Posts in the ‘Reviews’ Category

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week one

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Reviewed: Inio Asano, John Allison, Brecht Evens, Sophie Campbell, Samuel C. Williams, Francesca Sanna, Mark Crilley, Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay, Neil Gaiman & Mike Zulli, Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette, Nick Spencer & more!

Panther h/c (£19-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brecht Evens…

Panther cover

“ROOAARR…. Oh! Are you the little girl I heard crying?”
“Um… yes.”
“What’s troubling your heart, my child?”
“Lucy… my kitty… she’s dead.”
“Rooaarr, how dreadful! Was it some kind of automobile?”
“Sniff. No. The vet…”
“Those quacks! I am so sorry… Here, take my handkerchief.”
“Sniff. Who are you?”
“Ah! Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Octavianus Abracadolphus Pantherius, Crown Prince of Pantherland! But you can call me Panther!”
“How did you get into my dresser?”
“Rooaarr! We Panthers go wherever we please!”
“But Pantherland… That’s not a real country, is it?”
“Not a real country? Christine, how dare you?”
“How do you know my name? I didn’t tell you my name.”
“Mmm?”

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Well… this wasn’t what I expected… and yet reflecting back to Brecht’s first work, the now-out-of-print NIGHT ANIMALS, it makes much sense. I was expecting something hilariously farcical akin to his two most recent works, THE WRONG PLACE and THE MAKING OF. This does have a lot of ridiculous humour in places, but there’s a very dark undercurrent here that left me feeling rather unsettled and uneasy upon its conclusion. Which, I should add, will be entirely what Brecht Evens intended.

Casting my mind back to NIGHT ANIMALS, where a young girl suddenly spontaneously matures physically, experiences her first period, and is whisked away from her soft toy strewn bed by the Devil to a wild orgy full of terrifying creatures in a forest, before she vanishes forever inside a strange birdman, there are clearly some parallels here. Askance ones at least.

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For whilst the titular Panther may on the surface appear to be a captivating, charismatic, magical creature, who only appears to a young girl called Christine, living alone with just her father, her mother having left for reasons unknown and mourning the recent loss of her dead cat Lucy, by the time you finish this work, you’ll have a hard time not concluding that in fact the Panther is a sexual predator, grooming Christine. You might also find it difficult not to conclude that the Panther is her father… I have on the other hand heard it suggested that this is a story of initial sexual awakening, emergence from adolescence, and the Panther is indeed merely an internal representative figure. Much like NIGHT ANIMALS, then. But, as I say, it’s all very ambiguous, right to the very end…

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What isn’t in doubt is that this is another Evens masterpiece, both in terms of storytelling and the art. You will find yourself squirming in your seat as Panther ingratiates himself further into Christine’s life, appearing as he only does in her bedroom, presenting himself as an understanding ear to bend and furry friend to play with. You can always tell, though, that he is being somewhat parsimonious with the truth. When not being downright evasive…

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Art-wise, well, wow! The cover is an extremely accurate representation of the kaleidoscopic illustrations you will find within. Already one of the most unique and inventive artists out there, Brecht has taken it to new levels here. What also furthers the discomfort regarding the identity of the Panther is his amorphous features, indeed his entire head, and also sometimes even his body. They are constantly changing, transforming completely, to perfectly fit the moment in terms of expression and emotion, usually to evoke a reaction from Christine, and sometimes slipping quite perturbingly when he knows she can’t see. Occasionally it’s even three or four times within a single illustration in a kind of time lapse movement that’s quite the accomplished visual treat.

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Once again Brecht also eschews the need for panel or page borders, indeed even pencils, just getting his watercolours straight down on the page. It adds a certain fairytale quality here in places. Overall, between the psychedelic art and the frenetic, fluid, false showman that is the Panther, there is a real Alice In Wonderland feel to this work. I closed the book feeling disturbed and delighted in equal measure. I have no idea what drove Brecht to write this particular work, but I can’t deny it’s a compellingly cruel story.

JR

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

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

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“Lottie, put that yogurt away.”
“Street yogurt’s the best Shauna, well nang.”
“You’re not even using a spoon? You’re using the lid?”
“Yum.”

Hahahaha, I read that page very shortly after a quick lunch on the hoof in Market Square, where upon discovering I hadn’t picked up a disposable spoon for my coconut milk yogurt, I was forced to fashion a makeshift one from the foil lid… It was, indeed, well nang! Not sure what it says about me that the BAD MACHINERY character I seem to have most in common with is Charlotte Grote, though!

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So, the tween detectives of Griswalds Grammar School return with more musings on life, love and lessons, all the whilst attempting to crack another confounding case. This time around Sonny is besotted with a mysterious new girl who has just arrived at school, and possibly on land… Mildred, meanwhile, is falling for the charms of bad boy Lee Chaplin, though there’s the slight problem of a not-quite-yet-ex who is ready to fight Mildred to the death for her man! Good job Grandpa Joe is on hand to dispense some pearls of hard-won pensioner wisdom on the subject of romance and ill-advised beachcombing…

“Mildred, if the first thing a lad tells you is a lie, you’ve no reason to ever trust him.”
“But he’s so handsome and strong.”
“Lies are like a flower, the truth’s like a brick.”
“Eh?”
“What about you Sonny?”
“I saw a girl swimming in the sea one day. I couldn’t stop dreaming about her. Think she… I think she… turned up at school and sat next to me.”
“You’ve flummoxed him. “Girls who come out of the sea are like… are like a… like…””
“Sonny, listen to me carefully. Did you take anything from the beach?”
“An… unshakeable sense of melancholy?”
“That wasn’t what I was thinking of.”

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This is British farce at its finest. John sets up verbal punchline after punchline, page after page. I think possibly the episodic nature of BAD MACHINERY’s initial release in webcomic form, one page at a time, has finely honed John’s ability to be able to deliver pugilistic punctuation to world heavyweight championship standards. Not sure if that makes him the Rocky Balboa of British humour comics, but I do know that there are at least three more rounds of BAD MACHINERY material already out there on t’interweb for Oni to collect. Knockout!

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What really makes BAD MACHINERY (and John’s university-based GIANT DAYS) such a gleeful pleasure to read, though, over and above the bonkers Scooby Doo-style sleuthery, is it will transport you back in time, to when all you really had to worry about was the sheer terror of working out just how to talk to the object of your erupting adolescent desires without dying of shame, avoiding flailing fisticuffs and torment at the hands of psychotic bullies who are probably now practising corporate law, and coming up with ever more imaginative excuses as to precisely why your homework seemed to have mysteriously not accompanied you to your seat of learning yet again…

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John must have an eidetic memory of his formative years, though, because there’s so much I had forgotten about that comes flooding back every time I read BAD MACHINERY. Truly was life ever once so simple but simultaneously so fantastically complicated in such an emotionally jumbled up hormone infused manner? Indeed it was and what a pleasure it is to vicariously read all about it without actually having to go through it all again!

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In terms of his art, I continue to marvel at how deceptively simple it looks. He’s refined it to an amazing degree now, it’s so smooth on the eye, yet packed with expression and detail, plus random hilarious visual background gags. (I truly want to believe there is an arcade game called King Beaver in which it is possible to enter Beavergeddon Mode!) It would be fair to say his style has attracted more than a few imitators in recent years, yet they are mere contenders compared to John. Whereas his art feels seamlessly put together, the wannabes are going to need to put in a lot more hours in the illustrative ring before they’re ready to take him on. Cue training montage. Or not.

JR

Buy Bad Machinery vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside and read the Page 45 review here

Goodnight Punpun vol 1 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano.

“I don’t get it!
“I don’t understand!!”

He really doesn’t. He doesn’t understand any of it: God, girls, crushes, friendship, promises, life, death by environmental disaster, dreams… Why his father decided to smack his mother into the middle of next week and then blame a burglar… That was particularly flimsy.

He doesn’t understand and it makes him so anxious that he frets and sweats and his little legs go jiggling about, nineteen to the dozen. Also, it renders him mute. He doesn’t say a word directly throughout the entire graphic novel. His friends and relatives tend to interpret how tongue-tied Punpun is coping with the world by asking him questions for him to respond to with vigorous nodding, timorous, alarmed eyes, a hastily beaten retreat or full-on floods of tears.

On the other hand, the world as presented to him is all kinds of crackers.

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His melodramatic teacher’s down-with-the kids “Psych!” winks are wince-worthy and his headmaster and principal, also rendered in terrifying detail, appear to be engaged in a Vitally Important if childlike game of hide and seek. In addition, his uncle taught him an infantile rhyme about God in order to bolster the boy’s confidence, but now God appears to Punpun as a sort of celebrity guru, a hipster with a beard and afro – a gormless, grinning, two-dimensional cardboard cut-out that’s sod-all use to anyone. In any case, his uncle doesn’t even believe in God.

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“Dream big, everyone!” commands his teacher. “Because dreams are free!”

He then adds, “But don’t forget to be realistic about your abilities and financial needs. Otherwise you’re in for some serious disappointments in life!”

There’s no shortage of disappointment here, but from this mixed message Punpun draws enough encouragement to write in his homework about studying space, becoming a professor and discovering a planet on which everyone can live once this one’s resources have been drained dry. His inspiration comes from a telescope his Dad won while gambling – a bribe to distract Punpun from the family breakdown in front of him – while his motivation is to impress school newcomer Aiko whose first words to Punpun are “In a few years we’ll run out of oil, the environment will be destroyed and Earth will be uninhabitable” right after “Why are you following me? I’ll call the cops!”

So there’s a right one to develop the most almighty crush on.

The essay would have impressed Aiko, except that at the last minute Punpun must have remembered his teacher’s more cautionary note and baulked, replacing ambition with the mediocrity of “My dream is to work in an average office and have an average family”. Then he ran away.

Did I mention that Punpun is drawn as a sort of cartoon bird-ghost with little stick legs..?

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Strangely enough you’ll get used to it quite quickly, but it emphasises Punpun’s timidity, fragility, distance and alienation from the world which baffles him, and the surreality of it all. His entire family’s drawn like that. Perhaps it’s because they’re all living in a shared cloud-cuckoo-land – including his uncle whose eyes behind his glasses on occasion widen from black dots to the photorealistic when shit, as they say, gets real. However much he strives to keep it at bay. (“Whatever! I’m taking a nap! I’m napping!”)

Different things seem real or credible to a kid than to an adult. At one point Aiko declares:

“If you break this promise…
“If you betray me again…
“Next time I’ll kill you.”

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And he believes her. It doesn’t dilute his adoration or his desperation to please her, but he fully believes she will kill him. Worse still, he cannot bear to disappoint her and that’s largely what’s running through his mind even when the kids are off to an abandoned miso-making factory in search of corpses and cash as alluded to by a murderer confessing his fratricidal, matricidal and patricidal sins on some doctored porn video-cassette they found in the street.

Sorry…? Which bit about “all kinds of crackers” did you not understand?

From the creator of A GIRL ON THE SHORE, NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH, SOLANIN, and WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD comes a new series I cannot compare to any of the above, each of Asano’s projects being a marked departure from the last.

In many ways it put me more in mind of SUNNY for, beyond the messed up family, the “Yup yup!” lawyer and Punpun’s internalised infatuation and stress, it’s another astute portrait of how twelve-year-olds operate: how they behave towards each other in a group and behind each other’s backs, their body language on meeting in the street, and even how they sit or kneel on public transport, a sandal dangling loosely from one boy’s foot.

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I loved the way some marched from time to time just to heighten the adventure of a journey as you do (or did), and the boys’ expressions when caught with porn by a gang of girls is absolutely priceless!

Shimi, Seki, Komatsu and Harumi are as individualistic as you like. Seki’s family fortunes are connected to those of the miso factory, Shimi’s snot streams as freely as any of the orphans’ in SUNNY, Asano correctly observing that within any group of similarly aged children some will still look older than others. One of the lads – not named as far as I could spot – is drawn, hilariously, with exactly the same expression in every single panel no matter what the context, snake-like eyebrows frowning away, his permanently shocked gap-toothed mouth agape.

As you may have inferred by now like A GIRL ON THE SHORE there is a certain degree of sexual exploration in evidence – albeit entirely solo, but then it’s only the first volume – and like NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH there is a sequence of such protracted terror that I’m still not sure how Asano recovered from it except by deploying some Terry Gilliam collages as absurd as hipster God’s disembodied solo manifestations. It’s a trigger for an extended sequence of flashbacks to things Punpun never understood, particularly his parents’ marital breakdown, culminating in gormless God “looking unusually serious” declaring:

“Humans, as long as they live, have an emptiness inside them that can never be filled. If, no matter how much people need each other and hurt each other, there’s still no such thing as perfect understanding, then what on earth can you believe in? Just kidding – lighten up!”

I have no idea where this is going – to be fair, I’ve no idea where some of this went – but it kept me wide-eyed in wonder at all the traumas, bottom-of-the-same-steps accidents, and complete confusion.

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I think as much as anything this is indeed about isolation, for Punpun experiences everything at a remove by dint of his appearance, his reticence and his silence. Every dozen or so pages there’s a single small panel set apart at the far end of a blank page depicting two-dimensional Punpun small and alone in a detailed suburban city scene.

Isolation and family as a disappointment, perhaps – one’s stable refuge proving to be otherwise. There’s a heartbreaking scene against a sunset later on followed by a legal manoeuvre that’s cold. But don’t think that cassette-tape confession is irrelevant, either.

“The suspect further testified, “We argued about work and I lost control and I killed them”.”

SLH

Buy Goodnight Punpun vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 1: Feeble Wanderings (New Edition) (£14-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.

Cleo Lovedrop! Wet Moon vol 1 coverPossibly the best-named protagonist ever!

“If you can’t judge a comic by its cover, then it’s not the right cover,” I began ten years ago. “This is the right cover.”

It was a different cover!

“Framed in black, a young, tubby gothstress with a fag in her mouth, looks up uncertainly over her black-rimmed glasses… The cover says GHOST WORLD with piercings and pvc, and that’s pretty much what the contents deliver.”

Do you know what? They still do to a certain extent. That WET MOON developed into something far more chilling in its six volumes (so far) obviously colours a re-read but I saw some of that coming too. I simply failed to spot its simmering source. As, I’m afraid, do the cast.

I like the new cover. It speaks of a more profound melancholy, a deeper malaise than the comparatively fashionable original. This is someone alone with the thoughts while nobody’s watching, rather than someone perhaps being photographed.

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The forms inside will become a great deal softer, kinder, plumper, doe-eyed, love-struck and a lot less abrasive and tired over the six books, but that note aside, I’ll leave the original review pretty much as it stood…

Term’s about to kick off for a cast of young college girls, all unsure of themselves and their relationships, most of them awkward.

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Audrey – black, pretty and gay – is the exception, but Trilby – pale, freckled, Tank-Girl hair falling over a nose-ring and braces – provides a weighty counterbalance to Audrey by being hideously ugly, both inside and out. It’s not that she’s intent on turning her face into a human curtain rail – so many others are too – it’s that she’s relentlessly and remorselessly selfish, callous, moody, bitchy, and disloyal, dismissing anyone’s misgivings with “Who cares?” and “Whatever” while caring very much that no one walks in her watching Star Trek: Next Generation. She’s so two-faced she can be briefing against a friend five seconds before flashing a smile in their very direction.

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Fortunately the focus of this first book (and it does look as if it will be quite the saga) is Trilby’s friend Cleo Lovedrop, the girl on the front who is far more honest and open and therefore vulnerable and seems fascinatingly complex to me. Ross gives her pages and pages of silent panels, and you’re never quite sure what’s going on in her head, even though diary pages full of insecurity verging on paranoia are provided, as she stares at the moon, vulnerable and troubled, her hand over her belly. What’s going on when she turns tail in terror each time she bumps into a particular, tall fellow student called Vincent? (Have they had a relationship? a bad meeting? or is she just being weird?)

While working on Antony Johnston’s SPOOKED, Campbell proved she was one of those rare artists who, refreshingly, refrain from making everyone and everything LCD-perfect i.e. bland. It’s obvious she relishes more individualistic body forms. Here, however, she has managed to make some seductive art of it. The lines are far cleaner, the forms bolder and the grey tones reproduce the balmy atmosphere of the bayou. There’s some real subtlety in the expressions, and I don’t know if it was intentional, but I loved the way that it wasn’t until later on I realised that Cleo was so remarkably short.

I mentioned the bayou, and there’s an awful lot of water here, most of it decidedly ominous. As yet I haven’t decided whether the ‘Wet Moon’ in question is the reflection of the lunar sphere on the lapping lakes, or has more to do with the menstrual cycle, mentioned throughout, perhaps tying in with those belly rubs and Vincent.

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What I do suspect is that this will end up containing an element of horror, because there’s a brooding Charles Burns something-or-other going on with slack-jawed, drooling residents.

[For the record, that wasn’t where the horror ended up coming from! You could try to cheat by clicking ahead to my reviews of the other volumes but even there you’ll find me tantalisingly evasive.]

SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 1: Feeble Wanderings (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

At War With Yourself (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Samuel C. Williams…

“Are thereAt War cover any other things like that? Things you may have ignored that you now know were part of your PTSD?”

“Well there definitely things I identified as triggers later on. (Sit!) But I didn’t understand what was happening at the time.”

That was Matt, a former soldier, answering a question from the creator Samuel C. Williams whilst they take a walk in the park together. I should probably add the command to assume a recumbent position wasn’t aimed at Samuel, but Matt’s dog!

Okay, that’s my one jokey aside regarding PTSD, which clearly isn’t a laughing matter for sufferers. This work, the latest in the series of excellent medicinal prescriptions from Singing Dragon publishers, aims to prime people regarding PTSD’s causes and symptoms.

Samuel, as he strolls with Matt, talks us through what the medical profession currently know regarding PTSD. As a member of the military, Matt is clearly amongst the most well known demographic of PTSD sufferers, along with people working in emergency response, but the general public is gradually beginning to realise the causes of PTSD, from both one-off events and also cumulative trauma, and therefore those who can suffer from it, are considerably more widespread and varied than initially appreciated.

As they perambulate along peacefully Matt also gradually takes Samuel though his own diagnosis to the treatment he received and at the same time recounts his own harrowing trauma, plus some unintentionally humorous experiences that occurred at unexpected and inconvenient moments. As someone trained in counter surveillance, Matt would occasionally become convinced a car was following him and his wife whilst out driving, resulting in some awkward instances when he suddenly took a few random turns to try and shake them off! There are only so many times you can pull the old “I’ve just taken a wrong turn, darling…” excuse whilst trying to covertly evade pursuit!

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Matt makes the very salient point that his experiences are always going to be with him, so it was necessary to learn how to live with them, and how to manage his PTSD. It’s nice to see there’s been a happy outcome for him and his family, and he rightly pays tribute to his wife for her part in that. Though as we clearly know, that’s sadly not the case for everyone because frequently people are too scared or self-conscious to seek help. Often with ultimately tragic consequences.

I have commented before with Singing Dragon publications that this is exactly the sort of material that should be sat in GPs’ waiting rooms for potential patients to read. It’s far more inviting, and dare I say it, informative, for someone who is already experiencing extreme trepidation about talking to a medical professional, than some glossy prose pamphlet filled with jargon. I think the relatively simple illustration style, just as with Alex Demetris’ DAD’S NOT ALL THERE ANY MORE, will work to great advantage in appealing to the non-comic public. These works looks intriguing and most importantly feel like something that is extremely accessible to everyone. They would definitely be picked up and absorbed.

JR

Buy At War With Yourself and read the Page 45 review here

The Journey h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Francesca Sanna.

“The further we go…
“The more we leave behind.”

Much has been made recently about teaching empathy in the classroom – promoting kindness and compassion through understanding. Quite right too, and to further that goal, this has just shot to the top of my list.

A carefully weighted cross between Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL and Tove Jansson’s THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD, the images do so much of the heavy lifting that you can certainly consider it comics.

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It begins on the pristine sands of an enormous, open beach, mother in her modest swimsuit reading away, son exploring the shore and a tiny, tentative fish nearby, father and daughter building sandcastles so ornate that they are indistinguishable from the exotic city close to the sea. Then on the very next page war breaks out, the ocean becoming an enormous black leviathan of chaos and cruelty sweeping lives and all those castles so carefully constructed aside.

“And one day the war took my father.” It is a very stark page.
“Since that day everything has become darker and my mother has become more and more worried.”

The mother envelopes her children, one of whom is weeping, protecting them from the multiple, encroaching, black hands of danger and despair. Drawing a book from their extensive bookcase, the mother she shows her children pictures of “strange cities, strange forests and strange animals”, reassuring them that is a safe place, that they will go there and not be frightened anymore.

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“We don’t want to leave but our mother tells us it will be a great adventure. We put everything we have in suitcases and say goodbye to everyone we know.”

Everything. Everyone. Devastating enough but there is much worse to come.

At first they journey under their own steam in the family car, suitcases strapped on top. They still have a certain degree of control over their lives. Almost immediately, however, they find themselves in the back of a man’s van, squeezed between urns of olive oil…

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…Then amongst the produce of a fruit seller, with no room for the possessions they have had to jettison along the way. Then, with nothing left, they arrive at the border, its enormous wall, and an angry guard who demands they turn back.

Where? They have nowhere to go.

And it’s here that we come to the pages which most put me in mind of Tove Jansson’s THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD in which Moominmamma is the ultimate mother, reassuring Moomintroll in their journey through the dark forest even when worried herself. The mother has already done plenty of this, of course, proclaiming that their migration will be “a great adventure” and protecting them from the shadowy hands of her own dark fears. It is here, however, at their most vulnerable that the mother surpasses herself and the art comes into its own, entirely at odds with the narrator’s knowledge.

“In the darkness the noises of the forest scare me.”

Once again the mother embraces her children, nestling them in her thick, black hair amongst the forest’s foliage.

“But mother is with us and she is never scared. We close our eyes and finally fall asleep.”

 

“Never scared…”? She is petrified.  While they’re awake she meets her children’ wide-eyed gazes; once they’re asleep she cries her eyes out. And there is a long, long way to go yet.

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That this is told in the present tense keeps the future uncertain – as it is for this family every step of the way – right up to and beyond the conclusion. This is vital to keep readers walking every exhausting mile in their shoes, and to avoid the falsehood that endings are easily attained. This doesn’t have a “happily ever after”, but it does have the aspiration for one.

It is perfectly pitched.

Equally I wondered for a while whether this book with all its warm colours wasn’t too beautiful, but then I slapped myself for being so silly. Terrifying children out of their tiny minds is no use to anyone, and the beauty and fantasy of this book acts as the mother within, turning it into an adventure which will keep their shiny eyes utterly engrossed while they learn how the other half lives.

Which is obviously where Shaun Tan comes in, and so very often.

Also recommended when teaching empathy to young ones: LITTLE ROBOT by Ben Hatke, the creator of ZITA SPACEGIRL. Friendship, basically.

SLH

Buy The Journey and read the Page 45 review here

Brody’s Ghost: Collected Edition (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley.

Big fat, omnibus edition of the little pocketbooks of joy from the creator of all-ages AKIKO and the seasonal MIKI FALLS. This collects all six slimmer black and white volumes and some full-colour short stories which I imagine originally appeared in DARK HORSE PRESENTS, online or otherwise.

It also collects the various annotations which were substantial and will be of enormous use to nascent creators, being considerable and considered process pieces involving the development of certain looks, concepts, characters and confrontations – particularly the confrontations! Vitally Crilley supplies the alternative art which was later ditched in favour of what was finally printed so you can compare and contrast. When you get to it, the observation that rounded corners turned what looked inescapably like a dull function room into a dramatically extended tunnel is spot-on.

There’s a shift in art style since MIKI FALLS (and obviously AKIKO!) for he’s gone all Chynna Clugston on us. The hair is feathery and brightly grey-toned art is crisp as crisp can be. Space, there is aplenty.

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Crilley’s always had an epic sense of space and texture, and the dilapidated city – whose sky is snaked with girdered monorails and concrete overpasses that are mossed-over with shops and hoardings – is no exception. There’ll be plenty more where that came from. The equally decrepit Japanese temple is a wonder as well but, apart from that, Crilley keeps the pages free from clutter for maximum action and turning.

Brody is broke. A part-time busker, he’s taken being a slob to a professional extreme. And maybe the hunger’s got to him because after a game of blink with a pretty young lady in the ramen noodle van opposite him, the girl makes her move… right through its roof!

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I cannot tell you how well weighted that extended, silent sequence is: immaculate choreography, immaculate timing. It has to be: it’s the entire hook for the following five hundred and fifty + pages. That, and his dumbstruck disbelief and her dumbfounded disappointment that – having waited for over five years – Brody is what she’s been lumbered with.

So it’s match postponed until Brody can pick his jaw off the floor. It may take some time because so far he’s run a mile, and even tried to lock Talia out of a staff room.

“I go through stuff, Brody. I thought we’d established that.”

 

In some ways the dry disdain put me in mind of Terry Moore, some of whose characters secrete sass through their skin. Add in Talia’s lapsed relationship with the land of the living and RACHEL RISING is a very fine fit.

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“Let’s get this over with. I’m Talia. I’ve been dead for about five years now.
“Leukaemia.
“Very depressing story. Don’t make me go into it.
“All you need to know is this.
“I’m locked out of heaven.
“They say I can’t move on to the afterlife until I’ve done, like, a super good deed.”

The mission she has chosen to accept for herself is to identify, track town and stop the Penny Murders serial killer, but for one thing physically disabling someone isn’t so easy when your hands are intangible. That’s where Brody comes in if he can stop freaking out. Not only can do the physical stuff, but he’s evidently something of a psychic given what he’s witnessing right now. And that’s what Talia needs:

“Someone who’s capable of seeing ghosts… hearing ghosts… and talking to ghosts.”
“….”
“Obviously we’re still working on the “talking” part.”

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With five hundred and fifty pages still to go, what have I failed to fill you in on?

Well, when the truth about the Penny Murders Serial Killer is finally revealed hundreds of pages later – the initial catalyst followed by her or his subsequent (consequent?) motivations – it makes a chilling sort of sick sense.

Talia may look like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth but you try being disembodied for five years and being unable to affect or effect anything. This is her one chance and what she’ll be prepared to put Brody through you will not believe. I can promise you this: she doesn’t bluff.

Also, Brody’s mourning a death of his own – that of his two-year-relationship with Nicole. It’s been over for six months but Brody, like Talia, cannot move on and with Nicole dating again I’m afraid Brody’s in very great danger of making matters worse.

His psychic skills will need honing, hence the haunted Japanese temple, as will his aptitude for combat because he’s just has his ass kicked by a gang’s pet twelve-year-old.

Oh, and his morals will almost certainly need diluting because Talia is lying to his face about many things. Here’s one for a start:

Talia emphatically did not die of leukaemia.

SLH

Buy Brody’s Ghost: Collected Edition and read the Page 45 review here

The Last Dragon (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay.

At Page 45 we have dragons for all from the sublime (IN SEARCH OF LOST DRAGONS) to the ridiculous (ST. COLIN AND THE DRAGON) with the hunted and the harried in between. If you despise cockfighting and the setting of mastiffs upon one another, the recently reprinted FOUR EYES will get you proper riled. Poor dragons! It rarely goes well for them, does it?

This is a much more traditional setting for our scaly serpents / ancient wyrms and here they are more of a threat long thought dead, hunted through the islands to extinction.

But there were once many dragons and so many eggs, buried in the ground between the roots of ancient trees; trees which will one day, inevitably, give up the ghost and their secrets. And a dragon’s egg – like a dragon itself – can be patient, waiting for fortune to free it, waiting for the moment to strike.

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Jane Yolen tells the tale of one such resurrection, its divisive impact on an agricultural village and a family of five whose father and one of three daughters are herbalists. Like all fine fantasies there is an emphasis on knowledge, history and tradition; a quest taking a young band of the villagers way out their comfort zone; an element of deceit; an exploration of what makes a hero; the making of a woman or even a man, and a big bag of faith, ingenuity and improvisation.

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That it’s filed by Dark Horse itself under Young Adult explains a lot of its narrative stylings, and I can see this being prized by that specific audience enormously.

Also Rebecca Guay – famous for her contributions to Magic The Gathering – renders some startling double-page spreads of our dragon in action and, even more impressively, one as it quietly bides its time early on and so seen only reflected in a shower-dimpled river or lake. That I don’t “do” opaque is merely a personal preference. As a hardcover this went down a storm.

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Heart-warming autobiographical introduction / tribute by Neil Gaiman.

SLH

Buy The Last Dragon and read the Page 45 review here

The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch h/c (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli.

Good lord, Sir Neil has a beard here!

And it is most definitely Neil, just as it’s Jonathan Ross and his wife Jane sitting down with him over sushi to recall the events leading up to the strange disappearance of Miss Finch – which was not her real name. No one would believe them if recounted, but recount them Neil does.

It begins when Neil holes himself up in a London hotel to finish off a script that’s been eluding him. No one should have known he was there, but Jonathan Ross has his ways and means and off they all go out to the theatre with Miss Finch, if only to dilute the horror that is Miss Finch – which was not her real name.

That Miss Finch is a horror as becomes immediately apparent when she arrives at Jonathan’s door to his elaborate home. An austere and pedantic bio-geologist, Miss Finch is an abrupt, humourless, supercilious and sanctimonious cow.

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What, then, will they as a party make of the pseudo-phantasmagorical freak-show down in the warren of cellars that stretches under the train tracks of London’s rainy night? Is it really a fake? And what becomes of the stone-cold-hearted Miss Finch? It’s quite the transformation.

Neil keeps the tension racked, whilst Zulli (PUMA BLUES COMPLETE SAGA, SANDMAN: THE WAKE etc.) provides rich watercolour art which to begin with is overly busy, but burst out halfway though with cleaner ink lines before the lushest of light in the final tropical jungle scenes.

Oh, and Ross is depicted as a slim Oscar Wilde, which I imagine went down well with the fop!

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SLH

Buy The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette…

“Slave queen of a nation of slaves. Your children will live and they will die by the fist of man.”
“That’s better. Tell me. Tell them. It’s all play, remember?”
“Tell them all what you are. Say it. Tell us all what Hercules has made you.”

“Hercules… Hercules has made me patient!
“Hercules has taught me life is a privilege.
“And no more.
“NO MORE!”

So much for Hercules… Or not, perhaps…

Grant Morrison returns to DC with an evocative, indeed provocative, reworking of the origins of Wonder Woman. Much like J. Michael Straczynski’s SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE trilogy and Geoff Johns’ BATMAN: EARTH ONE (two books so far, presumably a third at some point), this won’t in some ways feel like a radical departure from the mainstream DCU version (whatever that actually means as we careen towards yet another reboot, sorry, REBIRTH) unlike TEEN TITANS: EARTH VOL 1 which was quite the reshaping.

On the other hand, this is quite unlike any other WONDER WOMAN you’ll have ever read.

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No, this is more Morrison paying to tribute to the true feminist roots, as he perceives it, of the character, and also her original creator, William Moulton Marston, making maximum use of the additional creative freedom that the non-continuity EARTH ONE series provides. Whilst also having some fun and games deconstructing and retooling other familiar supporting characters like Steve Trevor, here portrayed as African American, and Beth ‘Etta’ Candy who is restored to all her buxom Golden Age ultra-confident sorority girl glory.

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Considering that this is undoubtedly an all-action story, it is wonderful to see so much emphasis put on the Woman rather than the Wonder. Also, despite the presence of Hercules, Morrison has very deliberately stepped away from the overarching Greek mythology influences that defined Brian Azzarello’s excellent New 52 run which started with WONDER WOMAN VOL 1: BLOOD S/C.

You probably need to know a bit about Martson to understand Morrison’s approach here. He was a psychologist (and lawyer) who lived with two women, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and their lover Olive Byrne. He wrote a lot about dominant-submissive relationships and posited the theory that “there is a masculine notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing feminine notion based on “Love Allure” that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority.”

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It’s probably thus no surprise to find that Martson believed that women should run the world, and was a great champion of the early feminists. It’s pretty obvious therefore to also make the connection with a pair of bracelets that can repel any attack and a golden lasso that compels people to tell the truth. After the sword-wielding New 52 version, I liked this return to the more traditional version of the Warrior Princess.

Grant also can’t resist throwing in a bit of kink bondage for good measure, but it’s done in a way that made me laugh uproariously rather than feeling it was salacious, which it isn’t remotely, but again, it’s clearly another nod to Martson. Suffice to say Steve Trevor’s eyebrows disappear somewhere off the top of his head, and when Beth is explaining the, shall we say, cultural misunderstanding, to Diana whilst they’re propping up the bar afterwards, it provides a superb double punchline that had me wiping a tear of mirth away.

So there was much I really enjoyed about this retelling. The plot is extremely well thought through including a rather naughty bit of parental misdirection which well and truly comes home to roost. This version of Steve Trevor’s motivations for betraying his country to protect Diana and Paradise Island, being based not just on infatuation but also very understandable personal ideals based on  experienced prejudices, is I think the most depth I’ve seen given the character.

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And Beth, my oh my, what a woman. Of all the various incarnations Diana’s bestie has had over the years, I think this brassy, bolshie blonde really does take the biscuit. Well, she probably takes the whole packet given half the chance judging by her girdle size, but she’s no shrinking violet that’s for sure. She’s certainly not going to let any stroppy, statuesque stunner whose been sent to bring Diana back for trial get the best of her!

“These are women of man’s world? Deformed, shrunken, bloated… domesticated cattle.”
“Amazonia has class bitches, too? That’s a bummer. Kinda spoiled my fantasy.”

Yanick Paquette is the perfect artistic foil for Morrison here too. His Amazons are joyous creations, and his exotically detailed Paradise Island truly does look like heaven on earth. There are some lovely page composition devices, including the recurring theme of golden rope as a panel separator, which greatly minded me of J.H. Williams III work on the pages of PROMETHEA. I’ll have to confess historically I’ve not been the biggest Wonder Woman fan (though certainly I’ll be having a look at the Greg Rucka / Liam Sharp WONDER WOMAN REBIRTH reboot), but more tales like this could definitely win me over.

JR

Buy Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Captain America: Sam Wilson: Not My Captain America vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna, Paul Renaud, Joe Bennett.

Wall Street.

“The first thing I’d like to tell you is this: you are not bad people.
“I read the same headlines you do. The greed of the one percent. Corporate bailouts, corporate handouts, corporate welfare, Malfeasance. Corruption.
“We’re sure not in the eighties anymore, are we?”
Hahahahaha!

This isn’t the first collection with former Falcon Sam Wilson as Captain America – that was Rick Remender and Stuart Immonen’s ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA VO 1: HYDRA ASCENDANT whose review will stand you in good stead for context – but it is a fresh new satirical start.

Gone is the straight white male Steve Rogers who believes that when the chips are down his country will do what’s right; here instead is African American Sam Wilson who just hopes it will because he’s seen it do the opposite so very often.

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As America faces a Presidential Election in which Barrack Obama could very easily be replaced by Donald Trump – a disingenuous, racist, corporation-friendly, multi-millionaire fuckwit who wants to wall off Mexico – THIEF OF THIEVES’ and THE FIX’s Nick Spencer throws immigration and that specific border crossing unflinchingly in your face along with post-SNOWDEN whistle-blowing and post-SUPERCRASH continued corporate greed, its complicit media collaborators and political enablers.

If this were British I would have expected Tory darling Sir Philip Green to have made a personal appearance, so direct is this.

We’re back in the boardroom again, with captive audience and socialist Sam Wilson being given a grilling.

“You think you’re helping – with your coddling, your welfare state, your demands for equality.
“Whatever happened to exceptionalism? Whatever happened to rewarding hard work? Instead we punish success!
“Today’s businesses face unfair and oppressive regulation at the hands of an overreaching government. I mean, where in the Constitution is anyone promised clean air, anyhow? Sounds to me like free market demand for filtration systems and gas masks.
“Someone has to stand for the job creators and innovators that we’ve bound up in red tape. Someone has to make America marvellous again…
“And I say I’m just the super villain in a snake suit to do it.”

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The live media coverage endorsing the Viper and his Serpent Solutions as pro-profit pioneers even as they’re attempting to murder Sam Wilson outside the Stock Exchange as is as outlandish as Grand Theft Auto’s Weasel News. Except of course that Weasel News barely constituted satire: it was Fox news with barely a tweak and by any other name!

Somehow each of the artists manages to keep a straight superheroic face, even on the golf course, but to give you an additional indication of where to place this in the scale of po-faced punch-em’-ups and comedies like HAWKEYE, Sam spends most of his time here on a plane in passenger class sandwiched between two Twitter-obsessed idiots… or as a bipedal wolf, licking plates, scratching fleas and barking territorially at anyone attempting to read the metre.

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SLH

Buy Captain America: Sam Wilson: Not My Captain America vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Oh wait, it was a Bank Holiday! Books to follow!

News!

How To Make A Quill

ITEM! Comics! How To Make A Quill Pen by Tom Morgan-Jones. Instructional and hysterical!

ITEM! $30,000 grant open to comicbook creators. It’s not a scam. Rules very clear. Apply!

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ITEM! Excellent article on Shaun Tan’s RULES OF SUMMER.

Here’s Page 45’s review of Shaun Tan’s RULES OF SUMMER written two years earlier. Relieved to read I was on the right tracks!

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ITEM! An eye-opening read for anyone interested in this creative industry. ‘Can you illustrate my book?’ Some tips for writers approaching illustrators by Sarah McIntyre is well worth a read before you start sending out unsolicited emails. Illustrators, I feel for you all!

ITEM!  STRANGEHAVEN’s Gary Spencer Millidge reviews The Great British Graphic Novel exhibition at the Cartoon Museum open right now and including work by Gary, Nabiel Kanan, Posy Simmonds, Eddie Campbell, Woodrow Phoenix, David Lloyd, Dave Gibbons and – ooh, look! – here’s a map by Hunt Emerson! Fabulous!

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– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2016 week four

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Includes FOUR all-ages books from historical education to historical action-adventure and historical hysteria!

Also: Corey Lewis, Alan Moore does Lovecraft and brrrrr….

Mordawwa #666 one-shot (£3-00, ScaryGoRound) by John Allison.

“Please stop calling me “Archduke Horns”, your Majesty. Everybody’s started doing it.”
“Your real name is 15 V’s in a row. I don’t consider that acceptable nomenclature.”

She does have a point. Also: an expansive vocabulary and a waspish tongue with which to dispense it.

From the creator of GIANT DAYS, BAD MACHINERY and EXPECTING TO FLY, welcome to something equally mysterious but a little less institution-of-education-orientated. Allison has for once abandoned the small towns of Great Britain and dug deep – infernally deep – to come up with Mordawwa, Queen of Hell, resplendent in red-lined cape, pin-stripe troos, twin, twisted horns and a tie that disappears ‘neath her bodice.

All is not well as we join the story 666 issues in, for Mordawwa is throwing a party and the only thing she’s pleased with is the sound of her own voice.

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Her greatest friend, ally and guest of honour – the black-winged shadow that’s The Sheriff – is running late and a metatronic call comes in from envious info-entity Ba’Al about a blockage in the River Styx. It’s causing Lucifer to run dry of souls, both pre-tormented and to-be-tormented, and to-be-continued is what he’s counting on.

“Lucifer considers restoration of flow to be mission critical.”
“By mission critical, does he mean “important”?”

It’s an odd assortment she consorts with. The most intelligent amongst them is a sentient blue horse called Scientist whose assistance is impeded by the unfortunate shortcoming of being slightly unable to speak. Barbed Amanita is far from impressed at Scientist’s intricate scuffing of hooves:

“What are you doing, pony? Drawing a map of your favourite places to drop piles of ordure? It must be hard to draw a map that encompasses “everywhere”.”
“Oh Scientist. That is a beautiful solution. There is poetry in your use of compound gears.”
“I’ve trod in Scientist’s “poetry”. Not actually all that great.”

Love, love, love Scientist’s frowny brow, furious at Amanita’s ingratitude and belittling torment.

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So what’s the problem to which Scientist’s solution is so poetic?

“Well,” as Vvvvvvvvvvvvvvv observes, “this isn’t going to be popular.”

Prepare to enter… The Age of Endless Grief!

The subterranean setting gives John an opportunity to have fun with both body forms and architecture uncommon around towns like Tackleford, but you can even see him relishing the full-on curves of his two suited and booted vamps. There’s an exquisite panel in which Amanita drop-kicks her yellow pet at demonic rock throwers who are really going to regret it. Her long, thin legs – muscles in all the right places – are like a black beetle’s body.

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Also amusing: how the shadows thrown totally fail to match those throwing them. Or are there others throwing them, unseen?

I suspect John was the most enormous fan of Marvel’s NEW MUTANTS (Mordawwa’s Illyana; the Sheriff is Lockheed the dragon), and I’m reasonably sure Archduke Horns’ teeth is a Maxx reference. But these are mere fancies, irrelevant to your enjoyment of this underworld absurdity which, like EXPECTING TO FLY, comes with a pastiche of 1980s Marvel Comics’ Checklists, Hype Boxes and Pro Files along with a mail order offer cheap enough to make any bricks-and-mortar comic shop weep.

I might subscribe to Marvel’s SCOTT WALKER, and read it on Mordawwa’s Bone Throne.

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SLH

Buy Mordawwa one-shot and read the Page 45 review here

Providence vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows…

“Say, weren’t you planning on writing a book, I heard?”
“Huh. Lot of planning, no writing. Don’t even have a subject yet, to be truthful.
“I want something big, something that cuts to the heart of this country and these times.
“That talks about things nobody’s dared talk about before.
“You know? Not just another slice of life in the city of bachelors.”

If you Google providence, the two definitions you are offered are “timely preparation for future eventualities” and “the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power”. However, I suspect no amount of preparation, nor indeed the care of God, is likely to provide much protection for what is to come for some of the characters in Alan’s return to the Lovecraft mythos in conjunction with artist Jaden Burrows after their grisly but gripping NEONOMICON

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It’s initially set in Providence, Rhode Island, which itself has interesting origins, founded in 1636 by a man called Roger Williams, recently exiled from Massachusetts, to provide a refuge for religious minorities. The year is 1919 and the world, emerging from the carnage of WW1, has undoubtedly changed, yet also much has not. There are people still living double lives due to their sexuality, of which of our main character Robert Black is one.

Now, apparently there is an irony here, as I have read that Alan likes the idea of having a gay character in a period Lovecraftian yarn given that H.P. Lovecraft was, apparently, immensely homophobic.

