A damning indictment of man’s ceaseless inhumanity to man in the form of oppression, warfare and retribution: its attempts to justify war in the name of God or country; its failure to learn or advance except in more effective means of destruction; individuals’ consistent failure in power to live up to their promises made in revolution, and all the endemic, sorry subterfuge behind it all.
- Stephen on Arkwright Integral by Bryan Talbot
Grandville vol 4: Noël (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Bryan Talbot.
“We’d best get on with it, then.”
“Sure. All hogtied up like this? You don’t happen to have anything sharp on you, do yuh?”
“Are you joking?”
The badger bears his teeth.
The badger really bares his teeth in this fourth anthropomorphic outing to Grandville (Paris), as does its creator Bryan Talbot.
With a title like NOÊL you might expect a lot of Christmas presents – there are certainly enough Easter Eggs – and maybe some saccharine school nativity scenes.
But not from someone like Talbot who here grabs two of my own bêtes noires firmly by the throat and throttles them: organised religion with its avarice, mendacity, brainwashing and hate-mongering, and the similarly styled, racist far-right surging right now in Britain with UkiP as it has for a long time in France under the Front National’s Jean-Marie Le Pen and his equally loathsome daughter Marine Le Pen who in September topped a presidential poll.
Think about that. You are allowed to get angry; it’s all right if you cry.
The prologue takes us a little further afield than usual in GRANDVILLE, to the American East Coast where a religious cult led by a gryphon and its high-priest unicorn celebrates its sanctity by committing mass suicide. “Miraculously” the gryphon and unicorn survive along with their resident, decrepit old mutt of a doctor. Next stop: Grandville…
Back in London it’s beginning to snow, heralding holiday time for Scotland Yard’s Detective-Inspector LeBrock and Detective Sergeant Ratzi who invites LeBrock, his mother and children over for Christmas, along with LeBrock’s girlfriend Billie who, not to put too fine a point of it, is a Parisian prostitute. So that could prove awkward.
Before that, however, LeBrock is implored by his guinea-pig landlady to find her missing niece. Alienated from home by an abusive step-dad who also happens to be a badger (“These mixed marriages never work” – ouch), she doesn’t appear to have been abducted but instead to have found God and fallen foul of The Silver Path’s propaganda handed out by her school gates. The Silver Path and its Church of Evolutionary Theology are based in Grandville. The girl had recently returned from a school trip there and now she’s gone again along with some freshly packed clothes, her step-dad’s wallet, the cash from his money box and all her mother’s jewels.
Guess who’s in charge of the Church of Evolutionary Theology? Guess who’s the guiding light of and along The Silver Path?
As LeBrock steps up his investigations across The Channel he discovers Grandville gripped by a crime wave following extortion mob-boss Tiberius Koenig’s complete victory over the city, buying up all the brothels and much more besides.
On top of that bigotry is rampant. Disparagingly referred to as “doughfaces” (even by LeBrock), humans – very much an underclass discriminated against and often refused board or entry to cafes, bars and clubs – have been campaigning for, well, human rights, and violence on both sides is escalating rapidly. All of which is opportunistically seized on by The Silver Path which has already been fanning the flames of fear and prejudice by blaming the “doughfaces” for every imaginable societal problem, and whose gryphon and unicorn now announce a sister political party with a Final Solution. That is what you think, yes.
The True Gospels mystery I’m going to studiously avoid for fearing of giving too much away, but by gum this is a clever and complex graphic novel, its subplots so intricately interwoven and the implications of its revelations even craftier than you might think. Let us discuss after class instead! I’d so dearly love that!
Back to the story, however, and LeBrock has the bright idea of enlisting the aid of Billie herself to infiltrate The Silver Path cult thereby creating another potential problem, finds himself desperate for the aid of American sharp-shooter Chance Lucas (haha!) of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and is so forced to confront his own prejudices.
I like that. Matt Wagner did the same thing with Wesley Dodds in SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE VOL 7: show his hero to have very similar failings.
From my brief burst of parenthetical laughter you will have gathered that, as ever with GRANDVILLE, there are so many Easter egg bonuses. That is Lucky Luke, you did spy Asterix and Obelix (the trousers are a dead giveaway), there are a couple of nods to Hergé and other childhood favourites, and that dying pose is unmissable as The Pietà. There are dozens more, but my favourite is Nicholas, the boss-eyed gryphon (it’s no coincidence that both religious leaders are mythological creatures, the gryphon based on Sir John Tenniel’s), doing his best Adolf Hitler impression during The Last Supper before sitting there silent and smug. Nicholas the gryphon? Nick Griffin, former leader of Britain’s neo-Nazi National Front party. It looks exactly like him!
As ever with Talbot, it is craft, craft, craft all the way with no skimping on detail. Some of the costumes here are ridiculously rich in colour flourishes, the architecture does Paris full justice and the interiors are equally lush. Plus you will love the gondola-like aerial sky tram used here like a James Bond set piece. There’s so much action, choreographed to perfection and you’ll get all your steam, punk, I promise!
The theology is equally up to scratch and meticulously researched, although on reflection I doubt Bryan had to do much more than check a few minutiae – he knows this sort of stuff. That the historical facts involving the True Gospels have been so cleverly utilised for his own anthropomorphic plot’s ends… well, once more, let’s discuss after class, shall we?
Finally, you get quite the bang for your buck. This is as dense as it is intense and whereas most stories are over once the fat lady has sung to crescendo so shattering the glass, here the repercussions are extensive with scene after scene of reprise, reversal, revelation and startling cliffhanger prologue before you even get to the most satisfying four-page epilogue of this series yet. *zips mouth, moves on*
Finally, finally, I think you’ve earned yourself some comedy, so here’s the nannyish Doctor Ermintrude Bovery, head of Religious Studies. Something’s really got her goat:
“You’re another damned atheist, are you, Mister LeBrock? I suppose you’re a meat-eater to boot.”
“Guilty as charged.”
