLAND Michel Rabagliati with his pointed noses. If you like a graphic novel that takes its protagonist for a walk on the wild side, then leaves them slumped in a sorry heap, this could be for you!

JR

Buy The Curse Of Charley Butters s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Apollo h/c (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Matt Fitch, Chris Baker & Mike Collins…

“Dick? Shall I put the TV on? See what’s happening?”
“Nixon knows everything worth knowing.”
“Brooding won’t the time pass any quicker, Dick. Can’t you enjoy this with everyone else?
“This war, dead kid on the news. They blame Nixon for all those things, Pat. All of it. Nixon won’t be remembered for the moon.”

Nor even indeed going to China… But how remarkably prescient of old Tricky Dicky! Surely even on the scale of dodgy politicians (i.e. 99% of them), one that constantly referred to himself in the third person ought to have been suspect right from the off?!

Anyway, I’m sure most of you know the story of Apollo 11, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin boldly stepping where no one had stepped before and Mike Collins getting the consolation prize of a trip to the dark side. The story of the moon landing has been covered many times, in many formats, so Matt Fitch and Chris Baker wisely take a different trajectory, focusing on not just our three astronauts and their mission, but also heavily on their families, loved ones and various other characters of the age like Nixon. Even the Spirit of America makes an appearance.

Set against the grounding backdrop of Nixon’s Presidency and the Vietnam War, we thus  gain a little more insight into precisely what Buzz Aldrin’s ultra-overbearing aviator father, who was a friend of Howard Hughes, might have contributed to his personality, how the tragic, untimely death of Neil Armstrong’s infant daughter from a malignant tumour in the base of her brain stem perhaps induced him to focus even more ferociously on his NASA career and err… how Mike Collins apparently had a spacey one hallucinating that the man-in-the-moon was talking to him and also chatting with the denim-wearing, bandana-clad, shade-toting Spirit Of America about how great America could be. I think that Mike’s experiences might well be an example of artistic licence, but I rather liked what they brought to the party!

I also very much enjoyed the dream sequence of a spacesuited Armstrong striding through a sun-kissed field of wheat. The deliberately choppy plotting as we switch back and forth from the mission itself, to various earth-based scenes, both set in the past and the then present, and these surreal vignettes all add to the impression of a time of rapid progress, of huge human potential, but also great global instability. Nothing ever really changes, then, including dodgy politicians. But as the opening quote from no less a luminary than Carl Sagan states, “Once upon a time, we soared into the solar system. For a few years. Then we hurried back. Why? What happened? What was Apollo really all about?”

Well, the short answer is that there was a space race, one that America was desperate to win after the shock to the system that was Sputnik I and then Sputnik II and LAIKA. I do find it sad though, that once the race was won, that the end of serious exploration of the solar system was consequently curtailed for several generations. If there is one thing I’d like to see occur in my lifetime, and hopefully it seems possible, it would be humans landing on Mars. Actually I’d probably prefer us to find evidence of microbial extra-terrestrial life somewhere in our solar system as well, be that Mars or one of Saturn’s moons, but it’s just good to see the pushing of the boundaries of human endeavour with humankind truly looking towards the stars once again.

Art-wise, British comics artist, Mike Collins (no relation to astronaut, I think) breaks out the Letratone effect, which seems to be all the rage recently, to help create a period feel. He really captures an excellent likeness of all the various public figures and his style neatly complements the at times serious, at times utterly whimsical approach of the writers. Unusually for a SelfMadeHero release, this work is presented in hardback format with a very striking dust jacketed cover of a falling astronaut against a Stars and Stripes composed of what seems to be coloured stars in jet-black night sky.

JR

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

Wormworld Saga vol 1: The Journey Begins (£8-99, Cubhouse) by Daniel Lieske.

Full-colour pre-teen fantasy in which a young boy called Jonas, staying at his beloved Grandma’s during the long summer holidays, finds that his father isn’t going to allow him the freedom to roam the idyllic countryside all day long, without some serious commitment to home work. Fortunately an older friend has leant him his old maths notes under the impression they’ll be used for “revision”. They won’t. Instead, Jonas presents them to his dad as maths questions answered each afternoon and, to begin with, this hoodwink pays off.

“Well, I can’t find any mistakes. Very good!”
“Our Jonas is a bright little boy!”

Jonas is pretty pleased with himself. “Man, did I feel smart!”

So it is that the lad enjoys each thrilling morning racing round the ancient woodland with grandma’s dog, Lotti, protected by his trusty wooden sword and enchanted, chain-mail armoured vest (it’s a red woollen pullover knitted by his gran) and imagining the most extreme adventures, as you do!

“Flying monkeys! Quick, we must hide!”

 

 

You can see Lotti, excited by Jonas’s infectious energy, thinking, “What?! Where?! Whatever, this is fun!” while of course crossing a brook by footbridge is the most dangerous task imaginable. “Careful! Don’t fall into the abyss!”

 

 

If you don’t recognise this as your own imaginative child’s play, I feel awful for you. But if you think that the glorious countryside colours so far are spectacular, with bright summer light streaming through the canopies up above, then, boy, are you in for an eye-popping upgrade!

So what’s Jonas up to in the afternoons instead of all that homework in preparation for whatever new school his dad has arranged for him?

 

 

Why, he’s playing more made-up games with his toys or concentrating on drawing the blue butterflies he’s encountered or creatures he conjures up in his head. Not only that, but he’s doing it in his own secret den, a fully furnished room even his grandma’s unaware of, accessed through a hidden panel in his bedroom wall. He’s known about this for years, he’s just never figured out – or even thought to figure out – why it’s there, who built it or what it’s really for. But when one of his insect crayon creations bursts unexpectedly into neon-pink life and buzzes through further passageways entirely new to Jonas, he’s shocked to discover –

 

 

His father calls him down to dinner. His dad’s coming up the stairs.

Racing back as fast as he can lest his bolthole be discovered, and grabbing a few sheaths of maths notes from his satchel in a hurry, Jonas fails to notice that these have already been marked by his friend’s teacher, and the poor lad’s holiday is about to come crashing down around him.

The confrontation is brutal. From the start you can tell that Jonas’s dad, with his stuffy moustache, doesn’t really get him and that they’re not close, which is why those annual holidays at his grandma’s are so cherished. But whoa, wait for this!

“I’m very disappointed in you, Jonas.” No, wait. “And your mother would have been too!”

Now, this hyper-real, computer-generated art isn’t my personal thing, but younger readers will adore it, there is no question of the exceptionally communicative craft, and even I found myself so empathising with young Jonas here, as he looks straight at the reader, that I choked at his tears. (And no, this isn’t Jonathan, for once; this is Stephen!) There is little more cruelly hurtful that you can say to someone than “The person you loved most in the world who is now dead would be disappointed in you”.

 

 

Oh, and there’s another bombshell detonated alongside: his father’s booked him in to boarding school. Please pass your own moral judgements at that one.

Grounded to his room for the rest of the holidays, and doomed to far worse in the Fall, once Jonas recovers his composure he realises that he still has an escape route, for through the secret passageway then further up ladders he found hours earlier lies that beacon of light which so startled him: a painting. It’s a painting that leads to another world entirely and, as I implied earlier, if you think the colours so far have been radiant, are you in for an eye-dazzling treat!

 

 

I wouldn’t normally take you half this far (see PERSEPHONE) but I’m pretty sure that it won’t be pre-teens who’ll be reading this, but those looking to buy for them instead.

Beyond the veil lie landscapes of fluorescent flora, twisted, mossy tree trunks, purple, puffy canopies you can fall through, giant, carnivorous insects… and someone who’s been waiting for Jonas for quite some time. Make that two people, one of whom has been dispatched to find the boy, then keep him safe.

Oh wait – make that three, I’m afraid.

Did I mention that the door shut behind him? Oh dear.

 

 

Please note: the interior art I have for you here was screen-grabbed from the original online series. It was a great deal easier than scavenging what little I found of the published graphic novel online, and allowed me to illustrate more precisely what I had written. The lettering has since been changed to lower case, and captions slightly rearranged on the page, but I could discern no discrepancies in the actual script. I’ve done my best to preserve the pages’ actual content, although in one instance, with Jonah in tears, that proved impossible.

 

 

There’s certainly nothing here which you won’t find within. It’s all a bit beautiful, isn’t it?

SLH

Buy Wormwood Saga vol 1: The Journey Begins and read the Page 45 review here

New Shoes h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Sara Varon.

“Good afternoon, Brother Donkey. I’m here to place an order for my friend, Miss Manatee.”

What?! Miss Manatee, Queen of Calypso…? Brother Donkey’s all-time favourite recording artist…?

“She will be performing in the city and will need shoes for her trip onto land.”

Why, of course she will need shoes! Wait—what?!

“Here are her measurements. Let me know when her shoes are ready.”

Hmmm…. How long do you imagine it will take Brother Donkey, highly respected cobbler, to realise that there’s something slightly impractical about a manatee – that huge, beautiful seacow, so gloriously graceful in the water – clomping about in shoes on dry land? Oooh, I wouldn’t expect that light to start flashing for a full 170 of these 200 pages!

 

 

You see, Francis has never travelled outside his village before, so although he may croon enthusiastically alongside her albums, he’s not really sure what a manatee is or does.

He’s going to have to go on a right old expedition now, however, because although his very best shoes are made from wild tiger grass, purchased each week from a squirrel monkey called Nigel who forages it from deep in the jungle, Francis has just run out of grass and his neighbour Nigel’s gone missing! Worst timing ever!

 

 

He’s ever so trepidatious about venturing into the South American jungle all alone, but he must somehow locate Nigel’s source of tiger grass and hopefully find Nigel into the bargain. Fortunately Rhoda the macaw offers to escort Nigel – in exchange for some shoes – and together they set off with their wild animal guide books. Those should be useful; or worrying. Some pages will give Nigel much food for thought, the specific thought being that he might prove to be food!

 

 

From Sara Varon (creator of the deeply poignant ROBOT DREAMS much loved by all, plus Young Readers ODD DUCK and BAKE SALE) comes a substantially lengthier graphic novel bursting with colour and novelty. Don’t worry, families, you will trot along through it quite quickly if (and it’s a really big “if”!) you can bear to leave each page of vibrant eye-candy behind.

 

 

Its commendable emphasis lies in kindness, generosity, cooperation, foraging from locally sourced, sustainable resources, fair trade and exchange (a big slapped wrist for Nigel awaits!), the thrill of exploration, adventure and acquiring new skills, keeping an open mind at all times, gratitude and learning. And if your young ones enjoy the pages of Nigel’s guide book, may I shoehorn in here recommendations for WILD ANIMALS OF THE NORTH and WILD ANIMALS OF THE SOUTH, each reviewed separately? Thanks very much, I have done so!

 

 

Perhaps the first clue for Francis that Miss Manatee might require something other than shoes comes when he and Rhoda need to cross a river. It’s no problem for the feathered one, but Francis the donkey has never learned how to swim. Herons, whom they treat to some bread, send the pair upstream to a family of capybara who encourage Francis to get his feet wet. It’s then that he notes that shoes aren’t particularly good for swimming in.

 

 

 

 

Their journey has only begun, though, and they’re no nearer to finding Nigel until a toucan obliges.

But what they will discover and those whom they encounter at the end of their trek will prove both unexpected and a wee bit frightening, but only because they’ve been wronged. Nigel has been a very bad boy, and it is up to Francis and Rhoda and Nigel to put things right. At which point I’d remind you about the book’s emphases.

 

 

But it’s never too late to mend (not strictly true, as our planet may pertinently attest very shortly) and all will be well in the end!

The book has been brilliantly thought through from start to finish, and Varon does finish with a photographic flourish: several pages of research she conducted in Venezuela’s Guayana.

 

 

So how do you imagine will Brother Donkey best equip his idol, Miss Manatee, for her gala performance on stage in the city? That, I will not say, but he will succeed in his commission, for a little lateral thinking does go a very long way.

SLH

Buy New Shoes h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bone: Tall Tales (£8-50 s/c; £16-99 h/c, Cartoon Books) by Tom Sniegoski with Jeff Smith, Jeff Smith.

Not just a reprint of ‘Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails’, this was a complete overhaul with brand-new material from Jeff linking the stories together in camping scenes reminiscent of Donald Duck replaced as scout leader by Smiley Bone, and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie replaced by Ringo, Bingo and the stubbornly sceptical Todd.

Stories are told round the camp fire about Phone Bone’s and Phoney Bone’s treasure hunt, and about Big Johnson Bone, founder of Boneville – his eventful birth in a log cabin right on the frontier in the middle of a winter storm, and a teenage, gorge-a-thon eating contest and early crush – before a full-colour reprint of the three-part ‘Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails’ which is dreamt up by one of the younger Bones.

 

 

Of that Mark wrote:

“Long ago, before the Bone cousins were run out of Boneville, the Rat Creatures had tails and this is how they lost them. This harks back to the earlier BONE stories with cute, big-eyed critters acting all defenceless and lost, and the rat creatures acting vain and stupid.”

 

 

In fact, if BONE quickly became a great deal darker and more complex than its jocular cuddliness first suggested, this is definitely an all-ages affair perfectly suitable for readers as young as you like. It’s the story of how an adult Big Johnson Bone, run out of town for cheating at cards and winning a monkey called Pip (addressed variously as Mr. Pop, Poop and Plop – I can already see my ex-house-monkey, Ossian, laughing himself to death) is caught with his ass in a twister and dumped without dignity down in the valley which the Bone cousins later discovered themselves.

 

 

So yes, the Stupid, Stupid Rat creatures are back and you’ll then meet their queen plus the queen’s enormous and even hungrier son who swallows Big Johnson and some of his new friends whole, and ends up like the whale in Pinocchio. So much for quiche, eh? After the Rat Creatures, the mice are the funniest, and although I have to concede that Sniegoski doesn’t possess the sustained wit of Smith that had adults enthralled, Jeff’s ebullient cartooning here will have you laughing out loud all the same, and the kids will just lap up the antics.

SLH

Buy Bone: Tall Tales and read the Page 45 review here

Nobrow 10: Studio Dreams (£18-00, Nobrow) by various.