Whatever the reason it immediately helps creates a state of suspense as he sets about establishing Robert’s back story, his reasons for being in Providence, and the ongoing emotional anguish he endures in trying to maintain a covert relationship, all the whilst endeavouring to appear to his co-workers at the Tribune newspaper as just another everyday Joe.

With the journos all desperate to fill half a page in the next edition at short notice with something a trifle titillating, Robert mentions a French book, Sous Le Monde, which apparently sent people mad if they read it. It is the scandal surrounding this which Robert Chambers apparently based THE KING IN YELLOW on.

Being a bookish sort of cove, Robert knows of a professor nearby who wrote an article on Sous Le Monde, and so is dispatched to interview him. Which is where events start to creep into more Lovecraftian, paranormal territory, as the good doctor has an exceptionally powerful air conditioning system in his apartment, a medical requirement due to an, as yet, unspecified illness… I’m pretty sure, however, it won’t be a malaise covered in any great detail at medical school, not even at Miskatonic University…

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There’s much to admire in Alan’s writing in this volume. I certainly suspect it’s a project he’s greatly enjoying. I like the subtle little points of connection which he weaves in, almost as asides, including one a character makes to Tannhäuser which proves particularly apposite indeed. One of the biggest nods to THE KING IN YELLOW comes in the form of the Exit Gardens, which in truth are state-sponsored suicide chambers, dressed up in art deco buildings in beautiful, floral surroundings. Where, once you check in, you are gently put to sleep forever whilst listening to the music of your choice. A posh version of Dignitas, basically. But because you don’t need to jump through myriad bureaucratic hoops first, anyone can simply walk in, sit down and rest in peace forevermore.

I’m intrigued to see how Robert picks up the pieces emotionally after an early heartbreak and precisely where his investigations lead him. I found myself engaged completely, connected emotionally with the characters, and left wanting more, my curiosity piqued up to piquant levels! Plus having read several issues ahead of the four in this volume I can assure you the horror factor is going to be ramped up gradually until readers’ states of mental wellbeing are in tatters too.

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This limited edition hardcover, of a print run of 6666, will apparently not be reprinted, nor will any soft covers be released until all twelve issues of the series are out and the two further hardcovers released. In any event, both the hardcovers and softcovers will collect all the extensive prose material that follows each individual issue. It’s ostensibly Robert’s journal and it does further and flesh-out the already comprehensive plot substantially. I certainly cannot fault Alan for giving value for money with this series. To my mind, it’s the best thing he has written for several years.

JR

[Editor’s note: for, umm, alternative art which I didn’t feel we could run in the blog, please here click here…]

Buy Providence vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa…

“Cool.
“Good.
“I’m good.
“It’s all good.
“I am a hero.”

If I had to sum this up in one sentence it would be… “Mentally ill, second-rate manga creator prone to hallucinations finds himself caught up in the zombie apocalypse.’

If I had to sum it up in two sentences, my second would be… “I loved it.”

Hideo Suzuki is many things, but a hero he is not. Yet, at least. As he neatly observes as his life starts sliding even further out of control than he believed possible… “How can I be a hero when I’m not even the main character in my own life?”

It’s just such a lack of characterisation that various editors and sub-editors and sub-sub-editors in the cut-throat world of manga publishing have accused him of, whilst endlessly turning down his latest pitch. Even his one brief hit floundered spectacularly after the second meandering volume for precisely those reasons. He had his fans, including his girlfriend Tetsuko, who works as a manga assistant. Sadly, being a studio assistant is all the manga work Hideo can get now too.

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Poor old Hideo’s tormented to sanity-testing levels by a number of things on a near-continuous basis, but not least these: his lack of success, his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend (an up-and-coming superhot manga creator who ironically is the one person who thinks Hideo’s work is utterly brilliant), whether his girlfriend and said superhot creator might still be having a little something on the side, plus his hallucinations of various odd characters who pop up and start conversations with him at seemingly random moments.

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So when the decaying faeces really starts hitting the proverbial fan and his newly zombiefied girlfriend attacks Hideo whilst he’s letting himself into her apartment, he’s actually convinced he’s merely having a serious mental meltdown! Eventually it becomes apparent even to him, if not to the rest of the manga studio holed up frantically trying to make the next ridiculous deadline, that that the end of the world is nigh. Cue a comedy chase across town (comedy value for viewers only) that’s ended by possibly one of the finest zombie decapitations I have ever seen, caused by the undercarriage of a crashing jumbo jet!

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Oh, I think Hideo might just have unwittingly become the lead character in something. Just not any sort of story you would ever want to star in…

This is such a peculiarly brilliant mash-up mix taking, as it does, the complete piss out of the whole frenetic manga industry treadmill and all its attendant emotionally maladjusted and downright antisocial members, and scaring the bejeebers, or whatever the equivalent Japanese colloquialism is, out of us all while it is at it. For make no mistake, these zombies are horrific, far more akin to Junji Ito-style distorted, bloated, twisted terrors than shambling WALKING DEAD.

So I guess if I had to sum it up in three sentences my third would, as unlikely as it seems, be… “It’s BAKUMAN meets UZAMAKI…”

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JR

Buy I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Nameless City vol 1 (£10-99, First Second) by Faith Erin Hicks with Jordie Bellaire on colour art.

An all-ages epic which stole my heart and took my breath away. Prepare to be dazzled, enraged and ever so proud in equal measure.

Sprawled out at the base of a vast mountain range, and surrounded on all sides by enemies with eyes set on conquest, The Nameless City straddles the River of Lives at the bottom of an unnatural gorge.

The Northern People who first built the city also carved that improbable passage through those enormous mountains, but no one knows how for their language is lost. However, in joining the river to the sea they ensured that the city through which all commerce now passes controls the flow of wealth.

It is a city of a thousand names for everyone envies its strategic position and it has been conquered and re-conquered, named and re-named except by its native inhabitants to whom it is Nameless. Instead they watch silently, resentfully – and hungrily – as wave after wave of invaders steal their natural resources.

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All of this is set out succinctly in the first five pages, Hicks and Bellaire establishing both an epic tone and landscape, emphasising what is at stake. Now they begin to make it personal…

Young Kaidu has travelled from the provinces to meet his father, General Andren, for the very first time. First, however, he must begin training in combat under Erzi, son of the General Of All Blades who conquered the city for the Dao three decades ago. Erzi is determined to ensure that the Dao don’t go soft and sets the fifteen cadets up against his bodyguard Mura, a native from the city below.

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They don’t fare at all well but behind Erzi’s back they disparage Mura sneeringly as “skral” (think “pleb”, “scum” or any outsider you like to look down on and dehumanise). That Kaidu won’t stand for such small-mindedness impresses Erzi (Mura, not so much – not much impresses Mura – I think you’ll like her!) but don’t be deceived: Erzi’s in an odd place mentally and his affinity for the native inhabitants who have begun to call themselves The Named only stretches so far.

“When I was your age, if I went into the city, the children I met there would throw rocks at me. I was born here, but to them I was a Dao invader. When my father began bringing Dao children from the homelands to the city, they thought I was strange. They avoided me.
“The city is my home, and the Dao are my people. I belong to both, and because of that it’s hard for either to truly accept me. “Maybe it will always be this way for me. But when I become the General Of All Blades after my father, it will be the first time the city is ruled by someone who was born here.”

Hmm. By “here” he means within the safety of the fortress, not in the city below. I think he’s missing the point somewhat, especially with Mura standing right behind him!

The cadets are forbidden from exploring the city on their own but Kaidu’s Dad is far from the regimented soldier Erzi aspires to be and the first thing he does is take his son on a field trip to sample the street life and delicious cooked meats outside the walled confines above. They bond easily, swiftly, Kaidu’s father emanating a kindly warmth which fails only on a girl Andren calls out to on a rooftop, offering her some of their food.

“I see her at the market sometimes. She always looks hungry.”

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Seen with fresh eyes, everyone around them looks hungry.

Kaidu’s Dad offers to take him back to the city the next night but in the end trade negotiations keep him away. It is then that Mura steps in, perhaps seeing some hope in the boy after all:

“You should go on your own. You don’t need your father to hold your hand.”
“I thought we weren’t supposed to go into the city alone.”
“Everyone should go alone into the city once in their life. To see how it truly is.”

What I hope I’m establishing is that no one here is a two-dimensional cipher with singular loyalties or intransigent dogma because that never ends well. Come to think of it that doesn’t begin well, either, and the bit in the middle’s a bore. Everyone can see that the situation is untenable – no one has held onto the city for long; you might as well invade Afghanistan – but no one agrees on the proposed solutions.

While that discussion evolves and generals are summoned for a meeting, Kaidu does sneak out of the fortress but quickly becomes lost and his reception is bordering on hostile. No one will speak to this Dao except rooftop-racing Rat, the girl from yesterday, and even she’s not going to easy to win over.

What it really needs is someone to reach out: an act of friendship; an act of trust.

A leap of faith, as it were, right over the River of Lives!

And that is one arresting spread, isn’t it?

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From the creator of FRIENDS WITH BOYS and the colourist of INJECTION etc, I am convinced that this will prove massive for fans of AMULET, DELILAH DIRK, PORCELAIN, COURTNEY CRUMRIN and all those Doug TenNapel graphic novels constantly erupting from our shelves.

It’s so well crafted with elements which later prove pivotal presaged well ahead in the game. I don’t think I’ve turned the final forty pages of any book so fast – and then gone back for re-gawp, obv. Love what both Bellaire and Hicks did with the Festival of Ruins at night. It’s not easy upping the exotic on a city already established as so spectacular, but when I first clapped eyes on the festival I thought immediately of Venice.

I like all the design elements which are convincingly coherent and must have taken some time to coalesce. There are early explorations of Rat’s possible garb in the back and, although I enjoyed them all, some were less “indigenous” and a great deal more contemporary than others. What was settled on was perfect for a poverty-stricken child for whom jewellery of any sort would be out of the question.

Not only that, but if you stripped out all the speech bubbles and were compelled to read this “silently”, you’d still understand the import of every sequence and enjoy the actors’ priceless expressions in doing do.

Round of applause for the most unexpected yet very well judged piece of slapstick on page 112.

“Uh-oh” indeed.

SLH

Buy The Nameless City vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Julius Zebra – Bundle With The Britons h/c (£9-99, Walker Books) by Gary Northfield.

Hot on the hooves of JULIUS ZEBRA – RUMBLE WITH THE ROMANS clops another instant classic of cack-handed combat and bog-eyed buffoonery as Julius Zebra attempts to win over the hearts and minds of a cruel Britannia.

Yes, not content with becoming a gladiatorial superstar at the Colosseum, Julius Zebra (don’t call him Debra) is hoping to repeat his Roman success while being sent off on his jolly holibobs by Hadrian himself!

Not only that, but all his equally inept friends will be coming with him. Bang that bucket! Spank that spade! Pack your favourite pebble collection!

Slight problems:

1) It is no holibob
2) It is to Britain
3) So it will be cold and it will be wet, for there will be rain.

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There will be so much rain that artist Gary Northfield will need to buy himself an extra pot of ink.

And it’s not as if central heating had been invented.

[Editor’s Note: Errr, it had, by the Romans and they exported it to Britain.]

Well it’s not as if our chums are going to benefit. They’re all still slaves so the only stars of their accommodation will be the ones they can see through the gigantic hole in its leaking roof, they’ll have to swab the ship’s deck on their way over and these animal crackers couldn’t survive in the wild, let alone in a deadly arena.

“I hate running!” spluttered Felix. “I’ve got flat hooves.”

Felix is an antelope.

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Why has Hadrian really bundled these bozos off to Britain? Which bad-ass beasties will be breathing down the numpties’ necks? What lurks in the spooky old shack and why did she spit in the cauldron? (“Needs more salt.”)

As the clots trot up the gangplank at the start of their voyage they have idea of the traumas in store on our shore. Let’s hope they learn to tut loudly while queuing.

I love this hybrid of comics and prose which slip in and out of each other effortlessly. I couldn’t bear to part with Julius all dubious about the bowl of broth he’s been offered (see “Needs more salt”!)…

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… and the former often delivers a punchline to the latter which could not be replicated with words alone. So integral are the illustrations that if you attempted to remove these visual and verbal gags you’d be left wondering which pages were missing.

Like GARY’S GARDEN and THE TERRIBLE TALES OF THE TEENYTINYSAURS this is in part about animals attempting to make sense of the world around them – which, when we’ve constructed it, rarely has their best interests at heart – specifically animals with barely a brain cell between them.

It’s essentially CCLXXV pages of mad-eyed, exuberant high camp. Gary Northfield has turned gormless into an art form and a hugely enjoyable spectator sport – just like gladiatorial combat. The two probably shouldn’t be mixed…

Back at the gate Julius put his head in his hooves.
“This isn’t going to end well.”

You sense that, don’t you?

SLH

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Buy Julius Zebra – Bundle With The Britons h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Discover… The Ancient Egyptians / Discover… The Roman Empire (£8-99 each, Frances Lincoln) by Imogen Greenberg & Isabel Greenberg.

Discover covers use as interior too

First two fabulous and – important, this! – fun books in what I hope will be a sprawling series of history lessons, excitedly received by those who love works which wink. All education should be entertainment and this balanced both so beautifully that at the end of each I was holding out my begging bowl for more.

Instead of feeling like illustrated prose, the Mediterranean-coloured, image-orientated pages read like info-splattered illustration into which is injected the illusion of comics. The illusion of comics! So clever!

The illusion’s achieved by assigning mischievous môts and satirical side-swipes in speech balloons to the guides, guest-stars and bystanders commentating on the institutions, inventions and initiatives being explored.

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I particularly enjoyed the third and fourth page instructing us on Egyptian gods: Osiris of the underworld, Isis (both his sister and wife – don’t try that at home, kids!), their son Horus of the sky and… oh, there’s always one in every family, isn’t there?

“This is Seth. He’s Osiris’ brother, and he was the god of chaos… He’s trouble!”
“Heh heh heh,”

… Pants jackal-headed Seth, a barely suppressed smile playing across his mouth. I suspect he knows what’s coming next, and I fear “trouble” might be understating it slightly.

“Seth brutally murdered his brother Osiris….”

What I did I tell you?

Fortunately Isis resurrected Osiris long enough to have that child Horus so that this could all this symbolically represent the death and regrowth of crops which is nice.

“Heh heh heh” smirks once Seth again but Horus won’t let it lie:
“I declare you shall be banished, Uncle Seth!”
“Ugh. Whatever.”

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If all this seems so very Lizz Lunney it’s actually the result of the Greenberg sisters, Isabel of course being responsible for the enormously playful ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH which was my favourite graphic novel of its year. It was Epic and Awesome, a story about Stories, but brilliantly it poked fun at itself, the Epic and the Awesome.

As to the other tome, did you know that as well as their own gods the Romans were such big-hearted / open-minded / conquest-crazy fickle thieves that they worshipped gods from other countries and religions as well? See Isis above, but also Pan, the Greek god of mountains it says here but also field-friendly discos.

Books like these should always surprise and this certainly throws in a few googlies down its timeline. You’d get a Q.I. alarm bell, for example, if you buzzed in with “Emperor Julius Caesar” for he was nothing of the sort. Caesar was a genius general who declared himself dictator only to be ousted before so very long by his adopted son Augustus who did become the first Emperor of Rome. “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth” etcetera.

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Before we return to Ancient Egypt, here’s another one: not only did Emperor Constantine (pronounced ‘wine’, just like the star of HELLBLAZER – they are related!) convert to Christianity, taking much of the empire with him, but he built a new capital to rule from which he called Constantinople. Which was just as well because – believe it or not – the Roman Empire kind of lost Rome in 410 AD to the Visigoths and, umm, never recaptured it!

Coming back to how well visual aspects like the River Nile are incorporated and utilised within the page, I loved how the Egyptians’ pyramid-shaped, feudal society, is explained within a pyramid. Apposite in every way.

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Surprises from thereabouts come in the form of our 365-day calendar which they invented (although it fell to the Romans to add the twelve months and seven-day weeks), a three-season year revolving around the condition of the Nile (and therefore the crops), and the surprising news that Upper Egypt was down south and Lower Egypt was oop north because the Nile ran south to north and the Egyptians rulers were all a bunch of elitist Tory bastards.

Lastly, the Ankh…? It’s a hieroglyph meaning life, not DEATH, which was Neil Gaiman’s point all along. So I imagine that’s sent a whiplash round what’s left of the gothic community.

Heh heh heh.

SLH

Buy Discover… The Ancient Egyptians and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Discover… The Roman Empire and read the Page 45 review here

Take Me Back To Manchester (£12-00, self-published) by Oliver East.

In April 1872 a man called Lorenzo Lawrence walked a seven-year-old Asian Elephant called Maharajah 200 miles south from Edinburgh to Manchester in 10 days.

Why? Entertainingly, it depends on who you believe, but here are some facts:

On April 9th,1872, an auction was being held at Waverly Market in Edinburgh to dispose of the animal assets of Wombwell’s Menagerie – some at such knock-down prices one might suspect the knackers yard was their next destination. Many including Maharajah were scooped up by one James Jennison, co-owner of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens (as they were all called then) back in Manchesterland.

As the animals were being loaded onto wagons at Waverley Street Station two days later the normally placid Maharajah, quite used to being transported, threw a strop, thrust his head through the front of the horse box then backed through its rear, causing quite a commotion as he did so. Wombwell Menagerie’s resident lion tamer, one Lorenzo Lawrence, bravely stepped in to quell the bellicose beast’s ire… almost immediately after which it resumed its regular, docile demeanour.

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It was then that Lorenzo offered to lead Maharajah to Manchester, thereby neatly postponing his penury by prolonging his employment. I don’t want to sound cynical – though I wouldn’t be the first – so instead I will congratulate Lorenzo on yet another sterling performance: in agitating the elephant in the first place!

As the graphic novel proceeds we follow Lorenzo – as loquacious as The Good Old Days’ Leonard Sachs – as he barters his way down south, earning extra money by giving rides and seeking what lodgings he can for himself and a steaming elephant. It’s quite the pantomime and no trick is lost in maximising publicity including an increasingly exaggerated account of Maharajah’s dismissive disdain for the route’s multiple toll gates.

Very clever, that: these seemingly ubiquitous toll gates must have been as unpopular with a poor public as the Poll Tax, and the pachyderm’s trash-and-dash reputation must have made it a people’s champion.

What do I love about this graphic novel?

The story itself, the colours and its forms!

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I’ve not seen magnolia and walnut brown dominate a comic so boldly as here and it works so well in a scene, for example, framing the elephant sleeping in peace outside an inn, the courtyard viewed from inside a stable which almost certainly failed to accommodate the animal.

I also adored the corrugated aspect of the beast’s furrowed forehead and trunk – viewed both in profile and face-on – demarked by a brush or nib (virtual or otherwise) which doesn’t once leave the page. The ridges are so deep you can almost fit your fingers in and maybe use them as handholds to scale onto the beast’s back.

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Again I would return to the brown and the cream and their sheen on glossy white paper. I’ve stared at some of those pages for ages.

There’s another couple opposite each other which deploy a tempestuous purple along with cream which to me streams from the heavens like sunbeams through thunderous clouds – possibly the most dramatic of any weather conditions – the left-hand page emphasising the wide-open space of the British countryside as well as the distance travelled each day, the right at rest and under shelter being positively cosy by comparison!

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Set pieces like those genuinely took my breath away but this isn’t a gallery of images, it’s a comic. It’s a sequence of images supposed to tell a story and I have to tell you that there were so many instances – quite important ones– during which I did not have the first clue as to what was going on, such was the lack of defined or precise visual information.

It may sound as if I did, but I had to do research. Flashbacks were unheralded and that’s fine if you’re Greg Ruth or Hwei Lim and at least giving clues for the reader to latch onto. Here I was utterly lost. Sometimes I felt as if I was trying to peer through a dense, form-eroding mist for the slightest hint of context.

Also, I hate to sound like a martinet but there’s organic lettering and then there is scrappy and scruffy. This was in places unnecessarily scruffy.

Nevertheless I’m convinced that the images reproduced here will impress you enough to embrace once again an old favourite – your travelling companion on TRAINS ARE… MINT and PROPER WELL GO HIGH etc – who himself undertook the arduous walk from Edinburgh to Manchester to get a proper feel for the trek. Whether he talked to himself in the same affectionate manner Lorenzo chatted with Maharajah (as we do with pets, supplying each purported reply in our head), I don’t know; but I suspect so, don’t you?

This is Lorenzo at the start of his journey but you just know that it’s Oliver East all the way.

“What did you buy?”
“Um, maps. I bought maps.”
“Maps? But it’s just two roads. South to Carlisle then the old Roman Road to Manchester.”
“What can I say? I like to know where I’m walking. Might as well learn while I’m on the road.”

SLH

Buy Take Me Back To Manchester and read the Page 45 review here

Sun Bakery #1 (£4-50, Press Gang) by Corey Lewis.

From the creator of SHARKNIFE comes exactly the sort of comic I wanted to produce aged 12: quick-fire, episodic, multi-saga, idea-driven with bat-shit crazy energy and visuals.

You know, as opposed to long-form, pensive, self-contained, streamlined, narrative-conscious, photo-realistic and world-changing.

And although I began with zero technical skills, between the ages of 10 and 12 I did produce some 15 issues of just such a comic containing superheroes, sci-fi, comedy and even a little politics – school politics, anyway. The comedy, as I recall, centred around the search for the singular of ‘sheep’. (It’s a ‘shoop’, since you ask. I WAS TEN!)

Mine was multi-story and episodic because I’d been brought up on black and white Marvel reprints; in Corey’s case it’s been inspired by Japan’s SHONEN JUMP weekly manga anthology which brought us the likes of DRAGON BALL, NARUTO and DEATH NOTE.

And let us be perfectly clear: this is the comic a 12- to 15-year-old would produce if he had Corey Lewis (Reyyy)’s keen adult technical skills. The key is that Lewis hasn’t let those skills inhibit the storytelling.

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What’s it all abaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!

‘Bat Rider’ is a thrilling, maximum-contrast, shadow-heavy, skyscraper-silhouette-strewn, black and white, urban challenge starring a chick with a cape, a chap with a Mercury-winged biker’s helmet and his seemingly sentient skateboard. Next!

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‘Arem’ appears to be riffing off ‘Beyond Good And Evil’ in that the female protagonist dashes about an alien planet identifying local fauna that occasionally fights back by snapping its photo then loading it onto social media for critical approval, like. Oh yes, she does so in a big, bio-hazard, heavily armoured exo-skeletal fight-suit.

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Huge exterior shots of primordial landscapes, the orbiting spaceship and maximum mecha fanfare use up the world’s entire supply of mauve, lilac and indigo for the next fortnight. Also, I loved the structure of one page in particular of our protagonist 1) liking NextiGrams while licking pizza 2) thundering down a treadmill 3) kicking a sack in the same direction before 4) standing before her mighty mech in solemn preparation.

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‘Dream Skills is Fruit Salad flavoured (Fruit Salad as in the chews) and follows two female friends, one of whom introduces the other to the sacred art of the sword following the discovery of protective “aura circles” owned by everyone. These have suddenly been triggered (we know not how nor why) rendering lead non-lethal and guns therefore redundant. Besides, blades are flashier (discuss). That one looks like it may contain the most mystery, legend and lore and at this early stage, who knows?

Contains 730% of your recommended daily sugar allowance.

SLH

Buy Sun Bakery #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Star Wars: Vader Down s/c (£9-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen & Mike Deodato, Salvador Larroca…

“The boy cannot hide from his destiny.

“Or from me.”

It’s time for a STAR WARS / DARTH VADER crossover party, as Daddy Darth indulges in some hide and seek with Luke, whilst Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen play pass the writing parcel and Mike Deodata and Salvador Larroca swat the goodie-filled pictorial piñata to and fro. Technically this is volume three of both series, though Marvel will no doubt number the next individual volume of each as the third, being the party poopers they are…

Anyway, Darth is hot on the hyperspace heels of Death Star destroyer Skywalker, and he’s tracked his wayward progeny down to the planet Vrogas Vas, where Luke is visiting the remains of an old Jedi temple searching for some answers of his own. Cue one unfortunate encounter with a Rebel Squadron later and we’re crash-landing our way into a little father son tête-a-… errr… helmet… on the surface.

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But, it’s not all about father / son time! Rest assured Princess Leia plus C3P0, Han and Chewie are soon en route to the knees-up, despite not being invited. Plus everyone’s favourite new characters Professor Aphra and her psychotic robotic entertainers Triple-Zero and BeeTee are gate-crashing too. That trio alone are guaranteed to make sure any party goes with a bang, and the guests with a blood-curdling scream… In fact, I’ll leave it to them to explain precisely what mayhem is going to ensue during the course of this particular reunion celebration…

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“This is officially not good. I’ve intercepted Rebel communications that say Vader was definitely shot down over Vrogas Vas. No word yet if he’s alive or dead. At this point… I’m not sure if which would be worse. But either way, we’ve got to go after him. And if he’s dead…”
“We could always simply murder everyone we encounter. No matter the problem, I usually find that to be the most elegant solution. BeeTee rather excitedly agrees.”
“ We’re flying right into a nest of Rebel troops, Triple-Zero. I expect you’ll get your wish.”
“How splendid! Did you hear that, BeeTee? We get to torture and exterminate indiscriminately!”
“BLEEP!”

JR

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Buy Star Wars: Vader Down s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Panther h/c (£19-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brecht Evens

At War With Yourself (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Samuel C. Williams

Black Magick vol 1: Awakening (£7-50, Image) by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott

Brodys Ghost: Collected Edition (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley

The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch h/c (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli

The Last Dragon (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay

Octopus Pie vol 3 (£10-99, Image) by Meredith Gran

Rumble vol 2: A Woe That Is Madness s/c (£12-99, Image) by John Arcudi & James Harren

Usagi Yojimbo Saga vol 6 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

Wet Moon vol 1: Feeble Wanderings (New Edition) (£14-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell

Wood: The Of Art Of Tomorrow Kings h/c (£39-99, IDW) by Ashley Wood

Adventure Time vol 8 (UK Edition) s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Ryan North, Christopher Hastings & Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb, Zachary Sterling

Adventure Time: Fist-Bump Cavalcade (£9-99, Titan) by various

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

Astonishing Ant-Man vol 1: Everybody Loves Team-Ups s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Ramon Rosanas

Carnage vol 1: The One That Got Away s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Gerry Conway & Mike Perkins

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

Extraordinary X-Men vol 1: X-Haven s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Humberto Ramos

Spider-Man 2099 vol 1: Smack To The Future s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Will Sliney

X-Men: The Age Of Apocalypse vol 4 – Twilight s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by various

Assassination Classroom vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Goodnight Punpun vol 1 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

Shuriken And Pleats vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet vol 2 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Koutarou Yamada

News!

How fabulous to find Page 45 on a billboard! An Etherington Bros billboard with a pull quote from 5,000-STAR review of VON DOOGAN AND THE GREAT AIR RACE which you’ll find with all our other PHOENIX WEEKLY COMIC favourites!

Von Doogan Page 45 Billboard

Other than that you’ll have to wait till next week, I ran out of time! Reviews! Life! Etc!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2016 week three

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

New John Allison GIANT DAYS, graphic biographies of Munch and an Olympic athlete we’ve never heard of; Chester Brown, God, Jesus, Mary and Vikings!

Hello, what’s this?! A brand-new CRIMINAL reviewed on its very day of release with interior art you’ve never seen before thanks to Sean Phillips?! Hurrah!

Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Edition (comic-size £3-99, magazine-size £4-50; Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Elizabeth Breitweiser.

CRIMINAL is the best crime comic in the business.

I have without fail reviewed every single edition, and relished doing so. This is its brand-new, 10th Anniversary, self-contained one-shot and a perfect introduction to these imperfect individuals in their less than ideal worlds.

How was your childhood?

“It’s easier to be a fictional character.
“How sad is that?”

Not as sad as the ending, as an almost unheard of act of kindness in twelve-year-old Tracy Lawless’ bleak young life is flushed down the pan, along with all its potential, out of fear.

Looked at from another angle, however, it is perhaps the one ray of hope that Tracy might turn out okay against all nature and nurture odds, because it’s not for himself that he fears. It’s for a local girl who’s befriended him on the streets of a small town where, as a stranger, he sticks out like a sore thumb.

“I’m not supposed to be doing this. Mike Johnson isn’t supposed to have fun.
“And he doesn’t get to make friends. Friends get remembered.”

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Oh dear. We’ve already discovered what happens to those might remember Tracy. Brubaker deliberately sets this up on the very first pages so that it informs everything else that follows, throwing a terrible pall over anyone who comes near the boy.

This includes Lana, one of the individuals that Tracy’s Dad is out searching for. Because of this looming threat one fears, rightly or wrongly, that Tracy may have doomed the smiling shop assistant simply by identifying her. Tracy himself recognises this almost immediately afterwards. It’s not exactly a Judas moment, but it’s certainly made all the more poignant by their mutual, momentary affection which elicits the other act of kindness and their eyes light up. So it might as well have been a kiss.

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Mike Johnson, by the way, is that fictional identity Tracy is forced to adopt whenever he’s travelling on the run (or otherwise undercover) with his career-criminal dad. He shouldn’t have been roaming the streets, he should have stayed safely shut away in the motel reading the comic which his father Teeg stole for him (which is nice), but Teeg hadn’t come back in the evening nor in the morning, and that’s pretty much par for the course. The boy’s got to eat.

What follows is a rough scrap of a friendship scraped from the car crash of Tracy’s neglected childhood before he witnesses that which a twelve-year-old son never should.

There’s a telling line early on from Tracy himself, referring to himself being taught to drive his dad’s getaway car last year as “just a kid” as if he considers himself an adult now. But he’s neither one thing nor the other: he’s not his father’s adult accomplice because he’s not been let in on what the mission is; yet if he’s still a child what on earth is he doing behind the wheel and changing number plates? What is he doing – worst of all – understanding his father’s fucked up priorities?

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Sean draws the boy all droopy-mouthed and saggy-shouldered – weighted, weary beyond his years, far from care-free and truly troll-like. His eyes would be scathing if they could summon the energy but are instead so heavy, so sceptical, expecting nothing – which is just as well. It’s what makes the brief burst of reignited hope and rekindled vivacity in the shop with Lana so unexpected and arresting. The boy can actually smile – he can beam – if engaged with at all.

But that’s as nothing to the central panel in a single page which is one of the finest I’ve seen in comics.

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It is the epitome of wide-eyed, awe-struck enchantment as Tracy’s face comes electrically alive, spellbound by the DEADLY HANDS OF comic which straddles the same worlds he does between adult and child.

“This comic is weird…
“It kind of reminds me of the ones my dad gets some times…
“But those have naked ladies and stuff in them.
“And this one, you just feel like it’s about to have naked ladies all the time.
“Like it’s a comic for kids pretending to be a comic for grown-ups.”

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Of course it is. It’s a mischievous tribute to a Marvel Comics combo of SHANG-CHI, MASTER OF KUNG-FU and WEREWOLF BY NIGHT – very seventies indeed, Daddio – pages of which are paraded in front of you in all their tanned, aged-paper glory by Sean Phillips in immaculate impressions of expressionist Paul Gulacy the for sub-lunar werewolf sequences and of the far more conservative Sal Buscema inked by the likes of Mike Esposito when the angst-ridden protagonist reverts to puny Peter Parker-like form. It’s all in the eyebrows.

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Tracy’s father, of course, was reading the equivalent of macho, alpha-male CONAN in the previous CRIMINAL SPECIAL EDITION #1 (also available as CRIMINAL SPECIAL EDITION #1 MAGAZINE SIZED; both still in stock at the time of typing) whilst biding his time and trying to stay off the radar in jail. I like that they share an interest in something, but I still don’t think Teeg’s going to be winning many parental awards any time soon.

I like what Breitweiser’s done with both the daytime and evening colours here: it’s something completely different to FATALE or THE FADE OUT for this is set is in such a small town it’s virtually deserted after dark. There are no fancy-schmancy multicoloured neon bar signs projecting onto the street: in the evening the only monochromatic glow comes from the few sickly sodium lights and they don’t light anything up properly. In the daytime the colours may be muted and mundane but they do at least look relatively healthy and safe by contrast.

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I don’t know whether Brubaker of Phillips decided which comics would be racked in the grocery store’s spinners but whichever it was we evidently shared similar summer holiday experiences. Speaking of similar summer holiday experiences, hats off to both for the kids’ visit to the second-hand bookshop – the only place you’d find old comics back then. Phillips has almost beaten Bernie Wrightson at his own game for internal clutter. I could feel the binding of every single book on those shelves, but of course Tracy’s not interested.

“I’m just looking for comics.”

We’re all just looking for comics.

Criminal 10th Anniv screenshot

SLH

Buy Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Edition and read the Page 45 review here

The last magazine-sized edition came with a faux letter column for the CONAN-like comic. This one signs off with the latest DEADLY HANDS movie machinations and hints to its “female-type readers” that they might soon find themselves represented in the form of QUEEN LAO, the She-Fighter!!! Bonus black-and-white painted pin-up!

Buy Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Deadly Hands Of Magazine Ed and read the Page 45 review here

An Olympic Dream: The Story Of Samia Yusuf Omar (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Reinhard Kleist…

“Training at Coni Stadium in Mogadishu is a bit different than at the Beijing Olympic Games. Here you have to be careful not to trip. There are holes all over the track from the bombs.”

The German comics biographer Meister returns with another intriguing choice of subject. Following on from the likes of CASTRO, ELVIS and JOHNNY CASH, his previous work – his best for me – was on a considerably more obscure figure in the form of THE BOXER: THE TRUE STORY OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR HARRY HAFT. Much of its appeal was the fact its subject was someone I knew absolutely nothing about, but whom had lived a long, difficult and utterly fascinating life.

This time it’s the story of an equally obscure athlete, Samia Yusuf Omar, who represented her country of Somalia at the Beijing Olympics with great pride and whose great dream was of competing at London 2012. Sadly, that aspiration was cruelly dashed as she drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Italy along with several other migrants. But in her short life she achieved, and endured, far more than most of us pack into a lifetime.

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It’s a very clever work, this. Yes, it’s Samia’s story, but it’s also the stories of the multitudes who attempt to seek a better life in Europe, regardless of their reasons. For whatever one’s opinions, informed or otherwise, regarding the rights or wrongs of ‘illegal’ economic migration, there is one simple fact which remains true. Would the vast majority of EU member state citizens, if we found ourselves in the same position as those people in Eastern Europe and Africa, do exactly the same as they are doing? I know I would.

Anyway, Samia’s heart-wrenching decision to leave her mother and the rest of her family was simply in order to be able to train. For the main problem she faced in Mogadishu was not simply the lack of facilities in her war torn country, but the fact that the ruling Islamist militia Al-Shabaab had deemed running unacceptable for women under their repugnant version of Sharia law. After the summary execution of her father in the market place a few years previously Samia had learnt to keep her head down and try to avoid trouble, but she was still determined to pursue her training.

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However, the daily harassment from the local armed goons eventually turned more serious, with texted threats informing her they knew where she lived and that she would be killed, finally convincing her she had to leave. Initially she moved to Ethiopia to train there, but the usual official corruption and also misogyny, albeit not on the levels of Al-Shabaab, forced her to decide to try to get to Italy in the belief she would be able to pursue her athletics there in freedom. Her story ended, like so many others attempting similar journeys, in tragedy, and not before experiencing incredible trauma and hardship along the way.

Putting a very human face on migration, as Kleist does here with Samia’s story, undoubtedly helps people to understand precisely why people do leave their homes and attempt these odysseys in search of a better future. Her conversations along the way with fellow travellers attempting the journey for far less prosaic reasons are extremely illuminating. When we talk about social inequalities between the haves and have-nots in our own rather more comfortable country, it’s easy for us to forget that as tough as many do have it in the UK, it’s absolutely nothing in comparison to the suffering and utter destitute poverty some people experience day in, day out elsewhere in the world.

So again, I return to the fact that were I in their situation, would I attempt to get into the EU no matter what it took? Of course I would. Economic migration has been going on since time immemorial and whilst the rewards might not be quite what they believe, à la Dick Whittington and his streets paved with gold, when their lives are so deprived and so hard, I can completely understand their motivations to try. Would Samia have ever won a medal at an Olympics? It’s extremely unlikely. But did she deserve the opportunity to be able to try and achieve her dreams? Of course.

JR

Buy An Olympic Dream: The Story Of Samia Yusuf Omar and read the Page 45 review here

Munch (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Steffen Kvernland…

“Munch is the perfect comic book character! Almost everything he created was autobiographical, so I can use his letters, diaries, notes, drawings, graphic works and even his paintings. He called some of his diaries ‘literary journals’, so they should be taken with a pinch of salt. But what the hell, it’s great stuff!”
“Yeah, it’ll actually be Munch on Munch! And all of the diaries are pretty much literary dramatisations.”
“Will you keep the spelling mistakes or outdated language?”
“Yup, everything stays! The language will be totally uneven with lots of the sources and historical periods all jumbled together. But a quote is a quote! My contribution will be my subjective perception of Munch, and that’ll mostly be determined by the visual interpretations of, and what will be included or not. It’s going to be a monumental puzzle to figure out. I’ve read kilometres of books on Munch and there’s more to come.”
“It’ll take years to draw everything!”
“Huh! A year at the most!”

‘…Seven years later…’

Ha, I really did enjoy the prefacing six-page autobiographical introduction explaining just how Steffen Kvernland convinced himself over a very boozy lunch that it would be a great idea to do a graphic biography of Munch. Little did he suspect what he was letting himself in for! I’ll say this for him, though: he stuck the course over those seven long years and ended up producing a masterpiece.

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Speaking of liquid heavy repasts, Edvard Munch was undoubtedly, besides being a great artist, a true hellraiser, surrounded as he was for most of his early career by a coterie of artists and intellectuals who were, of course, all massive pissheads. So by the time he reached his mid-forties, with his most celebrated works long behind him, his lifestyle of hard drinking and love of brawling was close to tipping him over the edge, necessitating some chill-out time in rehab.

However, I love the fact that as part of his ongoing treatment his doctor advised Munch “to only socialize with good friends and avoid drinking in public.” After that episode he became extremely reclusive, but still immensely prodigious, even if none of the output achieved the recognition of early paintings such as The Scream series. It was as though, to quote the final two pages of this work…

“Munch had become a monk whose life was devoted to art.
“Art was his religion.”

Quite so. What is so impressive about this work is just how comprehensive it is. Yes, Munch was undoubtedly a real character, but it’s delightful to read a graphic biography by someone who is a true aficionado on their subject. Not only does Kvernland have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Munch, both the man and his art, but you can tell he has a real passion for him. It’s this enthusiasm, combined with a compelling art style that makes this such a pleasure to read, or indeed just look at.

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The stroke of genius, though, is making Munch himself the main narrator. Mainly it’s a wiser, more sanguine Munch looking back at his capricious, youthful self, but it imbues the book with a sense of truthfulness that might otherwise give way to mild disbelief at the appalling antics and emotional eruptions Munch was prone to. It allows Kvernland to walk us through Munch’s careening career and louche life without passing comment, but merely act as our educated museum guide, adding in some judicious hard facts.

The art though was a revelation. I can see exactly why it took him seven years. Munch famously advocated painting not what he saw, but what he felt, and you can see Kvernland has adopted this process to a degree. The artist’s early life is portrayed in really quite jocular caricature, entirely befitting Munch’s absurd behaviour, with vibrant colours and dashes of cubist flourish. Also, Munch’s haunted eyes occasionally minded me of a Richard Sala creation! The elder Munch, in his rare ‘on camera’ appearances, is portrayed much more statesmen-like in black and white, Victorian plumbago-style portraits.

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Sitting alongside PABLO and VINCENT as part of Self Made Hero’s Art Masters range, this exquisite picture of a most peculiar man and highly talented artist should help inform new generations that The Scream was first and foremost a series of paintings and not merely an internet meme

JR

Buy Munch and read the Page 45 review here

Giant Days vol 2 (£10-99, Boom) by John Allison & Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin.

“This next place is great. It’s the ultimate. It has the answers we seek.”
“Please no more boutiques, Esther. I can’t take my clothes off again today.”
“All these fancy shops. There are so many clothes. So many garments. And they’re all… they’re all made of stars.”

That’s a perfect opening page, neatly encapsulating one aspect each of Esther, Susan and Daisy: up for adventure, bewildered by fashion, and away with the fairies, respectively.

It also kicks off the first chapter’s challenge immediately: prep for, then survive a university ball. Survive means 1) not snog your best mate’s face off, 2) not cop off with your ex and 3) not make a fool of yourself in front of the beau of the ball. Umm… that’d be a great big whoops, then.

But first they need to dress for the occasion and Lissa Treiman does each of them proud, although Susan was always going to be traumatised now matter what she ended up in.

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“You look amazing!” gasps Daisy, hands clasped with rapture as is tradition. “Esther is like a wizard.”
“First she squeezed my blackheads. Then she trussed me up like a turkey. Then she aggressively blow-dried me for twenty minutes.”

One of Allison’s many seemingly simple skills is lobbing in one extra word like “aggressively” and making it work for him like a ‘Q’ tile in Scrabble placed on a Triple Word square, maximising the comedic value of entire paragraphs.

“She said she worked out I was the exact same shape and height as Bette Midler.”
“Ohh!”
“After that, she looked at me the way Stephen Hawking looks at a Black Hole. She knew too much.”

Both Treiman and Sarin succeed in squeezing out the maximum drama from every line, whether it’s Susan staring into the distance there as if having undergone some profound Lovecraftian trauma, Esther’s gleeful self-satisfaction at building then delivering a kidney-kicking pun, or Daisy’s wide-eyed worry at where it will all end. Here’s Susan’s ultra-practical ex, McGraw, bypassing some bouncers and flourishing his gadget like Zelda levelling up:

“I had to get in… with this 12-in-1 multi-tool. I pried the beading off a uPVC window casing and removed the sealed unit.”
“What if you used those powers… for evil?”

This is the thing that daunts me about BAD MACHINERY’s John Allison: how does he even know about uPVC beading? How did “meniscus” end up in his vocabulary? And what does this even mean?

“Lovely use of the flat felled stitch on Susan’s seams, by the way.”
“Sir, you’re making me blush.”