“Why, oh why, are only intelligent people vegetarian? If your evolution tomfoolery were true, Ursine, you’d find that your brains were bequeathed by ancestors who ate no meat.”
“On the contrary. We couldn’t possibly have evolved from a herbivore species.”
“Why ever not?”
“Because, my dear Doctor… IT DOESN’T TAKE A GREAT DEAL OF INTELLIGENCE TO SNEAK UP ON A BLADE OF GRASS!”
Buy Grandville vol 4: Noël and read the Page 45 review here
Arkwright Integral h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Bryan Talbot.
Hefty hardcover reprinting both THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT and HEART OF EMPIRE which, at the time of typing, are both out of print.
Bonus material not previously reprinted in either softcover includes all nine full-colour covers to Dark Horse’s serialisation, all nine full-colour covers to Valkyrie Press’ serialisation plus its ARKeogology, the three UK trade paperback covers, a substantial chunk of the enormous Bryan Talbot Arkwright Interview conducted by SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING’s Stephen R. Bissette originally published in 2012 and a new afterword / tribute by TRANSMETROPOLITAN’S Warren Ellis.
Here we go, then, first with THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT:
A damning indictment of man’s ceaseless inhumanity to man in the form of oppression, warfare and retribution: its attempts to justify war in the name of God or country; its failure to learn or advance except in more effective means of destruction; individuals’ consistent failure in power to live up to their promises made in revolution, and all the endemic, sorry subterfuge behind it all.
Bryan’s knowledge of political history is matched only by his command in communicating its lessons, however they may ignored by our lessers, and for a work which is essentially science fiction involving multiple parallel worlds, precognition and psychometry, this has its feet planted firmly in British history and on its very streets as Luther Arkwright is dispatched to a key parallel world in which Britain never succeeded in unshackling itself from its Cromwellian past. There he must uncover the Disruptor agents that have infiltrated key positions in the world’s governments and in particular that of repressionist, Puritan Britain, marshal the underground Royalist forces and start a great big fucking revolution to uncover the legendary Firefrost and prevent pan-dimensional Armageddon. I know that it’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it.
This is a work that is rich in texture, vast in scope and charged with sexual energy. It’s also incredibly dense in its truest sense, for it could have been expanded into four times its length with no filler whatsoever. Instead, by weaving Arkwright’s complex history through the threads of the main narrative, by gradually lacing the present and particular with what is known of the parallels’ past, and by excavating as they go what few clues the guardians of central and stable Para 00:00:00 have of the mysterious Firefrost, their role and their goal in locating that ultimate weapon of mass destruction is slowly revealed. It really is intoxicating, as is the central climax of orgasmic satori when Arkwright rises from his own ashes – a phoenix primed with pure impressionistic poetry – which by contrast is allowed to explode across the pages in all its lush allusion. For anyone else this would be their magnum opus, not their opening salvo.
As indicated, Talbot has much to say about governments and war. The Firefrost, as its name implies, is an entity of opposites, a conjugation capable of destruction and creation, death and rebirth: the ultimate weapon of mass destruction designed to preserve life “until inevitably – as with any deterrent – it was activated”. Concise and to the point, I think you’ll agree.
Nathaniel Cromwell, Lord Protector and head of the Church of England, is an exceedingly ugly creation. A puritanical preacher, he rages against sin yet fornicates in secret, forcing himself on young royalist virgins, bound and gagged in the dark. Riddled with venereal disease, he is rabid in public whilst, in private, deliriously drunk; he is plagued by his father’s abuse which left him sexually disfigured. Even the revolutionary Queen Anne has a ruthless side that will take you by surprise – or maybe not if you’ve read HEART OF EMPIRE. Just like HEART OF EMPIRE (a sequel of sorts) this shares its Shakespearian elements contrasting affairs of state with backstreet bawdiness, and this has an awful lot of omens. Bryan has a worryingly broad and vivid imagination when it comes to the hundreds of worldwide catastrophes visiting the other parallel worlds! Here too are the Hogarthian references as you’ll see down in Cheapside overlooked (I think) by Westminster, as foul-mouthed farter Harry Fairfax (again, some relation to Sir Thomas) questions the meaning of it all.
It’s also in Cheapside especially that the true majesty of the art – until now smothered and smudged beyond all recognition by a printing process inadequate to the task – really shines in this new shooting. The sheer detail on every page is remarkable from the exterior architecture with its intricate cross-hatching to the textures of a library crammed full of foliage, cloth and cultural carvings, and the final battle is epic. Steeped in British legend and lore (Boudicca, Britannia, George and the Dragon…), the World War fighter planes are dwarfed by futuristic helicarriers which hover in the sky like mighty, metal, military toads defying the laws of gravity. Absolute carnage!
October 2008 marks the 30th anniversary of the first pages seeing print in one form or another, and I think what may be most remarkable about this is that Talbot had the drive, ambition and courage back then to embark on it at all. That he then managed to successfully complete such a complex and painstakingly rendered grand narrative of sequential art which the British and American markets at the time were neither ready for nor willing to pay properly for, paving the way for future sales and showing what could and should be done, leaves us as progressive retailers (and others as subsequent comicbook creators), I believe, substantially in the great man’s debt.
Please note: readers of editions earlier than 2007 really won’t recognise what they see here: there are mountains whose delineation never made it onto the printed page and stars will explode in a night that was previously pitch-black – or rather bland grey. For many comicbook readers this is their favourite graphic novel of all time, and they’ll now need another copy to see what it should have looked like.