Nobrow’s annual anthology this year is – with but one exception I glimpsed – an art book rather than comics, but you’ll be starved of neither beauty nor colour nor diversity.

“To celebrate 10 years of Nobrow we are curating an extra special edition of the Nobrow magazine, featuring 70 artists responding to our theme of ‘Studio Dreams.’ In 2010 we commissioned Jan Van der Veken to illustrate our dream studio and his illustration provided the perfect starting point for this 10th edition. World-renowned creators turn their hand to creating their dream studio spaces (whatever that might mean for each one) in this unique, international showcase containing over 100 pages of illustration.”

Every artist has thrown themselves full-throttle into this challenge, the production values are as exquisite as you’d expect from the publishers of GEIS, HILDA, MARCY AND THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX, GAMAYUN TALES: THE KING OF THE BIRDS etc and I’ve a few photos for you below.

 

 

 

 

SLH

Buy Nobrow 10: Studio Dreams and read the Page 45 review here

Voice Of The Fire new printing (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Alan Moore.

Structurally and linguistically, Moore’s first prose novel preceding JERUSALEM was exceptional.

Alan takes the geographical location which will become Northampton and charts six millennia of its legend and lore – its memory, if you like – through the eyes of its inhabitants, beginning with a narrator for whom concepts of the imagination, from dreaming to lying, are entirely alien. The language is therefore initially pared down to the purely physical so that, for example, instead of “smelling” something, the narrator “sniffs” it. As we move through the centuries each new narrator sees the evolving strata of event and repercussion through the eyes of their time, as events in previous chapters come back – or indeed forwards – to haunt them.

Alan’s wit is as sharp as ever, and black humour abounds. Once instance I’m tempted to refer to as gallows humour, were it not after the fact – you’ll see!

The finest testament I can think of is that every time Moore concludes a chapter and bids farewell to its protagonist, I truly wish he hadn’t, for I fell in love with each and every one of them, including the last.

SLH

Buy Voice Of The Fire and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Afterwords (£5-99, self-published) by Gareth Brookes

The Communist Manifesto (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels & Martin Rowson

Motor Crush vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart

I Really Didn’t Think This Through – Tales From My So-Called Adult Life (£12-99, Sphere) by Beth Evans

Rock Steady – Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Ellen Forney

Where We Live: A Benefit For The Survivors In Las Vegas s/c (£17-99, Image) by various

Injustice Ground Zero vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Christopher Sebela & Pop Mhan, various, Mike S. Miller

The Punisher vol 1: War Machine s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & Guiu Vilanova

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week four

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

Featuring Jen Wang, Vera Brosgol, Jon Klassen, Mac Barnett, Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky, Hope Larson, Rebecca Mock, Paul Jenkins, Jae Lee, Scott Snyder, more. It’s a  bit of a Young Adult / Young Readers special!

The Prince And The Dressmaker (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jen Wang…                                   

Well, it happened again… A graphic novel made me cry on public transport… I thought I had it under control and then just as the i4 started ascending Derby Road I could feel the old tear ducts start to tingle… Must have been the altitude…

Jen IN REAL LIFE Wang returns, this time on art and writing duties, just as she did with her excellent KOKO BE GOOD, with another captivating story that as before deep in its bold, beating heart is all about identity. Here she explores the nature of public and also familial prejudice against a particular type of person, plus the intolerable pressures they themselves endure from keeping their secret under wraps. Except, in this instance, it’s that the person in question likes wrapping themselves up in their secret… For Prince Sebastian likes to wear dresses, and indeed makeup, to present himself as a lady.

Which is a tricky one for the lad, because his father is the King of Belgium and determined to marry the Crown Prince off and get him popping out heirs and spares to continue their lineage as soon as unreasonably possible. Which is why he’s brought Sebastian and the family to Paris: to throw a grand ball and introduce him to society, and hopefully a few eligible female members of the European aristocracy. It’s not that Sebastian doesn’t like the ladies, for he does, it’s just that he can’t imagine any future Queens possibly wanting to marry one…

In any event, he’s getting a little fed up wearing the somewhat staid and outdated ball gowns he’s managed to purloin from his mother’s wardrobe and has decided to seek out a seamstress with talent (and, of course, discretion) to design him some killer outfits worthy of a Lady. For Lady Crystallia is the name by which Sebastian chooses to go when dressed up in finery for a covert night out on the tiles. The only person at court who is aware of his liking for court shoes is his trusted aide-de-camp Emile, and it is to Emile he entrusts the task of finding him such a skilled dressmaker.

This is how Frances enters Sebastian’s very small circle of trust. For her, it’s a dream chance to escape her life of drudgery working for a pittance at a local sweatshop and she seizes it with both her talented hands. Before too long Lady Crystallia and her glamorous gowns are the hot topic of the Parisian social scene. Frances doesn’t just hurry Sebastian’s wardrobe up to an à la mode status, soon she’s setting the trend as knock-offs of her creations start to appear on the streets.

But whilst that is as immensely satisfying to her personally as Sebastian’s newfound confidence in his alter ego and her evening appearances, Frances is also a little frustrated that their private arrangement means that no one can ever know she is responsible for the dresses. For Sebastian is convinced that if anyone were to realise that Frances was also Lady Crystallia’s personal seamstresses as well as his own, it wouldn’t be long before someone stitched the pieces together and outed him. As the tension begins to build in their professional affiliation, both start to realise there might be another burgeoning aspect to their relationship which neither of them are prepared to admit to themselves, never mind each other…

And that’s all waaaay before I got to the bit that made me teary!

What a fabulously modern tale this is, dropped into a period class-strictured setting. That conceit actually makes the central theme all more the powerful and relevant, if one takes the view that Sebastian’s parents are also a representation of society at large, in addition to being his mum and dad. Particularly when you get the pay-off… Get your monogrammed hankies at the ready! 

Jen’s art lends itself to gold-leaf encrusted ballrooms just as well as it did to Chinese virtual goldfarms in IN REAL LIFE. And some of the outfits are truly wondrous. The one that brings Frances to the attention of Sebastian early on, which she creates for a Lady Sophia for the grand ball to make her look like “the devil’s wench…” had as genuinely a jaw-dropping effect on me as it does to all the dazed debutantes. My favourite, though, was probably the dappled and dimpled orange creation with which Lady Crystallia makes her own stunning debut and wins the title, and three cases of Maldon’s finest preserves, of Miss Marmalade in a sponsored beauty pageant. I genuinely think Jen could make a living as a dress designer if she ever gets bored of creating comics. Which, I really hope she doesn’t.

Actually… that dress is probably my second favourite. My favourite would have to be the one that made the waterworks start trickling. It’s just not one which Sebastian is wearing…

JR

Buy The Prince And The Dressmaker and read the Page 45 review here

Be Prepared (£9-99, FirstSecond) by Vera Brosgol…

“I knew the party wasn’t right.
“It was too poor. It was too Russian. It was too different.
“I was never going to fit in with American kids.”

Following on from her spooky debut ANYA’S GHOST back in 2011, which is currently being made into a film, Vera Brosgol finally returns with an autobiographical tale all about cultural identity, being the perennial outsider and how you should go about the tricky task of making new friends, with the right people, and courageously showing us how she got it all wrong several times. (For more on that particular subject the brilliant autobiographical REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale & Leuyen Pham is a must-read.)

Growing up, Vera felt different from the other kids. Of Russian heritage, with her single mum studying to be an accountant and struggling for money, she never felt that she and her younger brother were the equals of their American ‘friends’, with their seemingly endless supply of top toys and lavish sleepover birthday parties. She soon began to feel like the tolerated outsider, rather than a central part of the gang, especially after a particularly underwhelming attempt at finally hosting her own sleepover.

 

 

 

Then, every summer, just to exemplify the disparity even more, her ‘friends’ would disappear off for the whole of July to various camps, leaving Vera behind, bored and counting the days until they returned. So, when she hears about a summer camp for kids of Russian extraction, organised by the Orthodox Church she’s forced to attend, she begs and pleads with her mother to let her and her brother go. Her mother reluctant accedes much to Vera’s delight, but insists on the compromise that they can only go for two weeks because that’s all she can possibly afford. It is at this point, autumn…

As another school year tediously rolls by, instead of watching her friends get prepared and packed for their various extended summer excursions, it’s Vera who’s assembling all her necessary implements and accoutrements until finally she’s ready to go. It is, however, at this point only the start of June… Do you think she’s excited about it?!

Finally July comes around and the Brosgols are off. When Vera gets there, though, and is deposited into a tent with fourteen-year-old Sasha & Sasha (no relation), two long-term camp buddies who seem to delight in the fact that they’ve never had to put up with the same third wheel in their tent two years running, she begins to realise that some people are the same negative types wherever you go.

 

Despite her best attempts to make friends and become part of the ‘in crowd’ it seems likes she’s only ever further exacerbating her social isolation with her continual faux pas. It’s certainly no LUMBERJANES with their exuberant motto “Friendship To The Max!!” Plus, this particular camp… well, let’s just say it feels more like a military boot camp with early rising, onerous chores, Orthodox Russian church services and forced marches. When the two weeks are up and her mum arrives to collect her, Vera is ecstatic, having endured a torrid fortnight, to say the least. And then promptly horrified to discover her mum, presuming she’d be loving her much begged for camp experience, has scraped together the money to sign her and her brother up for the remaining two weeks…

It’s at that tipping point, that Vera finally realises she needs to change her approach, both to camp life and also making friends. Happily for her, the remaining fortnight proves far more fulfilling on both fronts. Sometimes, it really does pay just to be yourself, and let the (wood) chips fall where they may.

 

 

I’ve just flicked back through ANYA’S GHOST to see what changes or evolutions there have been in Vera’s storytelling and it’s only served to remind me of how accomplished her art and character development was even back then. I had actually forgotten that Anya was of Russian extraction and had a younger brother, so presumably she modelled Anya and her family on her own, which I never realised. Art-wise the main difference is that there is considerably more background detail here, which actually makes a huge difference in drawing the reader into the story and Vera’s arduous experiences!

Definitely one for fans of Hope Larson’s CHIGGERS due to the exploration of the trials and tribulations of friendship under the open skies, though I think – because this is a much more substantial work which also gets right into the particular rigours and rituals of summer camp life – it also strongly minded me of both Michel Rabagliati’s PAUL JOINS THE SCOUTS and PAUL HAS A SUMMER JOB, which hilariously and very sweetly shows him semi-autobiographically experiencing the delights of life under the canvas from both sides of it, as excitable youngster and also emphatically wet-behind-the-eyes teenage camp counsellor. Consequently I really enjoyed BE PREPARED, and hopefully Vera won’t leave it another seven years before her next work!

JR

Buy Be Prepared and read the Page 45 review here

Square h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen.

The eyes have it. They surely do!

They’re so expressive that the faces don’t need a mouth; that would lessen their impact considerably. They stare out at you, in this case more than a little anxiously, making a contact with yours that is remarkably difficult to break.

And I love that Klassen’s covers can be so iconic that a title’s unnecessary. What else would this book be called, and how on earth could possibly you resist it?

From the creators of the deliciously mischievous SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE – and so much more that you can find in our all-encompassing Page 45’s Jon Klassen section for Young Readers – comes a second helping of shapely shenanigans, this time starring Square and Circle.

 

 

Shapes are indeed what this is all about. That, and finding yourself a little out of your depth after compliments are given, based on erroneous assumptions, and you haven’t quite found it within your heart to come clean. Hmmm. Tricky one!

Square is a simple soul whose life is relatively straightforward.

“Every day, Square goes down to his cave and takes a block from the pile below ground.
“He pushes the block up and out of the cave.
“He brings the block to the pile at the top of the hill.
“This is his work.”

I’m sorry?

“This is his work.”

 

 

Square stands next to his square blocks of stone, staring out at us, as if to say, “What?”

It’s an exquisite moment of engagement between the reader and the protagonist. “This is his work.” That’s it. That’s what he does. It is his Purpose. Look at Square again! He’s definitely asking you, “What?!”

Anyway, one day while Square is hard at work, Circle floats by.

“Square!” said Circle. “You are a genius! I did not know that you were a sculptor!”
“Ah yes,” said Square. “What is a sculptor?”
“A sculptor shapes blocks into art,” said Circle.
“Ah, yes,” said Square. “I see what you mean.”
But he did not really see what she meant.
“This is a wonderful sculpture,” said Circle. It looks just like you!”

 

 

And it does! It’s even the same colour and texture as Square. And Circle, as it happens. Square looks at his block of rock, dubiously.

Now would probably be a good time to come clean, before…

“Now,” said Circle, “you must do one of me.”
“Oh,” said Square.

Yes, before that. Square eyes Circle and his square block of rock quite anxiously. They’re very different shapes.

“I will come back for it tomorrow! Good-bye, genius!”
“Circle,” said Square, “I think I should tell you something.”

But he doesn’t.

 

 

Now, I’m not going to take you any further but Square does seem in a right pickle, doesn’t he? He’s in for quite the night.

Aside for Klassen’s laugh-out-loud expressions, part of the comedy lies in the economy of Mac Barnett’s storytelling: simple sentences eschewing contractions, direct and honest, contrasting with the other economy here – that with the truth!

Returning to the expressions, though, there is a final note of exasperation which I deliberately don’t have for you here because I don’t want you to see what becomes of the stone under Square’s ham-fisted administrations. But there he stands in the pouring rain, his arms thrown out in… well, exasperation really is the only word for it… a leafy twig on his lodged on his noggin, looking for all the world like the ultimate in tetchy vexation, Sage the Owl from The Herb Garden.

So, whatever will happen in the morning?

 

 

Rarely have I encountered such a successfully sprung surprise which, as with most Klassen creations and collaboration could only be accomplished visually, reflecting Barnett’s extraordinary stroke of lateral thinking for – as so very often, I’ve found – salvation lies in serendipity.

SLH

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

Sam & Dave Dig A Hole s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen.

Now out in softcover! Yippee!

Young Readers graphic novel from the headwear-conscious creator of THIS IS NOT MY HAT, I WANT MY HAT BACK and WE FOUND A HAT; but with writer Mac Barnett on board, hats are no longer the issue.