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Esoteric is inherently funny, I think. Of course there’s also room for slapstick and I for one wholeheartedly side with Susan, having lived on top of Nottingham’s tallest knoll above the Arboretum Park, and attempted to scale its glacial 3-in-1 winter summit wearing Cuban heels.

“There’s nothing wrong with my shoes! It’s this hill that’s wrong. They built this city wrong!”

There follows the suicide slide I know oh so well right back down to the bottom of the hill.

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Previously in GIANT DAYS SELF-PUBLISHED PACK and then in GIANT DAYS VOL 1: Susan, Esther and Daisy experience the joys of communal kitchens etc at university for the very first time.

Now it’s the Student Ball, Christmas Break, Exams and Bad Boyfriend Decisions. Susan has a secret! Daisy becomes a Life Coach! Ed Gemmell bears his soul – then quickly covers it up again but is he in time?!?!

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John Allison knows exactly how old couples rekindle their flame, loudly, arms flailing:

“Best record! Best songs!
“I agree completely!”

All three panels are too, too funny.

Also, watch what Treiman does when Esther hits the dance floor in Northampton to attract / distract every boy in sight. She succeeds, of course, but as anyone who’s seen such a show will know, half the lads are checking out each others’ moves, not the luring lady’s.

SLH

Buy Giant Days vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus h/c (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown.

“Simon.”
“Yes, Jesus?”
“If you consider Mary to be a sinner, you don’t understand my teachings.”

Quite.

Love, love, love the format unique to comics, emulating the shape and weight of a prayer book.

Within you’ll find nearly 200 pages of Biblical comics with a very strict theme and 75 pages of afterword / annotation. Even the afterword has been annotated, as have a couple of the annotations!

But one man’s onerously self-referential is another man’s thorough and I found this fascinating. I was transfixed throughout, and if you have any interest in stories – in their evolution, censorship and other sleights-of-hand – then I think you will be too.

For a start, intentionally or otherwise, they are delivered with all the droll deadpan of IF YOU STEAL and LOW MOON’s Jason. Here’s King David who’s been availing himself of Bathsheba, wife of one of David’ most loyal and committed soldiers, Uriah.

“David sends Bathsheba home before the sun rises. Weeks later, one of her servants delivers a message to him.”
““I’m pregnant. – B””

Given his sincerity I’m not sure Chester was intending to be this comedic throughout, but the modern economy of that note put me in mind of Tom Gauld’s GOLIATH (nothing to do with its subject, everything to do with its execution) and even the iconoclastic satire of anti-atheist Evelyn Waugh. Indeed it is that very economy and stripped-down clarity of storytelling throughout which makes much of this so laugh-out-loud funny.

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Now, I’ve heard some of Chester Brown’s peers saying that they enjoyed the comics in their own right and have zero interest in reading the annotations. Normally I might be tempted to side with them but I was curious enough about what Chester was up to (it struck me as far from clear as why these specific stories had been selected: what themes or thought processes linked them), and it took no more than three of four paragraphs to have me hooked.

The afterword and annotations in this instance are for me the absolute heart of this book and its riveting joy. A couple of Brown’s arguments struck me as a bit of a leap but overwhelmingly – 98% of the time – I was as surprised by his observations as Jesus’ followers were by the big man’s radical rule-breaking and bowled over both by the thoroughness of Brown’s scholarship and the persuasive logic of his analysis.

There is a lot to analyse: not just the stories as published in the current, compromised editions of the Bible, but previous versions like ‘The Gospel of the Nazareans’ which has a very different, infinitely more likely take on the parable of the Talents and was written in Aramaic (Jesus’ own language) before being translated into Greek then presented as the Gospel we now know as Matthew’s.

And let’s face it, it’s all thoroughly compromised whether through oral inaccuracies, accidental translation errors, deliberate tampering for political propagandist reasons, physical manuscript loss, omissions, misrepresentations, misinterpretations, and the slight fact that not only was no one standing next to Jesus H Christ with a microphone as he spoke, but the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were highly unlikely to have been written by anyone called Matthew, Mark, Luke or John in the first place!

And that’s just the New Testament. Anyone entering into the Old Testament unaware that it’s out-and-out fiction should have their heads examined. What’s more I’ve always considered it reactionary fiction designed to intimidate, control and make subservient as opposed to liberating radicalism of JHC but what Chester Brown has succeeded in doing is marrying the Old to the New in a way that is mutually illuminating especially when it comes to the ostensibly odd tales like God’s seemingly incomprehensible reaction to Cain and Abel’s sacrifices.

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He’s done this by altering some of the stories as he sees fit, but why shouldn’t he after they’ve all been “tweaked” so spectacularly already? It’s always done with well reasoned insight, expounded upon in the back, in order to bring some consistency and coherence to the proceedings.

Context – because context is always important: Chester Brown considers himself a Christian. However, “It’s a version of Christianity that’s not at all concerned with imposing “moral” values or religious laws on others; its focus is inward. As Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within”. I’m interested in personally connecting with God, not in imposing my beliefs on anyone else. While I accept that Jesus was a genuine historical figure, I don’t think he was God or “The Son Of God”… rather, Jesus was a spiritually advanced man.”

I’ll say! Basically, Chester believes in the central tenant of love rather than the hypocritical hate-mongering which too many deeply flawed, self-serving human beings within organised religions spread in God’s Name without His Permission. You know, the sort of thing that Jesus himself exposed and condemned as abhorrent.

This is all vitally important because, as I say, above all else Chester succeeds in tallying the teachings of Christ with the old tales of God in a way that shows them both to be contemptuous of man-made religious law when it gets in the way of what is truly important like helping people (see ‘Good Samaritan’). Moreover, his carefully considered reinvestigations of the stories strongly suggest that God was very fond of rule-breakers – those who thought for themselves utilising their God-given Talent of Free-Will – rather than simply followed subserviently like the Good Son in ‘The Prodigal Son’ who ended up sulking sullenly, blinded by resentment. That’s never going to do you any favours.

This is where Cain and Abel come in, I promise you, along with Chester’s restoration of the ‘Parable of the Talents’ and I say “restoration” because it is there that his arguments hold most persuasive water. Remember ‘The Gospel Of The Nazareans’? Eusebius, the first Christian historian (circa 240-340) recalls the Talent contest thus:

“[The master] had three slaves, one who used up his fortune with whores and flute-players, one who invested the money and increased its value, and one who hid it. The first was welcomed with open arms, the second was blamed, and only the third was locked up in prison.”

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Firstly, the parable as currently represented celebrates financial investment which Jesus emphatically didn’t; it fails to reflect the nature of Jesus’ parables which always clash with “traditional views of justice” and “challenge conventional thinking by containing an element of surprise”; and thirdly, makes no storytelling sense in that it lacks the natural, three-stage progression – two of the slaves do the same thing with the same result – whereas the Nazarean version contains three slaves, three different approaches, three different results. Oh, and there’s also the question of the circular tendency which works rather well in the older version.

I suspect I know what you’re thinking. It’s about the sex-workers, isn’t it? You don’t think Jesus would approve of blowing your wad – or someone else’s – on sex workers. Well, boy, does Chester Brown have some meticulously researched and impeccably well argued news for you!

It involves the rabbis of the Talmud’s teachings on the three levels of charity; attitudes towards sex workers – at no time outlawed in ancient Israel – during both periods of the Bible (as I say, context is so important: try reading Jane Austen’s ‘Mansfield Park’ without its socio-historical context and you might mistake Fanny for a wimp when she is in fact quite the proto-feminist); and extensive research into various translations of the words for prostitute and their appearances in the Bible aaaand….

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Once you’ve read all that and about Matthew’s inclusion of women in his gospel’s genealogy (and some very specific biblical women at that) which was so unheard-of as to be pointed, everything else about this book, its narrative as a whole and Chester’s interest in its elements falls into place. It’s at this point, perhaps, that I should reference Chester Brown’s PAYING FOR IT.

As I say, I am completely won over, even to the idea that Jesus’ mum was a sex-worker. Yup, that Mary, but wait until you read the research. And if part of your reaction to that is assertion is, “Eww, sex-worker,” well, shame on you because that’s what Jesus’ enemies used too. Hope you enjoy the other ironies.

I don’t think it’ll come as any surprise to anyone that the titular Mary (Magdalene / of Bethany) was a prostitute but Brown delves deep into the traditions of hair in conjunction of the specific scenario in order to shore up the argument while reminding you that her specific act of anointing Jesus is what made him a “messiah”, a “Christ” (translation: “anointed one”). “That’s a point worth emphasising: a prostitute made Jesus a christ.” It is indeed a pretty big deal, entirely in keeping with the man constantly demanding his followers rethink their priorities and reject superficial and groundless prejudice.

Umm… guess what the Hebrew for feet was often a euphemism for? I’m probably not going to go there.

Anyway, love verses piety, taking the sexual initiative, employment versus charity, Christ the questioner – and Chester too – and stop pointing your finger lest fingers point back to you, Judah!

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I think the story of Tamar and Judah, as told here, may be my favourite apart from the parables. It’s where onanism comes from.

There is so, so much to discover or perhaps rediscover here and I’m certainly going to enjoy re-reading this in a newly informed light.

I began with Chester’s deadpan delivery which I personally cannot unsee, but more objectively it’s a side-effect of Brown wisely playing down the emotional and the emotive in order to present the tales as honestly as possible in spite of him making bits up! There’s a little anger in evidence from the slave master and a panel of merriment at the Prodigal’s return but on the whole the cast of characters remain implacable – even Job under considerable provocation. In addition the strict four-panel grid maintains an even equally even keel free from distractions.

As to Jesus, you’re only shown him only in silhouette. Another wise decision.

SLH

Buy Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Black Road #1 (£2-99, Image) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown…

“Fuck off. I’m eating.”
“Take it easy.”
“This is business. You are Magnus, yes?”
“I only arrived in town this morning. No one should know me.”
“Perhaps your reputation precedes you?”
“Reputations kill. I prefer to be alone and unknown.”
“How much privacy, Magnus, would this buy you?”
“What’s that for? You want someone killed?”
“Not at all! Good heavens. I’m not talking about murder. I’m talking about an escort job. Taking a church official up the Northern Road to Hammaruskk Coast.”
“The Northern Road. We call it the Black Road, and had you spent more than two fucking minutes in this land, you’d have known that. And a voyage up the Black Road most likely is a murder trip.”

Finally! For those of us who have been waiting patiently since the flaming longboat burial afforded to Brian Wood’s NORTHLANDERS saga on the Vertigo imprint, our patience has been rewarded, and how! Magnus the Black is a man with much on his mind. He’s had the emotional bedrock of his life shattered with the loss of his wife and seen the presumed sovereignty of Odin and the old gods smashed by the one true God of Christianity.

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It’s the latter which probably causes him to take the escort job, at four times the original price of course, because it gives Magnus the chance to ask the Cardinal some burning questions. About how a man born a heathen can get into Heaven, for example… He’s hoping the answers will give some structure to the rest of his life, one way or the other. Not that he believes a life of piety and forgiveness will be required in either eventuality…

“… I wanted to be closer to the Christians. They talk in riddles. They preach peace and love in the midst of performing incredible violence.
“There’s a structure, a purpose to what they do that is beyond my ken. They’re changing Norskk, changing it with words and with iron and with blood. I need to understand them better.
“I have yet to determine if I will go to war for the Christians, or against them.”

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It won’t surprise you to learn that the trip up North isn’t without its challenges. Of the head meets hammer variety, that is… The Cardinal’s not worried, though, he says he’s got a guardian angel. Which is where the mystery really begins…

What a wonderfully dark opener! It’s like NORTHLANDERS never went away (please note, the re-collected bigger editions of NORTHLANDERS will be starting to come out in about four months). And whilst Garry Brown never worked with Brian Wood on that title, fans of THE MASSIVE will be more than familiar with his work. It’s a gritty, flinty style that’s perfect for this title and as with NORTHLANDERS, the colours, provided here by Dave McCaig are suitably understated and restrained.

JR

Buy Black Road #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Superman: The Men Of Tomorrow (£12-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & John Romita Jr…

“Oh. Oh, I get it. You almost got me, Clark. I have to admit, without the glasses, you’re actually a dead ringer. How did I ever not notice it before?”

That takes some brassneck as a writer, does that, bringing up possibly the most ridiculous secret identity conceit in all of comicdom! It works, though, because actually the concluding issue, well more of a coda really as the potentially world shattering action is all done and dusted by the penultimate slice, is a lovely little Jimmy & Clark buddy-buddy piece. It is one of the sweetest chunks of SUPERMAN you’re ever likely to read. After all the recent hoopla regarding the recent dark cinematic depiction of the world’s greatest boy scout, this is Big Blue back to doing what he does best.

It begins with Clark professing his true identity to a disbelieving Jimmy before our duo simply go for a quiet stroll in the park together… I was fully expecting there to be a cat stuck up a tree that needed rescuing – actually it was a child falling out of one – before there’s a half-hearted mugger to talk down. There’s a twist to it all, of course, which I’m not going to spoil, but after the maximum peril level dimensional invasion of the preceding eight issues, it was just the perfect wind-down.

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The main event is great fun too. It’s not the most original story, with a benevolent Superman-like character called Ulysses returning as an adult from another dimension, having been sent there as an infant by his scientist parents when they believed their research site was about to explode. Again, there’s a twist, obviously – several, as it happens – but it’s well written. What increased my enjoyment of it considerably, though (well okay, made me bothered enough to read it in the first place) was Romita Jr.’s art. I do like Romita Jr. He’s the first superhero artist whose style struck me, when young, as really different to the norm with his work on IRON MAN: ARMOUR WARS II back in 1990, and it’s nice to see he’s still on absolute top form.

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I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to recommend Superman comics, normally because they’re utter bobbins – classic exceptions like Morrison’s ALL STAR SUPERMAN and Millar’s SUPERMAN: RED SON aside – and whilst this is nowhere near the level of those, it’s still a significant cut above the run of the mill if you’re desperate for a fix of Big Blue.

JR

Buy Superman: The Men Of Tomorrow and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Mordawwa #666 (£3-00, Scary Go Round Comics) by John Allison

Angel Claws Deluxe Coffee Table Edition h/c (£59-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Moebius

Kramers Ergot vol 9 (£33-99, Fantagraphics) by various including Michael DeForge, Johnny Ryan, Gabrielle Bell, Al Columbia, Dash Shaw, Kim Deitch, Marc Bell, Antoine Cosse

Providence vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

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

Criminal 10th Anniversary Special (£3-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Deadly Edition Magazine Sized (£4-50, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Death Sentence vol 2: London s/c (£14-99, Titan) by Montynero & Martin Simmonds

I Hate Fairyland vol 1: Madly Ever After (£7-50, Image) by Skottie Young

Julius Zebra – Bundle With The Britons h/c (£9-99, Walker Books) by Gary Northfield

The Nameless City (£10-99, First Second) by Faith Erin Hicks

Novo vol 1: The Birth Of Novo Extended Edition (£14-99, Alterna) by Michael S. Bracco

Retroworld s/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Patrick Galliano & Cedric Peyravernay, Bazal

Star Wars: Vader Down s/c (£9-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen & Mike Deodato, Salvador Larroca

Astro City: Lovers Quarrel s/c (£12-99, DC) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Eric Anderson

Flash By Grant Morrison And Mark Millar s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Ron Marz, Chuck Dixon & various

Justice League: Darskeid War – Power Of The Gods h/c (£22-50, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Francis Manapul & Fernando Pasarin, various

All New, All Different Avengers vol 1: The Magnificent Seven s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Mahmud Asrar, Adam Kubert

Captain America: Sam Wilson: Not My Captain America vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna, Paul Renaud, Joe Bennett

Deadpool And Cable: Split Second s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Fabian Nicieza & Reilly Brown

Deadpool: World’s Greatest vol 1: Millionaire With A Mouth s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Mike Hawthorne

New Avengers: A.I.M. vol 1: Everything Is New s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Gerardo Sandoval

A Silent Voice vol 6 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Yoshitoki Oima

Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosario s/c (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Tsubasa Haduki

News!

Step Aside Pops 0

ITEM! This had me howling with laughter: Kate Beaton takes on the twerps who designed Dagger’s breast-baring costume plus porno-pose artists with… Tit Windows!

I’m not posting a single one here. You *will* have to click on that link and go to Kate’s website.

Love, love, love Kate Beaton: try STEP ASIDE, POPS!

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ITEM! Teachers! Schools! Families! Sarah McIntyre introduces four Book Trust videos on making comics in the classroom, and does so with tremendous enthusiasm, and empathy for others.

Pop Sarah into our search engine to discover where the Sea Monkeys came from (OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS) and so much more besides!

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ITEM! Una unveils her new comics project, a very personal insight into mental health

 

ITEM! And the Eisner Awards 2106 Nominations are in! Congratulations to all! Pop any of those puppies in our search engine to read our reviews!

Superfab congrats to Kristyna Baczynski, Dan Berry, Joe Decie, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Sarah McIntyre, Fumio Obata, Jack Teagle for their Eisner nominations for 24 BY 7 collection of comics created at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal.

24 Hour Comic Crew

Photos of the 24 Hour Comics Marathon comics & creators 4/5ths of the way down this extensive account of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014!

24 Hour Comic

All the news so far for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016, October 14th-16th. We will be there – will you?

Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2016 week two

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

News underneath including Re-imagining Beatrix Potter competition!

5000 Km Per Second h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior.

Now that is a cover.

Against all your understandable expectations, it is not a scene that happens anywhere in this ever-so-sad graphic novel.

By the time the rain pours down back in Italy, Piero will have stopped doing anything so care free as riding that bike and Lucia will no longer be such an inexperienced teenager caught in the summer-sunshine of its headlights.

Lucia will have moved on and then on again, but Piero the worrier will still be dwelling about what he had and what he lost, and why. Alas, self-knowledge was never his forte.

No, it’s not a scene that happens anywhere, but it does encapsulate the whole perfectly. For although it begins in the blinding lemon-yellow and lime-green of a blissfully hot summer in Italy when adult concerns and parental practicalities seemed so constrictive, restrictive and dull, the rain begins falling almost immediately between each consecutive chapter in one drop, two drops, three drops then four as Lucia and Piero find themselves 5000 substantial kilometres and one second apart.

Après ça, le déluge.

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This is a graphic novel rammed full of possessive jealousy, one of the most potent poisons in any relationship, pushing away everything and everyone it seeks to contain and sustain.

Lucia will bear the brunt of it not just once but shockingly twice. The second time when she is far more vulnerable is perhaps infinitely worse but in any case it is telling that after escaping the first she writes to Piero, “I felt like I could breathe again.”

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As to Piero, well, we’ve already established that he’s far from self-aware so if he’s the victim as well as the culprit of this sort of smothering intensity and it singularly fails to register, do not be surprised.

It is oh so cleverly crafted with Piero’s childhood friend, Nicola – sweet, loving, loyal and uninhibitedly tactile Nicola – caught to one side / in the middle.

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“From the moment we got together Nicola became so jealous,” says Lucia.” Not that he liked me… he was just scared of losing his friend.”

Entirely understandable: not only had Piero’s eyes alighted upon new arrival Lucia, but he was also about to move away soon to university while Nicola, far less gifted academically, was always going to stay behind and take over his father’s shop. Yet in spite of all this – in spite of his friend about to leave him behind on the metaphorical beach (see ROBOT DREAMS), Nicola did nothing wrong.

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Fior’s forte for me came in the form his portraits of a mature Lucia, out to dinner, so happy to be laughing until she could barely catch her breath, then quietly and with defence-free dignity considering her failure in love, after which her face almost implodes with grief (?) embarrassment (?) at what she considers her diminished appeal. I remove one spoiler yet this remains:

“I teach literature at a provincial technical school. I’ve gotten as fat as a cow.”

She really hasn’t. But the worst face comes later when Piero just won’t let it lie.

Expect telling dream sequences, anger, resentment and an unexpected element of futurism dropped in at the end.

SLH

Buy 5000 Km Per Second h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Delilah Dirk And The Turkish Lieutenant (£12-99, First Second) by Tony Cliff.

“It’s nice here. I like it.
“Lots of ground. Nice, dependable, solid ground.
“Very nice indeed.”

Poor Mister Selim! Flying boats are not his cup of tea.

Come to think of it, even when they were sailing on the ocean he was all at sea.

He doesn’t know his port from his starboard, but do you know what? Delilah could have said “left” or “right”, couldn’t she?

A couple of weeks ago I raved about Tony Cliff’s all-ages DELILAH DIRK AND THE KINGS SHILLING with its gorgeous Portugese and Spanish landscapes, its British stately homes, its exceptional fight-scene choreography and the genuine wit in the snappy patty patter between Delilah Dirk and her travelling companion, Erdemoglu Selim, whose first name will henceforth be Mister. Feedback informs me that you liked the promise of running tea jokes best and there are plenty more here from page three onwards.

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This is the first book in the series which chronicles how the unlikely pair met in Constantinople, Istanbul, 1807. Mister Selim was a lieutenant in the Turkish Janissary Corps; Miss Dirk was the Agha’s captive. Neither party’s position there lasted very long. There’s an exquisite early sequence with Selim extolling Delilah’s reputed prowess in escapology and combat, his master believing not one word of it, culminating in Miss Dirk bashing her captors through a thick wooden door and waving.

“Hi, Selim!”

So that’s Mister Selim unceremoniously sacked. I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him. He wasn’t earning very much. The Agha’s method of distributing his soldiers’ salaries was far from orthodox: he threw a bit pot of gold coins into the centre of a room and let his employees scrabble about the floor, snatching up whatever they could.

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Surrounded by much bigger bruisers all poor Selim came away with was much bigger bruises.

It’s at this point I break to remind you just how lithe Cliff’s figure work is, and how supple their limbs in motion. There are some thrilling perspectives as well, some of the action being perceived from ground-level.

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The balance between the calms and the storms is very well judged. The pair’s travels go uninterrupted just long enough to soak up the bucolic beauty and for Delilah to contemplate why she lives her nomadic existence and explain it to her charming and charmed new recruit.

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Speaking of charming there’s another perfect piece of sequential art storytelling when the couple are offered ten days’ respite as guests of a full-on friendly man and his family, the images contradicting Mister Selim’s somewhat disingenuous narration in every possible way. Wonderful!

Indeed all the Turkish people we meet are open, kind, convivial, and generous to a fault apart from evil pirate Captain Zakul The Terrible, but you can’t exactly accuse him of wearing sheep’s clothing. Also explaining his somewhat sullen behaviour, Delilah may have slightly stolen a great big cart load of treasure from him.

This is where we came in, with Delilah and Mister Selim fleeing the hoards of Captain Zakul (The Terrible) in a flying wooden boat bombarded with multiple flaming arrows. It’s an incendiary combination that causes them to crash-land under an aqueduct and I don’t suppose that landmark lasts very long, do you?

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What I’m trying to get across to you is how much fun this all is. Personally I’d still start with DELILAH DIRK AND THE KINGS SHILLING which packs quite the punch but I will take anything from Tony Cliff I can get. There the journey’s Delilah’s, here it’s Mister Selim’s for as our story opens Delilah craves adventure and thrives upon it; Mister Selim emphatically does not.

“Ugh. What is happening? Why… did you cut me free back there? Why did you bring me all the way out here?

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“Because, Mr. Selim…. you make the finest tea in all of Europe.”

SLH

Buy Delilah Dirk And The Turkish Lieutenant and read the Page 45 review here

Wild Animals Of The North h/c (£20-00, Flying Eye Books) by Dieter Braun.

You can tell that these animals are all from the North because it tends to be snowing, ice features fairly prominently in their habitat, and several are found walking whippets.

100% class through and through, this deliriously seductive all-ages art book has bugger all to do with comics but I am so far past caring because beauty.

Recommended to fans of Brrémaud & Bertolucci’s LOVE: TIGER and LOVE: FOX, the paper stock is thick and matt and the hardcover itself roams free from the fetters of any unsightly insta-rip dust jacket, thus making it ideal for school libraries.

As a kid myself I own that my idea of nature-book heaven would have been one illustrated by KINGDOM COME’s Alex Ross but as a big kid now this more stylised approach with elements of Jonathan Edwards lights my fire far, far more.

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The forms are bigger and bolder for their blocked-out beauty and I strongly suspect that any family acquiring this educational excellence will discover their young ones equipping themselves with paper, pencil and paint in no time in order to emulate its awe.

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Featured creatures come with a paragraph which is far from predictable, eschewing cold stats in favour of something more akin to storytelling, bringing each animal’s individuality alive.

Snow leopard:

“A snow leopard never roars.” Already I am surprised. I never knew that.

“Its call is drawn-out howl which – depending on the direction of the wind – can be mistaken for the cry of the yeti.” I’ve never heard a yeti, so I’m not sure what that means.

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“Because it’s so shy and rare, the Kyrgyz people also call it the ‘ghost of the mountain’. Its long busy tail gives this avid climber the necessary counterbalance it requires for scaling the mountainside. When resting, it uses its tail to protect itself from the cold by curling it around itself and covering its nose. It is said to jump over 15-metre crevasses – and even if the crevasse were a few centimetres shorter, this cat would still be the world champion long-jumper of all mammals.”

See? Instantly memorable even if you have the attention span of a five-year-old that’s just washed down a dozen packets of Tang-Fastics with five fizzy litres of teeth-melting pop-u-like.

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Other birds, amphibians and mammals, alas, come with little more than a name but maybe you can make your own entry up for Mountain Goats which I’ve seen abseiling down cliffs without ropes. I’ve also spotted them walking along sheer drops, halfway up on what must be three-millimetre-thick ledges, suggesting that each and every one was once bitten by a radioactive spider.

I know my natural science!

SLH

Buy Wild Animals Of The North h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Clan Apis (£18-99, Active Synapse) by Jay Hosler –

From the creator of all-ages entertainment and education EVOLUTION: THE STORY OF LIFE ON EARTH, comes his first classic graphic novel from 2000 which BONE fans adored. Our Mark was particularly smitten and wrote this:

“I discovered this treasure on a glorious sun-filled afternoon, spent lying on the grass in one of my favourite quiet places and reading this surprising book. It’s partially an educational volume – you’ll get to learn plenty about the life cycle of a bee and the rules and traditions of a hive – but it’s also a fine dramatic story.

“We meet Nyuki as a larva basking in the hedonistic glory of being able to relax and just plain eat for five days. She’s unwilling to make the move and metamorphose into her next state, for growth can be a frightening concept. Luckily she has Dvorah on hand to explain her role in the community and the life outside her cell. Once fully grown she ventures outside, meets other insects, collects pollen and generally does what bees do.

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“Holser has managed to give the central characters enough individuality without removing them from the hive collective mentality.

“There’s an introduction which echoes the ‘form & void’ creation of the world seen in CEREBUS: CHURCH & STATE and an attached sense of religious invention that recalls Jon Lewis (a high recommendation).

“The guy’s a research biologist so he knows his bees.”

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Editor’s note:

Hosler also knows his beetles as evidenced in this far more recent graphic novel, LAST OF THE SANDWALKERS, which maintains educational standards whilst upping the adventure element considerably.

Here too there’s a host of educational extras in the back putting both bees and insects in general into context, as well as the story itself. Sub-titles include How To Build A Bee and The Calm Before The Swarm which, I assure you, is no mere pun.

For more education please visit www.jayhosler.com/clanapis.html]

MAS / SLH

Buy Clan Apis and read the Page 45 review here

The Fix #1 (£2-99. Image) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber.

“If you liked classic crime comics like CRIMINAL and 100 BULLETS we apologize in advance for letting you down.”

Having read over 100,000 solicitation summaries over the past 25 years – most rammed full of po-faced hyperbole – it’s refreshing to read something that redirects a mug of tea right through your nose.

It also sets the tone perfectly for this is far closer to the mischief-riddled THIEF OF THIEVES, except that these contemporary criminals here have zero finesse, cannot conceive of pre-planning and couldn’t even spell ‘fiscal prudence’. Thanks to Steve Lieber there’s even some fine visual slapstick as the buffoons who pass for our heroes only just get away to steal another day.

Let me be perfectly clear: if I were a betting man I wouldn’t bet on these two.

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They do, however, have an ace up their career sleeve I which I won’t spoil for you even if the original solicitation copy did. It’s delivered in the form of a very specific car radio after their old people’s home heist, during which they are gentle, respectful and far more considerate than their absentee orderlies and supervisor.

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That car radio changes everything you thought you were about to read, but then that’s what this comic does: confound your expectations at every comedic corner over and over again. Sometimes it’s no bad idea to return to the scene of a crime; sometimes you simply have no choice. And always these two cannot resist pushing things just a tad too far.

“I wish we could chalk this up to being a learning experience…
“But that would require learning something.”

What they have learned is that modern crime is virtual. The only people who carry cold, hard cash are old age pensioners, hence the heist, and it’s true. It is not unusual for someone to pay by credit card for a two-quid Lizz Lunney comic at Page 45 after they’ve asked for a Student Discount.

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What you will learn is the lack of wisdom in sticking someone up while wearing a floral shirt, and at this point I would like to thank all the shoplifters who’ve taken the trouble to identify themselves in advance with very specific, stand-out tattoos.

Far more when the book is released but for now I’ll simply assure you that you will laugh and laugh and laugh. Though by the end our champ chumps will have their grins wiped right off their gormless faces.

SLH

Buy The Fix #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Empress #1 (£2-99, Icon / Marvel) by Mark Millar & Stuart Immonen.

Ive Svrocina produces some lovely lambent colours for Immonen’s art which delivers dinosaurs, a vast arena, space ships, dogfights with ‘dactyls and many a ‘sploding flight deck.

It is sleek, it is slick, it is sexy.

A man of many feathers, Immonen here is in shiny ALL-NEW X-MEN mode rather than the cartoon bomb of NEXTWAVE, SECRET IDENTITY’s neo-classicism or RUSSIAN OLIVE TO RED KING’s quiet if colourful restraint. He’s basically delivering your epic  STAR WARS space opera, just as he is in, umm, STAR WARS right now.

It’s a very quick comic which accelerates from nought to warp in under a dozen pages even if there’s nothing you can call new so far.

Do we trust Mark Millar? I think we do.

This is the man responsible for KINGSMAN, JUPITER’S LEGACY, JUPITER’S CIRCLE, ULTIMATES, NEMEMIS, MPH, SUPERIOR, CIVIL WAR, AMERICAN JESUS, CHRONONAUTS, MARVEL 1985, SUPERCROOKS and so much more. Hey, that’s what our search engine’s for.

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In summary, then:

Implacable tyrant, big and burly, as merciless as Ming; a right old grumpy-chops with a sadistic smile.

Disillusioned Missus, miffed that life with an implacable tyrant isn’t as exotic or erotic as it looked like from the other side of the bar she once served him in.

Children, sundry; allegiances varied until fired upon by Daddy’s Dobermen.

Captain loyal to miffed Missus effects swift departure from Terminal 5 (non-domestic) before there’s a domestic.

Much spluttering in soup etc.

SLH

Buy Empress #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Wicked + The Divine vol 1: Year One h/c (£33-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie.

Matt black hardcover with gold-foil design which reprints the first two WICKED + DIVINE softcovers with the following back-matter:

Variant covers
Promo poster
Two-page promo teaser comic
Gillen’s photo-comic on pre-ordering comics
That Nathan Fairbairn fresco in full
Three early character descriptions with Jamie’s design sketches
Process pieces
‘Immortality, Of A Kind’ poem by Gillen
All 11 issues’ Writer’s Notes

We begin with Side A:

“Reach out and touch faith!”

Popstars on their pedestals: that’s where we place them in order to worship, just as we used to old gods. Mass hysteria really is nothing new. Add in unhealthy hubris and the confluence of ideas here makes perfect sense.

There is little more likely to drive me to ecstasy than a gig.

“Her eyes scan the front row like the sun rising and setting. Oh god. Oh god.
“The girl to my left passes out, hyperventilating. The boy to my right falls to his knees, cum leaking from his crotch. She’s not even looking at them. She’s looking at me. I swear, she’s looking at me.”

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I love Amaterasu there, her black eyes blazing with the corona of a solar eclipse.

Amaterasu is a relatively new pop goddess already catalysing the sort of tearful, screaming crowd hysteria formerly generated by the likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Duran Duran; commanding a Bowie-like level of devotion which inspires one to dress up and make up to match. Also: generating all the cynical, scornful nay resentful press coverage that can come with it. Paul Morley is a very clever man, but he can also be the world’s most crashing bore.

The difference is that Amaterasu isn’t just a pop goddess in Smash Hits terminology, she’s a pop star who claims that she really is a goddess and she’s not alone. There is a pantheon of them performing gigs separately, each with a shtick of their own – which is fabulous marketing.

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And that’s all today’s interviewer sees: a sophisticated advertising campaign built around bullshit. Mythological claptrap. Pretention. Dissemblance. Malcolm McLaren. To Cassandra – a journalist with a Masters in Comparative Mythology – the very idea that Amaterasu is anything other than Hazel Greenaway from Exeter is preposterous. She did her thesis on The Recurrence and she’s taking it all very personally.

The Recurrence is supposedly this: every ninety years twelve gods are born again, found within young, extant lives then activated by the pantheon’s keeper, the ancient Ananke, a woman wizened with age, austere and unknowable. Throughout the flux – the rise and the fall – Ananke appears to be the one constant. And yes, there is a fall for in two years each god will be dead: immortality doesn’t last forever. But for those two years the twelve gods will blaze as bright as the sun before burning out. Surely that price is worth paying.

Cassandra remains unconvinced and in is giving Amaterasu a hard time which really gets the most vocal of the pantheon’s goat. That would be Lucifer, by the way, the devil herself.

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“Please. The empress of stupid is annoying me.”
“Do you know what I see? Kids posturing with a Wikipedia summary’s understanding of myth. I see a wannabe who’s never got past the Bowie in her parent’s embarrassingly retro record collection. I see a provincial girl who doesn’t understand how cosplaying a Shinto god is problematic at best and offensive at worst. I see someone who’s been convinced that acting like a fucking cat is a dignified way for a woman to behave!”

All of which is witnessed by seventeen-year-old Laura – last to pass out, the first to wake up – who has lucked into Lucifer’s favour and been taken under her wing. Suddenly the ultimate fangirl finds herself very much on the inside. And so, shortly, will Luci…

 

I love Luci: sexy, slinky, positively sybaritic. As styled by McKelvie she is the ultimate in androgyny, immaculately dressed in pressed white. As scripted by Gillen she is an arch, knowing merchant of mischief but beneath the velvet veneer there is something sharp and a little brittle waiting to break. Oh yes, it’s called a temper.

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From the creative crew behind PHONOGRAM and YOUNG AVENGERS and the writer of Ancient Greece drama THREE and cyberpunk MERCURY HEAT, the first issue moved startlingly fast in a flash. For a writer who relishes wit-riddled repartee – and provides plenty here packed with musical winks and nudges – this is quite the “fuck, no!” jaw/floor thrill, and you just wait for the final fifth chapter’s wham/bam double punchline. I nearly wet myself.

Without giving the game away (which is what someone usually says when they are about to give the game away) McKelvie and Wilson have come up with multiple special effects involving dots, rays and flat, spot colour to make the more miraculous moments stand out a mile from the warmer, graded pages. Who decided what is always difficult to discern with Team Phonogram, but there is some gorgeous design work on display as well (hello, Hannah Donovan!) from the logo to the make-up and most especially the recurring round-table / constantly ticking clock of symbols, each denoting the twelve gods’ current status. After each major act it’s updated depending on whose hour has come round at last. Study it closely and infer what you will.

As ever with Gillen there’s many a contempory pop culture reference – and I don’t just mean music – like Twitter DMs and “snapchats” and the odd naughty crack in that febrile fourth wall as when Laura starts Googling the gods on her mobile. This is what pops up:

“SITE WITH NO RELEVANCE
“Blah blah blah…

“ANOTHER SITE WITH NO RELEVANCE
“Yet more blah…

“AM I GOING TO HAVE TO
“GO ONTO THE SECOND
“PAGE OF SEARCH
“RESULTS? OH GOD. NO.
“This is turning into homework…”

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Laura, by the way, is visually modelled on Gillen’s good friend Leigh Alexander, one of games’ most insightful journalists who campaigns eloquently and relentlessly for individuality, diversity and creativity in her chosen craft very much like Page 45 does for comics.

Meanwhile if I misread Baphomet and The Morrigan’s subterranean tube-station appearances as The Sisters Of Mercy’s Andrew von Eldritch and Patricia Morrison, well, there’s none-more-goth than me.

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What is any live performance, however, without an encore? I won’t tell you why Lucifer is remanded into custody but it’s that which propels this first epic act. Here she is at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, being visited in Holloway Prison by Laura:

“Now I know you must feel terribly teased we didn’t consummate our flirtation, but this screen makes it somewhat tricky. Intangible cunnilingus is beyond even my abilities. That said, I’ve never tried. They do say I’ve a wicked tongue… Do you have a cigarette? Or cocaine? Ideally cocaine?”
“Nuh-uh.”
“Not even a little bit of cocaine?”
“Nuh-uh.”
“What kind of teenager are you that you don’t have Class A Drugs to hand? Hmm? Has The Daily Mail been lying to me?”

Tuned in.
Turned on.
Drop doubt.

It’s time to get recreational.

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Side B:

“You are of the Pantheon.
“You will be loved.
“You will be hated.
“You will be brilliant.
“Within two years you will be dead.”

One of the most important lessons my maths teacher taught me had nothing to do with geometry.

“Always ask why,” he said. Always ask why.

For more, please see my WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 2 review.

SLH

Buy The Wicked + The Divine vol 1: Year One h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Invincible Iron Man vol 1: Reboot (£18-99 h/c; £10-99 s/c, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez.

This is the first book since SECRET WARS which I am not about to spoil with its most enormous repercussion here. I’ve even chosen the illustrations carefully.

There will be no love lost there but in Dr Amara Perera Tony may have finally found someone worth dropping his facade for. She’s not feisty, she’s thoughtful, and I like her already.

“I have a cure for the mutant gene.”
“You do not.”
“One that would absolutely do not harm to the host.”
“Wow.”
“But it… it is like curing Judaism. It’s not to be done. I won’t do it.”
“Because by the weekend it would become a law that everyone has to take the cure.”

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should is no new scientific argument, but usually those who have discovered fight the opposite, self-serving corner. I told you I like her.

“I didn’t even write it down. I didn’t want anyone to find it if I died.”
“That’s not good enough, actually. There are psychic spies, psychic industrial spies, and psychic mutants. And psychic mutant industrial spies.”

If that does become sub-plot it’s not happening here.

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Under David Marquez the various Stark Towers, particularly the one is Japan, are slick pieces of architecture and Marquez’s fashion sense is impeccable with smooth, broad strokes for soft-skinned beauty contrasting with the most intricate details of Dr. Perera’s necklace or Madame Masque’s mask. It’s almost unearthly – which is handy given what will become of Madame Masque and her mask.

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Yes, sorry, the protagonist is Stark’s ex-lover Madame Masque who – in an uncharacteristic departure – has taken it upon herself to seek out mystical artefacts which that have fallen through the cracks between dimensions into ours. What would possess her to do that?

None of this has ping-ed on the astral radar of our Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange, but it’s certainly set off alarm bells at Castle Doomstadt – home to Doctor Doom – which Masque has raided for a Wand of Watoomb. Apparently there are five of those spell sticks. Who even knew there were two?

Again, not Doctor Strange, but in case you’ve forgotten Victor Von D is an accomplished mage himself and here comes before Stark as a much-changed man, and in more ways than one.

It’s going to drive Tony nuts.

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As much as anything else, this is a comedy. Everything Bendis writes is at least in part a comedy, even JESSICA JONES. The reason it works so well here is that Tony Stark is at the top of his inventive and mental-health game, but he’s thrown by all the magic involved, confounded by Doom’s open-arms about-face* and finally found a woman – in complete contrast to mentalist Madame Masque – who deserves being dealt with sincerely rather than charmed using his trade-mark, defective, deflective, non-stop quippery / self-deprecation:

“I can’t shake the idea that becoming the man that would actually deserve you… would be a good goal in life at this stage of the game.”

It’s not the only serious thing he says, either. For the first time there is some serious consideration of whether Tony truly has any friends he can offload to when things go wonky on the scale that they do. It would go some way to explaining his former ‘friend’ in the bottle. Offloading is important, but Stark’s faced with two walls few seem prepared to scale: in his line of work someone else’s day was almost certainly worse, and poor little rich boy, boo-hoo.

Some of the best exchanges are between Stark and his dead-pan, on-board artificial intelligence called Friday, partly because they can afford to upset / annoy each other, and do. I cannot wait, however, to see what happens when someone new joins the crew next volume. She’s been a major supporting cast member of another title for decades and Bendis has written her before but within NEW AVENGERS instead.

Lastly, this delivers the best “Hail Hydra” ever, in the most unexpected context.

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* I am trying to be subtle here!

SLH

Buy Invincible Iron Man vol 1: Reboot h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Invincible Iron Man vol 1: Reboot s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Punisher War Journal s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Frank Tieri & Ariel Olivetti, Mike Deodato, Staz Johnson.

While Garth Ennis continued to bring serious real-world issues like sex slave-trafficking and military geopolitics into PUNISHER MAX, Fraction was assigned to tackle his interactions with the spandex brigade of Marvel Universe who at this point – you might have heard – had a bit of a bust-up called CIVIL WAR.

I haven’t wanted to read much of this which appears to be one long arched eyebrow from Luke Cage and co. aimed at Captain America enlisting the aid or accepting the assistance of Frank ‘Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right: I Think You’ll Find It’s 5,722 Wrongs’ Castle, but when I dipped in I quite enjoyed the issue set in a bar where some C-list super-villains are holding a wake for one of their own: the dude at high altitude, Stilt Man, a thief who’s shtick was to totter on top of a couple of ever-expanding tin tubes.

“Are there a lot of banks up on the 30th floor or something?”

It had the added advantage of being drawn by Deodato rather than Ariel ‘Opaque’ Olivetti, and you don’t generally associate Deodato with comedy, do you?

“It’s just – I’ve struggled with depression, you know? This is hard.”
“Let it out, guy. Let it allll out.”

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Deodato

 

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Olivetti

Every so often the primitive Doombot (Victor Von Doom decoy) which they’ve rigged to make the Stiltman’s wife think he ranked higher than he did declares “Kneel before Doom!” at random and increasingly funny intervals, even as he attempts to get served at the bar.