Talbot wrote to me:
Yes, I was trying to do a Hogarthian scene – though it’s not based on any specific one. I just looked at the page in the Czech edition with a magnifying glass and there’s a lot of stuff in there I’d forgotten – me at the drawing board looking out of the top left window, a woman hanging washing in the BG of the next window along, people pissing and fornicating in the narrow alleyway, an old guy sitting on the steps crushing body lice with his thumbnails (as seen in a plate from The Harlot’s Progress – the prison scene). And I noticed, for the first time, not having gone through this edition religiously, that Vaclav Dort, the publisher, has even unobtrusively translated the graffiti on the walls. I think that the tower is one from the old St Paul’s cathedral – the one that burned down on this parallel in the great fire of London 1666. You can see it two pages earlier in the rooftop scene. That scene is based on a Doré print – ‘cept in that it’s the new St Paul’s in the BG. Likewise before the Battle of London when Rose walks up to Westminster Abbey, it has the domes capping the side buttresses that were replaced on our parallel a couple of hundred years ago.
And now our second feature this evening, HEART OF EMPIRE:
Highly ambitious, very British and totally engrossing work, this uses all the clarity and majesty Talbot found for THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT.
It is, in fact, thoroughly Shakespearean both in scope and treatment, alternating between high matters of state and street-level bawdiness whilst emphasising the connection through social and sexual decadence amongst the aristocracy and their entourage, and revolutionary aspirations and individual courage in the no-go areas of London. Then there’s the dilemma raging between the individual and his/her role in society, the missing kin, the moment of upheaval and the looming cataclysm – all traditional elements of Elizabethan theatre; it might be stretching it a bit but the parallel worlds could be looked at as foreign territory and the science fantasy element as replacing the role of magic.
As to the story itself, 23 years ago Luther Arkwright saved this alternate reality, leaving behind him a wife, two children and an ambitious empire whose heart is Albion (England), and which has by now conquered most of the known world outside of America. Only the Vatican is allowed a modicum of independence. This world is very much a contemporary of ours – the two US reporters make that clear – but so much of it is Victoria in extremis: the all-consuming, rapaciously greedy imperialism, the vast state expenditure on monument (Talbot’s art here, particularly for the creation of the neo-Crystal Palace and its environs, is awe-inspiring, right up there with Guy Davis but with his own distinctive light and clarity), the seemingly unassailable, matriarchal monarchy, slavery bolstered by racism and apartheid, the hypocritical sexual values forced upon the commoners yet flouted by the well-to-do, flaunting both their bosoms and their catamites. Some sciences have advanced whilst others languish, superstitious prophets and quacks maintaining weight amongst the court, madhouses still the destination of the unstable or politically undesirable.
From the very first page looking out through a Roman window, with its overripe fruit cleaved by a knife, the waste, decadence and latent violence is made patently clear.
Talbot’s anti-authoritarian credentials are well documented (see ALICE IN SUNDERLAND’s substantial post-script), and this work has at its heart a total disgust for inequality, control and corruption. Machinations are rife. Brutality is common. Sycophancy permeates the court. But even so Talbot is not so dismissive as to avoid counter-arguments, and his strength as a writer shines through in his portrayal of the protagonist, for the princess at the heart of the story has a journey to make, and as the story opens she is as cold and aloof as the empire but has made use of its wealth, power and her own talent to build an astoundingly beautiful city, replete with buildings, squares and vistas rarely seen since the Renaissance, and on a scale we don’t even aspire to any longer.
The resources of the many squandered by the few on self-aggrandising, imperialist spectacle…? Well of course, but it’s more than a little tempting to mourn such architectural planning and achievement, especially after Talbot’s pen lines.
The book also boasts some fine Alan Moore-ish LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN mock endpapers, a great deal of explicit sex and I wasn’t kidding about the bawdy humour, so be warned. Okay, back to the plot and an interdimensional apocalypse approaches…
Quick reminder that you can find Page 45’s Bryan Talbot interview in our website’s FUN & RESOUCES section. There are several paragraphs there relevant to this including a couple of behind-the-scenes secrets.
Buy Arkwright Integral h/c and read the Page 45 review here
Opus (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Satoshi Kon.
“So it’s true… my life is someone else’s story…”
Prepare yourselves for a mind-melt!
“Somehow I expected God to have a beard… not two days’ growth.”
You may have read comicbook metafiction before like Grant Morrison’s ANIMAL MAN or Dave Sim’s CEREBUS: MINDS wherein the fourth wall is breached, creator meets the characters and Grant Morrison’s cat becomes copyright DC, but this goes several steps further with a conclusion previously unpublished which… well, we’ll get there, don’t worry.
Satoshi Kon created the gripping graphic novel TROPIC OF THE SEA and directed the anime Perfect Blue which also impressed me no end. (His second film, Millennium Actress, tied with Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away for the Grand Prize in the Japan Agency Of Cultural Affairs Media Arts Festival.)
In terms of comics, however, this is the big one. The second I banged the book open I thought of AKIRA and there’s some serious structural damage going on here too, but the cause is dramatically different.
As the story opens Chikara Nagai’s spectacularly successful manga series, ‘Resonance’, is reaching its dramatic, nay shocking conclusion. Psychics Satoko and Lin are confronting The Masque, a mesmerising religious cult leader of The Nameless Faith. The Masque does indeed go down but takes Lin with him in a blast of pyschokinetic energy that bursts right through Lin’s chest and out of his back. Even its publishers never saw the ending coming, largely because Chikara changed it at the last minute. He’s just shown his editor the rough, pencilled pages.
“Wait. You’re killing off Lin…?”
“Yep.. bang! Epic, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s badass, and I like what you did, but… what happened to Satoko defeating The Masque…? The happy ending… all that?”
“Oh, that. Yeah, I tried a few ideas… but with Lin becoming more prominent in volume three, The Masque got stronger also. Too tough for Satoko to realistically take out… I thought this would make for a big finish.”
His editor trusts him and gives him the go-ahead but…
“I guess everyone has their favourite character… I just hate to see him go out like that.”
“I’m sure Lin hates to go like that, too…!”
And he laughs. Oh, Chikara, so glib, so glib… Those words are going to come back to bite you.
In spite of the deadline pressure Chikara relishes inking the final-page shocker but it does leave him frazzled. There’s a bang and a quake and now a new piece of artists’ bristol board materialises on his desk depicts a narrow shaft leading down with Lin crawling angrily up.