Nothing here is missing, but an awful lot is missed.

On Monday, you see, Sam and Dave dug a hole.

“When should we stop digging?” asked Sam.
“We are on a mission,” said Dave.
“We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.”

And so, dig they do. They dig and dig deep. They dig so deep that their heads disappear underground, and then they dig deeper still. They are, I would remind you, on a mission!

 

 

So intent are they on this Important Excavation, what they don’t seem to have noticed is that their dog has embarked on this mission too. Or they’ve forgotten. The dog happened to be standing between them when work first commenced and looked a little dubious from the start. On the cover his eyes are to camera, as if to say, “What a bunch of buffoons”.

 

 

Yes, Sam and Dave should probably take a little more notice of their dog. Their dog has already found something spectacular. And oh look, there’s something even more spectacular.

Amazingly, Sam and Dave seem to miss everything spectacular ‘in spite of’ changing direction, splitting up and reconvening.

Still, they do have a lot of digging to do…

 

 

Brilliant! As with the HAT trick trilogy the words tell one story while the images reveal the truth! That’s what makes this comics: without the images you wouldn’t understand what was actually happening.

What they also share is a comedic oblivion.

For much more Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen, please see Page 45’s Jon Klassen section for Young Readers.

SLH

Buy Sam & Dave Dig A Hole s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Persephone h/c (£17-99, Archaia / Boom!) by Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky.

Far more devious than I initially gave this credit for, with clues scattered throughout in seemingly spurious asides, this tale of two worlds – one above, the other below – plays with the Eleusinian Mysteries, recasting the roles and relationships of Persephone, Demeter and Hades. What I originally thought were plot holes transpired to be omissions intentionally left open so that when the right (or wrong) person finally walks through the doors it all makes a great deal of terribly sad sense.

In a book which will confound preconceptions, the opening and closing of gates, or portals with prove pivotal to the proceedings.

Thirteen years ago there was a war that should never have happened.

It was waged between the realms of fertile Eleusis which prospered in light above ground and cold, dark infernal Hades where nothing green ever grows. The two realms, linked by a magic portal, had had their fair share of misunderstandings, suspicion and strife, but nonetheless conducted a mutually beneficial, thriving trade and prospects for future peace looked bright when the youngest princess of Eleusis was married to Hades, Lord of the Underworld and, truth be told, they did love each other dearly.

 

 

Alas, Hades’ happiness was destroyed when his queen died, and the new trust between the two nations was shattered too, a fission only widened by bitter Hades’ increasingly unfathomable behaviour and obsession with what lay behind the forbidden gates of Tartarus in his own realm. From there he gained vast power and you know what they say about power. He craved more magic power, but there was none to be had down below. Only Eleusis had mages. They fought the Lord and his hoards tooth and nail, finally beating him back after two years of carnage and ended his life. Specifically it was sorceress Demeter of Eleusis who killed him, but at a cost, and as the graphic novel begins we find her distraught, holding a bloodied babe in her arms. She seals two vast doors, then crosses the River Styx, carrying the child up hundreds of echoing stone steps, through a vast golden arch and the Eleusinian soldier who tries to stop her will never forget the moment he tried.

 

 

The portal between the Hades and Eleusis is closed from above ground forever. Only magic can open it, and there is no magic below.

Thirteen years later and will look at the light!

 

 

Centropolis appears to be a prospering European city some half a century ago judging by the cars and fashions, and boasts some lovely Baroque architecture.

I wonder what happened to Hades?

No matter, school’s out for summer and Persephone and her friends have had their exam results back. Botany aside, Persephone is hardly a grade-A student. Remember, if you went on to Sixth Form, when you had start specialising, deciding which subjects to study? Big life decision, and it seems to come earlier in Eleusis.

 

 

One of the friends is being pressured by her Dad to go into the family bakery business instead; she assumes Persephone will want to join her mother Demeter in magic, and eventually take over her potion shop.

“You’re lucky you’re a witch’s daughter. My mom says that it’s getting rarer, since it’s hereditary. So it’ll always be in demand!”

 

 

Yes, but there you have it: magic is hereditary. Persephone hasn’t told her friends that she is adopted. And Demeter hasn’t told Persephone why.

We’re only a dozen or so pages in, but I’m not going to go that much further. Except… something surely impossible happens. The city square is attacked by Shades. A soldier from Hades has been rumoured to have been roaming Centropolis and here lies the proof. But how could the portal have been breached?

 

 

 

I wonder once more: what has been happening in Hades?

You’ll find out, because that’s where the vast majority of the book’s set, and it won’t be what you expect. Propaganda abounds wherever you roam and do remember that Lord Hades went mad. Don’t believe everything you read about a country: you certainly can’t judge its inhabitants by their rulers. Also, you can’t judge all daughters or sons by their parents.

Damn. I really don’t think I can write much more, and I’ve so many pieces of glorious interior art to show you.

 

 

The colours and light are phenomenal and there’s all the contrast you’d expect between above and below, but yet again, don’t imagine Hades will be all gloom and doom and unkindness. If bright summer light falls upon objects upstairs, then it radiates from them below decks. At one point we’re shown some astronomy telescopes down there which did make me laugh.

 

 

The art owes a little to Hayao Miyazaki and more to Joann Sfar with lots of GLISTER’s Andi Watson thrown in, especially when it comes to Hades’ architecture and crowd scenes, but I couldn’t stop thinking of Kevin O’Neill, especially when it came to Demeter who does love her hats. There’s a wee bit of manga melodrama and an element of anthropomorphism is Azrael, but however much he looks like a cat, he is human as you’ll discover.

 

 

You’ll get plenty of action and fair few more rules will come into play that I don’t want to clutter you up with here. Magic needs its rules or else it’s all hocus pocus, devoid of dramatic tension, and it will all prove very clever, I promise.

SLH

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

More softcovers have arrived (h/cs still in stock if you prefer):

Four Points Book 1: Compass South s/c (£11-99, Square Fish) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock.

A cover makes a promise, but only the contents can deliver.

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

I haven’t. Even. Started.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

SLH

Buy Four Points Book 1: Compass South s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Four Points Book 2: Knife’s Edge s/c (£11-99, Square Fish) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock.

 

 

Delicious!

Even the covers to these FOUR POINTS Young Adult graphic novels are providing some thrilling sequential-art narrative with the identical twins now firmly set sail, for most of book two sees them at sea – though a lot less confused about their true, biological parentage.

COMPASS SOUTH was packed. It was fast, furious and reactive, its cover conveying both energy and urgency as Cleo and Alex escaped across America while attempting to elude the multiple factions intent on tracking them down, hampering their progress and taking what little they have left, while consequent repercussions conspired to keep them apart.

Cleverly, Rebecca Mock enables you to tell the two individuals apart through one of them wearing a waistcoat, and it’s Cleo.

 

 

COMPASS SOUTH began in Manhattan, 1848, with the twins being bequeathed to a man, Mr. Dodge, by their mother whom he once loved and in all probability still does. Alas, he’d been parted from Hester for a span of five years. They are not his, but he had no hesitation in adopting the babes even though his own prospects were small and he had to travel in order to provide. The stranger also bore two objects from which, Dodge was told, they must never be parted: a pen-knife and a compass.

But in 1860 Mr. Dodge had failed to return from his most recent travels and wind of what he’d inherited had reached ruthless pirate Felix Worley who had known Alex and Cleo’s mother, Hester, all too well.

Finally the two twelve-year-olds will discover why Dodge failed to return at their key moment in their lives, who Hester really was and what became of their father, as well as the true purpose of that pen-knife and compass.

They’ll also discover why Worley wants what is now theirs and why he’s being so tenacious about it. Everyone has a childhood, you know; some are bleaker than others.

 

 

As with Vaughan and Chiang’s PAPER GIRLS, a second instalment reveals a certain structure by its conclusion, but just as I didn’t give away COMPASS SOUTH‘s, so there’ll be no spoilers here – for either volume.

KNIFE’S EDGE is a much brighter, more spacious affair with a lot more open, ocean sky and a lot less confinement below decks to cargo holds. Alex and Cleo are now comparatively in command of their own destinies, even if they need Captain Tarboro and his galleon The Almira to steer them in the right direction. For that Alex will have to agree to take Tarboro’s direction to begin at the bottom, swabbing decks, while Cleo resents being assigned to the cook as a girl and is determined to take what she considers far more practical and potentially life-saving instruction from the Captain on sword-fighting.

It rankles still further when, at a vital moment, Alex is handed a sword without any training simply because he is the lad. Cleo wouldn’t have survived so far if she hadn’t proved perfectly capable of looking after herself. She has grown a lot given that which they have so far endured, and no one is noticing, so there will be tensions, complicated further by the return of… well, quite a few unexpected personages from their past. As I’ve said before, words unsaid are pretty powerful.

 

 

Their first stop for supplies is Honolulu, Hawaii, with its submerged reefs, virtually invisible but for the small, gentle breakers, requiring some unusual assistance in navigating. The island itself won’t be easy to negotiate without causing trouble.

Thence it’s the Marshall Islands which Captain Tarboro has had prior experience with, well aware to his cost that the inhabitants are hostile and its seas swarming with sharks. There too lurk reefs…

You’ve lots of the lush to look forward to, all lit to time-specific perfection, and plenty of action too once the puzzles start being solved. Picking up speed will require some extreme measures, while lessons learned early on will prove vital but not necessarily completely successful.

 

 

There are some terrific aerial and subaquatic shots and one full-page panel in particular at the end of chapter two had me staring at it for ages, wondering why is was so particularly effective: it managed to be both dramatic and intimate whilst set at a remove.

Lastly, the importance of the oral tradition is explored (see MEZOLITH), once more set up in advance so that when it comes into its own we are reminded that stories, when passed along, do have a way of travelling very long distances indeed.

I do wish I could reveal this book’s punchline!

SLH

Buy Four Points Book 2: Knife’s Edge s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Sentry s/c (£20-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee.

“Reed… I’ve got to admit, the hairs are standing up on the back of my neck. I feel as though someone just told me a secret and I’ve forgotten it…”

Yes, Sue, along with key moments from your own wedding.

In which the creative team behind THE INHUMANS, one of the most eloquent graphic novels ever to grace the superhero shelves, play mischievous mind-games both with the lead character and with the Marvel Universe and even its readers to boot.

Is the man waking up in the middle of a thunderstorm an amnesiac? Was he really once, at the very beginning of the Marvel Age, the world’s most powerful superhuman? Or is Bob Reynolds just a sorry excuse for a husband and hopeless drunk?

 

 

No one seems to remember The Sentry. Not his friends, his powered peers, nor the million readers who adored his tireless fights against an increasingly powerful Void. Not even Stan Lee, The Sentry’s original writer back in 1961, could remember much about his creation until Marvel’s then-editor-in-chief Joe Quesada unearthed a few rough sketches Artie Rosen had drawn way back in the early ‘60s. Why has everyone forgotten him, and how bad could it get if they all began to remember?

Answer: very bad indeed.

 

 

Jenkins and Lee craft a dark and often disturbing tale of mystery and suspense, full of raw, jagged gothic edges, chiaroscuro and penumbral washes juxtaposed against Rosen’s more naïve four-colour pages of the original comicbook which we can no longer recall.

A second reading alerts you early on to Jenkins’s carefully chosen metaphors, but the first read will surely keep you guessing.

 

 

This book collects the entire package on top the mini-series including Sienkiewicz’s ‘Hulk / Sentry’ which fits in well, along with the other three extra one-shots which only served to hold up the dénouement for me.

Plus, last but most certainly not least, you can read the whole publicity machine as originally presented to the comicbook press (Joe Quesada supposedly interviewing a befuddled Stan Lee) which formed a very effective and ridiculously witty prank. Clue: Artie Rosen doesn’t exist and definitely never did. If he does sound vaguely familiar, Sam Rosen and Artie Simek were calligraphers for Marvel during the so-called Silver Age.

 

 

The Sentry’s story more recently continued in Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato’s DARK AVENGERS.

SLH

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

Dark Days: The Road To Metal h/c (£24-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Grant Morrison, Tim Seeley & Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr., Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, Chris Sprouse, Rian Hughes, various…

“Oh, Mr. Green Lantern. Are you afraid?”
“I don’t get afraid.”
“Oh, I think you do… I think we all do… it’s all in that moment of discovery…
“When you’re about to learn something you will never be able to unlearn.
“Something that puts all the pieces together, and you finally see the truth, and the world changes.
“And you know it’ll never go back the way it was before.
“But if you’re so very brave, then just open the door.”

Just open the bloody door, Hal!! So we can find out precisely who, and what, is in the secret cave inside the Bat Cave.

“Seriously. Only Batman would have a secret cave inside his secret cave.”

Obviously. Not forgetting the secret Lunar Batcave on the moon…

 

 

Bats has actually installed a hidden room in the Fortress Of Solitude as well, just for good measure. I mean, he did have the good grace to ask Clark’s permission first, though he made him promise not to peek inside it at what he’d put there for ultra-safe keeping…

Yes, I can promise you more than a certain degree of mystery in these two intriguing set up one-shot issues of DARK DAYS: THE FORGE and DARK DAYS: THE CASTING that is already a million times better than the execrable mess that was CONVERGENCE. I probably shouldn’t be surprised this was great, given the writers are the long-time Bat-scribes Snyder and Tynion IV, plus the stellar trio of artists Jim Lee, Andy Kubert & John Romita Jr. on the pencils. But still, I’ve been burnt far too often with these big summer events.

 

 

Basically, Batman is trying to solve a mystery, one that has disturbed him so much, for so long, that whilst he’s had to call upon the likes of Mr. Terrific, Mister Miracle and of course old blue tights himself for assistance, he’s given precisely nothing away to anyone else whatsoever about the nature of this troubling conundrum. That, however, is all about to change and not entirely through his own choice…

Piece by piece, what little information Batman has acquired is laid out for us, along with some cautionary insights from Carter Hall a.k.a. Hawkman, who has his own particular clandestine parallel interest to Batman’s investigations.