Here they’re toasting Wilbur Day, the Stilt-Man:

“To the man that made me a momentary super-villain!”
“Wilbur Day!”
“Wilbur Day!”
“Kneel before Doom!”

SLH

Buy Civil War: Punisher War Journal s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Marvel Universe (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis, Paul Jenkins, Dan Slott, Ed Brubaker, more & Marc Silvestri, various.

Goodness, you don’t think that cover gives the game away, do you?

In spite of some of the names credited above we are in the realms of Public Service Announcement rather than recommendation for – on top of all the ugly, unlisted dross to appear here – the Brubaker / Fraction / Aja IRON FIST short story will mystify anyone who’s not read Brubaker’s run on DAREDEVIL.

In addition the post-CIVIL WAR pieces written by Ellis and Bendis leading into THUNDERBOLTS and MIGHTY AVENGERS VOL 1 respectively are drawn by Silvestri and that’s no good thing by this point, the women being drawn in porn poses. Even the final shot of an armoured Iron Man from behind makes him look like he’s braced in stilettos. You’re not missing anything.

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Collects CIVIL WAR: THE INITIATIVE #1, CIVIL WAR: CHOOSING SIDES #1, CIVIL WAR: THE RETURN #1, SHE-HULK (2005) #8 and WHAT IF: CIVIL WAR #1.

SLH

Buy Civil War: Marvel Universe and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Peter Parker Spider-Man s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Clayton Crane, Angel Medina, Sean Chen.

Ah, bless ol’ Spidey: he’s Amazing, he’s Sensational, he’s Friendly in your Neighbourhood, and he manages to be all three at the same time! Maybe you read CIVIL WAR and then CIVIL WAR: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and you thought you knew what Peter’d been up to during those hours. Somehow he’s managed to squeeze in all this as well.

I wish I had three titles: I could accomplish so much more!

I could do the dinner, the dishes, the drinking and play PS4 games in the HILARIOUS, HOUSE-BOUND HOLLAND. At the same time I could burn off all those calories down the Derbyshire Dales in SEASONAL STEPHEN, SAUNTERING while making money at Page 45 as TILL-MONKEY TURPIN. I could even take at least one ANNUAL holiday.

Anyway, by pure chance I actually read the first issue of this (SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #28, with art by Clayton Crain), and it’s brilliant. Its focus is Jordan, one of Peter’s students, a young man whose passion for marine biology has driven him to contact the University of Miami well in advance of needing to apply, just to find out what he should be doing right now. He studies hard on his own, but wants to be pushed and Peter – as Jordan’s fill-in biology teacher – has promised he’ll be there to push. Then, one morning, Jordan wakes up to see his teacher splashed all over the news, at a specially held press conference. Well, I know I’d be thinking “How does this affect my grades?!”

The script’s neither heavy nor sloppy, but warm with a twinkle in its eye, and with Dr. Octopus feeling just a little bit dim that – after originally unmasking Peter back when the boy was fifteen – he dismissed the kid as being too young to be Spider-Man and “threw him back”.

Can’t say I’ve read the rest or want to, but you may…

SLH

Buy Civil War: Peter Parker Spider-Man 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.

Take Me Back To Manchester (£12-00, self-published) by Oliver East

Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus h/c (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown

An Olympic Dream: The Story Of Samia Yusuf Omar (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Reinhard Kleist

Discover… The Ancient Egyptians (£8-99, Frances Lincoln) by Imogen Greenberg & Isabel Greenberg

Discover… The Roman Empire (£8-99, Frances Lincoln) by Imogen Greenberg & Isabel Greenberg

Hellboy: In Mexico s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Mike Mignola, various, Mike Mignola

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 12 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

The Manhattan Projects vol 6 (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra

Rat Queens vol 3: Demons (£10-99, Image) by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Tess Fowler

Batman: Europa h/c (£16-99, DC) by Matteo Casali, Brian Azzarello & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Jim Lee, Diego Latorre, Gerald Parel

Superman vol 6: The Men Of Tomorrow s/c (£12-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & John Romita

Invincible Iron Man vol 1: Reboot s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez

Mrs Deadpool And The Howling Commandos s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Salva Espin

Thanos: The Infinity Finale h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin & Ron Lim

Uncanny Avengers vol 1: Unity – Lost Future s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Ryan Stegman, Carlos Pacheco

Attack On Titan: Before The Fall vol 7 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Ryo Suzukaze & Satoshi Shiki

Fairy Tail vol 53 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Tsubasa: World Chronicle 2 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Clamp

News!

Love Lion 1

ITEM! Six-page preview of Magnetic Press’ LOVE: LION graphic novel.

You can pre-order LOVE: LION by Brremaud & Bertolucci from Page 45 here

Love Lion 2

You can buy LOVE: TIGER by Brremaud & Bertolucci, reviewed by Page 45, here

Love Tiger waterfall

 

Love Tiger waterfall 2

You can buy LOVE: FOX by Brremaud & Bertolucci, reviewed by Page 45, here

Love Fox 3

 

Love Fox 4

ITEM! Gerard Way interviewed about his very own ‘Young Animal’ DC comics imprint

Already written by Gerard Way we have:

UMBRELLA ACADEMY VOL 1

UMBRELLA ACADEMY VOL 2

TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS

Delilah Dirk King 2

ITEM! We reviewed Tony Cliff’s DELILAH DIRK AND THE KINGS SHILLING a couple of weeks ago and DELILAH DIRK AND THE TURKISH LIEUTENANT above.

However, to whet your appetiteTony Cliff has a 36-page self-published comic DELILAH DIRK AND THE SEEDS OF MISFORTUNE available online as a pay-what-you-want e-book.

Lumina

ITEM! Italian graphic novel LUMINA just needs a few more Euros to fund it. Looks pretty swoonaway to me!

1 Lakes Fest Clock Tower

ITEM! Ah yes, a rollickingly well edited promo video for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival: youtu.be/OiyhwGT4RP4

LICAF Beatrix Potter Competition

 

Beatrix Potter Competition

ITEM! New Beatrix Potter Competition For Students from The Lakes International Comic Art Festival!

Spread the word far, spread the word wide, my lovelies! Judges for the competition are #LICAF Patrons:

Sean Phillips
Emma Vieceli
Bryan Talbot
Mary Talbot

Stephen El Holland

Yes, this old buffoon! What on earth do I know about creativity? About Beatrix Potter…?

Enough to remind you that you really should have read Bryan Talbot’s THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT by now! Contemporary fiction set in the Lakes District, it’s pretty powerful stuff!

Tale Of One Bad Rat cover

 

Tale Of One Bad Rat 1

 

Tale Of One Bad Rat 2

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2016 week one

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

Julie Doucet returns! So does The Phoenix Weekly Comics’ Von Doogan in a second fiendish puzzle comic for kids! Alan Turing sadly does not return, but is here all the same.

NEWS GALORE UNDERNEATH!

Paper Girls vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang.

“Whoa.
“I am tripping my face off.”

And it all looks so innocent and straightforward on the cover.

I’m not sure chain-smoking’s a particularly wise idea for a 16-year-old – or at any age, trust me – but then MacKenzie’s going to be displaying a distinct lack of wisdom, 1980s-style, throughout. It wasn’t a particularly compassionate time, was it? I think you can trust the writer of EX MACHINA and SAGA to make that matter. Retrospect is a funny old thing. “The past is a foreign place” etc.

Before we begin, I like what Matt Wilson – colourist on THE WICKED + THE DIVINE etc – has done with the faces within. The mouths, eyes and brows have retained Cliff Chiang’s black lines while the more subtle shadows round the lips, nose and furrows are gentle, darker tones of the flesh itself.

Apart from the winged apparition of Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe in full space helmet; and shaggy old Beelzebub torturing Erin’s young sister in her school classroom. Dreams, eh?

Paper Girls 0

“We warned you… Never eat from the Tree Of Knowledge.”

Of course it’s an apple. There will be a lot of apple for you to discover / decipher / decrypt along with a secret language – I’m not even joking. Decoding that by substituting letters of the alphabet for the symbols will yield many more lines of dialogue. There’s even an apple phone – which is ahead of its time.

November 1st 1988 and Erin awakes from her nightmare at 4-40am to prepare for her paper round. She’s got a big stash of cash in her bedroom’s desk drawer next to the keys and elastic-band ball so she’s obviously not doing badly, but this morning she’ll have to contend with the teenage detritus of last night’s Halloween. Thank goodness for MacKenzie, KJ and Tiffany, then – three more paper girls who’ve banded together for mutual protection precisely in case of dweebs like these.

Paper girls 2

Erin is slightly in awe of MacKenzie, the first local paperboy who wasn’t actually a boy.

“Hey, I was the altar girl long before Mac took over her brother’s route.”
“Yeah, Tiffany’s like the Amelia Earhart of crap that doesn’t matter.”

They’re going to need it too because umm, that thing in the basement. Extra constellations in the sky. Extra creatures in the sky. Three skulking figures wrapped in black linen with far from humanoid pupils. You won’t like what they find underneath. Thank goodness one of the young ladies had saved up enough paper-round money for a set of walkie-talkies. You remember them…! Oh god, you’re only eighteen, aren’t you?

Paper Girls 3

I love how the kids attempt to rationalise all the strangeness their lives have just become in terms they can comprehend without completely freaking out. People keep blinking in and out of existence as if they’re not really there. Or weren’t there. Or won’t be.

Take MacKenzie’s mom who is well past freaking out and reduced to glugging bourbon straight from the bottle. She introduces herself to Mac’s friends, but…

“Actually Alice is my stepmother. She met my dad in A.A.”
“Which part of anonymous don’t you understand?”
“I don’t know, which part of not drinking don’t you understand?”

Paper Girls 1

There’s an excellent execution of environment with Cliff Chiang providing scowls, late ‘80s early teen fashion, exquisite figure work, pavement-level perspectives and a sprawling, early morning suburbia with enough trees to make it somewhere you wouldn’t actively hate too much to live – unless, like MacKenzie, you have the local cops on your case. Once this essential grounding’s been done in dullsville, the odd giant flying reptile tends to mark more of an impact.

Best sequence so far: Tiffany’s life flashing before her eyes. All of it.

“…Why didn’t I stop when I was stuck at Level 28…”

Hilarious.

Paper Girls 4

SLH

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

Carpet Sweeper Tales (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Julie Doucet.

Photo-comics – weren’t they fun?

Julie Doucet: she was a riot too!

Now the creator of MY NEW YORK DIARY and MY MOST SECRET DESIRE is back, but she’s ditched the drawing board for paper, scissors and glue, creating satirical short-story collages from 1970s Italian fumetti and – by the look of the type-faces – slightly earlier magazine adverts.

The women are kohl-eyed, demure, wistful and all waiting for Mr Wonderful to come along and sweep them off their suburban feet with the latest carpet cleaner or sundry other domestic appliance. That’s the state of the sweet nothings on offer from these Connery Bonds and Roger-Moore Saints as they express their adoration in words that only a housewife would understand:

“Kiddie, I AM Dust-Resistance for you. ME Clean “Magic” carpet LOVE.”

Carpet Sweeper Tales 2 - Copy

And if you think love and romance is all that’s become commoditised, I offer you spirituality in the form of Sister Chevrolet!

Sister Chevrolet – the nun who runs on many more miles per gallon than any other wimpled recluse – pimps the Virtue Bra and teaches caution at all times, especially when it comes to one’s own inner plumbing:

“Install the new Safest Chimney ever built NOW!”

Carpet Sweeper Tales 1 - Copy

Yes, do it now – and at all costs before page 132 when the first of the one-track brat packs appear! These James Dean drop-outs have got on their bikes in search of skirt, and got their leathers in a virtually monosyllabic lather:

“OOOK!”
“DDDDDOLL!!!”
“BBABYYYY”

You can almost see the drool dripping onto their chrome handlebars. Finally the poor woman snaps and confronts them face-on.

“STOP it you APES, me no banana.” This they clearly can’t comprehend, for she’s met from a floating fence of question marks and she’s not best pleased – disdainful in fact – “Boo boo!”

By the time we get to “Tuf! Treat ‘em Ruf They Plenty Tuf!” the Marlon Brando bonobos have forgotten what women even are, along with vowels. Instead they turn on each other with one long, primal and guttural consonant: “ggggggggggggg”.

“Bbbbbbbbbb,” begins another before their allegiances dissolve and they resort to that time-honoured past-time of all healthy young males: smacking seven shades of shit out of each other. Down goes the weakest, held face-down in the dirt before hissing a resentful submission. It’s good to be a guy!

All this is rendered in multiple type-faces which I can’t duplicate in this blog or on our product pages, ‘B’s, ‘b’s, ‘G’s and ‘g’s in multiple fonts flaunting most laws of grammar. It’s all very merry and mirthful, although I have to confess some the material in the middle lost me.

I leave you with the inner musings of a nascent feminist determined to stand on her own two feet:

“I AM me NO hangers around, no Sponge no Rfrigerator…
“IM A BIRD.”

BBbbbbbabbyyyYYY.

SLH

Buy Carpet Sweeper Tales and read the Page 45 review here

Golem (£14-99, Magnetic Press) by Lorenzo Ceccotti…

“People don’t want to be free. They want to be slaves. They want to be told how to live. They want an excuse to complain, an excuse for failing in life.
“Peace is the greatest gift we can offer humanity, but sometimes violence is necessary to obtain it. Peace can only be maintained by absolute power. And absolute power comes from money. This is why the masses must endure misery: to live in peace.
“Nanomachine G is an attack on capitalism and the very balance of our democracy. The people find peace from envying the rich and taking no accountability for themselves.”

All hail President Trump! Ah, sorry… wrong dystopian future…

Well, Magnetic Press have turned up another gem! Following on from the likes of LOVE: THE TIGER, LOVE: THE FOX (and the forthcoming LOVE: THE LION), DOOMBOY and A GLANCE BACKWARDS comes another slice of self-contained hybrid Euro / Japanese style sci-fi in the mode of former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month ZAYA.

Golem-4

Set in a frenetic hyper-capitalist Italy – now little more than a tiny node within the overarching Eurasian superstate, which is itself merely a front for four controlling mega-corporations that have achieved almost complete control of the citizens through an indoctrinated culture of spend, spend, spend – paid-for politicians front the show and ensure the wheels of industry run ever smooth.

Every consumer’s need is anticipated and a simple and immediate route to purchase provided. About to run out of toothpaste? Don’t worry! A virtual advert, floating in mid-air, complete with buy button will pop up in right front of you. About to run out of comics? Don’t worry! Head to www.page45.com and… whoops, got a bit carried away there…

Golem-1

This relentless, quite literally in-your-face continuous 24/7 sales pitch, all under the auspices of making peoples’ lives simpler – of course – has greatly contributed towards turning the populace into good little consumer drones. That’s exactly how they wanted it, though, if you believe the faceless ones in charge that is… Cash dispensers even offer an optional fruit machine game: a chance to win some extra cash for a small fee, though in reality it is of course a mug’s game. What a hideous nightmare, though it is really that unbelievable? I suggest to you it is already well on the way. It might only be targeted advertising on your browser today…

However, there is hope. Several years previously a scientist was on the verge of a miraculous breakthrough called Nanomachine G, a particle capable of recombining matter at the molecular level using just a little water and light. Anything could be transformed into anything else. Limitless inorganic and organic resources beckoned… removing the need for production and all its associated waste, pollution and energy consumption at a stroke. Removing the need for commerce, therefore. But no commerce means no need for money… which means capitalism dies. Unsurprisingly, those four mega-corporations controlling the status quo were not happy at all.

“Our power is based on commercial consumption. A one-way channel of goods!”
“A machine that can freely transform and recombine matter will allow people to produce any goods they want! It will eliminate the very concept of purchase and possession!”
“An economy based not on money, but on the concept of sustainable recycling and the free sharing of knowledge… do you have any idea what that would mean??”
“Stop them. By whatever violence necessary. Or you will pay with your own life. Go! That’s an order of the high board of Eurasia!”

Golem-2

So they thought they’d silenced the scientist permanently, before he could complete his work. In a way they did, but not before he’d hidden it in the most unlikely of places. Now, a small resistance group of futuristic ninjas known as the Shorai, aimed with illegal cutting edge technology, have seen a unique opportunity arise to try and take down the government and free the population from their ideological and fiscal chains.

I really, really enjoyed this. Yes, it’s a wee bit whimsical in that way Euro sci-fi can be, rather than pure hard sci-fi in the ilk of say LAZARUS. But it’s clearly pushing a message that the vast majority of us would dearly espouse. Evil mega-corporation owning overlords aside, I think we’d all like to see the sort of utopian future that Nanomachine G might bring about. Wouldn’t we? You don’t really find peace from envying the rich and taking no accountability for yourself, do you?

Golem-3

The art, though, is genuinely exceptional. If you are a Brandon Graham fan then I think you’ll be in absolutely heaven. I have no idea if Lorenzo Ceccotti is a Brandon Graham fan or vice versa, but the similarities are most certainly there in the illustration style. Then there are also those hints of other Magnetic Press books like ZAYA and LUMINAE, also present in pure manga like Tsutomu Nihei’s ultra-kinetic BIOMEGA. Plus there are some seemingly almost oil-painted dream sequences which are used to great dramatic effect. I presume they are actually done using computer software.

I’ll freely confess I hadn’t heard of this Italian creator before, but I am extremely impressed. I will have to ask my Italian bank manager mate who is a massive fumetti fan to see if he is well known over there. Hmm, actually thinking about it, bank managers, they wouldn’t want a world without money would they, or they’d be out of a job?!

JR

Buy Golem and read the Page 45 review here

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Game h/c (£15-99, Abrams Comics) by Jim Ottavani & Leland Purvis…

“That wasn’t the only madness he was up to.
“There was also, well… I don’t even know how to… I mean, I was proud of him, but…
“Machines that think? How… distressing.”

Hmm… she was very good at changing the subject, Alan’s mum. Particularly when people were trying to pin her down on whether she knew about his sexuality. I read an extremely good book regarding the wartime goings-on at Bletchley Park and the various code-breakers many years ago, the name of which eludes me now, unfortunately. But understandably it contained a substantial section on Alan Turing, though primarily focused on his immense contribution to the war effort, so I was reasonably aware of him already from that respect.

This work covers not only that esteemed service to King and country which saw him awarded an O.B.E. immediately after the war in 1945, but also substantially bookends it, beginning with his childhood as a socially awkward mathematical prodigy, his subsequent prodigious academic achievements at Cambridge and Princeton, and his burgeoning reputation as a leading thinker of his time. Post-war it covers his remarkable grounding-breaking work in the design of possible ‘stored-program’ computers and his still applied Turing Test which has become an indispensable concept in the debate surrounding artificial intelligence.

Imitation-Game-1

Then comes his devastating fall from grace due to his arrest for gross indecency in 1952, homosexual acts between men being a criminal offence in UK at the time, a law that was not changed, albeit then even partially, for over another decade. Offered hormone treatment as an alternative to imprisonment (in effect chemical castration), the immensely detrimental effects on his mind and body tragically led to his death within two years.

Whether it was suicide or not remains the subject of some debate, though it seems inconceivable to me given the circumstances of his demise that Turing did not choose to end his suffering. (Which is handled very well here, actually, and something Ottaviani talks about in his afterword.) That such a visionary, on the cusp of further amazing discoveries and progress, could be brought down in such a devastating and discriminatory fashion is a salutary reminder it really isn’t that long ago that times were very different and much less enlightened indeed.

Imitation-Game-2

This is an extremely detailed and thorough graphic biography. I shouldn’t be surprised, it coming from the same writer as FEYNMAN and PRIMATES: THE FEARLESS SCIENCE OF JANE GOODALL, DIAN FOSSEY & BIRUTE GALDIKAS. It works through both a direct presentation of the facts and also retrospective interview excerpts with family and colleagues, talking about Alan directly. What comes across very strongly is just what a remarkable man he was, held in the very highest esteem by those who understood his work, or him, just enough to see his brilliance, and through his shy, shuttering demeanour that could easily be misunderstood for aloofness.

It took me a little while to get into the art, I must say. Leland Purvis’ style not being so easy on the eye as Ottaviani’s collaborators on his other works, but once I had I didn’t find it a distraction at all. Though I suspect that is in great part testament to the fascinating subject matter and the writing. There are some excellent conceits and artistic devices employed upon occasion that add a little something, though. I particularly enjoyed a theoretical discussion between Alan and two colleagues on the subject of building a machine (the term computer not yet being in use) constructed of an infinitely long strip of paper with someone marking marks on it to give this construct instructions. As the three walk through their imaginary discussion, alongside the paper, Alan gradually leaves his colleagues behind in their respective capacities to understand his ideas, and eventually is surprised to find himself standing alone, holding the paper, looking around to see where they have disappeared to, before shrugging his shoulders and carrying on, theorising to himself.

Imitation-Game-3

For anyone wanting to learn more about this great man, a true genius of the 20th century, who ought to be held in as high regard as the likes of Albert Einstein for his contributions to science, this is an excellent starting point. Most people aren’t aware but there is actually an annual award, the A.M. Turing Award, which is given to an “individual selected for contributions of lasting and major technical importance in the field of computer science.” This award is recognised as the highest possible distinction one can achieve in the field, and is regarded as being as prestigious as a Nobel Prize. So it’s nice to know that at least his peers did find a way to recognise his brilliance for all posterity.

JR

Buy The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Game h/c and read the Page 45 review here

 

Von Doogan And The Great Air Race (£7-99, David Fickling Books) by Lorenzo Etherington.

Suffering semaphore!

How keen are your code-cracking skills? How refined is your spatial awareness and how sharp your straightforward eyesight? Strategic planning? Is this the season of reason for you?

If your answers are “mighty” and “I leap logic for breakfast” then this is the comic for you!

Comic…? Why yes, from THE PHOENIX comic weekly, that stable of thoroughbred storytelling, this is both a death-defying, danger-driven, neurotic, exotic comicbook adventure and a set of 37 mind-frazzling puzzles so grin-inducing fiendish that they will ruin other puzzle books for you.

Except for Lorenzo’s previous puzzle-comic VON DOOGAN AND THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN MONKEY, of course!

Von Doogan Great Air Race 1

To move the story along you will need to solve puzzles like these:

See through a disguise in a crowd by piecing together what someone’s torn up and trashed.

Escape through the burning wreckage of a fuselage using fire extinguishers to clear paths through a maze – but each fire takes up a whole tank and you can only carry two extinguishers at once – it’s trickier than you think!

Repair circuitry, avoid collision, and identify which pilot is flying which plane based on a series of statements.

Best of the lot: after examining a map of a cafe and 8 separate pieces of time-specific and location-centric evidence from 4 different waiters, work out who was the only diner that night who didn’t have an opportunity to poison competitor Klaus!

Von Doogan Great Air Race 2

Impossibility Levels ranging from one to five indicate how much of a meal you might make of things.

With puzzle 1, ‘Sandwich Secret’, you’re looking at a light snack – no, you actually are! There’s a tray in front of Von Doogan bearing sandwiches, a drink with a straw and umm, a triangle (because triangles are tasty?) You need to summon your spatial awareness skills to work out how each of the items would look to Von Doogan (who’s facing you) in order to decode a secret message, thence a secret location around you in the room. This has an Impossibility Level of Two Skulls.

But up immediately next is The Magic Square puzzle whose solution will enable you to work out numeric values of similarly square but quite complex symbols which when translated into letters in turn reveal the location of a race, after which there’s another challenge to discover its date… all on the very second page! This has an Impossibility of Five Skulls – Five Skulls already!

Von Doogan Great Air Race 3

What I’m trying to convey is that these are far from straight forward, and you will at the very least need a pen and scrap paper, a pair of scissors and Doogan’s Danger Kit, a copy of which you can download from an address in the back so you won’t need to cut up the book (or you can trace shapes and use coins).

You will also need maths skills. Not advanced mechanics skills, but maths skills all the same. At one point to you have to determine how long you’ve got to rescue a pilot bailing from her plane by calculating how long her parachute drop takes when free-falling then open, after which how long she can survive at sea during specific water temperatures.

There are clues in the back if you struggle on any particular page and then the solutions. I think I found an additional solution to ‘The Dreaded Fog’ which didn’t involve me crashing my plane and which may have moved me ahead in the race! Umm, it might also have got me disqualified.

Von Doogan Great Air Race 4

I cannot begin to tell you how much glee I gleaned from this, but I do wonder if you’ll work out long before I did exactly which character is attempting to sabotage your best efforts to win this whacky race. There is a certain logic I should have seen through earlier, and I think you may rechristen me Dumbo. Do let me know!

For laugh-out-loud Etherington Brothers idiocy (Lorenzo being joined by Robin), please see their LONG GONE DON and MONKEY NUTS graphic novels.

SLH

Buy Von Doogan And The Great Air Race and read the Page 45 review here

Freaky & Fearless: How To Tell A Tall Tale (£5-99, Piccadilly) by Robin Etherington & Jan Bielecki.

‘Chapter 5: The Shipshape Shop’

“The Captain did not choose the name of his shop because he liked to keep things tidy. The shop was almost as messy as Ruby’s bedroom. No, the real reason was that The Shipshape Shop was a shop shaped exactly like a ship. Which is hard to believe, but even harder to say.”

Haha! Brilliant!

A shop shaped like a ship! What could be cooler than that? If it sold comics, of course, and it does!

Two of its most popular titles are the titular FREAKY and FEARLESS – printed throughout this book in their EC-style, blood-dripping logos – much beloved by storyteller Simon and his ace-cartoonist mate Whippet. The book opens with the first three pages of the latest issue of FEARLESS and, my, how prophetic they’ll prove to be! Indeed, it gradually dawns on Simon that so much of what happens today will have been presaged by stuff that popped into his head – almost if he made it come true!

Illustrated prose perfect for those of my own mental age (if not reading ability!) written by one half of the Etherington Brothers, the mirth-merchants responsible for kids comics LONG GONE DON and MONKEY NUTS, instead of FREAKY & FEARLESS this could have been equally aptly entitled, ‘Smelly & smellier’ for it includes a chapter called ‘The Toilet That Trolls Built and it pongs like nobody’s business.

It clops along at a cracking pace and it is – as you’d expect – both thrilling and hilarious but it also boasts an arresting turn of phrase of two for, then it comes to said toilet…

“Darkness looked as if it had been painted across every inch of the rotten, two-storey shack, and painted with a brush made from pure misery.”

Simon had never seen the shack before because it was hidden under the archway of Turnaway Bridge whose foreboding nature had always instilled in Simon so much fear that he’d never been able to face it. Jan Bielecki’s illustration for the page on which he finally does so positively looms over the boy, the black left-hand page with its white words sucking all warmth as well as light from the scene.

Freaky & Fearless - Copy

Does this all sound too scary? It isn’t! It’s eerie, to be sure, and exciting, I swear, but at the same time it’s mostly played for adrenalin and laughs as Simon, Whippet and the dual-crossbow wielding, no-nonsense, nine-year-old death-machine known as Lucy Shufflebottom pursue a shadowy creature which has escaped from Castle Fearless, pursued Simon at a distance then snatched his baby sister Ruby. Why?!

Have you ever played ‘Simon Says’?

I have so much I could shout about here, from the clever way Robin drops Simon’s age into the proceedings by pronouncing that his eleven-year-old arms weren’t up to a task (how much better than the dismally dull “Simon was eleven years old”) to chapter titles like ‘Seven Seconds In Which The Worst Happened’ during which the worst happens during seven bullet-pointed seconds arranged down a no-pause-for-breath time-line… and Simon spinning one of his fanciful yarns about The True Pre-History Of Garden Gnomes And The Slightly More Migratory, Predatory Dinosaurs.

“The word ‘massacre’ isn’t quite big enough, so let’s say that by the time the dinosaurs were finished, there were very few gnomes left in one piece. Those that did survive did so by hiding. Standing still didn’t work. The dinosaurs called the gnomes who tried to hide by standing still ‘ready meals’. The ones who tried to run were known as ‘fast food’.”

Look, we don’t stock that much prose here. With 7,000 different graphic novels we’ve no room for prose if it ain’t absolute genius like Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Dave Shelton, Gary Northfield, Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre, Patrick Ness & Jim Kay. I’m struggling to think of much more, making it less than 0.25% of our stock. I’m having this because I bloody loved it and any of our younger readers who enjoy our more ridiculous graphic novels in THE PHOENIX weekly comic range by Northfield, Smart, Murphy and Turner will laugh their snot-ridden heads off.

Oh, and do you remember The Shipshape Shop that sells comics?

“One final thought: you two can believe what you like, but Captain Armstrong really is a pirate. I’ve seen him in action. The real question to ask is why would a famous pirate sell comics for a living?”

*smiles benignly*

SLH

Buy Freaky & Fearless: How To Tell A Tall Tale and read the Page 45 review here

100 Bullets Book 5 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso.

“No more attachés, no more revenge…
“No more hundred bullets. Graves’ game is over.”

Oh, but it has been a very long game, cleverly played, and it ain’t over until Agent Graves says it’s over. There are many more bodies to be bagged before then.

No one here gives up without a fight, least of all Lono and, let me tell you, it’s going to get gruesome.

There has been an additional mini-series since these 100 issues, already collected into 100 BULLETS: BROTHER LONO which, if anything, is even more wince-worthy. Each previous book has also been reviewed in greater depth than this. However, how’s this to whet your appetite?

100 BULLETS was riveting crime fiction which sensibly began with a simple proposition before spirally into all-out warfare.

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The war is being waged between the Houses of The Trust, The Minutemen they used to employ as keepers of the peace, and anyone Agent Graves believes he can use in his very long game of goading, guile and perfect positioning, even from the very beginning.

The proposition was this: ancient Agent Graves would turn up at your house and present you with a briefcase. In that briefcase would be irrefutable evidence that someone has done you wrong, who the culprit was, and how if not why. Also enclosed: a gun and 100 rounds of untraceable ammunition. By that I mean that if these rounds were found spent or unspent at the scene of any crime, all investigation into that crime would cease. You have immunity – from the cops at least. What would you do?

Every nuance, every cadence of contemporary urban street patter is captured. Each line has a lovely lilt, and every character is ridiculously witty that the series reads like one long Jim ‘Foetus’ Thirwell song.

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As the series unfurls sleeper agents are activated, sides are taken, sides are swapped and lives are wrecked at home, in the street, and in prisons, bars and hotels all over the country. Now the final battle is on.

The shadows – already dark – grow longer, the colours are very rich in red and, lord, but those bruises are livid.

“Some people just deserve to die.”

The End.

SLH

Buy 100 Bullets Book 5 and read the Page 45 review here

East Of West vol 5: All These Secrets (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta.

“That’s all you got?
“My father hit harder than that.”

Ooof!

You love alternate Earths with divergent histories, don’t you? Stuff like LUTHER ARKWRIGHT, MINISTRY OF SPACE. Here’s another and it’s fiercely intelligent and fresh. There have been four substantial reviews of EAST OF WEST already – the first two by Jonathan; the second pair by me – so this is just a nudge to say that book five has arrived and that they are all very much deserving of your attention.

America which has been divided between Seven Nations, representatives of whom sit on a secret council and conspire against each other, vying for power, even though their goal is the same: to bring about Armageddon. It is their sworn duty, for they are The Chosen who follow The Message, a sacred text heralding the end of the world.

Fighting the same nihilistic corner are the Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, resurrected in EAST OF WEST VOL 1 as children. Well, three of them were: War, Famine and Conquest. Death was conspicuously absent.

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Why? Death, had stayed behind as a white-skinned, white-haired, white-clothed, gun-slinging adult because he’d fallen in love with Xiaolian Mao, now leader of the Mandarin-speaking People’s Republic Of America and a woman who, he discovered, had born him a child.

The hunt is now on for that son dubbed The Great Beast, Babylon.

The Child Horsemen want to kill Death’s progeny; Death wants to save him.

Death wants to save the whole world.

It’s that sort of a book, riddled with ironies, like the Endless Nation of Native Americans once so myth-based now being the technological champions of the modern world and, militarily, its mightiest: they have just conquered The United States of Texas.

Hahahahahaha!

SLH

Buy East Of West vol 5: All These Secrets and read the Page 45 review here

The Uncanny Inhumans vol: Time Crush 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Steve McNiven.

“Hnh. Almost amusing. The silent king cannot keep his word.”

Very good, very good! If I’d written a line like that I’d have taken the rest of the month off.

Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee’s self-contained INHUMANS s/c or h/c comes highly recommended as an introduction to this royal family but also to all – not just Marvel superhero fans – as a very clever, considered and beautiful series about society. Some of it smacked of Neil Gaiman. No word of a lie.

This is much more Marvel-centric and quite specific in its context but certainly one of the best most recent examples with a cracking punchline bursting with attitude which was set up very early on indeed. Comeuppances are so very satisfying.

From the creative team behind the DEATH OF WOLVERINE, the first chapter shone under its clear blue skies, crackling temporal energy and the sound of a whispered word. No clues as to whose required.

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I personally missed Justin Ponsor’s colours after that opening salvo, but it’s still all much more attractive than this stiff and ill-composed cover.

The silent king is Black Bolt who cannot speak a word for fear of levelling a mountain – the very essence of the strong, silent macho man – and he’s certainly going to be biting that stiff upper lip raw now that he’s been deposed and his ex, Queen Medusa, is dating the Human Torch. It’s a startling development given The Torch’s history with Medusa as a member of the Frightful Four and with Medusa’s sister Crystal as an ex-lover. Also given that Medusa is one of the most reserved and dignified characters in Marvel’s stable, while Johnny Storm is its mad, rutting colt.

It all came crashing down for Black Bolt in the highly recommended Avengers crossover INFINITY VOL 1 and INFINITY VOL 2 from which to you can move straight on to here. Here is mere moments before SECRET WARS – before the death of everything.

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Events first brought to light in NEW AVENGERS VOL 1: EVERYTHING DIES are about to come to a cataclysmic head as the two main Marvel Earths (regular and Ultimate) are about to collide, wiping them both out along with their universes. That is why Black Bolt’s palm is glowing: the final Incursion is imminent and there is one thing above all which he must ensure – that his son Ahura survives. Now, how would you ensure someone survives the end of the universe, do you think? I’d probably take them outside of time itself.

“If I do this thing for you, if I take your son back into the timestream with me, saving him from what is to come, then he is mine.
“Forever.
“Even if the death of the universe is somehow averted, know that Ahura will belong to Kang always.”

Yes, it’s Kang The Constantly Conquered.

Chapters two to five take place after SECRET WARS when, umm, the death of the universe was somehow averted. Whoops.

SLH

Buy The Uncanny Inhumans vol: Time Crush 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

5000 Km Per Second h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Fior

Delilah Dirk And The Turkish Lieutenant (£12-99, First Second) by Tony Cliff

Giant Days vol 2 (£10-99, Boom) by John Allison & Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin

Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal vol 2: Creation Myths s/c (£10-99, Archaia) by Joshua Dysart & Brian Froud, Alex Sheikman, Lizzy John

Chain Mail Bikini: The Anthology Of Women Gamers (£14-99, ) by various

The Complete Alice In Wonderland s/c (£14-99, Dynamite) by Lewis Carroll, Leah Moore, John Reppion & Erica Awano

Flink (£10-50, Image) by Doug TenNapel

The Journey h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Francesca Sanna

Luminae h/c (£18-99, Magnetic Press) by Bengal

Munch (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Steffen Kverneland

The Wicked + The Divine vol 1: Year One h/c (£33-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Wild Animals Of The North h/c (£20-00, Flying Eye Books) by Dieter Braun

Batman: Adventures vol 4 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Paul Dini, various & Bruce Timm, various

Gotham By Midnight vol 2: Rest In Peace s/c (£12-99, DC) by Ray Fawkes & Juan Ferreyra

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette

Amazing Spider-Man vol 1: Worldwide s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Black Panther: Complete Christopher Priest Collection vol 3 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Christopher Priest, J. Torres & Sal Veluto, Jorge Lucas, Ryan Bodenheim, Jon Bogdanove, John Buscema, Paolo Rivera

Civil War: Peter Parker Spider-Man s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Clayton Crane, Angel Medina, Sean Chen

Civil War: Punisher War Journal s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Frank Tieri & Ariel Olivetti, Mike Deodato, Staz Johnson

Invincible Iron Man vol 1: Reboot h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez

Awkward Silence vol 5 (£8-99, Viz) by Hinako Takanaga

Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 34-36 (£9-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

Sword Art Online: Progressive vol 4 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Kiseki Himura

News!

Paul Duffield costume

ITEM! I think you’ll agree this is a pretty neat design from FREAKANGELS’ Paul Duffield which would look perfectly at home in his continuing FARLIGHT ISLE project, yes?

Now, imagine Paul Duffield actually inhabiting that costume. In real life! Photos! Pretty special, huh?

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ITEM! Duncan Fegredo draws! Time-lapse! Jaw-drop! Etc! I find watching all those individual creative decisions and revisions being made fascinating.

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ITEM! For those who’ve enjoyed the Sarah Burgess and Jade Sarson’s pages I’ve linked to here, I think you’ll love the empathy and understanding Julia Scheele brings to mental health / confidence in her comics.

Rachel Rising vol 4

 ITEM! Terry Moore’s RACHEL RISING BLACK EDITION OMNIBUS – pre-order now direct from Terry Moore only!

750 copies only worldwide
Signed, limited bookplate
Signed, limited print BUT ONLY FOR THOSE WHO PRE-ORDER
$90 before postage is not expensive. IT’S LESS THAN THE 7 SOFTCOVERS IT CONTAINS!

Why we love RACHEL RISING: all six books so far reviewed by silly old Stephen.

Giant Days vol 2

ITEM! John Allison’s most recent BOBBINS from the beginning. I’ll never get tired of typing sentences like that. Free online comics are one thing, but free online comics as funny as that?

Err, why we love John Allison: BAD MACHINERY/ GIANT DAYS / EXPECTING TO FLY / MURDER SHE WRITES comics all in stock and all reviewed apart from GIANT DAYS VOL 2, out today and in stock now!

 

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ITEM! Another blog, another new graphic novel from THE PHOENIX weekly comic library reviewed above, plus an Etherington Brother prose book too!

Page 45 now has a category for all of THE PHOENIX comic’s graphic novels (as well as associates) which you can reach from our website’s front page by clicking on:

LET’S START SHOPPING
TEEN & YOUNGER READERS
YOUNGER READERS
PHOENIX BOOKS at the top!

Cairo Mural - Copy

ITEM! Giant mural across 50 buildings in Cairo! And if you think this image is spectacular, click on the link for photos of its creation, night scenes and so much more!

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Rough Trade cover

ITEM! Rough Trade has a brand-new music magazine out! Oh yeah! You can buy it from that product page or from Rough Trade shops in London, New York City and Nottingham. Nottingham!

Apart from our shared adoration of our respective media and our fiercely guarded independence, why that launch – and Rough Trade in general – is particularly important to Page 45 will become increasingly clear in the next few months.

Fabulous interview with Rough Trade Magazines’ curator Liz Siddall – another name you’ll be hearing a lot more of here. I like her No Wankers policy.

Rough Trade Nottingham

Rough Trade Records Nottingham, 5 Broad Street. 0115 8964012

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2016 week five

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Scott Pilgrim vol 4 h/c Colour EditionBryan Lee O’Malley News! Also: Jonathan does the heavy lifting with Dan Clowes’ Patience and Sony Liew’s Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, we unearth a review by our Mark for the reprint of Through The Habitrails while I’m all about Tony Cliff’s new Delilah Dirk and Jeremy A. Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl plus Hickman & Ribic’s Secret Wars. Finally! It’s actually very good.

The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye h/c (£22-50, Pantheon) by Sonny Liew…

“In the beginning, there was Tezuka. They called him the God of manga.”
“I’ve got that book of his over here…
“As for me, I was born in the year of nothing. 1938.
“Well, as far as Singapore’s history is concerned, anyway… 1938… It was before the war, not a year of any particular significance…
But it was the year that The Beano first appeared in the UK…
“… and Superman made his debut in the United States.”

I never knew that. Perhaps someone needs to organise a Dennis The Menace vs. Superman centennial crossover for 2038? I can just imagine the put-upon Clark Kent being best chums with Weedy Walter. It wouldn’t be the weirdest match up, surely; I mean SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMED ALI was pretty odd, though I would contend BJORN BORG VS. PLUG of The Bash Street Kids, with the toothsome teen thrashing the great tennis maestro, is probably more bizarre still.

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Hmm… not sure if one can technically have said to digressed before you’ve actually started something, but I’d best get on with the review! Or at least provide some background first…

Singapore, the “Crown Jewel of the British Empire”, is arguably the most successful former colonial territory, of any of the ‘great’ 19th and 20th Century European empires, in terms of its transition to independence. It’s economic prosperity and increased living standards enjoyed by its citizens were the envy of all its Asian neighbours in the latter half of the 20th Century. Most of the plaudits for that progress can be laid at the feet of The People’s Action Party which has formed the democratically elected and re-elected incumbent government since 1959, and its first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who actually held the position until 1990.

That progress, guided by Lee who is regarded as the founding father of modern Singapore, from “third world to first world in a single generation”, is clearly impressive. As ever, of course, along the way, there were certain dissenting voices who were, shall we say, removed as obstacles, by a combination of political chicanery, state abuse of power (particularly in the sphere of silencing dissenting journalists) and a disturbing use of extended internment without charge for certain radicals. It is probably testament to the relatively small scale and generally bloodless nature of these measures, that the vast majority of Singaporeans regard them as having been a necessary evil.

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That moral conundrum, plus the history of this island from colonial trading outpost to fully fledged Asian tiger and much more besides is explored through the eyes, and art, of Singapore’s greatest comics artist: Charlie Chan Hock Chye.  Except… such a person never existed…

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Sonny Liew has created a truly fascinating proxy to allow him to take us on the Singaporean independence journey, warts and all. That story in and of itself is immaculately laid out, very objectively, without shying away from any of the darker elements. But it’s the retrospective of the faux career of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, shown in snippets of chapters and sketches, à la mode of Seth’s THE GREAT NORTHERN BROTHERHOOD OF CANADIAN CARTOONISTS, which elevates this to a work of genius. Because Charlie Chan Hock Chye was always a man who expressed himself through his comics, and was someone who had much to say. With the arm’s length remove of anthropomorphic satirical gag strips or a speculative fiction premise about a fascistic future regime of hegemonistic alien overlords, his comics allowed him far more freedom of speech than the oppressed journalistic press itself enjoyed.