“You’re not getting rid of me that easily, asshole…!”
Several seconds later the comicbook artist finds himself tumbling down this Lewis Carroll-ian rabbit hole and trapped in the very fictional world he created himself but hasn’t quite finished. The Masque is still very much alive and bent on his destruction; Lin – determined to avoid his final, brutal fate – has swiped the book’s final-page splash and is bent on changing the future by destroying his fictional past; Satoko with her own childhood trauma is reluctant to go where no woman has gone before; and Lin’s young, blind, second-sight sister Mei registers what they are all reluctant to accept.
“The truth is that this world is fiction.”
That, I can assure you, is only the tip of this metafictional iceberg destined to destroy everyone’s lives and “lives”. Cracks begin to appear between reality and fiction and within the very volumes of the fiction itself as Lin tears through the pages of the last book to crawl himself into the earlier ones and stop the serial killer who will later become The Masque before The Masque kills the copper who will be reincarnated as Lin.
Look, I told you this would melt your mind.
I haven’t even touched on the logic that if a creator can become trapped in his own comicbook fiction then it stands to reason that fictional characters can break out into reality. A reality which is a fiction, by the way, because this graphic novel was created by Satoshi Kon not Chikara Nagai.
You just wait until the final chapter.
That final chapter, as I say, is new. Just like ‘Resonance’ never gets completed because… oh, you’ll see…Satoshi’s animation career took off so spectacularly that OPUS itself never got finished. Oh, the ironies! The final chapter here was found in Satoshi’s personal files after his passing and is printed in pencils with the script inked-in with the permission of Satoshi’s family.
This is a 350-page monster with incredible depth and I had so much more to report. Pages of notes! Like when Satoko is spotted in our world by a manga fan and assumed to be a cosplayer. When Satoko spies the artist’s girlfriend and realises who she’d modelled on. And when the artist improvises in his own fictional world by grabbing a moped to escape pursuit because his studio artist has put in all the hard work.
“Background details! You gotta love ‘em…”
Buy Opus and read the Page 45 review here
Night Post h/c (£12-99, Improper Books) by Benjamin Read & Laura Trinder…
Like Raymond Briggs’ Snowman meets the Munsters in a true monster mash-up, this wordless yarn will bring a little festive
fright cheer into your homes this Christmas. Actually, as our story begins with a typical day like any other drawing to a close, it is clear from the profusion of pumpkins peering out spookily from windows or devilishly illuminating doorsteps that this is around Halloween. But, irrespective of the time of year, the post must go out. So, after a doting dad has settled his precious little princess with a story, it’s out to work, heading off to the ‘Regal Mail’ depot for the late shift. Which is where we get our first hint that the job of the night postie might not be quite so straightforward as during the waking hours…
Past the restricted access door marked ‘Night Post’, down the endless, uneven stone steps to a gloomy dungeon lit only by a flaming brazier, our postie at last approaches a huge wooden door, festooned with elaborate ironmongery. With the aid of the golden key hanging half-hidden round his neck, he gains access into the inner sanctum of… the sorting office… Yes, at first glance you might think this is just a normal bustling posse of posties, sorting their bags and plotting their routes, but look closer… Are those bats hanging from the rafters? Do some of his colleagues look, well, a little ghoulish? Why are there tentacles wriggling out from underneath that desk?! Why is there a crocodile encased in purple paper wrapped paper complete with a lovely red bow perched on top of that desk?!! Still, his workmates give him a cheery wave and welcome him in, like it’s all perfectly normal. And, after some slight difficulties ramming one last huge, bizarrely shaped parcel into his TARDIS-like bicycle panniers, he’s ready to turn those peddles and get posting, which is where the fun-filled fright-fest really begins!
Ghosts, goblins, witches, werewolves, zombies, vampires, in fact pretty much every horror monster ever conceived, created or indeed brought to life with lightning in a laboratory are on our intrepid postie’s route. Most are delighted to receive their letters and parcels, but there are more than a few that just can’t help reverting to type and trying to munch their messenger immediately after receipt! How very ungrateful of them! Our valiant envoy of the Regal Mail will manage to complete his deliveries of course, rest assured, but there are going to be many an amusing close call along the way!
Ah, this is great fun. I loved reading it to my daughter, who does like her monsters, and hearing her cackle with delight as the postie came ever closer to being somebody’s supper. I say “read”, mind you, but do bear in mind this is a wordless tale. The upside of course being it will stimulate the imagination of children everywhere as their inner narrator gets to work composing a soundtrack and dialogue for the action. The downside is if you’re a knackered dad wanting to get his child off to bed so you can finally relax, you’ll have to put a bit more work in doing a monstrous enough narration to satisfy your audience. Actually I felt rather like I’d put on a one-man Hammer House of Horror half hour homage show by the time I’d finished – PG rated, obviously – but it was well worth it listening to Isabella’s giggles. Trust me, though, doing sound effects for the Creature From The Black Lagoon plays havoc with your tonsils…
So much to admire in the script and artwork here, there are some absolutely brilliant visual gags, such as when you find out that the vampire’s parcel in fact contains a vegetarian cookbook! Ben has really thought through his narrative and Laura has illustrated it to perfection in a style that is a glorious mix of Raymond Briggs and Charles Vess. There is an immense amount of work gone into the storytelling here, which of course is essential if you are going to do a wordless book, but having read more children’s books than I can recall in the last three and a half years, I can truly say this has been produced with so much more love and attention to detail by its creators than most. Adults will get a kick out of spotting all the classic monsters, as I did, and kids will adore the fact that it’s a teeny, weeny bit scary yet utterly ridiculous at the same time. Plus, there is that all important happy ending which I thought was very sweet and touching, actually.
Buy Night Post h/c and read the Page 45 review here
Maleficium (£11-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by EdieOP…
“I DON’T NEED A BATH! I’VE CAST A CLEAN SPELL SO THERE!!!”