 

 

At the time of reading the one-shots, I thought there was a little nod to Grant Morrison’s BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE that had Bats twizzling through time following the climax of FINAL CRISIS, which also seemed to be alluded to. So very kind of DC therefore to bolster these two new issues by including BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE #1, FINAL CRISIS #6-#7, BATMAN (New 52 era) #38-#39, NIGHTWING (again New 52 era) #17 and more!

That concluding exclamation mark being DC’s, I should add. Not mine. No, mine would come at the end of “You’re reprinting FIVE issues of old material in a hardcover collection of TWO new issues? You greedy gits!” Actually, they are reprinting nearly six, because the ‘more!’ is actually merely an excerpt from DETECTIVE COMICS #950 and then they also throw in Morrison’s double-page spread Map Of The Multiverse for ‘added value’…

 

 

Just utter corporate greed. There is absolutely no reason why these new two one-shots, which are basically issues #00 and #0 of DARK DAYS METAL could not have been included in one hardcover with the six issues that formed the ‘main’ series. They are printing (nearly) eight issues in this volume after all… It is disappointing because it is exactly the sort of nonsense I would fully expect Marvel to pull, and charge twice as much whilst they are at it, but I had felt in recent years DC were actually about giving readers better value for money than Marvel. Hey ho.

Anyway, the new material is an enjoyably complex and riveting set-up for the impending DARK DAYS METAL HC event that piqued my curiosity sufficiently to want to read the whole shebang.  Not least because of whom Hal finds behind the green door… It’s an old piano, and Shakin’ Stevens is playing it hot… Okay, well, the door isn’t green, and it isn’t Shakey banging out ‘80s classics, but it is a shocker, certainly… Precisely how that person fits into it all, is just another perplexing part of this three pothole problem, Watson… Oh, do stop with the bad jokes…

 

 

NOTE: Also forthcoming very shortly are the collection of bad guy one-shot tie-ins DARK NIGHTS METAL: THE NIGHTMARE BATMEN HC which whilst not essential were certainly entertaining and rather decent. Plus there’s the usual utterly spurious sidebar material in various ongoing titles collected in DARK NIGHTS METAL: THE RESISTANCE SC, which despite that all being new material DC obviously realised people wouldn’t be mug enough to buy in a hardcover and have put straight into softcover format…

Can I just add, above grumble aside, I did rather enjoy the Metal event.

JR

Buy Dark Days: The Road To Metal h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Snotgirl vol 2: California Screaming (£14-50, Image) by Bryan Lee O’Malley & Leslie Hung

Redneck vol 2: Eyes Upon You (£14-99, Image) by Donny Cates & Lisandro Estherren

Coin Op Comics Anthology 1997-2017 h/c (£26-99, Top Shelf) by Peter Hoey & Maria Hoey

Kid Lobotomy vol 1: A Lad Insane (£17-99, IDW) by Peter Milligan & Tess Fowler

The Curse Of Charley Butters s/c (£17-99, Conundrum Press) by Zach Worton

Udon Noodle Soup: Little Tales For Little Things (£11-99, Fanfare Ponent Mon) by Yani Hu

Joe Golem Occult Detective vol 2: Outer Dark h/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Patric Reynolds

Adventure Time x Regular Show s/c (£14-99, Titan) by Conor McCreery & Mattia Di Meo

Misfit City vol 2 (£13-99, BOOM! ) by Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, Kurt Lustgarten & Naomi Franquiz

Sabrina (£16-99, Granta) by Nick Drnaso

Wormwood Saga vol 1: The Journey Begins (£8-99, Cubhouse) by Daniel Lieske

Golosseum vol 1 (£10-99, Kondansha) by Yasushi Baba

Saga Of Tanya Evil vol 2 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Carlo Zen & Chika Tono

Happy s/c (£13-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Darick Robertson

Apollo (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Matt Fitch, Chris Baker & Mike Collins

Bone: Tall Tales (£11-99, Scholastic) by Jeff Smith & Tom Sniegoski

DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test (£12-99, Nobrow) by Hamish Steele

Asterix the Gladiator (£7-99, Orion) by Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

Asterix and the Banquet (£7-99, Orion) by Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

Daredevil: Back In Black vol 4: Identity (£15-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Goran Sudzuka, Mark Laming, various

New Avengers vol 4: A Perfect World (£17-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Valerio Schiti, Kev Walker, various

Venom & X-Men: Poison-X s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Edgar Delgado, Jacopo Camagni

The Wild Storm vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & Jon Davis-Hunt

 

 

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week three

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

Featuring David Lapham, Graham Annable, Inio Asano , Rick Remender, Bengal, Evan Dorkin, Jill Thompson, Christophe Bec, Stefano Raffaele, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Alan Moore, Ian Gibson.

Stray Bullets – Sunshine & Roses vol 1: Kretchmeyer (£17-99, El Capitan) by David Lapham.

“Trust me. You are not going to raise this girl up. She’ll drag you down.”

That’s to Orson, from his sister, about Beth.

And to be fair, on the very first night that he met Beth, naive, clean-living Orson attempted to rob a liquor store at gunpoint (he failed) after being slipped two aspirin (they weren’t) and ended up catching crabs (not the shellfish) (and not from Beth).

Orson’s subsequent attempts to recall that evening, persuade others to elaborate on it and discover from whom he caught pubic lice are mercilessly funny. One can forget that, as well as being one of the most mesmerising and brutal crime comics on the shelves, STRAY BULLETS is run through with a rich seam of verbal and visual comedy. Here it’s more fecund than ever before.

One of the title’s other strengths – and in this it is incomparable – is its improbably complex, cat’s-cradle structure. By this I mean that Lapham has already crafted the most extraordinarily tight timeline, anchoring almost every single episode, its constituent scenes and so their individual protagonists in very specific places on very specific days during the late 1900s. In the original series, Lapham would dart back and forth, filling in gaps, creating brand-new connections and demonstrating cause and effect, action and repercussion, however far in the future or way back in the past.

 

 

That Lapham has found space within that cat’s cradle to dovetail all this in too is remarkable, but I promise that new readers need have read nothing before, because David knows what he’s doing. In fact, if were new to STRAY BULLETS I would start here.

For a start, SUNSHINE & ROSES is much more linear, beginning in Baltimore on May 15th 1979 then careening at breakneck speed before its second chapter fast-forwards to the fall-out two years later. But… early on Lapham pulls back to the pivotal party in between those years, which we originally witnessed a thousand pages earlier way back in STRAY BULLETS VOL 1. He does so because it played the single most influential part on where Beth’s best friend Nina is now in 1981: under virtual home arrest to her sugar daddy Harry. Harry rules Baltimore’s crime scene via the services of handsome, long-haired, Hawaiian-shirt-loving Spanish Scott who makes most of the actual play from The Cock’s Crow strip club, with the assistance of the massive, bespectacled enforcer they call Monster.

 

 

 

Monster is usually both impassive and implacable, but has doted on Beth since childhood, which gives her just a little leeway and wiggle room when she needs it the most. It’s not that Beth is a blunderer – she has quite the reputation for capability and cojones – it’s that she lives half within these crime circles and half without, owes money to the wrong people like Dez ‘Finger’, plus her friendship with cocaine-addict Nina, whom she’s no longer allowed to even see, will bring out her decidedly non-compliant streak. It will catalyse so much of what comes next.

KRETCHMEYER kicks off with a masterful opening page, striking in its structural departure and its initial meeting of minds between the two chief protagonists: STRAY BULLETS mainstay Beth and newcomer (both to town and to us), the ever-cautious, ever-suspicious, always observant Kretch. The scenario will be answered, in no uncertain fashion, in the volume’s final few pages.

 

 

STRAY BULLETS is traditionally told in crystal-clear variations built around a 4-tier, 8-panel grid, but here we are presented with three equal tiers, each devoted to a single wide panel which together create a symmetry of sorts. At the top and the bottom we’re treated to close-ups of Beth then Kretch, while in the middle we’re shown their actual interaction plus an onlooker evidently in awe: “Holy shit. That’s Beth.” Beth has form, you immediately infer, and indeed she seems fearless. Here’s the full exchange minus the onlooker:

“Hi…”
“Hmmm…?”
“I saw you pretending not to stare at me from across the room…. I’m Beth, by the way. And your name is…?”
“Kretchmeyer.”

Each facial close-up is on the one hand a character study, on the other a projection or mask, for both will prove consummate actors while each is attempting to read the other and so size them up. Beth is all self-confidence, making the first move with a radiant, smile and seductively sparkling eyes. She’ll often twirl her blonde hair through her fingers like this to create an air of idle lack of guile at the precise point when she’s going to be at her most manipulative.

But Kretch is unflustered by the playful remonstration, by his companion’s quietly voiced concern and indeed by Beth’s proactive challenge. Look at that face! It’s insouciant but beguiling with soft skin, soft mouth (which might or might not be a smile) and soft, hooded eyes: soft, knowing, hooded eyes. He has been patiently waiting for Beth to introduce herself for quite some time…

Boom! Page 2, and Kretchmeyer is suddenly clambering up a staircase, out of breath, some twelve days on. Panting, he pauses to retrieve the rifle with telescopic sights which he’d weeks earlier stashed away. Brushing back the sweat streaming down his eyes, he takes aim at the three men exiting Bobby’s Donuts and pulls the trigger. A man called Lonnie’s head explodes.

 

 

With this unauthorised assassination, Kretch has surreptitiously kick-started a turf war. Two pages and two nights later, he’s found his way “in” by seducing Beth.

I wouldn’t underestimate anyone here, if I were you. Not Beth, not Kretchmeyer, nor even young, loyal and fast-thinking Orson who’s hopelessly fallen for Beth and so tries his best to keep up with her drinking and pull her fat out of a fire which he is completely unfamiliar with but not necessarily ill-equipped to deal with. She may drag him down with her, but he’ll love almost every second of it.

 

 

 

Certainly never underestimate Spanish Scott or Monster. Beth loves to believe that she can manipulate Monster, her childhood knight in shining armour, but it’s his clear, cold-logic simplicity that allows him to see through to the truth. I love that his apartment is as clean, uncluttered and austere as his mind is. Monster in some ways (and out of everyone) has the truest moral compass even if it points to Magnetic South, for he boasts a direct sincerity which others apart from Orson don’t.

How you estimate Spanish Scott’s sister Rose or ‘Roses’ with her delinquent son Joey is entirely up to you. Possibly the: worst mother ever and tireless nymphomaniac, it is she who gave an off-his-face Orson the crabs (very funny scene between Orson and his sister, on discovery) and she won’t stop pursuing him. Beth:

“What do you have to offer besides sloppy seconds?”
“I got a lot to offer!”
“Diseases don’t count, Roses.”

 

 

 

Lapham’s eyes and mouths are amongst the most expressive in the business: besotted, disdainful, malicious, dismissive, defiant, charming, flirtatious, cantankerous, conspiratorial, determined, drunk-as-a-skunk and angry as hell. Even the eyelashes set the cast apart: Beth’s are more natural and therefore tinier than Nina’s or Rose’s makeup-enhanced whoppers, doomed as they are to drip kohl, while the men evidence none except Kretch whose upper eyelids come with a sensual, sybaritic flourish which is immensely attractive to both women and men… as he knows full well.

 

 

Lapham’s also in complete control of his periods too: even the flashbacks to Beth and Monster’s shared childhood come with the 1970s t-shirts of their time.

His use of spot-blacks is up there with Los Bros Hernandez’seses (I’m not sure where to finish that possession), with shadow on walls used to highlight what’s in front of them, like a car. That instance minded me of EXIT’s and THE DROWNERS’ Nabiel Kanan who kindly supplied our website’s original line art. But it’s softer in both instances: take any single page I’ve gleaned for you here and drink in how much more malleable humanity there is in evidence than, say, Frank Miller’s brutish SIN CITY.

 

 

But don’t presume there isn’t a cruel streak to STRAY BULLETS or even David himself. Every single chapter he writes comes with “The End” and a couple here conclude idyllically in a happy-ever-after-fashion for our favourite characters.

Wonderful! They’ve earned it! We’ve earned it too!

But it isn’t.

The End.

Far from it, as you shall see.

SLH

Buy Stray Bullets – Sunshine & Roses vol 1: Kretchmeyer and read the Page 45 review here

Beasts Of Burden: Animal Rites s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson.

Considering what our canine and feline friends have to deal with here, a sky full of freefalling frogs feels like a stroll in the Green Thumb organic-produce park.

Pugs says it best:

“Oh crap. Looks like stupid’s back in season.”

But holy heck, this is one hell of a horror comic!

It looks clean and cute enough at a very superficial first glance: dogs, pups, cats, rats, racoons and, err, twelve-foot-tall bloated bullfrogs all beautifully painted by Jill Thompson in verdant watercolour wash and (my guess) gouache.

I particularly loved her Green Thumb garden-nursery splash page, for its fresh and joyous choice of Spring and Summer colours put me so much in mind of Diana Fegredo’s swoonaway prints, cushions and lampshades: https://www.dianafegredo.com/ You would love to languish there!

 

 

So would our gang of growling, gawping and determined defence league of cats and dogs. But that which they are made to endure within is demonically driven by Evan Dorkin.

One chapter, for example, sees a mother frantically searching for her pups which went missing in the scant seconds during which she obediently answered her call to be inside by her owners. When she was finally let out, they were gone.

“My children are missing.”

Dorkin doesn’t miss a linguistic trick – “children” – while Thompson’s greyhound is grief-stricken not melodramatically but penetratingly wide-eyed, almost blank-eyed at the enormity and helpless incomprehensibility of her separation and loss. It’s a fine and well judged line that Thompson travels there and throughout: the anthropomorphism is relatively minimal. When a cat hisses, spits and snarls it is most definitely a cat. There’s no hint of Walt Disney at all.

 

 

And then that tale grows darker, because some human beings do not deserve to be classified ‘Sapiens’. Our dog detectives do what they can to track down Hazel’s missing children, but they fail and so fall back instead on their training in the occult to perform a summoning to see if the pups are dead, on the other side, and therefore available to pick up the miasmatic, ectoplasmic phone. But they’re still novices, barely initiated and, without a Wise Dog on hand, it goes hideously, indescribably wrong.