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Thus Sonny Liew is very neatly able to provide a much more personal and subjective commentary on the never changing political landscape and various tumultuous events as they affected the typical man in the street. As with Seth’s masterpiece, you’ll be left wishing that some of Charlie Chan Hock Chye’s works actually existed because you’ll be wanting to read them in full!

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There is an additional comedic level revolving around Charlie Chan Hock Chye’s entirely self-appointed status as “Singapore’s greatest comics artist” and his complete lack of any substantial commercial success, including his attempts to crack America, which is almost certainly a bit of personal commentary on Sonny’s part on working as a comics creator I would imagine, but which only serves to season our appreciation of this fake master even further.

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Sonny employs a truly enormous range of art styles throughout this work, which is undoubtedly his magnum opus, demonstrating the various creative twists and turns (and cul-de-sacs) a comics artist might take during such an extensive and varied career. Fake or not, he’s had to draw them all! I seriously hope this work serves as a springboard to greater widespread recognition and rewards for Sonny though, because he truly deserves it. I can’t imagine how he can top this creatively, mind you, but I’m fascinated to see how he’ll try.

JR

Buy The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Delilah Dirk And The King’s Shilling (£13-50, FirstSecond) by Tony Cliff.

Key words: energetic, refreshing; thrilling and funny.

We are certainly not at home here to Comrade Cliché who has been sent packing back to his identical twins, Praetor Predictable and Father Formulaic. Instead entire households have the capacity to surprise with their absence of snobbery, racism and chauvinism even if certain less oppressive formalities must be maintained for the sake of one’s reputation.

Ah, reputation, very much at the heart of this tale and on the front cover, dichotomous Delilah having more than one to uphold.

Set in Portugal and Britain during 1809, this quick-witted action-adventure is my fav all-ages read of the year so far. And I do mean all-ages, just like AMULET whose Kazu Kibuishi is an enormous fan.  It’s easy to see why: just as AMULET is bursting with fantastical Hayao Miyazaki flourishes, Tony Cliff delivers landscape after landscape with perfect perspectives and period detail:

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Lisbon harbour with its exotic, early 16th Century Belém Tower; galleons setting sail; and at least three English, aristocratic mansions from the homely and rustic Nichols estate, late on a moonlit night with a solitary room’s windows shining ever so bright, to the more grandiose and Palladian on the evening of a ball.

We are indeed talking Jane Austen’s era of etiquette-ribbing match-making and I can assure you this is equally iconoclastic, only with a great many more swords and some balletic, fight-scene choreography worthy of Frank Miller circa DAREDEVIL.

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We first meet wall-climbing, roof-hopping, sword-flashing Delilah Dirk during a rescue mission / child-abduction in Portugal. It depends on your sense of perspective – something Delilah’s long-suffering side-kick Mister Selim has far more command of than she does. Selim offers a constant, cautionary and pragmatic counsel to his more hot-headed counterpart. Where Delilah sees revenge, Selim would rather seek justice; where Delilah would rather protect her legendary reputation as fearsome and formidable even with an arm wound so debilitating than she could not possibly succeed, Selim suggests strategy. Lovers of nail-biting tension will be delighted to learn that, obstinate to the end, she never listens, even to an obvious admonition to avoid Spanish soil overrun with warring French and English redcoats.

“We should leave. I don’t like all this red. It reminds me of blood; specifically mine, and specifically not where it should be.”

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It’s there that they first come afoul of ambitious aristo-git Major Jason Merrick who has the most god almighty chip on his shoulder on account of feeling unappreciated by his father, Colonel Phillip Merrick. Not knowing whom he has in his clutches, Major Merrick drags Dirk in as a French spy. This goes somewhat unappreciated by his father who knows Dirk by reputation and where her loyalties lie, so he dismisses both the charges as unsubstantiated and his son as ignorant. This is not appreciated by his son who swiftly plants evidence and so now Delilah Dirk has a reputation – for treason! This is not appreciated by Delilah.

Over and over again, this single-minded mule’s deceit will make your blood boil, but that’s as nothing when you find out his true ambitions.

As I say, reputation is central, whether it’s London’s reputation as glorified throughout the wider world, Delilah’s now that she needs to clear her name and ensure no further opportunists believe that they can win a fight against her… and then there is the Nichols family reputation back in England. Who? Oh, for someone who seems to be so concerned about the truth, Delilah has been far from forthcoming herself, especially when it comes to poor Mister Selim.

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What makes this for me is the actual wit – the dry humour – evidenced by Mister Selim. On the very first page there’s some positively parched humour when he attempts to start a small, distracting fire while observing that the grass is far from green; later he’s asked when he would expect out of a British reception. “Nothing extravagant,” he shrugs, eyeing his double-page, imperialistic, triumphalist fantasy which is too funny to behold. I also love the running gag about British tea, the last one I clocked being visual.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and, for the facial expressions and general relationships you might feel towards the characters, make a comparison to Kate Brown (TAMSIN AND THE DEEP, FISH + CHOCOLATE, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 3).

I’m also delighted to have found my final illustration online, for I marvelled at this early page on which Tony Cliff thought to add this extra detail of one of the sheets (drawn down to protect the Portuguese patio from the searing midday sun) either having been taken by a breeze and got itself hooked on the railings or never having quite made it to the floor in the first place!

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Now that is classy.

SLH

Buy Delilah Dirk And The King’s Shilling and read the Page 45 review here

Patience h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Daniel Clowes…

“And this is where my story begins.
“The pain was beyond anything you could imagine, a fucking cannon hole in the chest.
“I couldn’t move for what seemed like hours, like I was stuck in drying concrete. Probably just a trick by my DNA to keep me from bashing my brains in.
“The fact is, I didn’t want to kill myself. My memories were all that was left of her. I couldn’t bear to snuff those out too.
“And even though this event had demonstrated the total absence of order in the universe, I couldn’t stand to think of some inhuman demon walking free while the cops pinned the whole thing on me.
“But I’ll be fucked if that isn’t exactly what happened.”

It would be fair to say that 2012 wasn’t a good year for Jack Barlow. I mean, coming home and finding your pregnant wife murdered will do that to you.

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When the cops seem more interested in trying to pin it on him rather than conducting a serious investigation into the titular Patience’s death, Jack decides he’ll need to try and find the culprit himself. However, fast forward to 2029 and no matter how many spurious tips he’s run down and flimsy leads he’s followed up…

“… That one fizzled out like all the rest. More pointless bullshit. And so, here we are.”

Indeed. Here we are. At least for now…

Meanwhile the fact that the more time passes it becomes ever less likely Jack will be able to find his wife’s killer is not lost on him. In fact, it’s all he can think about, so obsessed and all-consumed is Jack with what has been taken from him. Not just his wife, but the potential of a being a father, a future of being all together as one happy family. That Jack is utterly convinced the killer is someone from Patience’s shadowy past only adds to his agony.

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So when a prostitute Jack saves from a beating lets slip that she has a client who mentioned something about trying to invent a time machine, he’s desperate enough to track the guy down. He knows it’s going to be just one more kick in the teeth, but when it turns out to be true, he’s headed straight back to 2006 to try and learn the identity of Patience’s killer and alter the course of history by stopping her murder.

Of course, Daniel Clowes isn’t going to let it be that simple for Jack, now, is he?! No, what follows as Jack is put through the emotional and temporal wringer, quite literally time after time, is as darkly comedic as it is disturbing. Jack is determined to be the discreet unseen observer, yet completely unable to stop himself from intervening as he sees his wife getting into various horrific scrapes she’s only ever alluded to with various local scroatbags and ends up changing events in ways he could never have envisaged. He’s convinced he can correct matters and still save the day of course, but as events start to spiral further out of his control, and the effects of repeated time hops starts to play havoc with his body and his mind, who knows where, or indeed when, it will all end up.

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As ever a note-perfect construction story-wise across the decades, blending complex brooding story-telling with farcical comedy to superb effect once more, just as he did with WILSON. It takes real skill to make a reader want to laugh and cry at the same time, with a fair amount of wincing thrown in for good measure. I frequently found myself shaking my head at Jack’s latest catastrophic transgression whilst simultaneously egging him on.

Art-wise, Clowes is on top form as ever. I particularly loved the grey-haired older version of Jack who looks every inch the bad ass, in complete contrast to the sweet, innocent 2016 version. It’s also quite amusing and revealing when he goes to visit the younger version of his own mother (yet another line he wasn’t going to cross…) and we find she bares more than a passing resemblance to Patience. No idea whether Mrs. Clowes looks like his mother did, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find it was so! Plus there are some great surreal timestream sequences near the end as things start to get very messy indeed. Finally, the absolute last double-page spread, after the story has finished, I could stare at for hours. Purely as a piece of modern art in its own right I think it is one of the most enticing / intriguing / strangely comforting images I’ve ever seen.

JR

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

Through the Habitrails: Life Before and After My Career in the Cubicles (£10-99, Dover Publications Inc.) by Jeff Nicholson –

Includes a new epilogue by Jeff, new foreword and intro by Fraction & Bissette, and fresh, shiny new paper for crisp, pitch blacks and zero ink-bleed. To be honest, it looks as if it’s been completely reshot.

It’s one of our favourites. Review from 2001 by our beardly beloved Mark:

The unnamed narrator works in the illustration department of a large advertising agency, hacking out pictures of happy pizza delivery and pointless mail order trash. He has dreams of producing his own work but the sales force and their little taps that drain the creative juices from his system leave him numb and desolate at the end of the day.

He shows us his colleagues: The Doomed One (his dreaded future), destined to toil there forever, complaining and bitching, trapped at her work station; The Infiltrator, possibly an agent of the bosses, spying on the workforce; the writer who returns after an illness with a great novel but loses his nerve to publish it, sinking back into the soft, easy life.

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Metaphors are pushed to the surface. The creative juice is literally drained from the workers. This is then fed to the maze of gerbils which run round the office in an elaborate tunnel network. The workers – always shown without a mouth – can kill the creatures to relieve stress thus making them feel less helpless.

‘Jar Head’ deals with his descent into alcoholism:

“The act of drinking beer became cumbersome, and I drank in such quantity that it became more practical to fashion a large pickle jar around my head. In time, the air seemed less important, and the carbonation from the beer was enough to sustain me.”

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It’s probably the most grotesque chapter and the page with the scalpels and the insects is not something that I care to think about too often.

Throughout the book, he searches for escape whether it is in relationships, travel or his own projects.

This is horror: one guy quit his job after reading it.

MAS

Buy Through the Habitrails: Life Before and After My Career in the Cubicles and read the Page 45 review here

Cursed Pirate Girl vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Jeremy Bastian.

“What business does one so small have afloat those dark waves?”
“You may think me a spring shower, sir. But I’ve a hurricane in this heart that’d sink the Royal Fleet. So if your old bones would be so kind there’s a pirate here that needs to be squeezed through yer pretty door.”

What a thunderous, exuberant and intoxicating read! Jeremy A. Bastian, as if giddy on grog, liberates himself from all constraints to deliver a fantastical romp both above and below the Caribbean high seas.

It is so rich in detail that you’ll be scanning its nautical nooks and pirate-cabin crannies for hours. The lines are ridiculously fine yet as smooth as silk, as shrimp-strewn seaweed swirls to frame the pages or when the Pirate Girl is lowered down the hull of a galleon in a cage which is fashioned in the form of one enormous, ornate teapot. It’s not just ornate, this is bursting with inspiration and imagination, the pages populated by James Gillray grotesques and Sir John Tenniel hybrid creatures.

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And yes, while I’m think about it, there is more than a little of Lewis Carroll’s fantastical mischief here combined with the anarchy of Tony Millionaire (SOCK MONKEY, MAAKIES), whilst the cluttered galleys and captain’s quarters o’erbrimming with jewel-encrusted treasures are delineated with lines as classy and intricate as Bernie Wrightson’s or Franklin Booth’s.

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Charles Vess, Mike Mignola, David Petersen and Gerard Way line up to praise the book’s originality as the Cursed Pirate Girl and parrot Pepper Dice take a deep breath and dive underwater past squabbling swordfish siblings to rise in search of the girl’s missing father, one of five Captains sailing under the Jolly Roger flag in the Omerta Seas. Each ship they board presents a different challenge with new friends or foes, but the Cursed Pirate girl has boundless energy, a quick wit and at least one keen eye, while by the end of this first foray ‘x’ will mark the spot of the other.

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There’s an extensive gallery of previous covers, maps and head-dressed skulls, additional fantasies like the Lands of the Lions whose crowned Kings Castle rises above the forest tree tops and a moat patrolled by gunships like the grandest Indian temple never constructed. Guest artists galore include David Peterson, Katie Cook, Stephano Gaudiano, Mike Mignola and Moritat, they’re portraits coming complete with in-character commentary.

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It’s almost as if Archaia doesn’t want to stop giving you stuff but, alas, they have when it comes to the paper stock which was previously deckled – crisply crinkled as if pressed from older pulp slurry – but is now a smooth, silky cream. French flaps, though!

Continued in CURSED PIRATE GIRL 2015 ANNUAL.

SLH

Buy Cursed Pirate Girl vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mystery Circus – Week One (£9-99) by Verity Hall…

“Yeah well… look I was just wondering… this is a little awkward… but it’s just we saw one of your old posters… and I couldn’t help but notice one of the faces and look just… do you know anything about that girl who died?”
“Excuse me??”
“You know, the gymnast or contortionist or whatever?”
“It’s just we saw this old poster and she was on it and…”
“Anyway I was just curious…
“CURIOUS! About a dead woman? A dead woman you’ve never met?”

As main character Malorey Hassan said herself, awkward! Quite why Mal has got such a bee in her bonnet about a deceased performer of Parvati’s Circus I don’t know. But it is certainly going to get Mal and her friend Eddie into some increasingly exciting social situations, that’s for sure, as they start to investigate precisely what it is that the carnies are covering up. Oh, and some trouble, of course, obviously!

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This is the second self-published graphic novella from Verity LIKE A SHARK IN A SWIMMING POOL Hall, and it’s lovely to see her continued development both in terms of storytelling and art. This work is the first volume in an ongoing series, so it’s also great to see there are no limits to her ambition too! By the end of this first instalment I was sufficiently hooked from what juicy details Mal and Eddie have uncovered in their investigations so far – plus some other reveals regarding the characters including one huge reveal regarding Mal herself – to want to know more!

Verity has created some characters with real heart and depth here. I found myself beginning to care as much about them as I was intrigued about just what’s really going on underneath the big top… Fortunately for me, Madame Parvati’s mysterious decision that the circus will stay in their sleepy back water town indefinitely should ensure I get some answers…

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In terms of the art, I think it is pretty fair to make the comparison to John Allison’s very early SCARY GO ROUND material. If you look at what John is producing today, you can see how much progress he has made in the meantime, and I don’t doubt Verity has the same intent. This is very colourful, very expressive. It perhaps feels a touch too much so in places, occasionally I found myself noticing I was observing why the construction of a panel had broken my concentration on the story for example.

I think Verity just needs to continue naturally softening her style, which I can see has happened already from LIKE A SHARK IN A SWIMMING POOL. But overall this is an excellent example of the level, in terms of the story, art and production values, that just starting out self-publishers today need to be aspiring to. Verity evens includes a pack of four prints and two stickers featuring the cast as a little bonus.

JR

Buy Mystery Circus – Week One and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Dougie Braithwaite & Leandro Fernandez.

“Later on, she told me the whole story.
“About the way she left her village. About the old man, about Cristu and Vera.
“About the thing her father said.
“About her baby.
“When she was done, I knew a lot of men would have to die.”

The second of four thick volumes reprinting the original ten adult-orientated PUNISHER MAX books plus attendant mini-series, this is a far cry from Ennis and Dillon’s PREACHER-lite burlesque of WELCOME BACK, FRANK. Don’t get me wrong, that book made me chuckle heartily, but any humour here is much, much blacker as Castle confronts real-world politics and sexual slavery.

Following the slaughter or his wife and kids, Frank Castle is a man with one mission: to kill those he believes prey on others, particularly on women and children. As he made resoundingly clear in PUNISHER MAX VOL 1, Frank is not a gun for hire. He accepts no one else’s authority and no one else’s instructions.

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The only man in the Marvel universe who boasts the same self-assured, dogged determination is Nick Fury, which is possibly why he’s one of the few people Castle will listen to.

In ‘Mother Russia’ Castle is told that the Russians have developed a virus; one which – if it made its way onto the black market like other arms from that crumbling military monolith – could prove lethal to the rest of the world. It’s locked in an underground nuclear solo… inside the body of a young girl.

Nick needs the girl safely out, and only Frank would be both insane enough to attempt the mission and ruthless enough to accomplish it. Unbeknownst to Nick Fury, however, there’s a more cowardly form of ruthlessness in action behind the desks of the Pentagon, where they’re prepared to sacrifice innocents to cover their tracks, even if it means doing to others what was done to America on September 11th, 2001.

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That was of Ennis’ best performances to date – you may find yourself punching the air when you hear Castle’s uncompromising ultimatum at the end of chapter five, delivered deadpan to the Russian command. And do you honestly need me to tell you how great Braithwaite’s pencils are (see JUSTICE)? He brings a gnarled and brutal physicality to the proceedings. You can almost feel the bruised, puff-eyed swellings throb and hear the headache behind them. The Russian leaders’ faces are weary, drained of all life and humour. There are a lot of hard stares, and if I had to describe Travino’s colour palette it would be winter gulag green – at midnight.

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However, after ‘Up Is Down And Back Is White’ – which I confess I don’t remember – we come to ‘The Slavers’ also illustrated by Leandro Fernandez and its bite is even harder. It deals with the all too real horror of international sex-slave trafficking: of young women from the Balkans being tricked into believing they have a future in the West, then being sold into sexual slavery here.

It’s usually a family business, believe it or not, but you can forget any cuddly connotations that may spring to mind. I remember seeing a couple of undercover investigations into this – and a TV dramatisation – a few years back, and one of the many things that hit me hardest were the madams: the wives of the abductors, the women who would treat other women like meat, offering them up to be gang raped in order to break them early on. It’s all here, barely diluted (“An unbeaten woman is like an untidy house”), and the Punisher realises early on that those he’s up against are more hardened than his regular mafia targets. They’re the father-and-son Romanian leaders of a Serb militia outfit, the results of whose genocidal campaigns had been reported by the papers:

“In the space of two years, they’d taken out a dozen villages.
“The last four places that they hit were different. Same streets of corpses as before, a total of over eighteen hundred. But men, kids and older women only in the last four. All the girls were gone.
“Someone must have had a brainwave. More profit in slavery than massacre. You already run a death squad: all the recruits you’ll need when you join the private sector. And when NATO takes a hand and it isn’t quite so easy doing business, what else do you do but move out West?
“One way or another, the badlands of Eastern Europe have been at war forever.
“They give their world its hardest soldiers. Always have. Men who play soccer with severed heads in kindergarten yards; who wire their captives with explosives, drug them, then send them staggering back to unsuspecting families.
“The things I’d have to do to break those men – to make them talk…
“Would be extreme.”

By the Punisher’s standards.

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Once you meet the father-and-son war-versus-commerce contingent you will understand just how extreme those measures and must be and what an uphill task it will be deploying them without the women being whisked off somewhere else or caught in the crossfire. Because Ennis makes it personal, about individuals, you’ll be rooting from Frank harder than you have done before – unlike the police who are doing fuck all about the traffickers themselves. Instead they’re distracted by one corrupt Detective Westin to lie outright to the media during high-profile press conferences about how Castle is coming undone and assaulting officers, thereby hindering (and in one instance thwarting) Frank’s best efforts to free the women before even worse goes down.

I have to confess that I’m more of a Braithwaite fan than Fernandez, but it’s still powerful stuff and almost every panel the vile old man appears in is suitably grotesque and appalling.

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Next? Believe it or not there will be a little light relieve courtesy of a bloke called Barracuda and – depending what order Marvel choose to reprint things – Christopher Walken as well.

SLH

Buy Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Secret Wars (£16-99, UK Ed. s/c; £37-99, US h/c, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic.

“Everything dies.”

SECERT WARS is many things, amongst which it’s the culmination and climax of a storyline first set in motion by Hickman in his FF / FANTASTIC FOUR run then NEW AVENGERS VOL 1.

“Everything dies” we were told over and over again as the cabal called the Illuminati – Reed Richards, the Black Panther, Iron Man, Beast, Namor, Black Bolt and Dr. Stephen Strange – witnessed a series of Incursions: intrusions of planet Earth from one parallel universe to another. There could only be two outcomes: one of those Earths was destroyed / sacrificed to save the other… or everything died in both.

As the book opens there are now only two Marvel universes left: the regular and the Ultimate. The Earth of each appeared in the other’s sky, blotting out almost everything else up there. Their populations were terrified and their respective superhuman populations went straight on the attack without knowing for the most part that they were essentially up against themselves.

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The good news is that Reed Richards, having seen this coming for months and failed to find an acceptable solution, came up with a contingency plan instead and, along with his equally erudite daughter Valeria (still aged seven or something!), constructed a life raft they believe could withstand the death of the universe. It could contain no more than 60 individuals – Reed’s immediate family, some, scientists and superheroes.

The bad news is that as existence blinked there was a catastrophic hull breach and only a handful of heroes made it through. The others simply ceased to exist.

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Now…

“Quarantine is for things that cause doubt.”

A new day, a new dawn, and if there are fewer stars then at least there are a lot more Thors, each wielding an enchanted hammer forged from one of the missing celestial bodies. (Got to love legend! Ignorance is the mother of invention!). They are the keepers of the law, the Hammers of God. They kneel below their omnipotent deity. Is it the All-Father, Odin?

It is not.

It is Doom.

By sheer force of unflinching will – and a certain source of power – Doom has salvaged from both universes what he can and created a composite world of multiple kingdoms from incursion point remnants between which access is verboten unless strictly authorised or summoned for judgement. Judgement proves swift and rarely merciful. Beware which kingdom you’re banished to! Many are key Marvel events playing themselves out differently; others are populated by superhero or supervillain zombies, the seasonally migrating Annihilation Wave or Ultron A.I.s kept at bay by the enormous Shield.

At the centre sits Lord God Doom on his throne, the World Tree Yggdrasil.

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His right hand of justice is Sheriff Stephen Strange who baulked at the prospect of so much power but is the only one other than Doom to remember the past and know this world’s secret: that it is not a naturally occurring phenomenon but a construct. To say so is heresy.

To his left is Valeria, daughter of Doom’s wife Susan Storm and head of The Foundation of science and discovery. What they have discovered is this: an anomaly. A thing which might cause doubt: something which must be quarantined. What do you suppose that is, eh?

Okay, I’ve given you enough, I hope, to raise your eyebrows. Half the fun – very much like Neil Gaiman & Andy Kubert’s MARVEL 1602 – will be discovering for yourselves you favourite characters cast in a new light under utterly alien circumstances but with a considerable degree of logic in their new assignations based on their past shared history.

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This is far more complex than your average summer event, and prettier too with sweeping Euro-sci-fi sequences like Minister Powers’ investigations, and vast Ribic landscapes like the Isle Of Agamotto, its epic hidden chambers boasting beasts bearing secrets and gifts on their tongues.

Ribic delivers the best portrayal of Sinister I’ve ever seen. His expressions are so priceless you’ll find yourself acting out the dialogue in your head. Sinister is jubilant, aloof, dismissive and cross; he’s mock-cross, goading and gleeful. He’s basically Tim Currie. In one panel he positively dances his way to a judgement whose authority he’d never recognise nor submit to in a million years. Don’t know who Sinister is? It really won’t matter.

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Towards the end a major battles between two individuals goes representational, totemic, and Ribic pulls that off with aplomb.

I loved that Doom is omnipotent but not omniscient, for his power may have expanded, but not his mind. I like Stephen and Valeria as Doom’s “duelling ideologies” and adored how the survivors interacted with the salvaged, tentatively testing each other out for truth. Other little things like Advanced Idea Mechanics becoming the equally seditious Advanced Idea Mythologies; the Black Panther’s role as king of the dead finally coming into play and line like this from Namor when a weapon makes itself known: “Don’t look at me. We both know I can’t be trusted.”

The epilogue sequences revisiting the genesis of this storyline were enormously satisfying and the final sentence, answering a much older one, note-perfect. I’ve a feeling Hickman had that planned from the start.

Smart move to use capital letters for the regular Marvel Universe castaways and lower case for those washed ashore from the Ultimate Universe whose comics have always used lower case. “I’m sorry…? There are survivors from the Ultimate Universe?!” Why yes. For if one Reed Richards has a contingency plan, then surely the other would too?

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Practicalities:

The UK softcover and US hardcover both include the prologue originally published after the first issue, but while the softcover leads with this, the hardcover incorporates it as a bonus in the back. Both editions contain vast quantities of cover / pin-up material. The softcover, since it comes from Panini, inevitably has ugly design flaws between chapters which wake you up from your reverie, but is half the price and – and at over 9 longer-than-usual chapters long – exceptional value for money.

SLH

Buy Secret Wars h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Secret Wars (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Thors: Battleworld s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Sprouse, Goran Sudzuka.

Includes Walt Simonson’s MIGHTY THOR #364 and #365 from – what? – three decades ago in which Thor has been transformed into a bullfrog and attempts without success to make his plight known to the Avengers’ butler Jarvis and co. Waaaaay out there, yes, but Simonson’s run on THOR was for me the definitive one, he was firing on all thrusters, and the dramatic irony was pretty gripping!

I don’t think he was given the name Throg at the time, but he is here.

“Names, Throg. I need an I.D. on the victims. So far Ray and I have nothing to go on.”
“What can I tell ya? They’re not in the database.”
“None of them? How is that possible?”
“You’re talking to a frog that carries a hammer, pal. Any damn thing is possible.”

It is now!

In SECRET WARS the regular Marvel Universe and its Ultimate counterpart collided, obliterating both. Now all that’s left is Battleworld, consisting of concurrent cross-overs and major events from Marvel’s past playing themselves out further than they did or in different ways. Each takes place in a different domain between which travelling is strictly forbidden by decree of Battleworld’s deity Doctor Victor Von Doom. He is the law; order is maintained by the Thors. This was, therefore, a pantheonic police-procedure crime comic and it began intriguingly enough.

It starred every Thor throughout history – well, Marvel’s history – and there have been many: Stormborn (the X-Men’s Ororo), Thorlief (the Ultimate Universe’s Thor), Beta Ray Bill (he had the head of a skinned horse!) and Throg (he’s a frog – keep up, we’ve covered that). There are in fact hundreds of the hammer-hefting hearties.

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The primaries on this investigation are Thorlief and Beta Ray Bill and the pressure is on for it’s just been designated an Allthing by Odin. This means all hands on deck because the case needs to be closed quickly before Doom himself gets wind of it and demotes the two primaries which would involve losing a great deal more than their police pensions.

So what’s got them all baffled? Five dead bodies have appeared in five different domains but what aren’t different are their identities: they’re all the same woman. Five versions of the same woman have been murdered. Who is the woman? Clue: she’s ever so slightly central to the Marvel THOR mythos.

What I love about the best of these SECRET WARS satellite series (and there are hundreds of those too, amongst which we’ve reviewed OLD MAN LOGAN: WARZONES and PLANET HULK: WARZONES) is that they each contain a different piece of the jig-saw puzzle which is Battleworld and the secrets that lie behind it. Beta Ray’s informant, living on the street out of a cardboard box, knows stuff:

“I can tell you what I’ve learned in the shadows, Stormbreaker. I can tell you why people are dying. Your good friend Loki can tell you about the greatest lie of all. But I don’t believe you’re gonna want to hear it.”

A lie that’s bigger than Loki’s? Blimmin’ ‘eck!

The art initially was by Chris Sprouse so it was big and bold with smooth and attractive figure work without being over-busy or brutal – and then it wasn’t by Chris and to be honest I fell asleep halfway through. If you get to the end and it’s awesome, please shake me and wake and let me know.

SLH

Buy Thors: Battleworld s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rivers Of London: Body Of Work (£10-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan…

“My name is Inspector Nightingale, Mr Debben. I hope you don’t mind me letting myself in…
“… and I’m afraid no one goes home just yet…
“… this was merely the beginning…”

I’ll have to confess I haven’t read the Rivers Of London prose books penned by Ben Aaronovitch, but I have had a fair few customers recommend them, so that probably explains why this series was relatively popular in comics form. So much so in fact, it has been expanded from a mini-series into an ongoing one. In a nutshell it’s basically Inspector Morse meets HELLBLAZER. Dapper grizzled humourless veteran cop Inspector Nightingale and his amusing, hardworking sidekick Peter Grant fight crime in the big smoke. Except the twist is the crimes are all of the supernatural variety. They even have their own division, the Special Assessment Unit, known colloquially within the Met, and viewed with equally measures of suspicion and derision by the rank and file plod, as ‘Falcon’ or ‘The Folly.’

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This case starts with a drowning in the Thames, a poor unfortunate unable to get out of their car in time after it careered through the barriers. It is, on the face of it, an open and shut case of accidental death. But once Grant receives a tip-off from the daughter of the Goddesses of the River Thames that magic may be involved, our dynamic duo get to work working out who or what is responsible for our victim  taking the plunge. Inspector Nightingale’s mystical prowess is comparable to one John Constantine, with some impressive, show-stopping, indeed life-saving displays of legerdemain. Peter Grant, well, he’s more of a Tommy Cooper standard.

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I really enjoyed this work. For a start off, the plot is a relatively involved affair, the main characters have some genuine depth, so Aaronovitch is clearly a decent writer, though when you have a co-author as with Andrew Cartmel here, you’re never quite sure just how much the prose author has contributed. The art is pretty decent fare too from Lee Sullivan. It very strongly minded me of Chris THE TWELVE / MINISTRY OF SPACE Weston, which is never a bad thing. Definitely one for fans of the prose books, but perhaps also HELLBLAZER fans needing an extra mystical fix.

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JR

Buy Rivers Of London: Body Of Work 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.

100 Bullets Book 5 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso

Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 12: Smoke And Shadow Part 3 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru

Clan Apis (£18-99, Active Synapse) by Jay Hosler

East Of West vol 5: All These Secrets (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta

Even So, I Will Love You Tenderly (£10-50, June) by Kou Yoneda

Freaky & Fearless: How To Tell A Tall Tale (£5-99, Piccadilly) by Robin Etherington & Jan Bielecki

Golem (£14-99, Magnetic Press) by Lorenzo Ceccotti

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Game h/c (£15-99, Abrams Comics) by Jim Ottavani & Leland Purvis

Octopus Pie vol 2 (£8-50, Image) by Meredith Gran

Paper Girls vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang

Von Doogan And The Great Air Race (£7-99, David Fickling Books) by Lorenzo Etherington

Walking Dead vol 25: No Turning Back (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Justice League vol 7: Darkseid War Part 1 h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Jason Fabok

Red Hood Arsenal vol 1: Open For Business s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Lobdell & Denis Medri

Wonder Woman: War Of The Gods s/c (£18-99, DC) by George Perez & various

The Uncanny Inhumans vol: Time Crush 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Steve McNiven

Attack On Titan vol 18 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Kiss Him, Not Me! vol 4 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Junko

The Seven Deadly Sins vol 7 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Nakaba Suzuki

News!

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ITEM! You will now be coming to Kendal!

Bryan Lee O’Malley To Make Exclusive Appearance At The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016, October 14th to 16th!

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That’s right, Bryan Lee O’Malley, the creator of SECONDS, SCOTT PILGRIM and LOST AT SEA will be making his only UK public appearances this year at #LICAF in Kendal.

It is indeed an exclusive!

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Bryan will not be signing anywhere else in the country this time except with Page 45 in our regular Georgian Room in the Kendal Clock Tower (to which entrance is always free!), in addition to which there will be other events in Kendal yet to be announced.

Of course Page 45 will be bringing Bryan’s books to Kendal, but – guess what? – as well as ordering any of our 7,000 graphic novels from www.page45.com to be sent anywhere in the world, you can  now also select “Collect for free from Kendal  at LICAF 2016 £0.00)” no matter how many comics you order, guaranteeing you whatever you want when you get there!

Pick Up In Kendal

You see that there internet? You’ll find hotels you can book right now!

– Stephen

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2016 week four

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Includes less news but a lot more Retrofit Comics – by Kate Leth,  Ben Sea, Yumi Sakugawa – thanks to UK suppliers, Avery Hill Publishing. And this, by the by, is a brand-new review for a much treasured classic…

Pocket Full Of Coffee (£5-00) by Joe Decie.

“Leaflets, leaflets!” shouts Sam, picking up a leaflet. “What does it say?”
“It says don’t waste paper picking up leaflets.”

Ha! This comic features the best back-cover blurb ever!

“The ink-washed tale of one family’s Wednesday.
“It’s autobiography, but with lies.”

It’s certainly the most honest assessment of autobiography as entertainment and yet the most mischievous, telling you everything you need to know about Joe Decie’s propensity to set the cat amongst the pigeons and revel in all the feathers flying!

“A day-in-the-life story of Joe spending time with his son,” wrote Jonathan, “whilst trying with varying degrees of success to perform other essential adult tasks, this will ring many bells – a veritable cacophony, in fact – with those people who have children. It certainly did with me. As commentary on precisely just how your daily routine will never quite be the same again after the introduction of your very own personal tornado into your life it’s absolutely bang on, even down to Joe’s slightly wistful observation that he doesn’t even have time to indulge in mild hypochondria anymore.”

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Campanology aside, children are inherently funny whether you’ve bred them or not. Minds fizzing, mouths open, internal editors entirely absent, they are an endless, free-flowing stream of nonsense, non-sequiturs and the innocently inappropriate or direct. You can’t possibly listen to everything, which is why so many of Sam’s speech bubbles drift off panel – out of sight, out of mind, and well out of earshot.

They will spare your feelings not one jot.

“You look really scruffy, Daddy. TURBO BOOSTER!”

They’re also tenacious.

“Can I have a sister?” asks Sam, three times, as if requesting an ice cream.

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It helps that Joe himself is as mildly ridiculous as the rest of us. The difference is that Joe The Deech delights in self-denigration and embellishing the already absurd. Do you really think he mans a National Dandruff Helpline?

“I’m listening.
“Do you rinse?
“Interesting.”

It’s all so whimsical, almost every page accompanied by a punchline which is often prepped by one or two preceding observations about jobs, statistics and to-do-lists written after you’ve already to-done them in order to inflate your sense of accomplishment. There’s even a joke within that joke if you look down the list. Same goes for his household objects like ‘Cheap’ ‘Shoe’.

The ink-washed portraits are an inherent part of the comedy. Decie excels at his own body language but also his own likeness: no one else’s glasses hang on their nose quite like Joe’s. But they’re also beautiful in their own right and some of the compositions are ever so clever – quite subtly so.

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Take the first full-page panel in which those trainers appear on the bedroom floor at eye level, the only thing closer being an empty comic page. They’re sleek and satisfyingly aerodynamic, drawn with the clairest of lignes, the ‘Cheap’ and ‘Shoe’ appellations appearing on one heel then the other, each under a £-sign brand. But that’s by-the-by. What thrilled me was that this particular perspective threw Joe into centre-stage below an open, empty ceiling, the arm he’s studying for its newfound rash exactly halfway up the page and the prime focus of a pentagon which moves from its elbow across Joe’s other arm, then up to his shoulder, from there up Joe’s neck, then back down Joe’s angle of vision to said spotty rash on this wrist.

It’s also a page of perfect three dimensions, each object or appendage cutting just a little in front of the others.

Anyway, all that sounds way too serious so I’ll only add that there’s a lot of clean white space on each and every page which I do so wish students of sequential art would take note of, along with the diligent economy of text. I’ve said it before, but Joe’s lettering is amongst the most attractive and individualistic in the business, achieving the neat trick of make capital letters look and feel like lower case, and therefore more direct and accessible.

SLH with JR

Buy Pocket Full Of Coffee and read the Page 45 review here

Eyelash Out (£3-00, Retrofit) by Ben Sea.

Think Donya Todd’s BUTTERTUBS gone Southern Gothic.

“OUTTA MY WAY, I SEE SOMETHING I WANT!”

I saw something I wanted last week but I didn’t barge past everyone, slapping them out of the way to pluck the object of my desire from someone’s tender eyelid.

There’s something unique about plucking an eyelash: it’s a very particular and pointed prick of pain – mild, brief but because it’s so close to your eye it’s feels quite the intrusion. To steal an eyelash is therefore a very personal theft.

That’s how this begins, so it was never going to end well. Almost immediately the couple on the bendy-legged run become corrupted by this act of anti-enlightenment, their own sore eyes swelling. I felt no sympathy.

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The lash is not the last thing which will be pulled on, either: laces, entrails, those sorts of things. And there’s a lot of lactating as well – eruptions and excretions galore.

The whole heavenly skyscape seems alive – flashing, twinkling, puffing, dripping, sweating in celestial semi-sentience.

What the hell am I on? It’s quite the trip.

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SLH

Buy Eyelash Out and read the Page 45 review here

Ink For Beginners: A Comic Guide To Getting Tattooed (£3-00, Retrofit) by Kate Leth…

“Hi, I’ll start here: I’m Kate, and I have a lot of tattoos!
“I’ll probably have more by the time I’m done drawing this, to be honest.
“I got my first tattoo quite young, so I’ve been a sounding board for questions, advice etc. for a long time. I get asked a lot of stuff…”
“Does it hurt?”
“How expensive is it?”
“Can I bring a friend?”
“Should I tip my artist?”
“How do I take care of it afterwards?”
“Where should I put it on my body?”
“What if my job doesn’t allow visible tattoos?”
“Can I use my own design?”
“Does it have to mean something?”

The answers to all these questions and many more besides you will find within the covers of this handy little primer to permanently printing on your body! The most important I would have thought being, where can I find the Da Vinci of subdermal decoration?

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But no, it would seem the topic that probably concerns people the most is just how painful is it going to be. And as Kate says…

“Yes it hurts.”

… but with the important caveat…

“Differently, in different areas and different ways.”

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And so she provides two full-page spreads, front and back, of the human body, from tip to toe, detailing all the various places you might wish to get inked with a colour-coded traffic light indicator of just how close to breaking the World High Jump record you might get… from a seated start. Me, all I can see is red, red and more red!

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Kate gradually works her way through the various queries one by one and provides her thoughts, plus those of various experienced tattoo artists, to give both perspectives of victim and torturer! So, if you’re planning on turning yourself into a human canvas, I heartily recommending reading this, as it probably will answer just about every single question you might conceivably have. But yes, it will hurt…

JR

Buy Ink For Beginners: A Comic Guide To Getting Tattooed and read the Page 45 review here

Ikebana (£4-00, Retrofit) by Yumi Sakugawa…

“Welcome class, to our final day of critiques.
“As you can all see, we are switching the order of things around a little bit.
“Cassie will be going first today. And in lieu of presenting a year-long body of work as the rest of you have, she informed me via email this morning that her senior thesis will instead be…
“… an organic bio-painting / ritualised movement piece.”

Someone clearly hasn’t done their homework. A whole year’s worth… Rather as I felt entering my second year organic chemistry exam, as long-term review readers will no doubt have heard me mention before, which was most definitely my academic nadir. I somehow managed 14% in case you were wondering…

Still, I’m not sure that even if someone had offered me the opportunity of wondering around Nottingham in my underdraws wearing a pair of palm leaf wings and a giant lotus blossom as a hat instead of taking the exam, I would have taken them up on the offer. Stark naked in the mentally unprepared sense I can deal with, even if I do still wake up occasionally in a panic some twenty-five years later having dreamt I am just heading into said examination room. Physically naked, without the aid of several pints of alcohol at least, is an entirely different matter.

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Most of Cassie’s student colleagues aren’t best impressed either, seeing it as a gigantic 365-day skive which their professor seems daft enough to have fallen for. Still, they all traipse off following her around as her silent, one-woman interpretation of The Emperor’s New Clothes begins. By the end, though, there’s only one person left in the mobile audience, as the figurative invisible curtain comes down in a manner entirely befitting the rest of the performance.

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Ricky Miller of Avery Hill Publishing, which distributes on behalf of Retrofit in the UK, mentioned to me how much he enjoyed this particular work and I can completely understand why. It’s that perfect blend of sublime and ridiculous. One can entirely believe some desperate art student would come up with such a crackpot scheme, and the conceit is fleshed out and pencilled to perfection by Yumi Sakugawa. All assuming this isn’t some sort of quasi-autobiographical yarn, of course!

JR

Buy Ikebana and read the Page 45 review here

Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography 10th Anniversary Edition (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown.

In one of the most extraordinary transformations in comics since Ed Brubaker ditched autobiography for superhero crime, Chester Brown, better known for his confessional reflections, turned his attention first to Bible and then to Canadian political history in a book which, in its hardcover form, sparked enormous intellectual interest from the likes of Dave Sim, yet also a level of ground-floor sales here which has utterly astonished us (next I’d like to see his mate Joe Matt poke his nose from under those semen-stained sheets and draw a jaunty little travelogue, please).

Here’s a little of what Mark wrote:

“Riel was a 19th Century mystic and politician from Quebec. Due to his bi-lingual skills he was, initially, dragged into the fight between his people (the Métis, half-European, half-Indian) and the Canadian Government. Their land had been sold out from under them by the British and this is partly their battle for independence but mostly about a tumultuous period in Riel’s life, running for Government, his exile in the US and his religious visions.

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Brown has, as he admits in the lengthy appendix, changed a few of the facts, avoided the route of straight historical fiction. Even for Canadians this is a pretty obscure figure but for Brown the story (or the parts that he’s attracted to) has elements that have popped up in his work for years. The historical reconstruction (beautifully done, nothing is crowbarred in) works in the same way that his bible stories did. There was a question about Riel’s sanity which ties in with Brown’s ‘My Mom Was A Schizophrenic’ [reprinted in LITTLE MAN] and the process for that piece was a springboard for RIEL. And he makes it compelling.”

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Coming from Chester Brown April 2016: MARY WEPT OVER THE FEET OF JESUS, in which Chester returns to the Bible and indeed prostitution (see PAYING FOR IT).

In stock right now and reviewed: CHESTER BROWN: CONVERSATIONS.

SLH / MAS

Buy Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography 10th Anniversary Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Nameless h/c (£18-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham.

“From Earth to the Moon.
“Malkuth to Yesod.
“Shit rains down.
“Nothing is real.”