Ha ha, very funny. In our house it is usually not wanting to have hair washed and conditioned, because a certain somebody knows as sure as night follows day that the comb will then come out. And when your hair mysteriously likes to entangle itself in Gordian-level knots that even the hoariest of salty sea dogs would find tricky to untie, well, it’s going to hurt. So, a combed hair spell would be ideal.
Parking the preamble and moving on… Huxley Leighton-Lomax is a tiny tot of a wizard. With a cute hat that looks more akin to Wee Willie Winkie’s than Merlin’s, he’s clearly just begun the perilous path of mystic learning. Which probably explains why he’s not aware that feeding the monster under your bed with cornflakes is never, ever a good idea. He thinks he’s just doing his new friend a good turn, which is sweet of him, bless him, but as the monster begins to get hungrier, taking a fancy to Huxley’s little sister, he realises he’s got a serious problem. Unfortunately for Huxley, his dad doesn’t believe for a moment that malicious forces are at work, disrupting their household; he just thinks Huxley’s wild imagination is running away with him causing chaos. So it looks like it’s going to be up to Huxley to save the day and vanquish the monster all by himself! I reckon he’s up to the task…
Another exquisitely well produced release from Avery Hill featuring the talents of EDieOP who had a tale in issue #2 of the Avery Hill house anthology READS where I made the point that she has a great sense of fun and also a uniquely endearing art style. And so it is here, in her first longer-form work. There is a lovely sense of mischief in this yarn, you never really get the sense Huxley and his sister are in mortal peril, but the creepy critter inhabiting the house, all black and shapeless with multiple grasping hands, is certainly an intimidating foe for a wannabe wizard of such tender years. Not that Huxley is intimidated, far from it, Huxley doesn’t do intimidated, but initially at least, he really struggles to keep a lid of what is threatening to develop into full blown pandemonium. It’s just so unfair his dad is convinced it’s all just Huxley being naughty!
I do love EdieOP’s art style. It’s rare anyone lets you see all the initial pencil guidelines under their watercolours, but it really adds a sense of depth and motion to her panels. She’s gone for a quite a subdued palette of various hues of blue here, compared to her fairly riotous use of colour in The Story Of Lucius Jellybean (her story in READS about a whole new lifeform created from a dissolved slug), though I completely understand why. As does Huxley once he locates the relevant spook in his wizard’s tome on the Paranormal, as this beastie likes nothing more than to lurk and forment fear from the shadows. A great all-ages read and perfect for terrorising tiny tots as what might be lurking under the bed if they don’t stop wriggling about and fall asleep!
Buy Maleficium and read the Page 45 review here
Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream h/c (£55-00, Locust Moon Press) by a multitude of talented artists.
What a whopper!
This hardcover is so utterly enormous I cannot take it home to review.
It’s not so much a coffee-table book but – pop four stacks of bricks underneath it – a coffee table.
Take a quick gander at this list of creators: Bill Sienkiewicz, J.H. Williams III, Paul Pope, Michael Allred, David Mack, Stephen Bissette, Craig Thompson, Gabriel Bá, Fábio Moon, Peter Bagge, J.G. Jones, Yuko Shimizu and many, many more.
If you’re unfamiliar with Winsor McCay’s original LITTLE NEMO published between 1905 and 1914, the titular chappy was a young lad in pyjamas travelling through his dreams to Slumberland, inevitably waking at the bottom of each page in one panic or another, to be consoled by parent or grandparent.
The concept, character and indeed the very format have all been used, incorporated or adapted to their own works by an extraordinary number of modern creators, most obviously by Gaiman in ‘The Dolls House’ chapter of SANDMAN.
The architecture, the warped scales (everything’s either far bigger or smaller), the perspectives, the design element (gradually elongated, vertical panels climaxing in Nemo tumbling from his bed, for instance), and the figure drawing were nothing short of spectacular, and more often than not a single page will have you mesmerised by a meticulous and improbably successful use of colour and pattern motif (striped shirts, dancing mermaid tails, elephant heads, whathaveyou) perfectly placed throughout the individual panels. Awesome to behold.
Here, have a sense of scale next to UMBRAL VOL 1.
Buy Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream h/c and read the Page 45 review here
Serenity vol 4: Leaves On The Wind h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Zack Whedon & Georges Jeanty, Fabio Moon.
I’ll come clean.
Well, I would if this blood would wash off, but we seem to be in Shakespearean “seas incarnadine” season as I commit so many culpable sins on Twitter.
It was Black Friday last, uh, Friday and I felt we had to join in with the special offer that if you gave Page 45 £45 we would give you £45’s worth of comics. Bonanza!
Seriously, retailers: don’t discount! You’re only hurting yourselves. I can honestly say that it drove me to drink – although I did ask to pull over when I saw that the off-licence was offering a two-for-one wine offer. I hate myself.
Sorry, where were we?
“In the film Serenity, outlaw Malcolm Reynolds and his crew revealed to the entire ‘verse the crimes against humanity undertaken by the sinister Alliance government. In this official follow-up, circumstances force the crew to come out of hiding, and one of their own is captured, setting them on another mission of rescue and resistance . . . Collects the six-issue miniseries and the 2012 Free Comic Book Day story.”
Okay, yes, I’ll come clean: I’ve not read a word of this nor seen a single second of its on-screen incarnation but you seem to care because we’ve sold pod-loads which is why I mention it now. I might also mention the recent arrival of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON 10 VOL 1 s/c which seems to tie in this blatant piece of hucksterism.
I am a capitalist nightmare come true.
Buy Serenity vol 4: Leaves On The Wind h/c and read the Page 45 review here
Punk Rock Jesus: Deluxe Edition h/c (£29-99, Vertigo) by Sean Murphy.
I can’t get it out of my head.
I started singing “Punk-Rock Jee-sus” to the tune of Captain Scarlet and now that mind-worm is here to stay.
Dun-dun dun de-de dun! Whoo!
Hold this sucker side-on and you will see from all the white that a phenomenal third of this hardcover is extras above and beyond the PUNK ROCK JESUS softcover.