Worse still is when you first find out what really happened. It’s implied through visuals only in a single, haunting panel if you care to look closely for so very many clues – and fuck the teenager’s parents for failing to do so. There is a wealth of storytelling about this family’s history there when you think about it: the shared culpability in the crimes which the kid has committed.

 

 

What is reported, after the fact, comes in terms which we associate with loners going postal in American schools. Everything about that episode will make you so sad, so very angry.

Another episode I’ve already touched upon brings a shower of frogs that start gorging on their own kind until they form one massive, carnivorous amphibian. And when you find yourself facing the zombie dogs, let me tell you, they are terrifying but that’s not really the point: it’s more about tragedy instead.

 

 

It’s about tragedy because, at its heart, this is a book about courage, kindness and compassion for others – about friendship, honour and loyalty (“After all, dogs are nothing if not loyal”) – and although there are uplifting instances of unexpected redemption through exceptional self-sacrifice, there are moments where, I’m afraid, that proves desperately insufficient.

And it will pull so hard on your heartstrings because Dorkin and Thompson have kindly turned each of our muttley crew into individuals whom you cannot help but care for. My mum tells me I bawled my eyes out during ‘Bambi’, aged 5. This will hit you even harder.

 

 

“Big or small…
“Short or tall…
“Here’s what happens to us all…
“We go to sleep, we close our eyes…
“And leave behind a nest of flies.”

In case you’re wondering, that short verse accompanies someone’s dearly beloved best friend / dog turned into hit-and-run road kill.

 

 

An improbable collaboration between the creators of MILK & CHEESE, THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB and  WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON, MAGIC TRIXIE (someone please reprint them!), this is entirely other from what you’d expect of its constituent authors. They’ve forged something completely different from either of their individual oeuvres, and that deserves the loudest round of applause.

SLH

Buy Beasts Of Burden: Animal Rites s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale Of Two Sloths h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Graham Annable.

Isn’t the sky amazing?

When you look at it properly, really absorb its infinite blue enormity, it’s mind-blowing.

Also, clouds: they’re so unrealistic. I love them!

So it is with Peter and Ernesto, two BFF sloths who are stuck up a tree. They love to wend their way slowly to the top-most branches and pick out animal cloud-shapes in the sky.

Except they’re not “stuck” at all: it’s only their lack of adventure and ambition that’s kept them so sedentary, and Ernesto has had enough – probably of Peter’s singing. I can’t say I blame him. Fancy sharing a tree with someone who thinks they’re in a musical. *shudders*

“In this tree live you and me!
“We always see what we always see!
“Probably will till we’re a hundred and three!
“Nothing ever changes for you and me!”

Those last two lines give Ernesto pause for thought. He glances down, then at Peter, worried about how best to broach his thoughts. He doesn’t want to hurt his friend.

“I like this piece of sky, Peter!”
“Me too!”
“And I like this tree we live in.”
“Me too, Ernesto!”
“But I must go, Peter.”
“W-what?!”
“This is only one piece of the sky, Peter. I want to see ALL of the sky!”

And so off he trots, just like that, leave poor Peter quaking with worry.

 

 

And Ernesto doesn’t just trot, he races fearlessly across a rope bridge which is all “sh-sh-sh-hhak-e-e-ey” and positively relishes it. Then “Wooo…” he’s all “…wobbly!” afterwards, and so tumbles delighted down into the river, SPLOOSH! “Ha! Ha!” Oh, he is having such liberated fun!

 

 

“Splish! Splash!
“Splish! Splash!”

Ernesto shakes himself dry.

Does that remind you of your young ones? They’re forever shrieking uninhibitedly away in our Market Square’s accessible water feature without a care in the world for anything other than the thrilling, physical sensation of splishing and splashing in water. They don’t need towels; they’ll race themselves dry! Brilliant!

 

 

That it’s a painfully slow sloth prancing gaily around like a fat-furry Dr Seuss creation is, of course, half the humour. Surely never has such a creakingly creeping creature crossed the ocean, either, to take in the wonders of the desert sky, then the Aurora Borealis!

 

 

Eventually Peter’s anxiety for Ernesto becomes such that he is determined to find him, distracting himself from his own trepidation with song. Folks, if you’re going to be reading this at bedtime to your dearest sproglets, you’re going to have to burst into song – quite a lot! I’d probably start practising now. Also, how’s your whale song? Watch a documentary like ‘Star Trek IV’ if it’s rusty, because you’ll be needing to wail that too.

 

 

 

Everywhere they go, both friends encounter others who are happy to help. Cooperation garners greater results and experience enriches – I think they’re the things here. Also, it empowers or, as I always say, it takes a little initial courage to acquire further courage.

There’s lots of open white space between thick, fuzzy panel borders and beautiful, complementary colour palettes: first green and blue, then blue, white and blue; purple in the dessert and gorgeous green for the Northern Lights.

 

 

Returning to the sky, this time at night, aren’t constellations utterly random? Now, they really are unrealistic: Aries is a very badly drawn ram indeed.

SLH

Buy Peter & Ernesto: A Tale Of Two Sloths h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Death Or Glory #1 (£4-25, Image) by Rick Remender & Bengal…

“What did the doctor say?”
“Won’t see us. Owe ‘em too much money.”
“How the hell do we live in a world where some fuckers at an insurance company get to decide who lives and dies?”

Quite. Action and misadventure abounds in this double-length high-octane opener of a crime caper from Rick THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME Remender and artist Bengal. Plus a bit of relevant social commentary too!

So… Glory Owen needs copious amounts of hard cash fast, like yesterday, to get her adoptive father Red a new liver. Red’s lived his life off the grid, free from the system, in fact, not even Glory knows his real name. Just that he looked after her when her mother died and now it is time to repay him in his dying hours of need. Because no paperwork, no social security number and certainly no health insurance means without serious amounts of hard cash to buy a new organ, he’s on his way out. Glory’s pretty sure Red wouldn’t want her to do what she’s about to do, but in her eyes, it’s time to repay the debt of a lifetime of love he’s shown to her.

 

 

 

She’s about to rob her ex-husband and big time drug dealer Toby of a briefcase full of his illicit lolly… Well, not him technically, just his couriers, who happen to be the local sheriff and his deputy. She has a plan, kind of, which mainly seems to involve a wing and a prey and a very fast car. It’s not going to go well, clearly, which of course it doesn’t. Which is pretty much where we finish this first issue: in a state of chaotic flux.

Special mention should also be made of the hitman who has one of the most novel ways of killing people I’ve seen since Javier Bardem went around knocking on doors and nailing people with his pneumatic captive bolt pistol in No Country For Old Men. This lunatic’s weapon of choice is liquid nitrogen…

 

 

Fans of car chases are going to enjoy this series, I suspect, if what we’ve seen so far and forthcoming covers are anything to go by. Set out in what feels like the Midwest somewhere, it all has a touch of the Dukes of Hazard about it so far, though the stakes and consequences are clearly somewhat higher.

Artist Bengal, probably best known for the likes of NAJA / MEKA / LUMINAE for Magnetic Press has a lovely crisp style with a cinematically vibrant colour palette. I’ve seen him comment online that he thinks he’s a considerably better inker than penciller but I think he’s being incredibly harsh on himself as it all looks as immaculate and highly polished as a freshly washed, polished and buffed car bonnet.

 

 

Remender only ever seems to work with top quality artists who love a clean line: Sean Murphy on TOKYO GHOST, Matteo Scalera on BLACK SCIENCE, Greg Tocchini on LOW, Jerome Opena on FROM SEVEN TO ETERNITY and I think Bengal is right up there with those folks.

JR

Buy Death Or Glory #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Inio Asano…

“I bet you’re thinking… “What’s life all about, anyway?” But it’s fruitless to ask such things.”
“Yeah. I should just do my homework instead.”

Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I’d probably read some comics…

So… much like volume one of Inio Asano’s everyday mind-scrambler GOODBYE PUNPUN, by the time I closed this opener’s front / rear cover (depending on your perspective) I genuinely still had no clue as to what conceivable direction the main story is going in, no matter which way I flipped the pages. I know a fair bit more about our characters, though, with our high school ladies Kadode Koyama and Oran Nakagawa, their cacophonous circle of chums, Kadode’s weird Munchausen’s-afflicted mother and crush-worthy teacher Mr. Watarase leading the cast.

 

 

But as to how and why it all intersects with the gigantic, implacable, immovable alien mothership casting shade over several districts of Tokyo, generally depressing the national mood and the perversely, almost comedic, pathetically easily repulsed mini-flying-saucer invasions dispensed from it on a daily basis, I truly have no idea. I suspect we will eventually find out given part of the typically irreverent Asano asides on the rear cover. Other creators need pull quotes; Asano just treats it as an extra bonus page to mess with us even further:

“The Japan Self-Defence Forces are STILL looking for a way to combat the alien threat, but so far conventional weapons have had no effect. Maybe it’s time to try something UNCONVENTIONAL.”

 

 

But actually being completely in the dark it does not matter in the slightest because, like me, you’ll be too busy being entertained and occasionally mildly appalled by the gloriously relentless send up of myriad manga tropes such as schoolgirl panties, Yaoi fanatics, inappropriate teacher-pupil behaviour, blaming the American government for everything (surely a nod to Naoki PLUTO / 20th CENTURY BOYS / MONSTER Urasawa, that last one?) and many, many more besides.

 

 

The characters clash and collide, verbally joust and jest, in the most delightfully ridiculous of ways that you almost feel an ensemble musical number could spontaneously burst out at any moment. Knowing Asano, that’s not something I would rule out for a future volume, either… But overall it really does feel like Kiyohiko Azuma’s classic high school yarn AZUMANGA DIOH has been taken as the starting point and then sprinkled with some classic high-concept, esoteric Asano lunacy. Make that a lot of it.

 

 

There is possibly one clue thrown out about what said ‘unconventional’ methods might be, which I think might have nothing to do with the Japanese Self-Defence Forces and everything to do with Oran, but, again, with Asano, he is the master of faux red herrings. Or just making the reader so deliriously confused they start trying to read something significant into every little thing to attempt to glean some semblance of sense as to what is going on. It’s a very clever trick and a truly unconventional storytelling technique that few can pull off. Personally, I’ve found the best thing to do with Asano is just strap in and enjoy the swirling mental Waltzer ride.

JR

Buy Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Under: Scourge Of The Sewer (£14-99, Titan) by Christophe Bec & Stefano Raffaele.

Stefano Raffaele knows how to do ‘cavernous’.

He can draw a mighty sewer complete with credible stone strength and darkness both in the depths of the distance and the viewer’s immediate confines as those reckless enough to explore or even set up domestic shop in Megalopolis’s sewers approach us. The wisest carry flame throwers or at the very least rifles, for what lurks in its furthest reaches has developed unusual, unsavoury breeding habits and a certain degree of gigantism. And by “a certain degree”, I mean they are bloody enormous.

Christophe Bec is no stranger to bloody enormous. Have you read his CARTHAGO? It featured Megalodons in the modern age, and I might have done a little wee.

Now, Megalopolis is a bloody stupid name for a city, not least because it’s impossible to pronounce without sounding like Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men – either that, or pissed. On the surface – quite literally above ground – it doesn’t seem much more mega than any other city, so I suspect it was named after its sewers which are ridiculously vast not in their sprawl but in their stature. I’ve seen film footage of sewers and most have a diameter twice the height of a human. You could fly the world’s largest jumbo jet down these, leaving ample room for another to pass the other way safely. Blackpool Tower could be relocated here without bending its apex like some wonky Christmas tree.

 

 

Why did Megalopolis build such formidably sized sewers?

So it could accommodate crocodilian monstrosities larger than a nuclear submarine and spiders the size of Mount Rushmore. They knew they were coming! (They didn’t.) The first Mayor had evidently studied evolution thoroughly and calculated that most species of animal took no more than a couple of generations to a) lose all their pigmentation and b) expand in size one thousand-fold. It’s basic science, especially when excrement’s involved, and this sewer has sure gone to shit.

 

 

I did, however, like the logic of our resident scientist Sandra Yeatman’s explanation for the queen spider’s new egg-laying habits “in a sanitary environment despite the filth and contamination”. There is a genuinely repulsive scene in which they discover babies floating in the effluence which are still moving. They’ve been jettisoned down the toilet by an ethically questionable hospital whose plumbing evidently aspires to the sewer’s in size, because you won’t get that many babies round the average u-bend. Presuming it’s still alive, Dr Sandra Yeatman opts to give it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, because every doctor knows that you don’t just resuscitate the dead (you do).

And it is still alive, after a fashion: it’s alive with baby spiders. Brrrrrr….

 

 

Now, our resident scientist is a woman so that she can experience overt chauvinism at the hands of the all-male Sewer Police. Every sewage system has its own police force: this is an historical fact. They’re led by Lieutenant Wilson Jericho whose career took a decidedly downward trajectory after buggering up a hostage situation in a bank which had modelled itself after a funfair Hall of Mirrors.

It’s an unorthodox city, Megalopolis, isn’t it? Most of its urban planning seems to have fallen to Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men.

Don’t worry, though, its Mayor is corrupt (obviously) and he has his own private army led by one Kotzwinkle who, like all self-respecting henchmen is bald (check), burly (check) and is always seen looming from below (check). Plus, although he was born Norman Postlethwaite, his school career advisor saw the signs early on and suggested he try something a little more Germanic.

 

 

Once the Mayor is informed that there massive mutations down below he immediately initiates the standard political procedure of a cover up and sends his private army to do what the city already pays the police for and wouldn’t you just know that the city’s Carnival is imminent?

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I was at school in the mid-sixteenth century, our favourite day of the year was the field trip. One year we visited a nuclear reactor, on another we toured a morgue, and the ultimate outing was to an abattoir. So where do you think Megalopolis’s educational authority sends its kiddywinks for their annual jolly…?

Yup!

SLH

Buy Under: Scourge Of The Sewer and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon.

“I can’t believe you’re actually doing this…!”
“You’re a monster and I’m killing you. It’s not complicated.”

The Punisher’s reason for living is to eliminate people he doesn’t like. Not for Frank, the moral vagaries of two wrongs and a right. He’s not here to soliloquise, he’s here to blow people’s heads off, and time wasted weighing the scales of justice is time that could be far more effectively and satisfying spent with an Uzi, a six-pack of hand-grenades and a mortuary full of Mafiosi.