I don’t think I’ve every typed the words “Morrison”, “predictable” and “pedestrian” in the same sentence before.

I remember “passionate”, “compassionate”, “fiercely intelligent”, “parapersonality” and “transtemporal, pansexual, mulltidimensional fight for the future’s freedom”.

You wouldn’t really forget that one, would you?

Also, drugs: I remember a great many drugs and extreme vacillations between “Comics are ephemera, bound only for bins” and “Comics are the last medium unsullied by compromise with corporations – like the one that publishes most of my comics” depending on which horse du jour he felt like backing that day.

But before we begin, may I take a personal moment to say how fondly I recognised and remembered Glasgow’s Botanical Garden Gates, having lingered there long-time, but not with all those plump, floppy fish seen skewered on its weathervane here?

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“Hebrew letter “mun” means “fish”. “Fish” and “Death”. And death is daath.”

Fair enough. I suppose all that has something to do with The Veiled Lady’s henchmen wearing deep-sea anglerfish head masks when they kidnap our titular protagonist who apparently will remain nameless and dump him in a supermarket shopping trolley. He tumbles out tellingly because our man and his proverbial trolley parted ways way back in 2001 since when, we learn later, he’s been on the run from the police.

Maybe he tried to steal the fuzz’s Dream-Key to their Empty Box in a Tombraider-like dream-space? That’s what our nameless one’s done to The Veiled Lady, which is why she is ever so slightly brittle. Or maybe they want him for pretension, since he’s quite evidently got a Christmas-cracker crash-course on the Kabbalah lodged in his throat.

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Once rescued, our man of arcane knowledge is told there’s an asteroid 14 miles in length and 6 miles wide on a collision course with Earth. It’s called Xibalba, otherwise known as the Mayan underworld, the “Place of Fear” because whichever astronomer was on duty that night was feeling portentous as fuck.

In 33 days there will be an Extinction Level Impact somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, but long before that there will be planetary-wide panic. Of course there will! Have you read Dan Berry’s THE END? So psychologically astute!

If that wasn’t bad enough the asteroid bears a symbol carved into its surface. This sigil is three miles tall and half a mile wide. It’s the glyph denoting the door to the Anti-verse, and if you think that already sounds a far from promising picnic spot, there are the transmissions emanating from Xibalba in the Enochian angel language of John Dee – Astrologer Royal to Queen Elizabeth I – which, when translated, don’t bode well for hospitality at all!

“Man – every one of you – prepare for wrath.”

And that’s just the opening gambit. The rest of the message / curse speaks of “one thousand thousand-strong thunders”, “torment”, “flaming firmament”, “poison stars”, “Wormwood” (seldom propitious) and “woe”. All things considered, therefore, I’d probably stick to the original operational agenda which is fly out to the asteroid, drag it off course using tractor physics from off-planet, then bugger off back to moonbase lickerty spit.

I definitely, emphatically, would in no way descend into the crevasse / scar / open wound and investigate gigantic sealed entrances because I have watched Alien many times over and things went awry. I wouldn’t even dispatch drones down there.

Artist Chris Burnham you may remember from Grant’s BATMAN INCORPORATED VOL 1 where he did a mighty fine impression of Frank Quitely. While retaining no small element of that, here he comes over all Richard Corben which is perfect for this kind of psychotropic horror. It’s the creepiest sort of horror going wherein things grow into or out of you, and Burnham will certainly make you wince more than once on that front. He does diseased and invasion of personal space all too well.

He’s also spectacular when it comes to the crevasse’s epic contents, its off-the-scale monumentalism, and indeed the textured surface of the asteroid itself as seen from above in the form of a gigantic, circuit-board skull. That’s worth the price of admission alone.

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In this sort of horror there’s nothing you can fight, only things to scare you shitless like the degradation of the body and degradation of the mind  – madness itself – and the terror of being lost and alone.

“There’s only me left.”

There are a great many doors here. Doors can be very disturbing. Opening one is quite the commitment.

As well as psychological horror, Morrison’s also very good at that sort of awful, gaping nihilism, here evoking the very opposite of Lovecraft’s “most merciful thing in the world” which, in case you’re wondering is “the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents”:

“Humankind is a disease, a malignant mistake. The natural world seeks to purge its blissful, ignorant Eden of our contagion.
“Self-awareness: there is the black worm in the apple. Our curse is to know there’s something terribly wrong with us.”

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But that’s when he uses language one can comprehend and ideas one can take seriously. The rest is occult psychobabble for which I have a notoriously low threshold, and if you think his ‘Keys to the Abyss in THE NAMELESS’ will clarify shit, I’m afraid it’s mostly more mystic mumbo jumbo involving Thantifaxath, Baratchial, the qlippothic Tzuflifu (are you laughing yet, because I have tears streaming down my face) and tarot cards.

For an infinitely more imaginative, coherent and constructive take on the Kabbalah, please see Alan Moore & JH Williams III’s PROMETHEA.

SLH

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

The Beauty vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley…

“Two years ago, a new sexually transmitted disease took the world by storm.
“This S.T.D. was unlike any other that had come before.
“This was a disease that people actually wanted.
“Victims of this epidemic were physically changed by the virus.
“Fat melted away, thinning hair returned, skin blemishes faded, and their facial features slimmed.
“It became known as The Beauty.
“The Beauty quickly became a fad.
“Suddenly, perfect skin, flawless features, and a gorgeous body were only one sexual encounter away.
“The only downside appeared to be a slight constant fever, but that didn’t seem to slow people down.
“Now, over half the country’s population has The Beauty, and the other half of the country hates them for it.”

Which is where our story begins, followed almost immediately by the apparent spontaneous combustion from the inside out of someone rather pretty on the subway.

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Ah, so there might just be at least one more teensy-weensy downside to The Beauty than everyone thinks! Consequently, the cops are dispatched to investigate, including the dashing and debonair, virus-free Detective Foster. Sure he has a few grey hairs and some laughter lines, but he’s ruggedly handsome, and completely devoted to his equally naturally lovely wife.

His professional partner, meanwhile, Kara Vaughn, has been virally enhanced to statuesque, goddess-level looks, but she’s actually one of the few people who managed to contract the virus unwittingly, and would rather she hadn’t. Particularly once the forensics expert has given them the run down on what she thinks killed their subject, before agents from the Centre for Disease Control swoop in and quarantine the scene. It’s enough for Foster to draw his own conclusions…

“It was The Beauty. The Beauty killed her, and they know it.”

Still, the why and the how, that remains unexplained, and so our cops do what they do best, and start running down leads on anti-Beauty terror cells – the type of people who might have the inclination to want to induce some temperature-based terror in the more glamorous half of the population. One such lead results in a shoot out with a suspect, requiring some prompt and messy – but ultimately unsuccessful – medical assistance from Detective Foster. After another yet late night on the job, and another missed dinner date with his doting wife, he’s more than happy to hit the sack, but his wife wants to share a tender moment or three before they fall asleep. So imagine his surprise when he wakes up in the morning, feeling twenty years younger. He looks it too. Oh dear. I guess The Beauty might suddenly not just be sexually transmitted… Maybe…

Excellent speculative fiction premise, plus our leads are well written, I can certainly see some potential for sidebar drama. Is Detective Foster’s wife really going to believe the excuse for his – and presumably by extension her own – unexpected midnight makeover? Especially with that hot partner who’s prone to calling him up at all hours of the day and night. I think he might well have to earn his detective corn just to save his marriage, never mind half the population! Still, at least he’s got a real incentive now, what with being a ticking time / sex bomb himself!

Great art too from Jeremy Haun, including a fabulous cover. I can see strong hints of Michael LAZARUS Lark in there, though obviously with softer colours here.

JR

Buy The Beauty vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Judge Dredd: America (£13-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner & Colin MacNeil…

“I can’t remember when I first became aware of the Judges.
“I suppose it’s because they were always there. A dark presence in the background of our lives – as much as a part of growing up as the air we breathed and the streets we played on.
“Wherever we went they were there. Watching. Always watching.
“They could fix you with a special kind of stare, like they could see right into your soul.
“Adults, they’d tell us the Judges were there for our good, to protect us and make the streets safe.
“But we’d hear the tremors in their voices when they talked about them and see their furtive expressions whenever a Judge caught their eye – and we’d know they were afraid.
“And at night mothers would tuck us in with warnings – sleep or the Judges would come for us.
“So we didn’t need ghosts or goblins. We had the Judges.
“And they were worse.
“We knew that they did exist.
“And there was a strong possibility they would come for us.”

Hmm… might have to try informing Isabella about Judge Dredd. Grud knows, I’ve tried everything else to get to her settle down at bed time. Perhaps the concept of someone even more fascistic and totalitarian than her parents might actually have some sway. Failing that it’s going to have be five to ten in the Juve-Cubes for her, or perhaps more likely a Kook-Cube for me…

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So, I got this back in because I was doing some recommendations for mail order customer Finlay Jones by email the other day and he had asked about good Judge Dredd jumping on points and self-contained stories. I had commented that you used to be able to get various epics published separately but now they were all reprinted in the many COMPLETE CASE FILES collecting  everything. So, for example, the epic Block War and Apocalypse War are both in COMPLETE CASEFILES VOL 5 and that is a perfect early-ish slab of Dredd to go for. Then once things had gone full colour COMPLETE CASEFILES VOL 14 would be a good modern-ish introductory Dredd chunk as it collects the big epic Necropolis with all the Dark Judges etc.

I was also trying to work out which CASEFILES this story was in when I discovered to my surprise it was completely omitted (possibly because it isn’t a Dredd story). I think I probably did know this but had forgotten. Given it is Dredd co-creator’s John Wagner favourite ever Mega-City One story and considered by many to the best storyline ever, particularly in terms of the socio-political satire it brings to bear, it seems very odd the powers that be should have chosen to omit it. It’s almost as though the powers that be don’t want this seditious material getting into your hands…

Anyway, seen from the perspective of Bennett Beeny, whose unrequited love for childhood friend America Jara eventually drives them apart, only for them to be reunited in the most unexpected and shocking circumstances, this story tells of the growing discontent amongst the covert pro-democracy ranks of the Mega-Citizens that eventually fosters the Total War terrorist organisation, who are dedicated to overthrowing the Judges by any means necessary. Clearly, the Judges aren’t about to take it lying down and what ensues is as brutally violent as it is heart- (and head) breaking.

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This collection contains the initial story “America” which was published in Judge Dredd Megazine #1.01-1.07, the sequel “America II: Fading of the Light” from  Judge Dredd Megazine #3.20-3.25 and the coda “Cadet” from Judge Dredd Megazine #250-252. All are penned by Wagner with art from redoubtable 2000AD stalwart Colin MacNeil.

Over the years, as I occasionally re-read some Dredd and have the odd gander at a 2000AD I find the material I am the most fond of is that which really has something to say, beyond the confines of the pages. Which was a surprising amount of the very early material, actually, even story-of-the-week driven as it mainly was for the first few years. In the interim there are only so many repetitive action-based derivative storylines you can recycle over nearly forty years, which I’ve why I’ve long since stopped reading Dredd regularly. But undoubtedly material like this storyline deserves to remain available as part of the historical record of great British comics by great British creators, if nothing else. Plus possibly to scare children to sleep at nights as well…

JR

Buy Judge Dredd: America and read the Page 45 review here

Wormwood Gentleman Corpse Omnibus s/c (£22-50, IDW) by Ben Templesmith.

From the artist of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, Warren Ellis’ FELL, Antony Johnston’s DEAD SPACE some SILENT HILL and, unsurprisingly, THE ART OF WORMWOOD GENTLEMAN CORPSE, this was an investigative comedy horror in the vein of Steve Niles’ Cal McDonald CRIMINAL MACABRE starring a sentient worm / maggot animating a dapperly dressed corpse to fend off supernatural disaster.

In the first issue, his favourite lap dancing club hosted by Medusa was infected by a transdimensional, parasitic weed, all because someone was doing something unspeakably rude to the beer pumps.

Or, as Tom once wrote:

Wormwood spends his time “driving” corpses with the sole intention of downing a cold Guinness in Medusa’s strip bar. Which is interrupted every so often by having to save the world from pan-dimensional invasion.

Easily some of the finest art Templesmith has ever done with some really imaginative touches, such as Medusa’s serpents being all-over body tattoos that flow off her as glowing, ethereal, skeletal snakes. Whereas the paralytic, paranormal plots tumble along nicely like HELLBOY off-duty. Cthulu never looked so good (through beer goggles).

Collects issues #0-8, the one-shot, CALAMARIS RISING #1-4, and LAST CALL.

SLH

Buy Wormwood Gentleman Corpse Omnibus s/c and read the Page 45 review here

International Iron Man #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

Hallelujah! Bendis is back off autopilot, a word which Maleev can’t even spell.

It’s time once again to throw away the costumes and enjoy some honest-to-goodness human interaction and humour à la JESSICA JONES: ALIAS which was the very best comic ever to be published by Marvel.

As brilliant as Bendis & Maleev’s DAREDEVIL with all of its wit-riddled snappy patter, this catches Iron Man at an inopportune moment under Bulgaria’s Monument To The Soviet Army, dead, paralyzed, or “rethinking his disastrous life choices that led up to this humbling moment”.

Amongst those disastrous decisions was Stark’s determination – twenty years ago while studying at Cambridge – to get to know a mysterious young woman with an overprotective family, famous in some circles at least. She knows exactly who Tony is, but Tony…?

“You really don’t know who I am?”
“Should I? Is your father a big deal or something? Is it – is he Bono?”
“My mother.”
“Is she Bono?”

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“What does your Mom do that warrants bodyguards? I only ask because they’re coming this way and I think one of them is about to punch me in the face so hard I probably won’t remember even meeting you.”
“Ugh! You’re going to get tasered.”
“I’d really rather not.”
“I’m not joking.”
“Neither am I. Can you request that they don’t?”

All the while Maleev plays it as deadpan as usual, except with a new energy and irreverence of youth. Tony cannot help throwing his head back and laughing with joy at Cassandra Gillespie’s fantastic name, nor can he resist smiling at his own bravado and wit.

Paul Mounts’ daytime colouring adds a new air of optimism to Maleev’s fresh-faced students meeting for lunch (less of an assignation, more of stalked-stalking-stalker scenario) and lo if you don’t look at those panels, concentrate on the eyebrows and lip-line especially, imagine a moustache, chop the flop of his hair right back… and that really is our Tony Stark.

“You Googled me by now.”
“I did.”
“How’d that go?”
“I found out you’re a world-class trapeze artist.”
“Is there a trapeze artist with my name?”
“Just admit you trapeze. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

New verb: to trapeze.

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What could any of this possibly have to do with Iron Man flat on his back, systems down, in Bulgaria?

Well, first it’s time to meet Cassandra’s family for dinner in not the most awkward and hostile reception by prospective in-laws ever (he lies)… and then there’s the unsolicited postprandial intervention by those oh-so-shouty, regenerative ones.

Has Bendis watched ‘Brideshead Revisited’ recently? Because Cassandra’s mother is Evelyn Waugh’s Catholic matriarch Lady Marchmain – specifically as played by Claire Bloom – to a tee.

SLH

Buy International Iron Man #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Fantastic Four s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by J. Michael Straczynski & Mike McKone, Paul Pope.

One of the closer tie-ins to CIVIL WAR, though by no means as integral as the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN volume, this follows Reed and Sue’s bust-up, showing it to be less abrupt or final than it might seem in the main event – which makes sense. Sue can turn invisible, and you probably would check in on your husband once in a while if you loved him and were engaged in superhuman combat against him.

I have no raw data on this, so if you can turn invisible and you have at one time or another been engaged in superhuman combat against your husband or wife, please let me know how you spent your down-time.

The arguments go round and around in circles, as arguments do, and Sue gets angrier and angrier at what she perceives to be her husband’s cowardice and capitulation, while he sits there like a deflated whoopee cushion, saying, “I know what I’m doing is wrong, but it’s the law.”

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Actually he has an altogether different motive which he’s kept to himself, and whether it’s scientifically feasible to make the calculations he has or not, common sense weighs in his favour: carry on out of control and things can only get worse. It’s still difficult to sympathise with the pro-registration brigade when they’re being such knobheads in the way they go about things, but still…

I’ll say it again: McKone draws the best Ben Grimm since Barry Windsor-Smith.

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SLH

Buy Civil War: Fantastic Four s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Front Line s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & various.

The first half contains two concurrent stories and a real-world history lesson.

The first follows reporters Ben Urich and Sally something-or-other as they move from mourning the loss of a fellow journalist in the Stamford Disaster to covering the imminent Registration Act (see CIVIL WAR itself). Both are liberals, but the Bugle is enforcing its editorial policy of support for the new laws with an iron fist. Spider-Man pops by Sally’s apartment in the hope that she’ll convey to the public exactly why superheroes with family need to maintain their secret identities, whilst Iron Man makes a public announcement that’s going to make that argument more difficult to sustain.

To be honest, it all felt a bit stodgy.

The second, shorter segment, however, reveals that one of the brazen attention-seekers who appear to have triggered the explosion has survived. You also learn how.

He’s about to learn, however, that he’s probably the most unpopular git in America.

The second half contains Captain America’s last interview before his assassination and Tony Stark’s real game plan uncovered by reporters Ben Urich and Sally Floyd.

It also follows the shooting and masochistic re-emergence of the sole survivor of the original massacre as Penance, and the clandestine use of Norman Osborn as a weapon of “choice” and, as such, leads directly into Warren Ellis & Mike Deodato’s magnificently dark and sweaty THUNDERBOLTS.

SLH

Buy Civil War: Front Line s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Captain America: Fallen Son s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & John Cassady, John Romita Jr., David Finch, Ed McGuinness, Leinil Francis Yu.

What a waste of some top-tier artists!

Previously at Page 45, following the most excellent DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA:

“In the meantime, it does make sense to explore such an enormous development in depth — if that’s what Loeb ends up doing.”

Yes, well, I suspected otherwise, and here’s the reason I wish I’d stopped reading ULTIMATES post-Millar and Hitch. (I didn’t, hence this review of Loeb’s ULTIMATES SEASON 3 with a bright red triangle round it as a warning to website traffic of a landslide ahead – if not of rocks, then of standards.)

What is it with Loeb that when teamed up with Sale he’s reasonably magnificent? Is it because those books, like BATMAN: LONG HALLOWEEN, are set in the past? That he’s good at nostalgia? Because modern, he ain’t! This is everything Marvel Comics used to be – juvenile, superficial, crass:

“You ready to do this thing, Thing? Heh. Thing thing.”

Was that one of the pre-pubescent Power Pack twerps trying to impress his babysitter? No, believe or not, that was JESSICA JONES‘ Luke motherfucking Cage.

Anyway, just in case you forgotten how dead Captain America was this week and how terrible it all was, the mourners obligingly remind you during a poker game:

“Spidey, you aint planning on wearing yer mask while we do this?”
“Yeah… uh… sure… just… <sniff> Look, Ben, my eyes are kinda red and… I just never thought…”

Oh, Christ – cartoon emotion.

And then they fight each other, obviously.

SLH

Buy Captain America: Fallen Son 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.

Patience h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Daniel Clowes

Cursed Pirate Girl vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Jeremy Bastian

The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye h/c (£22-50, Pantheon) by Sonny Liew

All My Ghosts (£7-50, Alterna) by Jeremy Massie

Blood And Honor: The Foreworld Saga Graphic Novels (£10-99, Jet City Comics) by Tony Wolf, Erik Bear, Christian Cameron & Joao Viera, Haiwei Hou, Dmitry Bondarenko

Carpet Sweeper Tales (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Julie Doucet

Delilah Dirk And The King’s Shilling (£13-50, FirstSecond) by Tony Cliff

Rivers Of London: Body Of Work (£10-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan

Batman: Arkham Knight – Genesis h/c (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Alisson Borges, Dexter Soy

Starfire vol 1: Welcome Home s/c (£10-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Emanuela Lupacchino

Civil War: Marvel Universe s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis, Paul Jenkins, Dan Slott, Ed Brubaker, more & Marco Silvestri, various

Civil War: Young Avengers And Runaways s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Stefano Caselli

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Dougie Braithwaite & Leandro Fernandez

Bleach vol 66 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

One-Punch Man vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

Paradise Residence vol 1 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Kosuke Fujishima

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth Side: P4 Volume 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Mizunomoto

UQ Holder vol 7 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

News!

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ITEM! We adore Katriona Chapman’s dreamy autobiographical KATZINEs.

Now Katriona Chapman walks Broken Frontier through her KATZINE processes – and earlier work – revealing a few secrets completely new to me!

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ITEM!  Watch Duncan Fegredo draw, draw, then draw some more; redraw, redraw, draw. Top drawer!

More hairstyles than I’ve had in my entire lifetime.

Ryuko

ITEM! Ryuko, apparently. No, not published in English yet – it’s more of an excuse to reproduce that beautiful drawing.

– Stephen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2016 week three

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

This weeks’ new books and extensive, illustrated News underneath!

The Mystic Woods (Signed & Sketched In) (£7-99, self-published) by Rozenn Grosjean.

“You cannot go on living in ignorance.Mystic Woods cover
“It will never bring you happiness.”

An exquisitely beautiful comic whose English-language edition we’ve imported directly from Rozenn in France.

If the colours aren’t enough to make you weep with joy – and I believe they will be – Grosjean has been kind enough to sketch Ansuz, its white raven, in every single copy.

The cover displays a complete command of space as well as weather conditions. I adore the contrast between the wet watercolours bleeding softly beyond the further reaches of the tree – its canopy receding into the mist high above the forest – and the rich, crisp, plumb of the nearest branch and leaves. Between the two Ansuz descends, its equally crisp inverse silhouette quite evidently not of this world.

It’s a cover defined by shapes rather than lines, and the same can be said of much of the interior: the white raven with its yolk-yellow eyes and soft, fleshy pink tongue; its mortal, black brethren perched in the wintry trees later on; the young girl’s fingers and forearms; and the ghostly apparition of Elhaz, the guardian stag-spirit whose pure white glow shimmers in the shallow waters.

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On the following page, I love how the ripples of the young lady’s tears, fallen into the mere, are reflected in the expanding, circular light of the stars.

“Ansuz, the forest has been dwindling for almost a year. What is happening among the spirits?”

What indeed?

It begins with the all-too human girl cupping an onyx-coloured egg ever so gently in her hands, her soft fingers wrapped protectively around its shell. The natural cycle is about to renew. It doesn’t, but why?

This is a haunting story told in three short acts whose middle season with its glacial white snow and frozen greens is juxtaposed with the warmest of purples on either side, the times of transition. The ending is an enigmatic ellipsis whose spectral execution reminded me of the videogame Ico.

Touched on within is our historical interest in omens – in Oracles and other soothsayers – with which the raven has long been associated.

The rest, I leave to you, adding only that the raven’s smile made me do the same, as did Grosjean’s glorious preparatory sketches of the bird in the back, after which follows the original 4-page, black and white story which inspired THE MYSTIC WOODS.

Rozenn’s own magnificent website is linked to in the News section at the bottom of this blog.

SLH

Buy The Mystic Woods (Signed & Sketched In) and read the Page 45 review here

Mercury Heat vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Omar Francia, Nahuel Lopez.

“Mercury’s sun-facing side is hot enough to melt lead. The other is cold enough to liquify oxygen.
“At the border between the two, there is a zone with a survivable temperature.
“It rotates so slowly that its solar day is twice as long as its year.
“On Mercury, you can outrun dawn.”

Gillen’s a dab hand at the 60-second pitch as anyone who’s read the back cover to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE graphic novels knows full well. He’s also quite neat at leaving a beat.

“Just as long as you can keep moving.”

There are ever so many approaches to science fiction, even when set in space. That SAGA is set in space at all is almost is almost tangential to its central core comedy, family, war and romance – except, of course for the diversity of species. Much of THE FUSE, on the other hand, is very much informed by the fact that its police procedural takes place on a gigantic solar panel orbiting Earth, yet one of its delights is its familiarity: space-shuttle interiors resembling aircrafts’ for they serve much the same function; town shop fronts and pavements in what is effectively an indoor city centre.

MERCURY RISING, however, is not only about what might happen specifically on a colonised Mercury and why we’d be there, but the technology we’d develop for – and as a consequence of – a post-skill-set economy. It relishes its cyberpunk elements.

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We’d be there for the solar energy: it’s the planet closest to our sun. Far from post-apocalyptic, an enlightened humanity here has achieved much, proudly reversing our environmental apathy / devastation upon Earth and taking it to another planet instead. Hurrah! You might detect a conflict there. You would be right.

As to the skills which we currently learn in order to earn – during years of soul-destroying, entertainment-free education often followed by a three-year, booze-addled chaser – these can now be plugged in using memory crystals, along with any further top-ups required for specific purposes or locations like learning a language. Kieron has extrapolated further from this. Instead of being recorded in your cranium, one could choose to store specific memories on these crystals, acting effectively as external hard-drives and so jettisoned if proving troublesome. I can think of many social blunders I’d delight in deleting along with a few exes, but there are repercussions. There would also be downsides to deploying emotional dampeners. There are some fairly sound reasons for these emotions, you know.

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Gillen’s inventiveness doesn’t stop there: colour-coding memories – for example false ones, downloaded, so you know they’re not yours – and inserting tabs, little footnotes for future reference or in lieu of what you’ve dispensed with. You’ll see.

Why yes, there would be a black market for memory crystals too; a big one for more sensitive stuff.

So if you can acquire any skill set, what might determine your suitability for a job? Personality types. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that a tendency towards murderous rage might make one a poor match for babysitting, or an overabundance of empathy less than ideal for a seat on the Tory side of our Commons.

At which point I give you what makes much of this even less obvious: our protagonist, Luiza Bora, whose personality was assessed at a tender age and determined to be 57b. Not an ‘a’ or an ‘f’, to be fair, but a 57 all the same.

“I don’t want to hurt people,” she protested when young. She wanted to help people. She wanted to police.

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Unfortunately personality class 57 is not conducive to kindness, nor acceptable for police work on Earth. So a life as a soldier, it was! Until Luiza realised this: 57b ruled out policing on Earth… but not on Mercury.

I’ll leave you to discover the specifics of the career aspects here – no one works under contract any longer; you have to sell yourself on a daily basis via the Grapevine and the tendering process is ingenious – but this is Luiza’s first day on Mercury, she doesn’t have form, so she has to take what she can get. All she can get, for a minimal fee, is a seemingly simple case most would sign off on: the death of one Waldo Burgess separated on the artificial solar belt and burnt up when dawn came upon him. Ouch. I guess he ran out of breath and stopped running. But there’s an anonymous message attached to the case and all of a sudden Luiza’s intrigued.

“While advancing the case to primary will increase your fee,” warns the Grapevine, “initiating unnecessary investigation will negatively affect your Grapevine status.”

I think you can imagine, given that we’re only on page 10, that the investigation will prove just a tad necessary and will encompass almost every aspect of the world I have typed up to date. That impressed me no end.

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It wouldn’t be Gillen if there wasn’t some ‘sploding and there’s plenty of that – this is an action comic – but refreshingly Luiza never did want to hurt anybody, and if the lethal force required impresses individuals then she’s less than impressed with them. These more “tactile” sequences are enhanced with the help of combat upgrades reminiscent of video game-play (Kieron cut his writing skills in games journalism) whose not inexhaustible capacity is monitored by tabs which keep the tension taught while letting the fists and ammo fly.

Nor would it be Kieron without comedy, much of which comes in the less than classy class of technician whom Luiza is lumped with given her limited funds. Oh, and this is emphatically not an all-ages comic.

Omar Francia has dealt with the design work with relish and handles high-octane with aplomb. But when she’s not thrusting her fist in a face, Luiza stands tall, never once thrusting her derrière in your face as is the wont of some artists when given action-orientated lady-leads.

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Better still, there’s a great deal of subtle reaction going on between Luiza and Lucas, and I don’t mean merely reacting to what’s threatening to do them some damage, but to each others’ reactions to what’s threatening to do them some damage. Study those two early pages (above and below) which involve the first act of sabotage, knuckle-crushing metal-wrenching and a beam of extreme heat: over and again, Lucas is reacting to Luiza for she is essential to his survival. It’s a lot less common in illustrated action sequences than you might expect.

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There’s also a delightful and marked softening of lines when it comes to memories of the past – artificial or otherwise.

Don’t think I’m no fan of Lopez – I barely noticed the transition halfway through at the time – but when Francia returns for the ‘Interlude’ (which was original the FCBD edition distributed in advance of the series itself) those forms do surely soften again.

Given how this uses the future to comment on the present and the often robust exchange of ideas (which we call insults), I’d recommend this heartily to fans of Ellis and Robertson’s TRANSMETROPOLITAN – except that this comes with a genuinely Filthy Assistant.

SLH

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

Tokyo Ghost vol 1: Atomic Garden (£7-50, Image) by Rick Remender & Sean Murphy…

“Davey Trauma.
“A psychopathic narcissist and millennial nostalgist who got his mind trapped in the net.
“As soon as we grab one o’ his geeks, Davey shuts them down.
“The world’s a video game to Davey. He can control anyone with a nanopac in ’em.
“Meanin’ everyone.
“Everyone except me. Straight edge perks.”

Rick Remender seems to be on a one-man mission to demonstrate the many possible flavours of speculative and science fiction these days. After his turns doing comedic / weird: BLACK SCIENCE, post-apocalyptic / aquatic: LOW, plus super-heroic: UNCANNY X-FORCE, UNCANNY AVENGERS, and even his CAPTAIN AMERICA: CAST AWAY IN DIMENSION Z involved Steve Rogers being castaway into a dimension where time travelled at a far faster rate to our own (possibly meant metaphorically as well as literally as he did adopt a child whilst there. I feel like I have spent considerable time in Dimension Z, wearing out and aging rapidly, over the last four years since Whackers was born…), he’s now crafted something that is straight-up cyberpunk.

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The year is 2089, the location the Isles of Los Angeles. Society has most definitely polarised even further between the haves and have-nots, to the degree that the streets are basically one big floating cesspool of humanity, tranquilised on cerebral implants pumping out endless entertainment programmes directly into their vision, and nano-tech continuously adjusting and maintaining their emotional states, and even their physical appearances. All at a punitive financial cost, of course.

That vicious cycle of consumption, addiction and consequent fiscal slavery is not the worst of the population’s problems right now, though, at least for the duration of the opening issue. No, that would be Davey Trauma. When Constable Debbie Decay says the world’s a video game to him, she’s not kidding. To Davey, the Isles Of Los Angeles right now is like his own personal Grand Theft Auto as he goes crashing, smashing and spree-murdering his way to fame and high-score glory. Davey has his own twisted gaming rules, however, such as not taking control of Debbie’s police partner and lover, Led, who is practically catatonic in real-world terms, being permanently immersed in the virtual world, plus utterly addicted to – and superjacked up on – steroids, bone growth stimulators, adrenaline and various other physical enhancers. He’s not above taunting her about the fact he could, though – or with his theories about why she’s involved with Led. Ouch.

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This series is as much about Debbie and Led’s peculiar relationship of co-dependence as the central conceit of technology warping the behavioural mores of the individual and wider society. In fact our bipolar duo are just about to be given a mission that will take them to the last straight edge country on the planet: The Garden Nation of Tokyo. For Debbie that’s her idea of heaven. As for how on earth Led will cope getting back to basics and living the good life like Felicity Kendal, well, going organic is going to be a rather more trying experience for him as the narcotic and technological withdrawals really start kicking in. I can well imagine it would be exactly the same if I turned off the wife’s white wine supply and restricted her access to Facebook…

I have commented before that Rick’s artist cohort on BLACK SCIENCE, Matteo Scalera, has a style very similar to Sean Murphy. I do wonder if the choice of Sean for this title is based entirely on Rick’s personal artistic preferences? Plus I’m sure he saw the speculative fiction gold Sean wrought with his own PUNK ROCK JESUS. Combined with the choice of Greg Tocchini for his aquatic artistic endeavours on LOW, messers. Jerome Opena and Daniel Acuna on the Uncanny X&A material, plus Romita Jr. doing a damn fine and trademark distinctive Cap’n A., I can see Greg really seems to appreciate an artist that stands out from the crowd.

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Here Sean’s typically dense use of ultra-fine, myriad, parallel black lines and complex yet distinct detailing is perfect for rendering the frenetic hyper-speed streets and angular lunatics of the not so Angelic Isles. Those delicate touches are equally well-employed to produce some astoundingly beautiful and tranquil landscapes in rather more salubriously well swept streets of the Garden Nation of Tokyo. The phenomenal amount of line work Sean puts in to create some of even the apparently more simple panels and sequences is very deceptive. If you allow your eye to linger and start to deconstruct the art you’ll realise just how much effort goes into every single panel. No short cuts. Such dedication to the craft is what makes him of outstanding illustrative talents of his generation.

JR

Buy Tokyo Ghost vol 1: Atomic Garden and read the Page 45 review here

Agony (£9-99, New York Review Comics) by Mark Beyer…

“The way I see it, Amy, you’ve either got to conform to people’s expectations or pay the penalty, though sometimes there’s a difference between acceptable behaviour and what you can acceptably get away with.”

Wise words there from Jordan towards his long-standing and equally long-suffering companion Amy, not that that particular maxim is going to do either of them the slightest bit of good. Unfortunately for these two, regardless of their good actions and their fervent desire to conform to society’s norms and have some sort of moderately peaceful and undisturbed existence, Mark Beyer seems determined to put them through the wringer in all manner of horrifically surreal ways you can’t even begin to imagine, trust me.

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In fact, let me name a few: being decapitated by a ghost, having your legs bitten off by a fish, being menaced by a bear, surviving nuclear fallout, being abducted by subterranean dwellers and so it goes on and on…

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It seems like Amy and Jordan are forever doomed to suffer their own peculiar brand of urban despair to an extent that would undoubtedly destroy the resolve of anyone to overcome such travails. Anyone except our ever-optimistic duo, that is! Yes, they’ll frequently have their moments of existential crisis when they wonder how the world can possibly be so cruel, but then they’ll find some ingenious method of escaping one particular torment only to fall headlong into the next. Mark Beyer, you are one hilariously cruel bastard!

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The art will undoubtedly perplex and confound many being as simple and surrealistic and just plain stoopid as it is. Most simply won’t like it, some might even assume it’s the deranged doodling of a demented nine year old. It actually really does remind me of the crazy shit a former school friend named Adam Buckle used to draw back in junior school. Last I heard he was a comedy writer which doesn’t surprise me at all. Besides, a ‘story’ this insane wouldn’t work with sensible art, it needs something this deranged to work and frankly I feel the art only adds to the crackpot appeal of it all.

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To my mind it’s just fantastic to see this lost classic from thirty years ago on the shelves again. It feels as fresh and contemporary as it did back then which is testament to the powers of humankind to be endlessly titillated by safely watching the fictional adventures of other people enduring abjectly horrific and perilous situations. Or as the publisher blurb quite rightly states, “Enjoy the ecstasy of agony.” And before you say I’m one sick puppy, I’ll bet you used to laugh at Laurel and Hardy as a kid, you know you did…

JR

Buy Agony and read the Page 45 review here

The Opportunity (£14-99, Myriad) by Will Volley…

“You need an asset, you need to own something of value, and I’m telling you, this is the only company that will give you the opportunity to own your own business within two years.”
“Be a sales manager?”
“No, this isn’t a sales job. If you want to do sales you can go and work at Burger King down the road for five pounds an hour, okay?
“This is an opportunity.
“And you, Ashley, are going to make it big. I guarantee it.
“You have all the potential. You’re a complete natural, but you have to have a goal… something to work towards…”

A searing indictment of the sales companies which are little more than glorified quasi-legal pyramid schemes, preying on graduates insufficiently worldly-wise enough to realise, initially at least, it is all one massive con at their expense. Anyone who has ever been unfortunate to agree to work for one of these companies, on a commission-only, door-to-door basis, trying to sign people up on direct debits for various charities and other things will undoubtedly shudder at the recollection. I think even anyone who has ever spent some time working at a call centre, the next marginal step up on the modern day slave-labour ladder of pain, will probably grimace in sympathy.

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This is the story of Colin, one of those people seemingly on the very brink of making it big, becoming a manager, being given his own sales office, finally starting to reap those huge financial rewards apparently always just around the corner… provided he can continue to keep his sales team motivated for just that little bit longer, to keep hitting those all important targets week after week. So he, sorry they, can all, start to achieve those elusive personal goals.

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Colin, of course, is rapidly heading for a nervous breakdown. As the emotional and physical pressures of worshipping Mammon and marshalling his mesmerised sales team continues to build ever more intently (plus the promised promotion seems simultaneously finally within his grasp… but slipping through his very fingers at the same time), something has clearly got to give. Colin can’t see that, so fixated is he on his belief in his proximity to that ever elusive personal goal…

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This is one of those gleefully painful reads. On the one hand, I felt myself feeling rather sorry for the increasingly desperate Colin, yet at the same time revelling in the torments of such a completely self-centred egomaniac. We all know people like Colin, I think that’s the point, so deluded in their get-rich schemes and dreams that they are utterly unable to see how the levers of cause and effect truly work, either on in the real world or on an internal basis. Self-delusion, compounded by greed, it’s not usually a recipe for a happy life. But it does make for great comics!

The black and white art, with additional grey tone shading, reminds me a tiny bit of early Steve ZENITH Yeowell in places. Colin in particular, when in full fiscal proselytising mode to one of his minions has a wonderfully manic look that, were it come from a random stranger, rather than your trusted boss and mentor, would have you running for the hills.

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One of Will’s self-confessed biggest inspirations is David V FOR VENDETTA Lloyd – and you can definitely see that very strongly as well – which possibly also gives this work a slightly false sense of period, oddly enough. If someone had told me this was published in the nineties I would have completely believed them. That’s not a criticism, merely an observation. There are also some great little dissociations in pencilling style near the end as Colin’s mental collapse really takes hold that made me think of the A-Ha video for Take On Me, which again, probably helped create some strange faux-period association in my mind! I do think for a debut graphic novel this is tremendously accomplished illustration.

JR

Buy The Opportunity and read the Page 45 review here

Embroidered Cancer Comic (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin…

“Come to bed with me…”
“Yeah I guess so.”
“We could look at that Victorian erotica book you like.”
“Huh? No, I’d rather read this book about cancer. Is that ok?”
“Sure, it’s just fine.”

Now, just to clear up any potential misunderstanding, this was not the scene in the Rigby household when I settled down to read this latest work from the publishers of medical-based comics Singing Dragon, following from the excellent works: PAIN IS REALLY STRANGE, WHEN ANXIETY ATTACKS, DAD’S NOT THERE ANY MORE, TRAUMA IS REALLY STRANGE, BLUE BOTTLE MYSTERY: AN ASPERGER ADVENTURE and TAKE IT AS A COMPLIMENT. Nor indeed, just in case the wife is reading, do I possess any Victorian erotica…

No, this is in fact a conversation that takes place between the creator, Elizabeth, and her husband Bob, who has been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. Prior to that particular bombshell it seems like they used to enjoy a fair degree of cuddling and canoodling between the sheets, but clearly the stress of worrying over which medical pathway to proceed with and the effects of the testosterone-blocking tablets he commenced to help prevent tumour growth are having a decidedly negative effect on his ardour.

There are a number of wonderful things about this work that tickled me greatly, despite the inevitable emotional impact of the topic itself. The first being that this is indeed a comic where all the illustrations are scans of embroidery! For Elizabeth Shefrin is a textile artist and it once again goes to show that whilst the output of a sequential-art-based comic is the same ultimate end point, the means and techniques of illustration of getting there are virtually without limit. The only other comic that I could think of employing embroidery, albeit as an embellishment rather than the main approach, is Gareth Brookes’ THE BLACK PROJECT.

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But what completely got me was the humour, and indeed the love. Throughout, there are some lovely visual gags such as when Bob grapples with the conundrum of radiotherapy or surgery. It’ll not surprise you to learn that depending on whether you consult a radiation oncologist or a surgeon, you’re going to get a different answer. The punchline, though, is when Bob decides to consult a shoemaker…

“I recommend a new pair of shoes.”

As Elizabeth comments, cheekily breaking the fourth wall in the next panel, lest we fear that Bob’s cracked mentally and decided to put his faith in some extreme form of alternative medicine… “Of course, that didn’t really happen.”

Phew.

So this then is a snapshot of their journey from unexpected diagnosis to where they are today. I found it very affecting and actually quite uplifting. Happily Bob is still with us. As he and Elizabeth both touch on in their separate afterwords, they have had some dark times, but keeping the communication flowing between each other has been paramount. This comic also forms part of the wider conversation about cancer that needs to happen with the public at large, which is obviously an element of the vital mission of Singing Dragon and bless them for that.

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I had almost made it through tear-free, when I read the concluding afterword from Dr. Peter Black, Bob’s surgeon at Vancouver Prostate Centre, about how there are a few different versions of the prostate cancer journey. How for many it’s not a particularly threatening disease, if caught early. But for others, treatment is started knowing that a cure is not possible.

That was unfortunately the case for my much loved and much missed father-in-law, Michael, who was diagnosed after his prostate cancer had already metastasised and spread to his bones. So anything which helps raise the awareness and therefore hopefully early detection and treatment of prostate cancer can only be a good thing. If this was in a doctor’s waiting room, I am quite sure it’s far more likely to be picked up and read cover to cover by a pensive man than yet another nondescript leaflet. The sad and poignant thing is I can perfectly picture Michael chuckling at the jokes in this work in my mind’s eye. But as Elizabeth quite correctly concludes her afterword… “It is so important that we laugh as well as cry.”

JR

Buy Embroidered Cancer Comic and read the Page 45 review here

Captain America: Marvel Knights vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by John Ney Rieber, Chuck Austen & John Cassaday, Jae Lee, Trevor Hairsine.

“Ninety percent of the casualties of World War I were soldiers, fraulein. But half of the people who died in World War II were civilians.”
“Half?”
“Half of sixty-one million. I know what I’m fighting for. I don’t want to see World War III.”

No. I think we can all agree that a great many more than 50% of casualties during and since 9/11 have been civilian. My best guess? 95%.

For me the first third of this graphic novel is the best work of Cassady’s career so far. He put so much thought into the pacing and compositions which are far from melodramatic. They’re stark and even solemn at times, with a lot of eyes being looked into, unflinchingly.