I have never in all my years as a comics reader seen such a wealth of process-piece material whereby you sneak behind the scenes like an errant school-child to see deleted scenes, thoughts in progress, character designs, sketches, thumbnails, self-analysis, concept art, studio photos… This is an artist’s artist edition. This is the Holy Grail!
Which is an interesting analogy given what we’re considering.
What we’re considering is this:
“What kinds of things will he be learning?”
“Math, English, American History, Creationism, Faith Healing.”
“Creationism and Faith Healing? You’re kidding me.”
“Many of our viewers are fundamentalist and would be uncomfortable with their saviour learning about science and evolution.”
“That’s ridiculous! The benefit of a billion-dollar learning centre, and all you teach is dogma?”
“It’s the American way.”
It begins with a prayer swiftly answered by violence. God knows where it will all end.
Ophis Entertainment has announced a new reality show starring the first human clone in history: it’s Jesus Christ himself.
Whether or not the revolution will be televised, the countdown to the Second Coming will! Season one will commence with conception and climax at birth. After that both nature and nurture will be on camera 24/7. Audience figures for the J2 Project will reach 3 billion daily and, in order to achieve those ratings, smarmy Dick Slate will do anything – absolutely anything. The insidiousness begins on day one, and the levels it reaches will stagger you.
First it requires a scientist: Dr. Sarah Epstein, geneticist in service to saving the environment. In 2013 she cloned polar bears in an attempt to stave off their extinction, then developed a hyper plant which fed off carbon dioxide faster than anything else. She even tried to pollinate the Brazilian rainforest before being stung by lawsuits from six fast-food chains. Now she’s determined to engineer new strains of algae to halt global warming but to do that she needs funds.
“And if I have to resurrect Jesus Christ to do it, then I will.”
Next the Immaculate Conception requires a self-sacrificial virgin in the form of naïve 18-year-old Gwen Fairling (presented to the world after some swift cosmetic surgery – teeth, nose, breasts), then some of our saviour’s DNA. And, you know, whatever happens next, this exchange on live television should certainly be born in mind:
“There’s never been any evidence that the [Turin] Shroud is as old as Christians would like to believe. And carbon dating has proven that. Most important here is no one outside of Ophis has been allowed to verify the validity of the DNA.”
“Blasphemy. Carbon dating is flawed – the Shroud is real and that proves Jesus was, too!”
“Is what Father Sterlins says true?”
“There’s no disputing carbon data. And there’s never been any empirical evidence that a person named Jesus Christ ever existed.”
“How dare you! Scientists are not to be trusted! Their arrogance has given us atomic bombs and nuclear waste. They tell us that we all come from monkeys, and insist on telling that to our children.”
“Evolution through natural selection is a fact. Fossil records prove it.”
“Evolution is just a theory!”
“So is gravity.”
Some of the Christian contingent are all for it – it combines their favourite pastimes to perfection – while others like the New American Christians protest vociferously outside Ophis’ island HQ. They’d far rather protest inside the high-tech laboratory turned TV studio, of course, which is where our Irish head of security comes in, born of sectarian violence. Yes, Murphy’s brought Northern Ireland into this already flammable mix: Thomas is a former member of the IRA!
I think it was HELLBLAZER’s Andy Diggle who first said to Sean, “And Vertigo gave this the green light?!?” You’ve got to admire the guy’s guts, for this is as packed as the pulp paper it’s printed on with plot and sub-plottery destined to offend all and sundry. Or delight them. I am totally delighted.
Don’t think this is but a convenient peg on which to hang Thomas’ heart or explain his efficacy, either. The book begins twenty years earlier with his parents’ slaughter right before his impressionable eyes, leaving young Thomas vulnerable to his uncle’s indoctrination. The Irish troubles are addressed and indeed redressed later on – if not in full then certainly in terms of Thomas’ history – and it’s all very far from random.
Indeed every element of this socio-political masterpiece is commendably complex and thought right the way through. For what follows is everything you suspected of Reality TV, taken to the extremes deemed necessary when your star is supposedly the saviour: media manipulation, emotional blackmail and indeed outright abuse, all in service to the ratings.
Gwen’s trajectory is particularly tragic, trapped as she is in this fishbowl for her own personal safety and stuck on a white-knuckle ride she could never conceive of. When she turns to drink (supplied by Slate to “cheer her up”) and mistakenly fills her baby’s bottle up with wine rather than juice, it’s spun as a biblical miracle while Gwen herself sinks even further into self-loathing. As to Jesus “Chris” Christ, fed lies all his life, well, you know what happens when you hit your teens: you take your education into your own hands and it generally begins with vinyl. All his life he’s been shown how to grab the public’s attention, so over the years he’s learned a thing or two and when the worm turns, the tables do too.
As to the art, you’ve already swooned over Sean Murphy on THE WAKE, JOE THE BARBARIAN and HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS and this is every bit as thrilling in its post-Bachalo, black-and-white beauty – a comparison which holds true right down to the o’er-shaded nose tips. It is so ridiculously rich in detail, from the Irish pub walls to the stadium-sized concerts, that you can only gasp at the sheer graft which Sean has put in. The action sequences are spectacular, for Murphy doesn’t half love his motorbikes and the NAC will seize any opportunity to sabotage the show. Also, when the Flak Jackets strike their opening crash-chords the pages sound as loud as Paul Peart-Smith’s in NELSON. Dear lord, but the energy released is intense.
So has Project J2 really played God with God and cloned the Second Coming into existence? And, if so, will he fare any better than his progenitor at the hands of those who worshipped his deity-Dad? What really happened to that other little miracle, his genetically impossible twin sister snuck in by Sarah Epstein then drowned at birth? And what, ultimately, does Chris himself believe?
“I don’t care whose DNA I come from. The way I see it, I’m the bastard child of America’s runaway entertainment complex.”
Buy Punk Rock Jesus: Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here
Royal Blood h/c (£12-99, Random House / Vertical) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Dongzi Lui.