For the creators of PREACHER, this laugh-out-loud burlesque was one long opportunity for some seriously black comedy as deadpan Frank slaughters his way to the top, both disarming and dismembering an increasingly grotesque crime lord, Ma Gnucci. Yes, it’s Ennis’s trademark Loss of Limbs Motif.

His first stint on Frank Castle, this is a far cry from what he went on to accomplish in the far more socio-political PUNISHER MAX, but sometimes you have to eat the hamburger to appreciate the steak* and this is the Linda McCartney Vegetarian Mozzarella quarter pounder of burgers for which product placement I’d appreciate a lifetime’s supply: very, very tasty.

Anything and everything is a weapon to Frank, so imagine what he can do in a zoo.

 

 

 

As with PREACHER, it’s friendship and loyalty which form the heart of the book, coming this time courtesy of the unsuspecting naïfs he’s shacked up with in rented accommodation: punk Spacker Dave, the over-excitable man of so many piercings that he’s become a human curtain rail…

“Doing the town, huh?” he asks, as Frank leaves their home.
“It’s tempting.”

 

 

… Mr. Bumpo the balloon-shaped pizza addict constantly stuck in his own doorway, and shy young Joan who brings Frank freshly baked cookies as tokens of her timid affection.

Steve Dillon acts his heart out, playing Frank imperturbably straight in the even most ludicrous circumstances, pulling bloated Mr. Bumpo through his own doorway without breaking his stride, constantly emphasising the man’s efficiency. Dillon is a master of communicating emotion through expression, so that although anger appears to come easily to artists (on the page!), few do pants-wettingly worried as well as Dillon. And there’s plenty to worry the wrong people here.

 

 

 

You’re in for twelve full chapters which I concede I haven’t read for a couple of decades or so, but Jonathan recalls Frank being less than impressed by three copy-cat vigilantes who want to join forces with him and I once referred to this as “the comicbook equivalent of an Arnie film, but with fewer plot holes and a lot less overacting”. Sounds about right.

* Thank you, Marc Almond (‘Ugly Head’)

SLH

Buy Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank s/c and read the Page 45 review here

From the Page 45 Archives may we proudly present our beardly beloved Mr Mark Simpson who wrote the following – including a personal revelation you will never see coming! – over a decade and a half ago.

The Ballad Of Halo Jones (Colour Edition) vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Rebellion) by Alan Moore & Ian Gibson –

There are books like this that you’ve got to leave alone for a few years if you’re after the same kiddy rush that you got way back when. Just finished the second book, and I’ve still got the goosebumps. Does that make it any good? Well, Terry Jack’s ‘Seasons In The Sun’ will do the same for me but that’s no real measure of quality either way. It still feels special. 

The story for those who’ve not read it before: far off into the future, Manhattan Island is dominated by the Hoop, a giant floating ring of slum housing for the terminally unemployable. And in this future that’s a lot of people. There’s dream of escape but there are precious few jobs. This is where we find Halo, an ordinary spod who, almost by accident, becomes something else, something legendary. The first chunk covers life on the Hoop, the almost military planning of a simple shopping expedition, the various forms of entertainment, racial tensions and ways of opting out. By the second book she has a waitress job on a ship heading far off into space. And her experiences change her.

 

 

The original tagline went thus:

“Where did she go? OUT! What did she do? EVERYTHING!”

The three books (there were ten planned) show her losing her charm and innocence in a similar way to Evey from V FOR VENDETTA. At the end of each book she moves on to the next situation, one quite removed from the last. Such character development was a marked change in the usual 2000 AD stasis.

 

 

Ian Gibson’s marvellous clutter and sharp, dark technology were perfect to delineate the shadowy corners of the plot.

It’s early Alan Moore; he probably hates it.

MAS

Buy The Ballad Of Halo Jones (Colour Edition) vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Black Magick vol 2: Awakening II (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott

Four Points Book 1: Compass South s/c (£11-99, Square Fish) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock

Four Points Book 2: Knife’s Edge s/c (£11-99, Square Fish) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 6 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

Nobrow 10: Studio Dreams (£18-00, Nobrow) by various

Disquiet (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Noah Van Sciver

Triangle s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnet & Jon Klassen

Square h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnet & Jon Klassen

Sam & Dave Dig A Hole s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnet & Jon Klassen

Paradiso vol 1: Essential Singularity (£8-99, Image) by Ram V. & Dev Pramanik

Persephone h/c (£17-99, Archaia / Boom!) by Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky

The Prince And The Dressmaker (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jen Wang

Young Frances – A Pope Hats Collection h/c (£17-99, AdHouse Books) by Hartley Lin

The Artist Behind Superman – The Joe Schuster Story s/c (£17-99, Super Genius) by Julian Voloj & Thomas Campi

Dark Days: The Road To Metal h/c (£24-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Grant Morrison, Tim Seeley & Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr., Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, Chris Sprouse, Rian Hughes, various

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 3 – Spider-Man No More s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & John Romita Sr. With Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Marie Severin

Moon Knight vol 1: Crazy Runs In The Family s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Max Bemis & Jacen Burrows

The Sentry s/c (£20-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee

Cutie Honey A Go Go! (£10-99, Seven Seas) by Shimpei Itoh & Hideaki Anno

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 6 (£11-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

One Piece vol 86 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week two

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Featuring Jamie Smart, Manuele Fior, Luke Healy, Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill, Marcus Sedgwick, Thomas Taylor, Greg Rucka, Matthew Southwark, Tom King, Clay Mann, Mark Millar, Greg Capullo, Dan Slott, more.

The Interview h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior…

“So there must be something else, right? I mean another reason why you’re here. Something you see sometimes. Something unusual.”
“Do you believe in the existence of extra-terrestrial civilisations?”
“Off the top I’m not sure.”
“What if I told you that I was in contact with them?”
“Hm.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“Since you say so, I’m obliged at least to take it into consideration.”
“How are you in contact with them?”
“Telepathy. I think they choose to instruct me.”
“And why would they choose you?”
“Because I can see the signals. Not everybody is able to.”
“When was your last ‘contact’?”
“Last night. It was unbelievable. Do you understand what I am saying?”

 

 

 

Raniero does understand indeed. As a psychologist at the hospital where Dora is being ‘treated’ at her parents’ behest, primarily because they are disgusted / concerned about  her membership of a cult called the New Convention, which is rapidly rising in popularity amongst the youth championing emotional and sexual non-exclusivity, polyamory, he might be inclined to think her somewhat unhinged. But after his late-night car crash and subsequent strange experience in a field involving an inexplicable triangular light show, well, let’s just say his mind is somewhat suddenly open to the possibility that Dora could be telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

 

 

Ahhh… we all adore Fior, the creator of former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month 5000KM PER SECOND and recent collection of shorts BLACKBIRD DAYS. This full-length work, was actually published about a year ago, but we just didn’t get round to reviewing it at the time. Set in 2048, it tells the unlikely proto-romance of Raniero and Dora who are drawn together during a period of intense uncertainty in both their lives. As Raniero’s beloved wife prepares to leave him, primarily for his stubborn, steadfast refusal to move from the tranquil countryside to the bustling city, it seems, the chaos that the arrival of Dora, and the lights, brings into his life precipitates an unexpected transformation of his world. And indeed the world…

 

 

 

With a strong cast of additional characters such as Raniero’s wife Nadia, consultant friend and philanderer Walter, local farmer and fixer Franco and Dora’s odd friend from the New Convention Rossella, I found this work utterly brilliant in every respect. It strongly minded me of the prose work ‘Atomised’ by Michel Houellebecq, for its themes, general tone and its quirky characters. I was absolutely captivated from start to finish, and much like ‘Atomised’, I didn’t see the ending, or endings, for the characters coming at all.

 

 

Art-wise, the chameleonic genius is at it again. I commented in my review of BLACKBIRD DAYS about his impressive ability to employ a myriad art styles masterfully. Well, here he is once more with yet another different approach, a black and white treatment that manages to combine ligne claire line work and smudgy black charcoal shading. It gives the most seductive art house cinema feel to it all, and indeed the depiction of Raniero’s wife makes me think of the delightful Italian actress Monica Bellucci.

 

 

I think the cover alone manages to sum up practically every aspect of what you are about to experience on the pages within, which is no mean feat in itself. The image of Dora, both simultaneously vulnerable and alluring, looking directly out at the reader, standing in a posture that indicates she is yearning for acceptance yet possessing a deep wisdom, with her sparkling dress and the disorientatingly kaleidoscopically triangular background, is a masterpiece in and of itself.

 

 

Another contender for my favourite book I’ve read this year!

JR

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

Looshkin (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart.

“IT’S COMING OUT OF MY BUM!!”

Irrepressible blue cat Looshkin has just scoffed a big wedge of King Mouse’s most prized possession, Firecracker Cheese, offered in truce with humble sincerity and a great big rocket with a fizzing fuse stuffed inside. Now he’s achieved lift-off, blasting round the mice’s tunnels behind the family skirting board. There are a couple of pink-and-purple lightning bolts emanating from Looshkin’s noggin suggesting some degree of alarm but – really? – he’s relishing it!

The role of any decent pull quote is to evoke the distilled essence of what lies within. Sometimes it’s possible to peel back the complex layers of a carefully crafted collection of comics and also strike at its sophisticated thematic core. So let’s hear that again.

“IT’S COMING OUT OF MY BUM!!”

Mission accomplished.

 

 

Jamie Smart – the creator of FISH HEAD STEVE and four BUNNY VS MONKEY books whose full-colour bombast you can revel in alongside the other all-ages excellence in Page 45’ PHOENIX COMICS collection section – knows exactly what makes kids gurgle with over-excitable, uncontainable, mad-screaming glee and that’s this: fart jokes, toilet references, appalling misbehaviour, unbridled chaos and the most massive collateral damage while raging round a home shouting stupid strings of silly-sounding syllables!

Here’s Looshkin terrorising all and sundry with a frying pan and a few choice words:

“FOOT FUDGE!
“WOBBLY BOBBLY!
“FISH FINGERS!
“OFFICER DIBBLES! SERGEANT PLOP-PLOPS!
“MONKEY SOCKS!
“MONKEY…
SOCKS!”

Knock-out, smack-down CLANG!

The timing – both verbal and visual – is neither random nor irrelevant to the comedy. It may be instinctive to Smart, but a simple string of words isn’t enough for the anarchy to hit home with maximum skillet-smacking impact. In the last two panels there, Looshkin launches himself back over the arch of a green settee to position himself behind a beleaguered Bear whose default setting throughout these 64 pages is wailing, wide-mouthed terror.

 

 

On the subject of timing, the immediate family find themselves on the receiving end of a visit / inspection from perpetually scowling Great Auntie Frank (who could have stropped her way from a Giles cartoon) and all the fun of the riotous fare to follow is laid out with exceptional economy in the three-panel pre-credits prologue:

“Ah, Great (rich) Auntie Frank! I’m so glad you could come around for a morning coffee!”
“Hmph! I HEAR you have recently purchased a CAT.”
“Well…”
“Well, nothing. You keep it away from us. My prize-winning poodle PRINCESS TRIXIBELL has a very delicate constitution. The slightest fright, and her fur begins to fall out.”

“Uh. Oh…” murmurs Mum in a tiny inset panel to herself. Uh-oh indeed.

 

 

Prize-winning, pampered poodle Princess Trixibell is presented to the readers on a gold-tasselled burgundy velvet cushion, a shivering and shaking big bag of nerves. Even though nothing has happened yet, it is almost impossible not to start laughing immediately at the oh-so inevitable which Jamie is, of course, smart enough to leave well alone for three more pages because a) anticipation is everything b) instead of dropping a single water balloon on a UKIP member’s head, it is much, much funnier to build up a supply of two dozen water balloons, fill them to bursting point (preferably from a toilet), then carry them five storeys further up before launching the entire barrage down at once.

And that is precisely what Jamie does, upstairs, where the kids and cat have supposedly been locked up safely. My analogy wasn’t random, either: it will involve water – toilet water, obviously – and squirrels.

“THEY’RE EATING MY FACE!”

Key to all this is Looshkin’s insatiable appetite for everything: he cannot help himself and will not be stopped. In his determination to catch a bumblebee in a jam jar to steer it safely out of the window, he fails to notice his own success when the bee buzzes out of the window of its own accord, so he carries on pursuing it right up onto the rooftop because he hasn’t caught it yet!

 

 

 

Utterly oblivious and determinedly in denial, Looshkin doesn’t just refuse to take responsibility for his actions and their consequences, he refuses to acknowledge that his actions have any consequences that can’t be considered tip-top results! There’s a terrific running gag involving “Dial-A-Pig” (it’s… a service) because cats clearly have access to mobile phones, but for once Looshkin opts for something a little more esoteric:

“Ding Dong! Delivery! Here’s that baby shark you ordered.”

He’s holding it, out of water, in his bare hands.

“Looshkin, did you order a SHARK?”
“It’s NOT a shark! It’s an OTTER!”

Is it that Looshkin believes he can change the truth by sheer force of will?

“You’d better not be running through my house with a shark!”
“Nope! Otter!”
“Well, okay then.”

Or is that he simply doesn’t know the difference?

 

 

Here’s the son:

Whatever you think it is, what on earth are you planning to do with it?”
“All the things that otters are known to love doing!”

The genius of what follows is that neither a shark nor an otter are known to love dodgems, thick, creamy milkshakes or dressing up like Santa Claus half as much as Looshkin does. He looks particular fine in full Father Christmas ensemble and a winter-white beard.

“But it’s July!”
“Hey! You can’t argue with nature!”

Haha! So clever! Here’s the daughter:

“Did Looshkin get a SHARK?”
“OTT-TTER. You’re all going to give him identity issues.”

Looshkin is the ultimate child running wild, craving action, attention, adventure, brand-new experiences (preferably dangerous), unorthodox experiments (“We can do a science!”) and, above all, delicious, brightly coloured, sugar-coated cereal. What the family craves is peace and quiet; failing that, they’d quite like to comprehend their new cat so they call for an expert, Professor Lionel F. Frumples who has written himself a résumé.