The opening sequence is almost bereft of colour, hauntingly so, reflecting the ash everywhere after the Twin Towers had fallen. The first flash of primary cover from Dave Stewart is a shield and only a shield against which a knife shatters, held by a hand with murderous intent in a startling flash of anger, revenge-seeking and racist.

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NB: this is not that panel which I couldn’t find online – this is the next page!

Pre-ULTIMATES, this was the first time that Captain America’s mask was drawn with some substance, a leathery thickness, and his chain mail delineated as more than mere patterns but with a solid, pound-coin physicality, indicating their practical, protective functionality.

This appeared a decade and a half ago following the events of 9/11 and America’s reaction to it. It is full of that understandable grief but also informed by a resolute opposition to the well of anger which was so alarmingly prevalent at the time.

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It is not the flag-waving piece of patriotic neo-imperialism the cover might suggest, but a hard, heartfelt and unyieldingly diatribe against war and its terrible consequences.

In a peaceful town now strewn with land mines, in a pew in a church now laced with tripwires (one up against a child’s fallen teddy bear) the hostages held by terrorists are told why and a wife turns to her husband:

This is how you feed our baby? With bombs? You make bombs?”
No! Components – We make components.”

He says, holding his toddler’s hand.

Earlier:

“Land mines outlast wars – aren’t disarmed by treaties. Cluster bomblets fall without detonating – but explode at a touch. Any touch.”

Elsewhen, elsewhere, Nick Fury defends S.H.I.E.L.D.S.’s deployment of terrorist technology.

“They’re the edge that our enemies have, damn it – if we don’t have them too.”
“I know all about your edge. That’s where I’m from. I am military technology. But that’s not all I am.”

Captain America looks him straight in the eye.

 

As I said, this is quiet. I’ve seen this sort of thing bloated with grandstanding verbosity but Rieber’s self-control makes every word count and Cassady has grasped his intentions to perfection. I re-read ‘Enemy’ and ‘Warlords’ today for the sake of review with unequivocal admiration.

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After those tales Chuck Austen took hold of the reins with Trevor Hairsine then Jae Lee in the artistic saddles with Rieber popping round for tea whenever he could. I haven’t re-read ‘The Extremists’ or ‘Ice’ which bring this up to a chunky 16 issues, but I remember enjoying them. To a lesser greater, I concede, but what’s not to love about Harisine’s sturdy forms and crunchy textures and Jae Lee’s spiky, shadow-strewn neo-gothic art? It’s all brooding, angular and monumental, and his original Avengers – Thor, Iron Man, Giant Man and The Wasp – as coloured by the great Jose Villarrubia, dark-and-stormy-night-stylee, are utterly thrilling.

What I have done is found an old review from fifteen years ago for the second half, but it’s a complete change in tone – thoroughly flip – and contains the most MASSIVE SPOILERS. It did, however, make me laugh, so it’s entirely up to you whether you should stay or you should go now.

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Previously in CAPTAIN AMERICA:

World War II: Cap and his perky partner Bucky are battling the evil Baron Zemo, the bloke with the tea towel fixed to his face. Zemo launches a whopping great missile and Buck and Cappy spring on top and try to diffuse the puppy. Oh no! It’s about to explode! Jump, Bucky, jump!

Cap falls off but Bucky is blown to tiny teenage pieces, testosterone all over the place. And that’s it for World War II. The next thing Steve Rogers knows is it’s the 1960s and it’s all a bit chilly on the willy on account of having been thawed from a big block of ice found floating in the Arctic, tossed into the ocean by Prince Namor of Atlantis (postcode unknown).

So there you have it, the established story for the last 40 years. Turns out it’s not the truth, the whole truth nor anything like the truth, so help you God.

Say you were the US of A and – with your super-soldier goody-two-shoes keeping your heads above water – you were struggling against the Nazis and their allies, particularly those sneaky ones who redecorated Pearl Harbour without so much as a fabric or colour consultation. And say you finally managed to develop a great big bomb with Enola Gay written all over it, and you decided to drop it on Japan. Well, you don’t think the upstanding Captain would be very pleased about that. In fact, he’d almost certainly attempt to stop you, and nothing much has got in his way before so it’s time for the ultimate decommission.

Put the man on ice, so to speak.

And that’s what they did. It wasn’t some freak accident that saw the Captain spend the 50s in suspended animation. It was the government. The same one he’d been fighting for fearlessly, tirelessly before and ever since.

So upset is Mr. Steve “The Clean” Rogers that he contemplates casual sex. Good grief!

I don’t think this is canon any longer.

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SLH

Buy Captain America: Marvel Knights vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven.

This is a fiercely writtenCivil War cover seismic schism between friendships under pressure from a law long overdue, and ignited in a moment of reckless, pre-emptive presumption.

It’s nothing remotely like the film, imminent, but that is why the graphic novel’s tie-ins are being re-released – some of which we’ll cover, briefly – but it seems stupid do so without republishing an edited edition of the central series’ review.

The Super Hero Registration Act was brought forward after a bunch of attention-seeking, vigilante, not-so-super-powered children bit off more than they could chew whilst filming for a Reality TV show, causing the devastation of an entire neighbourhood in Stamford and the mass slaughter of its inhabitants. Of course action is demanded, and action is taken: all so-called superheroes are now legally obliged to register with the government, surrender their identities, and accept both instruction and instructions in order to minimise loss of life and the destruction of property whilst maximising a coherent fight against crime.

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For some, like Captain America, this is an issue of privacy and independence. Those arguments are compellingly made. For others, like Iron Man, it’s the only way to preserve their existence as well as the only responsible option under the circumstances. And on a second read through, those arguments are not just compelling but pretty irrefutable.

One reason why this works is that between the eruptions of consequent, catastrophic combat, Millar allows the sharing of perspectives in a spectrum of colours, whilst those eruptions themselves force the combatants’ hands. Before they know where they are, it’s completely out of control, and already enraged passions give way to blind self-justification, treachery and death.

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I don’t know if any other commentators have remarked on this, but the other main reason this works is the current political climate – in America and Great Britain at least. If we lived in countries where we actually admired, had faith in or remotely trusted our governments and their corporate sponsors to do the right thing with our personal information, our money and our armies, Captain America’s arguments would resonate with us not one jot. Look at reasonable people’s reactions to Columbine and this latest campus terror: restrict arms sales! If these acts of callous brutality had been committed by psychopaths with frightening abilities, you’d want this legislation too. You’d see it as the safest, most practical and progressive improvement in law enforcement which only a coordinated, professional strike team of superheroes could bring. But we don’t trust our governments precisely because they do send their soldiers into illegal wars, they do use them to conquer foreign oil fields, and they do hand over the reconstruction contracts to their business buddies. And they don’t half fuck up with their computer systems, dissemination of private information leading to identity theft.

That, I think, is why so many readers including myself instinctively sided with Captain America: not because Millar puts better arguments into his mouth, but because we feel an instinctive disgust and distrust for our current governments, most forms of control, and corporate figure-heads like Tony Stark. Although there’s plenty later on to justify our suspicions, including the unnatural cloning and technological enhancement of a missing Marvel character (that’s another of our worries: scientists playing God, in this case playing God with a God, and that turns out to be a wretched mistake indeed), and Hank Pym loftily declaring, “The public needs super-people they can count on,” whilst popping a pill down his gormless gullet.

Emotive moments include little lines like the Black Panther’s: “Word of advice, Reed. Call Susan.”

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Which brings us to McNiven who doesn’t blow those scenes with melodramatic expressions (he gets plenty of release throughout the course of this book, don’t you worry!). He’s softened up considerably since his NEW AVENGERS run: his body language and faces have improved enormously, whilst Morry Hollowell’s colouring keeps the pages warm and atmospheric.

It’s not perfect, and I would heartily recommend picking up CAPTAIN AMERICA : THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA next so that the story moves on even further for you, but conversely I’d also recommend you shy away from most of the tie-in collections to this tome except (maybe – only maybe) for ROAD TO CIVIL WAR.

I’m not going to go to do an INHUMANS, an IDENTITY CRISIS, an ALIAS a SLEEPER, a GOTHAM CENTRAL, an ULTIMATES or a HAWKEYE on you, and claim that this is one of those very rare instances of a superhero book that those who normally distance themselves from this genre should overcome their prejudices to pick up. In spite of the politics, this doesn’t have quite that broad an appeal, I don’t think. On the other hand, it’s not too esoteric, either, and I think Millar was wise not to bother explaining who half these people are on the occasions when it didn’t really matter.

SLH

Buy Civil War and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Captain America / Iron Man s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, Christos N. Gage, Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev, various.

A very mixed bag which unfortunately contains the only reprint of ‘The Confession’ by Bendis and Maleev, a poignant two-part reprise in which Iron Man addressed Captain America, and Captain America addresses Iron Man under very specific circumstances which I cannot impart for fear of spoiling the first half’s punchline or the end to CIVIL WAR itself.

All I will say is it was typical of Bendis’ instinct for unorthodox storytelling that they are presented in the order they are, and quite rightly so for hindsight is a very cruel mistress courting dramatic irony like she or he was the last lady or gent in town.

DAREDEVIL ’s Alex Maleev delivers it directly and you’ll note that although in the first half – the actual, honest, titular Confession – Stark takes off his helmet, in the second sequence Iron Man keeps his mask on throughout even though the two former friends are alone.

The effect is a stony silence, Captain America’s words effectively bouncing back off the intransigent, impassive metal as if unheard or at least unfelt.

Civil War Captain America Iron Man

I can’t say any more but, given that £18-99 is a steep price to pay for twenty pages, however well worded – King Pyrrhus is referenced with good reason – and however effectively and affectingly drawn, we really won’t mind if you just skip to the end of the volume whilst in the shop and read it from start to finish.

The Brubaker & Tim Perkins / Lee Weeks CAPTAIN AMERICA chapters which precede it, you can pick up in that title’s regular run of graphic novels: you won’t need this for that.

It’s another sci-spy instalment in which the undermining of Sharon Carter, Steve Rogers’ on/off lover, fellow SH.I.E.L.D. agent and unwitting instrument of [REDACTED] begins on the very first page, and it’s gripping stuff.

It’s a book in which the Superhero Registration Act is discussed passionately by those supposed to enforce the law, and stars its own supporting cast while the good Captain fights the good, bad and the ugly fight in the pages of the CIVIL WAR itself.

Most interesting for those following the fortunes of former S.H.I.E.L.D. commander Nick Fury (SECRET WAR singular etc.), is the tactically brilliant way in which he inserts himself back into the main frame without emerging from hiding, except in very plain sight. And that’s not as cryptic as you might think, if you read it carefully. Gorgeous, shadowy art, like Sean Phillips bathed in milk.  Hell, I know what I mean.

The rest of this is utterly banal fluff in which Captain America and Iron Man meet mid-hostilities to spell out the bleeding obvious to stoopids, so ruining Mark Millar’s subtleties completely.

Reprints CAPTAIN AMERICA (2005) #22-24, WINTER SOLDIER: WINTER KILLS #1, IRON MAN (2005) #13-14, IRON MAN/CAPTAIN AMERICA: CASUALTIES OF WAR #1 and CIVIL WAR: THE CONFESSION #1.

SLH

Buy Civil War: Captain America / Iron Man s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Wolverine s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Marc Guggenheim & Humberto Ramos.

And so the barrel-scraping begins: anodyne and ugly rubbish.

Follow the fortunes of Nitro if you want – it really wasn’t the point of CIVIL WAR – but nine years ago I wrote:

“Complete and utter pants.

“I cannot believe that the man responsible for the substantial mini-series HYPERION VS. NIGHTHAWK, currently playing its political self out, wrote this melodramatic piece of claptrap.

“Ramos’ awkward, posturing figure work doesn’t help, and between them they came out with the very worst example of superficial drivel I have had the misfortunate to endure since… well, Wednesday, actually.”

SLH

Buy Civil War: Wolverine s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman And Robin Eternal vol 1 s/c (£22-50, DC) by James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder & Tony S. Daniel, various…

“Wait, are you a superhero too? How many costumed teens are running around Gotham these days?”
“Back away from my roommate or… Spoiler alert! You’re gonna gargle teeth!”
“They giving out costumes in cereal boxes now?”

The ‘joke’ being that it is Harper Row aka Bluebird being ‘rescued’ from Dick Grayson by Stephanie Brown aka the Spoiler. Also, as the original costumed pre-teen, what right does Dick have to criticise anyone, especially in the area of sartorial elegance, for running around rooftops in ludicrous garb. This story takes place during the current run of Scott Snyder’s BATMAN, whilst Bruce is taking an amnesia induced break from bashing heads and believes himself to be merely a philanthropic businessman, and Jim Gordon is standing in as the new state-sponsored, head-smashing caped detective over in DETECTIVE COMICS.

So when someone starts coming after all of the Batman’s considerable cadre of sidekicks, it’s up to the various Robins, past and present, to look into matters and take care of their own. What they uncover is a shadowy people trafficker code-named Mother who has some rather disturbing historical links to the Dark Knight himself. But with Bruce being, well quite literally just Bruce, they can’t turn to their former mentor, either with accusations, or for answers. And with secret agents, double agents and sleeper agents seemingly lurking everywhere, Dick and his chums seemingly can’t trust anyone… especially the newsagents. Because, as everyone knows, if you want to make sure of getting your regular standing order, particularly for a weekly title like this one, you need to find a comic shop you can trust. Oh, seem to have slipped in retailer rather than reviewer mode there…

Following on from the rather enjoyable weekly romp BATMAN ETERNAL that was also joint penned by Snyder and James Tynion IV, this self-contained story is clearly going to add another typically Snyder-esque layer of ret-conned complexity to the Bat-mythos. There are some lovely little flashbacks to Dick Grayson as the young Robin, joking and messing around in a manner Neil BATMAN: ODYSSEY Adams would heartily approve of, if not Bruce…

There’s a staggering array of Bat-characters, heroes and villains, in this first volume alone, matched only by the numbers of artists DC have employed: 18 pencillers, 6 colourists and err… 15 letterers, in producing this work. There are also 7 people credited with scripting duties! I understand it must be rather a push to get a weekly title out, but it does seem a trifle excessive to me. Anyway, it perhaps surprisingly doesn’t suffer remotely for keeping the entirety of the DC Bullpen in gainful employment. The story feels tighter than young Dick’s neon green tights riding up his bumcrack and the slew of art styles works rather well with the constant switching and shifting of characters and time periods. So far so good.

JR

Buy Batman And Robin Eternal vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Uptight #5 (£7-50, Fantagraphics) by Jordan Crane

Eyelash Out (£3-00, Retrofit) by Ben Sea

Future Shock Zero (£12-00, Retrofit) by various

Ikebana (£4-00, Retrofit) by Yumi Sakugawa

Mowgli’s Mirror (£6-00, Retrofit) by Oliver Schrauwen

Ink For Beginners: A Comic Guide To Getting Tattooed (£3-00, Retrofit) by Kate Leth

The Unmentionables (£4-50, Retrofit) by Jack Teagle

Judge Dredd: America (£13-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner & Colin MacNeil

Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography restocks (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown

Mystery Circus – Week One (£9-99) by Verity Hall

Nameless h/c (£18-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham

Phonogram vol 3: The Immaterial Girl (£10-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

The Beauty vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley

Pocket Full Of Coffee (£5-00) by Joe Decie

Wormwood Gentleman Corpse Omnibus s/c (£22-50, IDW) by Ben Templesmith

Batman vol 7: Endgame s/c (£12-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Batman vol 8: Superheavy h/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Gotham Academy vol 2: Calamity s/c (£10-99, DC) by Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher & Karl Kerschl, Mingjue Helen Chen, Msassyk

Captain America And Falcon: Complete Christopher Priest Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Christopher Priest & various

Civil War: Fantastic Four s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by J. Michael Straczynski & Mike McKone, Paul Pope

Civil War: Front Line s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & various

Civil War: X-Men s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by David Hine, Fabien Nicieza, Peter David & various

Secret Wars (UK Edition) s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic

Secret Wars h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic

Superior Iron Man vol 2: Stark Contrast s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & Laura Braga, Yildiray Cinar, Felipe Watanabe

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor vol 1: Weapons Of Past Destruction (£10-99, Titan) by Cavan Scott & Blair Shedd, Rachael Stott

Birthday Wishes To A Magnificent Chap Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Birthday Wishes To A Truly Wonderful Lady (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Pack Of 4 Thank You Foiled Bees Notelets (£4-00, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Pack Of 4 Thank You Foiled Ladybird Notelets (£4-00, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

You Did Good! Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

News!

ITEM! It’s raining Trinder teapots!

Raining Laura Trinder Teapots

Laura Trinder AKA @xbirdyblue artist on Benjamin Read / Improper Books’ NIGHT POST – tweeted her glorious design the other day, I retweeted then my Tweetdeck Notifications column became a cascade of porcelain as others’ followed retweeted my retweet!

Laura Trinder’s original teapots design in all its refined, full-sized glory Pretty!

Porcelain Ivory Tower

ITEM! Speaking of Improper Books, the finale to PORCELAIN VOL 1 and PORCELAIN VOL 2 (Page 45’s biggest selling graphic novel of 2015) is called PORCELAIN IVORY and Chris Wildgoose is already working on its inks, above.

Jillian Tamaki Subway

ITEM! Jillian Tamaki’s Subway Poster now available as prints. Beautiful!

Foxfire

ITEM! Here’s a Tumblr of art to make your swoon, from the forthcoming Foxfire by Wratt.

Retrofit

ITEM! Retrofit Comics Kickstarter to print more comics – by Eleanor Davis, Leela Corman and co.!

This is SO worth supporting. Above is a batch of Retrofit Comics we got in today, online and linked to under Also Arrived.

Matt Madden’s DRAWN ONWARD, was a Retrofit title: the cleverest comic of last year and one of our Page 45 Comicbook Of The Months.

ITEM! Watch enchanting footage of FeltMistress adorning a barren winter suburb with wonder and colour!

All the characters in DESTINATION KENDAL were created by FeltMistress based on Jonathan Edward’s designs, then photographed by Sean Phillips, all in aid of annual Lakes International Comics Art Festival in Kendal. So funny, so beautiful! Guest-stars Sean Phillips himself! Poor Sean!

Colour Wheel

ITEM! Marissa Louise’s breathtakingly illustrated, extensive essay on colour and colouring comics for Women Write About Comics.

ITEM! Creators: Lerner Books calls for submissions of graphic novels in the middle-grade to Young Adult range. Clear submission guidelines included. I have no illustrative image, sorry!

ITEM! MUNNU’s Malik Sajad is Verve’s Storyteller of the Year!

Well deserved too – oh, how I adored Malik Sajad’s MUNNU, a thinly designed graphic memoir about growing up in Kashmir and another Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month in 2015. Lovers of Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS will adore it!

ITEM! Finally, the wonderful website of Rozenn Grosjean, creator of THE MYSTIC WOODS, reviewed by Page 45, above.

Cats

 

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Rozenn with all my heart for her original sketches in each and every copy of THE MYSTIC WOODS which she sent us from France (I don’t think it’s available anywhere else in the UK) and for sacrificing her last 28 copies of this English translation which will be on their way to us in a week if you see “out of stock” on our website. At the time of typing we still have half a dozen of our original batch left, but do order now please, whatever it says, because we sold half our original stock in a single day when I started tweeting, and once those 28 restocks are gone, they are gone until Rozenn reprints!

Thanks ever so much!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2016 week two

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

Features the first of Neil Gaiman, Mark Buckingham and D’Israeli MIRACLEMAN volumes, entirely accessible to newcomers.

Hubert (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Ben Gijsemans.

An exquisitely beautiful book with a refined palette restricted to pale creams and antler greys enriched with earthen warmth then printed on thick, calico-coloured paper.

When deep olive greens finally make an appearance they lie far from coincidentally inside and just outside Mr Hubert’s flat: the Swiss Cheese Plant rising from behind his armchair and the more delicate leafy foliage of his neighbour’s window box, opposite, below.

Suspended in space, in the middle of otherwise empty pages, that window forms the occasional focus of Mr Hubert’s attention through his own, while he paints portraits of women from photographs he has taken in a Brussels art gallery, then enlarged on his laptop.

Hubert 0

 

Mr Hubert is a great admirer of these classical paintings, visiting the museum almost every weekend to spend hours fixated on a single tableaux.

It’s there we begin, Gijsemans reproducing one’s experience of being absorbed in a painting – the eyes being drawn into then over different details before attempting to assess the whole – even as others’ curiosity is only momentarily piqued or pass by with a specific destination in mind. There are two pages each containing nine square panels encompassing exactly the same space from the same angle as its occupants come and go, including a mother and child.

“Come on, love, let’s get your coat.”
“Are we going home?”

Only reluctantly does Mr Hubert move on.

Hubert 1

 

Hubert 2

It’s a very quiet book, light on dialogue, partly because Mr Hubert is a solitary man who lives alone. In addition, he’s simply not very good at conversation. When attempted, it’s awfully awkward. When his lonely landlady living below invites him in for a drink he usually declines. Perhaps he might accept, just the once.

She likes art too, and has a large reproduction of Manet’s Olympia hanging above her mantelpiece. Nude and slightly confrontational, it could be considered a conversation starter. Or a conversation stopper.

Hubert 3

It’s so quiet that on some of Mr. Hubert’s many visits to the museum you can almost hear his footsteps echoing in the empty gallery as he approaches a specific exhibit. But between the calm solemnity of the Fine Art establishment and his equally silent sanctuary, the city itself must be negotiated and Gijsemans suddenly and abruptly throws in an overwhelming double-page spread of complete chaos and cacophony: a kaleidoscope of concrete and cranes – of cityscape impressions lurching at angles against each other without panel gutters to buffer them, as disorientating to our eyes as they are to Mr. Hubert’s…!

Then peace is restored once more.

The lines here are too delicate for any of these pages to be described as regimented, even when fixed with the same unyielding focus as when Mr Hubert is persuaded to give a bloke a lift back from Paris to Brussels. But they are very precise. There’s a formality to them reflective of the dialogue. It’s difficult to know what Mr. Hubert is thinking behind his glasses, behind his eyes. He often seems furtive, uncertain, nervous, perhaps disconcerted, especially when others are taking photographs in the galleries, or ask him to. I think he thinks he’s being watched by those two on admissions.

Hubert 4

The funniest pages are when Mr. Hubert draws his blinds so that he can no longer be distracted by the opposite window when painting. Or reading. Or watching TV. But he simply can’t settle.

Sometimes hiding something, obscuring it from view, can prove far more fixating than leaving it in plain sight.

As Baroque painters Guido Reni or Caravaggio knew very well.

SLH

Buy Hubert and read the Page 45 review here

Miracleman Book 4: The Golden Age vol 1 h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Neil Gaiman & Mark Buckingham with D’Israeli.

Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s first of three MIRACLEMAN Ages, perfectly accessible to newcomers. If you’ve not encountered Alan Moore’s run on MIRACLEMAN, no matter. I’ve not read it in 25 years and, in any case, this is a completely different game, a completely different genre.

In fact, it’s a series of short stories in multiple genres with Mark Buckingham employing multiple styles using multiple media – often in the same chapter.

This is “What if Gods walked among us? What would our lives be like?”

This is not their story; this is ours. And it is ever so rich in ideas.

“It was the best of times.
“And what was miraculous was this: everybody knew it…
“For once in our history, the Golden Age was not separated from our hearts and minds by the incomprehensible gulfs of misty-eyed time. It was here. It was now. It was ours.
“God was in his Heaven…
“All was right with the world.”

Miracleman Golden Age 0

In a book spanning seven years we will meet individuals whose lives have been changed by the Age of Miracles and the catastrophe in London which preceded it.

It begins overlooking London and the gleaming, golden statue of Miracleman posed like Lord Nelson atop his column, before pulling ever upwards to take in the Thames and the unimaginably vast new Pyramid, Olympus, which we see rising above the clouds, above the atmosphere, far more visible from space than the Chinese Wall as the sun blazes behind our globe, then finally above them both, above us all… Miracleman gazing down upon us, this thoughts, his perspective, unknowable.

Miracleman Golden Age 1

In the first chapter we meet a man who lost everything in London except Hope. He lost his family in that atrocity but now he is making a pilgrimage along with three others, climbing Olympus to pray and petition. Imagine: making a pilgrimage not to some city made holy through associations with the past, but to petition God himself in the flesh.

At the foot of the steps, the base of this cathedral, Buckingham has created the most massive vaulted ceilings most minds’ eyes couldn’t even contemplate, coloured in gold by D’Israeli like so many more Baroque details to come which are embossed with the Miracleman logo. One is left in no doubt of the awe shared by these strangers. The colours become trippier under more modern, neon installations, a hint of the frazzling some minds will suffer as the atmosphere becomes rarer, one individual undergoing a complete Bill Sienkiewicz, expressionistic meltdown.

And what will they encounter at the top? What are their prayers? How will they be answered?

Miracleman Golden Age 2

The second tale is told during a post-coital cigarette, Jason’s first, to a lover under cover of the sheets. It’s of his own little miracle – an encounter and an escape to the seaside full of period British details.

The third also involves a love life, drawn with an apposite ‘80s poster chic reminiscent of comics’ Paul Smith, as a whisper from lonely John Gallaway is overheard by Miraclewoman high up in the sky during in an electrical thunderstorm. He has retired to a countryside windmill which forms part of a worldwide network powering the planet after becoming disillusioned by imperfections in his lovers. Typing those two sentences reminds me just how intricately Gaiman layered his ideas.

Miracleman Golden Age 3

Next up is the one episode which might require a bit of prior MIRACLEMAN knowledge, but there is a full-page recap at the front of the book. It’s a discussion between two school children – and arguments between others each drawn in a different kids’ cartoon style about the increasing probability of modern miracles – about the possible return of Kid Miracleman, the cause of the catastrophe in London, just as Jesus rose from the dead. I like the flipping of the sides there. The one thing that puzzles me still about the interlude is why the girl is drawn like Jaime Hernandez’s Hopey. I’m sure once someone points it out, it will seem ridiculously obvious. Is it the anti-establishment angle? Possibly, yes. I know why the whole is drawn as it is: for the sake of a punchline I don’t think you’ll see coming. I know I didn’t.

And so to my favourite, ‘Notes From The Underground’, the characters drawn in white pencil crayon (a chalk-like effect) against almost pitch-black subterranean scenes of photorealistic classical beauty reflecting Olympus above them. They’re lit by D’Israeli in dark purples and greens like a tropical nocturnal house in a zoo.

Down below Mors is resurrecting the dead into android bodies, like Andy Warhol who really is a scream. He’s actually Andy 6 because there are multiple, identical copies – of course there are! Andy is success-orientated, money-fixated, fey, jealous, bitchy and ever so slightly vacuous. It’s a perfect impression!

“I wish there was money down here, though. Without money, how do you know you’re doing well?”

It’s a recurrent joke which becomes cumulatively funnier. I won’t spoil it for you.

“We’ve started telling each other stories.
“I like stories. Stories make me happy.
“The trouble is, he wants me to talk, too, and I just like listening, and watching.
“I stayed away for a few days, but then the other Warhols started asking if we’d had a tiff. They’re rats.
“I don’t like myself very much.”

As I say, a perfect portrait as are Buckingham’s. That particular scene with its immaculate compositions made me howl.

Miracleman Golden Age 4

As you can probably tell by now, so much of this is about the human heart. Society may have changed – science or miracles too, but the human heart hasn’t and, as much as anything else, this is a book of contemplation.

Our next heart belongs to Rachel Cohn, a film director who wanted a child to melt a cold place inside her: someone who would adore her, need her and never leave her – at least not for long. Her partner’s certainly unfaithful. So she applied, like other childless women, for a donation of Miracleman’s seed. The result was beautiful baby Mist, who looks like a two-year-old toddler but doesn’t need her mother at all. She floats in the air, glowing, and can traverse the globe in a second. There’s far more going on in her head than it looks. She doesn’t say “Mommy” but “Mother”.

“Mother? How’s the new movie going?”
“It’s fine, hon.”
“That’s good. I saw the last one.”
“Did you like it?”
“Mm. It was okay. But metafictions have an intrinsic distancing effect I think you’re foolish to ignore: the ideas were strong, but if you don’t care about the people, then what does it matter?”

Out of the mouths of babes…

Miracleman Golden Age 5

There’s a children’s story within this story told at bedtime which contains an awful lot of “Good-bye”s.

All these individuals we will meet once again after a grainy, photo-referenced ‘Spy Story’ of signs, countersigns, double- and triple-crosses, and reality-eroding, raging paranoia.

Like the opening gambit, ‘Carnival’ is a pilgrimage, this time a public one where our by now familiar faces join tens if not hundreds of thousands celebrating the Age of Miracles in London after five days of mourning the modern holocaust. It’s a truly inclusive affair, a climax which concludes with a boon, an act of divine beneficence, the one gift so many of us dream about.

Next: The Silver Age.

After that: well, that one is all about Them.

SLH

Buy Miracleman Book 4: The Golden Age vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Katzine: The Eagle Issue (£5-50, self-published) by Katriona Chapman.

It’s become tradition to kick off any KATZINE review with a declaration of adoration when it comes to the covers and production values.

KATZINE #1
KATZINE #2
KATZINE #3
KATZINE #4

I did it over and over again – and why wouldn’t I? Because look!

(Okay, not so much with #4, but only because I failed to find time to write anything at all – I can assure you I read it with relish!)

These are no chapbooks – cheap affairs knocked out for maximum accessibility in t’olden days – but amongst the most luxurious mini-comics of all time with the most sensuous pencils printed on warm, fine-grained paper stock with even thicker card covers.

Speaking of covers, wait until you open this one up for the Eagle-fish interface endpapers! Such balletic grace and beauty!

Truly this is the EAGLE ISSUE, Chapman wisely now eschewing enumeration in favour of theme or content on account of readers believing they needed to buy the lot and read in a specific order. You do need to buy the lot – obviously – but you don’t. Each autobiographical outing is completely self-contained with episodes from any era of Chapman’s adventurous life.

Don’t mistake introversion for agoraphobia or indeed self-absorption. Katriona has travelled widely both in Britain and abroad and has much to impart to those eager to listen and learn, rendered in a way which perfectly captures the spirit of place. You might as well be travelling with her.

Regular features return this issue – ‘Local Business’, ‘Fear’ and ‘Love’ along with a botanical page – but there’s also a break for Katriona to explain to the uninitiated from personal experience what being shy does and does not involve. Like Allie Brosh’s HYPERBOLE AND A HALF, this is done solely to promote greater understanding of the misunderstood, and extroverts would be well advised to take a moment out of their convivial lives to take note of the Energy Bucket. These are no melodramatic, egomaniacal, attention-seeking vapidities or woe-is-me wailings, but considered reflections on life.

The most thrilling feature this issue involves the titular eagle in which Chapman displays a masterful comprehension of both story building and narrative cohesion in comics. It’s a thrilling four-page encounter on an uninhabited island whose own rugged contours form the adventure’s background, rising then falling over the twin, double-page spreads as Chapman herself explores upwards to her spell-binding sighting in the sky before returning to her more sedentary mother below to witness the puffins they came for in the first place. The inset panels too reflect the semi-symmetrical nature of the narrative – the puffins first sighted far off then tantalisingly close.

All of which bodes wonderfully well for the extended graphic memoir which Chapman is now embarking upon and whose progress she intends to catalogue throughout future KATZINEs in her ‘Graphic Novel Diary’. And if you think that bodes well, you should read her astute self-analysis in this issue’s first instalment, about the considerable and rigorous editorial decisions necessary for moulding a gripping story out of potentially endless and so lifeless clay. Hint: you don’t just slap everything you experience out on the page because then you’re left with tales told by idiots, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Conversely, for thought-provoking, philosophical brilliance which has been so cleverly crafted – and rigorously arranged / edited, please see Eddie Campbell’s ALEC OMNIBUS.

Cheers!

SLH

Buy Katzine: The Eagle Issue and read the Page 45 review here

Thief Of Thieves vol 5: Take Me (£10-99, Image) by Andy Diggle & Shawn Martinbrough.

In which a friend in prison proves quite the motivational factor.

“So what are you in for?”
“Ambition, I guess.”

The first four volumes of THIEF OF THIEVES were a complex series of sly slights of hand, right from the word go, and deliciously so.

Readers were as fooled by writers Spencer, Asmus and Diggle as the FBI agents and less salubrious citizens were by con-man and master thief Conrad Paulson’s long-game manipulations under his infamous guise of Redmond. They never managed to successfully link the two, indeed Paulson’s successfully sued the government twice for false accusations and harassment.

This… this is a much more streamlined scenario, and the surprise is very refreshing.

Conrad has finally done what his ex always wanted and retired, unscathed.

His son Augustus has finally done what his Dad always wanted and stopped attempting to emulate him when he was frankly never any good at it. And do you know what? Wouldn’t it be lame if every predator proves to be an intransigent, spotty leopard?

Everyone can finally breathe out… except for Celia, Paulson’s partner in crime, who’s in far greater need of hard cash than Conrad. With Conrad no longer using it, she adopts his former identify of Redmond, and promptly gets herself arrested and charged not just with her own crime but with all of Redmond’s too.

How in hell are they going to get out that one?

No less clever than ever, I promise you!

Thief Of Thieves vol 5

For much longer, more analytical reviews, please see former THIEF OF THIEVES.

SLH

Buy Thief Of Thieves vol 5: Take Me and read the Page 45 review here

The Talion Maker Part 2 (£3-50, self-published) by Neal Curtis…

“… I would also like to thank anyone who has or is trying to make a comic. It is very difficult and I have the utmost respect for you.”

So writing a comic is hard? But what about reviewing them, Neal??!! I’ll let him off actually, because he’s very kindly also thanked Page 45 for our support and encouragement. Plus, he’s just published an academic work entitled Sovereignty and Superheroes, so I do know he has also earned his writing about comics chops.

Stephen reviewed THE TALION MAKER PART 1 (there will be three in total), but just to add I found that opener one of the most engrossing and best written comics I had read for a long time, the seamless continual blending of the threads of the story with tangential transitions so subtle you frequently didn’t realise they’d happened until a panel or two later, when it suddenly occurred that you’d been steered off in a slightly different, albeit highly pertinent, direction.

Thus there was a real sense to me in part one of building a picture. Or rather presenting you with the pieces of a jigsaw one by one, minus the box, and encouraging you to try and assemble it. So what we did we learn by the end of that first part? I think we possibly do need a quick recap before I talk about this second part.

So… New Media Lecturer Daniel has managed to get himself ousted from his University by dint of punching the Dean in the face. The Dean deserved it, indisputably, for his shameless, craven lack of support of Daniel when one of his students sent some Bob Dylan lyrics to Downing Street as an Iraq War protest.

One student risibly arrested under new draconian Anti-Terrorism Legislation later – plus an ill-advised interview given by Daniel which was, shall we say, provocatively edited by a right-wing tabloid journalist with an agenda rather than an interest in promoting the truth – and, well, Daniel’s recourse to some fist-in-the-face stress relief was probably morally justified if not entirely sensible. Pretty sure we’ve all felt like belting a boss at some point, though. Good on you, Daniel, that’s what I and probably 99% of the population would say. Unless you’re an employee of Page 45 obviously, whose bosses are perfect and beyond reproach…

Matters were also tragically compounded further when Daniel lost his girlfriend Hannah, murdered in a neo-Nazi arson attack on an independent bookshop. The Minister for Immigration immediately took to the airwaves to tell everyone Hannah had terrorist links whereas actually she was a much-loved human rights lawyer. You would think by now that the public would recognise the relentless spin soundbites and sneaky reputation-trashing that goes on day in day out, but the politicians know that the vast majority of people subconsciously yearn to trust their leaders so, so much, that they can get away with murder. Quite literally. So what’s a daily dose of a few barefaced lies on practically every topic you care to mention on top for good measure too?

But now, with a eulogy to give, and the wounds of his loss still so raw in his mind and his soul, Daniel is a man pondering how best to obtain some further… summary justice. For let me remind you, the definition of talion is “a retaliation authorized by law, in which the punishment corresponds in kind and degree to the injury.” Or, shall we say… an eye for an eye…

It seems that Daniel might now be becoming increasingly set on a course of action that is, to him at least, morally justifiable according to his own innate, grief-stricken sense of justice, though what he’s possibly intending is certainly not legal in the courts of British law.

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Ah… once again Neal ably demonstrates you do not have to be a great illustrator to make great comics. I have shown part one, and sold it, to several people who have come in to Page 45 asking about making comics, as an example of how great writing can overcome more mediocre illustration.

I guess a few more years of several hours drawing practice a day and I have no doubt Neal’s illustrative abilities will match his conceptual and storytelling ones! I’m teasing, I know he’s a busy man. Plus I don’t want a punch in the face from an irate Lecturer in New Media. Who would? I’ve heard they’re a fearsome bunch with as solid a sense of social justice as you wouldn’t want to feel connecting with your chin…

What Neal does have, mind you, is exceptional abilities in the area of panel and page composition. There are a number of delightful devices and conceits used here, as in part one, which greatly add to the storytelling. From a certain something lurking under the bed in corner of the very first panel which I fear speaks volumes about Daniel’s splintered state of mind, to the overlaid-panel-within-multiple-bordering-panels presentation of the poem about refugees than Daniel finally settles on for his funereal reading, they all embellish a story that already has considerable depths to it.

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Indeed, having just re-read the final few pages I’ve just taken a rather more ominous additional meaning from the final stark panel which sits boldly on its own on the final page. There’s a subtext I’ve possibly been trying to avoid which I now suspect is rising rapidly to the surface. Maybe… And that’s one of the delights of this yarn: it’ll certainly make you think. Daniel, I fear, well, I am pretty sure Daniel has been thinking about it all far too much…

You might conclude I haven’t actually told you too much of the plot for part two. That’s true, I’d prefer you to continue to try and construct the jigsaw for yourself as Neal pseudo-randomly doles the pieces out, shifting backwards and forwards temporally. Suffice to say, this second part does feel like a necessary bridging work. Or perhaps the analogy of walking across a see-saw might be more appropriate. For once you’ve crossed that midway point, the plank is coming down whether you like it or not with increasing rapidity in a manner that is not under your control. I suspect this might well be the case for Daniel.

But as to what the completed picture will look like when the final pieces are placed down, that I genuinely just don’t know. Which in and of itself is an intriguing pleasure, and the sign of a great plot. For that resolution we will have to wait patiently for the third and concluding act…

JR

Buy The Talion Maker Part 2and read the Page 45 review here

Things I Think About Sometimes (£3-00) by Stanley Miller…

Stanley WIZARDS N STUFF Miller returns, another year older and still as delightfully anarchic as ever. He’s a teenager now, our Stanley, thirteen years young, and I can only imagine what the future has in store for him if he persists with comics. I dearly hope so, I can easily see him blossoming into an Anders BIG QUESTIONS Nilsen type of cove, with a very distinct voice and much to say. For the moment, though, he seems for all the world like the natural successor to David Shrigley!

Stanley and Shrigley have something in common actually in that both of them have managed to reduce me to tears of utter, uncontrollable, howling laughter in public with a single illustration. The page of Stanley’s in question is contained within this work, which, if it really is a typical example of things he thinks about sometimes, is proof that Stanley should be locked in a room… with a pad and pencil, and made to draw a lot more comics!

This time around Stanley has decided to opt for the running gag of playfully mangling every single James Bond film title in chronological order complete with a farcically, self-referential illustration hammering home the joke.

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The opening pair of “Dr. Toe” and “From Russia With Gloves” started a smile twitching at the corner of my lips and by the time we’d eased out of the Sean Connery epoch with “Diamonds Are For Trevor” and got to the Roger Moore era proper, there was one belter of a malapropism title-wise in particular I don’t wish to spoil, and I suddenly found myself in absolute hysterics.

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I’m dearly hoping Stanley’s next project will be a piece of sequential-art-based storytelling. I’m absolutely convinced he’s got what it takes to do something as superb as it would undoubtedly be surreal. If you make it, Stanley, and it’s as this good as this, I promise you we’ll sell it. With that said, please keep doing this gag material as well because I think it’s brilliant stuff and frankly who doesn’t need to nearly wet themselves with laughter every once in a while? In fact I’d like to see this material prescribed to people for stress relief, if perhaps however not for incontinence issues…

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Also, as before, Stanley has very kindly added some additional, and different, colours to each cover, ensuring every copy is completely unique. He’s clearly thought about this, our Stanley…

JR

Buy Things I Think About Sometimes and read the Page 45 review here

Black Canary vol 1: Kicking And Screaming s/c (£10-99, DC) by Brendan Fletcher & Amy Chu, Pia Guerra.

“From the moment the lights went up, the Wizard’s Wand show in Detroit was a performance to remember. Paloma Terrific debuted her new custom gear in the rig. D.D. was finally playing to the crowd. Lord Byron sat perfectly in the pocket playing to the crowd. And silent wunderkind Ditto pulled sounds out of her semi-acoustic so otherworldly that Leon Theremin would’ve been dumbstruck.”

– From some music magazine or other.

Artist Annie Wu a great many of you will already know from the deliciously drawn HAWKEYE VOL 3, given which you will be far from surprised that this is not your average superhero comic.

It’s not even your average superheroine comic because although Black Canary still sports fishnet stockings, this isn’t about the long legs, thigh shots and deep, forward-thrusting cleavage otherwise known as “tits’n’ass” comics which are a total disgrace to the medium.

Here the fishnets are torn in punk and post-punk fashion and that’s a studded leather jacket on top of the bodice which reveals nothing at all except a new wave fashion sense as our trouble magnet, now lead singer of the rock band Black Canary, lets it rip into the mic.

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Wu’s lines are all whoosh-whoosh on the page, hair flying everywhere or lolloping over the forehead when the cast is feeling more sedate. It keeps the story sweeping along beautifully and the story right now seems to centre on Black Canary’s mute guitarist Ditto, for although it looked as though D.D. was attracting all the violence spilling onto their set so cutting the gigs short and ruining their reputation, she was merely defending their territory.

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Really they were after the silent and secretive Ditto – she of the ethereal strings – and their assailants were merely the vanguard. What’s coming next (and I do mean what, not who) I can only compare to the Umbral in UMBRAL. Lee Loughbridge’s colours do something clever there: they take over everything on the page – all the linework and shadow which would ordinarily be black – except for the creatures themselves. The effect is to render the inky ones alien, otherworldly and the centre of your eyes’ attention. They’ve got the bands too. Thank goodness D.D. used to be in the Justice League. For five seconds.