“Hold your tongue, harlot!
“A king is above human judgement!
“He knows neither limits nor taboos.”
Blimmin’ heck, he’s not kidding. This king certainly knows none!
If I were to name those taboos here I could set off so many ranking alerts it’s not true! As to the limits, that’s not the first tongue he’s silenced. Permanently. There’s hands-on parenting and hands-on parenting: this is the wrong sort of hands-on parenting.
This is excruciating and bloody and nudey. I believe the Borgias were better behaved.
The painted art’s rich in detail and just what medievalists tend to love: great big battle scenes, stone throne rooms so vast you can almost hear them echo, and at one point the weather got so chilly on the page that I put on a jumper.
Here’s the publisher:
“A shocking tale of betrayal, lust and warring kingdoms, from acclaimed creator Alexander Jodorowsky! Wounded, betrayed and left for dead, King Alvar returns to his kingdom to regain his stolen throne. Hungry for revenge, Alvar finds himself in the middle of a bloody political game for power. To keep his throne he must crush his enemies who would destroy him with their machinations. But his own horrific appetites may prove his undoing!”
If punching wolves in the face fires you right up, then this one’s for you.
Buy Royal Blood h/c and read the Page 45 review here
Justice League 3000 vol 1 s/c (£12-99, DC) by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis & Howard Porter, others…
“So we remember… and we don’t. We’re the Justice League… but we’re not.
“Am I the only one who thinks this is the stupidest idea ever?”
Judging by how few people are reading this title in single-issue form, at Page 45 at least, apparently not, but you know what? Everyone else is wrong because this is just utterly hilarious off-the-wall fun. If you ever read Giffen and DeMatteis’ classic JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL back in the veritable day, then you should have had some idea what to expect frankly with quality writing, crackpot plotting and bonkers characterisation. On the other hand, given the relative sales strength, rightly or wrongly, of the other JUSTICE LEAGUE titles, it is perhaps not surprising yet another apparent variation on a theme is falling through the cracks a bit.
So… it is the year 3000 and the Justice League are long dead. So why are Clark, Bruce, Diana, Hal and Barry running around acting like callow imitations of themselves? Well, that might be because the Wonder Twins (no, not those two, thank goodness) have partially successfully cloned our super friends and brought them back from the dead, to fight the encroaching threat of the hive-mind known as The Convert and his ultra-powerful shock troops, the Five, who have taken over the Commonwealth of planets.
It’s a last desperate attempt by the scientists of Cadmus to stave off impending galactic domination, but it’s immediately clear these versions of the Justice League are not exactly like our chums of old. They may have a handful of the memories and some of their powers, sure, but they’ve none of the traumatic yet formative experiences / years of disciplined training, so consequently they’re like five squabbling egomaniacs who seem as likely to punch each other’s lights out as follow the mission parameters. Yet the strange thing is they all know they are acting like complete bickering idiots, but aren’t really sure why. When we finally get the real answer to why they aren’t perfect clones of the originals, it certainly suggests the boffins might have circumvented a few ethical boundaries in their haste to try and save the galaxy.
It’s a great concept, this, from Giffen and DeMatteis, which they’ve clearly thought through and is already providing me with as much fun as I got from the classic JLI material. I hope they manage to keep this title going for a while at least, as it is easily one of the most entertaining titles of DC’s current output, such as it is. Also, really nice art from Howard Porter, who I haven’t seen that much of since he worked on the moderately seminal run of JLA with Grant Morrison and Mark Waid.
Buy Justice League 3000 vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here
Iron Fist: The Living Weapon vol 1: Rage s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Kaare Andrews.
HAWKEYE’s Matt Fraction and David Aja are a hard act to follow. Their previous run on IRON FIST was a rejuvenating joy.
Fortunately one of comics’ finest chameleons, Kaare Andrews of SPIDER-MAN: REIGN, is no slouch.
He’s using at least four different visual styles so far including an exquisitely rendered black-and-white sequence like freeze-frame footage from a Bruce Lee film lit from the left by an industrial spotlight so throwing Daniel Rand’s body into stark silhouette, indelible on the east but eroded from the west.
He’s channelling Jim Steranko. With elements of SIN CITY there, yes.
“Two apaches descending hard and fast almost drown out the slide of nylon rope and chambered bullets. Almost.
“I draw them away from the girl. The apartments. Away from innocent lives.
“If they’re looking for something to destroy, how about an insurance company?
“I’m assuming they’re covered.”
Daniel Rand is tired and jaded. Numb. He is going through the motions.
He is being interviewed by a young lady “three steps out of a journalism degree, subsidized by Mommy and Daddy, enabled by a pretty face”. He is aware of the flattery yet prone to her interest not to mention her young, pretty face. So he tells of his childhood wrenched from home and into blizzardous mountains but seconds away from an avalanche by his father’s mad-eyed obsession with the mythical city of K’Un Lun. The expedition didn’t end well.
Now he’s in bed with her because, whatever, he’s earned it.
But whether sat opposite in the restaurant, brushing his teeth both before and afterwards or lying catatonic beneath Debbie / Barbie / Brenda or whatever her name is during sex, he remains robotic-eyed, close to drooling.
That is, until the helicopters strike.
I’d quote you the restaurant monologue in lieu of actual conversation which is hilarious in its relentlessness and slide towards size but please pick up the comic instead.
Once upon a time these satellite C-list series were mere filler while the big guns blazed well ahead. Now there seems so much invested in the five million Avengers titles to fuel its films’ fires that they’ve become self-indulgent, turgid and impenetrable. I prefer these far more accessible and individualistic series when given to creators of note, like LOKI and MS MARVEL and MOON KNIGHT – and of course YOUNG AVENGERS before them.
For more about Iron Fist himself, please see my review of THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST: COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 1 and buy Fraction’s book: it’s a killer.
Buy Iron Fist: The Living Weapon vol 1: Rage s/c and read the Page 45 review here
Inhuman vol 1: Genesis s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Joe Madureira, Ryan Stegman.