“Cats! What are cats?
“Cats are cats.
“Zat is right, I’m an expert at cats.
“I am brilliant at cats. BRILLIANT at zem.
“I understand everything about cats. If you told me you were a cat, I’d INSTANTLY know you were lying. I don’t recognise your scent. Get out of my office.”

Unfortunately Looshkin has mistaken Professor Frumples for Cap’n Fruitcakes (“inside Looshkin’s brain…” is a frequent refrain here, translating what is into what Looshkin deliriously perceives) whose treasure chest contains delicious, brightly coloured, sugar-coated cereal. To get to the heart of the cat’s psychology, Professor Frumples is determined to discover what Looshkin really wants. What Looshkin really wants is delicious, brightly coloured, sugar-coated cereal. Mum:

“This is a bad idea. Looshkin doesn’t handle sugar very well at all!”
“SILENCE! Who is more likely to know about your cat? You, with your cat? Or me, with my beard?”

He holds up one finger with authority.

“It is ME.”

 

 

 

Smart blasts every panel on every page with energy, exuberance, excitable lettering (emphatically hand-drawn, and old-school in its sound effects and titles, the sort which any child could copy), delicious colouring which sorely tempts you to lick it, and Looshkin’s big, blue head with its pointy ears, cat-narrow eye-slits and that gleefully gaping, manic maw. Irrepressible, as I say, he will not stop even after disaster has struck and then struck again. The strip may come to a close, but Looshkin won’t have that, each catastrophe seen by him as the most thrilling theme-park ride:

“AGAIN! AGAIN!”

I liked the extra anti-deflation device at THE ENNNNDDD.

SLH

Buy Looshkin and read the Page 45 review here

Permanent Press (£10-99, Avery Hill) by Luke Healy…

“Look, can I be frank here?”
“S-sure. Of c-course.”
“I’m just worried that…
“I’m just worried the audience won’t know how to react.
“After sitting, watching this thing for hours.
“To have it end just like that?
“I’m worried they might feel ripped off.”

Haha!! There’s a delicious irony at play there, which I will leave you to discover for yourselves… The quote itself is taken from the exceptionally clever extended story, The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion, which forms the main part of this collection. It’s actually one of the most deftly nested set of stories within a story I’ve read for some time, starting with stage notes explaining how we are about to play the role of the Reader. Which apparently can “often attract positive attention from cute boys wearing glasses, sitting across from them on the train, and you can only hope for similarly positive reviews”.

 

 

It revolves around our lead of Robin Huang, a stage director whose meteoric rise to superstardom and West End luvviehood was abruptly halted by an ill-received reworking of ‘Macbeth’ focusing almost entirely on Lady Macbeth. She’s been tapped by a rather laissez-faire BBC producer called Benjamin to adapt the equally ill-received titular novel by A.B. Cadbury. Thrown in for good measure is Robin’s mildly delinquent teenage daughter Natalie, whose primary focus seems to be winding up her teacher Mr. King whilst studying said book, which presumably explains the wider title itself.

 

The Cuckoo’s Nest novel has suddenly made it onto Natalie’s school syllabus due to A.B. Cadbury receiving the annual BBC Fine Fellowship, which in addition to a small stipend means for the period of a year the corporation will focus on promoting the winner’s works in a myriad of ways. Hence the commissioning of the stage play. Oh, and did I mention it is going to be broadcast live on BBC4 and Benjamin wants opening night to be in a mere six weeks time…? Which is not taken well by Wally the set designer, a man obsessed with perfection, and so who is therefore insisting on hand making it all himself. Good job he’s not planning on building a full sized house with various moving and revolving elements… Ah.

As a study in what is, I am sure, a veritable pressure-cooker environment, directing a play, the additional farcical elements Luke squeezes into this situational comedy are absolute gold. (I should add, by the way, that upon finishing this it has made me really want to watch Christopher Guest’s ‘Waiting For Guffman’ again soon.) As Robin begins to feel the pressure rising ever further, convinced everyone is going to hate her adaptation, presuming by some miracle she somehow manages to get it ready by opening night, the last things she needs are her daughter managing to get suspended by pushing poor Mr. King just a wee bit too far this time, and Wally managing to mangle yet another potential leading man with his hazardous over-elaborate set.

 

 

When the various story elements begin to overlap and intertwine you will be wondering what on earth is going to happen next. There was one twist I certainly didn’t see coming, which produces a hilarious life-imitating-art moment referencing events in the novel. It’s not the only one either… As I say, very clever.

Fleshing this collection out exquisitely are some of Luke’s auto-biographical woes on the emotional trials and tribulations of being a comics creator and his father’s repeated attempts to persuade him that becoming an accountant and joining the family firm would be a considerably better career option. Interspersed with those mildly excruciating excerpts are a series of fictional strips about two prickly neighbours, and only moderately social misfits, Amir and Mo, who are like ships that pass in the night in their apartment block, barely aware of each other’s existence, their primary interaction being Amir banging on the ceiling to stop Mo playing his trumpet. Except for the time they get stuck in the lift together, which despite finally giving them the time to get to know each other, only serves to eventually end up driving even more of a wedge between them.

 

 

It’s like some people just don’t know how to be happy! Luke does. Though he apparently isn’t, judging by his black shadow of doom following him around, but he’s convinced being nominated for another comics awards would help! The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion was very deservedly up for an Ignatz.

Art-wise, this is an equally wonderfully constructed affair, with a rolling mixture of sequences of small panels, excerpts of text á la TAMARA DREWE, borderless panels and various other cheeky conceits such as having the occasional conversation displayed typed-out as if in a script using a classic old-school typewriter font. Plus even the odd photo crafted in for good measure, which actually works perfectly both times it is used as a conceit.

 

 

In fact, I suspect the first instance, which is very amusing in its own right, is purely to set up and prepare the reader for the later, much more spectacular use which provokes an entirely appropriate response from Robin that tickled me greatly. The art itself due to the neat and minimal thin line work minded me a little bit of early Chester Brown with a bit less inking and shading. I love to see such apparently simple yet intricately detailed work. Whilst I can’t promise an eventual West End stage adaptation of this for Luke, I think I certainly can guarantee him considerable sales off the shelves of the Page 45 retail theatre.

JR

Buy Permanent Press and read the Page 45 review here

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier s/c (£16-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill.

1958, and Britain has only just rid itself of Big Brother (booting it back to the Netherlands after 43 increasingly excruciating series).

Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain have severed their ties with MI5 and are currently considered rogue agents. Now they are back, sent to steal the Black Dossier secretly stashed in MI5’s Military Intelligence Vauxhall HQ. The Black Dossier, compiled from intelligence records and fragments of fiction, contains every known record of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s various incarnations and its constituent members across the centuries.

Disguised as actress Oodles O’Quim, Miss Murray plays on the vanity of a womanising Secret Service agent licensed to thrill, who can’t keeps his hands off her. Snatch it they do, and from that moment on it’s one long chase up the Thirty-Nine Steps to Greyfriars, the boarded-up boarding school cared for by one William Bunter, then onto Birmingham’s spaceport where Roger The Robot awaits. Unfortunately so do the agents dispatched by the mysterious M. Will you recognise them before they recognise Mina? And what national secrets can the Dossier possibly contain that MI5 is so desperate for it back?

 

 

As you’ve probably inferred, like all the other LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN books, everything here is a cut-and-paste collage of previously published fiction, and half the fun is spotting the references. No one other than Alan can be expected to get them all, but merely catching a nod to one of your favourite books like Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies is quite the fuzzy thrill. What is utterly mind-boggling is not only Uncle Alan’s breadth and depth of cultural knowledge, but the ingenuity with which he’s reweaved his unpicked threads into a brand new tapestry which holds so well together. Also, Moore’s ability as a literary chameleon and mimic.

For within THE BLACK DOSSIER lies The Black Dossier containing, amongst many gems, part of a previously undiscovered piece of Shakespearian bawdiness called ‘Faerie’s Fortunes Founded’ starring Masters Shytte and Pysse; ‘What Ho, Gods Of The Abyss’ by Bertie Wooster; the erotic ‘New Adventures of Fanny Hill’; and ‘A Prospectus Of London (1901)’ from which this description of Freemasons Hall, Vauxhall made me laugh:

“While architecturally an acquired taste, this riverside landmark is an undoubted benefit to the community, as the worthy fraternity within are believed to occupy themselves mainly with organising charitable jumble-sales and similar altruistic activities.”

Naturally Orlando is as ubiquitous as he always claimed!

 

 

Also included is a set of 3-D glasses for when Alan and Mina reach Ye Blazing Worlde with its extra dimension, and at this point we really do doff our battered top hats to artist Kevin O’Neill whose art on this series has always been riddled with detail worthy of what must be the most gargantuan scripts imaginable. The 3-D sequences, however, with the like of the Effervator (an effervescent elevator travelled on via bubbles) is a triumph on another level entirely.

 

 

Finally, big love to Knockabout who finally published this in the UK after DC’s Paul Levitz banned it from our shores to spite Alan Moore, thereby rewarding all DC’s loyal readers – and their loved ones buying presents – with petulant contempt, and depriving Page 45 alone of thousands of pounds worth of Christmas revenue. Oh yes. The book gets pretty pugnacious too:

“What’s that he’s wrestling with?
“I – I think it’s poetry. They must be rehearsing for later. Ooh, look at that! It dazzled him with imagery, then beat him over the head with a blunt metaphor!”

Hmmm… looks like we can now access the DC edition. Here it is!

SLH

Buy League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scarlett Hart – Monster Hunter (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Marcus Sedgwick & Thomas Taylor…

“Anyway, I’ve got a plan. It’s very simple. We wait until the monster appears, I throw the bomb, it blows up, you take the photos. Then we put our feet up.
“Leaping lizards!”
“The monster, miss?”
“No! Look! The Count! Come to steal our monster, no doubt!”

Ah, very quickly we are left in no doubt as to whom the real bad guy is! It’s not any of the myriad monsters that fourteen-year-old orphan Scarlett Hart and her trusted butler Napoleon are attempting to bag for bounty to keep hold of the family pile Ravenwood Hall. No, it’s the dastardly Count Stankovic, who once salaciously sought the hand of Scarlett’s mother in her days as a debutante only to be quite rightly slighted, and then publically embarrassed by Scarlett’s father just for good measure. He’s never forgotten it, and since the passing of Scarlett’s parents some four years ago in a monster-hunting-related incident, he’s gunning for revenge against their offspring by bankrupting Scarlett and forcing her to sell the family estate for peanuts. What a cad!

 

 

Fortunately, she’s more than capable of looking after herself. Throw in the wily Napoleon and his wife, the redoubtable Mrs White, taking care of matters back at the mansion, including the necessary mechanical upkeep of their monster hunting equipment, and she’s more than a match for stinky old Count Stankovic. She’s still going to have to worry about the monsters, though, and there are rather a lot of them all of a sudden. I wonder if the Count might have something to do with that…?

Acclaimed children’s author Marcus Segdwick turns his hand to writing comics for the first time and it’s a pretty good debut, actually. I thought the characters were well rounded and the overall story entertaining enough. This isn’t anything remotely different or new, indeed I can think of a certain other red-haired young lady monster hunter who really needs to make another appearance soon (hint hint, Mr. Ellerby), but for a first foray into comics I can’t really fault it. This is billed as being for the ‘middle grade’ audience, which is apparently for those age 8 to 12 and I would say that is spot on.

 

 

I wasn’t familiar with artist Thomas Taylor, either, who apparently illustrated the original prose edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but he’s pretty good too, minding me of Joan THE RABBI’S CAT Sfar with the pointy chins and large eyes, and indeed perhaps a dash of David THE ENCHANTED CHEST Sala with some of the thin, almost spindly figures and random swooshing curves.

JR

Buy Scarlett Hart – Monster Hunter and read the Page 45 review here

Stumptown vol 2 s/c (£17-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southwark…

“One-ten.”
“What does that mean!?!?”
“It’s the seconds you have left before every cop in southeast Portland is crawling up your ass in response to this little home invasion of yours. Average response time in this part of town is about three minutes. Which means you got about half that time left to vanish.”
“Brad! We gotta…”
“SHUT UP!
“You… you’re full of shit.”
“Time the time to stab me and you’ll to find out.”
“Braaaaaaad…”
“Get to the truck… deal with them later… especially you, bitch.”
“Uh-oh! Hear that? That sounds like sirens! Bye bye.
“Skinheads. What’re you gonna do?”

Volume two of STUMPTOWN wasn’t what I was expecting at all, either in terms of the story or the art, but I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless. I guess I expected the story to focus much more directly on Dex and her continuing personal and professional travails, particularly with the crooked casino owner / crime boss from first time around, who I presumed was being set up as some sort of arch-nemesis. But this, to start with at least, is much of a straight gumshoe case, revolving about a professional musician and her stolen guitar… until the skinheads turn up looking for their stolen methamphetamine.

 

 

I wasn’t remotely disappointed, but something I absolutely loved about STUMPTOWN VOL 1 was its real emotional heart, and this was just different in tone and indeed colour palette. Still, once I’d made the mental shift I got into the story itself, and one thing that was exactly the same this time around, Dex’s ability to irritate just about everyone she meets from skinhead thug to DEA detective, is just a pleasure to behold. And that crooked casino boss, well maybe she’s not quite so absent from this story as I first presumed and Mr. Rucka is just playing the long game. I hope so!

 

 

Also STUMPTOWN fans who are not aware, please note, it shares the same continuity as the Rucka prose novel ‘Fistful of Rain’ and also his seven ‘Atticus Kodiak’ prose novels, as apparently several secondary characters crop up in both. For anyone who hasn’t read any Rucka prose, I can highly recommend it, including his ‘Queen & Country’ books, which intertwine with the QUEEN & COUNTRY graphic novels.

JR

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

DC Nation #0 (25p, DC) by Tom King & Clay Mann; Brian Michael Bendis & Jose Luis Garcia Lopez; Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson & Jorge Jimenez.

Attention! This is a superhero readers’ alert, not a review. But still, attention!

1) 25 pence!
2) 3 stories leading into DC’s next big events which will not be reprinted until their respective collected editions i.e.
3) These are prologues, not previews.