So what’s her story, then?

SLH

Buy Black Canary vol 1: Kicking And Screaming s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Superman Unchained s/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Synder & Jim Lee, Dustin Nguyen, various…

Of the first issue, I wrote…

Easy to see why DC have let Scott Snyder loose on Big Blue as his extremely popular, and more importantly excellent, run on BATMAN continues unabated. Whether he can replicate that success on what is a rather more… one-dimensional character (and indeed supporting characters – I really am tired of seeing Lois Lane written as highly strung and career-obsessed, Perry as the gruff editor with a heart of gold, and not forgetting comedy relief and donut delivery boy Jimmy Olsen) remains to be seen, but we’re off to a good start here, even if Lois is full-on multi-tasking mode, Perry yelling at all and sundry to meet deadlines and Jimmy off on a donut run…

Okay, secondary characters aside, I did really enjoy this. It’s an interesting enough set-up with multiple satellites falling from the sky, possibly at the behest of Lex Luthor, currently en route to a super-max prison facility, though he does find time to make a brief show-stealing cameo, showing he has nerves of steel, if not the skin to match. And of course, only Superman can catch them all and save the day, except it seems one additional satellite was stopped from falling… But if Superman didn’t do it, nor following his initial investigations any member of the Justice League or other heroes, then who did? Our glimpsed answer, privy only to us fourth-wall breakers (if not Source Wall – sorry crap DC in-joke), shows that Snyder has already got a potential belter of story arc up his sleeve. Promising…

What of the art then? Well, I must say, since Jim Lee’s relatively recent return to DC and subsequent current run on JUSTICE LEAGUE, written by Geoff Johns, I have been reminded just how good his art can be, when he’s actually illustrating something I’m bothered about reading – like ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN – which always helps. Also, this issue features a crazy fold-out page right inside the front cover which gets things off with a bang. It doesn’t entirely work in that once you’ve folded it out, you realise it’s a double page spread on reverse sides of the huge page. I have to admit I did grab a second copy just so I could see what it looked like together in all its glory and who knows, maybe that’s what DC are intending, for everyone to buy two copies, precisely for that reason. Can’t quite imagine how on earth it’s going to work in the trade either, they probably want people to buy two copies of the trade knowing them, but anyway, it’s a nice touch.

[Editor’s note: we haven’t checked!]

JR

Buy Superman Unchained 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.

The Mystic Woods (Signed & Sketched In) (£7-99, self-published) by Rozenn Grosjean

Through the Habitrails: Life Before and After My Career in the Cubicles (£10-99, Dover Publications Inc.) by Jeff Nicholson

Tokyo Ghost vol 1: Atomic Garden (£7-50, Image) by Rick Remender & Sean Murphy

Mercury Heat vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Omar Francia, Nahuel Lopez

Crossed + 100 vol 2 (£14-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier & Fernando Heinz, Rafa Ortiz

Eagle Strike: An Alex Rider Graphic Novel (£11-99, Walker Books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako Damerum, Yuzuru Takasaki

Point Blanc: An Alex Rider Graphic Novel (£11-99, Walker Books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako Damerum, Yuzuru Takasaki

Skeleton Key: An Alex Rider Graphic Novel (£11-99, Walker Books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako Damerum, Yuzuru Takasaki

Stormbreaker: An Alex Rider Graphic Novel (£11-99, Walker Books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako Damerum, Yuzuru Takasaki

Angel & Faith Season 10 vol 4: More Than Kin (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Victor Gischler & Will Conrad, Cliff Richards

Batman And Robin Eternal vol 1 s/c (£22-50, DC) by James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder & Tony S. Daniel, various

Batman Beyond vol 1: Brave New Worlds s/c (£10-99, DC) by Dan Jurgens & Bernard Chang

Batman: Contagion s/c (£25-99, DC) by Alan Grant, Doug Moench & Kelley Jones, Vince Giarrano

Justice League vol 6: Injustice League s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke, Jason Fabok

Captain America: Fallen Son s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & John Cassady, John Romita Jr., David Finch, Ed McGuinness, Leinil Francis Yu

Captain America: Marvel Knights vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by John Ney Rieber, Chuck Austen & John Cassaday, Jae Lee, Trevor Hairsine

Civil War: Black Panther s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Reginald Hudlin & Various, Michael Turner

Civil War: Captain America / Iron Man s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, Christos N. Gage, Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev, various

Civil War: Wolverine s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Marc Guggenheim & Humberto Ramos

Thors: Battleworld s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Sprouse, Goran Sudzuka

X-Men ’92 vol 0: Warzones! s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Chris Sims, Chad Bowers & Scott Koblish

The Flowers Of Evil vol 9 (£8-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

The Flowers Of Evil vol 10 (£8-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

The Flowers Of Evil vol 11 (£8-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

News!

ITEM! THE WICKED + THE DIVINE: Jamie McKelvie is back! Gasp at the blistering recap and teaser!

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Bearing in mind that in reviews of second, and third volumes I will not spoil ANY of volume one – there are carefully worded, designed to intrigue newcomers…

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOLS 1 to 3 reviewed by Page 45!

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #18, the first issue after VOL 3 – please pre-order!

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THE WICKED + THE DIVINE deluxe h/c reprinting first two s/cs with extras – please pre-order!

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE Pantheon t-shirts – just a few left now, tiny sizes depleted! Bet you wish you’d pre-ordered!

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ITEM! Craig Thompson is signing and speaking at Orbital Comics in London on March 23rd!

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It’s free if you buy a copy of Craig Thompson’s SPACE DUMPLINS (which seems only fair!) reviewed there by our Joanthan. If you’re not going to the signing, by all means purchase from us (We Ship Worldwide!) by if you are, buy from Orbital so you get to see the talk for free!

Also reviewed by us:

Craig Thompson’s HABIBI
Craig Thompson’s BLANKETS (Out of print at the moment)
Craig Thompson’s GOOD-BYE, CHUNKY RICE
Craig Thompson’s CARNET DE VOYAGE (succinctly!)

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ITEM! Extensive interview with Mark Millar on his new series with Stuart Immonen, EMPRESS.

You can pre-order EMPRESS #1 here or just pop it onto your Standing Order.

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ITEM! ‘Transmetropolitan: the 90s comic that’s bang up-to-date on Donald Trump’ by Damien Walter

I reviewed every single volume of Warren Ellis & Darick Roberston’s TRANSMETROPOLITAN, all permanently in stock, lacerating in its indictment of American and British politics as well as voter apathy / abstinence. Attitude on a stick.

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ITEM! Broken Frontier interviewed Ben Gijsemans, the creator of HUBERT, reviewed by Page 45 above.

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ITEM! Tickets on sale for world-premiere of multimedia performance of Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH, initiated by The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, 28th May 2016 in Kendal Town Hall, Cumbria

It will then tour France before returning to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016, October 14th to 16th.

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ITEM! Dark Horse to release mass market edition of Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH original graphic novel of October 5th 2016, 10 days before it is launched, along with a multimedia performance at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Lots and lots of interior art at the bottom of that article!

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ITEM! Legendary 2000AD and LAST AMERICA artist Mick McMahon is the first UK comicbook creator to be announced for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016.

The announcements are going to come thick and fast now! I’m sitting on a secret and it’s killing me!

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ITEM! Creators! Publishers! Retailers! Ragamuffins! Applications are now open for exhibiting upstairs and downstairs in Kendal’s Clock Tower at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 on Saturday October 15th and Sunday October 16th.

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Entry for the public to the Clock Tower is ABSOLUTELY free, making such an attractive proposition that in 2014 we took more money than any other weekend back at Page 45 – even Christmas – and then in 2015 we beat that record by 10%… with just 1% of the range of our stock!

So obviously Page 45 will be back in 2016 as ever in our Georgian Room in the Kendal Clock Tower!

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Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015 – that’s last year!

Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 – massive review with tonnes of photos!

Page 45 is a proud Patron of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival #LICAF @comicartfest

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– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2016 week one

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

Featuring Kazu Kibuishi, Meredith Gran, Kevin Huizenga, Michael DeForge, Grant Morrison & Philip Bond, Ben Haggarty & Adam Brockbank, Sheila Alvarado, Stephane Levallois, Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV & Riley Rossmo, Rick Remender & Stuart Immonen. News underneath!

Big Kids h/c (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge…

“I got drunk in the afternoon, fell asleep.
“I felt the change when I woke up.
“The first thing I noticed was the television set.
“It looked different, but the same. It was identical, but not at all like it was before.
“It still had the same buttons.
“I recognised the channel, the show playing.
“I recognised the actors – again different, but the same.
“Even the way the light shone against objects in the room had changed.”

Yes, because he’s turned into a tree…

Now, the thing is, this is all perfectly normal for a Michael DeForge yarn. We never find out the main character’s name, a young teenage boy grappling with his sexual identity and being abused on a daily basis, physically and emotionally, by his so-called friends, but handily his family’s lodger April is helpfully able to explain it all to him. And us…

“You’re a tree, now. It happens to most people when they reach a certain age. You’re aren’t hallucinating. You’re seeing the world through tree eyes.”
“So what I was seeing before wasn’t real?”
“It’s not that you weren’t able to see before, or that your sight was faulty. You’re just about to see more now.”
“How come no one told me this was coming?”
“Some people don’t tree until later in life. Some turn into twigs and stay twigs until they die. We don’t like bringing up tree-ness in front of twigs. Twigs don’t know they’re twigs. They don’t know they’re missing out.”

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I have occasionally pondered the idea that Michael (LOSE #7 / DRESSING / FIRST YEAR HEALTHY) DeForge is a reincarnate Rinzai Zen master who just likes messing with our heads, attempting to induce kenshō in those curious enough to pick up his books through the supranatural, mind-shattering power of his comic kōan. I also like to think he is the William Blake of 21st century comics, forever destined to be viewed as an idiosyncratic lunatic by those unable to perceive the philosophical nature of his works. He is, I believe, a genius. Open this book, open your mind. Turn a page, tune in, let your ego drop out. Maybe don’t transmute into a plant-based life form, though…

JR

Buy Big Kids h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ganges vol 5 (£5-99, Fantagraphics) by Kevin Huizenga…

“Mom, how old is the Earth?”
“It’s like, 4.5 billion years.”
“Yeah right, ha ha… that’s what they’ll try and teach him in public school.”

What you can’t see from the above exchange between Kevin, his wife Wendy’s cousin Angela and her son having dinner together after the funeral of Wendy’s Great Aunt Shelly is the huge kick under the table Kevin receives from Wendy, when he answers the young kid’s question without thinking! I should probably add that Shelly’s family are Baptists living in Florida and smack bang in the heartlands of America’s Bible Belt. Creationism is rife down there and offense can be taken very easily.

Meanwhile, not thinking, and indeed, not doing, are two things Wendy accuses Kevin of rather a lot. Quite rightly so, by his own admission, but it’s to the extent that not only can he now usually see an admonishment of yet another transgression coming, but he’s developed a whole range of deflective techniques to avoid said lectures on the twin topics of his thoughtlessness and procrastination. This time, though, Wendy’s needed to put the boot in sharpish before he can sink his own foot any deeper into troubled temporal waters. It’s not even the first time she’s had to do it today, either, having already dispensed another covert leg sweep during the eulogy itself as Kevin zoned out to a happier place of pondering the big question you might find yourself asking at any funeral… of what they were having for lunch…

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As ever, Kevin does a marvellous turn in self-deprecating humour and once again the amusing auto-biographical material provides a neat lead-in to this issue’s topic on which he’d like to enlighten us, the evolution of our planet, and the timescales thereof. Or as he much more prosaically describes it… “Time Travelling: Deep Time.”

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I love how Kevin really let’s his talents for composition run wild in these sections. He always starts us off gently with a few simple devices, gradually increasing in educative and artistic complexity, as he explains how Scottish “Gentleman Scientist” James Hutton, who we could arguably call the first geologist, decided in the 1700s (pre-Charles Darwin mind) that the Earth simply had to be considerably older than the perceived scientific wisdom of the time of a mere five to six thousand years.

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Kevin then walks us through Hutton’s theories and thought experiments to show us how he hypothesised the formation of the planet, plus also illustrating the geological processes actually involved, culminating in a truly impressive double page spread. His ability to get what he’s visualising out of his head and onto the page is exceptional.

[Editor’s note: each issue of GANGES can be read independently of the others.]

JR

Buy Ganges vol 5 and read the Page 45 review here

Amulet vol 7: Firelight (£9-99, Scholastic) by Kazu Kibuishi.

“I have never travelled there to help someone remember.
“These memories are the kind you want to forget.”

These memories are also the kind which others want buried, forgotten.

They have been wiped from the minds of individuals and hidden deep underwater in The Cortex, a space ship the size of a city. It’s there that Emily must travel next, in the company of one other Stonekeeper and an old enemy whom she has little reason to trust, except that he warned Emily so long ago about her Stone and its Voice and she singularly failed to listen.

But trust has to be earned, and it has to be reciprocated in order to mean anything worthwhile. I’m afraid in one instance here, it may prove everyone’s undoing…

I don’t think we’ve been underwater in AMULET before, have we? What creatures do you imagine lurk in its vast, inky depths? What does a Tenta-Drive look like? The Cortex itself, shimmering in the dark, will take your breath away!

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AMULET is our best-selling all-ages fantasy renowned for its majestic landscapes; its Hayao Miyazaki flourishes like the library in the lake surrounded by pale, mist-shrouded mountains last volume, its ancient structure built on the back of a gigantic stone sculpture of the Elf nation’s very first leader, holding it aloft like Atlas.

Here there’s a vast mountain range whose massive, craggy, snow-ridged peaks rise high above the clouds, and I love the dry-brush effect of the yellow-green grass on their sweeping plains and the perilous path which Navin and company must negotiate in their next step to be reunited with his sister Emily and the rest of the resistance.

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AMULET began with family and here it comes back to the fore.

There’s the flying restaurant where Suzy makes a point of treating her staff like family and ensures the patrons feel like they are dining at home. There’s the Elf King, his son Trellis and Trellis’ Uncle Virgil: Uncle Virgil taught knowledge, history and the importance of asking questions; Trellis’ father dismissed all those in favour of training in tactics and military exercises as well as blind obedience.

Specifically AMULET began with the death of Emily and Navin’s Dad in a car accident back on Earth, after which their Mum took them to live at their great grandfather’s empty and abandoned house in the countryside. Swept through a portal into the world of Alledia, they’ve made many allies but also enemies and become embroiled in a war between humans and elves, the real reason behind which will finally be revealed. Along the way Emily found herself in possession of a Stone which granted her telekinetic powers. Or did she become possessed by it? We’ve since met other Stonekeepers, some kindly, some less in control than others. Crucially none of them were ever trained to become Stonekeepers but selected instead.

Then the Stone started speaking to Emily, and less and less has she liked what it said.

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“Vigo… do you think all Stonekeepers are cursed? Maybe that’s why we were chosen.
“Not because we were the most powerful… but because we were the most vulnerable.”

As AMULET VOL 7 opens Emily awakens from a heart-wrenching dream of her Dad to find that her Stone seems particularly interested in their new destination: a supply station which was attacked but not ransacked and is now flooded with echoes, with memories. Which is where, I believe, we came in.

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“Be careful who you trust, Chief.
“Not everyone you believe is an ally has your best interests at heart.”

Trust, trust, it’s all about trust and while the above is most certainly true – leading readers to watch old allies and newcomers anxiously! – what’s very refreshing about this series is how many supposed enemies have proved themselves capable of reconsideration, gratitude and honour. Throughout AMULET Kibuishi has made it equally clear that you cannot judge individuals by their race or nation, and the majority by the actions of the minority at the top. Humans versus Dark Elves: it may seem clear-cut on the surface but everything is a matter of perspective, and humans, as we know, are capable of many atrocities and much injustice. So many here have become moulded by their past.

Much of which Kibuishi has carefully laid down long ago is finally coming together – so much more than expected. It’s not over yet but, given the scale of the revelations and reactions – the most shocking in the series so far – we’re certainly getting close!

SLH

Buy Amulet vol 7: Firelight and read the Page 45 review here

Mezolith vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Ben Haggarty & Adam Brockbank.

Set in the unspoiled wilds on the eastern shores of Stone Age Britain 10,000 years ago, this is a book of beauty that will make your eyes glow and heart sing as a boy called Poika takes his first tentative steps towards becoming a man.

It’s an unforgiving life where wounds are deep, infection rife, the winters harsh and tribal territories fiercely enforced; but it’s also one rich in folklore, and although the lad’s courage far outstrips the experience his elders will need to teach him – about hunting, survival and the balance of things – his affinity for nature, tenacity and curiosity will undoubtedly prove the making of him.

It’s the oral tradition of passing down stories from one generation to the next which lies at the heart of the book. Since knowledge came so often at a terrible cost and survival depended upon it, preserving as much as possible in the form of fables was essential.

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All the legends involve suffering and mortality to some degree or another. Personal histories are embroidered upon, giving them a fantastical, mythical status, but don’t be deceived: whatever her true origins, Korppi Velho – the medicine woman clothed in raven’s wings who is of the Kansa tribe but lives apart like a hermit – is as capable as her revered reputation, perhaps preternaturally so.

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It’s an all-ages book, and since Brockbank’s film credits range from Harry Potter to Maleficent you’ll be unsurprised to learn that the luminous artwork here is a joy, whether it’s of the five ebony-eyed sisters with their snow-white swan feathers draped over their silk-smooth, cream-coloured bodies, the expertly choreographed hunt for fresh meat which goes awry or simply the woodland climbs in the heat of the day.

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The light plays on the rocks and grass wherever it can penetrate the pines, the shadows are clean and crisp, the wildlife is a wonder, and the boy grows visibly physically, during the course of the book.

SLH

Buy Mezolith vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Kill Your Boyfriend / Vimanarama The Deluxe Edition h/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Philip Bond.

Another repacking, and not bad value for money, either.

KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND first:

BLAM!
BLAM!
BLAM!
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
“Got a bit carried away there.”
BLAM!
“Shit. No more vodka.”

“I didn’t really think he’d do it. He’d killed him with no remorse, no pity, no regard for the sanctity of life. He’d gunned down my whole future.
“I think I’m in love.”

Fourth printing of Morrison’s ode to anarchy originally published in 1995, as a charming man sweeps up a bored British schoolgirl from the suburban straightjacket of settling for second-best: Mums who search their teenage children’s drawers, three-wheeled cars for the disabled (“Even the fucking car’s an invalid. They ought to give people a bit of dignity.”), boyfriends who leave you with little more than a peck on a cheek, and suffocating in a vacuum of nothing better to do than watch Top Of The fucking Pops when one minute with an Uzi in Mr. Mandible’s Geography class would solve most of your psychological problems for the next three years.

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Way ahead of its time and without an inhibition in the world, this “Get it out of your system” made TANK GIRL look like JACKIE or BUNTY. I could have pulled a quote from every single page. That this is its fourth production speaks volumes about its popularity, an appeal shared by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo’s equally antagonistic and refreshingly outspoken GIRL which, criminally, has not been reprinted once.

Bond with D’Israeli on inks is a magnificent combo, a pair who should be reunited this very instant – and until I say otherwise – to give us more British eyes, hair and teeth which we can all fall in love with. They keep the urban urbane then slowly but surely introduce a Chelsea-Girl glamour after the eyes start lighting up with new life.

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Time to trash a tea room in search of consumables and pull out a gun for a bun:

“Look, we’re starving and we want some of your cakes.
“If you don’t give us free cakes, we’ll kill you.”

Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

SLH

VIMANARAMA

A title more misspelled than any other – oh, come on, you type VINAMARAMA too! Here’s our Tom who, since leaving us, has become a chef. Tom was very fond of cake too.

Sofia: “That tiny little sort of popping noise you just heard was the sound of me going completely insane.”
Ali: “Mine was sort of a ‘ping’.”

Poor Ali is at a crux in his young life. His father has arranged for him to be married to an accountant’s daughter from Southampton. If she’s ugly (or stupid or boring), Ali will take it as existential proof that God does indeed hate him, and hang himself. But before he can get too Emo, the floor at his father’s shop caves in, burying his brother Omar under a mountain of Turkish Delight and creating an opening to an ancient city which has lain dormant under what we now know as Bradford for six thousand years.

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Ali’s baby nephew, Imran, decides to learn to walk and goes off exploring the buried city, accidentally releasing an army of 8-foot-tall demons bent on unleashing hell on earth. Now the only one who can stop them is… No, not Ali, but Prince Ben Rama and the Ultra-Hadeen. Unfortunately for Ali, Ben Rama gains his power from love – and he loves Ali’s betrothed, Sofia, who’s actually everything he could want in a girl. Now the world’s going to end, the girl of Ali’s dreams has been pulled by an 8-foot Demi-God, and everyone’s going to die before he’s even had a chance to really live.

I’ve never seen Bond’s art look better than it does here. Nobody draws slightly despondent young adults quite like him. And, yeah, this isn’t WE3 but if you ignore all the weird fantasy and boil this story down, it’s all about family. And how at 18 years of age they may seem like nothing but a hindrance, when in fact they really are your only hope.

TR

Buy Kill Your Boyfriend / Vimanarama The Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Octopus Pie vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Meredith Gran.

“Based on experience? The things you get excited about fastest are the things that get boring the fastest. Anything that ever meant a damn took a while.”

I wouldn’t call that a universal truth, but when I thought about the two times I have genuinely fallen in love (as opposed to mere infatuation; who can even tell at the time?) I found this to be right on the mark. I’m kind of hoping that, given whom the conversation’s between, there’s a degree of dramatic irony there which Gran has planned from the beginning and things will develop against the current odds.

It was also my experience with OCTOPUS PIE which took me a little while to warm to before falling in love, but then this is a 250-page collection of its first two years and everyone and everything needs time to develop. I’m a big believer in “publish and be damned” when it comes to creativity: get yourself going, get yourself out there; don’t wait until you consider yourself fully formed before letting rip because you risk never pleasing yourself enough to go public. One of the joys of STRANGERS IN PARADISE is seeing the skills of its beloved creator Terry Moore develop on the page in front of you.

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OCTOPUS PIE was originally published on the internet in daily single-page bursts which quickly coalesced into longer storylines focussing on health food shops, bike theft, romances, childhood rivalry, nerds-versus-stoners rivalry, selling fares at Renaissance Fayres and urban development in Brooklyn. Right from the start it is topical for its time, raising serious issues like security versus freedom albeit in ludicrous ways. This is, after all, a comedy.

“Perhaps someday I’ll wear a costume that inhibits my shame.”
“How ‘bout a Wall Street business suit?”
“Blam! Topical.”

It stars Eve Ning who works as a clerk at Olly’s Organix (“empty calories for empty people”) and a flatmate foisted upon her called Hanna who bakes cakes for a living while stoned. She can’t seem to do it straight. Eve has no problem which all the doobage wafting sweetly through the air, yet balks when she discovers that young Will – whom she’s on the verge of dating after such a long non-courtship – is Hanna’s dealer. There’s nothing shady about the lad; he’s into rock-climbing.

A fellow enthusiast: “I’ve been doing this for years! Makes you feel closet to Heaven!”
Ning, looking below her: “Agreed.”

Perhaps my favourite sequence involved the ludicrously detailed, military-level pre-planning strategy session for a laser-tag contest to settle the nerds-versus-stoners dispute, then its life-or-death execution. I once scored minus 180 at Laser Quest.

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But some of the comedy is much gentler, more universal and oh so wittily expressed:

“Let me guess: lured here against your better judgement for a weekend’s pay?”
“Man, is the story of my life that obvious?”
“Not obvious, just widely read.”

On the surface Gran comes from the Matt Groenig school of cartooning, with big balls for eyes which are squished to denote various levels of knowingness, suspicion and cunning. There’s a certain degree of melodrama, yes, but that’s part of the energy and the silliness. The fashions, meanwhile, remind one of SECONDS / SCOTT PILGRIM / LOST AT SEA‘s Bryan Lee O’Malley (Will in particular) who is the most enormous fan, describing it as “unafraid to be ridiculous, wildly experimental, deeply personal. It’s sort of like a SCOTT PILGRIM that *I* can enjoy because it isn’t by me.”

Look a little closer and many of the characters are rendered in their own, distinct signature style: Hannah’s all lank and spiky with a beak-like mouth! Same goes for the woman Will meets at the fayre – could not be more differently delineated.

Then, just when you think you know all there is to know about Gran’s repertoire, she hits you with an ice-skating scene of pure balletic grace, the contours of Eve’s shoulders, waist and skirt’s hem flowing just-so. Typically, Eve dances the entire manoeuvre, from start to finish, as grumpy as ever.

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Lastly for now (there’s plenty more to come) I’d never even considered the sexist hypocrisy of women being scorned for going topless in public when men go bare-chested all the time. Of course the restriction would be unconstitutional, and I was delighted to learn that “Eventually, in 1992, the court ruled that prohibiting exposure of breasts served no governmental purpose – nor did our “public sensibilities” justify a discriminatory law.”

OCTOPUS PIE: learn as you laugh.

SLH

Buy Octopus Pie vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

 

City Of Clowns (£16-99, Riverhead Books) by Sheila Alvarado…

“The way my mother sometimes spoke of Pasco, one might imagine an Andean paradise instead of the poor and violent mining town it really was. Lima frightened her. She felt safe in exactly two places: our house and the Azcarates house.”

Lima frightened me a little too actually. Aside from the Plaza Mayor main square and a not particularly pretty Cathedral it’s an unremittingly dreary, rubbish-infested shit hole of a city. Apologies to any residents of Lima reading this review, but I suspect you’ll be in completely concurrence if so. I had been warned it was a muggers’ paradise and the few times I ventured out of my hotel before getting out of town and heading up into the Andes I did feel a continuous sense of unease that I was being watched as a predator might size up his prey.

Plus the peculiar micro-climate due to the Humboldt Current means Lima is by far the cloudiest, mistiest, foggiest city in South America, which only adds to the depressing feel. The second you get a reasonable distance up the highway to the north of the country into the desert plains the blazing sun comes out and it did feels like a different altogether more welcoming world entirely. Until you get to Cuzco, that is, and have to have eyes in the back of your head once more for the infamous strangle muggers apparently lying in wait down every side street for unsuspecting gringo tourists! Yes, I much preferred Bolivia to Peru, I must say.

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Anyway… the prospect of reading a story set in such a dispiriting locale was perversely part of the appeal in having a look at this work centred around the neophyte journalist Oscar. Having discovered that his recently deceased father, a philandering petty criminal, had another family has left Oscar deeply questioning his own identity. In trying to understand how much of his personality has been shaped by his father and his wayward lifestyle, Oscar finds himself becoming increasingly estranged from his mother, perhaps not least because she seems be developing an almost sisterly bond with the other woman. Oscar’s own feelings that his father perhaps regarded the other woman and their children together as his real family is starting to push him into an emotionally unstable state.

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His editor, meanwhile, is pushing him no less hard for a news story. Short of ideas, and time, he decides to explore the world of Lima’s street clowns, whose bleak, begging lifestyle was apparently the inspiration behind Smokey Robinson’s 1967 Motown classic “Tears Of A Clown”… That, obviously, is a complete and utter fabrication, worthy of the sort of nonsense Oscar’s father would spin to him to justify his house-breaking sprees, illicit activities which Oscar was eventually forced to be complicit with and indeed participate in. But, it is perhaps more than a little ironic that the destitute denizens of one of the most soul-breaking cities in the world feel the need to dress up as circus performers to try and blag enough money from commuters just to make it through another day. Well, that and play pan pipes made of empty plastic bottles lashed together to unsuspecting, and conveniently trapped in situ, bus travellers which, trust me, after the eighteenth time you’ve heard El Condor Pasa so mangled is enough to make you want to dispense some summary plastic recycling advice…

Anyway, feeling like a man adrift from what was the bedrock of his life, Oscar concludes the best way to understand the tears of a clown is to become one, if only for a week. (No pan pipes thankfully…) To his surprise, the anonymity of the greasepaint, wig and costume provide just the remove, and perspective, both figuratively and literally, on his family and own emotional state, to finally begin to come to terms with it all.

This is wonderfully written material, if rather on the dark side obviously. The art style matches the tone of the piece perfectly, though I found myself appreciating it rather than enjoying it. There is so much black ink and so many heavy lines I found it a little oppressive, but I suspect that is entirely the point, and as I say, entirely appropriate. I had a little look at the artist’s other works online, and I couldn’t find anything else like this, it is all incredibly vibrant and colourful, so I can only conclude this is a very deliberate use of style. She’s clearly extremely talented to be able to so radically adjust her techniques to the story.

JR

Buy City Of Clowns and read the Page 45 review here

The Ark h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Stephane Levallois…

This hauntingly illustrated silent work left me slightly bewildered. I enjoyed it, I think, absorbing it rather than reading it. I think that might be the best way of expressing it. It’s clearly allegorical but I must profess myself unable to decipher the hidden meaning or meanings.

A lone being in a diving suit straight out of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is relentlessly dragging a huge wooden ark through a near-featureless desert. Nothing dents their relentless progress towards… well, what?

In the meantime, to keep us entertained, there is a dramatic plane crash, a zeppelin patrolling the dazzling skies, mysterious lighthouses arising from receding sands containing caged Siren-like seductresses clad in burkas, plus battling bands of Bedouins and beautifully livered soldiers. Oh, and a boy holding a scorpion in each hand! The ark, though, forges on regardless…

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It may even be there are several allegories being made here. My best guesses are: man versus nature, the futility of war, the greed of man ensuring self-destruction etc. All the usual tropes perhaps, and yet this work does have an enigmatic and endearing quality which kept me enraptured right until the end. Partly because I wanted some answers. Who is the figure in the diving suit, what was on the Ark, where was it going? But maybe THE ARK is all about the journey, not the destination, as they say…

… and the art, which is as beautiful as you would expect from a Humanoids publication.

JR

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

Constantine: The Hellblazer vol 1: Going Down s/c (£10-99, DC) by Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV & Riley Rossmo, various…

“That’s me. Nothing but the truth from the lips of your old pal John.”

Surely there isn’t anyone left in the entirety of the DC Universe(s – however many there are now…) who’d fall for that one?!! John Constantine is apparently still in the DCU as this is on the DC imprint rather than Vertigo, but I am extremely happy to report this has far more in common with the original Vertigo HELLBLAZER than the recent semi-execrable New 52 CONSTANTINE. It’s back to what John does best: verbally jousting with demons and staying one step ahead of the hordes of hell rather than all that posturing and faffing about with the tights and capes brigade.

John is thus once more the debonair, debauched, trench-coated purveyor of prestidigitation who’ll proffer one hand in friendship whilst simultaneously stabbing you in the back with the other. All the whilst charismatically reassuring you that nothing is amiss until the sickening moment you realise he’s completely shafted you, often either at the expense of your life, or soul, or indeed even both!

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Here he’s involved in a scheme to try and save the ghosts of his past that frequently haunt his waking moments, always reminding him of his myriad moral trespasses against them, as something has begun murdering the dead themselves. Along the way he’ll re-encounter an old adversary and various other characters that will be familiar to long-term Constantine devotees.

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I like what writers Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV are doing with John, I must say. They’ve certainly captured his scathingly sarcastic wit and louche personality perfectly, plus whereas it was certainly alluded to a couple of times in HELLBLAZER that he might have had an eye for the chaps as well the ladies, here we’re left in no doubt as he pursues a rather hunky barista who seems as equally enamoured with him for whatever reason. Yep, expect one coffee-dispensing casualty before you can say “I’ll have a half-whole milk, one quarter semi-skimmed, one quarter non-fat, split quad shots – one and a half shots decaf, two and a half shots caffeinated – no foam latte, with a touch of vanilla syrup and three short sprinkles of cinnamon.”

I do so absolutely hate it when Stephen asks me to make that for him… Every bloody morning, what a diva! Nothing but the truth from the lips of your old reviewer Jonathan…

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My one small caveat is I do feel this is ever so slightly HELLBLAZER-lite, with not quite the same seriousness of the original, though Riley Rossmo’s art might possibly be a factor in my thinking there. It is excellent art, mind you, I am certainly not knocking the talents of Mr. Rossmo and the supporting pencillers, it’s perfectly suitable for this character and title, but the style just doesn’t quite have the gravitas of say, a Sean Phillips, that I feel should go hand in hand with Constantine. With that said, there were arcs towards the end of HELLBLAZER itself that I felt suffered from the same problem but far, far worse, where the cartoonish style of the art totally diluted the intensity of the writing for me, eroding my suspension of disbelief. Which is never a good thing where magic tricks are involved, let’s be frank.

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JR

Buy Constantine: The Hellblazer vol 1: Going Down s/c and read the Page 45 review here

All New Captain America vol 1: Hydra Ascendant s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Stuart Immonen.

“That’s the problem with having people you care for, isn’t it? Love is such a liability.”

As frazzling, dazzling and fast-paced as this is, it’s essentially a book about family, just like Remender’s subaquatic sci-fi, LOW. If the theme of LOW is maintaining hope in the wake of overwhelming adversity, the lesson here is about not only looking out for your own family’s future but for others’ as well, even down to the specific threat faced which I will not be spoiling for you.

We’ll get to all that in a second, but in the meantime: Stuart Immonen.

Immonen is one of those rare comic artists like Mark Buckingham and Bryan Talbot who is a true chameleon, able to adapt his style to suit his subject, and quite radically so. Rarer still, he operates both within and without the superhero subgenre.

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In RUSSIAN OLIVE TO RED KING written by his wife Kathryn, Stuart used colour not only to convey light and temperature but also sound. When attending Kurt Busiek’s SECRET IDENTITY scenario of what might happen in the real world if a Superman was discovered by the C.I.A., he produced exquisite, photo-realistic landscapes and forms which even when floating conveyed a physical weight.

Illustrating Warren Ellis’ bombastic, mischievous, pugilistic pageantry of the absurd in NEXTWAVE Immonen reduced the sort of neo-classical, visceral thrill you’ll relish here to comedic cartoons. And on Bendis’ original run on ALL NEW X-MEN Stuart proved he could separate the lither forms of teenagers from their older antagonists.

Here the all-but-opening double-page spread is an immaculate composition of speed, perspective, foreshortening, shadow and light. Its G-Force is utterly thrilling.

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With Steve Rogers now semi-retired, aged closer to what he would be without the aid of his anti-agapic Supersoldier Serum, the mantle of Captain America has not been passed to Steve’s adopted son Ian but to his long-standing friend and former partner in crime-fighting, Sam Wilson AKA the Falcon.

“Really makes you wonder why I wasn’t the one he picked.”
“Cronyism beats nepotism, I guess.”

At an early age Sam lost his father, a minister revered throughout Harlem, when the preacher was gunned down while trying to calm down a fight. Soon after his mother too died, leaving Sam to raise his sister alone. His younger sister’s since had two beautiful children, whereas Sam’s been too busy helping others – both as a social worker and a superhero – to start a family of his own. Now that opportunity make be taken away from him for good, not by standing in for Steve Rogers but by what happens here.

Neo-Nazi Baron Zemo, son of the original, has acquired a young man whose blood has very specific properties and which will be dispersed throughout the globe in multiple locations using diverse methods of deployment. Many of them are highly inventive. To make our new Captain’s desperate attempt to stop this disaster from detonating all over the planet, Zemo has surrounded himself with some of Steve Rogers’ most formidable foes, now made even more effective by Remender’s ability to instil them with real wit and intelligence. The repartee from the first familiar super-villain who has always been the one-dimensional, stereotypical brunt of a certain degree of xenophobia here gives as good as he gets in America’s direction, and it’s not off the mark.

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There is no let up. Everything happens so fast that Sam’s interior monologue is but a series of snap-shot impressions: he’s given no opportunity for analysis or consideration – no evaluation of what he’s been presented with by enemy and ally alike. So don’t take everyone at face value like Sam.

Finally, a sermon of sorts from Sam’s mother before she passed away, after her husband was gone, and Sam is left wondering what would have happened if only his Dad had kept his mouth shut and not intervened:

“Sam, if we only looked out for our own families, if every person only worried about and cared for themselves… what kind of a word would this be?

“If we stop trying to help other people, we give up everything. And sometimes this has a price.”

I completely agree.

Wait, did she mean the price came with stop trying, or trying?

Sometimes I’m afraid that it’s both.

SLH

Buy All New Captain America vol 1: Hydra Ascendant s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Complete Spider-Verse s/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, others & various.

From the last incarnation of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, the central storyline is very pretty, but then you’d expect nothing less of Olivier Coipel who did such a masterful work of rendering Norse eyebrows in THOR and so much more, so maybe pop the artist into our search engine and see for yourself!

In it a feuding family called Inheritors have set their gluttonous eyes on every incarnation of Spider-Man in Marvel’s Earth past, present and future along with its alternate Earths past, present and future. They actually want to eat them and eww.

But, boy, there are a lot of Spider-People! If you wanted to unlock all these costumes whilst playing a videogame then you would be here for approximately 7 billion hours of button-bashing with calloused thumbs like nobody’s business. There’s Spider-Man, Spider-Ham, Spider-Woman, Spider-Girl, Spider-Gwen, Spider-*** and even a punk iteration that… oh I’ve just bored myself.

The problem is that what starts off as a customarily witty Dan Slot script with both a sly sleight of hand then an ever so naughty side-bar castigating you for fixating on Peter’s bottom (which the artist has ensured that you will – it is naked and only just beneath the sheets!) turns into an interminable series of side-bar boxes explaining who everyone is and whence they web-weave.

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This may be for you the thrill of a lifetime. “Clip ’em and collect ’em all,” as Marvel once exhorted of the postage stamps printed within their very own comics. And readers did! They did clip ’em and collect ’em, thereby reducing the second-hand sales value of their 1970s’ Marvel Comics from $220,372 a pop to three dimes and a cent.

I have no idea about American currency at all.

If it sounds like your bag then you can perhaps consider the slimmer SPIDER-VERSE UK edition the Christian Dior of comics and cheap at just £14-99! This version will set you back oh so much more for a considerably higher, more comprehensive page count encompassing AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2014) #7-15, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #32-33, SPIDER-VERSE (2015) #1-2, SPIDER-VERSE TEAM-UP #1-3, SCARLET SPIDERS #1-3, SPIDER-WOMAN (2014) #1-4, SPIDER-MAN 2099 (2014) #5-8 and material from FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2014.

I guess that makes it more of a Gucci suitcase for Spider-spotters.

I don’t know, my Fashion-Sense tingles at the mere sight of me in the mirror.

SLH

Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Complete Spider-Verse 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.

Hubert (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Ben Gijsemans

In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way – A Graphic Novel (£19-99, Gallic) by Marcel Proust, Arthur Goldhammer & Stephane Heuet

Katzine: The Eagle Issue (£5-50) by Katriona Chapman

The Talion Maker Part 2 (£3-50, self-published) by Neal Curtis

Things I Think About Sometimes (£3-00, self-published) by Stanley Miller

Miracleman Book 4: The Golden Age vol 1 h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Neil Gaiman & Mark Buckingham

Sky Doll: Decade 00 > 10 h/c (£25-99, Titan) by Alessandro Barbucci & Barbara Canepa

Thief Of Thieves: Take Me (£10-99, Image) by Andy Diggle & Shawn Martinbrough

Black Canary vol 1: Kicking And Screaming s/c (£10-99, DC) by Brendan Fletcher & Amy Chu, Pia Guerra

DC Comics: Bombshells vol 1: Enlisted s/c (£12-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett & Marguerite Sauvage, various

Harley Quinn And Power Girl s/c (£10-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Stephane Roux, others

Injustice Gods Among Us: Year One Complete Collection s/c (£18-99, DC) by Tom Taylor & various

Superman Unchained s/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Synder & Jim Lee, Dustin Nguyen, various

Civil War: New Avengers s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Howard Chaykin, Leinil Yu, Oliver Coipel, Pasqual Ferry, Jim Cheung

Assassination Classroom vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

The Flowers Of Evil vol 6 (£7-99, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

The Flowers Of Evil vol 7 (£7-99, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

The Flowers Of Evil vol 8 (£7-99, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

Kiss Him, Not Me! vol 2 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Junko

Kiss Him, Not Me! vol 3 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Junko

The Seven Deadly Sins vol 6 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Nakaba Suzuki

News!

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ITEM! Extensive, in-depth interview with Emma Rios & Hwei Lim about their collaborative process on their glorious, oh so lambent MIRROR comic.

Page 45 reviews MIRROR #1 by Emma Rios & Hwei Lim, with interior art, still in stock at the time of typing! Please scroll down!

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ITEM! Lynda Barry’s new interactive art exhibition.

You have no idea how fervently I worship Lynda Barry! Perhaps the most inspirational comicbook creator of all time, her gorgeous graphic novels actively and practically encourage you to create too!What It Is 2

Please pop Lynda into our search engine, beginning with WHAT IT IS which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month way back when it was first published. I think that may be the best review I’ve ever written, which I put down entirely to Lynda’s own exuberant excellence.

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ITEM! What a beautiful book shop: Libreria! Lots of photos there. I think it’s this one, pictured.

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ITEM! Speaking of brilliant book shops, Nottingham’s Five Leaves – fiercely independent and run by Ross of the much lamented Mushroom Bookshop – is up for this year’s Booksellers Award. Finges crossed for the win!

ITEM! SANDMAN’s Neil Gaiman to release The View From The Cheap Seats non-fiction prose collection.

ITEM! “I want more comics!”

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Understood! Read this for free: BOUNDLESS by Jillian Tamaki, co-creator with her cousin Mariko of THIS ONE SUMMER.

ITEM! Coming this November: ALEISTER & ADOLF by Douglas Rushkoff & Michael Oeming. That’s Aleister Crowley and Adolf Hitler, yes.

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ITEM! If you see this painting by Bill Sienkiewicz (STRAY TOASTERS, SANDMAN: ENDLESS NIGHTS, DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS etc) for sale anywhere – on ebay, other websites, in a shop or at a convention – it is STOLEN. It was ripped from a package heading to a private collector in France. Please report it immediately via Bill Sienkiewicz’s glorious website. Bill is also on Twitter as @sinKEVitch. If you’re the thief, please send it back to Bill, and you’ll make one of comics’ greatest artists very happy indeed.

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Update: @SalAbbinanti, Bill’s art dealer, is offering a $5,000 reward for its return. You can contact him via his website: http://www.samabbinanti.com

That was the news.

– Stephen