In which a cloud of Terrigen Mist is sweeping across the world, changing humans into Inhumans.
“You really need to think about a change.”
A change, you say? Did you know there is a cloud of Terrigen Mist sweeping across the world, changing humans into Inhumans?
“Change. Pfft. Easy to say. Hard to do.”
Not when there’s a cloud of Terrigen Mist sweeping across the world, changing humans into Inhumans.
“I’m on a track, with no way off. I know it’s not what I’m supposed to be. I can feel something better for me, I just can’t find it.”
Don’t worry, it’s heading your way, sweeping across the world as a cloud of Terrigen mist. Look, it’s on the TV in the next panel, and it’ll be with you on the next page. That’s, like, so ironic.
As to the art: horrible. Especially the colours by Marte Gracia who has made this as impenetrably murky as ULTIMATES vol 3.
I recommend MS MARVEL. That series is brilliant.
Buy Inhuman vol 1: Genesis s/c and read the Page 45 review here
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!
Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?
Here h/c (£25-00, Hamish Hamilton) by Richard McGuire
I Blame Grandma sketched-in (£4-99, self-published) by Joe Decie
The Cats Of Tanglewood Forest s/c (£5-99, Little Brown) by Charles De Lint & Charles Vess
Cochlea & Eustachia s/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Hans Rickheit
Hansel & Gretel h/c (£12-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman, The Brothers Grimm & Lorenzo Mattotti
Just The Tips h/c (£9-99, Image) by Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky & Chip Zdarsky
Marshal Law s/c (£22-50, DC) by Pat Mills & Kevin O’neill
New Lone Wolf & Cub vol 3 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Hideki Mori
The Shaolin Cowboy s/c (£14-99, Burlyman) by Geof Darrow
Slaine: Books Of Invasion vol 1 h/c (£13-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley
Spectrum vol 21 s/c (£25-99, Flesk) by various
Wasteland vol 10: Last Exit For The Lost (£10-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Brett Weldele, Sandy Jarrell, Omar Olivera, Christopher Mitten
Zenith Phase Two h/c (£18-99, Titan) by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell
The New 52: Futures End vol 1 s/c (£29-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen & Patrick Zircher, Ethan Van Sciver, various
Red Lanterns vol 5: Atrocities s/c (£14-99, DC) by Charles Soule, Antony Bedard & Alessandro Vitti, Yildiray Cinar, Miguel Angel Sepulveda, various
Dorothy And The Wizard In Oz s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower & Skottie Young
Thor God Of Thunder vol 3: The Accursed s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Nic Klein, Ron Garney, Das Pastoras
Wolverine: Origin h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & Andy Kubert, Richard Isanove
Assassin’s Creed vol 5: El Cakr h/c (£8-99, Random House / Vertical) by Eric Corbeyran & Djillali Defali
ITEM! Gary Phillips & Marc Laming’s graphic novel THE RINSE to become a TV series. This pleases me enormously, especially if Page 45 gets to keep its San Francisco branch. Seriously, Page 45 is in THE RINSE! In San Francisco. Ask me in-store and I’ll show you!
ITEM! Calvin & Hobbes doing a little animated dance! We love CALVIN & HOBBES. And stock it too!
ITEM! New interview with Bryan Talbot with loads of behind-the-scenes insights into the world of GRANDVILLE including the fourth book reviewed above!
ITEM! Angoulême 2015 prize nominees announced! Includes so many of my favourite graphic novels!
ITEM! THE NAO OF BROWN Competition Time Winner! A couple of weeks ago we asked you which ridiculous faux pas I managed (out of a career of so very many) when it came to Glyn Dillon’s THE NAO OF BROWN signing in our Georgian Room at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014. The clue was I came clean in that very blog. This is 15 minutes prior to the signing:
Just as I’m getting very, very excited in walks this well-handsome man with a gentle demeanour and asks how we’re doing.
“Oh, tremendously well, cheers!” I croak. “I mean, look at this lavish room the festival has given us! We’ve a rotating cast of creators all sketching and selling away! We’ve all these jaw-dropping graphic novels the public are lapping up. And. And. In fifteen minutes time we have the great Glyn Dillon not just signing or sketching but painting in THE NAO OF BROWN!”
And this lovely, lovely oh lovely man says, “Who on earth do you think I am?”
The winner, drawn by ATOMIC SHEEP’s Sally-Jane Thompson, is the lovely oh lovely Leigh Hobson who now owns this sketched-in copy of THE NAO OF BROWN. Hurrah!
ITEM! “I’ve handed in scripts where instead of writing Hepzibah I typoed Hezbollah, which is a very different kind of X-men story where an entire political organization is sleeping with Cyclops’ Dad.” THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Kieron Gillen writes about what he sees as his scripts’ shortcomings, and is as entertaining as ever.
ITEM! One of comics’ finest-ever colour artists, Bettie Breitweiser (Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting’s period spy thriller VELVET and so much more), pays tribute to her right-hand man Eduardo Navarro, no longer with us.
ITEM! The ever-erudite Damien Walters exhorts science fiction authors to up their already considerable literary game to compete with video games. Brilliant article and overview.
ITEM! The Guardian First Book Prize goes to Colin Barrett’s Young Skins. In case you’ve forgotten it once went to comics’ own Chris Ware for the graphic novel JIMMY CORRIGAN. Oh yes!
ITEM! Loved GOLD STAR by John Martz – still available in print. John Allison calls it one of the best comics he’s recently and posted the link to read GOLD STAR online.
ITEM! Christmas Shopping At Page 45! Yes, I could do with updating the recommendations there but the key points still apply! Tell all your friends and family that, if they bring wish lists to the counter, we’ll find those graphic novels for them or – if they want fresh recommendations for out-of-the-blue surprises – we love, love, love providing shop-floor show-and-tells tailored to your taste!
Christmas shopping made easy and interactive at Page 45!
Someone write me a jingle.