“First, find out how The Joker reacts when he discovers Catwoman has turned her back on crime and plans to marry his archnemesis. Can the Clown Prince of Crime stand to see Batman happy? Writer Tom King and artist Clay Mann set up the events that lead to BATMAN #48, BATMAN #49, BATMAN #50!”

It’s genuinely funny, and this is the same team who brought you that which in last week’s Page 45 Reviews blog I declared the best Batman book of all time.

“Then, DARK NIGHTS: METAL shook the DC Universe to its deepest foundations – now it’s time to rejoin legendary writer Scott Snyder, along with all-star artist Jorge Jimenez and co-writers James Tynion IV and Joshua Williamson, for the prelude to JUSTICE LEAGUE: NO JUSTICE #1 of 4! Discover what universe-shattering mysteries have emerged from the most wondrous and chaotic corners of the cosmos to hunt the Justice League in DC’s summer blockbuster event!”

Four themed teams take on the most massive, planet-devouring entities in the hope that they’ll never reach Earth. They reach Earth. Ooops, spoilers! Attention once more: this is a weekly comic beginning this very week! Gasp!

 

 

“And get your first glimpse at Superman’s new world in this exclusive preview of the upcoming six-issue miniseries MAN OF STEEL, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by José Luis García-López. With Truth, Justice and the American Way all under attack, both Superman and Clark Kent find there’s never been a more important time to stand up for what they believe in.”

That too will be a weekly comic. Stop it with the weekly comics, corporations! You’re only doing it so retailers can’t reduce their orders for subsequent issues if the first one turns out to be a big ball of cretin.

There was also a prologue to that in ACTION COMICS #1,000, back in stock.

SLH

Buy DC Nation #0 and read the Page 45 review here

Reborn s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Greg Capullo.

“Don’t you believe in anything, Mrs. Black?”
“No, Danita. It’s all just fairy tales. I don’t think God would allow us all this suffering and tragedy we endure.
“I only believe what I can see with my eyes, Family and friends. Grandchildren and schoolchildren. Anything promised beyond all this was just made up to get us through the night.
“Do you really think any of us really make a difference?”
“Of course I do, Ma’am. Our lives are a constant series of random interactions, each changing things a million times a day.
“The longer we’re here, the more we have an impact. The world would be a different place, if it hadn’t been for you.”
“You know, that might just be the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Elderly Bonnie Black doesn’t want to die. She’s lived a good life, outliving her beloved husband Harry by fourteen years, who was killed by the infamous Minneapolis sniper along with a number of others, but still has a loving daughter and grown up granddaughter whom she adores. Bonnie’s just not ready to leave this world behind, particularly with no great faith in there being anything whatsoever afterwards. She’s going to die, obviously, very shortly, of a stroke. So it would be fair to say she’s not expecting what happens next: waking up in her twenty-year-old body in a fantasy land locked in a perpetual war between good and evil, being anointed the saviour of the free folk.

 

 

Which, when you put it like that, sounds a rather trite premise, I will grant you, but it’s the (re-) appearance of family like her father, high school friends (and enemies), and even her old cat and dog, which take this story in a stranger, altogether more interesting direction. Some, like Bonnie, are in their own youthful forms, whereas others have become more… representative… versions of themselves.

What is certain, though, is that much like in the real world, or at least the pre-death world, there are those who are intent on ruining it for everyone else through the usual megalomaniacal desires for total domination. Remember that pesky Minneapolis sniper? Well, he committed suicide at the end of his killing spree… Plus, if everyone else Bonnie knew is present in this new realm, for whatever strange reason, just where is her hubby Harry? I feel an epic quest coming on…

 

 

Speaking of epic, this is storming art from Greg Capullo who really throws absolutely everything at this. The battle sequences particularly are a visual feast of the utterly fantastical. As with a number of Millarworld works, this is merely billed as book one, but it feels complete to me. Still, given your chum Mark has just sold Millarworld to Netflix for a probably not unsubstantial sum, I suspect he’ll be rapidly revisiting more than a few of his properties for another volume or two…

I would quite like it if he started writing more comics with a view to them being adapted for longer form series actually, rather than to be adapted for films, as I sometimes feel the stories are getting wrapped up before they’ve barely got started e.g. CHRONONAUTS and MPH. I just want something with a bit more meat like the JUPITER’S LEGACY and JUPITER’S CIRCLE series, which are really great, and going a little bit further back, WANTED, which despite being self-contained had so much to it in terms of plot and character development.

 

 

It’s a lower risk approach, I get that, and it has produced some really great standalone stories like SUPERIOR, SECRET SERVICE and STARLIGHT, so I probably shouldn’t complain. Overall Millar’s quality hit rate is pretty damn good. Plus you can’t fault his commitment to single-handedly enrich the cream of comics artists! I always love hearing who he is going to work with next.

JR

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

The Superior Spider-Man: The Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, J.M. DeMatteis, Jen Van Meter & Richard Elson, Humberto Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stephanie, Buscema, Ryan Stegman,

The first thing you should know is that this wasn’t a sideshow spin-off.

This was the main Spider-title replacing AMAZING SPIDER-MAN for approximately three years. The first of two hefty volumes, this repackages AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #698-700 and SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #1-16 previously collected as ‘Dying Wish’, ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ (a very clever title under the circumstances, and you shall see), ‘Troubled Min’ and ‘No Escape’.

Amazing Spider-Man: Dying Wish

Oooooh, the final few issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN* leading up and including #700!

What’s left of mop-topped minger Doc Ock has been knocking on death’s door for quite a few years. Now it looks like it’s about to open up and swallow him whole, tentacles and all. Yes, Doctor Octopus has mere hours to live, but is determined to have the last laugh over the quipping, thwipping pain in the arse who’s been beating his backside for over five decades.

 

 

And that’s when he discovers Spider-Man is Peter Parker, nephew of that sweet old woman whom he once had the hots for, and to whom he was briefly engaged. Doc Ock and Aunt May made it as far as the altar, I kid you not! Boy, this new knowledge has sure got to rankle!

Ah, but the man has a plan, and it is a cunning one. He’s going to swap minds with Spider-Man and leave Peter Parker in his old, ravaged shell to face the funereal music instead.

All sorts of ironies abound in this final tussle, and although I was emotionally ejected from the proceedings by Ramos’ plinky plonky artwork, the surprise ending was certainly very different from what anyone could have expected, and set the stage a very new, very different SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN.

 

 

*The final few issues, that is, until Marvel inevitably relaunches with a fresh AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 next year, before reinstating the old issue numbers as soon as they approach 750. You mark my words.

[Editor’s note: I was three years out, but that prediction otherwise proved 100% accurate. There was indeed another AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 before Marvel reinstated its old issue numbers. As I type this, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is about to celebrate its 800th issue next week. Then, of course, there will be yet another #1 because Marvel – currently a desperate, clueless, headless chicken – simply cannot help itself.]

Superior Spider-Man: My Own Worst Enemy

“Ahhh! I can’t take this anymore! It’s – It’s crazy-town banana-pants!”

In ‘Dying Wish’ Doctor Octopus side-stepped certain death by swapping minds with Peter Parker as his own sorry, saggy old carcass expired. Now he inhabits Peter’s youthful body and pretty face whilst inheriting his memories, his relatives and acquaintances, including a very confused Mary Jane Watson.

 

 

Unexpectedly, this fusion has catalysed a reformation of sorts, for Otto Octavius is now determined to fight crime as Spider-Man but with his own, warped set of priorities and a new, more methodical approach which somehow eluded our Peter.

Doctor Octavius has a very different modus operandi

And this is the delight: some of Otto’s innovations are genuinely clever and infinitely more practical; some of his quick thinking has already paid dividends which poor Peter never saw; some of his strategies risk ruining Spider-Man’s reputation for good; because some of his costume modifications are dangerously diabolical.

Meanwhile, some of the much older man’s moves on Peter’s young loved ones are positively icky. And all Peter Parker can do is float there in some sort of astral plane and watch…

 

 

Oh, he is far from gone, I can assure you! There is enormous comedy potential to be had here and Dan Slott has seized it, revelling in the dramatic irony that is everyone’s ignorance except Carlie Cooper’s.

Moreover, the longer this goes on, the more it makes sense that it was Dr. Octopus who finally seized control of Peter Parker’s life, for they share so much in scientific background and acumen. Otto can take full advantage of Peter’s position at Horizon Labs, he’s just far less likely to share. He can be convincingly savvy in all of these spheres and, in addition, his arrogance comes across to those not in the know merely as renewed self-confidence: the diffident ditherer is gone, and some women find that attractive.

Pretty much impressed by the art as well which comes across as Eric Larsen inked by Howard Chaykin on Ryan Stegman’s part, then with Giuseppe Camuncoli it becomes something more akin to mid-John Romita Jr inked by Eric Larsen.

Above all, this is far from assembly-line fisticuffs. It is very well thought-through. The condition which could so easily have been treated as a mere gimmick has instead been thoroughly seized by the horns and ridden as a rodeo, and an opportunity to surprise.

It is bananas, for sure, but it is far from pants. It is instead, crazy-town banana-pants.

And I think that is where we came in.

Superior Spider-Man: Troubled Mind

Above all else, what Doc Ock has brought with him is a lifetime of resentment which began with being bullied at school and which was exacerbated each time he decided to twist tentacles with the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. The end result is a decidedly less friendly Spider-Man whose temper is triggered during almost every confrontation, resulting in the death of one villain so far. The Avengers – initially merely baffled by the sudden mood shift from merry rejoinders to snide superciliousness – have finally taken note that something’s a little off and call him in for a brain scan.

 

 

Meanwhile, Peter is beginning to make tiny steps to reassert his own identity: small note-book doodles when the doctor is distracted, and he’s desperately hoping that the brain scan will secure the Avengers’ help. And the brain scan does reveal an anomaly, but who’s best qualified to judge what it is?

There are significant developments here, but not necessarily those you’ll be expecting. The irony of any secret identity is dramatic enough, but it’s substantially heightened by this double deception, and Dan Slott milks this for all that it’s worth. Better still is the gradual reformation, in certain areas at least, of the bitter old whinger; something which I pray isn’t dropped when this has all sorted itself out (which it will the very second another film looms onto the horizon).

I’d also like to single out Edgar Delgado’s colouring which in places is far from obvious. I stared at the second page of issue #9 for quite some time, particularly the bottom right panel where instead of enhancing the curves of the Ryan Stegman’s beautifully drawn nose, Delgado opts to emphasise the shadow of the helmet over Peter’s cheeks.

 

 

I like what he chose for the flesh tones there as well. In fact a round of applause for Ryan Stegman generally who melds all the melodrama of Humberto Ramos with a softer, gentler humanity. At dinner with Aunt May, for example, you can see a genuinely appreciative if slightly smug Otto Octavius shine through Peter’s fresh-faced puppy-dom. These little things are important.

Superior Spider-Man: No Escape

The premise for SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN is relatively simple but its execution has proved surprisingly thorough: in ‘Dying Wish’ one of Spider-Man’s oldest, ugliest foes, Otto Octavious (PhD and at death’s door), finally won the day by switching his consciousness with Peter Parker’s just before his own body expired.

For a while Peter’s own memories lingered on as did his spirit, ever so slightly alarmed about what Dr Octopus was doing with his body, to his friends and even his vilest villains. This niggling nuisance was swiftly purged but not before Peter’s psyche had imprinted itself on Otto’s to the extent that, along with the power, he was indeed going to accept the responsibility of fighting on the other side of the law while ignoring even more of its letters.

 

 

The villains weren’t just banged up, they were banged about first: the vulture was [redacted], the Scorpion lost his [excised] and J. Jonah Jameson was most impressed. To him this is indeed a far superior Spider-Man. Smug and disdainful as well, I might add, and although some have accepted this as maybe a mid-life crisis, others have since grown suspicious.

Here we return to The Raft (maximum security penitentiary for less than penitent supervillains) which in the process of being decommissioned, but not before the Spider-Slayer, sentenced to death, has been executed.

“Spider-Man. Come to supervise the slaying of the Spider-Slayer, eh? I’m sure you’re thoroughly enjoying the irony of that.”

He’s actually more preoccupied with his own past there, when once locked up as a criminal.

These are the sorts of things this series has dealt with: Octavius’s fresh-found perspective on those he once allied himself with, and the irony of J. Jonah Jameson finally coming round to Spider-Man’s cause based on the actions of someone who isn’t even Peter. Do you think he’s going to regret that?

 

 

Now, I’m merely thinking aloud here, but if there was one individual above all who would begin to take counter-measures given Spider-Man’s increasing superior success, it would be a certain brillo-bonced psychopath for whom every day of the year is a lime-green and purple opportunity to trick, never treat.

SLH

Buy The Superior Spider-Man: The Complete Collection vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Be Prepared (£9-99, FirstSecond) by Vera Brosgol

Beasts Of Burden: Animal Rites s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson

The Breadwinner: A Graphic Novel (£8-99, Oxford Press) by Deborah Ellis, Nora Twomey & various

Hellboy Omnibus vol 1 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola with John Byrne

The Ballad Of Halo Jones (Colour Edition) vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Rebellion) by Alan Moore & Ian Gibson

New Shoes h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Sara Varon

The New World – Comics From Mauretania h/c (£24-99, New York Review Comics) by Chris Reynolds

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale Of Two Sloths h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Graham Annable

Sherlock Frankenstein And The Legion Of Evil s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & David Rubin

Under: Scourge Of The Sewer (£14-99, Titan) by Christophe Bec & Stefano Raffaele

Amazing Spider-Man: Venom Inc. s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Mike Costa & Ryan Stegman, Gerardo Sandoval

Hawkeye: Kate Bishop vol 3: Family Reunion s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Leonardo Romero, Stefano Raffaele

Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon, Jimmy Palmiotti

Venom: Carnage Unleashed s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Marv Wolfman, Larry Hama, David Micheline & various

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 8 (£11-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

Fire Punch vol 2 (£8-99, Manga) by Tatsuki Fujimoto

The Girl From The Other Side vol 4 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Nagabe

Happiness vol 7 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Shuzo Oshimi